Democrats Must Change Their Tactics And Messaging To Appeal to More Americans Or Risk Becoming A Minority (No Pun Intended) Party
(Author’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of occasional political columns that I’ll be writing for CommPRO.biz until Inauguration Day, January 20. Previously, I wrote 17 political columns leading up to Election Day. FYI – My first public relations job was with a political firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. In this column, I write on why the Democratic Party’s messaging must change and appeal to rural voters.)
In 2018, the Democratic Party won control of the U.S. House from the Republican Party gaining 40 seats, 17 more than the 23 they needed to win control of the House. That election was heralded as being a prelude to a sweeping Democratic victory in the 2020 presidential election. It wasn’t. Joe Biden won the presidency, but the Democrats lost House seats, gained only one victory in the Senate (to date) didn’t win a single gubernatorial contest, and lost seats in state legislatures. (Even if they happen to win the two Georgia Senate seats on January 5, their Senate showing was less than they anticipated.) The result of the election clearly demonstrated that an anti-Trump vote, not the issues Democrats campaigned on, was Biden’s not so secret weapon, along with his tenure as Barack Obama’s vice-president.
In 2018, the Democrats campaigned on a single issue — health care. In 2020 they reverted to what I call their “preaching message” — a strategy emphasizing that all of America’s s problems can be solved by erasing racial injustice.
Racial injustice is a sin and must be erased from American society. But people don’t like to be considered racists because they don’t agree 100% with the Black Lives Matter agenda or that of the AOC squad, composed of less than a handful of members in Congress.
Black lives do matter and their struggle for justice equality should be shared by every person who believes in a just society. But there are other problems that also matter to many Americans that should receive equal attention — like jobs, feeding families, taxes, providing the necessities of life to the indigent, providing livable housing, affordable health care and better schools These topics, while supported by most Democrats in Congress, are drowned out by the consistent message and demonstration of activists shouting racial injustice and defund the police and Democratic Party leaders, fearful of being called racists, even though they’re not, stand by mostly mute.
Moreover, people also don’t like to be categorized by politicians and the media as conservatives, moderates or progressives. One person can have different views on positions that would split that individual into all three of those activist and media components. Checking only eight of 10 boxes of an imaginary test devised by Black activists and the AOC squad does not make a person a racist or conservative, but that’s they way are designated by the far left.
The Republicans understand that a message must appeal to all Americans, just not a percentage of Americans, and other than the defeat of a totalitarian, incompetent president, they easily won the 2020 election. The Democrats didn’t understand that, but with the help of the coronavirus they won the presidency, but finished out of the running in all other matters.
The 2020 Democratic message didn’t work. Neither did it work in 2016, when Hillary Clinton campaigned on “Stronger Together.” Unless the Democratic Party changes their message a minority of the U.S. population –13.4 percent of Americans who consider themselves Black will continue to claim they are the backbone of the party. (They might be and if that’s so it’s too bad for the future of the party.) While African -Americans might be the most loyal voters the Democrats have, recent election history shows that it is not enough, as the results of the 2020 election proves. Trump, the most overtly racist president of modern times, picked up more support from Blacks and Latinos in 2020 than he won in 2016, demonstrating that the Democratic message is outdated, doesn’t work and needs a make over.
“While whites continued to favor the Republican candidate in 2020—as they have in every presidential election since 1968—it is notable that this margin was reduced from 20% to 17% nationally. At the same time, the Democratic margins for each of the major nonwhite groups was somewhat reduced. The Black Democratic margin—while still high, at 75%—was the lowest in a presidential election since 2004. The Latino or Hispanic and Asian American Democratic margins of 33% and 27% were the lowest since the 2004 and 2008 elections, respectively. These shifts do not apply to all states, and are not applicable to most battleground states where voters of color were crucial to Biden’s win,” said an article on the Brookings website by William H. Frey, a Senior Fellow – Metropolitan Policy Program.
Frey also wrote that in the three major battleground states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, “Exit polls in all three states indicate that more Democratic-favorable (or less Republican-favorable) margins among different white blocs between 2016 and 2020 contributed to Biden’s wins. (The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC.)
Another article on the Brookings website written by William A, Galston, who also writes for the Wall Street Journal, on November 23, said, “The predicted outpouring of minority votes did not happen either. Although African Americans voted in greater numbers than four years ago, their share of the electorate was unchanged, and Biden received a slightly lower share of their vote than Hillary Clinton did. Early figures suggest that Trump improved on his 2016 showing among Black men and younger Black voters for whom the civil rights movement and the Great Society are history lessons rather than lived experience.”
What the results of the 2020 election showed is that the Democratic Party must broaden its message or it will suffer the same fate as the Republican Party did in the 1930’s to the early 1950’s.
The 2020 election showed that the extremist liberal elements of the Democratic Party’s dream of a multiracial coalition of voters of different colors does not work. What the results did show was that it was the Republicans who have a better chance of forming a future multiracial party because they campaigned on bread and butter issues, support for the police and other every day matters that most Americans are concerned about, like “law and order,” which many racial activists consider a dog whistle phrase meaning support of racist policies, which it is not. People like to feel safe.
