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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


How Dems Can and Can’t Win a House Majority in 2018

At The Daily 202 James Hohmann explains why “Even sweeping the suburbs would not be enough for Democrats to win the House majority“:

To win the House majority in the midterms, Democrats will need to make big gains with suburban voters, defend incumbents in rural districts where President Trump remains popular, topple a handful of Republicans in the Sun Belt and probably win a handful of seats that still aren’t on anyone’s radar.

That’s a formidable challenge for Democrats, almost as difficult as Trump’s upsets in rust belt states last year. What makes it even possible is Trump’s increasingly unhinged behavior that, sooner or later, will cause at least some of his supporters to conclude that, maybe it’s time to check his power, and Republicans don’t seem to be up for the job.

Hohmann goes on to note that Republicans now hold 23 House seats in districts Clinton won. “But some of the incumbents are very popular, with brands that are distinct from Trump’s, and they are unlikely to lose no matter how bad the headwinds become.” In addition, writes Hohmann, “Democrats must defend 12 seats in districts that Trump carried in 2016.”

Hohmann cites a Third Way study of 65 potential ‘swing districts’ that fell into four basic categories, including “Thriving Suburban Communities, Left Behind Areas, Diverse/Fast-Growing Regions, and Non-Conformist Districts.” The study underscored the demographic complexity of the districts and concludes that there are simply not enough suburban districts where Democrats have credible chance to win, “even if they could get every single 2016 Clinton voter who backed a Republican House candidate to turn out again in 2018 and cross over.

The study concludes, further, that Democrats simply have to convert some Trump voters, which is a challenging goal, considering other studies which indicate that most Trump voters still support him, despite mounting evidence that he is being manipulated by Putin, almost daily revelations of his lies and blundering comments that alientate U.S. allies abroad.

“There is palpable concern among moderate Democrats that the party will squander precious pick-up opportunities in the midterms,” notes Hoihmann, “and even allow Trump to get reelected in 2020, by nominating unelectable liberals.” The key to Democratic victories next year, according to Third Way is “ideological diversity to take back legislative seats that were lost during the Obama era at the federal and state level” — the exact opposite of the robust populism many progressive Democrats are advocating.

The argument about whether a populist or centrist messaging strategy is better for Democrats in the 2018 midterms is not going to be decided by Democratic Party leaders. Instead, it will be decided mostly by two basic factors, the beliefs, determination and skills of the individual Democratic candidates who run and what the voters do on election day. Campaign consultants and strategists can help candidates get elected. But the candidates themselves have to provide the passion and commitment that can inspire voters.

It will be interesting to see if the winning Democratic candidates of 2018 are more in the progressive or centrist tradition, or perhaps somewhere in between, or even sprinkled across the ideological spectrum. The morning after the election is when the debate about whether a left or centrist message is better for Democratic candidates in 2018 can be credibly evaluated.

Lux: Three Keys to a Winning Strategy for Democrats

The following article by Democraic strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:

The Democratic talking points after losing two more House special elections, including one in Georgia that many people thought they would win, were partly right. All four of these congressional races were in deeply red districts, and we did considerably better than past Democratic candidates in those districts had done. If we over-perform based on past numbers in the competitive districts on the map in 2018, we’ll have a good year.

But with Trump’s numbers in the toilet, lots of Republicans with mixed feelings about the Donald, and Democratic outrage unleashing a flood of money, volunteers, and voter turnout, we had four special elections with legit opportunities to win… and we blew them all. We need to do a serious re-evaluation of our strategy as a party, and we need to do it right damn now.

I say this with a hyper-awareness that we are entering the week where the Republicans will try to not only repeal the Affordable Care Act, but will in the same bill be repealing Medicaid itself, one of the landmark achievements of the 20th century progressive movement. You heard that right, and this isn’t getting nearly enough attention: we’re not just talking deep cuts in Medicaid funding, we’re talking about ending the guarantee of health and nursing home care for the people dependent on Medicaid.

The money instead will be shifted into block grants, where the states — which for the most part aren’t exactly bastions of compassion — can do whatever they want with the far smaller amount of money they will be given. And understand this: Medicaid is not just for a small number of the poorest people in America. Twenty percent of Americans get their health coverage from Medicaid. Two thirds of the people in nursing homes have those bills paid for by Medicaid. And if you have disabilities and need medical care, odds are that those bills are paid by Medicaid as well. This is a BFD of maximum proportions.

