Tuesday, January 20, 2015

White People Confuse Me

A funny thing happened on the way to the future
We are seeing, with increasing frequency, thoughtful essays on the Democrat's political constituency, particularly with an eye to where they need to increase their numbers. The premise is that the traditional Democratic coalition of young people, minorities and college educated urban whites is strong, and the weakness is in middle-class and blue collar white workers. And it's true that even though the economy seems to be improving, those improvements aren't being experienced by older and blue collar/non college educated workers. And when they look at the traditional Democratic policy agenda, they see a lot of effort effort and capital expended to support the poor and minorities, and very little in the way of policy proposals that would improve their own lives.

The Democratic advantage in voter demographics is solid at a national level - somewhere between 3 and 6 percent and increasing as the share of the electorate retained by aging southern whites continues to fall. But this is not the point - the lesson to be learned from watching the national Republican party turn over the asylum to the inmates is that the singular role of political organizations is to win elections, and alienating and excluding large segments of the population is a very poor strategy for winning. The Democrats SHOULD always be thinking about how to broaden and deepen their coalition, and trying to peel off some disenfranchised Republicans is a good way to do it.

That said, this is what I don't understand. Under Obama, the lives of the middle class have not improved. Wages are flat, and they already had health insurance through their employer. They make too much money to qualify for assistance programs, and too little money to get out of debt or go on vacation. Increasingly, workforce automation, smarter computers and software and other productivity improvements are reducing the number and quality of employment opportunities for many, especially those without a college degree. So they look around, and they say "Hmm, the Democrats have not helped me - perhaps I'll vote Republican". And that's as it should be - when one is not happy with current conditions, one should consider one's options carefully.

But that's where the wheels come off. If they do consider their options carefully, what they'll see is a Republican party with a laser beam focus on actively and aggressively making their lives WORSE. In other words, the thing that confuses me is why people unhappy with their current financial state would ever consider voting Republican. Their policies would, like gasoline on a fire, only serve to accelerate the decline of the American middle class.

Now, of course the answer is, like most Americans they don't actually KNOW the policies of the two parties - they just vote for change when they aren't happy. And that's obviously true, to some extent. But if these targeted sub-groups of voters can't or won't understand the policy goals of the party or candidate they're voting for, isn't it pointless to try to convince them NOT to vote Republican? Wouldn't those narratives and entreaties be ineffective if the people are so disinterested or apathetic that they aren't willing to consider them in the first place?

Just as with advertising in general, one begins to have serious doubts about the efficacy of campaign messaging and advertising. If you can only communicate effectively with your most committed base voters, if all your campaign messaging and slick production values aren't heard by those you are speaking to, then elections are going to be decided based on events and trends outside the control of the political community.

It is a bafflement...


  1. It'd be nice if the Democrats became the party of unions again, rather than pushing bogus "trade" deals and assuming the unions have no where else to go.

    It's not that so many people vote for Republicans. It's that the Democrats need to get their base to show up. "Huh, who else ya gonna vote for, suckers!" doesn't get it done.

  2. Aren't you confused by most people, though?