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Democrats Are Screwed
They have a brand problem.
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I’m not in the business of predicting election outcomes. Yours truly is not Nostradamus 2.0. But as a dispassionate observer, I believe there are quite a few warnings signs that do not bode well for the Democratic Party, for whom today might very well be the high-water mark they’ll enjoy for at least the next decade.
First and foremost, the party’s new base consists of urban, affluent, college-educated liberals, and that’s a relatively narrow demographic. They also continue to purge working class voters at an impressive rate. How this came to be is relatively simple to understand. Harken back to 2012, the zenith of Obamamerica. Despite once having historic advantages with both poor and middle-class white voters, at the start of Obama’s second term Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters—the result of six decades of slowly hemorrhaging working class support. By 2016, among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP had taken a 17-point lead.
When laborers left, today’s Democratic Party is what remained—liberalism, but with a shifted intellectual center of gravity. Vox’s Emmett Rensin said it well:
“A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.”
Here’s the simple fact of the matter, and it’s something that many on the Left can’t seem to wrap their heads around: Democrats’ lack of appeal among the white working class and small town/rural Americans — especially the non-college educated — is a huge problem, and it’s compounded by declining Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters.
Sure, a working class vote is weighed no differently than any other vote, but as political scientist Ruy Teixeira pointed out, from a cumulative standpoint the calculus is much different. Nationally and in every state the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote, which means that if the educational polarization continues, and the college-educated move toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP.
According to Teixeira, nationally, since the working class share of voters is approximately 70% greater than the college-educated share (63% non-college versus 37% college-educated), “if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point.”
The working class vote is all the more important in most swing states, as the working class/college-educated disproportion is even higher than the national average. Because the Democratic Party’s base now largely consists of college-educated liberals who tend to cluster in major cities, and because fewer states have major cities, that means Republicans have a much easier path to winning the Senate.1
Not only that, but the nationalization of politics has resulted in a steep decline in ticket splitting. As recently as 2008, the correlation between how a state voted for president and how it voted in Senate elections was about 71%, which left plenty of room for candidates to outperform their party. In 2020, however, it was 95.6%. From 1960 to 1990, about half of senators represented a state that voted for the other party’s nominee for president. Today, there are six.
Election-modeling guru David Shor believes that Democrats are on the edge of an “electoral abyss,” and that in order to avoid it, they must “internalize that they are not like and do not understand the voters they need to win over. . . Swing voters in these states are not liberals, are not woke and do not see the world in the way that the people who staff and donate to Democratic campaigns do.” His theoretical solution is sometimes referred to as “popularism,” but I call it common sense: They need to shut up about all the unpopular stuff they endorse, and talk more about the popular stuff. But of course Democrats won’t do that, because ideologically charged issues that are always like the topic du jour in Swarthmore’s faculty lounge are inextricably entangled with their self-conception. To consider changing would be an affront to their identities.
The Democratic Party Brand is Repellent to the Maximus
Based on media coverage, it would appear as though many Democrats are under the impression that things are looking up for them. They passed some key legislation and polls are showing that they’re going to do better than expected in the 2022 election. The Dobbs decision is believed to have helped their fortunes by putting Republicans on the defensive, and they now have a sense of momentum.
But I’m not buying it. At all.
Democrats have a branding problem, and in politics that can be fatal. That’s why the Left has been so keen on resurrecting the specter of Trump, and why they constantly beat the iNsUrReCtIoN drum: They believe tying the Republican Party to these things that are Extremely Dangerous to Our Democracy™ will ultimately result in more people voting Blue. The idea is that if they can successfully conjure up an existential scare and frame it as the very brand of the Republican Party during a time when democracy itself is supposedly teetering on the edge of calamity, they stand to benefit.2
The Democratic strategy of painting their opponents as abettors of Literal Fascism™ is unlikely to work, however, because of how repulsive their own party brand is to an increasingly large swath of the electorate. There’s nothing unifying about their political project, and they certainly don’t have a dominant majority of the country behind it.
Yes, the abortion issue matters, and Democrats have benefited from simply opposing a significant portion of the GOP who seek to ban the procedure outright.3 But the border isn’t the abortion issue. Nor is crime, gender ideology, race essentialism, the economy, or the pandemic.
More than anything else, it’s the cultural Left that’s alienating a majority of Americans. The professional staffers, consultants, and organizers who shape the Democratic Party’s message, image, and strategic choices — white, affluent, college-educated, humor-impaired, city-dwelling liberals, a respectable plenitude of whom are veterans of the Richard Muncher Facility for Demonstrably Incorrigible Morons — have managed to associate the party with a number of extremely stupid views that are far off from those of the median voter, and these extremely stupid views are further amplified by the mainstream media, nonprofits, key Democratic leaders, and even the White House.
This is rather problematic. Today, more so than ever before, the brands of our two political parties impact electoral contests all the way down to the local level, and Democratic candidates especially are finding it difficult to separate themselves from their national party's gravitational pull and the cultural Left’s toxicity. Biden sold himself to the public as someone who could maintain a middle ground and bring a polarized country together, but efforts to rebrand Democrats as a unifying party have failed miserably. Rather than healing divisions of race and class, they’ve made things much worse.
Many Americans rightly doubt whether Democrats can put aside ideology to ensure public safety, secure borders, ideology-free education, and economic progress for everyone. The Left focuses on the identity politics angle of every issue ad nauseum, opposing any kind of real action to combat crime and secure the border as concessions to racism while simultaneously dismissing parental concerns about ideologically-infused curricula and the lowering of standards as white supremacy made manifest.
