It is appropriate that Ruy Teixeira, the political demographer who co-authored (with John Judis) that great prophecy of the Obama coalition, the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, has offered a strong take on the argument that Donald Trump’s election reversed that demographic destiny.
Teixeira does not get into blame-gaming or excuses about what happened on November 8. He acknowledges that demography is not everything:
We are witnessing a great race in this country between demographic and economic change that’s driving a new America, and reaction to those changes. On November 8, with a tremendous burst of speed, reaction to change caught up with change and surpassed it.
That is not likely to happen again, argues Teixeira, who points out that the white working class that helped Trump win in key Rust Belt states is going to decline significantly in size very soon.
If we assume that the support patterns from 2016, with their astronomically high white-working class support rates for Trump and relatively weak minority support rates for the Democratic candidate, hold in 2020, projected demographic shifts in the electorate would still, by themselves, produce a very different outcome.
The Democrats’ advantage in the national popular vote would bump up from a little more than 1 point to 3 points. Critically, this change would flip the Rust Belt trio of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — plus Florida — back to the Democrats, producing a 303-235 victory for the Democratic candidate, even with the white working-class surge toward Trump replicated in 2020. In addition, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, already very competitive in the 2016 election, would become even more contestable under this scenario.
The odds of Trump or another Republican doing as well among the white working class or a Democrat doing as poorly among minorities 4 or 8 or 12 years from now, of course, is limited. It is, argues Texeira, a onetime perfect storm that is unlikely to recur, and is less likely to recur as time goes by. That is particularly true since President Trump is going to disappoint a lot of his most fervent supporters with his inability to repeal the laws of mathematics or economics, or to impose his will on every country on the planet.
I’d add one key point to Teixeira’s analysis based on his discussion of Trump as the candidate of “reaction to change.” One phenomenon that helped him win this year was that he was able to put together a coalition of people demanding change from the policies currently guiding the country, and people resisting long-term economic and demographic change. The longer Trump and a Republican Congress are in office, the harder it will be to put back together this “Trump coalition” of pro-change and anti-change voters. Some of those unhappy with the status quo will inevitably defect if life is not immediately and objectively better (an unlikely scenario), while those hoping for a reversal of long-term change will inevitably become disappointed if the 1950s do not return (which they won’t). So it’s not clear if Trump’s current base of support will last until the 2018 midterms — usually an anti-administration election anyway — much less 2020 or 2024.
None of this is intended to suggest that Democrats can just sit around and wait for Congress and the presidency to fall into their laps when Trump falls short of his outlandish and often contradictory goals. But they may have farther to fall in order to fail quite soon, which is a pretty good wind to have at one’s back. You know — the winds of change.