The electorate has changed -- but where do we go from here?
“Many times, I step out of my room, I go down to Polk Street, I feel like an immigrant who just arrived in a foreign country,” Eric Hoffer, a San Franciscan since the early 1940s, confessed to Eric Sevareid on CBS in the late 1960s. “And it’s a helluva job to immigrate at sixty-seven.” The longshoreman philosopher complained of the noise of his newcomer neighbors and his inability to determine the sex of passersby on the street. San Francisco, once a heavily Catholic blue-collar city, had morphed into a dropout destination for those who had left their morals at home.
Supporters of Mitt Romney feel a lot like Hoffer right now. Millions of voters who have resided in America their whole lives have immigrated without moving an inch. They don’t live in the country of their birth even if they’ve never travelled outside its borders. This is not your father’s America. It’s not even your older brother’s.
The electorate that voted Ronald Reagan into the presidency in 1980 was 88 percent white, ten percent black, and two percent Hispanic. The body politic that reelected Barack Obama in 2012 was 72 percent white, thirteen percent black, ten percent Hispanic, three percent Asian, and two percent “other.” If Mitt Romney had Ronald Reagan’s electorate, he wins in a landslide. If landslide winner Reagan had Romney’s, does he even win?
The changing complexion of America may be the most superficial of the major demographic shifts. Getting married and bringing children into the world are less popular now than at any point in U.S. history. In 1980, just 18 percent of births occurred to women not married to their child’s father. Now, that figure exceeds 40 percent. Without a daddy in their house, many single mothers look for a daddy in the White House.
In God Americans don’t trust—at least not as much as they once did. In 1980, fewer than ten percent of respondents cited “no religion” as their affiliation to the Pew Research Center. Today, that figure reaches twenty percent. Tuesday’s exit polls showed only a minority of voters attending religious services regularly. The exit polls clearly showed that the less one attended religious services the more one tended to vote for Obama.
So many Americans now depend on government for food, shelter, retirement, education, health care, and even jobs that the party of government almost guarantees itself a majority long before the campaign has started. Consider that in 1980 slightly more than twenty million Americans received food stamps. In 2012, the number approaches fifty million. From bailed-out Toledo autoworkers to the comfortably unemployed approaching 99 weeks of benefits in Detroit to Georgetown co-eds desiring free birth control, the Democrat constituency is the coalition of the bought. For Ronald Reagan government was the problem, not the solution. Tuesday’s electorate, even though a slight majority told exit pollsters that government does too much, voted for government as the solution rather than the problem.
The more likely a voter is to marry, visit a house of worship, or demonstrate economic self-sufficiency, the more likely that voter will cast a Republican ballot. Demographics, including Tuesday’s exit polls, show that the typical American voter resembles the typical Republican voter a lot less than thirty-two years ago.
Republicans Tuesday suddenly came to grips with the changes that have been slowly transforming the United States of America. The election acted as the epiphany. There has been a revolution within the form. The nation’s name remains the same. Its habits, and inhabitants, have changed beyond recognition.
“It makes me wonder who my fellow citizens are,” Bostonian Marianne Doherty poignantly told the Washington Examiner’s Byron York on election night. “I’ve got to be honest, I feel like I’ve lost touch with what the identity of America is right now. I really do.” This bewilderment, surely different from the intense alienation often experienced by partisans in the wake of election-night disappointment, ensnares many Americans. The electorate more so than the elected inflicts the sense of loss. There’s no time machine waiting to transport us back to 1980.
During a decade of dramatic change, Eric Hoffer, later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan, thought and wrote about how societies, like teenagers, endure rapid transformation as a traumatic experience. Hoffer wrote in 1967 that “it is becoming evident that, no matter how desirable, drastic change is the most difficult and dangerous experience mankind has undergone. We are discovering that broken habits can be more painful and crippling than broken bones.” Forty-five years later, the wisdom rings true for those dealing with a loss whose seeds were sown amid the changes that Hoffer fixated upon so many decades ago.
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