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Did Facebook Just Cave to the GOP?

Yesterday J.P. Green noted an article in Campaigns & Elections underscoring the high regard Repubican party political operatives have for Facebook as a media outlet for their ads — despite the efforts of Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to discredit Facebook as tainted by liberal bias.
But Thune’s record suggests more than a little hypocrisy, as Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog:

…John Thune says he’s concerned about Facebook’s “culture” and the integrity of its mission statement, but again, how in the world is that any of his business? Isn’t the Republican model based on the idea that the free market should decide and if online consumers don’t like Facebook’s “culture,” we can take our clicks elsewhere?
But even more striking still is Thune’s uniquely weak position. When the South Dakota Republican became Congress’ leading opponent of net neutrality, Thune made the case that any political interference in how the Internet operates is inherently unacceptable.
Worse, in 2007, Thune railed against the “Fairness Doctrine,” arguing at the time, “I know the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I hear government officials offering to regulate the news media and talk radio to ensure fairness. I think most Americans have the same reaction.”

For the sake of argument, so what if Facebook had more “liiberal” content? Fox News, Breitbart and the Drudge Report display relentless conservative bias every day, and no Senators are trying to intimidate them to change their polices to reflect a more liberal point of view. Not all media has to be nonpartisan.
But Facebook has 1.6 billion “users,” and dwarfs all other websites in some key metrics that measure influence, which explain Thune’s meddling.
In reality, however, the political content of Facebook is mostly determined by the public, as its “users” choose which articles, videos and other content to share with their FB friends. It’s different for every user, from moment to moment. Liberals see mostly liberal content, and the same principle applies for both conservatives and moderates. Facebook does provide a powerful forum for peer-to-peer political education. But everyone can choose what to read and view and what to ignore, and that includes content spotlighted by Facebook’s administrators and staff.
But Brian Fung’s Washington Post article, “Facebook is making some big changes to Trending Topics, responding to conservatives” raises a disturbing possibility that facebook is caving to political pressure. As Fung reports,

Facebook said Monday it will stop relying as much on other news outlets to inform what goes into its Trending Topics section — a part of Facebook’s website that despite its small size has grown into a national political controversy amid accusations that the social network is stifling conservative voices on its platform.
Under the change, Facebook will discontinue the algorithmic analysis of media organizations’ websites and digital news feeds that partly determines which stories should be included in Trending Topics. Also being thrown out is a list of 1,000 journalism outlets that currently helps Facebook’s curators evaluate and describe the newsworthiness of potential topics, as well as a more exclusive list of 10 news sites that includes BuzzFeed News, the Guardian, the New York Times and The Washington Post.
…Facebook’s policy change Monday appears to be aimed at defusing the palpable tension between it and Republicans outraged over reports that Facebook’s Trending Topics could be biased against conservatives. Facebook’s announcement ending the scraping of news sites and RSS feeds for Trending Topics came in a response to Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Thune demanded on May 10 that Facebook answer a series of questions in light of the mounting outcry over the perceived bias.

Facebook has reponded that “Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission and our business objectives.” But the changes regarding the selection of ‘Trending Topics” content suggest otherwise.
Most Facebook users will probably not notice much change in political slant and tone. That will still be largely determined by user posts. But the possibility that Facebook’s content policy can be influenced by political intimidation, especially from the politician who leads the opposition to net neurtrality, is disturbing.


Candidates: Start Planning Now For The Day After Elections.

July is the month when voter contact and door-to-door canvassing shifts into high gear in preparation for the election just four months away. But the biggest mistake Democrats continually make in their political campaigns is to focus only on the immediate election and not on what happens the day after.

Every election cycle, the day after the voting ends the campaign offices of Democratic candidates are closed, volunteers are disbanded and, aside from being used to send out an occasional e-mail message, supporters contact information is stored away in file cabinets and hard drives until the next election.

This is a huge mistake.

Democrats should think about ways to insure that the organizing they do during the campaign will be carried on after Election Day and form a solid and ongoing foundation for future campaigns–either by the candidate or by other Democrats who follow in his or her footsteps.

As historian-activist Lara Putnam said in a recent article in Democracy Journal:

The short-sightedness baked into current Democratic Party strategy means that even when campaigns get the canvassing right, they miss the chance to build. [Conor] Lamb volunteers had tens of thousands of conversations with potential voters in southwest Penn this winter. None of these conversations ended with “there’s a group of us meeting monthly down at the library. We’d love to see you there.

Here Are the Steps Candidates Should Take

  1. Tell the volunteers and door-knockers that the network of volunteers and supporters that is being built up will not disappear after November–and have them pass that message to all the people that they talk to. Let people know that the campaign is seriously committed to the long haul. You yourself might not run again but someone else will and the organizing you do in your campaign can be the vital and essential foundation for their later run.

2. Find a person who wants to continue to be active after November and designate them as a point person for after Election Day activities. Whenever someone wants to know what will be going on after the election, you should be able to say “Go talk to Jane or to Joe. They’ll know”. Give the person you select a campaign social media account or phone number so people seeking post-election activities can get in touch with them. Preserve and modify the campaign website and Facebook page for post-election messaging.

3. Start now to identify community gathering points where supporters and volunteers can meet and plan continuing activities after the election. A real-world “clubhouse” is the anchor that holds a community of organizers together. All sorts of places can play this role–restaurants, bars, bookstores, libraries, churches, community centers and often people’s living rooms. The fundamental fact to keep in mind is that keeping grass roots political networks alive and growing requires regular personal contact and socializing. It is the friendships that are made during activities and the connections and camaraderie that results that creates the bonds that cement and holds together a grass roots campaign organization after an election is over.

4. Don’t think only about organizing activities that are specifically focused on politics. Successful organizations include a steady flow of purely social events. In small, old fashioned towns these could be picnics, bowling tournaments, street fairs, barbeques, square dances or family fishing tournaments. In more hip districts the activities could be local art shows, independent film screenings, book club gatherings, and lectures at local universities or wine tastings. In every kind of district there are various outdoor and sporting activities that are always popular–activities ranging from hikes and bike rides to basketball games, snowshoe treks in winter and kayak and canoe trips in spring.
This social element of grass roots organizations is the key to success. The NRA has always understood this and their useful firearm safety courses were the traditional foundation of the organization. Churches, of course, have always had social events, and the Christian Right used those gatherings as central organizing targets in their campaigns.

In fact, in the past the Democratic Party also understood the importance of regular social events. Consider this description of the early 20th century Democratic “machine”:

Politics under the machine was an urban festival, with picnics and chowders, boat rides, excursions to the country or the new amusement parks, balls and cotillions, block dances, and “beefsteaks,” atavistic rituals in which men donned aprons and devoured endless amounts of buttered steak with their teeth and hands.

5. One important approach that can very effectively expand the reach and influence of a political campaign organization is participating in local community volunteer activities. These can range from cleaning up a stream to planting trees or gardens, helping the homebound elderly or tutoring elementary school kids. This kind of activity need not, and indeed should not, be limited to projects conducted jointly with traditional Democratic allies like environmental groups or low income advocacy organizations. There are many neighborhood problems that are not usually associated with Democrats but where a campaign can participate like assisting in the organization of neighborhood watch programs in areas where car break-ins and mailbox theft are common. Modern neighborhood websites like Nextdoor.com can provide an up to the minute picture of local neighborhood issues and concerns.

Above all, however, outreach should be firmly based on the principle that it is the real needs of the community, not any preselected menu of options that should determine the kinds of activities that campaign organizations should try to engage in.

