Robin Smith / November 30, 2020

Grow and Adapt … or Lose

The two parties’ demographic shifts are significant, and Republicans must adapt.

Lately, the demographics of partisan politics have changed dramatically. In 2016, Donald Trump pledged that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” An unlikely character ascended to the highest office of the most powerful nation in the world because voters were driven to an unconventional candidate who seemed to say what the average American was thinking. This was in part caused by a true realignment of those who identify as Republicans versus those who affiliate with Democrats. The Wall Street Journal’s November 24 post-election analysis says it all in the title: “How the 2020 Election Deepened America’s White-Collar/Blue-Collar Split.”

The stereotypical roles of party loyalists have essentially flipped over the course of decades. Democrats have become the party of the high-income, highly educated voters and activists, while Republican voters are those of the working class who hold traditional values and virtues.

According to Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni in The Washington Post, the deeply red college-degreed, white-collared workers of the Reagan era have today moved to the blue politics of the Biden-Harris team. Dissecting data of 100 counties with the highest percentage of college degrees and highest incomes, Republicans during the Reagan years held a strong majority with 91% of the high-income earners and 76% of the college educated. By contrast, in 2020, 57% of high-income earners and 84 % of college-degree holders were voting with Democrats.

As Salena Zito and Brad Todd observe in their 2018 book, The Great Revolt, Trump expanded the electorate to include many on the Left who tolerated God and guns, as well as workers from both sides who had lost out on global trade. The “Red-Blooded and Blue-Collared” voters who love America and rely on manufacturing are without question the foundation of the Trump base of 2016 and 2020. These and the “Perot-istas” who were drawn to the anti-establishment politicians made the difference in 2016 and through 2019 pre-COVID. With an economy that was historic, wages increasing, and employment breaking records, the Republican base was assured and Americans were doing well.

Then we were all hit with the COVID crisis, making many unemployed or underemployed, with businesses, schools, houses of worship, and all of life grinding to a halt. Americans, searching for even more help from their leaders, seemed to shift politically.

The aim of the center-Right is to govern with as little interference as possible. Yet in order to govern, leaders must be able to articulate solutions as well as to reflect the will of voters. The Center-Right must always stand for workers, for families, and for our unique constitutional republic while also winning hearts and minds in policy debates. Republicans are no longer strongly represented in academia, national media, and community activism, all of which is impacting the movements to defund police, federalize healthcare, and redistribute wealth.

House Republicans are demonstrating the success of reflecting these changing demographics in both ideas and candidate selection. They are in good position to take back control of the majority in 2022 after 11 unexpected wins that have narrowed Nancy Pelosi’s majority to single digits. It’s not about changing our values or our policy stances. It’s about having the correct messengers to deliver a message that matters to voters. It’s time to solve problems, adapt, and grow.

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