An Emerging Majority of What?

The debate over John Judis’ “recantation” of the hypothesis of the 2002 book he co-wrote with Ruy Teixeira, The Emerging Democratic Majority, intensified yesterday. Jonathan Chait took on the difficult task of arguing that the hypothesis is actually stronger than its co-author believes.

Chait acknowledges that the book did not anticipate the depth of the problem Democrats have recently had in Greater Appalachia. But he enlists Teixeira via email to knock down some of Judis’ pessimistic assessments of Democratic prospects among college-educated, middle-income voters. And he notes, correctly, that the Republicans who have been high-fiving each other over Judis’ “conversion” aren’t paying a lot of attention to what he is or isn’t actually saying.

What Chait concedes, however–as does at least one friendly Republican critic, Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics–is that the key question about projections of this or that “majority” has become “majority of what?”

The [Democratic] party’s new base is heavily concentrated in urban areas, whose voting strength underrepresented in both the House and the Senate. Additionally, they are far more likely than core Republican voters to stay home during midterm elections. This has allowed the Republican Party to gain a near lock on holding the House, and a strong geographic advantage in holding the Senate. The Emerging Democratic Majority thus comes with the very important caveat that it applies only to one branch of government. (Likewise, Phillip’s Emerging Republican Majority coincided with a period of continuous Democratic control of the House.)

Yeah, that’s a caveat almost as large as the hypothesis itself, I’d say. In any event, I wrote up the whole controversy over at TPMCafe, concluding that structural factors make it highly perilous to project a stable majority for either party, given the difficulty of either winning enough elections in a compressed period of time to actually govern the country. Something ought to give, eventually, but don’t count on it happening in the next couple of cycles.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.