Democrats, Independents, and Values

Earlier I noted a study from The Cook Political Report which found that education has become the most significant predictor of party identity. In the recent past others have found that religious adherence was the strongest predictor, with those who attend religious services multiple times a week being more likely to vote Republican. In contrast, those who attended once a week or less were more likely to vote Democratic. Marc Ambinder has reviewed some data which is  influenced by the older religion-based division between the parties to examine the 2008 election.

Throughout the election (along with my analysis of the 2006 elections) I have been arguing that the major trend has been for voters including the young, affluent, and more educated to become disenchanted with the Republican Party. In the past I’ve discussed this in terms of groups such as Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans abandoning the GOP to vote Democratic.

These trends have been due to Republican support for the Iraq  war and social conservatism, their adoption of McCarthyist tactics and the anti-intellecutalism seen in conservative talk radio and Sarah Palin, and the general Republican incompetence in governing. This fueled an independent movement which both helped remove the Republicans from office and helped Obama beat the Clintonistas. I have warned in several posts that the success of the Democrats has been fueled largely by opposition to the Republicans as opposed to actual support for the Democratic Party. The data reviewed by Ambinder both shows the trend towards identification with the Democratic Party and towards independents:

More voters identify with the Democratic Party today; Democrats, even after the election, maintain a nine point lead in terms of party identification. For voters under 30, the trend is striking: the party ID lead is 20 points for Democrats. Additionally, a running sample of battleground state voters sureyed from 2004 through 2008 shows a slow but pronounced migration from Republican to Democrat. Of the 11 percent of voters who were new to electorate, 62% of them were under 30, and they identify as Democrats by a margin of two to one — about more new voters under 30 identify as independents as they do Republicans.

Under normal circumstances I would not be certain that the Democrats would remain in power for long as many have failed to learn the lessons of 1994. The Democrats do have the ability to blow their current advantage. Fortunately for them, the Republicans, at least at the moment, seem intent upon committing political suicide by trying to become even more conservative and backing candidates such as Sarah Palin. By continuing to back policies which are intolerable to most educated voters, the Republicans fail to offer a viable alternative even if we should be unhappy with the return of Democratic rule.

Back in 1994 I hoped for the Republicans to take control of Congress in response to the disaster of HillaryCare and to provide greater checks an balances upon the Executive Branch, but that turned into a fiasco. I would certainly not make that mistake again, and I doubt many of the new Democratic voters who helped elect Obama will make that mistake after witnessing the Republicans in recent years.

If the Democrats do over-reach and lose the backing of their new supporters, I would not be a bit surprised if the reaction turns out to be support for a third party effort as the Republicans have made themselves so toxic. Developing a viable third party is far more difficult than for swing voters to bring the opposition party back into power, so perhaps the Democrats do have considerable breathing room. Perhaps the major division will be between the new Democrats who backed Obama and the old line Democrats leading Congress, with disputes such as what we are seeing over the economic stimulus plan becoming more common.

There is a second point in Marc Ambinder’s post which is of significance to Liberal Values. The name for this blog was chosen partially in response to the absurd conventional wisdom during the Bush years that being a values voter meant voting Republican and accepting their warped values system. Liberals as much as conservatives, and often more so, hold to a set of values.

Ambinder bases his post on an interview with Cornell Belcher who worked for Howard Dean and for the Obama campaign. He writes:

Belcher makes a distinction between “faith” voters and “values” voters, writing that “[t]hose
who place a high importance on faith in their voting choices still swing heavily Republican. But although nearly all faith voters (93 percent) are also values voters, the reverse is not necessarily true. Only half (53 percent) of values voters agree that religious faith was a very important influence in their voting choices. In short, many voters see their values as being about more than solely their religious faith.”

Republicans made the mistake of thinking that they could adopt the values of the religious right without losing the support of younger and more educated voters. Now will the Democrats truly defend the liberal values which led many new voters to support them?

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