Earlier this year, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, released the book “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” which makes the argument that demographic patterns are moving the Democrats to majority status, and Republicans would suffer in elections. Well, a crazy thing happened on the way to this Democratic fair, the 2002 elections.
An examination of the 2002 election results shows the national Republican vote for races exceeding the Democratic vote by approximately 5 percentage points. And Republican candidates in all votes cast broke the 49 percent barrier for the first time since 1994, something the Democrats have not done in ten years.
While the authors point out interesting demographic trends of which anyone in politics, including Republicans should be cognizant, their conclusion runs astray. Yes, if Republicans do not expand their constituency they will suffer at the ballot box, but the same can equally be said for Democrats. This underlines two fundamental flaws of the authors’ text.
First, the authors convey a philosophy that demographics are dynamic, and political parties and candidates are static. Of course demographics and societal trends control much of the destiny of politics, but as we have seen over the last 200 years, political parties adapt and change fairly often. A perfect example is Republican ability garnering Latino votes in recent elections.
Latinos previously were a solid part of the Democratic base, and Republican candidates hoped to garner 20 percent to 25 percent of their votes. In 2002, Republicans received approximately 38 percent of the Latino vote on average. If Republicans continue to do this well in 2004, then even with the tremendous growth expected among Latinos, Republicans are, at worse in a neutral place.
Second, the book is based primarily on presidential election results. The authors utilize the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections in arguing these results reflect the Democratic base, without stating that 1992 was more about dissatisfaction with the economy and less about voters turning from one party to another. The success of Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections demonstrated the 1992 election were not about the rising preeminence of the Democratic Party. In addition, Democrats have not captured over 50 percent in a presidential race in 26 years.
The more telling races to examine for political trends are not the “one big” race run every four years, but the 435 congressional races run every two years, and the nearly 7,400 state legislative races run every two or four years. And these results show quite a different “emerging majority.”
For the first time since 1946, Republicans hold a majority of state legislative seats. In the last 12 years, when Democrats were supposedly gaining political strength, Democrats went from holding 61 percent of state legislative seats to 49 percent today.
And looking at Congressional races over the last 10 years, a similar pattern is revealed. This is not only reflected by Republicans have holding the House of Representatives for the longest sustained period since the 1920s, but in prospects for the future.
In 2002 Republican congressional candidates received more than 54 percent of the vote in 214 districts, while Democratic/Independent candidates carried more than 54 percent in 191 districts. The remaining 30 districts fell between these levels. In the 214 Republican districts there are four seats, mainly in the Northeast, where President Bush received less than 42 percent of the vote in 2000. In the 191 Democratic seats there are five districts, mainly in the South, where President Bush received more than 58 percent of the vote.
Let’s assume for argument’s sake that each party ultimately switches these seats giving Republicans an additional district. So, the breakdown becomes a Republican advantage of 215-190. How do the 29 fairly competitive districts break down? In eight districts President Bush received more than 58 percent of the vote and in one district he received less than 42 percent of the vote. Let’s allocate those again leaving 20 very competitive districts, and the new breakdown is 223 likely Republican seats and 191 likely Democratic seats. Absent a major economic or foreign crisis, the prospect of Democrats recapturing a significant majority in Congress seems dim.
A word of caution, demographics and politics are each dynamic. The ability of one party to seize a stable majority is uncertain as the recent run-off results in Louisiana show, but the initial signs point to the Republicans and the 2004 election up and down the ballot should hopefully clarify things.
Matthew Dowd is senior adviser to the Republican National Committee.