Florida exit polls – Progressiveness at a crossroads and the failure of identity politics

As the world watches the peaceful transition of power in the United States with a certain degree of anxiety and awe progressives look to regroup. Today seems a perfect day to look at the exit polling data from November 8 and try and comprehend how Hillary Clinton lost the Presidency here in Florida.

Progressives are at a crossroads. It’s clear based on the exit polling data that on actually substantive issues of policy, most Floridians stand toward the left. On Climate Change and offering legal status to immigrants an overwhelming majority of Floridians line up toward the positions held by progressive politicians and Democratic candidates Yet Democrats continue to lose election after election.

This leads to one of two conclusions –

1- Substantive policy issues don’t really matter to voters OR

2- The Democratic Party is inept in its messaging  OR

3- Democrats rely too heavily on identity politics while the Republicans have exploited racial and religious divisions in the country. 

The possibility exists that a combination of the top two is in fact the reality, but what seems more likely is that number three is in fact how election 2016 was driven. What we could discern from the exit polling data is that race and religion ARE factors in determining Presidential partisan preference. Much like the last time the Democrats were this isolated politically (the 1920’s) religious preference determined partisan affiliation. In those days if you were a catholic or southern baptist, you were likely a Democrat. If you were any other denomination of protestant you were a Republican. If you were an African-American you had either been disenfranchised or were a Republican.

Today, as we can discern from the exit poll data, those who feel the criminal justice system is flawed are overwhelmingly voting Democratic. Those who feel racism is prevalent in the country are voting overwhelmingly Democratic. But those who tend to be religious Christians (as discussed yesterday, this now includes white Catholics which is a dramatic reversal of American electoral history) are voting in larger and larger numbers for Republicans. The geographic splits we’ve already talked about ad nausea on this site but are worth repeating – if you live in southeast Florida or in and around Orlando chances are you voted for Hillary Clinton. If you do not with the exception of some pockets (urban Tampa and the cities of Tallahassee and Gainesville) you probably voted for Donald Trump. Exceptions of course are prevalent in all areas but the divisions are clear.

It’s important as progressives move forward that the movement understands that the divisions that have been created in this country need to be healed. That includes moving past a racially-charged view of American society which while created by racists on the right has been exploited in my opinion for years by many in the Democratic Party who have seen playing racial fear to minorities as a solid electoral strategy. That in turn creates more fodder for the racists on the right to exploit.

Progressives DO NEED TO TALK ABOUT RACE and racism against African-American and Latinos (I’m not sure Asian-Americans fit into this discussion, as they tend to be wealthier and more accepted by conservative white society and American capitalism). However, it needs to be done in a way that is respectful to white working class voters. President Obama attempted to do this, however the race-baiting of those opposing him led by the likes of Rush Limbaugh  and Glenn Beck (who oddly in 2016 had flipped on the race issue to oppose Donald Trump who like Obama in 2009 and 2010, he considered a “racist.” In 2009, Beck claimed Obama hated white people while rallying opposition to the Affordable Care Act then in 2016, he implied Trump hated black people so he couldn’t support him.) prevented us from having the conversation. But now out of power, Democrats are liberated from this obligation.

African-Americans have been mistreated in this country for years as have immigrants from Latin America. But that should not prevent the left from talking in a meaningful manner to white working class voters. It also should not force the left to align with all people’s who aren’t white in this country or abroad. The failure of liberals to call out radical Islam (which is as conservative from doctrinaire perspective as evangelical Protestantism, something the left calls out all the time) both at home and abroad remained a hidden issue in the 2016 election – security anxiety, largely unfounded did play a role in the minds of some voters – this is something Democrats need to understand. These fears were exploited by the likes of Marco Rubio and other Republican politicians but were effective.

The more I pile through exit polling data, I realize the Democrats lost in 2016 because of identity politics – this brand of politics might seem leftist but has in fact been created by Democratic political operatives, many with a corporatist background in order to serve as an electoral strategy in the absence of having a true values based party. Progressives don’t have to be the good political soldiers for the Democrats – we can advocate a POST-RACIAL American society that empowers all people while promoting values that unite us as Americans and progressives. We can do so without falling into the pitfalls of labels and identity.

