Friday, February 17, 2012

Q Day 6: Demographics and the Future of the GOP?

A commenter asks:
A lot of people think that the Republican Party is heading towards irrelevancy demographically because of its increasing trend to the right unless there's some kind of significant change. I'm less curious as to whether it will happen than I am curious about the mechanics of it. How could a party disappear? How could another rise to take its place? It's hard for me to see a 3rd party growing like that or the Republican party disappearing like the Whigs did. Any ideas on what will happen if these demographic predictions are correct? Will one faction take over the Republic brand while another heads out on its own? WIll both parties change based on new wedge issues?
As far as the future of the Republicans...I'm with those who believe that Latinos will become "white" (that is, they'll be thought of as part of the majority "racial" group) and that Republicans will compete for the Latino vote the way they now compete for the Irish or Italian vote. I do think in the near term there's a chance that Republicans could box themselves into a corner that would put them into the minority for an extended period thanks to demographic shifts, but I think it's unlikely in the long run.

On the larger question, my general sense of this stuff is that a two-party system is more or less inevitable given the US electoral system, but that the permanence of the Democratic and Republican parties has something to do with various "reforms" that make it hard for either to be replaced. Ballot access and campaign finance laws have favored the existing two parties. That certainly could change...let's see, for one thing the campaign finance thing is less of an issue now than it was a few years ago.

I think it's just very unlikely. It's almost always going to be easier for an unhappy faction to either jump to the other party or to take over their own party than it is for that faction to build a new party from scratch.

19 comments:

  1. Ron Paul wins overwhelmingly with under-30 voters. It's not hard to imagine the party undergoing an ideological shift in the coming years, going in a more libertarian direction.

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    1. except that under-30 voters melt away from the paul campaign when anything aside from foreign policy is the focus

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    2. Anon - Well, apparently not enough melted away... he's won a strong majority of that demographic in nearly every state that's voted so far. How many of them are true believers? Who knows. But those who *are* true believers are the ones who will change the party. For change to occur, you first have to first be willing to fight for something that's truly different. And the Republican youth clearly wants something different.

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    3. So what parts of current GOP/conservative ideology will get thrown under the bus? Or, alternatively, what parts of libertarian ideology will get thrown under the bus?

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    4. Hi Rick - There’s plenty of ideological room for libertarians in the GOP -- there were Tea Party Republicans who voted against the NDAA and the National Review even supports ending the War on Drugs. If libertarians continue to gain influence within the GOP, it will be framed as a return to True Conservatism, not an ideological change. The major cleavage Ron Paul opened-up on foreign policy will be softened by his successors in the libertarian movement (you can already see Rand Paul doing this).

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    5. Agree that libertarianism in the GOP need not be presented as much of an ideological change.

      I do wonder how well the do-your-own-thing ethos sits with social conservatives in the long run. Having said that, both Pauls hold largely social conservative views, iirc.

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    6. Rick Santorum sees himself as an eternal enemy of libertarianism, but I'd say that's very much a minority opinion in the party.

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  2. Jonathan, you write, "my general sense of this stuff is that a two-party system is more or less inevitable given the US electoral system".

    I want to push you on this. Why? And which "electoral system"? Naturally, this is something I have given a fair amount of thought to, and really, strict two-partism in the US is a puzzle, not the "natural" result.

    If you mean first past the post (plurality) in single-seat districts, among the other similar electoral systems, only far smaller countries have just two parties of any consequence. Not the UK, not Canada, and certainly not India.

    If you mean the electoral college and the plurality allocations states generally use, maybe. But it would certainly allow for regional third parties, and has done so at times in the past.

    Primaries? Maybe, but I don't see any clear logical connection.

    If it's presidentialism, per se, that's not the electoral system. More to the point, other presidential democracies are almost uniformly multi-party--even the two that use the most plurality-based electoral systems for their legisalture (Korea and the Philippines).

    Really, it is not so obvious that it has to remain this way. It just does, and maybe always will. But I still think it's an empirical puzzle, and not something where we can point to the electoral systems literature (Duverger, e.g.), and say, "see!".

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  3. Matthew, I think it is all of the above and more. Why does there have to be just one thing that makes the United States a two-party system? Each of the factors that you cite contributes to a cultural climate/institutional structure that makes it hard for third parties to succeed in U.S. elections. There are plenty more. Under the right set of circumstances third parties and independent candidates can make a splash, but over the long run the tendency is toward two parties.

    Does it have to stay that way? Not at all. Our political culture could change. We could change the electoral rules (e.g., allowing fusion parties again). Is it likely to happen? Probably not without some really strong exogenous event.

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    1. I think I'm with Keith here. Matthew (who knows far more about the empirical question here than I ever will) makes a good point, and I'll admit to being too glib about just throwing Duverger at the question...but on balance, I think there are lots of things pushing towards two parties and few pushing the other way.

