Demographics mark pathway for GOP future
Ignore demographics at your peril.
That is the message being sent to Republican Party leaders by a number of political observers inside and outside the party in the aftermath of what could be described as a true “change” election for the GOP.
Although the presidential election was close in terms of popular vote — about two or so percentage points more for President Obama — it was not close in terms of the Electoral College, where Obama surprisingly seemed to “cruise” to victory.
It got even worse “down ticket” as Democrats were able to pick up a number of U.S. Senate seats and maintain a majority. Democrats even gained some seats in the U.S. House, although that body continues in Republican control. There had been predictions that the Democrats could lose control of the Senate and perhaps lose seats in the House.
Even some GOP strategists seem stunned by what happened.
There is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on now, and I am frequently hearing that the GOP is living in the past demographically. Its supporters are simply not representative of the changing nature of America. This seems to be borne out by exit polling by Associated Press showing which groups voted for who in the presidential race.
Here is some of the breakdown the news agency found:
Male: Romney - 52 percent, Obama - 45 percent.
Female: Romney - 44 percent, Obama - 55 percent.
18-24: Romney - 36 percent, Obama - 60 percent.
25-29: Romney - 38 percent, Obama - 60 percent.
30-39: Romney - 42 percent, Obama - 55 percent.
40-49: Romney - 50 percent, Obama - 48 percent.
50-64: Romney - 52 percent, Obama - 47 percent.
65 and up: Romney - 56 percent, Obama - 44 percent.
White: Romney - 59 percent, Obama - 39 percent.
Black: Romney - 6 percent, Obama - 93 percent.
Hispanic/Latino: Romney - 27 percent, Obama - 71 percent.
Asian: Romney - 26 percent, Obama - 73 percent.
Other: Romney - 38 percent, Obama - 58 percent.
Under $50,000: Romney - 38 percent, Obama - 60 percent.
$50,000 to $90,000: Romney - 52 percent, Obama - 46 percent.
$100,000 and up: Romney - 54 percent, Obama - 44 percent.
• Population areas
Over 500,000: Romney - 29 percent, Obama - 69 percent.
50,000 - 500,000: Romney - 40 percent, Obama - 58 percent.
Suburbs: Romney - 50 percent, Obama - 48 percent.
10,000-50,000: Romney - 56 percent, Obama - 42 percent.
Rural: Romney - 61 percent, Obama - 37 percent.
Clearly, the statistics show Romney (and by extension the GOP message) appeals more to older, white, male, higher-income voters in more rural areas. Obama (and by extension the Democratic message) appeals more to younger, female, non-white, lower-income voters in more urban areas.
The significance is that the GOP appeal is counter to some key demographic trends that are taking place in America. Younger, minority, non-white groups will in the coming years become a higher percentage of the overall population as the size of the white population shrinks in comparison. In a couple of decades, whites will be a minority group, largely due to the rapid growth of the Hispanic population.
If you looked at the makeup of audiences and participants for the two party conventions, you would have seen these demographics clearly on display. The same was true for party rallies and other events.
Only a few years ago, a presidential candidate who garnered nearly 60 percent of the white vote — as Romney did this time — would have easily won an election. But with a shrinking white electorate, a party that cannot attract other racial and ethnic groups will find it hard to win in a “rainbow” nation, at least in a presidential election.
Some believe Republican leaders already saw the handwriting on the wall in this election and tried to reduce the ability of minorities to vote by changing election laws concerning voter identification and early voting. If that is what they were trying to do, it did not work.
The path for Republicans to remain viable in presidential elections is clear: The concerns of younger voters who are actually now turning out to vote and non-white voters will increasingly decide elections. Symbolism alone won't work — there has to be a real reordering of party philosophy that convinces the missing demographic groups to support Republicans.
It can be done. The Democrats were able to do it in the past when they were in the “wilderness” after a big Republican shift led by Ronald Reagan, someone who knew how to appeal to a wider range of people and demonstrate he cared about people. There has been speculation that today's Republican Party might not even tolerate someone like Reagan. Even George W. Bush is now a pariah is the eyes of some in the party.
My question is whether real change can take place in the current GOP, given the makeup of the party which seems to be dominated by zealots who have a very narrow definition of who is “pure,” especially on social issues. They are fixed in their views and unlikely to change them as a matter of political convenience or even necessity. In fact, they likely view candidates who try to appeal to a broad spectrum as the problem, not the solution.
Can the GOP become more of a “rainbow” party — what some call a “big tent” party — that is more representative of a 21st century America? I don't know, but some believe its future depends on it.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870.