The revolving door of U.S. politics

by Andrew Gelman on November 2, 2011 · 7 comments

in Campaigns and elections

I got the following email today from Jordan Gehrke, Campaign Director, AmericansforHermanCain.com

Patriot—
They’re at it again.

Herman Cain is winning the Republican race for President. So the left-wing media has swung into action.

Clarence Thomas called it a “high tech lynching” 20 years ago. That’s exactly what they’re doing to Herman Cain today. This is nothing but an attempt to smear Cain’s reputation and character. . . .

The Left spews such hatred at black conservatives because they know that if the GOP ever breaks the Democrat stranglehold on the black vote, they are DONE as a party. . . .

I’ll leave it to political scientists such as Tim Groseclose to judge whether the left-wing media has swung into action, but I will say that I think Jordan Gehrke is way wrong when he writes that the Democrats are goners if the GOP breaks their stranglehold on the black vote. On the contrary, I’m guessing that if the Republicans start getting a big chunk of black votes, a bunch of whites will move over to the Democrats.

{ 7 comments }

Maurice de Sully November 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I’m guessing that if the Republicans start getting a big chunk of black votes, a bunch of whites will move over to the Democrats.

What is the basis for this guess? If you’re suggesting that certain people won’t stay in a party with black supporters, your conclusion only makes sense if the Republicans receive the majority of AA support- other wise there’s no reason to jump ship. If that were to happen, the Democratic party would have to undergo a massive change in order to attract those whites- and then some- or it would cease to be a viable political coalition across the country.

If AA support for the Dems drops from the 90%+ it is now, to something more like 70%, the Democratic party, in its current configuration, would likely be finished as a national party. It would, in the 70% scenario, be forced to attract white working class people in the southern and mid-western states, while still being dominated (in donations and votes) by urban progressives who despise those people culturally. That’s going to be pretty tough to pull off.

It’s been a few years since I had to pour through the data, but Gehrke’s point was pretty standard-issue as of a decade or so ago. And the loss of working class white voters hasn’t slowed much (save for a brief Bush bounce for the Dems which evaporated almost instantly.) I could well be wrong, but I’d be interested to see the outline of a contrary scenario. The only possible way it works is for Hispanics to start voting for the Democratic party as consistently as AAs do, and there’s no reason to think that’s actually going to happen.

Andrew Gelman November 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Maurice:

The basis for my guess is that I suspect that whatever the Republicans would have to do to get 30% of the black vote in national elections would cause them to lose at least the equivalent number of white votes.

Regarding your discussion of white working class voters, let me just remind you that, if you look at white voters, Democrats do best at the low end of the income scale and worst at the high end.

Maurice de Sully November 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Though I disagree, I understand the first step of your assumption- the 30% leaving the Republicans step. Where I am unclear is why that racist 30% of the Republican party would then go to a Democratic party that would still be behaving in a fashion sufficient to garner 70% of the AA vote. How does that make sense? At best it would seem that the part of the electorate that feels AA support is unacceptable for their party- assuming that the number of such people is significant, which I’d be reluctant to do- would have to abandon both major parties. But that’s not the scenario you’re suggesting.

As far as your second point, they still don’t do all that well with that group. And, most importantly, when you go looking for the people who won’t tolerate AAs in their party- whatever that number is- don’t you find most of those people on the lower end of the income scale?

A Democratic party that receives 70% of AA support is, in all likelihood, still an urban progressive party that supports affirmative action. Such a party is in big trouble if it drops 30% of AAs… to the Republicans. It would require a major shift in coalitions- of a sort I can’t really envision- to get us back towards the type of “balance” we’ve seen in the last four decades or so.

frankcross November 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm

It’s hard to predict, but it is plausible, Maurice. Say a certain number of white voters view the Dems as the pro-black and anti-white party and vote substantially on that basis. If Republicans were to get a substantial minority of the black vote with a black candidate, this perception could disappear. If the perception disappears, those voters motivated by the above would no longer be anti-Dem. While not necessarily pro-Dem, they might be motivated by other issues to become Dems.

And it takes a much smaller percentage of white voters in this category to equal 30% of black voters.

Maurice de Sully November 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I can see the scenario where someone sees both parties as “too black” at such a point and so gives up on that issue and picks the Democrats based on a calculus where race is removed. I think it’s far-fetched given how I perceive the other priorities of that demographic, but I can see it.

At the same time, the fact that the existing Democratic party would still be seen as the “pro-black anti-white” party amongst those who worry about such- absent changes from the Democratic party- I don’t see how that changes.

zbicyclist November 4, 2011 at 9:33 am

Gelman: “I’m guessing that if the Republicans start getting a big chunk of black votes, a bunch of whites will move over to the Democrats.” (which de Sully criticizes)

It’s happened before. The big shift of southern whites to the Republicans was as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed with Democratic control of the national government. Democrats also insisted on black representation among convention delegates, famously involving the attempt to unseat the Mississippi delegation. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_Freedom_Democratic_Party]

Nixon countered with his southern strategy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy

So, it’s happened before.

Compare, for example, this 1964 map
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElectoralCollege1964.svg
with this 1956 map
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElectoralCollege1956.svg

Maurice de Sully November 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm

So, it’s happened before.

What happened in that instance isn’t consistent with the posited scenario. The “Southern Strategy”- as you’re describing it- attracted the racist whites by excluding (or ignoring) AAs from the Republican party. That’s not going to be possible for the Democratic party in a situation where the Democratic party maintains 70% of the AA vote. Logically, the racist whites aren’t jumping to a party that attracts that level of AA support (save for the frankcross scenario.)

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