29 October 2008

Population Changes Likely to Influence U.S. Election

Younger, better educated, more diverse electorate could play big role


By Louise Fenner
Staff Writer

Washington — In 2008 the U.S. electorate is younger, better educated and more diverse than it was when the nation first elected President Bush in 2000, and these population shifts will affect the November 4 election and help shape America’s future political landscape, analysts say.

A large turnout by African Americans, Latinos and young voters is likely to help the Democrats in 2008, but observers also point out that Republicans could benefit from the growth in an important part of their constituency, evangelical Protestants, who now constitute 26 percent of the total population.

African Americans, who now make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, are clearly galvanized by the candidacy of Barack Obama and participated in primaries and caucuses in historically high numbers. Many voter registration drives during 2008 targeted black voters.

This election could be “the year in which African-American enthusiasm [for Obama] is translated into a massive surge in turnout,” said William Galston, a political theorist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a speaker at an October 20 Brookings forum on demographic trends and the upcoming election. (See “Presidential Campaigns Try to Garner African-American Voters.”)

The growing Hispanic population is another key demographic. Demographer William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted that Hispanics accounted for more than half the overall population growth in the United States between 2000 and 2008.

Hispanics, who make up 15 percent of the population, are now the most populous U.S. minority group. By 2042, minorities are projected to total more than half of the U.S. population. (See “U.S. Minorities Will Be the Majority by 2042, Census Bureau Says.”)

Many Hispanics in the United States are not citizens or are too young to vote, and Hispanics historically have had a lower voter turnout than white voters, Frey said, but the Latino vote will be important in some swing states in 2008.

“The places where [minorities] are likely to have the most impact are places I call fast-growing purple states,” such as Colorado, Florida and Virginia, Frey said. He used “purple” as a reference to states where the vote could go for either the Republican or Democratic presidential candidate. In American political shorthand, states that tend to vote Republican are red and those that tend to vote Democratic are blue.

“Over half of the growth in most of [the purple states] is coming from minorities, especially Hispanics,” Frey said, adding that minority voters “are going to be big players” in those states. (See “Obama, McCain Compete in Wooing Hispanic Voters.”)

Some other political observers agree, including the Wall Street Journal’s, which said, “The anticipated record-breaking turnout of at least 9.2 million Hispanic voters could be key to winning swing states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.” There were approximately 7 million Hispanic voters in 2004, and 6 million in 2000.

It also cited polls showing Democrat Barack Obama leading Republican John McCain 65 percent to 30 percent nationally among Latinos. That edge in the Latino vote helps Obama hold a narrow lead in New Mexico, according to the article.


Frey pointed out that Hispanics are not a monolithic group of voters. For example, Cuban Americans tend to vote Republican and Mexican Americans tend to vote Democratic.

However, a commentator on suggested that “the increased numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida, as well as the growing Hispanic population in North Carolina and Virginia, could be the tipping voting group [for Obama] in those three states.”


Ruy Teixeira, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and editor of a new book, Red, Blue, and Purple America: The Future of Election Demographics, told the October 20 forum that the political alignments of red and blue states could change in the next decade or two as American society changes.

In addition to the growth of minority populations, particularly Hispanic and Asian-American, Teixeira cited several other trends:

• The exceptionally fast growth of populations in the suburbs and exurbs. In 2004, Bush won by substantial margins in growing exurban and rural areas. However, Republican dominance of the suburbs is waning as suburbs become more diverse and more densely populated.

• The shrinking population of the white working class — workers who lack a four-year college degree — and an increase in the number of Americans in the upper middle class. Bush carried the white working class in 2004, but polls show that Democrats are gaining ground there, in part because of concerns about the economy.  White college graduates, while still mostly Republican, are “moving kind of smartly in the direction of the Democrats,” Teixeira said.

• The number of evangelical Protestants is increasing, but so are the ranks of people not affiliated with a religion. This latter “secular” group makes up 16 percent of the total U.S. population, jumping to 25 percent of adults ages 18-29. Religiously unaffiliated voters tend to vote Democratic. In 2004, the more religiously observant groups turned out heavily for Bush. Yet in 2006, according to Red, Blue, and Purple, “the electorate didn’t break down as clearly along religious lines.” (See “U.S. Religious Landscape Is Marked by Diversity and Change.”)

