Ever since they took a major hit in the election three weeks ago, Republicans have been discussing how they will face the major demographic shifts that account, at least in part, for their losses. In short, the groups who have traditionally voted for Republicans in the last 20 years—white, older married people—are an increasingly smaller percentage of the population of the United States. Or, less tactfully, they are dying out. As one writer put it: “Contrary to much conventional wisdom, voters do not necessarily grow more conservative as they age; until the last decade, a majority of both younger and older voters both tended to go to the winner of the presidential election.” It’s only at this particular point in our country’s history that older people vote very differently—largely because they are more white, more married, and just plain old more conservative than younger Americans. Each year, fewer of these older people are around to vote.
So how will the Republicans adapt? Members of the Grand Old Party have offered different solutions for how this demographic change can be accommodated. Most have suggested changes to immigration reform policy in the platform to accommodate the increasing numbers of Latino voters; there has even been super-PAC money devoted to the issue. While this certainly makes sense as a step, it will hardly be enough on its own, not just because it only targets one alienated group, but also because, despite a reputation for being socially conservative, most Latinos actually self-identify as both economically and socially liberal on a variety of key issues. A Pew poll from this April found that Latino voters are more likely to identify as liberal than conservative. Although they are more likely to be religious and are more conservative about abortion, they are also more likely to prefer big government and be accepting of homosexuality than the average American.
Latinos are more likely to believe in the importance of hard work compared to their fellow Americans, even as they continue to favor more government involvement. This suggests that preferences for larger government have less to do with wanting “handouts”—higher living standards with less work—and instead reflect perceived benefits of big government that will help those who work hard, especially when it comes to greater economic security and regulation of industries. These are, in fact, increasingly important concerns among many voters, which is why Americans are more divided than ever on issues like environmentalism, support for labor unions, and a social safety net.
In any case, while shifts on immigration policy will probably make the Republican platform more appealing to Latinos, it is unlikely to win them over en masse—not just because Democrats already have a track record of instituting policies popular with Latinos, but also because Democrats more closely match Latino views beyond the issue of immigration.
Less discussed but even more relevant is the need for the Republican Party to appeal to women. While women are naturally not going to make up a different percentage of the population in the coming years, they have, for a variety of demographic reasons, become increasingly likely to vote compared to men. There has been some discussion of how to welcome women into the Republican Party: John McCain recently suggested that the party de-politicize its views on abortion. Although this might help in theory, it’s not so practical because the Republicans must placate a chunk of religious single-issue voters on abortion. Yet there are a variety of other issues about which women have distinct views, like wage discrimination, single parenthood, and the benefits of daycare. The GOP might make better headway in wooing women voters by supporting policies for fair pay or subsidized daycare programs like Head Start.
Although both of these concessions would be a shift toward larger government, they could also be recast as issues about fairness toward hard work and support for families, including single mothers who have chosen not to have abortions. The most right-wing Republicans might howl, but the independents might listen. There are doubtless women and Latinos who want certain kinds of smaller government—the GOP can think carefully about how to provide this while accommodating other concerns.
Sarah C. Stein Lubrano ’13 is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.