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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- Twenty years ago, Democratic pol James Carville immortalised the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” in explaining how former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton would unseat President George H. W. Bush, who was riding high off his smashing military victory in the first Gulf War.
Now, 20 years later, pros in both parties appear to agree that “It was the demographics, stupid” that best explained how President Barack Obama defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, despite four years of hard economic times and a nearly eight-percent unemployment rate.
Demographics has become almost a cliché in the 48 hours since Romney went down to defeat despite the support of nearly 60 percent of white voters.
“It’s a changing country,” observed the wildly successful right-wing talk-show host, Bill O’Reilly, soon after the major television networks concluded that Obama had won the electoral vote by a landslide, even as the popular vote gave him a victory of only about three percent.
“The demographics are changing; It’s not a traditional America anymore,” O’Reilly told his FoxNews viewers ruefully. “…Whereby 20 years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney, the white establishment is now the minority.”
In fact, the “traditional America” of an overwhelmingly white, patriarchal society that has effectively dominated the country from its independence nearly 240 years ago through at least the era of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s is long gone.
And both minorities and women, combined with the so-called Millennium Generation of 18 to 29-year-olds whose attitudes are far more tolerant of “untraditional” people and lifestyles than any that preceded it, proved the point quite convincingly on election night this year.
Sixty percent of white voters, combined with just a smattering of minority votes, would have clinched any presidential election until the end of the Reagan era. Indeed, when Bush Sr. received the same percentage of white votes as Romney, he won the 1988 election by eight percentage points despite receiving only 30 percent of Hispanic and 12 percent of African American votes.
But given both the increase in the size of minority populations and their increased turnout at the voting booths – as well as the growing identification of women with the Democratic Party – those days are now gone, and this election hammered that truth home like no other.
In many respects, it’s just a matter of mathematics. In 1988, non-Latino white voters constituted 85 percent of the electorate. By 2008, when Obama defeated Sen. John McCain, that percentage was down to 74 percent. It fell again this year – to only 71 percent.
And that trend will inevitably continue, much to the distress of most Republican leaders who fear that, absent a major and convincing effort to woo ethnic and religious minority voters, their party will lose and lose again, at least at the national level.
“If you’re not going to be competitive with Latinos, with African Americans, with Native Americans, with Asian Americans, you’re not going to be a successful party,” noted former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich this week.
He lost the party’s nomination to Romney in the primary campaign in part due to his support for more liberal immigration policies than those endorsed by Romney and the party’s right-wing and “Tea Party” activist core.
Unsurprisingly, African Americans, who make up about 12 percent of eligible voters, cast their ballots overwhelmingly for the biracial Obama, although, at 93 percent, that was two percentage points less than in 2008.
More shocking to the Republicans, however, was how Latinos, the country’s largest ethnic minority, voted. Just over two percent of the electorate in 1992, Latinos accounted for 10 percent of all voters in this election, and they voted by a whopping 71-27 percent majority for Obama.
While Republicans were concerned that their tough immigration stance would hurt them with Latinos, they consoled themselves that the “traditional values” of the party, combined with the dismal economy, would permit them to increase their share of the Latino vote above the 31 percent received by McCain four years ago.
That calculation, however, was not borne out. Romney received only 27 percent of the Latino vote, compared to Obama’s 71 percent.
Moreover, the greater Latino turnout magnified the loss and, according to most political analysts, probably made the difference in such key swing states as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida – which Obama appears poised to win officially – where they make up 17 percent of the electorate.
Republicans also underestimated their losses among the country’s fastest-growing minority – Asian Americans – who, while constituting only about three percent of the total electorate, were a key constituency in the swing state of Virginia.
As a whole, the group has historically been divided politically by national origin, with Japanese and Southeast Asian Americans tending to vote more Republican. In 1992, 55 percent of Asian Americans voted for Bush Sr.
But, with the arrival of new immigrants – the Asian-American population grew at a rate of nearly 50 percent in the past decade –and the increasingly right-wing trajectory of the Republican Party, Asian Americans have moved into the Democratic column.
In 2000, 54 percent voted for Vice President Al Gore; eight years later, 62 percent for Obama. This year, however, Asians surpassed Latinos in support for the president, voting 73-26 percent, or three-to-one, in his favour.
All of these statistics paint a very gloomy picture for a Republican Party that, in the aftermath of its defeat – it unexpectedly lost, in addition to the White House, two seats in the Senate and at least seven in the House of Representatives – is turning into a circular firing squad, with the Tea Party and Christian Right claiming that Romney was too moderate and more establishment politicians insisting that he was not moderate enough.
The debate on whether the party must change its substantive positions on issues – notably immigration – in order to win over minorities or whether it should merely soften its tone – by, for example, explicitly disowning racist messages that have become commonplace on right-wing radio and television talk shows – is also underway.
But the party faces a serious challenge, according to Matt Barreto, a pollster of Latino Decisions.
“There’s this combination: the Asian vote is high, and each year it is going to add another percent. The Latino vote is growing fast. And as long as the African American vote continues to turn out at high rates, in that next election in 2016, it may be down to like 69 percent white voters,” he told Southern California Public Radio Thursday.
“At that point, if they don’t make increases among blacks and Latinos and Asians, then the Republican Party is not going to win another national election.”
*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.