Monday, October 14, 2013

Is the Republican Party due for a dramatic platform shift?

I know very few people that claim to vote Republican or Democratic tickets, since they sharply disagree with some parts of each party's platform. For example, lots of people are fiscally conservative, but socially liberal, so they don't fit well within either party's platform. I wonder if one of the next elections will be a realigning election, where the platform of one or both of the parties shifts dramatically, or lots of voters switch sides.

There's more than my anecdotal evidence to support a coming shift--look at the trend of people turning independent since 2008:

Source: Gallop Polls
If we look at the numbers to 2013 October, the trend continues, with a record 47% of people identifying themselves as independent, and only 20% as Republican.

What's driving this shift, and what will the new coalitions look like?

Generational issues are a good place to start. For example, legal gay marriage divides along age, and partly because of this, has become more popular year after year, with a majority thinking it should be legal for the first time this year.
Support for same-sex marriage in the U.S.
[hide]Age% of U.S. population
18–29 years old[67]65
30–49 years old[67]54
50–64 years old[67]45
65+ years old[67]39
All Adults[67]51
May, 2013 Pew Research poll

With fewer and fewer people in favor of restricting legal marriage to heterosexual couples, it seems like the the Republican party will eventually have to abandon that issue. Looking broader, religion in general is also being eroded away by "generational replacement." From Pew research into how people identify themselves religiously (2012):

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones.4 A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.
Note: the un-religious trend (if there is one), hasn't made it to Congress yet, as there is currently only 1 un-affiliated member.

Although the percentage of people claiming to belong to a church has declined from 70% to 59% from '92 to 2012, the percentage that say religion is important in their life has stayed about the same: 58%. So I'm not sure there's a true trend of increased secularism, or people are just shunning organized religion. Either way, a decline in the importance in religious issues (gay marriage, abortion--no trend on this one, though), could have major implications for a future Republican party searching for issues that people will vote on. The Evangelical Christians that helped deliver Bush's 2004 victory may not be so numerous or influential.
The fact that a plurality of respondents to election-day exit polls chose “moral values” as the most important factor in their voting decision created quite a stir among journalists and political observers (Harris 2004), and led many to herald the arrival of the “values voter” as a new force in American politics. George W. Bush and the Evangelicals: Religious Commitment and Partisan Change among Evangelical Protestants, 1960-2004*
Worse, the Evangelicals may switch teams entirely as many prominent leaders are advocating amnesty in the immigration debate. Breaking apart families via deportation doesn't sit well with many who preach the importance of family values. For now, though, Republicans probably don't have much to worry about, as this view isn't reflected by a majority of Evangelicals. A recent poll shows that "63 percent of evangelicals believe the nation “should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries”—20 percent higher than the national average."

The church leaders advocating friendlier immigration policies may just be reflecting their increasingly hispanic congregations better. Romney sites his biggest strategic mistake in not reaching the hispanic community well enough "Half of Hispanics identify with the Democratic Party (50%), compared to 15% who identify with the Republican Party," according to a 2013 poll. Hispanics now make up 17% of the US population, up from 13% in 2000.

In addition to irking religious leaders, the hard stance on immigration is also opposed by Big Business, which want more (cheaper?) labor, both high and low skilled.

And this brings us to the biggest rift in the Republican party: Tea Party vs Establishment. Adding to the Immigration fight is Big Business's concerns over the current shutdown and potential default on our country's debt. The shutdown and uncertainty is doing no good for business at large, and some of the Big Biz supporters that got Republicans elected are thinking about working to help the other side:
Their [Big Biz] frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington. Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over House G.O.P.
Big Business was also in favor of the TARP, auto company bailouts, and if my memory serves, Obamacare, all of which the Tea Party is staunchly opposed to.

And if you include Libertarians in the Republican party, security, privacy and foreign policy provide another dividing line. Libertarians oppose the Patriot Act and the power it gives the government to (potentially?) spy on citizens, and also oppose an interventionist foreign policy. For Libertarians, security is less important than privacy and individual rights. Drug legalization is another issue the pits non-governmental interference against the protective arm of the government.

I'm not the first person to think it's odd that the same party that wants a smaller, less obtrusive government and no gun controls, is OK with the stricter social controls (gay marriage restrictions, illegal drugs?) and more active foreign policy. Interestingly, the Tea Party has specifically said they want to stick to economic issues to avoid dividing their group over social issues.

The Future

In the near term, it will be very interesting to see how the "hard-liners" in the Republican Party fare after the current shutdown / debt debate ends. I don't have any stats, but my impression is that redistricting has secured many districts from loss to the Democratic party, so a politician's main concern is the activists within their own party defeating them in a primary. This is one explanation given for the uncompromising behavior of many of the Tea Partiers.

In the past, it's taken a major event to really mix up the parties. For example, the South was all Democrat until the Civil Rights alienated them, which led to the slow and steady take over of Southern States by Republicans to this day. And going back further, Rothbard writes about McKinley's election in 1896, which ended the reign of the laissez-faire Democratics. The panic of 1893 (worst recession yet) was blamed on pro-Gold Cleveland, who then lost to Republican McKinley--who also became pro-gold!

I'm not sure if a major event, recession or war will trigger a realignment, but one long term issue that could lead to a shift is the growing class divide. In a previous entry I talked about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence eventually taking the last middle class / skill jobs, and the progressing divide between the super rich and everyone else. As health care costs continue to climb, and real incomes stay the same, it will be interesting to see if the Republican party will be able to resist a populist cry for more progressive taxes and redistribution.

I should say that I could probably find as many divides in the Democratic party as Republican, but given the that the Tea Party and Libertarians are more likely to siphon off votes from the Republicans, I think the Republican Party is most at risk of a split or realignment. I am, like so many others, Independent, and hoping the pubs will eventually offer a better mix of my own personal tastes than the dems.

I'll write one more interesting idea I a friend (Mr. Rusty) said about how issues get under the roof of one party or another. He theorized that each party has a base with a set of issues it wants to get enacted, but must dilute or broaden them to pull in more than 50% of the votes (at least in our two party system). So if your main issue was pro-life / anti-abortion, you might make more and more exceptions for when it's ok. I'm not sure this helps me in thinking about our current party structure, though, since the core of the whatever the parties become is a mystery to me.


  1. Fantastic essay and I completely agree :D

  2. could be reapplied to the national political struggle with great effect. Neither side is listening to the other.

  3. Nice analysis. The parties are both being split ideologically. I also think you've alluded to a truth that many independents would describe themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. (This, however, does not translate into any wholesale repudiation of traditional values as the current polarization is really about rural vs. urban priorities, not ideological differences.)

    So, the balance of realignments will weigh fiscal failure against social liberalism, b/c the current path of the Dem party almost guarantees fiscal failure. In this sense, the turmoil in the Rep party is a harbinger of adaptation to changing realities, while the Dem strategy of reaching back to FDR's New Deal will surely implode. This may take another election cycle to play out, and Obama's Dem successor (Billary?) could pull that party back from the brink of economic disaster, so we shall see. 2014 goes to Republicans I think, then we'll see about 2016. If they're smart, the Repubs could become the party of tolerant traditionalists, which I see as capturing that growing middle of disaffected voters. Dems might then initiate change within their own divisive coalitions. Identity politics is a very unstable equilibrium.

  4. The beat off, a lot. I beat off off to this article and will do so again in the future.


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