The work to redefine and rebuild begins today.

6 comments

  1. Ask any political scientist, and they say that issue specifics do not matter at all.

  2. Phil McCarrup · · Reply

    I like that of the two possible conclusions, the answer is No. 3. 🙂

    Also, good points. Identity politics has a place, but Third Way-type Dems seem to think it’s a convenient replacement for economic progressiveness. This was a core problem with Hillary Clinton. Like her husband, she believed you could talk nicely to people, while exactly what big business interests and Wall Street want. I actually saw supposed Dems opining that they didn’t want their “wealth” going to pay for “other people’s kids to go to college” and so forth.

    We have a party for that. We don’t need another one.

    1. Your closing line says a lot about why the Democrats are where they are. I hope someone in authority is paying attention.

  3. The Observer · · Reply

    It seems Trump using racism brought out all those folks who did not come out to vote for Mitt. Having lived in 5 different states over the years I have found this to be more of a divided states of America than a united one. What surprised me was that these rural folks who voted for Trump put their faith in a wealthy New Yorker, the very type of person they despise.

  4. lunchcountersitin · · Reply

    Three thoughts:
    1) Advocating for a POST-RACIAL American society is useless, unless a pathway to such a society exists. You can’t put the cart before the horse. The reason why there is an identity politics is because there is a current need for society to treat all people equally. As long as people perceive they are treated differently based on their identity, they will (probably continue to) agitate using identity politics.

    Therefore, talking about a POST RACIAL society will be seen as folly, since we have so so far to go to make that kind of possibility into a reality.

    2) I hate to say this, but it’s true: Clinton had a unique amount of baggage that made her a harder sell to white voters than other alternatives. Sanders might have been a more successful candidate versus Trump. We’ll never know, but Sanders performed better than Hillary against Trump in some pre-Convention polls. But I think the right kind of candidate might be worth one or more points in a state like FL, and enable Dems to carry the state again.

    NOTE: Hillary had baggage that was unjustly/incorrectly constructed by Republicans, the Press, and the Russians, but it is what it is.

    3) I do agree that, “white” voters are not going to be attracted to the Democratic Party based on the issues of importance to the various constituent groups within the Party whose concerns center on social inequality.

    The mega-question is, what kind of appeals can Democrats make to whites that will trump the appeals made by the GOP? That seems to be a hard nut to crack. Let’s face it: many more white Americans are conservative. Absent social or cultural changes, they will not vote Democratic, even if the Democratic Party is better for meeting their real interests. That’s just the way it is. And it’s just not worth it to chase voters who believe Democrats are evil.

  5. Denise Yezbick · · Reply

    My thoughts:

    Your reference to Democrats’ refusal to use the term “radical Islam” as hurting the progressive cause seems contrary to the point you are making about identity politics. As we know, radicalization happens among people of many religions and ideologies and we don’t seem to have a need to refer to the KKK movement as radical Christianity.

    I also believe the issue of abortion (and now other cultural issues as well) has shaped our political landscape immensely. Progressives need to do a better job at countering the labels politicians use to manipulate people, such as “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice.” These labels over-simplify issues and unfortunately, too many Americans are not willing to read and inform themselves beyond adopting an easy label. I am always so disappointed by the lack of conversation by politicians around the issue of abortion. It’s all sound bytes and no substance. As someone who used to fall into the “pro-life” category, I now see myself as both pro-life and pro-choice, so you can see how the conversation needs to become more nuanced.

    There are many religious people who feel their world view becoming more a minority view and they are panicking. Somehow, progressives need to show that compassion is more important than who their neighbor is sleeping with or other private matters.

    Maybe the way to do this is to focus more on everyone’s economic well-being. What progressives need to improve upon is finding common ground with people who are hurting from neo-liberalism’s march to privatize social services–that pretty much includes everyone except the extreme wealthy.

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