By Heather Digby Parton
January 22, 2016
Amid the great cacophony of political punditry these days, something that’s to be expected as we hurtle toward the first primary contests of the 2016 elections, Ronald Brownstein of The National Journal has been doing some of the most interesting analysis of the political landscape. Leaving aside all the interesting, and I suspect important, contributions of TV celebrity, financial incentives in the media, a long simmering feud between the party regulars and the Tea Party insurgents and more, Brownstein has been focusing on American demographics and how and why they’re breaking the way the are in this race.
He’s been interested in this for a while and wrote an important analysis of the stakes for the GOP going forward in the wake of the Romney defeat. In September of 2013 he wrote “Bad Bet: Why Republicans Can’t Win With Whites Alone.” In that piece he looked at the fact that President Obama had won reelection quite handily by getting the smallest share of white voters of any presidential candidate in history. He wrote:
Few decisions may carry greater consequences for the Republican Party in 2016 than how it interprets these facts. The key question facing the GOP is whether Obama’s 2012 performance represents a structural Democratic decline among whites that could deepen even further in the years ahead — or a floor from which the next Democratic nominee is likely to improve.
In recent months, a chorus of conservative analysts has bet on the first option. They insist that Republicans, by improving both turnout and already-gaping margins among whites, can recapture the White House in 2016 without reformulating their agenda to attract more minority voters — most prominently by passing immigration-reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally.
On the other side is an array of Republican strategists who view minority outreach and immigration reform as critical to restoring the party’s competitiveness — and consider it suicidal for the GOP to bet its future on the prospect that it can squeeze even larger advantages out of the diminishing pool of white voters. Karl Rove, the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s two presidential victories, has noted that relying entirely on whites would soon require Republicans to regularly match the towering advantage Reagan recorded among them when he lost only a single state in his 1984 reelection. “It’s unreasonable to expect Republicans to routinely pull numbers that last occurred in a 49-state sweep,” Rove said at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer.
It appears that the party faithful made this decision for them. As much as the establishment may have wanted them to vote for a young Hispanic senator or an elder statesman married to a Mexican American in the hopes of boosting their share of the Latino vote, they are having none of it. In fact, the front-runner of the party for six months now is a man whose candidacy has made it abundantly clear that many Republicans loathe and despise foreigners and ethnic and racial minorities. They’re going with the 1984 strategy.
As this campaign has unfolded, Brownstein’s been looking at both parties’ coalitions to try to suss out what’s really driving the delusional impulse among the rank and file to circle the wagons. Looking through the crosstabs of various polls he has found that the Trump vote is a very specific sub-set of Republican voters: working class whites without a college education, even those who identify as evangelicals. He wrote:
Though Cruz led big among college-educated evangelicals in the latest Quinnipiac Iowa survey, the poll placed Trump ahead of Cruz by 32 percent to 30 percent among evangelicals without a college degree. The NBC/WSJ/Marist Poll in Iowa showed Cruz still leading Trump among blue-collar evangelicals, but with a much narrower advantage (nine percentage points) than among their college-educated counterparts (23 points).
Craig Robinson, founder of The Iowa Republican website and former political director for the state GOP, said Trump’s strength with these working-class evangelicals “doesn’t surprise me at all. He definitely has this appeal to the hard-working blue-collar little guy.” As for Cruz, Robinson added, “I don’t think he’s a lock at all” for these voters.
It’s possible that a lot of these white conservative working class types identify as evangelical as much for tribal reasons as religious commitment. Studies indicate that church attendance among this cohort has fallen rather dramatically over the past four decades:
Monthly church attendance by moderately educated whites – defined as those with high school diplomas and maybe some college – has declined to 37 percent from 50 percent, according to the study co-authored by sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia and Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University.Church attendance by the least educated whites – defined as those lacking high school diplomas – fell to 23 percent from 38 percent.
“My assumption going into this research was that Middle America was more religious and conservative than more educated America,” said Wilcox, in an interview with MSNBC. “But what is surprising about this is that, when it comes to religion as well as marriage, we find that the college-educated are more conventional in their lifestyle than Middle Americans.”
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