Republican Donald Trump’s campaign to win the White House on the backs of white voters across the country is about to hit a demographic reality: There are fewer of them, particularly in the states likely to matter most.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio—all of which voted for President Obama in the past election, and all of which Trump’s campaign says are being targeting this autumn—will have eligible voting populations that are slightly less white than four years ago.
The demographic shift is even bigger in states that Trump needs in order to even have a chance of winning the presidency. North Carolina’s electorate is 2 percent less white, as is Virginia’s. Florida’s electorate is actually 3 percent less white.
While these changes may seem slight, they exceed the margin of victory in Florida and North Carolina in 2012. If all other factors remain the same, North Carolina could flip back to the Democratic column this November, while Florida could be a more comfortable win for the Democratic candidate.
Which states, meanwhile, are demographically shifting the other way, toward having a greater share of white people?
“There is not a single one,” said Ruy Teixeira, one of the researchers who came up with the numbers. All 50 states are moving toward more diverse populations, albeit at different rates. “It’s the magnitude. Not the direction.”
Teixeira’s latest report is a collaboration between his liberal Center for American Progress, the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the left-leaning Brookings Institution. Its conclusions are consistent with demographic trends that have been accelerating for decades. The Republican National Committee, in fact, cited those trends in its 2013 “autopsy” of why Romney lost.
“The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become,” the report stated. “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity.”
But if the aim was to produce a candidate more palatable to minorities—particularly Latinos, the fastest-growing minority—this primary season instead elevated a nominee far more polarizing than Romney, who lost their support after suggestion “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants. Trump in the past year has called undocumented immigrants rapists, has made building a wall along the southern U.S.-Mexico border a centerpiece of his campaign, and most recently insulted an Indiana-born federal judge whose rulings he doesn’t like by calling him a Mexican.
Recent polling bears out Trump’s problem with nonwhite voters. A Quinnipiac University survey, for example, shows Trump leading Clinton among white voters 50-33, while Clinton leads Trump 65-18 among Latinos and 93-4 among African-Americans.
Trump’s campaign insists that he will do well with minorities because of his promise to increase the number of jobs, while the RNC can recite a long list of metrics showing the inroads it has made into minority communities. “We are meeting minority voters where they live, work, and worship, and sharing our message of opportunity and freedom at community events, churches, and small businesses,” spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.
Other Republicans, including some RNC members, concede that Trump’s statements about Latinos makes a rapprochement with them all but impossible, and believe that his only chance is turning out a disproportionate share of disaffected white voters in the Rust Belt states.
“That’s the ray of hope for them,” agreed Teixeira. “If Trump can get those people to turn out at a higher level, and vote for him at a higher rate than they did for Mitt Romney, he could win.”
That “if,” Teixeira added, is a big one. He pointed out that Trump would need to win white workingclass voters by nearly 30 points, or the margin that Ronald Reagan enjoyed in his 49-state landslide reelection three decades ago. “That’s a pretty wide margin. I don’t know if he can do that,” Teixeira said. “It’s not impossible. Is it probable? I don’t think so.”
One of the authors of the 2013 RNC report, Ari Fleischer, concurred that a massive turnout of white voters in key states is really Trump’s only chance, because while African-Americans may not vote at the levels they did for the nation’s first black president, Latinos likely would vote at historic levels. “I expect a surge in Hispanic turnout due to fears about Trump,” said Fleischer, a former aide to the last Republican to win a large percentage of Latino voters, President George W. Bush.
At the local level, meanwhile, Republicans who’d hoped that 2016 would turn a page for their party with Latino voters will try to make the best of the situation. George Rivera, chairman of the Pueblo County Republican Party in Colorado and himself a Mexican-American, was hopeful that the RNC’s efforts to engage Latino voters there in recent years would help flip Colorado back to Republicans this November.
He said he still thinks that’s possible. “The chapter on this has yet to be written,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens.”