A group of white female suburban swing voters recently sat for a political focus group.
The research firm that runs the group intentionally segregates the sessions, figuring participants among their own kind will feel comfortable enough to be candid about their views.
The suburban women were the sort you used to read about as carpool-driving soccer moms — they made the difference for Obama, went for Trump in 2016, then swung back to Biden in 2020. Like a lot of Americans, they aren’t party loyalists. They are independents, centrist Democrats or Main Street Republicans.
While there are plenty of other coveted demographics in American politics, the behavior of this particular subgroup of voters varies considerably from election to election. As a result, political consultants pay them extra attention. So should you, if you are wondering, or worried, about what will happen in the midterm elections or in the 2024 presidential race.
These voters weren’t wildly enthusiastic about either the Republicans or the Democrats, about either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
The Republicans, they said, seemed “crazy” — storming the Capitol, refusing to accept the election results, denying climate change, refusing even commonsense gun safety laws, declining COVID-19 vaccines, criminalizing abortion, participating in the Donald Trump personality cult.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are “preachy.” Anyone who fails to keep up with the latest progressive terminology — "pronouns,” “Latinx” — gets looked down on.
Anyone who doesn’t buy into every element of the progressive agenda — ban private health insurance, defund the police, every billionaire is a policy failure, full student-loan forgiveness, reparations for slavery, begin each public event with an indigenous land acknowledgment ceremony, slash military spending, double the minimum wage, ban fossil fuels, eliminate the internal combustion engine, whatever Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s most recent tweet demands — is complicit in perpetuating systemic racism, imperialism, settler colonialism, white supremacy, species extinction.
The terminology to describe the offense changes rapidly, but the constant is the condescension. The actual policy details are not so important — they’ll never get the support necessary to be implemented.
What it’s all really about is the sense of smug moral superiority conveyed by those dictating the agenda. Voters can sense it a mile away, and they are rolling their eyes.
Some Democrats are aware of the problem and are trying to adjust their rhetoric accordingly. A congressman who represents Silicon Valley, Ro Khanna, told NPR, “Preachy is just go on TV and say, well, if you’re not for Medicare for All, then you must be evil. And you must want people to die. And you must be wrong — right? — as opposed to saying, here is why.”
That “preachy” is now a term of disparagement speaks uncomfortably to the decline in religious belief and practice in much of America. It was not that long ago, after all, that religious leaders appealing to moral goodness championed the Civil Rights movement that ended the genuine evils of state-mandated racial segregation.
Perhaps what so grates on the voters is not so much the preaching, but that it’s coming from politicians rather than actual preachers.
When forced to choose between a vote for crazy and a vote for preachy, one focus group participant that people are still talking about said she’d go with crazy.
It’d be nice to have some other options. Getting there, however, may take some time. Republicans won’t abandon crazy unless a sustained string of electoral losses or genuine real-world large-scale policy disasters demands it. Even then, who knows?
The Democrats aren’t rushing to abandon preachy, either, as attested by the popularity, among core Democrats at least, of figures such as AOC and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The least preachy Democrats? The ones like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose political survival depends on their winning votes from independents and members of the other party.
In Arizona, “other” and “Republican” are 34% each of registered voters, while Democrats are 31%. In Manchin’s West Virginia, Republicans are 39% of the electorate, Democrats are 34%, and “no party” is 23%.
It could be that America’s best path out of the “crazy versus preachy” bind is a Manchin-Sinema 2024 ticket. It’s too early for an endorsement, but not too early for encouragement. I can see the bumper stickers now: “We won’t condescend to you. And we already succeeded in stopping most of Joe Biden’s worst ideas.”
Ira Stoll is the author of "Samuel Adams: A Life," and "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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