An Emerging Progressive Majority

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Increasing Democracy

The Emerging Progressive Majority

Even more than simply marking the end of one-party rule in Washington, last Tuesday's elections indicated what may be the beginning of long-term progressive strength: a strength fueled, in part, by increasing strength among Latinos and young voters, as well as huge turnout from American workers, who voted for change.

It is clear that these new votes (from persuasion or unexpected turnout) had their basis in clear policy distinctions. Minimum wage issues helped drive up turnout among workers and youth. The right's radical immigration policy fomented a backlash among Latino voters and turned off other ethnic groups at the same time. Trade policy played a bigger role than it has in recent years. And other critical issues, like education affordability and health care ended up on the radar screen in this election in ways they hadn't before.

The lesson for progressives is clear: Americans -- most of them, anyways -- really are hungry for policies that raise wages, increase opportunity, and lessen economic insecurity.

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Increasing Democracy

The Latino Vote

For years, Latinos have been among the most important swing bloc of voters in the country. While typically breaking for Democrats, Republicans knew that with the right campaigning, they could perform well among this large and growing demographic group. In 2004, exit polls showed Bush receiving as much as 44% of the Latino vote.

Oh, what a difference xenophobic policy makes.

It should have surprised absolutely nobody that Latino voters would swing hard against Republicans. The swing appears to be roughly 15%, so that the GOP averaged 30% or less of the Latino vote. Immigration, which Republicans thought was the new guaranteed wedge issue, ended up backfiring.

In fact, two candidates in Arizona who ran almost exclusively on anti-immigration went down to defeat, as they lose the votes of both Latinos and Anglo voters turned off by harsh rhetoric that bordered on racism.

Immigration policy still is a tricky spot for Democrats, who seem to have trouble heeding the better angels of their nature. The reality, though, is that there are clear progressive solutions that are popular with voters and that also actually solve the underlying problems of immigration, ultimately defusing the political issue: reform America's trade policies, protect labor rights for all workers, and shut down the illegal economy.

If Democrats can heed their progressive inclinations, they are likely to find it quite possible to please the electorate on immigration policy without stooping to failed xenophobia of the right.

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Increasing Democracy

The Youth Vote

The Millenials are with us. America's youth -- the biggest generation since the Baby Boom -- are voting more frequently than Generation X and are voting far more progressively than the Reagan-raised generation that proceeded them. You have probably already heard one of the most impressive stats: young voters went for Democrats by a margin of 60%-38% according to exit polls and 2 million more turned out to the polls than in 2002 -- the last mid-term election.

The relatively strong turnout and partisan bent indicates that 2004 -- which saw an 11 percent surge in youth turnout and a heavy youth vote for Kerry -- was no fluke. Interest in voting is climbing and the next generation heavily favors Democrats and progressives.

Exit polls also indicate that it is young voters who are responsible for the "blue-ing" of the Rocky Mountain West. In Montana, where U.S. Senator-elect Jon Tester eked out a victory by less than 1%, young voters broke in his favor by 12% -- his strongest performance among any demographic. And the youth vote made up 17% of the electorate, compared to 13% nationwide. Young Montanans were also the strongest supporters of the state's minimum wage initiative.

Wyoming shows similar numbers. Despite being a deep red state, Wyoming nearly sent a Democrat to Congress in a race that no one expected to be competitive. But if young voters had ruled the day, Gary Trauner, who ended up losing by about 1%, would be the next Congressman from the Cowboy state -- young voters went for him by 58%-42%. They were also the strongest age group for incumbent Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal.

The story continues up-and-down the West, at least where exit polls are available. In Arizona, youth were the only age group to break for unsuccessful Democratic Senate candidate Jim Pederson -- and they broke for him by 15%. In New Mexico, Democratic Governor Bill Richardson saw his strongest re-elect numbers come from young voters. Exit polls are not available in Colorado or Idaho, but anecdotal evidence indicates that the story is the same: young Westerners are repainting their states from red to purple and from purple to blue.

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Increasing Democracy

The Labor Vote

Union workers voting for progressives isn't news. Even as Democrats have lost white, working class voters over the years, union members and their households have voted reliably Democratic. But 2006 was still a banner year in terms of turnout and the sheer margin by which union members voted for Democrats. According to the AFL-CIO, union members voted for union-endorsed candidates by a margin of three-to-one -- an absolutely huge measure.

In post-election polling, the AFL asked union voters what motivated them to turn out. The number one response, more or less, can be boiled down to a single word: change. And change is what these union voters got. As Public Citizen notes in a new report, the first casualty of the November elections just may be the "Washington Consensus" that has steered trade policy for years, if not decades. Champions of fair trade policy won election across the country, often trouncing their "free" trade opponents.

Change to Win mobilized members in support of minimum wage hikes, which organized labor helped qualify as ballot initiatives in six states. In some cases, these union members got mobilized because of their own memories of working for minimum wage in their pre-union days.

By any account, Election Day was a big victory for working Americans, as minimum wage hikes and health insurance move to the frontburner of policy agendas across the country (see Three Steps Forward below for more details). But there's still a lot of work left to be done.

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Research Roundup

Medicaid Costs, Chesapeake Bay, Education Expenses, and Fair Trade Wins

In another sign that the private sector isn't all it's cracked up to be when it comes to health care, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that "Medicaid costs are growing more slowly than costs for Medicare or private insurance."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released their State of the Bay report detailing the environmental conditions throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. The Bay region needs considerable environmental remediation and the Foundation gave the Bay a D rating due to its poor environmental conditions.

In an Economic Snapshot, the Economic Policy Institute finds that a decline in federal grant aid to students relative to the price of education is "forcing students to take on more expensive debt."

Public Citizen makes a convincing case that a fair trade agenda played a critical role in 2006 election gains by Democrats.

Eye on the Right

With Capitol Hill a tough place to work the lobbying trade these days, the big spending rightwing and corporate special interests are looking to the states to sell their wares. Expect to see even more action in the states from telecoms and on the judicial front.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
Matt Singer, Communications Director


Please shoot me an email at if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch


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