washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

November 23, 2017

Sargent: How GOP Tax Bill Gives Dems Leverage

In his Plum Line post, “How Democrats hope to make Trump pay for his awful tax plan,” Greg Sargent observes:

One looming challenge Democrats face is to close what you might call the “pluto-populist gap” — the vast disconnect between how working-class whites perceive President Trump’s instincts and intentions on the one hand, and his full-on embrace of the congressional GOP’s plutocratic agenda on the other.

Democrats are set to go up on the air with a seven-figure TV ad buy targeting House Republicans in multiple districts with a lot of working-class whites — as well as in districts with more college-educated whites, I’ve learned. The animating idea is that the GOP tax proposals — which will be featured in the ads — are likely to prove toxic among both those constituencies, and particularly among those working-class whites who switched from Barack Obama to Trump.

As for the content of the ads, Sargent notes,

The goal of the ads will be to hit two messages. The first is that the GOP changes to the tax code themselves would be enormously regressive, showering most of their benefits on the wealthy while giving crumbs to working- and middle-class Americans or even raising their taxes. The second is that these tax cuts would necessitate big cuts to the safety net later — the ad references $25 billion in Medicare cuts that could be triggered by the GOP plan’s deficit busting — further compounding the GOP agenda’s regressiveness down the line.

Sargent quotes Geoff Garin, pollster for Priorities USA,  who  explains “polling shows that this combination alienates working-class whites, particularly Obama-Trump voters.” Garin adds that these voters “find big breaks to corporations and the wealthy especially heinous when the flip side of that means cutting Medicare and Medicaid.”

Garin cites polls by Hart Research and Global Strategy Group, which indicate that “when the GOP tax plan is described to non-college-educated white men — Trump’s base — they oppose it by 58-34. Non-college-educated white women oppose it by 61-24.” He calls the tax bill “the ultimate betrayal of the Trump promise to working-class voters — that he would be on their side” and “a huge vulnerability for Republicans in those kinds of districts with working-class whites.”

It can be argued that Trump’s approval ratings indicate his base has been whittled down to the hard core, non-persuadable part of the white working-class, along with equally non-persuadable upper middle class and wealthy ideologues. And the 2017 special elections indicate that Trump’s tanking polls numbers are accompanied by considerable collateral damage to his fellow Republican office-holders.

In light of the extremely regressive GOP tax plan, however, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to abandon appeals to white working-class voters in the midterm campaigns. This is  especially true for Obama to Trump voters, who have an immediate pocket-book interest in the tax bill.

What will remain debatable up until the final day of the midterm campaign is how to allocate Democratic resources — investments in time, money and energy between winning support from white working-class voters vs. turning out base voters and the ‘rising American electorate.’ These are unavoidably-tough decisions, which will vary in difficulty from campaign to campaign.

Whether Republicans are able to pass their tax plan or not, it seals their party’s identity as wholly dedicated to enriching the already-wealthy at the expense of working people of all races. That’s a great gift to Democrats.

Teixeira: GOP’s Unpopular Tax Bill Won’t Stop Blue Wave

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

tax plan-2

My, my what will those crazy rascals in the GOP think of next? Not content with being beaten soundly about the ears in the 2017 elections and currently running a serial child molester for Senator, the overachievers in the Republican Party and seeking to ram yet another incredibly unpopular piece of legislation through Congress in the spirit of their attempted repeal of Obamacare. John Sides of The Monkey Cage blog notes the following about the GOP’s tax reform plan:

….George Washington University political scientist Chris Warshaw compiled public polls capturing support for major legislation dating back almost 30 years….

On average, only about 30 percent of Americans support the tax plan. This is lower than support for almost any of these legislative initiatives. The only thing that was less popular was … the Republican health-care bill that was intended to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Gee, who would have thought that a bill that mostly cuts taxes for corporations and the rich while eventually raising taxes on middle income families would be unpopular?

Meanwhile, evidence continues to build that unpopularity (of their President, of the bills they have tried to pass, of the Republican Congress) will hurt the GOP big-time in 2018. Yes, I know some are reluctant to utter these words out loud, fearing that some mysterious Trump ju-ju will save the Republicans in the end. But, as Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter pointed out on her Twitter feed, the real lesson of 2016 is “Don’t ignore or rationalize away what’s right in front of you. A Dem wave is building. And it’s big”.

Yup, that’s right. What looks like it’s happening, in all probability, is really happening. So believe it and act accordingly.

Political Strategy Notes

Eugene Scott explains why “Millennial voters could play a crucial role in Alabama Senate race” at The Fix: “In a recent Fox News poll, Jones leads Moore by eight points, in part on the strength of his advantages among voters 45 and younger. But activists on the ground say the Democratic candidate could do much more to target his outreach toward millennials…There’s been a swell of activity among young voters in Alabama since the election of President Trump. From the Women’s March in Birmingham to Human Rights Campaign volunteers working phone banks, the deep red state has seen liberals advocate for liberal policies. But activist Julia Juarez said if Jones reaps those benefits, it might be more because millennials dislike Moore than are enthusiastic about Jones. “The momentum of the #Resist marches and protests have morphed into an measurably more active bloc of voters in Birmingham, as noticed and enhanced by [Mayor] Randall Woodfin’s victory,” she told the Fix.” Scott quotes Woodfin, who adds “Millennials have a major role to play in this race…If millennials turn out to vote at higher than average numbers like they did in the mayoral race last month (5,000 voters between the ages of 18-35 turned out to vote in a municipal election for the first time), then they can be a deciding factor in this race…Millennials have the power to change the political dynamics here. If they turn out in high numbers, they will guarantee that Doug Jones will be the next senator from Alabama,” Woodfin added.

