The Dems’ dilemma: blue collar or millennial
Party faces internal battle over rebuilding its base or going after younger voters.
From the industrial Midwest to Colorado’s Pueblo County, the message this year from blue-collar voters could not have been clearer: Donald Trump gets it, Democrats don’t.
But at the Democratic National Committee’s executive meeting in Denver on Saturday, a pollster offered an alternate explanation for what happened Nov. 8: Blue-collar workers didn’t cost Hillary Clinton the election — millennials did.
“She won the Obama coalition, but she won by smaller margins, due in no small part to young voters casting protest votes,” said Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies.
“I would not have thought that we’d have young voters standing in line to cast protest votes. I was wrong.”
Inside the Democratic Party, a battle is roiling for the future of the party: Doubledown on the party’s roots and try to rebuild its blue-collar base? Or embrace a different demographic entirely: college-educated millennials.
This weekend’s summit in Denver comes as party leaders are jockeying for position in the race to become the next DNC chair. And on Saturday, interim chairwoman Donna Brazile said she was ready to step down when the executive committee chooses a new leader in February.
“This battle is yours. And for those of you who are going to step up, you’d better step the hell up,” said Brazile, who took over this past summer after U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz resigned. “This ain’t no parttime gig. This is a battle you have to put your heart and soul into if you care about your country and your party.”
Other speakers included U.S. Sen.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada, and incoming Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran. Both will make history in January, becoming the first Latina U.S. senator, and the first Latina speaker of the Colorado House, respectively.
Duran said her focus in her new role will be “making sure that we don’t take any Coloradans for granted and we don’t leave any Coloradans behind.”
Touching on similar themes, Cortez Masto said the success she found in Nevada offered a potential road map for Democrats moving forward. And she suggested the
party focus on economic messaging with broader appeal — good wages, paid leave and protecting Social Security and Medicare.
“In Nevada, you can’t afford to slice and dice the electorate,” she said.
As a national strategy, Belcher didn’t dismiss economic messaging, but he did suggest that doubling down on blue-collar voters in places such as the Midwest may be a fool’s errand.
That’s because the country is increasingly polarized along racial lines.
“There are two electorates in this country … and they’re doing battle for control of the country,” Belcher said.
“In 2008, that younger, more diverse electorate said we want Barack Obama. In 2010, that older, less diverse electorate said no, no, no.”
To the extent that the party can win back white voters, he said the opportunity may lie in young educated whites, not the blue-collar ones that helped comprise the Bill Clinton coalition during the 1990s.
“It’s hard to look at this data and say we should spend even more money chasing blue-collar white voters,” Belcher said. “Some of the conversations that you all are going to have is, ‘Are states like Georgia and Arizona looking more like the future than Iowa and Ohio?’ ”
If the answer is yes, the next question Democrats face is: How soon will that future arrive? In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s efforts to make inroads in Georgia and Arizona may have backfired.
She outperformed Barack Obama in both states, helping her to build a 2.3 million advantage over Trump in the popular vote. But she lost the race that mattered: the Electoral College, which was largely decided by the Midwest.