• The youngest generation of U.S. voters is the nation’s most diverse. “This group of voters is much more receptive to the Democratic Party’s messages, which tend to be more liberal or tolerant,” and they are “much more open” to the idea of a president who is biracial, said Scott Keeter, of the Pew Research Center, at the forum. “I’m pretty confident that young voters are going to go heavily for Obama, and I am confident that they are going to turn out at a relatively high rate.” (See “‘Youthquake’ Expected in 2008 U.S. Election.”)

• The number of households with children is declining, while the number of single and alternative households is increasing. Married voters, especially with children, typically vote solidly Republican, but their representation in the national electorate is waning, according to Red, Blue, and Purple.

• The increasing tendency of Americans to live in communities where others share their cultural and political beliefs. In 2004, 48 percent of voters lived in “landslide counties” — counties where the winning presidential candidate won by 20 percentage points or more.

But one issue is likely to bridge cultural and ethnic divides in 2008. Current polls indicate that the economy is “the top issue for all racial groups: Hispanics, blacks, Asians and whites,” Frey said.


22 October 2008

No Major Shakeup Likely in U.S. Two-Party Political System

Political analysts predict parties will adapt to address new challenges



By Ralph Dannheisser
Special Correspondent

Washington — Is the two-party system in U.S. politics on the verge of extinction?

Not likely, analysts on a bipartisan panel agreed at a discussion hosted by the National Archives October 14. But the three panelists predicted the end is near for a conservative cycle in U.S. governance that began with the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan.

The United States has followed the two-party model since the early days of the nation. Since the demise of the Whigs and the rise of the Republican Party in the 1850s, the two dominant factions have been the Republicans and the pre-existing Democratic Party.

Third-party candidates sometimes have performed well in presidential elections — former president Theodore Roosevelt, whose Bull Moose Party candidacy in 1912 helped throw the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson; Wisconsin Governor Robert La Follette as a Progressive in 1924; Alabama Governor George Wallace on the segregationist American Independent Party ticket in 1968; and businessman Ross Perot as an independent in 1992. None were elected.

Panelist E.J. Dionne, a liberal Washington Post columnist and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, declared the two-party system “so durable it takes an enormous crisis to break it up.” The most recent realignment in the 1850s reflected the crisis over slavery, he observed.

Until an issue of equal magnitude develops, “there’ll be local challenges that are successful, but it’s hard to see the whole system breaking up,” he said.

Dionne lauded political parties as “a democratizing force” and “an effort to organize choices in a rational way in a mass democracy.”

He contrasted the two-party approach favorably to multiparty systems common to many other countries. In Italy, where he reported on politics, “voters voted for parties ranging from Communist to Fascist, various shades of Social Democratic and Christian Democratic and Liberal and Republican.” That resulted in government by undemocratic coalitions assembled after the fact, often behind closed doors, he said.

“Now, our two parties are messy coalitions” within themselves, “but you know who is in the messy coalition when you cast your ballot on Election Day,” Dionne said. “So you know more or less what you’re going to get, and I think that is ultimately more democratic.”

David Brooks, New York Times columnist and commentator on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, agreed that major realignment in the two-party system is unlikely. “I don’t see a change to where we’re going to have three parties, or two and a half parties or one party,” he said.

Brooks, generally considered a conservative, was less enthusiastic about parties than Dionne.

“One of the things corrupting politics right now is an obsessive loyalty to party … loyalty to team displaces loyalty to the truth … [and undermines] individual thought and individual conscience,” Brooks said. He cited regular party policy lunches in the Senate, where members are given “the message of the week, and they all go out and say it.”

Douglas Brinkley, a professor at Rice University and author of American Heritage History of the United States, cast his lot with the two-party system. Despite problems like lobbying and the excessive party loyalty that Brooks addressed, “it serves us pretty well,” he said.