From Amy Walter’s “A Wave Is A Comin’” at The Cook Political Report: “My colleague David Wasserman has been digging into the question of just how big of a wave Democrats need to get in order to surf into the majority.  The short answer: they need to see a generic ballot advantage of +8 or more, which roughly translates to getting at least 54 percent or more of the national House vote in 2018…Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats – even with a big wave or tailwind.  But, do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building. If I were a Republican running for Congress, I’d be taking that more seriously than ever.”

Democrats may be able to learn a little something from their U.K. brethren by reading Matt Walsh’s post “Understanding Labour’s ingenious campaign strategy on Facebook” at democraticaudit.com. One of Walsh’s observations: “…Going back to July 2016, the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis wrote of Jeremy Corbyn: “There is one place where he is unambiguously winning: Facebook”. She was right, and 2017 was unambiguously a Facebook election…The sheer number of people following Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour party’s Facebook posts meant that the party was able to achieve very high levels of organic reach. That’s important because, in the 2015 election, the winning Facebook strategy was targeting undecided voters in marginal constituencies. In 2017, it was a numbers game. The first indicator that the tectonic plates were shifting was the number of followers party leaders and party accounts were reaching…dramatic growth in Facebook likes for Jeremy Corbyn, up by more than 35%, and the Labour Party, up 71%, during the short campaign. This is despite a strong starting position at the beginning of the campaign. While there was growth for all the parties and leaders, it is notable that the performance of Labour and Corbyn considerably outstripped their rivals: the Conservatives, for example, rose 11%, and Theresa May gained less than 22%.” In addition, “The Labour party simply produced more content than its competitors, it posted more frequently and the content was more engaging. According to the content analytics company, News Whip, in the month leading up to the vote, the Labour page pulled in 2.56 million engagements on 450 posts, while the Conservative page saw 1.07 million interactions on 116 posts.”

Here’s a nifty chart from Walsh’s article, revealing types of the Labour Party’s Facebook posts:



“The combatants in the intraparty arguments might usefully start by acknowledging the merits of some of the insights their opponents offer,” writes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated column “Stop the sniping, Washington Democrats. Learn from the grass roots.” Dionne continues, “The combatants in the intraparty arguments might usefully start by acknowledging the merits of some of the insights their opponents offer. Jared Leopold, the communications director of the Democratic Governors Association, said that Northam’s approach resonated with Virginia voters who “were looking for a calm and strong leader in the midst of chaos in Washington.” Moderates have a point when they say that voters nationally are similarly seeking steady and reliable leadership. But progressives, in turn, are right to argue for clear, compelling and comprehensible policies to deal with the economic inequalities that are hurting many in the ranks of Clinton and Trump voters alike. Bold, not bland, is the way to go.”

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn says “it’s not obvious that the building Democratic wave will be enough to flip control of the House,” and notes, “If you emphasized the special congressional election results, and believed that Democrats would only do about two points worse in races with incumbents (the difference in Virginia and New Jersey), the Democrats might be poised to pick up more than 40 seats. My view is that there haven’t been nearly enough of these contests to be confident that Democrats are on track for such significant gains, or to be sure that the incumbency bonus for Republicans is so small. But it is at least an argument for a larger Democratic gain than 27 seats if next year’s elections resemble this year’s contests.

In the wake of the big Democratic win in VA, Facing South’s Chris Kromm explores “Lessons from 2017: Can Democrats retake Southern legislatures?” Among Kromm’s observations: “In Virginia, where voters cast ballots for all 100 members of the House of Delegates, Democrats controlled only 34 seats heading into the 2017 elections. After Election Day, they had picked up 15 seats. Republicans currently cling to a 51-49 majority, although three of the races are still too close to call and will be decided by lawsuits and recounts. In Virginia House District 94, which includes Newport News, the GOP candidate is currently ahead by a mere 10 votes.”…If Democrats can run more candidates and build on changing demographics and anti-Trump sentiment to make gains in 2018, reformers hope this can at least generate enough competition that there will be momentum for reform as the post-2020 redistricting process nears.”

The next time some Republican starts blithering about family values, your response can quote from Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column, “Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach,” which notes “Nine of the 10 states with the highest teen birthrates voted Republican in 2016. And nine of the 10 states with the lowest teen birthrates voted Democratic.“ Red regions of the country have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages and lower average ages at marriage and first birth,” Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in their important 2010 book, “Red Families v. Blue Families.”…Divorce rates show a similar pattern: They tend to be higher in red states than in blue states, with Arkansas highest of all. “Individual religious conservatism is positively related to individual divorce risk,” according to a 50-state study reported in the American Journal of Sociology.”

Here we have a formidable contender for headline understatement of the month, “The Senate Republican tax bill does not look good for the working class at all” at quartz.com. Author Tim Fernholz notes one particularly brutal provision: “Removing the individual mandate means that fewer healthy people will sign up for insurance, so the Congressional Budget Office expects the cost of individual health insurance to rise by 10%. And people who don’t have insurance could still wind up paying out-of-pocket if they become ill, which can be ruinous.”

Trump and the Alabama GOP Can’t Bring Themselves To Oppose Roy Moore

The saga of the Ayatollah of Alabama, Roy Moore, took another turn this week when Donald Trump and the Alabama Republican Party decided against showing the embattled theocrat and accused sexual predator the door. I wrote about it at New York.

In dual developments that together represent a huge victory for embattled Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, his state’s Republican Party reaffirmed its support for him (and more importantly, its unwillingness to strip him of its nomination) as the White House signaled the president would not intervene to try to get him to withdraw from the race.

These developments probably ensure that Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones on December 12 without official opposition from his own party. But that could mean this very red state has a chance of going blue. Even as Republicans got out of the Judge’s way, a Fox News poll of Alabama showed Jones leading among likely voters by a 48-40 margin, with a narrow plurality (38-37) expressing belief in the allegations against Moore — though only 13 percent of self-identified Republicans feel that way. The poll also shows Jones voters support their candidate as intensely as do Moore’s famously dedicated followers.

