Where is the Democratic Tea Party?

Where is the Democratic Tea Party?

Looking at the changes in the US electorate

There is no doubt that President Trump is keen to make the Presidential election a referendum on ‘woke’, on the topping of statues, and on the Democratic party being in hock to a far left faction.

And recent did gift him some prize examples, the “awkward squad” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan were all elected to the House of Representatives. All are people of colour (so long as the colour is vaguely defined), young (-ish), and left wing.

President Trump will have been keen to see more leftwing firebrands getting Democratic nominations across the US. It would be great for him – and great for Republican Senate chances – if the Democrats could nominate the unelectable.

So far, though, this hasn’t happened. In every one of the competitive Senate races, it has been the moderate who has prevailed, not the firebrand. In Colorado, despite being tainted by an ethics scandal, it was Hickenlooper who got the nomination. Amy McGrath in Kentucky beat out Charles Booker. Jon Osoff in Georgia beat off left wing challengers and won the Primary without a run-off. Mark Kelly in Arizona didn’t even get a proper challenger. Only in Maine is an upset even possible – although the moderate (Sara Gideon) is getting 60+% in the polls.

Why, then, when the Republican Party went all Tea Party in the middle of Obama’s term, has the Democratic Party remained steadfastly moderate in its Senatorial picks?

Well, the answer lies in the changing composition of America’s voters. Let’s turn the clock back by 32 years to the end of President Reagan’s term of office in 1988. (Wow. 1988 was more than 30 years ago. Where does the time go?)

At that time, 45% of voters were Registered Democrats, 40% were Democrats, and 15% avoided being registered with either. This meant a lot of moderate voters got to vote in Party Primaries. Sure, being a moderate wasn’t enough. But with lots of registered members of both parties, turnout at primaries was high, and appealing to the fringes was not always a winning strategy.

But over the last 32 years, both Democrats and Republicans have lost registered supporters – and the Republicans have lost way more. According to the latest estimates, just 27% of voters are Registered Republicans, with 40% Registered Democrats. In 32 years, the Republicans have lost a third of their registered supporters, while the Democrats have lost a tenth.

This is a fundamental challenge for the Republican Party. While Democratic nominees – whether at the Presidential level or in Senate or House races – have to appeal to four in ten voters, Republican ones barely have to appeal to one-in-four. This is the root of the tea party movement, and is – in 2020 – good fortunse for the Democrats. Simply, the larger number of Registered Democrats have made sure the loonies, by and large, are not on the ballot.

President Trump is responsible for some of the recent loss of registered supporters. He has 80% approval among Republicans because he’s driven moderates out of the Party. Getting rid of all but the most fervent might be great for your ego, but I don’t believe it’s a winning strategy.

Simply: the Democrats dodged a bullet this year. Their candidates – beyond the awkward squad – are far from woke, and most would find themselves far more comfortable in David Cameron’s Conservative Party than SKS’s Labour. And this is bad news for the Republicans, both at the Presidential level, and also in the Senate.

Robert Smithson

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