Turning Right into a Dead End

Yes, the GOP is clearly poised for a great night—especially for its most extremist wing. By 7:10 p.m., The Washington Post and CNN were already calling Senate wins for Aqua Buddhist Rand Paul in Kentucky and Republican Dan Coats in Indiana.

But I don’t buy the notion that our country is abruptly or eternally shifting rightward. Here’s why:

  1. The probable margin of victory. The Democrats currently have a 77-seat majority. Projections, according to The New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog, point to a far smaller majority for Republicans of probably about 30-seats. That’s clearly a weaker mandate.
  2. Generic ballots. Sure, some polls are seeing a huge gap in voter preference for a generic “ballot.” As the Center for Responsive Politics points out, Gallup’s last pre-election poll found that way more respondents who would vote Republican regardless of the specific candidate than for an unspecified Democrat—55 percent versus 40 percent. But other polls found the gap to be much narrower across the nation, tantamount to the margin of error. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, for example, came out with 49 percent of respondents embracing the GOP and 45 percent favoring the Dems.
  3. Demography: No matter what happens in this election, even if GOP scores gains consistently over the next decade, it may easily prove to be the last gasp of extremist anti-government Republicans. The nation’s bluest regions also tend to be areas with great ethnic diversity. And diversity among American children is far richer than among Americans already old enough to vote. Non-whites may well become a majority by 2042, up from one-third of the population today. Given the narrow gap between supporters of the two big parties, the difference will be felt long before minorities become the majority.
  4. Millennials. Eventually young adults stop moving so much. And once they settle down, they’ll have an easier time voting in elections. When they do, the GOP will have to temper its anti-government stance or lose big. “By a 60% to 36% margin, the generation favors a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services,” according to Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, fellows of the New Democrat Network and the New Policy Institute.