A recurring theme of progressive writers is that Republicans are facing a coming demographic disaster because whites are an inevitably shrinking part of the American electorate. Sure Trump just eked out a victory by winning the white vote by a 21% margin. But, according to numbers here from Pew, he lost Hispanics by 36 points and blacks by 80 points. Those groups, particularly Hispanics, are growing as a percent of the electorate, while whites are shrinking. Thus, it's only a matter of time until the demographic tide swamps the Republicans and brings the Democrats into permanent control.
For an example of a piece advancing this narrative, here is an article from the Washington Post by Chris Cillizza from this past April, title "The Coming Republican Demographic Disaster." Cillizza quotes from David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report as follows:
In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively. What happened? African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.
Sounds bad for the Republicans, right? Not so fast. For a guy my age (65), what seems odd about this narrative is the lumping of all "whites" into one ethnic group for purposes of analyzing voting results. When I was younger, Hispanics were a much smaller percentage of the electorate, and blacks somewhat smaller. And yet somehow Democrats controlled both houses of Congress solidly from the time of my birth until the Republicans finally took the Senate for a few years while Reagan was President; and then the Democrats went back into full control of both houses until the 1994 election. In those days, Democrats also controlled way more state legislatures and governorships than Republicans; today it's the reverse.
What are we missing? What we're missing is that back in the 50s through 80s "whites" were not thought to be one monolithic voting bloc. In ethnic terms, some whites were the descendants of those who had come earlier, sometimes known as the WASPs. And then separately you had the recent immigrants and their immediate descendants -- the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans (Poles, Slavs), Greeks, Jews. The latter groups were largely working class, and were the base of the Democratic Party at the time, before there were such large numbers of Hispanics.
With Trump's election, what we have seen is the completion of the overwhelming movement of the "ethnic" whites over to the Republicans. As many have noted over the past few weeks, such whites as are left in the Democratic Party are not the working class, but the elites. Among these "elite" whites, there are plenty of Irish, Italians, etc., who have moved up over time; but definitely those groups are proportionally under-represented, while WASPs and, especially, Jews, are over-represented.
My point is only that that there is no reason to believe that ethnic groups are fixed in their political loyalties. The Republicans have in fact continually grown as a percent of the electorate in my lifetime, even as their previous ethnic base has shrunk, precisely by appealing to new ethnic groups that previously aligned with the Democrats. There is no reason that this process cannot continue with new ethnic groups. All of Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans are likely to move up economically over time, and to gradually see their interest as more aligned with small government and entrepreneurial opportunity than with big government and handouts.
I see the coming race for political ascendancy between the major parties not in terms of relative sizes of ethnic groups with pre-determined voting patterns, but rather as a race between the growth of the state-dependent sector of society and the private sector. Democrat elites want to grow the state-dependent sector because those who are dependent on the state tend to vote for the continuation of state handouts and growth of state programs, which means they vote for the Democratic Party. Thus we see things like Obamacare, the huge Medicaid expansion, the takeover of the energy sector, and so forth. Democrats seek to keep Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans, or as many of them as possible, in the state-dependent sector. If they can do it, maybe the current ethnic voting patterns will continue and be perpetuated. But if large numbers of these ethnic groups start to escape the state-dependent sector, and start to view themselves as the suckers who pay for everything and get nothing in return, then you will see the same thing happen with them as has just happened with the white working class.
Do you doubt that people in the state-dependent sector vote overwhelmingly for Democrats? Take a look at the margin by which Hillary won the District of Columbia: 93/4, or an 89% margin. That's whites, blacks, and all other ethnic groups. Look at county-by-county maps of Maryland and Virginia, and you will find that both are solidly Republican states except for the DC suburbs (and, in the case of Maryland, Baltimore) where everybody or close to everybody lives off the government. That is far the more important factor than ethnicity.