Demography is not destiny in politics.
That is one of the emerging messages from Tuesday’s elections, in Georgia and beyond.
Demography isn’t destiny because people need not be defined by the labels demographers use. Much has been said and written during this election about the black vote, the Hispanic vote and the female vote, in large part because those blocs have been growing and moving in the direction of Democrats. But their trajectories don’t necessarily move in a linear fashion.
The New York Times has a comparison of exit poll data from Georgia’s 2008 and 2014 Senate races. Among other things, it shows David Perdue bested the 2008 GOP candidate, Saxby Chambliss, not only among white voters (plus 4 percentage points) but among black voters as well (plus 3 points). What’s more, African-Americans made up an estimated 29 percent of the electorate, per exit polls — official data from the state is still to come — which would represent a much milder increase over the 2010 midterm elections than Democrats had hoped for after stepping up efforts to register black voters.
Far from moving toward the 30 percent mark among white voters that she needed to win, Michelle Nunn moved backward among those voters to just 23 percent. Perdue also won a solid 42 percent of the Hispanic vote — somewhat of a surprise given his “no amnesty” refrain, although there were indications Republicans could be competitive among that bloc.
The GOP did even better with Hispanics in this year’s governor’s race, according to exit poll data reported by CNN. Nathan Deal, who signed the 2011 bill that cracked down on illegal immigration in Georgia, nearly won a majority of Hispanics at 47 percent. He also fared a few points better than Perdue with African-Americans, hitting 10 percent after a late campaign push to highlight his work on charter schools and criminal justice reform. That’s far from an impressive showing, or a sufficient one going forward, but it’s well above the 5 percent figure some believed he would get. Deal also performed strongly among women (46 percent) while maintaining a large majority among men (60 percent).
Deal’s showing among Hispanic voters was even slightly better than the Republican governor-elect in Texas, where the GOP has traditionally fared pretty well with that bloc. Still, Greg Abbott won a healthy 44 percent of the Hispanic vote there — as well as a majority among women (54 percent) against a female opponent in Wendy Davis who rose to prominence for filibustering a bill to restrict abortion clinics. A Hispanic shift toward Republicans also figured into Cory Gardner’s win against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado.
Republicans have a long way to go to be truly competitive with all sorts of groups of voters that traditionally haven’t voted with them. But this year’s results show they can make gains, despite Democrats’ doom-saying.