Republican Party of Whites?

A Gallup poll released yesterday finds that, “More than 6 in 10 Republicans today are white conservatives, while most of the rest are whites with other ideological leanings; only 11% of Republicans are Hispanics, or are blacks or members of other races. By contrast, only 12% of Democrats are white conservatives, while about half are white moderates or liberals and a third are nonwhite.”

This is pretty stark but, as Nate Silver points out, “not exactly anything new.”

88 percent of George W. Bush’s voters in 2004, and 91 percent of them in 2000, were white. And nearly 98 percent of Ronald Reagan’s voters in 1980 were white as were 96 percent of Gerald Ford’s in 1976. The GOP is, in fact, slightly less white than it once was, as they do relatively better among Hispanics and Asians than among blacks (if still not particularly well), and Hispanics and Asians are starting to make up a larger fraction of the nonwhite (and overall) voting pool.

Silver continues,

The Democrats, however, are becoming less white at a much faster rate than the Republicans. Whereas 85 percent of their votes were from white voters in 1976, the number was just 60 percent last November. This is, of course, a helpful characteristic, since the nonwhite share of the electorate, just 11 percent in 1976 and 1980, represented more than a quarter of the turnout in November.

Consider this remarkable statistic. In 1980, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Democrats (or at least white Carter voters) — likewise, in 2008, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Obama voters. But whereas, in 1980, just 9 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Carter voters, 21 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Obama voters last year. Thus, Carter went down to a landslide defeat, whereas Obama defeated John McCain by a healthy margin.

He wonders if this isn’t the Southern Strategy coming home to roost.  One might counter that the Democrats have answered  with a racially and culturally divisive strategy of their own, which accounts for their declining percentage of the white vote concomitant with their gains among minorities.  But, from the standpoint of winning elections, that’s probably a smarter strategy.

It’s going to be increasingly difficult in the future for Republicans to win nationwide appealing only to whites.  The party has long written off black voters, who tend to vote as a bloc, but can’t afford to also write off Hispanics; together, they comprise more than a quarter of the population — and growing.

Eleven years ago this month, Atlantic Monthly published a brilliant essay by Christopher Caldwell entitled “The Southern Captivity of the GOP.” It detailed how the party went from the 1994 “Revolution” that swept up both Houses of Congress to getting crushed in the 1996 presidential election and was on its way to a midterm setback in 1998.  A big part of that was losing the Hispanics.

Democrats who had arrogantly assumed that standard-issue minority politics would easily pull Hispanics into the party fold were proved wrong throughout the 1980s. Hispanic voters turned out to be disproportionately entrepreneurial and disproportionately receptive to Republican family-values rhetoric, and gave the party roughly a third of their votes in the three presidential elections from 1980 to 1988. Leaving aside Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, who do fit the Democrats’ minority paradigm, the Republicans were doing better with the Hispanic vote than might be expected.

But the Republicans in the 104th Congress tried to shore up their Texas and California right wings with hostile rhetoric on immigration. They passed legislation that sought to deprive not just illegal but also legal immigrants of federal benefits. (Newt Gingrich and other Republicans backpedaled in 1997, reversing some of the measures, but the damage was done.) And California’s Proposition 187, supported by Republican Governor Pete Wilson and aimed at denying benefits to illegal immigrants, brought angry Hispanics to the polls in unprecedented numbers. Clinton took 72 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide, including 81 percent in Arizona and 75 percent in California; he took 78 percent of Hispanics under thirty. He nearly split the Hispanic vote even in Florida, where 97 percent of the Cuban population voted for Reagan in 1984.

Recall that, prior to Clinton’s win in 1992, California‘s massive electoral vote block had been a “lock” for Republicans.  Since 1996, Republicans haven’t even bothered to contest it in presidential elections.  And Florida has gone from a pretty solid Republican state to an intense battleground.  Beyond that,

As southern control over the Republican agenda grows, the party alienates even conservative voters in other regions. The prevalence of right-to-work laws in southern states may be depriving Republicans of the socially conservative midwestern trade unionists whom they managed to split in the Reagan years, and sending Reagan Democrats back to their ancestral party in the process. Anti-government sentiment makes little sense in New England, where government, as even those who hate it will concede, is neither remote nor unresponsive.

Of course, while the GOP did lose seats in 1998, costing Gingrich his job, it rallied to win the presidency (although not the plurality of votes for president) in 2000 and again in 2008.   But it’s lost congressional seats in every single election since, losing its majority in both Houses in 2006 and becoming a decided minority in 2008.

Granting that there was a perfect storm working for the Democrats in 2008 — an unpopular Republican incumbent, an unexciting Republican ticket, two unpopular wars, a collapsing economy, and a charismatic Democratic candidate with a compelling backstory — the Republicans lost states that it had theretofore been thought theirs in perpetuity.

