Friday, December 02, 2016

Will Dems Learn the Wrong Lessons?

After any election the losing party has to retrench and figure out how to win the next election. There is always a risk that, in the throes of anguish, they will draw the wrong conclusions. I fear the Democrats are in grave danger of doing that. Let's start with some numbers:
Total votes (through 12/1)
Obama 2012: 65,918,507 (51%)
Clinton 2016: 65,224,847 (48%)

Trump 2016: 62,679,259 (46%)
Romney 2012: 60,934,407 (47%)

Michigan Vote
Trump margin: 10,704; Stein total: 51,463

Trump margin: 46,765; Stein total: 49,678

Trump Margin: 22,177; Stein total: 31,006
By the time all the votes are counted, Hillary will have won roughly the same number of votes Obama did in 2012, somewhere near 3 million more than Trump, and a full two percentage points more votes. She lost because 80,000 people scattered across three states tipped the electoral college in Trump's favor--fewer people than voted for a very marginal third-party candidate. She lost because her voters lived in the wrong state, not because there were fewer of them. (I would feel terrible if I lived in Wisconsin and voted Stein, but I don't think there's any value in saying she "threw" the election.)

In fact, it was Trump who overperformed Romney rather than Hillary underperforming Obama. His rancid, divisive message was squarely in the center of the GOP and fired them up. Remember all these things: he is NOT an outlier among Republicans and Republicans STILL can't appeal to a majority/plurality of Americans. They are a minority group far out of step with the rest of us. This is a hugely important point because reacting to this election as if the voters "rejected" Democratic arguments will lead to solutions to problems that don't exist. 

Nevertheless, Dems did lose the election, and it's worth considering the biggest reasons. We should assume for the moment that 47% of the electorate will never abandon a candidate from the Republican Party in a presidential election. The question is how you win the majority of the gettable voters in states that can throw an election. There were several divides demographically:
  • Race. For decades, the GOP has appealed covertly to white voters, and have slowly eroded their support among nonwhites. Trump was +20% among whites, and Clinton was +53% among nonwhites. This probably understates actual nonwhite totals, which are typically undercounted during exits (in the coming months, better data will emerge). Still, it's revealing enough. Note that this divide was especially exaggerated among the non-college educated. Whites without a college degree favored Trump by 37%; nonwhites favored Hillary by 56%.
  • Rural versus Urban. Voters in rural areas favored Trump by 27%, voters in urban areas favored Hillary by 26%. (They were evenly divided in the suburbs.)
  • Age and Gender. Men were +11% for Trump, women +23% for Hillary. Young people (under 44 years) were +14% for Hillary; oldsters favored Trump by eight.
  • Income. Despite all the hand-wringing about the white working class and Hillary's supposed toxicity because of her connection to Wall Street, she handily won among those earning less than $50k (+12%).
The incessant focus on the white working class conceals several truths here. Those voters are older and whiter than the population as a whole and shrinking as a slice of the electorate. The Democratic base of young, urban, nonwhite voters is growing and must be the center of the party's focus. I know, I know, but some guy who writes for Vox has an uncle in Ohio who voted for Trump and Obama. Please ignore these kinds of stories. They grossly distort who the Dems should actually be paying attention to.

Those numbers tell Dems who their voters are, but not what will appeal to them. Two days after the election, Pew surveyed voters and asked what the "very big problems" our leaders should be addressing. Among Dems, the top four answers were:
  • Gun violence (73% of respondents)
  • Gap between rich and poor (72%)
  • Climate change (66%)
  • Affordability of a college education (66%)
Hillary ran a terrible campaign, no question. (Though to be fair, it wasn't obvious how to run against a candidate like Trump; given a do-over I'm certain she'd make very different decisions.) She basically never mentioned any of these. All of these issues strike at the coalition Hillary should be cultivating of younger urban voters. Moreover, there are certain issues that Trump ran on which are actually central to Democratic policy: job opportunities for working-class Americans (63% of the GOP cited this), drug addiction (62% of the GOP cited it), and even infrastructure, which was an issue favored by Dems, but strongly highlighted by Trump. Antipathy to Wall Street, support for a social safety net (family leave, childcare), marijuana issues--there are a host of important issues that are broadly popular among most voters.

What the Dems should not be doing is moving to the right or trying to appease the party in power. Even among the GOP, far-right policies are unpopular. Americans on the left are angry and feel government has failed them because the GOP obstruct things. The GOP are angry and feel government has failed them because their leaders don't do what they say. Addressing the problem from the left should avoid at all costs helping Republicans achieve what they want. That will enervate their own base, empower their opposition--oh, and destroy much of what liberals care about.

Finally, Dems need to recognize that the country has been captured by a minority party. We have a rural, white minority controlling all levers of power in the federal government. That creates a toxic situation in which the majority are ruled against democratic norms by the minority. When you add the racial split into it (along with the country's history of slavery and Jim Crow racism), when the winning (minority) candidate ran on a nakedly nativist platform, the whole thing is an irredeemable, anti-democratic mess. In addressing this situation, Dems absolutely must (for once!) act like they have the winning arguments, even if they lost the election. Because they do.

We'll see what they actually do in the coming weeks.

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