The exit polling is clear - California Democrats won a big victory on Tuesday night because Jerry Brown and the rest of the Democratic ticket reached beyond the white base that constitutes the Republican electorate. At right you can see the exit polling results for the gubernatorial race, indicating that while Whitman won white voters overall and voters over 65, she did poorly everywhere else.
Democratic victories on Tuesday would have been even more substantial had more of the electorate showed up. 21% of voters were 65 and over, and 45% were between age 45 and 65, with just 12% being age 18-29. 62% were white, but 22% were Latino - and while Brown dominated among Latinos, he essentially split the white vote.
Overall, this paints a picture of a state whose electorate - even older white voters - do not respond well to exclusionist appeals. Whitman made much of her anti-immigrant, anti-Latino politics, and it not only cost her big among Latinos, it also helped her lose younger white voters whose vision of California is of a state where everyone is welcome and seen as an equally deserving member of society.
This trend is mirrored nationally. Pew Hispanic Center reports that Latinos broke 64-34 for Democrats across the country. In Nevada, Harry Reid put on a clinic in mobilizing a working class coalition led by Latinos to stop Sharron Angle.
In terms of ideology, here in California "moderates" broke 60-35 for Brown, with "independents" breaking 47-43 for Whitman. This might be explained partly by the trend the PCCC identified nationally, that many Obama independents stayed home out of frustration and left a more Republican-friendly bloc of independents to tip the balance of several elections around the country. Here in California, the fact that Republican-friendly independents are a much smaller portion of the overall electorate (all independents were 27% of the exit poll sample) may explain their lower impact.
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum takes a look at the national polls and finds that the core of the Democratic coalition held together. A bloc of people who stayed home in 2008 - probably teabaggers - were the biggest movers to Republicans, along with whites, seniors, and rural voters. Urban voters, mothers, Millennials, and African Americans were the least likely to shift to the GOP.
So taken together, it seems clear that while older whites may have broken for Republicans, the rest of the population - i.e. the majority - either broke for the Democrats or only barely moved to the right. And since it's the shrinking parts of the population - whites and old folks - who broke most for Republicans, it'd be right to conclude that 2010 was a temporary setback for Democrats that can be reversed once the Obama Administration gets its head out of its ass and starts helping people get jobs instead of helping Wall Street get richer.
That's not how Kathleen Hennessy and James Oliphant put it in a absurd LA Times article:
Democrats searching for good news amid the rubble of Tuesday's midterm election results can look to Latinos and African Americans, two groups of voters that stayed with the party in large numbers.
But that, in a sense, is like taking comfort in that fact that as your house is falling down around you, it isn't also on fire.
The Democratic Party was overwhelmingly rejected by whites, independents and seniors. Perhaps most troubling to Democrats was that increasing numbers of women also turned toward the Republican Party.
How is that bad news? Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic group not just in California, but in the country. They clearly swung the California and Nevada elections, and perhaps several others. To put it gently, seniors are not exactly going to be in the electorate for very long, and whites' numbers are shrinking in the key battleground states.
The LA Times article also claims Dems are losing women:
The Democratic erosion was perhaps most accentuated by the flight of women, who were among the party's most enthusiastic supporters in 2006 and 2008. According to exit poll data, women essentially split their votes evenly between Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday. The last time that happened was in 2002.
White women in particular defected from Democrats, giving their votes to Republicans by an 18-point margin. Similarly, 57% percent of married women voted for Republicans, while unmarried women - a more liberal group - turned out in smaller numbers than in 2008.
I don't read this as a "flight" from Democrats. Lower turnout levels are a big part of this story. And here in California, women went for Brown 55-39. Clearly, women felt as many other voters did that the DC Democrats hadn't done enough to help repair the economy (which is true) and some stayed home, some voted Republican.
But there's really no evidence that the 2010 election portends long-term doom for Democrats. Instead it is Republicans who are in trouble. They won by appealing to a shrinking group of people who are determined to hog democracy and prosperity for themselves at the exclusion of the young and the nonwhite. If Republicans follow through, they will merely repeat Meg Whitman's error and alienate the rest of the electorate - Republicans cannot maintain their majorities for very long at all if they cannot win over people of color and younger voters of all backgrounds.
California and Nevada show the future - and it's a future where today's Republican Party, predicated on defense of white privilege, is doomed.