Editorial: Targeting demographics instead of the whole country is dangerous to politics

Editorial Board

It has become apparent demographics and demographic changes drove this year’s election cycle. Pollsters and analysts were quick to credit Democrats with embracing those changes and equally quick to blame Republicans’ losses on their failure to adapt to the needs and wants of a changing electorate.

Even Mitt Romney, who can now add “former presidential candidate” to his resume, weighed in on the subject. On a conference call after the election, he told donors President Barack Obama won re-election by giving “gifts” to young voters, African-Americans, Latinos and women, in the form of student loan interest forgiveness, contraceptives, health care and the like.

He has a point. The fact the Obama campaign specifically targeted demographic groups to cobble together — dare we say, gerrymander? — a majority is evident just from his campaign buttons. There was the “I Like Obamacare” button. There was the “Women for Obama” button. There were “African-Americans” and “Latinos for Obama” buttons. There were “Hispanics,” “Nurses” and “Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders for Obama” buttons. Don’t forget about “Jewish Americans,” “Veterans & Military Families,” “Environmentalists” and “LGBT for Obama” buttons.

Evidently, it paid off among key groups. Obama won 93 percent of African-American voters, 71 percent of Latino voters, 60 percent of the youth vote, 53 percent of women’s votes, 69 percent of Jewish voters and 73 percent of Asian voters. Much was made of the fact he won even though he received support from only 39 percent of white voters.

But where were the “Americans for Obama” buttons? Why did so much of his support have to come from interest groups — even if they are people rather than corporations — instead of Americans who all have basically the same concerns?

At a certain point, when a player — or political candidate — finds the game he or she is playing has changed in practice from its rules or the intentions of its inventors, he must change the way he plays. But being practical should have its limits. When it becomes necessary to promise this to this group, that to that group, and the other thing to the other group, how can we possibly retain any sense of national unity?

Politics is supposed to be done together, collaboratively, based on what we have in common; but if we keep this up, politics will be done in a spinning centrifuge, and we will all end up on opposite sides.

Obama’s favorite politician, Abraham Lincoln, said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It is his next sentence, however, that is especially telling: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” Let us hope — and work — for a political scene in which attention to demographic divisions is fleeting, not permanent.