With Democrat Terry McAuliffe taking a double digit lead in the Virginia gubernatorial contest, leading observers are increasingly looking at Virginia as an indicator of national political trends.
New Washington Post/SRBI polling in Virginia, which puts McAuliffe up 51-39, also demonstrates very clearly the dangers these trends pose to Republicans.
The crack Post polling team has produced a chart based on this poll that shows the GOP brand has collapsed among the very constituencies Republicans must improve their standing among in order to remain competitive in the future, both in Virginia and at the national level:
The interactive chart (run your cursor over the bars to see numbers) shows that the national GOP’s unfavorable rating in Virginia has spiked to 87 percent among nonwhite likely voters. It’s at 69 percent among women voters. And it’s at 69 percent among white college graduate voters — a number that is likely higher among college educated white women. White college grads — particularly women — are an increasingly important constituency to Democrats, and their preferences could have major implications for the GOP’s ability to win elections in the future with an overreliance on white voters.
And it is at 69 percent among independents. All of this mirrors another chart I posted last week that showed the GOP brand collapsing among key voter groups nationally.
A detailed demographic case along these lines has been advanced by Ronald Brownstein, who has argued that McAuliffe’s probable success is being powered by the growth of an emerging Democratic coalition that will likely be crucial to Democrats in statewide and national races in the future. This “coalition of the ascendant,” as Browntsein calls them, includes minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, particularly women.
Brownstein argues that McAuliffe’s apparent success in riding this coalition — which entails staking out socially liberal stances that swing state Dems have historically downplayed out of fear of alienating culturally conservative downscale whites — could have major implications nationally. This is particularly true given Virginia’s status as a purple state that is getting slowly pushing into the blue camp by demographic change — mirroring similar shifts in other purple states — as well as Virginia’s obvious importance in presidential elections.
If the GOP is going to broaden its national appeal, it will have to improve its performance among these demographics. Indeed, even the much-ballyhooed GOP autopsy spoke to this need. Yet by continuing to let the Tea Party and social conservatives set the party’s agenda, Republicans appear to only be alienating these core constituencies. Hostility to immigration reform; the refusal to evolve on gay marriage; hard core conservative positions on women’s health issues; continued reflexive anti-government rhetoric; and the embrace of governing crises appear to be trampling on the GOP makeover among these groups.
To be sure, much of this could be temporary — the lingering hangover in the public mind from the shutdown and debt limit crises. But there’s surely more to come. House Republicans very well may kill immigration reform. They are likely to stand in the way of a Democratic push to curb anti-gay workplace discrimination. Elements in the GOP are spoiling for more government shutdown and debt limit crises, which could occur in 2014. And the generally uncompromising anti-government stance — not to mention the snarling jihad against Obamacare, and the accompanying failure to offer any serious alternative to it — will likely continue. All this could alienate these constituencies further, since they tend to have a more benign view of government activism or at least are put off by non-constructive or even reckless governing.
Which is to say that the same elements within the GOP that have brought the party to this current low could very well continue to set its agenda, whatever the implications for the party over the long term.