Republicans and white voters

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been reading lots of interesting blog posts about how Republicans have basically decided… screw trying to win over minority voters, we’ve just going to double down on the white people.  Really, among many Republican pundits, this is their new strategy.

The best of the pieces by far is from Nate Cohn.  He did great work back during the election on demographics and voting, but I haven’t linked to him much since (presumably in large part since TNR’s re-design has buried most of their content– boy could they learn from the Atlantic).   Anyway, Cohn has a great look at the incredibly shaky assumptions underlying this strategy.  Putting this in the context of immigration reform, Cohn writes:

But the GOP will have to compensate with gains elsewhere if it forfeits marginal but meaningful opportunities among Hispanics. Demographic changes are turning the Bush coalition—which combined white conservatives with a few targeted inroads among sympathetic groups—into a coffin. Every four years, the non-white share of eligible voters increases by 2 points, requiring Republicans to do a little better to compensate for demographic change. Plugging the 2004 results into 2016 demographics, for instance, would yield a Democratic victory. And to counter demographic changes by 2016, the GOP will need broader appeal than it’s had since 1984—a high burden. And that burden becomes even greater, even if only marginally, without inroads among Hispanics…

But Trende’s case is so appealing to conservatives because it implies that Republicans don’t need to make any compromises whatsoever to make additional gains among white voters.1 There is indeed room for the GOP to improve among white voters, but there’s no reason to think it won’t be painful, too. If Republicans don’t want to compromise on immigration reform, they will probably need to do something else to make up ground. It could be moderating on social issues or economics—or a little bit of both. Either way, the GOP will have to pick its poison.

Now, here’s the part I find most interesting and ties nicely into another recent post:

The case for GOP optimism rests on the hope that the party’s steady gains among white voters will continue. The national trend among white voters does look good for the GOP…

But the GOP’s gains among white voters aren’t national. They’re almost exclusively among southern and Appalachian voters. [emphasis mine] Outside of the South, there’s no clear trend. And Democrats might have even made gains among whites outside of the South, both absolutely and with respect to the national popular vote…

If these trends among white voters continue, it is not news good for Republicans. On balance, it would cement the Democratic edge in the Electoral College. Yes, there might be additional Republican gains in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, or northern and central Florida, but these regions aren’t populous enough to decisively offset Democratic gains elsewhere in those states. In contrast, the GOP is losing more ground in New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, or even Ohio, where Democrats have made gains around Columbus and in the northwestern third of the state…

Yet conservatives take solace in the possibility that they could win with gains through whites, presumably on the assumption that the changes needed for gains among non-southern white voters will be less painful than embracing immigration reform. To the extent that this assumption is informed by the view that the GOP is making broad, steady gains among white voters, it is wrong. The GOP has a tough road ahead.

If current trends continue, the GOP can have 100% of Southern whites (or at least those outside of dynamic, educated places like Raleigh, NC and Austin, TX), but that does not win them national elections.  Of course, the fact that white voters in the South are seemingly increasingly divergent from white voters in the rest of the country is an interesting story in itself that definitely bears further investigation.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Republicans and white voters

  1. Doxy says:

    It also raises this question for me: Are those of us (white progressives) who live in the South doomed to be stranded on “red islands”?

    Given the amount of gerrymandering that has taken place in NC–and the naked push to disenfranchise voters likely to support Democratic candidates–I am wondering if there is going to be any way to get these Tea Partiers out of the NC General Assembly?

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