washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Dems Can Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time

The following posts, “Democrats Should Be Able to Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time” and “More on How Democrats Can Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time” by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, are cross-posted from his blog:

[Part 1]

The New York Times Sunday Review treated us to an article by two history professors averring that, for Democrats, “Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost“. They posit a sort of zero-sum game between reaching these voters and reaching poorer and nonwhite voters. Sigh.

Fortunately, David Atkins at the Washington Monthly has an excellent takedown of this ridiculous–and politically harmful–contention:

“In order to clamber out of the political wilderness, Democrats must….win over some Trump voters using economic arguments that many would like to dismiss as impossible, as well as continue to gain ground in many increasingly blue, well-educated suburbs that cause queasiness to many economic progressives. And they must do so simultaneously, while maintaining and increasing commitments to both social and economic justice through sentencing reform, jobs guarantees and much else.

How is this possible? It’s fairly simple, actually. The answer lies in the fact that most voters–and particularly most persuadable voters—are not pure partisans. They are often what political scientists call “cross-pressured,” which means they hold multiple strong views that don’t fit neatly within one political party or another and force them to choose what they might consider the lesser of two evils in a two-party system.

It is self-evident that Trump voters by definition didn’t see a problem with voting for a racist, sexist buffoon. But many Trump voters also proved remarkably indifferent to Republican economic orthodoxy, and many want high taxes on Wall Street, robust jobs programs and investment in domestic industry, and libertarian social policy on many issues like drugs. Neither party will give them everything they want, but a committed progressive economic agenda that rejects the muddled market-directed pabulum of education and retraining as a solution to all ills can be successful in winning many of them over, even though the progressive commitment to racial and gender equality might rankle them as just so much social-justice-warrior political correctness. This isn’t idle speculation: a very large number of registered Democrats are already just so cross-pressured. Appallingly, a full third of Democrats have a negative opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a quarter of Democrats think millions voted illegally in the 2016 election. If they register as Democrats anyway, it’s a fair bet that economics are their top priority. It stands to reason their number could be increased to regain some of the voters who chose Barack Obama twice, and then flipped over to Trump.

So, too, can cross-pressured affluent suburban Democrats be won over by a stridently economically progressive Democratic Party in spite of their potential reservations about their tax bracket, mutual fund returns, McMansion values and budget deficits. Sure, these voters might not like the idea of transaction taxes on Wall Street impacting their dividends or affordable housing being built near their bungalows, but their commitments to social equality and their desire not to have jingoists running the country’s trade and foreign policy mean that they will generally choose the party of both Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders over that of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Republicans have understood this for decades. The three legs of their electoral stool (social, economic and foreign policy) don’t particularly like one another or mesh well together, but they have largely held together due to combined mutual interest.

A Democratic Party that takes seriously commitments to both social and economic justice can do likewise, even though some of the former may not be palatable to part of the white working class, and some of the latter may not be desirable among the well-heeled. It must do so if it wants to regain power.”

Yup, that’s why they call ’em coalitions! Time to move forward past pointless either-or debates.

[Part 2]

David Jarman at Daily Kos Elections (don’t read the site?; you should!) provides a comprehensive rebuttal to the loony argument that Democrats trying to turn affluent suburbs blue are biting into the poison apple.

Jarman’s piece begins:

“Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a baffling and potentially harmful opinion piece by two history professors, Lily Geismer and Michael Lessner, titled “Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost.” In short, they argue that affluent suburban districts, if they elect Democrats, are likely to elect centrists who won’t pass the kind of progressive legislation that will adequately address economic and racial inequality. The short-term benefits of winning races in those districts, they say, will eventually be outweighed by the long-term harm created from a Democratic congressional caucus that’s too heavy on economic elites and not enough “real Americans.”

I’m going to propose a counterargument that may blow some minds with how off-the-wall it is: Maybe Democrats should contest as many races as possible, and try to win elections in as many places as possible, regardless of income, education, or race. There are different aspects to the Democratic agenda that can appeal to different types of people, and historically, electoral success for one party or the other has generally relied on putting up a big tent that can house a broad coalition capable of earning and sustaining a majority.

Moreover, this isn’t the right time to be writing off any seats or any capable Democratic candidates because they’re too hot or too cold. Given the existential threats to American democracy currently posed by those in charge of Washington, DC, I can’t even imagine the level of detached privilege that would lead one to say that we shouldn’t try to target some of the seats that are likeliest right now to fall into our grasp, and instead focus on the groundwork for a purer and more perfect party at some point in the future.”

He also notes:

There’s been a lot of recent research showing that college-educated whites (presumably, the authors’ vision of who lives in these affluent suburbs) are now somewhat more liberal in their policy preferences than non-college-educated whites. This is a reversal from, say, the mid-to-late 20th century. You can see this if you look at the changes in county-level election results over the decades, broken out by education level. You can also see it if you look at long-term studies that track the electorate’s views over time.

Researcher Sean McElwee has been one of the main proponents of this line of thought; he’s used data from the American National Election Studies (a long-term polling project conducted by political scientists that asks a battery of demographic and policy questions) to show that college-educated whites are now more liberal on questions about progressive economic policies than non-college whites are.

For instance, college-educated whites answer “yes” at a higher rate to questions like “Favor millionaires’ tax,” “Government should reduce inequality,” and “More regulation of banks.” Similarly, Democratic primary voters have become significantly less racist in the last decade: The number of Democrats who “strongly disagree” with the proposition that “If black people would try harder, they could be just as well off as whites” shot up between 2008 and 2016.”

After a very informative analysis of who currently represents these affluent suburban districts and who is now running in these districts, he concludes:

“Are people who’ve won the housing lottery via either privilege or simply by virtue of having gotten there first, but who are generally progressive in their values and policy preferences—who, at the national level, want a more equitable tax system, who want a higher minimum wage, who want more government involvement in providing health care to everyone, and above all, who want a non-embarrassing, non-threatening president, but who are NIMBYish in their beliefs about their own neighborhood—to be welcomed into the big tent, even though they’re imperfect? Or are they to be cast aside in pursuit of a Democratic Party unicorn that looks more like the one of old—when, it should be pointed out, they repeatedly lost presidential elections, under the banner of fellows like Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale, and George McGovern? I know which one I’d prefer.”

Me too. And so should you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *