Starting with a series of three posts back in early April 2005, The Future of the Electorate, The Future of the Electorate, Part Two, and Maybe It Is A Battle Of Civilizations, for a little over two years now I have argued that a pluralistic vs. monoculture vision of identity politics, specifically based largely in ethnicity and religion, is the fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican coalitions both now, and probably for the foreseeable future. For those of you unfamiliar with the argument, or those of you who simply have not seen me deliver it lately, here is a quick summary (please reference the three articles linked above for citation on any statistics):
Whites who self-identify as non-Christian (Jewish, no religion, or other religion) vote for Democrats at roughly the same 70-75% rate as do non-whites. As such, the current Democratic coalition is by far the most diverse ever assembled in the history of American politics. For example, in 2006, according to exit polls, 89% of African-American voters, 87% of Jewish voters, 75% of GLBT voters, 74% of non-religious voters, 71% of voters with an “other” (non-Christian, non-Jewish) religion, 69% of Latino voters, and 62% of Asian-American voters chose the Democratic candidate for US House. Every single one of these numbers either breaks, or closely approaches, the all-time Democratic performance record with each group. Basically, if there is a minority in this country, not only did it vote for Democrats, but it did so by a super-majority. In fact, roughly 60% of all Democratic voters fit into at least one of the demographic groups listed above, compared to about only 20% of Republican voters. Thus, the quickest, if perhaps over generalized, way to summarize the difference between the two major political coalitions in America is a majority white Christian coalition (Republicans), and a majority non-white and / or non-Christian coalition (Democrats). This is a trend that has been taking place for some time. In 2006, Democrats won the non-White Christian vote 74%--25%. In 2004, Kerry won the non-White Christian vote 68%--31%. In 2000, Gore won the non-White Christian vote 68%--27%. Overall, Democrats have not won a majority of the white Christian vote in a presidential election since 1964.
The difference in the levels of diversity between the two major coalitions is not an accident, but instead the direct result of the values espoused, and actions undertaken by, each group. Starting with opposition to the 1964 Civil Right’s Act, Republicans successfully broke the New Deal coalition through an uninterrupted series of appeals to the national majority culture at the expense of a minority scapegoat. This has included, but is not limited to, all of the following: race-baiting opposition to affirmative action, vehement campaigning against gay marriage and all forms of GLBT rights, the war on drugs, the war on terror and terms like “Islamofacism,” overtly cultural supremacist campaigning on immigration, Willie Horton and fear-mongering about crime, the latent anti-Semitism in the great backlash narrative against “liberal elites,” the war on Christmas and alarmist warnings about the removal of religion from public life. While not necessarily always champions for the minorities scapegoated in each of these attacks, Democrats have frequently provided an alternative on each of these issues that is far more open and pluralistic, thus leading to their overwhelming electoral advantage among all of the scapegoated groups.
While Republicans were able to break the New Deal coalition through these mono-culture appeals, changing American demographics resulted in this strategy containing the seeds of its own eventual defeat. Non-whites and / or non-Christians represent more than 100% of American population growth. Further, while 65% of Americans born before 1965 self-identify as white Christian, only 41% of Americans born between 1965 and 1994 self-identify as white Christian (if you want to know why young voters are so pro-Democrat, that is why). Thus, Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmare comes to pass. America is currently undergoing a profound, and broadly based, cultural shift that holds the potential not only for a sustainable, long-term Democratic governing majority, but also for a more progressive and pluralistic society. At some point in the next ten years or fifteen years, America will no longer be a majority white Christian nation. A few years later, probably in 2024, and certainly by 2028, the American electorate will no longer be majority white Christian. Given this, if maintained, or even expanded, the Democratic advantage within each of the ethnic and religious minorities listed above will lead to a long-term Democratic governing majority over the next two or three decades.
So, that is the gist of my big picture demographic analysis on the current state of, and emerging future of, the American electorate. Please note that by pointing out this cultural and demographic shift in America, I am not assigning it positive or negative values (or, at least I am not trying to do so). Instead, I am simply just trying to point out that it is happening. Also, whenever I pursue this avenue of investigation, several commenters also point out that there are plenty of progressive and / or Democratic white Christians, and such groups shouldn’t be written off. I agree wholeheartedly, and that it not what I am trying to do here. Rather, after thinking about this transformation for a number of years, I wish to better understand its causes and, from that point, recommend avenues of action for Democrats and progressives to ensure that it continues unabated. After two years of doing little more than writing about this trend, it seems to me that launching a new website is as good a time as any to take this analysis to the next level. Instead of just writing about this demographic shift, what specific recommendations can be made to ensure that Democrats and progressive maintain their pluralist advantage, and thus allow this potentially long-term, sustainable majority manifest itself? In other words, what is “the pluralist strategy” for Democrats and progressives?
