In seven short years, the American electorate has radically changed, as voters' priorities have shifted to the economy and away from such wedge issues as abortion and gay rights, as well as away from the threat of terrorism and from the war in Iraq, according to a comprehensive survey released Thursday morning by the Pew Research Center.
From 2002 to 2009, voters' partisan identification has moved from virtual parity -- 43 percent Republican and 43 percent Democratic at the height of George W. Bush's popularity in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- to a massive Democratic advantage today of 53 to 36, a 17 percentage point split, by far the largest difference in the past two decades.
The Pew survey is a testament to the miscalculations of the Bush administration and of the Republican leadership in Congress. The two were handed an extraordinary opportunity to build on an outpouring of public support in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Instead, those chances to revive a Republican majority were squandered on a mismanaged invasion of Iraq and dissipated by ill-advised culture war offensives, as well as by disclosure of corrupt lobbying and spending scandals in Congress under Republican rule.
"There is an enormous amount of material about the deterioration of the Republican Party in this survey," Andy Kohut, who runs the Pew Research Center, told the Huffington Post. The GOP is currently 88 percent non-Hispanic white; it has grown steadily older, from an average of 45.5 years in 2000 to 48.3 years in 2009; it is increasingly dependent on self-identified white evangelicals (35 percent of today's GOP, on Southerners (39 percent of today's GOP), and on voters who describe themselves as conservative (66 percent of today's Republican electorate). Those who espouse conservative views on the family, homosexuality and civil liberties -- a population which was in the majority in 1987 -- have fallen to the 50 percent level or below, the Pew survey found.
"The Republican Party is facing formidable demographic challenges," Kohut wrote in a report describing the new Pew findings. "Its constituents are aging and do not reflect the growing ethnic and racial diversity of the general public. As was the case at the beginning of this decade, Republicans are predominantly non-Hispanic whites (88%). Among Democrats, the proportion of non-Hispanic whites has declined from 64% in 2000 to 56%, as Latinos and people from other racial backgrounds have joined the ranks of the Democrats."
The issue environment has, in addition, become much more favorable to the Democrats. When voters were asked "What One Issue Would Matter Most in Your Presidential Vote?," the number identifying Iraq and Afghanistan fell from 22 to four percent between 2004 and 2009. "Moral values" dropped from 27 percent to 10 percent during the same period. Conversely, the percentage identifying the economy and jobs has more than doubled, from 21 to 50 percent, with smaller, but still significant, gains for voters selecting health care and education as the most important issue.
"The decline in the importance of moral values as an issue in a possible election has come across the board, but the drop has been especially large among Republicans and working-class voters," Kohut wrote. "In 2004, 45% of Republicans cited moral values as their top issue; now just 21% do so, compared with 47% who mention the economy and jobs....Slightly more than half (51%) of older white working-class Republicans and leaners cited moral values in 2004; now just 23% do so."
While Republican identification has nosedived, the percentage of voters who say they are conservative has remained consistent through this decade. In 2009, 38 percent of voters described themselves as moderate, 37 percent as conservative and 19 percent as liberal -- the same split found in every Pew survey over the past nine years. LinkHere