A few weeks ago I reiterated that the most parsimonious explanation for why Asian Americans have been shifting to the Democratic party over the past generation (George H. W. Bush won Asian Americans according to the 1992 exit polls) is a matter of identity politics (reiterated, because I noticed this years ago in the survey data). In short, since the 1950s a normative expectation that America was defined by its historic white Protestant majority has receded. The proportion of “Others,” non-whites, non-Christians, etc., has grown to the point that for all practical purposes these groups have found a secure home in the Democratic party, and the Democratic party has been able to benefit electorally from this support (this would not be the case in 1950, because not enough Americans were non-white or non-Christian). Naturally then the Republican party has become the locus of organization for white Christians, and more specifically white Protestants.
My rough argument is that identity is multifaceted and complex. In relation to the Republican party an evangelical Protestant Korean American Christian sees part of “themselves” in the party. A secular white New York banker from the Midwest who went to Northwestern University may also see themselves in the Republican party. The problem is that a Indian American Hindu cardiologist may have a difficult time emotionally connecting to the party, despite the clear economic rationale for such an affinity. The political scientist Andrew Gelman has argued that in fact it is the economic elites who vote on cultural issues, so it is not surprising that non-Christian Asian American business and professional elites feel alienated from a Republican party whose appeal is purely material and economic.
There may be other more complex explanations, but the data seem sufficient to warrant this being a working hypothesis. I am now rather pleased to see that this viewpoint is gaining traction among some conservative movement types. Over at TownHall Jonah Golberg has a column up, The GOP — Not a Club For Christians. In the column he relates his own personal experience (as an identified Jew), and the opinions of two conservative Indian Americans (one a convert to Catholicism, and another now a well known Christian apologist and polemicist).
The aspect that needs to emphasized here is the matter of style. In my original posts I did not outline a prescription (contrary to what some who don’t bother to read posts that they characterize may think). Rather, I described the situation. As a matter of politics the broad outlines of the Republican and Democratic party seem inevitable, and it would be bizarre for the Republicans to try to reinvent themselves as something they are not. Rather, my suggestion is simply that the Republican party needs to soften the edges and be less sectarian. For better or worse the Republicans are not viewed as the white Christian party, but as the party of white evangelical Southern Protestants. Though this segment of the electorate is the core of the base, it is not sufficient for victory.
In the 1970s and 1980s the Democratic party for all practical purposes became defined by its McGovernite core; the secular liberals, ethnic minorities, and grab-bag of special interests. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as white Southern Baptist males, were not sufficient to redefine the party, but they began a process of reinvention, and the perfection of a stylistic affect which manages to embrace just enough of the white suburban and moderate vote to produce a winning coalition. The irony here for the Republicans is that the party is notorious for giving the social conservative white evangelical wing nothing but rhetoric, all the while placating economic conservatives. But it is the symbolism of the former which is coming to define party, and narrow its base. A perhaps audacious ‘solution’ to this problem would be for the Republican party to actually follow through on the promises made to social conservatives, while shedding their explicit sectarian coloring.
Addendum: In response to the thesis above Steve Sailer has pointed out that the nominees were neither white Protestants in 2012. A quick response to that is that despite white male Southern Baptists being nominated in 1992 and 1996, everyone knew clearly who and what the Democratic party was. And it wasn’t the party of white Southern Protestants.