Demography, the GOP and the Democrats

Some facts from an article in the New York Times by John Harwood got me thinking.  His argument was straightforward:  in a close election President Obama will have an edge due to changes in demographics.  Some facts:

  • 89% of the electorate was white in 1976, now it is 74%
  • 1% of the electorate was Hispanic in 1976, now it is 9%
  • In 12 battleground states the “working class white” vote is down 3% from 2008

This may mean that the election is “economics vs. demographics,” though that’s oversimplifying.   But what does this say about the future?   To me it points to an inevitable shift in the Republican party as they move to embrace policies that right now are anathema to the Tea Party, such as immigration reform, gay marriage, and a welfare reform that doesn’t just seek to cut welfare, but make it more effective.   The Democrats, on the other hand, need to find a way not to have to rely on non-whites for victory.   Both parties face a demographic challenge, though the GOP’s situation is more dire.

Consider – the shifts described above are not over.   The working class white vote is declining, the white vote in general will continue to go down (and at some point be below 50%), the urban vote is growing, the rural vote receding, and Hispanics are voting in ever larger numbers.

At some point, the Presidency will be almost unwinnable to the GOP if they do not shift policies in order to appeal to these demographic groups.   This isn’t yet true in 2012, and maybe not be for a few election cycles, but the writing is on the wall.   If the 2008 election had been held with the demographics of 1976 or even 1988, Obama wouldn’t have had a chance.   A President Obama was only possible because of demographic change.

Some of the Tea Party is driven by fear of this change.   The cultural transformation of the last thirty five years have been immense, and many yearn to return to when things were “normal.”    However, anti-immigration stances are poison for the GOP.   Besides not getting results, they assure that the largest growing demographic is captured by the Democrats, even if there are some big name Republican Hispanics.    This doesn’t have to be; Hispanics are not naturally predisposed to the Democrats, the GOP is pushing them into Democratic hands.  If this goes on too long, they will be hard to convert.

It’s a no-brainer that the GOP has to alter its stance.  It must embrace immigration reform, even if it draws the ire of their base.  It may be too late for candidate Romney to aspire to win much of the Hispanic vote, even if he chooses Marc Rubio to be his Veep.   There are too many sound and video bites of Romney from the primary season that the Obama team is going to make sure get a lot of airplay before the election.

Even though they are not representative of the GOP, social conservatives have been very good at getting involved, being active in local organizations, and making it to the polls, especially during primary season.   Take an issue like gay marriage.  A majority of Americans now support it, and the largest number of supporters are among the youth.  The culture has shifted and that can’t be undone.

But unlike immigration reform, the GOP can finesse this one.  Romney is refusing to make this a major campaign theme, which irritates social conservatives like Rick Santorum.   The GOP can take a “states’ rights” stance and say that this isn’t an issue for a President.   That way Republicans in Alabama can be stalwart against gay marriage while a Massachusetts Republican can be progressive.   Over time, the issue will lose its relevance, just as interracial marriage did.

Although the Iraq war ended up consuming his Presidency, President Bush’s efforts to steer the GOP towards a different path on immigration reform and a creative approach to social welfare reform reflect ideas the GOP needs to take seriously.

The GOP also needs to mesh it’s conservative values with an understanding of the challenges facing minorities and the poor.   George W. Bush has already shown how to do that.   In 2000 he talked about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and about building an ‘ownership’ society.   Rather than painting social welfare, unions and the like as all bad – with free market and less government the vaguely defined alternative, Bush’s approach sought to redefine the role of government with new markers.   Even ardent Democrats have to admit that high debt loads and the growing number of poor show that the programs we have now aren’t working right.   A discussion of how to fix things needs to be more than one said asking for more and the other side asking for less.  (I discussed ways the GOP could hone it’s message here).

The housing crisis makes it easy to lampoon the ‘ownership society’ President Bush envisioned, but at least he was offering a positive alternative.

Ultimately it’s not a question of if the Republicans will change, but when and how.   So Democrats should not get too comfortable looking at the demographic trends.   Parties adapt to cultural shifts.    The loud tea party “take back America” voice of today cannot win in the long run, and wouldn’t even have a chance if not for the on going economic crisis.   Just as Obama couldn’t have won back in 1988, Romney of today wouldn’t have a chance in 2028.

