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Demographics and the US election

I’ve been talking with people online about the US election recently. As a British citizen, who I support in the election is pretty irrelevant, but based on the fact that I’m a big ol’ liberal gay atheist who loves having a National Health Service, it should be pretty clear that I’m not exactly going to cheering for Romney/Ryan.

Obama is very likely going to win. See FiveThirtyEight and also see the odds offered by the bookies: William Hill have 11-to-4 on Romney winning compared to 1-to-4 on Obama winning. Ladbrokes are offering the same odds, but you can also get 1000-to-1 on Gary Johnson winning. Heh.

It’s long been discussed in the press that the Republicans have gone too far right, to satisfy the Rush Limbaugh/Sarah Palin element of the party, while at the same time alienating mainstream voters. Of course, it is up to the Republicans to decide how far to the right they want to go, given that politicians have to basically satisfy two interests: both the interests of party activists and primary voters, and also the need to get mainstream voters.

But the important part here is the demographic shifts in American society. Consider these facts…

  • In polls, year on year, support for legal recognition of same sex partnerships, either in the form of marriage or civil unions, has been growing. While most Americans are not going to change who they vote for based on the issue of same sex marriage, for younger voters, whose support for issues like same sex marriage is overwhelmingly favourable, loud drumbeating against it by Republican candidates will definitely rule them out of consideration for those voters.
  • Women are increasingly taking their place in society outside of the home. According to US Department of Labor statistics, in 2009, 59.2% of women were working. In 1975, only 47.4% of women with children under 18 worked; in 2000, it was 72.9%. Of working women, in 1970, only 11% had degrees, while in 2009 that is now 36%. In 2009, female high school graduates were more likely to enrol for college than male high school graduates with 74% of females and 66% of males. Women are more educated, more likely to be employed, more likely to be economically independent and, when they get into relationships, more likely to be the primary breadwinners than in a previous generation.
  • The number of non-religious people is growing, especially among young people.
  • The non-white population is growing. Non-white voters overwhelmingly don’t vote Republican. A recent survey of black voters in the US said 92% were going to vote for Obama and 2% were planning to vote for Romney.

Demographically, the Republicans are screwed. Currently, the Republicans are heavily reliant on the vote from people who are predominantly white, male, heterosexual and Christian.

Women’s economic and educational independence means they’ll be more politically independent too: that is, they are less likely to follow along with what their partner tells them to do. More politically independent women aren’t likely to vote for politicians who like to tell them that some rape is ‘legitimate’, or plenty of the other mind-bendingly lady-hating things various candidates on the political right have said.

On the issue of gay rights, there’s an interesting dynamic that needs to be observed. During Bush’s time in office, ballot measures to ban gay marriage have been a recurring theme. The point of them is to get right-wing voters out of the house on polling day. Getting people to vote for politicians is a difficult proposition because, well, people don’t really like politicians. But wind people up with some homophobia (or racism, although that’s harder to do these days) and you can get people out to the polls to prevent them evil gays from destroying marriage. And while they are there, they aren’t exactly going to vote for the commie pinko Democrats. But popular support is changing: support for gay marriage is increasing year on year, and opposition is decreasing.

These two play into one another: women are more supportive of gay marriage than men, on average. More women voters, more political independence by women voters, more support for gay marriage, more support for candidates who support gay marriage.

The Republican policy platform is pretty unappealing to anyone who isn’t a straight, white dude. The proportions of straight white males is going to go down. Make no mistake: long-term, the Republicans are screwed if they stay on the same course. The demographics are shifting to have more non-whites voting, more women voting, less support for anti-gay bigotry and so on. The only question is how many more elections the Republicans can fight without changing their policies to accommodate a more diverse and tolerant America.