6. Campaign organizations should also pay particular attention to working with churches and other religious institutions. These have been major centers of support and recruitment for conservatives and the GOP since the 1980’s, even though many of their members are not genuinely committed Republicans or conservatives and many of their community activities have a firmly non- partisan flavor. Don’t view them solely as places to push a Democratic or a candidate centered message. Have campaign members’ support and join in their community activities as neighbors and friends rather than political activists and let political influence develop naturally and organically out of shared activity.

7. Finally, after the elections candidates should take the time to establish working relationships between their post-campaign organizations and the local and state Democratic party, existing progressive grass roots groups (such as labor unions like SIEU) and with the campaign supporters of other Democratic candidates. The nature of these relationships will vary in different districts and at different levels of politics but in all cases democratic campaigns should seek to avoid allowing their supporters to become isolated after the election from other pro-Democratic groups and campaigns that are also engaging in ongoing organizing.


Political Strategy Notes

“An electoral strategy that prioritizes high-tech areas and inner-ring suburbs faces daunting demographic math when applied nationwide. It has left liberalism in a historically weak political position, write Lily Geismer, author of “Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party” and Matthew D. Lassiter, author of “The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South,” in their New York Times op-ed, Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost. “Democrats haven’t paid enough attention to the substantial policy costs of turning affluent suburbs blue. That focus has failed to reverse the downward mobility of middle-income households and openly favored upscale communities without addressing economic and racial inequality…The Democratic fixation on upscale white suburbs also distorts policies and diverts resources that could generate higher turnout among nonwhite voting blocs that are crucial to the party’s fortunes and too often taken for granted. It should not be that hard for liberalism to challenge the Republican tax scheme to redistribute income upward, and build on Mr. Obama’s important but inadequate health care reform, with policy solutions that address the real diversity of American suburbia.”

Thomas B. Edsall has an instructive column about the drastic decline of worker rights in America at The New York Times, entitled “The Class Struggle According to Donald Trump.” Edsall draws from a range of scholarly studies and sources to illuminate the ways workers are increasingy restricted by “noncompete” and no-raid” agreements that severely restrict the mobility of an estimated 30 million workers in the U.S. Edsall also recounts the devastating effects of “alternative work arrangements ” (24 million workers in “temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers”) mandatory arbitration and spreading anti-union policies in the labor force. As for the Trump Administration’s role in American worklife, Edsall writes, “Trump campaigned as the ally of the white working class, but any notion that he would take its side as it faces off against employers is a gross misjudgment. His administration has turned the executive branch, the federal courts and the regulatory agencies into the sworn enemy of workers, organized and unorganized. Trump is indisputably indifferent to the plight of anyone in the bottom half of the income distribution: look at his appointments, look at his record in office, look back at his business career and look at the man himself.”

Net Neutrality is history starting today. As Daniel Politi writes at slate.com, “The repeal of the rules known as net neutrality, which essentially prohibit internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to certain websites, is officially set to take effect on Monday. Lawmakers and state officials are working to try to reinstate the rules shortly so the change may not be long-lived but that doesn’t change the fact that starting June 11, internet service providers will be much freer to block, speed up or slow down access to certain content…Online protests are expected on Monday to call attention to the issue as activists focus on lobbying the House of Representatives, where lawmakers still haven’t taken up a measure that would restore net neutrality. The measure passed the Senate on May 16 but the House is still around 50 votes short. Democrats have been pushing for a vote to get everyone’s position on the record, thinking it could become a key issue in midterm elections.” Smart Democratic candidates will make sure their constituents know who to blame for this attack against free speech — Republicans.

Michael Scherer’s “Should Democrats find a Trump of their own? Political outsiders find little room in 2020 presidential field” at The Washington Post considers some possible “outside the box” presidential candidates for Democrats, including Starbuck’s departing chairman, Howard Schultz, talk show star Oprah Winfrey, Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, Disney’s Bob Iger, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and liberal financier Tom Steyer. Thing is, none of these potential candidates are far outside the corporate box. Cuban said last year that he would rather run as a Repubican. Schultz has even proposed cutting “entitlements” and opposes single-payer health care, which is becomming more popular with Democratic rank and file and elected officials. But credit the best quote in the article to Steyer, who says “As far as I am concerned, anybody who is thinking about 2020 is taking their eye off the ball.”

One of the GOP’s favorite targets is billionaire philanthropist, author and progressive activist George Soros, who has been a generous contributor to Democratic candidates and progressive causes, as well as a broad range of non-partisan humanitarian causes. In his Post Politics article, “‘I must be doing something right’: Billionaire George Soros faces renewed attacks with defiance,” Michael Kranish notes that Soros gave $25 million to mobilize Democratic voters in 2016 and plans to spend another $15 million supporting candidates this year. “This cycle, Soros has focused his political investments on congressional races and mobilizing voters on the left. His largest donation this year has been $5 million to Win Justice, a voter-mobilization group focused on minorities, women and young voters in Florida, Michigan and Nevada.” In addition, “His New York-based Open Society Foundations now spends $940 million a year in 100 countries, promoting values such as free speech and free elections.” Soros is arguably the most important and generaous progressive donor of our times, and the Democratic party would have a tough time of it, without his contributions as a counter-weight to the billions of dollars the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other conservative sugar-daddies have lavished on Republican candidates.

At The Plum Line, Paul Waldman writes that “the Trump administration has told the public that they want to make things much, much worse. Not only may health insurance continue getting less affordable, they even want to take away the pre-existing conditions protection you now enjoy, all while they’re working hard to destabilize the private insurance market…Indeed, polls have shown over and over again that the policy issue most on voters’ minds right now is health care. In Virginia’s 2017 elections, for instance, exit polls showed health care far and away the most important issue for voters, and those who said it was their top issue picked Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie in the governor’s race by a margin of 77-22 percent. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll also found that health care is voters’ top issue. As much as president Trump may dominate the headlines, the increasing cost of care is weighing heavily on voters…Take a moment to marvel at the position the administration has taken: They think insurance companies should once again be able to deny you coverage or charge you outrageous premiums because you have a pre-existing condition….If Democrats don’t repeat that sentence a thousand times a day between now and November, they’re nuts.”

Waldman takes a step back to ponder the irony of Republicans inadvertantly taking steps to discredit privatized health insurance and replace it with a more socialized system. “There’s an old Marxist idea that sometimes you need to “heighten the contradictions,” making the problems of the current system even worse so you can more quickly bring about the revolution that will replace that system with something better. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that today’s Republican Party is doing just that on the issue of health care, in the service of exactly the kind of big-government universal program they claim to despise…Republicans seem determined not only to make American health care more inefficient and cruel in every way they can think of, but to do it while making themselves as unpopular as possible. That could both bring about the political victory of their enemies the Democrats, and create the conditions for those Democrats to pass a universal coverage program. It’s quite an extraordinary strategy.” And if Democrats succeed, “it will be in no small part because Republicans made voters so disgusted with the existing health care system and afraid for their own health security that they’re willing to support radical change.”

In her post, “How Democrats plan to pitch their economic agenda in a strong economy,” at vox.com, Ella Nilsen writes,”Trump’s approval rating is at historic lows, but one thing he has going for him is a good economy. This is key to Trump’s message: He was elected in a wave of economic anxiety, especially in white, rural areas where manufacturing jobs had disappeared…Questions linger over how much a strong economy can help Republicans win in the midterms. That’s because historically, the economy matters much less in a midterm than it does in a presidential year… Take, for instance, the 2006 midterms, when the economy was good pre-2008 recession and Republicans were in power. They were still swept out of office by the Democrats. The opposite thing happened in 2014, when the economy was steadily improving yet Democrats lost control of the Senate and ceded ground in the House.” Trump’s penchant for rolling out daily distractions to deflect coverage of the Mueller probe may also crowd out “‘good economy’ stories.

