The problem with a “fairness” campaign strategy

One thing has become painfully clear about how the president is going to wage his reelection campaign.  It will be brutal, it will be deceitful, and it will be based on the theme of economic fairness.  With nothing to run on the president will attempt to argue he can make America a more fair place if just given four more years.  This kind of strategy has its advantages and its drawbacks.

First onto the advantages.  This message of fairness is sure to appeal to the millennial generation.  In 2008 these voters, 18-29, were a crucial piece of Obama’s winning coalition and they were drawn to the president on this issue.  Now in 2012 when they seem disenchanted in the process the president can remind them of his campaign’s theme and lure them back to his side.

But a fairness message does not only just appeal to young voters.  Single women and minorities, two more crucial pieces of the Obama coalition of 2008, are likely to be wooed by this message.  Both of these groups have polled consistently high approval ratings of the president well above  the national average of around 48%.  In recent weeks numerous national surveys have shown Obama running extremely well with women, especially the single female vote he needs to pull out wins in swing states like NV, CO, FL, OH, etc.

Young voters, single women and minorities all have one thing in common.  They compose an ever-growing share of the Democratic Party’s base.  But what is increasingly missing from the Democratic base is blue-collar and college educated white males.  These voters have historically leaned left but are now moving further into the GOP’s camp.  And this illustrates the limits of a campaign based on fairness.  It will fire up the Democratic base and some left leaning independents but it is not likely to win over any new voters.

Indeed, a poll done by the left leaning centrist think-tank Third Way found that among self-identified pure independents (voters who do not lean in any shape or form to either party) the GOP had a better economic message.  Furthermore, the president’s message of economic fairness ranked extremely low on the top issues they cared about.  Not surprisingly, jobs and the economy topped their issue priorities. Granted these pure independents make up a small share of the electorate but they are scattered across hotly contested swing states throughout the country.  Winning or losing them could easily mean the presidency. 

Independents in general have always been a fickle lot with Obama.  Since early 2010 a solid majority of independents in the Gallup daily tracking survey have disapproved of the president’s handling of the country.  They consistently rate the president poorly on the economy, oppose HC Reform and are worried about the country’s growing debt.  A message of economic fairness is unlikely to woo them back to his side.

And this in a nutshell is the advantages and disadvantages of the president’s fairness campaign (in fewer than 650 words).  The president’s base will eat up the message but independents and conservatives worried about the direction of the country will not.  For that matter neither will some college educated minorities, salaried professionals and a whole host of other voters the president needs to win in 2012.  Without a record the public will accept the president will try to run and win on a non-issue.  Before the campaign is over, expect fairness to be just one of many non-issues the president bases his campaign on.  “War on women” anybody?

Caveat: Hispanics could be drawn to to the president on this issue.  But to do so they must equate the issue of fairness not just with pay and equal opportunity but also immigration.  Nobody can predict whether they will as of yet.


The fading GOP majority, maybe not

In terms of the political demographics of the country two theories currently rule.  The first is that the basis for a GOP majority, predominantly older and rural whites, will fade, and that Democrats are on the rise due to the growth of single women in urban areas of the country and minorities, especially Hispanics.  The second is much more nuanced and essentially argues against the first theory and says our elections will continue to be competitive for decades to come. 

Proponents of the first theory point to the composition of the GOP as being unsustainable for a majority well into the future.  Rural and older white voters, while increasingly joining the ranks of the GOP, are also increasingly dying out as their generation ebbs.  Meanwhile, the more swing baby-boomers and following generations are replacing them in voting power and are not nearly as lock-step Republican.

Demographic movement also illustrates why the GOP may be in trouble.  More younger and middle-aged voters are starting to consolidate in major metro areas.  These areas, already liberal, tend to have a more tolerable view of activist government and over time these voters tend to consistently vote Democratic or at least most of the time.  Meanwhile, growth in the swing suburbs was low, in the conservative exurbs stagnant and in rural areas it shrunk.

According to a 2010 survey of Census data done by the Brooking Institute’s William H. Frey, a demographer, growth in 2010 in urban areas and dense suburbs eclipsed that of GOP leaning exurbs.  For Democrats and the left this bodes well.  In 2008 Obama won 21 of the 25 largest metro areas in the country and the urban vote made up 30% of the 2008 electorate.  And this lopsided margin helped Obama win easily despite losing the majority of the 21% of the rural vote.

