In September I put up Andrew Hacker’s review in NYRB of the Pew “Trends in American Values: 1987-2012: Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years.” It seems to explain what the republicans never understood, particularly with regard to the nature of independent voters.
Hacker leads off with a quiz: during the past century, how many Republican challengers have unseated Democratic presidents? Out of six attempts only one, Ronald Reagan, was able to do so. The reason is that Republicans have yet to achieve a majority of voters willing to declare the GOP as their party. In fact, this recent round of partisan purges has left the GOP with shrinking numbers of faithful loyalists. When Pew asked potential voters what party they identified with in 1990, 31% said Republican, compared with 24% today. Democrats also lost a point since 1990, down to 32% today. But independents swelled from 29% to 38%.
With Paul Ryan on board to bolster what can only be seen as a lack of love for Romney-the-candidate by GOP strategists, the campaign, and thus the party, is going all-in on extreme right-wing positions, leaving the center to the Democrats. Ryan’s hatred of “entitlements” and his extreme social conservatism may endear him to the party ideologues, but it raises hell with the electorate:
In 1987, 62% of Republicans favored some kind of social safety net and 58% saw some good in unions. Today, it is down to 40% and 43% respectively.
In 1992, 86% favored some form of environmental regulation; today that number is down to 47%.
A nine point increase in Independents and a 7 point drop in declared Republicans indicates a mass defection since 1990.
This puts Republicans in a deep hole, leaving them in the position of attacking everything the democrats do, and proposing nothing – at least nothing that appeals to a broader electorate. They relentlessly attack PPACA, yet fail to understand that PPACA helps not only those with marginal incomes, but also the middle class (40% of those earning over $90K and 60% aged 50 to 64 have cut back on needed medical attention because of cost.) Their attacks affect all classes; SS and Medicare recipients, folks on assisted living, aid for children with disabilities, potential college students, etc.
Hacker says the GOP has been the party of the top “bosses” since Reconstruction, aligning itself with the 1% and relying on divisive issues around race, abortion, the 2nd Amendment, foreign threats and immigration to win elections. The Pew study shows that, today, Independents are much closer to Democrats, particularly around issues like the concentration of wealth, Wall Street regulation, the use of military power and who is to blame for mortgage defaults.
If party loyalty is shrinking among voters, then the answer must be to shrink the number of eligible Democrat voters, giving us this recent round of voter suppression. Hacker supplies some interesting numbers on this as well:
A passport will allow anyone to vote, but half of adult Americans don’t have one.
City dwellers of a Democratic persuasion are less likely to have a driver’s license.
One-fifth of all persons aged 18 to 21 do not have a driver’s license – that’s 3,335,254 potential voters.
Of persons aged 75 or older, 4,738,013 no longer have valid licenses.
The Republicans, of course, have much more money to spend, and they have a hard line conservative SCOTUS to back them up, if necessary. None of this is an easy road for Democrats, but it would indicate that the key to a Democrat victory lies, as always, in maximum voter turnout.