Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Seductive, Siren Call of College-Educated Voters

Don't fall for it! It won't work!
I explain in my latest for The Liberal Patriot:
"Education polarization is increasing election on election in the United States. In 2012, the difference in Democratic support between college-educated and noncollege (working class) voters in the Presidential election was about 4 margin points (Catalist data, two party vote), with college voters being more favorable to the Democrats than noncollege voters. In 2016 that difference ballooned to 18 points. And in 2020, it went up again to 22 points.
Democrats seem remarkably relaxed about this polarization, despite liking to style themselves as the party for “working people”. One reason for this is the general perception that the college-educated population is growing while the working class is declining. True as far as it goes but the fact remains that noncollege voters far outnumber college voters. In the 2020 Catalist data, the tally was 63 percent noncollege/37 percent college. That means that any given shift among noncollege voters is significantly more consequential than a similarly-sized shift among college voters. This situation will continue for many election cycles, as the noncollege voter share is likely to decline only gradually.
Another reason for Democratic complacency is the firm belief that Democrats’ working class problem is solely confined to whites and that white working class voters are so racist/reactionary that it is a badge of honor to ignore them. This is highly questionable as a matter of political strategy and arithmetic, given that they are 44 percent of voters and a lot more than that in key swing states and districts.
But there is a deeper problem. The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters."
Read the whole piece at The Liberal Patriot. "And subscribe of course!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, I Mean, Electorate!

John Halpin at The Liberal Patriot has some advice for Joe Biden:
"Whatever the outcome of the legislative wrangling over various government funding and budget bills this week, it should be crystal clear to the White House now that they need to take a much firmer hand in determining the course of Biden’s presidency.
In his inaugural address, Biden promised to work to unify the country and achieve common goals that would advance the interests of the entire nation, joining with people across the spectrum to rebuild America’s economy and put it on firmer ground for the future. Sadly, outside of the languishing infrastructure bill, there is no real success on this front.
This is not entirely his fault. Republicans clearly don’t want to participate in Biden’s agenda—a hard reality he must confront. They offered no votes on the American Rescue Plan and a slew of GOP governors are actively undermining his coronavirus mitigation and vaccination efforts amidst a surge in Delta cases. Perhaps Biden’s desire for political bipartisanship in Congress was naïve from the start. But at a minimum he could make some strong statements in defense of his bipartisan infrastructure bill as House progressives threaten to tank the entire thing if they don’t get their way....
Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan was designed and pitched as a series of nationalist steps to invest in American businesses, infrastructure, and clean energy production; increase economic security for all families; and put the U.S. in a stronger position in the economic fight against China.
Yet, this original vision is nowhere to be seen as we reach the final negotiations around the various pieces. Instead, a center-left yet still centrist view of national greatness has devolved into an ideological fight between warring factions of his own party with the left saying it’s all or nothing and some moderates inexplicably trying to remove the most popular elements of the entire agenda—things like prescription drug negotiations, tax increases on the wealthiest, and the expansion of Medicare."
Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The German Lesson: Run Against Education Polarization

