It might surprise you to hear we have a progressive majority right now, but we need to stop wasting dollars chasing and trying to change the minds of conservative white swing voters. The progressive policy agenda will benefit all working people, as is the case with Obamacare, but we can’t waste time or money chasing a shrinking sector of the electorate when growing communities of color are eager to engage and work with us to reshape America’s policies and priorities.
Now that the primary season has started, it’s time for real talk about what it will take for working people to win this year and in the years to come. If progressives don’t realize that voters of color are now the pillars of a New American Majority, we will lose the White House, fail to recapture the Senate and fall even further behind in the House and at the state level.
President Obama’s elections represented the culmination of the demographic revolution that started with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Since that time, people of color have grown from 12% of the U.S. population to 38% today. Fully 46% of Obama’s voters were people of color, and that figure could grow for the Democratic nominee in 2016, but it won’t happen by itself.
Much of the analysis of America’s demographic changes focuses on the point when people of color will become a majority of the people in the country (current projections are that that will occur in 2044). This is interesting, but we shouldn’t focus on that date for two reasons. First, 2044 is a long way away, so it’s hard to gin up much urgency for something so far off in the future, and it is not that relevant to the challenges we face now. The second—and bigger—problem of fixating on 2044 is that it disempowers people of color and disrespects progressive whites. If people of color have to wait 28 years until we can have power, then we’ll continue to look at ourselves as “minorities” who will have limited influence and impact until a distant date three decades hence. But people of color are the cornerstone of a contemporary majority, and that is because there are more progressive whites than most people realize.
When you add the numbers of progressive whites to the ranks of progressive people of color, you get 51% of all eligible voters, a New American Majority, and that majority doesn’t have to wait until 2044; it can elect the next president and reclaim the U.S. Senate in 2016.
In my book, I ask three questions of all campaigns: (1) Do you have a plan to win 51% of the vote, and how much of that 51% do you expect to come from voters of color? (2) Does the budget match the plan? And, (3), Are we measuring how we’re doing? Anyone with a smartphone and some energy can play a role in increasing transparency and accountability.
ProPublica and others have developed effective online tools for tracking campaign reporting, and we should all be looking to see if at least 46% of campaign spending—the percentage of the Democratic vote that consists of people of color—is focused on reaching and mobilizing communities of color. And social media is the great democratizer, in that anyone with a computer can tweet, snap or post their findings about what campaigns are doing well and where they are falling short. Tweets asking, “How much of the spending in this Senate race is going towards ads to persuade white swing voters versus hiring staff and doing ads to inspire and mobilize voters of color?” If people all over the country use these tools and questions to hold campaigns accountable, that will go a long way to ensuring the smartest and most effective strategies are being used across the board.
Steve Phillips is the author of "Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority," which was published Feb. 2 by The New Press.