Research by the Pew comparing party demographics in 1992 through 2016 confirms the optics: we are more divided along party lines than any point during the last six presidential elections—and the GOP is having trouble evolving.
It’s not surprising that both the democratic and republican parties have grown more diverse and more educated overall, it’s a direct reflection of the country growing more ethnically diverse and more educated. But the rates of change within each party differ rather dramatically. While the influx of non-white voters in the democratic party has been significant (the percentage of white voters decreased from 76% in 1992 to 57% in 2016,) the republican electorate only decreased from 96% to 83%. This is evidence of stagnancy within the GOP. The landscape of the country is changing, and while democratic party shows this change in its shifting electorate, the base of the GOP isn’t evolving at the same rate.
Education and age show a similar picture. Democrats with a college degree increased from 21% to 37% in the last quarter century, while republicans showed a more modest increase of 28% to 31%. For the most part, the base of both parties has grown older since ’92, but, again the rates tell the story. The percentage of democrats over 50 years old went from 42% in ’92 to 48% in ’12. The republican percentage of 50-plusers increased from 38% to 58%. That’s a 6 percentage point increase (dems) vs. a 20 percentage point increase (reps). This may be the most damaging stat in the data. The republican party clearly has not done enough to appeal to young voters over the past two decades—their base is growing older at a rate that is surely uncomfortable for the RNC. Moreover, the percentage of voters between the ages of 18-29 increased from 18% to 20% on the democratic side, while it decreased from 21% to 13% on the republican side. It’s stats like these, and losses like Mitt Romney’s, that led the party to call for an “autopsy” in 2012. Of course, the findings of the “autopsy,” (concentrate on immigration reform, become more socially open-minded, and more inclusive in order to bolster their appeal among Latinos, women and young people) were shattered into dust when they nominated Donald Trump.
So what does all of this tell us?
Well, for one thing, it’s not good news for the GOP. For a party to stay relevant, it must evolve with the pervasive trends that garner enthusiasm—it has to stay young. Social stoicism and a call for regression will work to embolden a select few, but it won’t widen a party’s appeal or invigorate new voters. This data shows that the democrats have grown more educated and more diverse at a rate that parallels the country’s evolution, while the republicans have limped along the same lines, making insignificant gains and growing much older overall. There’s really no way to spin it, they’re not keeping up. Now this doesn’t mean that they can’t win this year, it’s certainly possible. But beyond that, the trendlines are not kind to the Grand Old Party.
From a demographic standpoint, the two parties are growing less alike as time moves on. The democrats are looking toward something else, gazing towards the future, while the republicans are clearly yearning for the past. And, I’m pretty sure if I asked members of both parties they would absolutely agree with this statement. Much of the GOP electorate wants to, “take America back.” There’s an attachment to the past, to a, “better time” and through this Krazy Glue-like devotion to the good ol’ days, the GOP is just treading water—and currently dealing with a nasty cramp.
While the democratic party is light-years from perfect, and has a cadre of internal and external issues of their own, they have been much more successful at evolving. Now, it needs to be said that this data should be skewed in the dems direction. The data collection began in 1992, the beginning of two Clinton terms, it then ran through two G.W. Bush terms and ended on the two terms of Barack Obama. So for 2/3rds of this time, democrats were in office, and the other 1/3 was filled by a president who left office with a record-low 22% approval rating. In a way, it’s unsurprising that people who are new to this country or are just coming of voting age, tend to lean left, they’ve seen democratic leaders more often.
But even so, it’s hard to ignore the numbers.
And it’s hard to not think of what they may look like in another 24 years. The truth is, if the republicans continue along this path, the party may not exist in 2040.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.