STATES WHERE GOP DOES BETTER
A STUDY OF the past brings forth
some strong hints of how the Democrats might recover from their
For example, while the media has
inundated the public with talk of blue and red states, such a
dichotomy does not reveal which states won by the GOP are vulnerable
to change. If you define a safe Republican state as one in which
the candidate received over 55%, then the GOP states plummet
to 21 in the last election. These states comprise only 24% of
the population of the country. In all the other states, the Democrats
were either safe - there are five of those - or one needs only
change the mind of not more than 5.1% of the voters to win -
voters who are already uncertain or fed up with the choices of
the past and susceptible to the most hated thing in today's politics:
a new approach.
Even more significantly, the number
of safe GOP states is less than half as many as in Richard Nixon's
comfort zone and about half as many as Reagan enjoyed. In other
words, GOP support is broad but it isn't as deep as it has been
in the not too distant past. Furthermore, the number of safe
states shows a clear downward trend over three decades from the
46 under Nixon to 21 in the last election.
When placed on a map, these states
still occupy far more geographical space than their population
would suggest, but it is a distinctly different picture than
the one people have been seeing of late. For example, eleven
of the states up for grabs are not on either the Atlantic or
Pacific coast and six of them border the shores of the Mississippi
Even more interesting, of the 21
safe GOP states, 11 have above average poverty, 12 have below
average income and 8 have severe drought problems. If you didn't
know they were sacred GOP turf, you might think they were excellent
organizing ground for the Democrats.
Finally, 15 of these untouchable
states, allegedly impenetrable behind their walls of faith-based
family values, have above average divorce rates - all of them
at least 90% greater than despicable, godless Massachusetts.
Yet while the presidential base
for Republicans has become less secure, Democrats have lost ground
in the House and the Senate. Their margins actually peaked in
1937, but checking the last 60 years you find something that
directly contradicts the popular assumption that Democrats do
best when acting like low-carb Republicans. For example, party
margins in the House increased under classic Democrats Truman,
Kennedy, and LBJ. Even when the party was out of the White House
during the Eisenhower years the Democrats did well in Congress.
Then began a descent into confused
messages combined with a rightward drift. By the time Clinton
came along, the Vichy Democrats were strongly in control. Clinton
won - largely because Perot was in the race - but was of little
or no help getting Democrats into Congress - up two in the Senate,
down 18 in the House. Clinton was the first incoming Democrat
in 60 years not to have any coattails. Worst, during the Clinton
administration, elected Democrats at every level did worse than
under any incumbent since Grover Cleveland.
In short, despite the propaganda
to the contrary loyally dispensed by a gullible media, the politics
of the Democratic Leadership Council, the Third Wave, and the
Clintons has been a bust.
Meanwhile, the two essential qualities
of successful Democratic campaigns - a populist platform aimed
at doing the mostest for the mostest while helping the weakest
become part of the mostest - combined with a fervent vision of
a future worth fighting for - simply disappeared.
Why didn't the Vichy Democrats do
One reason is because both swing
voters and non-voters tend to dislike a politics that is over-contentious
Here, for example, are some comments
of non-voters in an English study, although they might as well
have been Americans:
"In the old days you had Labour
on the left and Conservatives on the right and they had certain
ideas of what was what. Now they are in the middle and you don't
necessarily know what's going on or how it affects you."
"They all do the same things,
they all promise to do the same things."
"This time I felt there was
no distinction, they were all muddled into one and it's not going
to work. I don't see the point in having a Government if you
also haven't got a reasonable opposition, it just doesn't work.
You need that, you need two separate parties and that's what
we haven't got now. I didn't vote this time because the parties
all seemed the same."
And this from study by Jack Doppelt
and Ellen Shearer, associate professors at Northwestern University's
School of Journalism:
"Nonvoters as well as now-and-then
voters see politicians as almost a separate class, who say what
they think voters want to hear in language that's not straightforward
and whose sole mission is winning. Across groups, participants
in our 2001 focus groups mentioned that candidates spend a lot
of time putting one another down. . . . A young nonvoter said,
simply, 'I think they should spend less time bashing the other
person and more time telling how it is, what their views are,
and how they are going to. . . change the country.'
"In the focus groups, the role
of candidates' advisers particularly was criticized as intrusive
and manipulative. . . Politicians are 'like a package,' or a
'super package,' according to two female nonvoters. 'You feel
like you're just hearing that script over and over and you know
it's not coming from them, it's coming from their script writer
and so it turns a lot of people off.'"
A review of Doppelt and Shearer's
work notes that "In the 1996 elections, 73% of nonvoters
were 18 to 44 years old. 39% were under age 30. 48% make less
than $30,000 per year. 30% identified themselves as minorities."
And the study also found that 52%
agreed with the statement: "The federal government often
does a better job than people give it credit for." 83% of
nonvoters thought the government should have a major policy role
in the realms of healthcare, housing, and education.
While a follow-up study in 2000
found that nonvoters divided pretty much the same way as voters
on the presidency, the fact that they didn't do anything about
it was more telling. Besides, we're talking about a huge number
of people. If those of voting age had simply turned out in the
last election in the same proportion as they had in 1960, there
would have been 24 million more voters, nearly 25% more cast
ballots. That's a lot of people looking for some difference between
the candidates and some new directions.
The party, increasingly controlled
by lobbyists and big contributors and increasingly corrupt, no
longer exudes its old atmosphere of a circus filled with tigers,
trapeze artists, clowns, and grotesque figures, an implicit sign
that anyone could be a Democrat. It now looks and feels like
C-SPAN; its policies opaque, its candidates dull, and its range
of interests ever narrower, its hospitality lacking.
In short, history joins common sense
in arguing that if the Democratic Party were to return to a broad
based politics based on the improvement of the economic, educational,
and social conditions of average Americans it might once again
become the dominant force in this country. Certainly, following
the alternative urged by the Vichy Democrats has been a disaster.