Georgia’s Democratic candidate for Governor Stacy Abrams just got a nice gift from the GOP frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, as Ed Kilgore explains at New York Magazine: “It’s not often that you see a seasoned politician go into a meeting with a political rival and insist he flipped-flopped on a key policy issue for dishonorable reasons. But that’s what Georgia’s longtime lieutenant governor and current gubernatorial candidate Casey Cagle did, according to a transcript published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: ‘Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told executive Clay Tippins he supported “bad public policy” to deprive another rival of supposed help from an outside group, in a recording obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News…Cagle’s conversation with Tippins, who finished fourth in the race, took place two days after the May 22 primary in Cagle’s campaign headquarters in DeKalb County. It was surreptitiously recorded on Tippins’ phone, which was in his coat pocket.” Of course it remains to be seen if Georgia voters have a high enough tolerance for such shenanigans to elect Cagle or his clownish Republican run-off opponent, Brian Kemp, who has a couple of messes of his own to explain to voters. Either way, Abrams will enjoy the GOP’s demolition derby, and she could get a bump from swing voters, few as they may be in Georgia.


Political Strategy Notes – Democratic Midterm Primary Super Tuesday

“The night’s biggest headline,” writes Ronald Brownstein at The Atlantic, “was that the Democrats appear to have placed candidates for November in all of the California congressional districts where they feared being locked out by the state’s unusual top-two primary system. That unexpected outcome—reinforced by the party’s success at nominating its preferred candidate in each competitive seat in New Jersey—means the Democrats still have an opportunity to recapture the House this fall, primarily by winning seats in states that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016…After their apparent success in California, Democrats can come close to retaking the House majority just by sweeping away the last remaining Republicans in otherwise Democratic-leaning states…At the same time, Republicans are positioned to defend or expand their majority in the Senate if they can beat some of the 10 Democrats defending seats in states that voted for Trump over Clinton. The GOP has chosen strong challengers in those states that have selected nominees so far, a pattern that continued Tuesday with the victory of Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, the favorite of party and conservative-group leaders, for the Republican Senate nomination against Democrat Jon Tester.”

Democratic voter turnout in southern California was significantly increased over the 2014 midterm elections. As Brownstein explains, “”Overall, the California primary generated a very modest turnout: Though the final vote count will increase the total, the secretary of state reported Wednesday that only about one in five registered voters participated. But Democratic candidates on Tuesday tallied significantly more votes in each of the crucial LA-area seats than their counterparts did in 2014, the last midterm primary…For instance: Democrats on Tuesday amassed nearly 37,000 votes in the congressional district north of Los Angeles held by Republican Steve Knight. That compares to only about 20,000 votes in 2014. The overall increase was similar in Democrat Gil Cisneros’s win in the Orange County seat that Republican Representative Ed Royce is vacating…None of these LA-area districts are sure things for Democrats in November, and the primary results underscored the party’s continuing challenge of mobilizing young and minority voters in midterm elections. But the big Democratic-turnout gains around Los Angeles underscore how far the party can progress toward retaking the House just by channeling the resistance to Trump in the places that have been most dubious of him from the start.”

Brownstein notes, further, “The Cook Political Report’s nonpartisan rankings show that many of the Democrats’ top House opportunities are concentrated in blue states; among the seats that Cook rates as toss-ups or leaning toward the Democrats are five in California; three in New Jersey; two each in New York, Illinois, and Minnesota; and one each in Colorado, Virginia, and Washington. Cook rates another five seats in Pennsylvania, which Trump carried by only about 40,000 votes, as toss-ups or Democrat-leaning. Democrats also have a more long-shot chance at 10 GOP-held House seats in Clinton states that the Cookrankings rate as Republican-leaning…For Democrats, those blue-state seats may be more promising than their comparable openings in otherwise red states (such as the suburban seats around Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta), simply because the overall local environment remains so much more hostile to Trump.”

G. Elliot Morris, a data journalist for The Economist, offers a graph-rich, daily-updated midterm prediction at his blog, The Crosstab. The latest: “In my projection of the Election Day vote share, based on polls of the generic ballot and the swing toward Democrats in special elections, the Democratic Party is ahead, winning by 8.8% of the vote share on average. The margin of error is roughly 6% points…Democrats earn a median of 227 seats in our simulations of the 2018 midterms. This may differ from the strict predictions below because of the larger number of Lean Republican seats than Lean Democratic seats in the current Congress. Effectively we are saying that the below number is an ideal estimate, meant to give you context as to which seats are competitive, but that we expect Democrats to overperform expectations based on the assessment of our error in past predictions…Democrats have a 62.9 percent chance of winning a House majority on November 6th, 2018.” Morris’s methodology: “My forecast of the election day vote works in three stages. First, I average all of the generic ballot polls with an algorithm designed to produce the most predictive average for each week in the cycle. Second, I use that average to predict the most likely election day polling average for Republicans, Democrats, other parties and undecided voters. Finally, I combine the projected Democratic margin in election day polls with Democrats’ average performance in special elections between 2017 and 2018 to predict the outcome of the vote on election day.”

Noting Morriss’s analysis, Brownstein’s article and other sources, Ruy Teixeira adds in his FB post, “Democrats Looking Good for House Takeover, “The primary results from this Tuesday indicate that the Democrats remain in a good position to take back the House this November. They avoided the dreaded top two “lockout” in key California House races and now are positioned to compete in all the races where they have a chance to win. Primaries in other states like New Jersey produced strong candidates for the fall…Just how good are the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House at this point? The Economist model is now at 68 percent. Another model (linked to below) from G. Elliott Morris’ Crosstab site has Democrats’ chances at 63 percent. The recently-rolled out CBS Battleground Tracker model has it close to even with a slight Democratic advantage. Ditto Nate Cohn at the NYT. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has it pretty much even-steven…Hold on to your popcorn! But this Tuesday definitely keeps the Democrats on track.”

From “Women Won Big In Tuesday’s Primary Elections” by Willa Frej at HuffPo: “A record-breaking number of women are running for ― and winning ― spots on ballots in this year’s primary elections. Of the 92 women who participated in Tuesday’s eight primaries, at least 36 of them have emerged victorious…The overwhelming majority of women who ran were on the Democratic side of the aisle, she said, where they have a high likelihood of winning this fall if they’re running in largely Democratic districts…More than 500 women have so far filed to run in primaries this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. That number represents a 67 percent jump from 2016. More than 110 of those women have won their races, 30 of them in California alone. Most of the women running are Democrats, although one-third of Republican women running have also won their races…Many of these women credit President Donald Trump’s election and the potency of the Me Too movement with fueling their desire to run.” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List explained, “All that energy, which is still building, is going to lift Democrats up and down the ballot,” she said. “Women will be the reason Democrats win the House in November.”

