The American populace is growing darker. The Republican Party’s older, white male base is dwindling. The country will within decades be “majority minority.” These are facts. These facts, coupled with another one that nonwhite voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats has resulted in a theory that demography is destiny for Democrats electoral strategy; that Democrats need not pander to the increasingly less influential white vote, instead being patient for the magic moment when America’s white population is no longer the majority, ensuring Democratic electoral victories for generations to come. This thinking is dangerous, both to the Democratic Party and to our country. While Democrats indeed secured large gains in the House and the states in 2018, there are many reasons to be wary of a demography is destiny future.
Sidebar – The Myth of “Majority Minority:”
So this is all based off of self-identifying choices people make when filling out the census. The problem is who is classified as part of the “white” majority. Our definitions divide whites into “Non-Hispanic whites” and Hispanic ones. In the United States, we refer to whites only as the “Non-Hispanic whites.” The largest growth in minority populations in the country has come among Hispanics, some of whom are also white, but not counted as such. This lends to the idea of a majority minority future. Anyhow, I digress. For the sake of argument, let’s just accept that we are headed towards a majority minority nation.
A Strategy that takes P.O.C. for Granted:
Democrats waiting for demographic changes to help put them in power is a privileged tactic that takes people of color for granted. It is true that African Americans overwhelmingly favor Democrats, as do Hispanics and Asians (though to lesser degrees than blacks). However, Democrats running for election must not take the nonwhite vote for granted. There are legitimate weaknesses in such a strategy, which conservative operatives have began to realize, that they may be able to exploit to punch a hole in the Democratic coalition.
African Americans and Hispanics tend to be more religious and socially conservative than other racial groups in the US. The real danger lies in potential single issue voters, such as the Latin or African American religious pro-lifer or the Asian American fervently against affirmative action. The Republican Party is the pro-life party. The Republican Party is the party against affirmative action. You see where I’m going: single issue voters may turn against Democrats, rendering demography is destiny a failed strategy (perhaps because it is not a strategy at all).
We must recognize the most loyal parts of the Democratic base by putting them in power. African-American women make up a crucial part of the Democratic base and have done so for generations. Yet, we still do not find enough black women in power in the party. This is why Ayanna Pressley’s win in Massachusetts 7th Congressional District over long-time incumbent Mike Capuano was so important. Pressley is an inspiring figure and a voice for those who have been ignored by the political class in this country for far too long. Her story can inspire other women of color to run for office and shake up politics as we know it. Putting black women in positions of power in the Democratic Party is well-deserved as well as important to maintaining a loyal base of support.
A Real Path to Victory for Democrats:
I believe the Democratic Party must continue to be the party of social justice: of women’s rights, LGBTQ+ protections, racial equality, and the pro-choice party in American politics. However, it is a dangerous electoral strategy to overemphasize these social issues. This is not to say they are not important; social issues are just more divisive and threaten to splinter the Democratic coalition. The Democratic Party is the big-tent party, and our tent needs to find a way to earn the votes of social conservatives who we may not agree with.
Democrats will win with a bold economic message. Progressive policies such as universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee, labor rights, a green new deal, and a living minimum wage have broad support among the public, and these policies can transform the nation towards a clean energy future, one in which economic inequality is not a force in American life, one in which the wealthiest country in the world treats all its citizens with basic dignity. I disagree with pro-lifers and those against race-based affirmative action. However, I believe there is room in the tent for such voters. I believe that Democrats who run on healthcare and a progressive economic platform will win.
The progressive movement has momentum. We recently witnessed this in the 2018 elections as Democrats won big, not by running against Trump, however vile and destructive he is, but by focusing on healthcare and jobs. A progressive economic transformation promises a brighter future to the many, not the few, and gives us all hope in dark times. It is time Democrats ditch a pitiful, lazy, privileged non-strategy that is “demography is destiny,” and sign on to a bold economic agenda.
I will note that the 2020 primary has thus far been about the issues. While the media may be focused on the horse race, candidates have been doling out progressive platforms on everything from criminal justice reform to universal child care, universal healthcare, and climate change. They have made this a campaign about the issues, and still, have not forgotten a message about social justice. We are seeing a new attitude in this primary where Democrats are no longer afraid to talk about racism in this country and in this administration; where Democrats are emphasizing how their economic agenda will serve communities of color. And most importantly, I see Democrats doing this without speaking in divisive tones. Elizabeth Warren can talk about race when she wants, but when she is talking about income inequality and taking on Wall Street, she delivers an economic message that speaks to working people of all colors. The future of liberal politics is rooted in the interconnectedness of progressive policy-making and social justice, and Democrats must embrace it as these 2020 candidates are.
Featured Image: Robin Lubbock/WBUR