AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
2021 has been the year of the Great Realignment. Rather than a one-off, Donald Trump’s impressive gains with non-white voters have proven the harbinger of a greater shift. Republicans won two heavily Hispanic districts in the Texas State House this past November, one which went Democratic in the presidential race by 14%, the other when Democrat Ryan Guillen switched parties in a district where no Republican had ever won more than 39% of the vote. Democrats have also begun to acknowledge their peril as they have come under fire over their use of the term “Latinx.” In the meantime, they are losing voters at a speed almost unprecedented not just in American but in world history. In 2020, Joe Biden still won Latino voters by a factor of almost 2-1. As recently as this summer, polls showed that advantage falling to a 50-50 split. This fall, as Joe Biden’s polling numbers have descended to the basement, his numbers among Latinos have fallen into the Earth’s core. Recent polls have Latino voters being less supportive of Joe Biden than white voters as a whole.
It is hard to describe the scale of this shift. The last Democrat to win the white vote nationally was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, when he won 62% of white votes overall. Barack Obama in 2008 managed a mere 43%. Joe Biden did only marginally worse in 2020, garnering 42%. Marist College, in their most recent poll, finds Joe Biden around that mark among white voters, with 40% approving and 56% disapproving of his job performance. While underwater, Biden’s numbers among whites are not horrific by historical standards for a Democrat. Obama won reelection with only 39% of the white vote in 2012. But he also won overwhelming margins among non-whites, to the tune of 93% among African Americans, 72% among Latinos, and almost as much among Asians. Joe Biden, by contrast, lacks any sort of cushion. As a whole, nonwhite voters disapprove of Joe Biden by a margin of 52%-44%.
That is not a data entry error or a typographical mistake. A majority of non-white voters disapprove of Joe Biden’s Democratic administration. It is hard to overstate just how momentous this shift is for U.S. politics generally, or how potentially catastrophic it is for Democrats. The saving grace of the Democratic Party in elections, the force that kept them competitive, was the overwhelming support of non-white voters. Democratic dreams of electoral victory, or more accurately hegemony, have fixated on the prospect of an increasing proportion of non-white voters. Such sentiments infected Democratic arguments regarding immigration, leading them to abandon their unionized working-class white base in the Midwest in favor of promoting the mass migration of what they fully expected would turn out to be millions of new Democratic voters at some future point. They are now discovering that the children of immigrants grow up to be working-class Americans and resent competition from cheap foreign labor, as well as the perception that those who break the law are favored over those who follow it.
The collapse in non-white support for Democrats creates a problem for Democrats, not just in terms of winning elections but in terms of campaigning. Democratic appeals to non-white voters relied heavily on the belief, which for a time had some basis in reality, that as long as U.S. politics was polarized along racial lines, then voters of different races would have different political and policy views. Even if Democratic efforts to woo non-white voters by supporting mass immigration, or promoting liberal policies on crime, offended white voters, Republican efforts to exploit that alienation in turn pushed those groups further into the arms of Democrats—or so the thinking went. The increasing political alignment of voters of different races who are otherwise similar (in terms of class, education, and rural/urban/suburban status) means that the Democrats can no longer count on this sort of divide and rule strategy. If Latino voters increasingly favor a tougher approach to border security, and African American voters, as they recently demonstrated in New York City’s mayoral election, care far more about getting crime under control than woke social policies, then populist Republicans face no tradeoff whatsoever running on those issues.
The Democratic collapse differs across non-white groups. Latino voters have seen the greatest shift. 65% disapprove of Joe Biden’s job performance in the Marist poll, while only 33% approve. That is an almost exact inverse of Biden’s performance in November 2020, and far worse than his 56%-40% margin among whites. But other groups have also seen erosion. While Marist did not provide a breakdown of their African American sample, a recent Economist/YouGov poll found Biden above water at 60%-27%. Although a 60% approval rating among African Americans is drastically better than Biden’s 43% approval rating overall, it is much worse than the 92% of the black vote he received in 2020.
