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Is Pragmatism Trumping Identity Politics?

Don Rose 16 May 2019 One Comment

All the current polls agree than the overwhelming majority of Democratic primary voters prefer a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump–even if they have disagreements with that candidate–to one with whom they fully agree but might be weaker in the general election. That may not be surprising, but it’s especially interesting in a diverse 20-plus field where one might expect identity politics to play a big role.


Look at the field. It’s a playground for identitarians: a half-dozen women, one of them black, one Samoan; a black male; a couple of Latinx; an Asian; an old Jewish guy; a gay guy; male and female senior citizens plus younger men and women scaling down to a millennial.

Politically they range from barely left of center to social democrats. Geographically, though many are from the eastern seaboard, they’re from all across the country, including two Texans and a contingent of left coasters.

At this moment the clear leader in every national and most state polls is the elderly, modestly left of center old white guy who has the support of half the African Americans polled and apparently a substantial number of women despite a dicey history with women. It’s a guy name of Joe Biden, who also beats Trump substantially in almost every general-election matchup.

Bernie Sanders, the aging Jewish Democratic Socialist, is well behind Biden, but well ahead of the third-place contenders. In general-election matchups he usually tops Trump by a few percentage points–though I believe one would need to win the popular vote by at least five points to carry the electoral college. Remember, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three points–as was predicted by most polls.

Senator Kamala Harris, a Jamaican-heritage black woman, is in a virtual tie for third place with the millennial gay white guy and an older, very progressive white woman senator, Elizabeth Warren, who got the biggest ovation from an assembly of African American women.

The black male thus far languishes near the bottom along with two highly accomplished women senators, one closer to the center, the other a progressive who makes a strong pitch to women. A Latino former cabinet member barely shows up in the polls. But it must also be recognized that the African American vote tends to consolidate relatively late in the game. Barack Obama lagged behind Clinton in the polls until well after the New Hampshire primary.

Will the women’s vote consolidate or be divided between the aggressive progressivism of Warren, the freshness of Kamala Harris, the incrementalism of Amy Klobuchar–or go with “electable” Biden?

It should be clear that this is still very early, where name recognition and familiarity may largely be the reasons Biden and Sanders dominate, but the polling is so consistent over a goodly period of time that it can’t be ignored. It’s especially notable that Biden’s numbers went up strongly after he joined the race, contrary to the expectations of us pundits–who also expected identity politics to be a major factor.

Maybe the June 26-27 debates will shake things up.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

One Comment »

  • The Man in Black said:

    Well, the one on the right was on the left
    And the one in the middle was on the right
    And the one on the left was in the middle
    And the guy in the rear burned his driver’s license

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