One key to the center-left SPD's success in the recent German election was a deft choice of theme to reconnect to voters they had been losing. In so doing, they consciously modeled themselves against the education polarization that has contributed to such left disasters as the election of Donald Trump and the UK Brexit vote.
Dalia Martin on the Project Syndicate site:
"It was an astonishing victory for a party that polled at around 14-15% just four months ago, when Scholz proclaimed his intention to become Germany’s next chancellor. At the time, his announcement sounded rather bold, even fanciful, considering that the SPD had come to be regarded as an irreparably damaged and diminished party. For years, the party had been hemorrhaging more and more of its traditional working-class and middle-class base. Now, some of those losses have been reversed.
How did Scholz pull off this electoral surprise? A partial hint can be found in the SPD’s crisp campaign slogans: “Soziale Politik für Dich” (“A social policy for you”) and “Respekt für Dich” (“Respect for you”). In the party’s online debates about its electoral program, the overarching message that emerged was that Scholz has a “plan for the future,” and knows how to win back votes from the populists. The party’s focus will be on “respect,” “dignity,” the “future,” and a “sovereign Europe.” It is not for those “who think they are better.”
Among the sources of inspiration for the party’s program is the Harvard University philosopher Michael Sandel. In his recent bestseller, The Tyranny of Merit, Sandel argues that education has become the greatest source of division in society. True, education was once a top progressive priority and part of any self-respecting social democratic party’s DNA. The idea was that if you work hard and educate yourself, you can rise in society. But as Sandel contends, meritocracy has a dark side, because the winners tend to look down on those who do not achieve the same upward mobility.
Even if the winners owe their success largely to luck, an expressly meritocratic system allows them to say that they deserve their gains, because they were all of their own making. It also leads to the conclusion that the less well-off deserve their station, as if they simply failed to try hard enough. According to Sandel, meritocracy – and the attitudes it instills – has made the elite into an arrogant club, while depriving many others of their dignity.
The meritocratic narrative that Sandel criticizes ignores the fact that not everybody has an equal opportunity to “win.” In Germany, only 15% of students from a household without university graduates complete a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 63% of students from more educated households. This is an important reason why Germany lags behind most other OECD countries in terms of social mobility."
And Yasmeen Serhan on the Atlantic site:
"In the final days of Germany’s election campaign, the center-left Social Democrats appeared to focus their final message to voters on one idea: respect. The message was plastered across the country on vibrant red posters and featured in the closing campaign speech of the party’s candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who pledged that a Germany under his leadership would recognize the contributions of everyone in society, regardless of their professional or social merit.
“We are working very hard on respect. Recognition is a question of how we live together in our societies,” Scholz told me and a small group of reporters following his final campaign rally, in the West German city of Cologne. What mattered, he said, was that Germans all felt a degree of responsibility for the future, and that none thinks “they are better than the others.”....
Scholz and his team are open about the lessons they’ve learned from progressive parties elsewhere. Close advisers to the candidate said that while he was crafting his political message, Scholz studied two of the left’s biggest political failures in recent memory: the United States’ 2016 presidential election and Britain’s Brexit referendum. His primary takeaway from both events was that “we should, as progressives, be very careful to acknowledge all the different choices that people make about their life,” Wolfgang Schmidt, a junior finance minister and one of Scholz’s closest advisers, told me. “That’s why Olaf Scholz talked a lot about respect. Somebody without a college degree should not get the impression [that] he or she is seen as part of a ‘basket of deplorables,’” he said, referencing Hillary Clinton’s infamous gaffe about Donald Trump’s supporters.
Scholz might not disagree with Clinton’s assessment. But his point is that this kind of rhetoric isn’t the best way to reach voters. In a recent interview with The Guardian, he surmised that the main reason Britons voted for Brexit and Americans voted for Trump was that “people are experiencing deep social insecurities, and lack appreciation for what they do.” During his final campaign speech, Scholz bemoaned society’s tendency to determine people’s merit on the basis of their education or profession, noting that lawyers such as himself are no more important to society than laborers or craftspeople. By appealing to those individuals and making them feel heard, Scholz would argue, progressives can bring them back into the fold and, crucially, steer them away from the appeals of the populist right."
It's hard to see today's Democratic party doing anything quite so smart. Democratic pols and activists still tend to see education polarization as their friend. They're just wrong about that.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Time for Biden to Bring the Hammer Down!

Enough already! Biden needs to unleash his inner LBJ. Ed Kilgore observes:
"This is a “big f—ing deal”!
Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.
The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.
Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes."

