The Democrats’ Common Sense Problem
Voters Think They’ve Abandoned It
The Democrats are bleeding voters, particularly working class voters of all races. There are lots of reasons for this and I’ve written about some of them. One important throughline here is what we might call the common sense problem. As in, Democrats seem to have abandoned it in many areas. This helps explain why there hasn’t been a ”Trump disenchantment dividend” for the Democrats as the former President’s popularity has fallen and for that matter a “nutty GOP politicians” dividend as various Republican pols do and say fairly crazy things. Voters just aren’t sure the Democrats are that well-grounded either.
Awhile ago, I tried to codify some of voters’ common sense views and values into ten short statements to illustrate how Democrats are losing the plot relative to the median voter. I’ll go through some of them here with the aid of some new data demonstrating how widely this common sense is embraced by ordinary Americans in contrast to their rejection by woke liberal activists and some politicians associated with the Democratic party.
1. Equality of opportunity is a fundamental American principle; equality of outcome is not. Americans love equal opportunity! But lately more and more Democrats have embraced, implicitly or explicitly, the idea that we must equalize outcomes as well by emphasizing policies that promote “equity” as opposed to simple equality.
But Americans’ common sense is that opportunities should be made equal if they are not and then let people achieve as they will. There is no guarantee, nor should there be, that everyone will wind up in the same place.
The statement above was tested in the very liberal state of Massachusetts by pollster Louis DiNatale who was interested in my ten statements and added them to some of his polls. (I should note that my statements were simply tested as is, rather than reworded for survey purposes, but the results are still quite interesting I think). On this statement, DiNatale found that Massachusetts voters overall agreed with the statement by 61 percent to 16 percent. Republican voters agreed with the statement by 72-12, but so did independent voters by 65-13 and even Democrats by 56-17. White voters endorsed the statement by 63-12 but so did black voters by 56-17.
There just isn’t much of a constituency for equality of outcomes.
2. America is not perfect but it is good to be patriotic and proud of the country. Americans know their country isn’t perfect but they are proud of it anyway. And they don’t view it as fundamentally flawed and tarnished in the way so many progressive activists do. Rather they would echo Bill Clinton’s assertion that “there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”
In the Massachusetts poll, the statement above drew lopsided 66-25 support, including 60 percent or more of all racial groups. This is consistent with data collected by the More in Common group. Their data separated out a group they termed "progressive activists" who were 8 percent of the population (but punch far above their weight in the Democratic party) and are described as "deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America's direction today. They tend to be more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media".
These progressive activists' attitude toward their own country departs greatly from not just that of average Americans but from pretty much any other group you might care to name, including average nonwhite Americans. Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans, in fact, are highly likely to be proud to be Americans and highly likely to say they would still choose to live in America if they could choose to live anywhere in the world. In contrast, progressive activists are loathe to express these sentiments For example, just 34 percent of progressive activists say they are “proud to be American” compared to 62 percent of Asians, 70 percent of blacks, and 76 percent of Hispanics.
Patriotism is a fundamental American value that some parts of the Democratic party now seem reluctant to embrace. That’s a problem.
3. Discrimination and racism are bad but they are not the cause of all disparities in American society. It’s truly amazing the extent to which Democrats have become associated with the view that disparities in American society can only be attributed to oppression and discrimination, particularly when it comes to race. No other explanation need apply.
But this defies common sense and is not the way normal voters see it, including normal nonwhite voters. In the Massachusetts poll, the statement above generates overwhelming 72 to 20 percent agreement, with 63 percent of blacks, 70 percent of Asians and 65 percent of Hispanics concurring.
It may be easy to convince left-leaning academics and progressive activists that the mere existence of disparities is proof of discrimination and racism. But the American people are a harder sell.
4. No one is completely without bias but calling all white people racists who benefit from white privilege and American society a white supremacist society is not right or fair. The blanket characterization of all whites as racists because of “systemic racism” from which they benefit, regardless of their individual conduct, is a commonplace in Democratic activist circles, as is the idea that white supremacy is a fair characterization of contemporary American society. These dubious assertions, however, fail the common sense test among actual voters.
In the Massachusetts poll, the statement above, that these assertions are not right or fair, received 59-21 agreement overall, with even black voters and Democrats more than 2:1 in agreement. This is likely another case where the common understanding in Democratic activist circles is not the common sense of ordinary Americans or even of the groups these activists claim they are representing.
5, Racial achievement gaps are bad and we should seek to close them. However, they are not due just to racism and standards of high achievement should be maintained for people of all races. Democrats are becoming increasingly associated with an approach to schooling that seems anti-meritocratic, oriented away from standardized tests, gifted and talented programs and test-in elite schools, generally in the name of achieving racial equity. This has led them to a de-emphasis on high and universal academic achievement standards, an approach popular in progressive education circles but not among ordinary voters, including nonwhites.
In the Massachusetts poll, the above statement received 73-19 support, including 3:1 support among black voters. Progressive educators may think differently, but the common sense of voters is that the road to high academic achievement is through high standards and hard work, not the lowering of bars.
6. Police misconduct and brutality against people of any race is wrong and we need to reform police conduct and recruitment. More and better policing is needed for public safety and that cannot be provided by “defunding the police”. Nowhere is the departure of Democrats from the common sense of ordinary voters more evident than on the issue of crime and policing. Democrats are associated with a wave of progressive public prosecutors who seem quite hesitant about keeping criminals off the street, even as a spike in violent crimes like murders and carjacking sweeps the nation. This is twinned to a climate of tolerance and non-prosecution for lesser crimes that is degrading the quality of life in many cities under Democratic control.
The fact is that ordinary voters hate crime and want something done about it. They’re not particularly impressed by disembodied talk about the availability of guns that does not include enforcing the law against the criminals who actually use these guns. Nor do they respond well to assurances that progressive approaches to law enforcement that include less law enforcement will—eventually—work even as crime surges and the quality of life deteriorates.
Reflecting these views, voters in the Massachusetts poll endorsed the statement above by 63-26. This included 64-24 support among whites, but also 2:1 support among blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Ordinary voters don’t want the crime issue racialized, they simply want it stopped and they know you need cops to do it.
Like with the other statements discussed above, it could be argued that this statement is too easy to agree with and is just common sense. But if it’s just common sense, why do so many Democrats have trouble saying these things? The fact that they do explains a great deal about the Democrats’ current woes.