As Republicans adapt to the new environment and their party changes, Democrats will also be forced to change as well.   When the GOP starts making inroads with Hispanics and other minorities, the Democrats will have to address what used to be their core constituency: working class whites.    If the two parties become voices for ethnic blocs, American politics will break down.   We need two effective parties exploring creative ideas will nudge each other not to be complacent with a particular ideology or set of solutions.

These demographic trends point to two parties that face both long challenges and great opportunities.   Democrats should look at working class whites (their support among them is about 30-35%) as a great potential source of votes.   Republicans should look at Hispanics and other minorities as their key to the future – as Karl Rove and George W. Bush tried to do in 2000.    Avoiding the demographic split is the best way for the two parties to heal the dysfunction the defines US politics today.

  1. #1 by modestypress on June 12, 2012 - 18:15

    It may be too late to try, though perhaps the Republicans can go gay (taking a page from the Cheneys) or even transgender.

  2. #2 by pino on June 12, 2012 - 19:01

    To me it points to an inevitable shift in the Republican party

    I agree. The party is going to have to color.

    policies that right now are anathema to the Tea Party, such as immigration reform, gay marriage, and a welfare reform that doesn’t just seek to cut welfare, but make it more effective.

    NOt sure the Tea Party has those policies in their platform. Welfare perhaps, but not the other two.

    Hispanics are not naturally predisposed to the Democrats, the GOP is pushing them into Democratic hands.

    This is absolutely true. Drives me crazy that the republicans are following this path.

    In 2000 he talked about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and about building an ‘ownership’ society.

    I think that it’s pretty clear the ownership society didn’t work out well for anyone.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on June 13, 2012 - 00:02

      I associate tea party with the movement in 2007 against the McCain-Bush immigration plan. But I suppose there is no unified movement with clear objectives.

      • #4 by pino on June 13, 2012 - 02:47

        I associate tea party with the movement in 2007 against the McCain-Bush immigration plan

        Strange indeed. The Tea Party didn’t begin until after Obama was elected.

  3. #5 by Alan Scott on June 13, 2012 - 01:01

    Scott ,

    Your deep concern for the future of my Party greatly gratifies me . Who knew you were so generous to your foes. I would remind you of the history of other immigrant groups . The Italians, Poles, Irish, etc. They were all at one time apart from the established culture . While retaining their ethnicity, they are now part of the dominant society .

    What makes you believe that Hispanics will not become ” Conservatives ” as they work their way up as the other groups have done ?

    The Tea Party is not a racist group or groups . Their primary issue is fiscal responsibility . Your Party looks to be permanently vulnerable in this field .

    • #6 by Scott Erb on June 13, 2012 - 01:15

      I in fact said Hispanics could easily become conservatives and weren’t a natural for the Democrats. The GOP’s policies on immigration reform have pushed Hispanics to the Democratic camp and that’s the biggest barrier the Republicans have to winning them — if President Bush’s immigration reform had passed, even 2008 might have had a different result. You see the world too much through partisan eyes. I do like Obama, but I’m an independent and tend not to follow party lines in rhetoric and on all policies. The “them vs. us” mentality drives people to simply choose their positions based on what their “side” says, and then play rhetoric and propaganda games trying to spin reality to fit the side they’ve chosen. That is dysfunctional politics.

      That said, the biggest borrowers were Reagan and Bush the Younger, and they had fiscal irresponsibility during boom times, when you’re actually supposed to be paying down debt. The Clinton era saw the only budget surpluses in recent years. So both parties share the blame, neither can say the other one is the only problem.

  4. #7 by Alan Scott on June 13, 2012 - 21:38


    If you want to throw blame, which is what you are doing, even though you claim to be independent, how about rating Congresses for spending ? George W. Bush’s biggest deficits came when your guys ( and girls ) took Congress in 2007 .

    Your dysfunctional politics remark is just more of your fantasy . I’ve noticed it occurs only when ‘ you guys ‘ are not doing well . Where was this bipartisan propaganda when Obama, Pelosi, and Reid were the three Kings of DC? When Pelosi, in 09, told groveling Republicans to eat cake because ” we won ” ?

    You should note that the only force opposing Barak the big spender is the Republican House, so unlike Democratic Houses under Republican Presidents they share no blame for the bankrupting deficits .

