Will Shifting U.S. Voter Demographics Shift Republicans on Social Security?

By Joseph Owen, MA student of 20th and 21st Century Literature at University of Southampton (personal blog).

The composition of the US electorate is changing significantly. The percentage of minority voters, in contrast to white voters, is continually rising. These minority voters are vastly more likely to vote Democrat, be on relatively lower incomes, and be in favour of strong state social security. If the Republican Party wishes to be elected in 2016, it is commonly understood that they will need to broaden the appeal of their policies and public discourse to factor in these altered demographics. In spite of the GOP’s ideological antipathy towards an expansive, federal welfare state, it may become an electoral impossibility to continue peddling rhetoric and policy which favours its dismantling. The question, put simply, is whether Republicans will adhere to their rigid ideological impulse, or bow to political pragmatism.

Image credit: The Atlantic. Click to visit source.

The omens for the latter are not good. Using the seemingly ancient notion of individual and private charity as a preferable substitute, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent budget proposal seeks to shrink the government safety net in order to counter the usual Conservative anathemas: dependency, disincentive and sloth. The logic seems crude at best. Before the apparently inevitable Democratic electoral majority, state social security has to be dismantled as quickly as possible and voluntary beneficence actively encouraged in its place. Presumably, Republicans believe such a systemic change in the welfare state will be irreversible and the new status quo will be embraced or, at least, acquiesced to. The likelihood of this tactic prevailing seems, politely, optimistic. That, however, has not stopped other perhaps more sinister avenues from being explored by the GOP.

Republicans will struggle to reverse the existing tide of demographic change. Yet, they can influence the ability of minorities to vote. Though the mainstream GOP has largely disowned the barely-covert racism of its somewhat recent past, attacking the rights of minorities is a useful tool in preserving their most fundamental ideal: a minimal state. Framed in the sense of suffrage; Republican states have tried to eliminate early voting, ensured proof of citizenship is a prerequisite, and focused their anti-welfare sentiments towards inner-city areas. These actions, both legislative and discursive, affect minorities far more than the white population, preventing the former’s capacity to vote and appealing to the widely-held prejudices of the latter.

In spite of changing demographics, rather than politically embracing them, it seems Republicans are sticking rigidly to their anti-social security dogma – whatever the electoral arithmetic.