No, The Democrats Have Not Locked In the Future For Themselves

Over at the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein asserts that should Democrats win the popular vote in this election they will have done so in 6 of the last 7 contests and solidified their support in Presidential contests.

Brownstein goes through the usual arguments depicted by the “demographics is destiny” theory by asserting that since 1992 the party has made gains among growing blocks of the electorate (Hispanics, Asians, and college educated Caucasian women).  They have expanded their support in major urban areas and successfully harmonized their ideological wings (in what universe?).

This is not the first time this idea has been floated.  Starting in the early 21st century, analysts and demographers have been predicating doom and gloom for the GOP.  But it has not come to pass.  After 2008, Republicans regained Congress in 2010 and after 2012 they increased their margins with minority voters and college educated women.

Of course, it is true that we only have one national election and that Democrats have historically done well recently.  But, consider this.  In the 4 elections since 1992 Democrats have won (the popular vote in 2000 is only a moral victory for the party, just ask Gore), only twice have they won a majority of the vote.  Bill Clinton could not manage to do it and his wife looks very unlikely to pull off the feat.

If Democrats have locked in their advantage does it not figure that Democrats would be running away with this race?  It does.  More importantly, it shows making long-term assumptions based on an extremely small sample size (6 or 7 elections) is just asking to be proven wrong.

There are some pretty fundamental features of American elections.  First, candidates matter.  In 1992, HW Bush came off as aloof while Ross Perot came out of nowhere to capture 19 percent of the vote largely based on his centrist appeal to downscale whites.  Likewise, Clinton reshaped the map not by ditching liberal ideology as much as showing a hawkish temperament and being willing to take on his own party (something former nominees had lacked).

Secondly, external factors matter.  A lot!  In 1992 the country was in recession and HW Bush took the brunt of the blame for it.  Merely 16 months before he had an approval rating totaling almost 90 percent due to the successful end of the Gulf War.  Or look at 2008.  John McCain was almost polling dead even with Obama up until the stock market crashed in late summer.  He obviously never recovered.

Lastly, American politics seems to be extremely cyclical and tends to even out over time.  Just look at the battleground contests this year alone.  Democrats are optimistic they can put states like Arizona and Georgia in play due their growing minority population.  In turn, Republicans are increasingly dominant in Iowa, Michigan, and surprisingly Wisconsin.  It might not show this election but the trend line is clear the Rustbelt is becoming redder just as the Sunbelt is becoming bluer.  Then there are states like Ohio and Florida that continue to always be poised to go one way or the other.

It’s hard for me to fault Brownstein’s analysis.  It makes an interesting read and certainly is true to an extent (Democrats have dominated recent Presidential contests).  But, if Democrats had locked in the support of growing blocks of voters, then why are American born Hispanics (a growing bloc of voters) less likely to back Clinton than other Hispanics?  Why is the gender gap evening out between men and women?  Seems for every gain the Democrats have made they have lost an equal number of voters from another group.

Trump is a horrible candidate.  He would be losing to Obama by double-digits and Biden by probably close to 20.  Yet, he is only slightly behind Clinton.  The same Clinton who has outspent him on the airwaves by over $100 million and has hundreds more paid staffers across the country.  Needless to say, against anybody else Trump would be losing.

Indeed, short of Trump and Ted Cruz, Clinton rarely held a consistent edge against any GOP primary contenders before the field began to narrow.  Seems voters likely in the Democratic column, college educated women and minorities for example, would have preferred an honest Republican to a scandal plagued Democrat.

Further, the youngest voters don’t seem enamored with Clinton.  Sure, Trump is tanking with these voters but Clinton barely gets a majority of their support in some polls.  That means a solid 50 percent or so of young voters are rejecting Clinton, the candidate who personifies Democratic values.  Meanwhile, Republicans are running away from Trump as fast as they can.

Perhaps most illuminating, Trump is polling much, much worse than some Senate Republicans.  And sorry folks, but this is not because of the widely recounted talking point that fewer voters participate in down-ballot contests.  In Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2012 (both Presidential battlegrounds) the Senate contests attracted almost the same number of voters as the Presidential contest.

In short, Republicans running on a traditional GOP platform in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and even diversifying Nevada are doing fine.  This can only be occurring if those loyal blocks of growing Democratic voters are defecting.  Not so loyal indeed.


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