America is going through a strange sort of puberty.
Since the late 1960s, the Republican Party has built a majority based on exploiting the Democratic Party’s “negro problem,” as it was described in the 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority. In the late 70s found an activist army big and bold enough to counter organized labor by embracing evangelical furor, first over the desegregation of private schools then abortion.
This mobilization combined with Democrats’ inability to counter big business’ investments the Republican Party as the power of labor shrunk. This led to the party moderating enough to alienate white working class white voters in the Democratic Party but not being conservative enough to win older voters.
So even as Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, it has been regularly trounced in off-year elections, except the one that happened to take place as George W. Bush was losing two wars and the government just let a whole city drown.
This trend may be waning, as Michael P. McDonald explains:
The Romney pollsters tricked themselves into thinking the 2012 electorate would look like the 2010 electorate, to the point of believing that they would win, even on election night. Republicans proceed at peril if they fall into that mentality in 2016. The 2016 electorate will most likely be composed of even more minorities than the 2012 electorate, and will be considerably younger than the 2014 electorate. These dynamics favor the Democrats, but they are not ironclad guarantees of victory. After all, President Bush won in 2004, but demographics are increasingly weighing against Republican candidates in presidential elections.
Even though Republicans enjoyed success in the 2014 elections, these trends will likely begin to pressure Republicans in lower turnout midterm elections, too. Even now, as the Washington Post notes, the 2014 electorate has the same demographic profile as the 2008 presidential election. That Republicans did well in 2014 despite the trends shows that demography is but one piece — important to be sure — of the election puzzle.
Republicans won the House and Senate in 2014, even though the demographics resembled 2008 for a simple reason: They didn’t need to win a single Latino vote to win majorities in either house. This will change eventually. To keep the Senate in 2016, Republicans will have to do well with Latinos, at least in Florida. Possibly as soon as 2022, new electoral maps could force the GOP to have to woo non-whites aggressively.
But as Republicans are working on alienating the minority voters, Democrats could make serious gains with the working people and seniors who used to be consistent parts of their coalition.
This year we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of three of the greatest things that have ever come out of our Republic: the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid. All three are startling successes, which is why Republicans have spend 50 years trying to get rid of them.
(The right has been most successful in gutting the Voting Rights Act. Pre-order Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot to get a sense of how singularly effective this law has been — despite dogged opposition from the right — in expanding the right to vote, which is why John Roberts aimed to weaken it as member of the Reagan Administration and voted to gut Section 5, the law’s most proactive provision, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.)
Medicare and Medicaid remain largely in tact, delivering care and playing a crucial role in reducing the poverty of seniors by more than half since the late 1960s.
And who does Medicaid help?
The poor including millions of seniors of seniors who couldn’t afford long-term care without it.
Republicans have been affective in using the Voting Rights Act to alienate Democrats from white voters, but their lust to gut Medicare and Medicaid often gets them into problems.
Democrats continue to underestimate what a weapon they have in the multiple Paul Ryan budgets that nearly every Republican candidate for office has backed in some way or another.
A new Kaiser Foundation poll finds that Medicare is popular with just about everyone and independents show similar affection for Medicaid:
What’s very unpopular is Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, especially among seniors. Even Republicans aren’t for it:
In 2012, Team Obama was savvy enough to trick Mitt Romney into putting the literal face of these cuts on his ticket. We won’t be that lucky again.
Democrats must have done testing to find this messaging wasn’t powerful enough to sway seniors in 2014. But we may be underestimating what a wedge this issue can be.
Vowing to preserve traditional Medicare is an obvious winning issue. But with the program being so popular it could be the foundation of much larger arguments. Whenever Republicans call for tax cuts for the rich, point out the obvious: We can only afford them if we make huge cuts to Medicare. Kaiser finds only 8 percent of Americans want to cut the program. Only 8 percent! This isn’t just an argument for preserving the well being of seniors it’s a way to tar the GOP’s entire economic plan as an attack on the elderly.
Likewise, whenever Republicans talk about wanting to repeal Obamacare, connect it to Medicare: “Of course, they want to take your Obamacare. They want to take your traditional Medicare away.” Even attacks on Planned Parenthood should be tied in the larger agenda of taking away health care.
There’s a reason Republican states keep adding Medicaid expansion in the same sort of creep that characterized the adoption of original program: It’s stupid not to and it may eventually cost Republicans votes that don’t.
In states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, what better argument is there to working people than “Let’s accept the health insurance we’re paying for already!” Getting working people to stand up to say “I’m voting Democratic because I want people to have health insurance” reinforces the implicit argument to seniors, “They want to take away your traditional Medicare.”
And all of this has the added benefit of being true.
Working people and seniors not voting Democratic is a damned shame because they benefit most from Democratic policies. And if Republicans began to lose their advantage on this issue, America’s puberty will speed up nicely.