You know what else I am hyper-aware of? That Donald Trump is turning America into a banana republic. He is a dangerous corrupt man giving largesse to his cronies and wreaking havoc wherever he goes. If Democrats don’t start winning elections in this election, in big numbers, our democracy will be in peril, as will the achievements of the last century in terms of civil rights, workers’ rights, the environment, health care, education. So much that is decent and good about our country will be blown to dust.

So when I say Democrats need a new strategy, that we need to start winning elections right away, I’m not just talking about how it’d be a little nicer to have more Democrats win. We are at the edge of the abyss, folks, and we desperately need to try something new when it comes to elections.

Here’s what we need to do:

1. Compete everywhere, districts that are more blue collar and rural included. Too many Democratic Party leaders have decided that we can’t compete very well among the “white working class.” That is one reason why the Kansas and South Carolina races were virtually ignored by the national party, and why national Democratic groups got out-spent almost ten to one in the Montana race, while a higher income suburban district in Georgia that was just as Republican as the other three got the lion’s share of money and attention from national Dems. In this political environment — where Trump and the Republicans are deeply unpopular, and where Democrats have far more enthusiasm about voting, volunteering, and giving money online — we should be competing everywhere and paying attention to the kinds of races we normally don’t.

Just because a lot of working class voters supported Trump last year doesn’t mean they will never vote for Democrats, a lot of those same voters voted for Dems in 2012. And news flash: white working class voters aren’t the only working class voters around. When you talk about issues that matter to blue collar voters — health care, Social Security, raising taxes on the wealthy, getting tough on Wall Street abuse of power, creating jobs and increasing wages, paid family and medical leave, child care — you are also reaching African-American working class folks, Latino working class folks, unmarried women, and young people who are working class folks.

2. Stop thinking of populism as some crazy lefty Bernie thing that can’t win in tough districts, that the message needed is safe and cautious “centrism” (whatever that means). Jon Ossoff ran a campaign very similar in targeting, message, and overall strategy to Hillary’s campaign — target upper-income suburban Republicans with an overwhelming amount of TV ads and mail with a safely centrist message mostly devoid of issue specifics and a ton of attacks on the opponent. But neither Hillary nor Ossoff won very many of those voters in spite of the millions spent on trying to do so.

Now, I will be the first to say that a candidate and their message need to fit the district, and GA-6 is a mostly suburban and upper-income district. I get how Ossoff was trying not to scare people that he was a crazy lefty, but there are plenty of older voters in GA-6. The Republican health care plan is unpopular everywhere, including GA-6, and he could have attacked it using quotes from popular groups like AARP and hospital CEOs. Social Security and Medicare are popular everywhere, and he could have talked more about the critical threats they face.

Running safe, mushy campaigns doesn’t win over very many Republicans; doesn’t usually work in getting swing voters on board; and doesn’t help turn out Democratic voters either.

At the same time, national Democrats didn’t think the more populist candidates in the more blue collar districts would appeal in the other three districts and made only very small investments in those districts while Ossoff was raising money hand over fist — more than $40 million was spent between the two candidates, making it the most expensive House race ever. Yet, we came closer in the South Carolina district totally ignored by Democrats, and we came very nearly as close in Kansas and Montana. If we had invested a fraction of the money spent in Georgia — 10% would have been $4 million — in those other three races, we might have picked up a couple of those seats. Populism sounds different from different candidates; different issues resonate in different districts, but in general, populism plays well in blue-collar districts.

Too many party strategists seem to believe that bland mushy messages win elections, but Republicans keep electing boldly conservative tea partiers and people like Trump. Democrats need to take populism back.

3. Less TV, more Facebook. Hillary vastly outspent Trump on TV in 2016. Multiple Democratic Senate candidates in swing races out-spent their opponents on TV and lost. Ossoff vastly out-spent Handel on TV and lost. Notice a pattern here? Republicans from Trump on down consistently spent more than we did on Facebook.

