Before the 2016 campaign started, everyone knew that Republican needed to reach out to minority voters — particularly Latinos, but also the fast-growing Asian-American population — if they were going to be able to win the White House any time soon. By now, everyone also knows that it hasn’t happened — if anything, the party has made its situation worse among minorities.
We see that in today’s Washington Post poll, which shows that a remarkable 80 percent of Latinos have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican front-runner, while only 16 percent view him favorably.
There’s also a fascinating report out today from a trio of think tanks looking at the future the parties face in presidential elections given the changing demographic makeup of the country. Keep in mind that this isn’t some piece of liberal propaganda; it’s a report prepared by the liberal Center for American Progress, the centrist Brookings Institution, and the conservative American Enterprise Institute. We’re going to look at some numbers and graphs, but fear now, I’ll be gentle. The conclusions, however, should strike fear in Republican hearts.
In order to determine how demography will shape not only this presidential campaign but the ones that follow, the authors devised six different scenarios for each election. For each, they varied the degree to which different ethnic/racial and age groups turn out to vote, and how they divided their votes. I’ve given them my own names, since I thought the names the authors gave them weren’t quite vivid enough, in order to make it a little easier to keep them straight:
- Scenario A: The election looks like it did in 2012, both in turnout and support rates. We’ll call this Status Quo.
- Scenario B: The election looks like the sweeping Obama victory of 2008 — large turnout, particularly among young and minority voters, and large support among them for the Democratic ticket. We’ll call this New Obama Coalition.
- Scenario C: The election looks like George W. Bush’s win in 2004, with higher white turnout and higher support for Republicans among minorities. We’ll call this Compassionate Conservatism Redux.
- Scenario D: Each group divides its votes like it did in 2012, but Latinos and Asian-Americans increase their turnout to match that of whites and African-Americans. We’ll call this Everybody Votes.
- Scenario E: Levels of turnout and support stay where they were in 2012, except for Latinos and Asian-Americans, who make a 15-point swing toward Republicans. We’ll call this Bienvenidos a GOP.
- Scenario F: Turnout and support stay where they were in 2012, except for whites, who make a 10-point swing to Republicans. We’ll call this Whites Come Home.
Some of these scenarios may be more likely than others, but here’s what’s important: It’s only in the most advantageous circumstances, and only for a while, that Republicans can win.
Let’s look at how each of these scenarios would look in 2016:
Obviously, if the election looks exactly like 2012 (Scenario A, Status Quo) or 2008 (Scenario B, New Obama Coalition), the Democrat wins. But what jumps out here is that even with two of the better scenarios for Republicans — Scenario C, Compassionate Conservatism, or Scenario E, Bienvenidos a GOP, the Republican still loses. It’s only Scenario F, Whites Come Home, that produces a Republican win.
That’s because the demographic makeup of the country has already changed from what it was just four years ago. The electorate is less white and more minority, which means that Republicans can’t just do better among minorities than they have before, they need to do significantly better.
And after 2016, it gets even worse for the GOP. Let’s look at the next graph, asking this same popular vote question moving through the next four elections:
After this year, a Compassionate Conservatism electorate doesn’t even get Republicans close to a win. Their only hope, and only for a couple of elections, comes with Whites Come Home, which assumes a large swing of white voters (who are still the majority, remember), but no swing toward Democrats among minorities. And given that Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points in 2012 (59-39), one has to wonder whether it would really be possible for Republicans to improve much among whites.
Now let’s take a look at the Electoral College. Increasing minority populations make a difference in some states that are already in play (like Colorado) and some that haven’t been but will be in the future (like Georgia). Here’s what 2016 would look like under these scenarios:
Republicans squeak out a win with Compassionate Conservatism, and win pretty easily with Whites Come Home. But what about after 2016?
The conclusion you draw from this graph is that even in the best of scenarios, Republicans only have a chance to win in the next two elections, unless they alter their coalition significantly. I’d even argue that the Whites Come Home scenario is highly unlikely, because, as this blog has pointed out before, whatever they’d have to do to dramatically increase their performance among white voters will inevitably drive minority voters away from them. It’s going to be all but impossible to get one without the other.
And that may be the heart of the Republican dilemma when it comes to the presidency. Whites are still the majority in the country and still almost the entirety of the Republican electorate. But there may not be much room for improvement among them, and every step they take in those voters’ direction risks alienating minorities, just as we’ve seen in this primary campaign. That’s a problem for the GOP now, but in the future, it becomes almost a guarantee of defeat.