Sabato's Crystal Ball

Further Discussion of 2020 Reapportionment

Sean Trende, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball February 13th, 2014

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Theodore Arrington wrote a short response/supplement to my earlier piece on the Voting Rights Act. I wrote this response mostly because I think he and I actually agree on most of the matters he discusses, suggesting that I was unclear at crucial points.

Dr. Arrington discusses my analysis with respect to all three prongs of Gingles, but it’s important to note that developments relating to the first factor are the ones that I found most interesting, and spent most of my time on. I’m not sure Dr. Arrington perceives a disagreement here. I certainly agree with him that a series of close Supreme Court decisions have helped make these developments much more likely, and the background evidence he provides is useful in understanding this.

With respect to the third prong — white bloc voting such that it tends to defeat the candidate of minorities’ choice — I was speculating more on where we might be in 2020 than on where we are today, and then only (most likely) in certain Northern jurisdictions.

Consider New York. President Obama won the African-American vote there overwhelmingly in 2008, but whites supported him as well. Look to the New York mayoral race, where Bill de Blasio’s vote shares among whites, blacks and Hispanics were nearly identical. Now these examples probably represent the exception rather than the rule today (look to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary for a counterexample), and my point isn’t that the VRA is in its death throes. It’s just to point out an interesting phenomenon that could matter by 2020 if it continues.

With respect to the second prong — bloc voting among minorities — we might have real disagreements. But first, my point once again isn’t that we’re at the point where the second Gingles factor is inapplicable today. It’s speculation on where we might be getting to next decade.

I also wholeheartedly concur that there is little evidence, if any, that bloc voting among African-Americans is in meaningful decline. The Hispanic vote, however, is a more interesting case. While experts might argue that a group that gives 55% of its vote to a party is sufficiently cohesive to require the creation of minority-majority districts, I have a very hard time envisioning the current Court accepting that standard (though I doubt they’d demand 90% as the threshold either). Whether it should do so or not is an interesting question, but I’d bet that if Hispanics gave 55% of the vote to Democrats for the rest of the 2010s, the current Court would begin to look askance at Hispanic VRA claims.

Where we potentially disagree the most is at the suggestion that Hispanic voting for Democrats hasn’t declined. Over the long term, it has. While President Obama’s 71% showing is cited as an unusually strong showing for Democrats, it is weaker than the 80% that Kevin Phillips estimated for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and is lower than the showings recorded by exit polling for George McGovern, Jimmy Carter (in 1976), and Michael Dukakis.

Likewise, the outstanding Democratic years of 2006, 2008 and 2012 yielded showings of 74%, 70% and 71% among Hispanics, respectively. But what is now extraordinary was once mundane; these showings were mostly exceeded in years like 1986, 1988, and 1990.

Will the trend continue? Honestly, I could argue it either way, though that would require a lengthier treatment than is warranted here. For now, let’s just conclude by noting that if it is a trend and it does continue, it might cause some problems by 2020.

Sean Trende is the senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and a senior columnist for the Crystal Ball. He is the author of The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs and Who Will Take It, and co-author of the Almanac of American Politics 2014. Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanTrende.