washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Discussion panel

Understanding voters’ angst in the 2016 election

On September 20, E.J. Dionne hosted two of the nation’s leading pollsters from both sides of the aisle—Stanley Greenberg and Whit Ayres—and Markle Foundation CEO and President Zoë Baird for an illuminating and frank discussion on the conflicting state of American politics. What are the roots of pessimism regarding America’s economic and democratic future, how are demographics influencing this election, and is there a potential path toward unity in its aftermath?

Watch the video.

Stan Greenberg

Stan Greenberg Speaks

“The core problem is the stagnation of incomes over a long period of time… almost permanent. [People are] angry at leaders who have not addressed the problem.”

Watch the Video.

E. J. Dionne

A Non-Partisan Discussion

E. J. Dionne moderates—with sponsorship from from the Markle Foundation—a serious discussion of  voters and their concerns coming into the 2016 presidential election.

Watch the Video.

The Daily Strategist

September 30, 2016

Clinton’s Millennial Challenge

As we continue to sort through the implications of the first presidential candidates debate, there is a particular area of the electorate Hillary Clinton’s campaign is surely focusing on, as I discussed at New York:

According to Jeff Stein at Vox, there is some (admittedly limited) evidence her performance in the first candidate debate helped her among millennials.

It’s not that she took millennial votes away from Donald Trump. He doesn’t have many. As Harvard’s John Della Volpe, who conducted a debate-night focus group of young voters, told Stein: “The millennial vote isn’t Hillary versus Trump … It’s Hillary versus Gary Johnson versus sitting on the couch on Election Day.”

So Clinton’s appeal to these voters needs to be multidimensional: She must reduce the antipathy toward her from young Sanders supporters and those whose knowledge of her is limited to media characterizations, while convincing them this is a close contest whose outcome will have a big impact on the world millennials will soon inherit.

It seems she made some headway on the first challenge.

“’She wasn’t the caricature her foes and the media had created of her,’Della Volpe says, summarizing what his interview subjects told him about their reactions to the debate. ‘I think in the eyes of millennials, she comported herself well in tone and substance. My sense was that they are beginning to take a fresh look at her.'”

Still, only 20 percent of Della Volpe’s focus-group participants said the debate made them more likely to vote for Clinton (10 percent said it made them more likely to vote for Trump). And it’s unclear how many of them were sufficiently horrified by Trump to develop the sense that voting against him is worth the effort. As I noted immediately after the debate, there’s even the perverse possibility that all the talk about Clinton “crushing” or “destroying” Trump at Hofstra could enhance the belief that she’s already won the election, making a “protest vote” for Johnson or Stein or nonparticipation a consequences-free action in the eyes of millennials who have meh feelings about Clinton.

Some targeted messaging to millennials stressing some of Trump’s more horrific positions — his climate-change denialism, for example, or his support for torture, or his casual attitude about nuclear weaponry — and hinting that he’s within reach of total power, might be advisable. And she does have an emergency fall-back option in the fight for millennial votes: coming out squarely for marijuana legalization.

She could also perhaps find ways to remind people that Gary Johnson’s Libertarians would be perfectly happy with privatizing not just prisons, but pretty much every government function short of raising an army. Indeed, some of Clinton’s allies are already on the job:

“NextGen Climate, the group run by liberal billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, is on the ground in eight battleground states with a message that is almost exclusively aimed at reaching the millennial voters who are energized by the issue of climate change.

“Last week, the group threw six figures behind digital ads mocking Johnson as a climate change denier and warning millennials that climate change will cost them trillions of dollars.”

Beyond those messaging tweaks, it would be smart for Team Clinton to systematically tamp down the triumphalism as Election Day approaches, and instead create and sustain a sense of urgency, even anxiety. The contest is clearly turning into a mobilization battle, and anything the Clinton campaign can do to maintain a healthy fear of the opposition will make minor-party candidacies, or the couch, a less tempting option for millennials.


Political Strategy Notes

At PostPartisan James Downie ruminates on “How Clinton’s debate win could change the race” and notes, “The cringe-worthy moments piled up for Trump, such as saying that he rooted for the housing collapse because “that’s called business” and interrupting moderator Lester Holt’s question about “what do you say to . . . people of color . . .” with “I say nothing.” When Clinton suggested he might be hiding his tax returns because he doesn’t pay any federal income tax, Trump interjected, “That makes me smart,” seeming to imply that Clinton’s charge was correct. He also perpetuated the birther issue by repeating the debunked claim that Clinton’s campaign started it.  The tax returns and birther responses were easily some of Trump’s least popular answers with the dial group voters across the board. (Republican consultant Frank Luntz found similar results.)