The even bigger surprise is not so much Biden’s collapse among non-white voters but why he has held so firm among whites. As mentioned, by historical standards for a Democrat, 40% is not particularly bad. In fact, it is arguably better than Obama’s numbers at the end of his first year. When we dig deeper, we see another split, one at the heart of the Great Realignment globally. In the Marist poll sample, white respondents with college degrees actually approve of Joe Biden 52%-46%. Those without degrees disapprove 32%-65%, almost identical to Biden’s numbers among Latinos. The Economist/YouGov poll finds slightly smaller splits, but still massive. Among white men, those with degrees approve/disapprove 43%-55%, while for those without, the figures are 26%-67%. When it comes to white women, the numbers are 51%-45% and 32%-58%.
In short, for all of the news of Democrats’ collapse, that collapse has not reached the core of the college-educated elites who became the base of the Democratic Party during the Trump years. That is especially true among white women with degrees. It is probably not a coincidence that the messaging coming out of the White House, whether it be on COVID-19, abortion, or “voting rights” seems almost exclusively designed to appeal to that constituency.
While support for Biden has held up among that constituency, the collapse among everyone else has not escaped notice. Hence the hysteria of the college-educated wing of the Democratic Party is not so much about the loss of non-white support, but what it means for their issues – “democracy” and “abortion” – with the former more or less involving control of institutions such as the federal government and judiciary to safeguard the latter, or to impose draconian restrictions on the working class to keep COVID-19 away from their enclaves.
The sturdiness of white college support for the Democrats in their time of adversity is a mixed blessing at best for the Democratic Party. While it is preventing their numbers from seeing a total collapse, it creates a feedback loop which is proving hard if not impossible for Democrats to escape. The more non-white voters desert the party, the greater the dependence the party has on white college grads, a demographic whose policy and cultural interests actively repel nonwhites and working-class voters of all backgrounds. To make matters worse, discourse about future political strategy is driven by a professional political and media caste dominated by this white college elite. Hence the focus on words and issues which only matter to them, such as the belief that the use of “Latinx” is more important to Latino voters than the border or support for Communism in Latin America, or that introducing racial lecturing into the schools is more important than reducing crime or keeping schools open for African American children.
By contrast, this is also making it easier for Republicans to keep their new coalition together. Historically, politics around the world have been about resource distribution. A dollar spent on school X cannot be spent on school Y. As a result, it is hard for one party to appeal to everyone because parties become identified with policies that effectively favor one group over another. One reason the parties became so polarized was because Democrats were the party that wished to spend more money on African American or Latino school districts and police forces, while Republicans wished to spend more in often-wealthier white areas either through lower taxes or spending decisions. This meant Democrats, by favoring redistribution, had an audience.
It is an audience Democrats have forfeited by being the party that wishes to defund the police – for everyone. The party that advocates closing schools – for everyone. African American and Latino voters who cast ballots for Democrats because they believed Democrats would fight to provide greater funding to their communities had zero reasons to support a party that wished to defund their police departments entirely. In fact, the only people such a policy could appeal to are groups who do not feel they need the police or in-person schools. This does not mean that tensions do not exist within the (potential) new Republican coalition. But they are ones Democrats will find it hard to exploit.
They are also tensions which have been removed by the defection of wealthy former Romney/Bush voters to the Democrats. In many states and regions, it was precisely these voters who are now Biden’s most committed supporters and who today most stridently champion lockdowns and, when they were “country club” Republicans, tended to veto efforts to redistribute wealth to non-white communities. In fairness, they tended to oppose investing money in poorer white communities as well. In fact, they tended to have near equal hostility for the interests of working-class individuals of all backgrounds, an attitude they have taken with them to the Democratic Party. But the important point is that their absence from the emerging Republican coalition is as important as their presence in the Democratic one. By leaving the Republicans, they have made it easier for the Republicans to serve the interests of working-class voters across the board.
The net effect is what we see now – The Great Realignment, present not just in the U.S. but globally. Every country is different, and whereas in Canada or California, it may simply entrench the dystopian technocracy of the postgraduate classes, in America broadly, it promises the reverse. It has sent the Democratic Party into what may very well be a death cycle, where everything that weakens the Democrats also strengthens the Republican Party.
American politics in 2022 promises to be a new world. One that has Democrats fearing their November 2022 rendezvous with destiny. Caesar’s ghost told Brutus they would meet again at Philippi. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, AOC, and the rest might as well have the voice of Donald Trump in their ear promising the same.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.