The Changing Landscape of Political Parties
There is overlap between the parties in ways that you might not expect. And there's still hope.
The surprising outcome of the 2016 election and talk about Democrat hopes of flipping the House and/or Senate in 2018 have a lot of people speculating about political party alignment. Will Donald Trump drive Republican voters away from the Grand Old Party? Are we looking at 2018 or 2020 to be a “wave” election for Democrats?
A recent study by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Political Science asked these questions and more about the current state of affairs. What he found suggests some points that confound the prevailing wisdom.
Bartels maintains that there have been no mass defections from either Republicans or Democrats. His research found that the splits within each party break out in contrasting ways. Democrats are, of course, more united in their belief in an active government, but somewhat surprisingly they find themselves less united when it comes to cultural issues. Republicans tend to have the opposite leanings, being more united in their view on cultural issues but more at odds with one another when it comes to the role government should play in peoples’ lives.
Hence the failure to repeal ObamaCare and budgets that keep the Democrat pace on deficits.
Surveys Bartels conducted in his research found that nearly 25% of Republicans were closer to the average Democrat on the role of government when compared to the average Republican, while only 11% of Democrats were closer to Republicans on that role when compared to the average Democrat. On the flip side, over 26% of Democrats were closer to the average Republican on cultural issues. This is likely due in part to the Democrat Party’s small tent, in which elected officials and voters are practically coerced to toe the party line on abortion, same-sex marriage and other topics.
The one area that Bartels doesn’t go into but should cause concern among Republicans is the loss of Millennial women. A Pew Research report found that in 2014, Democrats held a 21-point advantage over Republicans with women in this group. By 2018, the number of women who self-identified or leaned Democrat rose to 70%. Nearly three-fourths of women in the Millennial age group now identify as Democrats. Certainly, the election of Donald Trump played a big role in this, but we cannot discount the fact that Hillary Clinton was not nearly as popular among young women as Bernie Sanders. But with Clinton no longer a factor, Republicans will need to work much harder to reach this voting bloc with the message of Liberty.
In fact, Democrats aim to exploit women voters to take down Trump.
This issue aside, if we accept Bartels’ numbers and the idea that a larger percentage of Democrats are growing closer to Republicans on cultural issues, then why does the Left appear to be winning the culture war? This is where the power of the media comes into play. With much of the media and academia leaning heavily to the left, it becomes easier for progressives to steer the message. Consider the point that Republicans have been labeled increasingly more radical in recent years even while their fundamental policy stances have not changed all that much.
That’s because if any party has moved its fundamental policy stance, it’s been the Democrats. Former Clinton adviser and political prognosticator Dick Morris observes that Democrats tend to move further left based on negative outcomes during election cycles. This happened throughout the 1980s, and continued during the midterm drubbings Barack Obama received while in office. It seems counterintuitive to move further in a direction that voters reject, but leftists’ strategy is to drive everything their direction so the very terms of debate change over time.
So, if more Republicans are finding common cause with Democrats about the role of government, and young women are leaving the GOP in droves, is there any good news? Yes, and that is that progressives have not necessarily moved the electorate to the left; they have only succeeded in moving themselves further to the left. And in doing so, according to National Review’s David French, they are deceiving themselves about the impact they are having on voters. They are not changing many minds; they’re only browbeating people. And they are in fact illustrating to the rest of the country just how out of touch they truly are. The downside is that we can expect deeper polarization. The upside is wave elections are not born out of polarized electorates.