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Moderation’s Limits

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Moderation’s Limits

Democratic Party centrists exult in the Super Tuesday results, but the party’s future still looks to be much further to the left. March 6, 2020
Politics and law
The Social Order

Moderate Democrats are celebrating Joe Biden’s big Super Tuesday, but their joy may reflect a short-term triumph of the party’s past over its longer-term future. The sudden consolidation of the moderate vote around Biden, paced by the relative inability of Michael Bloomberg to spend his way into relevance, has elevated the creaking former vice president to the top of the pack, mainly as the most likely alternative to socialist senator Bernie Sanders. Moderation may have triumphed for now, with help from African-American and older voters, but the Sanders–Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party remains the choice of rising demographic groups of the future, namely Latinos and voters under 30.

The Democrats’ leftist future can be glimpsed in the country’s two biggest and most important states, Texas and California. These economic powerhouses are the nurseries of the new America, with Latinos constituting 30 percent of the eligible electorate in each. One state leans red, while the other is, for now at least,  solid blue, but each has developed political models—one conservative, the other progressive—that now compete for America’s political future.

The electoral patterns in Texas, which Biden narrowly won, were marked by divisions of age and ethnicity. Voters over 65 went for Biden nearly four to one, according to Washington Post exit polls. By contrast, among voters under 30, Sanders cleaned up, beating Biden 59 percent to 13 percent. African-Americans, who constitute 20 percent of the state’s electorate, gave nearly three-fifths of their votes to Biden, almost four times Sanders’s share. Carroll Robinson, who served on the Houston City Council for six years and is chairman of the Coalition of Black Democrats, notes that Sanders failed to connect, particularly with older black voters; he cites in particular his being the only major candidate not to attend the 55th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma as reflective of his “signaling problem” with African-American voters.

Black voters, Robinson notes, were critical to Biden’s small margin of victory, boosting his totals in Harris County, which includes Houston, and in Dallas County. In contrast, Latinos, already roughly one-third of the state’s Democratic voters, voted heavily for Sanders. The Vermont senator won roughly 40 percent of Latino voters, compared with about a quarter who opted for Biden. Sanders won easily in heavily Latino Bexar (San Antonio), Hidalgo (the Rio Grande Valley), and El Paso Counties.

Sanders also appealed to younger voters in Texas, as elsewhere, beating Biden among voters under 30—making up some 15 percent of the electorate—by almost four to one. He won hugely in Austin, the state’s epicenter of millennial culture, with its high concentration of tech workers. Sanders easily took Travis County over Biden, 83,000 to 52,000.

Moderate Texas Democrats can take heart in halting the momentum of a socialist candidate, but the broader trend is against them. According to exit polls, some 56 percent of Texas Democrats view socialism favorably. In Houston, voters elected an inexperienced 27-year-old progressive, Lina Hidalgo, as judge of Harris County in 2018. Despite its title, the role is nonjudicial; Hidalgo is actually the chief executive of the nation’s third most-populous county. This year, Christian Menefee, a young social-justice advocate, won the primary for Harris County Attorney over more mainstream opposition, on a platform of progressive criminal-justice reform. “There’s an incipient change among the grassroots activists,” notes Bill White, former Houston mayor and deputy energy secretary under Bill Clinton. “There’s a whole new group who are very anti-establishment and gaining influence.” White suspects that the ascendency of these forces may just be beginning. Sanders and Warren—before she dropped out of the race on Thursday—enjoyed a combined 40 percent support of the Texas Democratic electorate, running strongest among the fastest-growing demographic groups.

This leftward transformation is even further along in California. As Morley Winograd, a longtime Democratic activist and former aide to Al Gore, suggests, the state is not only “unique politically, but also big enough to have its own weather system. Democrats in the state feel the economy is strong enough to allow it to maintain its current high-tax, high regulation environment without causing a major downturn.” Socialism remains in vogue. At last year’s state party convention, when former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, then a presidential aspirant, suggested that “socialism is not the answer,” he was lustily booed.

As in Texas, Sanders won biggest among Latinos and millennials, who represent the party’s future. He won an astounding 55 percent of Latino voters, according to New York Times exit polls, compared with a mere 21 percent for Biden. He won 72 percent of voters under 30 and 57 percent of voters in the 30-to-44 age range, beating Biden by wide margins. Biden did win older voters and among African-Americans, but blacks constitute only 7 percent of the state’s Democratic electorate, barely a third of their Texas share. 

California’s far-left progressives have gained support from the tech industry’s highly “woke” workforce. The tech mavens themselves may not like the prospect of Sanders, having preferred candidates like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, but these technocrat-friendly centrists flopped with voters. Another corporate favorite, Michael Bloomberg, spent a fortune in California but finished a distant third after shelling out $36 million on television ads here alone. It’s a different story with tech workers. San Francisco and Seattle are home to three of the top six zip codes in donations to the campaign of the Vermonter. Despite opposition from the tech elite, Sanders defeated Biden handily in the three key tech counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco, where Sanders and Warren combined to win 53 percent of the vote.  

Perhaps even more threatening to the state’s moderate-to-liberal elite is the shift of Latinos, comprising 28 percent of California’s Democratic electorate, to the far left. Over recent years, California’s Latinos—particularly in vote-rich Los Angeles—have been radicalized by organized labor, which is heavily concentrated in government-related sectors like health-care and education. In Los Angeles County, the heart of Latino California, Biden won barely a quarter of the vote.

The leftward trend is fed by a growing pessimism about the prospects of upward mobility. Millennials—about 44 percent minority—have good reasons to feel this way. About 90 percent of people born in 1940 grew up to earn higher incomes than their parents, according to researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project. The same is true for only 50 percent of those born in the 1980s. In contrast to their parents, millennials, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, are in danger of becoming a “lost generation” in terms of wealth accumulation.

The generational shift could have a profound effect on our economic, political, and social order. Compared with their parents, young people are more likely to face a future with no substantial assets or property. A Deloitte study projects that millennials in the U.S. will hold barely 16 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2030, when they will be the largest adult generation by far. Gen-Xers, the preceding generation, will hold 31 percent, while baby boomers, entering their eighties and nineties, will control a remarkable 45 percent of America’s wealth. Even college degrees, particularly from non-elite schools, are less effective in ensuring middle-class incomes. Upward of 40 percent of recent college graduates now work in jobs that don’t typically require a college degree.     

In a fractured political climate, marked by gaps in economic opportunity, many see the economy as dominated by the few and barely supportive of an independent, property-owning middle class. Even as immigrant Latinos flee failed statist systems to find opportunity in America, if the prospects for achieving the American Dream prove elusive, they will be more inclined to support income redistribution and other big-government solutions. Already, Pew notes, Latinos, though often more socially conservative than whites, view expanded government much more favorably than Americans as a whole.

Sadly, those who favor this redistributionist ideology seem often unaware of the failures of statist socialism around the world, especially in Latin America—and including the decades of stagnation bequeathed by Peronism, now ascendant again in Argentina. Instead, young people, Hispanics, and a portion of the intellectual elite, taking inspiration from failed ideologies, reject America’s flawed but historically successful market system. This rejection will hurt their future prospects—and ours.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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