Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Cultural Left and Democratic Party Prospects

In my latest for The Liberal Patriot, I attempt a more detailed explanation for why the cultural left is indeed a drag on Democratic party prospects.
"The cultural left has managed to associate the Democratic party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, free speech and of course race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural left but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic party. From time to time Democratic politicians like Biden try to dissociate themselves from super-unpopular ideas like defunding the police but the voices of the cultural left within the party are still more deferred to than opposed. These voices are further amplified by Democratic-leaning media and nonprofits, as well as within the Democratic party infrastructure itself, all of which are thoroughly dominated by the cultural left. In an era when a party’s national brand increasingly defines state and even local electoral contests, Democratic candidates have a very hard time shaking these cultural left associations.
That’s a huge problem because the median voter simply does not buy what the cultural left is selling. As Matt Yglesias recently noted (channeling David Shor): “the median voter is a 50-something white person who didn’t go to college and lives in an unfashionable suburb.” It’s not hard to see how such a voter would be put off by the cultural positions that are now fashionable within the Democratic party, especially given that so many of these Democrats seem to look down on all those with different views. This attitude is not a secret to these voters and they react accordingly.
To illustrate the sharp divergence between the cultural left and the median voter, consider this list of views that are likely to be held by such a voter:...
The Democrats’ ability to move in the direction of these views and closer to the median voter has been severely compromised by the influence of the cultural left within the party. That has consequences.
In terms of electoral math, these consequences can manifest themselves in two ways. The first is the most obvious. A group which is unfriendly to the Democrats but declining, like white working class voters, moves further against the Democrats, thereby cancelling out the pro-Democratic effect of their decline. The second is that a pro-Democratic group like Hispanics which is growing, moves against Democrats, thereby cancelling out the pro-Democratic effect of their growth. Both things can happen at once of course, but 2016 was notable for the first and 2020 was notable for the second.
These kinds of shifts, which are typically abetted by electoral reaction to cultural leftism, effectively put a ceiling on Democratic support in a country which, by raw demographics, should be steadily moving in the Democrats’ direction. The way to lift that ceiling is clear: move to the center to embrace the views enumerated above, all of which are compatible with a robust program of full employment, social safety net expansion and public investment. Indeed, the ironic aspect of this is that the public writ large, including the median voter, are more open to such a program than they have been in decades, yet the Democrats’ cultural leftism interferes with their ability to focus on their popular economic program and avoid unpopular positions that have little to do with that program."
Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot--and subscribe!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Where Does the Median Voter Live?

This is from an excellent new article on Matt Yglesias' substack. I know all this stuff by dint of my profession but I suspect a lot of you don't.
"A huge share of the electorate is in “the suburbs,” which I think everyone knows. It should also be pretty clear if you’ve ever been anywhere in the United States that there is a world of difference between the suburbs of San Francisco and the suburbs of Toledo.
But the basic facts bear mentioning. Fully 6% of the American population lives in the New York City metropolitan statistical area, which is genuinely a lot. But if you add up the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas, they together add up to only about 42% of the population. The 50th-largest metro area is Birmingham, Alabama and number 51 is Rochester, New York. I’ve never been to Birmingham, but Rochester is nice (the weather was good when I visited). It’s home to a good university, I had an excellent dinner at a well-regarded local restaurant, and it was cool to see the graves of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass at the Mount Hope Cemetery. But it’s not a very big city, and the suburbs of Rochester (which contain 80% of the metro area’s population) are a world away from the inner-ring suburbs of the giant metropolises.
The point is most people live in communities that are smaller than the Rochester metro area. Either they’re in rural areas, a smaller metro, or a community like Kerrville, TX (where I spent much of the summer) that’s so far out on the exurban fringe of San Antonio that it doesn’t qualify for membership in the MSA.
In practical terms:
The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Pennsylvania’s population.
The Milwaukee and Madison MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population.
The Detroit and Ann Arbor MSAs combine to contain less than 50% of Michigan’s population.
Interestingly, the “new” swing states of Georgia and Arizona are more urbanized, with the giant Atlanta and Phoenix metro areas each comprising a majority of their respective state’s population. So it’s not like nobody lives in giant metro areas or they don’t matter. That said, a lot of work in media and progressive politics is done by New Yorkers who snobbishly disdain D.C., which — whatever its flaws — is a substantially bigger, more urban, and more cosmopolitan place than Phoenix.
The point is that when we talk about decisive suburban voters, we’re likely talking about the suburbs of Grand Rapids or Kenosha."

