Cheer Up, Democrats. Things Will Improve.

by Jonathan Chait | November 4, 2010

Via Ben Smith, this Stu Rothenberg prognostication from April 2009 is bound to live in infamy:

Over the past couple of weeks, at least three Republicans — House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and campaign consultant Tony Marsh — have raised the possibility of the GOP winning back the House of Representatives next year.
That idea is lunacy and ought to be put to rest immediately.
None of the three actually predicted that Republicans would gain the 40 seats that they need for a majority, but all three held out hope that that’s possible. It isn’t. ...
Yes, Republicans have plenty of opportunities in good districts following their loss of 53 House seats over the past two cycles. And yes, there are signs that the Republican hemorrhage has stopped and even possibly that the party’s fortunes have begun to reverse course.
But there are no signs of a dramatic rebound for the party, and the chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero. Not “close to zero.” Not “slight” or “small.” Zero.

Where am I going with this? People are myopic, and political pundits are no exception. They tend to project the most recent trend as a straight line, and fail to anticipate future changes. All the talk today is about Democratic over-reach and the center-right electorate. But there are plenty of reasons Democrats can snap back.

One is the youth vote. As I wrote Tuesday night, the failure of the young to turn out transformed the composition of the electorate. In 2008, voters under 30 outnumbered voters over 65. Tuesday, voters over 65 more than doubled voters under 30.

The tendency of young voters to vote sporadically, and skip midterm elections, never mattered that much before because age has rarely been a salient partisan characteristic. What's new is a very liberal young generation. The bad news for Democrats is that their reliance on the young makes them especially vulnerable in midterm elections. The good news is that time is on their side.

Second, the Latino vote. The Republican Party may have a collective long-term interest in courting Hispanics. But the individual short-term interest of Republican politicians is demonizing them. Pete Wilson in California made Latinos a solid Democratic constituency. And now right-wingers in Arizona and Nevada are doing the same:

Reid got an amazing 90% of the state's 12% Hispanic voters, according to exit polls; Sharron Angle got just 8%. 
And as Democrats talk today of a "Western Firewall," the trend that stands out is the disastrous Republican collapse among Hispanic voters. Hispanics make up over a third of the California electorate, and Meg Whitman's dismal peformance -- she got just 31% of the vote -- gave Jerry Brown his margin. Carly Fiorina got just 28%.
And Hispanic candidates out West didn't make much difference for Republicans. Brian Sandoval did better than Angle, but wound up with a mere 33% of the Hispanic vote in Nevada. Similar stats for New Mexico aren't available, but regional patterns suggest that Susanna Martinez didn't break the trend.

Latinos are also a growing share of the electorate. In the short run, a heavily white and disproportionately old electorate gave the GOP a huge victory. Over time, though, the demographic basis of that coalition is shriveling.

Of course, in the medium run it's possible we're headed for a Japanese-style lost decade which will result in reaction, xenophobia, and political dysfunction culminating in a final collapse under the Palin presidency. Wait, forget I said that.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/78919/cheer-democrats-things-will-improve