The Democratic demographic advantages in presidential elections has been predicted for years in works such as The Emerging Democratic Majority published in 2002. There is no doubt that changing demographics played a major role in Barack Obama’s victories but Republicans should be cautious about blaming their loses too much on this and ignoring other reasons for their electoral defeats.
The most recent use of this argument comes from an article entitled How to Save the Republican Party by Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner in Commentary:
The first factor is America’s changing demographics. Much has been written on this topic, but the essential datum is the long-term shrinking of those demographic groups, especially white voters, who traditionally and reliably favor the GOP: from 89 percent of the electorate in 1976 to 72 percent in 2012. This decline is partially an artifact of a change in the way the Census Bureau classifies Hispanics, who used to be counted among whites before being placed in a separate category. But it has much more to do with a real, ongoing change in the composition of the American populace. In any given contest, the GOP can overcome this obstacle. Over time, however, the obstacle will grow ever larger.
Consider the performance of Mitt Romney, who carried the white vote by 20 points. If the country’s demographic composition were still the same last year as it was in 2000, he would now be president. If it were still the same as it was in 1992, he would have won in a rout. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than his pathetic 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. Republicans, in short, have a winning message for an electorate that no longer exists.
While demographics were important, this does not mean that Obama or another Democrat could not have won with the electorate of earlier years. Besides demographics, Obama did better than Romney due to using modern technology more efficiently and understanding the electorate better than the Romney campaign. If the demographic changes had not occurred, Obama would have targeted the electorate which actually existed and might have won some of the voters which were written off to Republicans in recent years.
A more important factor is that the white vote, which Romney won, would not have voted as they had if not for the demographic changes. The Republicans have been promoting fear, racism, and xenophobia to win a large percentage of the white vote. Republicans would not have been as effective in promoting fear of minorities among white voters if the percentage of minorities in this country has not been increasing, and Republicans likely would not receive as high a percentage of the white vote as they currently do.
Gerson and Wehner are also making a mistake in concentrating on racial demographic changes and not the effect of losing young voters. The Republicans have taken positions on economics, national security, and social issues which are counter to reality and out of touch with the desires of most voters. Even most remaining Republican voters tend to support Democratic positions in polls where positions are polled without attachment to a party. As people tend to stick with the party they first vote for, Republicans might have lost a generation of young voters who understand the folly of current Republican positions.
Gerson and Wehner are also over-confident about the prospects of Republican recovery because of controlling the House and a majority of governorships. This is due to a combination of gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities, and the electoral advantages for the party which dominates in small rural states. More people voted for Democratic Congressmen than Republican in 2012 but that was not enough to give Democrats a majority in actual House seats. Republicans dominate in state governments due to a combination of victories which were probably an aberration in 2010 and because of holding a large number of small states.
While demographics present a problem for Republicans, in the long run their platform is what harms them more. Republican politicians and the media outlets they control talk about issues in terms which do well in polls and focus groups, regardless of actual Republican policies. While they do still fool a significant number of low-information voters, enough voters see through their propaganda. Republicans cannot win by claiming to be the party of small government when they are the ones who support a government which intrudes in the private lives of individuals. Cutting the deficit polls well, but that does not help Republicans among informed voters who understand that in recent years the deficit problem is the fault of Republican economic policies. Similarly Republican fantasies of winning in 2012 because of the economy didn’t come true because informed voters realized that it is Republican policies which are to blame for the recession and for slowing economic recovery.
Republicans have electoral problems as their history of promoting racism and xenophobia is now back-firing against them and because of promoting policies which are unpopular with most voters. Blaming this on racial changes among the electorate as opposed to understanding the faults their entire message will not help the Republicans recover.