It should be noted that an October Fox News poll showed the race tied at a time when everyone else had Moore with a solid lead. Still, the Judge has been losing ground in every poll taken since the Washington Post allegations were published on November 9, with the only question being how strong he was before all hell broke lose.

The state GOP’s statement (issued subsequent to a meeting of its steering committee last night) wasn’t quite a ringing endorsement of Moore’s side of the story with respect to the multiplying allegations of sexual misconduct toward underage women. Instead, it argued he deserved a “presumption of innocence” in the case despite some pretty solid evidence against him, and expressed trust in “voters as they make the ultimate decision in this crucial race.” After noting the sharp policy differences between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, the statement punted on any judgement of Moore and mixed a metaphor for good measure: “Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election — not the media or those from afar.” And not, apparently, the Republican Party of Alabama.

This statement was important to Moore because the state party had the power to strip him of the GOP nomination, which would have had the legal effect of nullifying any votes for him in the special general election on December 12. Barring some late reversal of position, that’s not happening now, which means any hypothetical write-in effort for another candidate (which had been widely discussed) would split the GOP vote and presumably all but ensure Jones’s election.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made it clear Trump, too, was ready to defer to Alabama voters:

“President Trump believes that the people of Alabama should decide whether to elect Roy Moore, despite mounting allegations of sexual assault and harassment of girls as young as 14 years old, the White House said.

“‘Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he believes the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.”

In other words, Trump will not answer the public and private pleas of Senate Republicans that he push Moore out of the race.

So unless something really unexpected happens, Moore will be fighting Doug Jones with one hand and his accusers with another, as Republicans tut-tut or even condemn him, but do nothing practical to keep him out of the Senate.

Did Youthquake Swing VA Election?

It’s important that Democrats look at all possible explanations for their landslide upset in the Virginia gubernatorial election, even though common sense says that no one factor alone can explain it adequately. Toward that end, The Center for Information & Research on Civic learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) presents some instructive data making the case that youth voter turnout was a (not ‘the’) pivotal factor in the Democratic victory.

According to CIRCLE,

In what could be an early indicator of young people’s political engagement and mobilization after the contentious 2016 presidential race—and ahead of the 2018 midterms—youth turnout surged in Virginia, and in both gubernatorial races young people strongly preferred the Democratic candidates.

If the Virginia and New Jersey exit polls captured precise and accurate estimates of the proportion of voters who were young, then youth turnout was 34% in Virginia and 18% in New Jersey, according to CIRCLE’s calculations.[1] These turnout estimates are based on CIRCLE analysis of Edison Research exit polls conducted in both states with Census population data…

CIRCLE does acknowledge that “in recent elections, exit polls have not always captured accurate age demographics and preliminary exit poll results are subject to revision,” as Ruy Teixeira has also pointed out. But the turnout numbers CIRCLE provides are striking nonetheless, 222,000 voters age 18-29 in New Jersey, compared to 366,000 in Virginia — especially considering that New Jersey’s population is about a half-million larger than that of Virginia. According to CIRCLE, these young voters are 11 percent of the electorate in New Jersey and 14 percent in Virginia. It appears that titanic exit poll errors or impressive youth voter GOTV made a big difference, or perhaps both factors were in play. Further,

The 18% youth turnout in New Jersey equaled the 2013 rate and follows a very stable trend in New Jersey youth turnout, which has hovered just below 20% in the past three off-year elections. Meanwhile, Virginia’s 34% youth turnout is 8 percentage points higher than in 2013 (26%)—and double what it was in 2009 (17%).

In addition to the turnout edge, 73 percent  of youth in New Jersey voted for Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, while 69 percent of young voters cast ballots for Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia. Teixeira notes that “Democrats carried the youth vote by 39 and 48 points, respectively, in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.”

Unfortunately, the data doesn’t provide a breakdown of youth voters by key subgroups, such as race, education or gender, which may be pivotal factors. But my hunch is that Virginia’s Democratic GOTV strategists have a pretty good idea, via precinct analysis, of how these subgroups of youth voters turned out and voted. And we do know that Northam benefitted from larger than expected turnouts and/or margins from African Americans and Women.

Here’s hoping Virginia’s Democratic GOTV wizards are already in Alabama, offering tips to the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Doug Jones.


[1] The estimated percent of young people who voted in the governor’s’ races were calculated using: (1) the number of ballots cast in each race according to the media, (2) the youth share of those who voted, based on the exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, (3) the estimated number of 18-29 year old citizens taken from the Census Current Population Survey, March Demographic File of that year.  Edison Research estimates that its exit polls have a margin of error rate of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Odds of a House Democratic Wave Next Year Moving On Up

The 2017 elections have cast some new light on the 2018 midterms, and I did a reassessment at New York.

Just under a year before the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic prospects for gaining the 24 net seats they need to take control of the U.S. House of Representative are getting stronger. Aside from a number of long-in-advance indicators like presidential approval ratings and the congressional generic ballot, the 2017 election returns, capped by high-profile Democratic wins in Virginia and elsewhere on November 7, have provided objective evidence that Democrats are regularly exceeding expectations based on past performance (if not always meeting last-minute expectations of big wins). But you win elections in particular places and one at a time, and at the level of individual races, Republicans retain a lot of advantages that could keep them in control of the House even if they lose the national popular vote.

Republicans also have a lot of exposure, having made a net gain of 68 House seats in the last three elections. This can matter even more than presidential approval ratings: In 2010, Obama’s pre-midterm approval rating was 45 percent, but his party — engorged by big House performances in 2006 and 2008 — lost 63 seats. Four years later, Obama’s approval ratings were sharply lower, at 40 percent, but his party only lost 13 net House seats.

