NEW DEMOGRAPHY-Until now, the presidential campaign has largely been dominated by issues of class, driving the improbable rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But as we head toward Super Tuesday – which will focus largely on Southern states – racial issues may assume greater importance.
In the next few weeks, you can pick your states and likely party primary winners largely by examining the ethnic profiles of the electorate. Where white voters predominate, the most radical candidate, Sanders, ironically, does best. In contrast, states that are more heavily minority favor the more mainstream Hillary Clinton. In some states, notably Texas and Florida, larger minority representation may slow Trump’s seemingly unstoppable momentum.
What about age? Older voters are overwhelmingly white, and in states where they constitute a large share of the electorate – a full one-third of GOP caucus-goers in Nevada – the Donald is the bomb. Hillary, too, has done best with older voters, while Sanders dominates the party’s younger electorate.
Racial gap in Democratic Party
Racial divisions will shape the Democratic results on Super Tuesday. The party’s Southern flank, weak in November but important now, tends to be dominated by African Americans and, in Texas, at least, also Latinos. In some states, like South Carolina, where African Americans constitute upward of a majority, Clinton has proven all but unbeatable.
In contrast, Clinton did poorly in New Hampshire (94 percent white) and barely earned a tie in Iowa (92 percent white.) Generally speaking, the whiter the state, the better things tend to appear for Sanders.
These patterns may well dominate Super Tuesday results. In Texas, Alabama, Georgia and, to a lesser extent, Virginia, minority voters could well propel the former secretary of state closer to the nomination. But such heavily Caucasian states as Massachusetts (80 percent white), Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota (85 percent white) and Sanders’ home state of Vermont (95 percent white) seem most likely to end up “feeling the Bern.”
Less clear-cut is Colorado, which is 80 percent white but with a growing, predominately Democratic Latino population. Clinton may be damaged by the fact that the state is only 3.8 percent African American, with a large millennial population that trends toward Sanders. The Vermont democratic socialist may also do well in other such heavily white states as Kansas and Nebraska, each with populist histories and which hold their caucuses March 5, and he can be expected to win in Maine on March 6.
White worker insecurity
Despite notable attempts at outreach and the presence of two serious Latino candidates, the GOP primary-election universe remains essentially white. Roughly 90 percent of Republicans are white, compared with 60 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents.
Just as Sanders’ strategy thrives on younger white and working-class voters, Trump appeals to the mostly older part of America’s beleaguered white working class. Many belong to the growing “precariat” – people who are working, many part time or on short-term gigs, but lacking long-term security. According to one estimate, at least one-third of the U.S. workforce falls into this category, and the numbers are growing. By 2020, a separate study estimates that more than 40 percent of the American workforce – or 60 million people – will be independent workers: freelancers, contractors or temporary employees.
Trump’s class appeal spills over to racial issues. Unlike wealthier voters, poor whites compete for jobs with immigrants and also tend to live where poor minorities also settle. Overall, according to Pew, voters under financial stress tend to be more concerned about illegal immigration. They also tend to work in fields, such as construction and manufacturing, where the foreign-born constitute a disproportionate share of the workforce.
But it would be a mistake to see Trump’s anti-immigrant message as appealing only to whites. The fact that Trump won the lion’s share of Hispanic Republicans in Nevada against two Latino candidates should alter some presumptions and does not bode well for Cruz and Rubio. One possible overlooked factor: A majority of Latinos, in contrast to their open-borders-minded leadership, according to some surveys, already believe overall immigration levels are too high. What seems like racism to college professors and journalists might seem more like economic salvation to struggling families, even ones with roots in Latin America.
Still, overall, the Republican race is about white voters. Take Harris County, Texas’ largest county, Ted Cruz’s home and among the most diverse places in the country. One Republican consultant notes that Hispanic voters in Harris County are more than four times as likely to vote in a Democratic primary than in a Republican contest, while African Americans in the county are more than 18 times as likely to vote in a Democratic contest. Cruz may win the state Tuesday, but it will be largely because he appeals to hard-right and evangelical voters.
Political insiders suspect Trump could pull an upset in Texas, one consultant suggested, because “we have a lot of lower-middle-class angry voters.” A Trump victory in the Lone Star State would effectively end Cruz’s campaign. At the very least, since delegates are assigned proportionally, Trump will leave Cruz’s home state with a rich harvest of delegates.
The one place where GOP minority voters may matter is Florida, where many Cuban-Americans, like Rubio, tend to be Republicans. There are some 471,000 Latino Republicans eligible to vote in the Sunshine State’s critical winner-take-all primary March 15. Perhaps here Trump’s racialism could backfire, but, given the extent of rage among the much larger and largely older white electorate, and conflicted views among Latinos, Florida also could prove the GOP establishment’s ultimate burial ground. As of a few days ago, The Donald held a solid, but not insurmountable, lead.
Future role of race
The predictable left-of-center analysis is that the future will be determined by an increasingly diverse, largely Democratic electorate. “(We are) facing a future in which national elections will no longer be decided by ideas, but by numbers. It will be a turnout battle between people who believe in a multicultural vision for the country and those who don’t,” Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone. “Every other issue, from taxes to surveillance to war to jobs to education, will take a distant back seat to this ongoing, moronic referendum on white victimhood.”
Taibbi’s lack of sympathy for the “moronic” struggling white working and middle classes is shockingly typical of the coastal cognoscenti, who are comfortable and benefit from the labor of minority service workers, ethnic restaurants and street culture. Yet the mouthing of “people of color” rhetoric may prove less compelling if Trump can get his economic message out, particularly against Clinton, who is rightfully seen as a well-paid tool of Democratic-leaning Wall Street, Silicon Valley and their public-sector allies.
One key factor may be African Americans, whose self-interests were submerged in service to President Obama. Trump could appeal to them with his tough stand on immigration. Nearly 70 percent of African Americans, according to a Zogby poll, think overall immigration levels are too high. If Clinton tacks too closely to the open-borders stance embraced by both the Democratic and Republican establishments, Trump may be able to slice off some of this most-solid segment of the blue electorate.
Ultimately, class interests are likely to prevail, particularly in a race between two whites. Trump will repel many upper-income whites, who tend to be less concerned with illegal immigration and are less angry about the economy. Many, including some Republicans and independents, may vote more for Clinton, as opposed to the New York billionaire many find loathsome.
In contrast, Trump’s base, and that of the GOP, lies with working- and lower-middle-class whites. Contrary to the “white privilege” meme popular on campuses and with the gentry Left, most whites are not wealthy or particularly well-educated. As liberal analyst John Judis notes, white working-class voters may be declining as a percentage of the electorate – from 65 percent in 1980 to about 35 percent today – but likely can determine the November outcome not only in the South but also in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire.
Over time, race will lose its currency as class, culture and other concerns gain primacy. Already among millennials, Latinos and African American youth – to the consternation of their own racial establishments – are breaking the old racial bounds by joining their white counterparts in supporting Sanders. At the same time, the affluent and professional classes, once the base of the GOP, seem likely to line up with Hillary. Race may play a large role in the next few weeks of voting but, ultimately, other factors – income, age, geography – will be more determinative of the outcome in November.
(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of www.newgeography.com … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.