The Democrats' "People of Color" Problem

Andy Levison has a new memo out at The Democratic Strategist that I strongly recommend; "Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People Of Color” Doesn’t Describe A Political Coalition That Actually Exists"
He explains:
"The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy because it is described by its advocates as being the key part of a new majority coalition that Democrats could create if they would simply abandon their effort to regain the support of white working class voters.
In an Atlantic article, Ronald Brownstein quotes two advocates of this view:
“The electoral danger in Biden’s strategy of focusing so heavily on recapturing blue-collar voters,” says Steve Phillips, founder of the advocacy group Democracy in Color, is that “Democrats will be so focused on not alienating Whites that they will mute the policy agenda that could excite the sectors of the electorate which are much more receptive… People of Color and young people, [who] are also the growing parts of the population”.…the party would be better served by investing more “in efforts to increase turnout of People of Color especially across the Sun Belt.”
Similarly, Taifa Smith Butler, the new president of Demos, a liberal think tank focused on racial equity, told me, “As this nation becomes majority People of Color you will have to think about the broader coalition of the electorate.” Democrats, she said, “cannot kow- tow” to an older White electorate at the price of sublimating the priorities of “marginalized communities… that we could be lifting up and elevating rather than continuing to try to appease White moderates.”
Obviously, when the term , “People of Color” is discussed this way, it is not just being used as a neutral synonym for “non-white” or non-Caucasian.” It implicitly assumes that these groups actually do form a coherent political coalition that is united by common problems and common interests and that can consequently be counted on to act as a united political force in American politics....
[T]he difficult reality is that major social movements and powerful political alliances between ethnic groups do not arise simply because progressives wish that they would. They emerge because the very distinct historical experiences of different ethnic groups convince them to set aside their differences and work together in unity. This was the experience of the Trade Union movement in the 1930’s when the common brutal conditions in the factories of the era convinced Italian, Polish, East European and Slavic immigrants to mute the profound inter-ethnic conflicts that existed between them and join together to support the organization of trade unions.
In contrast, although both African Americans and Latinos suffered racial prejudice and discrimination, their historical experience since the 1960’s has been quite distinct and has shaped their political consciousness in profoundly different ways....
It was easy to ignore the fact that the majority of Latinos did not define themselves as “People of Color” so long as Latinos voted majority Democratic. In presidential elections since 1980 the GOP generally only won between 25 to 35% of the national vote.
But even long before 2016 a threat could be seen on the horizon. Aloof, rather patrician GOP establishment candidates like George Herbert Walker Bush and Mitt Romney only received 25-30% of the presidential vote but more “down to earth” candidates like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush received support ranging from the high 30s to as much as 40 percent support for Bush in 2004. George W. Bush had also been quite popular with Latino voters in Texas during his campaigns for governor. It was therefore clear that style and personality could make a significant difference.
And Democrats had also always had problems with the large Cuban exile population in Florida because of the deep anti-Castro sentiments in that community to which Republican candidates very successfully appealed.
Mexican Americans, on the other hand, have been consistently assumed to be “natural” Democrats. As an article in reported:8
Mexican Americans basically singlehandedly drive the narrative that Latinos are core Democratic voters thanks to their overwhelming numbers: 63 percent of the national Latino population is of Mexican descent, and that figure is even higher in swing states like Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
And they had generally voted more than 2 to 1 in favor of Dems.
But today the fact that Latino support for Trump actually increased in 2020 has profoundly shaken the “natural Democrats” assumption.
According to the Pew validated voter study, one of the most reliable measures of actual voting behavior, the Latino vote for the democratic candidate declined from 66% to 59% between 2016 and 2020 – a 7 point decline. The other most highly regarded source of demographic voting estimates, produced by the Catalyst Institute, used a slightly different calculation – the “two party vote share won by the Democrat” (i.e. excluding third party candidates) – and found that it declined from 71% to 63% – a nearly identical 8 point decline.
This was quite stunning because by 2020 Latinos had had four years to observe Trump’s demonization of Latino immigrants and barely concealed bigotry. Yet instead of voting more solidly Democratic, Latinos actually increased their support for Trump.....
Trump’s campaign recognized that working class Latinos could be successfully appealed to as working people using the same messages that had built Trump’s support among white workers.
As an NBC News postmortem noted:12
Although President Joe Biden won a majority of votes from Hispanics, 59 percent in the 2020 race to Trump’s 38 percent, there was a significant difference in preference based on education, Pew reported.
Biden won 69 percent of college-degreed Latino voters, compared to 30 percent for Trump, a 39 percentage-point advantage. But Biden’s advantage over Trump narrowed with Hispanics with some college or less, 55 percent to 41 percent, a 14-point advantage.
This presented a huge threat because, according to Pew estimates, Hispanics are the most heavily working class group among nonwhites , with 80 percent falling into that category. If future GOP candidates could exceed that 41% level with working class Latino voters, the entire group could essentially become a 50/50 swing voter category rather than part of the Democratic base....
Progressives are endlessly frustrated by the fact that Democratic candidates invariably offer programs that are objectively far more favorable to working class people than those of the GOP. But these arguments invariably run up against the fact that many working class people do not read policy papers or carefully listen to policy debates. They “vote for the candidate, not the platform” and tell pollsters that they base their choices on which candidate they think seems to “care about people like you,” “is on your side,” “will fight for you” or, in the commentator’s most recent cliché, “is someone you would like to have a beer with.”
And Trump, despite his privileged childhood and vast inherited wealth, displayed a blustering, Archie Bunker/Tony Soprano style that seemed more authentic to many working class people than that exhibited by many of the more “typical Washington politician” candidates and media commentators who criticized him.
The GOP also appealed to working class Latinos by focusing attention on the aspects of the Democratic platform that seemed unfavorable to working people or indifferent to their interests. Many working class Latinos in Texas, for example, have good, very high paying blue-collar jobs in the many oil and gas refineries and in pipeline construction and maintenance. Democratic rhetoric about eliminating fossil fuels seemed to directly threaten their livelihood. A substantial number of Texas Latinos also work in law enforcement, including the Border Patrol, and view rhetoric about “defunding the police” or “open borders” with scorn. GOP commercials made these ideas appear to be the defining elements of the Democratic platform.
More broadly, GOP rhetoric that cast Republicans as “job creators” and defenders of small business seemed plausible to many working class Latinos when contrasted with what Republicans described as the “job-destroying” Democratic agenda. Had Democratic messaging been sharply focused on refuting these attacks they might have been blunted. But, in many cases across the country the primary Democratic appeal to working class Latinos was to emphasize instead Trump’s inhumane policies and disparaging remarks about immigrants."
There's a lot more in the full memo. I recommend reading it.

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!