Can the Progressive Coalition Beat Trump?

Mark Vancleave/Star Tribune via AP

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, center, celebrates with her supporters after her Congressional Fifth District primary victory in Minneapolis. 

President Donald Trump has gotten extraordinary political mileage out of stoking the fears and prejudices of the predominantly white male voters who form the core of his supporters.

Now the question is whether the progressive coalition at the heart of the Democratic base—including African Americans, immigrants, young voters, and women—can turn out in sufficient numbers on Election Day to reassert that most Americans value inclusion over hate, facts over lies, equity over greed, and government accountability over corruption.

Too often, when talk turns to this “Rainbow Coalition,” a term first coined Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and later taken up by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, progressive strategists wring their hands over the supposed pitfalls of “identity politics,” which are said to divide the nation instead of bringing it together. 

But condemning racism, anti-Semitism, voter suppression, and chauvinism is not “identity politics.” It’s standing up for core American values. The true identity politics is practiced by Trump, who is systematically normalizing the white supremacist narrative that identity—specifically, being white and male—is what defines a “real” American.

As the nation lurches between its worst racist instincts and its ideals as a multicultural melting pot, virtually every bloc within the progressive coalition is testing its political power. Women are running in record numbers, and pouring money into races. African American voters have launched a string of new voter mobilization groups, including a multimillion-dollar super PAC. The number of young voters (age 18 to 29) who say they will definitely vote in this midterm has shot up. Latino voters, the main target of Trump’s xenophobic rants, are uniquely vulnerable but also energized. Here are some key progressive power centers to watch as Election Day approaches:

African American voters were taken for granted in 2016, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez has admitted, and only 88 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, compared with 94 percent who backed President Barack Obama in 2012. Some argue that Democratic officials have again failed to sufficiently energize black voters in this midterm, particularly in states like Missouri, where incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill narrowly trails GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley. But African American organizers have scored some important victories, in part thanks to an influx of new mobilization and fundraising groups, many led by women. BlackPAC, a new super PAC run by African American consultant and activist Adrianne Shropshire, has raised $6.8 million in this election. The PAC helped install Democrat Ralph Northam as Virginia’s governor, and helped Doug Jones win Alabama’s special Senate election. Also mobilizing black voters in this election are Color of Change, which has netted a record $4.9 million in this midterm, Woke Vote, and the Black Voters Matter Fund.

Women voters, candidates, and donors have helped fuel a yawning gender gap under Trump that could prove decisive next week. Women ran for office in record numbers, won primaries in record numbers, and donated record sums. Female candidates netted $159 million from women donors in this cycle, nearly two and a half times more than in 2016. Women donors also gave men a record $148 million in this election cycle. Overall, Democratic congressional candidates have raised $308 million from women donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Women donors helped fuel the huge fundraising advantage enjoyed by Democratic House and Senate candidates, who have raised $1.2 billion compared with $790 million for Republicans. Now the question is whether “rage giving,” as the female donor boom has been called, will translate into enough “rage” voting to counter the enthusiasm of pumped-up GOP male voters.

Youth voters have an abysmal history when it comes to turnout, particularly in midterms. Only 16 percent of voters younger than 30 cast ballots in 2014. And the highest-ever youth midterm turnout, which was in 1994, was still pretty low, at 21 percent. But there are signs that things could be different this year. It’s not just that celebrity Taylor Swift has been encouraging her fans to vote. It’s that 40 percent of young voters say they will “definitely” vote, up from 26 percent who said so on the eve of the last midterm, according to a Harvard University Institute of Politics poll. This year’s mass shooting of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has played a role. The Harvard poll found that students not only lean left, but that more than half support “democratic socialism,” including support for single-payer health care, creating both challenges and opportunities for Democrats.

Immigrants of all stripes have been Trump’s favorite punching bag in this midterm, most recently via his attack on birthright citizenship. Latino organizers, in particular, say they fear Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric will sow fear and confusion at the polls. Strict voter ID laws, which have proliferated in the states, tend to disproportionately disenfranchise Latino voters, a recent report by the NALEO Educational Fund found. At the same time, NALEO identified five new Latinos likely to join the House, and nine more in highly competitive congressional contests. The number of Latinos in the House could rise from 34 today to 41 after the midterm, NALEO projects. And NALEO reports high Latino voter enthusiasm, with 71 percent of those surveyed saying they are “certain” they will vote in the coming midterms.

No one voting bloc is defined by a single set of issues or concerns, and no one coalition can be sliced and diced into precise blocs. But progressive activists now raising their voices are doing so in unison, not in opposition to one another. Whether or not they win next week, their power is growing.

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