Where are the Dems Headed?

Where are the Dems Headed?


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As the Democrats prepare for their next debate tomorrow evening, they will now face Mayor Michael Bloomberg who will be appearing in person. It is time to pause and consider where the Party is headed as it prepares to face Donald Trump in November. While a nominee will emerge at the Milwaukee convention this summer, there are already three challenges that the party faces on the road to the election. At least two of the challenges are fundamental for any for a Democratic victory, regardless of the nominee. The third obstacle is specifically related to problems which could occur if Bernice Sanders is not the Democratic candidate.

The Democratic Party has evolved into a party which is supported by an overwhelming number of minority voters: Blacks, Latinos, and LGBTQ. Leaving aside gay white voters, minority groups do not have a very strong history of vigorous voter turnout. This is especially true when one of their own is not on the ticket.

According to the Brookings Institution, the percentage of eligible Black voters who turned out in 2008 was almost the same as for eligible whites and exceeded white percentage turnout in 2012; but it dropped in 2016 by over 10% when Barack Obama was not on the ticket.  The fact that Obama could bring out such a significant Black turnout was clearly a testament, in large part, to his personal GOTV ability within the African American community. Obama appealed as well to other minorities and to young voters whom he galvanized to vote.

What was key to the 2008 and 2012 elections was not only that minorities and young voters turned out but did so in all states and not only in the large urban districts. (The fact that Hillary Clinton, the first female nominee, did not succeed in gaining dramatic support for her candidacy from huge numbers of women, was a function of the level of personal dislike that she generated, her stridency, and her “entitled” campaign which alienated many women voters. This was especially damaging to her in the critical states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida.)  One possible way that the Democrats could improve their chances for victory against President Trump would be if they selected as their vice-presidential nominee either Stacy Abrams from Georgia or Julian Castro from Texas.

The Democratic Party also needs to ensure that the disappointed supporters of all the Democratic candidates who did not get selected as the nominee, turnout. This will necessitate that all these candidates recognize their responsibility to their party. They will need to not only endorse and actively campaign for the nominee, but also press their disappointed supporters vote for the nominee.

Finally, should Bernie Sanders not be the nominee, he may face very serious pressure from his followers to run as an independent—something for which he might not be able even to get the money. This scenario could evolve if the convention becomes deadlocked and appears to have been brokered by the “establishment”.  If Sanders were to respond out of resentment or pique at the Democratic Party’s processes and its nominee and run as an independent, Donald Trump might be able to spend the entire fall not even campaigning.


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