The reasons Democrats should be paying far more attention to Facebook and far less to TV are many. Fewer and fewer people are watching traditional TV, and when they are, they are figuring out plenty of ways to avoid watching commercials. And more and more people are spending more and more time on Facebook. TV commercials are the least trusted source of political information while content from your Facebook friends is among the most trusted sources of information. Most importantly, you can target individual voters on Facebook and learn from their reactions to ads and organic content. Democrats have many weaknesses in their electoral strategy, but if the only thing they did was shift 50% of their TV spending to Facebook (both in terms of turning out the vote and persuasion), they would start winning far more elections.

In order for our democracy and our decency as a country to survive, Democrats need to start winning elections again. But we won’t get there without a new strategy that actually reaches out to working class voters of all races and ages, and fights for issues that matter to their every day lives. Our strategy must shift from TV into the age of Facebook, and it needs to happen now.

How Dems Might Motivate Liberal Non-voters

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt shares a vision of a brighter future for Democrats. It is predicated, however, on meeting a difficult challenge — increasing voter participation among liberals who haven’t been voting.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Hillary Clinton would be president. Even with Donald Trump’s working-class appeal, Clinton could have swept Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, Democrats would control the Senate. Clinton or Barack Obama could then have filled the recent Supreme Court vacancy, and that justice would hold the tiebreaking vote on campaign finance, labor unions and other issues.

If liberals voted at the same rate as conservatives, the country would be doing more to address the two defining issues of our time — climate change and stagnant middle-class living standards. Instead, Trump is making both worse.

Ditto for health care, immigration and education, among other defining issues. Regarding tommorrow’s GA-6 election, Leonhardt writes, “Jon Ossoff, has a real chance to win partly because he isn’t suffering from the gap in voter passion and commitment that usually bedevils Democrats, especially in off-year races.”

As for the nation-wide implications, “It would be a big deal if Democrats could more often close their passion-and-commitment gap. Even modestly higher turnout could help them at every level of politics and hasten the policy changes that liberals dream about.”

Leonhardt rightly urges Dems: “..Don’t make the mistake of blaming everything on nefarious Republicans. Yes, Republicans have gerrymandered districts and shamefully suppressed votes (and Democrats should keep pushing for laws that make voting easier). But the turnout gap is bigger than any Republican scheme.”

He also suggests that Democrats do a better job of leveraging digital technology, and adds “I’d encourage progressives in Silicon Valley to think of voting as a giant realm ripe for disruption. Academic research by Alan Gerber, Donald Green and others has shown that peer pressure can lift turnout. Smartphones are the most efficient peer-pressure device ever invented, but no one has figured out how social media or texting can get a lot more people to the polls — yet.”

The DNC and state Democratic parties should develop a template app, with localized voter registratiion deadline alerts, poll location info and maps, a celebrity GOTV pitch and a progressive slate up and running for every federal, state and local election in the U.S.

In terms of the quality of messaging needed to increase liberal turnout, Leonhardt urges “a passionate message of fairness,”  — “providing jobs, lifting wages, protecting rights and fighting Trump’s plutocracy” However, “it should not resemble a complete progressive wish list, which could turn off swing voters without even raising turnout.” He believes that many liberals who don’t vote “are not doctrinaire…They are looking to be inspired.”

Sometimes the best way to project a message of fairness is to offer diverse candidates. Democrats urgently need more women, African American, Asian American and Latino candidates to run in every district and jurisdiction.

As Leonhardt concludes, “The country’s real silent majority prefers Democrats, if only that majority could be stirred to vote.”

Good points, all. But let’s not forget that many citizens don’t vote because of problems associated with voter registration requirements and voting convenience. Democrats must make Saturday voting, early voting, on-line and mail voting  and universal automatic registration top priorities. And Dems are going to need better monitoring of voter suppression practices like “caging” and other methods used to obstruct voters of color and younger voters.

Leonhardt is surely right that Democrats can and must do a better job of engaging liberal non-voters. It’s a tough, but do-able challenge and it’s one Dems can’t shirk — if they want to be competitive in the upcoming election cycles.

