There are several interesting ideas in F. H. Buckley’s op-ed at the Wall Street Journal on the effects of the social/identity and economic dimensions on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election:
Before the arrival of Donald Trump, the Republican establishment tended to define politics along a one-dimensional economic axis. Their Democratic opponents were socialists while they were the growth and opportunity party. Mitt Romney’s candidacy embodied this view. His campaign’s 59-point plan of sensible free-market ideas was a manifesto for Republican insiders. No one but them ever read it. The Republican one-dimensional man was left in 2012’s dustbin.
The Voter Study Group’s Lee Drutman recently looked beyond the simple left-right paradigm in a questionnaire asking 2016 voters to identify both how they voted and how they felt about various economic and social issues. Mr. Drutman then mapped the results in a diagram, with economic preferences on the horizontal axis and social preferences on the vertical. The diagram revealed some surprising insights about American politics.
Most Hillary Clinton voters were deeply liberal on both axes. The surprise was the Trump voters, who were very conservative on social issues but moderate on economic ones. By Mr. Drutman’s count, 73% of all voters were left of center on economics. Most of the remaining Trump supporters were quite moderate on economic questions.
After the election, the so-called NeverTrumpers claimed that each of their favored candidates would also have beaten Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Drutman’s figures show what a pipe dream that is. A presidential candidate like Ted Cruz, who defines himself primarily through right-wing economic policies, begins with nearly three-quarters of the electorate in the other camp. Such a candidate isn’t likely to go very far.
While the great majority of voters were liberal on economic issues, a small majority (52%) were social conservatives at the top of the diagram, enough to swing the election to Mr. Trump. Only 3.8% of voters were libertarians in the lower-right quadrant, socially liberal and economically conservative. They split their votes evenly between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton.
The crucial differences between the two parties came down to social concerns, including pride in America, immigration, and especially moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The social-conservative awakening that helped elect Mr. Trump came when voters recognized that the liberal agenda amounted to something more than a shield to protect sexual minorities. It was also a sword to be used against social conservatives.
The Trump voters might have grumbled about the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, but same-sex marriage didn’t pick anyone’s pockets and no great political protest followed. That changed, however, when homosexual activists employed their newly won rights to start putting religious believers out of business.
In particular, the Democrats gave the back of their hand to Catholic voters, the principal bloc of swing voters in America. Democrats of the past would have been horrified to learn that their party makes faithful Catholics feel unwanted: That’s what they thought Republicans did. But Mr. Trump courted white Catholics, and they provided him with the winning margins in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Those three states determined the outcome of the election.
Among them are the multiple dimensions that affect an election. The bulk of the electorate don’t cast their votes for a single reason but for multiple reasons including social/identify, affiliation, policies, economic, and other reasons. Trying to isolate the reasons for voting to any single factor is an exercise in self-delusion.
But look at the scattergraph from the op-ed that I’ve reproduced above! Note how concentrated the Clinton vote was in the lower left hand quadrant. That tells us that there really is no practical way for Democrats to eschew identity politics in pursuit of “Trump voters” (if there are such things). Today’s Democratic Party is identity politics.