Aspen Ideas: Forecast isn’t sunny for Republicans
July 2, 2009
ASPEN – Republicans better hope the Democrats screw up sometime soon.
Without the party in power self-destructing, Republicans will likely face a tough time in the next two elections, according to two political experts speaking Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
David Brady and Douglas Rivers, both professors of political science at Stanford University, said party affiliations among voters and views on issues bode well for the Democrats.
“There is no silver bullet for Republicans,” said Rivers. “The short-term news is going to be pretty bad. One might suggest you sit tight and wait until the Democrats over reach.”
Brady said voters were evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents starting in 1980 and into this decade. But voters flocked to the Democratic party during George W. Bush’s presidency, especially during his second term. Democrats built an 8 to 10 percent advantage by 2006, he said.
(While the Mountain West states, which include Colorado, still have more Republican than Democratic voters, 2009 was the first time in 100 years the region sent more Democrats than Republicans to the U.S. House, noted Brady, an expert on U.S. Congress.)
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The issues that the party elite hold dear also create problems for the Republicans. At first glance, Rivers said, it appears the Republicans should benefit from focusing on “cultural war” issues like immigration, gay marriage and abortion. The bulk of voters agree with Republican positions on some of the issues – at least for now.
But immigration issues, for example, are evolving into a potential disaster for the Republicans. In 2008, about 13 percent of the population was Hispanic. At current growth rates, that will swell to the high teens within 25 years. A political party cannot afford to alienate that large of a segment, as immigration foes within the Republican party are doing, Rivers said. The party’s attempt to exploit immigration issues transformed California from a swing state to Democratic, Rivers said.
Although bans on gay marriage have proven successful in elections of several states, poll results show views have softened dramatically in the last decade, according to Rivers, who is regarded as a leading expert on survey research.
Abortion also used to be a key issue for Republicans, but now a small majority of Americans consider themselves pro-choice, Rivers said. And pro-life Republicans are less likely than pro-choice Democrats to compromise on candidates, further marginalizing themselves.
“This collection of issues taken together doesn’t have great long-term prospects for Republicans,” Rivers said.
The Republicans’ affiliation with the religious right also provides diminishing dividends. “The pattern is every region of the country is becoming less religious,” River said.
Those issues coupled with President Obama’s solid approval ratings set the Democratic party in a solid position.
“If you want to become president, it’s a good idea to take over for somebody who is perceived to be a failure in the middle of the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression. It sets a low bar to set with,” Rivers said.
If the economy improves over the next year, that will help Democrats in the mid-term election of 2010.
“What I would expect to happen with the recovery of the business cycle is Obama’s popularity will go up, will be fairly high in mid-term in 2010, and 2012 is not likely to be a good year for Republican presidential prospects,” Rivers said. “But a lot of things can happen in three years.”
Similar debates about the sorry state of the Republican party were heard in 1964, after Barry Goldwater’s thrashing in the presidential election. The party quickly recovered and dominated national politics.
Brady said patience is again essential for Republicans. Massive spending necessary for the economic stimulus, health-care reform, and cap-and-trade provisions of the climate change bill could deteriorate voters’ confidence in Democrats.
“The best hope for the Republican party, if you’re a Republican, is that the Democrats will overreach on this stuff,” Brady said.