New Study Illuminates How Attitudes Toward Social Issues Helped Trump Win

In his article, “How attitudes about immigration, race and religion contributed to Trump victory,” Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz discusses four reports just released by Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. Balz reports that “The findings are based on online surveys, including one after the election with a sample of 8,000 people who had participated in other such surveys in 2011, 2012 and mid-2016. The surveys were conducted by the firm YouGov” and address “the appeal of candidate Trump, the multifaceted coalition that came to support him, political divisions that continue between and within the parties, and how certain issues came to prominence in 2016.”

Much of the study covers some familiar ground. Balz shares the views of George Washington University political scientist John Sides, who notes that,

“…Attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people and feelings toward Muslims became more strongly related to voter decision-making in 2016 compared to 2012.”…Sides argues that, even before 2016, there was “an increasing alignment between race and partisanship” and among whites there was “an increasing division based on education,” with non-college-educated whites moving away from the Democratic Party, especially after the election of Obama in 2008.

“The shifts among white people overall and white people without a college degree occurred mostly among white people with less favorable attitudes toward black people,” he writes. “No other factor predicted changes in white partisanship during Obama’s presidency as powerfully and as consistently as racial attitudes.” But he also notes that there also were clear divisions between white Democrats and white Republicans in their evaluations of Muslims and their attitudes toward immigration…What did change between 2012 and 2016 was the increased significance in voters’ minds of issues about immigration and attitudes toward blacks and Muslims, among whites both with and without college degrees.

The study apparently did not provide metrics indicating how much of any such attitude change was amplified by Trump’s immigrant-bashing and xenophobic rants, nor to what extent real attitude changes were a function of growing economic insecurity experienced by the survey respondents. Trump’s Electoral College win — let’s not forget that he lost the national popular vote — may well have been a one-time souffle of fears and resentments that he was able to serve up in the rust belt, NC and FL at a particular moment.

Balz adds that “Economic stress also was a factor, with those who expressed negative views about the economy in 2012 “more likely to express key negative cultural attitudes in 2016,” according to a news release summarizing the findings.” However, writes Balz, Sides also found that there was “no statistically significant relationship between trade attitudes and vote choice in either election [2012 or 2016]. Nor was the widely discussed issue of economic anxiety more important in 2016 than in 2012.”

Balz shares a “typology of the Trump Coalition” presented by Emily Ekins of the Cato Institute. As Balz writes:

She labels his core constituency as “American Preservationists” who comprise about a fifth of his supporters, and are less loyal Republicans than are other Trump voters. They lean economically progressive, think the political systems are rigged and have “nativist immigration views and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity.”

About 1 in 3 Trump supporters are “Staunch Conservatives.” Ekins writes that they are “steadfast fiscal conservatives, embrace moral traditionalism and have a moderately nativist conception of American identity and approach to immigration.”…“Free Marketers,” a quarter of Trump supporters, hold more moderate-to-liberal views on race and immigration and supported Trump primarily because of their dislike for Clinton. “Anti-Elites,” about a fifth of the Trump coalition, are motivated by a belief that the political systems are rigged but take a more moderate position on immigration, race and national identity. She labeled a small fraction of his supporters as “The Disengaged” and said they feel unable to influence political and economic institutions.

The typology seems excessively rigid, however, since most voters hold overlapping constellations of priorities and concerns that change from day to day. In addition, the scandals and failures of the Trump Administration since election day have whittled his supporters down to the hard core, as his tanking approval ratings suggest.

As for relevance to the 2018 midterm elections, the erosion of Trump’s credibility since last year raises furhter doubts about how many of his former supporters are going to vote for his fellow Republicans in 2018. It remains equally unclear how many are going to even show up at the polls.

Increasing Voter Turnout Requires Both Technical Fixes and Attitude Change

In her New York Times op-ed, “Increasing Voter Turnout for 2018 and Beyond,” Tina Rosenberg does an excellent job of distilling current issues associated with voter turnout and reforms needed to improve turnout. An excerpt:

One way for campaigns to get their voters to the polls is to recruit a good candidate who can inspire voters and run a competitive race…Then there’s painstaking fieldwork. All campaigns do it, but Donald P. Green, a professor at Columbia, said that many do it wrong. With Alan S. Gerber, Green wrote “Get Out the Vote,” which collected evidence from randomized controlled trials about what gets candidates’ supporters to the polls. “There’s a strong consensus that one of the few things that actually does increase turnout is contact, preferably in person,” said Green. “Shoe leather really works.” Especially when it’s a neighbor doing the door knocking.

