Ten Miles Square


February 20, 2012 10:34 AM Demographics and the Future of the GOP

By Jonathan Bernstein

A commenter writes:

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.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • Ten Bears on February 21, 2012 10:08 AM:

    The Italian analogy is a good one, but I've long disagreed with the Irish analogy. Though the Irish and Scots - my own family was exiled here when Mary lost her head - indeed suffered mightily at the hands of the British and that "Americans" inherited that ethnocentricity, the Irish came here as English speakers. I don't think their row to hoe was as difficult as popular convention holds. That they are all (predominantly) Catholic...

  • POed Lib on February 21, 2012 11:29 AM:

    Democrats are under a huge confusion about Latinos. They think that Latinos are natural democrats. What a crock! There is a huge portion of the Latino vote that is very very similar to the evan Protestant vote. Latinos are anti-gay and follow the Bishops more strictly than long time Catholics.

    Once immigration is solved, the two parties will split the Latino vote, and it may end up being more Republican than Democrat.

    Prop 8 in CA passed due to votes by conservatives, blacks and Latinos. None of these groups are in favor of gay marriage, and democrats run the great risk of losing parts of the black vote by strongly backing gay marriage. I myself have no dog in the fight, but merely note that it is an issue that can alienate certain components of the Democratic "natural constituancy".

  • Archon on February 21, 2012 11:43 AM:

    POed Lib,

    I can see Latinos becoming a swing vote in the future. The idea of blacks abandoning the party over a secondary issue like gay marriage is zero.

  • tom on February 21, 2012 12:11 PM:

    "Once immigration is solved..."

    This strikes me as similar to saying: "Once poverty is solved..." "Once hunger is abolished..." It's just not that simple.

    But that is the crux of the matter. We still have Irish and Italian immigration, but proportionately it's nowhere near what it used to be. Mexico, however, is right next door. Will Latino immigration ever taper off the way Irish and Italian immigration did? I suppose so. When? Who knows? And if it does not taper off, can Latinos - even those whose families have been here longer than my ancestors - "become white"?

  • Jim Gonzales on February 21, 2012 12:17 PM:

    As much as Jonathan Bernstein is a nice guy, he's all wrong.

    As a Chicano from here in the Sonoran Desert, our proclivity for dismissing the "Old and Tired White Dudes" continues apace. As to the survival of the fittest, Latinos will achieve a predominant political position among America's "racial and ethnics" in the nextd forty years, and the Republican Party will be 'owned and managed' by Latinos, as well as by the Native Americans and African Americans, since we all see ourselves as Progressives.

    Now, to the age-old question that pertains to the Liberal of past years, or for and of the Great Society, will be the creation of the Great Society 2.0, and then some?

    Yup, the Great Society 2.0 may prove too daunting for the "old" Republican Party, and thusly, the "minority" white, consistent with today's politics, will have to create for themselves, the "other" Party since the Republican Party has fallen, not only on hard times, but seen as a vestige of "bad times" for the "racial and ethnics."

    Now, imagine America's "racial and ethnics" craft a national holiday that starts three days before Election Day and ends three days after Election Day. Consequently, voters will have seven days to register and vote, with no holds barred. Subsequently, the Triangle of Life for Honor-achieved...Honor-acknowedged...Honor--reciprocated, demonstrates that today's "old and tired white dude" have little if any imagination regarding America's future.

    However, we do! :-)


  • K Wilson on February 21, 2012 12:28 PM:

    A sizable portion of the Latino vote is actually a natural Republican constituency - socially conservative, Catholic or evangelical protestant, small-business-oriented, somewhat distrustful of government . . . However, the Republican party has spent the last 20 years doing their utmost to drive these people away, even as their percentage of the electorate increases. George W. Bush understood this and made some overtures, but he was drowned out by the anti-immigrant clamor. In the near term, this is another aspect of the suicidal Republican feedback loop, self-destruction by ever-increasing extremism. In the longer term, it will also be an important part of their road back once they sober up, recover from the hangover, and push the Know-Nothings back into the closet.

  • Patience on February 21, 2012 1:34 PM:

    I think Asian-Americans may be a much more natural fit for the Republican Party than Latino voters, though my impression of the population trend is that they will continue to represent a generally small portion of the electorate (i.e., no more than 10%). I make this assumption based on generally high levels of income for Asian households and the high preponderance of entrepreneurs and professionals who may find the GOP's rhetoric of minimizing government interference in business appealing (regardless of its actual record). I think the Democratic Party's support of affirmative action also acts as a factor that pushes many Asian-Americans away from wanting to actively identify as Democrats.

    In addition, I suspect that there are many Asian-Americans who are generally wary about the rise of China's foreign policy influence, whether they are of Taiwanese, Japanese, southeast Asian, or south Asian descent, and that these voters will find strong affinity with the Republican Party's generally more bellicose attitude towards China. But that will only be the case if the Republicans can restrain themselves from using race-baiting rhetoric in raising these concerns. Based on Pete Hoekstra's "Spend-it-now" ad, however, I suspect the Republicans don't have it in them, or at least they won't for a long time to come.

