|White Working Class No Longer Dominant Swing Vote
Over the last twenty years, the share of the white working class vote in the electorate (defined in the study as whites without a four year degree), has declined by 15%, and been replaced entirely by minorities and college education whites.
Consider some of the components of the new demography. Between 1988 and 2008, the minority share of voters in presidential elections has risen by 11 percentage points, while the share of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters has risen by four points. But the share of white-working class voters, who have remained conserva¬tive in their orientation, has plummeted by 15 points
This is the End of Bubba Dominance thesis, where socially conservative, working-class whites simply no longer make up a large enough percentage of the population to be the dominant swing voter group. This passage puts that thesis in stark relief, as 15% of the electorate that was once white working class has been entirely replaced with minorities and creative class whites. Most Republicans, and even many Democrats, are unaware of just how stark the decline in white working class voter strength has been, but hopefully this will open up their eyes.
White Working Class Doesn't Even Swing
No matter how much we trash candidates like Michael Dukakis, the Democratic Party of this decade performs just as poorly among working class whites as did Dukakis (see my previous writing on this (see here and here). As such, we are not winning primarily due to some great improvement in our strategy, infrastructure, messaging, or candidates, we are just winning because the demographics of the electorate shifted in our favor. Gore, Obama and Dukakis performed almost identically among the white working class, and Kerry wasn't that far behind:
In 2008, Obama lost the white working class by a very large 18 point margin, somewhat better than Kerry's 23-point deficit in 2004 but actually a little worse than Al Gore's 17-point deficit in 2000. Moreover, going back to 1988 progressives' continuing difficul¬ties with the white working class are thrown into stark relief. In that year, the progres¬sive deficit among the white working class and white college graduates was identical: 20 points. This year, the respective deficits were 18 points and four points. Thus, Obama only improved over Dukakis by two points among white, working-class voters, but by 16 points among white college graduates.
We like to think that candidates or messaging can reshape the political environment. Perhaps they can to some degree, but these underlying demographic trends are much more important. Over the last 20 years, there were two major political developments in America: first, Republican cultural backlash messaging to the white working class pissed off all the growth demographics in America and, second, Republicans finally got control of the entire country and destroyed it. The end result is a Democratic trifecta larger than any Republicans have held in 80 years. Our infrastructure and strategic improvements are certainly important, but they are dwarfed in impact by the two developments listed in the previous sentence.
No longer a white Christian nation
It is not just the white working class that is declining, either. Regarding my old "maybe it is a battle of civilizations" thesis, check out this conservative nightmare that is about to come to pass. White Christians are on the brink of no longer being a majority in America:
By the election of 2016, it is likely that the United States will no longer be a majority white Christian nation.
Actually, I think this will happen before 2016. In 2008, whites made up about 66% of the population, and 23% of whites did not self-identify as Christian. that puts us at only a 51% white Christian nation as of last year. Perhaps the 4% of whites who refused to state their religious in the survey I just linked deflate the overall number of white Christians. However, even if 80% the white "don't knows" are allocated according to the percentage of other respondents, last years the country was only 53% white Christian. Further, given the age demographics in the recent omnibus religious survey, it is highly likely that whites under the age of 18 are less Christian than whites over the age of 18, thus pushing the current percentage of white Christians in America down to 52%.
All the growth is with Democrats
It is also worth noting that the direction of growth in the non-white and / or non-Christian coalition I have often written about has shifted. In the 1990's, the dominant demographic trend was the rise of non-Christians. During that decade, self-identified non-Christians increased their share of the population by 9%, over a period when the American population grew up 13%. Now, however, the rise of non-Christians has slowed dramatically, and the rise of minorities in America has become the dominant demographic trend:
One of the most important, if not the most important, is the rise of minorities....
More generally, minorities have grown by 19 percent in this decade, accounting for more than four-fifths of U.S. population growth.
Given that non-whites broke 79%-18% for Obama, or more than 4-1, for this group to make up 80% of the population growth in America is a doomsday scenario for Republicans. Considering that non-Christians "only" went 73%-25% for Obama, or just under 3-1, having non-Christians replaced as the dominant growth demographic in America is actually bad news for Republicans. That's kind of mind-blowing.
The End of the Culture Wars
With the white Christian majority in America rapidly dwindling, and with socially conservative whites undergoing a crash in their share of the electorate, it will signal the end of the culture wars:
Culture wars issues, which so conspicuously failed to move many voters in the last couple of elections, will lose even more force in years to come.
Instead, we will see more attention paid to issues such as health care, energy and education, where government has a positive role to play. The public holds distinctly progressive views in each of these areas, backing health care for all, a transition to clean energy and build¬ing a 21st-century education system, including a major infusion of resources to improve kindergarten-through-12th grade education and college access. In each of these areas, ongoing demographic change is likely to intensify the public's commitment to progressive goals, since rising demographic groups tend to be especially supportive.
It seems highly unlikely that conservatives will be able to win national elections on cultural supremacist backlash messaging anymore. They succeeded politically with such messaging from 1968-2004, albeit with gradually dwindling success (in 2004, Kerry almost won using the old McGovern coalition). The culture wars were always targeted at the white working class, and now the white working class is shrinking faster than any other demographic in the electorate.
Vastly Increased Democratic Swing State Bases
The implications of these changes for swing states are nothing short of eye-popping:
And so it went across key swing states. In Nevada, Obama carried the Las Vegas metro by 19 points, which was 14 points better Kerry in 2004 and 35 points better than Michael Dukakis in 1988. In Florida, Obama carried the Orlando metropolitan area in the I-4 cor¬ridor by nine points, a 17-point gain over 2004 and an amazing 48 point shift since 1988. In Virginia, Obama dominated the state's northern suburbs across the Potomac River from the District of Columbia by 19 points-15 points better than Kerry and 38 points better than Dukakis. There are many other examples, but the story is the same from state to state: where America is growing, progressives are gaining strength and gaining it fast.
Obama's gains over Kerry are very impressive, but it is just as impressive that Kerry performed between 20-30% better than Dukakis in these key swing areas. In other words, Democrats are starting from a much, much higher base in swing states than during the 1980's and 1990's. This has major implications for our continuing obsession with running New Democrats for President, given that groups like the New Dems were formed in the 1980's and 1990's to deal with electoral problems facing Democrats during those times. The good news is that demographic shifts have largely resolved those old problems.
A lot of Republicans mocked Teixeira's work after the 2002 elections, but I wonder who is laughing now. Time has proven his thesis of an Emerging Democratic Majority correct, and my work is heavily indebted to his. Looking at these new numbers makes feel all warm and tingly.