Hillary’s generational problem

Hillary-Clinton1-1024x682Democrats, and the media seem giddy at the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016.  Polls show she would start the race in a strong position against any of her likely GOP opponents.  But as I have written before, Clinton faces a number of issues in getting to the White House.  Perhaps none bigger than Hillary would not be a fresh face in the White House, especially compared to her GOP counterparts.

Of the 44 American Presidents America has had they tend to fall along a fairly steady demographic lines.  All but five of the 44 have been between 45 and 65 years of age.  They also have largely either been war heroes, Senators or Governors of large states.  If Hillary were to become President, she would buck these trends for the first time since Reagan (who was near 70 at his inauguration).

Consider the path Hillary would have taken to the White House.  First Lady, Senator of New York, defeated 2008 Presidential primary candidate and former Secretary of State.  It is of particular interest to note her stint as Secretary of State.  Traditionally, this position has not been suited for ambitious politicians who aspire for higher office.  In actuality, it has served as a dumping ground for failed Presidential candidates, John Kerry being the latest.  In a way it is possible Hillary’s tenure as SofS could help her in the future.  The non-political nature of the office has boosted her standing with the public.  Moreover, her campaign apparatus is still ready to be reactivated and she has a donor base that rivals Obama.

But again, Hillary still runs into her generation problem.  As noted by Jay Cost over at the Weekly Standard, presidential elections have followed a standard pattern.  We have had 46 elections with the popular vote and the path to the Presidency tends to follow a familiar pattern (former General, Governor, or Senator).  Secretary of State will be found in the resumes of those who have lost the Presidency several times.  Of course this is not the only reason these candidates lost.  Factors such as the economy, incumbency, etc. could also have swayed those races.  But of the last several Presidential elections since 1992 we have seen younger candidates emerge as victors: Clinton over Bush in 92, Clinton over Dole in 96, Bush over Kerry in 2004, Obama over McCain in 08 and Romney in 012.

Following this pattern, Hillary would be at a significant disadvantage against any of her likely GOP challengers.  Governors Christie, Jindal and Walker, Senators Paul and Rubio, even a former Senator like Santorum are younger than the former Secretary of State.  In fact, all of them are at least 10 years younger than her.  This would in a way upset a trend that has held since the 60s.  Since that time the Democratic nominee has been on average 10 years younger than the GOP nominee.

This does not mean that the recent advantage Democrats have with younger voters will fade, or even weaken.  But voters do not pull the lever just on ideology.  There are numerous reasons for them to do so.  Age and the way politician talk, the way they discuss the issues, and how they connect to voters on a visceral level are important.  By 2016 the most notably weak issue for any Republican, gay marriage, may only be a minor issue in the primary.  Hearing a Rubio or Walker talk about abortion compared to Hillary among young voters is unlikely to see them rush in mass to Clinton especially considering young voters are split on the issue.

Republicans appear increasingly unlikely to have run a re-run or next in line candidate,  Most likely this is why their candidates have tended to be older compared to up and coming Democratic nominees.  From 1980 to 1992 this worked for the party.  In 2000, Bush was well known but he upset the next in line John McCain (who won the party nod in 2008).  Republicans remember Bush’s success and their field of candidates is young and diverse along age, gender and ethnic lines.

Compared to this Hillary might look old and stale.  Her donor base could not save her against Obama in 2008.  Republicans are also unlikely to not fund their candidate to the hilt, especially if they are worried about the vaunted Clinton fundraising machine.  Already test cases in NYC for mayor and Virginia Governor are being used as proxies to test how strong her brand is (ie. how much she helps or hurts the party).

Hillary would be unlikely to rely on the demographic groups that gave her husband the Presidency.  Blue-collar and Southern whites have all but fled the party.  The very same Democratic voters that rejected Hillary in 08 would have to fully embrace her again in 2016, seeing a youthful, energetic 54 year old Obama leave office and give his blessing to be replaced by a 69 year old politician.  Even VP Biden is not immune to this phenomenon as he would be well over 70 if he won the party’s nod and the Presidency.

The Clinton name may be known in households across America.  But being known for well over twenty years is not a ticket to the White House.  And those who know her best, as in the oldest voters, are likely to be the most Republican.  Younger voters may be who she needs and her age may prove an impediment to connecting with them.  One thing is for sure however.  If Hillary were to win the Presidency she would break two trends: the Democratic nominee being younger than the GOP nominee and being the oldest nominee to win since Reagan.  Those might be two feathers in her cap she simply cannot acquire.


The Coming Generation Divide: Part III

group-of-millennials-350This is the final article in the Generational trilogy.  It is generally assumed by many pundits and analysts that the habits of voters are locked in for time immortal.  After-all there is ample research out in the public sphere suggesting voters partisan preferences are locked into place when they are as young as 25.  As much research that goes into these pieces  I just do not agree with the end result for one large reason.  American politics is not static.  The parties are not static.  And candidates are not monolithic in their positions.

