The GOP’s electoral struggles since 1992 have been well documented. Democrats have garnered over 300 electoral votes in four of those six elections while the GOP has not won 300 electoral votes since HW Bush’s victory in 1988. Popular opinion holds that the GOP desperately needs to diversify to survive in the new political and social environment the US is in. But this opinion, trumpeted by more commentators and analysts than I care to mention, misses several key points analysts such as Sean Trende and Harry Enten discuss. Some of these key points are summarized below.
The Midwest has solidly swung the GOP’s way: Before 1980 the Midwest was solid swing territory. Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon and Carter carried the majority of Midwestern states in their electoral victories. Reagan and HW Bush also carried the majority of Midwestern states but in 1992 for the first time in decades a candidate lost the majority of Midwestern states but won the Presidency. The reason. The PVI of many of these states shifted to be more Republican. Since 1992 that trend has only accelerated. I will not calculate each state’s PVI, Trende at RCP does a good job here doing so, but the trend-line is undeniable. Even solidly blue states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have trended the GOP’s way ever so slightly in Presidential elections.
At every level of governance Republicans dominate the South: Maybe it is a case of an old story or the media’s bias but little attention is paid to just how solidly the GOP dominates the South. Prior to 1994 the GOP struggled in Southern elections. Following this election the GOP made incremental gains at all levels but struggled to crack solid control of many states due to long-time Democratic congressional incumbents and moderate Democrats playing up their rural roots. In 2010 that changed with the GOP dominating every single Southern legislature except WV’s and the Kentucky Senate. This has allowed the GOP to redistrict to their heart’s content and helped assure them a majority in the House. More so however it ensures the GOP a ready supply of electoral votes that are unlikely to dramatically swing in the near future (except in the case of NC, VA and perhaps GA).
Republicans have done just fine in Congressional Elections: As Enten points out Republicans have won the popular vote in seven of the last ten Congressional elections. Prior to 2006 the GOP had won the popular vote in these races six times in a row. Democrats might feel like they have an advantage after winning three of the last four popular vote totals but those trends reflect two wave elections and a referendum election on an incumbent Democratic President. In 2010 the national popular midterm electorate more reflected the conservative bent of electorate in Congressional elections.
Rapidly diversifying states do not signal the death knell of the party: The general assumption in political demographics is that diversity is hurting the GOP. In other words as minorities, the young and women congregate in urban areas and dramatically expand their voting power it spells doom for the GOP. Certainly this has hurt the GOP in formerly solid red states such as North Carolina and Virginia, but it has certainly not swung these states out of the reach of the GOP. Despite Obama winning North Carolina in 2008, and VA in 2008 and 2012 the GOP controls all levels of governance in both states. Likewise, in Florida and Georgia the GOP is still dominant. In the deep South and Texas where one would expect to see better Democratic vote totals in statewide races, bolstered by strong support in the cities, these numbers have failed to materialize. The Midwest has also seen a diversifying electorate but short of Iowa (already a perennial swing state) and Nevada no other states PVIs have moved in the Democratic direction.
This is not to say the GOP is assured an electoral victory in 2016. The party does face very real struggles with minorities and the downscale white voters it desperately needs to re-engage in the political process. But the examples above point out the GOP continues to have a healthy future despite its issues and does allow the party some time to debate and plot out its future.
This debate is evident in many of the major policy debates of the day. Senate Republicans appear gung-ho to go all in on immigration to attract Hispanic votes while the House wants a secure border first. The Senate appears to want to avoid a debate over social issues but the GOP controlled House is not willing to shy away from an issue that benefited Democrats in 2012. Deep divisions continue to plague the party on gay marriage (the recent SCOTUS ruling on DOMA may ultimately help the GOP in 2016), national defense and economy. But their coalition appears to be fairly stable. It remains to be unseen if the Democratic coalition can survive Obama’s absence on the ballot.
I will leave with one final thought. Democrats were said to be lost in the wilderness from 1968 to 1992 as the electorate changed, becoming more white, more religious and more conservative. The party nominated typical liberal candidates that were typically crushed in Presidential elections. But 1992 brought us Bill Clinton and a complete revamping of the Democratic brand in the Northeast and the Southwest. Today, that has helped Democrats win states like Nevada and New Mexico and most recently Colorado. Republicans have many candidates that have the ability to revamp the party’s brand and paint it a bright future forward in a changing, but apparently no less conservative America.