The big-picture factors favoring Democrats are clear. The party controlling the White House almost always loses House seats in midterms; the two exceptions in recorded history occurred in years in which the presidents in question were enjoying very high approval ratings (Clinton at 66 percent in 1998 and George W. Bush at 63 percent in 2002). Since 1946, the average midterm House losses for presidents with approval ratings under 50 percent has been 36 seats. President Trump’s approval ratings (using the RealClearPolitics polling averages as a benchmark) have never topped 50 percent, and have mostly bounced around the low side of 40 percent since the spring.

The other big indicator for House races is the generic congressional ballot: a polling question that simply measures partisan voting intentions for upcoming congressional elections. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, the final generic ballot before midterm elections is on average as accurate as final presidential polls, hitting within 2 percent of the actual national House popular vote. The generic ballot can, of course, change significantly during the final year of a midterm cycle; at this point in 2009, for example, a CNN survey gave Democrats a six-point advantage in the generic ballot; the final RealClearPolitics average just before the 2010 midterms favored Republicans by 9.4 percent. But such big movements tend to occur in synch with presidential approval ratings, and beyond that, the usual trend is away from the president’s party, as in 2010.

The current RealClearPolitics generic ballot average gives Democrats a 10.2 percent advantage. The gap has been slowly increasing throughout 2017; six months ago it was at 5.8 percent.

Special (and regular off-year) elections in 2017 have shown a similar Democratic advantage. In an analysis of 38 such contests (mostly for state legislative seats), Daniel Donner found a clear trend:

“Out of all the special elections with typical Democrat vs. Republican dynamics, Democrats have overperformed the 2016 presidential margin by more than 10 points in 25 of them. Republicans have overperformed by more than 10 points in just four — but one of those was actually a Democratic flip! On average, Democrats are doing about 13 points better than Hillary Clinton.”

The Virginia results in November were equally impressive, with gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam winning by the largest margin of any Democrat since 1985. And the Donkey Party’s shocking Virginia state legislative gains, heavily concentrated in suburban communities, showed that the disdain for Donald Trump among college-educated white voters was rubbing off on down-ballot Republicans.

Still, all these positive indicators for Democrats don’t translate proportionately to gained House seats, even if they persist in 2018. The generic ballot, for example, simply predicts the national House popular vote, not seats gained, and it’s not at all clear how big a margin in the popular vote Democrats will need in 2018 to win back the House. Harry Enten explained the problem back in February:

“[I]f Democrats win the national House vote by a margin in the low- to mid-single digits, that may not be enough to take back the House. The median congressional district was 5.5 percentage points more Republican-leaning in the presidential race than the nation as a whole in 2016, meaning Democrats are essentially spotting the GOP 5.5 points in the battle for control of the House. And even that may be underestimating Republicans ability to win a majority of seats without a majority of the vote. Since 2012 (or when most states instituted the current House district lines), Republicans have won, on average, 51 percent of the two-party House vote and 55 percent of House seats. If that difference holds for 2018, Democrats would need to win the House popular vote by about 8 percentage points to win half the House seats.”

Incumbency and redistricting are the big institutional reasons the GOP upholds its House majority, despite likely Democratic margins in the overall popular vote. But as the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter notes, those advantages may be eroding as the party and its president grow less popular:

“In the most recent October survey, [NBC News] found that Republicans had a six-point advantage in GOP-held seats (R+6), while Democrats had a 29 point advantage in seats they hold (D+29). What’s significant—or what NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Bill McInturff called a “flashing yellow light,” was that the GOP advantage in seats they already hold dropped eight points from September to October—from R+14 to R+5. It also stands in stark contrast to the average generic advantage Republicans had in seats they held in the most recent mid-term elections (R+15 in 2010 and R+18 in 2014).”

The pace of House Republican retirements has picked up recently as well, and with incumbency worth an estimated seven points as compared to similar races with non-incumbents, that could be a really big deal. But most of the 29 announced GOP retirements are for Members in non-competitive districts. According to Cook Political Report, there are at present just six competitive House seats being vacated by retiring Republicans, along with three such Democratic seats. A few more, particularly in the 23 certified Trump-resistant districts carried by Hillary Clinton last year, could make a big difference. Another factor that could erode the usual advantages of incumbency is the unusually large number of Democratic challengers who are raising serious early money….

In 2010, the last wave election, the Cook Political Report showed the competitive districts literally doubling between November 2009 and November 2010, with the number of vulnerable Democratic seats jumping from 37 to 91. One thing to watch right in the very near future is whether House Republicans pass a tax bill that kills the state and local tax deduction — hammering upper-middle-class itemizers in California, New Jersey, and New York — and how many of the nine vulnerable GOP incumbents from those states vote for it. As the actual midterm election year approaches over the holidays, it could be a perilous time for House Republicans.

In the end, control of the House would be of great value to Democrats, given the majority’s power in that chamber to control what comes to the floor and what gets attention. It would signal a formal end to the GOP’s window of opportunity in enjoying a federal government “trifecta.” But even if Democrats simply make significant gains short of a majority, shrinking the GOP margin could have a major practical effect. As we’ve seen in the Senate this year, the Republican Party is not unified enough to pass legislation with much of a margin for error.

Political Strategy Notes

Writing at The Upshot, Nate Cohn sees a couple of rays of hope for Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the Senate special election in Alabama: “It’s not easy to come up with recent favorable precedents for Democratic victories in the Deep South. Perhaps the best involves David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who managed to lose the governor’s race by 12 points in 2015. Mr. Obama lost Louisiana by 17 points in 2012. Mr. Vitter was dogged by a prostitution scandal from nearly a decade earlier…Democrats fared well even though neither Mr. Vitter nor Mr. Moore in 2012 was as weak as Mr. Moore is today. Now, national political conditions are plainly more favorable for the Democrats. And this is a special election, when surprising results are a little more common….Another promising precedent for Democrats happens to be Mr. Moore himself. He won by only four points in his 2012 campaign for Alabama chief justice, and that was without the sexual harassment allegations that have shaken his current Senate campaign. It was the worst performance by an Alabama Republican running for statewide office since 2008.”