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Class and the Hispanic Vote

The Democrats will continue to have problems with the Hispanic vote until they face the fact that the Hispanic vote is basically a working class vote, not a "people of color" or "marginalized persons" vote. Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal has a good column on this today where he sketches the basic contours of the situation.
"Democrats are wondering whether they have a problem with Latino voters. What they actually might have is a problem with working-class voters.
The concern began growing after former President Donald Trump made inroads with Latinos in the 2020 presidential election. Data compiled by Catalist, a Democratic election-data firm, showed that, while Democrat Joe Biden still carried the Latino vote comfortably, Mr. Trump did eight points better [16 margin points--RT] among Latinos in 2020 than he did four years earlier.
Further research by the Pew Research Center suggested Mr. Trump did better among Latino men, and did “substantially better” among those without a college education....
The burning question for the party is why there might be some erosion. Finding the answer starts with understanding that the Latino vote, particularly as it grows in size, isn’t monolithic. There are big differences in political attitudes among Latinos depending on their country of origin, whether they are first- or second-generation Americans, and, perhaps above all, their level of education....
Within this picture of diversity, there are emerging signs that the most important political division among Latinos is the same one seen among white voters: the split between white-collar voters with a college education and working-class voters without one.
As the importance of better-educated, higher-income voters has grown within the Democratic party, it has found its grip loosening on the working-class Americans who once formed the backbone of the party. Such voters, whether white or Latino, tend to tilt more conservative culturally, have been especially hurt by shutdowns of economic activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, and are deeply concerned by job stability in a changing economy. Immigration policy doesn’t appear to be as big a factor in political thinking among such Latinos as traditionally assumed, most analysts say.
Working-class Latino men, in particular, appear to be behaving politically more like working-class white men, among whom Republicans have made big inroads. “The question arises: Why would middle-aged, middle-income Latino males with less than a college education behave radically differently from white males similarly situated?” asks Roberto Suro, a professor at the University of Southern California and a longtime analyst of Latino voting trends....
Clearly, Democrats can’t simply take the Latino vote for granted. They also may find that if they shore up weakness among working-class voters generally, they will do the same with Latino voters."
That is the correct conclusion, currently underappreciated among Democrats.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Reverse "Deplorables" Strategy

