Two versions of America emerge in the presidential campaign

Today, the two parties rep­res­ent not only dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the coun­try, but also, in ef­fect, dif­fer­ent edi­tions of the coun­try. Along many key meas­ures, the Re­pub­lic­an co­ali­tion mir­rors what all of Amer­ic­an so­ci­ety looked like dec­ades ago. Across those same meas­ures, the Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion rep­res­ents what Amer­ica might be­come in dec­ades ahead. The parties’ ever-es­cal­at­ing con­flict rep­res­ents not only an ideo­lo­gic­al and par­tis­an stale­mate. It also en­cap­su­lates our col­lect­ive fail­ure to find com­mon cause between what Amer­ica has been, and what it is be­com­ing.

The two dif­fer­ent Amer­icas em­bod­ied by the parties are out­lined by race.

In 2012, whites ac­coun­ted for about 90 per­cent of both the bal­lots cast in the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial primar­ies and the votes Mitt Rom­ney re­ceived in the gen­er­al elec­tion. The last time whites rep­res­en­ted 90 per­cent of the total Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion was 1960. Eth­nic groups now equal just over 37 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans. But voters of col­or ac­coun­ted for nearly 45 per­cent of Pres­id­ent Obama’s votes in 2012. Eth­nic minor­it­ies likely won’t equal that much of the total pop­u­la­tion for about an­oth­er 15 years.

Re­li­gion also re­in­forces the parties’ con­trast­ing Amer­icas.

White Chris­ti­ans ac­count for 69 per­cent of all adults who identi­fy as Re­pub­lic­ans, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s massive re­li­gious-land­scape sur­vey. The last time white Chris­ti­ans equaled that much of Amer­ica’s total pop­u­la­tion was 1984—the year of Ron­ald Re­agan’s land­slide reelec­tion. Today, white Chris­ti­ans have fallen be­low ma­jor­ity status, to just 46 per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion. The change is even more pro­nounced among Demo­crats, less than one-third of whom are white Chris­ti­ans. An­oth­er third of Demo­crats are non­white Chris­ti­ans.