Saturday, May 14, 2005

What's the future of the Democratic Party?

They're down and out right now. The Presidency is still quite close, the Senate is within reach, and the House... well, Republicans have owned the House since Newt and company won it in 1994. Speaking of Gingrich, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (Nevada) and House minority leader Nancy Pilosi (Cali) are taking a page out of his playbook--firmly oppose everything the opposition brings down the pike. Check out the DNC website--the theme is resistance to and attack on Republican initiatives. Can such a strategy work for a party that prides itself on being progressive?

Getting people out to vote is an age-old strategy for the Democratic party. Since there are more Democrats than Republicans, the conventional wisdom goes, the more people that vote, the better our odds. Pray it doesn't rain, hope there isn't an early winter snowstorm in Ohio. While the adage is still technically true, it has nearly fallen within the margin of error according to a Harris Interactive poll. The gap between party affiliations has narrowed steadily over the last four decades:

1970s: 21% (Dem affiliation as % - Rep affiliation as %)
1980s: 11%
1990s: 7%
2000s: 5%

As of 2004, 31% of voters were self-considered Republicans, while 34% considered themselves to be Democrat. The gap continues to narrow. It's hardly a function of Republican affiliation, which has remained stagnant since Jimmy Carter. The culprit is a shrinking base of Democratic affiliates. Increasingly people consider themselves independent. A plausible explanation for this is the mushrooming of alternative media outlets and the numbing number of information sources available via cable news, radio, magazines, and most especially, the internet. And most of these new sources do not favor the Democratic party relative to how domination by the big three networks did. If they choose to be, people can become an order of magnitude more informed than they were just twenty years ago, and consequently they are less likely to align themselves with a party if they disagree with it on even a few issues (or just don't believe the party stands for what it claims to). (Businessweek has an interesting article on how this phenomenon is affecting marketing/advertising).

Interestingly, American ideology hasn't really changed over the same time period. In 2004, about twice as many people considered themselves conservatives (36%) as liberals (18%), with the majority considering themselves moderate (41%). Within literally a point or two, that has been the case for the last forty years, although classifying 300 million people into only three categories presents some problems. Fundamentally we are not changing much, beyond becoming dissatisfied with two parties that don't speak to us.

Does affiliation even matter? It's unlikely we're going to see a serious third-party emerge in the near future, so what counts is who we vote for. That is where things start looking good for the Democrats. The demographic trends are definitely in their favor: in the 2004 Presidential race Bush picked up the white vote, and Kerry cleaned up every other racial category (black, hispanic, asian, and "other")--a mirror of the 2000 Presidential vote.

Whites are not going over to the Democrats anytime soon. The growing share of minorities is going to intesify the burden of redistributive income and affirmative action on them. Mass-immigration from Mexico brings over a million new people a year into the US who have, on average, an eighth-grade education. Hispanic immigrant households have an average (median) income (as of 2003 census) of $33,000, considerably lower than $43,300, the average for all US citizens. And that $33,000 is for legal Hispanic immigrants--illegals make even less.

My point is not to bash Hispanics, most of whom come from decaying, corrupt countries that offer little opportunity to the US to try and make something of their lives. The average Mexican living in Mexico has an astounding low educational attainment equivalent only to the US fifth-grade. The ones who are coming here tend to be the cream of the crop, and most work very hard for relatively low wages. Certainly I would do the same if I were in their predicament.

Instead, my point is to show that the squeeze for whites is only going to get tighter. White households bring in $45,600. That means, on average, Hispanics are net liabilities in terms of taxes--they pay less in income taxes than their white counterparts for the same educational and medical services, road use, police force, etc. Those at the top (mostly white) have to pick up the tab, or let the deficit grow even larger (this is, in essence, what people are referring to when they admonish that in forty years the US will become "third-world"). As the numbers of Hispanics grow (and blacks as well, though Hispanics at a much faster pace), they will tug ever-harder on white pocketbooks (not to mention the cultural agitation that continues to mount), whites will look more and more to someone who offers some relief or at least less "hardship".

Much ado has been made about the strides Bush has made for the Republicans in growing Hispanic voters. Beyond the perplexing numbers that may overstate Bush's share of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the exit polls still showed him picking up 12% less of the Hispanic vote than Kerry--and that's during an election cycle when same-sex marriage was a big deal, something Hispanics stridently oppose (much more than whites). The Republican party is self-immolating by not restricting mass-immigration, even if Bush did make marginal gains in 2004. This is good news for Democrats, who acquiesce to large-scale immigration (see a few notable exceptions in Hillary Clinton and Cali Senator Diane Feinstein).

If the Democratic party ever lost the black vote, it would be in dire peril. It is the most lopsided demographic segment, voting nine-to-one in favor of Kerry last November. Yet blacks are, on average, socially moderate to conservative (fitting into Pew's conservative democrat and disadvantaged democrat categories). Same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and late-term abortion are opposed by most blacks. And the surge in unskilled Hispanic immigrants means more competition for jobs at lower wages for many blacks. Still, bread-and-butter Democrat items like support for affirmative action and a progressive tax system make it improbable that blacks are going to vote Republican anytime soon.