The German elections are coming up on September 26. Current polling (I know, I know) has the social democratic SDP as the lead vote-getter and probable organizer of the next German government.
No one should think that, even if this comes to pass, the new government will necessarily be very radical. At this point, the most likely government the SPD would form would include not just the Greens but also the centrist liberal FDP (forming a so-called traffic light coalition), who are quite conservative on budgetary and labor market issues. And of course the SPD itself has not been very aggressively left for a long time.
Still, such an election result would be an advance for Germany and, critically, could have huge implications for the rest of Europe. Adam Tooze in a very useful article on the Foreign Policy site explains the stakes.
"The key issue is the terms of the traffic light deal; this is what matters for the world and Europe in particular. In the election, Lindner has positioned himself as a future finance minister, the job Scholz now holds. The question Lindner has posed to his electorate of higher-earning, college-educated, upper-middle-class professionals is: Do you want me as finance minister or Robert Habeck, the free-thinking and radically minded co-leader of the Greens? Lindner promises to ensure taxes do not rise and plans to take a hard line on debt. By contrast, both the SPD and the Greens want to find ways around the debt cap that limits public investment. If Lindner gets his way, it would hurt domestic policy and provoke splits within the SPD’s ranks. It would also pose dangerous questions for Europe’s financial future. If a German finance minister throws his weight behind the EU’s smaller conservative member states, which are calling for a return to fiscal orthodoxy, it will be a disaster for Europe. France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Portugal all have debts in excess of 100 percent of their GDPs. They represent 60 percent of the euro area’s population. The stage would be set for a disastrous clash of the type that resulted in the eurozone crisis.
Scholz and his team know this. They were principally responsible for architecting the deal with France that saved Europe in the face of 2020’s COVID-19 shock. They know that returning to a conservative line is profoundly unrealistic. The question is: What price will German politics exact?
Based on current polling, it would be the SPD and the Greens calling the shots in coalition negotiations, but a lot depends on the final tallies....
If the SPD comes out ahead but the FDP does better and the Greens less well than expected, then Scholz’s dilemma will be how to allocate key portfolios. If Lindner is serious about dictating a conservative financial stance, that should be recognized for what it is: a deeply ideological position that may appeal to his electoral base but is otherwise out of touch with reality. Compared to that, a gamble on a Red-Red-Green government might seem like a better bet. It would certainly provide the basis for a more accommodating pro-European fiscal policy. The risk would be it would encourage the CDU and FDP in opposition to harden their position on both domestic and European debt, meaning disaster in the future. To avoid alienating SPD and Greens voters, it would need to deliver results fast, something that would mark a true break with the Merkel era.
There are risks to reopening the left-right divide in German politics. But there are risks also to pretending the differences between progressivism and stand-pat conservatism are not real. Either way, it is not too much to say Europe’s future hangs in the balance."
Those are some high stakes. But it's worth asking: how on earth did the SPD get into the relatively good position they know have after being left for dead about a year ago? The answer has a lot to do with the evolution of Olaf Scholz, the SPD's candidate for chancellor, who suffered through the grand coalition governments with the Christian Democrats and the attendant ebbing of social democratic strength to historically low levels. Scholz may not have returned to the radicalism of his youth but he has nevertheless realized that the social democrats need a fresh strategy that speaks directly to the constituencies they have been losing.
Scholz' evolution is well-described by Jeremy Cliffe in a New Statesment article. This part of the article is key to understanding the Schloz' new approach and SPD's current success.
"Those gloomy circumstances [the precipitous decline in SPD support], say Scholz confidants, plunged him into a period of reflection on the centre-left in Germany and internationally. He studied the woes of the British Labour Party and the US Democrats, and read widely. JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016) and Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims (2009), both accounts of fractured societies of winners and losers, urban hotspots and provincial backwaters, particularly affected him. So too did the works of the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel on justice and meritocracy, the Serbian-American economist Branko Milanović on inequality and the Turkish economist Dani Rodrik on globalisation. That reflection, following his experiences in Hamburg, forged in him a unified approach to politics – Scholzism, if you will – that deserves at least some of the credit for the SPD’s current revival.
Roughly sketched, Scholzism has three pillars. Pillar one is to restore social democracy as a bridge between middle-class progressives, the old working class and the emergent precariat. That means combining a third-way affinity for “what works” with a theory of social justice that goes beyond just social mobility. “Social democracy was never an elitist project telling everyone they need to do an Abitur [academic school leaving certificate] and go to university,” explains Miebach. Rather, it is social democracy as the guarantor of “the chance to live a decent life, the respect and dignity that a good job provides”, as Scholz put it in his 2017 book Hoffnungsland [Land of Hope]. “Respect” here is the keyword, and it permeates the current SPD campaign, its rhetoric and its literature (“out of respect for your future”, “a society of respect”, “respect for you”)."
