Friday, July 17, 2020

What Progressives Got Wrong About The Emerging Democratic Majority--And How Joe Biden May Get It Right

My latest, on the excellent new site, Persuasion. I've been annoyed for years about how people misinterpreted The Emerging Democratic Majority thesis. Here, I set the record straight.
"In the months after Barack Obama’s historic victory, the conventional wisdom held that Democrats would now dominate the nation’s politics for decades. “There have been long periods where one party generally has the upper hand,” famous Democratic strategist James Carville remarked at the time. Obama’s victory, the title of Carville’s new book predicted, marked the beginning of just such an epoch: 40 More Years—How Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation.
Carville’s analysis was based on a simple narrative: Groups that favor Democrats are growing. Groups that favor Republicans are shrinking. Demographic change will keep swelling the Democratic ranks until Republicans have little choice but to surrender.
It is a narrative I know well, for it is based on a bowdlerization of my own work. In 2002, John Judis and I published The Emerging Democratic Majority. In our book, we argue that Democrats should take advantage of a set of interrelated social, economic and demographic changes, including the growth of minority communities and cultural shifts among college graduates.
But we also emphasized that building this majority would require a very broad coalition, including many voters drawn from the white working class. This crucial nuance was quickly lost. And so, many Democratic pundits, operatives and elected officials have falsely come to believe that demographics are destiny.
The result has been a decade-long electoral disaster. With the exception of Obama’s victory in 2012, Democrats lost just about every important election for the next eight years. By early 2016, the party was down to 44 seats in the United States Senate, 188 seats in the House of Representatives, 18 governorships and 3,164 seats in state legislatures—the fewest elected offices Democrats have held nationwide since the 1920s. Then came the coup de grace: Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States.
If Democrats don’t correct their misunderstanding of what it takes for them to win elections, the next decade could turn out to be just as bitter as the last. But even after ten painful years, their most influential operatives continue to believe that demographic changes will inevitably give them a decisive advantage. So it is time for me to set the record straight."
John Judis and I came up with the idea of an emerging Democratic majority. A dangerous misinterpretation of it helped elect Donald Trump.

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