Anatomy of a political dead end
Partly I think there's a social-bubble element to this. Because of the way we're all segregated, a lot of left people I known genuinely don't believe anyone could be disagreeing with them in good faith – there must be some nefarious underlying reason. So they think 'well if everyone agrees with me, how can we be losing elections?' Mobilisation – 'we're just not enthusiastic enough' – is a way less threatening answer than 'actually people don't agree with me.'
It's similar how my grandmother didn't believe in atheists. People might SAY they don't believe in God to be rebellious, or contrarian, or evil, but the idea that the belief was sincerely held seemed literally incomprehensible to her.
The amount of pushback that Matt has gotten on this from other pundits (Jamelle Bouie, among others) has been interesting to see. People really hate thinking that their preferred political outcomes and the optimal strategy to achieve those outcomes don't line up neatly.
I'm reminded a bit of working on Democratic campaigns back in 2012 and going through the process of figuring out what polled well. We had to be careful because even with Paul Ryan as the Republican VP, the public refused to believe just how bad the Ryan Budget was in terms of cutting Medicare. It seemed too bad to be plausible.
In contrast without a shred of evidence, voters were willing to believe that a Republican candidate supported privatization of Social Security. Eight years after Bush and it still lingered in the public's mind.
The more vocal the progressive left is, and the more Fox News picks up stories that aren't even true (banning airlines?), the harder it gets for even a moderate Democrat to distinguish themselves because I think the public is becoming more and more credulous that Democrats are all far left.
And the longer Republicans shut up about their unpopular ideas, the more it fades from the public's memory.
Progressives are on The Right Side of History. Winning elections, governing, and solving problems isn't what matters. It's about being right.
Progressives don't need to change anything that they are doing, because demographics are destiny. Opponents of progressivism are all deplorable racists and fascists. Why would progressives want to win the vote of deplorable racists?
Yup. Only thing I'd add here is that a lot of these delusions came out of Bernie's overperformance in the 2016 primary (which we've relitigated in this space many times already), which was almost entirely due to Hillary's weakness as a candidate and not a mass constituency for progressive politics. This was followed up by the 2018 AOC/Squad House victories -- and good for them, realizing they should try to knock out moderate Dems in left-leaning seats. But those lessons certainly don't apply across the country.
I find the whole "swing voters don't exist" sub-debate important, and interesting. It's obviously bullshit (always was) but the trend that got people talking this way is real enough, and clearly folks with a propensity to vote either party are a much smaller slice of the electorate than they used to be.
My sense is, in a closely divided country, the importance of swing voters might actually be bigger than ever. We've seen numerous examples over the last few cycles where positively microscopic vote shifts have made a difference. I wonder just how big (or small) a portion of the electorate they are. Five percent? Eight? Ten? Also, are they more common in highly competitive states like Michigan and Pennsylvania than elsewhere? (This could be the case, but the competitiveness of such states may be entirely because of a closely divided electorate, and might not imply any variance at all from the nation wrt swing voter numbers).
I'm a swing voter. I exist, I swear I do.
Good point about Hispanics and immigration. I've always thought that Democratic fixation on immigration policy (especially as it relates to illegal migration) to try and draw support from Hispanic voters was silly.
My definition Hispanic voters are US Citizens, so they were either born here, or followed the legal process and got naturalized here. Why would people who followed the rules have sympathy for those who didn't?
Note: the above point doesn't necessarily represent my personal thinking on immigration policy. My theory is we just adopt a policy like New Zealand, Australia or Canada. A points system combined with harsh and comprehensive enforcement of employment laws. I work in Canada sometimes.... companies won't even let me on site until I have absolutely proven that I have my work permit and registered.... apparently the fines are pretty hefty.
Anyway, I digress.
My life time voting record:
1992 (George Bush) L
1996 (Clinton) W
2000 (Abstatined)... would of voted Bush, but I will never vote for family of recent President. Am against political dynasties.
2004 (Kerry).... I actually supported Wesley Clark in Primary. Went to rallies.
2012 Romney (Fuck he would of been a good President)
2016 Abstained. Dislike Trump. Won't vote for Clinton. Same reason as above for Bush.
2020 No Vote *would of voted for Biden, but I was traveling, and didnt get absentee. So passed.
2024 I'm totally open.
Note: I didn't vote for Obama, but would of if he had ran against Trump.