NYT political reporters Carl Hulse and Jonathan Martin put it this way: “Democrats enhanced their prospects for winning control of the House with Tuesday’s coast-to-coast primary results, skirting potential calamity in California and lining up likely gains in New Jersey and possible victories in Iowa and New Mexico.” However, “But among the ballots that have been counted so far*, votes for Democratic candidates outnumber those for Republicans in only one district, the 49th, in Tuesday’s open primary elections…Republicans avoided their own worst-case scenario as well, securing a spot in the California governor’s race, which should help bring G.O.P. voters to the polls this fall to vote for their party’s House candidates. Republicans missed a slot on the ballot to challenge Senator Dianne Feinstein’s re-election bid, but a shutout in both California’s Senate race and its contest for governor could have severely depressed conservative turnout…Republican voters also chose strong candidates in Southern California for the showdown in November.”

In their post, “Top takeaways from 2018’s biggest primary night,” David Siders, Natasha Korecki, Carla Marinucci and Steven Shepard report at Politico that “The blowback for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other national Democrats who maneuvered in California’s House primaries was fierce. But as the votes were tallied Wednesday morning, it appeared that the party’s multipronged strategy — attacking Republicans, taking sides among Democrats and cajoling some other candidates to drop out — had paid off…if there’s a Democrat on the ballot in each of California’s 53 House districts in November, the party establishment in Washington will likely see its primary efforts as worth all the trouble.” It also appears that Democratic candidate for California Governor Gavin Newsom pulled off a modified version of ‘the McCaskill template,’ as the authors note: “Newsom and his supporters, hoping for an easy race against Cox instead of a difficult one against a Democrat, had aired ads reinforcing Cox’s conservative credentials for Republican voters.” Newsom’s win and his highly-likely ascension to the governorship of our largest state makes him a top ‘rising star’ in Democratic politics, as well as Tuesday’s biggest winner.

We’ll conclude this edition of Political Strategy Notes with this shamelessly optimistic excerpt from Michael Scherer’s “Democrats strengthen hand in seeking control of House, even if odds of a blue wave are diminishing” at The Washington Post: ““They have enough seats in play and enough quality candidates in those seats to win the majority,” said Nathan Gonzales, who handicaps House races for Inside Elections. “Democrats have done a good job of turning enthusiasm into a large number of candidates, of turning enthusiasm into fundraising,” Gonzalez said. “But now they have to turn that enthusiasm into votes because that is what is going to matter in November.”…Voters have cast primary ballots in 32 of the 56 Republican-held House districts most vulnerable to a Democratic takeover, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Of the 28 races that have been called, Democratic women have won in half the districts, with women leading the Democratic ticket Wednesday afternoon in one of the four remaining seats still being counted in California. The party’s nominees in these crucial districts also include six military veterans and seven nominees who are black, Latino or Asian…The winners include new political stars such as Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot running in Lexington, Ky., and Mikie Sherrill, a Navy pilot and former prosecutor running in northern New Jersey…Democrats also have benefited from a rare unity between the party’s wings. A predicted liberal Democratic rebellion has not materialized at the polls, in part because mainstream candidates have shifted to the left on policy.”


Political Strategy Notes

Democrats have tried with very limited success to make U.S. Supreme Court picks a pivotal issue in presidential elections. Perhaps Dems could do better with some targeted messaging about the importance of the far more numerous lower court picks. Conservative writer Hugh Hewitt, quoted in David Smith’s article, “How Donald Trump is weaponising the courts for political ends” at The Guardian puts the scope of the stakes in perspective: “By 2019, Trump judges will be participating in more than 15,000 decisions every year, and almost all those decisions will be the law of the land. There will be no fewer than 400 crucial case votes and dozens of signed opinions, each year, every year for most of the Trump judges.” Further, adds Smith, “With just over a year in office, Donald Trump has already appointed 21 of America’s 167 current circuit judges and intends to fill an additional 20 or more vacancies by the end of the year. He is far outpacing Barack Obama, whose 21st circuit court nominee was approved 33 months into his presidency amid gridlock in Congress. Seventeen of Trump’s nominees for district courts, most of whom replaced Democratic appointees, have also been approved by the Republican-controlled Senate…Trump’s judicial picks are profoundly shaped by the Federalist Society, a group of conservatives and libertarians who favour an “originalist” interpretation of the constitution, and the Heritage Foundation, a Washington thinktank where Newt Gingrich is a regular speaker and where Margaret Thatcher is lionised.”

“Although it is tempting for conservatives to assume that single-payer health care would be a nonstarter for most Americans, the idea polls pretty well,” concedes conservative David Thornton at The Resurgent. “A March 2018 poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation found 59 percent of Americans like the idea of Medicare-for-all. When the national health plan was made a voluntary option, the share of those in favor increased to 75 percent, including 64 percent of Republicans…Perhaps ominously for Republicans running against the idea, 74 percent of independents favored the idea of an optional national health insurance plan. The big question is how voters in swing House and Senate districts will view the idea.”

“From the rumored 2020 presidential challengers in the Senate to midterm candidates up and down the ballot, in both red and blue states and districts, the future of health care in America is shaping up as perhaps the central policy concern of 2018. The contours of the candidates’ messages might vary and, for many, the particulars of the path forward — how far, how fast — remain an open question. But there is little question, for Democrats in this cycle, which way is up…Capitol Hill, despite being home to a pair of Republican majorities, has become a stage for Democrats who, in less than two years, have rolled out at least five significant proposals for big ticket expansions of government-backed health care. That the legislation is dead on arrival in Trump’s Washington is beside the point. These are statements of intent and appeals to current and future voters…On the trail this year, candidates have swung at the issue from all angles. A scan of ads from congressional hopefuls reveals a diverse suite of tactics buttressed by a clear strategic decision to hammer Republicans over their efforts to gut Obamacare and either cut or complicate funding for programs like Medicaid.” — From “It’s health care, stupid! Democrats dig in as midterms ramp up” by Gregory Krieg and David Wright, at CNN Politics.

NYT’s Abby Goodnough reports some really good news, “After Years of Trying, Virginia Finally Will Expand Medicaid,” noting that: “Virginia’s Republican-controlled Senate voted on Wednesday to open Medicaid to an additional 400,000 low-income adults next year, making it all but certain that the state will join 32 others that have already expanded the public health insurance program under the Affordable Care Act…Republican lawmakers in the state had blocked Medicaid expansion for four straight years, but a number of them dropped their opposition after their party almost lost the House of Delegates in elections last fall and voters named health care as a top issue…Efforts to expand the program are actually gaining steam in some other Republican states. With midterm elections approaching, advocates in Idaho and Nebraska are trying to get Medicaid expansion initiatives on their ballots. Their state legislatures have repeatedly refused to expand the program. Utah’s measure officially qualified for the ballot on Tuesday, and officials in Idaho are determining whether supporters have gathered enough signatures for their question to qualify.” Virginia will soon be the poster state for showing how voting for Democratic Governors and state legislators can save lives.

Here’s a messaging tip from Sen. Sherrod Brown, quoted in Seth Masket’s “What Democratic candidates’ priorities say about the party’s direction” at Vox: “Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio talked about the need to listen to workers in places like, well, Ohio. Donald Trump won in places outside of urban areas that, according to Brown, he just had no place winning. Brown explained that what Democrats need to do to win back those voters is to talk about “the dignity of work.” He said even using terms like “the Rust Belt” to describe this region is offensive to this dignity: “It diminishes what we are, and it diminishes what we do.”

