We hear a lot these days about politicians playing to their base – that hardcore of partisans that will stay loyal to a political party or candidate no matter what. That is not a new concept. In my early days in politics, we referred to that as the Micky Mouse vote – meaning that if Micky Mouse was the candidate of their party, they would vote for him.
The base of the Republican Party is on the right and the base of the Democratic Party is on the left. That is because the bases are never in the middle. They must be polar opposites or there would be no dichotomy – ergo only one base or even no base at all.
The first thing every candidate is advised to do – if they have competent advisors – is to lock in the base. After that, they can go looking for those leaners, independents and disgruntled voters in the opposition party.
One of the reasons that the Democrats have been on a historic losing streak these recent election cycles is that they have been losing elements of their traditional base – the people they mistakenly assumed were locked in. President Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and was re-elected in a major landslide in 1984 because Democrats did not do well among those categories of voters they traditionally relied upon – most notable was union households, younger voters and women.
Reagan won most women even when the Democrats made history by nominating the first woman vice presidential candidate of a major party – Geraldine Ferraro. The union members who voted for Reagan became known as the “Reagan Democrats.”
Democrats tend to assume they have a more substantial base then they actually have. This is somewhat because it is a left-leaning party in a right-of-center nation. This miscalculation is reinforced by a media that commits the same error. The problem with the New York media folks is that they assume everyone is like them – New Yorkers.
Much of the reporting prior to the GOP winning the United States House of Representatives in 2010 erroneously predicted the Democrats would retain control. What was even more surprising to the Democrats, the press and the pundits was the size of the GOP win. The party picked up a net total of 63 seats.
The same thing happened in 2014 when Republicans took over the Senate despite Democrat confidence – again driven by ultimately inaccurate media predictions that the GOP would fall short.
Of course, the granddaddy of unwarranted optimism was 2016 when the election of Hillary Clinton was considered in the bag. Never have more reporters and pundits been more certain in predicting an election outcome. They assured America that Donald Trump had “no path to the presidency.”
While losing the popular vote, Trump was able to cobble together a rather impressive win in the all-important Electoral College by chipping away at the Democrat base in key states. Despite all the racist accusations leveled at Trump during the campaign, he did marginally better with blacks and Hispanics than the more centrist Mitt Romney did in 2012. Though marginal, Trump’s modest improvement in the minority vote – and the lower than predicted turnout – played a role in Trump’s wins in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – states said to be Clinton’s firewall.
In terms of the youth vote, Democrats have always been overconfident. More often than not, they have been disappointed on both party loyalty (market share) and turnout. Trump held the traditional GOP percentage of the youth vote.
And here we go again in 2018.
Democrat and media predictions of a “blue wave” based on polls indicating strong support and enthusiasm among women, minorities and Millennials. As in the past, Democrats, including their political allies in the media, are assuming that their base is still their base in proportions similar to the past – the increasingly remote past. While they may be correct in that they will get a majority of blacks, Hispanics, gays and maybe women, there is a real chance that they are losing market share in each of those categories.
A lot of the reporting and political prognostications are based on opinion polls that have been predicting a blue wave sufficiently powerful to give Democrats a majority in the House. They were repeatedly wrong over the past ten years – and for a simple reason. In creating their samples, they assume a demographic distribution – a certain number of minorities, seniors, Millennials, etc. Pollsters have a habit of packing those demographics with too many Democrats voters and they often overestimate turnout in specific categories. The result? Biased projections. Democrats tend to win in the polls more than they do in the voting booth because pollsters tend to miss those subtler marginal shifts.
Blacks have shown an increasing disgust with Democrat machine leadership in the major cities – and for good reason. The only thing that has changed in the segregated and impoverished ghettoes is that the streets are a lot more dangerous than there were in generations past. One of the refrains of election night 2016 in terms of the black vote in those big cities in Pennsylvania and Michigan was media analysts saying “Clinton is not getting the numbers she needs …” This attrition in the Democrat vote was seen in the Hispanic communities, too.
The fact that Republicans do as well as they do with women has always befuddled Democrats who seem to assume that all women are single issue voters. Despite Trump’s chauvinism, accusations of sexual misbehavior, and facing the first female candidate, Trump was not repudiated by the women voters of America. Trump carried a majority – 53 percent – of white women. That held Hillary Clinton to an unexceptional 54 percent of all women voters. That was not supposed to happen.
The Democrat hold on the gay community may also be slipping a bit. The recent #WalkAway movement that represents folks giving up on the Democratic Party was founded by a gay New York hairdresser – a profile that should belong to a dedicated Democrat. The once staunch liberal Democrat Brandon Straka is not only walking away from the Democratic Party, he is now a conservative Republican. The Facebook page for the movement he began already has more than 100,000 “walkers.” Rob Smith is a gay black man who is traveling the media telling why he, as both gay and black, is also switching to the GOP.
Much of the blue wave theory is based on what is known as the “generic poll,” where likely voters are asked which party they prefer to control Congress. Currently, the Democrats are ahead. Their lead has varied over the months between 17 and 2 percent. The poll is misleading because of the high degree of concentration of Democrats in compact venues. For instance, let’s say there are four districts and Democrats represent 70 percent in one district and 20 percent in each of the other three districts. If you ask which party is preferred overall – the generic question -- it would be the Democrats. They would only win one of the four districts. The generic poll is yet another reason Democrats may fail to see marginal attrition in their base.
It is still too early to make any predictions on the outcome of the 2018 election. The only meaningful trends will not be evident until the last eight weeks of the campaign. If history is an indicator, win or lose, the Democrats will underperform relative to the final polls and the predictions.