GOP pollster: Candidates seen as antigay will never win voters under 30

GOP pollster Whit Ayres praised Indiana’s political system at a Monitor breakfast on Wednesday for adapting 'remarkably quickly' to the 'value conflict' that has erupted over its new religious freedom law.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research, speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on March 31 in Washington.

At a Monitor breakfast Tuesday, GOP pollster Whit Ayres praised Indiana’s political system for adapting “remarkably quickly” to the “value conflict” that has erupted over its new religious freedom law, which opponents say discriminates against the gay community. The state’s top legislators say they will adjust the law so that discrimination is no longer an issue.

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence has come under scathing criticism for his defense of the law. Several potential GOP presidential candidates have expressed their support for Governor Pence, including Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whom Mr. Ayres is advising. 

While a majority of Americans support gay marriage, nearly three-quarters of Republicans do not, according to Gallup. That’s not true for young Republicans, however. More than 60 percent of Republican voters under 30 do support gay marriage, said Ayres, the founder and president of North Star Opinion Research. 

“We’re headed to the point where a political candidate who is perceived as anti-gay at the presidential level will never connect with people under 30 years old,” Ayres said, citing the rapidly changing views on same-sex marriage in America.  

That said, gay rights is at the bottom of the list of issues for Republican voters, competing with climate change, he pointed out.

When asked what he might advise a candidate who said he believes in equal rights but thinks marriage ought to be between a man and a woman, Ayres said he would never advise a candidate to alter his or her fundamental beliefs.

But he said that he would work with the candidate to lay out his or moral beliefs in a way that has “a tolerant and accepting tone.” People will accept candidates with whom they disagree, he said, as long as a candidate doesn’t seem judgmental.

In his view, the Republican Party, “more than anything else,” needs to adopt “a tone and an attitude of inclusion and acceptance” if it wants to take the White House.

Particularly, he’s talking about the demographic necessity of appealing to Hispanic voters in a presidential election, a point he makes in a new book titled “2016 and Beyond: How Republicans can Elect a President in the New America.”

White voters are shrinking as part of the electorate, he said, and Republicans must make inroads with non-whites. Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. To win in 2016, a Republican will have to perform in the 40s with Hispanics, Ayres said.

It’s doable with a “transformational” candidate – similar to the way Bill Clinton reversed the Democratic presidential losing streak by going more centrist and having his “Sister Souljah” moment, when he repudiated the hip hop artist. Ayres described his client, Senator Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, as “the most transformational” of all the GOP hopefuls.

To win the presidency, a Republican will have to send a signal to voters who have not recently backed the GOP that “we want them as part of a center-right coalition because it’s better for them and their families and their children,” Ayres asserted. 

On immigration, that means “some sort of accommodation” to a broken system.

“It’s safe to say that if your position is that you want to deport 11 million Hispanics, you’re going to find it very difficult to persuade Hispanic voters that we want you in the Republican coalition,” he said.

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