In her article, “Millennials take on Trump in the midterms: Younger candidates are flooding Democratic congressional primaries — and winning” at Politico, Elena Schneider writes, “At least 20 millennial Democratic candidates are running in battleground districts, a leap over previous cycles that could remake the party’s generational divide. “I don’t recall a cycle with anything close to this number of younger candidates in recent times,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic consultant who served as the deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Notably, younger candidates who actually have a good shot at winning – raising money, running professional campaigns.” And not a minute too soon for those who are concerned about the aging universe of Democratic office-holders. “Currently, the average age of a member of 115th Congress — nearly 58 years old in the House and nearly 62 years old in the Senate — is among the oldest of any Congress in recent history, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. The youngest member of Congress, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), will turn 34 in July.”

Juan Williams shares some revealing polling stats in his post, “Midterms will be referendum on Trump” at The Hill: “With less than six months to go to the midterm elections, Republicans think they have Democrats in an impeachment trap…Seventy percent of Democrats in recent polling from Quinnipiac University say they will vote for a midterm candidate who plans to impeach President Trump. But 84 percent of Republicans say they’re ready to oppose any candidate planning on impeachment…And overall, the Quinnipiac polling shows 55 percent of voters don’t want Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings…An April NPR/PBS/Marist survey found 47 percent voters would “definitely” vote against a candidate who campaigned on impeaching Trump while 42 percent said they would “definitely” vote for the candidate who ran on impeachment…Unless Trump fires the special prosecutor, talk of impeachment remains a sideshow. It is not going to decide the outcome in November…Trump is too big. The election will be a referendum on him.

Politicians of both parties are getting pretty creative in doing end-runs around the traditional media obstacle course, writes Sydney Ember in “Never Mind the News Media: Politicians Test Direct-to-Voter Messaging” at The New York Times: “Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, both running this year, have started podcasts, with humanizing names like “Canarycast” and “Plaidcast.”…Representative Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat making a long-shot bid to unseat Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is streaming his entire campaign live on Facebook. And many other politicians are now routinely Instagramming and Facebooking, tweeting and Snapchatting…These media methods have obvious appeal: Politicians can appear accessible but remain insulated from the press. They are also not altogether new. President Trump eschewed traditional television advertising during the 2016 campaign and can now overshadow even his own party’s message at the drop of a tweet. And many politicians have long made a practice of ducking reporters.” Ember notes also that Sen. Elizabeth Warren also deployed a little media jiu-jitsu when, “last year, after she was blocked from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor, she live-streamed herself reading the letter instead,” and got great coverage.

In his ‘post-Memorial Day’ update on Democratic 2018 prospects, Kyle Kondik offers this assessment of Democratic chances in Governors races: “Republicans hold a 33-16-1 edge over the Democrats in state governorships. Of the 36 governorships on the ballot this year, Republicans are defending 26 and the Democrats are only defending nine, or the exact opposite of the level of party exposure in the Senate. An independent, Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, is also on the ballot…Because of the level of exposure for Republicans in the governorships, it would be shocking if the Democrats didn’t net at least some governorships. Our current ratings show them favored to pick up three: Illinois, Maine, and New Mexico. Alaska is a Toss-up and probably represents the Republicans’ best chance to pick up a governorship. There are six other Toss-ups, all of which are open seats: Democrats are defending Colorado, Connecticut, and Minnesota, while Republicans are defending Florida, Michigan, and Nevada. We have previously suggested that the winner of this year’s gubernatorial elections probably will be the party that wins a majority of these five big states that appear competitive: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Republicans currently hold all but Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf (D) remains a favorite over the newly-minted Republican nominee, state Sen. Scott Wagner.”


Teixeira: Democrats Unified on Key Themes for 2018

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

Dare I say it? The Democrats may actually be doing something right!

I get asked a lot by the press to comment on the Democratic civil war. It is always my sad duty to inform them that the rumors of war are greatly exaggerated. Folks are actually getting along pretty well and seem to have a solid idea of what they need to do to inflict a defeat on the merry band of lunatics running our country.

One guy who does get it is David Leonhardt. He has a terrific column in the Times on the actually-existing Democratic midterm campaign rather than the caricature of infighting factions favored by many reporters.

Leonhardt has this to say:

“Stacey Abrams and Conor Lamb are supposed to represent opposite poles of the Trump-era Democratic Party. She is the new progressive heroine — the first black woman to win a major-party nomination for governor, who will need a surge of liberal turnout to win Georgia. He is the new centrist hero — the white former Marine who flipped a Western Pennsylvania congressional district with support from gun-loving, abortion-opposing Trump voters.

But when you spend a little time listening to both Abrams and Lamb, you notice something that doesn’t fit the storyline: They sound a lot alike.

They emphasize the same issues, and talk about them in similar ways. They don’t come across as avatars of some Bernie-vs.-Hillary battle for the party’s soul. They come across as ideological soul mates, both upbeat populists who focus on health care, education, upward mobility and the dignity of work…

Yes, there are some tensions on the political left. But these tensions — over Obama-style incrementalism vs. Bernie-style purism, over the wisdom of talking about impeachment, over whether to woo or write off the white working class — are most intense among people who write and tweet about politics. Among Democrats running for office, the tensions are somewhere between mild and nonexistent.

Democratic candidates aren’t obsessed with President Trump, and they aren’t giving up on the white working class as irredeemably racist. They are running pocketbook campaigns that blast Republicans for trying to take health insurance from the middle class while bestowing tax cuts on the rich (charges that have the benefit of being true)….

The political scientist Theda Skocpol is among the sharpest observers of modern American politics, having studied the Obama presidency, the Tea Party reaction and now the Trump resistance. Skocpol and her colleagues are tracking Trump-leaning areas in four swing states, and she too has been struck by the Democrats’ relative unity. “Media pundits and even social scientists want to look for some kind of ideological divide,” she told me. “I just don’t see a huge set of divisions in the Democratic Party. They’re all talking about economic issues.

Doing so is smart, because it helps Democrats send the most powerful message in politics: I’m on your side — and my opponent isn’t. Americans really are divided on abortion, guns, race and other cultural issues, but they’re remarkably progressive on economics. When Democrats talk about health care, education and jobs, they can focus the white working class on the working-class part of its identity rather than the white part. And Democrats can fire up their base at the same time.

Abrams is a particularly good case study. In the primary, she argued that Democrats should stop chasing conservatives who were lost to the party and instead work to lift progressive turnout. But Abrams’s universal, populist message shows that she hasn’t given up on swing voters. Her message resembles the one that helped Barack Obama win over enough white voters in his 2012 re-election campaign.”

All correct. Now if he could just get his colleagues in the rest of the press to report this rather than the chimera of a Democratic civil war.


Political Strategy Notes – Abrams Historic Win in Georgia

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nomineee Stacy Abrams not only beat her Democratic opponent, Stacy Evans, by a 3-1 margin; she also received more votes than the two Republican candidates, Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle, combined. Kemp and Cagle are now in a run-off that is already dividing Republicans. In his New York Times column, “In Georgia, Democrats Go With a Voter-Turnout Strategy,” David Leonhardt writes, “Last night, Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination in that Georgia governor’s race. She isn’t only the first black woman to be a major party nominee for governor anywhere in the country — a welcome milestone. Abrams has also made clear that she plans to win by motivating liberals more than winning over conservatives…“The approach of trying to create a coalition that is centered around converting Republicans has failed Democrats in the state of Georgia for the last 15 years,” she said recently…The Abrams approach will not be easy. The turnout of voters under 30, as well as Asian-Americans and Latinos, tends to be extremely low in midterms — each below 30 percent. By comparison, African-American voter turnout is substantially higher, almost as high as white turnout in midterms, despite years of voter suppression against African-Americans in many places.”

