How the Democratic Party Lost Its Middle Class Voter Base
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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
It’s been well over a month since Donald Trump shocked the world and won the presidency of the United States. He did so after having defeated the political establishment of both parties.
Since the 2016 presidential election, people all over the world have had difficulty embracing the outcome. They find every excuse imaginable for why he won, without getting to the real reason for his historic victory.
I have written many articles on the 2016 presidential race, many of them critical of Trump’s bombastic rhetoric and his thin understanding of policy issues. But Democrats forgot the cardinal rule of politics: “All politics is local.”
The central theme of the election focused primarily on economic issues. Trump tapped into voter angst about the economy more effectively than Democrats did.
Economy Was Central Theme of Presidential Race
November’s job report showed why the election went against Hillary Clinton. The Labor Department reported that the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.6%, the lowest it has been since before the financial crisis of 2008.
This decline was not the result of people finding gainful employment. It was due to a drop in the number of unemployed people who stopped looking for work and a record number of people working part-time.
Even President Obama failed to understand why the Democrats lost so badly in November. He said, “In this election, [they] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively. Part of it is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country, but part of it is also Democrats not working at a grass-roots level, being in there, showing up, making arguments.”
Trump Understood Middle-Class Frustrations
This election was not about messaging. It was all about the impact Democratic policies have had on middle-class lives.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been an anvil around Democrats’ necks since its passage in 2010. Despite more than 20 million once-uninsured Americans who now have healthcare, many middle-class voters have only seen substantially higher premiums, higher deductibles and other costs associated with Obamacare.
Democrats stated that the ACA would reduce costs, the insured could keep their doctors and people would not lose their healthcare plans. All too often, those promises were proven false.
Trump spoke to rural and middle class voters as no one has. Those voters are the folks who work on farms, repair your vehicles, pay their taxes, go to church and are involved in the community, while providing for their families.
These voters experienced overreaching and burdensome regulations, high taxes on small businesses and, in some cases, healthcare costs equivalent to having a second mortgage. They had had enough.
Media Fails to Understand Middle Class
These voters also transferred their frustration to the media. Too many middle-class rural voters view the media as synonymous with the Democratic Party.
Far too often, the media failed to understand or take into consideration the blue-collar, rural voters in the heart of the country. When those voters showed up at the polls – in larger numbers than the previous two elections – they believed the media showed utter disdain for them.
Rural and middle-class voters are fed up with being overworked and underpaid. They want to raise their families in a safe environment free from terrorism.
Also, they want a country that supports its veterans and a law enforcement community that protects them from people who want to destroy the country. These voters view the Democratic Party as too accommodating to anti-social groups that protest and cause disruptions in urban cities.
November’s election flipped all conventional theories on their heads. Democrats need to understand that many of the citizens who voted for Trump also voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Solid Democratic Counties Voted Trump
Nothing was more glaring than the voter results in the two blue-collar, Rust Belt Ohio counties of Mahoning and Trumbull. These counties are a reflection what happened across the country, as both counties went heavily for Democrat Obama in 2008 and 2012.
This year, Mahoning County went for Hillary Clinton by just 3,000 votes. However, Trumbull County went to Trump; it voted for a Republican for the first time since 1972.
Trump hammered home issues that were important to many middle-class voters. He discussed trade, routinely criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreements.
Many people believe, rightly or wrongly, that these agreements are responsible for the devastating job losses in the Rust Belt states. This belief enabled Trump to win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which incidentally had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1980s.
Democrats Failed Because They Focused on Identity Politics
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party campaigned on identity politics. They were more concerned about where someone went to the bathroom. Also, they were more concerned about illegal immigrants and other cultural issues than they were about working class voters, who are the bedrock of the Democratic Party.
The people of counties like Mahoning and Trumbull feel the Democratic Party is more in tune with the bicoastal elites than with the needs of middle-class voters.
Clinton’s comments during a CNN-sponsored March 2016 Town Hall further alienated Rust Belt voters. Clinton acknowledged that new forms of renewable energy put coal miners out of work and coal companies out of business.
“I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?” she said.
“We’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories,” Clinton added.
Democratic Message Unsuccessful in Rural America
Her message was about job training, but those voters have heard about that for years from both Republicans and Democrats. The problem with Clinton’s message is many of those people don’t want the white-collar jobs that are the ideal of many elites. They love their blue-collar jobs.
There are some Democrats who look with distain at middle class voters, especially those from rural communities in the rust belt states. This seed of disconnect didn’t begin with the 2016 presidential election. It has been building for some time.
While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, then-candidate Obama stated, “and it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Democrats, even Hillary Clinton in the first debate, have said the entire country faces “implicit racial bias.” Her comment essentially called Americans racists, when in fact many Trump voters voted twice for Barack Obama.
Clinton’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Remark Came Back to Hurt Her
Clinton went so far as to disparage Trump supporters. In a campaign speech, she said, “We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?”
In the days after the November election, liberal PBS political commentator Mark Shields remarked that the Democratic Party made a strategic blunder by lumping all Trump supporters together as racially motivated. This mistake, he said, would have dire ramifications for the party.
If Democrats ever want to regain their status of helping middle-class voters, they need to go into their communities and really speak to them, not at them. Otherwise, Democrats will continue to suffer election setbacks.