Thursday, May 01, 2008

 

Voting Minority of the Day: Married White Christians

Married white Christians now make up less than half of all voters in the United States and less than one fifth of voters under the age of 30. —Alan I. Abramowitz writing in "The incredible shrinking Republican base"

Keep in mind that the majority of voters are far and away Christian, White and married (in that order, from high to low). But there's something special about being a member of all three demographic groups—

In American politics today, whether you are a married white Christian is a much stronger predictor of your political preferences than your gender or your class -- the two demographic characteristics that dominate much of the debate on contemporary American politics.

As a predictor of party preference this trifecta outperforms not only gender and class but also age. And guess who gets their votes? That's right. Every Republican crook in the country.

But the Republicans are facing not only a decline of their most loyal voting group from majority to minority status but a veritable demographic tsunami—

The proportion of married white Christians among voters under the age of 30 has plummeted from almost 80 percent in the 1950s to less than 20 percent in the first decade of the 21st century.
....

.... Not only are married white Christians more likely to support the GOP than other Americans, but ... the gap between these two groups has widened from less than 10 percentage points in the 1950s to 25 percentage points in the first decade of the 21st century.

Given the demographics, you're entitled to wonder why so many Republicans are still in office. The answer is this: While the absolute number of their most loyal demographic group has declined, the proportion of them voting Republican has increased—

Even though married white Christians have been shrinking as a proportion of the American electorate, the Republican Party has been able to maintain and even slightly increase its share of the electorate since the 1960s by steadily increasing its support among married white Christians. The data ... show that between the 1950s and the first decade of the 21st century, Republican identification among married white Christians increased by more than 20 percentage points, going from about 40 percent to over 60 percent.

Now here's the good news for Democrats—

... the ability of the GOP to continue to offset the diminishing size of its married white Christian base by making further gains among this group is questionable. Republican gains among married white Christians have occurred almost entirely among self-identified conservatives. Between the 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century, Republican identification among conservative married white Christians increased by 26 points, going from 64 percent to 90 percent, according to NES [National Election Studies] data. During the same time period, Republican identification among moderate married white Christians increased by only five points, going from 38 percent to 43 percent and Republican identification among liberal married white Christians actually declined by 10 points, falling from 23 percent to 13 percent. These results suggest that the potential for additional Republican gains among married white Christians may be limited. Conservative married white Christians already overwhelmingly identify with the GOP and the party has had little success in increasing its support among moderate-to-liberal married white Christians.

To put it more succinctly, the Republicans have maxed out their support in this group.

Abramowitz wondered if the support for Democrats among the young could be attributed to current events such as the Iraq War. He found that it couldn't—

In order to determine whether long-term demographic changes were responsible for the generation gap in voting behavior, I compared the preferences of younger and older voters in the 2006 House elections while controlling for their demographic characteristics. The results ... show that married white Christians under the age of 30 were just as likely to vote for a Republican House candidate as married white Christians over the age of 30. Similarly, voters over the age of 30 who were not married white Christians were just as likely to vote for a Democratic House candidate as voters under the age of 30 who were not married white Christians. Thus, the current generation gap in voting behavior appears to be completely explained by the difference between the proportions of married white Christians in these two groups. The reason that voters under the age of 30 are now significantly more Democratic than older voters is that they are much less likely to be married, white, and Christian.

This conclusion seems a little silly on the face of it. But remember that Abramowitz has so far been considering only party loyalty, not the stances on the issues that the Republicans represent. And in that regard Republicans appear to be in a no-win situation. Abramowitz concludes—

Since the potential for additional Republican gains among married white Christians appears to be limited, Republican leaders will need to find ways to reduce the Democratic advantage among voters who are not married white Christians in order to maintain the party's competitive position. However, given the generally liberal views of this group, this will not be easy. In 2006, according to data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, 57 percent of these voters supported a woman's right to choose an abortion under any circumstances, 66 percent opposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, and 71 percent favored a single-payer health care system. Any attempt by Republican leaders to significantly increase their party's support among voters who are not married white Christians would therefore require changes in some of the party's longstanding policy commitments -- changes that would clearly upset a large segment of the current Republican base.

Whither the Republicans?

Abramowitz' analysis of the electorate is credible and compelling. (I recommend the entire article.) But it only concerns future outcomes of the Democratic-Republican horse race. And while Abramowitz considers the potential effect of majority support for the hot social issues of abortion, gay marriage and universal health care, not a word does he write concerning the public's beliefs and attitudes toward economics, "law and order," immigration, international threats, military bases and social safety nets—to name just a few issues that may become a great deal hotter than abortion, gay marriage and health care. That's quite a hole in the narrative. And I will hazard the guess that it's exactly through this hole that the Republicans will attempt to slip. Any of those issues have the potential to wedge apart the not-Christian-White-Married majority.

But I hope by now you know that in the broader context of societal direction and control, the grand game is not between Democrats and Republicans but between international capital (referred to in the media as "the world of finance") and the rest of us. And in that game the American electorate scarcely realizes that it's a player—and it certainly isn't much of one.

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