The State Of The Democratic Party Today

I found Dan Balz’s article on Democrats in the post-Obama era to be interesting not for any predictions of the future but for the information on the Democratic Party today. I wouldn’t take this as an exact measurement of any views, but a good general approximation.

Balz presented data that the Democratic Party has become more liberal, but with liberals representing a plurality and not a majority. The Democrats remain a big tent party of the left, middle, and center-right while the Republicans have become a predominantly conservative party:

By many measures, the party is certainly seen as more liberal than it once was. For the past 40 years, the American National Election Studies surveys have asked people for their perceptions of the two major parties. The 2012 survey found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans describe the Democratic Party as liberal, with 57 percent using that label. Four years earlier, only 48 percent described the Democrats as liberal.

(In the same survey, 59 percent said they saw the Republicans as conservative, up from 52 percent four years earlier.)

Gallup reported last month that 43 percent of surveyed Democrats identified themselves as liberal, the high water mark for the party on that measurement. In Gallup’s 2000 measures, just 29 percent of Democrats labeled themselves as liberals.

Still, liberals are a plurality of the Democratic Party, not a majority, which is strikingly different from the Republican Party, where Gallup found that 70 percent identified themselves as conservative.

Democrats hold a variety of views, but tend to be more liberal on social issues:

Democrats are most united on cultural and social issues, and it is here where the party has most obviously moved to the left, particularly on same-sex marriage and even the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s shift reflects overall changes in public attitudes that have kept the Democrats within a new political mainstream on these issues.

Women’s issues have provided even more cohesiveness within the party’s coalition.

There is less unity on national security and foreign policy, as much of the party is to the left of Clinton and even of Obama:

On issues of national security and foreign policy, divisions remain. Obama may be president because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted as senator to give then-president George W. Bush the authority to take the country to war. Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, but some progressives are at odds with him over other aspects of his national security policies.

There is also division on economic issues:

On economic issues, the party is torn between two key parts of its coalition.

“One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party,” Stern said, “is that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said, “I think the party increasingly is responding to the special interests they need to get elected — the military-industrial complex, big energy, pharmaceutical companies, banks.”

Yet in both policies and tone, there are indications that Democrats have moved to the left. Democratic candidates from all regions — including two potential rising stars running for the Senate in conservative states, Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — have embraced raising the minimum wage. This is a centerpiece of Obama’s agenda heading into this fall’s midterm campaigns…

Hostility to free-trade agreements is still deep among part of the Democratic coalition, but that tension has existed for decades. While many better-educated, upscale voters do not fear the impact of free trade, others, led by organized labor, look at stagnant wages and the difficult job market and attribute those hardships to trade.

Income inequality has received more attention from Democrats but it is based more upon pragmatic economic principles than hostility towards the rich or the egalitarianism falsely attributed to Democrats by many Republicans such as Chris Christie:

Perhaps more than any other economic issue, income inequality has animated progressive activists and voters. Party strategists say this energy is being fueled by lingering fury at Wall Street tycoons, whom they blame for the financial collapse, and deep unease about the nation’s eroding middle class.

“There’s a consciousness developing that’s related to this issue of inequality and the unfairness of our system and the wealth gap that has the potential to really grow and develop into a strong movement that will be reflected in coming elections,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said.

William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution said, “It’s not just a case of the very rich getting richer. If that were the only thing going on I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It’s also a case of the people in the middle at best treading water and in fact doing a little bit worse than that.”

Balz’s description of the Democratic Party is consistent with how I have described it in posts here–a big tent with the left more typically liberal on social issues and highly influenced by opposition to the war in Iraq. Democrats have tended to be more pragmatic than ideological on economic issues, with the current economic stagnation exacerbated by the right’s use of government to redistribute wealth to the ultra-wealthy and extreme opposition to government activity even when needed, leading to forces driving both pragmatism and a more populist agenda coinciding.

Looking ahead it is impossible to predict anything at this time other than a victory for Hillary Clinton, but this is based upon her historical position in the party, not whether she is currently representative of where most Democrats stand. If Clinton were to decide not to run, whoever wins the nomination is likely to be quite different from Clinton on the issues.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    Philo Vaihinger says:

    In what ways different from Clinton?
    Just curious what was behind you final remark.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think that if choosing from scratch, rather than based upon Clinton’s power and history in the party, is likely the Democrats would pick a more liberal candidate. Probably more liberal on social issues, someone who had been opposed to the Iraq war, and probably someone more populist on economic issues.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Of course a lot of factors could alter that. Another strong personality could become frontrunner regardless of views. I’m assuming a primary process where the more liberal base of the party has more influence but there are a lot of moderates and conservatives in the party. If the primary process were stacked to push a more conservative candidate, then possibly someone else more like Clinton might still win. Possibly a more conservative candidate would win if multiple more liberal candidates divide the liberal vote.

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