The Real Issues

Here’s a problem for Joe Biden and his (and my) Democrats. Almost 60% of Americans don’t think they’re focussed on issues that they think are important.

That’s according to a recent CNN poll. And CNN, you may note, is hardly a conservative mouthpiece.

Here’s the way it breaks down according to the three top issues identified by voters as a whole compared to Democrats, Republicans and independents.

IssueOverallDemsGOPInd
Economy36%20%51%38%
Pandemic20%34%4%18%
Immigration14%8%23%13%

So, what’s the clear takeaway? Democrats are over-concerned about COVID and under-worried about the economy (mostly inflation) and immigration.

But I think it’s actually even worse than that. Let’s look at climate and race. Here’s how that breaks down:

IssueOverallDems GOPInd
Climate11%18%2%12%
Racial Injustice5%9%0%5%

The conclusion? Democrats are more concerned about climate and race than the population as a whole. Let me emphasize right here that I’m talking about politics, not the merits of the case. For example, I agree with Democrats in the survey that climate is a major problem and should rank higher among all voters. But we have to deal with the reality that it just doesn’t.

And it gets still worse, because the issues of concern to Democratic elites, who shape the party’s message, are different from those of the rank-and-file. Former Obama strategist David Shor talks about the “quadrangle to campaign pipeline.” Here’s how Politico described Shor’s point:

“At its most basic, Shor’s theory goes something like this: Although young people as a whole turn out to vote at a lower rate than the general population, the aforementioned type of young person is actually overrepresented within the core of the Democratic Party’s infrastructure. According to Shor, the problem with this permanent class of young staffers is that they tend to hold views that are both more liberal and more ideologically motivated than the views of the coveted median voter, and yet they wield a significant amount of influence over the party’s messaging and policy decisions. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time talking about issues that matter to college-educated liberals but not to the multiracial bloc of moderate voters that the party needs to win over to secure governing majorities in Washington.” (My emphasis added.)

Note that even among the wide swath of Democratic voters in the CNN poll only 9% identify racial injustice as a major issue. But polling shows that race is a huge issue among affluent, white liberals — even more so than among Black voters. Now think about how much attention that issue gets on PBS or NPR or MSNBC or in the New York Times. (My primary news sources.) And think about the stories you might hear or read on those outlets about climate and immigration. In those news ecosystems climate is an existential threat and the stories about immigration are told exclusively from a sympathetic point of view toward immigrants.

MSNBC host Nicole Wallace wasted no time in making the Virginia governor’s contest all about race. Yet, only 9% of even Democratic voters think race is a top issue.

There’s your primary disconnect. Among the bulk of people, it’s all about the economy (read inflation) and the pandemic. Among, even rank-and-file Democrats it’s the pandemic and the economy. But among liberal, Democratic elites, there is an emphasis on race and climate. And while they care about immigration, it’s from just the opposite point of view of the public at large.

The upshot is that the persuadable, independent parts of the voting public perceives a Democratic Party that is out of touch with their everyday concerns.

The other problem, of course, is all the focus on Biden’s Build Back Better spending plan. Democrats think it’s popular, and in a sense it is, but they’re misreading the politics of it. If you ask people if they want various free benefits, they’ll say yes, and in substantial numbers. Do you want free child care? Yes! Do you want paid family leave? Yes! Do you want free hearing aids if you’re on Medicare? Hell, yes! Do you want somebody else to pay for it all (aka, “the rich”)? Yes! Yes! Yes!

But if you ask people an open-ended question about what’s most important to them right now, you get answers like those above, none of which has anything to do with child care, family leave or hearing aids. It’s less about what most people say they want and more about what liberals think they should want. So, it’s not that the Democrats’ big agenda isn’t popular; it’s that it’s sort of beside the point.

What’s the grand conclusion? Actually, if my party would just listen to our real base (that is, the bulk of Democratic voters, most definitely including people of color) we might be alright. Most sensible Democrats see the virus and the economy as the top issues, and so do most voters. It’s the liberal Democratic elites who are screwing things up.

Welcome to the 279th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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