Saturday, October 15, 2016

Clinton Voters

Clinton voters.

That's a phrase we haven't heard much in this election cycle. Harry Enten of 538 likes to point out that never before has a voting bloc this big been so -under-analyzed. I keep hearing story after story after story about "Trump voters" in this election. They have become about the most tiresome thing around. A reporter goes to northeast Ohio or western Pennsylvania and interviews a resentful white person with a blue collar background and talks about economic anxiety and never racism or culture. With very, very, few exceptions, Trump voters are just Republicans. I find the Republicans who aren't voting for Trump a much more revealing and interesting group to examine, since they might be the fulcrum that future elections turn on.

But what about Hillary Clinton's voters? They gave her many more votes than any candidate in the primaries, including both Sanders and Trump. They are also poised to put her in the White House. We may be witnessing the creation of a new New Deal coalition, and instead we're spending our time hanging on every word from racist retired steelworkers from Youngstown. Reporters should be talking to politically moderate Asian and Latino voters, since they are the ones who will be putting Hillary over the top.

Here's a little secret: historically party affiliation in America has had as much or more to do with identity than with political ideology. Both parties are broad coalitions of different groups with a lot of ideas and interests in common, but also some cleavages. The party that builds a coalition of groups that are bigger than the groups of their opponents wins. This is what happened with the Democrats for decades after 1932. The New Deal brought together the traditional party constituencies of southern whites and northern urban immigrants with African Americans, blue collar workers more broadly, and educated liberals. Of course, the party could not maintain such a coalition, as African Americans had a much different agenda than the southern Democrats still pining for the Confederacy and violently defending Jim Crow.

What is the new Democratic coalition? African Americans, gays,  organized labor, educated white liberals, coastal city dwellers more broadly, Latinos, Asians, and perhaps now white suburban women. (White women went for Romney, it looks like Clinton will get them.) Asians and Latinos used to split their vote less decisively, but now that the Republican brand is tinged with white nationalism, the Democrats have been able to increase their advantage with those groups. While I am not happy with the party's economic centrism since the time of Bill Clinton, it has meant not scaring off middle class voters who might have gone Republican, and has allowed the Democrats to capture voters repelled by the conservative culture war.

The primaries this year showed the challenge of keeping this coalition together. Younger voters within the party are further to the left and not as committed to the party. Progressives generally are tired of New Democrat centrism. Either the voters on the left or the moderates could get alienated. However, these are small concerns next to what Republicans are facing. Trump has mobilized a lot their voters, but Mormons, some evangelicals, Republicans of color, women generally, and highly educated conservatives have been repelled by him. While the Democrats had a contentious primary and convention, the Bernie or Bust folks are not disrupting the party the way that the Never Trump faction has done on the other side.

So please, let's analyze "Clinton voters." They're the coalition saving us from the Trumpist nightmare.


Aimai said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I could not agree more with your analysis and its just very, very, needed at this moment. I think its very problematic that AA, women, Jews, ethnic minorities and the entire New Democratic Coalition---the Obama coalition in fact--are being treated rhetorically by the media and by the Republican party as non existent or illegitimate. I mean--I get why Republicans consistently try to vanish race and gender and specifically AA/latino voters and female voters but there's excuse for it from the media.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Clinton voters are under-analyzed, but we probably disagree as to why this is. In my interpretation, Clinton voters aren't subject to much scrutiny because they are perceived by progressive and centrist media types as the "normal" from which the freakshow of Trump voters deviate. And so just as Trump himself gets way more coverage and publicity than he deserves because of ridiculous behavior, the internet is full of think pieces explaining who these people are and what their grievances may be, even though, as you say, they are 90% identical to the people who voted for Romney. However, because Trump is a very different kind of candidate than Romney, they are portrayed as some sort of anomaly to be explained. If people living in the bubble of journalism and academia ever converse with someone on the Right, it's almost certain to be of the David Brooks, David Frum variety. In other words "normal," domesticated Republicans. Here lies the problem; maybe it's because I've been living in Erdogan's Turkey, but I don't find it surprising at all that Trump has a mass appeal, or that a lot of people find what he has to say appealing. I have to wonder about some of our progressive friends (in the social media sense). Were these people born yesterday?

James W.