Demographics isn’t destiny and this trend therefore isn’t set in stone.  But the Republican Party will need to drastically change the inertia if it wishes to be other than a regional party in the coming years.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Davebo says:

    One might counter that the Democrats have countered it with a racially and culturally divisive strategy of their own,

    Could you expound on this a bit because I have no idea what you’re trying to say?

  2. Eric Florack says:

    But the Republican Party will need to drastically change the inertia if it wishes to be other than a regional party in the coming years.

    Seems to me we heard this argument during the Carter years, too.

    You may recall it turned out otherwise.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Could you expound on this a bit because I have no idea what you’re trying to say?

    That, to the extent the GOP has used inflammatory rhetoric to get out the white vote the Dems have done the same for the black and Hispanic vote.

    Seems to me we heard this argument during the Carter years, too.

    That would have been an odd argument during the Carter years given that Carter won much of the South and lost California in 1976.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    This is a bad development for both parties and for American politics, generally, due to a factor that I don’t think that either you or Nate are taking into account sufficiently, James. Neither party is growing robustly. So what we’re actually seeing is two parties, both of which look decreasingly like America (the Republican Party is too white, the Democratic too non-white) each of which attracts the loyalties of a decreasing share of the electorate but which between the two of them have a lock on government at all levels.

    That may suit the two parties’ partisans who remain just fine but I don’t believe they’ve thought things through sufficiently. The decreasing support means decreased legitimacy and decreased legitimacy places limits on things you might want to do just as surely as an opposition party does.

  5. rodney dill says:

    Republicans 89% white
    Democrats 65% white
    Both parties largely white albeit with a significant difference in percent.

  6. Joe says:

    The Republican party is really shooting itself in the foot by alienating minority groups. America is quickly becoming less white and conservative. I think minority groups could, in a few generations, be persuaded to also be conservative, but they won’t if it’s not to their benefit.

  7. Derrick says:

    Republicans 89% white
    Democrats 65% white
    Both parties largely white albeit with a significant difference in percent.

    I’m not sure what your point is but America is a majority white nation, so it makes sense that the parties would be mostly white. Also, recent immigrants aren’t as quick to join a political party so it skews the numbers even more than straight demographics.

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    a charismatic Democratic candidate with a compelling backstory

    lol!!!!!

  9. rodney dill says:

    I’m not sure what your point is but America is a majority white nation,

    Yes, but nobody was stating the obvious. The table at the top was quoted in various ways to prove a (sometimes concocted point). The table even further obfuscates the obvious by breaking whites into two subcategories, but the other races in the table are not.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    The Republican party is really shooting itself in the foot by alienating minority groups. America is quickly becoming less white and conservative.

    I for one am alienating stupid liberals, color don’t matter.

    And you are right America is becoming more liberal and stupid, but who’s fault is that?

  11. odograph says:

    This is a bad development for both parties and for American politics, generally, due to a factor that I don’t think that either you or Nate are taking into account sufficiently, James. Neither party is growing robustly. So what we’re actually seeing is two parties, both of which look decreasingly like America (the Republican Party is too white, the Democratic too non-white) each of which attracts the loyalties of a decreasing share of the electorate but which between the two of them have a lock on government at all levels.

    I’ve felt that the rise of independents was a good thing. I never really liked the two party system, and the automatic bundling of positions. Being registered in either party implies I support things I do not.

    (I’m still on the Republican rolls.)

  12. JKB says:

    The elephant in the room, well, I guess we can’t call it that, is the middle column, the independents. I seems increasingly that Americans are tiring of both parties. The last election was governed more by the factors listed by James and the simple fact that after 8 years, people wanted a change up. It’s the only way to keep the corrupt, venal politicians at bay although they seem to be able to go bad faster these days with one party look much like the other.

    Next year and in 2012 we’ll be away from the Republican corruption and policies and have a familiarity with the Democrat corruption and policies, so how the independents go will be highly in doubt.

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    It’s the only way to keep the corrupt, venal politicians at bay although they seem to be able to go bad faster these days with one party look much like the other.

    Term limits, I.Q. tests!

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Scratch that, Term limits, history tests!

  15. Eric Florack says:

    That would have been an odd argument during the Carter years given that Carter won much of the South and lost California in 1976.

    Not really, since that southern victory was due to a variable of White Democrats… that variable flopped to the Republicans after a few years of Carter.

  16. Furhead says:

    I tend to agree with JKB and Eric that the pendulum will start swinging back, but by how much? Certainly there are many who advocate for a split government, or at least that it’s good to toss out the power structure once in awhile.

    I think Shuler’s argument about decreased legitimacy is interesting, maybe he could expand upon it? For example, would the rise of a third party necessarily be bad?

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    Our system is intrinsically a two-party system. That’s not an accident of history; it’s inherent in the system. James can expand on this particular issue more authoritatively than I and I urge him to do so.

