Democrats In Decline

The great under-reported story of this year’s election cycle is the ongoing decline of the Democratic Party. We have written many times about the fact that at the state and local levels, the Republicans have become dominant. The GOP controls two-thirds of state legislative bodies and 60% of the nation’s governorships, not to mention both houses of Congress. To some extent, Republican ascendancy has been obscured by the fact that the Democrats control the presidency. But their hold on that office is weakening rapidly.

This is reflected in the enthusiasm gap. Republicans are fired up and anxious to retake the White House. Democrats, battered and depressed after seven years of a failed Obama administration, are inclined to stay home. The numbers are unequivocal, as Michael Barone points out:

I’m not the only one who has noticed that Democratic caucus and primary turnout so far has been down as compared to 2008 and that Republican caucus and primary turnout has been up as compared to either 2012 or 2008. …

The results of the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday confirm the trend. Total turnout was 370,000, down 30 percent from 2008’s 532,000 ….

Many commentators have noticed that blacks constituted a higher percentage of South Carolina Democratic voters this year, 65 percent according to the exit poll, than they did in 2008, 55 percent. But this represents not a surge of blacks into the electorate, but rather the fact that black turnout declined by only 18 percent, whereas white turnout fell nearly in half, by 44 percent.

That is a stunning number. The white Democrat is an endangered species, unless he is a hedge fund manager, Silicon Valley magnate or public sector union member. It is bizarre for a major political party in a two-party system, as opposed to a fragmented parliamentary arrangement, to scorn the votes of a majority of the population. I doubt whether it has ever happened before. But the Democrats have made it clear that non-rich, non-public sector whites are unwelcome in their party. Formerly Democratic white voters have gotten the hint.

Clinton and Sanders both got significantly fewer white votes than Clinton or Edwards got in 2008. It is as if many South Carolina whites, with an ancestral attachment to the Democratic party, have decided to secede from it. White turnout in South Carolina’s Republican primary was 707,000, compared to 129,000 in the Democratic primary.

As Barone properly notes, those turnout figures relate in part to the fact that there was a competitive race on the Republican side, but not the Democratic. But the result is the same in state after state: historic turnouts in the Republican primary, declining numbers of voters showing up on the Democratic side.

This isn’t surprising: how much enthusiasm can a party engender, when it can’t come up with a single plausible candidate less than 68 years old? But the rot, I think, goes deeper than that. The Democrats aren’t just out of candidates, they are out of ideas. Republicans are on the brink of a golden opportunity, if they don’t do something supremely stupid.