Democratic Dominance of the Nonwhite Vote Continues to Slip
That’s a Huge Problem for Their Electoral Theory of the Case
In 2020, Democrats lost 10 points off of their margin among nonwhite voters (Catalist two party vote). While Biden won anyway, that result raised troubling question about the Democrats’ electoral theory of the case.
Here’s why. The overwhelming proportion of voters in the country are white—72 percent in the last election. A reasonable expectation is that that number will go up a bit to 73 percent in 2022, given standard midterm turnout patterns. Since Democrats tend to lose the overall white vote by solid margins, the Democratic electoral theory of the case is based around carrying the much smaller, 27-28 percent of voters who are nonwhite by far larger margins.
Rapidly declining margins among nonwhites obviously call this strategy into question. It may be objected that Democrats still dominate the nonwhite vote and that nonwhites are growing as a share of voters. Well, there’s dominance and then there’s dominance—a change from overwhelming to merely very strong can make a significant difference. Take 2020. In that election, Democrats’ declining dominance of the nonwhite vote meant that, despite constituting a larger share of the vote, nonwhites actually contributed less to the Democrats’ overall margin than they did in 2016.
Since 2020, the Democratic dominance of nonwhite voters has continued to decline. The latest manifestation of this was the turnout patterns in last Tuesday’s Texas primaries which suggested continuing movement to the GOP among Texas Hispanics. Also recently, there was the surge of Asian voters against the ultra-progressive school board members in San Francisco. And in the 2021 elections we saw significant attrition of Democratic support among both Hispanics and Asians.
The signs of this deterioration are also unmistakable in recent polling data. Here are some examples:
1. In the most recent NPR/Marist poll, Biden’s approval rating among all nonwhites is actually underwater (46 percent approval/47 percent approval), which is quite extraordinary. Among Latinos specifically, Biden’s approval is a dismal 39 percent vs. 53 percent disapproval.
2. Biden’s approval rating among nonwhites on the economy is even worse. In the NPR poll, 50 percent disapprove vs. 44 percent approval. Among Hispanics, 62 percent disapprove (!) and only 34 percent approve. The strongly negative feelings of Hispanics about the economy is a repeated theme in recent polls.
3. In the same poll, a strong majority of nonwhites (60-37) feel the country is going in the wrong direction (63-32 among Latinos). Nor are they sanguine about Biden’s first year in office; nonwhites as a whole are split down the middle between success and failure while Latinos deem it a failure by 56-37.
4. Returning to the economy, the same poll indicates many more Hispanics (42 percent) feel inflation should be the top priority for Biden in the coming year than any other issue. Compare to 6 percent for voting laws, 3 percent for the January 6th investigation and 2 percent for abortion. More Hispanics feel that people in their community are worse off (46 percent) than believe they are better off (43 percent) than they were a year ago.
5. The story is similar in the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll. In that poll, Biden’s approval rating nudged just above water among nonwhites (46 percent approval vs. 43 percent approval), but Hispanic approval was still dreadful: 50 percent disapproval and 39 percent approval. And on the economy, nonwhites as a whole were -7 net approval and Latinos were a shocking -27 net.
6. The poll asked respondents whether they preferred a Congress controlled by Republicans to act as a check on Biden or a Congress controlled by Democrats to support Biden’s agenda. Nonwhites preferred a Congress controlled by Democrats by a mere 15 points (Latinos were roughly even) compared to a 25 point preference among whites for a Republican-controlled Congress. That’s the reverse of what Democrats need of course; the margin for them among nonwhites must be much larger than the margin against them among whites, not smaller. Otherwise, the political arithmetic just doesn’t work.
7. To add to the danger signs, Hispanics said they actually trust Republicans over Democrats to handle the economy by 51-37. Ouch.
8. Speaking of the economy, some 73 percent of nonwhites rate the state of the nation’s economy as not so good or poor. This negative rating goes up to 82 percent among Latinos. As for whether the economy has gotten better or worse since Biden took office nearly twice as many nonwhites think it’s gotten worse as think it’s gotten better. That goes up to three times more among Hispanics.
These are some sobering numbers that make the Democrats’ default electoral theory of the case look very shaky indeed. Should the Democrats just adopt a new theory—say, just assume they’ll do steadily better among whites to make up for their attrition among nonwhites? That seems….challenging.
A better idea would be to figure out how to stop the bleeding among nonwhite voters, while continuing to soldier away at getting a larger share of the white vote. Can the Democrats do this?
It’s certainly possible but what’s currently on offer doesn’t seem like it’ll do the trick. One might loosely summarize it as the “racial reckoning” + Build Back Better. The assumption seemed to be that all nonwhites as “people of color” share a perception of America as a fundamentally racist society and are committed enough to transformative progressive programs to overlook their everyday difficulties.
That has turned out not to be the case. Nonwhite voters are far more pragmatic and far less ideological than that view implied. This is particularly true of working class nonwhites who persistently show less support for Democrats and standard liberal positions than their college-educated counterparts.
What nonwhite voters want is effective governance, safe communities, improved living standards and a normally-functioning society. Those take precedence over ideological commitments. This is particularly true for Hispanics who, as I’ve repeatedly noted, are a constituency that does not harbor particularly radical views on the nature of American society and its supposed intrinsic racism and white supremacy. They are instead a patriotic, upwardly mobile, working class group with quite practical and down to earth concerns. As even Ian Haney Lopez, associated with the left of the Democratic party, acknowledged in a recent New York Times story:
[The] identity story casts the majority of Democratic voters as part of the problem,” [Lopez] said. In addition, 2020 proved that tactic was also not helpful to the Democratic cause with people of color, especially Latinos. “You’re not going to get them to sign on to a story that says you’re on the margins, you’re widely hated, and your children’s lives will be truncated by racism.”
Nor does it appear to be the case that immigration is some sort of get-out-of-jail free card with Hispanic voters. As a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out:
Roughly half of Hispanics who voted in the 2020 presidential election said they supported spending more on the border, limiting asylum and reducing immigration, and 42% said they backed more deportations, according to recent data released by Equis, a Latino firm that specializes in analyzing the Latino electorate.
Other data collected since the 2020 election persistently show that more Hispanics want immigration decreased than increased. This is particularly true of working class Hispanics.
Perhaps it’s time for Democrats to adopt the pragmatic non-ideological approach of the nonwhite voters on whose support they have hitherto relied so heavily. It’s either that or their electoral theory of the case really will fall apart.