Optimism can be hard to pull off in politics. For proof of this, look at the Democratic convention being held in Philadelphia. Although the internet and social media have all lauded speeches from the President and First Lady, their optimism may be problematic.
Seeing a glass half full only works when the electorate do so too, otherwise politicians seem ‘out of touch’. With 68% of those polled believing America to be ‘on the wrong track’ and a combined 27 million votes for Trump and Sanders, assertions such as “I am even more optimistic about the future of America” from President Obama go against the grain of public opinion. Although this is not fatal for Hillary Clinton’s chances in November, this must be tempered if she is to defeat her demagogic opponent.
The problem of misplaced optimism
The problems for the Democrats of this apparent sunny optimism are two-fold.
Firstly, it pushes those who are feeling pessimistic about America towards her opponent who, let us remember, promises to ‘Make America Great Again!’. Although if you are deeply pessimistic about the future of America you will probably be in the Trump column anyway, it is clear much of America is at least concerned about the future of their country. They may be wary of the harsh campaign and rhetoric of Donald Trump, but they certainly want change. Any of these voters watching events in Philadelphia would not see a party speaking to them.
There may be much truth in what Democrats are saying, and America remains by far a successful nation. Yet, as the Remain camp saw, simply talking at voters rather than listening to their concerns can backfire spectacularly. The Democrats need to find a message which tempers the optimism with an acknowledgement that many are falling fowl as globalisation comes to dominate. Otherwise they risk losing support, despite the massive demographic advantage their party enjoys.
Secondly, it smacks of denial when 43% of their own primary voters are selecting an alternative as dramatic as Bernie Sanders’ ‘revolution’. Who could trust a candidate so clearly avoiding the reality of their own nomination? All voters naturally accept politicians have to spin things. But there is a difference between political spin and looking as if you have a tin ear. This could drive many voters to stay at home, believing that Trump will win the contest for the Democrats. With minorities in Congress and the need to retain the presidency to further their agenda, especially with a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the Democrats simply cannot afford this.
A false sense of security?
Democrats are lucky in their opponent, who clearly manages to repel many voters. It would be easy for the party to develop a false sense of security as a result. In truth, their vision of America is quickly losing support. It is not unimaginable for the GOP to find a more palatable candidate who speaks to pessimistic voters by 2020. Couple this with the difficulty parties tend to have in winning 4 straight elections, and you have a recipe for electoral disaster.
As recent events here in Britain and across Europe have illustrated, left-wing politics is in retreat. For many reasons, a Clinton victory could mark a dangerous step for the Democrats. Collective misplaced optimism could be one of them. Metropolitan voters must not assume that such a victory reflects voters subscribing to their vision of a liberal America, otherwise an Ed Miliband-style result may emerge.