Why Demography Is Destiny

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 12:27 PM PDT

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Tom Schaller flags a new study by Ruy Teixeira explaining how the Republican Party will be doomed in the long run unless it can accommodate emerging constituencies that are less white and more educated. While the GOP might gain some benefit in 2010 from embracing ideological purism and reactionary views, impending demographic shifts make this approach unsustainable long-term. Via Schaller, here are some of Teixeira's, err, recommendations for the GOP:

*Move to the center on social issues. The culture wars may have worked for a while, but shifting demographics make them a loser for the party today and going forward. A more moderate approach would help with Millennials, where the party must close a yawning gap, and with white college graduates, who still lean Republican but just barely. The party also needs to make a breakthrough with Hispanics, and that won’t happen unless it shifts its image toward social tolerance, especially on immigration.

*Pay attention to whites with some college education and to young white working-class voters in general. The GOP’s hold on the white working class is not secure, and if that slips, the party doesn’t have much to build on to form a successful new coalition. That probably also means offering these voters something more than culture war nostrums and antitax jeremiads.

*Another demographic target should be white college graduates, especially those with a four-year degree only. The party has to stop the bleeding in America’s large metropolitan areas, especially in dynamic, growing suburbs. Keeping and extending GOP support among this demographic is key to taking back the suburbs. White college graduates increasingly see the party as too extreme and out of touch.

Essentially, Teixeira writes, the GOP must "move toward the center to compete for these constituencies," which proved critical to Obama's victory in 2008. And even in the current election cycle, there are signs that Republicans could pay the price for extremism—particularly in parts of the country where these big demographic changes are taking hold.

In Texas, for example, recent poll numbers suggest that Gov. Rick Perry could end up suffering from the GOP's rightward shift on immigration. A poll released yesterday by Public Policy Polling shows Perry tied with his Democratic challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who had been trailing in earlier polls. PPP explains that Perry's flagging numbers are entirely because of Hispanic voters who've defected to White:

When we polled the race in February Rick Perry led Bill White by 6 points. The race is tied now, and the movement since the previous poll has come completely with Hispanic voters. With white voters Perry led 54-35 then and leads 55-35 now. With black voters White led 81-12 then and leads 70-7 now. But with Hispanics Perry has gone from leading 53-41 in February to now trailing 55-21. And it’s not that the sample of Hispanic voters we interviewed for this poll was somehow fundamentally different from the previous one—Barack Obama’s approval with them on this poll was 49% compared to 47% on the previous Texas poll.

PPP suggests that the shift could be directly tied to fallout from the Arizona immigration law, noting that Hispanic voters had also defected to Democrats in states like Arizona and Colorado. As the Washington Independent notes, the Texas Republican Party has made it clear where they stand: they recently passed a party platform that barred illegal immigrants from "intentionally or knowingly” living in Texas, as a well as an Arizona-like proposal that required local police to verify citizenship when making arrests. Perry, to his credit, opposed these measures—and has been openly critical of the Arizona law. But Perry will have tough time distancing himself from the state and national party given the GOP's increasingly hardline views.

That's not to say that Democrats can simply sit back and reap the rewards of these demographic shifts, even in places like Texas. These newly emerging groups of voters—young people, Hispanics, etc.—also tend to have lower turnout at the polls. But compared to where the GOP is right now, the Democrats definitely have a head start. Will Republicans take this reality to heart and make more than just cosmetic changes to the face of the party?

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.