My read of the polls and focus group comments following the first debate is that Trump’s strongest card is his ability to articulate the rage many working-class voters feel about jobs being exported to other countries. Clinton may be wasting her efforts defending her track record on the issue — too complicated  to explain for soundbite-focused media. Better she should hit Trump a lot harder on his outrageous hypocrisy on the topic — the way he has exploited cheap foreign labor in his business, his shady international operations, his hidden tax returns masking his offshore operations, to name a few. She should also remind white workers of Trump’s shameful record of stiffing subcontractors. Clinton did a  good job in calling out his two faces on the issue in the first debate. But she and her campaign should double-down on the topic and blast him on it at every opportunity.

Steven A. Holmes explores “The truth about the white working class: A mosaic of their own” at CNN Politics, and notes “While support for Trump is relatively strong across the board among working-class whites, there are significant differences among different groups…Men over the age of 50 are among the Republican nominee’s strongest backers with 68% of voters in this group saying they would consider voting for him, compared to 51% of women who are 50 years or older…Rural (68%), suburban (66%) and Southern (70%) working-class white voters voice support for Trump in larger numbers than urban dwellers (49%) and those living in the West (54%) and Midwest (53%). And 78% of working-class white voters surveyed who say immigrants are a burden on the country say they would consider voting for him, compared to 38% who of those who believe immigrants strengthen the country.”

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and FLOTUS Michelle Obama are campaigning hard for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in an effort to improve her share of young voters, reports Byron Tau at The Wall St. Journal. It would be hard to pick three better youth ambassadors for HRC. All three are highly-popular among younger voters. Some good ads featuring popular musicians, actors and athletes targeting media favored by college students and young blue collar workers might also  help. What value endorsements may have likely results from their influence on generating peer persuasion, which seems to be lacking in the Clinton campaign at the moment.

At PowerPost Stuart Rothenberg explains why “Media hype aside, Clinton still has the edge in this race.”

Democrats take note: Noam N. Levey reports at The L.A. Times that A new Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 78% of respondents want “new restrictions on how much pharmaceutical companies can charge for high-cost drugs for illnesses such as hepatitis or cancer…More than eight in 10 Americans favor allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug makers to get lower prices on medications for people on Medicare, a move that the pharmaceutical industry and its supporters in Congress have blocked for years….And 86% of Americans support new requirements on drug companies to release information on how they set prices.”

Google reports a “huge spike,” particularly in Florida, in searches for “registrarse para votar,” which translates into “how to vote,” reports Philip Bump at The Fix. There is no data, however, revealing whether the uptick was concentrated more in the Cuban-American or Puerto Rican communities.

Again at The Fix, in his post, “Democrats are coming into November in a familiar position: Urgently needing to push turnout,” Philip Bump probes the voting propensities of pro-Democratic constituencies, and finds that data from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows African American and young voters a little behind the 2012 pace in their stated intentions to vote, while Latino voters are showing more interest in voting. Also “Those who support Clinton are more likely to say they plan to vote this year than those backing Obama said at this point in 2012.”

Another “Aleppo moment” for Gary Johnson adds to his “not ready for prime time” image.


DCorps: Debate Dial Meter Test Reveals New Trend for Clinton

The following article by Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps and Page Gardner of Women’s Voices and Women Vote Action Fund is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

Hillary Clinton won the first debate against Donald Trump and likely produced electoral shifts, according to participants in a live dial meter focus group organized by Democracy Corps and commissioned by Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund. These participants, comprised of voter blocs critical to the outcome of this election, watched a Democratic candidate lay out a broad economic vision that spoke to their lives, show strength that reassured on security, speak to our nation’s racial divisions in a way that engaged voters and most of all, reassure them on trust and honesty.

View Dial Presentation.
Read Dial Report.

Trump’s performance, with some exceptional moments, lacked the bombast of previous efforts, but did little to reassure voters about the prospect of a Trump presidency, particularly when it comes to security. Dials showed that Trump really struggled with both his tax plan and his own taxes, his contempt for women and above all, when he talked about his favorite subject: himself. The only area where he made gains was on having the right approach to trade agreements.

Clinton produced impressive gains in the vote, squeezing the third party candidates and raising intensity of support with white unmarried women and white working class voters.That alone would be a big night. But just as important, she shifted these voters’ perceptions of her as a person on such key attributes as trustworthiness, having good plans for the economy, jobs, and looking out for the middle class. There was also a huge shift in her overall favorability (+33 points).

The white working class story is almost as impressive. Their lines spiked all through the debate and their favorability towards Clinton also shifted 33 points. The 2-way vote margin shifted 16 points as the 3rd party vote got squeezed. And at the end of the debate she won her biggest gains with these working class voters on the economy, keeping America strong and having the right approach to taxes. Clinton could not have hoped for better.

Millennials also responded very positively to key parts of Clinton’s performance, though their favorability shift was not as great as other groups and Clinton lost a little ground on the vote. We will watch what happens in the real world.

Overall, this was a very good night for Hillary Clinton.

