There has been a lot of teeth gnashing about why the polls were so far off base this election – even more so than in the 2016 election. With a solid 8 point lead and Trump’s 1 in 10 chances of winning1 Biden should have won handily and the results should have been cemented in concrete by the end of the evening. But that didn’t happen. Even as I write this, 3 days after the election, we still don’t know who will be president next year. How did this happen? How could the polls be so wrong?
I’m not sure anyone can answer that question, but I think there’s a more important question that needs to be addressed, namely, what are the voters trying to tell us? Voting is one of the few means, and by far the most effective, the public has of communicating its needs and desires to our elected officials. By voting, people are trying to tell them something and it’s time they started to listen.
The majority of American voters are party loyalists. Approximately 1/3 of voters claim to be independent. Loyalists appear to be nearly equally divided among Democrats and Republicans, but the independents have historically leaned Democratic. Lately, however, there has been a shift among the independents and a substantial number of the working-class loyalists away from the Democratic Party. As a result, what was predicted in the polls to be an overwhelming victory for Democrats in this election has turned into a survival effort. The presidential race is still uncertain, Democrats lost seats in the House (but still hold a majority), and the Republicans appear to have held on to the Senate. Clearly, the expectations of Democrats were totally unrealistic. Why?
In yesterday’s New York Times2, David Brooks attempted to answer that question. Without going into detail3, I believe he hit the mark on all of his points, but missed the one point that I believe to be at the center of the issue. In his article, he states, “We now have two parties whose best version of themselves is as working-class parties.”
While “working-class party” may be the best “version” of themselves, that version is far from reality. The truth is that neither party represents the working-class. Many years ago, the Democratic Party did represent the working-class, but that ended around the time of Reagan. Since then, the Democratic Party has undergone a tectonic shift to the right4 and the working-class feels abandoned by the Party because it was abandoned by the Party. It’s more than a perception, it’s reality.
All you have to do is look at the loss of well paying jobs with good benefits and stable employment. Look at the newly created, low paying jobs with few benefits and no guarantees of stable employment. Look at the disparity of income and wealth between the ruling class and the working-class and any thinking person will realize that that image must create resentment if nothing else. Good wages, benefits, job security and improved working conditions were won for the working-class with the help of unions and the strong support of the Democratic Party. Party loyalty to the working-class was returned with loyalty to the Party which, in turn, was rewarded with votes and contributions to political campaigns. No more.
As a result, many in the working-class, including blacks and Latinos, have abandoned the Democratic Party. It’s not that the Republican Party has changed and is now the working-class party (it never was and it never will be), it’s the abandonment of the working-class by the Democratic Party that truly matters. One always feels loss much greater than the absence of something never possessed. And the loss of loyalty to the working-class by the Democratic Party is deeply resented. Like unrequited love, unrequited loyalty ultimately turns to resentment, abandonment and hate.
That’s the message I suspect working-class voters are trying to tell us; and I hope that the Democratic Party gets the message.
1 According to Nate Silver’s “Five Thirty Eight” analysis.
2 NY Times, 5 November 2020.
3 I leave it to the reader to read Brooks’ arguments.
4 Why the Democratic Party abandoned the working-class is a topic for a future blog.