There is a running dispute among political commentators as to what extent demographics will shape future politics. Until November 8, 2016, Democrats were confident that increasing levels of racial and ethnic diversity in American society would eventually lead to them having a long-term majority. Now, they are less certain about it but still hopeful. This theme is also frequently capitalized on by avid Trump supporters, who believe if immigration is not limited we will have a permanent Democratic majority and no Republican will be elected president again. I have heard and read this fear being espoused. I must contest this notion of “demographics are destiny” as political coalitions rise and fall. After all, in my last posting, I explained how a party with a significant wing that believed in Jim Crow laws won the black vote in 1936 and now, without the existence of its segregationist wing, is the party’s most loyal demographic. The strange truth is that since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which is often cited as a cause of an increase in racial and ethnic diversity, the country’s electorate has grown more Republican due to an increasing percentage of the white vote going to the Republicans. The best example I can think of for an election that demonstrates how permanency can be lacking is the 1976 election. This election was quite close, but Carter won both the electoral college and popular vote. What is interesting to observe is what states voted the same in 1976 and 2016.
States that Voted Republican in 1976 and 2016: 14
States that Voted Democrat in 1976 and 2016: 7
- 58% of the states voted differently in 2016 than 1976.
- With the sole exception of Oklahoma, the entire South voted differently in 2016 than in 1976. Having a southerner at the top of the Democratic ticket won the South, whereas having a southerner on the VP slot in 2016 won his home state.
- 1976 was the last time a Republican won California and not Texas.
- Ford swept all the western states, perhaps a manifestation of the “sagebrush rebellion”.
Another interesting aspect to examine was where the candidates performed worst, which just goes to show how things can change.
Ford’s 5 worst performance states:
- Georgia – 32.96%
- Arkansas – 34.93%
- Massachusetts – 40.44%
- West Virginia – 41.93%
- Minnesota – 42.02%
Carter’s 5 worst performance states:
- Utah – 33.65%
- Alaska – 35.65%
- Idaho – 37.12%
- Nebraska – 38.46%
- Wyoming – 39.81%
Trump’s 5 worst performance states:
- Hawaii – 30.03%
- Vermont – 30.27%
- California – 31.62%
- Massachusetts – 32.81%
- Maryland – 33.91%
Clinton’s 5 worst performance states:
- Wyoming – 21.63%
- West Virginia – 26.43%
- North Dakota – 27.23%
- Utah – 27.46%
- Idaho – 27.49%
- Democrats have lost big in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming for a long time now.
- West Virginia jumped from the 4th least Republican state to the 2nd most in 40 years.
- The state that gave the lowest percentage to any loser in 1976 was Georgia at 32.96%, and this can be attributed to the state voting for its “favorite son” in Carter.
- Only 1 of the 10 states listed in 2016 gave a loser a higher percentage than the 10 states in 1976 (Maryland).
- 3 of Ford’s 5 worst states voted for Trump, and Minnesota was much closer than expected.
- Although Vermont was not in the top 5 worst Carter performances, it was the 7th worst performance, with Colorado coming in 6th. Both voted Clinton in 2016, with Vermont being Trump’s 2nd worst performance.
My general point here is that times can change and that to assume a permanent, never-ending majority is unrealistic. Although a party may have a period of dominance this can be undone by policy screw-ups, wedge issues that split coalitions, and new issues. I may explore this subject further in a future posting.
United States Presidential Election, 1976. Wikipedia.
United States Presidential Election, 2016, Wikipedia.