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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.

The Trump Effect

The Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone has pointed to another demographic effect that may result in a “vast expansion of the Republican primary and general election turnout,” the emergence and popularity associated with Donald Trump.

Barone points to the low Republican turnout in 2008 and 2012 to bolster the idea that Barack Obama’s electoral successes do not represent a new normal for Democratic politics.

“In 2008, 37 million Americans voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses and only 21 million voted in Republican contests,” he explains. Barone also, like many analysts, says that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because conservatives did not turn out to vote.

“Barack Obama got 3.5 million fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008,” Barone notes. “Usually incumbents who drop that far lose. But Romney got only 1 million more votes than John McCain in 2008.”

While Democratic total votes increased by 10.5 million when Obama won in 2008, Republican total votes shot up by 11.5 million when Bush was re-elected in 2004.

According to ratings, 24 million people watched the August 6 Republican debate in Cleveland. This number is almost three times the previous high for a GOP debate, and two times the Democrat record.

The presence and antics of Donald Trump help explain this draw of attention, but not entirely. Six million people also watched the “runner-up” debate earlier that night. Can the eventual GOP nominee benefit from all this attention and capitalize on the celebrity that Donald Trump brings to the race? Don’t count it out.

As the Real Clear Politics model explains, Republicans do not need to muster unprecedented levels among minority groups to win in 2016. If the GOP merely matches the demographic groups at the rates seen in the 2014 elections, they will win the popular vote by three points and carry the Electoral College, 295-243.

A Weak Democratic Bench

The final reason to think Democrats won’t improve on their successes in 2008 and 2012 can be summed up in two uninspiring words: Hillary Clinton. Clinton has two fundamental weaknesses, whether or not another high-profile challenger enters the Democratic primary before next year.

First, there is a problem that will cost her thousands of votes among a key group she needs to win. No, I’m not talking about the emails, her wealth, or Benghazi: I’m talking about her lack of inspiring liberal credentials.

As the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf explains in his quip of a headline, “‘Hillary 2016’ Has Never Made Sense for Democrats,” Clinton voted for the Iraq War, supported the Patriot Act, and has cozied up to big finance.

She might be able to be the First Woman President, but she is both old and white, factors that helped her lose to Obama in 2008 and could hurt her against a younger — and perhaps Hispanic? — Republican challenger next year.

Finally, scurrilous details continue to leak from her illegal housing of State Department emails on a private server. Hastily trying to dismiss the scandal and then making awkward jokes about it, Hillary has shown her inability to escape from what has become a campaign nightmare.

A recent Quinnipiac poll revealed that the words voters most associate with Hillary Clinton are “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy.” Some have compared her statements during this scandal to Richard Nixon’s during Watergate, and the shoe may indeed fit. Add this to her decreasing favorability ratings, and Clinton looks even less like a sure-fire winner in November 2016.

Some have speculated that a Joe Biden/Elizabeth Warren ticket, based on continuing Obama’s legacy, could unseat the former first lady in a truly contentious Democratic primary. While Biden/Warren may be able to escape some of Clinton’s biggest weaknesses, there is little evidence this ticket could replicate Obama’s historic successes.

2016 Is Republicans’ Race to Lose

With the slight edge the GOP enjoys going into next year, this election will reveal the true state of the Republican Party. If Republicans nominate another moderate who fails to inspire the conservative base, like John McCain or Mitt Romney, they may forfeit a golden opportunity. On the other hand, a new, fresh, dynamic candidate could do the “unthinkable” and translate midterm election successes into a strong presidential victory.

Even with Donald Trump clogging the airwaves and the polls, the GOP field is the strongest it has been in decades, and Republican governors have proven remarkable innovators on the state level. This election could be a crowning achievement for a reinvigorated party, ready to lead America into the 21st century.

Or it could be another fantastic fiasco, with a moderate nominee keeping conservatives away from the polls, placing a less-popular second Clinton on the throne of presidential politics. Primary voters, the decision is up to you: conservatives, it’s time to turn out and show the world you matter.

How Does the 2016 Race for the GOP Presidential Nomination Play Out?