What we clearly see in the focus groups is they don’t regret what they did.”
“They” are millennials of color who either didn’t vote or voted third party. And for Cornell Belcher, the president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, who was the pollster for the Democratic National Committee under then-Chairman Howard Dean and for both of Barack Obama’s campaigns for the White House, this makes them the new swing voters the Democratic Party should be trying to win over.
Belcher came to this conclusion after conducting focus groups, commissioned by the Civic Engagement Fund, in Milwaukee and Fort Lauderdale in May. The goal was to find out why young voters who previously voted for Obama either sat out the 2016 election or voted for one of the third-party candidates. The results were sobering.
“They are so outraged at the broken politics that they see on both sides,” Belcher told me, “that they really think that them protesting their vote … makes both parties have to pay attention.”
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And there is pointed ire at the Democratic Party. One participant was particularly blunt. “You’re damn right, I don’t have any loyalty to Democrats,” a person of color said in a focus group in Fort Lauderdale. “If Republicans want to get real about s--t that’s happening in my community, I would vote for every one of them. Then maybe Democrats would take us serious, too.”
The Democratic Party had better be paying attention now. When you look at the third-party vote margins in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the missed opportunity jumps off the page.
“They’re not necessarily Democratic voters,” Belcher told me, “but they are Obama voters.” This is an echo of what former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told me about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton immediately after the election. “There’s no connection to her. Black folks have not had a connection to her. They’ve not had a real substantive feel for her,” Steele said. How could that be when she is the wife of the still-revered former president Bill Clinton and was the secretary of state for the beloved Obama? Steele broke it down. “If I have a connection with your friend over here in the corner through you,” he said, “it’s not the same as my connection with you.”
“We spend a lot of time talking about blue-collar white voters and Reagan Democrats. Reagan Democrats are dead,” said Belcher, who believes effort should be placed on winning back millennials of color and young progressive whites. “Bringing that coalition back together would seem to make a lot more sense to me than trying to, in fact, bring in voters who have not been voting Democrat for quite some time.”
Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Washington Post editorial board. He hosts “Cape Up,” a weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and culture.
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