GUEST COMMENTARY: Can the Republican Party adjust to demographic shift?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

A country, long tormented by racial issues, is on the verge of a major racial development whose impact is right under everyone’s nose, and a major political party is challenged to deal dramatically with it. Yet an elusive, informal rule suggests no one should pay the matter much attention — at least, not directly.

What country would this be?

You’re correct.

The U.S. is about to become no longer majority white – at least as the term “white” has been understood up to now. The change is in process already, and it influenced recent presidential voting to such an extent that a few commentators had to address it. And the Republican Party, hit hard by the change, already has begun to respond to it.

Ari Fleischer, former White House spokesperson and a member of a Republican panel formed in December to lead a program of adjustment, put the matter simply enough. “We cannot be a party of just white people,” he said. “You have to let people know you care about them.”

The change was predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau.  According to the Bureau’s 2012 updated projection, in 2043 non-Hispanic white Americans will cease to be a majority. In 2060 their share will be about 43 percent, in contrast to 63 in 2012, 87 percent in 1960, and 88 percent in 1900. Hispanics, 17 percent in 2012 will increase to 31 percent; African Americans, 13 in 2012 to 15; and Asian Americans, 5.1 in 2012 to 8.2.  By 2060 multiracial people will increase from 2.4 percent in 2012 to 6.4. Last year a majority of American newborns were non-white or Hispanic.

Since the 1930s minority groups have mostly voted Democratic. African Americans went 93 percent Barack Obama, 6 percent Mitt Romney in 2012; Asian Americans 73 percent for Obama, 26 percent Romney; Hispanics 71 percent Obama, 27 percent Romney.

Republicans also face age-cohort and gender challenges as young voters supported Obama more strongly than older ones, and women in white, Hispanic and African American segments favored him more than men of the same group.

Some browns and blacks lean conservative but most of these have stuck with the Democrats, as probably also have some conservatively inclined whites also put off by Republican white uniformity. Stout-hearted brown and black conservatives have joined Republicans anyway, and Republicans are challenged now to attract potential brown and black recruits by erasing their party’s identity as a white people’s club.

This great story deserves to be covered explicitly and openly. If Republicans succeed, they will dramatically alter American politics. If many Republicans refuse to get with the program, this will dramatically impact politics the other way.

Probably the challenge can be met, but it will be difficult and there will be an arithmetic price:  how many wandering near- or full-conservatives are available to be harvested and can Republicans gain more voters than they will lose?

Policy shifts toward center may be needed as potential recruits will not likely be persuaded to far right perspectives because open hostility to the New Deal legacy has been rare among minority group members.

But the year 2050 will not likely see a white plurality squared off against everyone else. After all, nearly 40 percent of white voters belong to the latest Democratic coalition. Political parties then will be well-mixed. Will the Republican Party be one of them? Probably.

The demographic shift will surely be noticeable in non-political venues, but will any story related to it be as fascinating as the political one?

Deckle McLean lives in Macomb, Ill. He is a professor emeritus at Western Illinois University. He can be reached through his website. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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