Back in 1988, I became obsessed with a compute game called President Elect 1988, which was an early PC game that simulated a variety of historical and ahistorical presidential elections. One of the lessons I learned from the game is that it was a lot easier for Democrats to win if they nominated a southerner, and especially if another southerner was also on the ballot as vice-president. As such, four years later, when I was barely old enough to vote in the Democratic primary in New York, I liked Jerry Brown (despite his horrendous sales tax proposal) but also didn't mind if Bill Clinton won, because I figured Clinton could win some southern states and take the general election. When Clinton chose Al Gore as his running mate, I was pretty happy, since my lesson from playing hundreds of games of President Elect was that there was pretty much no way such a ticket could lose during an economic downturn.
That was all well and good, and it worked well for its time. The civil rights backlash had fractured the New Deal coalition, and white, socially conservative, working class and middle class voters were turning to Republicans in droves. The vast majority of these voters lived in the south, which had once been a solid Democratic region and gave Democrats a nearly unbreakable partisan hold on power in Washington, D.C. The so-called "Republican Revolution" of the time was basically flipping conservative southern whites. These were the so-called "Reagan Democrats" who Dems became obsessed with winning back after the Mondale general election fiasco. While Clinton used them to win in 1992, in 1994, Republicans flipped these voters for good, and took control of Congress. Now, this is a group of voters that chooses Republicans in general elections by margins of more than 2-1.
While this treads into "votes that don't matter" territory, the truth is that after watching politics for more than twenty years, at this point trying to win back those "Reagan Democrats" feels like a lost cause. I've had enough of it. I'm tired of how trying to appeal to these voters basically never seems to work, but always succeeds in pushing the Democratic Party to the right. I'm tired of how it has created a perception in the Democratic Party that the progressive base don't matter, except as an ATM machine. And I'm tired of it because it has just gone on for so long at this point that we now have massive, emerging Democratic voting blocks that we should appeal to instead: non-Christian whites, the "creative class," and Latinos / Asians. While the once-Democratic and now Republican "Reagan" Dems are growing pretty darn old, the future of the country and the electorate can be found elsewhere. Why continue to chase after voting groups that are shrinking in size, that push the party to the right, and who we never seem to win anyway, when instead we can chase after far more fertile voting blocks that will push the party to the left and who represent more than 100% of the population growth in the United States?
One of the reasons is that Reagan Dems are still voting, and still on the brink of swinging not only the 2008 general election, but also the 2008 primary for the same stupid, racist reasons that they put Republicans in power back in the last quarter of the 20th century . Consider the following chart from Brendan Nyahn:
Clinton's primary coalition thus far has been largely kept afloat by older Reagan Dems who also tend to be white southern Baptists. And yes, they also tend to be older, as exit polls have shown. And yes, it is all about the same racially charged political battles of older generations that Reagan and other conservatives exploited to rise to power during the final quarter of the 20th century. John Judis:
Obama has to worry about the Reagan or Bush Democrats, white working class voters who used to be Democrats, but often back Republican presidential candidates. Bill Clinton won many of these voters back; but Al Gore lost them in 2000 and John Kerry lost them in 2004. Many of these voters are not participating in the Democratic or Republicans primaries--and they'll make the difference in November in states like Ohio and Missouri. But of the voters that are participating, Clinton did much better among them, winning over 60 percent of them in Ohio.
Could Obama win these voters in the fall? There is no precise way to tell from the polls, but one rough measure is to look at how racial factors affect voters. Many white working class voters abandoned the Democrats in the '80s because of the complex of issues that surround race--including crime, education, and welfare. Obama could have a problem among these voters because he is an African American.
The exit polls ask voters whether the "race of the candidates" was "important" in deciding their vote. If one looks at the percentage of Clinton (and earlier Edwards) voters who said it was "important," that is a fair estimate of the overall percentage of primary voters who were not inclined to vote for Obama because he was black. In Texas and California, this number is complicated by presence of Latino voters, some of whom might also be less inclined to vote for a black candidate.
In some February 5 states, the overall percentage of white (or Latino) primary voters who voted for white candidates partly because of race was pretty high. It was 9.5 percent, for instance, in New Jersey. In the general election, that percentage is likely to double; and some of these additional voters will be white working class or Latino voters that a Democratic candidate needs to win. In Wisconsin, the number was very low--only 6 percent. But in Ohio, a crucial swing state, it was 11.4 percent. That's a real danger sign for Obama in a state where elections can be decided by one or two percentage points.
I don't doubt that there is a probably an equally sizable portion of Obama voters who are supporting him because they can't vote for the "overly ambitious," "calculating," "cold," and whatever other conservative adjectives have long been used to cover up blatant sexism toward Hillary Clinton. Still, that doesn't make me feel any better that after all this time we are still slogging through the wake of Reagan Dems who are basically conservatives who bought into the backlash against the civil rights movement and moved the country to the right as a result. Obama is getting crushed among these voters, as exit polls, the above chart, and the analysis of Judis demonstrate. And basically, he is getting crushed among these voters because he is an African-American.
Here is the thing: I don't care if Democrats ever make up any ground among Reagan Democrats, as long as we lock up the support of expanding groups like the creative class, white non-Christians, Latinos and Asians for a generation. I'll take that trade any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Importantly, it feels to me as though we can make that trade if Barack Obama becomes the nominee, but that we will be making the opposite trade if Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee. While Clinton's advantage among Latinos and Asians does not make it a perfect match, Obama's primary coalition is far closer to the coalition we need for an expanding future of the Democratic Party, while Clinton's primary is a lot more like the coalition we have been chasing after for the past twenty-five years or so. It is in this demographic sense that I partially accept Obama's message about "moving beyond the political divides of the past" and into a new America. I'm tried of the old coalitions, and eager for the promising new ones that hold such tremendous potential for a generational progressive majority.
I am so sick of chasing after the "Reagan Democrats" whose backlash against the civil-rights movement has held progressivism in America back for so long. While I freely admit that there are many people opposing Hillary Clinton for equally chauvinistic and offensive reasons as there are people opposing Barack Obama, overall those voters are probably a minority of the same Reagan Democrats after which I am tired of chasing. I'm just sick and tired of this group being the dominant swing voting block in the United States, and I want to move past it. Demographically speaking, Obama does appear to be the candidate who can do that better than Hillary Clinton, and I freely admit that is one reason I would prefer for Obama to be the nominee.