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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Moody: Democrats 2016 Collapse Long in the Making

At the lefty Jacobin, Kim Moody has a tough critique of Democratic mistakes and misguided strategy, beginning long before 2016. Moody, a co-founder of Labor Notes and author of “In Solidarity: Working-Class Organization and Strategy in the United States,” writes:

…Upper-income groups were overrepresented in the voting electorate as a whole, and both candidates drew a disproportionate part of their vote from the well-to-do, with Trump a bit more reliant on high-income voters. This in itself doesn’t rule out a working-class shift to Trump, but the media’s version of this is based on a problematic definition.

Among other problems, a large majority of those without a college degree don’t vote at all. Furthermore, people who don’t vote are generally to the left of those who do on economic issues and the role of government. Of the 135.5 million white Americans without degrees, about a fifth voted for Trump — a minority that doesn’t represent this degree-less demographic very well.

Another problem is that there are only about 18.5 million white, blue-collar production workers — the prototype of the defecting white industrial worker. If we double this to account for adult spouses to make it just under 40 million, and assume that none of them have degrees, it still only accounts for a little more than a third of those white adults lacking the allegedly class-defining degree…There are another fourteen million or so white service workers who are working class, but even if we include them and their spouses we still account for only about half of the huge 70 percent of white adults in the United States who lack a college degree.

Moody adds that 86 percent of small business owners are white, have an average income of $112K, are twice as likely to be Republicans and 92 percent of them say they ‘regularly vote.’ They and their spouses, writes Moody, “could more than account for all the twenty-nine million of those lacking a college degree who voted for Trump.” Further,

The relatively high income levels of much of Trump’s vote point toward a majority petty-bourgeois and middle-class base for Trump, something the Economist concluded in its earlier survey of Trump primary voters when they wrote, “But the idea that it is the mostly poor, less-educated voters who are drawn to Mr. Trump is a bit of a myth.”…Trump’s victory was disproportionately a middle-class, upper-income phenomenon.

Moody presents an interesting chart on union household voting, based on data from Roper and CNN exit polls, which suggets that Trump’s support from the working-class has been overstated.


As Moody notes, “about 40 percent of union members and their families have been voting Republican in presidential elections for a long time, with the Democrats winning a little under 60 percent of the union household vote for the last four decades.” He adds “a relatively small number shifted to Trump from 40 percent for the Republican in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016. These 3 percentage points represent a shift of just under eight hundred thousand union household voters across the entire country.” In addition,

Trump’s shift of union household voters is actually less dramatic than the swing from 1976 to 1980 for Reagan, and even less so than the 14 point desertion of union household voters from Carter in 1980, half of which went to independent John Anderson rather than Reagan, in an election when union householders composed 26 percent of all voters.

In other words, Trump attracted both a smaller proportion and number of these voters than Reagan or Anderson. These same voters have swung for some time between Democrats, Republicans, and high-profile third-party candidates such as Anderson, Ross Perot who got 21 percent of union household voters in 1992, and Ralph Nader, who got 3 percent in 2000. The meaning of the 2016 shift was more sinister to be sure, but it was also long in the making as the Democrats moved to the right.

Trump did win 10 million union household votes, while Clinton got 12 million. But many didn’t vote at all, and that non-voting constituency may be more ready to vote Democratic after a few years of the Trump Administration’s chaos. Overall, however, “while there was a swing among white, blue-collar and union household voters to Trump, it was significantly smaller than the overall drop in Democratic voters.”

Moody blames a reduction in “direct door-to-door human contact with lower-income voters in favor of purchased forms of campaigning, from TV ads to the new digitized methods of targeting likely voters” as one of the culprits in weaker voter turnouts. He sees a class bias in high-tech voter targeting, which leads to less direct contact with working-class potential voters.

Democrats purport to be the party that champions improved living standards for working people, but they have been unable to deliver in recent years, owing increasingly to the Republican’s strategy of all-out obstruction. Moody concludes by arguing that “centrist liberalism” is a doomed philosophical foundation for Democrats because it is associated with the Party’s failure to produce the needed economic reforms.

Democrats are going to need a much bolder economic strategy that acknowledges the failures of the past and points the way to a more robust economic agenda like that which empowered the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Democrats should not allow the Trump Administration ownership of a massive investment in infrastructure upgrades and twist it into another corporate raid on the federal treasury. Instead, revitalizing America’s crumbling infrastructure should be the signature project of the Democratic party, with or without Trump’s support. For Dems, protecting the integrity of it is the central challenge of the next few years.

One comment on “Moody: Democrats 2016 Collapse Long in the Making

  1. Nancy DiTomaso on

    Democrats have only received about 40% of the white vote overall in every presidential election since Johnson’s win in 1964. That has always been the target of what the Democratic candidate has to win among white voters (although the more, the better) since 1964. Hillary got 37% of white voters, so a bit less, but remember she lost the electoral college by less than 80,000 across 3 states, in the face of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression, Russian hacking, Wikileaks releases, a rogue FBI, billions in free media for Trump, and a polling industry that convinced voters that she couldn’t lose. But most importantly, over 8 million people voted for third party candidates like Johnson and Stein (who was sitting at the same table with Vladimir Putin and Michael Flynn in the 2015 Russian TV event and who claimed that she thought she had influenced Putin in her remarks). Those left that refused to vote for Clinton is what made the difference in this election.


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