Democrats Scare Too Easily

If you’re right, don’t be afraid.

Grist / OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP via Getty Images

Democrats advocate for positions that are broadly popular with a diverse coalition. Two thirds of Americans believe that protecting the environment should be prioritized over economic growth. The biggest tax problem, according to Americans, isn’t how much they pay, but how little corporations and the wealthy pay.

Here is just a smattering of the data:

On guns: 60% of registered voters support stricter gun laws in the US.

On immigration: 56% oppose building a wall along the entire border with Mexico, 83% approve of DACA, and three quarters believe immigration is an “overall good” for the country.

On healthcare: Support for pre-existing condition protection is nearly universal, and a national “Medicare-for-all” plan enjoys majority support.

On abortion: Majority of Americans want Roe v Wade to stand, just 21% want to overturn it.

On same-sex marriage: 67% approval for nationally recognized same-sex marriages.

Here are some caveats. First, there are a few issues (such as the death penalty), where a majority of the country favors the Republican position (in this case, pro capital punishment). Second, while a majority of Americans support something nebulous like “stricter gun laws,” specific proposals such as gun confiscation do not poll well. Third, there are politically toxic positions that poll moderately well among Democrats, like reparations, but poll poorly with the voting population writ large.

Let’s not get lost in the weeds. The overall point is most Democratic positions poll well.

There is no more frustrating exercise as a news consumer than watching a crusty analyst from a bygone era pretend the electorate is from 1980. These dinosaurs tell themselves that abortion, guns, or tax hikes for the wealthy are political nonstarters in areas other than New York or California. Perhaps they spend too much time in cable news green rooms, and not enough time with regular people.

Political views can shift, and the underlying assumption that cultural changes take generations to tick up or down a few points is merely groupthink. In both of Barack Obama’s campaigns, he was opposed to same-sex marriage. Today, a Democrat who doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage is extinct. Even Republicans — particularly young ones and moderate ones — support it. Consider the marijuana revolution — the plant transformed from gateway drug to legally available for medicinal or recreational use seemingly overnight.

Times change. People change. Democrats too often get locked into a false notion that America is some right wing country when the data paints a different picture.

With that set up, let’s talk about Biden and fracking, shall we?

“I have never said I oppose fracking,” Biden said during the last debate. “What I will do with fracking over time is make sure we can capture the emissions from fracking, capture the emissions from gas.” Biden was immediately trotted out post-debate to “clear up” the confusion over his position on fracking.

The Democratic base, a neurotic group to begin with, plunged into self-doubt and paranoia. Democrats have been flashing signs of PTSD since the last presidential election. How can Biden win Pennsylvania if he isn’t pro-fracking?

Predictable. And stupid.

Even if Biden endorsed a plan to end fracking immediately, which he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be political suicide. Even in Pennsylvania. He wants to “transition” away from a finite resource — how extreme!

The politics of fracking, even in Pennsylvania, are good for Democrats. A Franklin & Marshall poll found that 48% of Pennsylvanians support a ban on fracking, while only 39% of Pennsylvanias oppose a fracking ban. Self-identified “moderates” and registered independents in Pennsylvania support a fracking ban — 62% and 55%, respectively.

Let’s look at the state’s official economic data from 2017–2019. During these three years, jobs in the natural gas industry fell by 7%. During the same time frame, job growth in the renewable energy field grew by 8.7% (compared to overall job growth of 1.9% across all industries). The report noted that 80% of the clean energy field had difficulty finding qualified workers for job openings.

(The coal and nuclear industry also saw job losses of 3.3% and 4.5% as well.)

So clean energy jobs are booming, fracking jobs are disappearing, and a plurality of Pennsylvanians support a fracking ban.

Interestingly enough, the climate issue in Pennsylvania may have changed very recently. As Lisa Friedman notes,

Some energy experts said the Trump campaign’s attacks on Mr. Biden may not have the same resonance as those on Mrs. Clinton four years ago, in large part because public understanding of climate change has grown and the major oil companies of the world have, to varying degrees, pledged to reduce their emissions.

Democrats scare too easily. The moral and economic case is easily made for climate change, even in less liberal states like Pennsylvania. A ban on fracking isn’t a political loser, if anything, it’s a winner. My closing message to Democrats would be twofold: the electorate changes quicker than you think, and if you’re right, don’t be afraid.

Joe Biden didn’t say he would ban fracking, but I wish he did. That might have even helped him win Pennsylvania.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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