Ruy Texieria, a political demographer and one who I write about often has stated on numerous occasions the GOP is destined to become a minority party as the share of the minority vote continues to grow and they stay Democratic in their political leanings.  Yet he also sees Democrats emerging as a dominant force in the once swing-suburban areas of the country.  These areas tend to be filled with fiscally conservative but socially moderate, well-educated and affluent families.  In 2008 Texiera cites the GOP lost the “first tier” of suburbia, the more densely packed suburbs, yet won the “second tier,” exurbs and beyond.

Combine these two factors with the “Increasing extremism” of the GOP and proponents of Theory 1 (that is what we will call it) argue the GOP majority will not last.  Keep in mind however many of these same demographers back in 2004 argued the GOP majority crafted by Bush of suburban whites, affluent voters, rural evangelical voters, and 40% of Hispanics ensured the GOP another decade of dominance.  Well we all know how that turned out.

Indeed the NY Times appears to have jumped on the bandwagon.  In an article titled “The Impermanent Republican Majority,” author Timothy Egan argues that “For Democrats, the geography of tomorrow is the urban renaissance – a boundary that now includes big parts of suburbia.”  But is this really the case?   Afterall, many suburbs in 2010 voted Republican after backing Obama in 2008.  In fact, several large urban areas, predominantly in fast growing GOP Texas, voted Republican and saw an increase in growth in the exurbs from the 2000-2010 censuses.

This is where Theory 2 comes in. Theory 2 sees big flaws in assuming the GOP majority as it is currently composed will fade soon and even if it does the GOP cannot forge a new majority coalition over time. 

Just take a look at the Hispanic population.  Hispanics have grown significantly as a share of the population since 2000 but their electoral voting power has been stagnant since 2004 around 8%.  Yet the Census also revealed that Hispanic immigration, legal and illegal, has slowed to a crawl, likely due to the recession, and that many Hispanics have a religious affiliation. 

Indeed, there is polling data that shows that as Hispanics better assimilate into US culture through older second and third generation families they tend to behave more like whites on issues.  They even identify as “White” in surveys and filling out job applications.  This trend will continue to be accentuated even more as immigration from down south declines and birth rates among Hispanic-Americans increase.  Between 2000 and 2010 only 4.2 million Hispanics immigrated into the US while over 7.2 million were born here.  A more assimilated and culturally similar Hispanic population which becomes more affluent over time and spreads out into suburbs across the country could be good for the GOP in the long run.  Especially as controversial issues such as illegal immigration fade.

Wide assumptions are also made that the current Democratic coalition will not only hold over time but continue to grow.  This is assuming quite a lot.  In many metro areas the core of the Democratic Party’s power beyond minorities is young, unmarried college educated women and to a lesser extent men.  Yet in American politics families have divided us politically.  Married families with kids vote Republican and single men and women vote Democrat while single parents tend to split their votes.  Among white families and families that are more traditional the lean right is even heavier.

This chasm has been growing over time and helps explain the growth of the gender gap in American politics.  Single women lean left and they tend to be heavily populated in urban areas and the “first tier” of suburbia.  This provides Democrats with a solid base of support in both statewide and presidential campaigns to start from in many states.  But this also ensures the Democratic party will have a hard time appealing to the diverse interests of an urban base, independent suburban vote and right leaning exurban and swing vote.

Than there is the question about birth and marriage rates.  Just because a single man or woman lives in say urban Seattle and currently votes Democratic does not mean they always will.  Many tend to be young, meaning their ideological allegiances have not hardened.  And consider this, in a Pew survey on marriage and religion over 50% expressed an interest in getting married someday, living in the suburbs and having kids.  The American dream is alive and well.  The fact that many of these singles have not suggests they are delaying marriage and not deciding to remain single indefinitely.  For Democrats that trend could be a problem if families, even just white families, tend to continue to move to the GOP.

Varying birth rates also suggest that Democratic dreams of a hip, liberal urban core may be exaggerated.  Progressives and secularists tend to have fewer  children than religiously orientated Hispanics, Mormons, evangelicals etc. This means if the younger religiously affiliated generation does not change its political views from its parents than these GOP leaning voters will have a pronounced effect on future elections and if they get married, live in the suburbs or rural areas and have kids that GOP lean could become even more evident.

