Mark Shields: A formula to lose in 2016
By Mark Sheilds
If Republicans have become more bullish about their party’s prospects for victory Nov. 4, it could be traceable to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg Public Policy Center poll, which found that Republican-leaning voters are much more highly interested — and therefore likelier to vote — in this year’s election than are voters who support the Democrats.
Consider this: In the 2012 presidential election, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 were the most Democratic voting bloc by age (60 percent for Barack Obama) in the electorate, whereas voters older than 65 were the most loyal GOP voters (56 percent for Mitt Romney). The poll found that among voters 65 or older, 62 percent of them self-identified as highly interested in the 2014 campaign, whereas among the youngest voters, just 20 percent said they are highly interested in this election.
If real estate is all about location, location, location, then national elections are all about turnout, turnout, turnout, which, as of today, looks favorable for Republicans in 2014. But first, if you would, return with me to the immediate aftermath of the 2012 election, in which the GOP again, for the fifth time in the past six presidential contests, lost the U.S. popular vote.
The Republican National Committee, after a hard-eyed assessment of the party’s problems, delivered a blunt postmortem in March 2013, which urged a renewed outreach to female voters and stated, “We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.” The Republican autopsy was specific: “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.”
That was logical advice, considering that in 1992, Republican George H.W. Bush (while capturing just 38 percent of the national vote) still won 55 percent of the Asian vote but, by 2012, 73 percent of Asian voters were backing Democrat Barack Obama. And even though Republican George W. Bush in 2004 won 44 percent of the Latino vote, in 2012 the Democratic president received 71 percent support from Latino voters. In the past 20 years, the share of the national electorate represented by Asian and Latino voters has more than quadrupled, while white voters have dropped from 87 percent of the total down to 72 percent.
Republicans in power, as you may have noticed, did not “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” With overwhelming opposition from Republicans in Congress to equal pay for equal work legislation endorsed by civil rights and women’s groups, the GOP’s recommended renewed outreach to female voters was not evident.
So if the Republicans do win the upcoming midterms — in which more older white male voters tend to show up than younger and minority voters — then, because the winners do get to write history or to say what an election result really means, the GOP’s most conservative partisans will insist that the touchy-feely RNC postmortem was wrong. All you need to do, the argument will go, is to give the voters what we gave them in 2010 (when the GOP picked up 63 House seats) and 2014, unapologetically conservative candidates who offered no yielding either on principles or, heaven forbid, to Obama or Democrats. There’s obviously no need for “pandering” to Hispanic, black, Asian or gay voters.
Such thinking and feelings will strengthen that 2016 Republican presidential candidate who condemns political compromise as weakness or even surrender. A 2014 win could well convince Republicans that while the nation continues to change at accelerating velocity (the widespread support for same-sex marriage and the fact that more white Americans, for the first time, died last year than were born), the GOP does not need to change. That would frankly be a 2016 formula for the Republicans to again lose the White House.