…Even in 2018, pro-turnout factors will be undercut by numerous structural barriers — long-term obstacles intended to preserve the dominance of rich, white, older people by suppressing the votes of poorer, younger minorities.

Nevertheless, in the last few years, many states and cities have begun institutional reforms that make voting easier.

Denver is a leader. Coloradans have long been among the nation’s most enthusiastic voters, and last November, Denver set a personal best: 72 percent of those registered voted — much more than in most major cities. (The percentage was 67 in 2008, and 63 in 2012.)

“For us, this is a customer service issue,” said Amber McReynolds, Denver’s director of elections. “Whatever we can do to better serve our voters, we’re going to do.”…Denver mailed a ballot to every registered voter. Voters could fill it out at home and then mail it in or bring it to a drop box. Mailed ballots could be tracked with bar codes…Voting at home was popular; 92 percent of voters chose to do it. Those who did go to a polling place could do so anywhere in the city — near home or near work…There were other modernizations: People could register and vote on the same day. Those who moved had their voter registration changed automatically when they updated their driver’s license.

…The Illinois legislature, for example, just adopted automatic registration, by unanimous votes in both houses. If the governor signs it, then citizens who have contact with state agencies, including the motor vehicles department, will be automatically registered unless they decline.

Oregon was the first state to institute automatic registration, but now there are eight, as well as Washington, D.C. They include red states: Alaska, Georgia and West Virginia. Momentum is growing; so far this year, 32 states have introduced proposals to institute or expand it.

Rosenberg discusses a range of other remedies for low voter turnout, and she also calls attention to the problem of voter suppression. Also read reports by The Nation’s Ari Berman and others who cover the problem of voter suppression — the very deliberate practice of rigging and twisting election laws and otherwise interfering to prevent people of color and young voters from casting ballots.

The technical fixes to confront voter suppression are much-needed. But it’s also important that the Republican Party do some soul-searching about their commitment to prevent citizens from voting, based mostly on their race. The way it is now, with GOP control of all three branches of government, they see little need to change their commitment to voter suppression. Not one conservative pundit has even ventured a comment on this issue.

Gone are the Republican patriots of an early era who understood that their party should try to win the votes of all races, if they truly believed in democracy. Now it’s wink, wink, ‘voter fraud is the real problem,’ — a meme that no Republican leaders actually believe is the truth.

The only way to compel Republicans to take an honest look at how essentially unAmerican and morally compromised their party has become on the issue of free and fair elections is a resounding defeat at the polls. That should be the top priority for Democrats, certainly — but also for voters who want to restore balance and integrity to American government.

Greenberg: The Democrats’ ‘Working-Class Problem’ It’s not only with whites. It reaches well into the party’s base

Democrats can’t retake Congress without more white working-class votes. The Democratic Strategist and The American Prospect are presenting the 2017 Roundtable on the White Working Class and the Democrats, including 13 articles on why the Democrats should, and how they can, win those votes—progressively. The following article by Stanley B. Greenberg, founding partner of Greenberg Research and Democracy Corps and author of America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century, is part of this roundtable:

The road to a sustainable Democratic majority—nationally, locally, and in the states—must include much higher Democratic performance with white working-class voters (those without a four-year degree). Nearly every group in the progressive infrastructure is busy figuring out how Democrats can get back to the level of support they reached with President Obama’s 2012 victory. That is a pretty modest target, however, given the scale of Democratic losses. It underestimates the scope of the problem and, ironically, the opportunity.

The Democrats don’t have a “white working-class problem.” They have a “working-class problem,” which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate, including the Rising American Electorate of minorities, unmarried women, and millennials. This decline contributed mightily to the Democrats’ losses in the states and Congress and to the election of Donald Trump.

Fortunately, Democrats have the opportunity to consolidate, engage, and perform much better with all of working America. I say “opportunity” advisedly, because better performance requires Democrats to embrace dramatically bolder economic policies and to attack a political economy that works for the rich, big corporations, and the cultural elites, but not for average Americans.


