Political numbers guru Nate Silver posted an analysis yesterday on FiveThirtyEight that resonated with and elevated my understanding of something about which I’ve wondering: namely, the division of Democrats into two camps that might be called purists and pragmatists.
The pragmatists might also be called the “electability” Democrats. They may agree with the purists on most issues, but they will get behind a candidate with whom they disagree on some key issues if they become convinced that he or she is the candidate that can beat Donald Trump.
The purists don’t exactly say that they would rather see Trump reelected than compromise on some of their more controversial issues positions. But they are tired of being told that many policy goals they fervently favor – like universal health care coverage and maybe even single-payer health care and several others involving abortion or gay rights or the environment – will cost the Democratic the support of moderate swing voters and the election.
When electability Democrats try to lecture at them about how important it is to win, the conversation often doesn’t go well and, in my experience, the groups talk past each other. (Perhaps one explanation for that is left over from 2016, when electability Democrats claimed to know that Hillary Clinton was the electable one and Bernie Sanders wasn’t because he was too far left to attract moderate swing voters.)
Anyway, that’s just me blathering. But Silver also discussed this, and — without claiming to know the answer — said the breakdown has a lot to with age: “Younger Democrats care less about electability” than older Democrats do, Silver said.
As evidence, Silver cites a poll of New Hampshire Democrats taken in May, which asked what was more important in deciding whom to support: “A candidate you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump or a Democrat you do not agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Trump.”
The responses varied very substantially by age. By 76-13 percent, Democrats 65 and old said that supporting the candidate who could beat Trump was more important. Those age 50-64 were slightly less willing to prioritize electability. By 71-20 margin, they said that nominating someone who could beat Trump was more important.
But Democrats age 18-49 were much more evenly split on purity vs. electability. A small majority, 55 percent, said it was more important to nominate a candidate who could beat Trump, while 42 percent said it was more important to support someone who agreed with them on the issues, which I take to be the basket of issues that separates the I-don’t-care-if-they-call-me-a-socialist Democrats from the run-away-from-the-S-word Democrats.
It’s very obvious to me that Republicans are going to use the S-word as a club either way. I just looked up the three most recent press releases from the National Republican Congressional Committee. All three used the term “socialist Democrats” to describe the party.
Wash, rinse, repeat. Here’s the full Silver analysis from FiveThirtyEight.