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THE MORTAL THREAT TO DEMOCRATS' PROGRESSIVE DREAMS. Back in 2002, left-leaning political scientist Ruy Teixeira, along with the left-leaning writer John Judis, wrote one of the most influential books ever in Democratic Party politics. The Emerging Democratic Majority argued that demographic trends in the United States favored the party, that as the country grew to have relatively fewer and fewer white people, and more and more Hispanic people, a Democratic majority would emerge that would control American politics long into the future.
Heartened by the book, some Democrats openly longed for the day when white people would no longer be a majority in the U.S. "The Census Bureau has already told us that by 2050, white people are going to be the minority," the leftist filmmaker Michael Moore once said, "and I'm not sad to say I can't wait for that day to happen." With whites in the minority, the idea went, a progressive paradise would ensue.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was a terrible shock to the emerging-majority believers. But many were cheered recently when new census data seemed to suggest that the white decline was happening even faster than projected. (Note: There is much dispute about that.) The usual suspects, like Moore, were delighted. He called the day the census findings were released the "best day ever in U.S. history."
But now comes a warning — from none other than Teixeira. In a new article, “Will Census Trends Save the Democrats?”, the political scientist argues that in coming years, Democrats will desperately need white support to win elections and cannot rely on demographic trends — that is, more Hispanic voters — to put them over the top.
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The party's "efforts to build and sustain a majority electoral coalition are not guaranteed in any way by the race-ethnic trends detailed in the census data and dwelt on by the media," Teixeira writes. Why? Because in recent years, Democrats have been deeply affected by two big developments.
The first is the party's increasing reliance on white, college-educated voters, many of whom joined the Democrats because of visceral hatred of Trump. The second is the party's loosening hold on Hispanic voters, many of whom left the Democratic fold during the Trump years.
White, college-educated voters "will loom large in future Democratic fortunes," Teixeira writes. "Even as whites decline as an overall share of the country and in all states, the Democrats are clearly reliant on a key segment of this declining demographic." In future elections, Democrats cannot afford to lose any of those voters. "Democrats will need to ensure that they retain much of their increased white college support — a good portion of which may have been driven by opposition to Trump — regardless of the race-ethnic diversification trends tracked by the census," Teixeira writes.
The Democrats' second big problem is Hispanic voters. Democrats are losing them. And the problem is not just Cuban Americans in Florida. It is Hispanic voters all around the country. Read this from Teixeira:
Hispanic voting trends have not been favorable for the Democrats. According to Catalist, in 2020 Latinos had an amazingly large 16 point margin shift toward Trump. Among Latinos, Cubans did have the largest shifts toward Trump (26 points), but those of Mexican origin also had a 12 point shift and even Puerto Ricans moved toward Trump by 18 points. Moreover, Latino shifts toward Trump were widely dispersed geographically. Hispanic shifts toward Trump were not confined to Florida (28 points) and Texas (18 points) but also included states like Nevada (16 points), Pennsylvania (12 points), Arizona (10 points) and Georgia (8 points).
That is bad, bad news for a Democratic Party that once saw a growing number of Hispanic voters as its path to permanent dominance. (It should also make Republican strategists think long and hard about what drew those Hispanic voters to the GOP during the Trump years — and keep doing it.)
Teixeira points to other serious problems Democrats face. One is that the party is alienating working-class voters. Democrats are not just losing noncollege whites. They are losing noncollege everybody. "Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters," Teixeira notes.
Another problem is that huge numbers of Democratic votes are clustered in deep-blue cities and states, reducing their clout in a presidential system based on the Electoral College. Democrats could win California by 1 billion votes and not improve their national electoral total.
And finally, one more note about white voters. Yes, the white percentage of the population is declining. But white people still vote more regularly than other Americans. Teixeira goes through some of the states where that is happening. "Michigan is 72 percent white overall but had 80 percent white voters in 2020," he notes. "Pennsylvania is 74 percent white but had 83 percent white voters. Wisconsin is 79 percent white but had 89 percent white voters." With numbers like that, Moore's white-minority progressive paradise could be a few years off.
Put it all together, and Democrats should probably stop crowing about census trends. If some of the developments highlighted by Teixeira continue, the party could have serious trouble simply holding itself together in the years to come.
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