Lastly, theory 2 ignores the fact that suburban and exurban families are becoming more culturally conservative.  Think of blue-collar whites in rural areas and affluent families in the suburbs becoming fiscally conservative in the suburbs and exurbs as state pension debts balloon, taxes threaten to increase and states shed thousands of government jobs.  All this also leads to the growth of an even more independently employed and wealthy suburban vote that the GOP can better court with a message of limited and responsible government.   Meanwhile urban areas growth will continue to have to come at the expense of voters in higher taxes and more and more services, limiting the growth of a wealthy class.

All these factors point to a future where even if the GOP maintains its current composition of being a largely white, traditional family, evangelical and exurban party it can still thrive well into the near future.  The Democratic hope for an enduring majority however rests on long-term and fluid assumptions that may not come to pass and at least cannot be guaranteed.  One thing is sure.  Elections for the next few cycles will continue to be competitive.

Update: A new Pew Hispanic study released today confirms two trends.  More Hispanics left the country than immigrated in and second in majority-white areas of the country Hispanics are far more likely to vote Republican than majority-Hispanic areas.

America’s political parties becoming ever more racially polarized

If one looks at an election map of America’s counties it is hard to not notice the startling fact that every majority African-American county is blue and virtually every rural majority white country is red.  As America’s parties have moved further apart ideologically they have also moved further apart racially.  Democrats are the party of minorities and single women while the GOP looks increasingly likely to become more white, men and women, and be dominated in Congress by elderly whites.

The roots of this polarization are structural, Constitutional and ideological.  In fact you might be familiar with a few of the reasons why this trend has continued.  The Civil Rights Act of the 1960s drove Southern whites to the GOP at breakneck pace.  By the same token it ensured African-Americans remain a solid Democratic constituency.  The GOP’s turn to the right in the 80’s on family values attracted white married evangelicals and suburban voters but began to alienate metro minorities and single women.  More recently the debate on contraception and illegal immigration has seemed to further move single women and Hispanics into the Democrats camp.

But this need not be so.  Many might be surprised to note that blacks were Republicans until the Laissez-faire policies of the GOP in the 1920s.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln would not have won reelection in 1864 without the help of Northern blacks.  Since then however the character of the nation and the political parties has changed drastically.

For both Republicans and Democrats the increasing racial polarization comes at a cost.  Republicans benefit by having many minorities and single women consolidated in cities and certain states.  This makes it easier to draw Congressional maps that favor them.  Democrats benefit most in state-level and federal elections with their base consolidated there is little chance they can lose many races. 

But even with the benefits both political parties admit they have to branch out at some point to court new voters.  For Democrats they need to continue to add Hispanics and Asians to their core constituency while finding a way to staunch the flow of married whites to the GOP.  The GOP has the opposite issue.  They need to find a way to reach fiscally conservative but socially moderate/liberal single women in metro areas and court the growing Hispanic population.

Yet the current racial make-up of the political parties makes it hard to do so.  Democrats have to court white votes while appeasing their minority base.  This is hard to do when to court your minority base you advocate policies such as affirmative action and open borders that many whites feel hurts them.  The GOP advocates the elimination or at least whole-sale use of affirmative action and closing the border.  It is no wonder whites flock to the GOP but not a big wonder why the GOP struggles with low-income minorities, especially Hispanics.

Of course the problem is not as easy to define as this.  As said earlier the polarization has many aspects to it.  But as both political parties become more entrenched ideologically, driven by their racial composition, it is hard to see either making a serious attempt to court new voters.  For the GOP however it may be more important.

Democrats have the luxury of winning at least 60% of the Hispanic vote since 2002.  The Hispanic share of the population has grown massively while the white share of the population has begun to shrink.  Recognizing the problem the GOP has not become more moderate or strident on its tone on illegal immigration, the border or minority based policies but put up Hispanic candidates for office.  Governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martinez (NM) are striking examples of how these Republican candidates can run competitively among this growing voter group.

But that is easier said at the state or local level.  Nationally the GOP is likely to continue to nominate white males as their party’s standard-bearer and it looks more and more likely the Democratic party will have more women and minority candidates in the future. 

Appeasing constituencies has never been easy at any time but now with ideological purity tests being performed by the left and the right it is becoming easier.  Both the majority white conservative movement and majority minority liberal movement in Congress and around the country have driven the dialogue since 2010.  President Obama has been pushed further to the left and candidate Mitt Romney further to the right.  As this trend continues at every level it is hard to see America’s racially polarized politics disappearing anytime soon.

