It is well-established among pollsters that for either party’s presidential nominee to win in 2016 they must attract the correct balance of what is now commonly referred to as the white vs. the non-white vote.
This development has spawned numerous articles and demographic math games whereby one can plug-in the estimated turn-out for Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian voters and thus predict a party’s margin of victory or defeat.
For example, a recent Real Clear Politics interactive turn-out calculator shows that for the Republican nominee to win the White House, he or she must capture at least 64 percent of the white vote. (This assumes the white and non-white voter turn-out numbers remain historically consistent.)
The need to achieve 64 percent of the white vote should be extremely disconcerting for the GOP because since 1976 there have only been two presidential elections where the Republican nominees won over 60 percent of the white vote and that was in 1984 and 1988.
On the non-white vote side of the equation, respected Republican pollster Whit Ayres predicts that the Republican nominee must win at least 30 percent of the total non-white vote in order to win the White House.
Republicans must not sugarcoat these numbers because the party is swimming against strong tides of presidential election voting data dating back to 1976.
First, as you will clearly see in the data displayed further down, the growing non-white population has consistently voted for Democratic Party presidential candidates by wide margins going back almost five decades.
Second, the white vote that splits between the two major parties by varying degrees in every presidential election is shrinking as a percentage of the total electorate.
Can Republicans overcome these two problems? Sure, in politics anything is possible – but here is a behavioral science explanation as to why the white and non-white vote is unlikely to make a large swing towards Republicans in 2016.
After the disastrous results of the 2012 election, I tried to understand how our nation could have reelected President Obama with his dismal record of achievement.
While doing some research I found what I believed was the answer -- a phenomenon called ‘tribal voting” and wrote about it in a piece on November 14, 2012.
“Tribal voting” simply means you vote for a Republican or a Democrat because of your tribal allegiance. My piece quoted Richard A. Friedman M.D. who, in his November 12, 2012 New York Times piece, "Primal Emotions Come to Fore in Politics" wrote:
“Once you’ve selected your party, you are likely to retrofit your beliefs and philosophy to align with it. In this sense, political parties are like tribes; membership in the tribe shapes your values and powerfully influences your allegiance to the group.
So strong is the social and emotional bond among members of a political tribe that they are likely to remain loyal to their party even when they give it low marks for performance. Yankees fans don’t jump ship when their team loses any more than Republicans switch parties when they lose an election.”
Then I mentioned how I tested Dr. Friedman’s theory on my own mother and wrote:
“Recently I asked my 86-year-old mother (now 89) why she voted Democrat her entire life and her explanation was rather simple, ‘Everyone I knew voted Democrat and I was always one who went along with the crowd.’”
(Obviously, her daughter broke with the crowd and has been a Republican tribeswoman since 1975.)
However, I recognize that my own anti-tribal behavior is not the norm, whereas political tribal behavior among non-white voters and white Democrat-loyal demographic groups has been remarkably consistent in presidential elections going back decades.
Let’s look at some facts gleaned from the Roper Center’s "How Groups Voted", an on-going study that has examined presidential election exit poll data starting in 1976.
When you look over this data, note that the numbers to the right in parenthesis are the White, Hispanic and African-American share of the total electorate. Watch over the decades how this number shrinks for whites and grows for non-whites. Then ask yourself, “How has the Republican Party consistently managed to repel non-white voters?
1976: White vote, Jimmy Carter 48% vs. Gerald Ford 52% (89% White vote)
Hispanic vote: Carter 82% vs. Ford 18% (1% Hispanic vote)
African-American vote: Carter 83% vs. Ford 17% (9% African-American vote)
1980: White vote, Jimmy Carter 36% vs. Ronald Reagan 56% (88% White vote)
Hispanic: Carter 56% vs. Reagan 37% (2% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Carter 83% vs. Reagan 14% (10% African-American vote)
1984: White vote, Walter Mondale 34% vs. Ronald Reagan 66% (86% White vote)
Hispanic: Mondale 66% vs. Reagan 34% (3% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Mondale 91% vs. Reagan 9% (10% African-American vote)
1988: White vote, Michael Dukakis 40% vs. George H.W. Bush 60% (85% White vote)
Hispanic: Dukakis 70% vs. Bush 30% (3% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Dukakis 89% vs. Bush 11% (10% African-American vote)
1992: White vote, Bill Clinton 39% vs. G.H.W. Bush 41% vs. Ross Perot 21% (87% White)
Hispanic: Clinton 61% vs. Bush 25% vs. Perot 14% (2% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Clinton 83% vs. Bush 10% vs. Perot 7% (8% African-American vote)
1996: White vote, Bill Clinton 44% vs. Bob Dole 46% vs. Ross Perot 9% (83% White vote)
Hispanic: Clinton 73% vs. Dole 21% vs. Perot 6% (5% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Clinton 84% vs. Dole 12% vs. Perot 4% (10% African-American vote)
2000: White vote, Al Gore 42% vs. George W. Bush 55% (81% White vote)
Hispanic: Gore 62% vs. Bush 35% (7% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Gore 90% vs. Bush 9% (10% African-American vote)
2004: White vote, John Kerry 41% vs. George W. Bush 58% (77% White vote)
Hispanic: Kerry 53% vs. Bush 44% (8% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Kerry 88% vs. Bush 11% (11% African-American vote)
2008: White vote, Barack Obama 43% vs. [mc_name name='Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)' chamber='senate' mcid='M000303' ] 55% (74% White vote)
Hispanic: Obama 67% vs. McCain 31% (9% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Obama 95% vs. McCain 4% (13% African-American vote)
2012: White vote, Barack Obama 39% vs. Mitt Romney 59% (72% White vote)
Hispanic: Obama 71% vs. Romney 27% (10% Hispanic vote)
African-American: Obama 93% vs. Romney 6% (13% African-American vote)
Asian: Obama 73% vs. Romney 26% (3% Asian vote)
How will these numbers change in 2016?
Latino Decisions, a premier Latino research group contracted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to conduct polling, estimates that the White vote will decrease to 70.5 percent, the African American voter share will decrease to 12.5 percent, the Hispanic share will increase to 10.4 percent and the Asian share will increase to 3.5 percent.
Republicans cannot change these demographic numbers, but how about boldly challenging blindly loyal Democrat voters to leave their current tribe?
For example, may I suggest a Republican marketing campaign that asks questions like, “Why am I a Democrat?” Is it because everyone I know is a Democrat? Is it because I was born a Democrat? Why do I vote for the same party year after year, yet see no changes in my economic circumstances? Maybe it’s time to break my voting habit?
There is no doubt that such a marketing campaign would be controversial and widely mocked, but do Republicans really have a choice? Perhaps it is time for a behavioral approach that questions Democratic Party tribal allegiance? At the very least, the concept should be tested in focus groups.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Republican presidential nominee is tasked with needing to win at least 64 percent of the white vote and 30 percent of total non-white vote. That my friends is either a total fantasy or it would be a historic election and one for the record books.