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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Real Demographic Shift

Much of the analysis of last Tuesday’s election results has centered on the need for the Republican party to "reinvent" itself with respect to the changing demographics and the evolving electorate in the United States.  The main crux of the discussion has centered around Hispanic and woman voters, who overwhelmingly cast ballots for Democratic candidates, and with women in some cases voting against female candidates running on the Republican ticket.

Yet this demographic critique dismisses an analysis of the changing socioeconomic demographics of this country.  The disparity of income between a CEO and the average worker has exploded since the 1970s, from roughly 20 to 1 then to as much as 500 to 1 by some current measures.  During that same period, real wages have gone down by most measures despite worker productivity having increased exponentially.  Productivity and pay had tended to rise mostly in unison in the years following World War II, however they diverged around 1970. As productivity continued to rise (over 100 percent to present day since the early seventies, real wages stagnated, with virtually zero growth. While the country has become more prosperous in many ways, the average person has not.  This is especially true in the last few years of recession, as the median income in the United States has dropped. In a place like New York City--where the median income of $49,461 is now below the national average of $50,502, despite having the highest cost of living in the country--life is becoming more and more difficult to maintain for the general populace.  To put it bluntly, Americans are becoming poorer in real terms.  The cost of goods continues to rise, yet incomes are not keeping pace and people are having to work harder to keep up, resorting to more incomes per household, more jobs per person, more education for getting ahead, more loans for investing in a future that no longer carries the same probability of success that it once did.  

All of these issues are having a real effect on people's views and political desires, and especially on Americans’ beliefs for the future. Several recent polls have shown that fewer people now believe in the American Dream and its promise of “making it” through individual hard work than they did just a few years ago. And they should be less optimistic about their future and current economic realities as well, especially comparatively: it is now statistically more prevalent for individuals in Europe to move up the class ladder during their lifetime than it is in the United States.  The “dream” is beginning to show cracks under an increasingly difficult reality.  Whereas previously many people opposed taxing the rich because they believed that perhaps one day they too could be wealthy, those beliefs are coming more and more into question as that reality is not materializing.  If this trend continues (and the realities of globalization, climate change, increasing debt levels, and myriad other economic realities weighing down individuals and families leave little doubt it will), then this go-it-alone myth—one of the great obfuscations within Republican party ideology—will finally come further to light and bring the party fewer and fewer votes as the future trends away from them.  

People can talk about Arizona and Texas being swing states in eight years based on their rising number of Hispanic voters, but what will the entire nation be by that point if real wages keep decreasing, disparity of incomes keep rising, and the general public can't get out from under school, house, and credit card debt?  Demographic proportions are shifting: we are trending in a poorer, more indebted direction.  Yet despite this, the Republican party's ideology has even further embraced an idyllic pathway toward success that favors the wealthy.    

If the Republicans continue to be "the party of the rich" while more and more individuals slip back a rung or more on the standard of living ladder and see their prospects for regaining that ground fade away, then the GOP will certainly be on the wrong end of any future voting demographic.  They will slowly become less and less favorable—not based on the color of people's skin or which restroom they use—but simply based on how far underwater people's mortgages, student loans, and general existence have become.  If the Republicans are to move forward in America as the country becomes comprised less and less of the rich, then the party needs to redress first and foremost its views on poverty, working families, and lower income America. 

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