Friday, February 8, 2013

GOP Racial Resentment

Thomas Edsall explains the role of racial resentment in the marginalization of the Republican Party in The New York Times.  Edsall notes that President Obama won 39 percent of the white vote in the 2012 election which was a roughly equal percentage to that won by previous Democratic candidates but down from the 43 percent he won in 2008.  Political science researchers show that racial attitudes have had a big effect on recent American electoral politics.

Michael Tesler of Brown University and David O. Sears of UCLA have found that "evidence strongly suggests that party attachments have become increasingly polarized by both racial attitudes and race as a result of Obama’s rise to prominence within the Democratic Party."

Specifically, Tesler and Sears found that voters high on a racial-resentment scale moved one notch toward intensification of partisanship within the Republican Party on a seven-point scale from strong Democrat through independent to strong Republican.

Research by other political scientists, most notably Josh Pasek, a professor in the communication studies department at the University of Michigan, support this conclusion.

Crucially, Pasek found that Republicans drove the change: “People who identified themselves as Republicans in 2012 expressed anti-Black attitudes more often than did Republican identifiers in 2008.”

So, what does this mean for Republican politics going forward?

In fact, the shifts described by Tesler and Pasek are an integral aspect of the intensifying conservatism within the right wing of the Republican Party. Many voters voicing stronger anti-black affect were already Republican. Thus, in 2012, shifts in their attitudes, while they contributed to a 4 percentage point reduction in Obama’s white support, did not result in a Romney victory. 

Some Republican strategists believe the party’s deepening conservatism is scaring away voters.  Not only is the right risking marginalization as its views on race have become more extreme, it is veering out of the mainstream on contraception and abortion, positions that fueled an 11 point gender gap in 2012 and a 13 point gap in 2008.

Edsall concludes:

It is not so much Latino and black voters that the Republican Party needs. To win the White House again, it must assuage the social conscience of mainstream, moderate white voters among whom an ethos of tolerance has become normal. These voters are concerned with fairness and diversity, even as they stand to the right of center. It is there that the upcoming political battles — on the gamut of issues from race to rights — will be fought.

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