It isn’t often that a presidential campaign blueprint comes packaged between covers and available in bookstores and online for all to see. But that’s the inescapable conclusion from looking through the pages of the book entitled, “2016 and Beyond,” by Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
Ayres is one of his party’s leading analysts. He also happens to be the pollster for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The new book is subtitled, “How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America.” If not exactly the strategy memo for a Rubio campaign, it’s a good proxy.
Ayres’s demographic analysis looks at the issue of a changing United States from the perspective of the growing minority population (and his party’s weaknesses there) and the majority white population (and his party’s strengths and limitations there). His argument is straightforward: To win the White House, Republicans must systematically improve their performance among minorities while maintaining or even improving their support among white voters.
In an electorate in which the white share of the vote was 72 percent, President Obama won reelection in 2012 despite losing the white vote by a bigger margin than any winning Democrat in the past. The white share of the electorate in 2016 will be a point or two smaller.
Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote. Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.
Put another way, if the 2016 nominee gets no better than Romney’s 17 percent of the nonwhite vote, he or she would need 65 percent of the white vote to win, a level achieved in modern times only by Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide. Bush’s 2004 winning formula — 26 percent of the nonwhite vote and 58 percent of the white vote — would be a losing formula in 2016, given population changes.
Ayres also points out that the GOP’s support among whites is not evenly distributed across the country. He notes that Romney won “overwhelming margins” among whites in conservative Southern states, but won fewer than half the white vote in Northern states such as Maine, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon. More importantly, Romney won fewer white votes than he needed in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
To Ayres, this isn’t an either-or choice for the GOP. As he puts it, “For Republicans to become competitive again in presidential elections, Republican candidates must perform better among whites, especially in the overwhelmingly white states of the upper Midwest, and much better among minorities.”
The coming Republican nomination contest will test the appeal of the candidates with both groups of voters. Is there any candidate who can raise the share of the nonwhite vote and attract more white votes in the Midwest?
When I put that question to Ayres, he said yes but only “if that candidate can relate to people who are struggling economically and relate to people who have been disadvantaged by a remarkably changing economy.”
Ayres addresses immigration at length, seeking to debunk those in his party who say Hispanics will always vote overwhelmingly for Democrats or those who say there are more than enough white voters who stayed home in 2012 to make up the deficit by which Romney lost.
He lists any number of GOP candidates who have won significant portions of Hispanic voters in state races and includes an interesting table that shows that, even if all the “missing white voters” had turned out in 2012 and if Romney had won them all, “he still would have lost the election.”