For some time now, the minority vote has not meant much to major party candidates. Since whites and older Americans have historically constituted a majority of the electorate, minority voters have mattered little to the overall outcome of elections at the presidential level. In many ways, they were like “gravy” or “icing” rather than the centerpiece of the electoral meal. However, the results of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections have raised questions about how the changing demographics in America might cause a paradigm shift in the party strategies we know today. This is an especially curious issue as it pertains to the Republican Party. What lessons will they draw from their major losses in 2008 and 2012?
The Republican Party and Minorities
Many commentators and bloggers have credited women and other groups with the success President Obama achieved on Tuesday. But, further analysis of young, religious, and female voters shows that within those groups, subsets of racial minorities caused the overwhelming victory for the President. This means that Blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans have continued to shift election outcomes. Each cycle, these groups have both grown larger and maintained support for the Democratic Party. Therefore, when support for a Republican candidate diminishes among white voters, minority voters become more and more important. And, the parties are aware of this. Hence, the effort to suppress minority voters in Republican leaning states this election.
Since the Republican Party has, recently, focused its marketing and platform efforts on white and older voters, these shifts in racial diversity pose a unique problem for the Grand Old Party. Even with only slight support from whites and Evangelicals, President Obama was able to overcome Romney. What is most interesting about Republican Party is that, even with 2008 as a benchmark, they continued to alienate half of the country throughout the campaign season. Romney himself was taped making derogatory comments about half of the electorate. And, instead of coming out and saying the comments were wrong, he instead gave the political response that he wanted to be president for all Americans. How could a party that estranges 50% of the electorate ever really appeal to the average voter? Well, it can’t at least not right now.
What Does 2012 Mean for 2016?
After the final votes were called, Romney supporters continued to denigrate President Obama’s voting base. But, aside from all that, it is uncertain how the Republican Party will regroup after this week’s shellacking. How will they address the issues that are important to this changing demographic? Several key social issues will be important in 2016 that the Democratic Party has taken the lead on thus far.
Though immigration was not dealt with in great detail during the 2012 election cycle, President Obama’s June announcement regarding the DREAM Act has been widely supported by Latino voters. The GOP has done little to address immigration reform and has even worked against this very popular piece of legislation. To have a competitive platform in 2016, they will have to take a hard stand on immigration reform. But, if they stick with “self-deportation” or no amnesty under any circumstance, they will likely continue to distance themselves from Latino voters.
On Tuesday, Maine and Maryland voted to legalize same sex marriage. And, in the past few years, gay marriage has been on the ballot over thirty times. Not only that, but history was made this week as the first openly gay US Senator won her election in Wisconsin. The Republican Party benefits from a major coalition of religious groups, especially Evangelicals, who are against same sex marriage. But, these groups are not substantial enough to win an election on their own. Over the next few years, same sex marriage will probably be on the ballot again in several states. So, if the GOP holds on to their aversion for same sex marriage and gay rights in general, younger and more racially diverse voters may continue to disassociate themselves with the Party.
Middle Class Issues
This might be the easiest issue to address over the next four years. President Obama has laid the groundwork with health care reform, educational reform, as well as consumer protection assistance. Under this administration, major efforts have been made to address bread-and-butter issues that the average voter cares about. But, continued stalwart politicking and stonewalling at the Capitol has made Congress look incapable of handling these issues productively. In a sense, the President has been the only voice on topics of concern to the Middle Class. And, Republicans would gain from increased visibility here.
Shockingly enough, this may be the subject that becomes more and more imperative as voters get younger, less religious, and more racially diverse. The votes in Washington State and Colorado proved this week that there is increasing support for legalization of marijuana. Marijuana legalization is typically supported by progressives but the Republican Party has been staunchly against it. To add, the GOP has attempted to legislate reproduction rights as well. Since these are seen as personal, not governmental issues, the Republican Party will have to evolve with the changing foci of the American voting public.
In all, the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 provide insight into the ever changing perspectives of the electorate. But, that does not necessarily guarantee that those insights will be converted into lasting lessons. Plus, given that 2016 opens the door for a variety of candidates and campaign strategies, there may yet be contingencies left to consider. Same sex marriage rights could pass in additional states. Or, the Republican Party could moderate after the Tea Party is further rejected by voters. These outcomes could drastically alter the level of support among Blacks and Latinos. Though, one thing is certain, Blacks and Latinos will become increasingly important to major national candidates both at the senatorial and presidential level. And, if the GOP wants to have a fighting chance, they’re going to have to appeal to voters in these groups in a real, lasting, and viable way.