The year Democrats’ “social change” coalition hits low tide
WASHINGTON – Tuesday is shaping up as a bad day for the Democratic Party’s “Social Change” coalition. The results from Election Day are expected to boost Republicans to new heights.
The outcome could change. Many races are considered toss-ups. But the polls indicate, and Democratic strategists conceded to The Washington Post, that Democrats will lose more than a handful of seats in the Senate and in the House. Republicans would enjoy their largest House majority in decades and their first majority in the Senate since 2006.
The late Democratic strategist Fred Dutton would be disappointed. Although unheralded, Dutton helped form the national Democratic Party of today.
In the late 1960s, Dutton envisioned a far-reaching and long-lasting political alliance of “campus-ghetto-suburb.” With racial and generational unrest sweeping the country, he argued the party needed to tear down the its “New Deal” coalition and replace it with a “Social Change” coalition.
Loosen the party’s ties with Catholic voters, Dutton argued in the 1971 book Changing Sources of Power; they are “a major redoubt of traditional Americanism and of the antinegro, antiyouth vote.” Build ties with young adults, minorities, and college-educated voters, he urged Democrats in one internal party memo from 1969; the three constituencies would help the party not only give expression to the “insurgent impulses” abroad in the land, but also to win elections as “the lower middle class, blue-collar vote erodes.”
Dutton’s coalition has had mixed results of late. On one hand, Barack Obama used it to win two presidential elections and received more than half of the popular vote in 2008 and 2012. And Democrats point to many policy accomplishments of the last six years: The jobless rate has fallen to 5.9 percent; a gallon of gas dropped to less than $3; nearly all of the U.S. troops from Iraq are home now.
On the other hand, Democrats lost 63 seats in the House in the congressional mid-term election of 2010. And Republicans blame Obama for notable policy failures: The radical Islamic State group has taken control of swaths of Iraq and Syria; the labor force participation rate has dipped to the low 60s; and Americans fear that Ebola could overtake the country.
In the sixth year of their presidencies, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush saw their parties lose seats in Congress. But the country’s latest woes have made President Obama a bigger liability for Democrats in competitive races. Obama’s approval rating is 41.9 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics poll of averages.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, too, is a drag on the Democratic ticket in competitive House seats. Yet Obama’s low job-approval numbers have stunted the party’s appeal to young and minority voters.
In the past two presidential elections, minorities and young people voted at levels comparable with older and white voters. But in midterm elections, minority and young people’s voting participation rates drop. Culturally liberal Democratic candidates and policies suffer as a result. For example, the House of Representatives passed several pro-life bills after Republicans regained control of the lower chamber in 2011.
In the West, upper Midwest, and Northeast, culturally liberal candidates and policies dominate already. In Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence criticized both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominees for supporting loose abortion laws. In Oregon, Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby said she supports same-sex "marriage."
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