Let me first stipulate that I’m sure Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is a perfectly nice guy and by all accounts he is an able US senator. But choosing Kaine as the Democratic nominee for vice president would be an egregious political miscalculation and a personal insult to people of color across the country. The evidence from the past eight years clearly shows that the way to win in today’s multiracial America is to increase turnout of voters of color, and a Kaine candidacy would do little to inspire or mobilize the coalition that snatched down the “whites only” sign from the Oval Office in 2008. Given the fact that there is little mathematical justification for choosing yet another white guy for the second-highest office in the land, a decision to do so would be highly offensive to the millions of people of color who now constitute nearly half of all Democratic voters and to whom Hillary Clinton owes her nomination.
The political calculus underlying a Kaine pick is antithetical to what we now know about how to win elections in a country that is rapidly getting browner by the hour. The incontrovertible evidence of the past eight years is that Democrats win only when there is large and enthusiastic turnout among voters of color, as happened in 2008 and 2012. When millions of voters of color stay home, as they did in 2010 and 2014, Democrats suffer devastating defeats.
Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection—when he prevailed despite earning 5 million fewer white votes than he won in 2008—revealed the formula for Democratic victory. That formula involves hitting three critical benchmarks. First, enough voters of color have to turn out to amount to at least 28 percent of all voters. Second, the Democratic nominee needs to win the support of at least 80 percent of those voters of color. Third, the nominee must also maintain the support of at least 36.5 percent of white voters (the historical average since 1976 is 40.6 percent).
In terms of voter preference, Clinton is currently close to gaining the necessary share of each racial group that she needs to win, but the big unknown is how many voters of color will actually turn out in November. In each of Obama’s elections, people of color were an increasingly larger share of the voters (26 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2012), and 2012 marked the first time that African Americans voted at a higher rate than all other racial groups. Clinton cannot count on a similarly enthusiastic turnout absent the compelling and historic presence of Obama on the ticket.
Kaine cheerleaders argue that his selection could help solidify Clinton’s support among white swing voters (especially men) who may be drawn to Trump’s candidacy. Mathematically, however, that reasoning makes little sense. As the number of people of color in America has grown, the country has become increasingly politically polarized, and the ranks of white swing voters has shrunk to an historic low, according to Michigan State political science professor Corwin Smidt’s analysis of 60 years of American National Election Studies polling data. Smidt’s findings show that just 5 percent of voters in 2012 were swing voters. That translates to a mere 6 million people. For comparison purposes, there were 26 million people of color who were eligible to vote but didn’t in 2012. And this year there are 7.5 million more voters of color than there were in 2012.