The Republican Party remain unelectable with socially divisive policies
The 2012 presidential election exposed how deeply divided America is, with, historically the popular vote results being one of the closest. Gone was Obama’s rhetoric from 2008 of a ‘United States of America’ as America proved to the world that it was still a collection of ‘Red and Blue States.’
On divisive issues such as welfare, the economy and social legislation Americans are firmly in either the Red or Blue camp. Granted, Romney and Obama are notorious flip-floppers and there is a compelling argument both candidates stood for ‘business as usual’ on many issues. On the economy & foreign policy, differentials in position were in the detail. However on divisive social issues such as gay rights, women’s issues and immigration the split is clear, Democrats remain the progressively liberal party whereas Republicans are firmly rooted as not.
For the Republicans to have a stronger chance of winning in 2016 they clearly need to increase their support base, one way of doing this would be to become more open to socially liberal ideas.
The Conservative Party in the UK faced a similar problem following the landslide defeat to Labour in 1997, calling for a detox of the brand and to remove the tag of the ‘nasty party’. Cameron’s relatively successful modernising project was rewarded by more success in the 2010 election. If the GOP undergoes a similar venture, they too may fare better at the polls.
Romney was a candidate prone to gaffes, jumped on by the media for sound bites such as ‘I am not concerned with the very poor’, ‘corporations are people’ and his awkward anecdotes about ‘binders full of women’ and the ‘irrelevant 47% of voters’. Romney truly earned the tag as the ‘nasty’ candidate, and if the Republicans want to win again, they need to remove this reputation.
The social conservative message, especially on women’s issues and equal marriage, turns off young voters. In 2012, 19% of those that voted were under the age of 30, and that demographic itself voted strongly in favour of Obama (60%). To win the White House the support of the youth is necessary: worryingly for the GOP, coinciding with this is a trend of their voter base getting smaller and older.
However the disposition of the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) shows that there are promising signs of the GOP addressing these issues.
A straw poll of younger conference attendees found that only 15% saw their most important goal as ‘promoting traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and the life of the unborn.’ Compared to the 77% who stated that their ‘most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government.’
This is by no an indication that the social conservative’s influence has been significantly marginalised within the party. LGBT groups still found themselves excluded from CPAC and the response to Republican Senator Rob Portman’s endorsement of Gay marriage from an older generation was unfavourable, to say the least. However with a younger generation of Republicans coming through, the rhetoric is clearly smaller government in all aspects of political life, social and economic
The Republicans consistently define themselves as the party of ‘small government’, yet the reality is they are currently in favour of big government legislation and are fiscally irresponsible. Only if they choose a candidate that truly confronts these problems can they attract a youth that grows ever more sceptical of government.
Following CPAC, the Republican National Committee produced a 98 page report detailing where the GOP needs to focus to win the next election. The report identifies that the GOP appears out of touch and must be more inclusive to win in 2016 instead of just ‘preaching to the choir.’
What is significantly lacking in the report is the discussion of fundamentalist Christian principles on abortion and homosexuality that turn off floating voters. This willingness of senior Republicans to change course is encouraging, but not without limits. It does not recommend any specific policies to win over voters, yet it has still led to attacks from the Christian Right of the party. Religious voters are worried the party is undermining their principles for cheap political gains.
On the surface the Republicans appear to be in a catch-22. They can’t afford to exclude their traditional base but at the same time, if they don’t change their stances they cannot win over voters. However, in the post-Bush era the evidence suggests the religious right is gradually losing its influence on the party. The Republicans no longer have to be the party of religious fundamentalists; it is not permanently ingrained into their ideology.
Romney successfully became presidential candidate on a fairly non-religious platform compared to his opponents and the party’s youth are focused more on libertarian values as opposed to traditional ones: the path to the White House is clearly in this direction as the Religious Right become more marginalised.
Following 2012 the Republicans have nothing left to lose and their party is seen as growing in irrelevance; this is their chance to incorporate more socially liberal values in order to win in 2016. Instead of being tarred as the socially ‘nasty party’ they can win the election based on being fiscally responsible and more inclusive.