The Californication (the ultimate blue state!) of the US also bodes well for the Democrats (from Steve Sailer):

The Golden State is now one of only three states with above average percentages both of people who never got past elementary school and of holders of graduate degrees. (The other two are New Mexico and Rhode Island.) In California, 10.7 percent of grownups have no more than elementary schooling, compared to only 6.4 percent in the other 49 states.
Of all the states in the Union, California now has the lowest percentage of its population with a midlevel education consisting of at least a high school diploma or some college, but not a bachelor's degree from a four-year college.

According to 2003 Census data, only 80.2% of California's population had at least a high school diploma (or equivalent). 29.1% of Cali residents had a bachelor's degree or more. Utah, on the other hand, is educationally less diverse: 90.0% had at least a high school diploma in 2003, but only 26.2% reached a bachelor's or beyond. It was Bush's best state, going for him 72% to Kerry's 26%. Looking at another pair of dark blue vs dark red: New York registers 83.2% with at least a high school diploma and 29.7% at a bachelor's and beyond. Montana is thus: 90.5% at least high school, 25.8% bachelor's or more.

Think about that for a second. It shows that in states where there are large uneducated and well-educated populations (and consequently lower numbers of those inbetween), there is a propensity to vote Democrat. Any ideas why that is the case? (These numbers are fascinating--I'm going to run them all soon to find if a statistically significant correlation between educational parity and voting Republican exists, as I presume it does based on looking at a few states).

Egalitarianism serves the Republican party well; inegalitarian states tend to vote Democrat. The income gap is growing slightly, but the wealth gap is widening more pungently. It's not apocalyptic though--the rich are getting richer without the poor getting poorer. But materialism is usually judged on a relative scale, ignoring the fact that wealth creation is not a zero-sum game. The gains realized from technological innovation are utilized by the most industrious, perspicacious entities who are generally already wealthy. Meanwhile, unskilled menial labor is becoming less necessary even as its supply is growing. This trend definitely favors the Democrats.

The biggest hurdle for the party is going to be reconciling working-class Democrats with the increasingly progressive social platform of the Democratic party, exemplified in DNC chairman Howard Dean. But the demographic changes almost exclusively favor the Democrats, and the Republican party could rupture in 2008 over immigration. They're at a low point now, but in spite of themselves, the party will probably regain control in the next decade.


FAQ said...

What of the graying of America? As people age they become more conservative, and that fact does not favor the Democrats.

St Wendeler said...

There is a correlation between education level an party affiliation. In 2000, a Dem pollster found that those without a h.s. education and those with phd's were more likely to be dem voters (by something like 20 or 30%). Those with h.s. degree slightly favored Dems, with a lesser advantage for Dems among those with masters. (think of all the MBAs and all the masters in education and it's probably a wash).

with regard to immigration, I'm not sure attitudes on this issue break along party lines, as shown in this portion of the pew study.

And take a look at the results for the other issues they asked. There are some issues that the Dems fight for which have only one constituency on their side - the far left progressive. This tug leftward can't help the Dem party.

Interesting Post!!!

St Wendeler
Another Rovian Conspiracy

crush41 said...


The 2004 election does show that older people tend to vote more conservatively while the younger generations lean left, but the margin is not large, and in the 2000 election the 60+ category was basically split down the middle, with Gore actually having a slight advantage.

Graying will be a marginal gain at best for the Republican party. The social security recipient tent is going to expand enormously as the baby boomers start hitting retirement, and that might shift the sixty-and-overs towards the Democrats.

crush41 said...

st wendeler,

Indeed associate and bachelor degree holders are a Republican stalwart. Here's an interesting breakdown from Pew confirming what you said.

Go beyond education to soft-sciences like sociology, philosophy, women's studies, journalism etc and the tilt is as, or even more, liberal. Many phd's, especially in the soft-sciences, are limited in what they can do with their degrees beyond professorship, so they stay in academia.

It would be interesting to see a poll or study done on graduate degree-holders in business, engineering, IT, and medicine who work outside of university settings.

I agree with your assesment of immigration--if ever an issue could allow a third-party to flourish, this would be it. Poorer working class folks who tend to vote Democrat are hammered by immigration as it suppresses wages by increasing the less-skilled labor supply and makes it more difficult for them to find employment because of increased competition.

On the Republican side, big-business likes the cheap labor and wealthy enterprising whites would rather be serviced by hard-working Hispanics than pathological underclass natives. Other Republican-voters realize that displacing the lower class natives means more government programs to take care of, or incarcerate, them. And social conservatives oppose the cultural fragmentation that occurs when large segments of a population cannot communicate with one another (Spanish vs English) or have vastly different worldviews.

Finally, your comment on the far-left position is spot on. Same-sex marriage is a recent example. It's opposed by over a two-to-one margin but liberal-progressives strongly support it. That is the case for many social or "value" issues--the working-class union types and the coast-dwelling liberals stridently disagree with one another. However, when the Democrats move further left, it means the Republicans can move in the same direction, soaking up more of the middle. This tees off conservatives, but it certainly isn't going to make them vote Democrat. So the left-extreme, even while losing elections consistently, may be inching the country left. That's the piece that worries me.