In the second article I touched on the modern issue-set most voters base their preferences on.  Socially abortion and gay marriage are the biggest issues.  Fiscally the debt, spending and entitlement programs come into play.  On national security there are the hawks and doves with some overlap.  Then  we come to larger domestic policy which encompasses infrastructure, education, housing, healthcare, etc.  Within each of these issues is another set of issues and so on down the line.  But the issues can change and as they do the party’s coalitions can shift.

The GOP has never been more dependent on seniors.  In 2012 they accounted for almost a third of his total national vote. Likewise the Democratic Party needs to keep winning younger voters.  These voters are just coming of age in a sour economy and place significant emphasis on social issues.  Most support gay marriage and yet seem evenly split on abortion.  Seniors seem to care more about entitlements, education, the debt and spending.

From a purely analytical perspective it has been amazing to watch both parties annoy key parts of their coalition in recent months.  Democrats agreement to tie student loan rates to market rates (though they are capped at a certain point) irked young voters.  This ensures that if the economy improves and banks up rates, college will get even more expensive.  For the GOP, their fiscal tendencies have clashed with seniors desires to protect Social Security and Medicare.  Now, none of the issues above seem to suggest that either group of the Republican or Democrats coalitions is going to jump ship.  But it does illustrate that in the two party system we have it is hard for them to be everything to all voters (partisan or not).

How long the current issue set holds sway in voters minds depends on the political environment and a set of of unique factors such as time.  We have seen how national disasters can rally public support for either side’s agenda.  A growing economy also usually mutes strong criticism.  But today we have neither of these possibilities.  Instead, we have a sluggish economy and no national disaster to rally the country.  Generational and ideological lines divide the parties clearly, perhaps almost as clearly as race.

I do not know if this is a good or bad thing.  Libertarians might be happy the government is stalled.  But even as the voting preferences of multiple groups have hardened under Obama the economy has remain stalled.  The New Democratic Coalition has emerged in 2008 and 2012 but disappeared in 2010.  Meanwhile, seniors have backed Republican by double-digit margins in three straight elections.  It is hard to speculate on what these trends mean.  A younger, more diverse electorate would theoretically benefit Democrats more than an older, whiter GOP coalition.  However, the modern Democratic coalition is rife with fractures on ethnic, racial and class lines.  Republicans main problem seems to be demographic and ideological.

Keep in mind that the Silent/Depression Generation, the most liberal generation since the Millennials (one could argue more than the Millennials) was thought to herald in a new Democratic era well after FDR.  It floundered.  Instead we had the split 60’s and the GOP dominated 70’s and 80’s.  So having younger support does not mean a long-lasting majority.  Indeed, it may signify the following generation is the opposite (see Baby-Boomers compared to their parents) than the prior generation.

Both the GOP and Democrats have moved their stances on policy issues to suit their current coalitions much as they have done in the past.  The GOP is solidly pro-life, split on gay marriage, fiscally conservative/libertarian and reform orientated.  The Democratic Party is solidly the party of urban interests: pro-choice, favors more government spending, less worried about deficits, doveish on foreign policy and protective of nascent government programs as well as entitlements.  This helps explain why the generational divide among voting groups is so pronounced.

Baby-boomers are socially conservative and fiscally moderate/conservative.,  MIllennials are indeed not fiscally conservative and split on social issues.  Combine that with Generation X’s split on both issues and you have the largest three blocs of voters basically cancelling each other out.  This quick analysis could of course be countered by recent electoral results which suggest Democrats are benefiting from changing demographics.  Sure they are.  The GOP has also been slow to react.  But Democrats were also slow to react in the 80’s and it took a young, dynamic candidate to get them back into the White House.  The elections of 2008 and 2012 could be a thing of the past if the GOP runs a solid moderate/conservative candidate that can reach beyond the party’s traditional base.

It should come as little surprise that the parties are where they are electorally, demographically, geographically and issue-wise.  Both of have taken steps to appeal to different voting blocs and as a result different generations.  Reagan’s call that “Government is not the solution, it is the problem”, was not made in a vacuum.  Bill Clinton’s era of “Competent Government” was made to get disaffected Generation X voters back into the process.  George Bush’s “Humble foreign policy) was made to get to get voters to focus on his domestic goals and not past GOP interventionist policies.

Where the Millennials ultimate voting preferences end up is hard to predict though it is likely to lean left of center.  But as the Democratic Party reacts and moves increasingly to the left will more seniors and Baby-boomers could back the GOP  This is certainly possible.  What is much more certain however is that both parties will seek to steal parts of each others coalitions and make inroads with voters, young and old.  This might be easier for the GOP than Democrats but they seem to have a few votes to spare (if Democrats can get their voters out to the polls).

The modern day issue-set of American politics divides the generations.  Both political parties are smart and savvy enough to notice and take advantage of this.  But as the issue-set changes, say gay marriage does not become taboo for the GOP or abortion becomes less of a priority for Democrats will both parties react?  Or will one exploit the generational divide that thrives in American politics and seems likely to continue into the future.

The Coming Generational Divide: Part II

Young Pro-Life Supporters at March for Life RallyThis is the second of a two-part series I am writing on generational trends that have shaped/shape American politics.  For those who forgot, the first piece documented electoral history and the voting patterns of multiple generations in a general sense (if I had the time I would dig through mountains of data).  This second article will explore historical and current issues of modern  politics, how they have played with multiple voting groups how the parties have used the issues to court groups of voters.  Just so you are aware, some of these issues were alluded to in the first part of this series.

