A common theme of the post-match commentary on this election is that it revealed long-term trends in the US electorate which spell bad news for the Republican Party in its current form. I agree with this, but it's important to note that these trends are not just about ethnicity (oh and by the way, media organisations, white people are "ethnic" too).
The originator of the "long-term demographic trouble for the GOP" analysis is a political scientist called Ruy Texeira. In 2002 Texeira co-authored a much discussed book called The Emerging Democratic Majority, arguing that the growing diversity and urbanisation of America's population was benefiting one party more than the other. Two years later, George Bush won a second term and Texeira's theories became less fashionable. Now they are being looked at again. After all, Republicans have polled a minority of the popular vote in five out of the last six elections.
A caricature of this view, usually made by its critics, is that the Republicans will never win again. But of course they will. The Democrats have their own problems, and political parties adapt, albeit slowly. But that's the point: unless the GOP adapts to the new America, it will be at a growing disadvantage in every presidential election (in midterm elections they will tend to do better because the people that come out to vote tend to be older and whiter, for now).
It won't be a quick fix, because it requires a whole shift in attitude and outlook. As Texeira points out in this interview, winning the Hispanic vote isn't just about immigration:
I wrote a piece arguing that [GOP stances on immigration], in terms of projecting hostility toward that population, it clearly hurt them. But I also thought if you looked at Hispanics’ other opinions — opinions on the economy and opinions on the role of government, on education — just look at a wide variety of views on who can handle the economy, they’re very much aligned with the Democratic Party, and an activist view of government, and not with the hardcore, quasi-libertarian approach of the Republicans, which putting Paul Ryan on the ticket seemed to underscore.
As you can see, it's not just about ethnicity or demographics - or, at least, it's at the point where demographics dissolve into culture, attitudes and political instincts. In short, the outlook of American voters is changing. If you want a simple explanation why, this from Gail Collins and David Brooks (NYT columnists "in conversation"), is pretty good. Brooks first:
David: Ronald Reagan won with an electorate that was nearly 90 percent white. Now the electorate is around 72 percent white. And the white population is different — more educated, more centered in college towns, more socially diverse, more likely to live in single-person households.
That means they are less likely to subscribe to the cowboy ethos of the rugged individual. It doesn’t mean they want to return to the New Deal, but it does mean that the old Republican narrative can no longer win a majority.
Gail: I’ve always thought the big political division was empty places versus crowded places. People who live in crowded places just naturally appreciate how useful government is. Empty-place people don’t see the point. Maybe this is the death of the empty-place vision.
For all the talk about ethnicity, the more fundamental change is that more people are living in cities and relying on complex infrastructure and government services every day. If you're Hispanic you're even more likely to rely on these services at some point because you're more likely to be working your way into the middle class. Urban dwellers are also more likely to be surrounded by neighbours and colleagues who are racially different, openly gay or smoke pot, and over time, what psychologists call the mere-exposure effect means that these things become normalised for more people.
In Ohio, Obama won because he ran up huge margins in the cities, including Columbus. To win the presidency in 2016, the GOP must do more than nominate Marco Rubio and soften its immigration stance. It needs to catch up with the rest of the country and leave the small town behind.