Three reasons why minority turnout will not be much greater, if even equal, to 2008

In political science circles a debate has been continuously raging about 2012 turnout for minorities.  Many on the left side of the spectrum contend it is to increase while some on the right argue the opposite.  Well now it appears that this debate has gone into DC all the way to the White House.  Obama top aide David Plouffe recently commented on surveys showing the president trailing Romney, Gallup and Rasmussen Reports Daily tracking surveys, that they were underestimating minority turnout in 2012.  Plouffe of course pointed to surveys like CNN, Reuters and Quinnipiac showing the president ahead of Romney and each survey had larger minority samples than either RR or Gallup.

Different surveyors of course use different sample sizes and samples.  This inevitably means that the polls results will be skewed by their samples.  Now with that little background given I would like to indicate to three points, which are not partisan in nature, about why minority turnout will not be much greater, if even equal, to 2008 minority turnout and then discuss two other reasons, in lesser detail, why minority turnout may be stagnant or drop.

1. African-American turnout was historic in 2008: In 2008 African-Americans maxed out turnout.  They made up a whopping 13% of the electorate in 2008.  This represented a significant 2% increase from 2004 in which 11% of the electorate was Africa-American, a record at that time.  Many Democratic strategists recognize this and thus contend that minority turnout will not increase among African-Americans but among Hispanics/Latinos. This theory has problems which I will later elaborate on in point 2.  For African-American turnout to grow, let alone even stay at 2008 levels, is likely to require a lucky set of factors.  First, African-Americans must not be turned off by the bad economy that much.  The unemployment rate among blacks in many communities and states is far higher than the national average and the median income of an African-American family has all but disappeared since 08.  Second, 2012’s electoral circumstances must equal the 2008 context of electing the 1st minority president in US history.  Somehow, reelection does not speak to being as historic as the “first election of a minority president in US history.”  And lastly, younger African-Americans must be attracted to vote for the president.  In 2008 Obama won young voters by a huge margin and many were young Hispanics and African-Americans.  Obama cannot not have young African-American voters turn out if he wants them to equal 13% or more of the electorate in 2012. 

2. Latino/Hispanic Turnout has been stagnant since 2004: Democratic strategists largely contend the minority share of the electorate will increase due to the growth of the Hispanic population in the US.  The problem is that past history argues otherwise.  Since the 2004 election Hispanic turnout has been largely stagnant.  In 2004 Hispanic turnout was roughly 8% of the electorate, 7.5% in 2006, 8% in 2008 and 8% in 2010.  Even including for the fact that the down economy depressed Hispanic turnout in 2010 it does not explain why Hispanic turnout was stagnant from 04-08.  Much as the economic recession has hurt African-Americans the recession has hurt Hispanics.  The recession has virtually wiped out the construction industry in many areas in the West where Hispanics are a large share of the population.  And as a result Hispanics in NV, AZ and CO, and NM have high unemployment rates.  If Hispanic turnout does not increase than it could pose a major dilemma for th Obama campaign.  Even if Hispanic turnout does not increase in 2012 Obama can probably assume if he comes anywhere near winning 60% of the Hispanic vote he has New Mexico.  But after that in places such as NV, CO and AZ, where the Hispanic share of the population is far smaller than the 46% in NM the math gets dicey.  And for the Obama campaign that would be unwelcome news indeed on the electoral front.

3. White turnout could be equal to 2010 levels in 2012: In 2010 the white share of the electorate was 78%, far greater than the 74% share it made up of 2008 and roughly equal to the 79% share in 2006.  It is a well-known fact that presidential elections tend to bring out a more diverse electorate than midterms but the question is by how much?  Since 2000 minority turnout has increased in presidential elections.  But this is again due almost solely to African-American increases in turnout.  Thus if African-American and Hispanic turnout lags it is very likely white turnout will increase correspondingly.  An interesting set of factors could also be in play here to increase white turnout. 1) Democrats have essentially ceded the white vote to the GOP, particularly blue-collar whites.  This means the GOP has added incentive to work miracles to increase turnout. 2) Both the Obama and Romney campaigns have said the battle will be in the suburbs, particularly among white women.  Both candidates campaigns thus will invest a vast amount of their resources to turn out these voters along with their bases. 3) The sour economy speaks for itself.  The recession has badly hurt minorities and while many whites are struggling their median wealth is far greater than African-Americans or Hispanics.  This in turn could correspond to an increase in white turnout and decrease in minority turnout.

