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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


How Dems Can Use ‘Loss-Aversion’ to Help the GOP Brand Itself as the Take-Away Party

From Neil Irwin’s article, “Two Words That Could Shape the Politics of the Trade War: Loss Aversion — The pain of a loss tends to be greater than the enjoyment of a win. That has big implications for trade, and also helps explain the politics of health care and taxes” at The Upshot:

Even some workers directly helped by globalization have focused on loss. Consider, for example, a worker in a B.M.W. factory in South Carolina who told The Wall Street Journal in 2016 that she was skeptical of international trade because her uncles had lost their jobs at a cotton mill 30 years earlier.

Now, with his willingness to upend trade relationships that have been decades in the making, Mr. Trump faces the risk that he has spun things around. Suddenly, loss aversion may work in a pro-trade direction.

In a trade war, it is the companies, and workers, that benefit the most from globalization that find their incomes at risk. As China, Canada and the European Union retaliate against American tariffs, the winners from trade are the ones at risk of becoming the losers.

The ‘loss aversion’ takeaway effect apparently overshadows benefits of a given policy. As Irwin notes,

If loss aversion holds, the winners of a trade war — domestic producers of steel and aluminum, for example — could turn out to be as complacent about those gains as globalization’s winners have been for decades.

“The evidence says that a loss hurts about twice as much as a gain of the same size, so there is a large asymmetry,” said Patricia Tovar Rodriguez, author of the 2009 paper on loss aversion and trade and now a professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “Losers may therefore have a much larger incentive to lobby, and to lobby harder, for the removal of those trade barriers.”

And it applies to all kinds of policies, not just trade:

President Obama’s health care law experienced miserable polling numbers in the initial years after its 2010 passage, with more people disapproving of the Affordable Care Act than approving of it, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll. But those lines crossed in late 2016 as Republicans gained more power to repeal the law, and now the A.C.A. is favored by a six-percentage-point margin.

There are many ways to interpret that, but one of them is through the prism of loss avoidance. Perhaps in the rollout of Obamacare, the people who had something to lose — either through higher taxes or the risk of losing a health plan they were happy with — were most engaged.

Then, once the law was fully enacted and there was a president seeking to undermine it, the politics of loss aversion shifted, with people who had gained insurance more likely to be energized. That certainly lines up with the ferocity of the protests against legislative efforts to repeal the A.C.A. in early 2017 — and with the comparison to the energy of anti-Obamacare forces in earlier years.

Ditto, even, for tax policy, argues Irwin, noting the failure of the GOP to get much of a bump from their loudly-trumpeted tax cut, which provided very little for anyone but the wealthy. “The logic of loss aversion would imply that those who are paying more in tax — largely people in high-tax jurisdictions losing out on some deductions they previously enjoyed — might have stronger (negative) opinions about the legislation than the many who benefit.”

Democratic candidates generally do a good job of noting the take-aways of Republican policies. But Irwin’s article and the findings he cites indicate that an even sharper focus on the losses incurred by the middle class as a result of Republican trade policies and undermining the Affordable Care Act could win additional votes for Democratic candidates. Perhaps characterizing the relentless GOP push for deregulation as taking away health and safety protections for American families and children could help Democrats take away some Republican seats in the House, Senate and state legislatures.

Teixeira: The Best Path for Dems on the Road to 2020

Ron Brownstein argues in a new column on the Atlantic site that Democrats have a choice to make as they head toward 2020. He puts it this way:

“Almost halfway through Donald Trump’s tempestuous first term, Democrats are divided between two visions of how they can dislodge the Republican dominance of Washington and most state governments. One camp believes the party’s best chance will come from targeting mostly white, Republican-leaning voters who are recoiling from Trump on personal, more so than policy, grounds. The other camp believes the biggest opportunity is to turn out more voters from the groups most intensely hostile to Trump, in terms of both his style and agenda: Millennials, nonwhites, and white women who are college educated or unmarried. One camp bets mostly on persuading swing voters, the other on mobilizing base voters.

In practice, Democrats inevitably will need to do some of both. It’s a truism that whenever a political party seems to face an either/or choice, the right answer is usually both/and. That’s especially true in the 2018 midterm election. This fall, the party will be fielding dozens of candidates who subscribe to each theory, largely (but not completely) sorted between nominees who focus on persuasion in mostly white, Trump-leaning, or purple areas, and those emphasizing mobilization on more Democratic-leaning and racially diverse terrain.

But in the selection of their 2020 presidential nominee, Democrats will face a genuine crossroads. Few, if any, potential candidates would be equally effective at both energizing the party base and reassuring swing voters. Candidates who tilt mostly toward reassurance might include former Vice President Joe Biden, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Those best positioned to mobilize could include Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, two younger lawmakers who embody the party’s growing racial diversity, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, two graying lions of the left…..

It may well be the safest course for Democrats to choose a 2020 nominee whose primary strength is their ability to reassure older and mostly white Americans who vote reliably, but do not reliably support Democrats. A strategy focused on mobilizing less consistent, but more liberal, younger and nonwhite voters would likely require Democrats to accept some vanguard policy positions that could rattle swing voters. Signs at the L.A. rally, for example, called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and speakers occasionally railed against the “imperialist, white supremacist … patriarchy.” That’s not a program, or tone, designed to soothe suburban voters outside Philadelphia or Charlotte.

