Good morning Austin:
Next week will mark the 11th anniversary of the publication of an important book – The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira.
Here is a description:
Political experts John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira convincingly use hard data — demographic, geographic, economic, and political — to forecast the dawn of a new progressive era.
In the 1960s, Kevin Phillips, battling conventional wisdom, correctly foretold the dawn of a new conservative era. His book, The Emerging Republican Majority, became an indispensable guide for all those attempting to understand political change through the 1970s and 1980s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, with the country in Republican hands, The Emerging Democratic Majority is the indispensable guide to this era.
In five well-researched chapters and a new afterword covering the 2002 elections, Judis and Teixeira show how the most dynamic and fastest-growing areas of the country are cultivating a new wave of Democratic voters who embrace what the authors call “progressive centrism” and take umbrage at Republican demands to privatize social security, ban abortion, and cut back environmental regulations.
As the GOP continues to be dominated by neoconservatives, the religious right, and corporate influence, this is an essential volume for all those discontented with their narrow agenda — and a clarion call for a new political order.
Well, Phillips ultimately went from Nixonite to among the most scathing critics of the Bush family. Now Judis has a cover story in National Journal that is drawing keen interest both because of what it is saying and who is saying it.
The Emerging Republican Advantage: The idea of an enduring Democratic majority was a mirage. How the GOP gained an edge in American politics—and why it’s likely to last.
Judis’ basic premise:
American parties routinely go through periods of ascendancy, decline, and deadlock. From 1896 to 1930, the Republican Party reigned supreme; from 1932 to 1968, the New Deal Democrats dominated; following a period of deadlock, the Reagan Republicans held sway during the 1980s. After the parties exchanged the White House, Democrats appeared to take command of American politics in 2008. In that election, Obama and the Democrats won not only the White House but also large majorities in the Senate and House, plus a decided edge in governor’s mansions and state legislatures.
At the time, some commentators, including me, hailed the onset of an enduring Democratic majority. And the arguments in defense of this view did seem to be backed by persuasive evidence. Obama and the Democrats appeared to have captured the youngest generation of voters, whereas Republicans were relying disproportionately on an aging coalition. The electorate’s growing ethnic diversity also seemed likely to help the Democrats going forward.
These advantages remain partially in place for Democrats today, but they are being severely undermined by two trends that have emerged in the past few elections—one surprising, the other less so. The less surprising trend is that Democrats have continued to hemorrhage support among white working-class voters—a group that generally works in blue-collar and lower-income service jobs and that is roughly identifiable in exit polls as those whites who have not graduated from a four-year college. These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced.
The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called “the office economy.” In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)
The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans. The question, of course, is whether it is going to continue. It’s tough to say for sure, but I think there is a case to be made that it will.
The GOP’s success in the 1980s, for instance, was driven in large part by the movement of white working-class voters out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party—in the North as well as the South. Meanwhile, the success of the Democrats in the 1990s and in 2006 and 2008 was based on the growth of the minority vote (from 13 percent of the electorate in 1992 to 26 percent in 2008); the continuing movement of women, particularly single women, into the Democratic column; and the support of professionals, who were once the most Republican of occupational groupings.
But the Democratic success of recent decades was not based only on shifts among minorities, women, and professionals. To win elections, Democrats have still needed between 36 and 40 percent nationally of the white working-class vote—which, in practice, meant totals in the twenties or even the teens in the South, and near-majorities in many Northern and Western states. At one time, unions had provided a link between many of these voters and the Democratic Party. This advantage started to dwindle in the 1970s as private-sector unions began to shrink. Nevertheless, on a promise of prosperity, Bill Clinton got about 40 percent of the white working-class vote in 1992 and 1996, and Obama got 40 percent in 2008.
From the 2008 to the 2012 presidential elections, Democrats maintained their core coalition—the Hispanic vote for Obama even went up 4 percentage points in 2012—but their support among both white working-class and middle-class voters began to shrink.
The greater problem for Democrats is that their decline with middle class voters is not confined to whites. Obama’s support among Hispanics with a college degree and Hispanics making more than $50,000 also declined from 2008 to 2012.
And Democrats’ grip on young voters is also weakening.
Judis cites the ongoing survey of millennial voters by the Harvard University Institute of Politics. From their October report:
In 2010, some 24 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 voted in midterm elections. According to exit polls, these young voters favored Democrats by 58 to 42 percent, a 16-point margin. Four years later, the Harvard Institute of Politics’ pre-midterm polling sees a starkly different picture emerging.