As for the issue of longevity, Brinkley predicted “the Democratic and Republican parties will be here for a long time; I don’t see either self-destructing any time soon.”

Dionne argued that recent problems in the party system result from “a radicalization of American conservatism.”

A pattern in which “Democrats passed programs and Republicans made them efficient … seems to have broken down in the last eight years,” he said.

“I think that what’s gone haywire is what’s happened on the Right,” Dionne said, adding, “This election, if the Republicans lose, will create a very useful ferment in the Republican Party.”

Dionne said that a conservative cycle, which began with Reagan, “has just run out of steam. It ended in 2006.” With issues of religion versus secularism also in the forefront, “I think we are at two hinge points right now, which is why this election is so exciting.”

Brinkley concurred that 2008 “will mark the end of the Age of Reagan,” predicting that the United States is “entering into a new realm.”

“I totally agree we’re at the end of the conservative era; it’s what comes next I’m confused about,” Brooks said. One possibility, he said, is “an age of progressive corporatism, essentially subsidizing a lot of companies and then using the revenue from those corporations for progressive causes — environmentalism and other things.”

Asked whether the party system has become too reliant on money, Brooks rejected the idea that money is the primary corrupter of American politics. “Obviously, people with money have more access, but I don’t think it’s nearly as corrupting as the power of friendship and personal connection, and … of blindly following the team,” he said.

The most serious problem is not the money in politics, but rather “how long these campaigns are,” Brinkley said. “It never ends. Our best politicians are spending their whole lives just running, running, running. The second this election is over, they’re going to … [start] running for another four years.”


The 13 Keys to the White House

Formula covers incumbent administration’s performance, economy, candidates



A Russian scientist and an American historian have developed a method to predict who will win the popular vote in a U.S. presidential election. In the last six elections, the method has never failed. (See “Formula Forecasts Presidential Elections Months in Advance.”)

The following information is taken from The 13 Keys to the Presidency by Allan J. Lichtman and Ken DeCell, Madison Books, 1990.

(begin text)

The statements below favor re-election of the incumbent party.

When five or fewer statements are false, the incumbent party wins the popular vote. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins. Historian Allan J. Lichtman’s answers for the 2008 presidential election are in bold.

1. After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. FALSE

2. There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. TRUE
(Lichtman defines a serious contest as one that is not decided before the party’s convention.)

3. The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president. FALSE

4. There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. TRUE
(A significant third-party candidate is one with a realistic chance of getting 5 percent or more of the popular vote.)

5. The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. TRUE
(Economists define recession as two consecutive quarters of falling gross national product (GNP), a condition that has not occurred in the United States in 2008.)

6. Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. FALSE

7. The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. FALSE

8. There is no sustained social unrest during the term. TRUE

9. The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. TRUE
(A major scandal is one in which the president is personally implicated, for example Watergate or the Clinton impeachment.)

10. The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. FALSE

11. The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. FALSE

12. The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. FALSE
(National hero is defined as an individual who successfully leads a nation through war)

13. The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. FALSE

The number of false statements above equals eight, according to Lichtman, so the challenging party should win.

Economy Remains Central Issue in Presidential Race

Candidates hold fast to platforms, struggle to catch up on current crisis


By Elizabeth Kelleher
Staff Writer

Washington — American voters’ concern about the economy is a boon to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, pollsters say.

Obama benefits from voters’ belief that Democrats are best at domestic issues and from the fact that, when things are bad, voters punish the incumbent party.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken before the conventions — and before Wall Street’s meltdown — 50 percent of voters said they trust Obama more than McCain to handle the economy; 39 percent said they trust McCain more.

Larry Jacobs, a polling expert at the Center for the Study of Politics at the University of Minnesota, said that even though voters might not understand the ins and outs of the financial crisis, long-standing biases are coming into play.

“On national security issues, the benefit of the doubt goes to the Republicans, perceived as stronger and meaner,” Jacobs said. “When it comes to economic and social-welfare issues, it is the Democrats who are favored, as more caring and attentive.”

