The Republican Party Is Losing Voters, So Why Are Democrats So Nervous?
The Republican Party has long missed the mark when it comes to diversification. For women, the GOP’s resistance to abortion and birth control coverage, as well as a distinct lack of female representation in the party, have only been compounded by the GOP’s more than fair share of incautious and sexist remarks.
As the party with the hardest line on immigration and the most critical voice on “entitlement programs,” the GOP also tends to alienate minorities, especially given the average socioeconomic position of its members and its overall racial makeup. The Republican Party also suffers inordinately from a generation gap, something that becomes clear when one considers issues like same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
This is not conjecture: There’s clear data and striking examples of this membership disadvantage, and it’s something the party recognizes. Yet Republicans are not the ones scrambling to hold on to a majority in the upcoming elections. Let’s take a look at where the GOP both succeeds and fails to draw in certain groups, its potential for improvement, and why it may not matter this fall.
Women in the GOP
Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush during his presidency, made a fair point in an article for U.S. News & World Report about the Republican Party’s stance on abortion and contraception. In particular, she addresses the fact that men and women are not perfectly split on these issues, with women in favor of abortion rights and contraceptive coverage, and Republican males alienating female voters with their conservative policy preferences. In reality, this is not the case.
According to a Gallup poll conducted this year, women are split: 50 percent pro-choice (language used in the poll) and 41 percent are pro-life. When it comes to contraception health care coverage, Gallup found that 46 percent of women sided with the Obama Administration, while 47 percent of women fell on the side of religious leaders.
Even if women aren’t put off by a conservative stance on birth control and abortion, they’re being put off by something else. The Pew Research Center found that as of 2012, 37 percent of women identified as Democrats, with 24 percent identifying as Republicans; 33 percent fell into the independent category. Perhaps it’s the reputation Republicans have for failing to support policies that help women, or perhaps it’s even more passive than that — perhaps women are driven away by the comments of a select few lawmakers.
There are few women in Congress for female voters to look to; in particular, this is true with Republican lawmakers. As of 2014, there have been 298 congresswomen, according to the Congressional Research Service. Of those, 194 were Democrats and 104 were Republicans. The 113th Congress has 83 women in the House of Representatives, 63 of them Democrats and 19 Republicans; there are 20 in the Senate, 16 Democrats and four Republicans.
Sarah Palin, for all her faults, appeals to many people because they find themselves able to relate to her. The soccer mom, “momma grizzly” rhetoric works for a reason — and in a political environment where voters sometimes vote with their gut instead of data, that matters. It may seem cynical to say the GOP needs to recruit more women for the sake of votes, but if this were a business transaction — and politics often have all the heart of a cold and calculating exchange — votes are the money that make good deeds worthwhile.
More women in politics would increase equality, expand the experiences from which lawmakers can draw upon, and in every way improve the representativeness of the U.S. government. But if that were reason enough, we’d already have a more equally divided Congress.
LGBT rights and the generation gap
A group called Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, born out of the Freedom to Marry organization, is working on building support among conservatives for same-sex marriage. This is one step toward mitigating a generational problem in the GOP — in particular, millennials have been a difficult group for Republicans to attract.
According to the Pew Research Center, they are the most liberal age group (between the ages of 18 and 33), and 50 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic, while only 34 percent say the same for the Republican Party. The same study showed that even those younger individuals who trend toward the Republican Party are more liberal than older Republicans.
“Not only are Millennials less likely than older generations to identify as Republicans, but even those who do express significantly less conservative values than do their elders,” writes the Pew Research Center. This means that unless the Republican Party makes an effort to keep up with changing public opinion, it may find itself losing voters as they age and time passes.
There is a trend in LGBT acceptance and support increasing as time moves forward. Indirectly, it’s clear that anti-gay and homophobic tendencies, or even social conservativeness as it relates to equal rights, is a major problem for drawing in a younger crowd. The GOP recognized the problem in the Republican National Congress’s 2012 post-election Growth and Opportunity Project report.
“We do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view,” it read. “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement and issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
Socioeconomic and racial diversity
Forty-nine percent of non-Hispanic white evangelicals self-report as Republican, according to Pew, and that’s a number that’s risen 6 percentage points since 2009. It’s no secret that the GOP lacks racial diversity — it has a tendency to be characterized as a party of rich, white Americans. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently joined critics in pointing out that pushing for identification law changes — which disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly, and haven’t been objectively shown to be truly necessary to prevent fraud — makes Republicans look like just that kind of party.
“So many times, Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat, we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat.’ We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?” he said, according to Politico.
He then backed down a bit, saying he doesn’t believe “there’s anything inherently racist about [ID laws]. But I don’t think we want to make the vote more restrictive.” Still, his assessment that Republicans need to change their perception is valid, and it’s one he’s likely considering even more while eying the 2016 presidential election. Still, in general, people tend to hear the worst comments the loudest, and Republicans have a lot of comments that scream, as Jon Stewart pointed out in a critique of Republican responses to the events in Ferguson, seen below.
Are elections going to be grim for Democrats?
The simple conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that the Republican voter pool is shrinking and will continue to shrink generationally while other voting groups simply remain out of their reach. But that doesn’t change the fact that Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to retain a slight majority in the Senate this midterm. Why is that?
Well, for one thing, minorities are called minorities for a reason — they certainly don’t constitute a majority of the population. For another, America’s current and deeply unpopular president is a Democrat, which gives the GOP a nice boost going into elections, and not only a boost in votes. It’s also a boost in emotion. Angry voters are more motivated, and while both sides of the aisle are dissatisfied, there are more angry Republicans than angry Democrats.
That’s where voter engagement comes in, and this is where Democrats start really losing. It’s not unexpected: Before midterm campaigns really began in earnest, President Obama addressed his party and reminded them of the pattern historically seen in midterm voting. That is, Democrats tend to have lower voter engagement. And according to Pew, this year is nothing new.
At face value, voter partisanship appears somewhat even, with 45 percent saying they would support Republican candidates or lean Republican, and 47 percent saying the same for Democratic candidates. But while 67 percent of Democratic voters say they are “absolutely certain” to vote, 76 percent of Republicans say the same, almost a 10 percentage point lead.
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