Trumped-up trickle down economics 

Some of the Secretary’s strongest moments, particularly among unmarried women, came at the inception of the debate when the two candidates laid out their economic vision. Clinton’s narrative of an “economy that works for everyone,” and her new criticism of Reaganomics (“Trumped up trickle down”) struck a chord with these voters, including non-college white voters who have moved away from Clinton and Democrats in recent elections.



The biggest increase in Clinton’s attributes (+18 points) concerned whether she “looks out for the middle class.” In the post-debate breakout groups among those who shifted over the course of the evening, people talked about how she would help the middle class and cared about them.

  • She was positive in pledging to lead each American and build the middle class. (Shifter, towards Clinton)
  • She really seemed to care about middle class Americans and African Americans. (Shifter, towards Clinton)

Trump’s focus on trade moved the dials up sharply but not far north of 50 percent at this point. Later, his attacks on trade did get one of his strongest responses, and he was considered to have the better approach on trade at the end of the night. That did not translate, though, to any gains in whether he has good plans for the economy.


The exchanges around trickle-down economics got their strongest response from the white working class voters, and their lines soared above all others in the groups. At the end, they shifted 22 points on who has the better approach to taxes.

At the 30 minute mark, the moderator opened a dialog about Trump’s failure to release his taxes, leading to the worst moments from the Republican. When Trump crowed about the $694 million dollars he made last year, among other boasts, he quickly lost the people in our focus group. Clinton seized the opportunity to successfully highlight Trump’s history of stiffing workers and baited Trump into bragging about his business. Trump did not disappoint, further undermining his standing among participants. It reinforced the impression that he was only about making the economy work for him.

  • Trump seemed to think it was fine that he didn’t pay taxes because they would just be wasted. (Shifter, towards Clinton)
  • [He would be a president] that would destroy the middle class so he and [is]e friends can get wealthier. (Shifter, towards Clinton)
  • I realize that he is proud of his business accomplishments, but not everything can be related back to that… he relies on his one area of expertise, and I’m not convinced he runs that with integrity. (Shifter, towards Clinton)
  • He also is pompous and arrogant. He is rich and only wants the rich to get richer. (Shifter, towards Clinton)

Race and crime 
Trump did not commit any racial gaffes in this debate, but neither did he reassure voters.  And he needed too.  Moreover, his commitment to “Stop and Frisk” and his repeated lying about New York’s crime rate did not convince voters in a country increasingly divided over race to embrace him as a figure of national unity.  His insistence on “law and order” did not impress these voters.


Hillary Clinton’s strongest moments among millennial voters—a group that has so far failed to embrace her candidacy with much enthusiasm came during the discussion of race and criminal justice reform.  Her strongest moment among these voters came during her condemnation of Trump’s racist “birther” attack on President Obama.


Clinton also scored points with voters of all stripes, including non-college whites, when embracing common-sense policies to reduce gun violence, producing one of the sharpest dial spikes in the evening. Trump wisely did not walk off the cliff with the gun lobby on the “no-buy, no fly” list but these voters seemed otherwise unimpressed with his NRA endorsement.

Making our country safe
Donald Trump came into this debate needing to reassure a fretful nation that he could be trusted to be Commander in Chief.   While Trump avoided comments about “loving war,” his argument that we need a “businessman” failed to convince these voters.  Participants conferred a huge 60 to 40 percent Clinton advantage over Trump before the debate on who would keep America safe and Trump was not able to do anything to chip in to her lead, with Clinton still holding a 60 to 40 percent lead after the debate.

But she also demonstrated strength throughout the debate.  Despite some cheap and poorly received “stamina” shots from Trump, a 66 percent majority of participants described Clinton as a “strong leader” at the conclusion of the groups

Two big wins and losers
Clinton accomplished some important things, most notably in terms of positive improvement on personal favorability, on trust, on being for the middle class and on the economy and jobs. That cannot help but shift the vote.

The first of the biggest wins was the consolidation of unmarried women.  It was as if Clinton had rehearsed with unmarried women as her audience.  Their dials responded as if she was speaking to them directly. This debate shifted their vote, their excitement and their intensity of support.  They are poised to help Clinton reach a victory.

The second win was the shocking response of white working class persuadable voters.  They responded as if they too were the main target.  They warmed to her dramatically, responding strongly to her on the economy, jobs and taxes. This debate may have shaken up the voters that were to give Donald Trump his path to competitiveness.

The losers are Donald Trump, for obvious reasons, but perhaps also Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. Among the 50 swing persuadable voters, the 3rd party vote and number of undecideds dropped 12 points – that is, by almost 50 percent. Among the white unmarried women, that bloc dropped 12 points and 6 points among the white working class. Obviously, the debate is an artificial environment, but it is also the way this election will look to most voters in the weeks ahead. This debate shows them too to be among the big losers.

The implications for the vote will become apparent pretty quickly, and we expect there to be an increase in Clinton’s margin.

