Adios, Ann: Coulter's Bad Electoral Math
Ann Coulter, on tour last week in Washington to promote her latest book, “¡Adios, America!,” met with Republican members of Congress and penned an op-ed for the The Hill. Her message to the Republican establishment? “You’re barking up the wrong tree, GOP” by trying to win the votes of Hispanics.
The argument that Republicans need immigration reform in order to be competitive nationally is a con perpetrated by Democrats, according to Coulter: “For decades, liberals have bullied Republicans into taking suicidal positions. … The demanded policy is invariably one that the white working class either is indifferent to or actively detests.” And since “the GOP has been obsessed with winning more votes from some generally Democratic constituencies [, they] fall for it every time.”
As far as Coulter is concerned, Latinos are just “another Democratic constituency.” Immigration reform would only create “30 million new [Democratic] voters” since Latinos are not swing voters. Coulter concludes: “Will elected Republicans ever notice that working-class whites are the only swing voters?”
Is Coulter correct? Working-class whites swing? Latinos don’t swing? Nobody else swings? Let’s check the numbers.
In each of the past four presidential elections, the Democratic nominee won the Latino vote. But the spread varied widely.
2000: 27 percentage points
2004: 18 percentage points
2008: 36 percentage points
2012: 44 percentage points
In 2004, George W. Bush, who put considerable effort into Latino outreach and supported reform that would legalize undocumented workers, won 40 percent of the Latino vote. But he failed to bring the rest of his party with him, as House Republicans passed anti-immigrant legislation in 2006, sparking huge protests in Latino communities. In 2008, John McCain gave up Bush’s gains after flip-flopping on immigration. And Mitt Romney, who embraced “self-deportation” in 2012, bottomed out with only 27 percent of the Latino vote.
What about the white working class? Pollsters define that demographic by those without a college education. In each the last four elections, that group voted squarely for the Republican, and spreads were more stable.
2000: 17 percentage points
2004: 23 percentage points
2008: 18 percentage points
2012: 25 percentage points
Clearly, the Latino community has swung more in recent years than the white working class, and the most obvious reason is Republican rhetoric around immigration reform.
However, neither the Latino nor the white working class demographics qualify for what we typically consider a swing vote: a constituency closely divided between the two parties that can tip the entire election when it leans one way or the other. Despite Coulter’s claim that “working-class whites are the only swing voters,” it is the Catholic vote which meets the swing vote standard: siding with Al Gore (the 2000 popular vote winner) by three points, then Bush in 2004 by five points, then Obama in 2008 by seven points.
Yet it’s an oversimplification to call the entire Catholic community a swing demographic because it is not a unified bloc. There are Catholic liberals and Catholic conservatives that don’t swing at all. But Catholic moderates do swing and they swung big for Obama in 2008.
There are nuances within the white working-class community as well. While Obama won only 36 percent of their votes nationally in 2012, that figure is distorted by the widespread antipathy toward Obama in the conservative South. He performed better than the national average in critical swing states that went blue, like Ohio (42 percent), Colorado (44 percent), and Iowa (50 percent). To win the big prize of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, and overcome the trend of white working-class voters moving away from him, Obama ran hard on a message of accomplishment: the success of the auto industry bailout.
To the extent that the Ohio working-class whites had the capacity to swing, they were moved by the success of a policy. The lesson? When you do good things for voters, voters will do good things for you.
Conversely, as the Latino experience shows, when you go out of your away to alienate a group of voters, they will return the favor.
Coulter doesn’t want Republicans to learn that lesson. She argues that embracing immigration reform is an unequivocal electoral loser. But she undercuts her own case.
She name-checks Republican winners of the 2014 Senate elections who won by “opposing amnesty” in Arkansas and Nebraska. Then she notes, “Scott Brown in New Hampshire nearly defeated the most formidable Democrat running that year by opposing amnesty.”
In other words, he lost. In a Democratic-leaning swing state. The kind of state that Republicans need to figure out how to win.
And New Hampshire is not even a racially diverse state. But the 10 other swing states are all more racially diverse than New Hampshire, and increasingly so compared to 2008.
Furthermore, Coulter fails to tell the entire 2014 story, ignoring the swing state victory of Colorado’s Cory Gardner, whom conservatives complained ran “left on immigration,” and the easy re-elections of three Republican senators who voted for immigration.
Coulter finds it strange that Republicans like Jeb Bush are seeking ways to attract “votes from some generally Democratic constituencies.” It would be strange not to. Republicans lost the last two presidential elections! They need more votes to win!
While Coulter argues that Democrats “don’t neurotically fixate” on winning over Republican constituencies, she must not have been attending many Democratic meetings in 1985, 1989, 2001 and 2005.
In fact, the Democratic State of the Union response in 1985, right after Ronald Reagan’s re-election landslide, was a cringe-inducing spectacle of pathetic public soul-searching (featuring then-Gov. Bill Clinton and a series of, and I’m not making this up, focus groups.)
Democrats eventually got back in the game in 1992. After three presidential losses in a row, Clinton forced his party to jettison past positions on the death penalty and welfare so swing voters would give Democrats a fresh look. Republicans will eventually do the same on immigration, because the electoral math demands it and Ann Coulter’s numbers don’t add up. The only question is, do Republicans have to lose a third time before they accept mathematical reality?