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Midterm Results Indicate Shift In Democrat's Voting Coalition


Until this week, Democrats had built their recent success on a changing America. The Republican coalition was older, whiter and losing influence. The Democratic coalition was younger, more diverse and growing, which leaves the question of what went wrong for Democrats on Tuesday. We're going to talk that through with three demographic specialists. One of them is Mark Hugo Lopez, who is director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Andra Gillespie is a political scientist at Emory University and a specialist in the African-American vote. Welcome to you.


INSKEEP: Also Abby Kiesa is at Circle, which is a research center at Tufts University. She's studying the youth vote. Welcome to you.

ABBY KIESA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. Folks, we have just mentioned three key parts of the Democratic voting coalition. And in spite of the strength that the Democrats have seen in that coalition in the past, they lost. Did Democrats just not show up in this midterm election?

GILLESPIE: I think it depends on which Democrats you're talking about. Overall if we look at the electorate, we do see that that Democratic shift is in progress. Whites actually did make up a smaller share of the electorate than they did in 2010. Blacks and Asian-Americans made up a slightly larger portion of the electorate than they did in 2010.

INSKEEP: The last midterm.

GILLESPIE: And Latinos made up the same proportion. What I see is a dearth of white, Democratic voters and in some instances a dearth of Latino, Democratic voters.

LOPEZ: Yeah. Say, in Texas, for example, more than 40 percent of Latino voters supported the Republican candidate for both Senate and governor in Texas, more than 40 percent. That's on the level of what George Bush won in 2004 when he won nationally that same share of the Hispanic vote. And generally speaking, what you're seeing is somewhat of a slippage in terms of identification with the Democratic Party among Latinos at least since 2012. Part of that's related to a lack of immigration reform. Part of that's related to Latinos and their views of how things are going economically. But overall we've seen somewhat of a moving away a little bit from the Democratic Party compared to where we were just a few years ago.

INSKEEP: Well, now that's something to follow up on. You're saying that Republicans are still losing the Hispanic vote, but not by the massive numbers that would doom them.

LOPEZ: Exactly. So if Republicans are able to win more of the Hispanic vote - not necessarily win it, but at least get up into that upper 30s and low 40s - that could make a difference at the state level, but even perhaps at the presidential level.

INSKEEP: Andra Gillespie raised another very interesting point when she said that in many states, Democrats actually failed to win very much of the white vote. And that's what doomed them. It's my understanding that in Georgia Michelle Nunn, the Democratic candidate, only needed to win something like 30 percent of the white vote in order to win because - such a diverse state and the minority communities and other communities were voting so heavily Democratic. Apparently she didn't even get the 30 percent.

GILLESPIE: She got 23 percent of the white vote according to exit polls. And she would've needed a much higher percentage of the Latino vote to be able to win outright or even push a runoff. And she only got 57 percent of the Latino vote.

KIESA: Although, she did great with young people. She got 59 percent of young people's votes.

INSKEEP: Well, let's ask about these other groups because we just heard that Hispanics, for various reasons, voted more for Republicans than in the past. Is there any sign of a Republican opening into these other two huge groups - young voters and African-Americans? Abby Kiesa.

KIESA: Basically the trend was very similar to previous midterm years. Fifty-five percent of young people nationally voted for Democratic House candidates. There were a couple of races where the support for the Democratic candidates, like in Virginia and in North Carolina, were considerably less than when those candidates ran for the first time in 2008. So what we think we're seeing is that there's a lesson for Republicans here. When they actually do youth outreach, they can be successful with young people who tend to think like they do. And for Democrats, the message here really is that they must reengage and sustain engagement with young people.

INSKEEP: What kind of youth outreach were Republicans doing?

KIESA: We were seeing a good bit of work on college campuses. And we saw after the 2012 election, the RNC really take a long, hard look at how they were doing with young people and even hire staff to focus on youth.

INSKEEP: Andra Gillespie, let me ask you about the African-American vote. The journalist Keli Goff had an article a few days ago looking at the black vote and noting that African-Americans stepped up to help elect the first black president, felt very strongly about that, voted in vast numbers and vastly Democratic. But then she observed there's nowhere for Democrats to go from there but down, that the love affair with the Democratic Party and African-Americans could come to an end over time.

GILLESPIE: And that's been a long-standing story. So Democrats have been - or African-Americans have been overwhelmingly and consistently Democratic for the last 50 years. And so as long as the Republican Party is perceived as potentially being a bit retrograde or racist, then they're likely going to keep African-Americans away from the party, even if people believe in limited government or have strong conservative social values or other types of things.

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that we're seeing Republicans now starting to do sustained outreach in African-American communities. For instance, there was superPAC money that was targeting African-Americans in Louisiana against Mary Landrieu. Nathan Deal in Georgia specifically targeted African-American communities. We know the GOP has a national field outreach plan for African-Americans. What I would tell the Republicans is that it's a great start and that they need to view this outreach effort as a marathon and not a sprint. You know, maybe 20 years from now, we could be talking about much more competitive races amongst African-Americans for Democratic and Republican votes.

INSKEEP: Andra Gillespie of Emory University. We also heard Abby Kiesa of Tufts and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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