Back in the days when the Democrats were a minority party lacking any politcal clout (i.e. last month) I often warned that if they ever hoped to become a national party again Democrats would need to improve their support among the affluent. In a society which is fairly affluent, despite too many being left behind, a party which is seen to represent only the interests of the have-nots is doomed to failure. Most voters are either reasonably well off or have hopes of future success and affluence, and have little interest in a party which ignores their interests. Before the election I noted many hopes for success, including increased Democratic support in the suburbs and among groups such as the Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans. USA Today notes the increased success for Democrats in the suburbs:
Democrats made large gains in suburbia in this month’s elections, pushing Republican turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, an analysis shows.
Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.
They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of “mature” 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there.
“Republicans are getting pushed to the fringes of the metropolis,” said sociologist Robert Lang, director of the institute. “They simply have to be more competitive in more suburbs,” he said, to win statewide and presidential races.
There are many reasons for this victory. The article notes that, “Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters.” Social issues were a major factor, but the change in the perception of Democrats on economic matters is also important. Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have stressed their desire for fiscal conservativism and to avoid big government programs perceived as far left. The 2006 elections were largely a repudiation of Republican policies, with victory coming from a coalition of both those who support traditional Democratic goals and those who might not but see Democrats as the only alternative to years of Republican failures. To keep their new majority coalition, especially with the old New Deal coalition long gone, Democrats must continue to consider the views of suburbanites, including small businessmen and professionals.
Addendum: I should also point out that any argument, including the one I made above, can be taken to absurd extremes. This was seen in Thomas Edsall’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. While he is right to a degree in warning Democrats against governing from the old left, it appears that by the time you ignore all the constituencies that Edsall discards there’s not much remaining. The trick isn’t to discard old constituencies but to find ways to promote the shared goals of many groups. There are dangers for continuing to stand for out-dated ideas, but there is also a danger in not standing for anything.