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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Enten: Polling Trendline Favors Jones in Alabama — for Now

From Harry Enten’s “Is Roy Moore Losing?” at FiveThirtyEight.com:

A Change Research survey released Thursday found Democrat Doug Jones leading Republican Roy Moore 46 percent to 43 percent ahead of Alabama’s special Senate election on Dec. 12. The survey is just one of many to show that the allegations of child molestation and sexual misconduct against Moore have really eroded his support. Not only that, but the first few polls released after the allegations became public on Nov. 9 may have understated his problems. He seems to have fallen even further since then.

Enten adds that “The average of surveys fielded after the first accusations shows the race exactly tied,” and notes,

Let’s take a look at the three pollsters — Change Research, Gravis Marketingand Strategy Research — that conducted at least two surveys after the allegations. Change Research’s first post-allegations poll, conducted Nov. 9-11, had Moore at +4 points. As we noted above, its Nov. 15-16 survey had Jones at +3. Gravis Marketing showed an identical 7-point shift toward Jones, going from Moore +2 on Nov. 10 to Jones +5 in its Nov. 14-15 poll. Strategy Research, meanwhile, went from Moore +6 in its poll ending on Nov. 13 to Moore +2 in its poll ending on Nov. 21.

Further, Enten explains, “If these later surveys in Alabama are a truer reflection of where the race stands, Jones may actually have an advantage. An average of Alabama polls conducted over the past week, for instance, gives Jones a 47 percent to 43.5 percent lead.”

“Either way,” cautions Enten, “there’s still three weeks to go until election day. It’s possible that the trajectory of the race could change by then. There are also questionsabout what the partisan composition of the electorate will look like in a December off-year election — just how anti-Trump will it be? These factors make this race too uncertain to call.”

In other words, it could be all about turnout. Reporting on the ground games of the two candidates to date is pretty thin. But Democrats clearly have reason to hope that GOP’s monopoly of Alabama politics in recent years may be coming to an end.

Here’s the Jones campaign’s hard-hitting ad:

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

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

tax plan-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teixeira: Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teixeira: What Do the Exit Polls Really Tell Us About Virginia?

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

To understand what the 2017 exit polls are telling us in Virginia, it is first necessary to understand what they got wrong in 2016. Estimates we have done for our Voter Trends in 2016 project indicate that Virginia’s voters in 2016 were 38 percent white noncollege and 32 percent white college. White noncollege voters supported Trump by 67-27 and white college voters supported Clinton 51-42.

Compare this to the 2016 exits in Virginia. The exits claimed that Virginia voters were 38 percent white college and just 29 percent white noncollege. They pegged the white noncollege vote at 71-24 Trump but actually had Clinton losing the white college vote 45-49.

So, 2016 exit polls in VA practically reversed the correct proportions of white college and noncollege voters. In 2016, there were still more white noncollege than white college voters. Also, the 2016 exits overestimated the white noncollege Republican advantage and didn’t catch that white college voters likely supported Clinton by a solid margin in the state.

OK, now to 2017. The 2017 Virginia exits claim that white college educated voters vastly outnumbered white noncollege voters by 41-26. They further claim that Northam carried the white college vote by a narrow 51-48 margin, while losing white noncollege voters by 26-72.

Extrapolating from the 2016 comparison above between exits and our data, I’d say better estimates for VA in 2017 are as follows:

  • White noncollege and white college were likely close to equal as shares of voters (perhaps around 35 percent each), not heavily weighted toward white college as the exit polls claim.
  • The white noncollege margin for Gillespie was likely closer to 40 points than 46 points.
  • Impressively and significantly, white college graduates, judging from the shifts in the exits between the two years and using our 2016 figures as a baseline, may have given Northam a mid-teens advantage not the narrow 3 point margin shown in the 2017 exits. That could be quite important going forward.
  • As for black voters, I am OK with the 2017 exits’ estimate on margin (around 75 points) since our estimates and the exits agree on this data point for 2016. Possibly black voter share is a bit overestimated by the 2017 exits, judging from previous patterns. I suspect, however, that the slight decline in black voter share relative to 2016 registered by the exits is probably real.