Vox’s P.R. Lockhart illuminates the critical role of Black political groups in Abrams’s landslide primary victory, noting that “this historic win didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of months of effort by an increasingly influential network of political groups and outreach initiatives, many of them helmed by black women, that are eager to build political power and influence in black communities.” Key groups that worked tirelessly for Abrams include, Glow Vote, Higher Heights, Democracy in Color, BlackPac, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, “the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a division of the New Georgia Project, a group Abrams founded to register voters of color and boost their turnout in elections. Lockhart quotes Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, who explained that Abrams has  “run a campaign that is a model for candidates all across the country on how to engage and excite Black voters.”

Here’s an interview with Abrams, conducted by Frank Ski at Atlanta’s V-103:

The Abrams landslide primary win may have helped another Black woman candidate in Georgia — Lucy McBath. As Jamilah King reports in her article, “Last Night Was Huge for Black Women in Georgia—and Not Just Because of Stacey Abrams: Lucy McBath will advance to a July run-off, putting her gun-safety message to the test in GA6.” at Mother Jones: “…Another victory of sorts was playing out in nearby DeKalb County, where first-time candidate Lucy McBath earned the most votes in the Democratic primary for  Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Though it wasn’t the same kind of celebration as Abrams’—McBath didn’t top 50 percent of the vote, so she will now advance to a July run-off against businessman Kevin Abel—many in the chattering classes considered even getting to this point a real long shot. McBath is a black woman running on gun safety in Georgia, and, what’s more, she only entered the race for GA6 in April. If elected, McBath would be the only black woman in Georgia’s congressional delegation.” McBath could benefit from the intersection of two rising movements — Black women’s political empowerment and gun control.

“It’s been a long drought in statewide elections for Georgia Democrats, but the state’s shifting demographics along with President Trump’s unpopularity in Georgia — according to a Gallup poll, Mr. Trump had an approval rating of only 41 percent and a disapproval rating of 53 percent during 2017 — give Democrats some reason for optimism.” writes Alan Abramowitz in his New York Times op-ed,  “Can Stacey Abrams Change the Way Democrats Win in the South?” Abramowitz adds, “One recent poll from Survey USA had Mr. Cagle leading Ms. Abrams by only five points in a general election matchup. And in Tuesday’s primary, Democratic turnout came close to matching Republican turnout — Democratic primary voters made up 48 percent of those who turned out…In the Survey USA poll, almost all Democratic identifiers supported Ms. Abrams and almost all Republican identifiers supported Mr. Cagle, with independents splitting evenly. If those voting patterns hold true in November, the outcome of the race will hinge on which party does a better job of energizing and turning out its base voters. Since 2002, Republicans have had the advantage in that regard. In nominating Stacey Abrams, Georgia Democrats are betting that anger at President Trump and a candidate with strong appeal to the state’s growing nonwhite electorate will drive enough Democratic voters to the polls to reverse that trend and make history.”

In their Washington Post article, “Stacey Abrams, Democrats’ newest Southern hope, looks to Virginia, Alabama for path to victory in Georgia,” Michael Scherer and Vanessa Wiliams note that ““It’s possible for a Democrat to win statewide office in Georgia, but it would have to be under unusual circumstances,” said Trey Hood, a professor and pollster at the University of Georgia, who has polled the race for local news organizations. “There would have to be probably depressed Republican turnout as well, and Abrams will have to win a certain share of the white vote.”…Hood points to a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the challenge facing Abrams. Based on the 2014 midterm turnout rate, if Abrams won 95 percent of the black vote, she would need to capture about 36 percent of the white vote to win a two-person race. In a January statewide poll by Hood, only 24 percent of white Georgia voters identified as Democrats.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore’s post, “Stacey Abrams and the New Democratic Coalition in the South” puts Abram’s impressive victory in perspective: “In a Democratic electorate that is now over 60 percent African-American, it’s not surprising that Abrams won. But her better than three-to-one margin over Evans showed she had built her own biracial coalition without a white skin–or conspicuous centrism…One of the moving parts in this development was explained by Sean McElwee in a New York Times op-ed this week: white Democrats are becoming not only more progressive, but more responsive to the kinds of racial justice concerns their fellow-Democrats from minority backgrounds care about. Within the Democratic Party, racial divisions are simply less compelling than they once were, even as minority politicians are taking a more active and visible role.”

Ruy Teixeira makes the case that “Abrams must perform relatively well among white voters to win Georgia. There is a very simple reason for this. While the minority vote is large in Georgia, the white vote is much larger. It’s highly unlikely to be under 60 percent of the vote and will probably be a bit higher…Even in 2012, when Georgia black turnout was actually higher than white turnout (and way higher than white noncollege turnout), whites were still 62 percent of voters and blacks were just 32 percent…Clinton in 2016 actually did better than Obama in Georgia, losing the state by just 5 points, compared to Obama’s 8 point deficit. This improvement is entirely attributable to Clinton’s improved performance among whites, both college and noncollege. Granted, her absolute support levels were still low among these groups, but her relative improvement was enough to make the state significantly closer.”

In a state which seems to have more than its share of  GOP voter suppression incidents, the Abrams campaign should take note of Josh Meyer’s post, “Midterms are in Putin’s crosshairs, ex-spy chief says” at Politico: “Not content with installing Donald Trump in the White House in 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now revising his sophisticated meddling operation in order to outflank U.S. security agencies and tip the scales in the upcoming congressional midterm races, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told POLITICO on Wednesday…Clapper made that assertion as part of a wide-ranging interview timed with the release of his memoirs about his 50-plus years in the U.S. intelligence community, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence,” which he wrote with Trey Brown…Clapper, 77, says he thinks the Kremlin, led personally by Putin, is already engaged in an ongoing and active influence effort that is even more elaborate than the one he believes was used during the 2016 campaign to swing the election.”


Teixeira: A Case for Concerned Optimism on Midterms

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

Time to panic….or not?

Keen-eyed observers of recent polling data will have noticed that Trump’s approval rating has edged up lately achieving the exalted level of 42 percent in 538’s rolling approval average. In addition, the generic Congressional ballot has also narrowed so that Democrats now have only a comparatively weak 5 point lead over the GOP in 538’s rolling average.

These figures are both the best Trump and the GOP have achieved for almost exactly a year. So…how worried should Democrats be?

Well, here’s the thing. Even as this trend has manifested itself, the Democrats’ prospects in specific 2018 races have remained very good–if anything, they have improved (see the link to Inside Elections’ latest rating changes). And of course, the results of elections that have already been held in 2017-18 have been nothing short of spectacular for the Democrats. Nate Cohn runs it down:

“On average, Democrats have run 14 points ahead of a district’s partisanship (as measured by the last two presidential elections, compared with the national popular vote) in special elections for Republican-held districts so far this cycle. They’ve run more than 20 points ahead on three occasions — Kansas’ Fourth, Pennsylvania’s 18th and Arizona’s Eighth — and that doesn’t include Doug Jones’s victory in the Alabama Senate race.

These Democratic over-performances are a startling departure from the Obama years, when congressional election results polarized along national political lines.

Over the more than 1,000 special and general House elections in Democratic-held districts in the Obama era, there were only four elections when the Republicans ran 20 points ahead of the district’s lean in presidential elections. This cycle’s Democrats have pulled it off three times out of seven.

In a broader historical context, though, the Democratic over-performance is not quite as startling. It is still impressive, but the Democrats ran 20 points ahead of a Republican-held district’s presidential partisanship in 31 races combined in 2006 and 2008.

