Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher on Capitol Hill on Aug. 31, 2010. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“What we clearly see in the focus groups is they don’t regret what they did.”

“They” are millennials of color who either didn’t vote or voted third party. And for Cornell Belcher, the president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, who was the pollster for the Democratic National Committee under then-Chairman Howard Dean and for both of Barack Obama’s campaigns for the White House, this makes them the new swing voters the Democratic Party should be trying to win over.

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Belcher came to this conclusion after conducting focus groups, commissioned by the Civic Engagement Fund, in Milwaukee and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in May. The goal was to find out why young voters who previously voted for Obama either sat out the 2016 election or voted for one of the third-party candidates. The results were sobering.

“They are so outraged at the broken politics that they see on both sides,” Belcher told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up,” “that they really think that them protesting their vote … makes both parties have to pay attention.”

And there is pointed ire at the Democratic Party. One participant was particularly blunt. “You’re damn right, I don’t have any loyalty to Democrats,” a person of color said in a focus group in Fort Lauderdale. “If Republicans want to get real about s— that’s happening in my community I would vote for every one of them. Then maybe Democrats would take us serious too.”

The Democratic Party had better be paying attention now. When you look at the third-party vote margins in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the missed opportunity jumps off the page.


(Courtesy Civic Engagement Fund and Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies)

“They’re not necessarily Democratic voters,” Belcher told me, “but they are Obama voters.” This is an echo of what former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on the podcast immediately after the election. “There’s no connection to her. Black folks have not had a connection to her. They’ve not had a real substantive feel for her,” Steele said. How could that be when she is the wife of the still-revered former president Bill Clinton and was the secretary of state for the beloved Obama? Steele broke it down. “If I have a connection with your friend over here in the corner through you,” he said, “it’s not the same as my connection with you.”

Listen to the podcast to hear what Belcher thinks the Democratic Party needs to do to win back the Obama coalition and what he thinks about the intense focus on winning back white working-class voters.


Cornell Belcher speaks with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart on the “Cape Up” podcast on July 11. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

“We spend a lot of time talking about blue-collar white voters and Reagan Democrats. Reagan Democrats are dead,” said Belcher, who believes effort should be placed on winning back millennials of color and young progressive whites. “Bringing that coalition back together would seem to make a lot more sense to me than try to, in fact, bring in voters who have not been voting Democrat for quite some time.”

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.