The results of the 2020 census lay out a clear trend: the dramatic drop in white population paints the picture of a GOP in decline. Americans under the age of 18 are already 48% nonwhite. Moreover, the fastest growing groups are now Latinos and Asian Americans, with Asian Americans representing the most significant growth over the last ten years. This marks the first time in the history of the census that there has been a decline in the white population, and on this week’s episode of The Brief, hosts Markos Moulitsas and Kerry Eleveld explore the ramifications of the conservative base in decline.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, executive director of NextGen America, joined as their guest around the half-hour mark. A civil rights leader and former 2020 U.S. Senate candidate, Ramirez shared her perspective on some of the most pressing challenges facing Democrats today as they work to increase outreach efforts and expand their base.
As findings from the census indicate, the white-only population has declined dramatically, “to the tune of 1% per year,” Moulitsas said. This will likely cause seismic shifts in American culture and political strategy. “We’re not talking they grew at a slower rate than Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. There was an actual decline. What that means is, what is [left of] the Republican base?” Put simply, he said, “The real way to look at it is that America is evolving. It is changing. There is one party that is evolving with it, and there is one party that is clinging to [the past].”
Eleveld weighed in, explaining that clinging onto this specific demographic is a more difficult strategy for the GOP than simply trying to appeal to more and different types of voters:
It wouldn’t be that scary for Republicans if they were willing to diversify who they talk to … then this decline wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But instead, it is the worst thing in the world for them, or at least that’s the way they view it. They have a chance to compete, and they just won’t—they won’t do it. It’s not like it’s inevitable. The could try to compete. There are ways that they could work themselves into the Democratic base if they wanted to. They’re just aren’t committed enough, not smart enough, not entrepreneurial enough to do it.
It would require a level of openness from the GOP, Moulitsas pointed out, which the party continues to be threatened by and resistant to. He mused on how the decrease in white population threatens conservatives, joking that “it just means you may have to live next to a Latino couple and a Black family, and oh my god, the horror of that.”
With the GOP “hanging on for dear life,” Eleveld thinks the party needs to either wake up to the reality and shift their strategy or risk becoming irrelevant. Recalling Trump’s strategy to court white suburban women, which showed how conservatives also seem to have missed the memo about their demographic destiny, she highlighted Republicans’ lagging strategy: “[They are] so clearly behind the curve on how diverse the suburbs have gotten.”
In addition, the shrinkage of the rural population has also complicated the GOP’s traditional political strategies and made Republican gerrymandering more challenging.
Eleveld prefers a more aggressive approach to counter Republican gerrymandering:
I’m for nonpartisan redistricting commissions ... it’s just that everybody has to do it at the same time. And since Republicans are going to do everything they can to squeeze more seats and try to gerrymander their way into a majority, I want Democrats, wherever they can, to draw blood right now on the gerrymandering map until we can get federal legislation that equalizes it across the board.
Moulitsas agreed, noting,
Republicans will not feel motivated to move on partisan redistricting unless they themselves feel some of that pain as well … By heavily gerrymandering Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, New York—those states that Democrats do have full control in—and offsetting the Floridas, Georgias, and Texases, the better chance we have in the future of getting some kind of bipartisan consensus, if we need to enact that kind of reform. Because there shouldn’t be partisan redistricting. We should have like-minded communities try to be represented together … Republicans still have control of more potential gains in this redistricting, but, again, we have some, too, because those gains in the census come from cities and suburbs and Latinos, at the expense of white voters; it makes that job harder and [Republicans] may not be able to squeeze as many new districts as they have in the past.
The conversation moved onto the various states with spiking COVID-19 cases, such as Texas, South Dakota, and Florida, where governors still refuse to enact mask mandates. “It’s a race to the bottom … to see who can be most depraved,” Eleveld observed.
During the live broadcast taping of this episode, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he had tested positive for COVID. Governor Ron DeSantis continues enforcing a mask ban and is sending (largely too young to be vaccinated) Florida students back to school in person. This will potentially expose thousands of children to COVID and result in spread it to classmates, teachers, and their families.
