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After Obama's victory, are the Republicans finished?

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Robin Lustig | 11:50 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2012

So was it "los Latinos que lo ganó por Obama"? (trans: the Latinos who won it for Obama)

Or was it the African-Americans? Or the young voters? Or the women? As always in elections, the numbers tell the story. Barack Obama won 71 per cent of the Latino vote, 93 per cent of the black vote, 60 per cent of the youth vote, and 55 per cent of the women's vote (67 per cent of unmarried women).

Mitt Romney got most of the white votes, and did best among older, white males. The problem for the Republicans, though, is crystal clear: there aren't enough white voters any more to bring them victory -- they now make up just 73 per cent of the total electorate, down from 77 per cent eight years ago, and the numbers are falling further year by year.

Ten per cent of American voters are Hispanic; 13 per cent are black; 20 per cent are under the age of 30. No party can win without their support. As one Republican strategist put it after the results were in: "Demography is destiny."

But here's another statistic that I found particularly telling: 81 per cent of voters who said they were backing the candidate who "cares about people like me" went for Obama. In other words, to win an election, you have to be able to persuade voters that you understand them, their problems and their worries.

They don't have to like you -- Margaret Thatcher, for example, never did well in the "likeability" polls, but she did speak a language that resonated with large numbers of British voters. That's why she won three consecutive elections. And that, the numbers suggest, was a major factor in Barack Obama's re-election victory on Tuesday night.

By the way, while we're on the subject of numbers, I would urge you to take with a large pinch of salt all the stuff that's been written this week about America being more deeply split down the middle than ever before. The numbers tell a different story.

Barack Obama won 50.4 per cent of the popular vote on Tuesday. Compare that to the 50.7 per cent George Bush won in 2004, the same proportion that Ronald Reagan won in 1980, or the pencil-thin 50.08 per cent majority that Jimmy Carter won in 1976.

The truth is that the US has been split down the middle for decades. Which means that you need only a small number of voters to shift allegiance -- or for the country's demographic make-up to change (see above) -- for the White House to change hands.

So is it all over for the Republican party? I doubt it -- after all, just eight years ago, George W Bush won 40 per cent of the Hispanic vote, and with a number of rising Hispanic stars in their ranks, there would appear to be no real reason why Republicans can't start working to rebuild some of that support between now and the next Presidential election in 2016.

Those of you with long memories may remember how during the 1980s and early 90s, after eight years of Reagan, followed by four years of Bush Senior, it became fashionable to say the Democrats would never win an election again. Then along came a man called Bill Clinton, younger, cooler, and saxophone-playing, who turned the Democrats into the New Democrats, and charmed his way to the White House.

Something remarkably similar happened in the UK -- Labour was frequently written off during the Thatcher years, but then along came a man called Tony Blair, younger, cooler, and guitar-playing, who turned Labour into New Labour, and charmed his way to Downing Street.

(A Clinton strategist at the time was reported to have told Labour what the secret of the Clinton makeover had been: "Keynesianism, plus the electric chair.")

History teaches us that parties can re-invent themselves to match changing social realities. So here's a mini-prediction for you: keep an eye on Spanish-speaking Republicans, men like Marco Rubio of Florida, who may very well play an increasingly visible role over the next couple of years.

And here's one other mini-prediction: I doubt the Republicans will ever again choose a multi-millionaire venture capitalist as their Presidential candidate.

I still remember the words of a retired factory worker in deepest rural Ohio, whom I met during my recent US road trip: "As long as rich men run this country, it'll be a rich man's country. And they won't do anything for people like me."


  • Comment number 1.

    The GOP have not exactly covered themselves in glory at the last two Presidential Elections - picking quite unelectable candidates. It is almost like they wanted to lose. However they are well represented in congress - so much so that they can obstruct anything the Democrats propose.

    So are the Republicans really dead? I think Robin that you are too obsessed by one arm of US government and have forgotten Congress.

    It is the economy that matters. Another recession, which looks highly probable in the US (and UK and in the EU) will present the Republicans an excellent opportunity to re-group - hopefully around an electable candidate in four years time.

    The economic reality underlying all this is what matters. We have had a credit boom. This has made the western banking system bankrupt - but we are in denial. The 1870/1890 Long Depression shows us what happens when the bubble in credit gets turned into a bubble of property prices - a very very long period of stagnation and recession - up to 25 years long. This is the underlying reality. The economic idiots trained so magnificently at the major business schools and now in-charge of regulation can't yet see this - they will - eventually. They they will force the banks to break themselves up so that they are not too big to fail and get back to a prudential price for money (quite a bit over inflation). This is the Reality.

    Politics in the Reality (see above). Single term administrations (where the other side presents electable candidate - not muffins!) ought to predominate in the US, UK and the EU. This should go on till the economy recovers - so till 2025 going by the historic example of the 1870 Long Depression. The World will be a very different place by 2025 - China may be in decline too - having lost its major overseas markets and satisfied most of its home demand. We may see more revolutions and extremism and even wars - but let us us hope not!

