Continuing the Discussion: US Government Shutdown: Democrats Need to Expand Their Political Support

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The Republican Party has been recklessly irresponsible by shutting down the government and risking default all in the name of denying health coverage to millions.

They should be punished severely at the polls next year not just for their mean-spirited policies but also for their destructive political tactics. Moreover, moderate Republican leaders need to undertake serious reform within their party.

But I want to talk about the Democrats. Why have they elicited such vitriolic hostility?

Why do many supporters of the Republican Party feel so desperate and alienated as to pursue such dangerous strategies? These are questions Democrats need to ask themselves if the country is to move past hyper-partisanship anytime soon.

One answer might lie in understanding Democratic political support. Despite their claims to be the “big tent” party, Democrats were rejected by several demographics last year.

CNN exit polling showed Barack Obama lost the 72% of the electorate that is white by 39% to 59%. He lost similarly large groups of voters by wide margins: voters making $50,000 or more per year, voters over the age of 40, male voters, Protestants, weekly churchgoers and those with some college or a full college degree.

These data are striking when compared to past elections when Democrats won the presidency. For example, Bill Clinton won, or was at least competitive, in each of the demographic groups Barack Obama lost in 2008 and 2012 in addition to the strong support both enjoyed from other demographics.

As a result, the “big tent” that brought Democrats from the New Deal to the Great Society and up through Bill Clinton is gone. Reagan may have temporarily won many of these voters in the 1980s, but they came back to Clinton in the 1990s. Since 2000, however, it is clear Democrats have won a smaller and smaller share of these voters in national elections.

Even more puzzling for Democrats is that voters in these demographics tend to support (by large margins) the very programs Democrats champion; Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and individually-listed components of Obamacare (to name a few) are all backed by vast majorities of Americans.

Unfortunately, Democrats seem unaware of these problems or have chosen to abandon these demographics (a choice possibly reflected in their 2012 election strategy; but that is a topic for another article).

As a result, voters from these demographics have turned to the Republicans, who having no ideas of their own and simply provide a loud megaphone for protest but with no direction.

The Republicans need to do some serious soul-searching after this fiscal debacle.  But Democrats need to ask themselves why their “big tent” has shrunk in recent years and, as a result, why members of these demographics feel so alienated and desperate as to pursue such dangerous strategies.  It is insufficient to dismiss these groups or hope prevailing demographic trends sweep them into irrelevance.

If the Democrats can address these issues and broaden their public support, then perhaps the conditions that gave rise to the current fiscal crises may not soon arise again.

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