Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Demographics of the 2016 election and the Future of American Politics

Political scientists think they now know that the 2016 exit polls were wrong. Way wrong, in fact, which generated a lot of false narratives in the weeks after the election. Thomas Edsall has a run-down of how the picture has changed since and what it might mean. Excerpts:
In a detailed analysis of the 2016 vote, Pew found that 44 percent, or 60.1 million out of a total of 136.7 million votes cast on Nov. 8, 2016 were cast by whites without college degrees — demographic shorthand for the white working class.

Hillary Clinton won 28 percent of white working-class votes, according to Pew, less than Obama’s 36 percent in 2012. Still, a quarter of her total vote of 65.85 million — that is, 16.8 million votes — came from the white working class.
So of all the groups demographers divide the electorate into, the white working class is the biggest by far. If Hillary had done as well with them as Obama, it would have been a landslide.

Here's an interesting snapshot of American politics under the Trump administration, based on recent polling by Pew:
Voters who have completed college make up a third of all registered voters. And a majority — 58 percent — of all voters with at least a four-year college degree now identifies as Democrats or leans Democratic, the highest share dating back to 1992. Just 36 percent affiliate with the Republican Party or lean toward the G.O.P. . . . Voters with no college experience have been moving toward the GOP: 47 percent identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, up from 42 percent in 2014.
But because whites without college degrees are the biggest group, that 5 percent shift helps Republicans a lot. And this leads some Democratic strategists to say that the "Obama coalition" thing (minorities plus educated whites) is not a winning strategy. Ruy Teixeira:
There is no way around it — if Democrats hope to be competitive in Ohio and similar states in 2020, they must do the hard thing: find a way to reach hearts and minds among white non-college voters.
And to do that, says William Galston, they must ease off on immigration:
No issue has done more than immigration to feed populism, and finding a sustainable compromise would drain much of the bile from today’s politics. Defenders of liberal democracy should acknowledge that controlling borders is a legitimate exercise of sovereignty, and that the appropriate number and type of immigrants is a legitimate subject for debate. Denouncing citizens concerned about immigration as bigots ameliorates neither the substance nor the politics of the problem. There’s nothing illiberal about the view that too many immigrants stress a country’s capacity to absorb them, so that a reduction or even a pause may be in order.
Of course I support this analysis, since I am an immigration moderate myself. Another strategy would be to really pound on economic populism, going hard after bankers and billionaires and their tax cuts; the right sort of candidate might be able to win over quite a few working class voters that way without going anti-immigrant. But anyway all this demography makes it clear that for another generation Democrats must be able to win a third of the white, working-class vote to be nationally competitive.

2 comments:

David said...

The essential problem for the Democrats is that they can't win if too many white working-class voters don't vote for them, and they also can't win if too many minority voters stay home and too many white liberals vote for some third party spoiler. The nub of the matter is that the divide between the white working class on the one hand and the white liberal/minority coalition on the other, is real, old, and deep. It has defined the party and its dilemmas since 1948. Indeed, one could argue that the heart of the sixties was a major shattering of the Roosevelt coalition, that is, minority and white liberal rejection of the white working class, and the latter's reciprocal backlash against minorities and pointy-headed liberals. The Republican coalition of business, uberhawks, and the small-town and rural squirearchy was, in this sense, a collection of bystanders (albeit one building up toward triumphant Reaganism).

Since then, the white working class has been the tossup constituency in virtually every election. One could say in a general way that they tend to vote Dem insofar as they are reminded that other parties represent management. In this sense, Romney was the perfect Republican for Democrats to run against (remember that meeting, in January 2013 I think it was, when some Republican got up and said, as though it were a revelation, "We have to remember that most Americans are not business owners"). But in 2016, HRC looked like Romney, cold and aloof, and Trump looked like, well, George Wallace, the original exploiter of working-class resentment (in '68, millions of white working class types were set to vote for Wallace, until the unions undertook a massive campaign to remind their members that Alabama was a right to work state, etc.).

It's pretty obvious that the Dems can't win if they run with talk of "revolution" and/or the sort of identity-oriented leftism that the press identifies with people like Kamala Harris. On the other hand, they're not going to out-immigrant Trump, and if they try too hard to do so, they're going to lose some, perhaps a lot, of that minority/liberal coalition. I think their best strategy is to remind the white working class that Republican rule means rule by management: insecure jobs ("management flexibility"), tax breaks for the rich, sweetheart deals, wild business cycles, cuts to Medicare and Social Security, etc.

David said...

I would add that, in gaining a significant portion of white working class support, as with that of many other but not all groups, policy matters a lot less than a candidate's personal authenticity. A demonstrated, felt interest in the problems and fears of working-class people is what counts. Veteran status and a genuine interest in things like guns and a genuine lack of interest in things like high-class art openings would help. In this sense, specifics on immigration can be finessed, especially if a candidate can, say, harp on the jobs Trump didn't actually save, or turn tech into a bogeyman, etc.