The rising electorate’s rising moderates

Fully half of the rising electorate - millennials, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians - describe themselves as moderates.

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A broadly appealing agenda is the best way to capture the new electorate.
As the 2016 election cycle gets underway, the political impact of demographic shifts in the American electorate – not only next November but on elections for years to come – will increasingly become a focal point for discussion. Our studies and many others, such as the recent The State of Change report by the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution, all bolster the conclusion that when it comes to the future of American politics, demography is destiny.

The biggest headline-grabbing shift is America’s transition to a majority-minority population. According to the Census Bureau, 2043 will be the year when non-Hispanic whites become a minority of the population. By 2050, Hispanics will make up 28 percent of the U.S. population, while African-Americans and Asians will make up 13 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The second major shift is the rise of the millennials – Americans age 18 to 34 – who are the largest demographic group since the Baby Boomers. Together, this so-called “Rising Electorate” – composed of millennials, African-American, Asian and Hispanic voters – already makes up 45 percent of the current electorate, and will be the fastest growing cohort of voters over the next five decades.

For Democrats, the Rising Electorate looks to be unalloyed good news. Among these voters, a majority (55 percent) are Democrats, with even higher numbers of Democratic voters among African-Americans (83 percent) and Hispanics (58 percent). In contrast, 18 percent of this voting bloc are Independents and 26 percent are Republicans, with the highest concentration of Republican voters found among millennials (33 percent).

But before Democrats start popping the champagne corks, one critical fact should give pause to those who are pushing for a more liberal agenda for the Democratic Party as a way to make these voters lifelong Democratic loyalists: significant numbers of the Rising Electorate consider themselves to be ideologically moderate.

As the following chart shows, exactly one-in-two Rising Electorate voters describe themselves as ideologically moderate, while 44 percent of African-American voters and three-in-five Hispanics (61 percent) also place themselves ideologically between liberals and conservatives.

    All voters Millennials African-Americans Hispanics Rising electorate
Party Republican 33% 33% 8% 20% 26%
Independent 20% 21% 8% 21% 18%
Democrat 45% 44% 83% 58% 55%
Ideology Liberal 29% 35% 42% 29% 36%
Moderate 47% 49% 44% 61% 50%
Conservative 24% 17% 14% 9% 15%
Moderate Independent? Yes 5% 3% 1% 3% 3%
No 95% 97% 99% 97% 97%

Source: National poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters, conducted Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2014.

Moreover, 3 percent of Rising Electorate voters fall into what we call “Moderate Independents,” voters who label themselves both as Independents and consider themselves to ideologically between the two parties. Overall, these Moderate Independents make up just 5 percent of the total electorate and have the potential to tip the scale in hotly-contested races, particularly in the South and Midwest.

While the percentage of liberals among the Rising Electorate is higher than it among the general electoral, a sharp move to the left would likely turn many of the remaining 65 percent of Rising Electorate voters off. And while they might not be running into the arms of the Republican Party, disenchanted Rising Electorate voters could begin to stay home in Presidential years – which means the built-in advantage Democrats currently have will disappear (as it did in 2014 and 2010).

For Democrats, the key is holding onto the current coalition they enjoy, while trying to expand the level of support among non-minority voters. The New Democrat Coalition appears to be on the right path with the introduction of their broadly appealing “American Prosperity Agenda” earlier this year. Rather than tracking far left, a more moderate agenda will appeal to the largest number of rising electorate voters without alienating the middle class in a way that radically progressive or conservative ideas do.

For Republicans, their best strategy is simply to find a way to attract more minority voters. If their presidential nominee is to stand a chance, Republicans must work to keep the Democratic affiliation of Hispanic voters to fewer than 60 percent. And again, one way to do this is to appeal to moderates. From a mathematical standpoint, if the Republican Party can win both the conservative and moderate voters in each cohort of the Rising Electorate, they can overcome the demographic disadvantages they currently face. While they do not need to win a majority of minority voters, they can cut into the cushion that Democrats currently enjoy. And as a result, presidential year elections could start looking more and more like 2014 – when turnout and voting patterns both heavily favored the GOP.

One consequence of current demographic and voting trends is the teeter-totter effect of mid-term elections that favor Republicans and presidential elections that increasingly favor Democrats. But both parties have the chance to break this cycle if they beginning realize that projecting more moderate ideals is the key to both winning the White House and controlling Congress. Ultimately, both parties face the same question: Whether the preservation of ideological purity is worth the price of the current impasse.

Stefan Hankin is Founder and President of Lincoln Park Strategies, a public opinion research firm based in Washington, D.C.