Forget What You've Heard: Republicans Have the Demographic Edge for 2016

Contrary to many media reports, the Hispanic vote won’t necessarily give Democrats the election next year. In fact, a closer study of past elections and current trends shows that the the GOP has a slight advantage going into 2016.

Political outlets have repeated the idea that Democrats have an edge in the Electoral College based on previous election results and the growing number of Hispanics, who have a left-of-center voting pattern. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the six last presidential elections -- but signs show this electoral lead may not continue.

The “inevitable Democrat” hypothesis only makes sense if you consider Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 a starting point from which the Democratic Party may gain even further. The whole calculation shifts once you factor in the fact that the First Black President can’t run for a third term.

Hispanics and the Electoral College

A tool recently developed by Real Clear Politics showcases the limited effect of the Hispanic vote in presidential elections. The tool calculates a Republican or Democrat victory in the popular vote and the Electoral College based on the turnout and party-leaning of four key demographic groups -- whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/Other. As it turns out, even accounting for their increase in the population, Hispanics as a group don’t sway the election, one way or the other.

Hispanics make a large difference when it comes to the popular vote, but their impact on the Electoral college is minimal.

In 2012, 27 percent of Hispanics voted for Mitt Romney. In order for Hispanics to make one more state flip from Republican to Democrat, that percentage would have to fall to 8 percent. On the other hand, the GOP would have to pick up 49 percent in order to win the popular vote, and 63 percent to win the Electoral College.

It is far easier for Republicans to win by increasing their support among white voters, and getting more whites to actually vote in 2016. Sixty percent of whites voted for Romney and the white turnout was only 64 percent in 2012. If the GOP picks up 64 percent of the white vote in 2016, and 66 percent of whites turn out to vote (as they did in 2008), the Republican candidate wins in a landslide.

The Black Vote After Obama

The black vote will likely have a more powerful impact next year than the Hispanic vote, mainly due to the absence of one particular individual.

As Real Clear Politics writers Sean Trende and David Byler point out, Republicans have historically won between nine and 11 percent of the black vote, while in 2008 and 2012, they only took four percent and six percent, respectively. This makes sense, since McCain and Romney were running against the First Black President. Without Obama, however, will the black vote return to older levels?

More blacks voted in 2008 and 2012 than in other elections, as well. African-American turnout is usually six percent behind white turnout, and there is evidence that it may drop back to the usual rate next year. In the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014, black turnout was comparable to 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004.

“This suggests that President Obama’s popularity among African-Americans may not be transferrable,” Trende and Byler write. While they do not dismiss the idea that Democrats may have an edge in the presidential electorate versus the Republican edge among midterm voters, the same trends are easily explained by the charisma of the First Black President.

“If black participation falls back to six points below white participation, and Republicans win 10 percent of the African-American vote, the Democrats’ projected popular vote margin of 4.6 points shrinks to 2.2 points,” Trende and Byler explain. “Florida flips to Republicans, Virginia is a 0.4 percentage point margin for Democrats, and the Democratic margin in Ohio is a little more than a point.”

If this happens, only slight improvements among whites, Hispanics, or Asians will win the race for the GOP.