The 4 Types Of Democrats

Note: This is Part 1 of my political typology for US Politics. Part 2 is The 4 Types of Republicans. Part 3 is The 8 Lanes in US Politics.

After 4+ years of working in Democratic politics, there is one idea I consistently use that every Democrat should know:

There are not just two types of Democrats (progressives vs. moderates).

There are at least four types of Democrats.

  • Moderate vs. Progressive is one axis.
  • Establishment vs. Anti-Establishment is the other axis.
    • This axis is similar to Chris Arnade’s Front Row vs. Back Row idea from his book Dignity.

The 4 Types of Democrats:

  • A = Progressive Establishment
    • Archetype: Ann Arbor, MI
    • US: CA, OR, WA
  • B = Moderate Establishment
    • Archetype: Bloomfield, MI
    • US: NY, MA, IL
  • C = Moderate Populist
    • Archetype: Calhoun, MI
    • US: MI, MN, ME
  • D = Progressive Populist
    • Archetype: Detroit, MI
    • US: MEM, BAL, ATL, STL

I got this idea while explaining the difference between Ann Arbor Democrats and Detroit Democrats during the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial election.

  • ‘A’ Democrats think they’re on the same Progressive team as ‘D’ Democrats, but the two cities vote very differently.
  • Most Democrats also do not spend enough time with C voters, and that’s why places like Calhoun County swung from Democratic to Republican in 2016.

Mass media tends to ignore the entire anti-establishment.

  • But there are more voters (and non-voters) on that side vs. the establishment.

Another way to look at Moderate vs. Progressive is Power vs. Counter.

  • Progressives often win A precincts by countering Moderate incumbents from the left.
    • But this same move makes them weak in B and C precincts.
    • An A → D Progressive coalition can win state and national elections with a crossover candidate with a populist message for Cs.

Successful politicians usually start with a base in one quadrant and then expand.

  • Joe Biden wins elections because he looks like a B Democrat, acts like a C Democrat, and allies with D Democrats.
  • Bernie Sanders won Michigan in 2016 with an A → C coalition, but he lost ground in 2020 when Biden won over his C voters.
    • Biden went B → D → C in the 2020 primary, then used his anti-Trump position to win over the As for the general election.

It’s fun to map out future paths to the presidency.

  • AOC could go A → D → C.
  • Stacey Abrams could go D → A → B.
  • Pete Buttigieg could go B → A → C.

This system also works at the state and local levels, where focusing on 1-2 quadrants can be enough to win specific elections.

  • In Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial primary, Gretchen Whitmer fundraised like a B and talked like a C, which carried her to a 52% win.
    • Abdul El-Sayed struggled to expand past his A base.
    • Shri Thanedar built a D base by talking to people who politicians usually ignore.

It’s also fun to think about new lanes for promising challengers.

  • Abdul might have a lane to US Congress in 2022 if redistricting creates an A-heavy district around Ann Arbor.
  • Shri already won his State House district in Detroit in 2020 by focusing on his D base.
    • Shri is my dad and I advised him on his 2018 and 2020 campaigns, so I know this system works.

I’ve now used my 4 Types of Democrats model to study hundreds of other races at the local, state, and national levels.

It works too well for me not to share it.

The A-B-C-D shorthand also makes it a lot easier to describe the voting demographics of a specific county or district.

  • For example, Wayne County is usually described as an urban monolith, but it’s really a D city surrounded by B and C suburbs.
  • MI-14 is a D → B District, MI-13 is a D → C → A district, MI-12 is C → A district, etc.

I designed this political typology to assist Democratic candidates in finding their lanes.

  • I also hope to show Independents where there are potential lanes to build cross-party alliances.
    • When both parties are dominated by Establishment candidates, there could be a lane to unify the Anti-Establishment quadrants across both parties.

Political Typology:

Type A: Ann Arbor Democrats
  • COLLEGE TOWNS + SUBURBS
    • See Also: Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo
  • Type A Democrats vote with their brains. They love it when their candidate “wins” a televised debate. They also tend to overestimate that candidate’s ability to build a broader coalition.
  • Type A Trends:
    • Population is going up and getting younger and even more Progressive.
  • Type A Candidates:
    • 2016 President: Sanders
    • 2018 MI Governor: El-Sayed
    • 2020 President: Warren → Sanders
    • Dream 2024 President: AOC
Type B: Bloomfield Democrats
  • WHITE-COLLAR SUBURBAN
    • See Also: Lansing, Livonia, Canton
  • Type B Democrats vote with their pocketbooks. They’ll vote D as long as taxes on their middle-upper class income stay the same.
  • B Democrats tend to support the frontrunner. ‘Electability’, ‘likability’, etc. are code words for “who’s winning now.”
  • Type B Trends:
    • Population is going up and getting younger.
      • Younger Bs tend to vote like As.
    • 2018 Snyder → Whitmer Pivot County.
      • 2018 R → D flips in MI-08, MI-11, MI-H19, MI-H20, MI-H40, MI-H41.
  • Type B Candidates:
    • 2016 President: H. Clinton
    • 2018 MI Governor: Whitmer
    • 2020 President: Biden
    • Dream 2024 President: Oprah Winfrey
Type C: Calhoun Democrats
  • BLUE-COLLAR SUBURBAN
    • See Also: Macomb (Clinton Twp., Sterling Heights), Monroe Counties
  • Type C Democrats vote with their frustrations. They believe most politicians are corrupt, taxes are too high, and the government already has more than enough money—it just needs to spend it better.
  • Immigration is the wedge issue that can turn these Cs to Republicans.
    • Build The Wall is a powerful message to those on the bleeding edge of the Rust Belt.
  • Type C Trends:
  • Type C Candidates:
    • 2016 President: Sanders → Trump
    • 2018 MI Governor: Whitmer
    • 2020 President: Trump
    • Dream 2024 President: Mark Cuban
Type D: Detroit Democrats
  • BLACK-MAJORITY URBAN
    • See Also: Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw
  • Type D Democrats vote with their party. They’re the loyal base of the Democratic party but feel like they’re taken for granted in elections and quickly forgotten by the politicians they elect.
  • Since D Democrats are loyal liberals, the assumption is that they’ll all vote Progressive, but they tend to vote for brand-name establishment candidates in Democratic primaries.
    • There is a major generational gap here.
      • Older Ds tend to vote like Bs. Younger Ds tend to vote like As.
  • Type D Trends:
  • Type D Candidates:
    • 2016 President: H. Clinton
    • 2018 MI Governor: S. Thanedar
    • 2020 President: Biden
    • Dream 2024 President: Michelle Obama
      • Ds love M. Obama >> B. Obama >> B. Clinton >> H. Clinton.
        • Ds still love Barack, but they LOVE Michelle.

Tweet at me @neilthanedar if you want to riff and refine on these ideas!

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is a scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. He is the founder & CEO of Air to All, a nonprofit medical device startup designing low-cost respirators and ventilators for COVID-19 and beyond. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Labdoor, a consumer watchdog that independently tests and ranks supplements and other health products for its 20M+ users. He was previously co-founder and President of Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has also served as Executive Director of The Detroit Partnership and Senior Advisor to his father Shri Thanedar in his campaigns for Governor and State Representative in Michigan. He received his BBA (Entrepreneurship) and BS (Cellular & Molecular Biology) from the University of Michigan in 2010. Neil lives in Michigan with his wife Shoua, sons Kai (3) and Ajay (1), and dogs Zeus (12) and Pluto (11). He is also a (very) amateur hockey player and drummer.