Friday, February 11, 2011

New Census Data Should be a Wake-up Call to Maryland GOP

Want to better understand Martin O'Malley's 14 point victory margin over Republican and former Governor Bob Ehrlich in Maryland? Look no farther than the just release Census data for Maryland - all of Maryland's population growth over the past decade has been among racial and ethnic minorities. In 2000, non-Hispanic whites were 65% of the state's population. In 2010, that has fallen to below 55%. All told, that state has welcomed 477,000 new residents, a 9% increase in the past decade. But the population of non-Hispanic whites has declined by 3.9% while the Hispanic population more than doubled, the Asian population increased by 51% and the African American population by 14%.
These numbers should serve as wake-up call for the Maryland Republican Party. Table One shows what the new numbers are likely to mean for the composition of Maryland voters based on national voter registration and turnout rates.
In November 2010, Bob Ehrlich, a former governor elected by a 3 point margin in 2002, defeated by 6 points in 2006, was trounced by a 14 point margin. Ehrlich's 14 point margin of loss was first forecast in a Washington Post poll released days before the election. In that poll, the Post found that O'Malley was leading among African American voters by a margin of 88% to 6%, Ehrlich led among whites 50% to 44% (When Ehrlich won the governorship in 2002 he received 64% of the white vote). I could not find any Maryland polls from 2006 of 2010 that reported support among Hispanic or Asian voters, but this is not surprising as each population composed less than 5% of the state's population. A review of national exit polls from 2010 shows that Democrats won Hispanic voters by a 60% to 38% margin and Asian voters by a similar 58% to 40%. Democratic and Republican support among African Americans was 89% and 9% respectively - essentially the same as in Maryland. Nationwide, Republicans fared better among white voters, 60% to 37%, than did Ehrlich in Maryland.

If I take the nationwide numbers and apply them to voter numbers in Table One the result is a 56% to 44% Republican loss (Table Two) - not far from the 55.8% to 42.3% actual results (note that my population tallies do exclude a a few thousand state residents of mixed, or Native American heritage - exit polls often categorize these populations collectively as "other" and show that Democrats win them by a margin similar to that of Hispanic and Asian voters).

The new Census data is an alarm bell for Maryland Republicans and it's warning them that unless they can broaden their appeal beyond the state's shrinking share of white voters they will not be winning statewide office. But let's assume that Republicans in Maryland can regularly receive 60% - or even Ehrlich's 2002 level of 64% support among white voters - I show that in Table Three - the Republican still loses by 10 points.

Republicans cannot base a statewide electoral strategy on winning the white vote and losing all other racial and ethnic groups by wide margins. Table Four offers just one simulation of how Republicans would  have to perform among the non-white population just to receive 50% of the vote in Maryland.

Notice that it is a substantial change - a dramatic improvement among African Americans and considerable improvement among Hispanics. Critics of my quick analysis may well point out that turn-out among African American voters in Maryland is often lower than nationwide turn-out so I may be overstating Democratic performance a bit, but I would counter by pointing out that a strategy based on the hope that key voting groups stay home is no strategy - it's a gamble. I would add as well that Hispanic and Asian voters still have very low turn-out rates, but these rates have been rising and if turn-out among Hispanics eventually rises to that of African-American and white voters then Republicans will have no hope of winning statewide without becoming more competitive among non-whites.

The demographic changes taking place in Maryland are but a leading indicator of changes taking place throughout the United States. If Maryland Republicans can find a way to broaden their appeal and again become competitive in the Free State, they may well serve as an example for national Republicans to emulate. Republicans reclaimed the House of Representatives in November in victory fueled by support among white voters and lower turn-out by minority voters. In 2008, Barack Obama won election even though he lost white voters by a 12 point margin - his victory was driven by wide victories among racial and ethnic minorities - winning Hispanic and Asian voters by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. Just 4 years early, George W. Bush was much more competitive among these voters - but between 2004 and 2008 the GOP adopted a hard line on immigration reform and minority voters turned away from the party.

In Maryland, the GOP could begin by supporting measures such as the Maryland DREAM Act which would extend in-state college tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants who have attended state high schools. One may wonder what impact that would have on the votes of legal immigrants but consider just one example recently profiled in the Washington Post - Anngie Gutierrez is a High School senior at Bladensburg High, she is an undocumented resident and ineligible for in-state tuition (nor can she register to vote). When asked about the bill, Republican House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell said "Why would we offer in-state tuition to people who violated our laws to get here?"

Anngie, like most undocumented youths, was brought to the US illegally when she was a child. Her parents may have violated the law, but she did not. More significant with regard to political fallout, however, Anngie has three siblings who were born in the US. They are citizens and they will be able to vote when they're 18. Can anyone reasonably assume that they would consider voting for a party that sought to block their sister's access to an affordable education? Doubtful.

When asked about the doubling of the state's Hispanic population Republican Delegate Patrick McDonough reportedly replied  "This should be a warning bell to the state of Maryland that we have a serious illegal immigration problem." The fact that McDonough see Hispanic as synonymous with illegal immigrant is not a good sign that Republicans have a strategy to deal with the electoral significance of the state's changing demographics.

For Maryland Republicans, the phone is ringing - will they take the call?