washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

“Do Democrats’ difficulties grow more out of structural advantages of the Republican Party — better geographic distribution of its voters, the small-state tilt of the Electoral College and the Senate, more control over redistricting? Or do their difficulties stem from Democratic policies and positions that alienate key blocs of the electorate?,” Thomas B. Edsall asks in his New York Times column. Edsall explains, “If, as much evidence shows, working-class defections from the Democratic Party are driven more by cultural, racial and gender issues than by economics — many non-college-educated whites are in fact supportive of universal redistribution programs and increased taxes on the rich and corporations — should the Democratic Party do what it can to minimize those sociocultural points of dispute, or should the party stand firm on policies promoted by its progressive wing?….I asked a group of scholars and Democratic strategists versions of these questions. Three conclusions stood out:

  • There was near unanimous agreement that the Republican Party under the leadership of Trump is a threat to democracy, but disagreement over the degree of the danger.

  • There was across-the-board opposition to the creation of a third party on the grounds that it would split the center and the left.

  • A striking difference emerged when it came to the choice of strategic responses to the threat, between those who emphasized the built-in structural advantages benefiting the Republican Party and those who contended that Democrats should stand down on some of the more divisive cultural issues to regain support among working-class voters — white, Black and Hispanic.”

Edsall quotes several top political analysts to assess the Democrats’ prospects in 2022 and beyond, and explains that  “Skocpol is sharply critical of trends within the Democratic Party: “The advocacy groups and big funders and foundations around the Democratic Party — in an era of declining unions and mass membership groups — are pushing moralistic identity-based causes or specific policies that do not have majority appeal, understanding, or support, and using often weird insider language (like “Latinx”) or dumb slogans (“Defund the police”) to do it”….The leaders of these groups, Skocpol stressed, “often claim to speak for Blacks, Hispanics, women etc. without actually speaking to or listening to the real-world concerns of the less privileged people in these categories.”….Along similar lines, William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings and former White House aide during the Clinton administration, wrote, “For the first time in my life, I have come to believe that the stability of our constitutional institutions can no longer be taken for granted…In my view,” Galston continued, “the issue is not so much ideology as it is class. Working-class people with less than a college degree have an outlook that differs from that of the educated professionals whose outlook has come to dominate the Democratic Party. To the dismay of Democratic strategists, class identity may turn out to be more powerful than ethnic identity, especially for Hispanics.” The party’s “principal weakness,” Galston observes “lies in the realm of culture, which is why race, crime and schools have emerged as such damaging flash points.” In this context, “the Biden administration has failed to articulate views on immigration, criminal justice, education and related issues that a majority of Americans can support.”

Edsall continues, “Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the pro-Democratic Center for American Progress, wrote in an essay, “Democrats, Not Republicans, Need to Defuse the Culture Wars”: Democrats are not on strong ground when they have to defend views that appear wobbly on rising violent crime, surging immigration at the border and non-meritocratic, race-essentialist approaches to education. They would be on much stronger ground if they became identified with an inclusive nationalism that emphasizes what Americans have in common and their right not just to economic prosperity but to public safety, secure borders and a world-class but nonideological education for their children. Edsall concludes, It may be that in too many voters’ minds the Democratic Party has also crossed a line and that Democratic adoption of more centrist policies on cultural issues — in combination with a focus on economic and health care issues — just won’t be enough to counter the structural forces fortifying the Republican minority, its by-any-means-necessary politics and its commitment to white hegemony….The Biden administration is, in fact, pushing an agenda of economic investment and expanded health care, but the public is not yet responding. Part of this failure lies with the administration’s suboptimal messaging. More threatening to the party, however, is the possibility that a growing perception of the Democratic Party as wedded to progressive orthodoxies now blinds a large segment of the electorate to the positive elements — let’s call it a trillion-dollar bread-and-butter strategy — of what Biden and his party are trying to do.”

Alan I. Abramowitz has a data-driven analysis of the Dems’ Virginia loss, “Explaining the Republican Victory in the Virginia Gubernatorial Election: Conversion or Mobilization?” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Abramowitz reviews “exit poll data from the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election (there was no exit poll in New Jersey) to examine the sources of the swing toward the GOP in that contest.[1] These exit poll results — though imperfect, just like any other survey — allow us to estimate the proportion of 2020 Biden and Trump voters who shifted parties in 2021 and the impact of changes in the demographic composition of the electorate between the two elections.” As Abramowitz writes further, “The results of the 2021 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed a strong swing toward the Republican Party. A 16-point Democratic margin in New Jersey in 2020 turned into a 3-point Democratic margin in 2021 and a 10-point Democratic margin in Virginia in 2020 turned into a 2-point Republican margin in 2021. However, county-level data show that voting patterns in the gubernatorial elections were very similar to those in the presidential election while exit poll data from Virginia show that very few Biden voters actually switched sides in the 2021 gubernatorial election. Instead, it appears that the shift in election results between 2020 and 2021 was due largely to disproportionate partisan mobilization — stronger turnout among Republican voters than among Democratic voters in the off-year elections….Republicans won in Virginia and came surprisingly close to winning in New Jersey because Republican voters were more energized than Democratic voters. In the California recall election, in contrast, Republicans apparently did not enjoy a major advantage in turnout and the GOP-sponsored recall effort fell flat. These results suggest that the results of the 2022 midterm elections will depend primarily on the ability of Republican and Democratic candidates to mobilize their own party’s supporters more than their ability to convert supporters of the opposing party.”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Progressives are very much divided on the questions about the role of identity politics.

    The problem is those that are opposed or skeptical about giving idpol such a strong role in messaging don’t have the kind of institutional support that gets both traditional liberals and insurgent lawmakers elected. Finance and IT millionaires who only see the positive effects of immigration and who don’t care or understand about crime dynamics are pouring donations to non-profits and advocacy groups that are now bigger actors in Democratic politics than local county committees and Democratic clubs.

    The bullying of Squad members Bowman and AOC around Israel is a good example. Although the push to expel Bowman from DSA was defeated the groups pushing for radical BDS succeeded in pushing their agenda to the center of political strategy and in forcing Bowman to further engage with them.

    Traditional liberals have moved to the left on issues because they are on the one hand afraid of primaries from the left and on the other hand emboldened by the lack of push back from the Party (as an organization, either at the local, county, state or national level). This is how discussions around immigration reform have moved so far to the left and you get threats from otherwise moderate lawmakers like Espaillat about sinking BBB if significant amnesty is not part of a deal.

    Moderates and pragmatists in the party barely speak up, except when it comes to speak against tax increases. Their corporate donors are very much on board the whole woke approach (one need only watch tv for a while), as it doesn’t threaten their bottom line and weakens the Democratic agenda.


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