Wednesday, 09 December 2020 12:26

OPINION: Republicans are becoming less democratic; Democrats should become more so

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If the past 20 years of elections has shown us anything, the United States, as a whole, has become a center-left nation. Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election but one since 2000 and they won a large majority of Congressional votes in 2018. The trend is not changing and it explains why Republicans have adopted anti-democratic policies, strategies, and tactics.

In states like North Carolina, where the public is evenly divided but trending ever-so-slowly towards Democrats, Republicans will push harder to limit the will of the people in order to maintain control. In 2010, when Republican took control of the legislature, they drew the most gerrymandered districts in the country because they knew that the state’s growth would water-down their support. They attempted to make voting more difficult for African-Americans and young people because elections here are often decided by small margins and reducing Democratic voters by even a few votes can make a difference. 

The GOP electorate is remarkably homogenous in a state that is becoming increasingly diverse. They are overwhelming white, mostly middle and upper class, and live predominantly in rural and suburban areas. In the South (excluding Florida), they’ve also lived in this country for generations and bring the bias of a propaganda-laden history. Consequently, the GOP has become the party of the Lost Cause, defending Confederate statues and tolerating far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Even if some Republicans might not agree with them, they still need their votes and those of their supporters as elections margins shrink.

Progressives’ response has been to protest. So far, it’s not worked out very well, at least politically. Rallies, whether in Washington or in Raleigh, have not often translated into votes, at least not in the areas where Democrats need them. In fact, they may be driving out Republican voters in rural areas of the state. In 2020, GOP margins increased significantly in rural counties across North Carolina. With gerrymandered districts, Democrats need to reverse that trend if they want to win control of the legislature or increase  their share of Congressional seats. 

Republicans will draw districts again in 2021. They will add at least one Congressional seat and the new legislative seats will reflect the growth in the state that’s occurred mainly in urban/suburban areas, especially along the I-85 corridor. While they will almost certainly be able to protect their legislative majorities with new maps, they will have a difficult time holding the veto-proof majorities they held after 2010, both because of the growth and the restrictions courts have placed on them.  

Democrats have several options. They can continue to fight gerrymandered districts in court, but may hit snags with the number of Trump appointed federal judges and GOP victories in the state Court of Appeals. They can organize like Stacy Abrams did in Georgia, registering and voting as many Democratic-leaning voters as possible. While that will help in statewide elections like the 2022 U.S. Senate race, it may only have marginal impact on heavily gerrymandered districts. Democrats can also try to appeal to the few moderate, swing voters in the districts they need to win by focusing more on economic issues than social ones. Again, the strategy may only have marginal impact because of the polarization in our country and state right now. 

I would argue Democrats should spend serious resources on all of the three strategies. They have had success in the courts time and again. While the change in the judiciary might impact future wins, they should continue to seek justice. They should invest in a massive organization effort to train volunteers, register voters, and get them to the polls. And they should build a bigger tent that’s based more on a message of “what we can do for you” than “we’re going to change the world” or “look at how crazy Republicans are.” It would be a significant rebranding effort.

As the country continues to trend blue, Republicans will get more anti-democratic, not less. They see limiting democracy as the key to their success, not broadening their message to reach out to more diverse voters. They are captured by their base. If Democrats want to win, they should not get captured by theirs. They may be outraged that our system of government and political representation is less democratic than they like, but they won’t change it without either winning elections or some kind of coup. Fighting in courts, organizing voters, and moderating their message where it works is the better option.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.