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Democrats and the Myth of the "Non-White" Bloc

1:19 PM, Dec 22, 2010 • By JAY COST
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Democrats and the Myth of the "Non-White" Bloc

New Mexico governor-elect Susana Martinez

Liberals seem to be pretty gosh darned unhappy with the state of the political alignment these days. They were miserable during the Bush years, and they have grown quite ornery with the Obama administration, despite the fact that the 44th president delivered Obamacare. It's been a long time in the wilderness for the American left, so frankly it's hard to blame them for being so surly. After all, the last successful liberal president was probably LBJ, whom the liberals never really accepted as one of their own and who got the United States neck-deep in Vietnam. Before him, you have to go back to the New Deal, which basically ended with the 1938 midterm. One could say the left has been in the wilderness for 70+ years, much longer than the conservative dry spell between Coolidge and Reagan.

Maybe this is why many liberals are so fond of the "emerging Democratic majority" thesis, which basically holds that demographic changes in the electorate will soon obviate many of our political cleavages, push the Republican Party to the left, and return the Democratic Party to its rightful place of prominence. This argument goes back to a book by John Judis and Ruy Teixiera, first published about a decade ago. The idea has proven remarkably durable for liberals, who are wont to cite it in fat years as well as lean ones. For instance, 2006 and 2008 were regularly regarded as years in which this majority was starting to manifest itself, while 2010 was dismissed as the sign of a possible long term trend because this pro-Democratic majority was bound to show up once again. The evolution of this theory could be a case study in how an interesting argument transforms into an unfalsifiable hypothesis: heads, Democrats win; tails, Republicans lose.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is a lot of insight to be found in this argument, and in particular conservatives really need to get their minds around three simple facts: (a) the Hispanic bloc is growing in this country; (b) Republicans can win Hispanic voters, but they need to be thoughtful in their appeals to them; (c) sooner rather than later Republicans will need Hispanic voters for victory. I am sure the details of the Census report will confirm all three points.

But my biggest objection to the liberal arguments is that they are far too prone to overstate their case. If conservatives have yet to realize fully the necessity of appealing to Hispanic voters, liberals are too quick to put them in the electoral bank. You see this over-confidence in subtle ways, most notably in what I would call the left's demographic category error -- whereby liberal analysts lump Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, etc. into a "Non-White" category, which is then implicitly assumed to be a uniformly Democratic bloc. In response to the Census report, that's exactly what Christopher Beam of Slate does in this article, when he concludes:

Does that mean the country will become permanently Democratic? Of course not. Both parties will adjust to accommodate the shifting demographics. But Republicans will be playing catchup. The GOP will inevitably become more amenable to immigration reform, gay marriage, and separation of church and state, as their constituencies become more Hispanic, educated, and godless, respectively. Hispanics may not support Democrats forever—in 2004, about 40 percent voted for Bush—and some young Democrats will become old Republicans, but the blue team will have a lead.

Beam is following the basic script -- key Democratic groups, "non-white voters," college educated women, college kids, etc., are growing, so sooner or later the Democratic positions are going to win out.

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