It's All Politics
1:06 am
Mon November 5, 2012

America's Changing Face Presents Challenges For The GOP

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 7:07 am

The final days of an election cycle bring an obsession with the short term — the very short term. Daily tracking polls. A relentless get-it, post-it, blog-it news cycle. Trending topics on Twitter telling us something (though it's not always clear what).

But for just a moment, let's slow it down, look at what's happening over a somewhat longer time frame, and see what it tells us about what the country will look like for the winner of the presidential race.

The Long View

Paul Taylor at the Pew Research Center, for one, has been taking the long view — the very long view.

"Well, one way to think about America is we are in midpassage of a big, centurylong demographic change," Taylor says.

We are steadily moving toward the day when minorities will be the majority. In 1950, the country was 87 percent white. Taylor says that number will dip below 50 percent by 2050.

"Every year it ticks a little more. If you think about it in terms of the electorate, you know every year about 3 million new people age into the electorate and age into the workforce, and every year about 3 million people age out — which is a euphemism for they leave this vale of tears," Taylor says. "The people leaving are predominantly white. The people coming in are heavily nonwhite."

The growing percentage of the population that is minority comes thanks to a fast-growing Hispanic population as well as a steady increase in the number of Americans of Asian descent. All of this has an effect on politics.

"Republicans are 90 percent white. Democrats are only about 60 percent white," says Pew Research's Andy Kohut. "The Republicans have a white problem — or a lack of diversity problem. It's not apparent in this election so far, but over time, the changing face of America is going to represent more of a challenge to the GOP than to the Democrats."

Minorities overwhelmingly favor Democrats. That trend is likely enhanced by President Obama's status as the nation's first black president. In this election, African-American support for Obama tops 90 percent. Polls show Hispanics supporting the president by better than 2 to 1.

As for white voters, polls show they prefer Republicans. They went 55 percent for John McCain four years ago, and this year Mitt Romney is doing just as well or even better among whites.

The GOP's Problem

At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., not far from Washington, D.C., sophomore Alan Williams is handing out campaign information for the College Democrats. Williams is African-American. He says he likes the fact that long-term demographic shifts are already helping Democrats in places like Colorado and Nevada and may help down the road in solid red states like Texas.

"As a Democrat, I think I'm excited that this is happening because, hey, it's looking good for us, and I think it definitely goes back to the statement that we are the party that represents America," Williams says. "And I just see the gap; the gap is getting much larger for us."

Republicans have long had difficulty winning over African-Americans, but many in the party are frustrated that they don't do better with Hispanics. They say the Latino focus on family and faith makes the GOP a natural fit. But that is more than offset by hardline GOP positions on immigration. There have been warnings from prominent Hispanic Republicans, including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"The way the party deals with issues like immigration — let me take that back: The way the party talks about issues like immigration is going to impact the future course of this party and the future course of this nation," Gonzales said.

Gonzales' old boss, President George W. Bush, tried to push his party to a more moderate stance on immigration reform — to no avail.

Generation Gap

In addition to demographic changes, we're also seeing big generational differences of opinion become apparent. Older voters are typically more conservative on social issues. Marge Janus and her husband, both retirees, were at a Romney rally in Denver this month.

"We have a lot of economic concerns and we have a lot of moral concerns about abortion and gay rights and a lot of things. We can't think of anything we really agree with President Obama on. We're very concerned that he's done a lot of damage to our economy and just the way people are looking at a lot of moral issues," Janus says.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of young voters backed Obama four years ago. They are far more likely than people older than 50 to be in favor of same-sex marriage and to support an activist government. But they also have doubts about the future of social security and worries about job prospects.

"The 20-something, the early 30-something that can't get started in life, they're not starting families, they're not buying homes, they don't have careers to launch," Taylor says. "Will they be disillusioned?"

That's the potential trouble spot for Democrats and something Republicans see as an opportunity.

In Iowa a couple of weeks ago, a Romney campaign volunteer worked a neighborhood in a Des Moines suburb.

Joel Anderson, 23, answered the door of his parents' house. Anderson is a young man from a GOP household who voted Republican for president and Congress. But he told me that down the ticket in legislative races, he voted for Democrats. He said Republicans in the statehouse are too obsessed with issues like gay marriage, which is legal in Iowa.

As a younger voter who can be won over on economic issues but who is turned off by the GOP on social issues, Anderson represents both opportunity and risk for the Republican Party.

The New Partisanship

Kohut points to another change that defines the electorate today: issues that didn't used to be partisan, but that are now very partisan. Take the environment: Twenty years ago, Republicans and Democrats alike overwhelmingly saw stricter laws to protect the environment as necessary. Today, it's a different picture.

"In 2012, the Republican number has fallen from 87 to 47 percent, and the Democratic number remains at 93 percent. It's a measure of the way in which the parties are now different on a variety of issues. That was not the case 15, 20 years ago," Kohut says.

Kohut says the litmus tests for each party are getting stronger and more numerous: climate change, abortion, gay marriage, taxes and more.

For the next occupant of the White House, the United States will be more polarized and more diverse. And all of that will make it more difficult to find consensus.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well, the final days of the election cycle bring with them an obsession with the short-term, the extremely short-term: daily tracking polls, a relentless news cycle.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Trending topics on Twitter telling you something, though not always clear exactly what. This morning, let's take a break from the frantic final moments and consider the bigger picture.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea has a look at how America is changing, and what that means for the winner of this presidential election and future White House candidates.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: While the nature of an election puts so much of the focus on what happens today, right now, Paul Taylor at the Pew Research Center has been taking a much longer view.

