09 November 2012

What really happened, and what will happen next

This is NOT what America looks like
Here's my election post-mortem.  Do with it what you will.

First of all, Democrats definitely deserve to take a victory lap, but the reports of the GOP's death are greatly exaggerated.  More than 58 million Americans voted for Gov. Romney.  The American economy is NOT in great shape (though it's better than it was 4 years ago). The GOP has a well-defined base, and they completely control large swaths of the country.  Their agenda includes policy arguments that will likely always resonate well - lower taxes, limited government interference, and individual responsibility. Evangelical Republicans didn't stay at home, despite their religious differences with the Republican nominee.

Republicans still control the House of Representatives (despite losing 6 seats), and they have enough Senators to block virtually any piece of legislation or nomination that attempts to move through it. There are currently 29 Republican Governors.

Second, while I stand by everything I wrote in my previous post, the GOP theories on 2012 turnout were not completely outlandish.  Wrong, sure, but not all that crazy.   If one looks at the demographics of voter turnout over the last few decades, minority and youth participation in 2008 is arguably an "outlier."  It's not insane to think there will be a return to the mean if you simply look at plots on a chart. William Frey at the Brookings Institute essentially forecast the relevant election scenarios back in May. It included a scenario in which demographics resembled 2004 turnout.

But here's where the GOP thinking begins to break down, and the cultural isolation of this community really hurts them.  The consensus of professional, independent pollsters said 2008 wasn't an outlier, it was a tipping point.  It appears the GOP discounted the information that didn't align with their theory, and instead let things like larger crowds at rallies instill a sort of confirmation bias.

Further, the GOP has clearly known about demographic shifts for years.  But look at how the two major political parties have reacted to it. In short, Democrats have tried to grow their base, while Republicans have tried to change the rules.

Democrats have developed incredibly sophisticated outreach strategies to communities that reflect America's growing diversity, and more importantly, their agenda has evolved to reflect this diversity.  Democrats now largely support civil rights for the GLBT community, more investments in education and healthcare, and a progressive tax system that also rewards home ownership and investments in predominantly minority areas.  They have leveraged social media and information technology in a way that reflects a bottom-up approach - letting community members organize among their own and contribute to an effort in their own way - all the while grabbing every scrap of information they can get about how that community lives.

Republicans, on the other hand, have taken steps to limit the influence of these diverse communities.  Republican state legislatures and Governors have redrawn congressional district lines to minimize the impact of minority and low-income voters. They have invoked the fiction of a "voter fraud" epidemic to pass laws requiring certain forms of photo ID to vote - knowing that low-income, elderly, minorities, and students (i.e., people more likely to support Democratic positions and candidates) are the least likely to have it.  They have reduced the number of "early voting" hours and limited resources at polling places in minority neighborhoods, forcing people in those precincts to wait for hours - outside, in November - to vote.

More than anything, however, Republicans have tried to limit the influence of minorities through immigration policy.  Their proposals offer no path to citizenship and create situations that would likely force many young people born in the United States (and by definition, citizens) to leave because their parents lack appropriate status.

They haven't invested in research or technology or outreach the way Democrats have, because frankly, they haven't seen the need.  They know their community well, they know what it wants, and they basically trust it to come out to vote.

At least some of these GOP moves have worked.  The proof: while Democratic congressional candidates received more votes than Republican congressional candidates, the GOP still controls the House by a relatively comfortable margin.

But we also learned that the GOP plan isn't sustainable.   Here is the racial demographic breakdown of each Presidential candidate, per Slate:

The Obama coalition of support looks a lot more like America today - and more importantly, looks even more like America 5 or 10 years from now.  Further, look at the age distribution of the two candidates, per CNN:

So what is the Republican strategy for survival?  The easy stuff first:

They will invest in research and technology.  They are light years behind the Democrats - or more specifically, the Obama campaign - in this area.  It's funny - some people I respect told me I should look at a book about President Obama, calling him an amateur.  The only truly amateurish thing I can find in this election is the Romney campaign's approach to technology - it was, according to the most ardent supporters of the Romney campaign, an unmitigated disaster.  This is something the Republicans can and will fix, relatively quickly.

They will try to tweak district lines again. This isn't easy, but the GOP knows how to do this and they will definitely leverage their existing advantage in state legislatures and Governorships.  Redistricting is also one of those really boring and complex issues that the media can't get very excited about, so they can do it without much attention. This is only a short-term solution for them, however; before too long no amount of re-drawing lines will be able to confine population changes.

They will recruit younger candidates. To appeal to a younger population, you need younger voices. The trends aren't going in their direction, but 58 million voters should likely yield a few good young conservatives.  Again, let's not go crazy and suggest the GOP is dead.

They will do more media training for candidates.  Let's face facts: the GOP lost seats it should have won simply because their candidates said some profoundly stupid things, particularly on abortion rights and rape.  I don't think they are going to change their position on these issues, but I do think they will invest heavily in "explaining" their positions better.

The harder stuff:

They will examine their leadership. There is a fight in the GOP right now - do they want the most conservative candidate, or the conservative most likely to win? They don't know.  Once they settle on an approach, they will determine their leaders and their tactics.

They will soften their position on immigration. This won't be easy, but the GOP sees the writing on the wall.  Even the Cuban-American community in Florida- the one Latino community the GOP claimed as their own - sent a Democrat to Congress.  The GOP thinks they can build support among Latinos on social issues and on small business issues.  But to get in the door with this community, they have to relent on immigration.  It's that simple.

And finally:

They will look to bounce back in 2014.  There is little doubt the GOP will anticipate an older, more white turnout in the off-year election.  That's the historic trend.  They will not attempt to reinvent themselves, but they will try to say that the 2014 vote is a "return to normal."

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