Keys to VA Governorship Election

Jeff Schapiro, columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, offers some insights on “What to Look for on Election Day –  and Where,” including:

Virginia’s geopolitics — for purposes of picking a winner on election night — begin with 10 cities and counties with populations of about 200,000 to nearly 1.2 million. They are in the eastern half of the state, from the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Virginia Beach, on the Atlantic coast.

This sweeping crescent — it tracks Interstates 95 and 64 — is the key to the Democrats’ current lock on the five offices decided by statewide vote. It is where Northam will receive most of his votes. It is where Gillespie, who can count on near-uniform support across the western and southern countryside, must break through to win.

The four counties of Northern Virginia — Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William — are emerging as hostile territory for Gillespie, largely because it is where hostility to President Donald Trump is greatest. That could drive up turnout, potentially providing a cushion for Democrats against losses in more competitive localities downstate.

However, writes Schapiro, “Do not underestimate the tail-wagging-the-dog effect of Northern Virginia on state politics. If Democrats carry the region — of the 2 million-plus votes expected to be cast Tuesday, more than 500,000 will come out of the four counties — it’s likely game-over for Republicans.”

Schapiro points out that rain is expected in much of Virginia today. Usually that is good news for Repubicans who generally thrive on low turnouts in more populated areas. But there have been exceptions, and if northern Virginia voters are fed up with Trump, that could help drive turnout. The latest round of Trump Administration scandals could conceivably do the trick, especially considering Gillespie’s record as a fat-cat lobbyist, nick-named “Enron Ed” by his adversaries.  Schapiro continues,

Loudoun may be the most promising D.C. suburb for Gillespie, who lives next door in Fairfax. Though Loudoun was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013, the county’s profile is quasi-Establishment Republican. It is the fastest-growing county in the state and the No. 1 county nationally in median household income. Nearly 60 percent of its residents are college graduates. And Loudoun may remember Gillespie, having tipped to him — barely — in his near victory for U.S. Senate in 2014 against Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.

But Gillespie’s majority this year in Loudoun would have to far exceed his nearly 500-vote edge over Warner. That’s because there aren’t enough votes in reliably Republican rural Virginia to overtake the metropolitan areas, where two-thirds of the state’s residents live.

With respect to the Richmond burbs, keep an eye on Chesterfield County. As Schapiro notes,

In years past, GOP statewide candidates would routinely win Chesterfield 2-to-1. But Gillespie, against Warner three years ago, managed only a 9,000-vote majority. And Trump won Chesterfield by a mere 4,000 votes.

Gillespie can’t afford a repeat of his 2014 performance in Chesterfield. Continuing antagonism in the county for Trump — and Gillespie’s refusal to criticize the president for fear of alienating his voters — might muffle Republican enthusiasm.

At The Virginian-Pilot, the state’s largest circulation newspaper, columnist Brock Vergakis notes,

Historically, voter turnout in statewide races plummets following a presidential election year. Turnout among registered voters dropped from 71 percent in 2012 to 43 percent the following year when Gov. Terry McAuliffe was elected, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. With significant support among black voters, McAuliffe won that year by 2.5 percentage points.

That sounds like a good omen for Northam, particularly if there is a strong turnout in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Vergakis also cites “research that shows if campaigns can make what’s called “four touches” with a voter – such as a phone call, direct mail, conversations on doorsteps and leaving a door hanger – they can get that person to show up on Election Day.” He quotes Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, who explains,

That’s why so much time is spent courting likely voters, which includes those who have voted in a primary or donated to a campaign, indicating they may favor one party over the other.

“It’s more necessary in a race like this,” Kidd said. “This governor’s race is essentially a base election. It’s going to be which side gets its base out to vote. That’s when the four touches become important.”

“Let’s be clear,” he added. “It isn’t easy to get four touches on a voter. Four touches is difficult to do, which is why campaigns spend so much money trying to do it.”

The “four touches” turnout strategy sounds plausible enough. Today’s Virginia election will be a telling test for Democrats — to determine whether they have awakened to the priority of GOTV in non-presidential election years.

Teixeira: Turnout of Black and Non-College white Voters May Define Outcome in Virginia Governor’s Race Today

 The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think, is cross-posted from his blog:


The finale of the Virginia governor’s race is upon us. Two things are clear: (1) Northam is running a narrow lead over Gillespie; and (2) voting cleavages by demographic group look very similar to those in 2016. The latter is actually quite an interesting development.

