By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Democrats’ future is bleak because our elections are undemocratic

My lunchtime reading today was Ezra Klein’s column in The New York Times on David Shor, whose modeling shows that Democrats face disaster for years to come if they can’t find a way to expand their appeal beyond the educated liberal elites that now constitute their base.

The shorthand version is that Shor thinks Democrats need to reach out more to moderate voters, but that’s not exactly right. For instance, Klein writes, “One of the highest-polling policies in Shor’s research is letting Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices, but it’s so-called moderates, like [Sen. Kyrsten] Sinema, who are trying to strike that from the reconciliation bill. To Shor, this is lunacy.”

There’s a lot to chew over. Fundamentally, though, I think the framing is catastrophically wrong, and in the usual way: Shor, and to a lesser extent Klein, have immersed themselves in what Democrats are doing wrong and how they need to change in order to win national elections.

But millions more people are voting for Democratic presidential and Senate candidates than for Republicans. When they fall short, it is entirely because of structural reasons — the Electoral College and the two-senators-per-state rule that gives tiny Republican states like Wyoming and North Dakota disproportionate power compared to giant Democratic states like California and New York.

Shor and Klein dwell at length, for instance, on the mistakes Hillary Clinton made in 2016. Shor claims that Clinton’s insistence on talking about immigration reform caused the Midwest to flip to Donald Trump. The better path, he argues, would have been not to talk about it. The big honking fact that goes unmentioned is that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Trump.

Should Democrats do more to appeal to the non-college-educated? Of course. But they are already winning a majority of voters, and it’s not that close. Short of abolishing the Electoral College and transforming the Senate into a largely powerless House of Lords, it’s hard to see how Shor’s prescriptions are going to make much of a difference.

And yes, abolishing the Electoral College and disempowering the Senate is exactly what we need to do if we want to maintain any pretense of having a democracy.

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  1. The Republicans have received a majority of votes in only ONE presidential election in the past 30 years.

  2. Steve Ross

    Many of the “Republican ” states would be electing Democrats by fairly large margins except for voter suppression, joyously pushed by the Supreme Court. Seems rather obvious we have to fix that, and that fix is difficult but far more easily attainable than wholesale constitutional rewrite of state representation in Congress.

    Also, media needs to stop, stop, stop burbling about “fetal heartbeat” at 6 weeks (no such thing), “illegal” asylum seekers (rarely such a thing), the joy of biodegradables (ok in compost heaps but produces methane in landfills) or any idea of “compromise” with anti-abortion mysogenists, loony antivaxxers, or second amendment absolutists.

  3. As the country gets more diverse, with younger voters, immigrants who become citizens etc., Democrats should win in more places than they do now. We need to get rid of these new election laws in many states that allow partisan (Republican) legislators to oversee and certify elections in certain counties. These laws essentially give them power to overturn elections. This is a bigger threat to Democrats than any message or appeal to certain voters.

    • Steve Ross

      Can’t do it if the Supremes (who started this nonsense by overturning the core of the Voting Rights Act on no basis whatsoever) won’t intervene.

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