The Democratic Party has perused a strategy of collecting votes from the ‘ascendant majority’. This was based on a premise that minority populations were increasing across America and if coupled with the growing proportion of urban-dwelling and college-educated whites then the less educated whites who were left behind would have little electoral power. The Republicans would be beaten by inevitable demographic changes.
Whilst these changing demographics are somewhat inevitable, the resultant voting changes are not. Although race and religion play a significant role in determining one’s vote it is not the sole factor. Rather individuals are conditioned by their socio-economic environment. In the UK there is some evidence that as Indian and Chinese voters have become more prosperous, they are switching from Labour to the Conservatives. On the other hand, regardless of economics Jews in America have consistently supported the Democratic Party. The interaction between race and votes is a complex one, and to reside an electoral strategy in such theories is risky.
Some commentators have referred to Donald Trump’s victory as the last act of dominance by a shrinking blue-collar white population. That his victory was a reaction to the future power of the ‘ascendant majority’. 58% of whites (67% of whites without a college degree) voted for Trump, compared to 8% of blacks and 29% of Hispanic and Asian voters.
One of the states where Democrats direct such ideas is Texas. Despite voting Republican in every election since 1980, polls suggest that Texas is becoming a battleground state. A calculated average of polls since May places Trump only 2.5% ahead of Biden, and this decreases to a 1.5% lead if only polls from June figure. With its 38 electoral college votes the state is the Republican answer to the Democratic stronghold of California, and thus defeat in Texas would be disastrous for Republican presidential hopes.
Within Texas there is evidence for the growing power of the ascendant minority. Whilst Trump’s margin of victory was significant, it also reflected a long-term trend in diminishing Republican support. In 2012 Texas was 20% more Republican than the rest of the country but in 2016 this reduced to 11%.
Such reductions in Republican dominance corresponds with the state’s transforming demographic. According to the Texas Demographic Centre, by 2050 the state’s population will have increased to 47.3million (winning it a further 4 electoral college votes by 2024). By 2030 there will be almost 2million more Hispanics than non-Hispanic white voters. The Hispanic population is projected to displace non-Hispanic whites as the largest population group in 2022. Along with this is the growth of an Asian population that is equally favourable to Democratic hopes. In 2016 65% of Hispanics and 65% of Asian voters, voted for Hilary Clinton.
The effects of these demographic changes are already being felt. In the 2018 Senate elections, Beta O Rourke lost to Ted Cruz by only 2%. One of the areas which flipped Democrat was Tarrant County where Bush won 62% of the vote in 2004. The county has experienced rapid population growth and a 10% increase in its Hispanic population since 2000. Along with increases in the Hispanic vote, Texas also has a booming urban population. Nationally urban voters split 70-30 in 2018 towards the Democrats. As a result of increased urban migration, the Republican grip on Texas’ cities and crucially their suburbs will weaken further. Dallas serves as an example of these changes.
Whilst the data does suggest a future Democratic victory this rests on three assumptions. First, population trends will continue. Between 2015 and 2020 domestic migration overtook international migration to Texas. International migration is characterised more by the movement of Hispanics. Second, irrespective of the 2020 result there is no guarantee that Republicans will follow Trump’s strategy of doubling down to win over his base and not reach out to Hispanics and other ethnicities. This is linked to the third assumption, that race determines all. It does not and Democrats risk once again being consumed by their hyper-interest in identity politics. Analysis of Trump’s victory in 2016 shows a greater spread of support across multiple demographic groups than this Democratic strategy would assume.
For Joe Biden’s chances in 2020 he will need more than just demographic trends. Although turnout increased in Texas’ Democratic primary earlier this year, it was still behind the Republican turnout. Texas however is currently suffering from a recent rise in coronavirus cases that may provoke a backlash against its Republican Mayor. Whose decision to reopen the state was contrary to public opinion and is being blamed for the worsening situation. Prior to the reopening two-thirds of Texans wished to suspend nonessential businesses according to a Texas Tribune poll.
Changing demographics certainly do benefit the Democrats. 2016 serves as an example of what happens though when candidates seek minority votes alone and should remind the Democrats that the coalition of white voters is not weak enough to be ignored, especially across Rust Belt states.
Irrespective of their future electoral worth, the diminishing economic condition and social capital of white non-college-educated voters will become a grave problem for future presidents. If this group are ignored, then they will require greater state spending and welfare. Such expenditure could threaten the ability for future Presidents to maintain support from the ‘ascendant minority’.