It's easy to overthink elections. I do it all the time. But at its most basic level, demographics tend to be political destiny. And that's why Dan Balz's column over the weekend, which details the difficult demographic realities facing the Republican Party in 2016 (and beyond), is so important.
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama, tweeted out this key passage from Dan's piece Sunday night:
— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) May 26, 2015
Yup. The single most telling piece of data that came out of the 2012 election for me was the partisan breakdown of the white vs. nonwhite vote.
That's a very scary chart for Republicans. Especially when coupled with this one.
If the 2016 nominee gets no better than Romney’s 17 percent of the nonwhite vote, he or she would need 65 percent of the white vote to win, a level achieved in modern times only by Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide. Bush’s 2004 winning formula — 26 percent of the nonwhite vote and 58 percent of the white vote — would be a losing formula in 2016, given population changes.
Now, there are plenty of Republicans who push back on these doom and gloom numbers by arguing that small percentage changes in the numbers above can make a big difference due to the tens of millions of people who vote in a presidential election. True enough.
Obama's winning margin over Romney in 2012 was 4,982,296 votes. (Yes, I understand we don't use total popular vote to decide the president but humor me.) Romney won white voters by 18,588,247 votes while Obama won blacks by 14,599,518, Hispanics by 5,679,742 votes and Asians by 1,820,099 votes.
Let's take the black vote, as a for instance in this it's-not-such-a-big-deal theory. In 2012, Obama won 93 percent of African Americans; he won 95 percent in 2008. But what if Hillary Clinton performed less well than Obama among blacks? Certainly possible given that she won't be running to be the first black president? What if she got the identical 88 percent of the black vote that John Kerry got in 2004, and the Republican nominee in 2016 got the 11 percent George W. Bush won? Assuming the 2012 electorate, that would account for a gain of 1,678,106 votes for the Republican nominee -- or roughly one-third of the entire Obama winning margin in 2012.
Now the numbers don't look as daunting -- especially if the party nominates someone like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, both of whom would seem to have a far better chance than Mitt Romney of winning a larger share of the nonwhite vote in 2016.
Fair enough. The problem for Republicans, though, is that the presidential electorates don't stay static. The 2016 electorate, demographically speaking, will be worse for Republicans than 2012. And unless Republicans can begin winning more of the nonwhite vote, the 2020 election will be worse for the party than the 2016 election. And 2024 will be worse than, well, you get the idea.
Understanding the need to win more of the nonwhite vote is one thing. Actually proposing policies and nominating a candidate who can do it is another.