Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Barack Obama has been re-elected as the President of the United States, whilst Congress remains divided, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats retaining a majority in the Senate. This piece, the third of four, will consider the effect that Obama’s ascendancy to the White House has had on the GOP.
After only two years in the US Senate and few legislative accomplishments, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Despite initially being viewed as an outsider, Obama surprisingly beat Senator Hilary Clinton to the Democratic Party nomination, and then proceeded to emphatically win the national election against Republican nominee Senator John McCain. Under the broad umbrella of ‘hope’ and ‘change’, Obama won 69.4m votes, compared to McCain’s haul of 59.9m votes. This compares to the 2004 Presidential election, where the Republican incumbent George W. Bush received 62.0m votes, whilst his Democratic challenger John Kerry obtained only 59.0m votes. In spite of economic woes dogging his first term, and a popular revulsion at his health care insurance reforms, President Obama maintained a decent margin in the 2012 election, winning 62.2m votes, whilst former Governor of Massachusetts and asset management magnate Mitt Romney gained only 58.8m votes. Romney failed to enliven and encourage the nation with his platform for economic revalorisation, and ebbed below McCain’s popularity. After another disappointing result for the Republican candidate against a punctured incumbent, we must examine the vitality of the Republican Party.
Economist and historian Thomas Sowell said that: “In politics, it doesn’t matter what the facts, what matters is what people believe, because people vote based on what they believe, and not based on what the facts are.” The commonly-held perceptions of the Republican Party are astounding. Gallup performed a survey with USA Today that asked American citizens whether a Presidential term by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would benefit certain groups. Only 25% of those polled believed a Romney presidency would be beneficial to racial and ethnic minorities, compared to 67% for a second Obama term. There was a similar trend for low-income Americans (Obama 66%, Romney 30%) and women (Obama 57%, Romney 25%). Conversely, 75% of the people polled believed that President Romney would be better for upper-income Americans than President Obama, who received this honour from only 20% of polled Americans.
This demarcation between the Republicans and Democrats along the lines of income, race and gender is quite profound when comparing the results of 2008 general election and 2010 mid-term election. According to the Wall Street Journal, of those people that voted, 56% of women voted for Obama-Biden in 2008, whereas only 43% of women voted for the McCain-Palin Republican ticket. This was closed to 50% of women voting Democrat in 2010, with the Republican vote swelling to 48%. 55% of men voted Republican in 2010, whilst only 48% backed McCain in 2008. There was a huge racial divide in voting patterns, with a massive 95% of black Americans supporting Obama in 2008, declining to 90% for the Democrat Party in 2010. Hispanics and Asian Americans also favoured the Democrats in both elections, taking at least 58% of the votes of both groups. The voting divisions between income groups are also large: in 2010, 58% of Americans on less than $30,000 annually voting Democrat, whilst 62% of Americans with a yearly income of over $200,000 voting for the Republicans. The Democrat Party also appears to be able to seek and capture the younger vote better, whilst the Republican Party has consolidated its popularity amongst older Americans.
The Republicans are seen as damaging to the prospects of women, ethnic minorities and Americans with low-incomes, and this is deeply reflected in the voting patterns. It is severely depressing that the Party of Lincoln, of the emancipation of the slaves, of the Fourteenth Amendment and of the Fifteen Amendment which established citizenship for slaves and removed race as a barrier to voting, respectively; of the first black Congressmen, the party that opposed the Jim Crow laws and so on, would be perceived as toxically racist. It need not necessarily be true that all, or even most Republicans, harbour any ill-will or seek to diminish these groups in their actual policies or beliefs. What matters is that voters have that burning conception of the Republican Party, and that there is enough oxygen to keep that belief alive. As an example of the Republican’s ‘war on women’, Democrats could easily point to the protestations of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who claimed that: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
There are numerous conclusions that could be drawn from these observations. After President Obama’s re-election, historian Allan Lichtman said: “Women and minorities put Barack Obama over the top, and there should be a big, huge red-letter warning sign for Republicans that they can’t just win with their Protestant base. We are increasingly becoming a non-white nation.” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, offered: “I think the Republicans have to recognise that they have to get beyond their echo chamber and actually make inroads with other groups, because there are a lot of pre-conceived notions about the Republicans that some minority groups harbour, and it’s up to Republicans to reach out and sort of change that perception.”
However, demography is not always destiny. Whilst it has been the case in recent years that voting has been increasingly fractured along such lines, it is not necessarily true that this trend will continue stretching far into the future. The fundamental message of the Republican Party: of individual liberty, of self-perseverance, of firm adherence to the United States Constitution; is one that can capture both the mind and heart of the nation, regardless of race, class or creed. Even if the reality never quite matched the rhetoric, particularly in the militarised War on Drugs, this is the message that elevated Ronald Reagan to the Presidency, winning 525 Electoral College votes (out of 538) in 1984, the highest of any President ever.
The problem for the Republicans is that their fundamental message has been muddied by the policies of the Bush administration, which is understandably the last gauge of how the party handled itself in high office. Instead of free markets, federal spending and regulation swelled and regaled, with the American banking system and auto industries received the largest bailout in history. Instead of free people, Americans were increasingly surveyed and pervaded by the ubiquitous and powerful PATRIOT Act. Thankfully, the Republican’s reputation for free trade was undiminished, with President Bush signing multiple Free Trade agreements into law during his eight years in office.
Like most large political parties, the Republican Party is a broad umbrella, including libertarians, neoconservatives, and moderates, religious and social conservatives. Each of these factions is likely to argue that exaltation of their faction and expulsion of other factions will inexorably lead to electoral success. Whilst Republicans claim that President Obama and the Democrat Party are dividing the country, they need to not divide themselves. The Grand Old Party must get grander.