Some good pundits are getting way too worked up about the chart below, from Lee Drutman and Progressive Fix. It shows that most states have experienced recent declines in Democratic Party affiliation in proportion to its white population. In other words, the whiter the state, the steeper the drop:
The generally level-headed Matt Yglesias takes this very seriously:
I used to hold to the view that the growing non-white share of the electorate would, over time, tip elections to Democrats. I now think the system will remain near equilibrium and what we’ll instead see is white voters growing more Republican as Democrats are more and more seen as the party of non-whites.
Jonathan Chait thinks that Yglesias is overlooking the Democratic bent of today's younger voters, but Jamelle Bouie cautions that "Chait is probably underestimating the extent to which a large number of whites will become more conservative as the nonwhite population grows."
I may be missing something here, but this seems to be a lot of weight to put on Gallup polling data that do not necessarily reflect how people will actually vote in 2012. Moreover, the data does not show Democratic Party affiliation but change in Democratic Party affiliation over two years. I'm not saying that having an African-American president has had zero effect on white voters' perception of the Democratic Party, but I think the economy is the main factor here. White voters' support for Democrats went up when the economy cratered under a Republican president, and it went down when the economy did not seem to get much better under a Democratic president. This is a pretty unsurprising trend, and it's premature to think that the past two years represents some kind of long-term realignment.
So what accounts for the racial differences in attitudes toward the Democratic Party during Obama's first two years? My guess is that nonwhite voters (especially African-Americans) are simply loyal to the Democratic Party in good times and bad. Over the past half-century, African-Americans have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidates in just about any economic climate (and not only when an African-American has headed the ticket). Given that the Democrats continue to be seen as stronger on civil rights and urban policy, I'm not shocked that the party has not slid in popularity among nonwhites.
It doesn't follow that polling changes among white voters over a brief period of economic crisis represents some massive change in the political landscape. If the country enjoys peace and prosperity but Democrats continue to lose ground among white voters, then I'll be worried.