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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

In the long run, Democrats must win significant working class support — but in the next six weeks, thoughtful, middle of the road voters may be the most important objective.

The co-editors of The Democratic Strategist are all very strongly associated with the view that, to create an enduring Democratic majority, Dems have to win the support of a substantial minority of working class voters.
In a Brookings Institution study early this spring TDS co-editor Ruy Teixeira provided an up to date analysis of the underlying population demographics that support this view and last month TDS co-editor Stan Greenberg led a team from Democracy Corps that conducted a sophisticated survey and focus group analysis of Macomb county, Michigan seeking to understand the attitudes of working class voters in this election and to find the best ways to win their support.
The objective of winning working class support was clearly evident in the Democratic convention. As Ron Brownstein noted yesterday:

Democrats sought to segment the voters by class. They presented Obama (the “son of a single mom”) and running mate Joe Biden (the “scrappy kid from Scranton”) as working-class heroes who would defend the middle-class because they are products of it. The Democrats portrayed McCain as an out-of-touch economic elitist who doesn’t understand the interests of average families.

The Republicans, in contrast “sought to segment the voters along cultural lines”

They presented McCain as the personification of timeless values–honor and duty. Far more importantly (and effectively), they introduced vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as an embodiment of small-town America who champions conservative social values not only in public life but also in her private life. They completed the picture with tough national security messages that usually resonate loudest with the same traditionalist voters most attracted to conservative social positions. Meanwhile, the Republicans portrayed Obama as an out-of-touch cultural elitist who belittles small towns like Palin’s Wasilla as not “cosmopolitan enough.”

On the surface, national economic conditions would seem to favor the Democrats. But, as Brownstein notes, “The first post-convention polls suggested that the Republicans succeeded more than the Democrats in dividing the electorate along the lines they prefer.”

An array of surveys released this week show McCain dominating among economically pressed but culturally conservative (and generally hawkish) white working-class voters, just as President Bush did in 2004.
In the Diageo/Hotline daily tracking survey this week, Obama was winning just 30 percent of white men without a college education, even lower than the meager 35 percent share that exit polls recorded for John Kerry in 2004. Among white no college women, Obama was attracting just 37 percent, down from Kerry’s 40 percent. Among “waitress moms” (married white women without college degrees), Obama was polling just 33 percent in the Diageo/Hotline survey, no improvement on Kerry’s anemic 32 percent.

To be sure, this is very disappointing (and there is reason to think that these numbers may improve somewhat between now and Election Day). But there are, in fact, entirely reasonable explanations for why the Democratic convention did not produce the movement toward Obama that was hoped for – explanations which suggest how Dems can do substantially better in the future.
(In fact, after the election, The Democratic Strategist will launch a major initiative to bring together Democrats from every sector of the party to develop an organized and coherent three-year strategy for peeling off a significant number of the more “middle of the road” members of the Republican working class coalition in time for the 2012 election.)
But right now, Obama and the Democrats face a difficult strategic choice. As Brownstein notes:

…some analysts wonder whether Obama might be better served by shifting his focus toward upscale voters more likely to recoil from a Republican ticket that wants to ban abortion and has praised the teaching of creationism.
Obama recently dipped his toe in that water with a radio ad presenting McCain as a threat to legalized abortion. This week, Biden also lashed the GOP platform’s opposition to stem-cell research. But [the campaign needs] a more concerted effort from Obama to convince socially liberal constituencies (such as single women or infrequent churchgoers) that McCain and Palin don’t share their values.

In fact, there is actually an even an broader group who may be an even more important target in the next six weeks — not just the members of specific, relatively liberal constituencies but the much wider swath of reasonably thoughtful, middle of the road voters who have not voted Democratic in recent years but who deeply desire a higher, more intelligent level and quality of political leadership than the myopically partisan and ideologically driven Bush administration has provided.
McCain has utterly abandoned these voters in this campaign – both with his cynically dishonest advertising that literally insults their intelligence and with his choice of a running mate whose function is to play the role of a Rush Limbaugh attack dog on the campaign trail rather than demonstrate any capacity to be a potential leader of the Republic.
In the long run there is no question that Democrats must develop a strategy for winning a substantial group of working class voters if they wish to create an enduring Democratic majority. But, in the next six weeks, it may be that the heaviest emphasis should be put on winning the growing number of thoughtful middle of the road voters who were initially attracted to John McCain but who are increasingly appalled by the kind campaign he has chosen to run.

7 comments on “In the long run, Democrats must win significant working class support — but in the next six weeks, thoughtful, middle of the road voters may be the most important objective.

