Saturday, October 9, 2021

Ah, Those College Kids!

I will have more to say presently about the new Ezra Klein article on David Shor and his view of the Democrats' problems but here is a closely-related article in Politico. The author talks to both David Shor and, as a counterpoint, to Steve Phillips. Phillips isn't much of an analyst compared to Shor but it still makes for interesting reading, given that Phillips' views are not far off from a large segment of left Democratic-associated activists and advocates.
I found it quite amusing that Phillips seems to believe that his strenuously woke views are pretty representative of those of rank-and-file "people of color". As if.
At any rate, here are some of Shor's observations on the Democrats' young college-educated liberal problem:
"Shor’s theory goes something like this: Although young people as a whole turn out to vote at a lower rate than the general population, the aforementioned type of young person is actually overrepresented within the core of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure. According to Shor, the problem with this permanent class of young staffers is that they tend to hold views that are both more liberal and more ideologically motivated than the views of the coveted median voter, and yet they yield a significant amount of influence over the party’s messaging and policy decisions. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time talking about issues that matter to college-educated liberals but not to the multiracial bloc of moderate voters that the party needs to win over to secure governing majorities in Washington.
“It is descriptively true that people who work in campaigns are extremely young and much more liberal than the overall population, and also much more educated,” said Shor who at the advanced age of 30 says he feels practically geriatric in professional Democratic politics. “I think that this is pushing them to use overly ideological language, to not show enough messaging or policy restraint and, from a symbolic perspective, to use words that regular voters literally don’t understand — and I think that that’s a real problem.”
People who paid close attention to the 2016 presidential campaign probably remember the most-watched Democratic campaign commercial from the cycle, Hillary Clinton’s “Mirrors” ad, which featured images of young women gazing at themselves in mirrors intercut with footage of Donald Trump making disparaging comments about women. It was powerful stuff — at least among the young liberals on Clinton’s staff.
The “Mirrors” ad featured prominently in a series of experiments that Shor did with Civis to evaluate the effect of various Democratic campaign commercials on voters’ decisions. The findings of the experiments were not encouraging. For one, they found that a full 20 percent of the ads — including “Mirrors” — made viewers more likely to vote for Republicans than people who hadn’t seen the same ads. And after his team started polling members of Civis’s staff, they made an even more troubling discovery. On average, the more that the Civis staff liked an ad, the worse it did with the general public.
“The reason is that my staff and me, we’re super f---ing different than than the median voter,” said Shor. “We’re a solid 30 years younger.”....
Shor does not put his theory forward as a monocausal explanation of Democrats’ missteps in 2020. But he does think that with just over a year until the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats have not fully reckoned with the political dangers of allowing their party to be powered predominantly by 20- to 30-year-old college graduates. In particular, he’s concerned that the post-election debate surrounding Democrats’ handling of the controversial “Defund the Police” slogan — a major flashpoint in the party’s postmortem analysis — has obscured other, more enduring areas of ideological divergence between young party staffers and key Democratic voters.....
Shor knows that this theory can sound a bit conspiratorial — as if he’s asserting that a militant vanguard of Millennials and Gen-Zers have hijacked the Democratic Party for their own narrow purposes — but he is careful to specify that the reality is neither so sinister nor so complex. In fact, the mechanism that allows the views of young party staffers to exert a disproportionately strong influence over public perception of the Democratic Party is pretty straightforward.
“To oversimplify things a bit, swing voters get their news from mainstream news sources, and mainstream news sources basically report on what political professionals and campaigns tell them. And so this means that the public-facing communication choices and policy choices of people who work in Democratic politics and on Democratic campaigns — and, to be clear, of liberal-leaning journalists who go and write about these things — is all mechanically the thing that drives public opinion,” Shor said. “I think that’s, like, a bit of a radical statement, but I think it’s true, and I think the political science bears it out.”....
“It’s always been true that this group was higher socioeconomic status and younger and all these other things, but the extent to which those biases mattered has changed a lot in the past ten years,” said Shor.
The way to compensate for these biases, Shor says, is twofold. The first is for Democratic candidates and their staff members to engage in more rigorous messaging discipline — in short, to “talk about popular things that people care about using simple language,” as Shor has defined his preferred brand of messaging restraint before. This approach would not preclude Democrats from talking about progressive-coded policy ideas that enjoy broad popular support, such as adopting a wealth tax on high earning individuals or mandating that workers receive representation on corporate boards.
In the longer term, however, the party will have to elevate the policy and messaging preferences of its moderate Black, Hispanic and working-class supporters over the preferences of young, highly-educated and liberal staffers.
“We are really lucky that we have a bunch of relatively moderate, economically progressive people in the Democratic Party who have close to median views on social issues and religiosity and all this other stuff, and the only thing is, most of them aren’t white,” Shor said. “Someone derisively told me that what I was saying is that we should be booking Maxine Waters instead of random [Black Lives Matter] activists, and I think that’s right. I think we should probably care what [Congressional Black Caucus] members think about things.”
Note the contrast with Phillips' absurd views on the preferences of most nonwhite voters.
In an overarching strategic way, this is probably the most important debate Democrats have to resolve in the next few years. It is good to see the issues that underlie this debate getting more attention. I can only hope that this trend continues.

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