Forward-looking reactions (and the crowing about 'demographic' shifts) from activists almost always has the stench of perfecting the art of fighting the last war just in time for the next one. This is not news to anyone who pays a modicum of attention to national and regional politics, and I'm hardly blowing anyone's hair back by saying it, but there seems to be a lot of untapped potential for conservative politicians in younger, male, black and latino men. My brother-in-law is a 29-year-old latino guy raised in the suburbs, and his Facebook posts are basically indistiguishable from my 60-something white uncle who is pretty widely considered a bigot by the majority of the family.
Is it that the relevant people don't grasp this, or is that too much of the messaging is an effort to raise money rather than win votes? Also, the media incentives are to elevate controversial voices, right? So instead there's lots of noise about less electorally significant issues - not because people are morons, but because they have mixed incentives. Maybe?
It’s all exacerbated by social media, of course. Millennials and Gen Z, having grown up with it, can’t see that it’s made everyone skew way more individualistic and performative in their POVs and much less willing to compromise or lay low. Young people were always more extreme, but they didn’t have the opportunity to break into 50 different small but loud factions damaging the broader liberal goals. Tangentially, the constant negative messaging about the US (we are bad and always have been bad!) and politics of victimization is destroying chances in many places…much of the population in the country takes pride in “enduring” life, and feeling like a victim or whiner isn’t appealing.
So eat your spinach, all you dreamy-eyed leftists. There's no constituency for your pet projects.
Where this message gets difficult is when you realize that there is also no constituency, left right or center, for eating spinach. Sure, there's a segment of the electorate that wants to make *other* people eat their spinach (esp. *those* people) but it also wants to ensure that deserving people (*our* people) are never required to eat spinach. So, "eat your spinach" will lose voters at least as fast as "fix climate change," "go vegan," or "destroy the safety net."
It might seem paradoxical for Matt to pitch a vote-losing position about not taking vote-losing positions.
But then you have to remember that Matt is not trying to appeal to voters. He is trying to appeal to people who are trying to appeal to voters: politicians, activists, donors, and extremely on-line politics-talkers. And the message to them is: voters are never going to eat their spinach. So, you have to do it for them if you want their votes.
Good news: the spinach comes in a gorgeous silver bowl, hand-chased.
This is not a new phenomena. The people on the far left who characterize themselves as progressives have been around awhile. I vividly remember the celebratory comments in the left wing blogs after Obama's rather disastrous first midterm election cycle. Many were quite ecstatic that they had purged so many of those darned blue dogs from the Democrats congressional caucus. I did not believe people could be that dumb about politics but there you are. They can.
Ezra Klein mentioned a number of times that the Bernie-sphere had a hard time understanding that there is a large share of the electorate with authentically conservative views across all issues spaces. Many on the left believe that if you could just get the "true" message through to people West Virginia would turn blue.
This is especially tough on immigration where we had 40 years of governing to the left of elite consensus that was to the left of popular opinion. There's no real way to restore that governing by consensus so the liberals/left are stuck between trying to ignore it, losing elections on it, or changing their views none of which is a great option.
Had Joe Biden won in a popular vote system I don't think we'd be having this specific conversation. People are always jockeying for issue salience, sometimes counterproductively! What else is new? But Because Democrats have a tenuous hold on an unfair map, it's important to actually:
Promote your popular issues over your unpopular issues.
I'm on board! But since a big cause of Democrat's losses is the unfair map, what regionalist appeals should Democrats make based on that unfair map?
It is narrowly and darkly funny to me that the word "progressive" directly implies some sort of incremental process, when the notion of the latter would see you blacklisted from many communities and organizations that have regrettably achieved ownership of that word. I hope this ownership is temporary.
Besides the wishful thinking, a lot of pundits and activists lack numeracy skills as well as basic awareness of the scientific process (i.e. how theory and empirics relate), so they should refrain from doing that particular kind of analysis, or else learn some stuff. I'm not even saying you need a phd, you can really go a *long* way just by learning some fundamentals, which every college educated person should be able to.
It's also funny, as someone how also follows Brazilian politics closely, to see lots of these same people idolizing Lula, considering that with more an year before the election Lula was already aggressively courting players in the center and even the center-right. Just like he did when he was President by the way.