Monday, November 24, 2014

2014 Elections: The Democratic Party's problem with white Democrats

By Charles Brooks
While the 2014 elections showed Democrats their difficulties in defeating Republicans, the elections also revealed the problem the Democratic Party has in appealing to their white constituents. The Democrats now find themselves in a very precarious position as they find a way to put together a message that resonates with the white as well as the black voter. Let’s consider for a moment the 2014 exit poll, particularly the questions about race relations. For example, 40% said race relations in the country had stayed about the same in the last few years. 38% said they had gotten worse while 20% said they’ve gotten better. Certainly no surprise here but let’s consider remarks made by the Congressional Black Caucus Chairperson, Marcia Fudge (D-OH) when she stated that Democrats lost the white Southerners due in part to racism. “Democrats lost Senate control because we failed to mobilize young voters across racial and regional spectrums. We failed to persuade Southern voters to hold true to core Democratic values. We lost because the Hispanic community was insufficiently motivated. We lost because of ideological differences within the Democratic Party and with our Administration. We lost because our party has, to some extent, lost white Southerners due in part to the race of our President. We lost because the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon allowed a select few to subvert the political process with secret, unlimited money.  We lost because of gerrymandering in our state redistricting processes. We lost because of our continuing problem with a clear and compelling message that would encourage voters to stay with us.  Let the talking heads do what they do best: talk. But let’s be very clear in our analyses of the 2014 midterm elections. African Americans showed up. So don’t blame us! A review of the 2014 exit poll data verifies Rep. Fudge’s statement as the data indicates that while voter turnout for Hispanics and Blacks increased, the voter turnout for Whites went down, and overall turnout was quite low. 

The national exit poll reports the estimated black voter share was 10% in 2006, 11% in 2010 and 12% in 2014. Meanwhile the share of white voters declined from 79% in 2006 to 77% in 2010 and now to 75%.  In addition, the national exit poll data indicates that overall white voter turnout showed a very slight increase in 2014 (38%) compared to the 2010 midterms (37%) but a slight decrease in 2014 (38%) compared to 2012 elections (39%).  The Associated Press analysis of the exit polling data shows a racial gap in the electorate as whites were less likely to back Democratic candidates.  Their analysis states: “Across 21 states where Senate races were exit polled, whites broke for the Republican by a significant margin in all but four — Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon.   So apparently, the Democrats have a white voter turnout problem – but the question is how will the Democrats approach this issue and how will their approach impact on their pursuit of votes from Black America?

Democrats experienced a similar issue during the late seventies and through the eighties as more Democrats voted Republican thus giving rise to the term – The Reagan Democrats.  After Democrats lost every presidential election between 1980 and 1988 – it was Bill Clinton who pulled the Democrats out of the political wilderness and made the Democratic Party relevant again. It was Bill Clinton who not only resurrected but re-branded the Democratic Party as Democrats won presidential elections in 1992 and 1996.  What the Democrats did at the time was put together a playbook that featured messages that would appeal to the white voter by taking positions to end welfare, get tough on crime including support for the death penalty, and stop the talk about social programs for blacks that gave rise to policies that would be “racially neutral” and “universal”.  Again, what approach will the Democratic Party take in their pursuit of the white voter and how will this approach affect Black America’s political support of the Democratic Party – particularly as Hillary Clinton’s name is increasing mentioned as the front-runner for the 2016 election?  If nothing else, the 2014 elections should remind us of the centrality of race, or simply put - the profound role that race occupies in American politics.

For additional reading on this topic see Jamelle Boulle writes about the current problem the Democrats has with the white working class, Mr. Thomas Edsall’s essay in the New York Times, Ms. Nia Malika Henderson’s article in the Washington Post.

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