I ran across this recent interview with David Shor in an obscure place, the liberalish independent Orthodox Jewish site Yated Ne'eman. It's quite an interesting interview if poorly transcribed-- there are quite a few obvious misquotes of Shor on data-related stuff (see if you can spot 'em!) But the message is still clear and bracing. As time goes on, I think Shor is feeling increasingly comfortable saying exactly what he thinks and not softening it. Which I'm all for.
A few highlights:
* I'd say perhaps the dominant theme of the interview is that the changing class composition of the Democratic party matters--a lot.
"We have to look at the broader context of what’s been happening here and in almost every other country in the West. There has been a pretty consistent story that in the postwar era — here and in Britain and Germany — the center left has done pretty well with less educated voters, with working class voters, and did poorly with more educated or higher income voters.
That has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. If you look at a chart of voting patterns, you see that in the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats won white voters without a high school diploma by 28 percent and lost voters with at least a bachelor’s degree by 10 points. In , that was reversed, with Republicans winning those without a high school diploma by nine points and those with a bachelor’s by just one point.
What’s interesting is that even though we can focus on what happened in 2016 — 2016 was a big transformation in voting patterns — it’s part of a long-term trend; it’s been happening for the last 70 years, here and in other countries. So I think that there is this natural question of, why is this happening?...
The story I like to tell is that immediately after the postwar era, only five percent of the electorate had a college degree. Now, 40 percent do. That’s a really massive shift in the electorate....Despite that, even though college educated voters were only five percent of the population in the 1940s, all the politicians, all the elites, were still college educated. So this led to this really interesting phenomenon where it was impossible to run on cosmopolitan values that the politicians would naturally want to, because you would just lose. George McGovern tried it in 1972 and he was annihilated.
Because of that, center left parties really focused on economic issues and avoided cultural ones. But now that there’s been this massive increase in educated voters, it is now possible to run on these cultural or cosmopolitan issues and win.
What that caused is that people who run on these cultural issues — now that they don’t have to have the same kind of restraint — are increasingly defined as being center left and progressive in terms of issues they care about, as opposed to issues that working class people care about.
So if you look at the last four years, you see how as college educated people have become a larger share of the Democratic Party, they have increasingly remade the party in their own image. That is a problem, because culturally, working-class white voters and working-class non-white voters have a lot in common and agree with each other on cultural issues....
What’s really interesting is ideology. By just asking people, “Do you identify as liberal, moderate, or conservative?”, we’ve seen that roughly the same proportion of white people, black people, and Hispanic voters identify as belonging to these three ideological groups. It’s roughly 20 percent liberal, 40 percent moderate and 40 percent conservative. This has been true basically for decades; it has been very stable.
What I think is interesting about that is that the reason why Democrats get around 75 percent of non-white voters....is that among white people, ideology and partisanship are correlated. Over 90 percent of white liberals vote for Democrats and about 80 percent of white conservatives vote for Republicans. But among non-white voters, that wasn’t true. Democrats have historically won non-white conservatives by large numbers.
If you look at Hispanic voters, one of the things you see is that Democrats in 2012 won Hispanic conservatives by 10 points, and in 2020 lost Hispanic conservatives by 40 points. That is the whole game. That is what happened to Hispanic voters."
* Shor goes on to explain more about how shifts in Democratic issue focus has undermined Democrats' nonwhite support.
"What’s changing is that now, non-white conservatives are starting to vote more like white conservatives; they are converting. I think the reason for this is basically, if you look at different ideological issues, some issues are more polarized than others. For example, your views on immigration are strongly correlated to whether you identify as a liberal or conservative. But your views on whether the government should give everybody a job is less correlated — there are rich liberals who are opposed to it, and there are poor conservatives who support it.
You see that ideology is tied to views on social issues, and non-white voters do have conservative beliefs on social issues. One example is, black Democrats are less likely to support changing traditional marriage then white Republicans are.
What happens is that over the last four years, Democrats have focused less on the kind of issues that Hispanic and black voters agree with us on, and focused more on the issues that they don’t. Hispanic voters have conservative views on crime, for example, and you can see a correlation that Hispanic voters with conservative views on crime were more likely to switch from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump."
