Demographic Disaster for the GOP

The Disappearing Republican Voter

Ronald Reagan dreamed of turning the GOP into America’s permanent majority—but his dreams were designed for a different time, a different people.

Republican voters are disappearing. The Republican Party built its power on the white vote, the church-going vote, and the male vote. But each of these groups are shrinking as a share of the electorate, while groups with little taste for the GOP are exploding. Consider the chart below: voter groups colored red tend to vote Republican for president, while blue colored voting groups are Democratic—sometimes by immense margins (for complete 2004 data, see CNN exit poll archives).

Which of these sets of voting blocs are shrinking and which are growing? It’s quite basic—whites, men, and weekly church goers are all shrinking as a share of the electorate every year. White, weekly church going men are shrinking fastest of all. And there’s the heart of the problem for the GOP

A demographic disaster awaits the Republican party. Barack Obama represents a fundamental transformation in the American electorate. The GOP majority built on white, church-going men is collapsing as new voters reduce the Republican party to the status of bewildered minority.

GOP Struggles with Southern Strategy Legacy

It was back in the 1960s that the tectonic plates of today’s electoral landscape were forged when the two parties took their stands on the politics of the day. The Democratic party stood with the civil rights movements, with the rising force of feminism, and with a “counter-cultural” vision of a non-religious state.

On the other hand, The Republican Party followed what Nixon called a “southern strategy.” Republican strategists measured the demographics and concluded that they could stand with the white south against civil rights, with patriarchs denouncing feminism and with evangelicals defending the role of Christianity in schools and in public life—GOP leaders concluded back then that such a strategy would win elections.

One of the architects of the southern strategy, key Nixon advisor Kevin Phillips, described the GOP’s strategic choice to repudiate black voters and welcome southern whites back in a 1970 New York Times interview (James Boyd, May 17, 1970, “Nixon’s Southern strategy: ‘It’s All in the Charts,'” The New York Times).

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

Following a 1981 interview with Lee Atwater (another key Republican advisor, and Bush the First’s campaign manager), New York Times reporter Bob Herbert summarized the heart of the GOP’s continued reliance on the “Southern Strategy.”

“The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the G.O.P.’s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks.”

Today’s Diverse Electorate Going Democrat

The southern strategy might have worked back then, when whites were 90% of the electorate, and male and rural churchgoing voters outpaced their counterparts. But today, The “Southern strategy” electorate has become a minority, and the most rapidly growing groups are voting Democratic.

In the 2006 elections, 69% of Latinos, 57% of women, 90% of blacks, 60% of voters under 29 and 57% of independent voters voted Democratic.

Today, only 2% of all GOP voters are Latino. Only 1% of Republicans are Black. Barely 15% of GOP voters are under 35. The GOP is built on an aging, dying electoral coalition.

Chart Source:

When Obama rolls into town, the largest demographic in American history will be people aged 18-29 (see previous posts on “Millennials Rising” and “The Obama Generation”)—and they will vote Democratic in record shattering numbers. The Latino vote will be the largest in American history—and it will be about 70% Democratic. Women and Black voters will be in Obama’s camp.

Newsweek’s Michael Barone and other observers have made the counter-argument that demographics are actually tilting in the Republican party’s direction, by pointing to the fact that red states that tend to lean Republican in their presidential votes are growing more rapidly than blue states, and that they will therefore receive more electoral college votes (and seats in the House of Representatives) following the next U.S Census.

Here’s the list of states that are predicted to gain and lose House seats and Electoral College votes following the 2010 Census.

But this kind of analysis misses the possibility that pro-Democratic demographic transformation that may be sweeping through these traditionally red and blue states, just as it is the rest of the country. Some red states like Utah and Texas are likely to remain reliably Republican. But “red” states like Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Arizona are brimming with new Latino voters, increasingly educated “creative class” voters, and other such demographic changes that point the states towards the Democrats—not the Republicans.

Facing demographic disaster in 2008, the Republican party may pursue new variations on the Southern strategy, trying to maximize the ever-shrinking conservative white vote. Expect familiar demonization of immigrants, tired broadsides against black welfare-queens, and continual Rush Limbaugh denunciations of femi-nazis and gays as destroying the American way of life.

In the short run, The GOP can count on the old Southern strategy to keep its grip on white, male, frequent churchgoers—but the problem for the GOP is that these same voter groups are losing their grip on America.


Filed under Republican, Uncategorized, Voter Demographics

15 responses to “Demographic Disaster for the GOP

  1. superdestroyer

    You need to take your idea to its logically conclusion. What will the U.S. be like when the Republicans collapse and the U.S. becomes a one party state. How will politics work when the general election is moot and the real election is the Democratic primary.

    • Luis

      What will America look like when republicans collapse? simple, look at our 3rd world democrat party dictatorships we call cities,such as…Detroit,Gary,Camden,Flint…total destruction of the economy thru confiscatory taxation. with no Republicans to relieve the tax burden, corporations,factories and middle class/wealthy Americans, especially non hispanic whites,will emigrate to other countries… flight from AMERICA will start!!

  2. lydia0

    When looking at the political spectrum from left to right in the United States, there isn’t a wide political difference between Republicans and Democrats. Both are considered neo-political liberals, whether liberal liberals or conservative liberals. When comparing this to, for example, Europe, we see the United States is pretty close to a single party system anyway. Very few radicals on the right or left are represented. Also, technically speaking, the United States isn’t a two party system.

