In 2002, shortly before the most recent period of unified Republican control of our government began, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira published The Emerging Democratic Majority. In it, they argued that as bleak as things looked for liberal America at the time – the book came out as another Republican president who lost the popular vote was pushing to start a second front in a nebulous “war on terror” – the country was becoming more diverse, and ultimately a new governing coalition of people of color, single women, working-class whites and highly-educated professionals would put the Democratic Party back in power in Washington.
In 2008, their theory looked prescient. Barack Obama won by a big margin with a coalition that was very much as Judis and Teixeira had described it in their book.
But then came Donald Trump. As we enter another period of consolidated Republican control of Washington – and most state houses –can we still look to the electorate’s changing demographics to bring about a less polarized, and more progressive future? Has the “rising American electorate” merely been delayed by a “black swan” election? Or has Trump’s victory – and three of the past four midterm wins for the GOP — signaled that white backlash politics, voter suppression and Democrats’ tendency to sit-out midterms has given the conservative movement a roadmap for maintaining power despite the fact that their base is declining in numbers?
Back in 2002, Judis and Teixeira were careful not to overstate their case. They never argued that “demographics are destiny,” or that politics no longer mattered and we could all sit back and wait for the Fox News set to die off. The book was as much a blueprint for how the left and center-left could come together around a common set of policy goals and win as it was a treatise on demographic change.
But others, like James Carville and Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza in their 2009 book, 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation, argued more explicitly that gathering demographic headwinds would eventually force Republicans to abandon their hard-core antipathy toward government or risk becoming a rump Southern regional party permanently in the minority. And other analysts, like veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz and Robert Jones at the Public Religion Research Institute, pointed out that the GOP was further vulnerable as the number of white Christians declined and the share of voters who are unaffiliated with a church increased.
After the Democrats’ “shellacking” in the 2014 midterms, the two authors parted ways over the meaning of the party’s resounding defeat. Judis now believes that the two parties have achieved “an unstable equilibrium, with the Republicans holding a slight advantage.”