PAUL TAYLOR: Well, one way to think about America is we are in mid-passage of a big, century-long demographic change.

GONYEA: We are steadily moving toward the day when minorities will be the majority. In 1950, the country was 87 percent white. Taylor says that number will drop below 50 percent by the year 2050.

TAYLOR: Every year, it ticks a little more. If you think about it in terms of the electorate, you know, every year, about three million new people age into the electorate and age into the work force, and every year, about three million people age out, which is a euphemism for they leave this vale of tears. The people leaving are predominantly white. The people coming in are heavily non-white.

GONYEA: The growing percentage of the population that is minority comes thanks to a fast-growing Hispanic population and a steady increase in the number of Americans of Asian descent. All of this has an effect on politics. Andy Kohut is also with Pew Research.

ANDY KOHUT: Republicans are 90 percent white. Democrats are about - only about 60 percent white. The Republicans have a white problem, or a lack-of-diversity problem. It's not apparent in this election, so far, but over time, the changing face of America is going to represent more of a challenge to the GOP than to the Democrats.

GONYEA: Minorities overwhelmingly favor Democrats, a trend is likely enhanced by President Obama's status as the nation's first black president. African-American support for Mr. Obama is well over 90 percent. Polls show Hispanics back him by better than two-to-one. As for white voters, they prefer Republicans. They went 55 percent for John McCain four years ago, and this year Governor Romney is expected to do just as well among whites.

ALAN WILLIAMS: So, you know, you already know that there's the presidential race. But we also have a race for our congressional seat. We're supporting Gerry Connolly, and then Tim Kaine, who's running for U.S. Senate.

GONYEA: At George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, sophomore Alan Williams is handing out campaign information for the College Democrats. Williams is African-American and says he likes the fact that long-term demographic shifts are already helping Democrats in places like Colorado and Nevada, and down the road, perhaps, in solid-red states like Texas.

WILLIAMS: Oh yeah. I think, as a Democrat, I'm excited that this is happening, because, hey, it's looking good for us. And, you know, I think it definitely goes back to the statement that, you know, we are the party that represents America. And, yeah, I just see the gap - the gap is getting much larger for us.

GONYEA: Republicans problem winning over African-Americans is longstanding, but many in the party are frustrated they don't do better with Hispanics. They say the Latino focus on family and faith makes the GOP a natural fit. But right now, that is more than offset by hard-line GOP positions on immigration. There have been warnings from prominent Hispanic Republicans, including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

ALBERTO GONZALES: The way the party deals with issues like immigration - let me take that back. The way the party talks about issues like immigration is going to impact the future course of this party and the future course of this nation.

GONYEA: Gonzales' old boss, President George W. Bush, tried to push his party to a more moderate stand on immigration reform to no avail. In addition to demographic changes, we're also seeing big generational differences of opinion become apparent. Older voters are typically more conservative on social issues. Marge Janus and her husband, both retirees, were at a Romney rally in Denver this month.

MARGE JANUS: We have a lot of economic concerns and we have a lot of moral concerns about abortion and about gay rights and a lot of things that we can't think of anything we really agree with President Obama on. And we're very concerned that he's done a lot of damage to our economy, and just the way people are looking at a lot of moral issues.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, two-thirds of young voters backed President Obama four years ago. They are far more likely to back same-sex marriage, for example, and more supportive of an activist government. But they also have doubts about the future of Social Security and worries about job prospects. Again, Paul Taylor at Pew Research.

TAYLOR: The 20-something, the early 30-something that can't get started in life, and they're not starting families. They're not buying homes. They don't have careers to launch. Will they be disillusioned?

GONYEA: That's the potential trouble spot for Democrats, and something Republicans see as an opportunity. In Iowa a couple weeks ago, a Romney campaign volunteer worked a neighborhood in a Des Moines suburb.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm dropping off literature for Rob Taylor, and we're just talking about the upcoming election. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

JOEL ANDERSON: Yeah, sure.

GONYEA: Twenty-three-year-old Joel Anderson answered the door of his parent's house.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So, if there was an election for U.S. president today, would you vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?

ANDERSON: I voted for Mitt.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, so, you voted early?

ANDERSON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, excellent. Absentee ballot, or...

ANDERSON: Yes.

GONYEA: So, Anderson represents both opportunity and risk for the GOP. He's a young man who voted Republican for president and Congress. But he then told me that down the ticket in legislative races, he voted for Democrats. He said Republicans in the Iowa State House are too obsessed with issues like banning gay marriage, which is legal in the state.

Pew's Andy Kohut points to another change that defines the electorate today: issues that didn't used to be partisan are now very partisan. Take the environment: 20 years ago, Republicans and Democrats alike overwhelmingly saw stricter laws to protect the environment, as necessary. Today...

KOHUT: In 2012, the Republican number has fallen to 47 percent and the Democratic number remains at 93 percent - a measure of the way in which the parties are now different on a variety of issues. That was not the case 15, 20 years ago.

GONYEA: He says the litmus tests for each party are getting stronger and more numerous: climate change, abortion, gay marriage, taxes. As for what it all means for the occupant of the White House the next four years, it's a more polarized nation and more diverse. And all of that will make it more difficult to find consensus. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: So there's a look at the long-term from our national political correspondent Don Gonyea. You can continue with us to obsess over the short-term, if you like, by following this program on social media. You can find us on Facebook. We're also on Twitter @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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