Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Is the Democratic Party Just a Big Virtual College Campus?

The 2002 book by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, The Emerging Democratic Majority, got a lot of attention. It predicted that long term the Democrats would become the dominant party because college-educated voters were joining the blue team and so were newly enfranchised 18 year olds. The Republicans were going to be swept out to sea.

Boy, were they wrong, at least so far. What happened? To their credit, the authors realized that their prediction is way off and have now written a new book, Where Have All the Democrats Gone?, that tries to address the question. The short answer is that the progressive culture embodied by the college-educated Democrats is driving everybody else away. For many enlightened college-educated Democrats, if a man puts on a dress and says he is a woman, it is obvious that you have to respect her wishes. For a large number of other people, especially older ones, that is a bunch of malarkey. A man in a dress is just a man in a dress. In other words, it's not the economy, stupid. It's the culture wars.

In Judis and Teixeira's account, the Democrats underdelivered on the economic front for working-class voters (e.g., where is that $15/hr minimum wage?) but overdelivered on cultural issues that are trivial, or even offensive, to many working-class voters. The result is that many people no longer see the Democrats as the people's party, as it was in FDR's time, but as the party of the elite professional class. Teixeira recently said: "Because the labor movement is so weak now and the working-class influences in the Democratic Party are so weak now, and because the base of the Democratic Party is in literal numerical terms more steered toward white college-educated and politically liberal people, it's just basically instantiated that campus culture into the party as a whole." Not surprisingly, this repels working-class voters. Since they hate what the Democrats have become, they have moved to the Republicans as the only alternative, even though their acceptance there is totally cynical because the Republicans are still the party of the very rich and very conservative.

So by turning the Democratic Party into a larger version of a college "Young Progressives" group, the Democrats have lost their base and the new one isn't big enough to make up for it. The authors note that the Democrats' "shadow party" is largely made up of recent college graduates from progressive elite colleges, who come fully equipped with the views popular at those institutions, but much less so in the country as a whole. The "shadow party" is the collection of political workers, activists, staffers, lawyers, allied nonprofits, think tanks, fundraisers, new and friendly businesses, and others who surround the party and who are at least as influential as the politicians themselves.

People in the shadow party are enraged about this perception. They have binders full of policy papers about the laws they want that would benefit ordinary Americans on taxes, health care, and wages. Why don't those idiots see that? That is the problem, of course. People outside the shadow party think those inside it see them as idiots, which is kinda true. And those inside the shadow party don't think that a position on who should use which bathroom should be more important than a carefully formulated health-care policy. Unfortunately for them, many working-class people do see bathroom policy and who gets to play on which team and use which locker room in high school as more important than health-care policy. Idiots.

Judis and Teixeira were right that college-educated professionals were gravitating away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats, but they greatly underestimated how that migration would change the image of the Party. The new book is not entirely negative. It does propose some courses of action the Democrats can take to become a clear majority party. These include staying far from Wall Street on pocketbook issues, supporting national solidarity, cooling it with the woke stuff and jargon, and avoiding all-or-nothing positions on climate change and gender issues. Above all, keep in mind that most voters did not go to college and views that are obvious, self-explanatory, and morally correct at many elite colleges are actually anathema to large numbers of voters. If you'd rather be right than be president, fine, but then don't whine that you're not president. (V)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates