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Political News in Virginia

Census: GOP Base Continues To Shrink

The Republican base continues to shrink, according to a new analysis of the 2016 election.

The analysis found non-college-educated whites declined as a share of the electorate even in the key Midwestern states that tipped the election to Trump. Specifically, the data analysis on 2016 voting, conducted for The Atlantic by Robert Griffin and Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress’s States of Change project, shows that Republican have placed their bets on a segment of the population that will continue to decline.

“This is a good example of just how hard it is to reverse an ongoing trend like this,” said Teixeira, a co-founder of the project, which studies how demographic change affects politics and policy. “It says to Republicans: ‘You have intrinsically placed your bets on a political group that under almost any conceivable circumstances will continue to decline as a share not only of eligible voters, but [of actual] voters going forward.’ If that didn’t [reverse] in this election, you have to say it’s not going to happen.”

Despite President Trump’s magnetic appeal for working-class whites, those fiercely contested voters continued their long-term decline as a share of the national electorate in 2016, a new analysis of recent Census Bureau data shows.

That continued erosion underscores the gamble Trump is taking by aligning the GOP ever more closely with the hopes and fears of a volatile constituency that, while still large, has been irreversibly shrinking for decades as a share of the total vote.

But the new census numbers on voter participation last year also contain a clear warning signal for Democrats.

While the overall U.S. population continues to grow more racially and ethnically diverse, the electorate’s demographic transformation slowed markedly in 2016 because turnout remained surprisingly weak among Hispanics and fell sharply among African-Americans without former President Barack Obama on the ballot, according to the findings.

Though minority voters preferred Hillary Clinton by a large margin, those disappointing turnout numbers underscore the difficulty she had mobilizing the Democratic coalition around a message that placed much more emphasis on values and tolerance – so-called “identity politics” – than a bread-and-butter economic message.

“The long-term challenge for Republicans remains unchanged: They still have to figure out how to appeal to the growing proportion of the electorate that is non- white and college-educated,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who worked during the Republican primaries for Trump rival Marco Rubio, the Florida senator. “Trump managed to slip the punch for one election, but that changed nothing about the long-term challenge. For the Democrats … they have to [find] a substantive message that appeals beyond identity politics, and they haven’t figured that out yet.”

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Black voter turnout declined in 2016 when Obama was not on the ballot. In 2012, African-Americans holding at least a four-year college degree voted at a slightly higher rate than whites with advanced education, and African-Americans without degrees turned out at notably higher rates than blue-collar whites.

But in 2016, turnout in both categories dropped so sharply that it fell below the levels of college-educated and working-class whites, according to the States of Change analysis.
In 2016, turnout sagged to about 73 percent among college-educated African-Americans (down from nearly 80 percent in 2012) and to about 56 percent among those without degrees (down from over 63 percent in 2016).

Overall, the Census data showed turnout among eligible African-Americans dropped fully 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016, the biggest drop over a single election for the group since at least 1980. In the battlegrounds that tipped the election to Trump, state-level Census data show African-American turnout plummeting in Wisconsin; skidding in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio; and declining more modestly in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

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