Democrats had to react to this expected lower voter rate. To compensate, Democrats moved to the right and center, distancing themselves from President Obama, in order to win more swing votes. Still, the cardinal rule of elections is that they are won not by winning over undecided voters, but by getting more of your supporters to the polls by rallying your base. The Democrats faced a difficult election, but chose a losing strategy.
The Democratic run to the right at best took some undecided voters from Republicans. But it likely lost as many votes as it won. When one side runs as Republican and the other runs as Republican-lite, the liberal Democratic base will not bother voting.
The 2016 election will reveal whether Democrats learned their lesson. Even with the expected higher turnout from low-income, minority, and young voters in presidential election years, the GOP can and will use general dissatisfaction with the president to achieve victory. Democrats need a fresh strategy that redeems the party in progressives’ eyes to win 2016.
The Republican party’s strategy, as it was in 2014, is be to unify the party against the president. President Obama remains very unpopular among all Republicans and self-identified conservatives. As in 2014, Republicans are capitalizing on this feeling to increase base and undecided support. Obama is seen by many conservatives as subverting the Constitution and democracy through his executive orders.
The Democrats’ recent shift in political strategy is a strong attempt to use the Republicans’ own tactics against them. Whether genuinely pushing for progressive solutions or merely putting up the facade of progressive liberalism, the actions of the Democratic members of Congress and the President’s administration boost populist support for Democrats.
The president chose to propose a larger tax on the wealthiest Americans in the State of the Union. The proposal is aimed at “putting the new Republican Congress in the position of defending top income earners over the middle class.” These measures put the president and the Democratic party back in the good graces of many middle-class and low-income American citizens. If the president succeeds in dispelling general dissatisfaction with him, Republicans will be forced to support the president or oppose his popular policies.
Standing up for progressive policies should win Democrats a lot of support in 2016, but, because of their Congressional majority, the GOP is in a stronger position to highlight issues and disagreement with the president.
Victory in 2016 will also depend on how each party rallies their key demos. The Democrats’ progressive strategy will only be successful if their candidate appeals to that same class of voters. President Obama twice compiled at least 332 electoral votes by adding wins in almost every competitive state. He posted double-digit wins among women, huge margins among voters younger than 30 and historically high marks among blacks and Latinos. As non-white voters continue to grow as a share of the electorate, a Democratic nominee who roughly holds onto Obama's 2012 level of support across all democratic groups would win the national popular vote by about 6 percentage and coast to victory in the Electoral College.
The Republican presidential aspirant nominated at this summer's convention is likely to become that party's nominee in part by invoking jingoist and xenophobic themes. This theme can be countered by Democrats with appeals to cosmopolitan America's better angels and its Judaeo-Christian, immigrant and liberal democracy roots, its diverse and welcoming culture and its visceral anti-authoritarian. But those angels will be more persuasive when combined with a compelling Democratic narrative of economic populism. There lies a problem.
Democrats have been in power for 8 years with paltry results for the middle class. Real wages have risen steadily in Australia and northern Europe in this period, yet stagnated in the U.S. Income disparities widening. Indeed, the mean 2.5 percent real wage gains by German workers in 2015 alone exceeds the cumulative rise in median real American weekly wages since 1979.
Wall Street malfeasance goes unpunished. Collective bargaining is not prioritized despite super-majority support for unions as devices to raise wages. The carried interest tax loophole remains wide open. Trade agreements give short shrift to wage concerns. Tax inversions have become commonplace. America has earned a reputation globally as tax shelter for the rich, worse than Luxembourg or the Cayman islands. Even long overdue EU steps to close tax loopholes exploited my multinational are demonized by Obama administration Treasury officials.
Some of this dismaying record reflects Republican Party intransigence. But a considerable portion is self-inflicted by President Obama, lending credence to Republican attacks on wage stagnation. Such attacks are disingenuous because higher wages have a third rail of Republican politics since President Reagan. Its recent history is a litany of wage suppression: a political party determined to show recovery while opposing minimum wage, collective bargaining, higher overtime pay, paid sick-leave and the like. They reject linking wages to productivity gains or to CEO pay. That party is centered in corporate America unduly prioritizing profits at the expense of wages.
Pew polling finds that Democrats are viewed as more attentive than Republicans to middle class worries. But electorally, this edge is threatened by Republican nationalist populism and economic frustration. And their electoral success in November may well hinge on a visionary agenda of economic populism.
Electoral success for Democrats in November will hinge on muting Republican nationalism with economic populism centered on raising wages. Democrats should break with the uninspiring Obama legacy by redefining their vision of the American economic experience to include reformation of corporate governance and linking wages to productivity. Few Americans would defend the behavior of U.S. executive suites and most would welcome a powerful, seasoned alternative to misfiring quarterly capitalism.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Reuters photo of Democrats hopefuls CNN debate: Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders