Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Underlying Source of the Culture Wars: Democrats Have Moved Far Away from the Median Voter

The culture wars are bitter and the most flamboyant warriors--at least so far--tend to be on the right. This makes liberals inclined to believe these bitter fights are above all a creation of the right.
That's too simple and lets the left off the hook for their own role in producing and nurturing this continuing sore on the body politic and obstacle to progressive change. Consider two facts: (1) Democrats have become way more liberal over time; and (2) Republicans have become only slightly more conservative over time. The net result of this is that, even though the median voter has become slightly more liberal, Democrats are now much farther away from the median voter than in the past. And that is a situation Republicans have been happy to exploit but did not create.
Kevin Drum explains this in some detail in a recent blog post. Referring to a liberalism/conservatism chart you can see in his post, he says:
"I've added a scale of 0-10 to these charts to make them easier to interpret. As you can see, in 1994 the average Democrat was at 5 and the average Republican was at 6. In 2004, that had changed slightly: the average Democrat was at 4 and the average Republican was just under 5. In other words, both parties had gotten a little bit more liberal.
But by 2017 that had changed completely. The average Democrat was at 2 while the average Republican was at 6.5. In other words, between 1994 and 2017, Democrats had gotten three points more liberal while Republicans had gotten about half a point more conservative.
That takes us up to 2017, by which time Democrats were quite obviously farther from the median voter than they had been in 1994 or 2004. And it showed: Our election victory in 2020 was razor thin even though (a) the economy sucked, (b) we were in the middle of a pandemic, (c) voters had had four years to see just what Donald Trump was really like, and (d) our candidate was bland, amiable, white, male Joe Biden. This should scare the hell out of liberals."
Drum draws out the implications of this move away from the median voter:
"Despite endless hopeful invocations of "but polls show that people like our positions," the truth is that the Democratic Party has been pulled far enough left that even lots of non-crazy people find us just plain scary—something that Fox News takes vigorous advantage of. From an electoral point of view, the story here is consistent: Democrats have stoked the culture wars by getting more extreme on social issues and Republicans have used this to successfully cleave away a segment of both the non-college white vote and, more recently, the non-college nonwhite vote."
He summarizes his case:
* Since 1994, Democrats have moved left far more than Republicans have moved right.
* This has produced lots of safe states in liberal places like California and Massachusetts but has steadily pulled Democrats farther and farther away from median states like Iowa and Ohio.
* Recently, white academic theories of racism—and probably the whole woke movement in general—have turned off many moderate Black and Hispanic voters. Ditto for liberal dismissal of crime and safety issues. Hispanics in particular moved in Trump's direction despite—or maybe because of—his position on immigration and the wall.
* Democrats will remain on an electoral knife edge forever unless they can pull themselves back toward the center.
This is obviously not a popular proposal among the white activist class. But a dispassionate look at voting patterns hardly allows any other conclusion. Moving to the left may help galvanize the progressive base—which is good!—but if it's not done with empathy and tact it risks outrunning the vast middle part of the country, which progressive activists seem completely uninterested in talking to.
It is well within our power to break our two-decade 50-50 deadlock and become routine winners in national politics. All it takes is a moderation of our positions from "pretty far left" to "pretty liberal." That's all. But who's got the courage to say so?"
Well, I do. And I've said it.

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