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Commentators from Both Sides of the Aisle Push Back Against White-Votes-Only Theory

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Since the last election, when Mitt Romney lost Latino voters by more than a 3-1 margin, leading Republicans have emphasized the need for the GOP to better reach out to minorities and broaden their base.  The RNC released an entire report on the inroads the Republicans must make, while GOP legislators from across the House and Senate expressed agreement that their Party needed to do better.

Now that an immigration bill has passed through the Senate, however, and John Boehner is under pressure to take it up in the House, some conservatives have been trying to stop reform by throwing in some alternative premises: Republicans don’t need immigration reform because they don’t need Hispanic votes at all.  According to them, they can do just fine concentrating on turning out more white voters, thank you very much.

This claim, argued by the likes of Phyllis Schafly, Pat Buchanan, and the Center for Immigration Studies, and buttressed by Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, believes that more white voters should have turned out at the polls in 2012.  If conservatives can find and get those white voters to the ballot box, the theory goes, presto! there goes their demographic cliff problem.  No immigration reform necessary.

There are, however, a number of obvious problems with this idea, as commentators from both sides of the aisle have noted in the last few days.  Basically:

  • The idea that missing white voters translates into missing Republican voters is shoddy math because at least some of those voters would be Democrats.
  • The idea that missing white voters would make up the gap between victory and defeat is shoddy math because certain elections have higher turnout rates than others, and a year that brought out more white voters is likely to also bring out more minority voters.
  • Republicans are trying to defy gravity.  Even if they could turn out enough white voters to win 2016, the going only gets steeper in 2020 and thereafter.  The demographics are against them.

Karl Rove argued against the white-votes-only idea a few days ago at Wall Street Journal:

This argument is incomplete. If as many white voters turned out in 2012 as in 2008—and if Mitt Romney received the 59% of them that he got last fall—then his vote total would have increased by 1,180,590. But President Obama’s vote total would have increased by 780,390, and Mr. Romney still would have lost the election by 4.6 million votes.

To have prevailed over Mr. Obama in the electoral count, Mr. Romney would have had to carry 62.54% of white voters. That’s a tall order, given that Ronald Reagan received 63% of the white vote in his 1984 victory, according to the Congressional Quarterly’s analysis of major exit polls. It’s unreasonable to expect Republicans to routinely pull numbers that last occurred in a 49-state sweep.

Here’s Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz at Think Progress today:

What’s wrong with this analysis? Plenty. Start with Trende’s projected natural increase in white voters—around 1.5 million voters, based on an assumed 55 percent turnout rate of additional white eligible voters. This implies that Trende was using an estimate of around 2.7 million additional eligible whites between 2008 and 2012. That’s wrong: Census data show an increase of only 1.5 million white eligibles. At Trende’s assumed 55 percent turnout rate, that translates into only 825,000 additional white voters from “natural increase.”

That’s one problem. But the most serious problem comes from how he handles his “missing” white voters relative to minority “missing” voters. That’s because, by the very same logic he uses to designate large numbers of white voters as missing, there are also large numbers of minority voters who are missing. This is both because minority voters experienced natural increase (much more so than whites actually) and because turnout was low in 2012 compared to 2008. This trend affected all voters, minorities as well as whites…

So what starts out looking like a mysterious epidemic of “missing” white voters becomes mostly a reflection of the simple fact that 2012 was a low turnout election. This unremarkable outcome is then hyped by Trende as the big demographic development of 2012 by doing something that is really quite misleading. He adds back in all the missing white voters to the 2012 electorate while leaving out all the missing minority voters.

Here’s Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast on how a decision to kill immigration reform–if they make it–will underscore just how extreme the GOP has become:

What we are watching here is absolutely historic. The process by which the GOP has gone from “we must get right with Latinos” to “who needs ’em” has been … well, not quite astonishing. Depressingly unsurprising, actually. But amazing all the same. If immigration is killed for the reasons stated, then the Republican Party has consciously made the decision to become a quasi-nationalist party. They’ll probably never sink to the level of a Le Pen or a Haider (I added that “probably” upon re-reading; you never quite know with these people). But they will have killed immigration reform twice in six years, opposing not just the usual suspects like La Raza but America’s top corporate interest groups. And they will have staked out their bet for their future: move right and move white. And this will be the year it all took hold.

And Jordan Fabian at Univision/ABC News wants to make clear: killing immigration reform will be demographically painful for Republicans for years to come:

You could go on debating about the chances of immigration reform becoming law. But what’s not debatable is the fact that the electorate is becoming more diverse each and every year. If the GOP decides to lead the charge in killing immigration reform in 2013, it’s likely to feel the consequences in in 2014, and for a long time after.

In August of last year, months before the 2012 election and months before the GOP at large realized how damning its problem with minority voters was, a Republican strategist told Ron Brownstein that “This is the last time anyone will try to do this”–referring to the Romney campaign’s decision to try and win the election solely with white voters.  Now, for some reason a conservative minority has come to believe that this failed strategy is a roadmap to the future, despite all logic, trends, and statistics to the contrary.