Old Math for New Dems and New Math for Old Dems
Lots of links this week. But first, I'm exercising my right to complain about the namby-pamby headline, which doesn't really capture the scope of the column, but then again, I can't think of a better one, and it is a pretty wonky number-crunching essay. But aren't writers allowed (supposed?) to complain about editors without having a better alternative in mind? Here's the newspaper's website version of the column.
This column is, as far as I know, a historical first--the first time anyone ever wrote about Mark Warner without mentioning Dave "Mudcat" Sanders and Steve Jarding, who were the political consultants for the 2001 campaign. For those of you discomforted by that lack of inside baseball, you can read the best profile of them that I've seen by Matt Labash in, yes, The Weekly Standard.
Also, I know the column has a weird lede, but with all that Mitch Albom business, where the Detroit Free Press columnist filed his NCAA men's basketball championship game column in advance and wrote about something that was supposed to, but then didn't actually, happen, I didn't want to cause a scandal if Warner's flight got cancelled and he didn't speak the night before the column ran. (What do you call that tense, the past-future defensive?) The event at which Warner spoke Saturday evening was about the apotheosis of a bad political party dinner; it was a nice thought to honor former State Party Chairs, including yours truly, but the evening was a nice summary of why rational people don't like to attend these things. And if you want to know why, I'll explain it -- at length, and using a really bad sound system, so you can't hear me over the noise of people eating.
You can check out the full Pew Hispanic survey, as well as the Pew Center research showing Democrats being more conflicted on cultural issues than Republicans. Today's New York Times has a depressing, but important, front page article on how meth abuse is straining the foster care and social services systems in rural America, another example of where current policies aren't just not going good things for rural America, they're affirmatively harmful. And it's in the column, but the Progressive Legislative Action Network website and David Sirota's individual weblog are where you go for angry white guy policy stuff.
Finally, the local Phoenix papers didn't cover Warner's speech, but the Washington Post did. So maybe now that it's been in the national media, the local folks will play "catch up" by writing a meta-story about how the national press covered something that happened in Phoenix.
DEMOCRATS NEED TO WIN OVER WORKING-CLASS WHITES
East Valley Tribune, Jul. 10, 2005
Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, elected with surprising support from rural voters supposedly off-limits to Democrats, was scheduled to speak to Arizona Democrats yesterday. That prompted me to study some math Democrats seem determined to ignore.
First, despite all the talk about Roe v. Wade or moderate Republicans’ discomfort with cultural conservatives, a recent Pew Research Center study, cited by Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect, shows Democrats are far more divided over cultural issues that Republicans. Democrats are the bigger tent, culturally; by harping on those issues, we just help Republicans avoid divisions on economic issues.
Second, while overall Hispanic population booms, the Hispanic vote hasn’t grown nearly so fast. The Pew Hispanic Center found that while between 2000 and 2004 total Hispanic population increased by 5.7 million, about two-thirds weren’t eligible to vote, being either under 18 or non-citizens.
Overall, Hispanic eligibility to vote (39 percent) is far lower than blacks (65 percent) or whites (76 percent). While increases in Hispanic registration and voting in 2004 were larger in percentage terms than for any other group, both rates still remain significantly lower overall. In 2004, only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, compared with 60 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites; overall, only 18 percent of all Hispanics voted, compared with 39 percent of blacks and 51 percent of whites.
Don’t let raw census data, or Mayor Villaraigosa’s victory in LA, obscure the data. In 2000, Hispanics represented 12.8 percent of the population and 5.5 percent of voters. By 2004, Hispanics increased to 14.3 percent of population, but only to 6 percent of voters. Ruy Teixiera of The Century Foundation notes the lag between Hispanic population growth and voting performance means Democrats can’t wait around for new Hispanic voters to win elections anytime soon. Don’t think “sleeping giant,” but instead “long, slow fuse.” Meanwhile, we need to persuade more working class whites to support Democrats.
So Warner’s success with rural voters wasn’t just required in Virginia, it’s still vital everywhere. Warner’s campaign realized that, contrary to perceived political wisdom, there were more persuadable voters in rural than suburban areas. National polling suggests these voters are voting Republican on cultural issues or from habit, but they aren’t solid, and lack of jobs, infrastructure, and healthcare are making them angry -- and persuadable.
Warner’s campaign reached these voters, in ways both small and cultural (sponsoring a NASCAR Craftsman Series racing team) and bigger and wonkish (detailed rural economic development initiatives). Warner’s campaign didn’t tell working-class voters that supporting Republicans is against voters’ economic interests; that sounds too much like telling them they’re stupid. Instead, Warner paid attention and offered these voters specifics that cut through the cultural clutter.
Likewise, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat elected in 2004 while Bush won by 20 points, campaigned on strengthening hunting and fishing access laws. This year, he got the legislature to fund conserving hunting habitat on private lands and for access to state waters. Too many Democrats only talk about the environmental side of conservation; they need to let rural and working-class voters that Democrats want to make sure they have places to hunt, fish, and camp -- while GOP lawmakers take those Scotland golf vacations.
Democrats could make inroads by ignoring the GOP-loyal pharmaceutical industry and recognizing the toll that methamphetamine takes on rural communities. All Democrats should fight for the Veterans Affairs health system (with one of the nation's best health information technology systems, because patients tend stay in the VA system, making the investment -- and improvements in outcomes -- worthwhile). And we should ask incumbent GOP lawmakers how many cost of living increases they’ve gotten while opposing any increase to the minimum wage.
There’s a new think-tank, the Progressive Legislative Action Network, that plans to assist progressive state legislators with these kinds of specific and targeted policy prescriptions. PLAN’s co-chair, David Sirota, is an economic populist who writes well, detests generalities, and takes few prisoners. PLAN wants to help provide the policies and politics than can reach these disaffected and persuadable not-yet-firmly-Republicans. Check it out later this year at www.progressivestates.com, because for the next three or four cycles, that’s where the action is.