Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Demographic Realities: Part II

I now continue my series on demographic realities and U.S. politics. In the last post, I showed most states are trending Democratic due to the growth in minority voters. I will now examine the effects of these shifts on national politics.

The maps show the 2012 election results in comparison with the predicted election results in 2024. The data suggest, if Republicans continue to lose 75 to 80% of minority voters, the red states of North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Texas will become Democratic leaning purple states. Republican support in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina will also weaken considerably, although I expect these states to continue supporting Republican presidential candidates.

Perhaps most important, a slew of current Democratic leaning states will no longer be competitive. Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington will become solidly Democratic states by 2024--in a similar fashion as happened in California about a decade ago. This movement is significant because Democrats only need to defend states Obama won in 2012 in order to win a majority of the Electoral College. With these five states no longer competitive, the opportunities for Republicans to chip away at the Obama electoral map will diminish substantially.

Meanwhile, as the West and South become more Democratic leaning, the dynamics in the Midwest and Northeast will remain essentially unchanged. The blue states will remain blue (or become more blue) and the red states will remain red. The only exception to this pattern will be Maine--a small and electorally unimportant state--that will shift from being solidly Democratic to being purple. Iowa and New Hampshire will become more competitive, but will remain Democratic leaning as well.

Clearly, with the shift of the West and the Southeast in favor of the Democrats, the Electoral College will overwhelmingly favor Democratic presidential candidates. As one can see from the chart, Democrats already enjoy a modest advantage in the Electoral College with about 50 more votes solidly Democratic than solidly Republican. However, by 2024, this advantage is predicted to become almost insurmountable. About 40% of electoral votes will be solidly Democratic, meaning Democrats will only need to win a few of the most Democratically leaning purple states in order to carry the election. In contrast, deeply red states will only comprise about 15% of electoral votes. Thus, Republicans will need to virtually run the table in the battleground states to elect a President. In the most likely scenario, Democrats will carry between 375-450 electoral votes--a landslide by any standard.

The Senate, on the other hand, is less likely to be impacted. Twenty states will remain Republican leaning, down modestly from twenty-four in 2012. About one-quarter of seats will still represent deeply red states. Thus, all indications are that Democrats will maintain their majority, while Republicans will control enough seats to slow legislation under the current filibuster rules. If, however, filibuster rules are changed, the shift of several large southern states into the Democratic column could change the balance-of-power more considerably. In order to win simple majority votes Democrats will only need to win of over liberal senators and moderate left-of-center senators, rather than the most conservative Democratic senators.

Finally, of the two chambers, the U.S. House of Representatives will be the most impacted by the demographic trends. At present, about two-thirds of seats represent states that voted for Obama in 2012. This distribution of seats would suggest the Democrats should control the House. Nevertheless, because of Gerrymandering and other geographic factors, the Republicans have been fairly successful at winning seats in Democratic leaning states. In fact, Republicans won 60% of the districts within the 13 competitive states that voted for Obama. By winning a large number rural and suburban districts in these Democratic states, Republicans have been able to stave off demographic realities and maintain control of the House.

However, an analysis of trends in several large Southwestern and Southeastern states, indicates the House will shift decisively into Democratic control by 2024. As the below chart shows, only 20% of seats will represent Republican leaning states in 2024. An additional 44 seats will represent districts within deeply blue states in comparison with the 2012 baseline. (This shift to heavily Democratic states is significant since only about 30% of such seats are represented by Republicans in the current Congress.)

Exactly how much the movement of several large states into the Democratic column will change the composition of the House is unclear. Much of the change depends on the extent to which each party controls redistricting in these key states. Even so, Republicans will likely lose a minimum of 20 seats over the next twelve years, enough to put Democrats in control of the House. If Democrats gain control of redistricting in some key states like Florida and Pennsylvania, the Republicans could face catastrophic loses in the 2022 and 2024 elections. As many as 60 seats could shift to Democrats over the next decade. The most likely scenario is a process that leads to a 30-40 seat movement in favor of Democrats. Such a change would give Democrats an unambiguous majority in both legislative chambers.

Given the anticipated demographic realities facing the two political parties, I expect the Democratic Party will regain unilateral control of the federal government by 2024. The executive and legislative branches will look much like they did from 2009-10, after Obama was first elected. If anything, the Democrats will have an even tighter grip on power because the 2009-10 majorities relied on a large number of conservative Democrats who were elected during the 2006 and 2008 wave elections. The 2024 majority in the House, in particular, will be much more durable because it will be built upon fundamental demographic changes, rather than short-term dissatisfaction with Republicans. The Republicans will still be relatively strong in about 20 states, giving them a formidable presence in state and local governments throughout some regions of the country. At the federal level, however, the Republican Party will become a minority party by 2024.

In Part III of the series, I propose a few ways in which the Republican Party might try to adjust to the growth in minority voters and avoid the above scenario.

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