This article is part of the Opinion Today newsletter. You can sign up here to receive more briefings and a guide to the section daily in your inbox.
One of the hoariest clichés in politics is “move to the center.” Journalists who think of themselves as nonideological often urge both parties to move to the center, as if the center of the political spectrum were devoid of ideology.
So I enjoyed the Op-Ed yesterday, “Move Left, Democrats,” by Steve Phillips, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. But I’m not sure I agreed with it.
Phillips argued that Democrats lost more Obama voters to third parties — and to staying home from the polls — than they did to Donald Trump. When the Democratic National Committee chooses its new leader this weekend, it should pick one who avoids the temptations of the political center, Phillips wrote.
I’m skeptical for two main reasons. The first is that the presidency isn’t the only political office that matters. As Barack Obama noted in his last interview as president, with Pod Save America, Democrats have to win back the Senate and the House if they want to address climate change, inequality and civil rights.
Winning back the House and Senate requires doing better in heavily white, nonmetropolitan America, which tends to be conservative. One of the reader commenters on the piece, Matt in Washington, made a version of this point: “This is a prescription for a party that can win the White House but which cannot win control at the state level.”
The second reason is that we still don’t yet know exactly who turned out and who didn’t in 2016. Phillips uses exit-poll data. But exit polls offer imprecise, and frequently misleading, estimates, especially when they’re sliced to look at demographic groups.
A better portrait will emerge in coming months, as analysts get access to data from the voter-registration files and the census. There is precedent here too: In 2012, misleading exit-poll data helped fool Democrats into thinking they could win the presidency while losing the white vote badly, as Nate Cohn documented in an prophetic June 2016 Upshot analysis.
Everyone knows how those delusions of demographic destiny turned out.
Phillips is right that the Democrats would be crazy to alienate the growing voting groups, such as millennials, Latinos andAsian-Americans, that now support the party so strongly. The answer for the party is almost surely more complex than simply moving to the right. Instead, it likely revolves around an economic message that appeals to both center and left.
But if Democrats want to return to power — not just in the White House, but in Congress and at the state level too — they need a strategy that appeals to more white voters.
The full Opinion report follows, including Carol Steinberg on her experiences as a disabled lawyer.
Continue reading the main story