The decline of the Democrats

Where Have All the Democrats Gone?: The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes
By John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. Henry Holt and Co. 2023. 336 pages.

More than 20 years ago, the American political commentators John Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority.

In this influential work, they argued that America’s changing demographics would result in the Democratic Party achieving lasting political dominance.

The growth of Democratic-leaning minority populations (particularly Hispanics and Asians) combined with the increased preference for Democratic candidates shown by college-educated professionals and single women all suggested that America’s future was blue, not red.

Admirably, Judis and Teixeira have spent recent years publicly recalibrating their initial assessment in the face of subsequent evidence.

Their new book, Where have all the Democrats gone? The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes, is the fruit of this process, and is immensely valuable for any observer of American politics.

In short, they describe how millions of working-class voters of all races have been abandoning the Democratic Party.

Observing their party’s failure to learn the lessons of 2016 and anticipating the closeness of the coming battles, they urge its leaders to refocus their priorities.

“They need to press economic reforms that benefit the working and middle classes, but they need to declare a truce and find a middle ground in today’s culture war between Democrats and Republicans so that they can once again become the party of the people,” Judis and Teixeira argue.

Losing ground

The statistical evidence of the declining support for the Democrats is striking.

Working-class white voters have gravitated to the Republican Party for many years.

What is more remarkable is the degree to which low-income minority groups are following the same path: the Democrats shed a whopping 25 percentage points off their advantage over the GOP among the non-white working class between 2012-2022.

It is not just about the 2016 shock. Previous reversals for the Democratic Party can also be explained by declining working-class support, as the authors demonstrate by focusing on electoral data from the disastrous 1994 and 2010 midterms.

While Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 election, warning signs were obvious here, too. Biden lost the white working-class by 27 points, and his support among non-white voters was 11 points lower than Hillary Clinton’s four years earlier.

In the 2022 midterms, Republican candidates made strong gains among Asian voters angered by the Democrats’ support for racial quotas. Elsewhere, historic gains by Trump in majority-Hispanic counties in Texas were cemented.

Judis and Teixeira’s description of how the socio-economic profile of the Democratic Party has changed makes for essential reading.

Although they initially make the common left-wing error of failing to place the decline of labour unions in the context of wider social atomisation, their description of how corporate interests gained power is accurate.

Advocacy groups focused on particular issues like abortion or the environment have strengthened their hold.

In one particularly interesting interview carried out with the Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, the Congressman explains how his hyper-prosperous voters in Silicon Valley are drawn to the Democrats mainly because they are “vehemently pro-choice, vehemently pro-gay marriage [and] vehemently for reasonable gun safety legislation.”

Policy matters

Judis and Teixeira identify four key policy components of the Democrats’ overall problem with working-class voters.

First, there is the issue of race. Key figures within the liberal intelligentsia have pushed for greater use of race-based quotas while increasingly suggesting that all American institutions are structurally racist.

Racial quotas are deeply unpopular with voters, even in liberal states like California. In spite of this, activists within the Democratic coalition remain rabidly supportive, and the Biden Administration has boasted of prioritising minorities when it comes to the allocation of business grants and other measures.

Second, there is mass immigration. More than 20 million immigrants entered America between 1965-1995, triple the number that came in the previous 30 years.

Large-scale illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico has heightened public unease.

Concern from unions about the effect this was having on the wages of American workers led the Democratic Party to consider a more restrictive approach along with stronger border security in the 1990s.

However, no such compromises can be countenanced in today’s party, beholden as it is to a radical minority that often appears to believe that national borders can no longer be defended in theory, let alone in practice.

As a result, Trump and other border security advocates are gaining ground.


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Third, there is the range of gender-based issues that the authors cleverly categorise as ‘Sexual Creationism.’

Just as a majority of Americans support the usual legal protections for transgender people, a clear majority also break with the Democratic elite by telling pollsters that gender is determined at birth and that trans athletes should be required to compete in sports categories corresponding to their biological sex.

