Pew Research surveyed 35,071 Americans between June and September of 2014 and compiled information about their religious and political beliefs. One of their findings was that white Christians no longer constitute a majority in this country. Another finding was that a political gap among white Christians has widened during Obama’s presidency.
Nearly seven in 10 white Christians — 69 percent — identify with or lean toward the GOP, while just 31 percent do the same with Democrats…
…In less than a decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. According to the data presented, in 2007, 88 percent of white Republicans and 70 percent of white Democrats identified as Christian, an 18-point disparity. By 2014, 84 percent of white Republicans identified as Christian, but the share of white Democrats identifying as Christian fell by 13 points, to 57 percent, a 27-point gap.
Despite these changes, some things have been remarkably stable. For example, separate research by Pew shows that party preference among whites has been nearly identical in the last three elections: (2010: 37D 60R, 2012: 39D 59R, 2014: 38D 60R).
That 59% Republican number from 2012 serves as the baseline for the popular vote calculator used at Latino Decisions. You can play around with the racial and turnout variables to see how small changes can alter the outcome of our presidential elections. This doesn’t account for the Electoral College, of course, but the popular vote predicts the winner most of the time, doesn’t it?
One thing you’ll discover is that if the white percentage of the vote comes in as predicted at 70.5% and the Republicans continue to get 59% of the white vote and other ethnic groups’ preferences and turnout hold constant then the GOP candidate will need about 47% of the Latino vote in order to win the popular vote. It’s actually worse than this because the calculator assumes that without Obama at the top of the ticket, the Republican will get 12% of the black vote rather than the 6% Romney received.
More statistically significant, however, is the fact that Romney only received an estimated 27% of the Latino vote in 2012. So, here’s what this looks like for the Republicans. If they can double the percentage of black votes they got in 2012 and do 20% better among Latinos, they can win the popular vote without doing any better (or worse) with white voters.
Numbers like these are daunting, and they explain why the Republican National Committee’s post-2012 Growth and Opportunity Report (better known as “The Autopsy Report”) determined that passing comprehensive immigration reform was an absolute prerequisite for them having any chance of winning the presidency in 2016. This is why the Senate Republicans made it a top priority in 2013 and ultimately passed a bill in a bipartisan 68-32 vote that included 14 members of their caucus.
I don’t think I need to belabor this point, but what happened next is not going to help the eventual Republican nominee improve twenty points on Romney’s performance with Latinos. If Donald Trump is their nominee, I think he’ll be fortunate to get half the Latino votes that Romney gathered.
Now, here’s the important point.
Since the Republicans didn’t pursue the easier path of improving their popularity with Latinos, they have no choice to jack up that 59% number they got with whites. Let’s look at how much they’ll need.
Using the other Latino Decisions assumptions, if the GOP gets 27% of the Latino vote, they’ll need 62% of the white vote to win the popular vote. If they get only 13% of the Latino vote, they need 64% of the white vote to win the popular vote. And, again, both of these predictions assume that the GOP will double their support in the black community and also not lose any Asian or “Other” voters.
It’s probably a lot easier to get new voters from a group that is generally opposed to you than it is to keep adding voters to a group you’re dominating. In other words, it might be an easier task for the Republicans to get back to the 40-plus percent Latino support that George W. Bush once enjoyed than to grow their white support from 59% to 64%.
But it’s the latter strategy (if we can call it a strategy) that the Republicans are pursuing. They need to racially polarize the electorate in a way that gets them 3-5% more of the white vote.
They can do some of this through turnout instead, of course, so if they can keep lots of blacks and Latinos from voting in the first place, they don’t need to improve quite so much with whites.
I think what’s key to understanding this situation is that the Republicans actually have crossed the Rubicon and they no longer have the option of going back and pursuing more of the Latino vote. They must pursue more of the white vote and there are not too many ways to do that other than aggravating racial consciousness and jacking up the sense of white racial grievance.
This has been a mainstay of conservative/Republican electoral strategy since at least the time that Nixon pursued the Southern Strategy, but I doubt that it’s ever been this much of an urgent and indispensable part of their path to success.
So, we’re seeing two things: a revival of open racism that had been dormant on the presidential campaign trail, and continued efforts to suppress the minority vote. These aren’t really choices anymore. They can’t win any other way.
The only alternative (which is no longer available in this cycle) is for some adults to take back control of the Republican Party from the Conservative Movement. As long as the conservatives are in control and refuse to change, these incredibly unpleasant electoral strategies will only get more pronounced and dangerous.
What the poll numbers at the top tell us, though, is that the religious angle is an important and (it looks to be) successful way for the GOP to ramp up the racial polarization in the electorate. It’s just as important to them to cultivate a mass sense of victimhood among white Christians (e.g., gay wedding cakes, Starbucks coffee cups, War on Christmas, Sharia Law) as it is to talk about blacks and Latinos just wanting a handout.
So, expect a lot more of this.