Is demography destiny? Republicans may yet find out — maybe not in 2016, but certainly by 2020 or 2024, unless they recognize the danger. A study from Pew on the demographics of US-born millennials points out some sobering facts about the nature of the GOP’s current footprint, and its immediate future. This chart shows that the base of the Republican Party and the conservative movement that relies on older white voters will get smaller and smaller in the next couple of decades, a process that has been underway for the past thirty years already:
For the nation’s Hispanic population, youth is a defining characteristic. For example, among Hispanic eligible voters, 44% are Millennial Hispanics – the single largest cohort of Hispanic eligible voters. 2 And among the nation’s Millennials, Hispanics are a greater share than they are among all American adults – Hispanics make up 21% of all U.S. Millennials versus 15% of all adults in 2014. …
The disproportionately young profile of Latinos in the U.S. is driven by the overwhelming youth of U.S.-born Hispanics. With a median age of 19, nearly half (47%) of U.S.-born Latinos are younger than 18. This is similar to the youth share among the nation’s other major racial or ethnic group with a large immigrant population – U.S.-born Asians, of whom 49% are younger than 18. By comparison, just 27% of U.S.-born blacks and 20% of U.S.-born whites are younger than 18.
The current immigration wave, mostly from Latin America and Asia, has brought 59 million immigrants to the U.S. over the last 50 years and peaked in the early 2000s. About half of today’s U.S.-born Latinos (47%) and 80% of today’s U.S.-born Asians are the children of immigrants, many of whom came during this recent wave, which helps to explain the striking youth numbers for these groups. 3
The warnings on this demographic change have been sounding for quite some time, and will get even more acute in this cycle. At 538, David Wasserman noted in December that Ronald Reagan won a 44-state landslide in 1980 with 56% of the white vote. Thirty-two years later, Mitt Romney got 59% of the white vote, and lost by a significant margin. The chart above shows that the demographic challenge will grow much more difficult not just in the next ten years, but for at least another decade beyond that.
That could lead to a demographic disaster, Chris Cillizza argued this week:
At some point in the not too-distance future — 2016 may be that future — winning the white vote by 25 or even 30 points, which is very, very hard to do for any candidate, may not be enough to make up for the massive losses Republicans are experiencing among the growing contingent of non-white voters.
Those basic demographic facts are why the 2012 Republican autopsy recommended that the party find a way to be for some form of comprehensive immigration reform. That the party not only hasn’t done that but is well on its way to nominating a candidate who advocates building a wall across the southern border and making Mexico pay for it speaks to how damaging the 2016 campaign has been for the GOP.
If nothing changes — in terms of the booming growth among non-white voters and the GOP’s inability to communicate with them — the 2016 election may only be the tip of the demographic iceberg for Republicans. The 2020 and 2024 presidential elections could be blowouts.
That’s true … if Republican and conservative politics remains static in their approach. In my column for The Week, I argue that the GOP has plenty of opportunity to make sure that assumption stays hypothetical:
The key question is this: Can Republicans change? … In researching my book Going Red, I spoke with people in minority communities who echoed those findings, but went further. Too often, Republican campaigns treat these communities almost as destinations for anthropological research rather than as communities to engage and embrace. In the past two election cycles, the GOP dispensed with the kind of peer-to-peer politics at which Barack Obama excelled in favor of national messaging that sounded too much like lectures.
And too often, the GOP remained ignorant of the specific Hispanic communities it tried to address, offering the same message to voters of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Central American descent. Voters in these ethnic groups have many common interests, but they’re often as different as white Americans of Italian and Irish descent. Plus, much depends on where in the country they live. Hispanics in Jefferson County, Colorado, for instance, have roots that go back generations, and as such are not focusing on immigration as much as they are issues at play in their lives now. State Rep. Jon Keyser calls them “the four Es” — the economy, education, energy, and the environment. “I hope that we don’t have presidential candidates that come to Jeffco and just want to talk about illegal immigration,” Keyser told me.
People in these communities want honest engagement, even when potential disagreements arise. E.J. Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who became the first Hispanic to win a major-party nomination to Congress from West Tampa, expressed his frustration when fellow Republicans don’t show up to compete. “You’re not going to [win] as a Republican and have a TV ad and say Vote for me because I’m a great guy,” Otero explains about West Tampa, “and not go to their local meetings in their neighborhoods. It all comes down to the handshake.”
People remember that Romney only got 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2012. They forget that George W. Bush got 44% of it in 2004. This isn’t an impossible task, but it does require an intelligent and bottom-up approach to solve it. Demography isn’t destiny unless we fail to adapt to it.