Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have won the popular vote last November but she failed to win the Electoral College. Even worse, the Democrats failed to pick up a majority in the Senate, gained only a couple of seats in the House, and lost ground in the governors’ mansions and state legislatures. This came at a time when the key growing demographics in the country are heavily favorable toward– or at least not impressed with – the Republican Party.
In order to get back on track, the Democrats– as well as other political, commercial and not-for-profit institutions – are going to have to move beyond outmoded demographic analyses. We all have to see Americans in different categories that tell a richer, more complete story. We have to rely on the stories that these Americans tell about themselves and see them how they see themselves. In my previous Forbes post, Beyond Identity Politics: A New Way of Healing the Divide (Forbes, March 6), I identified 11 “Neo-Tribes” that now comprise the American landscape:
Persistents —persevere over life’s struggles and adversity
Happy Hedonists —seek to have fun and live adventurously
God Squad —live to serve God and their faith
Self-Perfectionists —seek to be authentic and genuine but not necessarily appreciate these traits in others
Adventurists —non-stop desire to travel across the highways and byways seeking kicks at every turn
One True Path – authenticity, duty, and family, and call to a higher mission to save their community and globe
Land of the Free —duty and responsibility, simplicity, and no frills, patriots to the end
Dutifuls —to live a life that is authentic, family-oriented, and duty to a higher authority, never break the rules
Outsiders —the ultimate individualists on the fringes
Creators —rebellious, authentic, adventurous, and creative
Go With the Flow —strive for balance, moderation, and zen.
While I have spent much of my adult life sorting through demographics and ideological passions, I believe that the Zogby methodology of “Tribal Analytics” will more effectively assist professionals and advocates in assessing the needs of diverse cohorts based on personalities, values, and attributes, while also facilitating the process of bridge-building by finding commonalities between and among Neo-Tribes (“Tribal Border Crossings”).
By wide margins, the Happy Hedonists (49% Democrat-17% Republican), Go With the Flow (43%-18%), Adventurists (43%-19%), Creators (42%-16%), Persistents (40%-27%), Self-Perfectionists (37%-26%), and Outsiders (34%-22%) – all tilt the scales in the Democrats’ favor. Superficially, this is good news for the party, but there are important caveats. First, these may be 7 of the 11 tribes, but they do not include the 4 largest tribes — the Dutifuls, Land of the Free, the One True Path, and the God Squad. Second, aside from the impressive showing among 5 of the Neo-Tribes, they do not make up for the overwhelming support that the GOP receives from the big Neo-Tribes. Finally, there are substantial numbers of independents within all groups, including 38% of the Adventurists and 36% of the Self-Perfectionists.
Of greatest significance, I believe, is that Democrats have not found a credible language to penetrate the personalities and values of the three most conservative tribes. None of these three tribes has a majority of Republicans, but the Democratic Party still has a problem dealing with faith-centered people, with the exception perhaps of African-Americans and Latinos. Instead of hitting the God Squad over the head with social issues, the Democrats need to be more sensitive about how faith in God shapes their lives and how they can be allies on a number of issues like inequality, unfairness, healthy food, a clean environment, and the future of children. This is especially true for the mainly evangelical One True Path who lean slightly Democrat but want to talk more about poverty in their communities, the treatment of religious minorities overseas, the future of planet Earth — and really do not want their day-to-day lives dominated by talk of a wrathful God, punishment for doctors and Planned Parenthood who perform abortions, and denial of gay rights. The Land of the Free and the Dutifuls are by far the most conservative of the Neo-Tribes but they also are the most patriotic, the least likely to break the rules or challenge the Constitution, and the most anti-elitist of the Neo-Tribes. They all believe in God and playing by the rules; they are neither one dimensional nor ignorant.
For Democrats, communications nearly always means “we talk, you listen” – too much selling and not enough buying. It was a different story when Democrats could use the resources of the federal government to deliver good things to people. But today that very same government is viewed by many in these conservative-leaning Neo-Tribes as an engine of over-taxation and income inequality, domination by rules and regulations, and a sense of remoteness from their needs and sensibilities. It is not accidental that the last four Democrats to be elected to the Presidency – Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all had compelling personal stories that bonded with Americans of all stripes. It was personality, history, a sense of understanding all people, authenticity.
A politics of inclusion and a focus on authenticity – especially demanded by Dutifuls, Land of the Free, and the One True Path — by the Democrats will be able to neutralize the revulsion at least some in these Neo-Tribes will feel toward the party’s stance on social issues. There are ways to build bridges if the will is present. The Dutifuls are very conservative but they are very compassionate and generous. Like the One True Path and Land of the Free, in their wildest dreams they are still living in their present home, say they are driving “just a car”, and want to be seen as the “nicest person in the room” – no sports cars, no Mediterranean villas, and not the richest, prettiest or smartest. Like all tribes, they believe that God is “The Creator”, not “The Watchmaker”. Interestingly, when the Land of the Free are asked to name their second tribe, more choose the Happy Hedonists than any of the other Neo-Tribes. And two in three of this very conservative Neo-Tribe pay very close attention to nutritional data and three in five prefer locally-grown food.
To the Democrats: the issue is not progressive vs. mainstream. The real issue is how to discover what we share and how to find ways to communicate those sentiments. Start by listening not preaching.