It’s common political narrative in Texas that Wendy Davis must come to the center if she wants to secure her chance of winning the 2014 elections. In an LA Times article by Molly Fiske, it was even quoted that “some analysts and Democratic strategists said Davis could benefit from reiterating moderate views, particularly on abortion and guns, which are likely to appeal to moderate Republican or independent women in the suburbs.”
It seems that Davis has been paying attention to this type of rhetoric, because not only has she recently come out in favor of a 20-week abortion ban and an “open carry” law, but she has also decided to focus on education and other neutral or non -controversial topics like veterans issues in her campaign.
Unfortunately, the senator’s strategy has not translated to stronger poll numbers. As of April 15, she was trailing 14 points behind Lieutenant Governor Greg Abbott among Texas voters.
The recent poll numbers are not surprising because, based on recent history, it is unsound to assume the odds will ever be in Davis’s favor when it comes to getting “moderate Republicans” or conservative women in the suburbs. In 2009, Barack Obama tried the move-to-the-center approach when faced with Tea Party conservatives and it backfired. Democrats ended up losing the House in the 2010 elections because Obama’s center approach alienated the Democratic base while the Tea Party right-wing rhetoric energized the Republican base.
The same scenario might be plausible for Senator Wendy Davis if she alienates her base in favor of voters she would never have appealed to in the first place by virtue of being a Democrat in this election cycle.
Experts have long argued that the United States is actually more liberal than is assumed, and that if compulsory voting was enacted, elections would swing in favor of Democrats most of the time. According to a 2012 Suffolk University and USA Today poll, among unregistered voters Obama was preferred over Romney by 29 percent. Additionally, a 2010 Pew Research Center study conducted by Scott Keeter found that non-voters lean Democrat and have a favorable attitude towards activist governments and health care legislation. The study also found that 54 percent of non-voters in 2010 identified as Democrats. The same could be argued for Texas.
It is well known that Texas has an exceptionally low voter turnout rate. In fact, Texas has the worst voter turnout rate in the United States, ranking last in turnout rates in 2010 according to a study by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, and 42nd in voter registration. The report also found that the Texas residents least likely to vote are non-white Americans, less affluent, young adults and naturalized citizens, which are key demographics that support the Democratic party. This means that the current Texas government does not accurately represent Texans, and if more Texans participated in the voting process there is a likelihood of a change in the Texas government.
If this is true, Wendy Davis stands a better chance of winning the election if she riles up the liberal base instead of alienating them further.
There are current issues that liberal Texas voters are passionate about that Davis can capitalize on. The primary issues are: legalization of same-sex marriage, with 48 percent of Texans supporting it and 47 percent of Texans opposing it; expanding Medicaid, which has 49 percent support by Texas voters and 35 percent opposition; raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which has 55 percent support from voters; repealing Senate Bill 5, a policy that forced most Planned Parenthood clinics to close down and has a 51 percent disapproval rating among Texas voters; and affirming her support for immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, which has 67 percent support among Texan voters. Although Wendy Davis has come out in support of these policies, she hasn’t put them at the forefront of her campaign like she has with education. If she argued in favor of these policies aggressively, it will inspire left-leaning voters to go out and vote for her because her victory will signal real change for Texas. In addition to riling up the liberal base, Wendy Davis has a chance of capturing the independent vote in Texas by highlighting these issues as part of her campaign. Greg Abbott has already dampened independent Texan voters with his tough, right-wing stance on immigration reform, reproductive justice, education and LGBT civil rights. So, instead of trying to appeal to moderate Republicans or conservative suburban moms, Wendy Davis has a better chance of appealing to those independent voters by placing emphasis on the huge discrepancies between her and Greg Abbott concerning these important political issues. Based on the polls, it seems like Davis’s moderate political rhetoric has done nothing but wane her interest amongst core liberal and independent voters in Texas who might be labeling her as no different from a moderate Republican on key political issues. The time is now for Wendy Davis to take up the progressive mantle and reach out to the people who can actually get her into office.