When presented with the choice of voting for Democratic candidates or staying home, working class, young and non-white Americans disproportionately choose the latter. Part of what drives this voting gap (detailed here) is the relatively difficulty of voting in the United States. However, part of it is a sense of disempowerment and distrust of what Democratic candidates offer. Therefore, the question I want to present is what is an economic platform that could actually raise turnout rates among these left leaning groups.
While Democrats are generally good at proposing policy supported by research, their platform has clearly failed to energize voters. Of course, many proposals that would help the working class never become law. There is also ample room to improve on the effectiveness of Democratic policies. However, beside the unhelpful advice that Democrats and progressives should simply win more elections, there are concrete changes to be made. In particular:
1. Labor: prioritize workers and wage growth.
2. Student Debt: address the financial anxieties of Millennials.
3. Rural Poverty: run socially moderate candidates in non-urban districts.
4. A Better Narrative: it’s always the economy.
Labor should not be treated as a special interest whose only role is to run GOTV programs in exchange for the status quo of labor law. Yes, Democrats seemingly offer several good policies for workers from increasing wages (EITC, minimum wage, etc.) to increased job training to new labor standards (card check, overtime, sick leave etc.). However, when it comes to spending political capital to achieve these goals, Democrats have generally been hesitant. There should exist a national blueprint weighed by evidence to improve labor outcomes for all workers and to be vigorously pursued at both the state and federal level.
Confront Student Debt
It’s no secret that younger voters tend to be more economically left-leaning, less likely to vote and more worried by the cost of higher education and youth unemployment than the general public. The Sanders campaign has been able to shift the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign to the left on higher education and embrace expanding tuition free college and promoting student debt relief. However, Democrats down ticket and in off year elections must also run on making college affordable, creating career/educational paths for those without a four-year degree, and promoting debt relief for the financially strained. In short, dedicated and clearly communicated plans to address the financial anxieties widespread among Millennials will help boost turnout.
Address Rural Poverty
There is a massive partisan divide between urban and rural voters in the United States. However rural poverty still exists and its not as though Republican policies are helping the rural poor. While it may be hopeless to ask voters to elect socially liberal candidates in Appalachia (more generally areas that are predominately white and low-income), Democrats should willing to run socially moderate yet economically left leaning candidates. Any effective party in the United States cannot rely solely on urban voters.
Create a Better Narrative (it’s always the economy)
Most Americans are not experts on economic policy and could hardly care less about the never ending sea of 12-point plans. This is precisely why I’ve empathized issues in this post rather than policies. Progressives need a narrative that makes focal the concerns and anxieties of the working class and makes believable its commitment to grow wages and employment opportunities for all Americans. An example:
40 years of economic gains have disproportionately gone to the top. Many suffer because a lack of suitable employment, adequate health care and access to education or paths of economic improvement. By investing in health, education and infrastructure we can improve society at large. When workers, students and patients are left to fend for themselves, they are taken advantaged of by their lack of bargaining power. By revitalizing collective bargaining and economic solidarity, many of the disaffected can finally claim their fair share of the gains of growth. Workers have a right to organize and they have a right to a decent living. Hence, we must be a party of workers’ rights. This means a higher minimum wage. This means tax relief for the working poor and working parents across the country. This means overtime and paid paternity leave. This means the right to collectively bargain and more opportunities for job training and education. Simply put, it’s an economy that grows for everyone and not merely the powerful. We must be a party that stands by working Americans and that gives voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.
In essence, what is needed is not a major overall of Democratic economic policy. Rather it is giving priority to improving the labor market for both high and low skill workers. It’s the ability to build not just social coalitions but also economic ones when fielding candidates, especially if Democrats ever want to win the House. Yes, there are issues such as global warming and tax reform where bolder policies could improve policy debates.
However, it is the lack of clear communication and legislative priority towards the disaffected which ultimately drives the voter gap. Any economic strategy for a more inclusive economy most work in tandem with an electoral strategy for a more inclusive democracy.