Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Demographic Realities: Part III

The following is the third and final installment about the impact of minority growth on national politics in the U.S. I have shown that, assuming present political coalitions remain in place, the Republican Party will be a minority party in national politics by 2024. This last post will examine strategies the Republican Party can pursue to avoid this outcome.

There are five identifiable strategies Republicans can take:

Strategy 1: Stay the course

Upside: The Republican Party can remain a fairly conservative organization, both on economic and social issues. If a backlash against center-left policies envelopes the country, the Republican Party could step in and possibly reestablish the dominance of conservative politics.

Downside: With the coming demographic tidal wave, this strategy is almost assured to fail. Moreover, the country is very different from what it was in the late 1960s when the Republican Party pivoted to the right and reaped the benefits of voter wariness with liberalism. The Democratic Party remains too cautious to ever be seen as a fringe leftist party like the one voters turned against in the late 1960s. The overall attitude of moderate suburban voters is the Republican Party--not the Democratic Party--has become too extreme.

Strategy 2: Sellout the base and attract suburban voters

Upside: The dominant Republican Party of the 1970s and 1980s was build on well-educated caucasian suburban voters. Sometime in the last twenty years the the party drifted away from this approach. The Democratic Party has become the choice of establishment white voters. Also, the Republican Party is not performing that great among young caucasian voters (achieving about a 50/50 split). If perhaps the Republican Party could moderate its social positions and focus on lower taxes and limited government, it might be able to win 65% to 70% of caucasian voters, enough to still win many midwestern and northeastern states.

Downside: This strategy might alienate conservative whites in the South, while doing little to address lower-income minority voters. A third socially conservative party could split from the Republican Party. In a sense, the Republicans would have the same problem the Democratic Party had from the 1950s to 1980s--an inability to hold the South while still only making marginal gain in the North. Further compounding the problem is the fact all of the demographic growth in the House and Elector College is in the South and Southwest. Hence, this strategy would improve Republican performance in states with diminishing influence on national elections.

Strategy 3: Sellout the base and attract working class minorities

Upside: Working class minorities represent the backbone of the Democratic Party. If the Republicans could steal the base of the Democrats (like they did in the 1970s and 80s with whites), they could return to dominance. The Republicans could soften their positions on immigration and some economic issues. They could emphasize social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage (or bring back "law and order" issues). This strategy might improve Republican performance among latinos in particular.

Downside: First, this strategy would further push powerful suburban voters out of the Republican Party. Second, it might not even be that effective in stealing the Democratic based. When President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, black voters simply became more tolerant of the practice. This episode suggests minority voters, while more socially conservative than other Democratic voters, do not have hardened positions. A substantial shift on immigration issues may help, but not without damaging the Republican Party with socially conservative white voters. On this note, the Democrats could easily counter by simply demanding more drastic concessions on immigration, which would force the Republican to depress their base or renege on its concessions to minorities.

Strategy 4: Don't sell out the base, but try to reach out to specific minority groups

Upside: Some fast-growing minority groups, such as Asians, south Asians, affluent latinos, and multi-ethnic voters, may be easier for the Republican Party to attract than core minority groups (i.e. blacks and working class latinos). These groups are also fast growing and could become a formidable force in some key states like California. Republicans could make inroads with these groups if they repackage their image as a more inclusive party. Because these groups tend to be more economically and socially conservative, the party would not have to change its policies substantially.

Downside: Attracting votes from specific minority groups without targeting core minorities might simply be too little, too late. This strategy might be most effective when combined with some combination of the other approaches.

Strategy 5: Reinvent and rebrand conservatism

Upside: Conservatives worked hard to rebrand themselves after the Great Depression debacle. They became internationalists and eventually found new policy positions that attracted voters (such as lower taxes). After Democrats inevitably overstep their political mandates, the Republicans could reintroduce themselves to a generation of young voters. Perhaps they could find a new "boogieman" (Islam?) toattract socially conservative voters. This New Republican Party could emerge with an entirely new coalition with new ideas.

Downside: It is not clear how the Republicans can actually implement this strategy. This approach requires serious intellection heft. Another drawback is it still involves selling-out the base on issues like same-sex marriage.

Going forward I am not sure what the best strategy is for the Republican Party. Most likely, the best approach is to rely on some combination of these strategies. Almost all possible responses involve some sort of shift to the left for the Republican Party and national politics. The Republican Party may remain a force, but it seems the country is shifting decidedly to the left. This future is far from shocking, considering the significant movement rightward during the late twentieth century. Compared to other developed nations, the United State will remain right-of-center.