* The dominance of highly-educated whites in the Democratic party isn't as important as you think it is--it's more important!
"At the same time, it is also symbolic that the leaders of the Democratic Party are competing to get donations from highly educated white voters. And that means that they are talking in a different way than they used to. I like to look at the 2012 DNC presidential nomination clips versus the 2020 DNC clips. Democrats now speak a totally different language, that I think is aimed more at pleasing different internal interest groups then just speaking plain English.
Moving forward, some of these trends are inevitable. There is a historical basis on why Democrats have done so well with non-white voters — black voters especially, you can’t get 93 percent forever. But I think that if Democrats want to slow this trend, or reverse it, it is basically a matter of going back to the 2012 norm of having your audience as a median voter rather than having your donors as a median voter.
I always like to say that the median voter is about 50 years old and doesn’t have a college degree, and that makes them very different. One statistic I like is that white voters with a college degree who are under the age of 34 are only five percent of the electorate, but they are a literal majority of people who work in Democratic politics. So I think it’s just a message of talking about things that people agree with us on, primarily pocketbook issues, and using language that people can easily understand and messages that people can easily identify with.
But that is easier said than done."
* Let's repeat one of the last observations above to make sure it sinks in:
"[W]hite voters with a college degree who are under the age of 34 are only five percent of the electorate, but they are a literal majority of people who work in Democratic politics"
* Follow the money!
"It used to be that Republicans would outraise Democrats routinely. Starting in 2008 and 2012, that started to change. If you look at the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden substantially outraised Donald Trump. I think online donations really changed the game.
Educated people have a disproportionate voice in a lot of ways — they are more likely to be journalists, they are more likely to donate, they are more likely to run for office. But I think that the donations take is really underappreciated, because in politics now, there are fewer swing voters than there used to be....
Something I like to say in terms of who my favorite politicians are is that it’s not ideological, it’s not left wing versus moderate — it is which politicians have been around the longest versus those who haven’t. People such as Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or Chuck Schumer — they were around in the old days. In the 1984 Senate race in Delaware, Joe Biden got 60 percent of the vote. Ronald Reagan, the Republican presidential candidate, also got 60 percent in the same state. That means that nearly half of the electorate voted for both Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Ronald Reagan.
So back then, it was just way easier to learn things. You would give a speech, and there would be swing voters in the audience who would yell at you. Politics back then was about crafting messages that would appeal to the working class, because the country was so much less educated. That really reflected the way they talked. That is why both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders refused to embrace defunding the police, they have consistently talked very differently than everyone else in the party. Chuck Schumer, too.
But the game has changed now. Ever since 2008, getting ahead in the Democratic Party is about raising online donations, and people who donate are incredibly educated. Something like half of people who donate have advanced degrees, which is wild — they are something like three percent of the population. You are talking about a highly liberal, highly engaged group of people you are trying to cater to. And at the same time, the media has gotten a lot younger due to structural changes in the economy — online and social media has made the views of young people a lot more visible and important than it used to be.
So the new generation of politicians, people like Kamala Harris, have come along and it is a different game. The way to get ahead now is just raise a lot of money and get liberal journalists excited about you. And that is why they talk so differently — because the people they are trying to influence are so different from the actual median voter.
I think this has been happening for a long time, but 2016 was really the first time when the Democratic id just expressed itself. The Clinton campaign that year was basically built around appealing to these voters and trying to excite them. That was the prevailing theory of elections at the time — that there are no more swing voters, and that we just have to mobilize the base.
This has really hurt Democrats. If you want to try to change course, we have to go back to the old ways of focusing on middle class people and talking about pocketbook issues that they agree with us on and ignoring the cultural issues that excites the donor class. Ultimately, you can have all the money in the world and you can run all the ads you want, but if you have the wrong message and you have the wrong brand, you are not going to get anywhere."
* Let's repeat one of those observations:
"The way to get ahead now is just raise a lot of money and get liberal journalists excited about you. And that is why they talk so differently — because the people they are trying to influence are so different from the actual median voter."