In 2016, according to the synthetic data analysis we conducted for our recent voter trends report, there was a very significant margin swing toward Democrats among white college graduates in Virginia, from losing this group by 5 points in 2012 to carrying it by 9 points in 2016. That’s the main reason why Clinton carried Virginia by a greater margin than Obama–an unusual pattern for the 2016 election.

That trend is evident in the just-released Upshot//Sienna poll of Virginia voters. Northam leads Gillespie among white college grads by an identical 9 point margin.

As for white noncollege voters, Clinton lost them by 40 points in 2016 and Gillespie leads Northam by an identical 40 points in the Upshot poll.

Black voters in the Upshot poll give Northam a 75 point margin over Gillespie, similar to Clinton’s relatively poor showing in 2016 (a 79 point margin vs. 88 points for Obama in 2012).

Perhaps it will all come down to turnout. In 2016, our estimates indicate that Virginia black turnout was down 3 points while white noncollege turnout was up 2 points. If the discrepancy in black and white noncollege turnout trends persists this Tuesday, the Democrats’ newfound ability to dominate the white college vote might not be enough to carry the state.

WaPo-ABC News Poll Shows Most White Workers Souring on Trump

A careful reading of the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted 10/29 to 11/1, indicates that a majority of “non-college,” white respondents say Trump’s tax bill favors the rich and he is trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Further, they don’t believe Trump understands them. When you explore the data and clickable sub-topics, here are a few of the more revealing data nuggets you will find:

Asked “do you think Trump is trying to make the current federal health care law work as well as it can, or trying to make it fail?,” only 45 percent of white, non-college men say he is trying to make it work, while 46 percent say he is trying to make it fail. For white, non-college women, only 25 percent agree that he is trying to make it work, while 67 percent say he want to make it fail.

Asked whether Trump’s tax proposals “favor the rich, middle-class or poor all equally,” 40 percent of white, non-college men say it favors the rich, 22 percent say the middle class, 3 percent say the poor and 26 percent say all equally. For white, non-college women, the figures are 57 percent say his tax proposals favor the rich, 15 percent say the middle class, 2 percent say the por and 21 percent say all equally.

Responding to the question, “Do you think Trump understands people like you, or not?,” 44 percent of white, non-college adults say “Yes,” while 55 percent say “No.”

Clearly, the stereotype of white working-class voters as gullible Trump supporters is grossly over-stated, particularly with respect to women. Democrats don’t have to persuade a majority of white working-class voters that Trump opposes their interests; That is already accomplished. The challenge is doing all that can be done to get them to the polls and urging them to vote their convictions.

Polls Show Widespread Doubts About GOP Tax ‘Reform’

From James Hohman at The Washington Post Daily 202:

What’s clear from numerous polls in recent weeks and months is that Americans across the political spectrum don’t think the wealthy or big businesses should get a tax cut. And few see taxes as the top issue Congress should tackle,” Heather Long writes on Wonkblog. “What does have solid support in recent polls is tax cuts for small businesses and the middle and lower classes.”

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released Sunday found that only 25 percent think the tax bill is a “good idea.”

A Politico-Morning Consult poll published yesterday showed 48 percent “support” or “somewhat support” a tax bill. But sentiment dropped sharply when people are asked about some of the specifics that will be in the GOP bill, especially a tax cut for business.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in September asked, “Do you support or oppose Trump’s tax plan?” 28 percent said they “strongly” or “somewhat” supported the plan; 73 percent believe that the current tax system favors the wealthy; and 65 percent believe businesses pay too little.

A CBS poll released Wednesday found 80 percent think that taxes for big business should stay the same or go up; 56 percent said Trump’s plan will benefit the rich, while 13 percent said it would benefit the middle class; and 70 percent said Congress should address other issues before passing a tax bill.

Gallup found this April that 51 percent of Americans feel their taxes are “too high.” In 1985, the last time the system was overhauled, 63 percent felt that way.

Yet, despite such poll numbers, there is a real danger that the legislation could pass and be signed into law. As Harry Enten notes at FiveThirtryEight, “Luckily for the Republicans, tax reform isn’t a top issue for most Americans. If that continues to be the case, voter opinion might not greatly affect the bill’s chance of passage.”