American parties routinely go through periods of ascendancy, decline, and deadlock. From 1896 to 1930, the Republican Party reigned supreme; from 1932 to 1968, the New Deal Democrats dominated; following a period of deadlock, the Reagan Republicans held sway during the 1980s. After the parties exchanged the White House, Democrats appeared to take command of American politics in 2008. In that election, Obama and the Democrats won not only the White House but also large majorities in the Senate and House, plus a decided edge in governor's mansions and state legislatures.
At the time, some commentators, including me, hailed the onset of an enduring Democratic majority. And the arguments in defense of this view did seem to be backed by persuasive evidence. Obama and the Democrats appeared to have captured the youngest generation of voters, whereas Republicans were relying disproportionately on an aging coalition. The electorate's growing ethnic diversity also seemed likely to help the Democrats going forward.
These advantages remain partially in place for Democrats today, but they are being severely undermined by two trends that have emerged in the past few elections—one surprising, the other less so. The less surprising trend is that Democrats have continued to hemorrhage support among white working-class voters—a group that generally works in blue-collar and lower-income service jobs and that is roughly identifiable in exit polls as those whites who have not graduated from a four-year college. These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced.
The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called "the office economy." In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)
The defection of these voters—who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate—is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans. The question, of course, is whether it is going to continue. It's tough to say for sure, but I think there is a case to be made that it will.
The two trends Judis should be looking for to explain why the middle-class is becoming more Republican are ones we've talked about on this blog time and again: the destruction of the black and Latino middle-class, and the rise of voter suppression.
It's easy to make that case that middle-class Americans are going to become more and more Republican because the middle-class is leaving black and Latino voters behind. It's becoming more and more white, and the reason why is simple: the Bush economic collapse in 2007-2008 destroyed the black and Latino middle class for a generation. The typical black family has 8% of the wealth of the typical white family. Eight. Percent. There effectively is no black middle class left. It's nearly as bad for Latinos as well. Black and Latino workers have been kicked out of the "office economy" in droves over the last six years and at every turn Republicans have blocked job plans that would allow people to work their way back into the middle class.
The other half of the puzzle is Republican voter suppression in dozen of states, where urban voters in precincts that are heavily black and/or Latino have to suffer through long lines and use outdated equipment, have to provide voter IDs, and where states have limited or eliminated early voting in order to suppress black and Latino voting specifically. You combine the two factors and you have this "emerging Republican middle-class voting bloc" that was always there, it just doesn't have black or Latino voters to counter it anymore.
That's your real "Republican advantage". And no, it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.