We are in desperate need of such a strategy. If Democrats are receiving more than two-thirds of the vote from the demographic and cultural groups that represent more than 100% of American population growth, it is not much of a stretch to start envisioning a long-term, Democratic governing majority. In the 2006 elections, we already witnessed the potential of this coalition, both with Democrats retaking Congress and with House Democrats scoring 60% of the vote among voters under 30, an extremely diverse generation at the front-line of this transformation. Why are Democrats performing so well among these groups, and what can be done to make certain that Democrats continue to perform well among these groups? Here are some preliminary ideas:
Target Republican moderates. This might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, especially when starting a new website that aims to foreground partisanship to a lesser degree than MyDD. Wouldn’t it be better if there were a broad progressive coalition that included members of both major parties, thus allowing progressive ideas to potentially be passed even under Republican administrations? In this case, I am not convinced, since the rise of the pluralistic coalition was accomplished largely through the conservative movement’s dominance of the Republican Party. Religious and ethnic minorities were turned off by the cultural supremacist elements of the Republican Party just as much, if not more so, than they were turned on by any aspect of the Democratic Party. It thus seems reasonable that the best way to ensure the continued coherence of what I will tentatively call “The Pluralist Coalition” would be to remove the more open, tolerant and pluralist elements from the opposing, conservative coalition. Targeting Republican moderates would give the conservative movement an even greater stranglehold over the Republican Party, thus making it even less appealing to ethnic and religious minorities.
Never, ever turn right-wing on immigration. In yesterday’s post on the relatively poor performance of Democratic women running for U.S. House, I mentioned that multiple inside sources had told me Rahm Emanuel, and a few other members of the Democratic electoral elite, thought that Democratic women needed to outflank Republicans from the right on immigration in order to win. If you are looking to find a “self-destruct” button in this emerging Democratic and progressive majority, that seems like a pretty good option to try out. Encouraging Democratic candidates for US House to become aggressively anti-immigrant it about the best way I can imagine to make the Democratic coalition seem less open and less tolerant, thus driving down our numbers among ethnic minorities. Further, I seriously doubt it would even result in a few more victories in the short-term. Hopefully, this isn’t actually a widespread position among the Democratic electoral elite, or at least a position that any major Democratic candidates will adopt based on their advice.
Stop looking for “Sistah Souljah” moments, and start attacking. Since 1992 never ended for many neoliberals and DLC-nexus types, it has become virtually gospel that in order to win national elections, or at least be taken credibly on the national stage, Democrats must themselves engage in scapegoating, calling out, or otherwise distancing themselves from supposed “extremist” minorities in their own party. This may have been necessary back when conservative mono-culture tactics had led to numerous Republican landslide victories in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but it is no longer necessary now that the demographic and cultural situation in America favors Democrats. Instead of calling each other out, what progressives need to do now is take better advantage of the numerous opportunities presented in public statements of conservative and Republican extremism. For example, a few months ago, Rep. Don Young of Alaska said that those who oppose the American presence in Iraq should be should be "arrested, exiled, or hanged." Not exactly a shining example of tolerance and pluralism, but Democrats did virtually nothing to take advantage of that statement. The problem is that we live in a media culture where calling out the Don Young’s of the world has little incentive, while calling out liberals and progressives is heavily incentivized. That needs to change if Democrats wish to press their diversity advantage.
Govern Progressively. Beyond all of the other suggestions already listed, above all else a key for Democrats will be to actually govern in a way that makes the lives of ethnic and religious minorities better in this country. This actually connects to a wide range of policy areas—universal health care, improved public education, immigration policy, lowered transportation costs, etc.—that will also make the lives of pretty much all Americans better. If, for example, a Democratic trifecta were to pass universal health care legislation in 2010, or thereabouts, and if they were to do so against vehement Republican objections, huge swaths of the electorate would become loyal Democrats and progressives for a long time. The New Deal coalition was built largely by implementing legislation that improved the lives of the vast majority of Americans. Any long-term, sustainable governing majority is required to do the same thing. The Republican majority coalition was not sustainable, simply because it was not making many people’s lives better.
This is just a quick sketch of some ideas on how to press the progressive and Democratic advantage on pluralism. I would like to hear any ideas you might have. Also, I want to note that I keep emphasizing Democratic and progressive, because it is very hard for me to imagine such a diverse coalition somehow being a moderate one. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is extremely diverse, for example, and it seems very much to represent the demographic trends of America as a whole. Thus, moving toward a pluralist strategy not only strikes me as moving toward a strategy that will be successful in the electoral realm, but also toward bring a progressive Democratic governing majority, not just any Democratic governing majority, to life.