Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How Do You Stop the Bleeding If You're the GOP???

Recently released data from a new Gallup Poll is not good news for the GOP. As you see in the graphs above, every single demographic group surveyed has seen their Republican identification decline. About the only groups that have remained steady are seniors and frequent church goers.

Normally when a party is in decline, it is a result of the defection of part of its coalition. In the classic "realignment" school of thinking, new eras of party dominance are precipitated by a re-organization of the groups supporting each of the parties. What you have is a reshuffling of the deck, in other words. Depending on the size of the groups moving from one side to the other, the degree and durability of the new electoral majority can vary. Even in large realignments, though, you tend to see some parts of the minority party's coalition remain strong.

While these numbers may be temporary, the real problem with them, from the Republicans' standpoint, is that they don't offer much of a path forward. If Democratic gains were concentrated among particular groups--say the young, the un-married, those in urban areas, etc.--Republicans could create a strategy to isolate these groups from those who are still part of your coalition as well as from those whose allegiances aren't firmly defined (i.e. those traditionally seen as independents and moderates) Republicans would ideally also be able to target parts of the Democratic coalition that is shaky. By trying to define the Democrats as only representing a segment of the electorate the GOP could position themselves as a viable alternative. This is classic party politics. Whether it be Democrats reaching out to urban and minority voters with the ascendance of FDR or Reagan's courting working class whites, party majorities have their genesis when the party out of power is able to pick off the other's "low hanging fruit," especially when they are of a sizable number. However, when you are losing ground among virtually everyone, its much more difficult to stop the momentum working against you.

So what does the GOP do?? Does it simply try to hold on to those groups that, while they are running away, are doing so the slowest? Do they try something more radical? Or, perhaps most likely, do they stay in a holding pattern and hope that the Democrats overreach and fail to meet the heightened expectations of the American electorate? In other words, can you win by default?

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