Eleveld feels incensed over this careless attitude towards children’s lives, especially given that a majority of Americans support mask mandates in schools: “They’re playing Russian roulette with kids’ lives.” Citing recent Axios/Ipsos polling, she noted that 69% of Americans support in-school universal masking, and just 30% are against it. “If you’re trying to win a general election, what you’re saying is, ‘I’m going to put kids’ lives at risk, parents’ lives at risk, peoples’ lives at risk, so that I can win 30% of the vote,’” Eleveld said. “It is just unbelievable that the electoral strategy here is, ‘I’m going to appeal to 30% of people, and I’m going to put peoples’ lives on the line to do it.’”
At this point, Eleveld and Moulitsas pivoted to welcome Ramirez onto the show to share her perspective on organizing young Americans and increasing the youth turnout in 2022 and beyond.
Young Americans represent a huge, and largely overlooked, voter base. NextGen focuses on mobilizing young voters, and Ramirez weighed in on how organizations can tap into the potential of that demographic. Noting that 60% of Americans do not have a college degree, she named a challenge she hopes NextGen will rise to: that of reaching working class people, especially working class young Americans, where they are.
Moulitsas opened by asking Ramirez’s thoughts on Texas, which appears on the path to a demographic shift that would favor Democrats: “Did you see anything in the census of whether those trends will continue? Is Texas was on the cusp of becoming a battleground state, or is it destined to become like a North Carolina or a Florida, which is just going to sit there, tantalizingly out of reach, frustrating us every cycle?”
Ramirez believes that demographics are not destiny and that we need more organizing and investment:
Demographics are just an ingredient for change; they’re not the actual recipe of what makes change, and I think Republicans understand that better than Democrats. In Texas, while people normally picture our state as white cowboys, what they actually should be envisioning when they think of Texas is a state that is majority brown, Black, and young. We are majority people of color, and we are the third youngest state in the country … one in three eligible voters in Texas is under the age of 30. Every year, 270,000 young people of color turn 18 in Texas; 200,000 of those are Latino, and the other portion make up African American and AAPI. So, tremendous force in change. The question then becomes, if demographics aren’t destiny, then how do you organize a state of 29 million—the largest battleground state in the country? It has always come down to, largely, the youth vote. And that means young Latinos.
Ramirez also warned of the cost of lack of outreach to Latino communities, which she cited as the number one reason why Latinos will say they don’t vote. Financial considerations, especially during the pandemic, have driven many Latino voters’ decisions when they’re in the voting both, she said, as “COVID really devastated so much of the economy in our community.”
In 2020, then-President Trump won even more votes among Latinos than he did in 2016, and the GOP’s pull on some communities of color indicate that Democrats have not been able to deliver their message clearly. Ramirez urged the importance of having clearer, more concise messaging, especially on economic issues:
We are not going and talking to folks early enough and with a deep enough basic understanding of what they’re up against. I do believe when you talk to people about those basic economic issues, that our side is so much clearly better than the other, but that message got lost. It was too complicated for people in 2020. [For those] living on the margins … [the question became], ‘Which thing is going to kill me first—is it COVID or not feeding my family?’ When you live on the edge, the margin, it’s ‘which thing will make me suffer first,’ not ‘which thing will make me suffer.’
The right has a set of clear villains, as they repeatedly target immigrants, people of color, poor people, and queer people. Democrats, until recently, have had difficulty saying who is at fault for the pain many Americans are feeling, and successful messaging would explain how to extract power from somewhere to be able to give it to folks who need it, Ramirez added. “I think the more we’ve been willing to say that, the more people get [the reality of it all.]”
With an eye toward the future, Moulitsas then asked Ramirez what she thinks is needed to turn out the youth vote in battleground states like Texas. She replied,
We are making sure we’re contacting—especially—young voters that voted for the first time or infrequent voters now. Especially for so many new young voters that came and voted for the first time, they want to know what their vote did for their lives, how it’s going to change, and the impact of that. We’ve seen this big margins in gains … of when we stay engaged with young voters that are infrequent or new voters, that we can expect them to then come out in the election, especially in a midterm.
Ramirez also thinks that the child tax credit is going to have a huge impact on the next election, as many younger voters are married and have children. If we only think about young people as students on college campuses, then we’re missing the big picture, she argued. “How do we … meet people where the population actually is?”
“We have to paint a picture of how peoples’ lives will be different and better … we just don’t believe that most young people have lived our best days, that those are actually ahead of us,” she added. “Young people don’t just want Democrats to win; they want real structural change in their lives.”
Lastly, Ramirez noted that one of the smartest things the Biden administration could do right now would be to cancel student debt—an issue that affects millions of young people across the country.
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