The reservoir of Democratic voters is bigger than that of the Republicans. They could have a chance against Donald Trump in the next presidential election if they focus on social issues.
Almost all votes have been counted and the contests decided barely one month after the congressional elections in the U.S. The result points in two directions: after many years, the Democrats managed to win back the majority in the House of Representatives, and a relatively large majority at that. The Republicans were able to maintain their majority in the Senate and even managed to increase it. But what does this result mean for the Democrats and their chances of unseating Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election?
Four lessons can be gleaned from this, with all due caution. The first lesson: If the Democrats want to win, their presidential candidate must also be attractive to those voters who are commonly referred to as America’s white blue-collar workers. These are people who didn’t attend college, but instead learned a trade directly after high school. They’re often simply described as America’s white working class, but many are not workers in the traditional sense.
Blue-collar workers once constituted the backbone of the Democratic Party. But that was long ago. Many of them bemoan the ongoing demographic transformations in their country and the associated economic, social and cultural changes that these bring with them. Most blue-collar workers cast their ballots in support of Republicans.
But the Democrats cannot afford to give up this voter contingent. Now as then, white Americans are much more likely to exercise their right to vote than are members of minority groups, including blacks, Latinos and Asians. Just about two-thirds of white voters are blue-collar workers, and they are often the deciding force in the Midwest and the South.
In 2016, the overwhelming majority of white blue-collar workers voted for Trump. He was their favorite — and he still is, especially among men in this group. But this support crumbled in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan during the recent congressional or so-called midterm elections. In contrast, support for Trump in other regions remained steady, and even increased in some places.
The second lesson: Democrats could experience a resurgence in the southern U.S., but for now, they still need to seek their majorities in the Midwest.
During the midterms, the Democratic Party tried a new strategy in the South. In some states, especially those with large black and Latino populations, they promoted progressive and African-American candidates for political office. Their hope was that a coalition of minorities and liberal, white urbanites and suburbanites in the fast-growing metropolises would be strong enough to gain the Democrats a majority.
It worked in Arizona, where a liberal Democrat won the Senate seat that a Republican had previously occupied. It almost paid off in other states, too. A black Democrat only barely missed becoming the governor of Florida, a black female Democrat barely missed becoming the governor of Georgia, and a liberal white Democrat just missed becoming a senator from Texas. They just needed a few more points to win. For America’s conservative South, these results were, in fact, a sensation.
But in the end, the Democrats came in second, if only just. That was due above all to the three candidates from Florida, Texas and Georgia receiving too few votes from white voters, especially among blue-collar workers. These white voters in the South still have a problem voting for a black person, which was confirmed again in a run-off election in Mississippi. There, a hopeful black Democrat campaigned for a Senate seat in Washington, but in the end, lost to a white Republican woman, even though she had upset many by making racist statements during the campaign.
Social Democratic Message
But even white Democrats still have problems in the South with white voters, especially blue-collar workers. For instance, more than 70 percent of minorities in Texas cast their ballots for the liberal white Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, but only 25 percent of white voters voted for him.
Thus, for the 2020 presidential election, the fact remains that no Democratic presidential candidate will be able to win a majority of white blue-collar workers in the foreseeable future. But whoever wants to move into the White House must attract approximately 40 percent of these voters and otherwise recoup any losses among white Americans with votes from minorities. Barack Obama achieved this twice. The recent congressional elections have shown that other Democrats can do it, too, especially in the Midwest.
The third take-away: It has been stated time and again that Democrats must run a politically moderate, if not somewhat conservative, presidential candidate in 2020. But the midterms showed that it doesn’t matter if a Democrat is more conservative or more liberal at heart; rather, that candidate needs to spread the right political message. And this message must be a more social democratic one, because this is how the Democrats will also make gains among Trump voters – among white blue-collar workers.
Whether a candidate is black or white, Asian or Latino, heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, those Democrats who are successful are those who don’t place identity politics in the forefront, but instead emphasize better health care, pension security, more funding for public schools and protection from unfair Chinese trade policies and wage undercutting by illegal immigrants.
The Right Mix of Candidates
If Democrats focus on these issues, they could also support abortion rights, gay marriage and transgender bathrooms along the way, so-called leftist issues that otherwise scare off conservative white blue-collar workers in particular.
The fourth lesson: Wisconsin and Michigan, for instance — two important Midwest states — voted for Trump in 2016, and until that point, their governors were Republicans. Now, white Democrats have won the gubernatorial elections there, each campaigning with a black running mate. And both victorious political pairings consisted, moreover, of a man and a woman.
In an America that is experiencing rapid demographic, social and cultural change, the right mix of candidates is more crucial than ever — especially for Democrats. The Democratic Party finds its voters above all among women and young people, among minorities, urbanites and suburbanites, among those with a college degree. Its reservoir of voters is theoretically bigger than that of the Republicans. But it is also more diverse, complex and enigmatic — and thus more difficult to bring and hold together.