But it was impossible to miss the kinetic energy at the [recent Los Angeles] rally when [Kamala] Harris delivered a short, dynamic speech that had the crowd chanting, “We are better than this!” as she denounced Trump’s immigration policies. Reassurance may be the path of least resistance for Democrats against Trump in 2020. But that doesn’t mean mobilization might not represent a better bet.”

This is a fair representation of the kind of choice Democrats may face when it comes time to select a 2020 Presidential candidate. But no matter who is selected, how that candidate chooses to run will also be very important. In that sense, the selection of a given candidate may not mean as sharp a strategic choice as that outlined by Brownstein. Harold Meyerson reminds us in an excellent piece in the new issue of Dissent:

“Democrats are finding that opposition to the tax cut is one of their most potent issues even in white, working-class districts. A recent survey by longtime Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg of 3,100 likely voters in twelve states that will have gubernatorial elections this year found that the most effective message Democrats could campaign on—and one that would increase support not just from the Democratic base but also from white, working-class swing voters—was to attack GOP “politicians and their huge tax giveaways to the big corporations and the richest 1 percent, which will blow up and endanger our future. We need to invest in education and infrastructure, not cut them.”

Indeed, such was the lesson of the revolt of Kansas Republicans last year, when they overrode their own party’s governor’s vetoes of a tax hike to better fund Kansas schools. Such has been the lesson of the red-state teachers strikes this spring, which compelled Republican legislators in four states to break with decades of opposition to tax hikes and increase funding for schools. In a sense, Democrats are merely responding to economic realities—the stratospheric rise of the rich at the expense of education, affordable healthcare, and decent-paying jobs—so obvious that even Republicans, at least when forced to confront the decline of public schools, have been compelled to address them.

Which is why Democrats need to learn the lesson that Tammy Baldwin offers them: Going left on economics not only plays in the Madisons of this nation but also in many of the suburbs and on a number of the farms. It’s the key not just to boosting turnout in cities but also to not getting destroyed when they venture out of town.

None of this is to argue that the Democratic Party’s commitment to gender and racial equality, to immigrant naturalization and cultural liberalization, should be relegated to the margins of its agenda. But the party has already demonstrated its understanding that not every Democrat can run on that platform—and that it’s okay if they don’t. In his special-election campaign in a Pennsylvania district that Trump had carried by 20 percentage points, Democrat Conor Lamb attacked the GOP’s tax cut as relief for the rich, and deviated from most Democrats’ positions on issues like gun control without provoking anything resembling an uproar on the party’s left…..

As Lamb’s campaign made clear, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the potential of a progressive economic outreach to the white working class, at least outside the South. Perhaps the most remarkable data that came out of the Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that fully 80 percent of Americans opposed efforts to slash Medicaid—the government’s program of medical assistance to the poor. For decades, Republicans had railed against, and when in power, reduced, Medicaid allotments, since they assumed that doing so stirred white resentment against blacks, who were popularly viewed as the main Medicaid recipients. Politically, that attack had worked when the white working class was doing well enough that having to rely on Medicaid to help pay doctor bills wasn’t a plausible option. Those days had long since passed, however, when the Republicans targeted Medicaid in their efforts to repeal the ACA. It’s precisely that kind of shift among white, working-class voters that makes the Democrats’ outreach to them on progressive economics possible—and necessary.

As pollster Guy Molyneux has reported, roughly one-third of white, working-class voters are moderates whose votes are up for grabs at election time—if the Democrats know how to reach out to them. Defending Medicaid, lowering the age threshold for Medicare, perhaps even putting workers on corporate boards are all causes Democrats can plausibly embrace.”

In my view, no matter who the nominee is, this is the correct approach Democrats should take to white working class America. One can only hope that the 2020 Democratic candidate appreciates this and thereby substantially enhances his or her chance of making Trump a one-term President.

Martin: Iowa’s Next Election — Bridging the Urban-Rural and Class Divide

The following article by Christopher R. Martin, author of the forthcoming “The Invisible Worker: How the News Media Lost Sight of the American Working Class” and professor of Communication Studies and Digital Journalism at the University of Northern Iowa, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

My home state of Iowa famously gave Barack Obama a convincing victory in the Democratic caucuses in 2008, the first triumph that launched a young U.S. senator from Illinois to become the first African-American president. Obama ultimately won two terms, and each time Iowans favored him by considerable margins. Iowa was also one of several Midwestern states that famously flipped to support Donald Trump in 2016.

Hillary Clinton won just six of Iowa’s 99 counties in 2016. Trump won the remaining 93, including 31 counties that had backed Obama in the two previous elections. Nationwide, 206 counties in 34 states voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and then flipped for Trump in 2016. Iowa had more than any other state, with 31 pivot counties out of 99. This makes Iowa a useful microcosm to analyze the nature of Trump’s victory. Did Trump win,  as the New York Times’s Nate Cohn reported, because of  “an enormous wave of support among white working-class voters”? Or were there other factors in play?

