If current demographic trends hold true, the Democratic Party has a healthy future, but, in the near term -- meaning the 2014 congressional campaign -- Republicans still have the key to success: voters who actually show up on Election Day.
A week ago, in the first political showdown of the year, Republican David Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink in a special election to fill the vacant seat in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Jolly’s campaign relentlessly attacked Obamacare and many pundits immediately interpreted the Republican victory as a sign the healthcare issue could prove toxic for many other Democrats come November.
Certainly, the rocky rollout of the new healthcare scheme does not help the D’s, but Jolly’s success had much more to do with simple math. In a district President Obama carried in the 2012 election, Democratic voters simply failed to turn out in enough numbers to prevent Jolly from squeaking out a win. His margin of victory was 3,400 votes out of the 183,000 cast.
Democrats’ sunny hopes for the years ahead lie with the fact that big majorities of young people, single women and Latinos identify with them -- or at least disdain the retrograde ideology of the GOP. Those demographic groups are rising, while the core Republican voters, older white men, are literally dying off.
But they are not dead yet. Old white guys -- plus many older white women, as well as younger white conservatives and religious fundamentalists -- are the base of the party and they are as riled up as ever. They believe they are in a battle to protect traditional social values, religious freedom and gun rights from an onslaught from the secular left. They are motivated by anger, by fear and by a sense of patriotism, and they keep track of when they will next have a chance to make their political feelings known. In other words, they know when it is time to vote.
The new Democratic voters are very different. Many fewer of them pay close attention to politics. They are not generally talk radio listeners or newspaper readers or local news watchers. They have shown that a young, cool, multiracial candidate such as Obama can inspire them to cast a ballot, but congressional races hold far less interest for them. Most election days are just another day to text their friends, post party photos on Facebook or rush a kid to daycare before going to work.
Judging by Obama’s two election wins and the aggregate congressional vote totals in 2008 and 2012, the majority of Americans already lean toward the Democrats and that advantage is growing. But until that majority shows up for more than presidential elections, Republicans will cling to power in Congress and in state legislatures and they will continue to impose policies -- such as unfettered access to high-powered firearms -- that, according to polls, a majority of Americans do not support.
There may be better days ahead for Democrats, but, for now, it is the old white guys such as Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and the Koch brothers who hold the nation’s future in their hands.