Democrats Could Still Win The Midterms-- If They Get The Party's Republican Wing Under Control...LOL
So many polls with so much bad news for Democrats lately! Well, NPR just put one out by Marist yesterday that was less terrible. Key paragraph-- which diverges from what other recent polls have found: "Democrats maintain a narrow lead in the “generic ballot”-- 46% of Americans say they’d vote for the Democrat in their district if the 2022 Congressional elections were held today, and 41% would choose a Republican. In our poll from earlier this month, Democrats held a three-point edge (44%-41%)."
So let's look at the demographic breakdown. First, among self-identified independents. Asked who they would vote for for Congress in their district if the election were today:
Regionally, Democrats lead Republicans in the Northeast (+17%), Midwest (+7%) and West (+14%) and Republicans lead in the South (+8%). Among college grads, Democrats are up 16% but among non-college grads, Republicans are up 3%. Republicans lead among white people 49% to 39% and Democrats lead among non-whites 57% to 29%.
Young people (+19%) prefer Democrats and older people (+6%) prefer Republicans. Breakdown:
18-40 (Millenials, Gen Z)
41-56 (Gen X)
57-75 (Baby Boomers)
over 75 (Silent/Greatest)
More males prefer Republicans (+7%) and more women prefer Democrats (+17%). Democrats lead in big cities (+22%), small cities (+9%) and suburbs (+15%) and Republicans re ahead in small towns (+15%) and in rural areas (+16%).
Obviously, Democrats need to get their voters-- women and people under 40 out to vote. Robust action on climate and on economic and social equality would help... and the Democrats have largely failed in those categories, which leaves them nothing except scare tactics, the same scare tactics that failed so miserably in Virginia and scared the Democratic Party in New Jersey. Earlier this month, Ryan Grim wrote how Dems aren't just losing white voters, but voters across the board. He cited Virginia focus groups that found that although "women agreed with Democrats on policy, they just didn’t connect with them. When asked which party had better policy proposals, the group members overwhelmingly said Democrats. But when asked which party had cultural values closer to theirs, they cited Republicans."
The biggest disconnect came on education. Barefoot found that school closures were likely a big part of their votes for Youngkin and that frustration at school leadership over those closures bled into the controversy, pushed by Republicans, around the injection of “critical race theory” into the public school setting, along with the question of what say parents should have in schools. One Latina woman talked about how remote school foisted so much work on parents, yet later Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee and former governor, would insist that parents should have no input in their children’s education. (That’s not exactly what he said, but that’s how it played.) As she put it: “They asked us to do all this work for months and then he says it’s none of our business now.”
The anger they felt at Democrats for the commonwealth’s Covid-19 school closure policy became further evidence of a cultural gap between these working people and Democratic elites, who broadly supported prolonged school closures while enjoying the opportunity to work remotely. Those with means decamped: Enrollment in Fairfax County schools dropped 5 percent, and fell by 3.9 percent and 3.4 percent in Arlington and Loudoun counties, respectively. Those who were left behind organized parent groups to pressure the schools to reopen. Though the groups tended to be nonpartisan or bipartisan at the start, Republican donors and conservative groups poured money and manpower into them, converting them into potent political weapons that blended anger at the closures with complaints about Democratic board members prioritizing trendy social justice issues-- all of it aimed at the November elections.
...In the Virginia election, two arguments that have been running parallel in Democratic circles for the past several years finally collided. One is the question of how Democrats should position themselves in the ongoing culture war, with jockeying over fraught and contested concepts like wokeness and cancel culture. Critical race theory is one example of this; Democrats can’t seem to agree on whether it’s a good thing that should be taught and defended or a Republican fabrication that’s not being taught in elementary schools at all. The other is the round-and-round debate over race and class: Are voters who flee Democrats motivated more by economic anxiety or by racial resentment and eroding white privilege?
While these debates have unfolded, Democrats have seen a steady erosion in support among working-class voters of all races, while gaining support among the most highly educated voters. That movement would point toward class divisions driving voter behavior, but the rearing up of critical race theory as a central plank of the Republican Party appeared to throw the question open again. Maybe it’s racism, after all?
Properly understanding how different voting blocs understand the terms of the debate, however, unlocks the contradiction: The culture war is not a proxy for race, it’s a proxy for class. The Democratic problem with working-class voters goes far beyond white people.
Now, for the portion of the Republican base heavily predisposed to racial prejudice, the culture war and issues like critical race theory easily work as dog whistles calling them to the polls. But for many voters, and not just white ones, critical race theory is in a basket with other cultural microaggressions directed at working people by the elites they see as running the Democratic Party. Take, for instance, one of the women in Barefoot’s focus groups. When asked if Democrats share their cultural values, she said, “They fight for the right things and I usually vote for them but they believe some crazy things. Sometimes I feel like if I don’t know the right words for things they think I am a bigot.”
Barefoot’s results rhymed with the conclusions of a memo put out by strategist Andrew Levison, who has long made the argument that Democratic efforts at connecting with working-class voters are fundamentally flawed. The memo, published after the Virginia election but not directly responding to it, looks at how Democrats can win support among a growing number of anti-Trump Republicans. Rather than convince the entire white working class-- which is typically approximated in polls by looking for white voters without a college degree-- Levison argues that Democrats should “identify a distinct, persuadable sector of the white working class” and then figure out how to get members of that specific group to vote Democratic.