    • #8 by Scott Erb on June 13, 2012 - 22:33

      Bush came in with a surplus, and high deficits took over from the start. He didn’t veto any spending, he signed the bills. But I certainly agree that both parties deserve blame — both parties were both full into accepting debt, though the spending done in the Reagan and Bush eras during booms created high debt loads that stymie action now.

      I note that your rhetoric gets a bit over the top when your side isn’t doing well. Groveling Republicans? Eat cake? Balderdash! The GOP was determined not to work with Obama from the start because everything became political. Boehner I think was willing, but the hotheads in his ranks prevented that. Obama’s been trying to work with Republicans from the start. I think he’s doing it right, but many on the left think Obama has been too nice to the GOP (given their clear desire to fight an ideological war) and that he’s been far too centrist. I think Obama’s pragmatic centrism is why he’s going to win again, and hopefully the GOP will realize that coming up with compromises that address real problems is what Congress is elected for, not partisan games.

      But when governance is shared, both sides always share blame. You can’t have it both ways. But the debts of 2001 to 2007? GOP President, GOP House and GOP Senate. Reagan also had a GOP Senate most of his term, and a House that had a Reagan majority due to southern Democrats who sided with Reagan. But that doesn’t mean the Democrats don’t share blame – they didn’t do enough to try to stop the Reagan and Bush debt run ups. It does make it absolutely clear that anyone who says the GOP has been better on debt than the Democrats is objectively and factually wrong.

  5. #9 by Alan Scott on June 14, 2012 - 02:28


    ” Bush came in with a surplus, and high deficits took over from the start. ”

    That is true . I will give you 2007 which was $162 Billion. 2008 was $455 Billion .

    ” But when governance is shared, both sides always share blame. You can’t have it both ways.”

    So Obama put a gun to the head of the GOP House and forced them to agree to more ginormous deficits and you tell me they are to blame . I don’t think so .This is not intellectually honest .

    You keep calling Obama a Centrist . ( Princess Bride ) Inigo Montoya : ” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means ” .

    • #10 by Scott Erb on June 14, 2012 - 03:06

      Obama is definitely a centrist/pragmatist — that’s why the left wing of the Democratic party has been lukewarm to him. Your post makes no sense. Obama didn’t put a gun to the head of anyone, and nothing you write contradictions or goes against my point that both parties share blame, and that the Republicans have run up debt in the past, willingly so. Face it – looking over the last thirty years no one can state the Republicans are better on debt than the Democrats. That is objectively false. That said, neither party has been good, both have embraced debt. Both have to work together to overcome that. The people who would drive this country into the ground and assure continued decline are those who want to play partisan games and refuse to compromise and try to work together to find pragmatic solutions to the problems. Ideology could be the death of America’s place as the major world power.

  6. #11 by Alan Scott on June 14, 2012 - 16:28

    Scott ,

    To quote you ” Your post makes no sense.” .

    Granted Republicans could be better, but every single time they try your boys and girls demonize them . Grandma and grandpa will be hungry and thirsty. It will be a question of eating Fluffy’s cat food or eating fluffy Look at their total distortions of Paul Ryan’s budget plans .

    Calling Obama a pragmatist is funnier than the centrist label . Please give me an example of his pragmatism .

    Of course none of this matters . Unless Romney has some unforgivable sin in his past, nothing can now save the Obama Presidency . Even if the economy boomed starting tomorrow, it is already too late . The poor will not turn out enough to save Obama. The middle class has learned better . The Wall Street crony capitalist Hedge funds have abandoned him . Only Hollywood, thanks to being bought off on the gay marriage issue, is still behind him . They do not have enough money .

    • #12 by Scott Erb on June 14, 2012 - 16:55

      Oh come on, you know that he’s often described as pragmatist and centrist, and that he’s had a problem with his base because of that. There’s no way you can’t know that. Trying to work with the GOP on what is usually the routine debt ceiling issue, compromising rather than ramming through the stimulus, trying to reach a grand bargain with Boehner.

      But read Ronald Suskind’s “Confidence Men” with inside details of the Obama White House. It’s clear he went with the establishment and against many activists and choose a more conservative Presidency than many hoped for. You are very comfortable repeating talk radio like themes, but that’s propaganda. Educate yourself on the reality, read inside accounts, look at sources from all sides, don’t treat politics like some kind of team sport. It’s too important for that.