Last of all, there is the issue of environmental policy, where a clear class divide exists.

While left-wing activists adopt apocalyptic rhetoric in discussing the problem, only 3 percent of respondents in a 2022 Gallup poll said that climate change was the ‘most important problem.’ Working-class voters were far less likely to do so, and they are of course far more likely to be adversely impacted by increased energy costs caused by the shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

For all the talk of green-collar jobs, the authors point out that so far, employment opportunities within the renewable energy sector appear far less attractive than the huge numbers of jobs that still exist in fossil fuel-related industries.

They are also admirably brave in acknowledging that the great majority of the world’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels and that humanity’s overall reliance has barely budged in the last two decades.

Utopian and unachievable policy proposals like the ‘Green New Deal’ plan for America to become carbon neutral by 2030 are not just bad policy; they are bad politics too, considering the number of American swing states where such a plan would cause devastating job losses.

The authors are critical of President Joe Biden for not doing more to check the radicalism of his party, but they do commend him for his pro-union stance and his overall economic agenda.

Biden’s measures to improve America’s infrastructure, accelerate the energy transition and increase the domestic production of all-important semiconductors are notable, they write, for the emphasis that this recent legislation has placed on the need to ‘buy American’, as well as the inclusion of measures designed to boost wages and counteract the effects of regional deindustrialisation.

Considering the scale of Biden’s legislative accomplishments in these areas, it is surprising that they are not discussed more frequently.

This in itself points to the degree to which cultural issues have taken centre stage in American politics.

Spiritual malaise

Interestingly, though they are firmly of the Left, the authors identify a spiritual dimension to the crisis in American society.

“People’s sense of their own self-worth depends on the ways in which they can think of themselves not as isolated collections of cells destined to disintegrate but as people having multiple identities that transcend their own biological individuality. They need affirmation from others, and they need to feel they are part of not only families or neighbourhoods but also larger communities,” they write.

College-educated Americans in large cities, they go on to write, can feel part of the new economic and global order more easily than those living in those smaller and often economically depressed communities where factories, unions and churches are all less vibrant than they were several decades ago.

Donald Trump’s rallying cry to ‘Make America Great Again’ was not for such voters about rolling back the clock on racial equality or other forms of progress. Instead, it was about restoring the widespread prosperity and tranquillity which has been lost.

In several instances, Judis and Teixeira hint at the impact that the secularisation of America has had in propelling progressives in a socially and politically self-destructive direction.

Citing the work of Columbia Professor John McWhorter on racial radicalism, the authors speculate “that the absence of conventional religion and of expected economic opportunity had created among the college-educated young a search for identity, lifestyle, and salvation that had led some into a moralistic radical politics.”

Similarly, they correctly describe today’s environmental movement as having been “hijacked by a millenarian, quasi-religious commitment to rapidly zeroing out fossil fuels and creating a renewables-based economy.”

Though they are also slowly showing a greater willingness to consider Republican candidates, the African-American community offers a useful case-in-point of a stable component of the Democratic coalition.

Disproportionately religious, culturally moderate black voters act as a bulwark against even greater radicalism within a Democratic Party where the ancient quest for community continues to push the rootless towards utopian and even authoritarian causes.

This is not likely to change. As America continues its drift away from Christianity, the main left-wing party is not likely to make its way back towards the centre, no matter how cogently Judis and Teixeira express themselves.

Their book is nonetheless outstanding. As the United States veers towards what could be the most contentious election in the country’s history, these brilliant minds explain better than anyone else exactly why it is surely going to be incredibly close.

James Bradshaw writes on topics including history, culture, film and literature.

Image: Pexels


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  • Peter
    commented 2024-02-17 00:28:07 +1100
    Obviously, the authors haven’t been following all the elections since 2016 where the Democrats have won comfortably against the former Republican Party, now know as the MAGA Party or Trumps Party, whatever is dictated to them!
    Congratulations to Democrat Tom Suozzi on his convincing win in the recent vacated House of Reps seat.
    Keep to the facts, authors!