In modern American politics there is little doubt the issues voters perceive as most important drive them towards a particular party.  For example, pro-life voters, primarily evangelical Southerners, have moved to the GOP.  Meanwhile, moderate, sometimes religious but not practicing voters in the Northeast have moved into the Democratic camp due to abortion and gay marriage.  Another example could be white Catholics increasingly voting Republican as the Democratic party grows increasingly defensive of abortion in just about any case.

Voters, especially among the generations, did not form their opinions in a vacuum.  They were helped by the parties who helped these voters form their perceptions.  For both the GOP and Democrats this meant exploiting issues that split electoral coalitions.  What were some of these issues?  Let’s start with the Great Depression just like in Part I.  Before FDR the GOP had built a coalition many at the time thought was unbreakable.  The GOP’s laissez-faire economic policies and successes had allowed them to court moderate, Midwestern and Northeast voters as well as largely rural voters in the West.  They also had begun to make inroads in the South due to their success with African-Americans.

But come 1932 with the Great Depression erupting in full force the GOP coalition disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and a new populist, conservative Democratic coalition was formed.  This coalition was built primarily on regional and geographical interests.  FDR was a Governor from the Northeast but he won just about every state in 1932 and 1936.  He did this by campaigning on populist, governmentally active economy policies to help the poor farmer, the young lady, the homeless child.  A public desperate for change amid an economic struggle ate it up.

For the most part Democrats at the time were victims of fortune.  Absent the Great Depression it is easy to hypothesize the GOP would have held the White House until at least 1936.  So Democrats did not break up the GOP coalition (the Great Depression did that for them).  Instead, they built their own.   While cracks in this coalition would periodically appear from time to time (1938 midterms, 1946 midterms), the bulk of it would hold together until 1952.

This FDR coalition, as I refer to it, was built on a different set of voters from FDR to Truman.  During FDR it was built on the votes of the Hard Timers/Happy Warriors Generation.  These voters, born between 1890 and 1928 leaned Republican on most economic issues until the Great Depression.  By the time Truman ran for his first full term in 1948 the Silent/Depression Generation was coming into its political own.  Shaped indelibly by the Great Depression, their parents, World War II and FDR they leaned heavily Democratic.  Gallup’s first set of exit polls in 1952 found the youth vote going to Dewey but we know how accurate Gallup’s numbers were when compared to the final results.

Republicans for their part, after 1932 tried several different strategies to build a new, multi-generational coalition.  In 1936 they supported a candidate, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who spouted populism but generally strayed from criticizing the New Deal.  In 1940 the GOP supported another candidate with much the same message, Wendell Wilkie, but Wilkie was even supportive of the New Deal.  By 1944 the GOP had turned to New York Governor Thomas Dewey, hoping he could take the Northeast from FDR.  It did not work.

It would take the GOP until 1952, with the nomination of a former Supreme Commander, to find their way back to the White House.  Eisenhower’s coalition was multi-generation.  It incorporated elements of FDR’s coalition with a sprinkling of the Silent/Depression Generation.  Eisenhower at the time was a moderate in the party (in a moderate party).  Eisenhower courted voters who had former military service and had soured on Democrats due to the Korean War,

Up until 1960 few clear issues had been exploited by either party.  There had been signs that certain issues would be exploited in the future however.  Eisenhower’s allowing of black students to attend an all white school in Arkansas suggested Republicans would be willing to touch on racial issues.  Of course Truman had already signaled Democratic intent to do the same with his desegregation of the military in 1949.  However, the South’s loyalty to the Democratic Party was built on FDR era governmental policies.  Eisenhower was presided over a strong and growing economy so it came as a bit of a shock when his VP, Richard Nixon, lost a close contest to JFK.  Nixon was a moderate Republican in the mold of Eisenhower and JFK was a Democrat in the mold of FDR except in one key aspect, civil rights.

The Civil Rights era, spearheaded by moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats deeply influenced the Boomer Generation.  As mentioned in Part I the Boomer generation soon became a split generation which different partisan and policy preferences.  Primarily they viewed Civil Rights legislation as appropriate as well as a growing government with constraints.  With the economy growing at a rapid clip worries about spending were eclipsed as well.

Nixon’s election in 1968 kept moderate Republicans in charge of their party.  But while his victory heralded a strong GOP era it also indicated turbulent economic waters ahead.  Between 1968 and 1980 voters would be influenced by Vietnam, Watergate, environmental novels and governmental regulations, stagflation and the Oil Embargo.  Voters would elect Nixon twice, see him impeached, elect Jimmy Carter narrowly over Gerald Ford and end the decade by electing conservative Ronald Reagan.

Nixon’s two campaigns were built on courting conservative Democrats in the South on government overreach and Midwestern moderates.  Democrats, lacking strong candidates after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, watched Nixon crush their candidate.  The election of 1972 proved no different.  Nixon peeled off elements of the Democratic coalition based on the wedge issue of race.  A monkey wrench would be thrown into American politics in 1973 when the Supreme Court officially legalized abortion.

