Not long after a presidential election, conventional wisdom sets in on how the losing party can win four years later. In 2013, for example, the RNC and the GOP "establishment" concluded that the only way for a Republican to win the White House in 2016 was for the nominee to broaden his/her appeal beyond their narrow base of older, white voters. In 1989, prominent Democratic voices Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck concluded that the party, which had lost three straight presidential elections, was seen as "unacceptably liberal" and needed to move the center if their party was to win in 1992.
Of course, Donald Trump didn’t follow the RNC’s advice and won, while Bill Clinton followed the Galston/Kamarck advice and won.
This year, however, there are multiple theories as to how Democrats should run in 2020. One school of thought is for Democrats to win back the white, working-class voters that defected from Barack Obama/Bill Clinton to Trump in 2016. The other school, pushed by many on the left like Steve Phillips of the Center for American Progress, holds that Democrats lost in 2016 because they “prioritiz[ed] the pursuit of wavering whites over investing in and inspiring African-American voters, who made up 24 percent of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2012.” In other words, Democrats need to spend less time trying to woo white, working class voters and more time inspiring non-white millennials.
Meanwhile, the president continues to snub his nose at the advice to expand his base with an appeal to younger and non-white voters. His approval ratings among all but white, non-college educated voters are underwater. Can he really expect to win another election with this same strategy?
For the last four years, the Center for American Progress, Brookings Institution, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) have teamed together to study the country’s changing demographics and its impact on electoral outcomes. The latest report, which was released earlier this week, ran presidential election simulations based on assumptions about “different demographic groups’ future voting patterns” and found that all three of these potential strategies can technically produce an Electoral College victory.
Let’s first look at potential Democratic strategies:
And, here are some of the potential GOP strategies:
These scenarios are fun to play with, but not particularly realistic. After all, we know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Campaigns, said one consultant to the project, are like balloons. If you push down on one side, the other side is going to get bigger. It’s also hard to know if using 2016 as a ‘baseline’ for which to base future outcomes is all that helpful. After all, these were the two most disliked candidates in modern American history. Their performance — especially on the margins — can have as much to do with them as with the party.
However, it is also apparent that no matter which way you slice and dice the data, Republicans have a demographics problem. Of the sixteen different electorate simulations run, only one gave Republicans a popular vote victory. Even so, as RealClear Politics’ Sean Trende writes in his analysis of the data “One can certainly make a case that he [Trump] maxed out the white vote in 2016. Yet we have heard declarations of ‘last gasps’ for Republicans in 1994, 2002, 2004 and 2010. Perhaps we should simply call this ‘breathing.’”
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