The Decline in Support For the Democratic Party

Ramussen reported yesterday that the number of people identifying themselves as Democrats has declined. The poll received more publicity for finding greater drops among Republicans, but that should be no surprise. The Republicans have undermined the security of the country, abused power, and shown they are incapable of responding to emergencies, from 9/11 to Katrina, regardless of how much warning, and are on the wrong side of virtually every issue. With this record, the decline in those identifying themselves as Republicans is to be expected. Explaining why fewer identify themselves as Democrats is a far more interesting issue.

When the story broke yesterday that the number of independents has jumped to an all time high, even exceeding the number of Republicans, The Moderate Voice was wondering if this was a sign of victory. Chris Bower played down the results, noting that Democrats maintain a large margin over the Republicans, especially if the direction a voter leans is considered.

The question remains why, after abandoning the Republican Party, an increasing number of us remain independent rather than identifying as Democrats. Sure, I voted straight Democratic in 2004 and 2006, but that does not guarantee I’ll vote Democratic in the future. While the Republicans do not currently offer a viable option, the possibility remains that a sane group will retake control of the party. If not, development of a viable their party which can actually win will become inevitable.

Many Democrats fail to recognize the contribution of independents and moderate Republicans to their Congressional victories. Repulsion at the recent policies of the GOP does not mean support for all Democratic positions, especially if they try to look back towards the New Deal as opposed to the future.

In many cases, the problem is not with the policies of Democrats but how they describe them. Republicans have beaten Democrats in the rhetoric war. Contrast Ronald Reagan’s promise to get government off our backs with Hillary Clinton’s “we’re all in it together society.” For those in need of the government safety net, this may be attractive. For the rest of us, the old joke holds that among the scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

To a certain degree this comes down to rhetoric. Modern Republicans, rather than getting government off our back, support far greater government intrusion in our lives. They claim to be capitalists while supporting a system of government and corporate collusion which is as far from the free market as the positions of Karl Marx. Once the specifics of Clinton’s economic views are seen, they may or may not be cause of alarm.

Using such language also suggests that Hillary Clinton failed to learn an important lesson from the failure of her health care plan. HillaryCare failed not simply because of the Harry and Louise ads, but because the plan was distasteful to a majority of Americans. Most Americans will support a necessary social safety net, but don’t want a net so big as to strangle us all.

With the front runner for the Democratic nomination not looking very appealing, for many reasons beyond those alluded to above, it is necessary to look at the other choices. The promise everything to everybody and the heck with the cost economic policies of John Edwards hardly look like a viable option. Democrats need to move beyond the New Deal coalition and promote liberal ideals without alienating the affluent voters who might otherwise support them.

Very few Democrats really get this. John Kerry, with a long history of support for small business, got it, but by the time this message was filtered through his political handlers it became incomprehensible. Bill Richardson may get it, but he can’t get his message out. Barack Obama just might get it too. He has often made statements which show he looks beyond the Democratic orthodoxy, but it is difficult to evaluate him without a clearer idea of his policy goals. Obama would probably make a better President, but perhaps a poorer candidate, if he spent another term in the Senate before running.

A third party may or may not turn out to be the solution for independents. It will be far easier for a third party to become successful with the benefits of the internet for fund raising, national publicity, and even local organizing. The main obstacle might be that independence from the two main parties does not mean we all have the same views or goals. Just as neither of the two parties completely represents the views of many independents, there is no guarantee that any of the alternatives being discussed, including Michael Bloomberg and Unity 08, will do any better. Still, with fewer and fewer identifying themselves as Democrats, it is not safe the party to take the votes of independents for granted.

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12 Comments

  1. 1
    Joseph O says:

    Right that a Bloomberg candidacy may not actually bring about the necessary changes that independents clamor for. Which is why we offer the National Election Reform Platform (www.IndependentAmerica.org) asking for long-term improvements in allowing third parties to participate.

    We at DraftMichael.com consider it our only hope for positive change.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Joseph,

    I’ll be watching.

    I’d like to know more about what Bloomberg would do as President. Of course he is not now a candidate and has no reason to address national issues as he would if he were a candidate.

    Unfortunately, not only our election system but our whole system of government is biased towards a two party system. If representatives were voted on state wide and allocated proportionally, then there could be enough votes to provide representation for different views in Congress, but for now its hopeless unless a Democrat or Republican.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Joseph,

    I just glanced at your web site. I note that you include eliminating the electoral college among your goals. While I agree (as there are many goals beyond improving the chance for independents), there is a certain irony here that these are conflicting goals.

