A generation change is underway in American politics, and it has been for some time. The media has subjected us to arguments of the GOP crack up for years – and they are correct. What they have failed to note is the strong evidence that the Democratic party is also fracturing. The simple fact of the matter is that both major parties are facing realignment of the sort that we generally only see once per generation.
The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 ushered in the era of the Baby Boomers in American politics. The defeat of his wife almost – almost – neatly bookends this. Although Trump himself, at 70, is a Baby Boomer, his election is the beginning of the end for that demographic’s political power. Vice President Pence, 57, is technically a Boomer himself, but barely.
The political power of Generation X is rising – and over the next decade it will eclipse the Boomers. The GOP felt the brunt earlier. The Democratic party’s hold on the White House has insulated it from the turmoil. The 2016 election has stripped away this insulation. The next four years will reveal a Democratic party in terrible shape.
Other pundits have already noted the party’s shallow bench. This is clearly true. Only eighteen of fifty governors are Democrats. The Senate and the House are both majority Republican. Republicans control thirty state legislatures and seven more are split.
But it’s only part of the story, and not even the most important part. The bigger issue is demographics – yes, the same demographics that partisans have assured us would usher in a permanent Democratic majority. Those partisans are wrong. There are no permanent majorities in American politics.
Let me repeat that: there are no permanent majorities in American politics.
The fault lines in the Democratic party have been there for all to see since 2008. This year’s primaries made them blindingly obvious. In short, the Democratic party serves four major constituencies that make up it’s coalition. They are:
- Rich white “limousine liberals.”
- Single women
- African Americans
- Immigrant communities (including 2nd and 3rd generation descendants)
The media rarely breaks it down like this. They love to talk about the “gender gap,” conveniently ignoring that the gap disappears (and often even flips) among married women. They love to lump the last two categories together into “minorities.” This is deliberate rhetoric designed to keep everyone on the same page.
But the reality is that each of these four groups has different interests. For the past few decades, those interests have overlapped enough to form a solid coalition. But those interests are now diverging. The 2008 and 2016 primaries tell the story well. In both years, the primary vote split very nearly down the middle. In 2008, groups 1 and 2 voted for Hillary Clinton while groups 3 and 4 voted for Barack Obama. In 2016, groups 2, 3, and 4 voted for Clinton while group 1 voted for Sanders.
The simple fact of the matter is that the interests of these groups are diverging. Group 3 is eyeing group 4 carefully. Indeed, that’s why Trump pulled in double the African American vote that Mitt Romney received. The reasons are crystal clear to anyone willing to look with an objective eye. Large amounts of low-skilled, low paid immigrants from group 4 are hurting group 3 more than anyone by competing for their jobs. Trumps message on immigration connected with a portion of the African American voters. Over time, it will connect with more. This is a real issue that the Democratic party has papered over for years now. In their loss, expect it to rise to the top.
But group 4 also conflicts with group 2. You may believe that the US is a cesspool of sexism. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. But if you want to pretend that many of the countries we’re importing immigrants from at the moment aren’t considerably worse on this score, then you’re living in a land of delusion. I have this bridge…
An influx of Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants does not help the feminist cause. The political alliances between these groups have just about lasted as long as they possibly can. The split is coming.
Again, this isn’t a forecast of the inevitable demise of the Democratic party. The Republican party’s coalition is changing, too. Had Hillary won, it would have postponed the realignment. It never had a prayer of preventing it. Our two parties aren’t going away, and they won’t lose their lock on American politics. It’s also unlikely that we’re moving away from a polarized, fifty-fifty nation. But by the time my children are old enough to vote, we won’t recognize either party anymore. And a lot of people who would currently never even dream of voting for one party or the other will be solid converts.
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