Democrat Strategists: Party ‘Lost Ground’ with Minorities, Populism Trumped Wokeness

MIAMI, FLORIDA- NOVEMBER 03: Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer for him outside of the Versailles restaurant as they await results of the presidential election on November 03, 2020 in Miami, Florida. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their …
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President Donald Trump’s populist coalition can overcome the Democrats’ effort to win votes from minorities and immigrants, say top Democrat strategists.

“The joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,” David Shor, a Democratic data expert, told Politico for a  November 12 article.

The White House may be lost to Joe Biden because of narrow Democratic gains in Midwest suburbia — but the GOP’s record populist turnout preserved the GOP’s Senate majority, gained seats in the House, and ensured GOP dominance in state redistricting after the 2020 census.

On Friday, Breitbart News reported that “Republicans have flipped 10 House seats, surpassing expectations of Democrats … So far, all of the Republicans who have flipped House Democrat seats are either a woman or a minority.”

The strength of Trump’s populism is most obvious in the non-presidential race, Shor said:

What’s really interesting is that this change was reflected down-ballot. That’s actually very surprising. In 2016, there were a lot of areas that swung 20 points against Democrats — rural, white working-class areas — but still voted for Democratic Senate, House and state legislative candidates. This year, in a lot of Hispanic areas, down-ballot Democrats got slaughtered. In Florida, we lost Hispanic House seats, and on the state-legislative level, it was pretty brutal. There was a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley [Texas’ 15th district] that we had won by 20 points in 2018 and 2016, and this time only won by 3 points … that really tells me that this was a change in [voters’] party ID [identification] more than anything specifically that Trump or Biden did.

Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira is pushing a similar message. His 2002 book — The Emerging Democratic Majority — legitimized the self-serving decision by elite Democrats to shift their strategy from helping blue-collar Americans. Instead, Democrats decided to win power by getting votes from millions of dependent minority and immigrant voters.

Trump’s populism overcame that strategy in 2020, Teixeira told Persuasion Community on November 6:

When you look at the Latino vote [for Democrats]… it fell off nationally, most catastrophically in Miami-Dade and Florida, but also in other places around the country. The more bankable empirical finding from this election is that—despite all the characterization of Trump as a racist (that, to some extent, he probably is)— this did not appear to be enough to move Latinos in any significant degree over to the Democrats. In fact, they lost ground. Why would that be?

Most Latinos are working class, and their issues are primarily around material things about their community, about healthcare, about the economy, about their jobs, about the recession, about Covid and its effect on their lives. It’s less that the more flamboyant Trump rhetoric around immigrants and race is hugely appealing to these voters, but rather they can discount it if they feel that Trump is still a guy who can shake things up, make things work. And they don’t really get what the Democrats are going to do for them. That was the money left on the table for the Democrats. Looking at the median Latino working-class voter, they didn’t hit the sweet spot, and they paid the price.

Nate Cohn, the New York Times’ polling expert, offered a similar message in a series of tweets:

Democrats *do* need to recognize just how much Trump pitch has really undermined the way they usually win elections. This has been true since 2016, but it’s been obscured by the focus on Trump’s appeals on race/immigration–and that liberals didn’t appreciate the ‘old’ way

To oversimplify *a lot*: between 92-12, Dems won elections by saying that the GOP was the party of business/corporations and the religious right. They were at their best when they could attack the GOP for outsourcing and trying to get rid of Planned Parenthood.

This playbook didn’t work against Trump On economics, he flipped the tables on outsourcing/trade/China, took social security off the table, and added immigration as a pitch, etc. Yes, he kept the tax cuts. But this is a far stronger economic position for the GOP

The Democrats’ political outreach is also made more difficult by the culture war agenda of “woke” white college-educated progressives, said Teixeira:

I don’t think there’s any doubt that wokeness, and the issues around that, helped brand the Democratic Party. The Democrats spent three months with a discourse dominated by the protests around George Floyd, racial justice and so on, culminating in the defund-and-abolish-the-police movement, which was basically of very little interest to the median voter. To the extent that the Democrats are identified with that rhetoric—from language-policing to terming the U.S. a White-supremacist society—the less able the party is to appeal to working-class voters of all races and moderate voters in general.

They need to put a lid on the culture-war stuff, and emphasize issues that are of broad concern to working- and middle-class people of all races. That’s the Democrats’ brand historically: that they’re for the common good and therefore the use of government to enhance that common good.

The Democrats’ increased reliance on white-collar professionals may prevent a Democratic outreach to the GOP’s middle-class coalition, Shor admitted:

As college-educated white people become a larger share of the Democratic coalition and a larger share of the Democratic voice, they do pull the party on cultural issues. Non-college educated white people have more culturally in common with working-class Black and working-class Hispanic voters. So, it should be unsurprising that as the cultural power of college-educated white people increases in the Democratic Party, non-white voters will move against us.

The Democrats’ progressive activists are allying with the new technology billionaires who largely control the social media environment and who have an enormous influence on voters.

Trump made a last-minute play for college grad votes by sharply curbing the flow of foreign visa workers into Fortune 500 jobs. The economic pitch to white-collar voters may have bumped up his share of college grads — although not enough to offset the loss of college graduate voters.

Still, the new divisions along class and economic lines can help reduce racial ones. Shor said:

So, the long-term trend probably is toward racial depolarization. And I think that’s really interesting and surprising. Racial [political] polarization had been steadily increasing from 1992 up until 2016; 2016 is when it reversed course, and a lot of people thought that was an aberration. But 2018 and 2020 show it’s not. It is very strange, in some ways, that Donald Trump kicked off an era of racial depolarization. I think the trends causing that will probably continue. But predictions about the future are very hard.

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