Cohn’s claim doesn’t seem to apply for Iowa. Only 17 of Iowa’s 31 pivot counties had higher turnout compared to 2012. In 14, turnout declined.  In addition, most of the increases were small — less than one percentage point. Overall – and this must bring him great angst – Trump won Iowa with fewer statewide votes than Obama had in either of his election victories. So, if there was “an enormous wave of support among white working-class voters,” then the wave was not caused by a mass of new people jumping in the pool. It was more like most of the same people wading from one side of the pool to the other.

But Trump did win support in more working-class rural counties. As in the national election, Clinton did much better than Trump in large metropolitan areas, winning just six counties, all among the state’s most populous. All but one of the pivot counties were rural, with populations of 87,000 or less and not among the top 10 of Iowa’s largest counties. It’s clear that the urban-rural divide was a salient element in the Iowa campaign, a pattern similar to what political scientist Katherine Cramer discovered in the adjacent state of Wisconsin (see  her 2016 book The Politics of Resentment).

The urban-rural divide is also a class divide, reflected in income and education. Iowa’s estimated per capita income in 2016 was $28,872, but per capita income is less than that in 77 counties, and Trump won in 75 of them, 28 of which were pivot counties. Clinton won in four of the six urban Iowa counties with higher per capita income. The pattern is similar for education.  25.7 percent of Iowans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 11 of Iowa’s 99 counties have higher rates of citizens with a bachelor’s degree. Hillary Clinton won five of those counties. Of the 31 pivot counties, 27 have lower rates of higher education. In other words,  Clinton’s only successes in Iowa were in six major metro counties with higher levels of income and education. Trump won every other county in the state.

Considering the urban-rural status, income, and college education rates of the counties that pivoted to Trump in 2016, Cramer’s idea of rural consciousness seems apt, with its “strong identity as a rural resident, resentment toward the cities, and a belief that rural communities are not given their fair share of resources or respect.” Resources and development in Iowa are increasingly unequal, with most affluence located in Iowa’s two large multi-county metropolitan areas. In the center of the state, Polk and Story Counties run along the I-35 corridor, creating a large metro area that stretches from Ames and Iowa State University in the north to Des Moines and its many suburbs in the south. Similarly, in the eastern part of the state, Linn and Johnson Counties along the I-380 corridor form a district that stretches from Cedar Rapids and its suburbs in the north to Iowa City and the University of Iowa in the south. These “corridors” (and they do market themselves that way) are the wealthiest, most populous, and fastest growing regions of the state, with plenty of government-funded institutions and research, headquarters of the largest corporations, excellent hospitals, and the state’s best sports, recreation, and shopping. These are the areas where Clinton won the most support.

Life can be quite different in Iowa’s more rural counties, where population is falling, school districts get consolidated (so towns may no longer have local schools), access to doctors and quality hospitals lags, new investment is rare, and young adults often move to places like Des Moines or Iowa City to find better jobs. Away from the corridors, the lived experience of personal income, higher education, and the long-term hope for opportunity and prosperity for the majority of Iowa’s rural counties is on a much more feeble trajectory.

These areas, where Trump won, were primed to embrace the rhetoric of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, which  called for drastic change to the economic status quo. If a very unlikely presidential candidate – one made famous by playing the role of super-successful billionaire in a network reality television show and countless movie cameos – shows up and said says to the “forgotten men and women of our country” that “I AM YOUR VOICE,” residents of these areas might well listen to him, despite (or in some cases because) of his lack of experience and subtle racism and misogyny. Trump went all in on the Tea Party discourse and wore the mantle of change.

In comparison,  Clinton’s words about the economy were vague, spare, and unremarkable. In her victory speech late on the night of the Iowa caucus, she said “I know what we are capable of doing, I know we can create more good-paying jobs and raise incomes for hard-working Americans again.” Although Clinton narrowly won the Democratic nomination in 2016, her message of incremental reforms did not give her resounding victories in Iowa and other important states. On caucus night, Bernie Sanders, the change candidate (like Obama before him) spoke directly to those who felt alienated by politics-as-usual: “What Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution.” Sanders’s rhetoric might have attracted more of Iowa’s rural voters, but he wasn’t on the general election ballot November.

Of course, rhetoric might win elections, but results matter afterward. So far, Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court justices may thrill conservative Iowans, but his trade war is already hurting Iowa’s agricultural exports, and he continues to undermine other things Iowa voters care about, including health care coverage, funding for education, infrastructure development, and well-paying jobs. Iowa may pivot again in 2018 and 2020. Recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Polls have found that Iowans favor Democrats for Congress in 2018, and that 68 percent of Iowans will “definitely vote for another candidate” or consider doing so in the 2020 presidential election. To win back the pivot county voters, Democratic candidates will need to connect with issues to rural voters. It is a message already received by the six Democratic candidates for Iowa governor, who made rural outreach a priority. Democratic Congressional and presidential candidates should take note.

Nussbaum: Understanding, Supporting and Including the Working Class Must Be a Key Part of Democratic Strategy

Karen Nussbaum’s article, “Rebuilding the Working Class” at Dissent magazine provides some important insights Democrats ought to take into account in shaping both short and long-term strategy.

