Democrat Conundrum

Race2012: Issues - Democrat Conundrum

“The bottom line is simply and starkly this: white Americans have more of the privileges, more of the resources and more of the rights than other Americans have. If you look at the sweep of history people were not enthusiastic about giving up their privileges,” - Vincent Hutchings, Prof., Political Science, Univ. of Michigan

Even though demographics are changing how politicians look at the interests of America, white voters are still the majority of voters in the country. This creates a balancing act for the Democratic Party, which has dominated minority politics for nearly half a century, where they must be selective about what issues they choose to bridge as they seek to balance the interests of minorities and liberal whites.

Matt Barreto, Assoc. Prof., Political Science, Univ. of Washington, says there are two possible responses we can expect from whites as the parties adjust to the changing demographics of the country. “One is there will be whites who are liberally oriented and progressive on racial issues. I think the other is that you will see whites start to feel alienated, anxious, nervous.”

“The way I’ve often looked at the two-party system, says Hutchings, “is that we have two parties in this country, one party of racial conservatism and one party of racial moderation. We don’t have a party of racial liberalism. During the 1960s racial liberalism of the Democratic Party led to this decline of support among white voters.”

There are of course Democrats that do see and seek common ground with minorities but the more recent messaging among Democrats is to use symbolic language that appeals to both whites and minorities. “What Obama has done,” Hutchings says, “is what Democratic candidates have done for generations, or certainly for many years. Not talk about race unless they have to, and make the argument that in pursuing the various policies that he is pursuing it will help out all Americans, including racial minorities.”

Race 2012- Democrat ConundrumIt’s possible that the appeal of the Democratic Party for minorities may have a deleterious effect on the party among whites in such a way that it makes elections tougher to win – at least until minorities further integrate into the political system. Mike Madrid, political consultant, argues however that the current strategy of the Democrats is not a good long-term strategy. “Everything that is happening to the Democratic Party is all very predictable,” he observes. “Every other demographic group, whether it was the Irish, the Poles, Eastern Europeans, coming at the turn of the last century, Ellis Island, as immigrants became Democrats, urban Democrats…There’s no underlying ideology that’s keeping all of these disparate, diverse groups together, and the only coalescing glue is an anti-Republican sentiment, that’s not a good long-term strategy.”

Tehama Lopez, Assoc Prof., Political Science, Ohio Univ., makes an observation that may serve as a warning to Democrats, many of whom assume that the current coalition of minorities and immigrants will always be there, “… one thing about race that we should know for sure is that it’s not static.”


  • Can Democrats find a way to assuage whites’ anxiety about their diminishing political influence while accommodating the interests of ever-increasing numbers of minority voters?
  • Will the GOP reinvent itself as a more inclusive and racially moderate party that manages to lure voters away from the Democratic Party?