Monday, June 19, 2017


Jonathan Chait reads a new survey of U.S. voters from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group and flags this:

Chait draws attention to the graph to make the point that despite all the media attention libertarianism gets, the American electorate has very few actual libertarians -- people who are economically conservative but socially liberal. That would be the underpopulated lower right quadrant. There are a lot of people in the lower left quadrant (people who are economic and social liberals) and in the upper right quadrant (people who are economic and social conservatives).

But let's focus on the upper left quadrant. Chait writes:
... the truth is that the underrepresented cohort in American politics is the opposite of libertarians: people with right-wing social views who support big government on the economy.
The study calls these people "populists." Chait quotes the study's author, Lee Drutman on the subject of Hillary Clinton's failure to win over these voters:
As Drutman notes, “Among populists who voted for Obama, Clinton did terribly. She held onto only 6 in 10 of these voters (59 percent). Trump picked up 27 percent of these voters, and the remaining 14 percent didn’t vote for either major party candidate.” What makes this result fascinating is that, in 2008, Clinton had positioned herself as the candidate of the white working class and she dominated the white socially conservative wing of her party. But she lost that identity so thoroughly that she couldn’t even replicate the performance of a president who had become synonymous with elite social liberalism.
I've never understood why Hillary didn't try to appeal to the white working class in 2016 the way she did in the homestretch of the 2008 primaries:

I know she was trying, in a racially pointed way, to distinguish herself from Obama in the spring of '08. But she could have tried walking into a few workingmen's bars in 2016 without nodding and winking to white solidarity. Why couldn't her campaign have made an effort to reach out to older whites while continuing to reach out to non-whites and the young? I think I know the answer -- she was calling plays from the Obama playbook. But Obama, as it turned out, knew how to retain some of these white voters better than Clinton did. It helped that both of his general-election opponents were wealthy men with multiple homes. But I think he also knew how to speak enough of Middle America's language to retain some of the voters Clinton lost. And he had Joe Biden, who was able to appeal to both old and new Democrats.

Pollsters tell us that Donald Trump is gradually losing popularity, even among working-class whites. He's not accomplishing anything, and what might emerge from unified GOP control is standard-issue supply-side Republicanism. But that well-populated economic-liberal/social-conservative quadrant in the graph above leads me to believe that there's going to be an opening in the near future for a politician who really is what Trump claimed to be -- a flag-waver who wanted to make the lives of the non-rich better.

As I've said before, many white nationalist parties outside the U.S. support economic policies intended to make their voters' lives better. That upper-left quadrant tells me that a future Trump -- a Trump who's sincere about economic populism in a way that appeals to white workers -- could do well by combining that with nationalism and ethnocentricity. That's worrisome.

On the other hand, something approaching old-fashioned New Deal liberalism might have the same effect on these voters. Maybe if Democrats can promise (and deliver) economic change for them, while offering some validation of their values -- maybe just to the degree that Obama and Biden did -- they can be won back.

In any case, there are a lot of voters in this group. Winning them back may not require racist appeals or abandonment of abortion rights and LGBT rights -- Obama won enough of them to be elected twice. It might not take much adjustment for Democrats to win some of them back -- if they feel they can be part of the Democratic coalition. Otherwise, they'll gravitate to populism -- or more phony populism from the GOP>

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