Page: Dems need more diversity, too
Here we go again. Big election defeats inevitably are followed by major rounds of teeth-gnashing, shirt-rending, soul-searching, finger pointing, self-flagellating and circular firing squad shooting. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn. Again.
After Democrats’ recent thrashing in midterm congressional elections, the Democratic National Committee is launching a “top-to-bottom review,” DNC chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced.
Let me guess: I bet they’re going to reach conclusions very similar to the “autopsy” that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus launched after Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat. In short, they need, as the RNC says, “more outreach.”
And I am sure there will be pushback from the Dems’ left-wing base much like the Grand Old Party has received from the far-right, to wit: We don’t need no stinkin’ outreach; we just need to knock on more doors to rally our base.
In fact, a party can do both and, in these rapidly changing times, it is increasingly important for parties to do both. Both are important for the survival of the parties and the good of our national governance, which is getting lower approval ratings than either party.
Each party has mastered the art of turning out winning majorities of the electorate, but they’re turning out in different election years. The coalition that brings Democratic victories in national elections doesn’t show up in congressional midterm elections — and vice versa.
Two years ago Republican establishment leaders fretted that their party was getting too old, too white and too alienating to minorities, unmarried women and young voters.
After winning a majority of the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, Democrats had become the diversity party, in keeping with the nation’s demographic future.
But that was then. After this year’s disaster, the narrative has shifted back to where it once again is Democrats’ turn to fret about an old electoral woe that has plagued the party since the mid-1960s: White middle-class and working-class flight.
Democrats performed worse with white voters on Tuesday than in any other congressional election since World War II, according to David Paul Kuhn, chief political correspondent for RealClearPolitics and author of “The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma.”
Midterms typically turn out a much smaller, older, whiter and more conservative electorate than presidential election years. But this one revealed what the National Journal’s Ron Brownstein called a dangerous dependency by Democrats “on a boom-and-bust coalition of young people and minorities.” The coalition that brings Democratic victories in national elections doesn’t show up in congressional midterm elections.
What are Dems to do now?
As the Grand Old Party’s 2012 autopsy said, outreach matters. If Democrats want to compete for Congress in the off-years, they need more support from middle-class and older whites. That includes the most conservative demographic: white men without college degrees.
Bill Clinton demonstrated how to do that in 1992. “Bubba” broke his party’s losing streak by skillfully moving to the center on issues like crime, civil rights and welfare reform without losing his party’s liberal base. His campaign also mobilized a vigorous youth outreach that was largely duplicated by Obama in 2008.
Obama similarly was able to overcome the perils of racial prejudice partly by focusing on economic issues with a reassuring common-sense approach. As Kuhn points out, white support for Obama before the September 2008 crash was very similar to that of earlier Democratic nominees. But after the crash, “he earned the support of more white men than any other Democrat since 1976.” He also improved with white women, winning a traditional share for Democrats.
Since then the electorate obviously has become much more polarized. Our elections increasingly seem to be determined not so much by persuading people to change their minds as by persuading your own side to show up at the polls with more people than the other side.
Clarence Page writes for the Chicago Tribune.