12 Aug 2006

Why Lamont’s Victory Shows That Democrats Are Doomed

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Thomas B. Edsall, in New Republic, discusses the negative influence of liberal elites.

The Lieberman-Lamont primary is a study, writ small, in what has ailed the Democratic Party over the last few decades. Simply put, Democratic presidential primary electorates continue to be dominated by an upscale, socially (and culturally) liberal elite. Democrats must first win the approval of this elite before they can compete in the general election. It’s a trap that no Democrat other than Bill Clinton has found a way to escape, and Lamont’s victory shows why.

In a quick and dirty analysis of the difference between the Lamont and Lieberman voters based on income, education, and other demographic data from across Connecticut, Ken Strasma of Strategic Telemetry found that Lamont’s strongest support came from areas with high housing values, voters with college or graduate degrees, and parents with children in private schools. Lieberman’s votes, in contrast, came from the cities, renters, blue-collar and service-sector workers, and those receiving Social Security benefits.

There is nothing wrong with upscale liberals or downscale renters; a vote is a vote. The problem for the Democrats is (and has been for more than a quarter century) that liberal elites are disproportionately powerful in primaries–where they turn out in much higher numbers–and in the operations of the party itself. In presidential campaigns, these voters have nominated a succession of losers, including George McGovern, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. The power of this wing of the party is easy to see in battles against Republican Supreme Court nominees, when Democratic opposition concentrates on such issues as abortion and sexual privacy to the virtual exclusion of questions of business versus labor, tort law, and the power of the state to regulate corporate activity.

For the Democrats, the influence of the upscale left has increased the party’s vulnerability to charges that it is weak on threats to the nation’s security and that its candidates are far from mainstream on social issues. Although the public has lost faith in President Bush and the GOP on a wide range of issues, the GOP continues to hold one trump card: terrorism. A May 10 New York Times/CBS News poll showed voters preferring Republicans to Democrats on terrorism by a margin of 40-35 percent. A more telling finding was in an Associated Press/Ipsos survey released July 14. It found that voters may not be thrilled with the way Republicans in Congress are dealing with terrorism (54 percent unfavorable, 43 favorable), but they are downright hostile to the Democrats’ approach (62 percent negative, 33 positive).

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