Republican Evolution

Dana Milbank has an explanation for that recent Pew poll showing a sharp decline in the number of Republicans who accept evolution. Ironically, he suggests that the Grand Old Party is continuing to…well, evolve…into an ever more conservative and religious party.

A survey out this week shows just how far and how fast the GOP has gone toward becoming a collection of older, white, evangelical Christians defined as much by religion as by politics. …..Forget climate-change skepticism: Republicans have turned, suddenly and sharply, against Darwin.

How to explain this most unexpected mutation? Given the stability of views on evolution (Gallup polling has found responses essentially the same over the past quarter-century), it’s unlikely that large numbers of Republicans actually changed their beliefs. More likely is that the type of people willing to identify themselves as Republicans increasingly tend to be a narrow group of conservatives who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible — or partisans who regard evolution as a political question rather than one of science.

Milbank mines the data to describe the current GOP:   86 percent white, and growing steadily older (the number of self-described Republicans ages 50 to 64 and 65 and older climbed seven points and two points, respectively).  The ideological gap between the parties has grown, but–despite the GOP’s desperate efforts to paint all Democrats as leftists moving toward socialism–the data shows that the widening gap is instead a product of Republican movement to the right.

The Republican Party is achieving the seemingly impossible feat of becoming even more theological. Democrats and independents haven’t moved much in their views, while Republicans took a sharp turn toward fundamentalism.

How much farther right can the GOP go? When I left what was then still a reasonably sane albeit ideologically transformed party in 2000, I was convinced that–as the song says–they’d gone about as far as they could go. I was clearly wrong.

The question now is, ironically, Darwinian. As Milbank notes:

As a matter of political Darwinism, the Republicans’ mutation is not likely to help the GOP’s survival. As the country overall becomes more racially diverse and more secular, Republicans are resolutely white and increasingly devout. If current trends persist, it will be only a couple of decades before they join the dodo and the saber-toothed tiger.

The disappearance of what used to be a major political party composed mostly of grown-ups has already occurred, and the country is the worse for it.  We need two sensible political parties. Watching whatever it is that the GOP has become self-destruct may make some partisan Democrats happy, but most Americans recognize it for the sad and dangerous state of affairs that it is.


  1. Not this Democrat – we need 2 strong sensible parties. Competition is a good thing

  2. I agree that the country needs at least two strong, rational parties (although I still think that a multi-party system would be quite beneficial because it would create the need for cooperation between the parties to form a governing majority). What stumps me, though, is this: given the apparent shut-out of most moderate Republicans (and virtually all fiscally conservative/socially moderate to liberal Republicans), I can’t figure why they haven’t formed a third party to offer a real alternative to the current GOP/Tea Party folks.

    Surely there are enough of these centrists to attract donors and voters who are disillusioned and, frankly, fed up with having their views discounted by the theocrats. All the while they are still expected to toe the company line, contribute to the company coffers, and sit quietly by while the current leadership — if you can call it that — drags the party down a path of destruction.

    I know some of them have switched to independents and a few have switched to the Democratic Party, but neither of those are good for the country. The Democrats don’t really need more DINOs (we have enough already, thanks), and the Independents tend to caucus with the GOP anyway.

    I would love to see a viable third party form out of the refugees from the current GOP, with sensible policies, real contrasting visions for the future of our country, which would give voters a real choice, rather than this fake choice between two candidates whose only real difference is one of tone, rather than substance.

  3. I guess this may be one of the downsides of longer lifespan. Often with old age comes rigidity, fears and trust in sources that may not be in one’s best interest (e.g., Fox News). Not all the time, but the case of the U.S., too frequently for our own good. The problem comes when these folks decide to vote.

    I’ve often heard folks contend that things will change as this “older cohort” dies, but the younger people get older, too, and exhibit the same tendencies. We may be in this for the long haul, or until younger people decide to carry out a revolution. Increasing inequality is just one example. As Joseph Stiglitz, well-known economist, said at the end of his 2011 Vanity Fair article, ” …[T]here is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.”

