Stemming the Progressive Tide

Many liberals have come to believe the changing demographics of the nation, using the ’08 and ’12 presidential elections as proof, is leading to an inevitable “bold, progressive future.” The Atlantic reports on a new study by the center left think tank Third Way that says not so fast Democrats, all those demographic numbers are not as they seem. The Third Way policy shop has been described as being “radical centrist” but since it does lean left it adds credibility to their study because this cannot be dismissed as biased work done by a right leaning think tank just to attack Democrats with.

The Atlantic, a mainstream liberal publication, isn’t fully buying this study and tries to shoot holes in it. Some of the evidence is subjective, and while predicting how demographic changes will occur over time is relatively straight forward, knowing how those people will vote in the future is more guess work. Liberals like to think that growing demographic groups, like minorities, will continue to vote for Democrats in the future, and as these groups grow even larger it will insure the left long term electoral success. Adding to the Democrats confidence is that these demographic changes are reaching a tipping point and it’s happening rapidly. The Atlantic story points out that in 2010 77 percent of the electorate was white, by 2012 this had dropped to 72 percent. At this pace, in the next decade or so whites will either no longer be or just barely holding the majority. Certainly by 2030 minorities will constitute a clear majority of the American population, that is less than 17 years away.

One key finding the Third Way study makes is that there is a big part of the American melting pot (people of all demographics) that considers themselves moderate and independent, meaning they don’t have loyalty to one party or the other. Majorities of these people recently have voted for Democrats, but they didn’t vote this way because they are liberal. They identified with the Democrat because they saw that candidate as the more moderate and personally appealing one. The study says there is no reason why those people can’t change their minds later on and vote Republican because they are not really part of the Democrat Party base or loyal to them. I would add to that, Democrats have been much better at staying ahead of these demographic changes by running more quality minority and women candidates than Republicans have. Once the autopsy of the 2012 presidential election was complete, the Republican Party apparatchiks have shown they understand this problem. The question is can they make the needed changes to catch up with the Democrats, and do it without alienating their current base?

The other big part of this “progressive future” for Democrats is the millennial generation, young people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, and the fact they are much more liberal as a group than the nation as a whole. I attribute some of this to liberalism in the public schools, but that is a different issue. The Third Way study points out these young people are not as liberal as they seem, and they are particularly not brand loyal so they will not just keep voting for Democrats because they did in the past. I will at least partially agree with that, and this is based on my own personal anecdotal evidence. I find young people to be more left leaning libertarian than true big government liberals. They are socially left but have a leave me alone attitude. I think in polling and such they may be lumped in with liberals when in fact they really are not. This leave me alone attitude is something Republicans could tap into.

With regard to this brand loyalty issue, just a bit on the Republican brand. To make real inroads into this millennial generation, especially the ones who are not even old enough to vote yet, the Republican Party must find a way to make their brand cool, or hip, to these young people. I can remember in the mid 1990s when I was in my 20s and the political light bulb came on in my head. I looked around at all my peers and realized by being a right winger (granted a libertarian one) I was the rebel in the room. They were all drones babbling the same stone age Democrat talking points liberals were saying in the 1970s. I was the person with the leather jacket on giving the establishment the middle finger, not them, and that inspired me. Somehow the Republicans must capture that and send the message to today’s young people. While this line is horrible, it just came off the top of my head to make a point, something like: REPUBLICANS, not your parent’s Democrat Party! Show them it’s hip to be different. And I am not talking about messaging just the 20 somethings either, I am talking about teenagers who are still a few years away from being old enough to cast a vote. This should be a year in, year out, 24-7 operation because by the time they are 18 many are lost causes due to media influence, public schooling and Democrats doing the same thing. Sometimes though, even some those lost causes can and do change.

The study didn’t say this but it’s mostly true. Every generation of young people are always the most idealistic and looking for change in society, to make the world theirs and take it from the old fuddy duddies. Young folks have always been more liberal than the average and voted for Democrats in larger numbers, at least when they are inspired enough to get out and vote. Then these people grow up, become real adults, turn 30, then 40, somewhere along the line buy a house, have kids, work too much at a job they hate, stress out, pay too much in taxes, and they become cynical of the whole system. It has betrayed them as it always does. They come to a point when they look back on their youth, shake their head and say, “What an idiot I was.” That is when these adults become Republicans, and this will happen to many millennials as they age.

I hate to say that a lot of Republicans are cynical, but I know a lot of Republicans and many of them are quite cynical, including myself. But I was cynical when I was 20, so I may be a poor example. I also know many of these Republicans were Democrats when they were young, and that is my evidence this will also happen to at least some of today’s young people. I just don’t believe the Republican Party has 15 or 20 years to wait on this to happen organically, it needs to be helped along much quicker.

The Republican Party has many ways to continue to be a nationally viable party in the face of these growing demographic and cultural changes. But, they cannot fight these changes, they must roll with them and find ways to make conservative messages appealing to those groups that are driving these changes. Adopting a more libertarian stance on some social issues, like marijuana legalization and gay marriage as examples, could be ways for Republicans to do this without sacrificing what I believe a Constitutional based conservative political ideology is, or should be. I honestly believe that things like legalizing pot, which for the record I have smoked it back in my 20s but haven’t touched it in years, can be looked at as a personal responsibility issue. We are not going to treat you like adult children as Democrats do, you are responsible for your actions. People respect you when you trust their personal judgements as to how they live their own life. To me, this completely fits with conservative thought and can be thrown in the face of Democrats who think the average citizen needs their life micromanaged because they are too stupid and irresponsible to take care of themselves.

Along this same line of thinking, pushing a “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” message would resonate well with today’s young people and even the whole under forty demographic. It would round out this new vision of what a Republican is, a re-introduction of what we are to the American people and the new demographic groups we must reach. In marketing this is called  rebranding, it’s a second chance. In the end though, while the message is is extremely important and must reach the needed audience, it only goes so far. If you do not package and deliver that message properly it will never be heard.

In elections, and this is especially true of modern presidential elections, regardless of party, a charismatic, articulate in delivering their ideological message, confident without seeming politically extreme, young looking-attractive candidate that the voter feels is competent enough for the job and most importantly, one that voter can identify with (I can feel your pain) will beat a candidate that doesn’t have those qualities or cannot express them as well, and/or seems more extreme almost every time. Winning national elections is not about either party’s base because they are locked in (you do have to get them out), it is about winning the independent minded voter who politically lives somewhere in the middle ground. You win that voter by presenting them what I described above. When the Republican Party decides to pick a candidate that meets those qualifications, they will put a Republican in the White House again despite what the American left believes. They do not own that voter, the middle ground, or the message.

The last time the Republicans nominated a candidate that met most of the above requirements was in 1980. While he was not young, he could show a youthful and playful side, and the fact he had all the other qualifications in spades more than made up for his age. Another thing is being older then was not nearly the problem it is for a candidate today. He had a strong message for those times and could deliver it flawlessly. However, that was over a generation ago, times and demographics have changed. Republicans need to stop saying we need another Reagan. What the right needs is a person with Reagan’s skills and abilities who has the appeal and message that fits with the times we live in today.

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