David Shor’s Unified Theory of American Politics

While I’m on a political kick, please allow me to direct your attention to this interview with political strategist and data analyst David Shor, by Eric Levitz for New York Magazine. Shor’s insights are extraordinarily smart, fascinating, data-driven, and in ways large and small, often counter to conventional wisdom (e.g. big-money donors are pushing the Democrats to the left). I assure you it is worth your time and full attention.

A taste, regarding why non-college-educated voters have been drifting right, both in the U.S. and Europe, for decades:

So why is this happening? The story that makes the most sense to me goes like this: In the postwar era, college-educated professionals were maybe 4 percent of the electorate. Which meant that basically no voters had remotely cosmopolitan values. But the flip side of this is that this educated 4 percent still ran the world. Both parties at this point were run by this highly educated, cosmopolitan minority that held a bunch of values that undergirded the postwar consensus, around democracy and rule of law, and all these things.

Obviously, these people were more right wing on a bunch of social issues than their contemporary counterparts, but during that era, both parties were run by just about the most cosmopolitan segments of society. And there were also really strong gatekeepers. This small group of highly educated people not only controlled the commanding heights of both the left and the right, but also controlled the media. There were only a small number of TV stations — in other countries, those stations were even run by the government. And both sides knew it wasn’t electorally advantageous to campaign on cosmopolitan values.

So, as a result, campaigns centered around this cosmopolitan elite’s internal disagreements over economic issues. But over the past 60 years, college graduates have gone from being 4 percent of the electorate to being more like 35. Now, it’s actually possible — for the first time ever in human history — for political parties to openly embrace cosmopolitan values and win elections; certainly primary and municipal elections, maybe even national elections if you don’t push things too far or if you have a recession at your back. And so Democratic elites started campaigning on the things they’d always wanted to, but which had previously been too toxic. And so did center-left parties internationally.

Sunday, 19 July 2020