The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Two stats show why Republicans are so fixated on suppressing the vote

A voter fills out a ballot alongside a row of empty booths at a polling station in Cincinnati on Nov. 8. (John Minchillo/AP)

Why are Republicans so willing to incur the wrath of civil rights groups, to risk alienating college-educated voters and to alienate big business by engaging in flagrant voter suppression? Two statistics provide clarity.

The first comes from TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm that has compiled information on more than 98 percent of those who cast ballots last year from individual voter files. The firm finds: “Non-college educated whites dropped from 53.8% of the electorate in 2016 to 49.2% in 2020.” Moreover, “Nationally, total turnout increased by 12% relative to 2016, turnout among [Asian American and Pacific Islander] voters surged by 43% and Latino turnout increased by almost a third of all votes cast.” (While the disgraced former president may have done better among Hispanics in some states than he did in 2016, overall, he still lost 65 percent of these voters.)

TargetSmart’s chief executive, Tom Bonier, told me this means that non-college-educated Whites increased turnout over 2016, but just not as fast as other groups. In other words, the GOP is “running out” of non-college-educated Whites.

Republicans’ “solution” is to keep these voters at a fever pitch, sell them on fear and resentment, and to try to maximize their share of the electorate by making it harder for everyone else to vote — especially non-Whites and low-income Americans.

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It has not occurred to Republicans, as the Atlantic’s David A. Graham has explained, that “they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.” Indeed, post-election analysis suggests that the GOP’s presidential nominee would have lost even in a lower turnout election and that, as a Stanford University report has found, “no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic.” In other words, making it more difficult to vote absentee and discouraging turnout overall may well backfire.

The second statistic behind the Republicans’ collective panic attack has to do with their solid core of supporters: White evangelical Christians. As I pointed out last month, Gallup finds that the percentage of those attending any religious institution has dropped below 50 percent, the first time in 80 years of its surveys. Churches are losing younger Americans at a remarkable rate:

The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. . . .
The two major trends driving the drop in church membership — more adults with no religious preference and falling rates of church membership among people who do have a religion — are apparent in each of the generations over time.

If Republicans cannot find enough non-college-educated Whites and, worse for them, cannot count on White evangelicals (more than 80 percent of whom voted for the MAGA party) to keep pace with the growth of nonreligious voters, their nativist party — driven by fears of an existential threat to White Christianity — will no longer be viable at the national level.

Sure, deep-red states will still vote for Republicans — until they reach a demographic tipping point, as Georgia did in 2020. And highly gerrymandered districts will still give us noxious figures such as Reps. Mo Brooks (Ala.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) — until electoral reforms such as independent redistricting or ranked-choice voting make their candidacies impossible.

Republicans, in essence, are trying to eke out as many election cycles as they can with its shrinking base. Deathly afraid of alienating the most rabid MAGA supporters, they continue to stoke racial resentment, fear of immigrants and bizarro conspiracy theories — all of which push away non-Whites, women, college-educated voters and younger voters. In sum, Republicans’ base is vanishing and they haven’t the slightest idea what to do about it — other than a possibly self-destructive effort to disenfranchise voters.

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