America's new electorate
In the view of John Kenneth White, a professor of politics at Catholic University in D.C., the Reagan era is dead and buried. One need look no further than the election of Barack Obama. In his book “Barack Obama’s America: How New Conceptions of Race, Family, and Religion Ended the Reagan Era,” White argues that Reagan represented where we had come from: a 1950s and 1960s America made up of Church-going married couples who were largely white and suburban. Obama, by contrast, represents where we are and where we’re going: America with a white minority by mid-century; cohabitation gaining on marriage, and organized religion in distress. Here, White assesses what the changes across the American landscape mean for coming elections.
By John Kenneth White
The summer of 2010 is not a happy time for Barack Obama. An uncontrollable oil spill, unemployment hovering near the 10 percent mark, and a war without end in Afghanistan have left Obama’s job approval ratings at or below 50 percent.
Just two years ago, Republicans believed that they would be a party-in-exile for years to come. Now Minority Leader John Boehner boasts that there are 100 Democratic seats at risk, and Republicans are exuding confidence that they will control the House by the end of this year -- with the presidency and the Senate to follow in 2012.
Republicans are poised to do well. In the modern era, only 1934 and 2002 saw a first-term president’s party add congressional seats. Midterm elections are typically times for retrenchment, as the public reacts against the exuberance of a president’s first two years in office.
1982 is a case in point. That year, Democrats pounded Ronald Reagan for unfair cuts to government programs that hurt the poor and vulnerable. Their slogan, “It isn’t fair; it’s Republican,” helped the party to win back 27 House seats. But two years later, Reagan won a landslide reelection, and the Reagan era became an enduring aspect of political life. From 1980 to 2008, Republicans won the presidency five times; only the remarkably talented Bill Clinton proved to be the exception.
The Reagan era was premised on an electoral majority famously described as being “un-young, un-poor, and un-black.” This so-called “real majority” was mostly white, resided in the suburbs, went to church (or synagogue) regularly, was middle-class, and had children under the age of 17 residing with two married parents at home.
Today, that real majority is the new “real minority.” Consider: by 2042 whites will be a minority throughout the United States; there are more foreign-born in California than there are people in New Jersey; co-habitation is the norm; one-third of newborns are born to single mothers; same-sex marriages are legal in five states; only four-in-ten Americans attended a church, synagogue, or mosque in the past seven days; 10 percent describe themselves as being “former Catholics;” and more citizens live alone than ever before. These statistics point to the emergence of a post-Reagan nation that made Obama the first African-American president.
These facts have yet to mobilize Republicans into action. For example, instead of appealing to nonwhites -- particularly Hispanics, who constitute the largest number of unregistered voters and are expected to be 29 percent of the population by 2050 -- Republicans are driving them further into the Democratic coalition, thanks to a GOP-sponsored law in Arizona that condones racial profiling.
Rather than thinking about the future, Republicans seem determined to resurrect Reagan and his instinct for knowing what the old real majority thought. That can work in 2010, when four-in-ten eligible Americans will vote (many of them white, middle-class, middle-aged suburbanites).
But it won’t work in 2012, as the nation’s demography will favor racial minorities, nontraditional families, and seculars.
Steven E. Levingston
June 28, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: america's changing culture; white minority; end of reagan era;
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