The new issue of abortion proved promising for Reagan to campaign on.  While Ford avoided it, Reagan made it clear where he stood on it (ironically he was pro-choice as Governor of CA).  Reagan’s pro-life stance and public annoyance with the ruling allowed him to win Southern voters, Baby Boomers and new immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric was also well-timed.  Government action in the economy was viewed distastefully by the growing Boomer voting base.  Though not laissez-faire by any means Reagan was not a progressive liberal on fiscal issues either.  Finally, Reagan made his hawkish foreign policy preferences well-known.  Not as hawkish as Truman or JFK, Reagan was a new kind of Republican on foreign policy.  His successor, H.W. Bush, would be even more so.

Reagan’s exploitation of key issues of the time, abortion, fiscal issues, and defense defined politics for a generation.  Many voters from Generation X thus grew up evaluating politics through this issue set.  They also came of age during a turbulent economic and social time (stagflation, Roe vs. Wade) and as mentioned seemed jaded on politics.  But they also shared the partisan preferences of their Boomer parents.

Clinton, a new kind of Democrat used the same issue set Reagan did.  But unlike Reagan, he was not pro-life and he was nuanced in foreign policy.  A growing economy helped ensure him two terms but it was not enough for liberal Al Gore to keep the White House in Democratic control.  George Bush moved away from Reagan on foreign policy and in doing so helped hold the Boomer vote and peel away some of the shrinking vote of the Silent Generation.  In 2004 George Bush would largely adopt Clinton’s 1996 gay marriage stance by opposing legalization.  Republicans took it one step further and promoted the efforts of many states vote to ban gay marriage in their state constitutions.

The modern era of issues would be on full display in 2008 and 2012 with distinct differences between the parties.  John McCain and Barack Obama disagreed on abortion, gay marriage, fiscal policy, national defense, etc.  Romney in 2012 had even more differences with the incumbent.  Millennials are truly the only voting bloc who grew up with the full modern issue set to choose their political preferences from.  Apparently that has pushed them to the left (though race, GWB’s economic performance and social issues have had an impact as well).

This short history should provide some background on how the political parties have attempted to court voting groups through the issues.  Today’s Democratic coalition is built on the young, minorities and single women who favor government intervention.  The GOP is increasingly older and downscale (often losing in the suburbs they once won handily).  Should Republicans change course?  Maybe.  But Republicans might be smarter to start injecting less talked about issues into the political conversation; entitlement reform, streamlined government, etc.  It just might be a winning strategy.

The Coming Generational Divide: Part I

oldcouplOne of the least remarked up phenomena in American politics is the age divide that is embedded in politics.  Today, that age divide is shown by young voters consistently backing Democratic candidates at all levels of governance while seniors and the baby boomer generation (becoming seniors themselves) increasingly vote Republican across the ballot.

There are many reasons for this trend which I will explore in three parts.  The first part, here, will map out historical voting patterns based on generational factors, major events and the political environment of the time.  The second piece will be based on a historical look at the issues and how it has played with voters.  Lastly, the third article will speculate on what current groups voting preferences mean for the future and what modern issues could play the largest role in the future.

I would like to start out by defining the time period this article encompasses as stretching from the Hoover-FDR period to Obama today.  Going back to the days before the 20th century can be illuminating but it also makes it difficult for the analysis to account for change in the country over such a broad scope of time.

So with that said, let’s get to it.  The time period was 1932.  The Great Depression was ravaging the country.  The Dust Bowl annihilated family farms.  Even the promised land of California was an illusion.  Enter Franklin Delanore Roosevelt.  A solid acolyte of Woodrow Wilson (with some minor disagreements), the modern founder of the administrative state, the Governor of New York offered a different perspective on the state of the economy and social affairs.  Hoover, an economic libertarian until the Great Depression, could offer little resistance and was swept out of office.

FDR had promised many things during the campaign.  He implemented some of them in his first 100 days.  He closed down banks, ending runs on the banks.  He also set about with Congress offering government subsidies to farmers who tried to rebuild.  By 1933, the state was firmly entrenched in a social welfare function which culminated in the passage of the Social Security Act.  This was in stark contrast to the Republican era of laissez-faire economics.

FDR was by no means close to done.  In 1935 the SSA was amended and the “alphabet soup” government as a term took hold.  Agencies such as the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) were created as public utilities and as work relief programs.

By 1936 the economy was on the uptick thanks to these efforts and voters rewarded FDR with a landslide reelection.  Many of the votes for FDR in his four elections were made by older voters; voters born before 1900.  But the loyalty to the Democratic brand FDR instilled in these voters translated down to their kids; the modern day Silent/Depression Generation.  This generation has been the bedrock of the Democratic coalition in the 20th century and into part of the 21st.