The Challenge for Dems: Becoming the Party of Working People — of All Races

Public relations pros talk a lot about the power of “branding,” which is really another term for clarifying identity. Since the days of FDR, the Democratic Party has provided the better candidates for advocating reforms that benefit working people, in stark contrast to their Republican adversaries. In recent decades, however, Dems have failed to get credit for it. In PR terms, the ‘brand’ has dissolved in the chaos of modern politics.

It’s a built-in problem for the ‘big tent’ party. By welcoming a broad range of demographic and cultural groups with their myriad and quite legitimate grievances and agendas, the central, unifying message often gets garbled, buried or lost, and some demographic groups are bound to feel neglected and disrespected. In the case of the Democratic Party, the largest of these alienated  constituencies is the white working-class, currently estimated to be about 45 percent of the eligible electorate, down from about 70 percent in 1980.

The Trump campaign deftly exploited white working-class discontent and narrowly flipped key Rust Belt states in the 2016 election for an Electoral College upset, despite Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s substantial popular vote plurality. Political analysts have offered a host of plausible explainations for the 2016 outcome, including voter suppression, Clinton’s ads, travel, email and  Wall St. conections and F.B.I. Director James Comey’s ‘October surprise’ and others, all of which have merit. But most observers agree that Democrats badly underperformed with white working-class voters, a constituency that has little to gain from Republican policies and priorities.

The question arises, how can Democrats repair the broken bonds with white working-class voters, while strengthening their support from working people of all races? There is no short answer, but Robert Griffin, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira open up the dialogue with their article, “Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races: And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers” in The American Prospect. Their article, which includes some fascinating maps and graphics, helps to kick off a series of forthcomming essays and forums presented in partnership with The Democratic Strategist, addressing “The White Working-Class and the Democrats.”

The challenge, as the authors emphasize, is not to win a majority of the white working-class in time for the 2018 and 2020 elections — securing that majority will likely take longer — but to win a bigger portion of this large constituency. “Democrats do not need to win FDR-level support among white working-class voters,” the authors write, “but they cannot afford to lose them by margins as high as 30 to 40 points in some key states—as they have in recent elections…The party needs to rediscover its roots as a working-class party, one that was initially exclusionary of people of color but that today can and must represent the interests and values of working people of all races.”

With that, we’ll encourage TDS readers to check out the entire article and the series, and to respond with their best insights and ideas.

Cohn: Why Battleground State Polls Underestimated Trump’s Support in 2016

Nate Cohn’s “A 2016 Review: Why Key State Polls Were Wrong About Trump” considers three theories to explain why Trump did exceeded polling projections in the Rust Belt, NC and FL. As Cohn explains:

At least three key types of error have emerged as likely contributors to the pro-Clinton bias in pre-election surveys. Undecided voters broke for Mr. Trump in the final days of the race, or in the voting booth. Turnout among Mr. Trump’s supporters was somewhat higher than expected. And state polls, in particular, understated Mr. Trump’s support in the decisive Rust Belt region, in part because those surveys did not adjust for the educational composition of the electorate — a key to the 2016 race.

“Some of these errors will be easier to fix than others,” writes Cohn. “But all of them are good news for pollsters and others who depend on political surveys.”

Further, Cohn adds, “At the annual conference of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), as well as at a number of other meetings held earlier this year, evidence pointed toward an explanation in one of these categories:”

A postelection survey by Pew Research, and another by Global Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, re-contacted people who had taken their polls before the election. They found that undecided and minor-party voters broke for Mr. Trump by a considerable margin — far more than usual. Similarly, the exit polls found that late-deciding voters supported Mr. Trump by a considerable margin in several critical states. These three results imply that late movement boosted Mr. Trump by a modest margin, perhaps around two points.

Cohn cautions, however, that there is a “tendency for respondents to over-report voting for the winner.” Cohn also note “the so-called “shy Trump” effect,” the notion that “Trump supporters took telephone surveys but were embarrassed to divulge their support for an unpopular candidate. If true, the “undecided” voters were really Trump voters all along; they just didn’t want to admit it to pollsters until after their candidate won.”

