Lessons for the GOP
Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Nov 13, 2012
After losing an election they think they should have won, Republicans are discussing what this election's results mean for them.
Many blame the candidate and it is true that Mitt Romney made some major mistakes. He never defined himself, failed to differentiate himself from George W. Bush, provided no real vision for the nation, and ruined any chance of getting Latino support with his position on illegal immigration.
But President Obama also deserves credit for his reelection strategy. Unable to run on his record, he successfully defined Romney as an out-of-touch outsourcer and mobilized a less enthused base to vote in greater percentages than four years ago.
But while the campaigns did matter, Republicans would be wrong to blame Romney solely for their defeat. Instead, the GOP's future success depends on how it addresses fundamental changes in the electorate.
The Republican party's primary problem is that changing demographics favor Democrats. First, Republicans lost 80% of the minority vote - a demographic that grew from 26% to 28% of the electorate in four years and will continue to grow. Second, the Republican coalition reflects older voters while the Democratic coalition consists of younger voters. Since Republicans gain their greatest support from those over 65 and Democrats those under 29, future electorates should be more Democratic. Third, while an increasing number of voters are college-educated voters, the Republican share of this vote has declined over the past thirty years, particularly among college-educated women.
Because the Republican electorate is shrinking, Republicans must grow the party or face continued losses at the national level. Over the past twenty years, no Republican presidential nominee has won more than 285 electoral college votes and 50.8% of the vote. Currently, Democrats have an electoral college base of 257 votes to the Republican base of 191. This difference means that Democrats need only win one or two swing states to prevail while Republicans must win almost all of them. This problem is compounded for Republicans because two current swing states have a naturally Democratic lean for 9 electoral votes, three swing states used to be Republican-leaning states, and the most likely two states to go purple due to demographic changes are the Republican states of Arizona and Texas, worth a hefty 49 electoral votes.
So what are Republicans to do? First, Republicans must reach out to minorities, specifically Latinos and Asian-Americans. Because Latinos now encompass 13% of the population, Republicans must support comprehensive immigration reform of some sort for Latinos; otherwise, they risk losing any credibility with Latino voters. Once the GOP embraces a model of immigration reform, their message of family values and social mobility may resonate more deeply.
Second, Republicans need to remain true to their values. Many wrongly claim that Republicans must abandon social conservatism to appeal to women. Abandoning religious voters, a major component of the Republican base, would be political suicide. Moreover, the gender gap is really a racial gap: Republicans win white women but lose minority women by huge margins. Minority women actually support social conservatism.
Republicans must bring conservative values to bear on education, health care, and welfare policies to attract college-educated women and minorities. Republicans need to support education policies that empower parents and promote competition to improve failing public schools, market-based health care reforms that empower individuals and their doctors rather than bureaucrats, and promote social mobility through welfare policies that reward work and strong families and use civil society to promote personal transformation that welfare transfers cannot. To attract younger voters, Republicans need to transform an unaffordable industrial age entitlement system that will lower future costs of living through higher taxes and higher interest rates to an information age system that empowers individuals.
A revised version of this appeared in the Nov. 9 edition of The Jackson Sun