    A pure national vote works to the advantage of a two party system, but for all practical purposes the current system does the same. If the electoral college was preserved as the founding fathers envisioned it, there would be a better chance that people would look at more than two possibilities as their candidate would have a chance once the members of the electoral college met to vote. I’m certainly not advocating a return to such a system, but just noting the irony that in this respect we back an idea which is counter to our other goal of increasing the chances for victory by an independent or third party.

  4. 4
    Nick says:

    Ron says

    “Most Americans will support a necessary social safety net, but don’t want a net so big as to strangle us all.”

    Agreed, I think. Polls continue to show a majority of Americans support national health insurance as a concept so I don’t see how Americans would view NHI as a “strangling” net. On the other hand, Hillarycare was soooo complex (and done so secretively) that it became “distateful”-it’s a small wonder that Hillarycare failed.

    But perhaps the biggest failure of NHI in 1993-94 was the refusal to compromise. Why the Clinton’s didn’t compromise when it was clear Hillarycare had no chance of passing is beyond me. I think of the Clinton’s and I think of the scene in All the President’s Men where Deep Throat tells Woodward/Redford, “forget the image the media has created about the White House… the truth is these guys aren’t that smart.”

  5. 5
    Nick says:

    Ron

    First, Bower is basically right about this. In fact, Kerry himself won the independent vote by at leat 49%-48%, and possibly 50%-47%. If Democrats had been a little more pro-Kerry (or the GOP a little less pro-Bush-at 93% Bush got a grater percent of the registered GOP vote than even Ronald Reagan) Kerry probably wins. Anyhow, even before the 2006 midterms one could see independents leaning Democratic.

    As to “why, after abandoning the Republican Party, an increasing number of us remain independent rather than identifying as Democrats?” You yourself provide a good answer when you say “Sure, I voted straight Democratic in 2004 and 2006, but that does not guarantee I’ll vote Democratic in the future.”

    Some folks, for whatever reason, can’t seem to register for a political party if they have any doubt at all whether or not they will always vote for that party. There have been times in my life I didn’t vote the straight Democratic ticket, but if you added up all my votes that were Democratic versus those that were non-Democratic “Democratic” would win BIG time.

    Personally, I think a lot of folks don’t want to be typecast as having certain personality traits by saying they are a Democrat (or a Republican). By claimng to be “independent” they are broadcasting to the world that they are a free-thinker as oppose to just another partisan x-forgetting that one can be registered for a particular party and still have an independent mind of their own. Take me, I’m a Democrat-but I can’t stand HRC.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    It might be argued that health care proposals go beyond a simple safety net, but in this case we are faced with the failure of private alternatives. The system of private insurance is collapsing, leaving too many uninsured, and forcing too many people into bankruptcy to justify inaction.

    The lack of compromise was a problem. Hillary convinced Bill to agree to veto anything short of universal health care, preventing any chance of compromise. The veto should generally be reserved for casses of bad laws or programs, not to block programs which may be good but don’t go as far as desired. Plans such as Kerry’s 2004 plan, which are not universal, are still of considerable value as they would greatly reduce the number of uninsured while making coverage ore affordable for many individuals and businesses now struggling with the payments.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Nick,

    I see that you got a second comment thru while I was responding to the first.

    There are definately many people who call themselves independents but vote for one party. However there is also a key swing component–those that made the difference between 2004 and 2006. Others of us voted Democratic in 2004 also. As I said, this does not guarantee that such people will vote Democratic in the future if the party moves in the wrong direction and if the Republican extremists lose control of the party. (Fortunately for the Democrats, at present there doesn’t appear to be much hope of the extremists losing control of the Republican Party.)

  8. 8
    Nick says:

    Ron

    I don’t think I ever got a straight answer from you on this-but then again I never asked you for one, so that’s my fault. In any event, do you support a single-payer health plan like the one in Canada? Is that too much government?

    By the way, your point about “Plans such as Kerry’s 2004 plan, which are not universal, are still of considerable value as they would greatly reduce the number of uninsured while making coverage more affordable for many individuals and businesses now struggling with the payments,” is VERY well taken.

    I’m not in JK’s head, but I have a political theory as to what JK was thinking when he proposed his health plan. Sure it wasn’t NHI, but it moved us toward it big time-and once it was passed it would be all the more harder for the GOP to cut health care or pass of any future bills as too revolutionary, strange, ‘socialized medicine,” etc.

    Education in the 1960s is a good historical comparison. JFK never achieved federal aid to elementary and secondary schools or a comprehensive student aid program. JFK DID however over the course of 1961-63
    federal aid to vocational, community colleges, undergrad, graduate, medical and dental schools
    Also he broadened the student loan program under existing law and passed the Manpower Redevelopment and Retraining Act (which was federal to educate i.e. train, those who had lost their jobs due to automation). In essence, he broke congressional logjam on federal aid to education.

