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Why Ignoring the Demographic Time Bomb Would Be Easy for House Republicans

Now that the Senate has finally passed comprehensive immigration reform the Republican Party has been put at a crossroads. The Republican-controlled House can either pass some version of the law as the first step in a long process of repairing relationships with the fastest growing minority group in the country, or they can stick with the same Caucasian-focused strategy they have been using.

At this point the door is basically closed on any third path to weaseling out of this big choice. Republicans could make a series of “responsible sounding” conservative demands until Democrats finally back out, then try to blame the Democrats, but that strategy seems unworkable. If Democrats are willing to support this absurd “border surge” to get the Senate to pass a bill there is basically nothing responsible sounding they won’t swallow.

The looming “demographic time bomb,” as Lindsey Graham put it, would seem to make the choice easy but reality is far more complicated. People are often more focused on short term self-interest than the long term benefit of their group. While the party as a whole obviously faces a problem over the next generation, in both the short and medium term it is not really a concern for most elected Republicans.

The design of the Senate gives it a huge rural and white bias. It is the least representative legislative chamber in the democratic world, with small states containing very few minorities having a shocking disproportionate amount of power.

Similarly, natural sorting combined with the gerrymandering problems inherent with having single member districts has given Republicans a massive built-in advantage in the House. Analysis shows Republicans need to only win as little as 44.5 percent of the national Congressional vote to hold onto the House under current redistricting. Even if the current Republicans’ white-focused strategy no longer works as well as it used to, it should probably work well enough for the next decade.

What incentive do individual Republicans have to disturb a system that could provide them with relative electoral security for a decade? Sticking to very conservative positions protects them in a primary, while the bad design of election systems protects them from a general election challenge. Any deviation runs the real risk of upsetting this stable equilibrium for them.

People are inherently reluctant to change, especially when the status quo should personally serve them well for many more years. While the Republican Party will have a demographic problem in the future, that is problem for future Republican politicians. With at least a decade of decent election security, many current members of the House will have moved on before the time bomb really goes off.

Photo by get directly down under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at