January 7, 2005


The Incredible Shrinking Dems: It was an annus horribilis for America's minority party. (Fred Barnes, 01/07/2005, Weekly Standard)

GEORGE W. BUSH got more votes in winning re-election than the entire population of France. He improved his share of the vote among Latinos, women, African-Americans, Jews and Catholics. Winning a plurality of states along the Mississippi River has guaranteed presidential victory since 1912. Bush won a majority. This year, says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, "a sense of Republicanism crept up the river. The president won Missouri, which was always a tossup state, by more than 7%. Iowa flipped his direction, and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we waited all night to find out that Kerry had just barely carried those states." So the Upper Midwest, following the South, Southwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains, is now trending Republican.

There's another measure of Republican (and Bush) success in 2004. For the first time in more than a century, a Republican president won re-election as his party improved its hold on the House and Senate while increasing its majority of governorships (28 now) and maintaining control of a plurality of state legislatures (20). At the same time, Republicans held a majority of state legislators--a feat they initially achieved in 2002 after a half-century in the minority. [...]

Democrats and the media have been reluctant to spotlight the breadth and depth of Republican strength in 2004. Strangely, so have Republicans. It's almost as if they don't believe their own good fortune. "We're no longer a 49% nation," says Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and now the Republican national chairman, in a breathtaking understatement. And Mehlman warns that the Republican majority is "not overwhelming" and won't produce "automatic victories." True, but Republicans have the presidency and the most senators (55) since 1931, and are near their modern peak in the House (232). They have all but completed the sweeping political realignment they could only dream about a generation ago. In the dark days after the 1964 rout, those dreams seemed quixotic, farfetched, even crazed. Now, they've been realized. [...]

One of the most talked about political concepts of the early 21st century was "the emerging Democratic majority." It was supposed to begin emerging in 2002 and 2004, but clearly it didn't. Adherents of the Democratic idea blame the 9/11 terrorist attack for upsetting the Democratic trend temporarily. The truth, of course, is there wasn't a Democratic trend in the first place. The concept assumed that
Democratic vote levels in the late 1990s among women, Latinos, African Americans and young, college-educated urbanites was a floor. And since these groups were growing at a fast pace, the Democratic vote would soar and Democrats would emerge as the dominant party again, as they were from the '30s to the '90s.

The floor turned out to be a ceiling. It's Republicans who have gained among these groups (with the possible exception of young metropolitan sophisticates). Take women. Since 1996, the gender gap--the difference between the male vote for Republicans and the female vote for Democrats--has shrunk. President Clinton won women by 16 percentage points in 1996. Al Gore won by 11 points in 2000. But John Kerry's edge in 2004 was a mere three points. And among white women without a college education, a poll by Democracy Corps found Kerry trailingBush by 23 points.

Anna Greenberg, one of the smartest of the younger Democratic consultants, explains the Democratic trouble with women this way: "Despite the economic interests, socially conservative women, white, blue-collar women, have moved increasingly into the Republican camp, primarily around social and cultural issues that include perceived moral decline, abortion and reproductive health, challenges to women's traditional roles in society and family, and gay rights. . . . These voters swung to Bush as he tapped into their social conservatism, their support for his approach to the war on terrorism, and their admiration of his faith."

With Latinos, the story is similar. Traditional values, respect for religious faith, and support for entrepreneurship are tugging them into the Republican Party. The Republican share of the Latino vote grew from 21% in 1996 to 35% in 2000 and to 44% in 2004. The 44% figure in the exit poll is disputed by some Democrats, but if the jump was only to 40%, that's still a significant gain and represents an even more significant trend.

You didn't exactly have to be a genius to recognize that the emerging majority was implausible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2005 12:14 PM
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