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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Oddly Enough, If You Want to Win, Nobody Has To Be Thrown Under the Bus

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

But you may have to change what you talk about and how you talk about it. That’s the message of Sheri Berman’s excellent new article on the Social Europe site. I would go so far as to say Democrats will either absorb this message or their future does not look particularly bright. Berman:

“Over the past months in the United States, something resembling panic has overtaken the Democratic Party. The popularity of the president, Joe Biden, is extremely low, major policy initiatives have stalled, a governorship election in supposedly solidly Democratic Virginia was lost and significant setbacks are likely in the upcoming Congressional midterms.

For many Democrat ‘progressives’, the blame lies in the stars rather than in themselves. Republican success, in this view, is due to a combination of ‘anti-black white supremacy’ and structural features of the US political system, such as the presidential electoral college and the Senate, which favour regions and populations that do not support the party. For ‘centrist’ Democrats, on the other hand, the real problem lies in the party itself—or, rather, in its progressive wing insisting on championing issues of racial or social justice with ‘views and values not shared’ by a majority of voters.

There is much that is distinctively American about this debate but echoes can be found in left parties across Europe. In particular, the challenge of reconciling a progressive social and racial agenda with the need to attract a majority coalition, which includes non-urban and working-class voters, is one faced on both sides of the Atlantic today.

Centrists and progressives often portray these goals as irreconcilable: either left parties champion progressive social and racial agendas or they attract more non-urban and working-class voters. Yet they need not be.

As the political scientist William Riker famously argued, to borrow his book titles, political outcomes depend on The Art of Political Manipulation and Agenda Formation. ‘Successful politicians structure the world so they can win,’ he wrote. Concretely, how issues are framed plays a critical role in determining how attractive and salient they are to voters.

A recent study of working-class voters sponsored by YouGov, the Center for Working Class Politics and the left-wing magazine Jacobin confirms what many previous studies have found: when policies are framed as benefiting one group over, or at the expense of, another, they are less popular. For example, when white voters are told that redistributive policies require taking money from them to fund programmes primarily benefiting minorities, support for such policies plummets. When precisely the same policies are presented as taking money from the rich and redistributing it to working people or the less fortunate, support goes up.

This is often portrayed as the result of racism—and, of course, some white voters harbour racist sentiments. But minority voters prefer colour-blind or class-based issue framing as well. As two well-known scholars put it, ‘the strongest arguments’ for redistributive policies are those that ‘reach beyond race to the moral principles to which both black and white Americans are committed, not as blacks or whites, but as Americans … Reaching beyond race has a power to it, not because it evades the reach of prejudice but because it calls into play the principle of fairness—that all who need help should be helped, regardless of their race.’”

Read the whole article. It’s worth your time.

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