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The (Finally) Emerging Republican Majority

From the October 27, 2003 issue: GOP officials don't like to talk about it, but they have become the dominant party.

Oct 27, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 07 • By FRED BARNES
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But the Harris Poll tilts slightly Democratic. (In fact, I believe most polls underestimate Republican ID because of nominal Democrats who routinely vote Republican.)The 2000 national exit poll showed Republicans and Democrats tied at 34 percent. A Republican poll after the 2002 elections gave the party a 3- to 4-point edge. Based on his own poll in July, Democrat Mark Penn (who once polled for Bill Clinton) declared: "In terms of the percentage of voters who identify themselves as Democrats, the Democratic party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal." His survey pegged Democratic ID at 32 percent, Republican ID at 30 percent. A half-century ago, 49 percent of voters said they were Democrats. Today, wrote Penn, "among middle class voters, the Democratic party is a shadow of its former self."

All these figures represent "a general creeping mode of realignment, election by election," says Burnham. By gaining governors and state legislators, Republicans are now in the entrenchment phase. "If you control the relevant institutions, you can really do a number on the opposition," Burnham says. "You can marginalize them."

Last year, Republicans shattered the mold of midterm elections for a new president, picking up nine House seats. Most of these came from Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, states where Republicans controlled the legislature and governor's office in 2001 and exploited the new census to draw House districts for Republican advantage. In 2002, Republicans completed their takeover of Texas by winning the state house of representatives. This allowed them to gerrymander the U.S. House districts earlier this month to target incumbent white Democrats. Unless the redistricting is overturned in court, Democrats may lose five to seven seats in 2004. "Texas means there's no battle for the House" until after the 2010 census, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Democrats may wind up with fewer than 200 seats for the first time since 1946, says Burnham.

Democrats have theorized that the voting patterns of Hispanics, women, and urban professionals were producing what analysts John Judis and Ruy Teixeira called an "emerging Democratic majority." But in 2002 and the recall, the theory faltered. The midterm elections saw the demise of the old gender gap--women voting more Democratic than men--that had endured for over two decades. The intervening event was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. That "really did change things permanently," says Burnham. In 2002, women, partly out of concern for the security and safety of their families, voted like men. Florida exemplified the change. In 2000, President Bush lost the vote of female professionals in the burgeoning I-4 corridor across central Florida. In 2002, his brother, Republican governor Jeb Bush, won that vote.

The California recall offered another test of whether the gender gap had been reversed, especially since Schwarzenegger was accused of sexual harassment. In the Fox poll, 53 percent of women voted to recall Davis, 56 percent for a Republican for governor (43 percent for Schwarzenegger). White women were even more Republican--58 percent for recall, 63 percent for a Republican (49 percent for Schwarzenegger).

What about men? In the recall, they voted more Republican than women by 8 points, which highlights the gender gap problem for Democrats. The shift of men to the Republican party was the engine of realignment in the South and plains and Rocky Mountain states. Penn agrees: "The main decline has been due to a massive defection among white voters, particularly men," he wrote in analyzing his own July poll. "Today only 22 percent of white men identify as Democratic voters and only 32 percent of white women do the same. Blacks continue to remain stalwarts of the party, while Hispanics are now split between Democrats and Independents." The Latino vote is all the more important because it is growing as a percentage of the national electorate. The black vote isn't.

The good news for Republicans is that Latino independents are increasingly inclined to vote Republican. It may not have been a big deal in 1998, when George Bush won half the Latino vote in his reelection as Texas governor. It was, however, a big deal when Jeb Bush captured a majority of the non-Cuban Latino vote in Florida last year. George Bush, running for president, had lost this vote decisively in Florida in 2000.