The New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall is always worth reading on politics. He has a real gift for taking a deep dive into data. In today’s piece, Edsall discusses how the Democratic Party’s voters really have taken a sharp turn to the left — and how that is driven by well-educated whites, especially white women. Excerpts:
According to Gallup, the share of white Democrats calling themselves liberal on social issues has grown since 2001 from 39 to 61 percent. Because of this growth, white liberals are now roughly 40 percent of all Democratic voters.
While a substantial percentage of Democratic minorities identify as liberals, those percentages have not been growing at anywhere near the rate that they have for white Democrats, so blacks and Hispanics have not contributed significantly to the rising percentage of self-identified Democratic liberals. Over the past 17 years, for example, the percentage of black Democrats who identify themselves as liberals grew by a modest three percentage points, according to both Gallup and the Pew Research Center.
In fact, white liberals are well to the left of the black electorate on some racial issues.
Take the issue of discrimination as a factor holding back African-American advancement. White liberals are to the left of black Democrats, placing a much stronger emphasis than African-Americans on the role of discrimination and much less emphasis on the importance of individual effort.
That’s fascinating. Educated white liberals — the kind of people who dominate the media and academia — are more woke than the black people for whom they presume to speak and advocate. This is not a parody.
Edsall points out that this is both good and bad news for Democrats. On the up side, it’s driving Democratic mobilization. On the down side, it’s giving Republicans fuel for their claims that the Democrats are a left-wing mob.
Many left-of-center commenters have long blamed conservative voters for being fooled by culture-war issues into voting against their economic interests. (This is the “What’s the matter with Kansas?” idea.) From a right-wing perspective, though, this looks like something admirable: putting moral and spiritual issues above material ones. It only looks like false consciousness to a left-liberal who believes that people only take conservative positions on abortion, marriage, and so forth, because they’re stupid or gullible.
Well, it turns out that those driving the Democrats leftward are doing so for exactly the same reasons:
In a detailed analysis, Gallup found that the lion’s share of the increase in support for socially liberal positions
has occurred among non-Hispanic whites. Whereas just 39 percent of white Democrats said they were liberal on social issues back in 2001-2005, that has risen to 61 percent since 2015-2017. By contrast, blacks’ views have hardly changed: 34 percent in the 2001-2005 period vs. 37 percent in 2015-2017.
In addition, according to Gallup, social liberalism grew substantially more among Democratic women than it did among men and more among college-educated Democrats than among those without degrees.
You need to read the story to see the stunning chart that illustrates this finding:
White liberal racial sympathy was, in turn, by far the strongest among the most affluent white liberals.
That is, for white liberals, the richer you are, the more likely you are to regard blacks as pawns of racism — far more than blacks themselves do. And:
According to [a study by political scientist Zach] Goldberg, 2016 marked the first year on record that “white liberals rated ethnic and racial minorities more positively than they did other whites.”
Think about this when you read national white journalists condemning Trump for supposedly dog-whistling to racists in his base. Are the people who say that seeing something that really exists — or are they projecting their own hatred of more downscale whites, who are not like themselves?
Read the entire Edsall column. He quotes Harvard’s Yascha Mounk saying that progressive activists are running real risks. Mounk warns that if Democrats
become captured in language games that are only understood by the most political and best educated progressive activists, they are likely to alienate a lot of potential supporters — including a large number of women and people of color.
Imagine the perfect political and intellectual weapon. It would disable your adversaries by preoccupying them with their own vanities and squabbles, a bit like a drug so good that users focus on the high and stop everything else they are doing.
Such a weapon exists: It is called political correctness. But it is not a weapon against white men or conservatives, as is frequently alleged; rather, it is a weapon against the American left. To put it simply, the American left has been hacked, and it is now running in a circle of its own choosing, rather than focusing on electoral victories or policy effectiveness. Too many segments of the Democratic Party are self-righteously talking about identity politics, and they are letting other priorities slip.
Of course there is a lot of racism out there, which makes political correctness all the more tempting. Yet polling data suggests that up to 80 percent of Americans are opposed to politically correct thinking in its current manifestations. Latinos and Asian-Americans are among the groups most opposed, and even 61 percent of self-professed liberals do not like political correctness.
Cowen goes on to say that the right has been similarly “hacked” — by Donald Trump:
The president himself is part of the hack, and the core motivation is the desire to “own the libs,” a phrase I didn’t hear much five years ago. We’ve now entered an era in which too many are self-obsessed and too few are effective.
This is anecdotal, so take it for what it’s worth, but since the Kavanaugh-Ford testimony, I have run into more than a few educated whites who tell me that they can’t stand Trump, but the Democrats scared them to death in that process. I spoke to one friend, an Evangelical conservative who has been complaining bitterly about Trump for years, who told me that the Kavanaugh hearings shook him up. He has daughters and sons both, and told me that the contempt that progressives showed for due process frightened him for the world they would bring about for his sons.
Just like that, he went from being a conservative who was alienated from the Republican Party, and willing to vote Democratic to bring his party back to the center, to being someone who believes that the progressive fanatics cannot be allowed to come to power, because they demonize people like him and his sons. He loves Donald Trump not one bit more than he ever did. But he fears the Democrats.
People on the left and the right who want to see economic and foreign policy issues be more important to our politics are going to be sitting on the sidelines for a long time, I’m afraid.