      Granted, I also don't think there's much at stake; when it comes to parties, IMO two is enough.

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    2. I guess that's pretty much the point: the strict two party system of the USA is, in a very real sense, over-determined. I don't think that's the same thing as inevitable. But, unlike countless pundits every four years, I don't see this as the year when we suddenly get a multiparty system.

      On the other hand, since around 1990, there has been an uptick in voting for other parties in congressional elections. It stays below the radar, because national party vote shares are essentially never reported by the media. It is a long way from a general upward movement of non-Republican, non-Democratic vote totals to other parties winning any seats. I would like to see Greens and others putting their efforts into targeting a few congressional seats, rather than bothering to run presidential candidates. Because, overdetermined or not, there is just no good reason why there couldn't be a few "other party" members of our national legislature.

      The experience of every other democracy, aside from a few of the countries the size of Jamaica downwards, suggests very loudly that two parties is not enough. I certainly count myself as those who do not feel represented by either of the existing major parties, and who feel there actually is a lot at stake here.

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  4. The part that I'd like to focus on which Jonathan kinda glosses over is the latino vote.

    It's clear that latino will eventually become the majority racial group in the US but how is the GOP anywhere near being positioned to be competitive for that vote? In order for the GOP to be competitive in the next few elections (e.g. before the latino vote becomes the majority vote), they will try to appeal even more to the White Southern vote thereby driving away latino votes that they might otherwise compete with the Democrats on. How many election cycles or generations will it take for the GOP to fully shed its adherence to the White Southern vote?

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    1. Greg -- who is going to get the Irish vote in 2012? We don't talk about it, because we don't think of the Irish as an important electoral group. But that wasn't true in the past, and it's very possible, and IMO likely, that the same will be true of the Latino vote in the future.

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  5. My sense is that the GOP will not die away, but will ultimately be compelled to moderate in order to attract voters. This will not happen in the next couple of cycles, but it will happen. Put bluntly, the party will still be around in 25 years, but people like Meghan McCain will be running it.

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  6. I see the current Republican party as an unholy alliance that has to come unzipped. What natural allegiance is there between Sanrtorum-style social regressives and Romney-style big-business conservatives? The latter can line up with the Libertarians on a lot economic issues, but not on isolationism and the gold standard. The former and Libertatians should logically hold each other in contempt.

    How the tea-party slices across this is anybody's guess, since they make no sense, even in their own context.

    The Santorum surge shows how deeply the party establishment is out of touch with its base.

    I think the country really needs a rational conservative element - which we have not had in decades. It's really tragic that what we have is a clown parade.

    Cheers!
    JzB

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    1. I'm surprised JB doesn't even mention the immigration issue.

      From the 1920s until the 1960s, immigration policy discriminated in favor of the Irish and Italians, against Europeans from farther east.

      By the time I started paying attention to politics in the 1970s, immigration from Europe wasn't much of an issue. Non-communist Europe was prosperous, so it no longer seemed that American immigration quotas were denying many poor Europeans their best economic opportunity.

      Has any Republican done well with the Latino vote, without being at least as moderate as Bush on immigration?

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    2. On my last question, I forgot to add 'outside Florida'. Florida's heavily Cuban Latino population is obviously different. It is generally pro-Republican, and less directly affected by immigration policy.

      The last point is also true of Puerto Ricans, who nonetheless trend Democratic. Maybe there is a better chance of Republicans expanding their Puerto Rican support, without giving ground on immigration policy.

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    3. Puerto Ricans in the continental United States may trend Democratic, but on the island they are brutally anti-income tax. Which is why they have never voted for statehood.

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  7. As one who's tried to build a third party, and saw polls giving us 10% in our state in August of a Presidential year, I would stress the practical effects of first-past-the-post voting. The electorate begins to believe in the two-party model, giving the very idea of a third party a threshold of argument that has to be overcome before you can even say "this particular third party." And then when you have a particular third party, the result of an electorate that is generally split between two is that the particular third party is most likely to hurt the big party that is closest ideologically and help the big party that is the more ideologically opposed, and also the natural recruitment ground of the third party is that large party that's most likely to be hurt.

    The sense of the zero-sum game between the third party and the ideologically-closer big party can then be utilized very effectively by word-of-mouth campaigns by big-party faithful supporters when they realize the third party is a threat. (That's why we ended with 3 and-a-half percent or whatever in November.)

    And then there are a lot of specific state laws that were drafted with an eye to protecting the two larger parties.

    Yet in the long run, humans change and grow (or regress) and I do look for Republicans to reduce themselves through the effects of old age. However I see the most likely result is a new duopoly, with big business Republicans more closely joining conservative Democrats (whom they already support with some donations) versus more adventurous Democrats, and fringes remaining on the fringe.

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