I find it laughable that they think they can simply shirk this kind of baggage by amplifying and prioritizing an issue like abortion while ignoring the broader sociocultural dynamics that are repelling everyday Americans. Most people aren’t one-issue voters; they don’t oscillate to and fro based on political binaries. The notion that Democrats can make up lost ground by turning up the volume loud enough on abortion so that other cultural matters will fade into the background is ridiculous, to say nothing of the alienating effect of routine demonization of half the electorate as “semi-fascists.” The vast majority of voters cast a ballot based on whether or not they can identify with a particular party’s philosophy, and whether or not they feel a particular party is on their side.
Most working class folks and rural Americans believe the Left looks down on them, so it’s a tall task indeed — and probably way too late, at least for midterms — for Democrats to convince them that their views are taken seriously and no longer deemed as unenlightened. But it’s not going to happen; we’ve already seen time and again that anything requiring the Left to move closer to the center on issues is dismissed out of hand. Compromise is beyond the pale, which means they’re screwed because the positions they champion so ardently are far removed from how ordinary folks feel. They refuse to campaign based on the understanding that the pivotal voter is well to their right and skeptical of everything they say.
Said David Leonhardt in a New York Times essay a few weeks ago:
“It is…unclear whether Democratic politicians and voters are interested in making the compromises that would help them attract more voters. Many Democrats have instead embraced a purer version of liberalism in recent years, especially on social issues. This shift to the left has not prevented the party from winning the popular vote in presidential elections. But it has hurt Democrats outside of major metropolitan areas and, by extension, in the Electoral College and congressional elections.”
Consider some recent poll results, which I find reassuring if only because they show that the majority of the country hasn’t gone completely insane.
The most recent NBC poll asked which party voters preferred on a number of different issues. Republicans were preferred over Democrats by 36 points on border security, 23 points on dealing with crime, and by 19 points on immigration. All three of these ratings are the highest net advantages for the GOP ever found by NBC.
In the newest New York Times/Sienna poll, voters by 15 points (49-34) say Democrats have gone too far in pushing a “woke” ideology on issues related to race and gender, rather than not far enough. This rises to a 23 point margin (53-30) among all working class (non-college) voters, 36 points (61-25) among white working class voters, and 39 points (59-20) among rural voters.
In the same poll, voters, by 31 points (61-30) endorsed the idea that “gender is determined by a person’s biological sex at birth” rather than an identity that can be divorced from biological sex. Among all working class voters the disparity was 43 points (67-24), among rural voters it was 51 points (70-19), and among white working class voters it was 54 points (73-19).
That wasn’t even the most lopsided question. The poll asked voters whether they supported or opposed “allowing public school teachers to provide classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to children in elementary school (grades 1-5).”4 Note that this is actually stricter than the Florida law that liberals lost their minds over. Voters responded by 43 points (70-27) that they opposed allowing such a practice. Among all working class voters, the margin was a whopping 58 points (78-20), among rural voters it was a stratospheric 63 points (80-17), and among white working class voters it was an astronomical 71 points (84-13).
In a different essay by David Leonhardt on this recently released Times poll, he described how Hispanic voters appeared to be moving right. These particular voters “had voted for a mix of Democrats and Republicans in recent elections and said they were planning to vote Republican this year.” According to Leonhardt:
More were registered as Democrats than Republicans, despite their voting intentions this year. They were even more heavily skewed to the working class (with about 80 percent not having a bachelor’s degree) and the young (with almost 60 percent under 45) than Hispanic voters as a whole. More than half were men, but the group also included many women.
By a wide margin, people in the subgroup said that the Democratic Party had moved too far left on social issues. By an even wider margin, they said that economic issues like jobs, taxes and the cost of living would influence their 2022 voting more than social issues like guns, abortion and democracy would.
At the root, the Hispanic voters drifting to the right appear to be pocketbook voters,5 focused more on their daily lives than divisive national debates.
As I said at the beginning of this post, things don’t exactly bode well for the Democratic Party. I realize we’re reading the tea leaves here and that I could very well be wrong. It’s not as though polling has been particularly accurate in the modern era. But I think Democrats are more or less trapped in an echo chamber, one made much worse by Twitter and the fact that their party is an institution that’s composed, at the top, of a narrow group of people afflicted by many blind spots, and whose sense of self is largely premised upon the ideology they subscribe to. They seem to go out of their way to ignore or pooh-pooh evidence that their ideas and messages are alienating voters, inevitably reverting to a state of willed imbecility. If nothing else, given how many people are pissed off about the economy and the way Democrats championed idiotic pandemic policies, it stands to reason that the portents are inauspicious.
This Republican advantage in the Senate existed before educational polarization had begun to play out, but now they enjoy an even greater leg up.
And yet they continue to spend millions of dollars elevating the dangerous “ultra-Maga” candidates they proclaim to be existential threats to democracy. The hubris is nothing short of mind-blowing. They did the same thing during the 2016 election, spending millions to elevate Trump above his primary opponents because they believed he’d be easier for Clinton to defeat. Look how that played out.
Any teacher that wants to talk to kids this young about sex and gender identity shouldn’t be allowed within 100 feet of any school. The average 5th grader is 10 years old, for God’s sake.