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The GOP and America’s Changing Demographics

The Wall Street Journal reports on new data released earlier today by the Census Bureau. The bottom line is that the demographic divide between older white Americans and younger minorities grew wider last year, “highlighting a long-term shift that might alter the interplay between generations.”

Among the data points (most of which come courtesy of the Journal story):

  • In 2013, nearly 79 percent of people 65 and older were white, but for those younger than 15, the share of whites was just over half. In 2000, those proportions were nearly 84 percent and almost 61 percent, respectively.
  • Non-Hispanic whites made up 62.6 percent of the country last year, down from 63 percent in 2012, continuing their long-term decline as the dominant American group. More whites died than were born last year, while the share of both Asian-Americans and Hispanics grew.
  • Hispanic population growth was fueled by an increase in births, as the number immigrating continued to fall. Just over half of all babies born in the U.S. were white.
  • Whites account for less than half the population in four states: California, New Mexico, Texas, and Hawaii, plus the District of Columbia. But among children under age 5, whites are now below 50 percent in 15 states—with Alaska joining 14 others in 2013.
  • In some states, the generational gap was quite large. In Arizona, for example, 82 percent of people 65 and over were white, while just 41 percent of those under 15 were white, a 41-point gap.
  • National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein has pointed out that from 1996 to 2012, the white share of the eligible voting population has dropped about 2 percentage points every four years, from 79.2 percent to 71.1 percent; over that same period, whites have declined as a share of actual voters from 83 percent to 74 percent (according to census figures) or even 72 percent (according to the exit polls). ” With minorities expected to make up a majority of America’s 18 and younger population in this decade, all signs point toward a continued decline in the white share of the eligible voter population—which suggests the GOP would have to marshal heroic turnout efforts to avoid further decline in the white vote-share,” according to Brownstein. “If the electorate’s composition follows the trend over the past two decades, minorities would likely constitute 30 percent of the vote in 2016.”

In light of these facts and tends, Republicans and conservatives have two choices: They can bemoan what’s happening, since non-white voters are less reliably Republican and conservative, offering up a lament for a lost America. They can focus their energy at getting a larger and larger share of a shrinking demographic group. Or they can offer a conservative governing vision and governing agenda that’s principled, reform-minded, and forward-looking, and that appeals to groups that have not traditionally been supportive of them. This is a challenging task but hardly an impossible one.

America is changing–it’s always changing–and successful political parties change with it, showing new voters how the party’s vision can speak to their concerns. In the case of the GOP, this doesn’t mean it needs to parrot the Democratic Party, which is itself intellectually exhausted and increasingly reactionary. But political parties that win accommodate themselves to certain realities and find ways to succeed within them. At a minimum, it would help if Republicans not make non-white voters feel like they’re unwelcome, a grave and growing threat to the social order. But more is required than simply that. We need leaders who can explain why 21st-century conservatism will make their lives better when it comes to issues like jobs, education, health care, energy, immigration, and strengthening families. Who can position the GOP as the party of growth, opportunity, and social mobility. And who can make this case in a winsome and persuasive manner rather than an angry and hectoring one.

This is certainly something that should be within reach for the party of Lincoln and Reagan.



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