While the numbers of young voters participating will likely be unchanged, their partisan preferences will have significantly shifted.Our IOP survey finds that likely young voters prefer Republican control of the Congress by a slim four-point margin of 51 to 47 percent.
Whether Republicans are able to build on this narrow lead or Democrats can mobilize enough young supporters to shrink it, IOP’s polling raises important questions—were the Obama/Democratic surges of 2008, 2010 and 2012 the start of a long-term trend, or were they one-time, stand-alone events, following which young Americans will revert to their more familiar history as a swing-voting bloc that often helps decide U.S. elections.
Obama won young voters by 30 percent in 2008 and 23 percent in 2008.
But the Institute’s polling last fall showed that young voters’ support for Obama was dropping, and that those young voters “now look very much like the electorate at large—pessimistic, untrusting, lacking confidence in government and suspecting the motives of the Congress in general and of their own elected leaders in particular,” and that young voters were deeply divided on racial lines, “upending an often-expressed view of millennials as a post-racial generation whose politics are not influenced by race.”
Among young people, “blacks are much more optimistic than whites about where the nation is headed,” and political differences between young black and white Americans have grown not less but more pronounced in the past decade.”
“Compounding their problems, Democrats also face the potential of shrinking support among young, Hispanic and Latino voters, who in 2012 chose President Obama over Mitt Romney by 51 points—74 percent to 23 percent. Now, however, only 49 percent of Latinos approve of the president’s performance, with 46 percent disapproving—his lowest rating since we began tracking the Obama administration in 2009. Only six months ago, IOP polling showed that 60 percent of young Latinos and Hispanics approved of Obama’s performance. Five years ago that number was 81 percent.”
Back to Judis. He concludes:
After the 2008 election, I thought Obama could create an enduring Democratic majority by responding aggressively to the Great Recession in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt had responded in 1933 to the Great Depression. Obama, I believed, would finally bury the Reagan Republican majority of 1980 and inaugurate a new period of Democratic domination.
In retrospect, that analogy was clearly flawed. Roosevelt took power after four years of the Great Depression, with Republicans and business thoroughly discredited, and with the public (who lacked any safety net) ready to try virtually anything to revive the economy. Obama’s situation was very different. Business was still powerful enough to threaten him if he went too far in trying to tame it. Much of the middle class and working class were still employed, and they saw Obama’s stimulus program—which was utterly necessary to stem the Great Recession—as an expansion of government at their expense.
In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.
It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.
To suggest that FDR, and not Reagan, was the outlier is a fundamental reappraisal of American political history. At The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead writes:
This is a huge admission for an American progressive thinker to make. If the New Deal/Great Society was a blip on the screen of American history rather than a decisive turning point, the whole discussion about the nature of American political culture and the relationship of American and European political history needs to change. The social democrats and progressives of the 1930s and 1940s, like their heirs today, generally look toward European social democracy as the “right” model for social development in a capitalist setting. America’s failure to conform to this path of development was seen as temporary. In the New Deal-era version of this ideology, the European immigrants of the 1880s-1920s plus the urbanization of America’s traditionally agricultural population would lead to a New America that looked an awful lot like the emerging social democracies of Scandinavia. The emergence of Reaganism in the 1980s put paid to that idea; the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis was a way to revive the old progressive vision of the future for the 21st century, with Hispanics and Asians cast in the role of the turn-of-the-20th-century Europeans.
If Judis and other progressives are now moving away from idea that Hispanics will do what the Jews, Italians and Poles didn’t, the American left faces a profound rethink. To abandon the idea of American history as the inexorable march of “modern” ideas triumphing over Anglo-Saxon individuality and other outmoded 19th century concepts requires more than a few tweaks to progressive thought here and there.
In his critique of Judis’ piece at the Wall Street journal, James Taranto, notes that Judis ignored a fundamental factor in the instability of the FDR coalition:
Oddly, he doesn’t mention that the New Deal Democratic majority relied in substantial part on one-party rule in the Jim Crow South. That actually points to the fundamental truth that Judis and Teixeira missed: The broader a coalition, the more difficult it is to keep together over the long run. A majority that included white racists on the one hand and blacks and liberals on the other was bound to collapse. Eventually either the blacks and liberals would get fed up with the lack of progress or—what actually happened—they would prevail and the Dixiecrats would lose their raison d’être.
