My recently lost year in Democratic Party politics left me wondering why it was so difficult to demonstrate the need for appeals to white voters, mainly rural and without college degress, who once did and could again back Democrats as the best hope for their economic interest. If nothing else, the numbers in the disastrous 2014 off-year elections proved it. It was baffling to me how so many party leaders dismissed opportunities to make an economic case that bypassed the cultural wedges Republicans have long used to cynically lure these voters away. Some considered it racist to advocate such a strategy.
That’s why the article below from Politico was a bit of an “aHA” moment for me. It turns out Democrats were unwittingly not even finding these voters in their polling. But what’s really sad is that Democrats needed polls at all to see them. It was so painfully obvious to anyone who actually listened to them and made a sincere effort to understand their plight.
For instance, how many national Democratic leaders have seen the all-too-frequent weekends in parts of rural America where folks who can’t afford dental care or insurance show up at a local venue where volunteer dentists pull their teeth? How many even know this is happening? I guess many wouldn’t know unless it somehow showed up in a poll.
There is an old business adage that “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” In this case, measuring should not have even been necessary to manage this problem.
Politico: “The party didn’t just lose among rural white voters, it may have failed to capture them in its pre-election polling as well.… Many pollsters and strategists believe that rural white voters, particularly those without college degrees, eluded the party’s polling altogether — and their absence from poll results may have been both a cause and a symptom of Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in several states.”
The article quotes a Democratic analyst, John Hagner, who offers a profound point that often skews polls (it’s called non-responsive bias): “The folks who would talk to a stranger about politics just aren’t representative of people who wouldn’t.”
Again, however, the party needs more leaders and candidates who don’t need a pollster to understand these voters, who know in their gut how to win their trust without appealing to their dark side. And those Democrats who don’t get it need to quit assuming that their dark side is all there is to see.