We Probably Won't Know If the GOP's 2013 Reboot Worked Until 2016

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One year ago Tuesday, the Republican Party unveiled its sweeping plan to modernize and appeal to new constituencies in the wake of Mitt Romney's 2012 loss. How has it fared? The soonest we're likely to know is 2016, and anyone who suggests differently is trying to spin you.

Reince Priebus is trying to spin you. Priebus is the head of the Republican Party, the man within that organization whose job it was to get Romney elected, and the guy who commissioned the post-2012 plan. Among its determinations: the party needs to get up to speed on technology, do a better job of reaching out to young voters, and do a better job of appealing to minority communities.

At Politico, Priebus explains the progress he feels the GOP has made in the last year. The party has hired chieft digital, technology, and data officers, and is able to "experiment with new ideas in a start-up-like environment." Priebus has also "hired hundreds of people across the country to focus on engaging minority groups such as blacks, Hispanics and Asians."

Near the top of the list, of course, was to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That didn't happen. And whether or not the other components of Priebus' plan are making any difference isn't clear either.

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Since the report was created, there have been only a handful of contested elections. In Virginia, the Republicans lost the governor and lieutenant governor races to Democrats. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won reelection and didn't need any help to do it. Last week in Florida, the Republican congressional candidate edged out his Democratic opponent, in a race that the RNC quickly took credit for.

As we noted last week, claims that data made a big difference in that race should be taken with a grain of salt. It was a remarkably low turn-out election, the sort of race that Republicans usually do well in anyway. The graph at right compares turnout in each precinct that voted to that precinct's percentage of voters that belonged to each party. The red line shows that as the percentage of Republicans in each district went up (red line and markers), so did turn-out — which suggests that Republicans were more likely to turn out. Which you'd expect, since the Republican won! The question is whether or not that line was shifted upward by the RNC.

We won't know; there was no control for the experiment. But the Florida race also doesn't tell us much about the RNC's minority outreach. According to the Florida Department of Elections, the district is 85.6 percent white. In other words, the GOP didn't need any minority turnout to make a difference.

Republicans are expected to out-perform on turnout in November versus 2012 simply because 1) they compromise a higher percentage of the electorate in lower turnout elections and 2) Democrats aren't likely to be motivated to come to the polls. It is possible that the data tools and minority outreach can make a difference in any tight races — say, a Senate race in the South. But that success will be competing against the GOP's natural mid-term advantages.

In other words, it may not be until 2016 that the GOP gets to see if its recommendations made any headway. That's the next time the party will be competing against the Democrats on a national basis, in every state. And with another Democrat and another Republican running in an otherwise very different environment.

There is one bit of good news for Priebus, sort of: conservative firebrand Erick Erickson thinks that Priebus is the "best RNC chairman he’s seen" since 2004. Since Erickson spends a great deal of time railing against the Republican establishment, Priebus might be skeptical of that praise.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.