The Republican Congress has begun trying to make good on its platform to satisfy its base. On the first day, the House passed bills aimed at enacting a nationwide abortion ban despite the bill being directly in violation of Roe v. Wade, repealing President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, and reducing the number of people who are covered under Obamacare.
Yet, this is what voters wanted, right? While the Republicans’ 2014 election victory was predictable, the idea that voters sent a message to Washington to enact the Republican agenda is simply untrue. The GOP gained a majority in both houses of Congress for one reason: midterm election demographics.
The Democrats broke the cardinal rule
The Senate turned red this year because of the Democrats’ poor response to expected lower voter turnout in demographics that are a vital part of the Democratic base. The youth vote (ages 18-29) was 13 percent of the vote in 2014 and 12 percent in 2010, whereas it was 19 percent in 2012 out of an estimated 27.7 percent eligible voter population. In 2012, 28.9 percent of the vote was non-white, but only 22 percent of non-white people were “likely” voters in 2014. In 2014, 46 percent of non-voters had household incomes of less than $30,000 per year and only 19 percent of likely voters were from families that made less than $30,000 a year. Twenty percent of the 2012 vote was attributed to the same demo.
In an election in which the voters are more likely to be conservative, as an older, whiter, and richer electorate tends to be, it’s no wonder the Republican party won the election. However, demographics alone do not tell the whole story.
Democrats had to react to this expected lower voter rate. To compensate, Democrats moved to the right and center, distancing themselves from President Obama, in order to win more swing votes. Still, the cardinal rule of elections is that they are won not by winning over undecided voters, but by getting more of your supporters to the polls by rallying your base.
The Democrats faced a difficult election, but chose a losing strategy. What the Left’s grassroots base wants is more populist, progressive policies, like the “main street over Wall Street” of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken, not the sorts of policies that draw undecided voters, like opposing Obamacare or supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Democratic run to the right at best took some undecided voters from Republicans. But it likely lost as many votes as it won. When one side runs as Republican and the other runs as Republican-lite, the liberal Democratic base will not bother voting.
The 2016 election will reveal whether Democrats learned their lesson. Even with the expected higher turnout from low-income, minority, and young voters in presidential election years, the GOP can and will use general dissatisfaction with the president to achieve victory. Democrats need a fresh strategy that redeems the party in progressives’ eyes to win 2016.
The Republican party’s strategy, as it was in 2014, will be to unify the party against the president. The Tea Party may have split the party, but there are some things that all Republicans can agree on. President Obama remains very unpopular among all Republicans and self-identified conservatives. As in 2014, Republicans will capitalize on this feeling to increase base and undecided support.
Obama is seen by many conservatives as subverting the Constitution and democracy through his executive orders. Earlier this month, to act on this perception, the Congressional GOP attempted to revoke President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. To the same end, the Republican Congress should be expected to pass some conservative bills that Obama will be compelled to veto.
The Democrats’ recent shift in political strategy is a strong attempt to use the Republicans’ own tactics against them. Whether genuinely pushing for progressive solutions or merely putting up the facade of progressive liberalism, the actions of the Democratic members of Congress and the President’s administration will boost populist support for Democrats.
House Democrats proposed a tax on stock, equities, and derivatives transactions as part of an “unapologetically progressive” tax plan. Just a few days later, Attorney General Eric Holder put a stop to the asset seizure mechanism which local and state police departments have used and abused to take away citizens’ private property. The issue was highlighted last year by John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight; the show is very popular among young people. Moreover, the issue of police reform has gained greater attention due to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police so Democrats can cast themselves as champions of yet another populist, progressive cause that appeals to those demos they need to rally.
The president also chose to propose a larger tax on the wealthiest Americans in the State of the Union. As the AP notes, the proposal is aimed at “putting the new Republican Congress in the position of defending top income earners over the middle class.”
These measures will put the president and the Democratic party back in the good graces of many middle-class and low-income American citizens. If the president succeeds in dispelling general dissatisfaction with him, Republicans will be forced to support the president or oppose his popular policies.
Standing up for progressive policies should win Democrats a lot of support in the lead-up to 2016, but, because of their Congressional majority, the GOP is in a stronger position to highlight issues and disagreement with the president.
The next president
Victory in 2016 will depend on how each party rallies their key demos. The Democrats’ progressive strategy will only be successful if their candidate appeals to that same class of voters, and Hillary Clinton is not that candidate. From the “dead broke” gaffe to her war-hawkish foreign policy record, many on the left are suspicious of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Barring an energetic Elizabeth Warren-type candidate, it will be difficult for the party to rally those crucial demos.
The Republican party, on the other hand, has several contenders that have middle class appeal. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz have great appeal with the Tea Party. However, if Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney wins the nomination, the Democrats’ have a chance. Even with Hillary Clinton on the ticket, few in the Tea Party are fired up by the prospect of Romney or another Bush presidency.
Yet, even with Bush or Romney on the ticket, it will be an uphill battle for Democrats if Hillary Clinton is the candidate. Democrats depend more on larger turnout from the young, low-income, and minority demographics because these demographics are less likely to vote. Without a progressive vice-presidential candidate, Clinton will have a tough time appealing to the left, and that spells defeat for her.