A twenty-first-century GOP

The following article originally appeared in City Journal.

With President Obama’s job-approval ratings in free fall, Republicans feel justifiably confident about the 2010 congressional elections. But even if the GOP has recovered some swagger, the party’s long-term political fortunes require it to recover something else: the votes of well-educated, well-compensated elites. Over the past decade and a half, Republicans have watched scientists, high-tech workers, doctors, financial leaders, and academics in engineering and business abandon the party in favor of the Democrats. This exodus has weakened the GOP politically and left it dependent on white evangelical voters. But the elites’ home could again be the Republican Party—if the Republicans welcome them back.

An interviewer once asked Karl Rove to define the Democratic Party’s base. “Anyone with a doctorate,” he responded. This wasn’t true in the past. Back in 1975, Everett Ladd and Seymour Lipset found that university professors in the hard sciences leaned somewhat Republican, unlike their colleagues in the humanities. Ladd and Lipset also discovered that while 64 percent of social-science professors were liberals, only 24 percent of engineering professors and 23 percent of business professors were. In fact, when Ladd and Lipset looked at the 1968 and 1972 elections, the Republican candidate—none other than Richard Nixon, the scourge of humanities profs—managed to “command solid majorities among professors of business, engineering, and agriculture.” Overall, 43 percent of faculty members backed Nixon.

The conservative foothold in faculty lounges began to loosen as the seventies ended, and by the new millennium, academic Republicans had become much harder to spot, even in traditionally conservative disciplines. In the 2004 election, pollster Gary Tobin reported, John Kerry secured 72 percent of the faculty vote, with the candidate also getting 72 percent among science and math professors and even managing to win half of the business and management faculty. The trend of scientists voting Democratic has gone beyond the campus: according to a 2009 poll, only 6 percent of all American scientists called themselves Republicans, compared with 55 percent self-identifying as Democrats.

Republicans have started to lose Wall Street, too. From 1998 to 2007, reports the activist group Wall Street Watch, 55 percent of commercial banks’ campaign contributions went to Republicans. George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Wall Street dollars—$4 million to $1.4 million in 2000—and he nearly doubled Kerry’s $4 million take in 2004. But these leads have disappeared over the last few years, with the Democrats gaining a majority of Wall Street contributions in 2008.

Doctors, like Wall Street execs, have a Republican history, but there are signs that they, too, are moving away from the party. From 1998 through 2006, Republicans garnered 67 percent of all campaign contributions from the American Medical Association; but by 2008, Democrats were pulling in 56 percent, and the AMA proceeded to support President Obama’s health-care overhaul. While the AMA represents only 29 percent or so of American doctors, this is a troubling development for the GOP.

Republicans are also failing to secure the votes of an emerging group that should naturally align with the party: libertarian-leaning workers in Silicon Valley and other high-tech enclaves. Despite the Valley’s entrepreneurial, leave-us-alone spirit, two-thirds of tech-industry contributions went to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle, according to Opensecrets.org.

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