    In the end all governments are judged by how far they have reduce inequality in their term of office (if they do not disenfranchise the poor!)

  • Comment number 2.

    Losing after a hard fought battle need not mean anyone, or anything, political or corporate is finished (well, unless you're the NoTW).

    But as the notion of consequences has been raised, any thoughts on losing, over and over again, often by pouring salt on self-inflicted shots through both temples (which is a unique skill)?

  • Comment number 3.

    Nope, Republicans not dead; they just need some serious resusitation...maybe revisit an old tried & true name that has already portrayed patriotism, like "Federalist Party" - the party of George Washington himself!


  • Comment number 4.

    As suggested, Republican problems with the electorate extend beyond race itself, it includes the economic vantage points many from the various races view their world, and then their perception of politics.

    Several have suggested tokenism as the cure for Republican ills. This should provide the level of electoral remedy G.H. Bush achieved with the appointment of Clarence Thomas: virtually none. Republicans need to comprehend, to paraphrase Carville, 'It's the policy, stupid.'

    Whether future elections, or the immediate confines they discover themselves in with the 'fiscal cliff', the architects of Republican policy will have to be honest enough with themselves to look into the mirror and acknowledge: 'I built that.' Until then, I believe they're fighting blindly, and, most sadly, because they retain an ability to attract large sums of financial support, they force the other party of our two party system to often follow a false path as well in an effort to remain competitive in the funding arena.

  • Comment number 5.

    Here is another facet of the election that is probably not well known outside the US. Greg Palast was the first to write about the extensive voter suppression that took place in Florida in the 2000 election. His book Armed Madhouse published in 2006 mentioned some of the details of his investigation for the BBC but there has been much more written about this since. Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at NYU believes that the 2004 election was stolen by the Republicans and he wrote a book about this. The NY Times mentioned this about a week ago in a short article. In the 2000 election as you know the results were so close that less than a 1000 votes separated Al Gore and George W Bush ("Dubya"). It took weeks of recounting the votes from faulty punch card ballots and the conclusions were that it was too close to tell who had won. The decision was thrown to the Florida Supreme Court but their verdict was overthrown by the US Supreme Court in a law suit submitted by the Republicans. In the 2012 election although many improvements have been made to the voting systems in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida there were still some lingering doubts about how fair the systems had become since the 2000 election. If the Republicans must rely on voter fraud and voter suppression to win elections it is a good question to wonder about the future of that party.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have read somewhere that the GOP has not clearly won the popular vote (by 2%+) since 1988. Yet it still clings to an ideology that puts it at odds with mainstream America. I think the Repubicans are too arrogant, fanatic, and too close to the 'guns and religion' mentality to be pragmatic enough to capture the 'centre ground'. They are crazy - you only have to look at the way they hounded statistician Nate Silver for daring to suggest that Obama was going to win the key swing states and get over 330 electoral college votes.

    The demography is definitely changing, so the GOP will have to change too. It's about time the odds were tilted in the Democrats favour. The Electoral College has benefited the conservative rural vote for far too long at the expense of liberal urban voters. If the College was truely proportional to each State's population then Bush II would never have won! Still, let's put American democracy in perspective: they said the election was 'too close to call', while the Chinese election was 'too closed to call'! ;-)

  • Comment number 8.

    There is a movement afoot in the US to replace the Electoral College with the popular vote in presidential elections. Actually there have only been three elections in which the electroral college disagreed with the popular majority. Twice in the 19th century and once in the 21st century in the 2000 election. With such a record it is sometimes hard to discern why the movement has become so vigorous. As a voter living in a blue (Democrat oriented) state with a small population, I am opposed to this movement. There are many reasons pro and con for this change. It is alleged that the electoral college style of election determination has resulted in the quadrennial focus on battleground states. By contrast, the popular vote would require a focus on population centers such as California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And the amount of campaign funds required would increase exponentially in contrast to the conditions under the electoral college. None of this is certain but I as a voter in a small state resent the certainty that my state and most others will be permanently marginalized in national elections if the constitution was changed in the wrong direction.

  • Comment number 9.

    Re. #5 smartsceptic:

    Palast's accounts, especially his dispatches from "The Land of Enchantment", were outstanding. I was struck to see how Gore was really collateral damage in Florida's bipartisan attempt to keep the down ballot offices in the right hands. This may give us an indication of the level of virtue behind the often heard plea for "state's rights", whether from Birchers or 'tea-partiers'. Isn't it strange in a nation where nearly every gas station or 'quickie-mart' can sell a lottery ticket, give the customer a paper print- out, keep one for itself, and have it stored on computer where lottery officials are able to identify the seller of winning tickets in moments after they're drawn, finds such a system for elections is simply a bridge too far? The more we succeed in preventing the disenfranchised from being 'scubbed' on election day, the more political parties will have to take the interests of citizens into account every day they govern. Maybe that was the lesson of this most recent election.


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