Every democracy undergoes periods of profound transition when political parties realign in accordance with societal, economic, or international causes.
In the United States one of the most monumental shifts was that of the Democratic Party during the mid-twentieth century. Initiated under FDR, the Democrats transformed over the next three decades into the pro-government, civil rights party in contrast to small-government Republican ideology.
The recent recession has highlighted how some countries are in need of a generational shift in one or more of their political parties.
The 2015 election in the United Kingdom has rendered liberal politics in Britain divided, leaderless, and incoherent: the Labour Party are plagued by internal feuds, the Liberal Democrats face a lengthy rebuilding process, and the Scottish National Party continue to endanger one vote in England for each won in Scotland.
In America, it is the conservatives who require a period of introspection. Though performing well in local and state elections, their national platform is on far shakier ground. Here are a few reasons why.
Ethnic ‘minority’ voters
The most immediate concern for the GOP is it’s shortcomings with black and Hispanic voters. Only one in ten Republican voters in the 2012 national election were non-white, but the white vote is a shrinking share of the electorate.
It will be very difficult to undermine the popularity of the Democratic Party with African Americans, given the institutional confidence of a party with the stronger civil rights record.
The Republicans are far more likely to win over Hispanic voters, arguing that the politics of individualism and hard work can mean success under a Republican administration.
Even so, in 2012 Mitt Romney won just 12% of Hispanics.
There are signs that party leaders are aware of the importance of the Hispanic vote: their field includes Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, all candidates that are able to connect with Hispanic voters in different manners
Unfortunately, the party is also plagued by regressive, ugly attitudes towards immigration, which has the unfortunate consequence of exposing racial prejudice towards America’s continental partners.
The GOP must become a far more racially inclusive party if it is to stand a chance in national elections, particularly as ‘minority’ groups are projected to grow in the coming decades.
President Obama refrained from using the power of the executive to force the issue of same sex marriage during his second term, though he gave public support for the cause in his speeches. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalise gay marriage reflected a popular attitudes to the issue, previously borne out by states electing to legalise same sex matrimonial.
Today, support for gay marriage in America is at a record high.
The Republican Party is behind on this topic, and badly. Our current crop of Republican hopefuls are busy hand-wringing over the Supreme Court’s decision. Being handcuffed to a religiously conservative base means that same sex marriage, which should not be in question in the national forum today, continues to undermine the image of the party.
Republicans must also take heed of generational changes in America. If it isn’t the case already, millennials will soon be the driving economic age group in America, and pose a considerable challenge for Republican strategists .
The 18-35 age range tends to be more liberal than other age groups. The archetypal millennial is optimistic, aspirational, tech-savvy and socially tolerant.
When translated into political terms, this means young voters are more open minded and compassionate with regard to social issues, and share a sense that society, not sheer individualism, is a positive force.
Republicans need to find the millennial sweet spots, devise new digital ways of speaking to these issues, and establish themselves as forward-thinking party. (See Kristen Soltis Anderson’s book, ‘The Selfie Vote’.)
Separation anxiety from the Oval Office
If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, which is a strong likelihood, and proceeds to win the 2016 election, which is perfectly foreseeable, there is the chance that the Republicans could be staring down another eight years of Democratic leadership from the White House.
Though we are admittedly getting very far ahead of ourselves at this point, a two-term Hillary presidency would result in the Republicans not having touched the Oval Office for sixteen long years.
This only compounds the aforementioned problems concerning generational shift. The Republican Party performs better with older voters, but should the Democrats win the presidency for a further eight years this critical conservative constituency will have changed significantly.