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Craig Frucht | Road to November

Free stuff

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11

Something incredible happened three weeks ago that threw the media into a frenzy and the Republican Party into a state of all−out panic.

On Election Day 2012, compared with 2008, the proportion of the electorate comprised of white voters declined by — if you’re reading this in class, clap your hand to your mouth now so you don’t scream — two percent.

A two−percent decline in white voters, and now we have Bill O’Reilly wailing on national television that “the white establishment is now the minority.” And the term “demography” has gained such reverence in the media that trite little axioms like “demography is destiny” are now dotting newspapers up and down the country.

There is a very basic mathematical fact that the media is overlooking here: The white vote declined by two percent, but Mitt Romney lost the popular vote by more than three. Moreover, several of the states key to President Obama’s victory, such as Ohio, Iowa and New Hampshire, are overwhelmingly white.

The racial differences in voter preference are staggering, to be sure: Romney won nearly 60 percent of the white vote and just 16 percent of the nonwhite vote. But the increase in minority representation is not by itself enough to account for Obama’s victory. With those numbers, Romney would have needed white voters to comprise at least 78 percent of the electorate in order to reach 50 percent in the popular vote. That means he probably would have lost in 2004, when exit polls pegged the white vote at about 77 percent of the electorate, but eked out a victory in 2000, when it was about 80 percent.

None of this is to say that demographic shifts are irrelevant, but by concentrating so much energy on the racial makeup of the electorate, we miss more meaningful changes that have occurred that transcend race. Romney didn’t just lose the minority vote; he lost the woman vote, the youth vote, the non−Christian vote, the poor vote, the moderate vote, the LGBT vote, the advanced−degree vote and the vote of Americans aged 30−44.

Throughout the right−wing blogosphere, there is a great deal of talk about how Republicans’ hopes for 2016 will lie in candidates like Marco Rubio, the Cuban−American Senator from Florida. This is the kind of thinking that leads the Republican presidential ticket to put up such dismal numbers among nonwhite voters in the first place. If Republican leaders want to widen their base, they can’t just reshuffle the same deck so that all the dark−skinned cards appear at the top.

The Republican brand doesn’t need more empty gestures to minority groups: No more candidates using words like “illegals” live from Univision; no more speaking at NAACP conventions just to reflect the next day that the attendees booed you because they want “more free stuff.”

Republicans will need to get into the “free stuff” business themselves, and they need to stop using phrases like “free stuff.” Positioning themselves as the “tough love” party isn’t working. They actually need to offer something to young voters, minorities and women, and that will mean alienating the straight white men at the core of the party.

It will certainly mean dropping the culture wars, because virtually every group other than the elderly is walking away from the right−wing social platform. And the elderly will, frankly, die. Their crucial role in the right−wing social agenda won’t be replaced either, because young people who turned out in droves to vote for Democrats this year are not suddenly going to turn against gay marriage or evolution once their hair starts graying. So if Republicans want to adjust to demographic changes, that’s probably where they should start.

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Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in psychology and political science. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.

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