What matters: Voters’ view of the world

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The news is about what’s new, but people’s worldviews are about what’s permanent, and that’s one of the things that makes it difficult to run for office as an Arkansas Democrat right now.

I write that sentence after a lot of news lately coming from the White House, where President Trump fired the FBI director investigating his campaign regarding the Russians, threatened that director by implying their conversations were secretly taped, and, according to press reports relying on anonymous sources, supposedly revealed to those Russians highly classified information.

News like that typically would spell trouble for a president, and indeed, the latest Gallup poll, conducted before the report about the classified information, showed Trump’s approval rating at 38 percent, down from 45 percent at the beginning of his term. By comparison, President Obama’s approval rating was 65 percent at this point.

Arkansas Democrats next November will point to these past couple of weeks as they try to reverse their electoral losses of the past eight years. But they’ll still fight a losing battle because all of this is merely news, which is temporary.

Meanwhile, humans construct permanent worldviews to try to make sense of everything, and we will fight to the death to protect them, particularly when presented with challenging information.

Anyone can discount these events by pointing to FBI Director James Comey’s shortcomings or questioning the news reports’ unidentified sources. The temporary news doesn’t change the fact that Trump affirms the permanent worldviews of many Arkansans, much more so than Democrats at the national level. That’s why he won Arkansas with 60 percent of the vote against a Democratic nominee who was the state’s first lady for 12 years. And that’s why the last poll I saw, by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, showed him maintaining that support, albeit before the events of the past week.

Research is showing that Americans increasingly are voting along party lines (while increasingly claiming to be independent), starting with the presidential race and then moving down the ticket. So it will not be enough for Arkansas Democrats to merely point to Trump, or try to distinguish themselves from the national party, or proclaim their support for issues such as expanding pre-kindergarten classes. Democrats will have to speak to Arkansans’ worldviews while hoping that national candidates do the same.

And that’s the problem, because national Democratic candidates’ worldviews will reflect their own states and the states the party needs more than Arkansas. Americans see the world very differently on issues like guns, which for many Chicagoans are a way to murder people and for many rural Arkansans a way of life. When the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, recently said all Democrats must support abortion rights, or when Hillary Clinton said the fetus has no rights at all, they reflected their own worldviews and the worldviews of people they know best. But such statements make it a lot harder for Democrats to win the votes of pro-life Arkansans.

For Democrats to make major gains in Arkansas any time soon, they’ll need more than just missteps by Trump. They’ll need the national party’s tone to shift. On economic issues, Democrats must reclaim their status as the party of the common man that the billionaire Trump so effectively stole from them last year running against a candidate painted as corporatist, globalist and elitist. Meanwhile, on social issues, Democratic candidates must better straddle the middle between left and right. Not banishing pro-lifers from the party would be a start.

Affirming the worldviews of social liberals and cultural conservatives is extremely difficult, and many Democrats have no desire to do so. Some in the party believe states like Arkansas should just be written off. But the party has built bridges in the past, including with a candidate whose last name was Clinton. Just not the one whose first name was Hillary.

In this highly divided society, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to speak to more than half of Americans. But for Democrats, Republicans and others, an American majority can be found along the path that the free market is good but hardworking people shouldn’t be left behind; that society needs a safety net but not a hammock; that the military must be strong; and that individual rights must be protected but traditional values not forgotten.

Vocally embracing that worldview opens a lot of doors, while still leaving room for differing views on the temporary news of the day.

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