As America is riveted on the 2012 presidential election, a more significant long
term phenomenon continues to inexorably reshape American politics. Over the
last two political generations the reliable, traditional and predictable state by
state Electoral College map of the Republican Party has steadily and dramatically
shifted from Red to Purple to Blue. The shift is one dimensional away from
the Republican Party. A large chunk of the Republican state base is now either
competitive or has turned Blue. If demography is destiny, it would seem that the
national Republican Party may be heading off a cliff.
It wasn't too many years ago that Democrats would have to thread a very small
needle to come close to 270 Electoral College votes and win the presidency. In
my lifetime, California and Illinois were reliably Red states, as were Delaware,
Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. These Red
states are now comfortably and predictably Blue, a shift of 125 electoral college
votes in their own right. Within our political generation, the states of Arizona,
Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North
Carolina, Ohio and Virginia were solidly and reliably Republican. Now they are
competitively Purple, totally another 132 Electoral College votes that have slipped
away from the Republican presidential base.
Only one state has moved from a deep Blue state to a deep Red state in the new
era, and that is West Virginia, with its five electoral college votes. Four states that
were competitively Purple in the past are increasingly Blue -- Connecticut and
New Jersey, with 21 Electoral College votes turning dark Blue, and Wisconsin
and Pennsylvania, with 30 Electoral College votes, turning a somewhat lighter
Blue. Two other traditional Republican presidential states that are not in play in
2012, will likely be competitively purple in 2016 or 2020 as the demographics of
Texas and Georgia shift in the Democrats favor, another 54 Electoral College vote
hemorrhage away from the Republican Party.
There are various explanations for this dramatic change in American presidential
politics. As the people of the United States have become more libertarian, the
Republican party has become more dogmatic and ideological. As the US has become
more ethnically and racially diverse, the Republican party has become more
ethnically and racially homogeneous. And as the US electorate has become
increasingly younger, the Republican voting base is not only getting older, but
it literally dying off. Demographics and politics are creating a new America,
different from any of the Americas we have ever known or studied in the past.
This is not an indictment, it is an observation. Systems theory would predict
that any social, political or biological system that cannot adapt to change
will ultimately disappear. The Republican nominating process in 2012 has
demonstrated a party that increasingly appeals to and cultivates a narrowing
sliver of the American electorate. And unlike politics a century ago, when a
party could run a nominating campaign to its base and then lunge into the center
for the general election, audio tape, video tape, the internet and 24/7 cable make
the "etch-a-sketching away" of a long and bitter primary fight all but impossible.
And there will be a sufficient number of Paul, Santorum and Gingrich delegates
on the floor in Tampa to make a "reconstructionist moderate platform" politically
unachievable, even if it is pragmatically desirable.
No one can predict what the next six months will bring. The recovery could stall
or even reverse. Unemployment figures could again start to rise. An Israeli attack
on Iran could have enormously negative economic repercussions on an already
faltering world economy. The Eurozone could come apart after the electoral
upheavals in France and Greece. Under these conditions, no incumbent anywhere
in the world can feel secure, including Barack Obama.
Yet in terms of long term political trends, receiving 270 Republican Electoral College votes
is becoming increasingly difficult, with enormous hurdles of demography and
ideology threatening to make the Republican Party a regional fixture of the South,
and an ideological prisoner to an increasingly extreme political base. If elections
are won on the margins, this is a Republican formula for disaster -- if not for 2012,
then certainly more and more as we move toward the purple-ization of Texas and
Georgia. A Democratic Party that in the past could only win if it had a Southern
presidential candidate, may soon be able to count on a Southern base of 111
Electoral College votes (Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Georgia)
irrespective of its presidential candidate's region, race or ethnicity.
The Republican Party may wish to consider these factors in determining its
core and message, remembering what happens to systems that cannot adapt.
With the "blue-ing" and " purple-ing" of America, the elephant may soon become a
Mark Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies, holds a Ph.D. in political
behavior from Northwestern University and is a former Executive Director of the
Democratic National Committee.