Environmental concerns might represent a real opening.
There’s evidence that pollution is substantially worse in black and Latino neighborhoods, and yet it’s hard to recall any presidential candidate from either party speaking about this directly. With the notable exception of Richard Nixon, who established the Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans have spent much of the past several decades resisting climate change policy, environmental regulations or outright rejecting the science of climate change. And they can and probably will continue some variation of these themes. If nothing else, the party maintains friendly relations with industry and is a position that many believe at least can be sold as pro-job and anti-regulation.
But sacrificing that relationship with business (or at least making it less idyllic) by acknowledging climate change, proposing legislation to address environmental health concerns or the disproportionate effect that the location of many of the nation's pollution-emitting facilities have on something like property values in low-income, predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods — that's the stuff no one is talking about. And that's the stuff that could attract new voters, new attention and help to resolve the party's pressing demographic crisis.
Yes. We are aware that this is unlikely, and that it would represent a big, big change. But as The Fix's Chris Cillizza pointed out in two helpful and — dare we say it — stunning charts Monday, the GOP has a presidential election year problem. And it will continue to do so, as its most reliable voter base remains so very white and the country becomes increasingly diverse.
For those who would rather avoid any mention of race, avert your eyes. But the numbers do not lie, as The Washington Post's Marc Fisher's reporting detailed over the weekend. The sheer number of white people in the United States is declining. So, too, is the relative share of white Americans voting in presidential elections. And with some slight fluctuations from one presidential election cycle to the next, almost the exact opposite is true about everyone else.
But instead of slowly but steadily claiming more non-white votes, the Republican Party's performance in this area is stagnant with black voters and sliding backward with others. Many of the necessary elements for long-term Oval Office defeats are there.
Why can't the GOP make gains, despite its racially diverse candidate lineup? Some will inevitably point to Donald Trump. And there may be some truth in that. But this problem predates Trump ever even alluding to a presidential run. Almost certainly, the problem is precisely what Republican boosters say they try to do: sell their policy ideas to voters of color. Really overwhelming majorities of non-white voters don't like what the GOP and its candidates are offering. They don't like where the party stands on some core policy issues, and they don't like the far-right positions supported by several of the Republican presidential contenders who make the field more diverse. They vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and have done so for some time.
Consider this small sample of the many bits of reputable evidence about differences in the political views and priorities of white, black and Latino voters.
This is just the primary season, you say? Candidates have to fight it out on the far right to narrow this huge Republican field. Again, there's truth in both ideas. But ask Mitt Romney and John McCain how hard it can be to credibly shed certain positions during the general-election campaign (think: self-deportation). And, in this case, both Ted Cruz and Ben Carson have built their political careers on the idea that they are deeply conservative ideologues who will not compromise.
Hence, there are outside organizations with all sorts of political affiliations and nonprofit groups such as the civil rights organizations are beginning to get serious about Latino voter registration and training on how to participate in caucuses. (We strongly recommend checking out Suzanne Gamboa's reporting on this issue.) At one end of the political spectrum there is the Libre Initiative, an outside group financed by the Koch brothers that works to spread the conservative political gospel and register voters while also handing out chickens. Yes, that's really happening. Operating under a nonpartisan banner, organizations such as LULAC and NCLR are registering voters, offering information about the primary process and so on.
But in this work, Democrats do have an advantage. We would refer you to those charts above if you doubt this. But there is also this: Democrats are essentially in the position of needing to get voters to participate, to caucus or to vote in primaries, then finding enough moderate ground to add some more voters to their collection in the general election. Plus, African American turnout boomed in 2008 and 2012. And there is plenty of room to grow among Hispanics and Asians. Both groups already lean heavily toward Democrats.
Republicans need to sell ideas that have been of greater interest to white voters and get the politically converted to participate alongside the party faithful. They need all of the above to turn out and vote. Then, when the general-election campaign begins, there's all the stuff — all the positions taken in the interest of getting past the primary — that has to be dealt with. That's a heavy lift, a more complicated task. It just is.
So where is the climate change in this familiar political soup? We have very recent data showing that climate change may be one of the many issues on which Republican orthodoxy doesn't appeal to voters of color or at least is probably not helping the GOP election cause.
A Washington Post-ABC New poll released Monday found that a clear but sliding majority of Americans describe climate change as a serious issue. Big differences exist between college-educated Republicans and Democrats, with many more Democrats describing the issue as a serious one. But, there also are marked racial differences — at least at first glance. (Click on the chart below to enlarge it.)
But what the smart folks on our polling team tell us is that when they looked at the data more deeply, they found reasons to believe that those racial and ethnic differences of opinion are really partisan differences. Compare white (non-Hispanic) Democrats to non-white Democrats, and you see how they reached this conclusion. But then look again. You still have 80 percent of non-white (that's the term the pollsters used for Hispanic, Asian, black, Native American and other people combined) voter population saying this is a serious issue. And that's what we are getting at here.
Yes, 85 percent of white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said climate change is serious. But so did 80 percent of non-white Democrats and 78 percent of all non-white adults in mid-November. If the GOP wants to make real inroads with non-white voters, it seems that the position so clearly and overwhelmingly embraced by these Americans is just the kind of thing you can't ignore or quickly alter this election cycle.
The voters are not coming to the party, so the party may have to come to the voter.
And practically speaking, there are probably some reasons that extend beyond party affiliation and the Democratic Party's general stance on environmental matters driving that level of non-white voter concern. Black and Latino Americans are more likely to live near sources of pollution that have been associated with asthma and heart attacks.
To be clear, we are not, in any way, questioning the sincerity of Cruz, Carson or Rubio's political positions or their right to hold them. We are saying that there's ample evidence that non-white voters don't agree with them on some major issues.
And if the GOP's diverse candidate lineup ultimately backs pretty much the same platform, the same policy positions and proposals that haven't won the GOP much non-white voter support thus far, are the party's election math problems really a mystery?