In order to survive, the Democratic Party must change its message and realize that just as all whites don’t think alike, neither do all Blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Muslims, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins by the dozen. People like to be treated as individuals, not like voting blocks.
Want proof? Including the 2020 presidential elections, Republican have won eight of the last 14 elections, and as Gerald F. Seib reported in his November 24 Wall Street Journal column, “They have been in the majority in the Senate for the past six years, and 16 of the past 26. They have controlled the House for 20 of the past 26 years.” They have also dominated elections at the state level.
“As the country grew more diverse, they argued, the electorate would inevitably tilt in their favor and give their party an unbeatable edge.
“Well, the country is more racially diverse than ever before. But exit polls suggest that Joe Biden lost ground among Latino, Black and Asian-American voters in 2020 compared with Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016.”
The headline over Ms. Lerer’s column should be taken as a wake-up call by the Democratic Party, which currently is embracing the policy of fratricide. It read “Joe From Scranton Didn’t Win Back the Working Class.” (Early in January, the control of the U.S. Senate will be decided in two Georgia run-off elections. In person voting began on December 14 and Election Day is January 5. The Democrats must win both seats in order to control the Senate. I’m willing to wager 90% of my nine million acre private island that they will not succeed, even though I hope they do.)
Another warning sign for the Democrats is that Republicans, because they won almost every election where redistricting was at stake, are now favored to retake the House in 2022, unless the Democrats change their message and craft a message with greater appeal to all Americans, regardless of skin color.
Despite what far left Democratic activists proclaim, Biden’s election does not show a Republican Party in disarray. What it does show is that the Democratic Party’s message has not registered with the broad American public for years, and unless it broadens its message the party will be reduced to a minority one for years to come.
The progressive facets of the Democratic Party must come to the understanding that losing on principle gains nothing; that in order to make changes winning is necessary.
In 2019 and 2020, the Democratic Party leadership largely kept mum when “defund the police” became the battle cry of leftist protesters and all the police were disparaged because of the despicable acts of a few. Acts of vandalism by protesters were excused by activists as “relatively minor” and condemnation of the violence by Democratic politicians were few. (True, police brutality against Blacks has been a hallmark of America’s history, still occurring today, and remains a stain on our country. But this is 2020, not 1920, and crimes against minorities are now investigated and policemen who committed them are brought to justice. Protests against outrageous police actions do not have to lead to rioting and Democratic leaders must have the courage to condemn rioters and vocalize bringing them to justice.)
The Democratic Party leadership is not fearful of speaking out against the white supremacists and Neo-Nazi protesters of the far right. In order to regain the trust of all Americans, they must also speak out against protesters of the far left. I believe that not doing so during the past two years was a contributing reason for the party’s poor showing in the 2020 election.
(And then there are issue affecting only local communities that national Democrats do not talk about but influence how people vote. Two that I’m familiar with became divisive political conflicts in New York City, where I grew up and attended schools. There are eight “exam” high schools like the Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School. In order to attend these prestigious schools, a student must pass a standardized test available to every student. But activists’ minorities have fought to let in students without taking the tests. In my opinion, as a liberal (no matter how activists might categorize me because I don’t check all the boxes of so-called and self-proclaimed progressives), I believe that the proper method of achieving diversity in these “exam” schools is to provide better education in the lower school grades, so students can pass the tests, rather than lowering the admission standards of the high achievement schools. This situation is reminiscent of the Open Admissions program of the 1960’s,which allowed any student in the top half of a high school graduating class to enter one of the city’s university’s four-year colleges, which until then were considered among the best in the country.
(Prior to the Open Admission policy, which was enacted after a political fight, the city’s schools, with its free tuition policy, permitted rich, middle class and poor students, regardless of race or their country of birth, to gain a college education that was on par with many of the top-rated colleges in the U.S. Indeed, some of the city’s colleges were called “the Harvard’s of the poor.” Since Open Admission, the city colleges have never regained their previous prestige.
(An article in the City Journal about the Open Admission policy said, “The new admissions policy had an immediate effect. Within months, City
College alone created 105 sections of remedial English and hired 21 full-time faculty members to teach them. Whereas 70 percent of its English classes had been literature courses, now 70 percent were remedial. Nearly nine in ten City College students required remedial writing instruction. Professors found themselves facing students who had never read a book, some of whom had no experience with written language or standard English.”)
As in many other programs sought by minority activists, the result was to lower the standards of the colleges instead of trying to raise the educational standards of people of color. Speaking out against such programs does not make a person a racist. It makes that person a realist.
I believe that Joe Biden owes Donald Trump a big “thank you,” because it was the president’s inane, totalitarian and divisive actions that vaulted the former vice president to victory. The election showed that a more normal and less controversial Republican presidential candidate would have prevailed.
Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th president on January 20. He might remember that in the 1960’s “Pogo” was a famous Walt Kelly comic strip. It often was infused with comments about political situations. It is still considered one of the most literate and aware comic strips in the history of the genre and is famous for a comment attributed to Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and they are us,” referring to the turmoil caused by the Vietnam War. Pogo’s comment could be directed at today’s Democratic Party, which refuses to acknowledge that times have changed and continues to bow to the 13.4% of our population who are Black, while people who consider themselves white, including Hispanics who consider themselves white, are 76.3% of the population.
