Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, participated Saturday in the Western Conservative Summit panel discussion titled, “Who owns the future?”
Below are remarks Barone prepared for the event, though he notes, “I did not deliver all these remarks or deliver them in the exact form.”
Who owns the future? I think nobody owns the future. Political parties and and political movements can only hope to rent it for a while and, sometimes, to put in place public policies that endure for a generation or longer.
I know this goes contrary to what we’ve been hearing constantly since the election of November 2012, which is that demographic and sociological trends mean that Democrats—liberal Democrats in the mode of Barack Obama—will have a natural majority for many years to come. I will only remind you that we heard something like that about the Republicans after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 with the same percentage Barack Obama won in 2012, 51%.
The Obama Democrats would be a majority, it was said, because they held a huge lead among expanding segments of the electorate, Hispanics and the young. Obama carried Hispanics by a 71%-27% margin and by an even larger 75%-23% margin here in the target state of Colorado—enough to defeat Romney even though he, unlike John McCain, carried Colorado whites. And Obama carried young voters under 30, the Millennials, nationally 66%-32% in 2008 and 60%-37% in 2012. Hispanics were 10% of the electorate in 2012 and will be more in the future. Millennials were 19% of the electorate and will be a larger share in the future. Together they made up 25% of the 2012 electorate.
But let me give you some other numbers. White evangelical Protestants voted 79%-21% for Romney. They were 26% of the electorate, a share that has been steady. White Catholics voted 59%-40% for Romney, probably the best showing for a Republican presidential candidate ever. They were 18% of the electorate, a percentage that will probably decline slowly. Since there is no overlap between these two groups, they make up 44% of the electorate.
So I think both parties have problems with important segments of the electorate. Republicans have a problem with Hispanics and better stop talking coldly about “self-deportation”—although in fact that is what has been happening since 2007. And Democrats have a problem with white evangelical Protestants and white Catholics, who will remain quite large segments of the electorate. The liberal psephologists who say that the rising percentage of nonwhites dooms the Republicans are basing that on a prediction that Republicans can never run well enough among whites to overcome Democrats’ margins among nonwhites. But they have: in 2010 Republicans won whites in the House popular vote by a 60%-37% margin and in 2012 Romney carried whites 59%-39%. These are high figures by historic standards. But if you look at American political history, what you see is that minority groups are politically more cohesive than majority groups. Whites are being told that they are going to become a minority group, and they are starting to behave politically more like a minority group. This makes sense because in a competitive political marketplace both parties must seek support from a majority group and will come up with issues to do so. Barack Obama continues to offer little to noncollege whites, and his support among them declined between 2008 and 2012 and has declined further since 2012.
As for the Millennials, there’s plenty of evidence that they are souring on Barack Obama. They can see the results of his policies first hand—they’re having a hard time finding jobs, they’re saddled with huge undischargeable student loan debt, they are going to be hit by huge health insurance premiums thanks to Obamacare. The whole statist thrust of the Obama Democrats’ policies goes against their own tendency to customize their Facebook pages and their iPod playlists. And first impressions are not necessarily lasting. Remember that the baby boomers who first voted in 1972 voted 49% for George McGovern while their elders voted 64% for Richard Nixon. But in 2012 this same generation voted for Mitt Romney.
It has been said, and I think correctly, that this generation is more libertarian than its elders on cultural issues and that this poses a problem for conservatives. I think that’s overstated. On abortion—the issue the feminist left likes to emphasize—Millennials if anything are a bit more conservative than their elders. They have seen sonograms and know that science tells us that the baby is not a part of the mother’s body but has different DNA. They owe their existence to a decision not to choose abortion.
On other cultural issues they are more libertarian—and the society generally seem to be moving that way. But these are not necessarily liberal issues. One is same-sex marriage, which they overwhelmingly favor and which is now the law in 13 states and D.C. Here there is an obvious tension with the Republican base, which remains heavily on the other side. I think Republicans should treat this as a conscience issue, not a partisan issue, and be careful to show respect the strong feelings on both sides. Another issue is marijuana legalization, which got a higher percentage of votes in Colorado than Barack Obama. A third issue on which the society has been moving in a libertarian direction is the right to keep and bear arms—and the Colorado Democrats who passed a gun control law after Newtown are getting pushback on this. That’s an issue on which the libertarian trend works for conservatives and Republicans and unlike abortion it’s actually endorsed by a specific provision in the Constitution.
Overall I think we’re in a period of spirited and close political competition. Democrats have won four of the past six presidential elections and won the popular vote in another. But Republicans have won majorities in the House of Representatives in eight of the last 10 elections. This despite the fact that we have been increasingly voting straight party tickets: only 9 Democratic congressmen were elected in Romney districts and only 17 Republicans in Obama districts. One reason for this is that the Democratic vote, especially under Obama, is heavily concentrated in certain central cities and university towns, while the Republican vote is more evenly spread across the rest of the country. This clustering enables Democrats to nail down several large and medium-sized states and gives them an advantage in the electoral college. Obama’s 51% in 2012 gave him 332 electoral votes while Bush’s 51% in 2004 gave him only 286.
But in equal-population districts clustering works against Democrats. Obama’s 51% enabled him to carry 26 states; Bush’s 51% gave him 32. With 51% Obama carried only 209 congressional districts to Romney’s 226. In comparison, Bush’s 51% enabled him to carry 255 congressional districts.