    A rising proportion of voters disaffected with the Democratic and Republican Parties will neither result in the rise of a new third party nor will it influence the two parties, both of which are embarked on a project to transmogrify themselves into programmatic parties rather than the catch-all parties they’ve been for well over a century. It will merely mean a rising proportion of voters disaffected with both parties and a concommitant loss of legitimacy.

  18. odograph says:

    Dave, we are living in times of major two-party dysfunction. At state and federal level the Democrats are in charge of spending, and the Republicans are in charge of not taxing.

    First, I’m surprised that you see any strengths in that.

    Second, I’m surprised that you’d not be looking for change.

  19. odograph says:
  20. Wayne says:

    “It’s going to be increasingly difficult in the future for Republicans to win nationwide appealing only the whites. “

    If the GOP peel 10% from one of the other groups which would be best? Whites of course. That would be net gain 7.3% of the Independents and 6.5% of Democrats compare to 1% of any other group.\

    I agree in reaching out to minorities but it should be to convince them how conservative values will benefit them not to promise handouts like the Democrats have done. Handouts are difficult to counter but it can be done. However from winning the elections standpoint, peeling off of white voters from the other groups would be easier and results in larger gains. Don’t let MSM propaganda fool you otherwise.

  21. James Joyner says:

    Our system is intrinsically a two-party system. That’s not an accident of history; it’s inherent in the system. James can expand on this particular issue more authoritatively than I and I urge him to do so.

    Several posts in the archives (this has been a recurring theme over the years) flesh out the argument:

    NOT A DIME’S WORTH OF DIFFERENCE. II

    Third Parties

    Fred Thompson Loss Ends Republican Party

  22. sam says:

    @GA

    And you are right America is becoming more liberal and stupid, but who’s fault is that?

    Ok, we’ll cop to the liberal, you guys cop to the stupid.

  23. just me says:

    I agree that the elephant in the room is that neither party is really growing and both are bleeding members. America is becoming far more Independant in its political affiliations. This doesn’t necessarily mean those I’s are moderate, and both parties need to be aware of this, but in the end what I think we are going to see soon is that the vast majority of voters are going to be very fluid. They will demand and expect results within what they see as a reasonable amount of time, and if you fail to deliver, they will swing to vote for a different party.

    What we are going to see soon is an end to party loyalty.

  24. Wayne says:

    “What we are going to see soon is an end to party loyalty.”

    I would like to see that, not only for voters but for politicians as well. I believe the voters will get there first. However the voters are usually given two viable choices which are selected for the most part by the Party’s leader. Yes there are primaries but those in the primaries a mostly groom by the party’s leader and MSM.

  25. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ok, we’ll cop to the liberal, you guys cop to the stupid.

    sorry Sam you guys got all the teachers and media.

  26. An Interested Party says:

    The GOP should adopt the ideas that G.A.Phillips has shared on this thread (to some extent, they already do)…it’s a nice recipe for their further decline…by the way, how can Republicans possibly hope to increase their share of minority voters (many of whom do share, ironically, the party’s conservative social views) as long as they appear to be hostile to minorities (virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric among other things)…

  27. floyd says:

    “”A Gallup poll released yesterday finds that, “More than 6 in 10 Republicans today are white conservatives, while most of the rest are whites with other ideological leanings; only 11% of Republicans are Hispanics, or are blacks or members of other races. By contrast, only 12% of Democrats are white conservatives, while about half are white moderates or liberals and a third are nonwhite.”””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    One read of this manipulated nonsense should convince readers to never again trust any poll.

  28. floyd says:

    “”Republican Party will need to drastically change the inertia if it wishes to be other than a regional party in the coming years.””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    History and current events should prove this statement false… The Democrats will do it for them!

  29. An Interested Party says:

    How exactly is this poll “manipulated nonsense”? I realize why you don’t care for the results of the poll…

  30. floyd says:

    OK Aip, it’s fair, but only if “fair” is read as a synonym to “carnival”[lol]

  31. anjin-san says:

    The GOP did indeed find its way out of the wilderness quickly as the 70s came to a close. But then they had Reagan, didn’t they? And now they have… nothing.

  32. Tlaloc says:

    The GOP did indeed find its way out of the wilderness quickly as the 70s came to a close. But then they had Reagan, didn’t they? And now they have… nothing.

    Not only did they have Reagan but they were coming after Carter who was unpopular and the 70s oil embargo came on his watch.

    Compare with today where the reps are the one with the problematic president hanging over their head, and the economic downturn clearly started on their watch. And nobody in the GOP currently seems to be able to make the various factions happy the way Reagan could with his charm.

    Watching the internal GOP fighting reminds me of the modern world koan: why are office politics so bitter? Because the stakes are so small.

    The GOP’s stakes are getting smaller by the minute.