Over all, the Democrats’ performance in 2018 special congressional elections looks a lot like their showing in open districts in 2006, and well above the average from wave elections in 1994, 2006, 2008 and 2010. On average, Democrats ran 14 points ahead of a district’s partisanship in open races in 2006 — exactly the same as the Democratic over-performance so far this cycle. The Democrats had a similar 10-point over-performance in 2008.”

So, there you have it. Some cause for concern, some cause for optimism. Where you land may depend partly on your personality type and partly on your preferred interpretation of the GOP’s recent polling uptick. Finally getting payoff from an improving economy? Endless press coverage of Trump scandals actually benefits Trump? Democratic malpractice? Just a blip? Not enough of a swing to counteract Democratic enthusiasm?

Personally, I vote for concerned optimism. YMMV.


Political Strategy Notes

At The New York Times, Michael Tackett and Rachel Shorey report some good news in their article, “Young People Keep Marching After Parkland, This Time to Register to Vote.” As Tackett and Shorey note “Voter data for March and April show that young registrants represented a higher portion of new voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. In Florida, voters under 26 jumped from less than 20 percent of new registrants in January and February to nearly 30 percent by March, the month of the gun control rallies. That ticked down to about 25 percent in April, as the demonstrations subsided, but registration of young voters remained above the pace set before 17 students and faculty were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland…In North Carolina, voters under 25 represented around 30 percent of new registrations in January and February; in March and April, they were around 40 percent…In Pennsylvania, voter registrations across age groups increased sharply in March and April before the primary last week, but registrations of young voters increased the fastest, jumping to 45 percent in March and more than half in April, from fewer than 40 percent of voters in January and February.”

And who are these young voters supporting? Shorey and Tackett explain: “And those new registrants lean Democratic. Of the new voters ages 25 and under in the state, a third registered as Democrats; 21 percent signed up as Republicans; and 46 percent registered as either unaffiliated or with another political party. For new registrants over 25, 27 percent were Democrats; 29 percent were Republicans; and 44 percent were independent or affiliated with a different party…In addition to the registration figures, new polling of younger voters from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics found a significant jump from two years ago in those who say their involvement will make a difference. Such optimism indicates a voter is more likely to actually turn out…So far, the Harvard polling indicates that Democrats are the more likely beneficiary of the increased commitment to voting, with half of voters 18 to 29 saying they will vote Democratic. The remainder are divided between Republicans and independents.”

At New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore explains why “The Democratic Wave May Depend on Millennials Becoming Unusually Motivated to Vote.” Kilgore quotes Ronald Brownstein, who observes, “No more than about a quarter of eligible adults younger than age 30 have voted in any of the past five midterm elections. In 2010, voters under 30 represented just 12 percent of all voters, exit polls found, down from 18 percent in 2008. The share of ballots cast by voters under 30 likewise skidded from 19 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014…Recent polling offers ominous signs for Democrats that this pattern of demobilization could persist in 2018… Stanley Greenberg, the veteran Democratic pollster, told me there’s a “very real risk” that Millennial turnout could lag again in 2018.” Kilgore adds, “after all, Barack Obama’s strong popularity among young voters exhibited itself as a powerful force in 2008 and 2012 — but not in the 2010 and 2014 midterms…It’s entirely possible that Democrats can overcome a recurrence of the “midterm falloff” among young voters by gains elsewhere in the electorate, most notably the college-educated suburbanites who have contributed to Democratic over-performance in off-year elections from Virginia to Arizona. But even modest improvements in millennial turnout could work wonders, given the large lean toward Democrats in that demographic (a net 27 points in the same Pew survey that showed desultory millennial interest in the election)…Democrats are almost certainly going to make gains in November, but nothing would reduce the magnitude more than unsuccessful efforts to mobilize millennials that do succeed in terrifying old white folks. They can take comfort, however, in the fact that, all in all, the most terrifying force in American politics resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That may be just enough to rouse young people from their apolitical prejudices and get them to the polls in November.”

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin probes a question of growing concern for Democrats: “Will the Fervor for Impeachment Start a Democratic Civil War? A push to remove Donald Trump from office may lead to disaster in the midterms.” Toobin quotes Jamie Raskin, a first-term Democrat from Maryland and vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee: “It’s hard to think of a more impeachable President in American history…By firing Comey and waging war on the special counsel, Trump has become the master of obstructing justice…I have a thick notebook of obstruction-of-justice episodes…It’s only because we’re waist-deep in the Trump era that we forget how completely radical and beyond the pale it is to have the President directly threatening the people who are involved in a criminal investigation of him.” All of Trump’s utterly impeachable offenses notwithstanding, a premature focus on impeachment could be a disaster for Democrats. But the more worrisome question is, will Trump’s reckless corruption eventually leave the Democrats no other option? I have trouble imagining that not happening. At a certain point, Democrats could look bad for dodging impeachment and shirking their constitutional responsibility. Timing is everything.

Democrats ramp up efforts to turn more red seats blue in the South in the wake of recent successes,” reports Deborah Barfield Berry at USAToday. “With midterms less than six months away, national Democrats say they are ramping up their efforts in the South working with the Congressional Black Caucus and local grassroots groups to pick up more seats, even in traditionally red districts…The DCCC and the caucus say the South is key to a Democratic takeoverof the House…The shift in focus comes in the wake of recent Democratic victories in the South, including in Alabama where Doug Jones pulled off an upset in the Senate race last December...“We’re not forfeiting the South like we used to and the party is coming down to help,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “If we’re going to grow, we’re going to grow in the South. This traditional Democratic forfeiting in the South and this traditional Democratic message doesn’t work … We’re forcing them to come and they’re coming…The DCCC already has staff in some competitive districts in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and Texas, said Kamau Marshall, the committee’s director of African American Media and deputy national press secretary…But the South remains a difficult landscape for Democrats. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, for example, only four out of 23 congressional seats are held by Democrats.”

At Daily Kos, Egberto Willies urges “No need for Democrats to fear their progressive wing: join it, instead,” and shares some thoughts on messaging: “…We must have a simple message at the tip of our tongues, ready to tell constituents what Democrats will do for them…Democrats will fix the health care issue once and for all with a single-payer Medicare for All system…Democrats will provide student loan relief…Democrats will provide need-based subsidized child care for anyone who wants to work…Democrats will decriminalize marijuana and treat drug use as the disease that it is…Democrats will make the criminal justice system live up to the “Justice is Blind” motto….Those five bullet points expressed in different terms will work in every district in America. It appeals to millennials, people of color, all working class people, parents, and every demographic in between. Most importantly these bullet points afford Americans a path to self-sufficiency It frees them from aberrations in the economy that stunts innovation, the inability to start one’s business, and the dependency and the enslavement to the corporation…Every appearance in the media should segue to these points…We need a simple message that appeals quickly, cannot be easily demagogued, and can broaden a base. Politicians who support the five issues listed in bold above are all in with most of the progressive agenda…We must dialogue from a position of strength, and use our sound economic stance and the intrinsic morality of our positions to put all who oppose the progressive tenets Americans say they want on the defensive. Open the windows so America can see exactly who opposes progressivism.”

