Oct 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The GOP's monstrous math problem

Illustration of an elephant trunk writing a math equation on chalkboard
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans, win or lose next week, face a big — and growing — math problem.

The state of play: They're relying almost exclusively on a shrinking demographic (white men), living in shrinking areas (small, rural towns), creating a reliance on people with shrinking incomes (white workers without college degrees) to survive.

Why it matters: You can't win elections without diversity, bigger population centers and sufficient money.

Flashback: Before President Trump, the GOP acknowledged all this. Then-RNC Chair Reince Priebus said in his "autopsy" after Mitt Romney's loss in 2012:

  • "We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities."

What's happening: Trump threw that out and realigned the GOP base away from suburbs and wealth, and toward white working-class people in small towns. 

  • New Gallup polling finds Trump remains above 50% with rural residents, white men and white adults without college degrees.
  • But he has dropped 9 points just this year with suburbanites — falling with both men and women — to 35%, after winning them in 2016.

Republicans have hemorrhaged support among suburban women during the Trump years. Now, the GOP even struggles in exurbs.

  • Trump's plaintive pleas to these vital voters have become a 2020 punchline. "Suburban women, you’re going to love me. You better love me," Trump said last night in West Salem, Wisconsin.

Another GOP drain: Voters are no longer following the traditional pattern of getting more conservative as they age.

  • In what Axios demographic expert Stef Kight calls the "liberal youth revolution," millennials and Gen Z are sticking with the Democratic Party as they move through adulthood.

The demographic wind shear is also hitting Republicans financially, the N.Y. Times shows in a new analysis.

  • In ZIP codes with a median household income of $100,000+, Biden beat Trump 3 to 1 in fundraising, "accounting for almost his entire financial edge. In the rest of the country, the two were knotted closely."
  • Trump's sweet spot: Areas averaging $50,000 or less.

What's next: Key players in the Republican Party tell Axios they're deeply concerned about winning back the suburbs.

  • Republicans eyeing 2024 runs know the party's current demographic math may not work for Trump again — and certainly won't work for them.
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