Nussbaum, a founder and board member of Working America, AFL-CIO, argues that “two generations of a falling standard of living and quality of life for most working people have led them to believe that politicians just aren’t that into them. These voters are dropping out of the political process or swinging erratically between the parties in elections as they try to find someone who will “shake things up.” Democrats who are giddy at the prospect of a wave election will be disappointed if they fail to understand what happened in 2016 and the need to do things differently this year.” Further,

Unless Democrats promote real solutions to the economic problems faced by working families and communities, they won’t win in states where a significant number of white working-class voters are needed for a majority. Even the highest projections for Democratic turnout in the key battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan can only be achieved by persuading swing voters that Democrats have at least credible, and at best, inspiring solutions to their problems. The challenge for Democrats is not just winning the 2018 election—it is radically changing how voters perceive government, politics, and the priorities of parties in order to win them over in the long run. This can only be done by addressing their real concerns and opening dialogue across the divisions of race and immigrant status.

I believe such a realignment is possible. This belief is based on the last fifteen years of organizing in working-class communities by Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO that I helped found in 2003. Our door-to-door organizers have had more than 12 million conversations, 80 percent of which have been with white working-class moderates across the country. Our three million members are not in unions, and 90 percent of our email subscribers don’t show up on the list of any other progressive organization.

For Democrats to win these voters over is not a simple task. Working America’s organizers have encountered racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant bias that is more overt and pointed today than we have ever seen. But by focusing on economic issues, organizers have been able to establish common ground and can help bridge social divides through ongoing engagement with voters.

Since the 2016 election, we’ve talked with 300,000 voters to understand their attitudes, concerns, sources of information, and what approaches and arguments they find persuasive…

Nussbaum shares a number of revealing insights gleaned from interviews with working-class voters of all races in the study. She notes also that “The Democratic Party, over the last two generations, failed to make a priority of addressing the forces that were destroying working-class communities, such as outsourcing, privatization, assaults on union rights, and the collapse of good, stable jobs.” In addition,

We heard the fear and frustration in the fall of 2015, and understood then that Trump was a real threat. At the time, half of the likely swing voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania we talked with hadn’t yet chosen a candidate. But of those who had, a startling 38 percent supported Trump, more than the total for Clinton and Sanders combined. And one out of four Democrats preferred Trump too.

When asked why they supported him, only one out of ten voters named an issue; the rest cited a personal characteristic, with nearly half saying “he speaks his mind.” A strong core of Trump’s support came from Republicans—after all, a third of voters in this country are conservative. But he also attracted fed-up voters who were ready to burn the house down. One male voter from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, said, “They’re all crooks and liars. Can’t trust any of them.” This undertow withstood all the ripples of the Trump campaign—Russia, the Access Hollywood tape, his conflicts of interest. His narrow victory in 2016 was the result.

However, Nussbaum writes, “Simply defeating Trump in 2018 won’t fix what’s broken. The country may be highly polarized around Trump himself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these voters care much for Democrats. Our field leaders report a strong shift away from party identification both in Trump country and in urban communities.” However,

But the ideological chaos Trump has sown allows Wall Street and corporate elites to obscure their outsized role in shaping the U.S. economy. As a result, almost 70 percent of people across racial lines say that politicians, not corporations, are responsible for the state of the economy. Only 10 percent of the people we talked to blamed Wall Street and corporations. About the same number blamed lazy people or society for the economy. The mutually reinforcing relationship between political power and the distribution of wealth remains hidden in plain sight.

Nussbaum notes that, “But about half of the swing voters we spoke to were willing to support politicians who took their economic problems seriously…As David Leonhardt recently wrote in the New York Times, “The best debate for Democrats is one that keeps reminding white working-class voters that they’re working class. It’s a debate about Medicare, Medicaid, tax, or Wall Street. The worst debate is one that keeps reminding these voters that they’re white.”

Nussbaum offers some hope for a restoration of the labor movement, noting that “class is making a comeback. Union favorability is the highest it’s been in fifteen years, at 61 percent according to Gallup.” But bold leadership is required:

To reach swing voters, the solution is to go left. Our conversations reveal that working-class voters across racial lines, including Trump supporters, endorse an economic agenda that benefits working people and are looking for politicians who show up and fight for it.

We talked with likely midterm voters about eleven public policies designed to address economic and public health concerns. Trump voters supported most of the policies. Two-thirds or more supported policies on outsourcing, the opioid crisis, paid family leave. A majority supported expanding overtime, paid sick days, and ending employee misclassification, and nearly half supported making it easier to unionize.

…We compared priorities and concerns across race, talking with black, white, and Hispanic voters and found surprising agreement on their priorities. All three groups identify jobs/economy and healthcare as their top two issues. But they don’t see convincing champions. Some respond to the economic stresses they face by not voting at all, while others split their votes or switch parties.

However, “A laundry list of policies isn’t good enough. A higher minimum wage and paid leave have been thrillingly successful fights, but they don’t reach the depths of the problems faced by so many…People want politicians to address the enormity of the jobs crisis or at least look like they’re really trying, with policies such as massive public investment in infrastructure tied to community-based training and hiring programs, economic development plans for stressed rural and inner-city communities, living wages and benefits for all public and publicly supported jobs, and the like.”

