The shrinking number of swing voters has been in the news lately. Jonathan Chait takes the opportunity to give his view on the political landscape for the near future. As usual, I agree with most of what he says, but there are three facts he consistently ignores:
- Inside the GOP: The Neo-Confederates are consolidating their position as the "base" of the Republican Party. Every election cycle it gets harder for a non-Neo-Confederate to win a GOP primary at any level. However, outside the Confederacy, party-wide support for these folks is tepid at best.
- Inside the Democratic Party: The demographic realities that give the Democrats an advantage in presidential elections (the number of non-urban white people over 40 is smaller than the number of "other" Americans) are neither static nor linear. Rather, Democratic voters are set to expand exponentially. The percentage of Americans who are black, Asians, Hispanic, or college educated urban whites born after 1970 is growing. But what's more, these groups are growing in participation. Every day, a higher percentage of Hispanics is registered to vote, and those young whites get older and more likely to vote as well. Meanwhile, blacks are already the group that votes more than any other.
- The Constitution virtually guarantees that America will be governed by a two-party system, but there is no rule that says one of those parties must be the GOP.
Here's Chait on the geography of Red and Blue:
The sorting of American politics into semipermanent, warring camps unfolded over decades. But the red-blue map that first came into public consciousness during the 2000 election created a searing impression of a cultural divide between a Democratic Party rooted in the coasts and upper Midwest and a Republican Party dominating the old Confederacy, Appalachia, and the Mountain West.
Agreed. Those are the boundries. Then he adds in the "natural" advantage that Republicans have in certain kinds of elections:
The polarized stalemate leaves both parties dissatisfied. Republicans — because they are spread more efficiently, have gerrymandered state and national legislative districts, and vote more frequently in non-presidential elections — have a hammerlock on the House of Representatives and dominate state government.
Ok. That's half the story. Then Chait ponders a what-if, without ever considering how likely it might be:
From the Republican point of view, the current stalemate offers reasons for hope. The presidency is the sole locus of the Democratic advantage. Republicans can screw up some races with bad candidates and lose a seat or two; if Democrats screw up a presidential election, then they hand total control of the government to the GOP.
Perhaps. Perhaps Ben Carson will be the next President of the United States. Seems... unlikely. But where Chait really goes wrong is underselling the long term advantage held by the Democrats:
On the other hand, the longer-term trends do bode well for Democrats. If Republicans gain total control of the government in this presidential election, or the next one, they will probably sow the seeds of a backlash that awakens the mostly latent Democratic majority. Almost everybody concedes that rising polarization has changed the rules so as to give the Republican Party an unbreakable grip on Congress for the immediate future.
White working-class voters are declining as a share of the presidential electorate by about 3 percentage points every four years — a large scale of change in a closely fought electorate. Republicans can certainly win presidential elections if conditions allow them to dominate among swing voters. But the diminishing number of swing voters makes these swings smaller.
There's a whole lotta slippage here in the words "immediate future", "if conditions allow", and "3 percentage points". The immeadiate future is the next five years. This isn't as long as Chait makes it seem. The very next President of the United States, Clinton or Carson, will be on hand for the 2020 Census.
In 2024, when Americans cast their votes for the President to succeed Clinton or Carson, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida will be Blue. Marco Rubio will have exactly zero chance of winning enough electoral votes to be President.
Meanwhile, Kansas, Colorado and Utah are going to have spent 9 more years being told that the purpose of state government is to prevent black and brown people from getting health insurance. These states may stay red, but are they going to remain in the same coalition that sent Tom Cotton to the Senate?