It’s hard to analyze the meaning of elections until years later, so I can’t come out and say whether this election was a deep “realignment” or just simply a repudiation of the Bush administration – but we can look at raw numbers.
Regardless, the Republican Party has a lot of work to do.
For starters, the Republican Party no longer seems national in scope. It has become a regional political party boxed in the South and the Midwest: the Republican “L.” The last Republican congressman from the Northeast, Christopher Shays, lost, giving Democrats total control over the region.
The Rocky Mountains, formerly a Republican stronghold, fell to the Democrats, all by comfortable margins, and Republicans lost both of the contested Senate seats there badly. The Rust Belt too went to the Democrats. Only the South and the Midwest kept their red streak, and even there Republicans saw some close calls and lost reliable Virginia and North Carolina.
This in itself is not a reason to claim doomsday, as Clinton’s winning 1992 map looked surprisingly similar, only to go back to the Republicans eight years later.
But the demographic trends are more alarming.
Not only has the Republican Party turned into a regional party, but it has also turned into a white party, according to CNN. Whites made up 74 percent of the electorate, and McCain won them by 12 points. Yet every other racial group was an Obama rout – Hispanics and Asians went Democratic by 67 percent and 62 percent respectively, and African-Americans went for Obama by 95 percent. These numbers are not statistical noise or slight differences – they are a strong repudiation of the Republican Party by every minority group.
What’s more alarming is that we can’t even credit Obama’s win to a massive turnout of young, new, black voters. Compared to 2004, the 18-29 age group, the new voter group and the black voter group all stayed constant as far as percentage share of the electorate goes. And while Obama did advance the Democrats’ turnout machine, the Republicans did a good job as well, keeping the demographics roughly the same.
So for the most part, the Republican Party was struck down by exactly the same electorate that voted for George W. Bush just four years ago. And in an America that is only growing more racially diverse, the Republicans are on the wrong side of the fence.
That’s not to say Republican ideas are dead. The percentage of voters who call themselves “conservative” stayed constant from 2004 to 2008 (34 percent), with still only 21 percent identifying as “liberal.”
But the GOP needs to start marketing itself to minorities and young people. We need to start getting innovative on how to reduce college tuition. We need to start paying more attention to environmental concerns. We need to let all Americans know how conservative economic ideas can make everyone better off – and if we have to add a dose of populism to that argument, so be it.
On the social issues, we need to stop screaming about hot-button topics and instead broaden our focus on morality and family values – how can we lower divorce rates? How can we increase education rates? No doubt abortion and gay marriage are still important issues to many. Yet if we tailor ourselves to narrow political issues, we can only expect narrow political results.
I have no doubt that we can dust ourselves off. In a time when we need to broaden our competitiveness on the electoral and demographic map, we also need to broaden our political scope.
There will be people who will resist this call for change, but who knows what 2012 will bring. Maybe the Republican Party will be able to run faster than Barack Obama. But we cannot run faster than history.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist and a member of the College Republicans executive board.