Dangers of short-term political strategies

Republicans are increasingly out of touch with growing segments of the American public. Polls show that most Americans support immigration reform, gay marriage, and access to safe and legal reproductive health care. Meanwhile, Republicans have blocked immigration reform in the House, introduced a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, and are ramping up efforts to restrict women's health care.

This disconnect is being reflected in party identification. A July Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that just 23 percent of Americans under 35 consider themselves Republicans, compared with 50 percent who see themselves as Democrats. And just 30 percent of women of all ages call themselves Republicans.

Republicans are not worried, though, not because they expect more voters to come around to their way of thinking, but because they expect voting to decline in importance.

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Following the 2012 elections, House Democrats actually won a plurality of the popular vote, but Republicans still won more seats. This is largely the result of gerrymandering – drawing voter districts in a way that intentionally dilutes the concentration of certain groups to maintain control by a single political party.

In order to keep Texas' 23rd congressional district under Republican control, Texas Republicans intentionally redrew the district in 2003 to make Hispanics a minority. The Supreme Court threw the map out in 2006, saying that it violated the rights of Hispanic voters. Seven years later, the Department of Justice is still pursuing claims against the state of Texas over racially biased gerrymandering.

The impact of gerrymandering is greater than any one district. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the non-partisan Cook Political Report rates only 90 of 435 seats in the House of Representatives as competitive at a time when 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing – the worst results in the history of the poll.

And for those offices that can't be won by diluting Democratic votes through gerrymandering (like President of the United States) Republicans are working to block voters from making it to the polls altogether.

Republicans relied heavily on voter suppression in 2012, crediting Pennsylvania's voter ID law with helping cut Obama's share of the vote by about 5 percent. Today, 12 states have enacted voter ID laws, and a dozen more have similar legislation in the works.

In addition to voter ID laws, Republicans in some states reduced early voting hours when African-Americans, single women, and likely Democratic voters turn out. A Republican official told the Columbus Dispatch last fall that he supported reduced early voting hours because he did not want to accommodate African-American voters, and a federal court ruled against similar measures in Florida, saying "it would impose a sufficiently material burden to cause some reasonable minority voters not to vote."

Charges of racial bias by federal courts and the Department of Justice have not dissuaded Republicans from pursuing a strategy of voter suppression. Following the Supreme Court decision that struck down key sections of the Voting Rights Act in June, Republicans in several states including Texas and North Carolina immediately moved to implement new restrictions including requiring a government issued ID and shortening the window for early voting.

Manipulating the electoral process, whether through onerous voter ID laws, shortening polling times, or gerrymandering districts, is not a sustainable political strategy.  In the short term, Republicans may be able to use these methods to hold onto seats in states where their power is particularly entrenched. But in the long term, such practices could convince more Americans that the electoral process is rigged. In that event, the danger is not to Democrats, but to democracy.

Oldmixon is a partner at Oldmixon Hill, a political consulting firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle.