A recent survey by ABC and The Washington Post found that 67% of Americans feel the Democratic party is out of touch with the concerns of the American People.
This shouldn’t be a surprising statistic, especially after the events of the 2016 election. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but in the presidential election the popular vote doesn’t matter and the worst time to litigate the merits of the Electoral College is when you’re out of power.
Democrats are out of power. Since the midterm elections in 2010, the Democrat Party lost seats in national, state, and local elections across the country. Barack Obama easily swept the presidential race in 2012, but after the midterms he found himself facing a hostile congress and fighting state legislatures where Republicans controlled both the state legislatures and governorships.
It’s easy to think of reasons why this happened. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and voter turnout are all serious issues, but they can’t explain every loss. Democrats need to admit that, from local elections to national ones, voters are not choosing them.
Progressives need to do more than protest, they need to put Democrats in office. But, how can they accomplish that when their message fails so spectacularly with voters? Some strategists suggest that to win, Democrats need to soften their position on controversial opinions to appeal to the “rural voters” who swung for Donald Trump in the last election.
They would be wrong.
Progressivism Is Popular
There is this myth that progressive ideas are unpopular and uncommon. After all, just look at how many seats Democrats lost. But a rejection of the DNC is not the same thing as a rejection of the ideals Democrats believe in. In fact, polls consistently find that progressive policies are not only popular but in many cases represent the majority opinion. Here’s what the American public thinks about some of the Democrat party’s most “controversial” opinions.
Increasing Minimum Wage
Increasing the minimum wage was one of the cornerstone positions Bernie Sanders ran on during the Democratic Primary, and the idea was so popular that a $15 minimum wage became an official position of Hillary Clinton’s during the general election, but how popular is it? While support for an increase above $15 is at 48% (HuffPost/YouGov), 59% believe it should be at least $12 an hour and 53% believe that increasing the minimum wage helps workers. Overall, only 18% of those polled felt that the minimum wage should be removed or kept where it is.
Support for the minimum wage is clearly not limited to college students, fast food employees, or millennials. In fact, the Washingon Post reported on a poll conducted by a conservative research group of more than 1,000 business executives. 80% of those who responded supported an increase to the minimum wage in some form. Business owners and employees both support paying employees more.
With the Republicans controlling both the Whitehouse and Congress, one of their first attempts at legislation was to fulfill a seven-year promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Their first proposal didn’t even make it to the House floor for a vote and was one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation ever made.
The Affordable Care Act has substantial flaws, but what do voters feel the Government’s role should be in healthcare? A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 80% of Americans felt it was the responsibility of the Federal Government to make sure ALL Americans had health coverage. When asked about the Affordable Care Act specifically, 54% approve of the law the Republicans named Obamacare.
LGBTQ+ rights are one of the more controversial positions the Democratic Party has. Republicans accuse progressives of participating in “Identity politics” and forcing people to accept things like marriage equality and protections for Americans who identify as Transgender. What do survey’s say?
When asked about bathroom bills, non-partisan polling company PRRI found that 53% opposed laws that would require a transgender individual to use the bathroom that matched their gender at birth. 71% of those polled supported nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQ+ individuals.
The debate over police reform was one of the most contentious issues of the 2016 election, with Donald Trump defining himself as the “Law and order” candidate even as the Democrats invited the Mother’s of the Movement on stage. However, a recent poll conducted by PEW found that 60% of citizens felt that the deaths of African Americans by police officers were signs of a larger problem, not isolated incidents. Other polls find a sharp racial and political divide on this topic more than many others, but it is still a cause worth fighting for.
This isn’t every Democratic position, but healthcare, LGBTQ+ rights, police reform, and the minimum wage were all “controversial” topics during the previous election when the data shows that they shouldn’t be. In most positions, progressives represent the majority opinion of the country.
We Need Voters Not Converts
Why doesn’t this popularity translate into more Democrats winning elections? I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I think part of the problem lies in how we discuss these topics. We don’t need to change our message, just how we position it.
This starts by taking back the conversation from conservatives.
One thing 2016 showed Democrats is that saying “we’re not Republicans” isn’t good enough. You don’t inspire support by making your rallying cry that you’re less terrible than everyone else.
I think the fatal mistake progressives makes when discussing their policy vision is that we focus too much on comparing our ideas to the conservative alternative. We are the majority, or at least the plurality on most, if not all of these supposedly controversial issues. This means that more people already agree with us than the GOP, so why play defense?
I hold the positions I do because I believe that they will create a better America, not just for me, but for everyone. So why don’t we advocate for our policies in a similar way? I support the minimum wage because I believe that it will protect the rights of employees, create real economic growth and give people the financial stability they need to attend school, grow their family, or try starting a business. 53% of people already agree with me.
We have a positive vision that we believe will improve America, a vision that Americans already share. In 2018 and beyond, it’s not the Democrats job to convince voters to change their position on anything. It is the party’s job to motivate the progressive majority to vote.