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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Republican Domination of the South Will Pass

Michael Lind’s Salon.com post, “Doomed by the South: Why the emerging Democratic majority may never happen” has a couple of blind spots at the center of his argument, one of which is in this graph:

More bad news for Emerging Democratic Majoritarians: the political journalist Sean Trende has estimated the impact of regional population shifts on House seats (and thus on the presidential electoral vote) in 2020 and 2040. In both periods, the Northeast and Midwest lose congressional representation, while all of the states to pick up House seats are in the South or the West. Texas is the big winner, gaining two seats after 2020 and seven seats after 2040, for a total of nine gained. New York loses one seat after 2020 and two seats after 2020, for a total of three lost. According to Trende, California does not lose seats but picks up only one between now and the 2040s.

The swelling of population in the southern states is accompanied by a substantial increase in the percentage of African American voters, a demographic that is projected to increase even more in the decade ahead. The percentage of white voters is also projected to decrease substantially in southern states. How you get from there to a confident prediction of a permanent Republican majority in the south is a stretch too far.
The emerging Democratic majority may be delayed by voter suppression. There is a compelling argument that voter suppression is the primary force that keeps Republicans in power in the south. As Wendy Weiser wrotes in her post, “How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make in Yesterday’s Close Races?” at the Brennan Center for Justice:

In the North Carolina Senate race, state house speaker Thom Tillis beat Senator Kay Hagen by a margin of 1.7 percent, or about 48,000 votes.
At the same time, North Carolina’s voters were, for the first time, voting under one of the harshest new election laws in the country — a law that Tillis helped to craft. Among other changes, the law slashed seven early voting days, eliminated same-day registration, and prohibited voting outside a voter’s home precinct — all forms of voting especially popular among African Americans. While it is too early to assess the impact of the law this year, the Election Protection hotline and other voter protection volunteers reported what appeared to be widespread problems both with voter registrations and with voters being told they were in the wrong precinct yesterday.
Some numbers from recent elections suggest that the magnitude of the problem may not be far from the margin of victory: In the last midterms in 2010, 200,000 voters cast ballots during the early voting days now cut, according to a recent court decision. In 2012, 700,000 voted during those days, including more than a quarter of all African-Americans who voted that year. In 2012, 100,000 North Carolinians, almost a one-third of whom were African-American, voted using same-day registration, which was not available this year. And 7,500 voters cast their ballots outside of their home precincts that year.
…The Florida governor’s race was decided by only a 1.2 percent margin, with Governor Rick Scott narrowly beating former Governor Charlie Crist by just under 72,000 votes.
Florida has passed a host of new voting restrictions over the past few years. Perhaps the most significant for this election was a decision by Scott and his clemency board to make it virtually impossible for the more than 1.3 million Floridians who were formerly convicted of crimes but have done their time and paid their debt to society to have their voting rights restored. Under Florida’s law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is essentially permanently disenfranchised. Ironically, Scott had rolled back rights that were expanded under Governor Crist, who had established a path for people with past convictions to more easily get their voting rights restored. Under that process, more than 150,000 citizens had their rights restored before Scott changed the rules. This is part of a pattern this year of candidates benefiting from voting restrictions they helped to pass.
…It is little solace to the more than 600,000 registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they lack IDs the state will accept that the governor’s race was decided by more than 600,000 votes. For one thing, there are far more races — from state legislator to justice of the peace — that affect voters’ day-to-day lives and that could have been impacted by those lost votes. But more importantly, those citizens — a number of whom were long-time voters who were turned away from the polls this year — were denied their basic right of citizenship, their ability to hold their politicians accountable, and their ability to join their friends and family to have a say over what happens in their communities. The dignitary harm comes through loud and clear when you read their stories.

When you factor out voter suppression laws, Republican majorities in the south and elsewhere become shaky indeed. There will be a blue wave election eventually, and much of the gerrymandering and voter suppression will be reversed.
Lind is right that Latino culture and voting patterns are complex, and yes, Republican social conservatism will continue to appeal to a substantial minority of Hispanic voters. But there is not much indication that the GOP will soon outgrow it’s nativist immigrant-bashers, who are already creating serious problems for the Republicans’ presidential field. The GOP’s share of southern Latino votes will more likely shrink than increase in the years ahead.
Increasing percentages of Latino and African American voters in southern states will continue to help Democrats. Virginia, Florida and North Carolina are now purple states. It will take longer for Georgia and longer still for Texas.
But let’s not forget that the U.S. Supreme Court is just a retirement and an election away from balance being restored. When that happens, the recent era of voter suppression could end quite quickly and the bandwagon dismissing prospects for the emerging Democratic majority will become silent.

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