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There is a vogue in Republican party circles these days for enhancing the party’s de facto commitment to white voters. One approach is to rely on turning out the “missing” white voters from the 2012 election. Alan Abramowitz and I have critiqued this approach in a series of TP Ideas posts (see here and here).
Another approach is to assume that the GOP can garner an ever higher share of the white vote, thereby counteracting the pro-Democratic effect from the continuing rise of the minority population. In a strict mathematical sense, proponents of this view are correct that if the GOP can get a high enough share of the white vote and then increase that share every election, they can be electorally successful even if they do not increase their share of the burgeoning minority vote. But how plausible is this approach? Can Republicans reasonably expect to continue increasing their share of the white vote every election, surpassing their (unusually high) 59 percent share in 2012 — which was not enough to win that year –by ever-wider margins?
I don’t think so. White voters are likely to become less, not more, conservative over time, presenting a huge obstacle to this ever-increasing white Republican vote strategy.
Start with the white working class. These are the most conservative white voters, regularly giving Republicans a 12-14 point larger margin than they receive among white college graduates. But white working class voters are declining precipitously as a share of voters (down from 54 to 36 percent between 1988 and 2012) while white college graduates are increasing their share (from 31 to 36 percent over the same time period). That means that the white working class is also declining as a share of white voters. Back in 1988, 64 percent of white voters were white working class; by 2012, that figure had dropped to just half of white voters. This trend is likely to continue for many years, making the white vote a harder not easier target for conservative appeals.
Another daunting obstacle to the GOP dream of an ever larger share of the white vote is the growing Millenial segment of the white electorate. The Millennial generation, as has been widely documented, is the most liberal generation in the overall electorate by a considerable margin. This is also true of white Millennials, who are considerably more progressive than their older counterparts. In the last two elections, the Republic margin among white Millennials has averaged 20 points below that among white voters as a whole. And Millennials are becoming a larger and larger proportion of the white electorate with every passing year. By the time the 2020 election is held, they will be around 37 percent of eligible white voters –close to 2 in 5 white voters.
Republicans in the future will thus be attempting to squeeze ever more white votes out of a white electorate which is being steadily liberalized both by educational attainment and generational replacement. This is not an impossible task, but it is surely very, very difficult. Perhaps it’s time for a re-think in Republican circles: the future of white people appears less promising for the GOP than they had supposed.