“It’s amazing to write, and there’s time for our outlook to change, but here goes: A Democrat is now a narrow favorite to win a Senate special election in Alabama,” write Kye Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “We’re changing our rating of the Dec. 12 special election from Likely Republican all the way to Leans Democratic…Polls, already close before the really bad stories about Moore began appearing about a week ago, seem to have tightened further, with Jones even leading in some. For instance, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported on Wednesday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee — no friend of Moore’s even before the sexual misconduct stories broke, to be sure — has Moore down 51%-39% to Jones in its polling. However, we’re not sure how useful polls will be in this race: Anticipating turnout in a special election like this is very hard. What we do know is 1.) Last week’s elections and special elections conducted throughout the year have shown high levels of Democratic enthusiasm in both liberal and conservative jurisdictions; 2.) Jones is likely to have a big resource advantage in this race — he’s already outspent Moore 11-to-one on TV ads, according to Advertising Analytics — with national Republicans staying away from Moore; and 3.) Moore may have trouble preventing poor Republican turnout given his horribly damaged candidacy.”

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss outline a three-part path to vicotry for Democratic senate nominee Jones: “…He does have a path. Here’s how it looks, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Democrats within and near Jones’ team since Moore was hit with accusations of pursuing — and in two cases abusing — teenage girls. First, create a permission structure for alienated Republicans who are skeptical of Moore — primarily those who voted against him in the GOP primary — to cross the aisle. At the same time invigorate the base, especially African-Americans, who make up over a quarter of registered voters, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. And finally, keep the national Democratic Party and its despised brand as far out of the picture as possible, while still benefiting from its money.”

At Inside Elections, Nathan L. Gonzales has an update, “Ten Thoughts after Democrats’ Big Wins in Virginia,” which includes this observation: “Don’t rely too much on the national generic ballot and presidential job ratings. Those numbers can help describe the national political mood, but we don’t have national elections. The presidential race and Senate majority is fought on a state-by-state level, while the House is a district-by-district battle, and President Trump is not uniformly liked or disliked around the country. Trump is doing better in the types of districts Democrats need to win for a majority. And even if you had a model which predicted the number of seats Republicans will lose, you still have to look at a district level to know precisely which seats will fall to the Democrats. For example, John Katko represents one of 23 congressional districts Clinton carried but is held by a Republican. According to Tuesday’s results, he would lose next November. But Democrats don’t have a credible challenger against him.”

The NRA apparently didn’t have much clout in the Virginia election, as Fred Yang and Geoff Garin explain in their Washington Post op-ed: “…The exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research on Election Day showed that people who said gun policy was their top voting issue were as likely to vote for the Northam, the candidate who supported gun-safety measures, as for Ed Gillespie, the bearer of the NRA’s “A” rating. Seventeen percent of voters listed gun policy as their No. 1 voting issue (second only to health care), and they split their votes evenly between the two candidates. So much for the so-called “enthusiasm gap” on gun violence prevention…The finding from the exit polls corresponds to what we were seeing in our pre-election surveys for the Northam campaign. Likely general election voters in Virginia said by a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent that they favored additional laws in Virginia to regulate the sale of firearms. The support for gun-safety measures was even higher in questions that specifically addressed measures such as universal background checks. In the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia, for example, 71 percent favored additional laws such as expanded background checks. In the Roanoke media market, voters supported these expanded measures 51 percent to 39 percent.”

While the Virginia elelction got most of the media buzz, there are some insights to be considered regarding the New Jersey gubernatorial election, as Richard Eskow observes at Blog for Our Future: “[Democratic candidate Phil] Murphy’s Goldman Sachs career presented a hurdle, too, but it was not as steep. According to the same poll, 29 percent of voters thought less of him as a result, but 59 percent said they didn’t care…Despite his Wall Street background, there was no way to mistake Murphy for a centrist. His economic plan included a $15-an-hour minimum wage, guaranteed sick leave, closing the gender pay gap, and higher taxes for millionaires and corporations. He proposed a state bank to promote the public good, an excellent idea with strong support from the left. He rejected the idea of cutting pensions for New Jersey employees, saying, “The state has to stand up for its side of the bargain. Period.”..Murphy proposed a state-run retirement plan for employees of small businesses. And he embraced another left idea to reduce gender and other pay inequities by proposing that employers be banned from asking applicants about their salary history.”

Jacob Pramuk reports at CNBC Politics that “Most American voters — 52 percent — disapprove of the GOP proposals to overhaul the tax system, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday. Only 25 percent of respondents approve of the Republican effort…Sixty-one percent of voters said the plan would mainly help the wealthy. Twenty-four percent responded that it would primarily benefit the middle class, while only 6 percent said the same about low-income people…The proposals favor the rich at the expense of the middle class, 59 percent of respondents said. Only 33 percent disagreed with that statement.

The Republican tax plan is deeply unpopular — and unimportant to many Americans,” as Philp Bump explains at Post Politics: “The Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans what Congress and the president should focus on. What’s important to address, the survey asked: Tax reform? Reauthorizing the children’s health insurance program (CHIP)? Funding the recovery from this year’s hurricanes?..More than 6-in-10 Americans said CHIP reauthorization and hurricane recovery should be a top priority. Only 28 percent said reforming the tax code should be…Nearly as many Americans (24 percent) said tax reform shouldn’t happen at all as said it should be a top priority (28 percent). It was mostly Republicans who said it should be a top priority; Republicans were about as likely to say tax reform was a top priority as they were to say repealing Obamacare or hurricane recovery were…Kaiser Family Foundation also asked about repealing the individual mandate. A majority supported the idea…until they learned what a repeal would mean. When they were informed repeal would increase premiums for those who buy their own insurance, 60 percent opposed the idea.”

