A report from the ground.
White Pills for the New Year
Five signs America’s future will be less dire than most expect.
In politics, as in life, it is important to acknowledge uncomfortable realities. For conservatives in America today, there is no shortage of opportunities to learn this lesson: traditional values are on the wane; progressive ideology continues to shape society; the Left dominates in academia, mainstream media, and the corporate world. As Vivek Ramaswamy pointed out in November’s GOP presidential debate, Republicans have performed poorly in the 2018, 2020, and 2022 national election cycles. Add the recent losses in the Ohio abortion referendum, the Kentucky governor’s race, and the Virginia legislature election to the list.
It is also, however, important to acknowledge comfortable realities. Though equally important, this fact is overlooked by the many doom merchants in today’s conservative movement. Improvement requires learning from mistakes, but it also requires repeating and capitalizing on success. Everyone wants to play on a team that can win. Defeatism is a poor strategy for avoiding defeat. With that in mind, here are five trends playing in conservatives’ favor to give Republicans a “yes we can” attitude going into the 2024 election cycle.
Racial Minorities Are Trending Republican
In 2002, John Judis and Ruy Texeira argued in The Emerging Democratic Majority that a rise in the racial minority population in the United States would deliver commanding electoral success for Democrats. For years, the Left eagerly anticipated a shift in Texas from red to blue, an early sign of what was to come. This has not played out. In fact, some of the counties to trend most decisively in Republicans’ favor between 2016 and 2020 were in Texas’s majority-Hispanic border region. It’s one example of a small but perceptible movement toward the Republican Party that has occurred over the past decade among Hispanics, who now make up nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population.
In the 2020 election, Donald Trump significantly improved his performance among Hispanic voters in states like Arizona, Texas, and Nevada. He even managed to win the majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida. Though the 2022 midterms did not go as well as expected for Republicans overall, there was a 10 percent shift to the Republican Party among Hispanics compared to 2018. Blacks, meanwhile, shifted 4 percent toward Republicans in 2022. A Navigator Research study found that the highest black support for Republicans came from voters between 18 and 44 years old, the youngest age bracket. In each national election cycle since Obama’s reelection in 2012, the Republican share of the black vote has increased. Winning majorities of blacks and Hispanics, demographics that Joe Biden won by commanding 84 percent and 21 percent leads respectively, is unrealistic for Republicans in the foreseeable future. Continuing to make dents, though, will be enough to cause soul-searching for Democrats.
Religion in America Is Resilient
Among wealthy countries, the United States stands as an outlier when it comes to religious practice, with higher rates of worship attendance, daily prayer, and belief in God than nearly all European countries. Fifty-five percent of Americans pray every day, compared to only 6 percent of those in the U.K. Americans lead western Europeans by 54 percentage points in rating religion as very important in their lives and 33 percentage points in monthly church attendance, according to Pew research from the past decade. All of this bodes well for conservative success as these same metrics of religious practice correlate with a preference for Republicans. Add to this the fact that the religious are outbreeding the non-religious. Demographer Eric Kaufmann argues that, despite declines in church affiliation, the birth rate advantage of the conservatively religious will likely reverse the trend toward secularization in the long run. America’s higher baseline level of religiosity means that the trend will play out sooner than in other parts of the West.
Republicans Are Winning Over the Average Working Voter
Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was famously made possible by just 80,000 votes in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The sizeable shifts from Democrat to Republican between the 2012 and 2016 elections were boosted by changing attitudes among their large blue-collar populations. It is a trend that has continued apace since then. The GOP, once viewed as the party of big business and the wealthy, has increasingly become the party of the average working person. Ohio, a state with a large working-class population that was in recent decades a quintessential swing state, has become reliably Republican. Democrats, on the other hand, have been losing their reputation as advocates for the common man, increasingly revealing themselves as representatives of elite interests. For liberals, Republicans’ newfound success with such voters is not to be viewed as the healthy result of democracy, but as a sign of the malignant force of “populism.” If voters continue to associate Democrats with elitism, Republicans will make further inroads among working-class voters—among them many minority voters—that will help produce more victories like 2016.
Red States Are Attracting Population
In the 2008 book The Big Sort, journalist Bill Bishop showed that Americans were increasingly moving to areas of the country that reflected their own political beliefs. The theory has held up since that time. Counties in which one candidate carried at least 80 percent of the vote—so-called “super landslide counties”—have increased in number every presidential election since 2008, rising from 5.3 percent of all counties to 22 percent in 2020. In the 2020s, a new iteration of the Big Sort has emerged. Today’s sorting is lopsided: movement to Republican areas outpaces movement to Democratic areas. Of the ten states that gained the highest net in-migration in 2022, nine voted Trump in 2020. Of the ten that lost the most to out-migration, nine voted Biden. Not only is it a testament to the success of conservative policies—success that may translate into more widespread adoption in the future—but the influx of population and capital that such sorting brings means more influence for conservative states on a national scale. Additionally, the rise of remote work is making rural areas—generally Republican strongholds—more appealing.
Signs Emerge of a Changing Tide on Social Issues
A major source of discouragement for American conservatives is the country’s seemingly unstoppable march to the left on social issues. There are signs, however, that the momentum is slowing. Conservative Supreme Court decisions like Dobbs v. Jackson and 303 Creative v. Elenis interrupted a steady stream of progressive victories in the courts. A Gallup poll showed a seven-point decline in approval of same-sex relationships from 2022 to 2023, the largest one-year drop since Gallup began tracking the question in 2001. The boycott of Bud Light has produced lasting damage to the brand, showing that conservatives are galvanized on social issues and have the numbers to make an impact. There is also evidence showing that young men in America are trending conservative. It is a phenomenon that extends beyond America’s borders, as similar trends appear in European countries like Sweden, Spain, and Finland, where conservative parties that detractors deem “far right” receive disproportionately high support among the young.
“It’s tough to make predictions,” Yogi Berra once quipped, “especially about the future.” Such trends do not add up to an airtight case for a conservative future. They may not pan out. One could argue that shifts among racial minorities are slight, that the Left’s command of institutions can withstand electoral defeat, that internal migration out of blue states may end up turning red states blue, and so on. Triumphalism is not a luxury of American conservatives. Humble optimism will have to do for now. That said, there is at the very least good reason to doubt the case for progressive inevitability.
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