Shortly after it became apparent that Barack Obama would be the Democratic Nominee in 2008, some groups of unhappy Clinton supporters began calling themselves PUMAs – standing for “Party Unity My Ass”. They believed, for whatever reason, that Barack Obama was unsupportable in 2008, and many promised to actively support McCain. This prompted many Republicans to believe that the election could be won on the backs of such PUMAs, and the party strategy was altered accordingly, culminating in the selection of Sarah Palin – a female Governor many now recognize was ill prepared for a national run – as the Vice Presidential nominee.
Unfortunately for us, the packs of PUMAs running to the polls in support of John McCain never materialized, and some of the adjustments made to the Republican campaign in hopes of attracting such voters likely did more harm than good. It wouldn’t be fair to say that PUMAs never existed – but in the end, they were far too few in number and far too low in dedication to actually help us on election night.
So, with the disaster that was PUMA hunting so fresh in the memories of the GOP, you would think that most within the party would be hesitant to once again spend time and energy chasing shadow demographics in the hopes of improving our standing. Yet some in the GOP, usually within the moderate Republican blogosphere, are actively encouraging the party to abandon its socially conservative base in order to attract what are usually defined as “upper-middle class, suburban, secular voters”. They believe that there are large swaths of right-of-center voters who are receptive to many parts of the Republican message, but who end up voting Democratic or staying home because of our positions on social and cultural issues.
But this does not seem to square with what polls have proven in recent months. And even where it does, its debatable whether or not the trade-offs required to attract such voters are truly worth it.
Little is offered to define exactly who or where these voters are – other than their title as secular suburbanites – and so its very difficult to try and determine exactly what kind of people we are looking at, but its probably fair to say that they are White, between the ages of 40 and 60, making more than $45,ooo a year, and attending church a few times a year or less. But with the exception of church attendance, all of those demographics either voted Republican, split, or voted Democratic by a margin less than the nation as a whole did – all this in a very anti-Republican year.
Whites supported McCain by 55%-43%, Those in the 40-60 age group split virtually down the center, those making between $50k and %75k a year went narrowly to McCain, and even those self-described as Suburban voters supported Obama by smaller margins than the national average. This comes, once again, in a highly anti-Republican year with an extremely popular and charismatic Democratic nominee.
Moving beyond Demographics and into the category of issues, it has been shown time and time again that those who consider social issues a top priority are a relatively small group, and that those who are socially conservative are far more likely to be persuaded by the positions of a candidate on such issues than those who are socially liberal; with social moderates – which these mystery “secular suburbanites” likely are – being even further disinterested.
Finally, even if there were substantial numbers of secular suburbanites who could easily jump to the GOP were it not for social conservatism, what would be the cost of adjusting our stances on those issues? It seems unlikely that we could pull that group in without abandoning the Socially Conservative base – a group who has helped to make the GOP what it is today, and, without whom we would be in much deeper trouble than we are today.
In the end, unless those who want to chase the secular suburban voters who are supposedly just a couple position shifts away from jumping behind the GOP can provide solid evidence that such a group truly exists in the form they say it does, its probably not worth the effort.