GOP In Trouble When It Comes To Younger Voters

People across the country are waking up to the news that Democrat Barack Obama is president-elect. Matthew Dowd is an independent political strategist, and was the chief strategist to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004. He tells Renee Montagne that young people are voting Democratic and that's hurting the GOP.


Joining us now is Matthew Dowd. He was chief strategist to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign back in 2004. Good morning.

Mr. MATTHEW DOWD (Political Consultant; Chief Strategist, Bush-Cheney '04 Presidential Campaign): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's get your perspective on how the electorate is changing. Do the Republican losses suggest that the party missed a shift?

Mr. DOWD: Well, I think what they're suggesting - and if you look at the returns and what kind of coalition was put together by Barack Obama and other Democrats - is that it's very much trouble ahead for the Republican Party because the fastest-growing constituencies, voters under 30, Hispanics, African-Americans, all overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama and the Democrats. And if you look ahead for a generation, that's a very troublesome sign.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about a ubiquitous character - at least in the last few weeks of the campaign - for the Republicans. Is Joe the Plumber the face of America that Republicans took him to be?

Mr. DOWD: Well, I think what happened on election night, the American public decided that Joe the Plumber isn't the person they want to be having the conversation with. They want to be having the conversation with John McCain or other people in the Republican Party. And so I think Joe the Plumber became a distraction from the discussion that the American public wanted to have.

MONTAGNE: What about the discussion with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin? Last night in his concession speech, John McCain spoke of her future, both in the country and the party.

Mr. DOWD: Well, I think Sarah Palin is very popular among elements of the Republican Party. She gets huge crowds. The problem, as the polling last night showed, out of everybody that went to vote yesterday, close to 135 million people that looked like they were going to vote, 60 percent thought she was unqualified for vice president. So she is a person on the national stage, though I still think she has some work to do showing the American public she has substance and that she has the ability to rise past where she is today.

MONTAGNE: Though, as you said, she's very popular with one part of the party. And some would say that's the core of the party.

Mr. DOWD: Yes, she's very popular with, looks to be, the more conservative, religious right. To gain, you know, large crowds and big forums, that's going to be helpful. But if she really wanted to translate that into some sort of national presence, she's going to have to appeal to more moderate and independent and left-leaning Republicans. And right now, she's very unpopular with that group.

MONTAGNE: And is that a crowd that you would say the Republican Party needs - and therefore needs to redefine itself - if it's going to gain control of the White House, houses of Congress, or all of the above?

Mr. DOWD: When you look at where the Republican Party needs to go to win, one of the first things you see is that you can't win as a party and lose voters under 30 years old by 30 points or 28 points. You can't win as a Republican Party and lose Hispanic voters by 40 points. You cannot win elections with those numbers. And so the first step, I think, is they're going to have to figure out how do they appeal to the growing part of the electorate in all these states, as well as nationally? And that's, I think, the first order of business.

MONTAGNE: How do you think the Republicans will respond to an Obama administration and to an even greater hold by the Democrats on Congress?

Mr. DOWD: Interestingly enough, I think the Republicans are going to have an open hand and are going to be welcoming to Barack Obama in the initial stages. I think they're going to go out of their way to be kind and have a good relationship. Interestingly enough, I think the struggle that Barack Obama is likely to have is not going to be with the Republicans in Congress. It's going to be with Democrats in Congress that he's going to have to struggle to put in place what he's wanted to, which is sort of a more measured, nonpartisan way to approach politics. So I think Republicans will be much more welcoming to him than many people think.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. DOWD: Glad to be here.

MONTAGNE: Matthew Dowd is an independent political strategist. He was also the chief strategist to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.