As if this were not enough, Ronald Brownstein, editorial director at National Journal, also has a very recent piece: Demography Is Not Destiny for Democrats: Redistricting and GOP dominance among white voters have offset the growing racial diversity that was supposed to give Democrats an unbeatable edge.
Growing racial diversity is transforming a lengthening list of congressional districts, but not providing as much political benefit to House Democrats as many in both parties expected only a few years ago, a Next America analysis has found.
Districts high in racial diversity remain the last redoubt for the House Democrats’ depleted caucus: As Next America has reported, almost exactly two-thirds of the 188 Democratic House members in the new Congress represent districts where minorities exceed their national share of the population, 37.6 percent.
But Democrats have clearly failed to squeeze all the possible advantage from growing diversity, particularly as Republicans have consolidated their hold over districts where whites are more plentiful than they are nationally. While Democrats continue to dominate districts where minorities represent half or more of residents, the GOP remains doggedly competitive in seats where the minority population is either slightly above, or slightly below, its national average. In fact, in the new Congress, Republicans will hold a majority of the seats in which minorities represent at least 30 percent and no more than 50 percent of the total population.
Texas is Exhibit A.
Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic electoral targeting firm TargetSmart Communications, says that “more diffused settlement patterns by minority voters” in rapidly diversifying states such as Georgia and Texas forced Republicans who controlled redistricting to focus instead on diffusing Democratic-leaning minorities across a wide range of districts where they are still outnumbered by conservative white populations. In Texas, for instance, no fewer than 19 House Republicans hold districts where minorities represent between one-third to just under half of the population. “In order for Republicans to hold back Democrats … in Congress,” says Bonier, “they had to draw districts that are diverse enough, but don’t get to that critical mass where Democrats can win.”
In the three elections since 2010, Republican congressional candidates have amassed their highest level of white support in the history of polling, in each case attracting about three-fifths of those voters. The margins have been especially lopsided in several of the Sun Belt states where diversity is growing fastest: While state-level House results are not available, exit polls in both Texas and Georgia, for instance, found that last year’s Democratic Senate candidates attracted fewer than one in four white voters.
But turnout and redistricting isn’t the entire story. Almost all House Republicans representing heavily minority but safely GOP-leaning districts have amassed unwaveringly conservative records; that list includes some of the party’s most militant voices on immigration, such as Texas’s Lamar Smith and Louie Gohmert. But many of the House Republicans in diverse, competitive seats—such as Mike Coffman in Colorado, Jeff Denham and David Valadao in California, and Joe Heck in Nevada, and Cuban-American legislators such as Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart in Florida—have aggressively courted their large minority populations by supporting legal status for at least some undocumented immigrants. In some places, Republicans have also made inroads for core conservative ideas among minority voters; last November’s exit poll in Texas, for instance, showed Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott carrying fully 44 percent of Hispanics (although other pollsters maintain that overstated his strength). “It’s just a fact of life that in Texas, many Hispanics and middle-class African-Americans are conservative,” says longtime GOP consultant David Carney, Abbott’s chief strategist. “It isn’t like the Republicans have done anything tricky or Machiavellian or really cool and sophisticated. They just are conservative.”
Well, I take that last line with a grain of salt. Dave Carney saying he is not up to anything tricky or Machiavellian or really cool and sophisticated, has to mean he is really up to something tricky, Machiavellian, really cool and sophisticated, or would at least like us to think he is.
And, as I think Carney would agree, Abbott’s success with Hispanics had something to do with being up against Wendy Davis. Texas Republicans can expect to face candidates – Hispanic candidates – who will be far more formidable with Hispanic voters in the future.
If what Judis and Brownstein write may be heartening to Texas Republicans, Judis concludes that certain Texas Republicans could still ride to Democrats’ rescue in 2016. He writes:
The Democrats’ best chances in next year’s elections will come if Republicans run candidates identified with the Religious Right or the tea party or the GOP’s plutocratic wing. If Republicans are smart, they will nominate for president someone in the mold of George W. Bush in 2000 or the numerous GOP Senate candidates who won last year—a politician who runs from the center-right, soft-pedals social issues, including immigration, critiques government without calling for abolishing the income tax and Social Security, and displays a good ol’ boy empathy for the less well-to-do. Such a candidate would cater to the Republican advantage among the middle class without alienating the white working class.