The loyalty FDR instilled among voters to the Democratic Party was in many ways reflective of the times and actions he took.  He was seen as the savior of the economy, caring of the poor but wary of touching social issues.  An example of this would be the public works and subsidies he showered on the South but left racial relations alone (in time Democrats broke this unspoken agreement).  Unlike some modern day Democrats FDR was no dove on foreign policy.  His actions in world affairs largely mirrored Wilson’s, prepare for war while trying to avoid it.  When attacked FDR did not flinch in turning the country towards war with the public solidly behind him.  FDR’s death in 1994 did not shake the country’s Democratic bent, nor did the end of WWII.

The Silent Generation, many who served in WWII and supported FDR, is largely believed to have helped Truman beat Dewey.  These younger voters wanted a strong national economy, strong defense, but also an active government in social affairs.  Truman would deliver by desegregating the military but it started a long trend of Southerners,a bedrock of the Democratic coalition, to begin to turn away from the party.  Of course this view would slightly fade in 1952.  A growing economy and government willing to touch on racial issues  could not keep the Republicans from finally regaining the White House for the first time in 20 years with Eisenhower.  Eisenhower, however, was a moderate Republican even for the time (ideologies of parties does change over time).  The former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces did not touch the Democratic alliance with Southerners, nor did he try to peel off minorities from the Democratic camp.  Instead, he won by appealing to Midwestern and business interests as well as the fully emerged Boomer generation.  Eisenhower was helped by the fact Truman was term-limited but he also was a former general at a time the country was fighting in Korea.

In a way, Eisenhower was a counterbalance to FDR.  FDR’s tenure shaped the way the Silent Generation views politics.  Eisenhower began to shape how the emerging Baby Boomer generation viewed politics.  Eisenhower’s moderation however rubbed many in the GOP’s emerging conservative wing the wrong way.  JFK’s hard fought and close election in 1960 heralded the end of the old Democratic coalition.  JFK, like Truman before him, undertook an aggressive agenda on civil rights and racial affairs.  After his assassination in 1964 in Dallas the course of his agenda was not changed by LBJ, rather the mission continued with passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voter Rights Act and several other large pieces of legislation.  These pieces of legislation largely impacted the South and minorities.  It is little surprise we should see its results in modern day elections.

The first Republican to exploit the emerging fractures in the Democratic Party not just generationally but also regionally was Richard Nixon.  His path to victory was paved by Barry Goldwater’s successful wins in several Deep South Democratic states in 1964 (he lost everywhere else).  As mentioned prior, Truman’s desegregation of the military had jaded Southern voters on the Democratic Party but they also loathed the GOP’s adherence to business interests.  But with a wedge issue such as race/government intervention to exploit Nixon peeled off several Southern states into his camp in 68 and all of them by 1972.

In the meantime, Depression era voters retained their liberal leanings but their conservatism also showed on social issues.  The Boomer generation, just making its electoral voice heard, was split between fiscally conservative individuals and foreign policy doves (think Woodstock/hippies).   In short, the Silent Generation remained solidly Democratic but the Boomer Generation were the swing voters in elections.

Jimmy carter’s tenure can largely be laid at Nixon’s feet.  Nixon’s corruption turned the South and many Boomers, if even temporarily, to Democrats again.  But by 1980 with a sluggish economy, Iranian hostage crisis and stagflation pummeling the country, Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California emerged as the winner.  Reagan was the epitome of conservative’s victory in turning the GOP rightwards (but that is for another post).

Reagan’s wins in 1980 and 1984 coincided with an influx of Eastern Europeans moving into the country.  They had grown up under oppressive, Communist regimes and feared an expansive government.  The age of the average member of the Boomer generation, they also cared about social issues and acclimated quickly into the political culture.  Combining these voters with the Boomer generation made the nation and Boomers pull to the right.

During the course of these elections regions had also moved.  The South had become red in Presidential elections while the Northeast was becoming less so.  Reagan won by massive margins in 1984 yet in a state such as Massachusetts his winning margin was less then in 1980.

Bill Clinton’s entrance onto the stage helped change this.  In both 92 and 96 Clinton temporarily peeled off key blocs of the GOP coalition (mainly in the South).  Meanwhile, in 92 and 96 Clinton went all in courting the young voters of the Boomer Generation’s kids, Generation X.  This new bloc of voters could be characterized as cynical of politics and government but also fiscally conservative.  Their voting preferences had yet to be formed.

Clinton’s tenure arguably turned these voters towards the Left.  In both 92 and 96 Clinton won the young vote by large margins.  His pullback from world affairs was largely seen as driving the 2000 campaign’s who can be more doveish theme on foreign policy.  Even the World Trade Center garage bombing in 1993 and Cole warship bombing in 2000 in Yemen could not seem to shake the course of these voters views.

George Bush’s 2000 showing was a high-water mark for the modern day GOP among younger voters.  Essentially he tied with Gore for 18-29 year olds and won the senior vote.  In 2004 Bush would lose young voters by nine points but win seniors by several points.  By 2004 just about every major generational group was voting as its share of the population.  They voted along predictable lines as well.

