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Opinion | How Stable Is the Democratic Coalition?


The 2018 and 2019 numbers come from a smaller sample than the National Election Survey election-year data, but even if we dismiss 2019 as a blip, it is noteworthy that the Democratic share has fallen every survey since 2008. It is becoming more difficult to write this off as simply a return to the pre-Obama status quo.

Many minorities who no longer identify as Democrats have become independents rather than Republicans — much like their white Catholic predecessors initially did — but this means their loyalties are increasingly up for grabs on Election Day.

In order to understand what may be occurring, it is useful to examine which kind of minority voter leans Republican. For Hispanics and Asian-Americans, this raises the question of assimilation. If these newer groups follow the path laid by earlier generations of Italians and Jews, they will come to identify themselves more and more as white rather than as minorities. The political scientists Álvaro Corral and David Leal show that Latinos whose family had been in America for three generations were more likely to vote for Mr. Trump in 2016. My analysis of Pew survey data from 2018 reveals that there is a big gap between the immigrant Hispanic generation and the third generation (representing a child of a U.S.-born Hispanic). Almost 80 percent of the immigrant Hispanic generation voted Democratic, whereas the third generation figure was about 60 percent.

Mr. Trump’s more defensive, cultural brand of nationalism — and occasionally racist comments — were once thought to be a deal-breaker for minority voters. However, these messages can resonate with minorities. In addition, according to my analysis, Hispanics who are American-born and native English speakers are more likely to believe others see them as white. Hispanics and Asians who say their American identity is “extremely important” to them also feel warmer toward white Americans.

Hispanics who predominantly speak English are more secure about their position in American society. When asked in 2018 whether Mr. Trump’s election gave them “serious concerns” about their place in America or whether they were confident they belonged, these Hispanics were 22 points more confident than those who predominantly speak Spanish.

For African-Americans, data from a Qualtrics survey I conducted shows that voters with the weakest attachment to their Black identity had a higher propensity to vote for Mr. Trump, and these voters were more likely to live in ZIP codes with a smaller Black population. While just 16 percent of African-Americans in our sample said their Black identity was not especially important to them, the political scientist Tasha Philpot writes that attendance at a Black church is often linked to a stronger Black identity, and thus to higher Democratic identification. And if Black voters moved away from what Ismail White, a political scientist at Duke, calls “social networks within the Black community,” that might limit the power of the community to enforce a Democratic-voting norm.

Joe Biden’s coalition, which is less dependent on minority votes, could insulate the Democrats from the political risks of any minority movement away from the left. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s better-than-expected performance in 2020 suggests a Republican coalition of secure minorities and anxious whites may be a match for the “emerging Democratic majority” of anxious minorities and secure whites.

Eric Kaufmann (@epkaufm), a professor of politics at Birkbeck, University of London, is the author of “Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities” and is affiliated with the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and the Manhattan Institute.

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