After nearly every presidential election, there are some who claim that it represents a watershed election; an election which foretells the doom of one political party and the dominance of another for years to come. Some view the reelection of President Obama as pointing to a looming demographic crisis for the Republican Party due to its failure to win the support of the young and minorities. They claim that the Republican Party is too old, too white and basically too conservative to win elections at the national level in the future. There is, in fact, a demographic crisis coming to American politics. However, this crisis relates to how this nation will pay for entitlement programs such as Medicare when the baby boomer generation retires.
At the outset, it must be emphasized that the election of 2012, at the national level, was really just a continuation of the status quo. Democrats retained control of the Presidency and the Senate while Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives. Since 1968, control of the federal government has been divided between the two parties for all but approximately 12 ½ years. Divided government is the norm of modern politics.
Furthermore, the reelection of Obama was not particularly impressive. Obama won by a margin of about 3 percent. Despite having lukewarm job approval ratings, Obama succeeded because he faced a Massachusetts politician who committed gaffes, flip flopped on issues and failed to respond adequately to unrelenting attacks. This is quite comparable to what occurred in 2004. In 2004, former President George W. Bush won reelection by a margin of slightly less than 3 percent. Despite having lukewarm job approval ratings, Bush succeeded because he faced a Massachusetts politician who had flip flopped on issues and failed to respond to damaging attacks. Obama and Bush both received slightly less than 51 percent of the vote by defeating flawed candidates nominated by their parties based on the mistaken hope that they were electable in November.
Rather than focusing on these facts, some have chosen to forecast the demise of Republicans by noting their inability to win the support of the young and minorities in this past election. In the long term, as a larger portion of the population consists of minorities and as the younger generation comes of age politically, they forecast defeat for Republicans unless they deviate from their principles. However, history has shown the flaw in forecasting future voting patterns of demographic groups by assuming voting patterns remain static over decades.
Some argue that Republicans need to appeal to young voters by abandoning their views on various social issues. They fail to recognize that as voters become older, they tend to become more conservative. The best example of this is the baby boomer generation that rebelled in the 1960s. In 1972, the youth vote split between Nixon and McGovern. Forty years later the baby boomer generation backed Romney by 12 percent according to exit polls. Furthermore, current Republican positions on various social issues did not prevent Romney from winning the election. For example, in very Democratic states like Maine, Maryland and Washington, voters adopted gay marriage by referendum. However, more ballots were cast against gay marriage than were cast for Romney in these states. In other words, opposition to gay marriage was more popular than Romney in these very Democratic states. Even when Republicans nominate a Congressional candidate who is openly gay and socially liberal against a Democrat who was tarnished by a criminal scandal involving members of his family, voters in Massachusetts chose the Democrat. Dropping traditional positions on social issues is no guarantee of success for Republicans.
Others argue that Republicans need to appeal to minorities, in particular Hispanics, by changing their views on certain issues such as their opposition to illegal immigration. They fail to recognize that as ethnic immigrant groups and their descendants advance economically, they tend to become more conservative. The best example of this evolution is Catholic immigrants who came to this country in the 19th century and early 20th century. A half-century ago, Catholics supported Democrats who ran for President by margins approaching three to one at times. In 2012, Catholics split their votes between Obama and Romney according to exit polls. Furthermore, even if Republicans supported amnesty for illegal aliens there is no guarantee Republicans would gain support among Hispanics. In 1986, a Republican Senate passed legislation, which a Republican President signed, that granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. It did not fix the nation’s immigration system or lead to Republicans making lasting gains among Hispanic voters.
While some politicos chatter about a possible political demographic crisis for Republicans, a real economic crisis caused, in part, by demographics is certainly approaching. The real demographic crisis coming to American politics relates to the fast approaching retirement of the large baby boomer generation. With the retirement of the baby boomer generation, there will be a massive increase in the cost of entitlement programs such Medicare. As a result, Medicare is expected to be insolvent by the end of the next decade. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives proposed and voted in favor of Congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to help address the impending crisis in Medicare. The plan was demonized by the Democrats throughout 2012 but Republicans still retained their majority in the House of Representatives. In contrast, Democrats have not proposed an entitlement reform plan. This is not surprising in that the Democrat majority in the Senate has not even adopted a budget for the federal government in over three years. Instead, Democrats simply call for higher taxes on the wealthy. However, taxing the wealthy will not generate enough revenue in the long run to pay for these entitlement programs and balance the budget.
America’s entitlement programs are facing an impending crisis because politicians failed to adhere to the basic principle that a government’s fiscal policies should be based on long-term economic sustainability rather than short-term political expediency. The future electoral appeal of the Republican Party is not in danger if it stands by sound fiscal principles. The future financial stability of the American Republic is in danger if it cannot adopt fundamental reforms to its entitlement programs.