With approval ratings of 42 percent for President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE and a dismal 18 percent for the Republican Congress, Democrats could be poised to win landslide victories in this year’s elections — from the U.S. House and Senate to governorships and state legislatures. But they’ll lose this opportunity if they don’t address the economic challenges confronting their strongest supporters, who are at risk of staying home on election day.
Struggling to stay even economically, and with a history of under-participating politically, the Democratic Party’s base consists largely of people of color, unmarried women and young people. Now numbering an estimated 133 million adults, these fast-growing groups constitute what we call the “Rising American Electorate,” or RAE. Since 2016, they’ve comprised a clear majority of the voting-age population.
Research from the Voter Participation Center shows that 40 million voters from 2016 won’t cast ballots in 2018, and two-thirds of these “drop-off “voters will be members of the RAE. In the effort to engage this emerging electoral majority, the stakes couldn’t be higher — for the Democratic Party and the democratic process. Having suffered discrimination by race, gender, ethnicity and marital status, the RAE has been overlooked, underrepresented and underserved by every level of government.
Over the last few elections, RAE members have made progress in closing the gap and are a larger share of the electorate – but there is still work to do. If their increasing representation is reversed in November, the political system will lose legitimacy and public policies will become disconnected from the fastest-growing segments of society, with disastrous consequences for our country.
While President Trump and his critics squabble, the danger of disconnection between the RAE and the political process is great — and growing. Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corps just conducted groundbreaking research that concentrated on Democratic base voters and potential swing voters in 12 battleground states.
The findings should serve as a wakeup call: The Democrats’ momentum has stalled because the party isn’t focusing enough on the economic and health care challenges confronting its base supporters as well as swing voters, particularly white working-class women. (This failure is bipartisan: While some African-Americans, Latinos, unmarried women and young people are tuning out on the Democrats, they aren’t turning to the Republicans.)
In order to reconnect with the RAE, Democrats should not be distracted by the Trump administration’s boasts of a “booming economy.” Democratic base voters and white working-class women are struggling to survive in a world very different from Washington and Wall Street. Their wages aren’t keeping up with rising costs, especially the cost of health care. Some 70 percent of African-Americans and white unmarried women say they haven’t benefited from the GOP tax cut, as do about 60 percent of Hispanics and white working-class women. These voters are also concerned that tax cuts that reward the rich and add trillions of dollars to the deficit will be paid for by cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In this research, these voters respond to an economic message that says our elected officials must do better than a short-term spending spree that endangers retirement security for older Americans, health care for families, and education. Saddened by school shootings, disgusted by the lack of progress on commonsense gun safety from politicians, and inspired by student protests, millennials also respond to appeals about gun safety, including universal background checks and ban on assault-style weapons, as well as the economic message.
These messages speak to RAE members and increase interest in the 2018 elections across the board, including among millennials. While only 37 percent of the RAE expressed great interest in voting when first asked, this jumps to 43 percent after hearing messages in touch with their daily struggles.
That’s good news for anyone who is concerned with revitalizing representative government. When a majority of Americans — unmarried women, people of color and young people — can cast their ballots, give voice to their concerns, and hold their elected officials accountable, then public policies will be more effective and we will set a powerful example to the world that American democracy is stronger than ever.
Page S. Gardner is president of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, which informs and mobilizes unmarried women and the entire Rising American Electorate (RAE).
Stanley B. Greenberg is a founder of Democracy Corps, which conducts research on making the government of the United States more responsive to the American people.