Levison, citing data from multiple election cycles, notes that Democrats roughly win about a third of white working-class votes. The party loses about a third right out of the gate: hardcore right-wing people who would never consider voting for Democrats and think even a Democrat like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer-- known for much of his career as “Wall Street Chuck”-- is a flaming socialist and a traitor. Levison calls that third “extremists,” and argues they are not gettable under any circumstances; he distinguishes them from the final third, which is made up of what he calls “cultural traditionalists.”
His category of cultural traditionalists, he acknowledges, is not meant to capture every voter who is gettable by Democrats; likewise, many cultural traditionalists have competing and conflicting views on various issues. But just as corporations work to create consumer profiles before going to market with an ad campaign, Democrats need to define who that persuadable person among the white working class is. To do so, Levison relies on years of survey data, much of it collected by Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, that does tens of thousands of in-person interviews with working-class people around the country each year looking to identify those who are persuadable.
As Levison defines them, cultural traditionalists are people who don’t follow the news closely but have an easy-going personality and an open mind-- contrasted with cranky, short-tempered people who are more likely to fall into the “extremist” category. They believe in patriotism and the “American way of life” but also believe that diversity, pluralism, and tolerance are essential characteristics of that American way of life. When it comes to race, these traditionalists have something of a Michael Scott view, rooted in the cliche that they “don’t see race” or “don’t see color.” They also have religious and moral values they’d happily describe as “old fashioned” but say they have no problem with people who have different views. When these voters shifted their views on marriage equality, accepting it as something that ought to be legal even if they were skeptical of it, the dam had broken.
Cultural traditionalists, according to Levison, also think of government as often wasteful and inefficient and of politicians as corrupt and bought off-- but they don’t think government is inherently evil and can be convinced that it can do good things. Meanwhile, they think Democrats are a party that “primarily represents social groups like educated liberals and racial or ethnic minorities while having little interest, understanding, or concern for ordinary white working people like themselves.”
Levison’s distinction between these cultural traditionalists and what he calls the extremists, except for that last part, can plausibly apply to many, many Black and Latino working-class people as well. And even that last part-- that Democrats don’t have much interest or concern for ordinary white working people, specifically-- is not really a value judgment, it’s a widespread interpretation of Democratic messaging that is not uniquely held by white voters.
They’re the sort of voter that would be gettable for Democrats without compromising on a racial justice agenda if it is sold as the United States continuously striving to close the gap between reality and its values. But, Levison adds, there are a number of cultural issues on which cultural traditionalists and extremists align, and Republicans have become adept at exploiting them. He defines them as: pride in their culture, background, and community; respect for tradition; love of freedom; belief in personal responsibility, character, and hard work; and respect for law, strict law enforcement, and the right of individual self-defense.
...Levison, meanwhile, argues that Democrats need to lean into the kind of patriotic rhetoric that makes many progressives recoil. Democrats have the potential to split “extremists” off from “traditionalists” by couching Democratic values as truly American, and extremists as “un-American.” As an example of such possible rhetoric, he offers, is, “I love the American flag as much as any American but I would never use a flagpole flying our flag as a club to assault other Americans that I call my ‘enemies.’ That is not the American way.” Or: “The values I grew up with are good values and I want them to endure. But the values of the people who want to turn Americans against each other and divide our country are not my values.”
At the end of Barefoot’s focus group, the women were asked if they’d have considered changing their vote if Democrats had passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The bill, which was passed by the House the following week, is something that Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, has claimed would have helped win the election for McAuliffe.
Ninety-one percent of the suburban women said no, 9 percent said yes, and one woman laughed and said, “What does that have to do with anything?”
She’s right to laugh. But that 9 percent actually points to something hopeful. In a close race, a 9-point swing like that can matter. If Democrats had passed the reconciliation bill as well and could talk about universal pre-K, the child tax credit, clean energy investments, and subsidies for child care, they might have won even more back. And if Democrats were in touch culturally, though, that swing could be even higher
A major new survey from Jacobin, YouGov, and the Center for Working-Class Politics points to another way that cultural chasm can be bridged: with candidates who focus on these economic issues but don’t talk like juniors at Oberlin.
...Broadly, Jacobin did not find evidence to support the Great Left Hope that if the masses would turn out in full at the ballot box, they’d eagerly support democratic socialists candidates and policies. “Many working-class voters in advanced economies have actually moved to the left on questions of economic policy (favoring more redistribution, more government spending on public goods, and more taxation of the very wealthy), while remaining culturally or socially moderate,” they write. They contrast this from where mainstream Democrats have gone: left on culture while “tempering their economic progressivism.”
But the survey also pointed to how they could be won over, and the results mapped with Levison’s and Barefoot’s findings. Language Jacobin described as “woke” created a cultural barrier between voters and candidates that diminished support for both “woke progressive” and “woke moderate” candidates, while universal, populist language did best for Democrats. Notably, “woke messaging decreased the appeal of other candidate characteristics,” they write. “For example, candidates employing woke messaging who championed either centrist or progressive economic, health care, or civil rights policy priorities were viewed less favorably than their counterparts who championed the same priorities but opted for universalist messaging.” Startlingly, the survey found a 30-plus point gap between support for a teacher running on a populist, universalist message versus a CEO running with a moderate economic platform, couched in woke rhetoric reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.