 

At CNN Politics Harry Enten notes that “There’s a surprising lack of good polling in this year’s key Senate races,” and observes “Calling balls and strikes is difficult when you’re partially blind…That’s the situation Senate prognosticators are in when it comes to this year’s races. In the early going, there just isn’t a lot of good polling data out there to understand the playing field…Democrats need a net gain of two seats to pick up control of the Senate. CNN rates 11 Senate races as either competitive (i.e. leaning towards one party) or as a toss-up, including 3 Republican-held seats and 8 Democratic held seats. Most of these seats have very little non-partisan polling for them…While a number of key Senate races haven’t been polled at all this cycle, every single competitive race had at least one poll taken in it by this point in the last midterm cycle in 2014…More worrisome is the lack of high quality polling information from these Senate races. Only 2 (Florida and Tennessee) of the 11 races (18%) have gold standard polling. That is, pollsters who are non-partisan, use live interviews and call cell phones and are transparent about their data. Only one state (Florida) has had more than one gold standard poll taken in it. In 2014, 67% of competitive races at this point had been polled by gold standard pollsters.”

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, shares “The Democrats’ Drive for 25 in the House: An Update,” and notes: “Overall, the Democrats’ odds in the districts mentioned have largely but not universally gotten a little better…The California primary on June 5 looms as the most important date in the battle for the House between now and the November election…The Democrats’ odds of retaking the House majority remain about 50-50… there is still a possibility that Democrats won’t just win the House, but win it easily. The range of possible outcomes still seems wide…Some district-level indicators are a little brighter for Democrats since we first described this narrow path to a Democratic House majority…One thing that’s clear in comparing the Democrats’ current path to a House majority versus the one we sketched out in February is that the playing field is bigger. Back in February, we listed 65 GOP House seats in a competitive (non-Safe) category. We now list 86. Many of these races likely will not develop (particular in the Likely Republican column, where we list 35 GOP districts). On the other hand, some current Safe Republican races may enter the fray, too.”


Teixeira: Class Mobility Considerations for Political Messaging and Policy Advocacy

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis (cross-posted from his facebook page):

What’s happening with the middle class?

Does the middle class want to get ahead faster or stop falling? It makes a difference which of these is correct, when thinking about what message to promulgate and what programs to emphasize.

Noah Smith rounds up data that suggest a focus on getting ahead faster might be warranted, despite the well-known problems with wage gains since the 1970’s.

“The average American has, in fact, seen modest gains since the early 1970s; the falling wages of production workers don’t tell the whole story. A more comprehensive measure is median real person income. This, it turns out, has risen substantially since 1974 — though at a slower pace than in the past decades. If the consumer price index is used as the inflation measure, real income has gone up by about a third. If personal consumption expenditure inflation — which covers more goods and takes greater account of changes in consumption habits — is used instead, the rise is more than 40 percent:

The median American’s income fell in the late 1970s, then began a steady multidecade rise, interrupted by recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. In the 2000s, incomes began to stagnate, then took a disastrous beating during the Great Recession. But the recovery beginning in 2013 was robust, and by 2016 income was at a record high.

Personal income looks at individual adults. But other measures, such as median family income, tell the same story of a slow and bumpy rise.

What explains the difference between wages and income? Two things. First, wages aren’t the only way Americans make money in the market. Income from assets, like retirement accounts and pensions, is increasingly important, as are nonwage compensation like employer contributions to retirement accounts. Second, the income numbers include government transfers, which have shifted more and more income from rich Americans to those who earn less in the market. These factors are all bigger than in the 1970s:

Increased redistribution has been helping the poor as well as the middle class. Recent calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that child poverty in the U.S. has fallen to record lows once government assistance is taken into account.”

I would add to Smith’s account the following:

Consider the basic measure of a society’s affluence, GDP per capita. Per capita GDP in the US rose by 111 percent between 1947 and 1979. Between 1979 and 2007 (the last business cycle peak) growth was slower, but per capita GDP still rose by 67 percent over the time period . Obviously, the US became a much richer society over that time period, despite the slower growth.

Of course, this growth has been very unequally distributed, so the effect of this growth on living standards has been much more modest than that suggested by the substantial increase in GDP per capita. The starkest measure of this are the figures for growth of family income from the Census Current Population Survey (CPS). In the 1947-79 period, median family income went up 113 percent, closely matching the gain in GDP per capita over the time period. But in the 1979-2007 period, median family income grew from around $56,000 to $66,000 (2011 dollars), a gain of only 18 percent . Obviously, this lags far behind the growth of GDP per capita over the same time period. On the other hand, it is a gain of nearly a fifth—modest in comparative terms but not nothing and certainly not backsliding.

Moreover, the CPS data do not take into account the changing size of households, the value of non-cash benefits (food stamps, employer-provided health insurance, etc) and changes in the tax structure. Thus—and there are endless arguments about this among economists —the CPS data may underestimate the gain in living standards over time. Indeed, once all that is taken into account, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that real (inflation-adjusted) after- tax income for the median household grew 50 percent between 1979 and 2007. Again, even this figure lags behind the growth of GDP per capita and is short measure compared to the 314 percent increase for the top 1 percent—but it is far from nothing. Even if one splits the difference between the CPS and CBO figures—in effect, assuming some of the CBO income is not as important as the unadjusted cash income measured by CPS—that would still give median income growth of 34 percent between 1979 and 2007. This is disappointing by historical standards but is far from the miserable picture embraced by many on the left. As the Pew Research Center notes, 84 percent of today’s adults have family incomes above what their parents had at similar ages .

Also lost in the standard tale of middle class decline is the fact that life cycle improvements in living standards have not been repealed by the relatively poor post-1979 environment. That is, it is still the case that as people age, they and their families typically get substantially better off. For example, economist Stephen Rose studied the same individuals as captured by the longitudinal Panel Survey of Income Dynamics and found that 20-31 year olds in 1979 experienced a median growth rate of 56 percent in their income as they aged to 48-59 by 2007.

Speaking of the middle class, this can be another source of definitional dispute between researchers. It is quite possible, for example, for the middle class under some definitions to become smaller even as there is considerable upward mobility from the middle class. This is demonstrated by a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center . According to Pew’s definition of the middle class—those with size-adjusted household incomes between two-thirds to double the median—the middle class shrank from 61 percent of adults to 50 percent in the 1971-2015 period. However, most of that shrinkage was due an increase in the share of adults who were in the upper middle or highest classes (up 7 points) rather than an increase in the share of adults who were in the lower middle or lowest classes (up 4 points). So the middle class, under their definition did shrink, but primarily because of upward, not downward, mobility.

Another excessively gloomy claim about the last several decades is that middle class jobs are disappearing and being replaced by “McJobs”. However, this view equates the decline of low skill, relatively well-paid jobs like those in manufacturing—which has been going on since 1948–to an overall decline in middle class jobs, which is not merited. The middle class jobs of today are in the growth areas of offices and high skill services. These two areas of the economy now provide 64 percent of all jobs and have expanded more as a share of jobs since 1967 than manufacturing and related jobs have declined. Thus, middle class jobs are not disappearing but have rather have moved to different sectors that require higher levels of education and cognitive training.

When thinking about progress in living standards it is also important to keep in mind the ways life has improved for most Americans that are not reflected in income or jobs data . For example, American life expectancy has gone up 5 years since 1979. Homes are far bigger (median new home size has risen from 1600 to 2600 square feet since 1979) and more well-appointed; food and clothing are cheaper and take up a smaller proportion of family budgets; cars are safer and get better gas mileage; access to travel and leisure, including foreign travel, has gone up; and device-enabled connection to the internet has brought the typical American into contact with a universe of information and entertainment that was literally unthinkable 30 or 40 years ago.

That’s progress. Now what we need is more of it–and faster please.