Jul 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The great realignment

Illustration of a hand holding a wrench that is shifting in color from blue to red.
Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Shifts in the demographics of the two parties' supporters — taking place before our eyes — are arguably the biggest political story of our time.

The big picture: Republicans are becoming more working class and a little more multiracial. Democrats are becoming more elite and a little more white.

Why it matters: Democrats' hopes for retaining power rest on nonwhite voters remaining a reliable part of the party's coalition. Democrats' theory of the case collapses if Republicans make even incremental gains with those voters.

  • Even small inroads with Hispanic voters could tip a number of Democratic-held swing seats to the GOP.

What the data show: Democrats are statistically tied with Republicans among Hispanics on the generic congressional ballot, according to a New York Times-Siena College poll out this week. Dems held a 47-point edge with Hispanics during the 2018 midterms.

  • An NBC News poll in April found Democrats held a 38-point lead among women with college degrees — up from 10 points from 2010. Democrats lost ground with nearly every other demographic group tested in the survey. 
  • Nearly every House pickup in the 2020 election came from a woman or non-white challenger. The GOP's ability to win back a House majority this year rests on the success of candidates breaking the party’s typical mold.

What's happening: Democratic strategists say the party's biggest vulnerability is assuming that the priorities of progressive activists are the same as those of working-class voters.

  • Progressive activists led the push to cut police budgets. Communities of color have borne the brunt of higher crime. 
  • Hispanics living on the U.S.-Mexico border are more likely to favor tougher border security measures that Republicans have championed.
  • The recall of liberal school board members and a district attorney in San Francisco was fueled by disillusioned Asian-American Democrats.

Between the lines: Add the reality of growing inflation and worries of recession, and you see why Democrats are losing ground with a core part of their coalition. 

  • Wealthier Americans aren’t feeling the day-to-day hardship hitting the working class.
  • This week's Times/Siena poll found affluent voters care about gun control and abortion rights. Working-class voters are squarely focused on the economy.

Reality check: Suburban districts still make up the majority of congressional battlegrounds, and the GOP’s Trumpified brand remains a threat to limit their gains. 

  • Republican candidates holding extreme views on abortion or echoing Trump’s election lies are still toxic in the suburbs.
  • Since the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, Democrats have made small gains in national polls.

The bottom line: The GOP is trading soccer moms for Walmart dads.

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