      Obama is still favored by Intrade (53% chance, so it is close – though looking at the state by state map Romney’s got a tough job). So you’re so over the top in dismissing Obama that I have to just laugh.

  7. #13 by Alan Scott on June 15, 2012 - 02:34

    Scott ,

    Certainly, one of us is delusional . I am bored to death with arguing what kind of leader President Obama is .You simply see what you want to see. I want you to list anyone besides you who says he is a pragmatist .

    I’d rather continue to argue that your guy is in big trouble and every day Romney’s chances get better .I listen to more than talk radio . In money and stocks I listen to those who have been right over the recent past . The same in politics . I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised in the 2010 midterms . A couple of pundits very early and consistently kept calling for a GOP blow out . I being pessimistic, refused to allow myself to hope . They turned out to be right . These same predictors are saying that the independents will break heavily for Romney as we get close to November .

    • #14 by Scott Erb on June 15, 2012 - 02:43

      Well, I gave you a book that lays out his pragmatism. Add to that “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward (a Republican). I go to the real world for my evidence. And seriously – vague “pundits” that “pleasantly surprised you” by being right in 2010 are saying Romney will get independents?! Go to Intrade, look at the polls, look at the demographics, and compare what non-partisan analysts are saying (I dispense with the partisans on each side – they’re just propagandists). Obama’s favored, Romney can win if he runs a good campaign, and external events like a Euro meltdown or economic good or bad news could impact in unforeseen ways.

  8. #15 by modestypress on June 15, 2012 - 04:34

    Be very careful about predicting the future.

  9. #16 by Alan Scott on June 15, 2012 - 22:48

    Scott ,

    ” But read Ronald Suskind’s “Confidence Men” with inside details of the Obama White House. It’s clear he went with the establishment and against many activists and choose a more conservative Presidency than many hoped for. ”

    This is not being fair . You want me to spend $ 16.66 to buy a book so you can prove a point to me . Forget even that for a moment . I am supposed to take your word that Ron Suskind is an unbiased and accurate Author ? I read a review of the book by Bethany MClean. At the end of her article she said ” In the end I wondered if the Author himself was the real confidence man, the ultimate untrustworthy narrator . ”

    The Woodward book I have not researched yet .

    Neither of us will prove to the other what Obama is . But the election is right around the corner . That will prove which of us knows what he is talking about . You go on with your ” Go to Intrade, look at the polls, look at the demographics, and compare what non-partisan analysts are saying ” beliefs . I find the word non-partisan to be a total lie . There ain’t no such creature .

    Again the only way Obama wins is for his spies to find some dark secret in Romney’s past . The dog story was a nice try, though 🙂 . Barring that Obama can’t win . Can’t !

    • #17 by Scott Erb on June 15, 2012 - 23:14

      LOL! I’m not being fair because I give you cites and tell you where the information is! Go to the library, it’s free!

      The election is a long ways away. The public isn’t even focusing yet. You’re caught up in the propaganda world of politics like team sports. The fact you don’t recognize that there are non-partisan polling organizations is bizarre. You can repeat the mantra “Obama can’t win” but it’s just bravado, you know it’s not true, you’re not stupid. You know both can win, intrade has Obama currently the favorite, and many Republican insiders are very worried. On the other hand, Romney’s going to have lots of money and some Democrats are worried. You can go with bravado, but it sounds more like a Miami Heat fan saying that “the Thunder can’t win, they suck.” Yeah, fans get into the bravado. But it’s not reality.

  10. #18 by Alan Scott on June 16, 2012 - 18:23


    I did not find your book in my small town public libery . But I can give (you) a reading assignment . In your public Library read your free copy of today’s Wall Street Journal . They review yet another book on Barak Obama . No wait that’s not fair . I can’t complain about you if I am not ready to treat you better than you treated me . Here :

    Please pay attention to the 10th paragraph where author Maraniss found a contradiction about how Barak Obama wrote about his meetings with bond traders and financiers from Germany and Japan . Poor Barak actually was in in a small office casually dressed, not in his self described suit and tie . His meetings were working a phone .

    He also hated the private sector . He has not changed . He only loves their money . That does meet the definition of Pragmatic . So I suppose you are right .

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