Thursday 1 November 2018

Why the Democrats may struggle to win the mid terms

As Democrats do not tire to remind us, Hilary Clinton garnered more votes than Donald Trump in the presidential election of 2016. Yet, many of those votes were cast in the wrong place. That's the summary analysis of Clinton's defeat widely shared amongst political observers and pollsters.

The Democratic Party may be heading for a repeat of 2016 in the mid-terms next week. You may ask why. Here is why.

Perceptions matter and Clinton's campaign was seen to be dominated by niche issues, such as rights for transgender people, LGBT and minorities. This may have been a misperception but Clinton did little to counter it by formulating policies for ordinary Americans. The 'glass ceiling' gimmick at the Democratic National Convention was symptomatic for a campaign that was skewed towards issues which meant little to ordinary Americans.

Shards for splinter groups. Hilary Clinton at the Democratic Party Convention 2016
Listening to her former running mate Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia yesterday the Party seems to be repeating its old mistakes. He praised how reinvigorated the campaign for the mid terms has been and got excited listing pretty much every minority in the book, throwing in a mention of women for good measure.

LGBT and trans campaigners certainly know how to make noise. They are civil rights campaigners on a mission. And they know how to dominate the airwaves. But beware thinking that their vocal media presence translates into votes at the ballot box. In fact, the most intriguing fact in recent months has been the steady high support of women for Trump and the Republican Party, even in the face of MeToo.

The reason is simple. The economy is creating the best employment figures for decades and Trump appears to be doing what he promised to do (you may of course disagree that these are worthy things to be done in the first place). The economic message of the Republican Party is clear. The economic policy of the Democratic Party is ... well, unclear, to say the least. It seems that most of the prominent Democratic candidates are more concerned about transgender rights focusing on identity politics than how to keep the economy moving.

It's a curiously topsy turvy picture for anyone who remembers the 1980s (like I do). It seems that the Democrats are waging the cultural wars that Republicans ran under Reagan and (to a lesser extent) under Bush Senior. The difference is however that Reagan's campaigns were targeted at ordinary Americans, coupled with a sound message about economic prosperity, whereas Democrats still appear to have little to say on the economy and focus their cultural electoral signals on minority groups that make up a tiny fraction of the American population. I would be surprised if transgender issues are a big vote mobiliser on November 7th.

At the moment, the Democrats are expected to win a majority in the House of Representatives, making legislative work difficult for the president. I am growing ever more skeptical of this expectation. Let's see next week. 

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