Of course there are other reasons why minority turnout may not even increase from 2008.  Many of the same minority votes that enthusiastically backed Obama in 2008, while saying they support him in head to head matchups in the polls, show less than tepid enthusiasm for him.  Hispanic approval of the president has shrunk by almost 20 points since 2008.  And among age groups. regardless of race, the president has seen his approval drop. That drop cut across all demographic boundaries the president’s approval has stagnated, if not gotten worse.  This means beyond just the political issues and candidates,  turnout could determine who occupies the White House for the next four years.  And this says nothing of the dozen or so states that have passed new tough voter ID laws that will likely disproportionately affect minority and young voters.  This could have the adverse affect of depressing minority turnout even further while proponents of these laws argue it is necessary to protect the integrity of elections.  Acorn anybody?

2012 like prior presidential elections will be a referendum on the incumbent

Much has been made by the media and pundits about how close the 2012 election will be.  They cite a multitude of reasons including the power of incumbency helping Obama and the weak economy helping Romney.  Knowing how weak the economy is the Obama camp has tried to turn the election into a choice election between a “strong leader” like Obama and an “out of touch millionaire” like Romney.  The problem with this strategy is that it never seems to work.

Nearly every election since 1952 (when modern polling got its start) has shown undecided voters break for the challenger on election day or within a three-day period.  The theory goes that if you have not found anything good to vote for the incumbent on by election day odds are you won’t find it within 24 hours.  These voters final choices tend to match their views on the job approval of the incumbent.  For the most part, 70-80% of those who decide who to vote for on election day disapprove of the sitting president.  The lone president to overcome this trend was G.W. Bush in 2004.

According to a Dick Morris analysis of how undecided voters act on election day when an incumbent president is in office his data shows from 64 to today that only one incumbent has benefitted.  Johnson in 64 lost 3 pts to Goldwater, in 72 Nixon lost one point to an independent challenger, in 76 Ford lost four points to Carter, in 80 a three-point swing to Reagan or Andersen, in 84 Reagan broke even, in 92 Bush lost a point to Clinton. In 96 Clinton lost 5 points to Dole or Perot and in 2004 Bush actually gained two points.

So if this data is true then trying to turn an incumbent’s reelection from a referendum to a choice between the incumbent and the challenger is virtually impossible.  But there is also another way to look at this.  In recent elections pundits and analysts have paid increasing attention to a president’s approval rating on election day.  The thinking goes if he is above 55% he is a shoe-in for reelection and if he is below 50% he is in trouble.  Well by that standard Obama is in trouble.  Even if we take the polls that show Obama above 50% approval his vote share in most surveys tracks his job approval rating.

Witness the Gallup tracking survey.  In the latest addition to the survey Obama has a split 47/47 approval rating.  Yet in the Gallup survey Obama trails Romney 48%-44%.  It is possible that Obama’s horrid ratings on the debt and economy are the reason why his vote share is lagging his approval but what is more important is that 8% remain undecided in the tracking survey.  If those 8% break for Romney, even if by election day they are only 5% the election is over.  Rasmussen Report’s tracking poll also shows the same trend.

But let’s not just look at one survey for confirmation.  Let’s look back to other data on this trend since 1972.  Jay Cost at the Weekly Standard has helpfully posted data from the National Election Study showing few presidents running well ahead of their approval ratings.  The obvious reason being few voters who disapprove of the president are willing to back him.  And considering the data presented by Dick Morris the data is pretty damning. no offense to Ed Kilgore over at the New Republic.  I love you but you are dead wrong on this election being a choice.

In this era of hyper-partisan and polarized politics there is also evidence to suggest that candidates and Congressional incumbents electoral prospects in swing districts are tied to the president.  In 2006 President Bush’s job approval ratings were stuck at 42% and the GOP only won 44% of the popular House vote.  Or also consider in 2008 that of the nine Senate seats Democrats picked up 7 were won by then Obama the candidate.  And in all 7 states President Bush’s job approval was well below 50%.  One must always be cautious of reading into such events but they do point to an interesting trend.

Now fast forward to 2010 and we can see this trend continue even more.  Sean Trende at RCP has an interesting stat on all the Senate races in 2010 in each state with the president’s job approval in each and the Democrats actual vote total in the state.  In the three states where the Democrat could not outrun President Obama’s approval below 50% the Republican won.  In the one state where the Democratic candidate ran even with the president’s approval she was crushed and in only two races where Democrats outran the president’s approval did the GOP prevail.  It is worth noting that in winnable races such as DE, NV, and CO the GOP electorate opted to go with the less credible, more conservative candidate and they lost.  Thus this shows local factors still matter in voting.