    By the time LBJ proposed and passed federal aid to elecmentary and secondary schools (and the comprehensive student loans and grants we know today) the feds were already funding Other levels of education-so why not fund elementary and secondary ed.? With Kerry’s health insurance progam, you could say “we’ve insured all children. Now how about all adults-adults who can vote mind you.”

    The legislative strategy behind JK’s health insurance plan and JFK’s education program was “give the customer a helping taste of a new food-this food they’ll come back for more.” Hilarycare was presented like a parent shoving brussel sprouts down a child’s throat and yelling “EAT” (and not just a taste mind you, but the whole bowl). Can we really blame the child for taking an intense dislike to brussel sprouts?

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    Nick,

    The devil is in the details with any health care program. I have reservations about a single payer plan but some single payer plans could be better than some plans which preserve private insurance.

    One problem with single payer is that it will be much harder to be accepted–which is probably why only Kucinich is advocating it tbhis year. Back when I answered questions on health care for the Kerry Forum the most common question from people who had reservations about Democratic programs but were willing to consider it was whether they could keep their current insurance. We simply risk too much opposition in telling people who are happy that they have to move into a government program.

    Another problem is that the future of such a plan is predictable. Currently Medicare is preferable to many private plans, and a single payer system build on Medicare (with some necessary improvements) could be a good program. However, what happens the next time we get a President who has signed a Grover Norquist pledge not to raise taxes and also wants to spend money on an Iraq-type war? Currently the private plans keep Medicare honest, preventing them from redeucing spending below what it would cost to provide reasonable care. Without a private plan for comparison, and without the risk of doctors dropping the government plan and limiting to those with private insurance, there is nothing to stop the government from drastically cutting government spending in a single payer plan.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    “I’m not in JK’s head, but I have a political theory as to what JK was thinking when he proposed his health plan. Sure it wasn’t NHI, but it moved us toward it big time-”

    I also saw it as utilizing simpler, less controversial solutions which could pass. Then reassess and see how many really remain uninsured and work from there. At that time, check how many are uninsured because they are young and healthy and don’t want to spend the money versus how many can’t afford coverage.

  11. 11
    Nick says:

    Ron

    Good point about “utilizing simpler, less controversial solutions which could pass. Then reassess and see how many really remain uninsured and work from there.”

    One other thing: Why are you afraid of the New Deal? It seemed to work for the affluent too. It’s not as though the affluent were not getting richer prior to Reagan. Reagan just changed our economic policies around so the rich got richer at the expense of everyone else-rather than along with everybody else.

    You say, “Democrats need to… promote liberal ideals without alienating the affluent voters who might otherwise support them.” I Ttotally agree, but how do you do it? Secondly, do you want to do it?

    Sure I would never tell someone NOT to vote Democratic on a count of the fact they have a salary over $50,000 or $75,000 (or more). An affluent voter that wants to vote Democratic all power to them. Liberal ideals (just like conservative ones) will cost money (think SDI or the cost of the Bush tax cuts). The question is who will pay for it. As a believer in progressive taxation I believe the wealthy should pay the most. No I’m not saying bring back top tax rates of 70%, but rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (as Kerry proposed) is hardly Marxism reborn.

    Asd for the “do you want to” question, I just mean that wealthy folks who agree with the Grover Norquist or William Kristol types will never agree with Democrats’ liberal ideals-and frankly the GOP can have them. As for the upper-middle and wealthy voters who conceivably could have-but didn’t-vote for JK, what can be done to attract them? I wish I knew. Anybody, (Ron or any blogger in the neighborhood) have any ideas here? I’m all ears.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:

    Nick,

    It’s not the New Deal I’m criticizing but the reliance of the Democrats on the old New Deal coalition. Relying on this, as opposed to making their message stronger to current voters, is one (of many) reasons they have lost many elections.

    There’s a lot of us who make well over $75,000 per year but also are not the ultra-wealthy who benefit the most from Grover Norquist style policies. For professionals and people in business (even those who are well below the top rung), $75,000 just isn’t all that much money and Democrats would have a hard time winning (and raising money) writing us off.

    It is also a mistake to write off people making over $75,000 a year. First, there are a fair number of us. Secondly, even those making under $75,000 per year aspire to become more affluent, and will often see measures which appear to strike at those making more as ultimately harming them. (It doesn’t matter if it is realistic or not for them to later get into the higher tax brackets.)

    Any response to Jonah Goldberg’s argument to Do away with public schools? I bet I can put you down for disagreeing with Goldberg!

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