For Republicans hoping the 2008 campaign will bring a fresh start after the troubled tenure of President Bush, there are sobering signs: Evidence indicates that the party’s problems with the American electorate are much bigger than the president and won’t go away when he leaves office.
Recent voter surveys, including private polling done by a leading Republican strategist, suggest a broader erosion of Republicans’ appeal. In particular, three groups crucial to Mr. Bush’s goal of a “permanent Republican majority” are drifting away: younger voters, Hispanics and independents.
The reasons include the Iraq war, conservatives’ emphasis on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, and a party-led backlash against illegal immigrants that has left many Hispanic and Asian-American citizens feeling unwelcome. The upshot is that Republicans face structural problems that stem from generational, demographic and societal changes and aren’t easily overcome without changing fundamental party positions.
So the Republicans are losing the support of young people, Hispanics and Independents, thanks in large part to Bush’s debacle in Iraq, but also because when people look at the GOP today they see a hard-right concentration of holier-than-thou moralists and scolds, many of who later turn out to be flaming hypocrites (Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Larry Craig). The story notes that self-identified liberals and moderates in the GOP shrank from 42 percent of the party in 1997 to just 25 percent today. And the right-wing ideologues who are left are not about to make the kinds of concessions necessary to bring those voters back into the fold.
And this isn’t just the “liberal media” pointing this out. It is coming directly from Republican pollsters and strategists.
"The state of the Republican Party is worse than any time since Watergate, and arguably this is worse than Watergate,” says party strategist Vin Weber, a former congressman, “because that was about an event, whereas this may reflect a trend."
The GOP’s hardline stance on cultural and domestic issues is driving young people out of the party, and that is a trend that unless reversed will eventually spell doom for the party.
In the current survey, 17% of Republicans are 18 to 34 years old, down from 25% in 1997. Republicans 55 and older constitute 41% of the party -- up from 28% a decade ago.
Equally worrisome is how the GOP’s hardline stance on immigration is driving Hispanics and Asian-Americans away.
The Fabrizio survey found that just 2% of Republicans are Hispanic, along with 1% who are black. “We’ve made no progress in 10 years,” the pollster says -- not a good sign “in a nation that is becoming more heavily minority.”
Of course, none of this will benefit Democrats unless they can present a more attractive alternative - something I think they can do. They will have their big chance to prove themselves in 2008 after winning the White House and larger majorities in the House and Senate. But it won’t be easy. They will have to deal with a hostile media. A public with a zero attention span on most issues. And a determined opposition party that will be chipping away everyday looking to take advantage of every little chink in their armor.