  4. In the previous post, I neglected to add a critical piece of information: The number of older people is going up, not down. In 1970, the average lifespan was 70.8 years; in 1980, 73.7; in 1990, 75.4; in 2000, 77; 2003, 77.4. That means a lot of Fox News fans who actually believe simplistic and conspiratorial version of reality. If you don’t think so, then ask some representative 65 year olds what they watch and what their their forwarded emails tell them, and the majority of them will report some pretty dark perceptions which are contrary to most of the postings on this site. Barring a massive epidemic hitting older people, that’s a lot of folks with strange perceptions of reality. And they vote.

  5. And many of our legislators who fall into the retired category, instead of bringing wisdom and concern for the common good into public service, bring what they have “learned” from Fox News, enhanced by their rigidity, suspicions and fear for the future. These people are elected, of course, by constituents who view reality from the same place. We get the sort of government we deserve.

    I really hope I’m wrong about this.

  6. Sheila;

    I certainly enjoy reading your periodic posts, and much, and agree with much, not all, of what you share your inner thoughts on. This column is not one that I agree with you on one iota. Truth is, I don’t think that you do either. I really think you’re preaching to a mirror.You see, the Republican Party will not disappear, just because you want it to. Why, because it represents far more people who share it’s views than actually carry a card in their wallet. How could they ever elect any candidate with only about 12% of the electorate nationwide and declared as a card carrying Republican supporter. If that’s all the people that share it’sd views that would be the end of the party. But, we know that far far more people lean to the right than actually declare themselvers full Republicans.Also, the Rpublican Party is not a Christian party, because if it was, how could I as a Conservative Southern Jew along with the many many other people of various faiths and religions carry that Republiucan card in their wallet and vote that line of though .I have never never once cross over. Not once. You may wish the Republican Party to disappear, but as long as there is an Obama, a Pelosi, a Reid, a Biden, and wowee Clinton x 2, the Republican Party is here to stay. That is what keeps the Republican Party alive. Fear of what the Democrats will do this countryt if left unchecked. This country is not as far left as you would lead your readers to believe. You can fool people on some things, but this isn’t one of them.

  7. Just now ran across your post and have some thoughts that are decidedly different than the current media trends suggest. I’m not especially given to aligning my voting tendencies with any political party or with any partisan talking points. I have no public or proclaimed loyalty to either the Democrat party or the Republican party. You will not find me carrying a placard for ‘banning abortions’ or for ‘supporting same-sex marriage’, but you will find me at my registered polling place each time there’s an election. I’m one of those people who apparently falls into the category of the silent majority or the silent middle-ground, those rather quiet folks who listen to all the media noise, to all the talking heads, and to the assorted gibberish meted out from the entertainers at Fox and MSNBC. I’m neither an old-timer caught in a death grip of cultural or social rigor mortis nor a wet-behind-the-ears idealist. I’m one of those folks who supports all people in their civilized quest for social acceptance/recognition, but at the same time, my support wanes rather quickly for those men who wave their King James Version Bibles skyward or those men who parade on Monument Circle wearing pink feather boas. In short, I don’t give a rat’s patoot about anyone’s Bible or anyone’s gay lover. I suspect I’m not alone. If the economy were thriving, I doubt that Bible thumpers or same-sex marriage would be a political topic. As it stands presently, I’ll vote for the candidate who sticks with the knitting, who understands economic issues.

  8. On another subject (sort of) — Sheila, what made you leave the Republican Party in 2000. Did you do a piece (or pieces) on it that I missed?

  9. During the late 60s and early 70s, my parents were part of the “Silent Majority” and I was part of the raging left. We both thought the Left was in charge of the country, but as I look back, I realize the noise was a sign of the “Left” in decline. At 66, I now feel like I’m part of the “Silent Majority.” Today’s noise is a sign of the “Right” in decline.

  10. Jay, if you are one that “supports all people in their civilized quest for social acceptance/recognition,” there is really only one party you can honestly vote for. I have my problems with Democrats from time to time (not offering public option, etc.), but when it comes down to it, and you’re integrity is the most important thing to you, are you going to vote for the party that lives by a mystical book (written by men) and rejects hundreds of years of empirical evidence and scientific discovery? To vote purely on economic policy is maddening to me because no one person/party can truly forecast policy actions in such a complex, interconnected economy. I have my preference, I tend to think demand stimulates growth, but to me, the rights of my fellow Americans far outweighs this belief.

    I suspect many of our legislators and constituents haven’t read much of Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”, though it seems they are living under it.

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