Cohn also discusses the arument that “likely-voter screens may have tilted polls in Clinton’s direction,evidence in inconclusive. He also notes that an Upshot/Siennna survey found that “Mrs. Clinton’s supporters were likelier than Mr. Trump’s supporters to stay home after indicating their intention to vote.”

In addition, many of the polls failed to adequately ‘weight’ polls to reflect educational levels in keeping with demographic realities. It appears that less educated voters, were somewhat underrepresented in key state polls.

About 45 percent of respondents in a typical national poll of adults will have a bachelor’s degree or higher, even though the census says that only 28 percent of adults have a degree. Similarly, a bit more than 50 percent of respondents who say they’re likely to vote have a degree, compared with 40 percent of voters in newly released 2016 census voting data…Most national polls were weighted by education, even as most state polls were not.

The good news for pollsters, adds Cohn, is that the more accurate “performance of national surveys has been one of the better reasons to assume that last year’s misfire wasn’t a broad indictment of public opinion polls.” However, Cohn cites a need for better demographic data in state polls including more accurate samples of education levels by race. That would help pinpoint correct percentages weighting for whites with no college education in state surveys. Cohn notes,

But many lower-quality state pollsters did not even ask about education at all, suggesting that it wasn’t on their radar as a potential issue in 2016. That’s surprising. The potential for bias should have been fairly obvious, given the media coverage of Mr. Trump’s strength among less educated voters and the well-established difference in response rates along educational lines.

Weighting errors, ‘shy’ Trump voters and late-deciding voters all taken together may explain most of the state-wide polling failure to predict Trump’s success in the Rust belt and other battleground states. Then there is the thorny problem of low-level civic engagement, “the best-known response bias in polling,” which is a more difficult fix to implement. “It’s certainly possible that Mr. Trump’s white working-class supporters were less likely to respond to telephone surveys,” writes Cohn. “But the data, at least in the public realm, is not very clear.”

Looking toward the future, Cohn is not optimistic that state polls are going to get better, in part because newspaper budgets for polling are shrinking. Also, “The failure of many state pollsters to even ask respondents about education does not inspire much confidence in their ability to stave off less predictable sources of bias.”

It’s not clear how much an be done to correct for ‘shy’ voters and late deciders. But whether media-linked polls get their act together in state and local polls or not, it is incumbent on Democratic pollsters to at least address the weighting issue, if Democratic strategy is going to reflect demographic reality. Democrats, in particular, can’t afford to cut corners on their inside polls — if they want a reality-based strategy.

Feingold: How to Fight Voter Suppression

From former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s Vox post, “Voting rights are under assault nationwide. Here’s how to protect them.“:

Our democratic legitimacy will be determined by how we respond, as a country, to the growing assault on voting rights. The successful suppression of a single vote is an assault on the citizenry as a whole; it’s an attempt to shift power away from the people and to a specific elite class. We cannot stand back and rely only on our courts to challenge every new voter suppression law. This could be our generation’s civil rights moment, our 1965, and we must rise to meet it. We need a 21st century Voting Rights Act. The onus is on us to demand one, and on Congress to pass it.

…We need a new formula. And the only one that can ensure that no voter is suppressed in America is one that covers all 50 states. Any change to voting regulations in any state should have to be reviewed and precleared. There would be no targeting of specific states and counties, in the way Shelby County invalidated, nor any benchmark in history that can become outdated. The right to vote must be sacrosanct, and that means leaving no room for voter suppression anywhere.

To make a 50-state rule effective, Congress must provide the means to enforce it. It can do so by establishing an independent Office of Voting Rights. The Trump administration makes clear why independence is so essential. In just a few months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his DOJ have shifted to a much weaker stance towards voting rights than that taken by the Obama administration. Sessions’s DOJ, for example, reversed its position on Texas’s voter ID law, going so far as to seek dismissal of the department’s previous claim that the law was intentionally discriminatory.

…We need an office with the resources and independence to handle a 50-state caseload, regardless of the party in power. The Office of Voting Rights would exist solely to review and approve or disapprove of any proposed changes to voting rights regulations, state by state.