Democracy Corps conducted online dial meter research among 100 likely voters nationally: 50 persuadable voters, 25 white unmarried women, and 25 millennials during the presidential debate. Surveys were administered before and after the live dial meter session. An online breakout focus group among those who changed their vote or become more certain of the vote was conducted after the debate. This research is qualitative in nature and involves 100 total participants.  Results are not statistically projectable onto a larger population. 
____________________
Democracy Corps is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to making the government of the United States more responsive to the American people. It was founded in 1999 by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg. Democracy Corps provides public opinion research and strategic advice to those dedicated to a more responsive Congress and Presidency. Learn more at www.democracycorps.com
Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund (WVWVAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501 (c)(4) organization founded in 2005 and dedicated to increasing the voting participation and issue advocacy of unmarried women. Learn more at www.wvwvaf.org.

More Polls Show ‘Clinton Trounced Trump’

At Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson’s “The (Real) Polls Prove It: Clinton Trounced Trump in the Debate” includes an update on some of the latest polling:

…We now have the results of five scientific polls, and each shows Clinton scoring a commanding victory over Trump on the debate stage.

Clinton got her highest marks in a CNN poll that showed her beating Trump 66 to 27 percent. Trump’s best showing came in a PPP poll – in which Clinton still beat him by 11 points, 51 to 40. Polls by YouGov (57/30) Politico/Morning Consult (49/26) and Echelon Insights (48/22) complete the picture of a debate dominated by the woman in the red suit.

…The YouGov poll did not measure electoral leaning, but Clinton walloped Trump among independents, 33 to 17, and even bested him among men, 27 to 24.

How bad was Trump’s night? Even a poll commissioned by the GOP nominee’s favorite propaganda outlet, Breitbart, had him losing to Clinton by five points, 48 to 43.

So how much of a game-changer was the debate? Dickinson adds:

…In the CNN poll, 34 percent of respondents said the debate made them more likely to vote for Clinton. In PPP’s survey, that number was 40 percent, with 39 percent saying they were less likely to vote for Trump. Forty-one percent of Eschelon respondents said they are now more likely to cast a ballot for Clinton.

Each of the polls asked slightly different questions. In the Politico/Morning Consult poll, 23 percent came away with a “much more favorable” view of Clinton, while 26 percent emerged with a “much less favorable” view of Trump.

Dickinson concludes by noting that Trump claimed he won in a CBS News post-debate poll. But CBS responded that “we did not conduct a post-debate poll.” As Dickinson adds, “Despite his crushing defeat, Trump did score one huge debate poll win – in his mind.”


Russo and Linkon: Clinton Can Win in Ohio with Emphasis on Jobs, Wages and Support for Working Families

The following article by John Russo and Sherry Linkon (their bio notes at end of article) is cross-posted from Moyers & Company.

Because of its potential for producing crossover Democratic votes for him in this year’s presidential race, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been paying a lot of attention to Youngstown, Ohio this year. This week, the old mill town gave him the kind of attention he didn’t want.

The quick resignation of local Trump campaign chair Kathy Miller, after a series of jawdropping remarks in an interview with The Guardian — including her opinion that racism did not exist until President Barack Obama took office — and the Trump campaign’s immediate decision to replace her with a Youngstown African-American talk show host suggest that maybe the blunt-spoken billionaire isn’t as enthusiastic about political incorrectness as he purports to be.

Trump’s campaign has encouraged people like Miller to claim their racism openly and defiantly. We’ve seen evidence repeatedly, such as in a Plain Dealer reporter’s summary of the racist comments he’s received from Trump supporters or a widely-circulated New York Times video of comments from supporters at Trump rallies. And while Trump certainly fueled the birther movement, it grew legs at tea party rallies with laments about the loss of the “real” America. The horrifyingly repetitious pattern of police officers shooting unarmed black men has made the underlying racism in American culture not only visible but deadly, while pushback against the Black Lives Matter movement makes clear that many white people firmly believe, like Miller, that people of color face no significant barriers.


First Debate: Clinton Focused, Trump Flails, While Limited Data Gives Edge to HRC

In the first of the 2016 presidential debates following the conventions, Donald Trump was most effective with his initial volley of trade-bashing, but on most of the other topics, all he could provide was bluff and bluster. At several points during the debate Trump resembled a nervous high schol D student trying to distract attention from his failure to do any of his homework, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received numerous commentator plaudits for her preparedness for the debate.

In his slate.com post, “Clinton Victorious in First Two Debate Snap Polls,” Ben Mathis-Lilley reports on the findings of survey data:

The most meaningful indexes of how the debate changed what the American people think—new polls of likely voters taken entirely after Monday’s debate—won’t be out for several days. But what we do have are two quick polls that cover what debate viewers thought.

  • A PPP poll found that viewers thought Clinton had won the debate by a 51-40 margin. Among that group, 40 percent of viewers said the debate had made them more likely to vote for Clinton vs. 35 percent who said it’d made them more likely to vote for Trump.
  • A CNN/ORC poll found that 62 percent of viewers thought Clinton won vs. 27 percent who thought Trump did so. That’s the most lopsided result in CNN’s data set, which goes back until 1984, except for Romney smoking Obama 67-25 at their first debate in 2012. Of CNN’s respondents, 34 percent said the debate had made them more likely to vote for Clinton while 18 percent said it had made them more likely to vote for Trump.