A very interesting article by Nathan Gardels on the Noema site expands on the significance of Scholz' approach. He calls it the reverse "deplorables" strategy.
"The prospects for Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party’s candidate for chancellor in the coming German election, are looking up because he has stopped looking down.
His poll numbers are climbing the more he abandons the elite rhetoric of fierce competition in the flat world of globalization that champions the sophisticates who dominate cosmopolitan culture industries and the cult of canny entrepreneurs whose algorithms scale them up to unicorns overnight, mythically making it to the top through nothing other than their singular genius and clever marketing moves.
The imputation is that those who merely work with their hands and hearts to make the daily world turn — the very store clerks, elderly caretakers, waiters, janitors, meatcutters, supply packagers, delivery drivers and others on the front line of the COVID battle — are second-class citizens, if not slackers and losers who deserve low pay and lowly regard as proper compensation for their lack of ambition and college credentials.
When such constituencies actively resent this demotion of their dignity, they are cast into Hillary Clinton’s condescend[ing] category of “deplorables.” Perhaps more than anything else, this rift in the social status-sphere is what roils politics across Western democracies today.
Understanding this, Scholz has sought to reverse the implicit disdain for average workers and pledged to restore a society that respects their dignity and compensates them for their real value upon which the success of all others is built.
Scholz’s political message is informed by his reading of philosopher Michael Sandel’s 2020 book, “The Tyranny of Merit.”....
The best [according to the tyranny of merit] would scale the heights. When success came, it was due to nothing other than making it on their own “merit.” “Then those who rise by dint of effort, talent, hard work, will deserve their place, will have earned it,” says Sandel. “The implication is that those who do not rise will have no one to blame but themselves.”
In Sandel’s reading, this patronizing blame on the un-rising is the root of the populist revolt. Scholz agrees. And that is what he is trying to uproot in German politics.
“Why did Britain vote for Brexit if it was against its own interest?” [Scholz] asks. “Why did America vote for Trump? I believe it is because people are experiencing deep social insecurities, and lack appreciation for what they do. … We see the same dissatisfaction and insecurity not just in the U.S. or the U.K. but in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Austria or Germany. … Among certain professional classes, there is a meritocratic exuberance that has led people to believe their success is completely self-made. As a result, those who actually keep the show on the road don’t get the respect they deserve. That has to change.”
Scholz wants to replace the self-serving ideology of “merit” with one of societal “respect,” calling out the hypocritical “applause” for frontline workers during the pandemic so far unaccompanied by any commensurate revaluation of their economic worth. He has pledged to start heading down that path with a $15 per hour minimum wage in his first year in office if elected, something that has long been resisted in Germany. Scholz has also pledged to preserve and invigorate the country’s apprenticeship programs for small and medium size industries, which are the backbone of its manufacturing strength and working-class employment, while loosening fiscal strictures that inhibit investment and spending that would boost the fortunes of those who labor in the basic service economy.
The election on September 26 will demonstrate whether Scholz’s approach resonates with voters, many of whom have abandoned the mainstream parties of the postwar period. More than any set of policies, his crusade for “respect” that would stamp the dignity of recognition on every level of society would go a good distance in stemming the animus of resentment that fuels anti-elite populism."
If Scholz wins it will be interesting to see whether his approach spreads across Europe and perhaps even across the pond to our fair land. I think Biden would be happy to have the Democratic party stamped from this mold but his party.....that's a different matter. As are the left elites who currently control the commanding heights of cultural production.
Still one can hope that a fresh wind is blowing and that that wind reaches here.

More Trouble with Hispanic Voters

Democrats' hopes for a blue Texas have always included a big role for the burgeoning Hispanic vote in improving Democratic performance. As we saw in 2020, when dramatic shifts against the Democrats among Texas Hispanics in the Rio Grande Valley took place, this is no sure thing.
This assessment is bolstered by a new Dallas Morning News poll which has Biden's approval rating among Texas Hispanics at an anemic 35 percent vs. 54 percent disapproval--19 points underwater. His approval rating on handling immigration at the border is even worse--29 percent.

Friday, September 17, 2021

What Did the California Recall Vote Mean?

What indeed. I give my take at The Liberal Patriot. Short version: contain your enthusiasm.
"Democrat Gavin Newsom won big in California against an attempt to recall him from the governor’s office. Since he won big there are naturally vigorous attempts to characterize his campaign as providing a winning strategy for Democrats going forward. That would be nice but in reality it is simply wishful thinking. Here are five reasons why nothing has really changed for the Democrats’ challenges in 2022."
Read all five at The Liberal Patriot!
The California Recall Vote Changes Nothing
The California Recall Vote Changes Nothing
Five Reasons Why Democrats’ 2022 Prospects Are Still So Challenging