Breaking Through the Blue Wall

Demographic trends clearly favor the Democratic Party.  In 1980, Reagan won with 56% of the white vote and won a landslide.  In 2012, Romney won with 59% of the white vote and LOST in a landslide.  The reason is simple: the white percentage of the total electorate decreased while minority voters increased from 12% to 28% of the electorate.  Still, whites can expect to remain a majority of the electorate.  However, this is in the overall sense and we do not elect Presidents by popular vote.

Several pundits have pointed out that whites with a college degree have been drifting into the Democratic column and especially so with the Obama campaigns.  The non-college degree whites remain staunchly Republican.  They also tend to be rural and older voters which are a decreasing demographic.  Hence, for the GOP to capture the White House in 2016 a few strategies are available.  First, one can attempt to increase the turnout of your base- non-college degree whites.  The only way to do that would be to nominate a staunchly conservative candidate (Cruz?).  But that is like playing with fire because the turnout would have to be so large to offset minority and college educated whites.  Although it can be done, it would be an uphill battle.

The second strategy would be to somehow convince college educated whites of your candidacy while not alienating your base- a political tightrope act with no guarantee.  To achieve this, one would have to phrase one’s message and vision in wonkish terms that do not alienate the base; perhaps, a different approach to each group depending on the audience.

The third strategy is perhaps the most doable of the three: attempt to move all five demographics (college educated whites, whites without a college degree, blacks, Hispanics and Asian/other) ever so slightly towards the GOP over historical averages.  Let’s start with blacks who turned out at a 66% rate in 2012 and gave Obama 93% of their vote.  The turnout rate was not a record (that was 2008), but still above the historical average of about 60%.  So let’s assume it drops back to 60% and that without a black at the top of the ticket, the Republican candidate eats into the Democratic advantage from 93% to 89%.  That alone would not be enough to deliver the White House to the GOP.

But, if we assume the above as concerns the black vote and assume that Hispanic turnout will remain about 48%, but the Republican candidate takes 34% of the vote, the GOP captures Florida, but still loses the big prize.  If the GOP increases their share a mere 3% while turnout remains constant among the two white demographic groups, it comes down to a razor thin GOP loss in the electoral vote count- 270 to 268.  That would boil the election down to New Hampshire or a Rust Belt state like Michigan or Pennsylvania.  Push that white vote another single percentage point toward the GOP and the White House is our’s 285 to 253.

Thus, the across-the-board strategy is probably the best and potentially easiest to achieve.  A mere three percentage point shift in all groups results in a decisive victory.  Anything more would be a bonus while anything less could be potentially be made up for through decreased turnout.  The other option- all eggs in one basket- is rife with pitfalls not only nationally, but on a state-by-state basis, especially in key states.

Further, this can be done without pandering.  For example, the Hispanic vote is totally overblown.  The majority of the Latino vote is concentrated in four states- California, New York, Florida and Texas.  Other than Florida, these states are not in play.  But even in Florida, there are many subgroups of Latinos- Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and South Americans rather than Mexican-Americans where immigration as an issue plays a lesser role.

Second, the Democrats really, really (really) need the black vote.  Obama achieved a 66% turnout rate among African-Americans.  Without a black running for President, turnout will likely drift back down to around 60%.  If that happens and the GOP can take 11% of the black vote, the Democrats lose Florida and it gives them no room for error in Ohio and Virginia- two states where the non-college degree white percentage of the electorate exceeds the national average.  Hence, cut black turnout and steal some votes from them and increase white turnout in Virginia and Ohio and you win the White House.  One would and should expect the Democratic Party to rile up the African-American demographic by focusing on civil rights to encourage turnout and the GOP must be ready for this eventuality.