In their Business Insider post “Democrats still need a strategy for left-behind areas — here’s how tech can help,” Kristal Ball and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-7) point out that Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s landslide was based on a geographically-concentrated mandate: “…For the first time in modern history, the Democratic candidate for Governor in Virginia did not win a single precinct west of Radford, in the southwesternmost part of the state extending toward Kentucky. In the parts of Virginia struggling the most, where drug addiction is rampant, jobs are scarce and suicide is on the rise, voters just threw their lot in again with the Republican candidate by 50 and 60 point margins.” In the nation as a whole, “Just five metro areas account for half of all new net business creation. In contrast, over two-thirds of the counties in America have lost businesses over the past decade. According to the nonpartisan Economic Innovation Group, 52 million Americans live in economically depressed communities: places where the poverty rate is 27% and 42% of prime-age adults aren’t working.” Rep. Khanna and Ms. Ball urge Dems to become advocates for locating new tyechg busineses in rural areas. “…Unless the Democratic Party offers a plan for economic opportunity for twenty-first century jobs in places left behind, we will not earn a governing majority.”

Teixeira: Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Elections

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

The 2017 elections were quite a revelation. Pretty much everywhere where the Republicans could have lost, they lost. The marquee race, the contest for governor of Virginia—which was supposed to be close—was won easily (54-45) by Democrat Ralph Northan over Republican Ed Gillespie, who had attempted to emulate Trump by running an anti-immigrant scare campaign. And downballot in the Virginia House of Delegates—the lower house of the Virginia legislature—the Democrats flipped at least 15 seats—going from a lopsided 66-34 disadvantage to, at worst, almost tied (51-49). The newly-elected included a transgender woman (who defeated an ultra-conservative Republican, self-described as “Virginia’s chief homophobe”) and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (who defeated the GOP House majority whip). These shifts were not expected by the even the most optimistic Democratic observer.

All over the country, unusual and significant results obtained. Maine over-rode their conservative governor and voted by initiative to implement the Obamacare-funded expansion of Medicaid. A special election victory in Washington state gave Democrats control of the Senate and, thereby, unified control of government in that state (Governor, Senate, House). Democrats flipped three open seats in the Georgia state legislature. A black Liberian immigrant was elected mayor of Helena, the capital of Montana. A Sikh was elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (a state where Democrats easily won the governor’s race as well). A black woman was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. And so it went, as a blue wave swept the country.

One must be cautious in reading too much into any one election, especially a non-federal one where electoral contests were irregularly scattered around the country. But there are some important takeaways that can be discerned from the pattern of results. Here are my top five.

  1. Trump and the GOP have not repealed the laws of politics. Normally, one would expect that a very unpopular incumbent president, pursuing very unpopular policies and showing essentially no legislative accomplishments, would hurt the incumbent party at the ballot box. But people were very cautious in assuming this would be so for Trump and the GOP, given his unexpected victory in the 2016 election, which seemed to defy normal political expectations.

As it turns out, Trump has not rewritten the rule books. He is historically unpopular for a US President at this stage of his term (37-38 percent approval/56-57 percent disapproval), has made innumerable inflammatory statements that most voters dislike and has pushed, with his party, a health care plan that was detested by the public and died in Congress. This should have hurt the Republicans and it did, consistent with historical patterns and standard political science research.

  1. The Democrats are looking very good for 2018. The stakes in 2018 will be far higher than in 2017, with all US House members up for election, plus 33 US Senators, 36 state governors and 6,066 state legislators (82 percent of the country’s total). Prospects for the Democrats now look very positive indeed for this election.

The Democrats currently have a wide lead on the generic Congressional ballot (which party’s Congressional candidate would you vote for if the election were held today?), about 9 points which predicts a Democratic gain sufficiently large (they need to pick up 23 seats) to take back the US House of Representatives. Moreover, the general pattern is for the incumbent party’s generic ballot disadvantage to widen, not contract, as we get closer to the election, so the Democrats appear well-positioned to make the necessary gains; at this point, they should be considered favorites to accomplish this goal.

Other factors on their side besides Trump’s dreadful approval ratings include a wave of Republican retirements from disillusioned legislators, creating more open seats; tremendous Democratic success in recruiting candidates for Congress and lower offices; strong Democratic performance in various “special” elections (elections held off-cycle to fill a suddenly vacant seat) held since Trump assumed office; and the general historical pattern that the opposition party gains ground in midterm elections. In short, the pieces are in place for another wave election in 2018, where the results will have far more weight than the elections just held.

  1. White college graduates are looking more and more like a Democratic constituency. It is remarkable how wide the education divide now is among white voters, with white college graduates and non-graduates steadily diverging in their political behavior. New estimates we have developed at the Center for American Progress indicate that both Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016 carried white college graduates nationwide, with Clinton achieving a solid 7 point lead among this demographic. Our estimates also show that Clinton carried white college graduates in most swing states, sometimes by wide margins.

Statistical and anecdotal evidence indicate that this trend only intensified in the 2017 elections. My estimate, based on trends revealed by the exit polls and our own work on voting patterns among this demographic, is that Democrats carried white college graduates by double digits in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

  1. Keep your eye on the Millennial generation. In the 2016 election, Democrats carried the 18-29 year old vote by 27 points, according to our estimates. Moreover, Clinton carried young voters by wide margins in all swing states, including in ones she lost. And very significantly, in most of these swing states she also carried white Millennials, indicating just how profound this generational shift is.

This pattern carried over to 2017 where Democrats carried the youth vote by 39 and 48 points, respectively, in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.

