Nothing is more important to the future of American politics than the minority vote. Here’s a primer on what to expect from these voters for the rest of the decade.
One thing that’s certain about the future of the minority vote is its continued growth, which has averaged about half a percentage point a year or two points over a Presidential cycle. Given the latest Census population projections, we would expect growth to continue at roughly that level in the future. If it does, the share of minority voters in the 2016 election should be around 30 percent and, in the 2020 election, around 32 percent. In the immediate future, maintaining these levels of voter growth will depend on preventing a minority turnout dropoff, particularly among blacks, and continued mobilization of new voters, particularly among Latinos and Asians.
But how certain is it that minority voters will continue to lean so heavily Democratic? Change is always possible, but at this point those leanings look very solid. Consider black voters: besides their historic ties to the party, they are strong supporters of active government, both to combat discrimination and to provide services and opportunity. In a mid-2012 Pew analysis, their party identification was overwhelmingly Democratic: 87 percent of black registered voters identified with or leaned toward the Democrats, compared to just 8 percent who identified with or leaned towards the Republicans, a yawning 79 point gap.
Hispanics also have historic ties to the Democrats, if not quite so strong as those among blacks. But they are as strong or stronger in their support for active government, the safety net and generous provision of services. And the issue of immigration looms large, with Democrats viewed overwhelmingly as the party most favorable to immigrants. In the same Pew analysis, party identification among Hispanic registered voters was 61 percent Democratic to 29 percent Republican, a 32 point pro-Democratic gap.
Asians, perhaps surprisingly, are now almost as Democratic-oriented as Hispanics, showing strong support for Democratic stands on active government and immigration. In a detailed 2012 Pew study of Asian-Americans, Asians’ party identification favored Democrats by 50–28, a 22 point margin. In addition, self-identified liberals (31 percent) outnumber self-identified conservatives (24 percent) among this group, a gap that’s more significant that it seems given that conservatives typically outweigh liberals by a substantial margin in the general population.
Republicans have tried to argue that today’s GOP has considerable appeal to minorities and that, if they can just get their message out, Democratic support will be substantially eroded over time. Of course, that’s also what they said after the 2004 election, when Bush received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Bush’s dawn turned out to be false — Democratic dominance today is clear and overwhelming.
Consider the various approaches Republicans have taken to getting their message out, particularly to Hispanics whom they believe (correctly) are a much better target for conversion than blacks. A longtime favorite has been the idea that Hispanics are socially conservative and can be induced to vote for the GOP by emphasizing “values” issues like abortion or gay marriage. This has not been effective so far and there are no indications it will succeed in the future. Hispanics, it turns out, are actually much less likely than whites to vote on the basis of cultural issues. In addition, Hispanics overall are not nearly as socially conservative as many believe. On the specific issue of gay marriage, for example, surveys have repeatedly shown that Hispanics are no more conservative on this issue than whites are. And younger Hispanics are typically more progressive than their older counterparts on social issues, so generational replacement will make the tomorrow’s Hispanic population less socially conservative than today’s.
Another favored approach is to cast GOP economic policy in terms Republicans believe would resonate among minority constituencies. Republicans have argued for years that Latinos should be naturally attracted to their tax and regulatory policies because of the high number of small-business owners among them. They’ve also noted that, while there are differences among various groups, Asians on the whole have the highest average educational level and median household income of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, including whites.
Latino and Asian self-interest and material aspirations, on this approach, suggest that they should hate taxes and despise big government. But most Latinos and Asians do not despise government or desire more libertarian economic policies, as confirmed repeatedly by a wide variety of survey data.
These findings suggest that there is really only one way for the GOP to effectively compete for minority voters: the party must, quite simply, become less conservative. They will have to jettison their bitter hostility to active government, spending on social services and immigration reform and develop their own approach in these areas that minorities might find appealing. It is a way that, so far, Republicans have rejected. But if they continue down this path, it seems likely that Democrats will continue to get 75–80 percent, leaning toward the high side of that range, of the minority vote.