Demographics Are the GOP's Destiny—If They Embrace It | Opinion

The entire debate surrounding demographics and voting in America has it backwards. The Right complains that the Left is flooding the country with immigrants from Latin America to secure one-party rule; far from denying it, the Left embraces this narrative. Yet these contentions are largely based on nonsense.

Prevalent narratives about immigration and demographic change assume that Hispanic voters will tend to vote Democratic and that the preferences of younger voters will not change over time. Yet the preferences of young voters obviously do change over time, and also respond to changes in the political landscape. If each younger generation were invariably more "liberal" than the previous one, history since Adam would be a steady march toward ever-increasing liberality. Yet there is nothing steady about the march of history; nor is there anything inevitable about its political endpoint.

The case of Hispanic voters is even more straightforward. Hispanics tend to be more culturally conservative than whites—most Latin American immigrants come from majority-Catholic countries, after all. It was no surprise to anyone who recognized this fact when Trump increased his support among black men and Hispanic voters in 2020. Demographics are not destiny for Democrats—and any Democrats who think otherwise should reassess their views immediately.

How, then, might demographics favor Republicans? To answer this question, we must expand our definition beyond the race-and-identity obsession we find in American politics to the far simpler demographic variables of birth rates and family formation.

Unlike race and identity, these variables make up the very core of demographic research. Consider a 2017 study by Ron Lesthaeghe and Lisa Neidert. It starts by discussing a phenomenon the authors call the "Second Demographic Transition" (SDT). By this they mean the fall of the stable nuclear family and the rise of more loose-knit forms of family formation. This movement—which started at the end of the 1960s—was accompanied by the "culture war" that has defined American politics ever since.

Lesthaeghe and Neidert try to quantify this shift. Using advanced statistical techniques, they create what statisticians call a "proxy" for the SDT—that is, a single variable that can stand in for a multifaceted phenomenon. The main components of this proxy are, according to the authors, "the postponement of both marriage and parenthood, low total fertility and lower teenage fertility, and in addition, higher levels of unmarried cohabitation, including same-sex couples, and procreation among cohabitors."

What Lesthaeghe and Neidert find is fascinating. Since the end of the 1960s, their SDT variable predicts presidential elections with increasing power. By the time we get to the election of George W. Bush in 2000, election outcomes can be almost completely explained by their SDT variable. In plain English this means that, in America, the type of family structure that a person belongs to massively predicts which way he or she will vote. If an individual is part of a family unit that postpones marriage, cohabits and has few children, he or she will probably vote Democrat. If a person is part of a more conventional nuclear family unit, he or she will probably vote Republican.

The lesson to be derived seems obvious: the more Republicans can foster large, stable families, the better they will do in future elections. Yet even though this "stable family" effect has been clear in the data since the 2000 election, Republicans have yet to turn it into a plank of their short- and long-term electoral platform.

Senate candidate J.D. Vance
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 06: Rise of the Rest Seed Fund managing partner J.D. Vance speaks onstage during Day 2 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 6, 2018 in San Francisco, California. Steve Jennings/Getty Images

That appears to be changing, however. In a speech at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's conference on the Future of American Political Economy, U.S. Senate candidate for Ohio J.D. Vance called for two things that, to anyone with their ear to the ground on family dynamics and voting patterns, sounded like an earthquake. First, he called for massive state support to help family formation. Second, he called for voting to be expanded to all Americans regardless of age—with the caveat that the vote of anyone under the age of 18 should be handed to the parents.

Vance's proposal amounts to one of the most sophisticated political strategies in the history of American politics. If votes were allowed to accrue to family units, the entire political debate in America would change overnight. Politicians of all stripes would stop training their rhetoric on individuals or identity groups, and instead focus on families. This would be an incredibly powerful short-term strategy for the GOP. We might refer to this as the "Oikos strategy"—after Aristotle's famous contention that the household is the beginning of the economy and civil society.

The other leg of Vance's platform—massive state support for family formation—provides long-term ballast. If it works, and causes marriages and birth rates to rise—and there is plenty of evidence that this has happened in other countries that tried the policy—the American demographic landscape would increasingly become dominated by Republican-voting households. The effects on the culture would likely be profound too. Lesthaeghe and Neidert's Second Demographic Reversal would go into sharp reverse and bring America "back to the future."

In a sense, these changes are inevitable. It is a tautology that groups with low reproduction rates will eventually be eclipsed by groups with high ones. Encouraging childlessness is a fantastic strategy for extinction, but is not of much use for anything else. To politicize these changes—to drag them into the public square and turbocharge them—has an element of Machiavellian genius to it.

Although the GOP would have much to gain from an embrace of family policy, these proposals should not simply be seen as a political wedge that only benefits a particular political party. Nor should it be seen as just one policy choice among many available to politicians today. Rather, support for the family is the single best policy strategy available with respect to both the common good and the national interest.

The collapse of family life over the last 70 years is the largest political catastrophe in America. Any number of social pathologies can be traced to it, from rising violent crime rates to the opioid epidemic. To ameliorate them, the American state's best course of action is to channel maximum resource allocation—both political and economic—to stabilizing family life. Furthermore, a nation that cannot reproduce has no future. Such a nation can expand its military budget from here to eternity, it can cut taxes and spur capital investment—but as its supply of people dries up, so will its spirit and its capacity. It will start to lack self-confidence, it will shun long-term planning—at both a macro and a micro level—in favor of immediate gratification. We already see this ennui setting in across America. To find its purpose again, the country must start at the start. And the start is clearly, as Aristotle argued so long ago, the family and the household.

Will the GOP follow Vance and embrace its destiny? That remains to be seen. But it is hard not to imagine that beneath the surface of American politics, an enormous shift is starting to take place. The pollsters would be well advised to put away their broken polling tools and dust off their Richter Scale.

Philip Pilkington is a macroeconomist with nearly a decade of experience working in investment markets, he is the author of the book The Reformation in Economics: A Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Economic Theory.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.