Greg Sargent’s post at the Plum Line, “Republicans are caught in a brutal demographic trap. But they can still win in 2016” features an interview with TDS founding editor Ruy Teixeira, Sargent sets the stage for the interview:
…A comprehensive new analysis from the Center for American Progress…concludes that while the demographic trends are clearly moving in the Democratic Party’s direction, giving Democrats a “clear advantage,” the 2016 election remains “wide open.”
To win, the report concludes, Democrats need to replicate something close to 2008 and 2012 levels of enthusiasm among the core Democratic voter groups that powered Barack Obama’s two victories. That’s hardly a slam dunk, given widespread voter dissatisfaction and a historic pattern that has shown that “time for a change” sentiment works against the party that has held the White House for eight years.
Sargent adds that Democrats are expected to benefit from growth projections of a 2 percent “minority share of the vote,” while non-college white voters share of the vote is projected to drop by 2.3 percent. An excerpt of Sargent’s interview of Teixeira follows:
PLUM LINE: You define the central question of 2016 as: “Can the Obama coalition survive?” Can you explain what you mean?
RUY TEIXEIRA: The Obama coalition in 2012 consisted of the minority vote (blacks, Latinos, Asians, and those of other races); the millennial generation; and more educated white voters. If you look at the support rates these groups gave to Obama in 2012, and walk those support rates into the probable representation of these voting groups in 2016, the Obama coalition would deliver a third victory for Democrats. It would probably increase their popular vote margin from four to six points. The question is to what extent can Democrats absorb a certain amount of attrition among those groups.
…PLUM LINE: You set forth three major variables as determinants for 2016: How much of the minority vote the Democrat loses compared to Obama; and how the college educated white vote and the non-college white vote break down. You conclude that the shifts in vote share give Democrats more leeway to lose ground among whites.
TEIXEIRA: In the last two elections, the Democrats got 81 percent of the minority vote. That can’t be assumed for 2016. So we are conservative about the minority vote, giving the Democrats in 2016 the average of their share of the minority vote in the last four elections — 78 percent.
In 2012, in our assessment, Democrats lost the white non-college vote by 22 points. We estimate the Democrats’ deficit among the white college vote was 11 points.
Let’s say the Democrats do get 78 percent of the minority vote. We find that the white non-college support for the Republican could actually go up substantially — to the 30 point margin Republicans won in 2014 — and the Democrats would still win the popular vote nationally, if they held their white college support.
Despite the implicit warning in the phrase ‘the popular vote,’ demographic trends look increasingly favorable for Democrats. “There are a lot of moving parts here,” Teixeira adds. “If the white working class support for Republicans goes up in a big way, and minority support levels for Democrats go down, and in addition to that, turnout among minorities tanks enough, then you’re getting very close to tie ball game.”
Teixeira calls Republican prospects for replicating Reagan’s 63-64 percent share of the white vote in 1884 “implausible.” It would require “a one-sided mobilization of whites.” to overwhelm the demographic projections.
There is also a growing possibility that the GOP nominee will run off many white, college-educated political moderates. Teixeira warns, however, that “If Republicans could get Democratic support among minorities down to 75 percent — and work both sides of the equation — there are more ways to win.”
That’s a lot of “ifs,” especially in light of the current front-runners in the GOP presidential primaries. As for younger voters, Texieira explains,
…The harder data among millennials is, what do they think about the Democratic Party and President Obama? On Obama approval, the millennial generation is still way above other age groups. There’s about a 16-point party identification advantage among them for Democrats. If Democrats can hit roughly 60 percent among them, the way they did in 2012, they can lose a bit of support among other age groups and still win. Because the millennial generation should add 16 million more eligible voters.
Teixeira concedes that down-ballot Dems still face tough battles ahead despite the favorable demographic transformation. Yet, “the contours of the Democratic presidential majority that we outlined a number of years ago are pretty much coming into being…”
As for whether the Obama coalition can survive to help deliver a Democratic victory in 2016, he concludes, “The potential is there. But whether it becomes an actuality depends on a variety of other factors: How Hillary Clinton campaigns if she’s the nominee; how the Republican nominee campaigns; what happens with the economy. There are no guarantees. But the shifts in the structure of the electorate are a kind of thumb on the scale.”
Barring no major surprises, Dems have reason for optimism, not overconfidence, heading into 2016. Translating that edge into a landslide victory that can produce a working congressional majority is the overarching challenge of Democratic strategy.