  • Memekiller on February 21, 2012 2:37 PM:

    I think the market will eventually drive the GOP to "re-image" themselves - but after a Democratic of the "Southern Strategy" completely alters the landscape. Call it the "Diversity Strategy."

    Democrats could conceivably dominate, as conservatives have, by capitalizing on this trend, and wedging the GOP into alienating non-whites the way they've let Dems alienate white men.

    The Democrats didn't disappear or stop winning elections. But it would mean another era where the environmentalist, HCR-loving Nixon is the "conservative."

  • Mitch on February 21, 2012 2:38 PM:

    The GOP will give up it's hatred of Latinos (but probably not it's hatred of Illegal Immigrants) to help offset the change in demographics. They will start this shift during the next four years, and it will be complete by 2020.

    This is not really going to be that difficult. The GOP is already reaching out to them through religon (especially Catholicism these days) and social conservatism. Some Hispanic-Americans also have a harsh view of illegals (as my Peruvian ex says, "they give us a bad name") and this view will probably increase as the demographics shift. Younger Latinos who grew up here as 100% American will identify more with American than with Mexico or wherever.

    Remember, the GOP is not intrinsically racist. The GOP is the party of Oligarchs & Plutocrats. They began courting the racists with the "Southern Strategy" to gain votes only four decades ago. Once the racists lose their voting power, the GOP will adopt a new plan to gain votes. Those with influence and money will do almost anything to gain even more. Courting a growing part of American society is only natural.

    After all, in the 1960s or 70s, would you have ever imagined Catholicism being so esteemed by the GOP as it is today? If anything it will be easier to embrace Latinos than to embrace Papists for much of the right. If they can do one, then they can do the other.

  • Memekiller on February 21, 2012 3:01 PM:

    I think a much more obvious and already-suited group for the GOP to court would be Mormons. Mormons are Republicans, if evangelists could get past their religious intolerance.

  • Mitch on February 21, 2012 3:28 PM:


    "Mormons are Republicans, if evangelists could get past their religious intolerance."

    The GOP does not need to court Mormons. Most of them already vote Republican, and of course two of this year's candidates were Mormon. That counts as pretty heavy courting if you ask me. If the GOP made an even stronger push towards accepting Mormonism, they would risk alienating a HUGE part of their base. And for nothing. Most Mormons are going to vote "R" anyway, even if Romney is not the candidate. There is nothing to gain by pushing the Mormon issue even further into the light.

  • Memekiller on February 21, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Mostly agree, but wonder how welcome they're going to feel the more they see the antipathy demonstrated so clearly when one of their own runs.

    They clearly vote Republican, but Romney brings the fact that the base doesn't want them out in the open.

    Nominating Romney makes them a solidly Republican block forever.

  • K Wilson on February 21, 2012 5:33 PM:

    Mormons are pretty much Republicans already, and they're only about 2% of the US population, heavily concentrated in Utah. Hispanics are over 16% and growing.

    I think the Republicans will have to at least split the Hispanic vote if they are to remain a viable national party. Most likely, in a few years extreme anti-immigrant positions will start to be discouraged. OTOH, habits are sometimes hard to break. Demographics may have to bite hard to before they change. The prospect of losing elections concentrates the mind wonderfully.

  • Mitch on February 21, 2012 5:59 PM:

    @K Wilson

    "Most likely, in a few years extreme anti-immigrant positions will start to be discouraged. OTOH, habits are sometimes hard to break."

    I tend to think that they will try to keep their anti-immigrant postions, and instead try to split the legal immigrants from the illegal, and try to steer the American (by birth) Latinos from those who arrived later.

    The GOP is great at making people dislike each other. It's their modus operandi: Focus on the negative, make people sure that "others" are taking what's rightfully theirs, and blame it all on a lack of American values. I think they will do it with Hispanics. They won't lose such a growing numbers of potential voters - especially ones who are often rather conservative already.

  • chopin on February 22, 2012 8:52 AM:

    I find all the theorizing about the changing Hispanic demography and voting effect fascinating. It has been my impression that the Hispanic population is spiritual, hard-working, pro-family and anti-gay. But I'm more than willing to cede that any number of these observations are wrong or fluid. That would include attitudes toward gays and same-sex marriage across all stripes of culture. But one constant that is not addressed here is the effect of money on elections. Will there EVER be a return toward balance between capital and labor? And if so, will it be via the Democratic party?

