In this piece on whether or not the Democratic Party is taking its strongest supporters for granted, Michael Barone describes that party’s history:
What does a political party do for its strongest supporters? Or does it just take them for granted? This is a quandary for every political party, and especially for America’s Democratic party, which throughout its 186-year history has always been a coalition of groups aware that they are not a national majority. In its early years in the nineteenth century, the Democracy (as it was then called) was a coalition of Southern whites and Northern Catholic immigrants. In the twenty-first century, it is a coalition of groups regarded as racial minorities (blacks, Hispanics, Asians) and of culturally liberal, highly educated people in affluent metropolitan areas, sympathetic suburbs and university towns (gentry liberals and what one might call the graduate student proletariat).
Taking a group of your strongest supporters for granted could be something that either party does, and to any number of their respective coalitions’ members. In the context of the last 3 elections (and in this article), the focus has been (and is) a bit more along racial demographics.
Baron discusses that party’s poor performance among white voters in 2016, and the corresponding need to win even higher percentages of nonwhite voters.
Naturally, Democrats want to retain these high levels of support. Hillary Clinton’s 37 percent among white voters was the lowest Democratic percentage among that bloc since Ronald Reagan was on the ballot, and her fall to 28 percent among white non-college graduates may be the worst Democratic showing in that group in the party’s history. It’s easy to imagine — it can be extrapolated from current polling — that other Democrats will run stronger among white groups than Clinton did. It’s harder to imagine that they can win without something like the very high percentages they have been getting among nonwhites.
One way to do that is to hark back to the issues that seem to have worked in the past. In August 2012, campaigning before a biracial audience in South Side Virginia, Vice President Joe Biden said that Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s financial policies would “put y’all back in chains.” … It’s hard to see the Democrats’ attacks here as anything but attempts to tar their opponent as racists determined to restore slavery or segregation, even while knowing that such characterizations are false.
Then the piece gets interesting. As the policies fail to deliver for those strong supporters, they may tend to drift away, which could result in even more aggressive rhetorical attempts to keep them from doing so.
Historic wrongs, more serious and much longer lasting, understandably continue to have reverberations for black Americans, and recent grievances about immigration policy have continuing relevance for some large percentage, but by no means all, Hispanic voters. But increasingly these voters, like those conscious of various ethnic heritages and religious beliefs, are casting their votes and engaging in political activities according to views on other issues. In this context, Democrats’ general failure to deliver concrete results on the issues they highlight to appeal to blacks and Hispanics may undercut their appeal to such voters even as they divert attention from other issues of more salience.
The thrust of Democrats’ identity politics appeals to blacks, Hispanics and (sometimes) Asians is that their problems and desires are connected with their minority status, and that Republicans want to take them back to the more discriminatory policies of the past. In the short run such appeals can work. But in the long run, they can rebound against those who make them. There is no sizeable segment of American society that seeks to go back to the days of racial segregation, much less to subject current Hispanics and Asians to such strictures. And appeals based on summoning up the memory of ancient wrongs can cause a party — and government generally — to overlook or neglect concerns that voters of whatever racial category have today. Rubbing raw the sores of resentment can be self-defeating. After eight years of the Obama administration, with its considerable attention to race-based grievances, opinion on American race relations — among all groups — soured. An April 2009 ABC/Washington Post poll showed that by a 66 to 22 percent margin, Americans believed race relations were generally good rather than generally bad. By July 2016, another ABC/Post showed that Americans believed by a 63 to 32 percent margin, that race relations were generally bad rather than generally good.
And in the November 2016 election, turnout levels among blacks declined, including in key states where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost electoral votes her predecessor Barack Obama had won. Did some of the Democratic party’s strong supporters conclude the party had taken them for granted and done little for them? Looks like it.
Over the long term, all that rhetorical red meat with no results to show for it will demotivate (or worse) a bloc – whether they be pro-lifers, or budget hawks, or immigration restrictionists, or nonwhite voters.
Earlier in the piece, the author had this to say:
Democrats’ suggestions that Republicans want to return to the pre-1965 status quo would be delusional in the unlikely case they are sincere. More likely they are made cynically, in the hope of gaining votes without delivering anything in return.