At the risk of sounding overly nitpicky, I think E.D. is being a little imprecise when he attributes minority voting preferences to simple “populism”:
I think a lot of minority voters aren’t so much “progressive” as they are in favor of more direct government assistance, something Democrats have promised to do better than Republicans. A lot of minorities and union members also happen to be staunch social conservatives. Support for things like gay marriage is very low among black and Hispanic populations. Union members and minorities just have populist tendencies when it comes to economics.
Two things: first, E.D. is underestimating the extent to which minorities (and particularly African-Americans) have a fairly strong ideological commitment to an activist federal government.
At least in the post-war era, the federal government has played a critical role in advancing and protecting the civil and economic rights of racial minorities. Not surprisingly, at least among African-Americans, this has had a pretty significant impact on black political thought. Generally speaking, African-Americans take a positive view of the federal government, and as Reihan pointed out in our podcast, this makes them more likely to find some form of liberalism salient. It’s also worth noting that insofar that African-Americans/minorities more generally are socially conservative, the focus isn’t really on gay marriage or abortion (which is what E.D. seems to be suggesting) as much as it is on family stability and community development, which has a different set of political implications.
The other piece is that E.D. is definitely underestimating the extent to which respect has a significant impact on minority voting. Simply put, even if Democratic policies had a negligible effect on the material well-being of minority voters, I still think that you would see large-scale minority support for the Democratic Party, if only because Democrats are the party that takes minority concerns seriously. More often than not, Republicans are either dismissive of or actively hostile to minority interests. With that kind of record – and a relatively friendly Democratic Party – it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that minorities are reliable Democratic voters.