The Democratic Party and the Decline of the Vital Center

As the Democratic field of candidates proliferates, the traditional liberal center of the Democratic party must be watching with horror.  The current group of candidates appears intent on securing office by promising the electorate an unending supply of public goods ranging from free education to free medical care: goods that cannot be delivered without a massive increase in both the deficit and the national debt. And those outcomes would sink the nation’s economy.

The American electorate is basically centrist. The voters are not naïve when it comes to the granting of public goods. They’ve experienced the promises of ObamaCare and its reality. There is a difference between the public goods that are promised and those that are delivered.

Americans can look across the globe at the collapse of socialist economies. And while the oft-mentioned “socialist” economies of the Scandinavian countries with their large safety nets, are held up by self-proclaimed socialists as examples of what America should be, those examples are as meaningless as former President Obama’s promises about keeping your doctor and getting a reduction in your health insurance premiums.

Venezuela is a socialist country, but the Scandinavian countries are not. They are free-market economies where the means of production are privately owned.  In recent years, they have adopted more free market solutions while seeing their extended and costly safety nets as being of questionable viability. Norway’s social largess, for example, is a consequence of North Sea oil. As the oil declines so too will the sustainable safety net.

The prime minister of Denmark conspicuously chose to remind Americans, during the 2016 campaign, that Denmark is not a socialist country.

The great American ideological divide is a constant theme in newscasts and the popular political literature. The Democratic candidates have embraced that theme in their campaigns to the point of stumbling over each other as to who will tax the rich more and who will give out more free stuff. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, wants to go beyond raising tax rates to taxing wealth or more accurately confiscating property.

On a day when breaking economic news could not have been better, Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker characterized the economy as if we were back in the recession of 2008 and how his leadership would change the system. The palpable irony of his statements seemed lost on Booker as his sound bites were being destroyed by the chyron at the bottom of the television screen.

Despite the hype about an increasingly polarized America and the Democratic presidential hopefuls pandering to it, academic research using the American National Election Survey, the gold standard for empirical studies on the issue, tells us that the American electorate is not particularly ideological and clusters near the center on opinions.

The normal curve that characterized the ideological preferences of the American electorate so much in evidence in Anthony Downs’ classic, An Economic Theory of Democracy, written over half a century ago, is still true. As Downs noted, the more a candidate moves toward the ideological extremes, the more the candidate loses from the vital and dominant center.

The Democratic candidates have mistaken the party’s new-found love of socialism with the electorate. What it takes to win the Democratic primary is not what it takes to win an election.

To be competitive in the national election, the Democrats must field a candidate who not only can win in the primaries but appeal to a national electorate that does not share its progressive ideology. The media finds the new face of the Democratic Party newsworthy, but what plays in New York or San Francisco does not play in fly-over country.

Part of the Democrat’s new face is its Hamas chorus in the Congress, which disseminates almost daily hateful comments about Jews and Israel. This garners a lot of media attention and is characteristic of the new face of the progressive-wing of the Democratic Party, but if the Democrats lose 25% of the Jewish vote and corresponding campaign contributions, they are in difficult circumstances. Jews make up 2% of the population and 50% of the contributions to the Democratic Party.  About 70% of the Jewish vote goes to the Democratic presidential candidate.

The oft-mentioned requiem for Jews voting Democratic that has been on the political radar since the candidacy of Ronald Reagan has not occurred.  But prior Democratic candidates have not had to deal with the persistent anti-Semitism of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and the confused relationship Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has with the Jews. She bounces between showcasing her Sephardic heritage while supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel and calling for Israel’s extinction.

As the progressive wing of the Democratic Party moves from being less than pro-Israel to being actively anti-Israel, it becomes harder for Jews to ignore that the party line is changing, just as it is more difficult for the rest of America to ignore the crackpot economic theories of the Democratic hopefuls.

This is why the Democrats will need to field a mainstream candidate who can rescue the party from itself. The question is whether any Democrat who can appeal to a broad-based, nonideological electorate can win the Democratic nomination. Even if that happens, the electorate is predisposed to vote its pocketbook, something that makes Donald Trump a formidable opponent.  

