Why Hillary Lost

Matt Karp from Jacobin Magazine has a post-mortem of the election that captures the essence of Hillary’s fatal error in the election. Some of his analysis is predictable criticism of liberal pundits (I think he’s a little off the mark in his explanation of Nate Silver’s education and income data) and the Clinton campaign for its focus on upscale professional moderates on the coasts. However, Karp turns to discussing the different levels of enthusiasm for the Clinton campaign among black voters cutting across income (and education) lines:

FiveThirtyEight’s findings suggest that among nonwhite voters, an enthusiasm gap opened along class lines: Clinton surpassed Obama in highly educated majority-minority counties, but struggled in poorer and less educated places. Election returns in the majority-nonwhite wards of Washington DC fit this interpretation, too.

In rapidly gentrifying Ward 1, home to Howard University and prosperous, diverse neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, Clinton’s performance matched her strong showings in the District’s rich white areas: registered voter turnout grew 8 percent from 2012, and Clinton gained 17 percent more votes than Obama. In Ward 4, largely black and middle class, overall turnout also rose from 2012, while Clinton matched Obama’s vote totals. But in Ward 8, which encompasses poorer and working-class neighborhoods in Southeast DC, turnout dipped from 2012: Clinton received 13 percent fewer votes than Obama.

His point isn’t to blame people who didn’t vote for Hillary, but rather to critique the Clinton campaign’s strategy:

In pursuit of professional-class Republicans, the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to elevate questions of tone, temperament, and decorum at the expense of bread-and-butter issues like health care or the minimum wage. This wasn’t just a tactical move away from some culturally distinct group of “white working-class” voters. It was a strategic retreat from the working class as a whole.

Now, it’s not that the Clinton campaign ignored these bread-and-butter issues; her website was full of detailed policy proposals. But the campaign spent very little time highlighting any of these plans. Instead, most of her traditional media spending – still the most accessible form of political advertisement – focused on defining Donald Trump in starkly negative terms, and did not provide enough of a contrasting positive vision of what a Clinton presidency would mean for working people everywhere. Building and sustaining enthusiasm is much easier with a positive vision.

Karp argues that this tension is the central problem facing the Democrats at the moment: they are a coalition of reasonably affluent, educated professionals on the one hand, and a largely unorganized, non-white, working class base of voters on the other. However, unlike many of the pundits arguing for renewed focus on policies that benefit the working class, Karp does not suggest we ignore identity issues like racism, sexism and homophobia. Instead, he states that the goal needs to be building a multicultural coalition that organizes and empowers the working classes of all identities.

Unfortunately, Karp doesn’t go any further into how a writer for Jacobin believes we should accomplish this goal. However, the very fact that Jacobin – staffed by firebrand leftists who use ‘identity politics’ as a pejorative – is now advocating for mixing intersectionalism with working class politics is a step in the right direction for creating a coherent multicultural working class movement.

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