Ruth Marcus finagles her framework: Is the Democratic Party lousy at winning elections?
Who knows? There may be better approaches the party could take. But good grief! Look at the way the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus started yesterday’s column. We’re using the headline which appeared in the hard-copy Post:
MARCUS (2/22/12): Why the Democrats don’t winIn her column, Marcus explains “why the Democrat don’t win” presidential elections. She also explains the steps they should take to put an end to their slide.
Far more Americans favor Democrats over Republicans. For decades, the number of Americans identifying as Democrats or calling themselves independent but leaning Democratic has far exceeded the share of Republicans and Republican leaners. That gap has persisted, even in landslide Republican years like 1984 and 1994.
So why don’t Democrats perform better in national elections? Why have Democrats won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972?
Who knows? Democrats might get more votes if they take her advice. But what did Marcus forget to note?
Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the last five White House elections! In three of those elections, they won by fairly large margins. In 1992, 1996 and 2008, they won by six to eight points.
In fairness, Marcus was discussing a new report by Third Way, a “moderate Democratic group.” It was Third Way which constructed the framework in which Democrats have “won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972.” Even there, Third Way counted Campaign 2000 as a loss, even though the Democratic candidate won the popular vote.
That said, no one forced Marcus to adopt the group’s gloomy framework. No one stopped her from noting an obvious fact: Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five White House elections!
Who knows? Maybe Democrats would get even more votes if they took Marcus’ advice—if they became more “centrist/moderate.” But for a taste of her analytical skill, consider this example:
MARCUS: First, the Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely to switch loyalties and vote Republican than are their pure Democratic counterparts. This may seem obvious, but consider: Republican leaners were far less likely to defect than were Democratic leaners.2002 was a bad year for Democrats in those House elections. Many independents did go with the Republicans. But does Marcus remember the context there?
For example, in the 2002 House election, 46 percent of those who had identified themselves as Democratic-leaning independents two years earlier voted for Republicans; just 26 percent of Republican-leaning independents switched to vote Democratic.
President Bush was ginning up a war. He was pushing a whole lot of buttons.
Marcus thinks the Democrats should move back toward the “middle” in the hope of attracting more votes. As she continued, this was another piece of her analysis:
MARCUS (continuing directly): Second, the Democratic-leaning independents have different views than those who call themselves Democrats. As Eberly reports, they are “less supportive of government intervention in the economy, more likely to believe that the government has gotten too involved in things people should do for themselves, and express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending.”Democratic-leaning independents “express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending” (as compared to Democratic activists). To Marcus, this means Democrats should support cutting this program too.
Eberly’s conclusion: “There may be more money and passion among activists on the left, but there aren’t enough voters there to secure consistent electoral victory for Democrats. The true wealth of voters in the Democratic coalition resides in the vital political center and that’s where the Democratic Party will find the path to sustained electoral dominance.”
Possibly! But might that fact mean something else? Might it mean that Democrats should find a way to explain to the public that they have been disinformed about Social Security for at least the past thirty years? By the way: A party can’t learn how to do such things by coasting along on stupid stories about the other party’s pet dogs. Democrats may defeat Romney that way. But they'll be left without a real politics.
What will they do if the next GOP nominee never owned a pet dog?
In our view, Marcus offers lousy advice. That said, her pitch is cued by a comical failure—a failure to note an obvious fact:
Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five elections! Did this fact cross Marcus’ mind? How about the mind of her editor?