The Democratic Party campaigns as if people’s attitudes are set in stone and all Americans feel that racial injustice and Roe v. Wade are the main concerns of all Americans. They are important issues, and not to be shelved or put on the back burner, but to many Americans they are not the most crucial ones and Democrats must realize that and also give at least equal emphasize to other issues in order to remain relevant.
In the recently concluded presidential election, preliminary results show that President Trump won 63% of white voters to Joe Biden’s 36%. This was a four point decline of white voters who backed Trump in 2016. Nevertheless, while the change helped Biden win, it did nothing to help Democratic candidates down ballot, proving that the prime factor in the election was that the majority of voters were fed up with Trump’s clownish antics, not the Democratic message.
The above stats are bad news for Democrats. Future Republican candidates might not be as sub-normal, delusional, egotistical, nasty, dictatorial and divisive as President Trump. In order to win, the Democratic Party’s messaging and tactics must change and appeal to a broad spectrum of the American public.
More worry for the Democrats are how Hispanics voted in 2020. In Florida, Cuban-Americans are more than 25% of the state’s Latino voters. Cuban-Americans mostly cast ballots for President Trump who handily won the state. So did a great number of Hispanics who live in the border areas of Texas. (During the lead-up to the election, many pundits opined that the Democrats had a chance to win those states because of the large percentage of Hispanic voters. Obviously they were wrong. Again.)
A December 8 New York Times analysis dispelled the election night assumptions that the Hispanic Trump vote was limited to South Florida and Texas, because in Arizona, the Latino vote favored Joe Biden, who won that state. The Times dissection of voting showed that the Hispanic vote for Trump was national, even though most voted for Biden.
The take-a-way from the white, Latino, Black and the fast-growing Asian-American population for Democrats was that a one-size-fits-all message crafted because of the happenings in a few states doesn’t work. The party leaders must pay more attention to what their colleagues in states that voted for Trump have to say. Unfortunately, that means upsetting the people of color activists, who certainly will scream “racist” at politicians who don’t check all their boxes and even fault individuals who have always been supportive of civil rights goals – like Joe Biden — if they don’t check all the boxes.
Already, on December 1, reported NBC News, two prominent civil rights groups – the National Urban League and the NAACP — have publicly faulted Biden for not consulting them about his choices for cabinet and other positions in his administration. Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, said “We are still in a wait-and-see mode, but we think that the civil rights community should be more closely engaged.” And Derrick Johnson, head of the NAACP, said, “Civil rights leaders in this country should be on par if not more than other constituency groups he has met with.” At the time of their rebuke, Biden had thus far picked an Hispanic to head the Department of Homeland Security, a Black woman to serve as Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, an economic team, which includes one Black man, one Black woman and one Indian-American woman, a White House communication team that is entirely female and more than half non-white, and a Black man to a senior advisor role in the White House. In addition, nearly half of Biden’s transition team is made up of people of color, the NBC report said. And in a December 4 article, the Wall Street Journal reported that members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus are also pressuring Biden to nominate their favorites. The story reported that in a virtual meeting the Hispanic caucus again requested that Latinos account for 20% of the federal workforce and that five Latinos are appointed to Biden’s cabinet with at least one in a top position, according to two people involved in the meeting.
What’s missing from the above statements was a civil rights leader saying that an individual should be chosen because he or she is the best person available for the job, not because of skin color, especially in this time of health and economic crises, when proven competency and experience should be the only considerations.
It will take years for Democrats to solve their racial divides. And that bodes well for the Republican Party for many elections to come.
In its November 28 edition, a first page headline from the New York Times read, “Suburbs Went For Both Biden And the G.O.P.” Blend in the Pogo quote and, in my opinion, that explains the 2020 election.
The Three Part Solution:
1 – The elite white sector and their activist Black and Latino allies in the Democratic Party must become pragmatic. They must accept the reality that losing on principle is still losing and gains nothing.
2 – The Democratic Party leadership must acknowledge that their messaging doesn’t work. They must accept the reality that they must craft a message that must also appeal to rural white voters, even if doing so upsets the progressives in their ranks. In an interview with Tom Friedman of the New York Times on December 5, Biden acknowledged the problem the Democrats have with rural voters saying, “There is no way Democrats can go another four years and lose almost every rural county in America. For their sake and the country’s, Democrats have to figure out what is going on there and speak to rural voters more effectively.”
Until the U.S. returns to the days of landslide elections, which hasn’t occurred since 1984, the power of the presidency can be diminished by the opposition party winning the Senate and House, even by as little as one or two seats in each chamber.
3 – In the 1990’s,Tip O’Neill, the former Democratic Speaker of the House, wrote a book titled, “All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game.” In order to prevent becoming irrelevant for many years, Democrats must pay as much attention to the Joe and Janes who live in rural areas as they do to voters who live in suburbs and the cities.
A tongue-in-cheek definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If the Democratic Party wants to stop their downward trajectory, they must do something different.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or email@example.com.