Culture, Ideology, The Two Coalitions, and the 2008 Democratic Nomination
by Chris Bowers, Mon May 14, 2007 at 12:55:56 PM EDT
However, over the past two years, I have slowly moved away from that position. While I certainly think that it is important to grow liberalism and progressivism, what I failed to take into account back in late 2004 was why people self-identified as liberal, moderate or conservative, and what they might mean when they did so. Ideological self-identification means very different things to different people, and much of the time it doesn't mean anything ideological at all. In fact, over the past two years, I have numerous studies showing that most people, like 90%, don't even really have a clear idea of what being conservative, liberal or "moderate" even means. And I don't mean that in the sense that that most people have different definitions of ideologies than me. I mean it in the sense that they don't have thoroughgoing, well-defined ideologies at all. For example, how can about 50% of self-identified conservatives believe that the federal government should raise taxes in order to provide free health insurance to all American citizens? The answer, I think, is that people mean different things when they call themselves "conservative."
More in the extended entry, including the bit where I finally have a point.
In a coalition as broad and diverse as the Democratic Party, I have come to find that intra-party coalitions depend even less on perceived ideology than they do in comparisons between the two parties. Just look at the current sources of strength for Edwards, Clinton and Obama among varying Democratic demographics. Edwards finds strength, for example, both among progressive blog readers and among conservative white Christians. Clinton shows virtually no difference in her support among liberals and moderates, but a large gap in her support among men and women. Obama's varying performance among difference Democratic age groups is larger than his varying performance among different Democratic ideological groups. Further, the gap in Obama's performance among seculars and non-seculars puts all other previously mentioned difference to shame. Or consider how Dean's source of strength at the DNC comes from a motley ideological alliance of state party chairs from Rhode Island to Nebraska, with a healthy dose of netroots support thrown in. Or consider that Bill Clinton's two largest sources of strength in the 1992 primary season were conservative white southerners and far less conservative African-Americans around the country. Also, as Unqualified Offerings recently discussed, Hillary Clinton actually does better among Democrats who think the war in Iraq is lost than those who think it can still be won. In Philadelphia, we have long seen racial divides trump any ideological divides in city primaries. None of this makes any sense if you look at intra-party coalitions from a purely ideological perspective. The cultural perceptions behind these intra-party alliances seem at least as important, if not more important, than the ideological determinations. This is especially the case when one considers that cultural perceptions play a major role in determining ideological self-identification.
This post is a bit rambling, and a little too anecdotal for my tastes, but I want to sketch out the idea that led me to make it in the first place. When I was considering the difficulty the netroots have sometimes found in forming intra-party coalitions, I wonder how much of that difficulty is rooted in the cultural identity of the blogosphere. Our readership is disproportionately drawn from some demographics that are often considered predominately Republican: male, white, high-income, non-union members. While we certainly have high concentrations of some very pro-Democratic demographics as well--secular, Jewish, GLBT, urban, post-graduate degrees--for the most part, even those cultural identifiers cause us to stick out from the Democratic coalition as a whole. How much is our cultural division keeping us from better connecting with the rest of the Democratic coalition on issues such as, say, who we prefer to win the 2008 presidential nomination? When it comes to 2008, I think our cultural difference might be more significant than any ideological differences. Look at Pew's crosstabs on 2008 again. Every single demographic from which we draw a disproportionate number of our readers is less pro-Clinton than every other demographic, and only one of those demographics is ideological. It certainly makes you wonder what the real driving force in this campaign, and even the Democratic Party, really is.
In the final analysis, are we really talking about ideology, or even specific issues areas, or are we talking about culture and identity? Surely it is a mix, but I don't think we have emphasized, or at least appreciated, the cultural side nearly enough. If we want to play a bigger role in the Democratic coalition, we need to figure out ways to bridge our intra-coalition cultural gaps. Otherwise, our view on where the party will go won't have the impact on 2008 that we desire. If many people are not supporting Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards for ideological or policy-related reasons, we probably won't be able to shift their support for ideological or policy-related reasons. Other avenues must be examined and pursued. Considering that he leads among a wide variety of demographics, Michael Nutter seems to have somehow accomplished this in Philadelphia. Now, how do we do it nationwide?