Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday, I promised to post some bad news for the GOP, to leaven the good news. But maybe this isn't really news -- people are continuing to write about the Republican Party's serious demographic challenges.
Having a base that is increasingly white, rural and old is not a winning formala at this juncture. Whites made up 95 percent of the electorate in 1952 but are now below three-quarters. Need proof of their (I should say, our) declining clout? John McCain beat Barack Obama last year among white voters, even as Obama improved on the Democratic showing among them.
A few weeks back, Nate Silver at Fivethirtyeight.com noted that Gallup polling shows that 89 percent of self-identifying Republicans are white, compared with 65 percent of Democrats. That's roughly how things broke down in the voting last year.
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.
Thomas B. Edsall, at Huffington Post, writes about how the GOP's "white voter strategy" is "running out of gas." Edsall cites polling data suggesting that the GOP's anti-Obama messages have helped drive down his support among whites, but argues this is a conservative message that fails to appeal to minorities will continue to wound the party.
The Republican Party thrived between 1968 and 2000 primarily because of the gains it made among white voters, especially among formerly Democratic working-class whites, a disproportionate share of whom were men. By 2000, however, the GOP's white strategy began to run out of gas, as the white percentage of the electorate dropped to 80 percent and below.
The trend is striking. In 1976, 89 percent of the electorate was white. That number fell every four years, to 88 percent in 1980, 86 percent in 1984, 85 percent in 1988, 83 percent in 1996, 81 percent in 2000, 77 percent in 2004, and 74 percent last year. The only exception was 1992, when the presence of independent candidate Ross Perot drove the white percentage of the electorate up to 87 percent.
Something to bear in mind today as a majority of Republican senators prepare to vote against the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.
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