The Democrats have a problem. One of the most prominent data analysts has examined political trends, demographic projections, and the electoral system, and came to the conclusion that the 2020 elections were the last ones the Democrats might win in a long time.
The thing is that President Joe Biden’s popularity doesn’t look very promising right now. Since the end of August, he has been more unpopular than popular in surveys. According to RealClearPolitics, 46.3 percent of Americans have a positive, and 50.7 percent have a negative opinion on Biden. These are not good numbers in the first year of the presidency. Democratic political advisor and poll expert David Shor came up with a radical theory on how to improve these numbers: start promoting popular politics, however, part of the Democratic Party is horrified.
Shor is a political and mathematical nerd. He published his first election models on his blog in 2008 when he was 16. In 2012, he was already working on Barack Obama’s campaign. He became a public figure and, to some extent, a superstar only last summer. Protests culminated in the United States after the killing of George Floyd, and violence and looting were pretty common at the time. Furthermore, there were many comments explained away the rioting and looting as a legitimate political manifestation.
In this volatile atmosphere, Shor praised an article by an African-American political scientist Omar Wasow, who concluded that in areas where there was violent unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King, support for the Democratic Party fell by two-percentage points. On the other hand, in areas where protests were peaceful, the support rose. Shor’s praise provoked the anger of activists, who probably correctly perceived it as a critique of looting and unrest, and Shor’s employer, the Civis Analytics consulting company, fired him.
Paradoxically, this helped Shor’s career. He became well-known in the media, went from interview to interview, and gained a reputation as a man willing to tell Democrats unpleasant truths.
Most recently, he claimed that Democrats were drifting away from their constituents. While Democratic politicians and professional activists are largely progressive, their voters, especially the fleeting ones who are key to winning elections, do not see the world the same way. That reflects in the declining support among White workers and Hispanics, who start to lean towards the Republicans. The solution is simple, according to Shore. Use polling to find out which parts of the Democratic program are popular and then promote them. And, on the contrary, unpopular topics should be suppressed. As an example, Shor pointed to Obama’s campaign. When Democrats found their immigration policy to be heavily unpopular, but their economic plans seemed attractive, Obama went silent about immigration and emphasized the economic program.
Shor calls this theory “popularism.”
One might argue that the effort to promote popular things has been part of politics since forever. This conclusion could be reached through common sense.
But it frightened Democratic activists. On the one hand, they blame Shor for the conflict of interest. He claims that he wants to guide politics through polling, which is financially beneficial for him, as he makes a living from creating and analyzing polling data. They also question his conclusions and want him to publish the data on which he based them. Most of all, however, they don’t like hearing Shor’s views.
Shor, for example, claims that the slogan “defund the police” and the politics associated with it are deeply unpopular, and support for this policy has damaged Democrats in elections. Shor’s opponents refuse to admit he’s right. They also don’t like the advice not to talk about immigration so much. In contrast to popularism, they came up with the concept of “viralism.” According to them, the political agenda should focus on things that can spark enthusiasm, and politics should lead the way and persuade people, not follow them.
Although Shor agrees, he only points out that it can’t be ignored that the program does matter. To enforce a policy, it is necessary to win elections first, he notes.
The fact that Shor met with such a strongly negative response points to deep problems in the Democratic Party. The New York Times article, which summarizes Shor’s views, also mentions his admiration for Clinton-era analysts who had been able to correctly figure out what is bothering society.
Clinton’s presidency began as a very left-wing one. After losing the elections to Congress, he headed successfully to the center. Among his most successful reforms was the escalation of the fight against crime.
Today, Clinton is hated for it. One of the people who criticized Shor for his concept of popularism was New York Times commentator Jamelle Bouie. According to him, the popular policy of fighting crime was racist, as it affected disproportionately Black men (he neglects to mention that Black men committed crimes at disproportionately higher rates).
It is quite possible that the Democrats will really lose all the upcoming elections. If this happens, rather than structural political inequalities, they will have themselves to blame.