Feingold, who has  formed a new organization,  LegitAction, an organization focused on restoring legitimacy to our democracy, notes further:

There rightfully exists a high threshold for any law that subjects states to the oversight of Washington. Jim Crow met that threshold, the Supreme Court decided in the 1960s. The onslaught of voter suppression in the past four years should also be recognized as the emergency that it is — especially as the state-level efforts have been coupled with an executive branch intent on doubling down on such suppression. This extraordinary set of circumstances meets the criteria justifying oversight. Protecting voting rights — the vehicle through which the power of the people is exercised — must take precedent over the convenience and sovereignty of the states.

Feingold’s 50-state strategy sounds like a fresh approach to a critical problem facing the nation, and Democrats in particular. “Trump’s commission on “election integrity” may be just the first step in a White House-led assault on our most fundamental democratic right,” Feingold concludes. “At this precarious moment, the United States needs a 21st century Voting Rights Act. Every candidate for national office should be required to make public her or her position on this vital piece of legislation.”

GOP Win of MT House Seat Tainted with Assault Charge

In his victory statement on winning the special election for Montana’s House seat by 6+ points, Republican Greg Gianforte, facing assault charges for allegedly attacking a reporter who’d asked him about the recently released CBO scoring of the GOP’s health-care bill, offered a vaguely-stated apology. As David Weigel and Elise Viebeck report at The Washington Post, Gianforte told his victory rally, “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way,” he told supporters at his rally here…Some in the crowd laughed at the mention of the incident. “I made a mistake,” said Gianforte.” Further, note the authors,

In interviews at Quist’s final rally, at a Missoula microbrewery, voters were skeptical that the attack could change the race. Gianforte entered the contest with high negative ratings and an image as a hard-charging bully who had joked about outnumbering a reporter at a town hall meeting and sued to keep people from fishing on public land near his home.

“Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” said Brent Morrow, 60. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

Gianforte and the allied super PACs had deflected attention from his low approval numbers with ads attacking Quist over unpaid taxes and gaffes about gun rights and military spending. To the extent the assault charge hurt — a GOP-aligned poll found 93 percent of voters aware of it — Republicans thought it denied them another day of attention on Quist.

In his Esquire column, “The Ben Jacobs ‘Body Slam’ Was Not an Isolated Incident,” columnist Charles P. Pierce noted,

These attacks on individual reporters should be no surprise. In the wider political world, people like [Gianforte campaign spokesman] Shane Scanlon and Greg Gianforte operate secure in the knowledge of precisely who their audiences hate and why they hate them. They know that those audiences cheered when reporters covering the Ferguson protests got roughed up and busted by the cops, and when that guy got arrested in West Virginia for questioning HHS Secretary Tom Price, and when that reporter got put into a wall while asking questions at an FCC event, and, ultimately, when the 2016 Republican candidate for president spent a good portion of every campaign rally coming right up to the edge of setting a mob loose on the penned-up press at the back of the hall.

A proper history of Republican thuggery in the 21st century should probably include the notorious “Brooks Brothers riot” in 2000, when the GOP flew in goons to intimidate the presidential vote recount in Miami. Wikipedia notes that Roger Stone, who has served as an advisor to both Trump and Nixon, is listed among the Brooks Brothers Riot participants.

As for the after-effects of Gianforte’s win, in his post, “Greg Gianforte’s assault charge puts Republicans in a lose-lose situation in Montana,” CNN Editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote:

Now, consider what happens if Gianforte wins. Some time between now and June 7, he will have to appear in court to face the assault charge. And based on the audio provided by Jacobs as well as the eyewitness reports from a Fox News crew, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t get convicted. (Nota bene: I am not a lawyer.)
What do Republicans do then? Every member of leadership will be asked, daily, whether seating Gianforte represents a willingness to look the other way. And for a party already struggling with branding issues, that’s not the sort of story House Republicans need bouncing around Washington. If they don’t seat Gianforte, then what? Can they force him to resign? And would that mean — as I suspect it would — another special election where the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist, would almost certainly run and might well start as the front-runner due to the controversy surrounding Gianforte?
Gianforte losing is a bad story for national Republicans. Gianforte winning might well be a worse one.

Today is an especially-sad day for those who are old enough to remember a time when Montana voters repeatedly elected one of the classiest, most dignified and widely-respected political leaders of any era, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.