Move Left, Democrats - The New York Times
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
"By Steve Phillips, www.nytimes.com February 21st, 2017
"The Democratic National Committee will choose its next leader on Saturday, and when it does it should choose a leader who will resist the pressure to pursue the wrong white people. Hundreds of articles have been written about the imperative of attracting more support from white working-class voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but then bolted to back Donald J. Trump.
The far more important — and largely untold — story of the election is that more Obama voters defected to third- and fourth-party candidates than the number who supported Mr. Trump. That is the white flight that should most concern the next D.N.C. chairman, because those voters make up a more promising way to reclaim the White House. The way to win them back is by being more progressive, not less.
To be clear, all white voters matter. But Democrats must make tough, data-driven decisions about how to prioritize their work. Right now, too many are using bad math and faulty logic to push the party to chase the wrong segment of white voters. For example, Guy Cecil, who spent nearly $200 million as head of the progressive “super PAC” Priorities USA, urged the party to rebuild trust with the “millions of white voters who voted for President Obama and Donald Trump.”
The math underlying that conclusion is incorrect (Mr. Trump picked up not “millions,” but only 784,000 white votes in the 10 battleground states he won by single digits). And it misses the bigger — and more fixable — problem of white Democratic defections to third- and fourth-party candidates.
Representative Keith Ellison, a contender for Democratic National Committee chairman, spoke outside the Capitol early this month. Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images
Photo by: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton lost the decisive states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan by 77,744 votes; the number of Democratic votes dropped significantly from 2012 levels, and the Republican total increased by about 440,000 votes. The third- and fourth-party surge, however, was larger than the Republican growth, with 503,000 more people choosing the Libertarian or the Green candidate than had done so in 2012. When you look at the white vote in those states, the picture is even more stark.
In Wisconsin, according to the exit poll data, Mrs. Clinton received 193,000 fewer white votes than Mr. Obama received in 2012, but Mr. Trump’s white total increased over Mitt Romney’s by just 9,000 votes. So where did the other 184,000 Wisconsin whites go? A majority went to third and fourth parties, which, together, received 100,000 more white votes than they did in 2012.
In Michigan, where 75 percent of the voters were white, Mrs. Clinton received about 295,000 fewer votes than Mr. Obama did, but the Republican total increased by just 164,000 votes. The ranks of those voting third and fourth party leapt to more than 250,000 last year from about 51,000 in 2012, and Mrs. Clinton fell short by just 10,704 votes.
In Pennsylvania, the Democrats’ problem was not with white voters, but with African-Americans. Mrs. Clinton actually improved on the Democratic 2012 results with whites, but over 130,000 unenthused black voters stayed home, and she lost by about 44,000 votes.
If Democrats had stemmed the defections of white voters to the Libertarian or Green Parties, they would have won Michigan and Wisconsin, and had they also inspired African-Americans in Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton would be president.
If progressive whites are defecting because they are uninspired by Democrats, moving further to the right will only deepen their disillusionment. But if the next D.N.C. chairman can win them back, the country’s demographic trends will tilt the field in Democrats’ favor. As Mrs. Clinton’s popular vote margin showed, there is still a new American majority made up of a meaningful minority of whites and an overwhelming majority of minorities. Not only is there little evidence that Democrats can do significantly better with those white working-class voters who are susceptible to messages laced with racism and sexism, but that sector of the electorate will continue to shrink in the coming years. Nearly half of all Democratic votes (46 percent) were not white in 2016, and over the next four years, 10 million more people of color will be added to the population, as compared with just 1.5 million whites.
Keith Ellison, a D.N.C. chairman candidate, has a proven record of engaging core Democratic voters rather than chasing the elusive conservative whites, and the party would be in good hands under his stewardship. (Thomas E. Perez, the former labor secretary, has less electoral history, but his reliance on political superstars such as the strategist Emmy Ruiz, who delivered victories for Democrats in Nevada and Colorado, is encouraging.)
Whoever prevails as chairman must resist the pressure to follow an uninformed and ill-fated quest for winning over conservative white working-class voters in the Midwest. The solution for Democrats is not to chase Trump defectors. The path to victory involves reinspiring those whites who drifted to third-party candidates and then focusing on the ample opportunities in the Southwest and the South.
Mrs. Clinton came closer to winning Texas than she did Iowa. She fared better in Arizona, Georgia and Florida than she did in the traditional battleground state of Ohio. The electoral action for Democrats may have once been in the Rust Belt, but it’s now moving west and south."
Move Left, Democrats - The New York Times