Nussbaum shares heartfelt testimony of workers who want to see passionate commitment from candidates who are genuinely comitted to better living standards for working people, and who deeply appreciate those who take the trouble to com to their communities and talk about their concerns.

See sees unions as the institutions that are best-positioned to address the critical priorities of working families, and adds:

That role used to be played by people you knew in civic organizations, your church, or most importantly, a union. Unions bear some responsibility for their loss of membership and power and many are making important internal changes to address these problems, such as undertaking comprehensive member education and engagement efforts, developing new approaches to organizing and representation, and cultivating an independent political voice. But the attack on unions and their decline hurts workers, progressives, and Democrats grievously.

Unions remain the backbone of a class-based progressive movement. In 2016, they contributed $150 million to elections and reaching voters, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

They have an unparalleled infrastructure, with 40,000 local organizations around the country, lobbyists at every level of government, and tens of millions of dollars in direct grants to nonprofit worker-advocacy and research organizations every year. “Even in their diminished state, unions still provide a significant amount of the money, organization, political power, and stability that fuel progressive life,” writes long-time unionist Kim Fellner. “That’s why the right hates them. But they also don’t get much love from the left, which demands a level of ideological purity that unions, with a much broader constituency, can seldom attain.” Weaker unions lead to fewer votes for Democrats. A recent analysis finds that right-to-work laws decreased Democratic presidential vote share by 3.5 percent. Turnout is also 2 to 3 percentage points lower in right-to-work counties after those laws pass.

“Perhaps the most important consequence of union decline,” writes Nussbaum, “is that fewer Americans have direct experience with collective power.” Nussbaum sees “trusted messengers” as a pivotal element of political success for Democrats. “It’s those trusted messengers—co-workers, neighbors, and organizers—who can also begin to tackle our frightening social divisions today. Our diverse team of canvas organizers has encountered racism, sexism, and xenophobia at the door.”

Nussbaum shares her and her co-worker’s revealing experience canvassing in Virginia’s recent elections, and how they leveraged Medicaid expansion in their canvassing, as a shared priority of diverse working-class voters, which helped build solidarity. Their pivotal  efforts were credited by independent analysts with increasing the Democratic vote and contributing to Northam’s impressive victory in the Governor’s race. They have also had a positive impact in Conor Lamb’s congressional victory in PA and steate legislative races.

Do read Nussbaum’s Dissent article for a more detailed account of the impressive leadership of Working America in raising class consciousness to win elections. Democratic campaigns that learn their lessons and apply their strategies should be able to improve their support among diverse communities of working-class voters.

Lux: Dems Must Get Real About Both Race And Class

The following article by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, president of American Family Voices and author of  How to Democrat in the Age of Trump, is cross-posted from HuffPo:

I have been doing politics full time for almost 40 years, and things have never been anywhere close to being this weird. The most repulsive man imaginable is our president, the Republicans who run our Congress are unrecognizably extreme, and yet there are still big questions whether Democrats can get their act together to start consistently winning elections again. In the midst of these troubling times, I am coming out with a book about how Democrats can start winning again. It’s called How to Democrat in the Age of Trump.

The book tells the story of how a decade ago, most Democrats ― myself included ― were pretty damn optimistic about our prospects for winning elections in the future and, more important, for moving America forward. I had just written a book on American political history in which I argue that the U.S. has had cycles of a long conservative period followed by what I call “big change moments,” when a progressive party would sweep into power and make massive structural changes that would improve our country for all time. Think the end of slavery in the 1860s, the progressive era at the turn of the 19th century, the New Deal and the 1960s.

There was good reason to be optimistic that at the end of 2008, we were on the verge of another big change moment. Democrats had just won two big wave elections in a row — the first time that had been done by either party since the 1930s. We had not only elected the first African-American president, but we had elected the son of an African immigrant, someone with an African Muslim name. We had won 60 votes in the Senate to go along with our biggest margins in the House since the post-Watergate ’70s. Demographic trends were moving steadily in our favor, and big majorities of voters agreed with our party’s positions on a wide range of issues.

Then the wheels came off, and we had a monumental crash. Not only in the 2010 cycle but for most of the past 10 years, Democrats have been losing far more than we have been winning. The good news is that we have a road out of the wilderness, if only we choose to take it. But we must have the courage to tackle the tough issues that cause us problems — the toughest being the issues of race. Despite the highest aspirations of the hope and change era, we are clearly not living in a postracial (or postpartisan) society.

I lead How to Democrat with the story of a powerful study done on discussing issues of race and class.

A statewide coalition called Our Minnesota Future recently partnered with the progressive think tank Demos Action and researchers such as the firm Brilliant Corners, Celinda Lake, Ian Haney López and Anat Shenker-Osorio in a groundbreaking study with results that Democrats need to understand and internalize.

In the research project, Our Minnesota Future did door-to-door canvassing of 800 homes. Half these conversations were with white folks, the other half with people of color. The researchers had flyers that used what they called “classic dog whistling”: traditional Republican rhetoric about the economy combined with attacks on immigrants and racial undertones. After seeing that rhetoric, 50 percent of the residents were shown flyers with a traditional progressive populist message on the economy, while the other 50 percent were shown a flyer with a progressive race-class narrative.

