The Democrats’ problem is not the economy, stupid

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Media Outlet: The Washington Post Opinions

Lee Drutman's voter study was referenced in a Washington Post opinion article about the new divides between identity, policy proposals, and partisan alignment. 

But it is increasingly clear that the problem for Democrats has little to do with economics and much more to do with a cluster of issues they would rather not revisit — about culture, social mores and national identity.
The Democratic economic agenda is broadly popular with the public. More people prefer the party’s views to those of Republicans on taxes, poverty reduction, health care, government benefits, and even climate change and energy policy. In one recent poll, 3 in 4 supported raising the minimum wage to $9. Seventy-two percent wanted to provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds in poor families. Eight in 10 favored expanding food stamps. It is noteworthy that each of these proposals found support from a majority of Republicans.
The Democracy Fund commissioned a comprehensive study of voters in the 2016 presidential election, and one scholar, Lee Drutman, set out his first key finding: “The primary conflict structuring the two parties involves questions of national identity, race, and morality.” Focusing on the people who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 and then Donald Trump in 2016, Drutman found that they were remarkably close to the Democratic Party on economic issues. But they were far to the right on their attitudes toward immigrants, blacks and Muslims, and much more likely to feel “people like me” are on the decline.

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Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. He is the author of The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015).