If you follow American news, or live in a country like the U.K. or Canada which tend to be heavily impacted by American cultural and political trends, you’ve probably noticed there is a very poisonous political atmosphere these days. This is so obvious it sounds weak to even say it. It is not news that America has become very politically divided by geography, race, and gender. Yet I think that there’s still a lack of awareness of the statistics at the root of it all. When you start to appreciate these numbers, and the length of the history of the division, some other trends in American life become less surprising. It is tough to write about this subject as it hits some raw nerves, and it is unpleasant. I’ll try to be as factual and neutral as possible.
In the United States, black voters were effectively suppressed from voting in very large numbers before 1964. In that year, Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory in the Presidential election. Exit polls indicated that he won most white voters. That was the last time that any Democrat did so, almost exactly 53 years ago. If the pre-1964 situation of voter suppression had continued, and assuming all else as equal, Republican candidates would have won every single Presidential election since 1968. The closest any Democratic candidate has come to winning most white voters was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Since the 1960s, the American electorate which turns out has become steadily less white. In 1976, pollsters estimated the turnout as about 89% white; in 2016, the comparable figure is 70% white. This helps to explain the increasing success of Democratic candidates over the last twenty-five years.
Political division by gender is a more interesting, recent, and less well-known facet. A pattern of differential voting by gender began to emerge in 1980, the year of Ronald Reagan’s election. In that election, and in every election since, women have backed the Democratic candidate more strongly than men have. Beginning in 1992, women have preferred the Democratic candidate in every election, and the gap between male and female voters in 2016 stood at about 12%. If only women voted, the last Republican victor would have been George Bush Senior in 1988.
America is politically divided by race and gender as never before. The division filters into a range of issues and helps to explain the increasing politicization of American life.