Economic Demographics of Republicans

It’s a good time to take stock of the Republican Party’s status. The year 2012 was a continuation of struggles among mainstream factions, tea party activists, special-interest groups and the entrenched elite. On the national stage, Mitt Romney emerged as the leader of the estimated 35 percent of Americans who identify as Republicans. It’s important to understand who the Republican voters are, where they live, what they believe and how they relate to the rest of America.

Location

Republicans love to talk about individual rights in the U.S. economy, and the pursuit of the American Dream. This is generally reflected in polls about their beliefs, and also in the way they live their lives. Republicans tend to live away from the East and West Coasts, predominantly in the South and Midwest. And, within those states, Republicans tend to live outside of concentrated urban areas. Republican affiliation in cities with populations over 500,000 is only 39 percent, compared with 52 percent in suburban areas and 59 percent in rural areas.

Suburban communities strongly lean Republican, and rural areas are almost exclusively Republican. Republicans are more likely to own their own home. Many of the areas hardest hit by the U.S. economy’s housing downturn are Republican strongholds, although that does not necessarily mean that Republican voters are being foreclosed against at a higher level than Democrats. Republicans have a strong emphasis on personal ownership, and home ownership is a major component of that ideal.

Family

Part of the American Dream is having a spouse and children, and Republicans attain that aspect in large numbers. Sixty percent of married men vote Republican, along with 55 percent of married women. Additionally, 53 percent of families with children younger than 18 identify as Republican. This focus on traditional family values may explain in part why only 23 percent of gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals identify as Republican.

Income

Financially, Republicans fare better than either Democrats or Independents, and tend to identify themselves as such. Republican candidates gain a significantly higher percentage of votes from individuals with incomes over $50,000 per year, and the advantage increases along with the income level, to a height of 63 percent of individuals earning $200,000 or more a year supporting Republicans. This level is the direct inverse of individuals earning less than $15,000 a year, who support Democrats at 63 percent and Republicans at only 36 percent.

Republicans also express a much higher level of satisfaction with their personal financial situation than either Democrats or Independents. Before the U.S. economy’s downturn, an all-time high of 81 percent of Republicans expressed satisfaction with their personal financial situation. That number dropped to 61 percent in 2009, but it is still significantly higher than the corresponding 52 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Democrats. A much larger proportion of Republicans than Democrats also identify themselves as “haves” versus “have-nots.”

Well-Being

Republicans have higher well-being than Democrats or Independents. A well-being survey looks at things like workplace perceptions, access to basic necessities and physical health. Interestingly, the one area Democrats outperformed Republicans in one such study was in life evaluation — meaning that Democrats may be doing worse than Republicans in terms of well-being, but they aren’t bothered by it as much as Republicans.

Charity

On average, Republicans are more charitable financially and otherwise than either Democrats or Independents. Despite the perception that they’re stingy — either because of personal wealth or policy positions that don’t advocate for a government-backed public safety net — numerous studies have found American Republicans to be among the most generous people on earth, and not just financially. Republicans also provide more volunteer hours and donate blood more frequently.

Labor

Labor unions have had a rough transition in the modern U.S. economy. Nationwide, unions have seen a significant decrease in their public support, although 64 percent of Americans still feel labor unions are necessary to protect the working person. Among Republicans, however, only 43 percent view labor unions as necessary to protect the working person, and 54 percent actively disagree. The U.S. economy’s downturn has served as a backdrop to this slump in support, as 62 percent of Republicans saw unions as necessary as recently as 2003. This compares with 61 percent of Independents and 82 percent of Democrats who view unions as necessary to protect the working person.

Education

Educationally, there are two main blocs of Republican voters: white working-class voters and white people with undergraduate degrees.

White working-class voters are defined as white people who have received a high school diploma or have some college experience, but no degree. This group has fallen as a percentage of the overall vote by 15 percent between 1988 and 2008, but continuously votes Republican at a 20-point or more advantage.

For the past several decades, Republicans have also won a larger percentage of votes from white voters with undergraduate degrees, although this support has been eroding over the past few election cycles, from an impressive 20-point advantage in 1988 to a 4-point advantage in 2008.

This could be due to more women graduating from college, or a genuine shift in the voting behaviors of the millennial generation.

Age

Older voters, on average, skew Republican. This advantage is partially offset by the Democratic slant of younger voters, although older voters are more likely to vote. The average Republican is 50, while the average Democrat is 47.

Race

Republicans are predominantly white, with 87 percent of them identifying as non-Hispanic white. This percentage has remained steady for well over a decade — long before the sizable increase in minority support that Democrats saw with the first African-American president.

African-Americans are the least likely minority group to vote Republican, regardless of income. Hispanic voters, however, who are the fastest growing minority group in the United States, often identify as Republican when they receive a higher income.

Religion

Republicans are often cast as a party that is becoming increasingly religious. This may or may not be true on a policy level, but it certainly does not translate into demographic data. Between 1987 and the late 1990s, Republicans and Democrats polled as equally religious. Democrats have seen a significant decrease in their level of religious participation, while Republican numbers have remained consistent. Any perception of increasing religion on the Republican side may actually be a miscast impression caused by Democrats’ decreasing level of religious conviction.

The Republican Party is almost exclusively Christian. GOP candidates earn 59 percent of all Protestant votes, 67 percent of all white Protestant votes, 52 percent of the Catholic vote and only 25 percent of the Jewish vote.

The Republican Party has some clear age, race and religious trends, but is a dynamic assortment of individuals from across the country. As a new presidential term begins, these are the people who will join together to create the party’s future.

Bill Fay

Bill Fay is a journalism veteran with a nearly four-decade career in reporting and writing for daily newspapers, magazines and public officials. His focus at Debt.org is on frugal living, veterans' finances, retirement and tax advice. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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