Sean Trende on the Future of the Democratic Coalition


In The Lost Majority, Sean Trende argues that when one of America’s major party coalitions succeeds by becoming an inclusive “coalition of everyone,” the stage is set for its eventual failure. The broader the coalition, the more clashing interests it will contain and the harder it will be to reconcile these clashing interests to the satisfaction of all of its members. In a new article, he observes that while the Democratic coalition of African Americans, Latinos, suburban moderates, and urban liberals looks very formidable, conflicts over taxes and public service delivery appear to be intensifying:

We also saw this type of split play out in the fiscal cliff fight, where several Democrats from wealthier states argued for a higher cutoff for tax rates than the $250,000 the administration was proposing. As the tax rates needed to fund the “blue state model” — a term coined by Walter Russell Mead — rise higher and higher, more and more pressure will be placed on Democrats from upscale districts to oppose those rate increases; these voters are much more likely to vote on social issues when the debate is whether the top rate should be 35 percent or 39 percent, but when it becomes whether the top rate should go over 50 percent, it becomes a different story.

Trende doesn’t dwell on how conservative political entrepreneurs might profit from these tensions, but the potential paths forward are relatively straightforward: (a) the GOP could make a bid for college-educated suburban moderates by softening their stance on some social issues while championing public sector efficiency and low taxes; or (b) the party could try to broaden its appeal among low- to moderate-income voters, including African Americans and second- and third-generation Latinos, by embracing a more populist policy mix. These strategies aren’t mutually exclusive, though there are tensions between them at the edges. 


The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.