The Republicans are in slow-motion demographic crisis

Dr Joel Rogers de WaalAcademic Director, YouGov
November 08, 2012, 12:00 PM GMT+0

According to GOP Policy Chairman Jason Whitman, you can blame the Tea Party for this week’s failure by Republicans to win control of the US Senate. Or at least that was the suggestion when he tweeted ‘thanks’ to the Party’s candidate for Missouri, Todd Akin, ‘for helping us lose the Senate’.

Akin was one of two Tea Party favourites, alongside Richard Mourdock, the GOP’s Senate candidate for Indiana, who should have won but didn’t after killing their campaigns with controversial remarks about rape and religion.

If the Obama Team struggled this time to ignite the buzz of previous elections, then so did the Tea Party, in a movement that originated as a thoughtful renaissance of secular, founding ideals and got broadly hijacked by religious populists and knee-jerk political lock-steppers.

Beyond choosing a Tea Party poster-boy for running-mate, much of the Hard Right profile that Mitt Romney developed to win the Republican Primaries subsequently faded as he reincarnated into a centrist Republican. In a gracious speech proclaiming the need to “reach across the aisle and do the people’s work”, Romney also ended his election bid with a clear appeal to temper the kind of Congressional deadlock that has come to epitomise the avowed approach to government by many Tea Party activists and fellow travellers since 2010.

Beyond the ensuing debate, however, about how much help or hindrance these elements bring to Republican electability, the course of American conservatism faces an arguably larger problem of slow-motion demographic crisis, as highlighted by last night’s election results, which could significantly diminish the party’s relevance to American society over the next 30 years.

YouGov surveyed approximately 36,000 Americans in the final week of the Presidential race, calling the right victor in every state bar Florida, where results still fell well inside the margin of error, showing a one-point lead for Mitt Romney.

Omitting the small number of ‘Don’t knows’ and supporters of minor candidates, YouGov’s final survey results show that support for Romney was stronger among male respondents (54% for Romney v. 46% for Obama), white respondents (58% for Romney v. 42% for Obama), and older respondents (54% for Romney v. 46% for Obama among those aged 45-64 and 62% for Romney v. 38% for Obama among those aged 65+), while support for Obama in this sample was stronger among female respondents (44% for Romney v. 56% for Obama), black respondents, (7% for Romney v. 93% for Obama), Hispanic respondents, (38% for Romney v. 62% for Obama), and younger respondents (35% for Romney v. 65% for Obama among those aged 18-29 and 41% for Romney v. 59% for Obama among those aged 30-44).

These results help to confirm wider analysis, namely that Republicans secured a base among male, white, older, higher-income and more evangelical voters, while Democrats held on to younger, African-American, female and Jewish voters (albeit with varyingly smaller margins than in 2008), as well as increasing support among Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

There could be a serious, long-term problem for the Republican Party implied by these results. As the late Samuel Huntington noted in his last major book “Who Are We?”, (which like others managed to stir its fair share of heated debate), levels of American immigration after 1965 have differed from previous periods in at least two vital ways: first, in being both high and continuous by the country’s own standards, when previous waves were either low and continuous or high and sporadic; and second, in being less diverse and more consistently Latin American.

Huntington duly focused his analysis on California, predicting that by 2040, its population could have transitioned from that of 57% White and 26% Hispanic in 1990 to being 31% White and 48% Hispanic. Interestingly, while the state voted Republican in every Presidential election between the late 1960s and the end of the 1980s, it has voted Democrat consistently ever since.

Nearly ten years after Huntington published his thesis on the changing nature of American identity, social scientists continue to debate his predictions, but they doubtless helped to energise a debate with long-term implications for the GOP.

As it stands, roughly 63% of America is white. But White America is currently shrinking, and non-white America will only continue to grow its proportion of the electorate, by some predictions leaving whites in the minority in at least ten states by 2020, and representing less than half of the overall population by the 2040s.

The United States Census Bureau officially announced this year that white births are no longer a majority in the United States. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6% of all births in the 12-month period ending in July 2012, while minorities including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race reached 50.4%, making them a majority for the first time in America’s history.

Republican and Tea Party pundits have talked about the potential for these burgeoning groups to change their voting preferences over time.

But the GOP clearly risks long-term demographic suicide if its leaders continue their love-hate relationship with the centre without finding more imaginative ways to meet these voters halfway.

See YouGov's final pre-election analysis

See YouGov's final survey results and further analysis of how Obama won