A Political Scientist Warns the Democratic Party Is Off Course

The following excerpts have been edited for length and clarity:

There’s lots of nuance that gets lost in translation, but the narrative that a lot of people took from your book was that the Democratic Party would benefit from the inevitable growth of people of color, young people, this new cadre of voters who at the time seemed ready to join the party and put the Republican Party in the rearview mirror. And the narrative has been complicated since then, hasn’t it?

Well, it was even complicated back then. You fairly summarized what is a bowdlerized version of what we said. That was only part of what we were saying. Demographic change was inevitably shifting the political terrain. It did not make it inevitable that Democrats would benefit.

And even on this raw demographic basis, it’s not crazy that there’s a natural popular-vote Democratic majority in the country. However, that does not translate into political power. We very specifically said — and this is widely ignored — that for this majority to attain and exercise political power, you have to retain a significant fraction of the white working class. The country was changing, but it wasn’t changing that fast.

The second thing we didn’t anticipate was the eventual effect of professional-class hegemony in the Democratic Party — that it would tilt the Democrats so far to the left on sociocultural issues that it would actually make the Democratic Party significantly unattractive to working-class voters.

It’s a huge liability for the Democrats, because the people who staff the party, the people who staff the think tanks, the advocacy groups, the foundations, the staffers, they’re all singing from the same hymnal to some extent. They live in this liberal cultural bubble, particularly the younger members.

Can you give an example of that?

Sure. Go back to the 2020 Democratic primaries. It was remarkable the extent to which things that were alienating to the average voter, particularly your average working-class voter, were gaily promulgated, with no apparent second thoughts about how it might appear to people outside the bubble. Things like open borders; basically, let’s decriminalize the border. Anybody who knows anything about immigration and public opinion in the United States realizes that will not play well.

Arguably, Democrats would have been better off from the beginning saying, “Yeah, we believe in being humane to immigrants. We also believe in border security, and we’re going to enforce it.” You know, take a page out of the old Obama playbook. Obama got a lot of stuff right on some of these issues, which the party is now insisting on forgetting.