Conservatives are wrong to frame Democrats as hopeless based on the debates – Washington Examiner
As the Democratic Party gears up for its third debate next month, there is a continuing perception that the candidates are disconnected from the average voter, with conservative commentators asserting that the front-runners are pushing policies that most Americans don’t support.
But this criticism is valid only if three assumptions hold: First, that Democratic politicians are strategic imbeciles; second, that the candidates are truly embracing purity at the expense pragmatism; and third, that majority support is required to win a presidential election. Each of these suppositions is questionable.
First, we can take it as given that politicians are better informed than most commentators about the requirements to win an election. They are naturally incentivized to adhere to policy positions and rhetoric which give them the best chances of being voted into office. Therefore, any critique which starts from the premise that serious political candidates are uninformed about their target constituencies is likely to be wrong-headed.
Second, even if the conservative critics are correct in asserting that the Democratic leaders are pursuing policies which most Americans oppose, it is actually quite simple for most politicians in both parties to switch gears from the primaries to the general election — from appealing to a smaller ideological and partisan audience to a larger and more inclusive one.
Thirdly, the polling data show that, with respect to all the main liberal policies except reparations, public opinion is either equally divided, somewhat in favor, or has a clear majority in support, including free health-care, free college education, immigration, and the Green New Deal.
With respect to health care, 2018 exits polls showed that just over 40% of Americans consider it the most important issue facing the country and that it was the top concern for Democratic voters. More than half (57%) support free tuition for college, according to a March survey from CNBC, although an April poll by Quinnipiac University found that opinion on making all public colleges free was 45% in favor and 52% against. Even then, it’s close.
On immigration, opinion is divided according to what sub-issue is addressed, but while just 27% of Americans favor decriminalization of border crossings, an NPR poll found that a whopping 70% believe immigration is good for the country. As for the Green New Deal, 59% of Americans support this or some other climate change initiative, although there is a drastic split between Republicans and Democrats.
And even with reparations, according to a July poll by Gallup, while only 16% of white Americans support cash payments, 73% of non-Hispanic blacks do, which means that pushing this issue is not necessarily a losing electoral strategy for any Democratic candidate.
Nonetheless, given these slim margins and the vagaries of poll responses, winning a popular majority would not be the sensible heart of a Democratic strategy. That’s because, due to that peculiar institution of the American political system called the electoral college, it’s possible to become President of these United States with no more than 23% of the electorate voting for you.
This may well be why the Democrats have clung to identity politics. Although appeals to race, gender and ethnicity are directed at minorities, a sufficient number of minorities can translate into an electoral majority. The political challenge is to tie these minorities together in a national voting bloc. That device has been provided by the bellicose and bombastic persona of Donald Trump – which is why all the Democratic candidates made him a key part of their arguments in July’s debate.
Ironically enough, out of 20 candidates who have stated positions on the electoral college, 17 support eliminating it in favor of a national popular vote for president. And only three want to keep it, according to Politico. If one of those 17 Democrats wins the primaries and then the presidency, it will be interesting to see if they change their minds.
Kevin Baldeosingh is a professional writer and author.