It’s impossible to say with this limited data how many truly undecided voters had their minds changed tonight, but at the least it’s evidence that HRC didn’t underwhelm the expectation that she would perform more competently than Trump. She definitely went right out there and whelmed!

Breaking down the above-noted CNN/ORC poll a little more, CNN reports:

Voters who watched said Clinton expressed her views more clearly than Trump and had a better understanding of the issues by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Clinton also was seen as having done a better job addressing concerns voters might have about her potential presidency by a 57 percent to 35 percent margin, and as the stronger leader by a 56 percent to 39 percent margin.

The gap was smaller on which candidate appeared more sincere and authentic, though still broke in Clinton’s favor, with 53 percent saying she was more sincere vs. 40 percent who felt Trump did better on that score. Trump topped Clinton 56 percent to 33 percent as the debater who spent more time attacking their opponent.

Although the survey suggested debate watchers were more apt to describe themselves as Democrats than the overall pool of voters, even independents who watched deemed Clinton the winner, 54 percent vs. 33 percent who thought Trump did the best job in the debate.

And the survey suggests Clinton outperformed the expectations of those who watched. While pre-debate interviews indicated these watchers expected Clinton to win by a 26-point margin, that grew to 35 points in the post-debate survey.

At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver cautions:

Clinton bested Trump in the first presidential debate according to a variety of metrics, and the odds are that she’ll gain in head-to-head polls over Trump in the coming days…As a warning, you should give the debate five to seven days to be fully reflected in FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts. It will take a couple of days before reliable, post-debate polls are released, and then another couple of days before the model recognizes them to be part of a trend instead of potential outliers. Also, check the dates carefully on polls released over the next few days to make sure they were conducted after the debate. Although pollsters released dozens and dozens of polls over the weekend in anticipation of the debate, there are probably a few pre-debate stragglers that will slip through.

Wall St. Journal reporters Laura Meckler, Allison Kite and Colleen McCain Nelson report on the results of a focus group of undecided voters viewing thew debate in Cleveland conducted by Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis. “At the end of the debate, 11 people said Mrs. Clinton won, no one said Mr. Trump won, and 17 people said neither candidate won.”

At The Daily 202, James Hohman adds,

Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group of undecided voters in Pennsylvania. Sixteen said Hillary Clinton won. Five picked Trump, per CBS News….

In a Florida focus group organized by CNN, 18 of 20 undecided voters picked Clinton as the winner.

…In a separate instant-poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, 51 percent said Clinton won and 40 percent picked Trump.

Eight in 10 insiders in the key battleground states thought Clinton performed better, including 57 percent of Republicans, according to the Politico Caucus survey.

Veteran Republican operative David Gergen, now a commentator, observed,

By all traditional standards of debate, Mrs. Clinton crushed. She carefully marshaled her arguments and facts and then sent them into battle with a smile. She rolled out a long list of indictments against Donald Trump, often damaging. By contrast, he came in unprepared, had nothing fresh to say, and increasingly gave way to rants. As the evening ended, the media buried him in criticisms.

“In the end, the lawyerly preparations paid off for Mrs Clinton, as she controlled the evening with forensic precision,” said BBC’s Anthony Zurcher. “While Trump had a strategy – and pursued it on occasion – he was often blown off course by the former secretary of state and torpedoed by his own sometimes badgering performance.”

Crediting Trump with “advantage in some of the debate’s early exchanges, John Cassidy writes at The New Yorker that, “As the night wore on, and as the discussions got more detailed, his lack of respect for the format got him into all sorts of trouble.”

Among Clinton’s more effective responses, her comment on Trump’s hidden tax forms resonates: “I think probably he’s not all that enthusiastic about having the rest of our country see what the real reasons are, because it must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide…So you’ve got to ask yourself: Why won’t he release his tax returns? Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is … maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.”

Cassidy notes further,

Here, you’d expect the target of the attack to sense the danger. Evidently, Trump didn’t. Having interrupted Clinton during most of her previous answers, he did so again. “That makes me smart,” he said.

Even on Twitter, where people were pulling apart Trump’s words with the relish of a class of third graders dissecting a worm, it took a few seconds for this statement to sink in. Had he really just boasted that he didn’t pay any federal taxes? Indeed, he had.

And that wasn’t the end of it. After Clinton pointed out the implications of Trump’s boast—“So if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health”—Holt changed the subject and asked about her e-mails. She said what she has said before: that setting up a private e-mail server while serving as Secretary of State was a mistake, for which she accepted responsibility.

Clinton scored another zinger on the topic later on, after Trump said America was broke because of big spending by liberals like Clinton. She who responded with “And maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years.”

