Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter... the 1980 presidential election, 50.8 to 41 percent. (Independent candidate John Anderson garnered 6.6 percent, including my vote.) In the Electoral College, the Gipper amassed a stunning 489 votes to the incumbent's 49. Simply speaking, it was a blowout.

The lead story in this morning's Times is titled "Republicans in House Resist Overhaul for Immigration" (my emphasis):

House Republicans find themselves in a difficult spot on immigration, caught between the needs of the national party to broaden its appeal to Hispanics, and the views of constituents in gerrymandered, largely safe conservative districts.

Many returned to Congress this week after hearing from constituents in their districts who do not trust the federal government to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, as well as mounting evidence that conservative opinion is beginning to harden against a broad immigration push.

House Republicans largely believe that the concerns of their national party elite are overblown, and that their political future and 2016 prospects do not hinge on passing an immigration bill this year.

Maybe the GOP base is right; maybe they can win future presidential elections by just doubling down on the white vote. 

But Republican strategist Mike Murphy thinks otherwise:

Sensitive to the near-universal reverence Republicans of all ages pay to the legacy and presidency of Ronald Reagan, Murphy bluntly warns his fellow GOPers that — given the profound, and continuing, demographic changes over the past three decades — Ronald Reagan would have a tough time beating Jimmy Carter today.

Consider this reality. In his 1980 race against President Carter, when Gov. Reagan won 56 percent of the nation's white vote, whites comprised 88 percent of the total national electorate. Simply stated, Reagan's 1980 share of the white vote alone constituted 49.3 percent of all voters. This meant that for the Gipper to achieve his overall 51 percent majority he simply had to earn the support of one out of seven non-white voters — which is what he did.

But by 2008, enormous changes were taking place. The white share of the national vote had fallen to 74 percent. So Reagan's 56 percent share of that group would have translated into just 41.2 percent of all voters. Demographic shifts, by themselves, would have subtracted more than 8 percentage points from Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory margin. 

Even more alarming for Republicans, the white share of the overall U.S. population is predicted by Census projections to drop to 60 percent by 2020. Another cautionary note: The lion's share of the Latino growth over the next generation will not come from immigration but rather from the children of past immigrants who already live here.
In fact, Democratic pollster Peter Hart predicts that Texas — the reddest Republican of the nation's big states — will, because of its fast-growing Hispanic population, by 2024 — just four presidential elections away — have become a Democratic blue state.

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