Seniors, including the oldest Boomers and the Silent Generation leaned right (because of Eastern European American immigrants).  Generation Y leaned left thanks to Clinton’s impact on their partisan preferences.  But the few Millennials old enough to participate in American politics largely split their votes.  This has always stood in stark contrast to 2008.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 served to show where the majority of the newest and youngest group of voters, the Millennials, stood on the issues.  They leaned to the left.  In fact, far to the left.  This trend continued in the 2012 election.  So what can we glean from prior electoral history.

First, the modern day party coalitions have been around since 1972.  Indeed, even the GOP’s reign in the 80’s could not change the swing nature of the electorate.  Clinton also did not turn Generation X politically left (perhaps a slight lean).  Second, the solidly liberal generation of the Depression is shrinking.  Some would argue the Millenials will replace them and maybe so.  But it is also hard not to see the GOP turning older, more rural parts of the Democratic coalition over to their side, offsetting demographic trends.  Lastly, there is no assurance the more urban and liberal Millennial generation will stay solidly liberal, let alone vote at historic rates consistent with 2008 and 2012.

In Part II I will continue this discussion by discussing current/historical political issues and topics and how it has shaped how different generations of voters view the issues.

Will Minorities swing the Virginia Gubernatorial race?

20130508VaGovNo electoral group has so rewarded Democrats so much as minorities.  And as a result it gives Democrats a rock solid base of support in the Virginia Governor’s race.  In 2009 these voters only made up 22% of the electorate but they also backed Creigh Deeds with over 70% of their vote.  In fact, they were the only group that gave Creigh Deeds over 50% of the vote in that election.  So, with a close race brewing in Virginia the question must be asked, will minorities swing the Virginia gubernatorial race Democrat’s way?

Democrats believe it will and a new survey from Quinnipiac backs them up.  The survey, admittedly taken before Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has been attacked on corruption allegations (Greentech), shows him with a 48%-42% lead over Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli.  Without repeating the poll results verbatim, Democrats made up 30% of the electorate compared to just 23% Republican and 39% Independent.  In contrast to 2009 when whites made up 78% of the electorate they only make 72% of the electorate in the survey.  Keep in mind they only made up 70% in 2012. The other notable highlight from the survey is its finding that whites only back Cuccinelli 42% to 50%.  The survey only included blacks as another demographic group and they back McAuliffee 74%-7%.

If the survey is accurate it suggests that Cuccinelli has series problems and the GOP needs to revamp its efforts to turn out its white base.  But there are reasons to doubt that minority turnout will be close or even eclipse 2012 levels.  First-off, the Quinnipiac survey weighted its results which suggests they had more Republicans and whites in the original survey.  The pollster did not reveal what it based its weighting on but it is reasonable to believe it was because their LV model was extremely loose and cast a wide net.  Second, OFA, Organizing for America, the Barack Obama campaign arm that assembled so much voter data has so far refused to share its data with the McAuliffee campaign.  Third, Democrats have reportedly had trouble connecting with Presidential voters in NoVA, their base of support in the state.

Cuccinelli is certainly in no position to feel good however.  His strong social positions have allowed him to be painted as extreme by Democrats.  Governor McDonnell’s ongoing scandal has also tarnished his campaign.  But Cuccinelli can count on strong turnout in SoVA and the Central-West region of the state.  Those areas of the state have a strong social conservative contingent.

No other poll has been taken in over a month (minus Quinnipiac).  Quinnipiac’s poll is among likely voters, the first in the race, though it might explain why its LV model was so loose.  Polls taken in July, from Roanoke College and PPP suggested a differing electorate from each other and Quinnipiac.  The partisan ID of the RC poll found 29% identified as Democrat, 28% as Republican, 22% Independent and an unusually high 20% as other/none.  The survey identified an electorate 76% white and 17% black with 7% identifying as other.  PPP’s survey suggested a partisan gap of 37% Democratic, 32% Republican and 31% Independent.  Racially 75% identified as white and 18% as black.

These older surveys suggest a more traditional Gubernatorial electorate.  More white than the last Presidential election but less so than the last Governor’s race.  Quinnipiac’s survey suggests the exact opposite.  It is impossible to know for sure whether this is true or not until more surveys come out but reports from the ground suggest general apathy towards the race among the undecided and low attention voters.  Indeed, Quinnipiac found a normal pattern, 82% of GOP supporters were closely/moderately paying attention to the election compared to 75% of Democratic supporters.

All this brings us back to the original question. Will minorities swing the race?  They certainly have the voting power to do so if they show up in big numbers. Polling has been scarce and as a result most of what is written here is conjecture.  But this assumption can be made with a high degree or certainty.  If minorities turn out in numbers well above 2009 and close to 2012 levels the night belongs to McAuliffe.  But if the electorate closely resembles 2009 (or 2010) than Cuccinelli will have caught a huge break.  We will see!

Which potential GOP contender best fits the modern GOP coalition and more?

downloadIt is said political coalitions are a product of their time.  If this is true, the GOP needs a revamp and fast.  Or so at least several well-known analysts say.  But even before that can happen a candidate must be able to connect with the current party coalition.

Before I go on I should elaborate on what I mean by political coalition.  The term political coalition infers far more than the demographics of the voters.  For example, the Democratic Party is far more than the party of minorities, single women and the young.  It has a geographical coalition of being urban and suburban.  The party also has an electoral base of strength on the Pacific Coast, the Industrial Belt and the Northeast.

