Will Democrats Take Their Progressive Base For Granted Or Cultivate It?

Election '16

Progressives hoping that a second Obama term might reflect the president’s liberal leanings should keep a close watch on what the Democratic Party does—or doesn’t do— to stay connected with its ever-changing base that re-elected the president. 

In too many past federal elections, albeit before the Social Media Age, the Democrats have taken their base and voters for granted. Essentially, they have assumed that these voters will return after a few phone calls or mailers in the months before an election. That’s especially been the case with presidential campaigns I’ve seen since 1992.

That kind of patronizing was a major factor in the Democrats' monumental losses to the GOP in 2010’s congressional mid-term elections, which brought into office some Tea Partiers who were thankfully defeated on Tuesday. By 2010, Democrats had failed to keep their historic 2008 base engaged: especially students, young people, women and the poor. And millions didn't vote that year.

Let’s hope the Democrats have learned their lesson well. The more engaged average Americans are in the political process—not just voting—the greater the likelihood that progressive policies will triumph across every area of government. This is the GOP’s worst nightmare, that a progressive populist tide will wash them out to sea.

After such a long and nerve-wracking campaign capped by Obama’s re-election—and the election of a historic number of Democratic women to state and federal office—it is hard to remember what the Democratic Party did not do in 2010 before the GOP sweep. 

Despite reports of a Democratic Party effort to turn out African-American voters in 2010, there were far fewer voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts than in 2008, including less door-to-door canvassing which is the most powerful way to prompt a person to vote, according to many political scientists.

Moreover, various polls in 2009 and 2010 of constituencies that yielded large numbers of Obama supporters, notably people of color, young people, women and lower-income people, found eligible voters were discouraged by the job market and federal efforts to stimulate the economy, which kept these voters at home.

In the 2012 election, Obama didn’t win the support of a majority of white male voters and people earning $50,000 or more, according to exit polls. This is the demographic that was the backbone of the activism and organizing by right-wing Tea Partiers, whose impact became outsized after 2010 because some 40 million fewer people voted than in 2008.  

Looking ahead, the best hope for a progressive revival depends on Obama’s new base to remain engaged in the political process—not just elections. That’s not entirely up to the Democratic Party and the Obama for America organization, of course, as people have to be  motivated to stay involved.

But it would help if the Democrat Party broke from their past habit of taking its voters for granted for the next 22 months. And perhaps progressives can insist they are heard and are involved, as there is no shortage of issues demanding fair-minded remedies.

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