Buzzfeed’s Illiterate Insinuation

by Charles C. W. Cooke

On Saturday, BuzzFeed ran a few maps that showed that, if you removed the votes of women, African Americans, and 18-21 year olds from the 2012 electorate, Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 election. Given the exit polling, this is obviously true. Also true is that, in recent elections, Republicans have gained a disproportionate number of votes from white men and Democrats have gained a disproportionate number of votes from minorities, young people, and women. Obviously, as the number of minorities is increasing, this is an electoral problem for the GOP. (Quite why it is any morally better or worse to attract white men than to attract minorities and women nobody who complains about this fact ever bothers to explain; it’s just presented as if it is self-evident, which it is not.) But there it is; currently, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Having established that, however, BuzzFeed then did something rather odd: It took the vote totals from 2012 and applied them to the more limited electorates in 1850, 1870, 1920, and 1970 — in other words, it removed the votes of any 2012 voters who would have been disenfranchised in those years, and recalculated the outcome. Mitt Romney, naturally, wins in each limited electorate simulation, and he loses — as he did — in 2012, when the electorate is “full.” The insinuation here — and judging by the comments below the piece, it worked extremely well — is obvious: “Look!” BuzzFeed appears to be saying, “if Romney had run back when America was racist and misogynistic and generally terrible then he would have won. Republicans lose when you include the voices of the historically disenfranchised.” 

This is what happens when historical illiteracy is the norm. The maps are total nonsense. For one, Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama only once in American history, meaning that any attempt to graft the 2012 vote onto another time period or national electorate is, at best, meaningless, and, at worst, malicious. One cannot run simulations that mix contemporary politics and another time period’s electorate and expect to get results that mean anything much at all. As should be obvious to anybody with even a vague grasp of American history, Republicans did not win every election prior to 1970 — in which year BuzzFeed curiously considers America to have achieved “universal suffrage” — and Democrats did not win every election after that year, either. In fact, in the first election that enjoyed BuzzFeed’s definition of universal suffrage, the Republican — and much more “conservative” — candidate won 49 out of 50 states.

The political landscapes of the various time periods are simply incomparable — as are the geography, population, and ethnic mix. In 1850, the pressing national issue was slavery, which — come 1854 — the new Republican party was against and the Democrats were for. In 1920, the vast majority of African Americans were Republicans, because the Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crow and lynching; and the GOP was in the vanguard of women’s suffrage at both the state and federal levels. And, clearly, once we get to the “fully enfranchised” model, after 1970, there’s no need at all to impose the vote totals from this year’s Romney vs. Obama election. Instead, we can just look at the actual results – which are six Republican victories to the Democrats’ five.

Demographics might well cost the Republican party the future, and conservatives must address this if we wish to stay relevant. But we should also ensure that the historically illiterate don’t cost us our past as well. In the comments section on BuzzFeed, one woman rants about the “Republicans” being responsible for “Jim Crow,” and a man says that the GOP should be banned because it’s always on the wrong side of history. The temptation is to look at this and ignore it as meaningless pop-culture silliness. This would be a mistake. Conservatives and Republicans have for too long ceded pop culture’s influence to the Left. If we continue to allow progressives to construct a linear historical narrative that casts conservatives and the Republican party as the villains in every piece, we can kiss goodbye to ever winning a national election again.

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