This is Part II of a three-part series. Part I, a chat with experts about what drew blue-collar workers away from the Democratic Party, ran Tuesday. The series closes Thursday with Part III, studying the February race for party chair.
WASHINGTON (CN) – Was it the candidate or the message? Against signs of a leftward face-lift in the Democratic Party since its upset loss in the November election, politics experts harbor reservations about whether the shift is necessary.
Hillary Clinton after all won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and the presidency slipped through her fingers by just a few thousand votes in a handful of key states.
The Democratic National Convention hailed Clinton’s platform as the most progressive in history, with multiple parallels to the core principles that propelled Sen. Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign.
Clinton opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership, championed tougher regulations on Wall Street and had a plan to make public universities tuition-free for people making under $125,000 a year.
“The moving to the left in historical terms has already occurred," said John Halpin, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, in an interview. “There's a lot of consensus around progressive economics, on politics and on social-welfare policy. There's broad consensus on that."
For Halpin, communication is the key to bringing the party back to power. "Really what has to happen is you've got to take all of these messages to people on the ground in multiple places at once,” Halpin said.
Indeed post-election polling by Halpin’s group, the Center for American Progress, found that 79 percent of voters - and 68 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump - support a national paid family-leave program.
Another key focus of the platform that lost in November, Clinton's plan to make college tuition-free for in-state public colleges, has support from 69 percent of voters.
Halpin said the split is not necessarily between the conservative and liberal wings of the Democratic Party, but between the populist and establishment factions. From Brexit to Trump's campaign, populist movements have gained traction across the globe, giving Democrats a strong incentive to strike a more personal chord in their appeal to voters.
"I think we have a lot of support on our agenda, but that's not really the issue for Democrats," Halpin said. "The issue is do people actually think you are advocating for them, that you understand where they are coming from, that you actually have the power to change things in government? And that's something Democrats have to rebuild."
Some other polling numbers back this line of thinking as well. President Barack Obama had an 84 percent approval rating among voters who backed Clinton in November, and just 17 percent of voters overall said the next president should peruse more liberal policies than Obama, according to exit polls.
This suggests something other than tepid Democratic policies costing Clinton the election.