All through the months leading up to the election, conservative pundits carped over the fact that polls supposedly oversampled Democrats. This argument accounted for President Obama’s small but persistent advantage in the polls. “Unskew” the polls to make them less weighted towards the Democrats, the conservatives said, and Obama’s edge vanishes. Turnout cannot be as pro-Democrat in 2012 as it was in 2008, they argued.
Well, now we know that they were wrong. The polls have run almost exactly along with the election results. It turns out they were sampling so many more Democrats … because there are more Democrats in the electorate now. Obama’s election has attracted more people to the Democratic Party.
That has tough implications for the Republican Party and conservative movement. Ever since George W. Bush, it has operated on the presumption that it needs only to rev up its base voters to win an election. This had the happy coincidence of also meaning that the way to win an election was to be solidly conservative. The 2012 election suggests that is no longer enough.
It doesn’t follow from this though that the way for the Republican Party to win again is reject conservatism. That would alienate the voters it does have in the speculative hopes of replacing them with others. You don’t build coalitions by ejecting existing parts of it. The way to win is to make conservatism a more appealing idea and to realize that coalitions are necessary. The movement needs to think hard about how it is going to expand its base.