The GOP’s current coalition is primarily middle-aged and older whites.  The party is becoming more downscale than upscale and its geographical base of support remains in rural and suburban/exurban areas.  Lastly, the electoral strength of the party is all over the map but it comes primarily from the South, West and Midwest.

Let’s keep in mind here the GOP has lost the last 4 of 6 Presidential elections and the popular vote in 5 of 6.  Since 2008 Democrats have made inroads in the formerly GOP states of Virginia and North Carolina.  The GOP cannot say the same of any Democratic states.  Against this backdrop are the bevy of candidates the GOP could field for Presidency in 2016.

All these GOP candidates have one thing in common; they can help remake or at least hold the GOP coalition. Let’s take a look at some of the likeliest GOP candidates for President in 2016 and discuss how they connect with the party’s coalition.  This list is far from exhaustive however as the 2016 field is far, far from set.

  • Chris Christie: Governor Chris Christie hails from a Democratic state (New Jersey) and from a Democratic region (the Northeast) of the country.  However, this is unlikely to stop him from easily winning a second term in his state.  Christie’s base of support comes from the all important independent and moderate vote.  But he also plays well in the upscale suburbs of New Jersey where voters tend to be less ideological and more pragmatic.  This might allow Christie to play well in the suburbs of key states like Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.  But on the other side of the coin Christie is very likely to be unable to connect with the downscale aspect of the party.  Rural voters might appreciate his fiery rhetoric but his agenda is far from fiscally conservative or libertarian.  His pragmatic approach might play well in the Midwest as well.
  • Senator Marco Rubio: Marco Rubio’s greatest strength seems to be his appeal to Floridians and more specifically for party hopes, the Hispanic vote.  Rubio’s support of immigration reform has hurt him among the grassroots but on the other hand his efforts to defund Obamacare have to earn him some props.  Rubio, like Christie, connects with upscale voters.  But his personal story could allow him to garner 2004 George Bush numbers among downscale whites and Hispanics.  Geographically, Rubio plays well in traditionally GOP areas and the combination of upscale/downscale voters combined with an increased share of the Hispanic vote might put Democratic states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada in play.  Depending on the dynamics of the race he even could play in Iowa or Wisconsin (I will not stretch and say Michigan or Wisconsin however).
  • Senator Rand Paul: Senator Rand Paul hails from the quixotic state of Kentucky.  It is solidly red at the federal level but Democratic at the state level (minus Ag Commissioner and the state senate).  Rand Paul’s appeal is less geographic and more demographic.  His libertarian outlook on foreign policy, fiscal policy and drugs might make him a fan of former, young Obama voters.  This could help him in demographically younger states like Virginia and North Carolina but hurt him in older states (Pennsylvania and Florida come to mind).  Still, it is hard to see Paul losing any solidly red states even if he loses older voters who might be attracted to a more commonly Republican ticket (Christie or Rubio).  How Paul plays with upscale and downscale voters is the question.  Perhaps his stepping back from drugs and social issues helps him in the upscale suburbs.  On the other hand it could hurt him among downscale voters.
  • Governor Bobby Jindal: Bobby Jindal is known as the whiz-kid.   Heck, he ran his state’s Healthcare system by his mid-twenties.  Jindal, as an Indian-American, would likely help the GOP connect with immigrants and minorities.  His brand of social conservatism would also connect him to traditional elements of the GOP coalition.  But Jindal’s southern roots might hurt him when he tries to expand the GOP coalition.  His social conservatism may not play well outside traditionally GOP areas.  Likewise, his Indian-American appeal could fall flat if he is assumed to be just another Southern Republican.
  • Rick Santorum: There has to be at least one has-run on this list so why not the former Senator of Pennsylvania who says he is interested in running again for President?  Santorum ran in 2012 and lost to Romney.  The former Senator also lost reelection in 2006 in a bad year nationally for the GOP.  Santorum will strongly connect with the GOP’s Southern electoral base due to his social conservatism.  Also, his populist rhetoric will connect with the rural, downscale white element of the GOP coalition.  But expanding beyond that will be hard for the former Senator.  There is little else at this point to suggest he would win more than traditional GOP states and demographics.
  • Governor Scott Walker: Lastly, we come to the Governor of Wisconsin.  Walker embodies the conservative, pragmatic Midwestern Republican.  He has battled recalls, union protests and managed to win said recall with more votes than his election in 2010.  Most startling was that Walker did this by winning young, moderate income voters.  Walker’s pragmatic streak is etched with modern conservative elements.  He is a solid social conservative, a fiscal conservative but also has inched towards Rand Paul’s views on foreign policy.  In his two elections he has won the conservative suburbs of Milwaukee and the more liberal, upscale suburbs of Dane County.  This suggests he has upscale appeal.  His social and fiscal conservatism connects well with the traditional GOP base.  It is his Midwestern roots and pragmatic appeal, even as he has implemented a decidedly conservative agenda that take the cake though.  His pragmatism might allow him to win swing voters and minorities without pandering.