All this shows that if the data and history are any guide this will be a referendum election.  And if the president does not establish a substantial lead over Romney, undecideds continue to amount to 5-10% in the polls and the president’s approval is below 50% on election day he is very likely to lose and voters referendum on him will be for him to vacate the White House.

The GOP’s ever elusive quest to court Hispanic voters continues

As the presidential election comes into clearer and clearer focus the parties are refining their messages to target specific groups.  For the GOP finding the right message to target Hispanic voters in the ever important swing states of NV, NM and CO in the West and Florida is crucial.  Hispanics share of not just the population but the electorate is also growing and that means for the GOP to win the presidency this year they must do better among this crucial constituency than they did in 2008.

In 2008 Barack Obama won 68% of the national Hispanic vote.  In the crucial swing states of NM, NV and CO Obama won over 70% of each state’s Hispanic vote according to exit polls.  Even among the more conservative leaning Cuban-Hispanic population in Florida Obama did well.  As such the GOP recognizes they must turn this trend around and in a move to woo Hispanic voters the RNC sent six Hispanic operatives to CO, FL, NM, NV, NC and VA. 

Hispanics have been hardest hit from the recession.  Republican operatives and strategists remain hopeful that they can turn Hispanics displeasure with the economy into support along with specific micro-tailored messages to particular Hispanic groups in key states. 

Yet for the GOP targeting the Hispanic vote is nothing new.  Since 2004 the GOP has been hinting as well as hoping that the Hispanic vote will turn out to be the next swing constituency in the country. Instead, since 2006 Democrats have never failed to win 60% of their vote nationally.  Even in 2010 Democrats won 60% of the Hispanic vote and even more in key races across the country.  Democrats argue the GOP’s extremist policies on border control and to a lesser degree protecting the rich have hurt them among Hispanic voters.  The GOP of course disagrees.

However there appears to be little disagreement that many GOP controlled states that have taken tough stances on illegals and border control has helped the GOP among Hispanics.  Many states, not just GOP controlled states but also Northeastern Democratic states have also passed voter-ID laws.  By contrast President Obama and many Democrats have actively pushed for a limited form of amnesty in the DREAM Act.   When it failed in the Senate in 2010 (it had bipartisan support and opposition) the President had no issue with blaming the GOP. 

GOP strategists acknowledge it will be a tough climb to win Hispanic voters in big numbers.  Yet Republicans at the national, state and local level plan to hammer home the economic message that the recession has hit Hispanics particularly hard.  According to the Department of Labor’s statistics 10.3% of Hispanics are unemployed compared to 8.3% of the population.  And among Hispanic youth that number is far worse.  The GOP is planning on using this statistic to forcefully remind Hispanic voters of this president’s record on job creation. 

Some Republicans also hope that GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney will pick a Hispanic to be his VP.  He has quite a few options now that 2010 is gone with Governor Brian Sandoval (NV), Governor Susana Martinez (NM) and Florida Senator Marco Rubio to choose from.  Yet for VP picks demography and ethnicity can only be but one of many factors considered.  Some GOP strategists also worry about it back-firing or not even working and wasting a golden opportunity to make Romney look more down to earth.  Romney recently espoused self-deportation and has been relatively quiet on Cuba illustrating how much ground the GOP has to make their top of the ticket candidate appeal to Hispanics.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is having none of it however.  He continues to stand by the fact he believes Hispanics will come to the GOP because it is the party of ideas, fiscal and family values and can get the economy running again.  Republicans hope this is true, especially in 2012, but the verdict is still out.

Democrats face steep climb to win House majority

As the 2012 election season comes close and closer to fruition Democrats remain confident they can hold the presidency and increasingly the Senate.  However few Democrats are optimistic about their chances of retaking the House this November.  GOP gains made in 2010 ensure that the 25 seats Democrats need to reclaim the majority will be a tough climb.

For reasons why look no further than the four states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, TX and FL.  In each state Democrats made gains in 2006 or 2008.  And in 2010 the GOP made significant gains in each state not just at the Congressional level but also the state level.  This means the GOP controlled redistricting for all four states.  At the beginning of 2010 FL was slated to gain 2 seats, TX 4 while OH was to lose 2 and Pennsylvania 1.  In each case with the GOP drawing the lines they minimized their losses and maximized their gains.

