There was so much cacophony at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer that some unscripted remarks were not given the prominence they deserved. One of the most prescient, in light of Mitt Romney’s defeat, was this from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Graham’s bleak demographic assessment of the conservative future was confirmed by David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, whose harsh verdict was that the “Republican Party base is white, aging and dying off.”
Has the GOP really become a redoubt for “angry white guys”? Will Republicans put themselves out of business by not appealing fast enough to young voters? To put it at its most stark: Are conservatives going extinct? Graham’s view was echoed this past weekend by the Republican sage George Will. Pondering whether the Supreme Court will declare gay marriage legal, he said, “There is something like an emerging consensus. Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It’s old people.”
The problem with many aging Americans is that their reactionary views are out of sync with those of women, people of color, immigrants and gays who make up the Democrats’ election winning “rainbow coalition.” As the 2012 results show, when it comes to social issues ‑ women’s rights, such as equal pay; women’s health, including contraception and abortion; the rights of racial minorities, including basic elements of democracy such as access to the ballot; immigration, both legal and illegal, and equal rights for children of illegals; gay rights and homosexual marriage ‑ the Republicans fiercely defend the status quo. And the older the Republicans, the more reactionary they tend to be.
Age is a key factor in winning votes. In the presidential race, Barack Obama won by overwhelmingly attracting younger voters, beating Romney by 24 percentage points in the 18- to-29-year-old age range, while among those aged 65 and over, Romney enjoyed a 12-point lead. According to Gallup, there is a distinct difference between the parties. The older the “non-Hispanic” white voters were, the more likely they were to vote for Romney, but there was no such race gap among non-whites, where all age groups supported Obama equally, including those aged 70-plus.
This racial difference between whites and non-whites is evident in attitudes about race. Here, too, it appears the tide is going out on Republicans decade by decade. On the question of whether there should be a ban on interracial marriages, over time attitudes have become sharply more liberal among all age groups, though, as might be expected, younger Americans are far more liberal. According to the General Social Survey, in 1972, 43 percent of Americans over 26 were in favor of a ban on interracial marriages, while just one in five of those aged 18 to 25 were in favor. Thirty years later opposition to interracial marriage had declined to 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The survey showed a near-identical change in attitudes toward racial segregation of neighborhoods. Each generation has become more liberal on issues of race, with baby boomers (born 1946 to1964) and the Generation Xers (born 1965 to 1976) barely racist at all.