Like I said before this list is far from exhaustive.  The contours of the election and political environment over the next few years also will likely leave this initial analysis outdated.  But from what we can see above a few things stand out.

Chris Christie is the GOP’s best bet if it wants to remake itself into a more center-right, up-scale party.  Downplay social and fiscal policy and focus on good governance, reform and compromise (fat chance in this time of polarization).  Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator Marco Rubio could expand the GOP tent ethnically.  But Rubio seems to play better to a more upscale electorate while Jindal less so.  Both seem to fit the traditional elements of the party well.

Rand Paul is a mixed bag.  He could reforge the GOP demographically but it might come at the expense of the suburbs the GOP is holding (think Wisconsin’s Waukeesha County).  He is unlikely to lose the modern GOP coalition and could add to it.  But where it comes from is unlikely to be among downscale, white voters.

Lastly, we come to Governor Walker (Santorum I am not discussing further).  Walker connects to the modern GOP coalition extremely well due to his social and fiscal conservatism.  His Midwestern roots also help.  Walker’s appeal is in his pragmatism however.  It could draw the business community to his side in the primary and general elections.  Further, he might not singlehandedly peel away any key component of the Democratic coalition but he might be able to eat into their margins while expanding upscale and downscale GOP support.

Obviously, this simple analysis leaves a lot to be desired.  But as of now, considering the candidates above the most likely to run, it seems Walker, Paul and Rubio offer the party their best chance to expand the party.  Christie seems the best fit to completely revamp it.  Walker and Rubio seem to best fit the GOP’s current coalition.  Christie is a Northeast Republican and Paul seems a little to libertarian.  So, all in all, it seems the GOP could do bestl with either Rubio or Walker.

Republican strength lies downballot

In American elections, the little elections are often overlooked.  For example, in 2006 and 2008 everybody noted Democrats took Congress and the Presidency.  Much less noted was their dominance of state legislatures and Governorships.  In 2010, most analysts noted GOP gains in the Senate and retaking control of the House.  Less noted was their dominance in Governor races and even less noted was their overwhelming control of state legislatures across the country. This phenomenon continued in 2012.  Pundits galore focused on Democrats holding the White House, maintaining control of the Senate and nibbling away at the GOP majority in the House.  Less noticed was that the GOP maintained control of  numerous state legislatures, gained super-majorities in almost a dozen chambers, and by the time the dust had settled still dominated state politics.

rove-gillepsiePart of the reason for this is redistricting.  Republicans did a masterful job of moving the lines in their favor in numerous states.  But another reason is one that neither party can control but that the GOP can exploit.  The Democratic Party is increasingly losing elements of its old FDR coalition in favor of a younger, more female and diverse coalition.  Geographically, however this means Democrats are concentrated in major cities that are ripe for exploitation during redistricting and creating wasted votes in safe Democratic areas.

At the Pittsburg Tribune Review, writer Salena Zito points this out with two examples.  The town of Indian Head has been a solid bastion for Democrats since FDR.  The last Republican to carry it was Richard Nixon in 1972.  John McCain, with the help of Ralph Nader beat Obama here by 90 votes.  But Mitt Romney crushed Obama here by over 10%.  Another example would be Ulster County, New York.  The county is heavily Democratic at the federal level; Ulster backed Obama by 23% in 2012.  But the county legislature is 12-11 Republican.  Surely there must be other reasons than demographics that explain this trend.

The answer is simple despite the complexities of voters behavior.  The GOP simply connects better with voters down-ballot.  In local, county and even statewide races GOP candidates can meet with voters face to face and hear their concerns.  After hearing these concerns, the GOP candidate can position him/herself on whatever issue to win enough votes.  Democrats, an increasingly urban driven party, are unable to connect in the same way,  They can still play in poshy and low income suburbs and cities but in rural areas and exurbs their appeal is extremely limited.

Consider some numbers as we head into the 2014 election.  The GOP controls 30 of the nation’s 50 Governorships, 233 House of Representative seats, and has complete control of 24 state governments.  GOP control is also not solely in safe GOP areas.  In swing Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania the GOP has complete control.  Even if they lose control in a few after 2014 their position will still be strong due to their likely legislative majorities.

Democrats certainly have not helped their strength down-ballot since 2010.  Even in 2006 and 2008 their brightest stars focused on federal races.  National waves gave them majorities in state legislatures and control of Governors mansions.  But since that time Democrats have done little to replace their aging party leaders.  Indeed, it seems in 2016 Democrats may be willing to turn away from a young, new face and embrace the Clintons yet again.

The most important facet of state and local races is that it allows parties to build key infrastructure in a state for future elections.  It also allows them to groom future statewide and federal office candidates.  The examples of this are all around.  In Colorado, GOP infighting has allowed Democrats to groom numerous future candidates and control the legislature and Governor’s mansion.  Yet, in Florida, Democrats diverse coalition of whites women, blacks and Hispanics has fractured to the point Democrats are turning to a former Republican Governor to be their standard-bearer for Governor in 2014.

Republican strength downballot should give the party hope for the future.  For Democrats, it is a worry they seem to have yet realized.