* Why the Democratic party reliance on educated voters is so very, very bad:
"[C]ollege educated white people, regardless of income level, have a really disproportionate voice in who ends up getting nominated. That’s a problem. I think it’s unsurprising that if we are not listening to non-white voters in a material way, they are going to abandon ship. At the end of the day, a winning coalition is built on representing many moderate and conservative voters.
One thing people don’t realize is that even among Democrats, only half identify as liberal. And even from that half, only something like 21 percent identify as very liberal. So there is this totally unrepresentative group of moderate and conservative Democrats — a very disproportionate share of whom are non-whites — who don’t really have a voice. The prevailing party conversation is about whether we should embrace socialism or whether we should defund the police — and that is disconnected from what black or Hispanic voters necessarily care about.....
[W]orking-class voters are overrepresented in all our institutions. They are overrepresented in the Electoral College, they are overrepresented in the Senate — that is why Donald Trump won in the first place.
People like to talk about how bad a candidate Hillary was, but what people don’t understand is that Barack Obama got about 52 percent of the vote in 2012 and Hillary Clinton got 51.1 percent. In any other country, that would have been enough for her to hold power. But what changed is that the Electoral College went from being biased towards Democrats in 2012 to suddenly being more biased against Democrats in 2016 than ever. The bias of the Electoral College really exploded in 2016.
The reason it exploded is because the Electoral College overweighs the views of working-class voters. By the way, the same thing happened in the US Senate. And right now, because Republicans are pursuing this strategy — and Democrats are letting them pursue this strategy — Democrats need a much higher share of the vote then they normally do to win. Joe Biden got 52.3 percent of the vote, and if he would have gotten 52 percent of the vote, he would have lost. That really highlights the danger of this approach, which is that our electoral institutions are not designed for a coalition that just has college educated voters.
Republicans certainly failed to win most of the votes, but the strategy they are pursuing allows them to persistently lose the popular vote and still win. And I think this is the underappreciated thing of all this."
* The Democrats need a serious course correction but the left of the party--shorthanded here as "AOC and her friends"--will make this difficult. If that course correction fails the results will be predictable and bad.
"I think it’s now clear in the party that’s some kind of course correction needs to happen. Incentives are strong now to try and move in [another] direction.
But the flip side is that mechanically it is hard. If you look at Joe Biden, who is now the most moderate person in the Democratic Party, there is nobody set to replace him. This generation of people who were around and who know how to talk to working class people is going to disappear soon. So it’s a real question which one of these two forces will win — simple generational replacement versus incentives that the Democrats really have to change....
[T]he scary thing for me is that Donald Trump was the most unpopular politician to ever run for office. He happened to have a good strategy, which was to dial up cultural resentment and try to appeal to cultural values, but he happened to be personally unlikable for a lot of reasons. We ran the most popular person in our party — Joe Biden has the highest personal ratings of any Democrat — against the most unpopular person in the Republican Party, and we only barely won, by 0.3 percent.
The danger is that even after Trump, the lessons of how to win — go complain about immigration, dial up a culture war, dial up authoritarianism — probably still works. So there will be another, better Trump, but it’s not clear to me that we are going to have another, younger Biden. That’s a scary thing.....
There is this large group of voters who are disproportionately working-class white voters from the Midwest, who [agree] with us on health care and disagree with us on immigration.
That group — it’s fairly large, it’s about 15 percent of the electorate — Barack Obama got about 60 percent of those people, and Hillary Clinton got 41 percent. That is the story of that election. That is what I find scary. There is this real ideological niche for a candidate who is moderate on economic issues and right wing on cultural issues and authoritarian issues. There are parties in other countries who fill that niche, whether it’s the AFD in Germany, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, or Le Pen in France.
I don’t think that Trump was this unique individual — he simply found the strategy that no other Republican wanted to do because they would have lost some friends. But now that they know it works, I think other people are going to do it.
Democrats must counter that strategy by moving toward the center and decreasing the salience of these cultural issues. The danger is that they are primed to do the opposite, the way AOC and her friends want. Democrats are going in the wrong direction — they are letting Republicans have this large chunk of voters to themselves and then it will be hard for us to win elections, particularly the way our electoral system is set up."
Like an impending hanging, this should concentrate the mind. Either change course or get ready for some serious political setbacks. You've been warned.