Are Demographics Still Destiny?

 


I remember it well: It arrived with a thunderclap. In January of 2008, the Pew Research Center released a report titled: U.S. Population Projections from 2005 – 2050. The overview said this:  “if current trends continue, the demographic profile of the United States will change dramatically by the middle of this century.” Among the projections, was that by 2050, the nation’s racial and ethnic mix would look quite different than it did then. Non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67% of the population in 2005, were projected to be just 47% of the population in 2050.

 This was widely interpreted to be good news for one party; Demographics are the democrats’ best friend, or so thought many. In fact, in 2009 James Carville even wrote a book titled, 40 More Years: How Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation. But here we are 14 years later, and things might not be turning out as anticipated. In fact, Josh Kraushaar of Axios is calling the new great realignment, “arguably the biggest political story of our time”. If current trends continue, the U.S. population will rise to 404 million in 2060, but the non-Hispanic white population is projected to shrink by nearly 19 million over that time. Now non-Hispanic whites are projected to become a minority sooner by 2045- sooner than what was anticipated.

Previously, it was presumed this was a huge threat to the Republican party, which had not been doing well with minority voters. But this is no longer the case. Data from a recent New York Times/Siena poll shows that, although they are gaining support from college-educated white voters, the Democratic party is losing support from minorities (specifically Hispanics) as well as the working class.

As CNN’s Harry Enten recently pointed out, Republicans are currently polling 10 points better with people of color than their previous best year, 2004. As Harry explains, “part of why that is occurring is the changing demographic makeup of voters of color. They’re a lot more Hispanic than they used to be. At the same time, they’re a lot less Black. Hispanic voters don’t support democrats as much as black voters. But that’s not all that’s going on. Democratic support from Asian American, Black and Hispanic voters is much lower than it has usually been.” What issues are driving this great realignment?

As The New York Times Analysis summarized: “Voters who said abortion, guns or threats to democracy were the biggest problem facing the country backed Democrats by a wide margin, as Republicans make new inroads among nonwhite and working-class voters who remain more concerned about the economy.” And last month, in a special election in South Texas, within the heavily Hispanic, blue-leaning 34th congressional district, Republican Mayra Flores flipped the first Democratic seat of the 2022 cycle. Axios’s Kraushaar says the bottom line is, “the GOP is trading soccer moms for Walmart dads”.

To put it another way: Gone are the days of country club Republicans — here are the days of country club Democrats.

This whole discussion immediately brought Thomas Frank to mind, a New York Times best-selling author who has been analyzing political trends for decades. He has multiple books on the subject including his newest, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism. It was in 2004, that Frank wrote his award-winning, What’s The Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, in which he evaluated the question, “why do the working people of Kansas historically vote for Republican candidates, even though supporting them seems against their interests?”

 

On this shift in demographics, I asked Frank whether this change was brought on by Trump, or if the realignment was what gave rise to Trump-like candidates. Frank explained that, although Trump has certainly accelerated this shift, this has been a global phenomenon on the rise since the late 1960s when the Democratic Party was fighting within themselves over which issues to focus on: “At some point, they [The Democratic Party] decided that they no longer wanted to be the party of organized labor—they basically wanted to turn their backs on the white working-class and The New Deal,” Frank said, further explaining that when, over some years, the Democrats developed a new identity where they would prioritize the needs of the affluent, white-collar professionals.

In their complacency, they overlooked how the Republicans would step in for communities that were being neglected in place of wealthier demographics, thus starting a snowball effect that brought us to this current trend. Frank explained that the Republican Party saw an opportunity to win over the voters lost by the Democrats by tapping into their “organized discontent”.

So where are we going now? Frank thinks that, while Biden did help to slightly reverse this trend with voters, “when these guys [Democrats] keep dropping the ball, it allows Republicans to do it again—to organize discontent one more time.” Here’s hoping that the Democrats see this as an opportunity to pick that ball back up, and start playing for the crowd they need.




Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.


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