AUTOPSY: The Democratic Party in Crisis – Leadership Still Chasing Republican Votersby DemocraticAutopsy.org November 16, 2017
The Party’s Base
• Aggregated data and analysis show that policies, operations and campaign priorities of the national Democratic Party undermined support and turnout from its base in the 2016 general election. Since then, the Democratic leadership has done little to indicate that it is heeding key lessons from the 2016 disaster.
• The Democratic National Committee and the party’s congressional leadership remain bent on prioritizing the chase for elusive Republican voters over the Democratic base: especially people of color, young people and working-class voters overall.
• After suffering from a falloff of turnout among people of color in the 2016 general election, the party appears to be losing ground with its most reliable voting bloc, African-American women. “The Democratic Party has experienced an 11 percent drop in support from black women according to one survey, while the percentage of black women who said neither party represents them went from 13 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2017.”
• One of the large groups with a voter-turnout issue is young people, “who encounter a toxic combination of a depressed economic reality, GOP efforts at voter suppression, and anemic messaging on the part of Democrats.”
• “Emerging sectors of the electorate are compelling the Democratic Party to come to terms with adamant grassroots rejection of economic injustice, institutionalized racism, gender inequality, environmental destruction and corporate domination. Siding with the people who constitute the base isn’t truly possible when party leaders seem to be afraid of them.”
• The DNC has refused to renounce, or commit to end, its undemocratic practices during the 2016 primary campaign that caused so much discord and distrust from many party activists and voters among core constituencies.
• Working to defeat restrictions on voting rights is of enormous importance. Yet the Democratic National Committee failed to make such work a DNC staffing priority.
Populism and Party Decline
• The Democratic Party’s claims of fighting for “working families” have been undermined by its refusal to directly challenge corporate power, enabling Trump to masquerade as a champion of the people. “Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gunfight. Nor can Democratic leaders and operatives be seen as real allies of the working class if they’re afraid to alienate big funders or to harm future job or consulting prospects.”
• “Since Obama’s victory in 2008, the Democratic Party has lost control of both houses of Congress and more than 1,000 state legislative seats. The GOP now controls the governorship as well as the entire legislature in 26 states, while Democrats exercise such control in only six states…. Despite this Democratic decline, bold proposals with the national party’s imprint are scarce.”
• “After a decade and a half of nonstop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign’s hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
• “Operating from a place of defensiveness and denial will not turn the party around. Neither will status quo methodology.”
Sample of Recommendations
Party Operations and Outreach
• The Democratic National Committee must make up for lost time by accelerating its very recent gear-up of staffing to fight against the multi-front assaults on voting rights that include voter ID laws, purges of voter rolls and intimidation tactics.
• The Democratic National Committee should commit itself to scrupulously adhering to its Charter, which requires the DNC to be evenhanded in the presidential nominating process.
• Because “the superdelegate system, by its very nature, undermines the vital precept of one person, one vote,” the voting power of all superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention must end.
• “Social movements cannot be understood as tools to get Democrats elected. The ebb and flow of social movements offer a rising tide in their own right that along the way can lift Democratic Party candidates — if the party is able to embrace the broad popular sentiment that the movements embody.”
• “This is about more than just increasing voter turnout. It is about energizing as well as expanding the base of the party. To do this we must aggressively pursue two tracks: fighting right-wing efforts to rig the political system, and giving people who can vote a truly compelling reason to do so.”
• “The enduring point of community outreach is to build an ongoing relationship that aims for the party to become part of the fabric of everyday life. It means acknowledging the validity and power of people-driven movements as well as recognizing and supporting authentic progressive community leaders. It means focusing on how the party can best serve communities, not the other way around. Most of all, it means persisting with such engagement on an ongoing basis, not just at election time.”
Party Policies and Programs
• The party should avidly promote inspiring programs such as single-payer Medicare for all, free public college tuition, economic security, infrastructure and green jobs initiatives, and tackling the climate crisis.
• While the Democratic Party fights for an agenda to benefit all Americans, the party must develop new policies and strategies for more substantial engagement with people of color — directly addressing realities of their lives that include disproportionately high rates of poverty and ongoing vulnerability to a racist criminal justice system.
• With its policies and programs, not just its public statements, the Democratic Party must emphasize that “in the real world, the well-being of women is indivisible from their economic circumstances and security.” To truly advance gender equality, the party needs to fight for the economic rights of all women.
• The Democratic Party should end its neglect of rural voters, a process that must include aligning the party with the interests of farming families and others who live in the countryside rather than with Big Agriculture and monopolies.
• “While the short-term prospects for meaningful federal action on climate are exceedingly bleak, state-level initiatives are important and attainable. Meanwhile, it’s crucial that the Democratic Party stop confining its climate agenda to inadequate steps that are palatable to Big Oil and mega-players on Wall Street.”
• “What must now take place includes honest self-reflection and confronting a hard truth: that many view the party as often in service to a rapacious oligarchy and increasingly out of touch with people in its own base.” The Democratic Party should disentangle itself — ideologically and financially — from Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other corporate interests that put profits ahead of public needs.