May 13, 2019


Democrats don't need a left-wing nominee to turn out the base (Jennifer Rubin, 5/10/19, Washington Post)

In the wake of the enormous gains in the House in the 2018 midterms, the moderate Democratic group Third Way reminded us that it wasn't the far-left candidates who delivered the House majority:

The moderate New Democratic caucus in the U.S. House endorsed 37 candidates in primary races, and 32 earned the nomination -- an 86 percent win rate. By contrast, Our Revolution, the grass-roots organization founded and run by Bernie Sanders's backers, had a win rate under 40 percent in the primaries. Once the general election rolled around, 23 New Democrat-backed candidates flipped House seats to help gain the majority, while not a single Our Revolution-endorsed candidate captured a red seat. Zero.

Speaking of zero, our team watched every one of the 967 ads that Democrats ran in competitive House districts since Labor Day, and just two candidates mentioned either Medicare-for-all or single payer, and of those, neither won.

Lest you think that Democratic moderates couldn't turn out young voters or nonwhite voters, census data showed soaring participation by both categories of voters: "Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group -- a 79 percent jump. ... Voter turnout increased among non-Hispanic Asians by 13 percentage points, a 49 percent increase." And African American turnout increased by 11 percent.

While moderate candidates showed the ability to energize a diverse electorate, the same cannot be said for the far left. The far left talks a good game on diversity, but that segment of the electorate is among the least diverse:

In its groundbreaking 8,000-person survey, More in Common found that "progressive activists" in the electorate are 92 percent white. Of all the "political tribes" it identified in its report on "The Exhausted Majority," only "devoted conservatives" (at 94 percent) are more consistently white. Appealing to the broad demographic diversity of the party is an absolute imperative for 2020. But presidential candidates should not conflate that with appealing to the far left with populist rhetoric and a democratic socialist agenda.

To sum up, the lesson from 2018 was that moderate Democrats could flip seats from red to blue.

A party dependent on Latino, black women and under-educated whites can't help but skew conservative.

The Democrats' Culture Divide (DAVID FREEDLANDER November/December 2018, Politico)

New York's 14th Congressional District is more than 70 percent people of color, and 50 percent Hispanic. Ocasio-Cortez, who was born in the Bronx to a Puerto Rican mother, fit the district's changing demographics, and neatly fit a larger narrative of a national Democratic Party in which increasing progressivism and diversity go hand and hand.

But a closer examination of the data tells a different story. Ocasio-Cortez's best precincts were places like the neighborhood where Bonthius and his friends live: highly educated, whiter and richer than the district as a whole. In those neighborhoods, Ocasio-Cortez clobbered Crowley by 70 percent or more. Crowley's best precincts, meanwhile, were the working-class African-American enclave of LeFrak City, where he got more than 60 percent of the vote, and portions of heavily Hispanic Corona. He pulled some of his best numbers in Ocasio-Cortez's heavily Latino and African-American neighborhood of Parkchester, in the Bronx--beating her by more than 25 points on her home turf. [...]

The Democratic party has always been a loose coalition; a century ago, it was an uneasy mix of agrarian farmers and big-city political machines with a handful of lefty intellectuals sprinkled on top. But in the past two decades, it has seen a new sea change: It has become the preferred party of college graduates. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1994, voters with college degrees favored Republicans over Democrats 54 to 39; by 2017, those numbers were exactly reversed. Among voters with post-college degrees, the Democratic lean is even more extreme.

Implicit in this division is a class and race divide as well. Those more educated voters are also whiter and richer. But when it comes to reliable support, it's still voters of color who deliver for the party. Nonwhite voters went 3-to-1 for Clinton in 2016, according to exit polling, and the most reliable group, black women, voted an astonishing 94 percent for Clinton in 2016.

Increasingly, the Democratic Party features what social scientists call an hourglass structure, with a smattering of elites at the top and a vast working class on the bottom. It is those on the top who drive policy, and their interests don't always coincide with the party's longtime base. Lee Drutman, senior fellow on political reform at New America, puts it more bluntly: "Democrats have an upstairs/downstairs coalition with an affluent class that does quite well. And they are in a coalition with a poorer set of voters who don't seem to get ahead but who are trapped in that coalition, since if they are poor African-Americans or poor Latinos they view the Republicans as a racist party."

As the upper end of the party gets more and more liberal, it risks moving away from what the base really wants. Surveys show that less-educated Democrats tend to harbor a host of more conservative views--more skepticism of government regulation, for example, more concern about illegal immigration, less interest in the environment and gay rights, and even less interest in a robust social-welfare state. The only area in which better-educated Democrats lean more conservative than their less-educated counterparts is on the question of corporate power: Better-educated Democrats are slightly more likely to think that corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit. (Republican views on such matters are far more homogeneous across income groups.)

In 2017, David Winston, a Republican pollster, did a study of the American electorate for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, an organization of more than two dozen scholars and analysts that researches the views of voters, and he identified five distinct groupings of voters based on their policy priorities. One of these groupings he called "Democrat/Independent Liberal Elites," or "DILEs," and in looking at both their policy preferences and their demographics, he found they had little in common with the rest of the electorate--and even with their fellow Democrats.

As a group, DILEs are younger, whiter, richer and better-educated than the rest of the country. Strikingly, it is the only cohort across the political spectrum not to rank jobs and the economy as a top priority, preferring the environment and climate change. Polls show that people like Winston's DILEs are also far less religious and far more socially liberal than the rest of the Democratic Party on issues like abortion and LGBT rights. In evaluating candidates, these Democrats consider diversity, and hailing from outside the political establishment, hugely important.

Except that hailing from outside the establishment isn't much of a selling point to people who actually need things from government, who rely on social services or federally enforced fairness-in-lending laws, or decent government jobs in their districts. For these voters, what matters is relationships, and an ability to deliver. And when they see a Crowley or a Capuano unseated by a fresh new challenger, they see decades of seniority vanishing for largely symbolic reasons.

"Any loss of seniority in any legislative position is hard," says Jeffrion Aubry, a longtime New York state lawmaker from LeFrak City. "It takes forever to be able to deliver. And if the Congress is taken back by the Democrats, it will be a huge loss, whether Joe ended up as speaker or just at a high level in the majority. You won't have the power to take care of some issues you might want taken care of."

Such internal fissures have appeared periodically among the parties. Establishment Republicans are still facing a restive far-right base that views any compromise with Democrats as betrayal, even as they grab scalp after scalp and have installed a fellow traveler in the White House. In the 1970s, the Democrats tossed aside a generation of senior lawmakers in favor of the "Watergate Babies," who saw the old order as corrupt and compromising. But then again, those older Democrats were a pre-civil rights cohort that had fallen outside the mainstream of the party. This time, it is good liberal seats getting taken, their biggest crime being length of service.

It can be hard to find Democrats who are willing to speak openly about these matters, cutting as they do among the fault lines of race and class. "For people on the left, the fact that black and Hispanic voters aren't with them on everything is a huge source of embarrassment," said one social scientist, who asked to not be named in order to wade freely into the fraught territory of race and class in America.

Posted by at May 13, 2019 4:10 AM