Charles Murray: All Is Not Lost … Yet

Charles Murray has good news for Republicans who are worried that demographic shifts will place them on the endangered species list. Well, … good news after a fashion.

From his blog at AEI:

The changing ethnic makeup of the electorate spells doom for the GOP unless it can figure out a way to appeal to minorities, right? Everybody knows that.

I thought I knew it too, and so, as part of the book I’m working on, I set out to document this universally acknowledged truth with numbers. I hereby concede defeat. The GOP is facing a demographic headwind, but for the next few election cycles it is a zephyr rather than a gale.

It seems impossible that the headwind is not already a gale, or even a hurricane. After all, we know from the national census that non-Latino whites (hereafter just whites) fell to 64% of the population in 2010, while Latinos continued their skyrocketing rise, now constituting 16% of the population, overtaking African Americans as the nation’s largest minority. We know from the National Election Pool exit polls, the one used by all the major news organizations, that Democrats captured large majorities of Latinos (averaging 64% of the vote), blacks (92%) and Asians (62%) in the four presidential elections from 2000 through 2012. The Census Bureau’s projections tell us that America’s minorities will continue to increase as a proportion of the population, with whites becoming a minority of all Americans in the early 2040s.

And yet, when these numbers are plugged into the standard arithmetic for predicting voting outcomes, the expected increase in the Democratic vote in 2016 is not five, six, or seven percentage points. Nor even one or two percentage points. The demographic changes I just described may be expected to produce an increase in the Democratic presidential vote of just three-tenths of one percentage point.

How is that possible? Because I neglected to mention one other set of numbers that goes into that arithmetic, also produced by the Census Bureau in periodic special surveys for the November Current Population survey: Voter turnout. In the presidential elections from 2000 through 2008 (the 2012 figures aren’t yet available), the percentage of Americans eighteen years and older who actually voted averaged 57%. But those percentages varied widely by ethnic group. Among whites, the average turnout was 64%. Among blacks, 57%. Among Latinos and Asians, just 29%.

That’s why the headwind is so feeble in the near term. Between 2012 and 2016, the Census Bureau estimates that the population of voting-age Latinos will increase by 3.9 million people compared to an increase of just 1.8 million whites. But because of their much lower turnout, the expected increase in Latino voters is 9,513 fewer—yes, fewer—than the expected increase in white voters. The only reason that the Democrats can expect even a microscopic 0.3 percentage point increase in the 2016 vote is because of an increase in the black voting-age population.

Sure, it’s basically the definition of cold comfort. As Murray himself goes on to note, the long-term prognosis is still not good. But it’s a reprieve. The question then becomes whether we can use the extra time for some productive purpose — such as weakening the link between ethnicity and partisan affiliation. That, of course, leaves an unanswered question: how?