With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, candidates around the country are scrambling to make their case to voters. Republicans—whose brand has been weakening for at least a decade—are hoping to make big gains, particularly in the Senate. Polls indicate that many races are still tight, so the outcome is far from certain.
The conventional wisdom regarding what the GOP must do to repair its image—and eventually win on the national level again—has included two basic pieces of advice. The first is to reach out to younger voters, women and ethnic minorities, mainly blacks and Latinos. The second is to downplay the issues of marriage and the sanctity of life, and it’s no secret that the socially liberal Republican leaders would like to get rid of those issues altogether. These two ideas are typically cast as the GOP’s only realistic path forward.
What too many political consultants fail to understand, however, is that the marriage and life planks of the GOP platform hold the key to any hope they have of building a more diverse coalition. Unfortunately, many powerful party decision-makers seem to get their information about women and minorities from media stereotypes, assuming they all favor a socially liberal agenda. If they bothered to look at widely available data, they would realize that women are evenly split on the issue of abortion, younger voters are increasingly pro-life, and blacks and Latinos are far more religiously devoted and family oriented than the rest of the country.
Polls consistently show African Americans to be the most religiously devout demographic group in the United States, with over 80 percent professing Christianity. Latinos are not far behind. The Pew Research Center’s recent study, “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology,” found that many blacks and Hispanics fall into a segment of the electorate they call the “Faith and Family Left”:
The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are highly diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. They oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. Religion and family are at the center of their lives.
There are millions of blacks and Latinos who vote Democratic despite the marriage issue, not because of it. If the GOP jettisons this part of its agenda, there will be no conceivable reason for them to consider a Republican candidate ever again. They also cannot afford to alienate evangelicals, who have been a vital part of their base for decades.
Even in a white liberal environment, forsaking traditional marriage doesn’t seem to be helping Republicans gain ground. Case in point would be Dr. Monica Wehby, Republican senatorial candidate in Oregon. Wehby has spent millions running television ads touting her support for redefining marriage to include homosexual couples, yet she continues to fall in the polls. If appealing to homosexual “marriage” proponents is supposed to win over new GOP voters, it’s not working in Oregon.
Republicans should also remember they do not need 50 percent of the black vote to win. George W. Bush won the presidency with just 11 percent of the black vote. Romney lost because he could only manage 7 percent. Do political consultants really believe that no candidate could persuade just 4 percent of African American voters to stand up for their deeply held convictions?
Naturally, the GOP will also need to appeal to younger voters. The Pew study noted that many millennials do not think that marriage and children are high priority issues. This is far from a new phenomenon, and there are two traditional ways to interpret it. The first is to claim that the institutional family is going the way of the dinosaur because young people are, by definition, the wave of the future. The second is the point out that young people have been more socially liberal than their parents for centuries, and that most of us tend to become more family-oriented as we get older.
What is conspicuously missing from many of the front running GOP candidates’ platforms are positive policy positions that will attract minorities, women, and younger voters. Rand Paul has been talking about economic empowerment in urban communities, restoration of rights of people who have paid their debt to society, and other strategies that will help rebuild urban families and their communities.
Although the outcome of the midterm elections is far from certain, one thing is clear. If the Republicans cannot make significant gains in the current political environment, their chances of victory in 2016 are slim. Building new relationships with various demographic groups is not an easy task. The party has a serious reputation problem in many minority communities that will not be overcome in a single election cycle. However, I believe there is a significant portion of the electorate that has strong beliefs in faith and family that are waiting to be called into action. It remains to be seen if Republicans are serious about making the call.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD.