Demographics and the GOP

In the latest installment of his RCP series (“Demographics and the GOP, Part IV“), Sean Trende writes:

Republicans did take back the House, winning 62 percent of the two-party vote among whites. In fact, the Democrats’ share of the white vote in 2010 was probably the worst showing among whites for any major party since 1822. In 2012, Democrats fell below their 1994 margin with whites in a second consecutive election.

[V]ery few pundits thought that Republicans’ chances of taking back the House were particularly good at that time. It’s just to illustrate how quickly what was once considered an unusually poor showing among whites for Democrats has now become routine.

This isn’t accidental. As I showed in a previous piece, whites have been trending Republican, relative to the country as a whole, for the better part of two decades now…

Trende does some analysis and postulates:

It turns out that even after controlling for the economy, incumbency, and incumbent job approval, the white vote has become less Democratic over time in presidential races… This trend stretches back to 1948. It suggests that if a Republican president were to run for re-election with the same fundamentals Reagan enjoyed (solid growth, 18-point net approval, seeking a second term), that president would receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 69 percent of the white vote today.

The punchline is here: Trende posits two hypotheses on why this is the case:

There are two, non-mutually exclusive theories for this. The first explanation is that wealthy Americans are more likely to vote Republican, regardless of race. Whites have gotten wealthier, at a fairly steady clip, since 1948. Put less abstractly, the working-class Reagan Democrats, who went Republican only in perfect circumstances, are dying, replaced by their children, who live in exurbs and who are simply Republican.

The second, more unsettling possibility is that in a diverse electorate, partisan polarization along racial and ethnic lines occurs naturally, as otherwise innocuous issues take on racial overtones, pushing the voting patterns of all affected groups into one party or the other. As I’ve noted, this was certainly the experience with the American South, and with Northern cities during the great immigrant surge of the late 1800s.

While these two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, which do you think is more salient today?

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