The balance of power is a sensitive mechanism — always ready to shift.
Power is also not limited to elections. The victorious President doesn’t have the ability to rule unchecked. The result is not decided in the campaign alone. Rather, power is the culmination of decades-long changes, demographic or cultural, coupled with split decisions made in the heat of the campaign.
This week revealed a paradoxical situation in America’s election.
Undermining the election campaign
On the one hand, Donald Trump did his utmost to degrade and undermine one aspect of the American system that decides who holds some ‘power’ — the election campaign itself. On the other, his nomination of Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court will give Conservative judges a huge extension of their power over American law and policy.
The world stood aghast whilst watching the presidential debate on Wednesday evening. The Times of India wrote: ‘The US embarrassed itself before the world for 100 minutes’. As democracy is challenged internationally, America provided authoritarians and dictators an example of its vices.
It’s popular to dismiss Donald Trump to such an extent that his debate performance can be explained by his lack of capacity for the role. The idea of a strategy is completely out of the question to his critics. Yet, if one steps back, the debate was an extension of something Trump has been doing all year — undermining the validity of the election campaign.
Whether it be attacking mail-in ballots, promoting false voter fraud stories, or (as seen this week) sabotaging the presidential debates, Trump is dismantling one arm of American power: the election campaign itself.
Amy Coney Barrett
Elsewhere though, long-term transformations are rearing their head. The campaign will only be part of the story this November.
The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court means Conservatives hold a 6-3 margin. Where compromises have been sought in the past to uphold the Affordable Care Act or over abortion rights, firm rejections are now more likely.
This victory for Conservatives is a product of a 30-year-long strategy to advance favourable judges. Since the 1980s a group of Conservative intellectuals have developed networks to train and connect young law students, who were inclined toward conservative judicial philosophy. Barret is a luminary of this movement.
Whilst Republicans hope to solidify Conservative policy in the arena of the Supreme Court, Democrats have, since Obama, harboured hope that the changing demographics of America will secure them elections.
Texas is up for grabs
Some commentators have referred to Donald Trump’s victory as the last act of dominance by a shrinking blue-collar white population. That his victory was a reaction to the future power of the ‘ascendant majority’. Fifty-eight per cent of whites (67 per cent of whites without a college degree) voted for Trump, compared to 8 per cent of blacks and 29 per cent of Hispanic and Asian voters.
One of the states where Democrats direct such ideas is Texas. Despite voting Republican in every election since 1980, polls suggest that Texas is becoming a battleground state. A calculated average of polls since May places Trump only 2.5 per cent ahead of Biden. With its 38 electoral college votes the state is the Republican answer to the Democratic stronghold of California. Defeat in Texas would therefore be disastrous for Republican presidential hopes.
In 2012 Texas was 20 per cent more Republican than the rest of the country but in 2016 this reduced to 11 per cent.
The decline in Republican dominance corresponds with the state’s transforming demographic. According to the Texas Demographic Centre the Hispanic population is projected to displace non-Hispanic whites as the largest group in 2022. Along with this is the growth of an Asian population that is equally favourable to Democratic hopes. In 2016 65 per cent of Hispanics and 65 per cent of Asian voters, voted for Hilary Clinton.
The effects of these demographic changes are already being felt. In the 2018 Senate elections, Beta O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz by only 2 per cent. One of the areas which flipped Democrat was Tarrant County where Bush won 62 per cent of the vote in 2004. The county has experienced rapid population growth and a 10 per cent increase in its Hispanic population since 2000. Along with increases in the Hispanic vote, Texas also has a booming urban population. Nationally, urban voters split 70-30 in 2018 towards the Democrats. As a result of increased urban migration, the Republican grip on Texas’ cities and crucially their suburbs will weaken further. Dallas serves as an example of these changes.
Three assumptions for a Democratic win
Whilst focus on demographic data alone suggests a future Democratic victory, this rests on three assumptions.
The first is that population trends will continue. Between 2015 and 2020 domestic migration overtook international migration to Texas. International migration is characterised more by the movement of Hispanics.
Secondly, irrespective of the 2020 result there is no guarantee that Republicans will follow Trump’s strategy of doubling down to win over his base and not reach out to Hispanics and other ethnicities. This is linked to the third assumption; namely that race determines all. Except that … it does not. Democrats risk once again being consumed by their hyper-interest in identity politics.
An analysis of Trump’s victory in 2016 shows a greater spread of support across multiple demographic groups than this Democratic strategy presumes. Joe Biden will certainly need more than just demographic trends to gain a 2020 victory. Although turnout increased in Texas’ Democratic primary earlier this year, it was still behind the Republican turnout. Over the summer however, Texas suffered from a rise in coronavirus cases that may provoke a backlash against its Republican Mayor — whose decision to reopen the state went contrary to public opinion. Before the reopening, two-thirds of Texans wished to suspend non-essential businesses according to a Texas Tribune poll.
The pantomime of elections can mean focus is unduly placed on the daily routines of the candidates. As Trump seeks to degrade the election arena (with the rules for the next debate already under review), perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on underlying trends. This brings us back to those cultural and / or demographic indicators that could, quite possibly, shed light on and even determine the balance of power in America.