WASHINGTON -- The American electorate is more diverse than ever, which means Republicans will have to attract a record percentage of minorities to win the presidency in 2016, a GOP pollster said Tuesday.
About 70 percent of the Americans eligible to vote are white, a decline of 15 percentage points since 1980, according to a new report co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution. The report estimates that white eligible voters will become a minority in the next 45 years.
"The fundamental challenge for my side is the seemingly inexorable change in the composition of presidential electorates," Republican pollster Whit Ayres, whose clients include Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said during a panel discussing the report. "And there's no reason to believe that that's going to stop magically."
The demographic change poses little problem for the GOP in midterm elections, when young and minority voters are far more likely than older, white voters to stay home. But in the run-up to 2016, the demographic trend has some Republicans citing a need for change.
In 2004, Republicans' most recent presidential victory, George W. Bush won 58 percent of the white vote, and 26 percent of the non-white vote -- numbers that would lose him the White House today, Ayres said.
'"That's the stunning part for me in running these numbers -- to realize that the last Republican to win a presidential election, who reached out very aggressively to minorities, and did better than any Republican nominee before or since among minorities, still didn't achieve enough of both of those groups in order to put together a winning percentage" for 2016, Ayres said.
Ayres isn't the first Republican pollster to stress the demographic challenges facing the party.
"Winning in a non-presidential-turnout year, when older and white voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate, should convince no one that we’ve fixed our basic shortfalls with key electoral groups, including minorities and younger voters," GOP pollsters Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse wrote in The Washington Post last fall. "To win 50.1 percent of the popular vote, we estimate, Republicans will need nearly 64 percent of the white vote -- which would be a record for a non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate."
But Ayres rebutted the idea that Republicans are facing an existential crisis. "The fact is that the Republican Party is one candidate and one election away from resurrection," he said, naming Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as candidates with the potential to win.
Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, also named Bush as a possible candidate to bridge the gap with Latino voters.
"There's very good reason to believe Jeb Bush has an opportunity to rebuild the GOP image if he can stay true to his message and get through the Republican primary," Barreto said at the panel Tuesday.
On the flip side, Barreto said, Hillary Clinton has an opportunity to pick up a record number of Latino votes and solidify Latinos as a Democratic voting bloc for years to come.
"If Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, she has this serious opportunity to hit and eclipse the 80 percent mark with Latino voters," Barreto said. "Now, if that happens -- which I think between these two scenarios there's a better likelihood of -- I think you are now starting to talk about a more permanent realignment in the Latino vote."