Taking its cue from Ruy Teixeira and John Judis' 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, the Democratic Party bet its future on demographic change.
As "people of color" increased as a percentage of the population, fewer people got married and had kids, and people stopped going to church as frequently Democratic prospects would soar. The future American electorate--more black and Hispanic, more single and childless, more agnostic/atheist--would provide a new base, a minority-majority "coalition of the ascendant."
Thus was born the left's obsession with what is now called "identity politics," with its implicit goal of strengthening ethnic and racial identity and group solidarity. Just about everything Democrats have done since Teixeira/Judis, on issues as diverse as health care, abortion, immigration, and racial preferences, has been done on the assumption that demography is indeed destiny.
While Barack Obama's election with unprecedented support from blacks, Hispanics, and single women seemed to initially confirm the wisdom of the approach, few predicted then what American politics would look like now: Republicans in control of Congress and the vast majority of governorships and state legislative chambers and a Republican president about to push the Supreme Court in a solidly conservative direction for decades to come.
The demographic trends that Teixeira and Judis identified have the most part continued, but Obama's triumph turned out to be less a harbinger of Democratic dominance than decline.
To understand why it is important to consider how ethnic and racial appeals in a multicultural democracy create a zero-sum game in which for every vote gained another (and perhaps more) is lost.
At the heart of identity politics must always be a theory of victimhood in which certain groups are victimized by other groups. Building a coalition of alleged victims thus requires that they continue to see themselves as such, which in turn requires a constant search for signs of racism, sexism, and homophobia, a dismissive view of any apparent societal progress in such areas over time, and a continued inflammation of ethnic, racial and gender grievances.
By its very logic, identity politics collapses if racism or sexism declines, or at least is perceived to have done so by those afflicted by it.
Such an electoral strategy consequently begins with an assumption of incorrigible racism and general bigotry on the part of white people, the oppressor group against which the victim groups must be protected by enlightened Democrats.
That this message will not be received well over time by many in that white majority was something Democrats apparently failed (and still fail) to consider. Indeed, by reducing everything to race, identity politics makes everyone more race-conscious, including whites. As Michael Barone put it, "when you keep telling white Americans that they will soon become a minority--a message that sometimes sounds like 'hurry up and die'--then many non-college graduate 'deplorables' may start acting like members of a self-conscious minority, and vote more cohesively."
Identity politics, with its naked racial and ethnic pandering and need to mobilize minority voters by demonizing the white majority, understandably produces white resentment and further flight to the GOP.
But the electoral peril of such a strategy goes even further, because it renders the Democratic Party increasingly dependent for electoral competitiveness upon minority turnout and support, with no way to alleviate that dependency--the more Democrats embrace the identity politics approach, the more elections they lose and the greater grows their dependence upon minority support in the next one.
Worse still, troubling data for Democrats is emerging that the groups they have bet their future on might not be future Democrats at all, or at least not to the extent necessary for continued party viability.
Reuters, based on a recent poll, tells us that "enthusiasm for the Democratic Party is waning among millennials." A Pew report indicates that black voter turnout from 2012 to 2016 produced the "largest drop on record." The headline over a Josh Kraushaar article chock full of data in National Journal reads "Democrats Underperforming with Hispanic Voters." Yet another Reuters survey tells us that black male support for Donald Trump doubled after Kanye West expressed support for him. And then there's that Harvard-Harris poll alerting us that blacks are actually the racial group most opposed to the open-borders immigration Democrats favor.
The broader point is that, having bet the farm on the identity politics approach, and alienated the majority of the white majority in the process, Democratic electoral prospects operate on a razor-thin margin of error, even slight dips in turnout and support from a single minority group can spell defeat.
If young people begin to more equally divide their votes between Democrat and Republican, if Hispanics and Asians (like previous immigrant groups) begin to identify more as "white" rather than as members of victimized minority groups, and if black turnout post-Obama continues to decline or even a modest fraction of blacks joins #WalkAway, the entire edifice comes crumbling down.
A political party that adopts a strategy of stoking racial fears and resentments in order to build a "minority-majority" coalition thus ends up as just a minority party, on the way toward electoral irrelevance and extinction.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.
Editorial on 07/23/2018
Print Headline: They were wrong