With more talks about giving amnesty to large numbers of illegal immigrants, the Right is dragging out an old but wrong argument about how amnesty will turn states Democrat, relying as ever on California as the canary in the coalmine.
It is a non-starter, since California is one of the states where Democrats win the presidential vote even among white voters only. During the Bush-Obama years, these states included the entire West Coast, the Lutheran Triangle of MN, WI, and IA, and the Northeast beginning with NY.
So whatever turned the West Coast into a Democrat bastion has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. An earlier post covered this in detail: amnesty would be suicide for the Dems, not the GOP. Dems have labor unions in their electoral base who would get wiped out by cheap foreign labor, their safe blue states do not benefit from being even more blue-voting, and the purple Rust Belt states they won before Trump have almost no immigrants in them.
But let's move onto the topic of how the electoral map changes over time, not just what the cross-section looks like at a snapshot in time. Do demographic changes result in electoral changes?
Within the regions that would defect from the GOP electoral base of the Nixon-Reagan era, it was the Pacific NW states that left first in 1988, with California trailing in '92. Likewise the Lutheran Triangle states defected first in '88, followed by Illinois in '92. In the states with at least some portion lying in Appalachia, it was West Virginia to defect first in '88, followed in '92 by Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, etc.
The trend in demographic changes was the opposite -- at 60% white circa 1990, California should have fallen before Oregon and Washington, which were still 90% white. Similarly for the Lutheran Triangle states compared to Illinois, or West Virginia compared to Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. The whitest states flipped blue first within their region.
Texas should have flipped blue decades ago, if demographics mattered. It is scarcely whiter than California in each of the Censuses from 1990 through 2010, and the percentage has declined steadily as well. And yet Texas remains one of the bastions of the GOP at all levels of government.
Turning to blacks instead of Hispanics as the non-white group, they make up the largest share of the population in the Deep South -- another bastion of the GOP at all levels.
And it's not as though all of the various shifts in the electoral maps since our nation's founding are tracking changes in racial or ethnic composition. A good theory explains as much of the data as possible, and the ethnic-oriented theory limits itself at best to the post-Civil Rights era for blacks as the non-white group, and the post-1986 amnesty for Hispanics.
A superior theory views parties as coalitions of elite factions representing the most powerful sectors of society -- banks, tech, media, military, energy, agriculture, etc. These coalitions use the party system to advance their material interests -- whichever party is controlled by the military, will push for higher troop deployments and weapons procurement, and whichever party is controlled by the banks will work harder to deregulate financial activity.
This is similar to Thomas Ferguson's investment theory of party competition, although without having read his books, I'm not sure whether he stresses non-businesses like the military (or the church, in an older time).
Currently the Democrats are controlled by finance, tech, and the media (informational, labor-insensitive), while the Republicans are controlled by the military, agriculture, and energy sectors (material, labor-intensive). It used to be different, though, with the Democrats being the militarist party for much of the 20th century, as their electoral base was the Deep South ("the Solid South") with its heavy concentration of military-related jobs.
As that example suggests, the electoral map will reflect which economic sectors are the major patrons of the local workforce. None of those sectors is uniformly distributed around the country -- there's lots of farmland in the Great Plains, but not in Rhode Island. There's a concentration of tech firms around Silicon Valley but not in Montana, banks along the Bos-Wash Corridor but not in the South, and oil fields in Texas but not in Massachusetts.
Getting back to California, what flipped it blue from 1992 to today, compared to its solid red or swing state status during the previous decades, was the evaporation of the military sector as the Cold War drew to a close. There used to be all sorts of major military installations in California, but many were shuttered by the Base Realignment and Closure program, whose targets were announced in 1988. Any work that was lateral to these bases, or downstream of them, would have dried up as well.
In place of Cold War or WWII-era military activity, the new activity in California circa 1990 and after would fall within the informational tech sector, as well as the finance sector (venture capital) that gave them their start-up funding. It's not as though these sectors provide all employment in the state, but if you're living and voting in California, you are more likely to currently have a job, or be searching for a job, in those sectors rather than at a military base or a farm.
Sure enough, these differences appear even within California -- the Bay Area is the bluest, with its concentration of tech, finance, and higher ed employment, while the red parts of the state are the agricultural plantations further inland, along with the lone major military installation of the San Diego Naval Base.
Since the shift in the electoral map around 1990, there hasn't been much of a change in which parts of the country rely heavily on agriculture or energy extraction (a little more in Ohio recently with fracking). The main change was the downsizing of military-related employment once the Cold War was over, which subtracts a lot of voters from the reliable Republican column.
But those same areas along the West Coast also saw the growth of tech firms, which were related to the former military spending -- most major R&D is paid for by the government, with the Defense Department paying the most. Without DoD-funded research laying the solid foundation, there would be no Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, or Google. These informational firms that supplanted the military bases took the West Coast states from a mere loss for the GOP to a solid gain for the Democrats. They might have turned into purple swing states if they had only lost the military work without any informational sectors to fill the void.
