Politics — and political journalism — these days is full of charts, stats, facts and maps. It’s easy amid that avalanche of data to lose the thread, to forget what really matters when it comes to the present state of the electorate and, more importantly, where the country’s political future lies.
These two charts, which ran with a WaPo story headlined “The Republican field has a diversity quandary” over the weekend, matter — a lot. They explain the fundamental problem that sits at the heart of Republicans’ uphill quest to win back the White House in 2016 and beyond.
The first shows that white voters as a percentage of the overall electorate are shrinking; the white vote has comprised a smaller and smaller percentage of the electorate in every election since 1992, and could potentially dip below 70 percent in 2016.
The second shows that even as the electorate grows rapidly more diverse — the non-white vote more than doubled over the past two decades — the Republican party has struggled mightily to diversify its vote. The single most amazing/telling fact of the 2012 election was that just one in every ten ballots for Mitt Romney was cast by a non-white voter. Romney won the white vote by 20 points — the largest margin for a Republican since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide — but still lost convincingly to President Obama.
The trend lines are clear; whites aren’t going to suddenly see their numbers grow as a percentage of the overall electorate and Hispanics aren’t going to stop growing. Consider this remarkable fact from the 2010 Census: More than half of the growth in the total population of the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in Latino population. More than half!
Given that, winning more and more of the white vote will become an increasingly futile endeavor for Republicans if they can’t find a way to win more of the Hispanic and/or black vote. It’s a simple math problem. States like New Mexico (George W. Bush won it in 2004!) are no longer competitive between the two parties because of the whitening of the GOP. Arizona and, eventually, Texas, will move toward Democrats at the presidential level if current demographic and political trends continue unabated.
What’s fascinating is that this demographic and electoral problem that plagues Republicans at the presidential level isn’t replicated downballot. (Read this piece on that subject by WaPo’s Dan Balz.) Subtract the White House and there’s no real debate that the Republican party is the healthier of the two. The GOP controls the Senate, the House, 31 governors mansions and all or part of 38 of the nation’s 50 state legislatures.
The most likely political future for the country then is Democrats in control of the White House and Republicans in control of just about everything else. Which means the two parties will be forced to find ways to work together. Or, and much more depressingly, simply grow further and further apart.