Politics & Policy

Video: The Future of the Democratic Party Discussion

Donkey head on sepia background - blue stars along the top

The Future of the Democratic Party,” the second of the Policy Challenges for Iowa and the Nation discussion series, took place on Thursday, October 14, at the Levitt Center for University Advancement. The event was livestreamed and recorded, as well, and can be viewed in its entirety below.

Tracy Osborn, director of the Politics and Policy Research Program, acted as moderator and opened the night with the topic of “realignment.” Political realignment is defined as a set of changes within a political party and their ideologies, issues, demographic bases, and agendas. 

In terms of the future of the Democratic Party, realignment is a key idea, and Osborn's introduction segued into the following questions to be answered: How has the Democratic Party changed over the last 10-20 years? How do policy differences within the party affect the ability to pass legislation? How might philosophical and demographic differences among Democratic voters affect future elections?

The first speaker of the evening was Seung-Min Kim, current White House reporter for the Washington Post.

Kim explained that a major issue within the party on Capitol Hill comes down to the fact that the two wings of the party simply do not trust each other. With a 50/50 split in the Senate for the first time since 2001, even one senator’s differing opinion can disrupt legislative advancement.

“There are just fundamental philosophical views that exist in the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill,” Kim said. “You have to somehow come to an agreement if you are to accomplish President Biden’s top domestic policy goal.”

Next to speak was former U.S. Representative, Dave Loebsack, who began by explaining differences between legislatures now versus in January of 2007 under the Bush administration: “Democrats want to help Joe Biden get his agenda passed; Democrats in 2007 wanted to stop George W. Bush,” Loebsack said. 

He suggested a significant difference in the last 14 years may be the overall decline of competitive House seats in America. As parties become more polarized, there are fewer members in swing seats. In addition, Loebsack asserted that Donald Trump had a lot to do with historically Democratic districts becoming more Republican, as he voiced his concern for the effect this might have in upcoming elections.

“Donald Trump just simply tapped into so much anger and resentment in so many of those places, and that might be part of the realignment,” he said.

Thomas Holbrook, Professor of Government at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, took a statistical approach, identifying demographic and philosophical differences, and addressing how they could potentially affect unity in the Democratic Party.

Holbrook noted that one of the largest groups of the Democratic coalition is female voters of color, which is expected after the Obama era, but could also be because the non-White share of the electorate is growing.

Another major line of division is the education level among voters. Beginning in the early 2000s, statistics show that people with advanced degrees are increasingly democratic. Holbrook described this as “a relatively new cleavage in American politics.”

The final presenter of the discussion was Larry Grisolano, Democratic Party media consultant, who highlighted the importance of public perception when considering movement among voters.

Issues that are being dealt with in real-time, such as the pandemic, have a major impact on a party’s approval. Grisolano explained that voters aren’t thinking of themselves as part of a tribe within a party, but as having specific preferences on issues.

He related the crisis of the pandemic to the economy: how people feel about it at this time next year is extremely tentative based on legislative actions and at this point, could break either way.

The discussion concluded with reactions from Iowa Representatives Eric Gjerde and Lindsay James, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, and Nick Salazar from the League of United Latin American Citizens and their perspectives on the future of the Democratic Party.

The final event of the series, “The Future of the Republican Party,” will be held on Wednesday, November 10 at the Old Capitol Museum Senate Chamber.