  1. ThinkingGuy on

    I can’t speak to the nature of your sobriety, but your overall point makes sense.The reason people use it is that it works.
    Due to the Red Scare of the 50’s, it’s harder to throw the word “communist” around without appearing you are goingona witch hunt. But say “socialist”, and you can go on that witch hunt, and not be called out for it. Republicans have done it for years, because they know that the fastest way to scare people away from the Democrats, (even faster than using terrorism) is to indicate that one might have to actually pay their fair share to the government to help it run.
    “It’s your money only, and no government should ever have any of it. The fact that someone is not advocating a complete repeal of all taxes means one thing and one thing only…they are a socialist.”
    This lines works because the vast majority of people are very greedy. And it doesn’t matter that McCain won’t get rid of taxes, of course. It’s how scary the lie sounds…and socialist sounds very scary to a lot of stupid, lazy, greedy voters.

  2. Hkingsley on

    What’s with all the Redbaiting of Obama?
    All I hear these days is that Obama is a “socialist” because he wants to reset the top tax brackets to what they were in the 90’s. He’s a “socialist” because he favors redistribution of income in this way.
    But isn’t this just redbaiting to the extreme?
    1. Even if we do nothing, we *already* have a graduated code, supported by Republicans and Democrats. Even W left that in place.
    2. ANY public expenditure requires some degree of “redistribution” — the tax debate is merely about the most efficient way to cover those costs.
    Against this definition of “socialism”, we’re all socialists, no? The bottom line is that we’re a market-based economic system, so it’s just fear mongering when folks throw out scary words come election time.
    Am I drunk???

  3. ThinkingGuy on

    The only segment that matters is the majority. It rules in this country, you may have heard. (Except of course, when we are the majority, than the Supreme Court rules.)
    Nope, I have no problem declaring there is no tangible, reachable section of intelligent American Voters. The terms do not go together at all…and the last 8 years of Bush, and the now inevitable 8 years of McCain, (start looking at every single poll out there, now, folks),prove that this is a lazy, xenophobic, Jesus freak nation, and the Democrats have blown out chance (again) to even begin to put a dent in that.
    Losing by a small margin is supposed to make us feel proud of the American people? I guess you were not around in 2000. Or 2004….close ones, that ruined this nation…and the cap of the end of the real America is only 50 days away…

  4. Jon on

    It’s not an either-or strategy, of course, but I think you make a good case that the Obama campaign should consider more outreach to thoughtful middle-of-the-road voters. As well as highlighting how McCain, Palin, and they campaign they’re running reflect the myopically partisan attitudes of the Republicans, paying more attention to civil liberties could help here as well.

  5. bacaangel on

    Politicians who intentionally lie to the public are engaging in a Betrayal of the Public Trust and it should be deemed unethical and a part of the past as we move toward a more Holistic way of life here in America. And Media as the Third-wheel of Democracy should not be silent and complicit on such lies and distortion!
    Great Film Exposing John McCain’s Lies — Pass it on!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH0xzsogzAk — Are we finally pulling back the Curtin on the Wizards?
    Lastly, Ground Zero is a Symbol and a message of Republicans’ failed policies and a gaping Wound, that after 7 years Ground Zero is still a hole, still zero — that we were unable to lift ourselves out of the ashes and make ourselves whole again. You see, nothing from nothing leaves nothing and that is not Change we can believe in. Enough is Enough!
    And finally, Is the Bloom coming off of Palin, as Alaska Women Against Palin Rally is HUGE!

  6. Joe Corso on

    “And you really think “thoughtful” describes ANY usable segment of the current voting populace?”
    Um, well, actually yes – certainly it applies to the aproximately half of the Anerican electorate who continue to support Obama despite the Republican propaganda offensive.
    If we do in fact loose this election, it will be by a very close margin. So the best you can say is that the electorate is hopelessly, incurably stupid – except for the half that isn’t.
    We are now fighting over less than 5 percent of the voters. There isn’t time to give them all intelligence tests – or any benefit in assuming beforehand that none of them can be infulenced.

  7. ThinkingGuy on

    Andyou really think “thoughtful” describes ANY usable segment of the current voting populace?
    If “thoughtful, intelligent” people had any sort of swing power, in any scenario, we would not have dropped 20 pointed among woman in one week, and 11 points nationally in one week.
    If the constituency of prudent, upper class voteres were really out there, a gun toting MILF would not have sent us from strong favorite, to total underdog, by the mere mention of her name.
    If more voters were smart than culturally conservative, (as you cannot be both), we would be way ahead now, due to all of the wind that has been at our back.
    Now, not only does the White House seem less and less likley by the hour, there is talk, fair talk, of us giving the majority in Congress back to the Republicans.
    NONE of that would be a fear or a possibility, if even a slight majority of voters were intelligent. All that is happening proves what i have said for weeks…the public is lazy, biased, violent, gun toting, two steps above drooling, trash. We are not capable of producing the correct shiney objects, and going after the alleged “intelligent voter” (all 100 of them left) will assure us a loss, which in my opinion, we are 80% of the way towards securing to begin with.
    President McCain…only 4 months away…


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