Clinton also wounded Trump with his largest constituency: As Cassidy recounts,

I have met a lot of the people who were stiffed by you and your businesses, Donald,” Clinton said, baldly but calmly. “I’ve met dishwashers, painters, architects, glass installers, marble installers, drapery installers—like my dad was—who you refused to pay when they finished the work that you asked them to do. We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your club houses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid, what he was charging you to do.

Addressing Trump’s six bankruptcies, Clinton responded “There are a lot of great businesspeople that have never taken bankruptcy once.” Cassidy adds,

Trump simply couldn’t zip it and move on. “I built an unbelievable company, some of the greatest assets anywhere in the world,” he said. Then, referring to the bankruptcies, he added, “Four times … we used certain laws that are there. And when Secretary Clinton talks about people that didn’t get paid, first of all, they did get paid a lot, but [I’ve] taken advantage of the laws of the nation.”

It will be interesting to see how Trump’s defense of screwing his blue collar subcontractors plays with   working-class voters.

TDS managing editor Ed Kilgore summed up Clinton’s win at New York Magazine:

Hillary Clinton exceeded the very high bar the news media set for her and won on style (smooth versus incoherent), on substance (on stop-and-frisk, on ISIS, on birtherism, on tax returns, on tax policy, on NATO, on Trump’s business record), on endurance, and on visuals. It’s hard to find a topic on which Trump scored a clean point.

Trump was especially ridiculous when he bragged about his temperament, and one of  the best zingers of the evening, came towards the end of the debate, when Clinton responded to Trump’s put-down about Clinton’s “stamina”:

As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee he can talk to me about stamina.

Through it all, Clinton appeared calm and focused, while Trump seemed agitated, as he struggled with a case of the sniffles. Many commentators noted his stark lack of preparation for the debate in comparison to his adversary, and not a few saw it as an indication that he was poorly-prepared to serve as president.


Political Strategy Notes – First 2016 Presidential Debate Edition

At The Daily Beast Democratic speechwriters/strategists Kenneth Baer and Jeffrey Nussbaum have a suggestion for the Democratic nominee in their post, “Here’s Hillary’s Debate Knockout Punch—Will She Use It?: When the topic is cultural politics, Trump bites back. But when it’s class politics, his answers are lame—or he’s just silent. Therein lies the key.” Among their insights: “A little over a week ago, that ex-pugilist, Senator Harry Reid, leveled a blistering attack on Donald Trump as a “scam artist” who “rips off working people” and is hiding his tax returns, playing footsy with Vladimir Putin, and running a fake charity all to enrich himself…Trump’s response? Silence. It’s amazing to think that there’s anything that will quiet Trump, but after examining the political campaign to date, it’s clear that Donald Trump is well aware of what attacks hurt him, and which ones don’t. Trump’s tell is simple: he ignores the attacks he can’t parry, the ones that could open a conversation that would hurt him with the voters who (currently) support him most strongly.”

USA Today’s Heidi M. Przybyla lists “5 things Hillary Clinton needs to do on debate night,” including: “play offense”; “Be more likeable”; “Outline a positive vision”; “go off script”; and “Have a compelling answer about Iraq and Syria.” At Roll Call, Jonathan Allen offers “Five Objectives for Hillary Clinton in the Debates,” including: 1. Tell us what you’ll do for the country; 2. Let baby Donald hide behind your skirt; 3. Destroy Trump’s economic message; 4. Talk tougher on national security; and 5. Stop talking in paragraphs and pauses. Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line “Clinton can win the debate even if Trump doesn’t act unhinged. Here’s how,” and suggests, “Job One for Clinton is to project as much steadiness, sobriety of purpose, and mastery of complex issues as possible, on the theory that voters will reward the candidate who actually takes the debates seriously as a proving ground for the excruciating pressures and brutally tough choices required of a president.”

“With by far the largest debate audience in history expected, working the refs could have an unusually rich payoff for the perceived “winner.” But the race is going to have to wind up being very close for a single debate to really matter. In the end, it did not in 2012.” — from Ed Kilgore’s New York Magazine post, “These Are the Lessons To Take — and Not To Take — From the First Debate in 2012

New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg sees the first presidential debate, conducted by Lester Holt, a registered Republican, as “A Moment of Truth for Presidential Debate Moderators.” Rutenberg writes, “Can the moderators this fall turn their debate stages into falsehood-free zones? What does that look like in this election? Debate organizers say they want to avoid a situation in which the debate becomes one big fact-checking or hectoring exercise and never gets to important policy differences…Nobody wants a repeat of Matt Lauer’s performance a couple of weeks ago when he let Mr. Trump’s claim that he always opposed the Iraq war go unchallenged …Actually, scratch that. One person does — Mr. Trump, who portrayed critics of Mr. Lauer as liberals seeking to push debate moderators to be tougher on him than on Mrs. Clinton.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “Debate Monitors Shouldn’t Duck“: “Holt and his colleagues Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace need to keep in mind that they are far more affluent than most of the people watching the debates. They should think hard about what life is like for those — from Appalachia to Compton, Calif., from the working class in Youngstown, Ohio, to the farm workers in Immokalee, Fla. — who find themselves in less comfortable circumstances than those at the media’s commanding heights…I want Trump pressed about whether foreign interests have helped prop up his business empire and then asked how voters can possibly judge the truthfulness of his answer if he refuses to release any tax returns…In the short term, I’d be worried that the talk of Trump’s “low expectations”at the first debate is a tip-off that the media hivemind might frame a debate tie as a Trump win.”