In Pennsylvania the GOP had three lawmakers, Lou Baretta, Patrick Meehan and Jim Gerlach representing districts that went widely for Obama in 2008.  After the redraw the GOP state legislature ensured all three now sit in safe GOP districts according to the Rothenberg Political Report.  Worse for Democrats is that Rep. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz were drawn into one single district ensuring one will lose in the April 24th primary.  And the district they will fight to represent is tailor-made to swing GOP in presidential elections meaning it will be a swing district for elections to come.

In Ohio, which lost two seats a GOP seat and a Democratic seat were eliminated.  Yet that does not tell the whole story.  The GOP took a whopping 5 seats in 2010 and the delegation flipped from 10-8 in the Democrats favor to 13-5 in favor of the GOP.  In the GOP legislature’s redraw of the maps they shored up many of their gains and packed Democrats into urban districts in Cleveland and the Northeast portion of the state.  Only one of the 12 GOP districts looks to be initially competitive in 2012 and possibly beyond.

Florida, with its Cuban-American population is more diverse than either PA or OH.  And unlike in PA and OH the GOP controlled the state legislature before 2010.  In 2010 the GOP gained three Congressional seats.  And in turn with Florida gaining two new seats due to population growth the GOP was in a position to protect their gains or at least minimize their losses.  Complicating matters was a ballot measure that passed restricting the legislature from passing redistricting maps based on partisan gerrymandering.  The verdict is out on how the courts will interpret lawsuits to the new GOP map under this measure but the GOP has limited its losses in the state to two-three seats only.  Quite a feat.

Texas saw the largest population growth in the country over the last ten years.  As such it gained four seats in reapportionment.  Democrats were initially giddy at this because the growth largely came among the Hispanic population.  But the GOP legislature drew a map extremely favorable to the GOP.  Democrats and the DOJ sued under the Civil Rights Act and it went all the way to the SCOTUS.  Democrats lost the fight and the SCOTUS threw back a response that stated that 1) the District Court of SA overstepped its mandate by drawing a new map and 2) the legislature’s map should be considered in a redraw.  The legislature drew a new map that was approved and it ensures after 2012 the four new seats will be split 2-2 between the parties.  The original legislature’s map is pending in the Appellate Court of DC and if it was ruled to comply with the CRA than Democrats could lose yet more seats in TX.

Democrats acknowledge to some degree that the GOP has a huge advantage due to redistricting this cycle.  According to a memo written by DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz 80-85% of the incumbents who gained a partisan advantage in redistricting belong to the GOP.  Still, some Democrats such as DCCC Chair Steve Israel argue that redistricting has essentially been a wash.

Yet the math argues otherwise.  Despite Democrats making gains in the states of IL and CA with their redraws the GOP has fortified incumbents all across the country, limited their losses in Florida and is sure to gain newly apportioned seats in SC, UT and TX.  The GOP also has eliminated a Democratic seats in MI, redistricted out at least two Democratic incumbents in North Carolina, one in Indiana and created a newly competitive seats in WA state.  For Democrats the majority runs through extremely unfavorable suburban and rural districts in the Midwest and South they have not won since 2008.  And in 2008 those districts were far more favorable to them than they are today.  Shultz, in the same memo citing Republican incumbents gained most of the advantage this cycle said the likely number of seats Democrats have to pick up to win the majority is closer to 40 considering Democratic districts that were eliminated, are now open and leaning Republican and districts with Democrats running against each other.

Still Democrats contest that in November 2011, right before redistricting started in any state, 61 Republicans represented districts won by Barack Obama and 14 Republicans represented districts also won by John Kerry in 2004.  After most states have redistricted Democrats argue the number is 64-18.  The GOP of course argues the opposite and asserts more Republican lawmakers now sit in districts won by both Bush and McCain than before.

The trend of white men and married white women fleeing the Democratic Party has been a boon for the GOP in drawing new lines.  Democrats, largely a minority-majority party composed of blacks, Hispanics and women tend to be consolidated in the urban areas of the country.  Meanwhile the majority-white GOP party has its voters more scattered and has thus been able to consolidate Democratic voters in extremely left districts (witness OH).  This may make for less competitive Congressional elections and make it harder for GOP presidential candidates to win but it helps ensure the GOP control of the House for the forseeable future.