The Democratic Party was wrong, in adopting its studied neutrality in matters of economics at the national level. Intersectionality made this into a racist policy. Both banks and the general public were left to their own devices, and so the banks with their extensive financial resources did well, while the general public, its savings drained by years of unsupportive economic policy, did poorly. This led to the economic abandonment of people of color, who were hammered in the crash of 2008. This abandonment, in turn, led to people of color in the north midwest abandoning the Democratic Party after 2008. As Shah and Wichowsky observed in “Foreclosure’s Fallout,” in Milwaukee County in 2012, foreclosure decreased turnout in the heavily (27.2%) African-American county.
Ordinarily unemployment around the time of an election increases turnout (see, for instance, Levin et al, “Participation in the Wake of Adversity: Blame Attribution and Policy-Oriented Evaluations” but this is one of a long series of articles to this point); there is an urge to make one’s voice heard.
But there has to be the expectation that someone is listening! In 2018 Malaika Jabali wrote “The Color of Economic Anxiety” about African-American voters in Milwaukee. She quotes Fred Royal, the president of the Milwaukee NAACP chapter, about the Clinton campaign: “African Americans, especially African Americans in this city with [high rates of] poverty, 50 percent black male unemployment for […] years. That shows you the systemic racism that isn’t being addressed. And if you’re not going to speak to that, why would I be engaged?” What did reach those voters? The pro-union message of Bernie Sanders; the old black union men and the young black voters of Milwaukee supported Sanders in the primary. They also remembered William Clinton in Arkansas, the bipartisan racist anti-crime agenda of the 1990s, the anti-union, pro-business agenda of his faction of the Democratic Party. Milwaukee African-American union leader Wendell Harris commented, “I didn’t like him. He was the architect of the New Democrats, and in essence they were supposed to be as close to the Republicans as possible to still be considered a Democrat.”
Hillary Clinton’s campaign was wrong. Clinton’s “other basket” never contained many white men, not even a majority of white women (but see White Women Voting.) They could not be brought to vote for her. Bernard Sanders was wrong. White working-class voters hadn’t turned to racism because of hard times; they were racist to begin with.
On the one hand we had the racist and sexist vote, energized by years of attacks on Hillary Clinton and Trump’s promises to the white working class. On the other hand, we had the African-American working class, worn down by years of bipartisan anti-union policies and the crash of 2008, the foreclosures and the years out of work. There was the extensive Russian propaganda to aggravate the conflict; to support the bigots and discourage the African-Americans. In northern states like Wisconsin, the white working class turned out for Trump and the black working class stayed home.
The Democratic Party lost 2016 because of racism: they paid more attention to white voters they couldn’t reach and not enough to working-class people of color they could have reached. The conservative economic policies of the Democratic Party in the 1990s led to short-term success and long-term failure.
To succeed, the Democratic Party must court women and people of color. Policies must address both economic issues as well as racism and sexism. Democratic politicians must be seen to support people of moderate means of all races.
It is going to be a close election. I do not know if enough has been done for the Democrats to win, or if there is enough revulsion at the fascism the Republicans have descended to bring the Democrats to power in at least one of the houses of Congress. Whether or not the Democrats win, they must change. To continue as they have is to cede the field to the fascists.
Enten, Harry. “Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election.” FiveThirtyEight (blog), January 5, 2017..
Jabali, Malaika. “The Color of Economic Anxiety | Current Affairs.” Accessed November 1, 2018..
Levin, Ines, J. Andrew Sinclair, and R. Michael Alvarez. “Participation in the Wake of Adversity: Blame Attribution and Policy-Oriented Evaluations.” Political Behavior 38, no. 1 (March 2016): 203–28..
Shah, Paru, and Amber Wichowsky. “Foreclosure’s Fallout: Economic Adversity and Voter Turnout.” Political Behavior, October 19, 2018..
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.” Accessed November 1, 2018..