THE BLOG
01/02/2013 03:57 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

The Republican Party and Multicultural Voters: 3 Steps Towards Relevance

In the voluminous online and offline deconstruction of the 2012 general election results, one topic has been hotly discussed: the abysmal failure of the GOP to secure the nation's multicultural vote. President Obama handily secured 93 percent of the African American vote, 73 percent of Asian American voters, and 71 percent of Hispanics. Or, in other words, while the popular vote was quite close, reflecting a near-even split in the country, the Democrats scored nothing short of a multicultural landslide!

Should the Republican leadership care? And, if so, what should the party do as it reviews its platform and voter outreach in advance of the 2014 midterm elections and the next presidential contest in 2016?

Of course, the Republicans must care -- their future success depends on it. However, to start caring, the party must first abandon outdated labels and perceptions.

Once-upon-a-time, the nation's largest multicultural constituencies were more commonly referred to as "minorities," "ethnic groups," or other labels which implied "small," "marginal," "outside the mainstream" and, therefore, "unimportant." But the demographic reality of the country in the last three decades has rendered these categorizations completely obsolete.

Today, in aggregate, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans already comprise over one-third of the U.S. population -- up from one quarter in 1990, and well on the way to 40 percent in the next decade. For additional context, consider that these groups number 20 million more than the "Baby Boomer Generation" -- a segment of the population born post-WWII whose sheer size has made it a "holy grail" for marketers and politicians alike. In each of our top-10 urban areas, these multicultural groups comprise the population majority, and they remain the fastest growing populations in our top-50 cities. Interestingly, it was a full twelve years ago that Census 2000 documented that California had crossed an important demographic threshold to become a minority-majority state, with just over 50 percent of the population either Latino, Asian, or Black. Such a shift is now well in-play in many other states, counties, and municipalities across the country, dramatically impacting regional and local commercial and political life. For example, Census 2010 highlighted that Nevada -- a key swing state in 2012 -- ranked first among all states for its Asian population growth rate: 119 percent between 2000 and 2010. The recent election definitively demonstrated that Nevada's Asians (a majority of who voted for President Obama) are now a political force to be reckoned with.

A Republican perceptual shift would also dictate that the party embrace key multicultural communities more strongly as "contributors" rather than "detractors." Or in other words, these groups are not "grabbing a slice of an already-established finite pie." Rather, they are dramatically "enlarging the pie." The party that aspires to be the champion of entrepreneurs cannot ignore that Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians own and operate 5.7 million business nationally -- most of them small businesses -- which generate annual aggregate revenue of $992 billion. Furthermore, among individuals in these populations who are not yet business owners, many (if not most in some groups) rank business ownership as one of their top aspirations. As for consumption, annual Hispanic, African American, and Asian American purchasing power stands today at almost $3 trillion -- a figure that exceeds the individual GDP of countries such as France, the UK, Italy, India, and Russia. Quite obviously, whether viewed through the prism of business creation or consumer power, it would be hard to categorize this level of economic output and clout as "marginal," or "unimportant" -- let alone somehow "detracting" from our national economy. The contribution, and corresponding importance of these communities are amply evident in such statistics, and merit close scrutiny by all politicians in our country.

Just a few weeks ago, new Census projections detailing that whites will no longer be a majority throughout the nation by 2043 generated much media speculation about what such a future will look like 30 years from now. However, the societal shifts and trends that will culminate in that future milestone are already well underway now, and must be addressed today.

So, beyond merely acknowledging such statistics and their corresponding political implications, what concrete actions should the GOP take now to begin to foster relevance with key multicultural constituencies? Or, to echo a recent HuffPost Live panel discussion in which this writer participated (http://huff.lv/TgcWfV) , how should the Republican Party market itself to these groups?

At a high level, the road towards relevance includes three critical steps:

First, Republicans must engage in fresh, basic bridge building with the target populations. This step has two goals: to tangibly demonstrate to these communities that they are visible to the Republican leadership, while also signaling the party's desire to better understand these communities -- nationally, as well as on a regional and local basis. Key actions to achieve these goals include an ongoing schedule of personal visits to the target communities by national, state, and local party leaders (to listen, rather than lecture!); making such representatives frequently available to targeted, community-based media (of which there are thousands of offline and online outlets); and conducting meetings and ongoing dialogues with key community-specific political, civic, and business leaders. This is also the time to conduct more formal qualitative and quantitative research with multicultural voters to start to more comprehensively identify, analyze, and understand community needs, attitudes, opinions - all of which can assist the GOP should it seek to evolve towards a platform that is truly more inclusive of these groups.

Secondly, the GOP should start, today, to build a steady rhythm of strategic communications that seeks to highlight key party positions and/or values that may actually already be in-sync with these multicultural audiences. While it is widely understood that these groups have traditionally skewed heavily towards the Democratic party, it is also abundantly clear that in the recent election, there were many missed opportunities for the Republicans to meaningfully invoke specific positions and issues which the party has championed, and which could have resonated strongly in these populations. Just for example, a forceful and direct message of smaller government involvement in business and lower taxes could have facilitated a much more relevant connection with the almost 6 million business owners across the three populations, while certain faith-based positions might have struck a strong chord with multicultural sub-segments that remain deeply religious and conservative. To ensure that these communications hit home, it will be crucial for the GOP to consistently utilize targeted media channels -- both offline and online -- that directly cater to the news, information, and entertainment needs of specific multicultural communities, largely through the prism of community-specific life, culture and, often, language as well (e.g. Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc.). Such media are trusted within their communities, and visibility in these channels is like sending a hand-engraved notice of recognition, respect, and inclusion to the respective target audiences.

Finally, the Republicans must start to analyze how best to align on key issues with these target populations. This step will, quite obviously, be much more complex than the others given the historic home base that multicultural voters have enjoyed within the Democratic Party ideology and platform, as well as the admitted volatility of some of the big issues for certain multicultural groups -- for example, immigration reform. However, once again, the party must view these communities through a nuanced -- not monolithic -- lens, and seek issues where its own positions either already sync with those of the target communities, or can reasonably evolve to embrace and address community concerns.

Of course, many attitudes and positions may not be able to be aligned, and it would therefore be naïve to expect the GOP to completely shift all of its positions to accommodate multicultural voters. But, given the magnitude of the recent GOP multicultural loss, it would be equally naïve of the party to ignore the opportunity to find common ground with these groups - groups whose voices and votes will play an increasingly stronger role in US politics far into the future.

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