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One year ago, on March 18, the Republican National Committee issued its post-mortem on the 2012 election. Its Growth and Opportunity Project report argued that the party was “marginalizing” itself, making it increasingly difficult for it to win future presidential elections. The candid 97-page report looked at some particular weaknesses including GOP deficits among millennials, minorities, and women. How is the party doing a year later?
We assume the GOP is doing a lot of things below our radar screen such as hiring field and communications directors who know how to reach these key groups and honing messages to improve performance. Our focus is on public opinion. Is the needle moving?
Let’s look first on millennials, the generation born after 1980. There is some good news for the GOP in this age cohort, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. Half of Millennials now declare themselves independents. This high level of non-affiliation gives the GOP an opportunity to make its case to younger voters. Many Millennials are dissatisfied with President Obama, whom they supported by large margins in 2008 and 2012.
Just three in 10 millennials see big differences between the parties, another factor that might give the GOP an opening. Millennials are liberal on issues such as gay marriage and marijuana legalization, which inclines them toward Democrats. But 51 percent of them don’t believe there will be any money for them in the Social Security system when they are ready to retire, and another 39 percent say the system will only be able to offer reduced benefits. This may pull them toward GOP arguments on entitlement reform. Continued economic weakness may also give the GOP an opening.
Looking at minority voting blocs, the demographic trends are undeniable. The Hispanic population grew by 43 percent between 2000 and 2010. Asians were the country’s fastest growing ethnic group during this time. The black population is growing slowly, but in 2012 their turnout rate was higher than that of whites. Seventy-one percent of Hispanics voted for Barack Obama in 2012 as did 73 percent of Asians and 93 percent of blacks. GOP outreach to these groups has been abysmal, and many among them still view some Republican positions, such as a strong stance against illegal immigration, as hostile to minorities. Hispanics are less supportive of President Obama than in the past, but the GOP still has a lot of ground to make up.
Women make up a larger share of the population than men, and they are voting in higher numbers. In a recent CNN poll, 42 percent said the GOP understood the needs of women; 63 percent said the Democratic Party did. So here again, the GOP needs to make significant strides. But Obama’s approval rating among women is hovering around the mid-forties. In the 2014 cycle, the GOP has recruited some top flight candidates, whose policies and tone may make the GOP more attractive.
The Democrats have problems of their own of course, with whites in general, with the white working class, and with evangelical Protestants. In the latest Gallup poll, only 31 percent of whites approved of the job Obama was doing. Still for the GOP, simply inheriting the votes of disillusioned independents and Democrats may be enough to win a presidential election here and there, but it doesn’t lead to long-term transformation. Given the country’s changing demographics, the GOP will need to step up its game with those groups that will determine election outcomes in the years ahead. While the numbers haven’t moved significantly in the GOP direction in the past year, some straws in the wind suggest reports of the party’s marginalization may be premature.
Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow and Jennifer Marsico is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.
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