McCain was criticized for saying September 15 that the “fundamentals of our economy are still strong.” But the economy is not in recession, defined as two consecutive quarter of decline in the gross domestic product (GDP).

To some, the pace of the economy feels like recession. Economist David Cross, of Market Outlook LLC in California, said, “We haven’t seen it, but all my clients [consumer-related companies] believe there will be a recession.”

He cited the problems:  weak housing, high oil prices, falling household income, weak corporate profits, slow GDP growth, and a Medicare system that will be drained as baby boomers retire.

Cross sees both candidates moving toward a more populist stance — one that sympathizes with the unemployed worker in Michigan or Ohio, for instance.

Those and other Midwestern “swing states” matter, according to Karen Hult, author of several books on the presidency, because they are conservative strongholds that are experiencing harder times than other areas.


Typically, Democrats are portrayed as likely to raise taxes and fix problems through government intervention, and Republicans as likely to lower taxes and choose market solutions.

The stereotypes largely fit in the 2008 presidential campaign.


Obama wants to fix the problem of Americans without health insurance at a cost of $115 billion per year. (He says the cost can be offset with savings elsewhere.) Obama also proposes projects to repair and improve America’s infrastructure.

McCain would take responsibility for health care away from employers and give individuals money to negotiate their own care.

Obama would let several Bush-enacted tax cuts expire in 2010 but lower other taxes, while McCain would extend the Bush cuts and lower rates on corporations.

CBS and NYTimes and other polls show that a large percentage of voters believe Obama would raise taxes, although he says he would lower taxes for some. “It is difficult to get that across,” said Carroll Doherty, of Pew Research Center. “The traditional role for the Democrat is ‘tax raiser,’ and that is how McCain is painting him.”

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reports that McCain’s tax plan would reduce government revenues by $3.6 trillion from 2009-2018 and Obama’s, by $2.7 trillion. Even with a $700 billion rescue plan now before Congress, the candidates continue to talk tax cuts.

In a presidential debate September 26, moderator Jim Lehrer pressed them to square their plans with grim budget realities. Before bailouts of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and insurer AIG, the U.S. federal deficit was on track to rise from $161 billion in 2007 to $407 billion in 2008, or from 1 percent to 3 percent of GDP.

Obama said he could slow his timetable on implementing and paying for alternative energy programs and would end the Iraq war. McCain promised to stop wasteful government spending, but would not commit to an end-date for the war, which has cost more than $600 billion.


The notion that anyone in government can do very much about the economy might be overstated, experts say. “I get frustrated, in presidential elections generally, how both candidates feel others’ pain, say they’ll bring change, that they’ll be the one to solve the problem,” Hult said. To do anything, the future president will need support from Congress.

Presidents, once elected, have been known to deviate from plans put forth during their campaigns. Bill Clinton campaigned on health care reform. Once in office, when it became clear he lacked the support of Congress for his reforms, he focused on reducing the deficit — his inherited deficit was more than 3 percent of GDP — and pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement.

If, as is expected, the newly elected Congress has a stronger Democratic majority than that elected in 2006, it likely will want to legislate stricter controls on lending practices. McCain, known for his aggressive stance against government controls over the private sector, might have to go along if he is president.

Obama, if elected, might scrap some of his plans, just as Clinton did. He already has softened his opposition to new off-shore drilling — McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin has called Obama “the Dr. No of energy growth” — and hinted at slower development of alternative energy.

The campaigns’ economic focus is not strictly domestic. One in five U.S. jobs is trade-related, Holtz-Eakin said, and “McCain gets out of bed every morning as a friend of trade.”

The current financial crisis underscores that international relationships are about more than trade. Jared Bernstein, an adviser to Obama from the Economic Policy Institute, said that Obama believes financial regulations should be negotiated with other countries. Both campaigns see repairing the U.S. standing in global capital markets as a top objective.

A year ago, no one would have predicted the economy would overshadow Iraq in the 2008 election. Now the question is, will the economy remain the top voter concern on Election Day?

Jacobs said it could recede in importance. “This campaign is just getting going,” he said.  “There’s a lot more to come.”