  1. The white working class vote is still the Democrats’ critical weakness. Not all was roses however. In Virginia, Northam still lost the white noncollege vote by around 40 points, very little improved over Clinton’s performance in the state in 2016. This is especially worrisome because white noncollege voters, despite a secular decline in voter share, remain a larger group than white college voters in almost all states, and far larger in the Rustbelt states that gave the Democrats so much trouble in the 2016 election.

There are positive signs however in trends among white noncollege voters, particularly from the Millennial generation according to our analysis of 2016 election data. To build on these trends and make some inroads generally among these voters, Democrats will probably have to offer something besides vigorous denunciations of Trump, who is more popular—though slipping–with these voters than with the rest of country. If Wall Street financier Robert Rubin, the Democrats’ quintessential 1990’s neoliberal economic figure, is now advocating for a massive public jobs program, perhaps it’s time to make that offer to these voters and to the rest of the electorate. The political winds are shifting and fortune belongs to the bold.

Political Strategy Notes

In their The Harvard Business Review article, “What Trump’s Campaign Speeches Show About His Lasting Appeal to the White Working Class,” Michelle Lamont, Bo Yun Park and Elena Ayala Hurtado write of their study of Trump’s electoral speeches, “Our detailed, computer-assisted content analysis of 73 of Trump’s speeches, accessed through the American Presidency Project, sheds light on his overall communication strategy. We looked at the words he used most commonly and how he used those words positively or negatively. We then examined how Trump spoke (both positively and negatively) about various groups throughout the campaign…We focused on his references to groups such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, “legal” and “illegal” immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the poor, women, and the LGBTQ community.” The authors cite “three pillars of his rhetorical strategy,” including: Moral absolution for his base of supporters, white workers without college degrees; Clear “foes” that can be redefined on the fly; and An emphasis on specific, shared class values. Further, “The resonance of these speeches was also made possible by the declining influence of unions, which have lost their cultural impact in conveying to workers where their material class interest lies, as well as in anchoring their sense of belonging and pride in being “labor.” Trump provides these same workers alternative frames to make sense of their downward economic mobility and a blueprint for how to fight back against their sense of growing social marginality…The lasting loyalty of this group to Trump may be due in no small part to the continued resonance of Trump’s rhetoric with their current predicament, as their economic position remains weak and their social status even weaker.”

Democrats broke some new ground in terms of message discipline and coordination in the digital arena in the Virginia campaign, reports Eric Bradner at CNN Politics: “Democrats see Ralph Northam’s big win in the Virginia governor’s race as a breakthrough moment for the left’s digital efforts…A year after Republicans leapfrogged the Democrats’ digital capacities on the way to President Donald Trump’s election, progressive groups combined spent nearly $3 million on an innovative effort to modernize the party’s digital advertising…The effort, organized by Planned Parenthood and coordinated by veteran Democratic digital strategist Tara McGowan, reached 2.4 million Virginia voters without Northam’s campaign having to spend any money at all on digital advertising…The groups’ coordination included sharing creative resources — that is, the ads themselves, and the content that went into them — as well as voter targeting and audience information and data that detailed how effective each ad had been…The win in Virginia showed that “building a robust digital infrastructure to break through echo chambers and reach voters online is more vital than ever, and Priorities will be working to replicate our success in races around the country in 2018,” said Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil.”

Is it too much to hope that last week’s elections indicate Dems may have some prospects in the south? Gabriel Debenedetti explores the possibilities at Politico, and notes, “Democrats plainly smell opportunity. They are monitoring a crop of muddy GOP situations — like a South Carolina corruption scandal that’s seen six Republican lawmakers indicted — and national trends — like Trump-inspired primary fights in South Carolina’s gubernatorial race, Tennessee’s Senate race and, potentially, Mississippi’s Senate race…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list now includes eight GOP-held seats in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, on top of 14 others in Virginia, Florida and Texas. Stronger-than-usual recruits have party operatives uncharacteristically hopeful about open gubernatorial races in Georgia and Tennessee, and others are working on recruiting former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Bob Corker.”

Ed Kilgore addresses the same topic at New York Magazine, and notes, “What makes Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida potentially winnable for Democrats is a combination of upscale suburban areas with college-educated voters and a relatively large minority vote. There is little in the Virginia numbers to reinforce any hopes of a Democratic resurgence among small-town or rural white voters. But Virginia’s 33 percent of the vote cast by nonwhite voters (in both 2016 and 2017) is exceeded by Georgia’s 40 percent (in 2016) and Florida’s 38 percent (also in 2016). North Carolina’s 30 percent is not far behind, either. And Texas, with 43 percent of voters being nonwhite, is potentially the sleeping giant for Democratic voters…and the most exciting thing about the Virginia results for Democrats in the South and everywhere else is that the Donkey Party may be overcoming its “midterm falloff” problem, wherein young and minority voters simply did not participate at rates commensurate with presidential contests.”

After reviewing a daunting litany of obstacles Democratic senatorial nominee Doug Jones faces in Alabama, despite the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, Perry Bacon, Jr. and Harry Enten observe at fivethirtyeight.com, “there are signs that some Republican voters may simply stay home in December. A Decision Desk HQ poll taken on Thursday (the day that the latest Moore news broke) showed a tied race in part because more than 10 percent of self-identified Republicans said they weren’t voting for either candidate, compared with fewer than 3 percent of self-identified Democrats who didn’t back Jones or Moore.”

