As the Dems continue to hand-wring over what their "message" should be, all exit polls are pointing to the fact that they're ignoring their most loyal constituents.
One year after Donald Trump was elected president, despite some exciting state and local wins last week, the Democratic Party remains a rudderless ship, adrift at sea amid the waves caused by the Republican Party. In the past 12 months, Democrats have spent more time re-litigating their failures than learning from them, and alienating their true base (people of color, just look at the exit polls for the Virginia elections) for “whiter” pastures and circling the drain with old solutions to modern challenges.
So who are the Democrats today? To be sure, there is a considerable gap between who the Democrats are and how the party sees itself, as evidenced by voter turnout, party messaging, and the misguided efforts labeled as “strategy.”
Last week’s exit polls for the Virginia elections is demonstrative of this gap: While women are a key constituency for Democrats and the party continues to defend reproductive-rights issues and legislation, 51 percent of white women voted for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie (which corresponds with the percentage of white women—54 percent—who voted for Trump).
But on the heels of a devastating national loss (which echoed 2010’s and 2014’s midterm losses), Democrats continue to double down on their status quo: flat ideas with poor messaging and weak branding, abetted by near-total inaction in engaging minority constituents. These failures are especially striking next to the decisive and divisive (however abhorrent) stance of Republicans. Morally bankrupt as they may be, at least they stand for something.
Take, for instance, the promise of the so-called Obama Coalition, made up of young, racially diverse, largely metropolitan voters. Hillary Clinton, who seemed too “establishment” for the increasingly progressive electorate, won among minority voters, but could not inspire the same turnout among this constituency as Obama did. It might be said that there are those who vote for Democrats because they will not vote for Republicans, not because of loyalty to or identification with the party and its platform.
Surely, the Democrats can do better than being the not-Republican Party. Indeed, to win in 2018 and 2020, they must.
A Party With Stale Ideas & Bad Messaging.
This summer, as Democrats licked their wounds and prepared for a comeback, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), introduced “A Better Deal,” a name that harks back to the party’s signature “New Deal” from the 1930s. The core of the message, “Democrats: They’re better than Trump” inspires a face-palm.
“Americans are clamoring for bold changes to our politics and our economy,” Schumer said. But much of the “Better Deal” recasts old Clinton proposals anew.
The plan’s three main tenets—breaking consolidated corporate power; lowering the price of prescription drugs; and an aim to create 10 million new jobs via tax credits for high-wage employers and infrastructure spending—all give a nod to more populist circles, but the Democrats have yet to use plain language to explain how these proposals will improve the livelihoods of working Americans. They have lost the ability to tell a story, or even to be as interesting as SNL spoofed in a recent skit.
If nothing else, Bernie Sanders’s rise within the Democratic party should give Democrats pause to consider what needs to happen in order to recapture younger voters. (Note: The proposal to increase minimum wage to $15 won’t be enough.) Soberingly, The Washington Post reports that “two surveys estimate that 12 percent of Sanders voters voted for Trump.”
There’s a special kind of entitled privilege that allows one to vote in protest or out of spite, the kind of privilege that is conferred when none of one’s own civil liberties are at stake. And to those people I say: Get over it, and get to work.
A Party That Doesn’t Understand Race Matters
The aforementioned formlessness of the Democratic Party, disparate in its constituency, is evidenced in its resistance to adapting to its increasing diversity. In failing to capitalize on that diversity, the Democrats are leaving their greatest strength on the table. Or said more bluntly, as Graham Vyse did in The New Republic: the Democrats have a race problem.
In the 2016 presidential election, people of color made up 46 percent of Democratic voters.
The now-infamous 2016 exit poll chart shows that Black women supported Clinton at a rate of 94 percent compared to white women’s 43 percent; it should confirm Black women’s role as the party’s base. Black women also secured big Democratic wins throughout the November 2017 elections. Black voters overall are particularly loyal in their allegiance to the party since the advent of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If you believe the premise that “economic anxiety” is what drove white women to vote for Trump at 43 percent in spite of the blatant sexism and misogyny he demonstrated, then it is likely that you also believe that blue-collar voters alone are who put him in office, despite overwhelming proof that middle class and affluent whites not only supported Trump, but made up the majority of his supporters.
The media was instrumental in propagating this false narrative of the forgotten blue-collar white man, which fashioned the Trump voter archetypically as a member of the righteously disgruntled white American underclass; write-ups on the subject were imbued with latent pathologies about race and poverty. Seldom reported were the anxieties of people of color, who found their personal well-being at odds with the surfacing racial politics of their neighbors.
Following the election, Democrats doubled down on their oversight. The DNC has not yet figured out how to repay voters of color, particularly Black women, for their loyalty to the party. According to a study by Pew Research Center, “87% of black voters identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic”; 63% of Hispanic voters, and 66 percent of Asian voters are similarly loyal to the party. Comparatively, white voters have become less loyal Democrats, and more loyal Republicans, over the last eight years. “White voters are now much more likely to identify as Republican or lean Republican (54%) than to say they identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (39%).”
Black women are carrying the Democratic Party on their backs, and yet party leadership does not reflect their support. In fact, Democrats fund-raised to rebuild a firebombed North Carolina Republican campaign office instead of fundraising to increase voter registration and mobilization in areas challenged by GOP voter-suppression laws.
This is an insult to the party’s core constituency. For it to occur one month before the national election, it is inconceivable. And that Democrats would be so public about this fund-raising effort, given how little they tout various other important achievements, is striking.
This happened recently with the Affordable Care Act, too; a clunky rollout and unfocused talking points easily gave way to pejorative “Obamacare” branding by the GOP, which successfully confused and distanced voters, despite some 20 million gaining insurance since 2010.
Democratic victories in the November 7 midterms are demonstrative of the power of these constituents. The Washington Post reports that African-Americans make up under one-fifth of Virginia’s electorate; voting at 85 percent for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam in a race against GOP candidate Ed Gillespie, who mirrored Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign playbook. Virginia’s race, as well as city council elections in Boston; mayoral wins in Charlotte; and, most surprisingly, Helena, Montana; gubernatorial wins in New Jersey; and Black Lives Matter defense lawyer Larry Krasner’s ascent to Philadelphia’s district attorney office; shine a light on the path that Democrats need to follow for continued success.
“There are two major problems with emphasizing the point of when Whites will lose their majority status,” writes Steve Phillips in his New York Times best-seller Brown Is the New White. “First, it presumes that all White people are and will continue to be at odds with all people of color, which is untrue and unfounded. A meaningful minority of Whites have always sided with people of color throughout U.S. history. The second problem is that the focus on 2044 [the year the Census projects the United States will become a ‘majority minority’ nation] overlooks the equation that’s been hiding in plain sight, one that shows what happens when you add together the number of today’s people of color (the vast majority of whom are progressive) and progressive Whites. It’s this calculation that reveals that America has a progressive, multicultural majority right now that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies, and priorities for decades to come. Not in 2044. Not ten years down the road. Today.”
America has a progressive, multicultural majority right now. Let that sink in. This fact alone should tell the DNC all it needs to know about what its strategy should be, how it should be crafting messaging and for whom. For all its faults, the Republican Party knows what it is. And more importantly, it knows who it serves. As the country becomes more partisan, as the parties move farther apart, Democrats are going to have to choose a side in order to get voters to keep choosing theirs.
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