 The combined race-class message said the following:

Whether white, black, or brown, 5th generation or newcomer, we all want to build a better future for our children. My opponent says some families have value, while others don’t count. He wants to pit us against each other in order to gain power for himself and kickbacks for his donors.

The majority of white survey participants initially agreed with the dog whistle flyer. When shown the class-only populist flyer, 44 percent of that subset shifted to the progressive candidate, and 55 percent did not. The results were approximately the inverse for whites who were shown the flyer that combined economic populism and a trying-to-divide-us-by-race analysis: 57 percent went to the progressive candidate, and 43 percent stuck with the conservative.

When the door knockers talked to people of color, a plurality initially agreed with the dog-whistle script, and 62 percent of those respondents switched to the progressive candidate after being shown the combined race-class messaging.

Researchers investigated one other thing among people of color: motivation to vote. When shown the class-only progressive populist flyer, the people of color surveyed were twice as likely to say they would sit out the election than when shown the race-class messaging.

In addition to the canvassing, Lake conducted polling to test what narratives worked the best compared with more traditional messaging approaches. Her advice coming out of that testing was in line with the Minnesota experiment: Discuss race upfront and overtly. Frame racism as a tool to divide and thus harm us all for the benefit of a few. Connect unity to both racial justice and economic prosperity.

This is just one experiment, but it reinforces what I have become convinced of after all my years in politics: It is a bad idea to avoid challenging topics with voters. The most challenging, central and foundational of all is racism, and Democrats can’t ignore it, stay silent on it or hope it will go away. Doing that is bad morally, and it’s also bad strategically. The people of color and progressive whites who support us will turn away from the party if we try to skirt this subject. The way to win is to directly tie racism and economic issues and to educate and organize in communities of color and the white working class.

The message of How to Democrat in the Age of Trump is this: If Democrats directly take on the tough issues of race, class and economics, they can craft an agenda and narrative that appeals to working-class voters of all races and ages. If Democrats do that, they will start winning elections again, all over the country. And when Democrats win and start governing again, if they deliver real, tangible benefits that improve voters’ lives, they will govern for a generation to come.

Teixeira: The Immigration Paradox Revisited

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

I posted about this a while ago but the release of new and interesting data by Pew is a good reason to revisit the topic.

Here are three things we know about the American public and immigration.

1. The American public is becoming more favorable, not less favorable, toward immigration. In fact, the public is not only more favorable but it is now at historically high levels of favorability toward immigration and immigrants. New Pew data tell us:

* The percent saying legal immigration should be decreased has gone down fairly steadily from 53 percent in 2001 to 24 percent today, while the percent saying it should be increased has gone from 10 to 32 percent. Even among Republicans there’s been a 10 point fall in the “decreased” percentage and a 7 point rise in the “increased” percentage.

* 69 percent of the public says they are “sympathetic” toward undocumented immigrants who are in the US illegally. This includes a 48 percent sympathetic/49 percent unsympathetic view among Republicans.

* Overall, by 71 to 20 percent, the public believes immigrants mostly fill jobs US citizens don’t want and by 65 to 26 percent, they say undocumented immigrants are no more likely to commit crimes than US citizens. The analogous figures among Republicans are 57-30 and 46-42.

* The public overwhelmingly believes (67 percent) that giving people who come to the US illegally a way to gain legal status does not constitute a “reward” for wrongdoing. Just 27 percent endorse the reward for wrongdoing perspective. Even among Republicans, the split on this question is very close to even (46/47).

* Finally, fewer and fewer people say they are bothered by encountering immigrants who speak little English. Currently, the not bothered/bothered split is 73-26. And 59 percent of Republicans put themselves in the not bothered category.

2. The places with the most immigration tend to be the ones least supportive of Trump and a hard line on immigration. Conversely, of course, if the exposure to immigrants is limited, that tends to correlate with high support for Trump and being hostile to immigration. And yet…despite a public that’s trending favorable toward immigrants, especially in areas where they are common, we have the third thing we know about the public and immigration:

3. Anti-immigrant feelings now have more political salience than they have had a very long time and that is hurting the Democrats. It is clearly the case that for an important minority of–primarily white noncollege–voters, they feel intensely enough about this issue to respond positively to anti-immigrant messages and candidates. Trump would not be President if this were not true. And Trump and the GOP–as their conduct this election cycle underscores–clearly hope they can continue to use this issue to keep these voters away from the Democratic party, a strategy that has worked to perfection in Rustbelt and other declining areas of the country.

Can the Democrats resolve this immigration paradox so they do not suffer politically for being pro-immigrant in country that is increasingly pro-immigrant? We shall see. But it would appear they need to think carefully about how to reach voters outside of blue America who do not start with the presumption that all immigration is completely beneficial. They may have concerns about it, both cultural and economic, despite holding at least some positive feelings about immigrants and immigration (as the Pew data on Republican immigration views suggests). It would be wise for Democrats to take these concerns seriously and not reflexively tar such people as “racist”, which, as Thomas Edsall noted in his most recent New York Times column, simply drives them into Trump’s hands .