In “Election Update: Where The Race Stands Heading Into The First Debate,” Nate Silver sets the statistical stage for tonight’s debate. “…Clinton is a pretty good bet at even-money. As of Sunday morning, she’s a 58 percent favorite according to both our polls-only and polls-plus models…FiveThirtyEight shows somewhat better odds for Trump than most other forecast models. Not all 2-point leads are created equal, and Clinton’s is on the less-safe side, certainly as compared with the roughly 2-point lead that President Obama had over Mitt Romney on the eve of the 2012 election…about 18 percent of the electorate isn’t yet committed to one of the major-party candidates, as compared with 6 percent late in 2012.1 The number of undecided and third-party voters has a strong historical correlation with both polling volatility and polling error — and in fact, the polls have been considerably more volatile this year than in 2012.”

Meanwhile, “Trump is trying to rig the debate by kneecapping Lester Holt,” argues Colbert I. King at Post Politics. “Holding them both to the same standard should do the trick. Anticipating tricks from Trump, a master trickster, is Holt’s challenge. Good refs know the game, and the characters out to game the system…Trump’s public argument being that Holt will throw off the debate if he tries to correct Trump. Trump’s objective: reduce Holt to a potted plant in the moderator’s chair.”

At Vox, Dara Lind explores “The real reason debate moderators don’t want to fact-check Donald Trump” and notes, “…On the eve of the first debate, the head of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Janet Brown, crushed those daydreams into finely ground dust…”I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica,” she told CNN. In her view, it’s the candidates’ job to fact-check each other — not the moderator’s job to fact check them.” However, the monitors absolutely should badger the candidates to answer the question at hand. No free passes.

CNN reports that the first debate will “likely be the most-watched political event in history.” A cord-cutter alert from Daily Beast’s Amelia Warshaw: “All the major news networks will also be offering free live streams in addition to those provided by YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter. Viewers without a cable subscription can view the debate live on CNN.com, for free and without a cable provider login.”


DCORPS: CONSOLIDATING DEMOCRATS – THE STRATEGY THAT GIVES A GOVERNING MAJORITY

The following article is cross-posted from DCorps:

On the eve of the first major presidential debate, the latest likely voter survey of the battleground states on behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund shows Hillary Clinton settled into a strong lead in Pennsylvania, a modest one in North Carolina, and essentially tied in Ohio and Nevada.[1] Her overall margin has narrowed from where we had it across the battleground in June. Nothing comes easily in this election year, but the Clinton margin should grow from the structure of the race revealed in this analysis. In the two-person ballot, her margin grows 2-points to a 5-point lead across these states and she takes the lead in Nevada. And if the 3rd party candidates weaken, as is normal, Clinton disproportionately benefits.

 

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The structure of the race

This survey shows why the presidential race in the battleground has tightened, but also why it is likely to widen back up. Trump’s better margins come from some consolidation of base Republicans and Clinton has lost support to 3rd party candidates in the wake of the campaign’s travails. Trump continues to earn overwhelming and intense support with white working class men who are making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition. Over three-quarters of white non-college men say the country is on the wrong track, making them the most pessimistic voters in the country. An equal number are casting a ballot for Trump, as they make disappointment known.  But as we shall see, even extraordinary turnout from these voters cannot tip the Clinton states to Trump.

Clinton still wins the Electoral College majority, however, because of her stable support with parts of the Rising American Electorate and her inroads with other swing groups. The unmarried woman and minorities at the heart of the RAE are voting for Clinton in force. Three-quarters of minorities are voting for Clinton in these battleground states, she is getting 62 percent with unmarried women and is even winning the majority of white unmarried women (52 Clinton to 31 percent for Trump). Right now, unmarried women are showing respectable levels of voter engagement. In this poll, unmarried women and Democrats fall just 2-3 points below Republicans in saying this election matters tremendously.

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But Clinton is also over-performing with college graduates, suburban voters and the white working class women who are put off by Trump.  That is a big part of the story.

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Donald Trump’s vote, on the other hand, is driven primarily by the white working class men who are voting for him 63 to 18. They are making their discontent known by pulling away from Clinton and making themselves the backbone of the Republican presidential coalition; they are 30 percent of the Trump vote.

