The Top Five Reasons The GOP’s Whites-Only Strategy Will Not Work

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It seems like the votes are in and the GOP, despite a brief post-election dalliance with moving to the center and reaching out to minorities, has decided to double down on its “white voters uber alles” strategy. I wrote earlier about the dubious Republican prospects for attaining ever-higher levels of white support and, last Friday, Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal had a detailed assessment of these prospects, including a lot of good new data from the exit polls.

The gist? They’re dim. Here are the top five reasons, in ascending order, why the Republican Party can’t win in the long-run by relying on its current white base:

5. White voters are increasingly likely to be single and secular. The idea that the GOP can get higher and higher levels of support from white voters presupposes that the white population is likely to get ever-more conservative and therefore inclined to vote Republican. But what if the reverse is true? Two factors that could make the white population more liberal are family and religion. Thirty five percent of white voters in 2012 were unmarried, compared to 30 percent in 1984. Unmarried whites are far more likely to vote Democratic than married ones.

And in just a five year span from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of whites who are religiously unaffiliated rose from 15 to 20 percent. According to Brownstein, Democrats have averaged a 32 point advantage with white secular voters since 2000.

4. A smaller and smaller proportion of white voters are working class. Working class or non-college educated voters are among the most conservative white voters, regularly giving Republicans a 12-14 point larger margin than they receive among white college graduates. But white working class voters are declining precipitously as a share of voters (down from 54 to 36 percent between 1988 and 2012) while white college graduates are increasing their share (from 31 to 36 percent over the same time period). That means that the white working class is also declining as a share of white voters. Back in 1988, 64 percent of white voters were white working class; by 2012, that figure had dropped to just half of white voters. This trend is likely to continue for many years making the white vote a harder not easier target for GOP appeals.

3. The rise of the Millennial generation. The Millennial generation, as has been widely documented, is the most liberal generation in the electorate by a considerable margin. This is also true of white Millennials—they are considerably more progressive than their older counterparts. In the last two elections, the Republic margin among white Millennials has averaged 20 points below that among white voters as a whole. And Millennials are becoming a larger and larger proportion of the white electorate with every passing year. By the time the 2020 election is held, they’ll make up about two out of every five (37 percent) of all white voters.

2. White Republicans are too concentrated in the most conservative areas of the country. Even assuming Republicans can get past the factors above and continue inflating the national support among whites, that will not necessarily yield success against Democrats’ domination of the electoral college. As Brownstein points out, “Romney’s national margins among the various groups of white voters are inflated by Obama’s utter collapse in the country’s most conservative regions, particularly the South.” This chart makes his point plainly — Obama did much better among white voters in competitive states than in the South or Appalachia:

whites by state

1. Every year, the pool of white voters shrinks. The most important reason why the GOP’s desperate quest to squeeze ever more voters out of the white population is doomed to fail is that every year there are fewer of them. How Republicans can look at charts like this one:


Or this one:


and still place their faith in a white people forever strategy is beyond me. But they do.

Republicans seem to think they will soon be matching the Gipper’s 64 percent share of the white vote in his 1984 re-election victory and then some. But, as Karl Rove (!) put it, “it’s unreasonable to expect Republicans to routinely pull numbers that last occurred in a 49-state sweep.” Unreasonable the white voters strategy may be, but since when has that stopped the contemporary Republican party from believing something?