Otherwise,the immigration paradox is likely to continue, and continue to hurt the Democrats.
Since 2001, decline in the share saying legal immigration should be decreased

Tomasky: Dems Must Meet Three Challenges in SCOTUS Fight

From Michael Tomasky’s op-ed, “The Right Has Won the Supreme Court. Now What?” at The New York Times, which presents three things Democrats need to do:

First of all, they need simply to reflect on their recent history and understand why they’re in this situation. The time to play hardball was 2016. Maybe there’s nothing they could have done, given that the Republicans ran the Senate. But consider this counterfactual….We might not be in this situation if they’d played for keeps in 2016.

Tomasky provides a plausible ‘what if’ scenario, which makes a case that a stronger Supreme Court nomination than Merrick Garland, the 43-year old California Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, would have had a better chance against the likes of McConnell and company. Further,

The second thing the Democrats have to do is fight this nomination to the bitter end. Maintain, even if it’s manufactured, some aura of optimism and eagerness for the battle. Mr. Schumer said all the right things Wednesday afternoon, but if you watch the video, you’ll see he wasn’t exactly breathing fire…Democratic and progressive groups will have ample opportunity to pressure the four or five Republican senators who might become no votes. If the Democrats press Mr. Schumer’s hypocrisy argument effectively, public opinion could turn in their favor, even in some of those key Republican senators’ states. Unpredictable things happen all the time, especially in Trumpworld.

Sometimes you have to fight like hell, even when the odds are bad. Democrats have to show that they have a pulse, they are not going to cave and they are ready to rumble against the GOP’s betrayal of democracy. In addition,

Yes, chances are the Democrats will lose this one, which brings us to the third thing they must do. They need to get their core constituencies to understand the stakes and to vote with the Supreme Court, and really all federal judges, at top of mind…And don’t forget Robert Mueller, the special counsel, or think he isn’t relevant here. If he issues a report in July or August, as many now expect, and if that report presents evidence that Mr. Trump did indeed obstruct justice, Mr. Schumer and the Democrats can make a strong case that a president governing under such a cloud — who might yet be found to have colluded with Russia in his election — has no business making Supreme Court nominations. That nominee, if confirmed, may well be ruling on matters relating to the investigation of the president. No, it’s not clear that will work as a gambit. But if the situation were reversed, the Republicans would try it.

Democrats simply have to do a better job of making the Supreme Court a constant consideration of our national politics. Yes, the odds against stopping Trump’s coming nomination are formidable. But let’s not fail to leverage the educational opportunity of this political moment, which can set the stage for victory on November 6th — and beyond.

Will Democratic Immigration Strategy Swing Votes?

At The Hill Dean DeChiaro explores the  “Democrats Search for a Winning Campaign Strategy on Immigration” and observes,

For 18 months, Democrats have blocked Trump’s efforts to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities and roll back asylum laws so he can more easily deport children and victims of domestic violence. On June 22, he tweeted that Republicans should put immigration legislation on hold until after November and focus on widening their majority in the midterms because Democrats “are just playing games.”

But Democrats say they’re protecting innocent families from the deportation “machine.” And Trump’s June 20 reversal on the family separation policy — a product of his “zero tolerance” for anyone who tries to cross the border illegally — underscores their message.

While most Democratic office-holders generally support less restictive immigration policies than do GOP eelected officials, DeChiaro notes that five Democratic Senators (Donnelly, Heidkamp, Mancin, McCaskill and Stabenow) have voted with the Republicans on key immigration measures, like Trump’s DACA overhaul and/or  ‘Sanctuary Cities,” and others feel pressure from voters in their districts and states who favor restricting immigration.

Trump and the Republicans are trying to brand Democrats as ‘open border’ advocates, which no Democratic elected officials support. They say they are concerned about lax boder security and potential terrorism. But Republicans all but admit they block Mexican and Central American immigrants because they tend to vote Democratic after becomming U.S. citizens.

For Democrats, the sweet spot image is being regarded as the reasonable party when it comes to immigration issues  — compassionate and humane about refugees seeking asylum and economic opportunity,  insuring a citizenship path for those who have been in the U.S. a long time, but also responsible about insuring safe and secure borders.

“Democrats have a shot at taking back Congress,” writes DeChiaro, “if they can find a way to play defense on public safety issues like sanctuary cities and the MS-13 gang, and offense on Dreamers and migrant rights. And if the playbook works, they believe they will have gained something even more valuable: the key to neutralizing Trump’s immigration rhetoric before the higher-stakes 2020 presidential campaign.”

Democrats also hope to tap public sympathy for the so-called Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who could face deportation if Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats are already invoking the Dreamers against a slew of House GOP incumbents in districts where Hillary Clinton performed well in 2016, and will likely do so in Senate races in Arizona, Nevada and other states with large Latino electorates.

DeChiaro presents a chart depicting the partisan leanings of more than two dozen congressional districts, where immigration issues could be pivotal:


It’s not hard to envision a half-dozen or more Democratic pick-ups from this list in a good year, which so far has been the case in special elections. It’s unclear how many districts might be more in play for Republicans who are advocating a more restrictive mix of immigration policies.

