April 29, 2021 - 3:00pm

Are Democrats too woke for voters? It’s a charge that’s often levelled at the party from outside – and within. Most recently, former Bill Clinton adviser and Democratic strategist James Carville accused the Democrats of using “faculty language” that alienated ordinary voters. Suggesting that using terms like “Latinx” was “not how people talk”, Carville said that race needed to be addressed through a different lens:

We have to talk about race. We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them. This “too cool for school” shit doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.
- James Carville, Vox

Carville isn’t the only one. A few days ago, former Democratic senator and presidential candidate and Tulsi Gabbard implored Americans to “please stop the racialisation of everyone and everything”.

New research out this week suggests that they both might be onto something. Despite the increasing emphasis on race in Democrat messaging around progressive issues, the paper argues that there is ‘no evidence’ that Americans are persuaded by this policy framing.

In fact, when Democrats racialise issues that aren’t even necessarily race-related (infrastructure, student debt, the Green New Deal etc), it is more likely to alienate Republican and moderate voters. 

The paper tests these claims by framing six race-neutral progressive policy proposals in racial terms, class terms and class and race terms combined. It took six statements from leading Democratic politicians and applied those framings to each one.

For instance, a neutral statement would read: “President Biden is calling on Congress to make a historic and overdue investment in our roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports, and transit systems…” Framed in racial terms, it continued: “These investments will advance racial equity by providing better jobs and better transportation options to underserved communities.” 

As the chart shows below, support for each proposal was lower when it was framed in racial terms. By contrast, when it was framed in class terms, its appeal grew.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, race-explicit messaging deters independents and Republicans from the policy proposal, as the next chart shows:

More interesting, however, is the racial breakdown of the respondents. According to the study, black respondents are just as responsive to a class framing as they are to the race framing:

Which leads us to question, cui bono? If black respondents are no more drawn to a racial framing of the same issue than they are by a class framing, then why won’t Democrats focus their messaging on the latter? 

The problem, it would seem, lies with white liberals, who are more Left-wing than black and Hispanic Democrats on almost every issue: from taxes, law and healthcare to even racial issues. As Democrat strategist David Shor noted earlier this year, Joe Biden lost 2% of African-American support and 10% of Latino support compared to 2016 thanks, in large part, to liberal slogans like ‘Defund the Police’.

In the context of the upcoming midterm elections next year, this matters. Over the past 70 years, the incumbent party has gained seats in the House and Senate only twice, the last time being 2002. If non-white Democrats continue to leave the party at this rate, chances are that Joe Biden will be without a majority in Congress in 2022. What will that mean for the liberal agenda?

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.