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In the Long Run, Republicans Are Screwed

Younger voters are more liberal than their predecessors, and Donald Trump is driving them away from the GOP.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The current election will, mercifully, come to an end on November 8th. But its repercussions will be felt for a very long time, and, for the Republican party, they could be devastating.

That’s the implication of newresearch, which describes “the emergence of a decisive Democratic advantage” among Americans who have come of voting age during the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

University of California–San Diego political scientist Gary Jacobson reports that, if the current image of the Republican Party prevails, this trend “is certain to be magnified,” leaving the GOP at a dramatic disadvantage.

Republicans “have every reason to be worried,” Jacobson writes in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. He identifies “a combination of demographic and attitudinal changes that, if the past is any guide, will benefit the Democratic party for decades into the future.”

Analyzing data from 344 Gallup surveys (featuring nearly 400,000 individuals) conducted between January 2009 and June 2015, Jacobson found the political leanings of voters are significantly influenced by the success or failure of the party in power when they first entered the electorate.

“People who entered the electorate during the New Deal remain slightly more Democratic,” he writes. “Democrats have a clear advantage among cohorts who arrived with Nixon, Ford, and Carter, but the Reagan generation continues to favor the Republican party.”

The GOP will soon consist pretty much exclusively of Grumpy Old People.

“Citizens coming of political age since the Clinton administration are predominantly Democratic in their partisan leanings,” he adds, “and by quite large margins (for those who cast their first votes during) the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations.”

Jacobson attributes this in part to “Clinton’s comparative success, and G.W. Bush’s comparative failure in delivering peace and prosperity.” But he adds that demographic change is an even bigger factor.

“Democrats continue to enjoy a very large advantage among nonwhites,” he notes, and they will continue to become a larger portion of the electorate “for the foreseeable future.”

Besides predicting a rough time ahead for the Republicans, Jacobson’s data suggests our current era of intense political polarization will not last forever — primarily because hard-line right-wingers are dying off.

“Young Americans are clearly less polarized along party lines in their opinions of Obama than are older Americans,” he writes. “They are also less polarized ideologically, because younger cohorts in all partisan categories are much less likely to label themselves conservative.”

While, “among Democrats, successive cohorts are increasingly liberal,” Jacobson finds “the most striking intergenerational differences appear among the Republicans,” as younger members of that party “are consistently more liberal than their elders��� across a range of issues.

These differences “are far too large to be explained by the common notion that people tend to become more conservative as they age,” he adds. “They reflect genuine differences on political issues.”

In response to this challenge, the Republican party is doing its best to drive younger voters away. Jacobson notes that both Trump and his closest rival, Ted Cruz, “aimed their campaigns at a Republican base consisting of older, white, conservative, religious, married, rural or suburban residents who are angry about national trends that younger voters largely welcome, and to a considerable extent embody.”

Thus the way the 2016 presidential election has played out is “almost certain to strengthen rather than undermine the Democratic identities formed during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidencies,” he concludes.

Unless party leaders can somehow turn this around, the GOP will soon consist pretty much exclusively of Grumpy Old People.