As the Democratic field of candidates proliferates, the traditional liberal center of the Democratic party must be watching with horror.  The current group of candidates appears intent on securing office by promising the electorate an unending supply of public goods ranging from free education to free medical care: goods that cannot be delivered without a massive increase in both the deficit and the national debt. And those outcomes would sink the nation’s economy.

The American electorate is basically centrist. The voters are not naïve when it comes to the granting of public goods. They’ve experienced the promises of ObamaCare and its reality. There is a difference between the public goods that are promised and those that are delivered.

Americans can look across the globe at the collapse of socialist economies. And while the oft-mentioned “socialist” economies of the Scandinavian countries with their large safety nets, are held up by self-proclaimed socialists as examples of what America should be, those examples are as meaningless as former President Obama’s promises about keeping your doctor and getting a reduction in your health insurance premiums.

Venezuela is a socialist country, but the Scandinavian countries are not. They are free-market economies where the means of production are privately owned.  In recent years, they have adopted more free market solutions while seeing their extended and costly safety nets as being of questionable viability. Norway’s social largess, for example, is a consequence of North Sea oil. As the oil declines so too will the sustainable safety net.

The prime minister of Denmark conspicuously chose to remind Americans, during the 2016 campaign, that Denmark is not a socialist country.

The great American ideological divide is a constant theme in newscasts and the popular political literature. The Democratic candidates have embraced that theme in their campaigns to the point of stumbling over each other as to who will tax the rich more and who will give out more free stuff. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, wants to go beyond raising tax rates to taxing wealth or more accurately confiscating property.

On a day when breaking economic news could not have been better, Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker characterized the economy as if we were back in the recession of 2008 and how his leadership would change the system. The palpable irony of his statements seemed lost on Booker as his sound bites were being destroyed by the chyron at the bottom of the television screen.

Despite the hype about an increasingly polarized America and the Democratic presidential hopefuls pandering to it, academic research using the American National Election Survey, the gold standard for empirical studies on the issue, tells us that the American electorate is not particularly ideological and clusters near the center on opinions.

The normal curve that characterized the ideological preferences of the American electorate so much in evidence in Anthony Downs’ classic, An Economic Theory of Democracy, written over half a century ago, is still true. As Downs noted, the more a candidate moves toward the ideological extremes, the more the candidate loses from the vital and dominant center.

The Democratic candidates have mistaken the party’s new-found love of socialism with the electorate. What it takes to win the Democratic primary is not what it takes to win an election.

To be competitive in the national election, the Democrats must field a candidate who not only can win in the primaries but appeal to a national electorate that does not share its progressive ideology. The media finds the new face of the Democratic Party newsworthy, but what plays in New York or San Francisco does not play in fly-over country.

Part of the Democrat’s new face is its Hamas chorus in the Congress, which disseminates almost daily hateful comments about Jews and Israel. This garners a lot of media attention and is characteristic of the new face of the progressive-wing of the Democratic Party, but if the Democrats lose 25% of the Jewish vote and corresponding campaign contributions, they are in difficult circumstances. Jews make up 2% of the population and 50% of the contributions to the Democratic Party.  About 70% of the Jewish vote goes to the Democratic presidential candidate.

The oft-mentioned requiem for Jews voting Democratic that has been on the political radar since the candidacy of Ronald Reagan has not occurred.  But prior Democratic candidates have not had to deal with the persistent anti-Semitism of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and the confused relationship Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has with the Jews. She bounces between showcasing her Sephardic heritage while supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel and calling for Israel’s extinction.

As the progressive wing of the Democratic Party moves from being less than pro-Israel to being actively anti-Israel, it becomes harder for Jews to ignore that the party line is changing, just as it is more difficult for the rest of America to ignore the crackpot economic theories of the Democratic hopefuls.

This is why the Democrats will need to field a mainstream candidate who can rescue the party from itself. The question is whether any Democrat who can appeal to a broad-based, nonideological electorate can win the Democratic nomination. Even if that happens, the electorate is predisposed to vote its pocketbook, something that makes Donald Trump a formidable opponent.