“After a year of self-flagellation and angst, Democrats finally got some good news last week,” Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America, writes in his New York Times article, How Democrats Can Extend the Winning Streak Into 2018. “But they shouldn’t get carried away: They also got some bad news…First the bad news: Rural America still really dislikes Democrats. But that wasn’t a surprise. The good news came in increasingly affluent and diverse Virginia: In the age of Trump, well-educated suburbanites like Democrats considerably more than they used to. And voters are, overall, quite energized (turnout was at a 20-year high for the Virginia governor’s race) — especially younger voters, who supported the Democrat, Ralph Northam, overwhelmingly as compared with the Democratic nominee in 2013 and turned out at much higher rates…the better bet for Democrats would be to present a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters.

More and more House Republicans are deciding they want no part of the 2018 elections: And that will help Democrats,” argues Andrew Prokop at Vox. Prokop explains, “Last week, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) all announced they would retire from Congress rather than run for reelection. This makes 12 House Republicans and two senators who are calling it quits, not counting several more who are stepping down to run for another political office…So far, that number of GOP retirements isn’t outside the historical norm. But reports have suggested that this is just the start, and that several more Republican House members — perhaps many more — will also soon announce they’ll head for the exits. And revealingly, only two House Democrats and zero Democratic senators have so far made the same choice. That’s a dramatic discrepancy.”

“…The principal engine of the Democratic sweep was a suburban tsunami in white-collar communities in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and even the suburbs of Seattle, where Democrats convincingly captured a state Senate seat that flipped control of that chamber to themt…A suburban recoil from Trump in places like New Jersey; the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania; and Orange County, California, can propel Democrats to the brink of a U.S. House majority: Eighteen of the 23 House Republicans holding seats that Clinton carried in 2016 represent districts with more white college graduates than the national average. And Republicans hold another 30 House seats with higher-than-average numbers of white college graduates where Clinton improved over Obama’s showing in 2012. Tuesday’s blowout is also likely to encourage more retirements among House Republicans in white-collar districts, increasing Democratic opportunity. Still, relying only on white-collar places would leave Democrats very little margin for error.” — from Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats’ Narrow Path to Winning the House: The party’s suburban sweep in Virginia and New Jersey offers one template for 2018. But Democrats will have little room for error if they don’t expand their coalition.” at The Atlantic.

Following up on the suggestion of one of his readers, New York Times economist/Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman suggests the Republican Tax bill “be renamed the Leona Helmsley Act, after the New York hotelier convicted of tax evasion, who famously declared that “only the little people pay taxes.”…That, after all, is the main thrust of the bill. It hugely favors the wealthy over the middle class, which is pretty much always true of Republican proposals. But it’s not just about favoring high incomes: It also systematically favors people who live off their assets, especially inherited wealth, over the little people — that is, poor shlubs who actually have to work for a living.”

Despite Democratic Romp, Study Shows Dems Can’t Write Off White Working Class

In his Washington Post column, “Democrats Cut the Cheer,” David Von Drehle takes the punch bowl away from the Democratic gloatfest following last week’s elections, noting the findings of “a deeply researched paper published Nov. 1 by the liberal Center for American Progress”:

…Political scientists Rob Griffin, Ruy Texeira and John Halpin set out after the 2016 election to determine who voted — by race, age and education — and in what proportions. Their months-long project drew strands from a wide range of data sources and wove them into a picture quite different from the one painted by the imperfect art of Election Day exit polling…“Voter Trends in 2016: A Final Examination” suggests that the coalition of college-educated progressives and people of color on which Democrats have staked their identity may be weaker than most party strategists believed. And as they continue their crawl through the political wilderness, they may find that efforts to strengthen the coalition prove counterproductive, as they did against Trump.

Von Drehle’s brush is a bit broad, in that not all Democrats “have staked their identity” on said coalition, but he is right that identity politics advocates provide “a significant source of the energy in the Democratic Party.” Many Democratic leaders have urged a more inclusive electoral pitch. But for those who have urged ignoring the white working-class, Von Drehle’s column makes some instructive points, including;

I was struck by two sets of data from this rich trove of findings that may add up to a cautionary tale. First, the white electorate is larger and less educated than exit polls would have us believe. The pollsters calculated that 71 percent of voters in 2016 were white and that more than half of them had four or more years of college. But the CAP team came to a very different conclusion: The turnout was nearly 74 percent white (a significant difference in a razor-thin election), and only about two out of five of these voters had a college degree.

Overall, 45 percent of voters in 2016 — by far the largest segment — were whites who either did not attend or did not complete college. This was not entirely a Trump-driven phenomenon. The authors found that exit polls greatly underestimated the voting power of non-college-educated whites in 2012, too.

Second, whatever strength Democrats have gained from identity politics appears to have reached a natural ceiling. Candidate Trump built his campaign on his willingness to offend people. He bashed immigrants, linked Mexicans to violent crime, dog-whistled to white supremacists. Yet when the votes were counted, Trump outperformed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney among African American voters and matched Romney among Latinos.

Von Drehle adds that “A lot of pixels have been devoted to the theory that Clinton would have won the election had she matched Barack Obama in African American turnout. The CAP study confirms that this is true. But the study also shows that she would have won had she matched Obama among whites without a degree.”

“Once the party of the working class,” Von Drehle continues, “Democrats have lost their connection to the largest bloc of voters in America. Democrats had an edge in 1992 of more than five points over Republicans in the registration of white voters with only a high school diploma. By 2016, Republicans had flipped that advantage and widened it to more than 25 points.”

Identity politics advocates will no doubt point to Northam’s Virginia victory as proof that Democrats can win governorships in purple states, even when the Republican candidate wins white non-college voters by a margin of about 40 points. But Democrats can’t count on replicating last week’s political moment, nor Republicans making the same blundering miscalculations of the Gillespie campaign.

Further, as Von Drehle concludes, “No party should feel sanguine heading into an election so glaringly weak with the plurality of the electorate. Democrats will celebrate in 2018 and beyond only if they begin reconnecting with the white working class. How? By assuring them that their concerns matter — not more than, but as much as, anyone else’s.”