  • PowerBall on February 22, 2012 9:59 AM:

    I don't see us Blacks leaving the Democratic party anytime soon when we get constantly dogged by the republicans so much and they make no attempts to actually talk to us but at us or around us or about us. Everyone throws that look at Tim Scot, Clarence Thomas,et al, well those jokers are not the normal and they have pandered to the right so long to stay where they are because truth be known if they ever said anything good about Blacks or Latinos or came to our rescue politically they would be gone in a NY second. I also would not say that Latinos are gonna run to the republicans when they hear all that continuous crap about them saying if they had their way all latinos would be back in mexico; unless you all voted with them on their issues then you would be shooting yourself in the foot just like most blue collar white americans who think the republican elite cares about them...oh yes, they do care, at election time..Footnote: There are those in the democratic party as well who fit that shoe.
    The 2 parties may split the Latino vote, but you broadbased the latino vote as all emcompassing and if i was a Mexican i would be very suspect of you pandering to my needs after reading republican voting records on immigration and other issues. The Gop knows that they are in trouble and if they don't get rid of the extreme fringe elements and nonconformist in the party and get back to the true ideals of the real republican party they will and is beginning to suffer voter disenfranchisement.

  • goterpsgo on February 22, 2012 10:36 AM:

    @Patience: I'm Taiwanese and living in a very blue state. My dad and grandfather both were members of the Nationalist army, so I embrace China culturally but disown them politically.

    That said, there's NO WAY IN HELL I'd ever vote GOP (at this rate). I did vote for McCain in '00 back when he wasn't batsh** insane. As for the rest of that party, with their exclusionary cultural dog whistles and crazy fiscal policies you couldn't pay me enough to vote for them.

  • Anonymous on February 22, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Should you ascribed to politics being "personal" and predicated on "self-interest" Latinos leaving the Democratic Party, defies both Conventional Wisdom and Common Sense.

    Today, when looking at Obama's "deft" conservativism for reorganizing the federal government, first on the chopping block will be the Small Business Administration. And for many years, the Fortune 500 has been advocating that the trillions spent on government contracts should exclude the small business community. In retaliation, America's "racial and ethnics" are going to require that the manufacturers that undpin our National Security and Defense Schematic, will require that these manufacturers establish and operate their facilities on the Rez. And that's the political DNA of a legacy party when it comes to coalition=building. Of course, I could go on and on, in this vein, but politics and that attendant conversation has changed, given that 'counting votes' determines the definition and determination of any self-governance model, and the GOP will no longer have the votes, that are erstwhile and valued.


  • MNRD on February 22, 2012 2:49 PM:

    I agree that the GOP will not disappear. However, the GOP will be compelled to make a massive shift away from their current incarnation in order to remain electorally viable. In 20 years, the GOP of today will be viewed by the vast majority of millennials the same way we boomers now view the segregationists. The 'current' GOP in 20 years will be deeply ashamed of the current GOP of today.

  • superdestroyer on February 25, 2012 2:42 PM:

    All of the demographic data says that the U.S. will soon be a one party state.

    Over 90% of elected Hispanics are Democrats and if you do not count the Cubans, virtually 100% of elected Hispanics are Democrats.

    Hispanics are not social conservatives and have no concern for social conservative issues.

    If one wants to see the future looks at states like Maryland or California or cities like DC or Chicago. In those places the primary is the real election and the general election is just a rubber stamp approval of the Democratic nominee.

  • Barbara on February 28, 2012 11:37 AM:

    What is evident is how monolithically many view Latinos. No doubt, some will gravitate towards the Republican party, but I think it will be more on the basis of small business/anti-regulation appeals than social issues. We underestimate how much culture war issues, e.g., abortion, are a reflection of the larger Lee Atwater narrative on racial resentment -- a way of galvanizing the tribe to stick together in voting patterns. Those who see these issues as appealing to Latinos based on their Catholic identity must not understand a lot about the Catholic Church in Latin America -- how most Latino immigrants actually know what it's like to live in a country where abortion is illegal, and yet widely undertaken (in some countries, totally illegal and yet used to end half or more of all pregnancies), and how many perhaps resent being forced to conform to authoritarian versions of morality rather than their own conscience. This is one reason why protestant sects find Latinos to be such a receptive audience for evangelization. And as Latinos become "actually" Americanized, do you see young Latinos going down a different path from young Blacks or even Whites, who, it must be said, are far more tolerant of gays, for instance, and much less likely to vote GOP than their parents?

    I have no doubt that the GOP will try to reach out to Latinos, but in a real and substantial way, missing the boat now with the population that is most likely to be socially and economically conservative as well as religious will be an enduring loss because the coming Latino generation is not guaranteed to be motivated to vote according to the same concerns as their parents. People vote for decades. By failing to woo voters now, Republicans are losing decades of voters, just as Dems did beginning in the late 60s.

  • Ed Diggs on March 03, 2012 11:35 AM:

    A major reason it is so hard to form a new party is that current parties are so close in strength. If the Democrats received two thirds of the vote, you might see the emergence of the Progressive Party, which is now only strong in Vermont. And you could also see the emergence of a Moderate Party.

  • superdestroyer on March 08, 2012 8:25 AM:


    A progressive party works in Vermont because Vermont is the whitest state in the union. Do you really think that the elite white progressives will ever be able to walk away from the black and Hispanic voting blocks in states like California,Maryland, or Illinois?