Democrats’ loss represents more than ‘failure of communication’

Published 11:43 am Thursday, December 1, 2016


Contributing writer

We haven’t seen this much drama and emotion surrounding a presidential election since Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.  As we know, that didn’t end well.

Email newsletter signup

This election has its own California secession movement, violent street demonstrations and plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth. The reactions seem over-wrought. The result is surely disappointing to some; it’s disappointing to them, but it is not the end of the world. There are many elections to come. For now, it is time to review the results in order find out why the election came out the way it did.

A steady flow of new books, purporting to explain why the Democrats lost, are being released. The authors’ consensus is working-class middle America did not vote Democratic. That is a demonstrable fact. Since many of the authors assume working-class economic interests are best served by Democratic policies, the votes must be a “failure of communication,” as Nancy Pelosi explains it. If it is a communication problem, the policies must be OK, so there is no need for introspection.    

Most of these books were written by academics from either the east or west coasts; they argue the voters were “duped” by those fast-talking, evil Republicans. This assumes working class people are easily manipulated and don’t know what is in their own self-interest; i.e., the Democrats must tell them what’s best.

Consider what might be learned if we assume voters know what’s best for them and they rejected the Democratic party on that basis? In other words, voters rejected the party because they think it does not serve their interests or reflect their values. The Democrats lost all the down ballot races, including state elections; therefore, the problem is with the party and not just the person who was running for president.

Characterizations of working class voters do not do them justice. Overall, they are independent, blunt, patriotic, religious, family-oriented and they support law and order. In contrast, Democrats distrust independent people and insist they act through “communities” who make collective decisions with which everyone agrees. Independent people do not join groups; that’s why they don’t demonstrate in the streets. If they start demonstrating, something important is about to happen. Further, Democrats prefer identity politics which asserts the U.S. discriminates against all protected classes, uneducated whites discriminate against others, and our foreign policy causes most of the world’s problems.

An objective observer might conclude Democratic policies tend to make people dependent on government, have an adverse effect on families, are hostile to Christianity/western culture, and are over solicitous of foreign cultures who confront us, even if they publicly declare their intentions to destroy us.

If you compare Democratic policies/values item by item with working class characteristics/values, the relevant question is why working class voters would ever vote for Democrats. The answer is Republicans rarely offer a viable opponent. The Republicans are known as the big business party. Mitt Romney, a thoroughly decent man, failed to win because he was a perfect example of big business culture.  Trump correctly read the political currents.

The primary task for Republicans is to convince the working class (white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) they have a home in the new Republican party. The Republicans can do this by growing the economy, as Trump says he can do; by dismantling the crony capitalist DC structure (“drain the swamp”); by apolitical investment in infrastructure; by insisting on free but fair trade; and by reversing restraints on competition, whether government sponsored or not.

Conservatives hope Democrats stick with their current plan to blame “irredeemable deplorables” for their loss. Calling the voters racists, misogynists, homophobic, or Islamaphobic is not a promising election strategy. Further, to continue the “irredeemable” chant they must explain their special definition of the word “inclusive.” Accusing your fellow citizens of being racists, etc. is by no means inclusive.    

If they follow this strategy, the Democrats become a regional party and that is not good for our democracy. The country needs competition from two parties, because competition improves everyone’s game.       

Bob Martin is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.