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Guest Thinkers

Why Is the Republican Party Driving Away Voters?

As I’ve noted before, long-term demographic trends in the U.S. work against the Republican Party. As Michael Grunwald put it, the country is steadily becoming “less white, less rural, less Christian.” That shift may explain some of the Tea Party’s sense that they need to “take back” their country. But in the long run it means that traditionally Republican voters are disappearing, especially as generally conservative elderly voters die off and are replaced by a generally liberal new generation.

That’s what makes it so surprising that Republicans aren’t doing more to broaden their base. Instead of courting groups like Hispanics—many of whom are socially quite conservative—Republicans support immigration policies that alienate them, In many cases, they have even played upon fears of non-whites and immigrants for short-term political gain. They are doing this even though the number of Hispanics in the U.S. is rapidly growing, with Hispanics now accounting for around a sixth of the population and nearly a quarter of the population 17 and younger. In fact, instead of courting Hispanics, at least one conservative group tried to convince them not to vote at all.

Now, by targeting public sector unions, Republicans are driving away many of the blue-collar whites that helped them win victories in the last election. Their attempts to scapegoat public employees for fiscal and economic problems they did not cause have turned many of these so-called “Reagan Democrats” against them. As E.J. Dionne points out, recent polls suggest that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would lose if the election were rerun today, and Ohio Governor John Kasich’s approval rating has fallen to just 30%.

Increasingly, the Republican Party is a coalition of rich whites and evangelical Christians. That won’t be enough to win many national elections. In the short term, Republicans may be able to score political points and energize their increasingly narrow base by targeting Hispanics and blue-collar workers. But if they don’t make a real effort to appeal to new voters soon, the party is increasingly going to find itself on the margins of American politics.

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