Clearly, however, Democrats should take notice of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset of Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley in the NY- primary yesterday as an indication of rising Latino influence in congressional politics, as well as an indication that growing numbers of Democratic voters are looking for more progressive policies. There is no question that immigration reform is now a leading priority of American voters. Yet there are plenty of other issues threatening to crowd out immigration as a primary motivator on the midterm elections, including Mueller’s probe, economic instability, tariffs, corruption, gun violence etc., all of which present political minefields for both parties.

Democrats can take some comfort, however, in that they have a bumper crop of good candidates, including Latinos. And better, they have an unprecedented opportunity to look like the only reasonable alternative to a party whose leader advocates increasingly bigoted and irrational immigration policies.

Teixeira: Are Trump’s Approval Ratings Going Up?

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

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about Trump’s approval ratings and how they’re paradoxically going up, even as he commits one outrage after another. What’s the real story?

1. On where Trump’s current approval rating, note that today Gallup released a new week of polling and he is back down to 41 percent, after the 45 percent reading from Gallup the week before that got quite a bit of notice.

2. In the 538 average, he is now a little over 42 percent; since close to the beginning of this year he’s been in a pretty tight range between 40 and 42 percent. This range, while low, is several points higher than he was running late last year.

3. Compared to other presidents, his approval rating at this point in his term, while running about 20 points below the historical average for all Presidents, is very close to Jimmy Carter’s, a little below Ford’s and 3-7 points below Reagan, Obama and Clinton (he is way below everybody else). So true that he is not at unprecedentedly low levels but also true that he is still dead last on net approval (approval-disapproval), as he has been throughout his Presidency.

4. So how to think about this? It’s bad but to many seems not as bad as it should be, given all that things Trump has done and said since he’s been in office. But given the state of the economy and other “fundamental” factors, a reasonable case can be made that he is drastically underperforming where he should be. I believe this to be true. Going by economic performance alone, historical patterns suggest that his approval rating should be somewhere in the 50’s rather than in the low 40’s..

5. It still seems to be the case that the latest outrageous behaviors by Trump, even if they aren’t pushing his ratings up, don’t seem to be pushing his approval ratings down either and, as noted, their current range is a few points higher than their range at the end of last year. Why is this? One possibility is that keeping the political spotlight on Trump as a singular individual and leader–however reprehensible many of his statements may be–diverts attention from various unpopular policies he and his party are intimately associated with. This helps solidify his base and reduce attrition among more persuadable voters, thereby keeping his ratings in their current low but stable range.

I think that’s the context you need to think about the latest ups and downs in Trump’s approval rating.

Teixeira: Dems Can Leverage Wedge Between Trump’s Base and the Rest of GOP

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

Stan Greenberg has an important new article out in the New York Times online. His core argument, backed up by considerable data, is that there is a significant divide in attitudes between Trump’s base and the rest of the GOP–a group that is quite large and whose flagging enthusiasm and potential openness to Democratic appeals could loom large in the coming election.

Greenberg draws the picture as follows:

“President Trump surprised nearly all political analysts with his decision to govern as a militant Tea Party and evangelical conservative and to make this the heart of his strategy for the midterm elections. Each provocation and each dog whistle — if we can even call them that anymore — make Democrats even more determined to vote and to register their rejection of Mr. Trump’s remade Republican Party. In our polling of registered voters nationally and in the Senate battleground states, a remarkable 79 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Mr. Trump, a number that rose to 87 percent in a survey completed last week. Mr. Trump is making Democratic base voters even angrier than you might expect.

But each provocation also produces a reaction in the non-Trump remnant of the Republican Party, and that is the political reaction most observers are missing. Moderate Republicans are much more likely than the rest of the party to be college graduates, to favor abortion rights, to be relaxed about gay marriage and Planned Parenthood, and to believe that climate change is a human-created problem. They were feeling homeless in the Republican Party even before Mr. Trump’s triumph.

The Catholic and nonreligious conservatives base may not be as animated as Mr. Trump’s base is by attacks on the Republican establishment, free trade and Nafta. They are less worried about the Affordable Care Act and would amend rather than overturn it. And they are more like Republicans in the past who accepted the welfare state and the social safety net that earlier generations had bequeathed to them.

Mr. Trump’s ever more aggressive vision pushes his “strong” job approval to an impressive 71 percent with the Tea Party and to 62 percent with evangelicals, but that does not quite match the enthusiastic, anti-Trump reaction among all types of Democrat.

Mr. Trump’s red meat strategy gets a decidedly less enthusiastic response with Catholic and nonreligious conservatives: Less than half of them strongly approve of Mr. Trump’s performance. The enthusiasm gap between the Tea Party and moderate Republicans stands at a stunning 40 points: 71 percent of Tea Party supporters strongly approve of Mr. Trump, compared with 31 percent of moderates.

As of now, those muted reactions to Mr. Trump among these other Republicans are translating into reduced interest in the elections and a potentially lower turnout in November…..

Mr. Trump’s base strategy has allowed him to take over the Republican Party and to marginalize and defeat those who will not get with the program, but it has also unified Democrats around their values and created an opportunity for anti-Trump Americans to engage with these Republican voters, even (and especially) if Mr. Trump will not.

It may be as straightforward as reminding them why the Trumpified Republican Party needs to be repudiated in November. They may be looking for a genuinely conservative party. But these voters may also be open to voting for Democrats.”

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