If Texas ever turns blue, it will be for the same reason. It will be hard to flip since it is home to all three major GOP sectors -- military bases, oil fields, and ranches and farmland. But over time, maybe some of those will fade out, and more tech firms pop up around Austin, more finance jobs pop up around Dallas, and more media outlets base themselves there for cheaper office rents. As more residents seek work in those sectors, rather than the material sectors, they will vote more Democrat in order to make a living off of its patronage network rooted in the informational sectors.
The same goes for Georgia, another state the Dems are hoping to flip. But not until there are different major employers. The South and Texas are the regions least affected by the military closures after the Cold War -- the fighting spirit of the Celtic people who settled these regions is not going to let them get rid of all their military installations. So they're reliably Republican as long as that party remains the one controlled by the military.
How strongly is the Southern vote tied to the military? In 1952 and '56, the whole country voted Republican except for the South. This was Eisenhower, not a Civil Rights crusader like Johnson in '64. Why didn't they like Ike? Since the country was enjoying post-WWII prosperity, the main campaign issue was the Korean War -- begun as usual by a Democrat (Truman), who used to be the militarist party, with their Solid South electoral base.
Eisenhower campaigned on exiting the Korean War, which he delivered on, and ended up slashing the military budget in half afterwards since they were no longer in a major war. That's not good for the military patronage flowing to the South, so they were the only region to reject him (both times).
How did Trump win back the Rust Belt for Republicans? He promised to revive a patronage network with them as the beneficiaries -- bringing their manufacturing sector back to life. He didn't have much of a record to point to, but it's not like the Democrats did either (although they do have a superior record on voting against free trade deals). Unlike the West Coast, the Rust Belt did not see a surge in tech or finance companies during the post-Cold War transition away from military employment. So they were left in purple / swing state status.
And they decided to gamble on Trump, the would-be patron of manufacturing. To the extent they notice factories returning, hiring more people, for full-time, benefit-bringing jobs, with good pay, they'll keep on betting on the GOP.
If they don't notice their factories coming roaring back to life, and if Pennsylvania doesn't notice steel rising from the grave, they will dump the GOP as failed patrons and go back to being mild blue states. They don't have much energy production or military bases (outside of Wright-Patterson AFB in swing-state Ohio), although they do have a decent level of agriculture. On the other hand, there's not a lot of tech start-ups, though there are some financial and insurance companies, and large state schools.
It will all come down to who gets the manufacturing sector voters. They ought to be protected by the material sector party, the GOP, but the greedy manufacturing employers have decided to renege on being patrons to the locals and sent their jobs out of the country to be done by cheap labor. They will vote with whichever party wants to slam enough tariffs on their employers to force them to become patrons of their state's economy again.
That would naturally be the Democrats, but we'll see if they can get their act together, while pointing out the failure of the GOP to deliver on Trump's protectionist crusade themes of the campaign.
Pennsylvania would also be helped back into the GOP column by re-opening the massive naval base and shipyard that used to be in Philadelphia -- the nation's first one, and a shame to have been put on the death list early in the post-Cold War era.
I probably shouldn't share that secret, since I've soured on the GOP and would like PA to go back to blue-under-Bernie. But it just shows how little the GOP wants to win the presidency -- destroying patronage networks for large-population states that were not deep red to begin with, and where residents have responded to the betrayal by their former patrons by voting for the other party instead.
So that's what changes a state from being for one party or the other -- changes in which sectors are patrons in the local economy, as well as changes in which party a sector finds itself in a coalition with. Both are subject to change over time.
The least insightful way to analyze politics is focusing on race and ethnicity. It's only good if the goal is anthropology, or the sociology of race and inter-racial dynamics. But not how power is wielded and toward what ends in the political realm, which is rooted entirely in economics.
As for opposing amnesty, that leaves two main arguments: 1) wanting to preserve American culture, and 2) wanting to prevent a lower standard-of-living among Americans as they compete economically with immigrants (lower wages, higher rents).
The standard losing argument is "to prevent one or more states from turning into Democrat bastions". Already you've lost the Democrats, who would be open to the working-class protection argument, as well as most Independents, who want to keep the option open of voting for either party. Plus it ignores what the Democrats stand for -- not long ago, they were the militarist party, then it changed to the non-militarist party. Obsessing over partisan victory per se marks you as an airheaded cheerleader with no vision or direction.
I say focus mostly on the economic argument -- if you can win over enough Independents and Democrats, you will get the same outcome as if you had argued on the much tougher argument about cultural preservation. As long as we keep down immigration and send back the ones already here, we will have preserved our American culture -- regardless of how we argued for it. Just get it done however it needs to get done, and enjoy the cultural benefits afterward.