One thing about living in California, we get to be on the leading edge of national trends. Whether it’s Hula-Hoops or skateboards, fine wine or fusion cuisine, California leads the way. The same is true in politics. Tax revolts, gay marriage and government by initiative all had their start here. Now, the demographic change that will sweep American has happened here as well.
The U.S Census Bureau reports that less than 40 percent of Californians are of European heritage, with no one racial or ethnic group making up a majority of residents. Moreover, Hispanics already make up 52 percent of our state’s public school enrollment, with whites contributing only 26 percent of students in grades K-12.
Who should be concerned about this? Conservatives and the center/right, that’s who. In today’s political world, demography can be destiny and conservatives will need to adjust to the changes ahead.
Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, lays out the challenge in the winter issue of National Affairs. In 2012, 72 percent of the electorate was white and Mitt Romney won their votes 59 percent to 39 percent. Yet, he lost the presidential election. He lost by four points because non-white voters went for Obama over Romney by 63 percent. These voters will soon be a majority in California, and they are growing throughout the country.
Olsen also notes that 74 percent of voters thought a president should “share my values,” or “is a strong leader,” or “has a vision for the future” and those who valued these characteristics went for Romney by nine to 23 points. However, Romney lost voters who thought a president should care about “people like me” by more than 60 points.
There it is. Minority voters, who are growing in strength, decided the last presidential election. And, they thought that Mitt Romney didn’t care about people like them.
The Republican National Committee concurs in this analysis. After the election, the RNC commissioned a report to determine what went wrong. Among its findings were that former Republican voters describe the national party as “out of touch” and as the Party of “stuffy old men.” Moreover, minority voters simply did not believe that the GOP or its nominee cared about them.
Romney also lost households earning less than $50,000 per year (half the country) by 38 percent to 60 percent. Losing half the country by such a decisive margin is no recipe for national electoral victory.
Olsen describes a solution for center/right Republicans, and I concur. He believes that — contrary to our Libertarian and some tea party friends — Americans, particularly those in the middle class (white and non-white), are looking for a government that will address their real needs and concerns while not smothering them with taxes, regulation and mandates. In other words, a hand up, not a handout.
To connect with a majority of these voters, conservatives must offer a positive platform and describe what they are for rather than what they oppose. Not everyone is a tech entrepreneur, not everyone owns a business. Most just want to raise a family in a stable environment, see their children succeed, volunteer to improve their communities, serve God as they understand him and retire with dignity. How conservatives connect with that way of life — as Ronald Reagan did with his “shining city on a hill” — will determine their electoral success.
Republican leaders in California understand the need for a positive agenda that addresses how families of all kinds can lead the life they seek, whether their desire is to make it big, or simply make it through. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff recently wrote that, “We’re going to show California that Republicans believe government can work efficiently by doing what it’s supposed to do: serve the people.” And, Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway notes that Republican priorities are “growing our economy, providing a quality education to our children and protecting our communities.”
These are policies that will appeal to all voters. These are policies that resonate with people who think that elected leaders should “care about people like me.” California is leading the way in demographic change, and it’s up to California’s center/right to continue to respect that change and develop policies that address the needs of all our citizens.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the second Bush administration.