  3. lydia0

    neo-classical liberals, haha, not neo-political liberals.

  4. Tony Robinson

    Lydia–if the parties are so very close together, why do you think it is that different voter demographics break so differently for the two parties? Black voters are 90% plus Democratic. Latino voters are about 70% Democratic. White Men are 65% Republican. Young voters break heavily for Democrats. Income closely parallels one tendency to vote Dem or Rep.

    If there are no fundamental differences between the parties, what accounts for voters seeming to line up clearly behind one party or the other?

    And what accounts for fundamental policy differences between the parties–on everything from whether to offer heavy tax cuts to the affluent, on whether to stay in Iraq, on whether HUD and public housing are worthy of preserving, on whether the minimum wage should be preserved, etc.? Without a Democratic party, for example, there would be no right to abortion, no minimum wage, oil drilling in ANWR and off-shore, etc. Do you believe the world would pretty much look the same with or without these things?

  5. kvalentine2008

    I personally feel that it is more than obvious that there is more than two parties in the US for no more reasons than the basics. We have green parties, independents, centrists, etc… etc… which all fall under, in between, on the side what have you under the larger mother categories of DEM or REP. There are two majority parties becasue they essentially encompass most of the american beliefs and values. if there isnt a distinct difference between the parties we wouldnt have B’obama and a McCain, rather we would have more of a winner take all system then we already do and there wouldnt be any need for a competition between the two, there would be one represetive for a one party america. We have more than two parties because america is so diverse, many people have so many different beleifes and it is alot easier for people to have the ability to select/vote for a candidate that most closely represents their beliefs. i think saying there isnt more than one party in america is saying that the citizens of the US have ONE voice. and thats simply not true.

  6. lydia0

    I agree that there are huge differences between the two parties, yes, but when we stand back from a micro-level and look at it from a more macro-level, we see in comparison, to say Europe, there isn’t that broad of a difference. In Europe political parties range from communist to fascist, and include just about everything in between. In the United States there are fundamental ideological and policy making difference between Democrats and Republicans, but they sit pretty close on the political left-to-right spectrum.

    I was trying to argue against the point made by superdestroyer that if the Republican Party were to dissolve, we would be a one party dominated state. The Democratic Party doesn’t represent all moderate or radical left, nor does the Republican Party represent all moderate or radical right. With such diversity in the United States, as you cited in your post Professor Robinson, the demographics of voters is changing drastically. Without the Republican Party changing to fit the need of voters we could possibly see the emergence of another political party (Say, green, independent, etc.) to the forefront.

    And no, the world would look very different.

  7. balaban13

    I tend to agree with the notion that the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans has shrunk and these two parties are now closer to each other than some are willing to admit. On a host of issues ranging from governmental (federal) spending, national security issues, oil vs. renewable energy, global warming and even religion, Republicans and Democrats are moving towards each other at an unprecedented pace.

    Let’s start with governmental spending, we all heard on numerous occasions that Democrats have been known as Washington’s big spenders, and yet this can now be applied to Republicans as well as they’ve spent like crazy from 2001-2006 racking in one of the biggest budget deficits, which “helped” our overall debt to triple since the end of Clinton administration. What’s more, one of the major themes in Obama’s campaign has been the fact that we’re in so much debt and that we need to do something about it.

    Being perceived as underdogs when it comes to national security issues for years, Democrats have been trying to regain their strength in that area lately. Notice how much Obama has been talking about the need to cut our oil dependency as part of the overall national security strategy, as well as he has taken the lead on the issue of fighting the war in Afghanistan. It’s also worth mentioning that the Democratic presumptive nominee has voted for the reauthorization of the FISA bill even though it was an unpopular decision (it could have been a calculated political vote, but it’s hard to say). Finally, McCain has been slowly moving towards Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan.

    When it comes to oil vs. renewable energy debate, I believe we have seen one of the biggest shifts towards each other as far as two parties are concerned. Republicans are now much more open then ever before to the renewable sources of energy and it appears that Democrats are now willing to compromise on some of the off-shore drilling.

    Global warming is a very interesting political issue. Both major party candidates are open to the policy of cap & trade, which would allow bigger polluters to buy credits from less polluters. What’s even more amazing, after being very much a complete denier on the issue of global warming, even President Bush is now coming around to that.

    Lastly, when it comes to the subject of religion, Obama has been willing to talk about it much more willingly then any recent Democratic candidates dating back to President Carter. Yesterday, at the religious forum moderated by an Evangelical preacher, where both candidates talked about various issues pertaining to faith and values, Obama was seen, by many accounts, as a person who was very comfortable talking about them.

    With that said, I believe that the biggest difference between the major parties remains to be economy. McCain economic policy seems to be very similar to the one of the current administration, while Obama wants to raise taxes on the income of over 250K, raise capital gains and investment taxes to the levels in the 1990s.

  8. sj61w1

    I often say that The Democratic Party is moving along the highway toward big government and massive spending at around 110 mph, the Republican Party is moving along the same highway in the same direction at around 65 mph. I would prefer that we go the opposite direction of less government and more freedom, but on a national level it looks like we are stuck with the status quo. -Josh Raines

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