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 %)
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.