Is demography destiny? A recent piece in Axios suggests it might be for the Republican party.
“America, as a whole, and swing states, in particular, are growing more diverse, more quickly. There is no way Republicans can change birth rates or curb this trend–and there’s not a single demographic megatrend that favors Republicans,” the report stated. In less than ten years, most under age 30 in the U.S. will be non-white. And 59 percent of Millennial voters are already registered Democrats.
As the divisive rhetoric at President Trump’s most recent rally demonstrated, exploiting white people’s anxiety about their looming minority status for political gain in the near term might win Trump reelection, but it will not solve Republicans’ long-term challenge: convincing greater numbers of non-white voters that the party has something to offer them. A similar challenge faces Republicans with regard to women, both as voters and as candidates; and with regard to younger voters, who have less favorable views of capitalism and more favorable views of socialism than older generations.
Democrats and progressives are happy to identify what they see as the problem with Republicans. As Carol Anderson, an African-American studies professor, recently wrote in Time, Republican voters “yearn for a white republic” and are willing to destroy the country to get it. “For white American to exist, America must die,” she argues, “And the Republicans have made their choice.”
The facts paint a more complicated picture. Republican voters are more ambivalent than Democrats about demographic change: A recent PRRI poll found that half of Republicans “say these demographic changes will have a largely negative impact on American society, while 43 [percent] say these changes will be positive.” By contrast, 85 percent of Democrats say the changes will be mostly positive.
But the demographic picture is a bit more complicated than the simplistic progressive narrative about the seemingly inevitable decline of the (old, white, male) Republican party (and racist white conservatives) suggests.
First, the country’s demographic future is more complicated than decreasing numbers of whites vs. increasing numbers of non-whites. Census bureau projections suggest that the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the country in the near future will be biracial Americans, who are not easily categorized politically or socially.
And although most non-white voters do currently align with the Democratic party, there is opportunity for Republicans to make inroads, particularly among Hispanic voters. As David Byler noted in March in The Washington Post, although Trump is prone to exaggerate his support among Hispanic voters, even he has some: “Recent YouGov, Quinnipiac and Post-ABC News polls put his approval rating among Hispanics at 27 percent, 23 percent, and 18 percent, respectively. Those numbers average out to about 23 percent — that’s a substantial chunk, and it’s not so different from his 2016 vote share. According to demographers Ruy Teixeira, Rob Griffin, and John Halpin, Trump won 29 percent of the Latino vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
A less polarizing Republican candidate could increase those numbers if he or she made an effort to do so (Mitt Romney got about 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, for example).
Second, although the 2018 class of House Democratic freshmen are among the most diverse ever to win office, the party is becoming more ideologically homogenous and purist, thanks to growing pressure from its progressive flank. Politicians on both sides of the aisle love to remind us that “diversity is our strength.” But diversity politics has been creating more internecine conflict among Democrats–and generating more extremist rhetoric that could eventually become off-putting to more moderate Democratic voters.
Speaking at the recent Netroots Nation conference, for example, progressive “Squad” member Rep. Ayanna Pressley put the country’s future majority-minorities on notice about what the Democrats expect of them: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.”
Where does that leave an African-American moderate who believes in free markets and is concerned about progressive Democrats’ embrace of socialism? Or a working-class white Democrat who doesn’t “yearn for a white Republic” but who is uncomfortable being told that she’s the reason structural racism exists?
Or consider the issue of abortion. What if, like these black leaders, you share the progressive left’s concerns about mass incarceration and capital punishment, but are also staunchly pro-life? Are you still considered a legitimate “black voice” by Rep. Pressley’s standard?
As a former Obama administration official warned his fellow Democrats recently about embracing abortion-on-demand because they claim this is what women of color and low-income communities say they want, “Here’s the problem: They don’t speak for these communities when they appear to support abortion on demand. We know that 73 percent of women believe abortion should be restricted to at least the first three months (with a large percentage of those women supporting even greater restrictions).” A PRRI survey in 2012 found, “A slim majority (51 [percent]) of black Americans—and more than 6-in-10 (61 [percent]) Hispanic Americans—believe that having an abortion is morally wrong.”
The Republican Party’s demographic future is fraught. In that sense, it perfectly aligns with the behavior of our current president. But its demise is not inevitable. A Democratic Party that fails to resist the radicalism of its progressive wing could hand the Republicans an opportunity to attract diverse, moderate Democrats into the fold, provided Republicans are willing to make a vigorous commitment to diversify their party (some already are.) Whether the post-Trump era arrives in 2020 or 2024, any Republicans still committed to conservative principles and still left standing should do just that.