But in this new America, they would have to increase their share of the vote from 16 to 25 percent in North Carolina, 15 to 17 percent in Nevada, and 20 to 31 percent in Pennsylvania, all else being equal, to put Trump ahead in those states.

Incomplete partisan consolidation

The incomplete consolidation of Democratic partisans for Clinton and the weak consolidation of Clinton voters for Senate and House candidates are the main reason Democrats down-ballot are falling short of their potential at this point. Clinton is getting 87 percent of Democrats, short of the 92 percent Obama had in these states in 2012. She only gets 77 percent of Obama voters and 78 percent of those who approve of Obama.

Clinton will likely benefit disproportionately if the race becomes more polarized. In the two-way ballot she gets 93 percent of Democratic voters. So, she clearly has the potential to drive up her margin with partisans.

Trump does not have such an opportunity. He currently gets 82 percent of Republicans, certainly up from our earlier surveys. However, his vote in the two-way ballot leaves him at just 86 percent of the vote in the GOP base. There are 14 percent in the Republican Party who just won’t vote for him. Those holdouts are concentrated among the moderate Republicans[2] where he is getting only 60 percent of the vote. One-quarter are voting for a 3rd party candidate (22 percent for Johnson) and 10 percent are casting ballots for Clinton. Furthermore, there is a halo effect for Clinton, who enjoys a 57 percent recall among Democratic primary voters, but not for Trump among Republicans. He is topped out within his base.

Potential Democratic consolidation creates this campaign’s target groups

The starting target is the 18 percent of the Democratic voters who are holding back from Hillary Clinton. These target Democrats are change voters: three-quarters say the country is on the wrong path. Well over 60 percent have unfavorable views of both Clinton and Trump, though they feel very positively about President Obama.

Millennials are at the center of the story. They comprise nearly four-in-ten of these unconsolidated Democrats. They form a parallel story to the disaffected white men. They want change, and 61 percent say this country is off on the wrong track. They are in an anti-establishment mood, and one-third of millennials are now not voting for a major party candidate. Clinton is only getting 40 percent of the millennial vote in a 4-way ballot. She is particularly struggling with the white millennials where she is running even with Trump – 33 Clinton to 32 Trump, with 28 percent voting for 3rd party candidates.

Consolidating Democrats and winning races 

The incomplete consolidation of the Democratic Party at the top of the ballot is exaggerated down-ballot, and that creates a huge opportunity. That will also impact what messages can really move the vote. Only 62 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents are voting for the Democratic Senate candidate. That means that there is a big bloc of 15 percent of the electorate in these states who are voting for Clinton but not Democrats in these key federal races.

Clinton widening her lead and winning states and Democrats making gains in the Senate and House depends on the right strategy and messages for reaching these voters. We tested one on GOP extremism, one linking Republican candidates to Trump and one offering a positive Democratic economic message.

Democrats, millennials and Democratic target voters are desperate to hear where the Democratic candidates want to lead the country. The message that consolidates Democrats more than any other tested in this survey is one that offers a clear positive economic agenda.  It says that Democrats have a plan for the economy, and that to get these things done, we need a Democratic majority in Congress.

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A big majority of 61 percent found this to be a convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidate for Senate, 29 percent said it was very convincing. But it was particularly well-received by the groups we are trying to consolidate. Over half of them said it was a very convincing reason to vote for the Democratic candidates.

An attack on Republican candidates for Trump as their party’s nominee is not as successful. It gets a strong response, but it is weakened by the fact that a plurality of voters think the GOP is divided and many candidates in his own party do not support him. Also, it simply does not lead to people consolidating their vote behind Democrats.

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But it is clear that the greatest gains down-ballot, and at the top of the ticket, come when voters hear the Democrats offer a positive vision for where they will take the country and how they will change an economy that only enriches the few. It puts them on the side of change and a better future.

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Conclusion

The race has tightened but Hillary Clinton is leading in the presidential battleground due to her strong support from unmarried women, minorities, and swing groups turned off by Donald Trump. There is still room for the Democrats to consolidate, however, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot. Democratic targets for consolidation are eager to hear more about what Democratic candidates will do if elected. A message that argues for a Democrat majority to execute a progressive economic agenda moves unconsolidated Democrats to vote for their party candidate, both at the top of the ticket and down-ballot.


[1]On behalf of Women’s Voices. Women Vote Action Fund, Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner fielded this survey of 1,600 likely voters across 4 competitive battleground states on September 10-19, 2016. Respondents were divided equally among states (n=400) of North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The states were weighted proportional to their vote share. Fifty one percent of respondents were reached by cell phone, in order to account for ever-changing demographics and accurately sample the full electorate in each state. Margin of error for the full sample = +/-2.45 percentage points at 95% confidence.  Margin of error for each state sample= +/-4.90 percentage points at 95% confidence.   

[2] Republicans who say they are liberal or moderate on ideology. They are more than one-third of base Republicans and only one-quarter are voting for Trump. They are 37 percent of the Johnson vote.