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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


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.”

Teixeira: Trump May Be Losing Support of Working-Class Whites

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

Trump has hit a new low in his job approval ratings. As the Washington Post notes:

trump approvals

On Sunday evening, a poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal indicated that Trump’s approval rating had hit a new low, sinking to 38 percent. More worrisome for the president? Since September, the drop was biggest among independents, whites and whites without a college degree — key components of the coalition that won Trump the White House. NBC and the Journal also reported that the 38 percent rating was lower than any other president had seen at a similar point in their first terms in the modern era.
On Monday, new data from Gallup reiterated that same message. In Gallup’s daily tracking poll, which looks at three days of national polling, Trump’s approval rating hit a new low of 33 percent and his disapproval a new high of 62 percent. The net approval — those who approve minus those who disapprove — hit a new low at minus-29.

The decline among working class whites is particularly noteworthy. Without strong support from these voters, Trump is in big trouble. This is a trend to watch.

Linkon and Russo: Economic Nationalism and the Half-Life of Deindustrialization

The following article by Sherry Linkon and John Russo, authors of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstownis cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

In a 60 Minutes interview in September, Steven Bannon touted his form of economic nationalism and suggested that Democrats like Senator Sherrod Brown and U.S Representative Tim Ryan understood his economic vision, even if they didn’t agree with him. It was fitting that he name-checked Brown and Ryan, as both come from Northeast Ohio, where the history of deindustrialization began 40 years ago this fall. On September 19th, 1977 — known locally as “Black Monday” — Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced that it was shutting down, kicking off a wave of steel mill closings that would displace more than 40,000 area workers basic steel and steel-related industries.

At the time, some explained deindustrialization as part of the “natural economic order.” Borrowing the term from Joseph Schumpeter, economists and business leaders saw the closings as part of an evolutionary process, a form of “creative destruction” that caused temporary hardships but would lead both capital and labor to more productive activities.  While commentators acknowledged that the process was difficult and uncomfortable, they insisted that the ultimate outcome would be economic growth and a higher standard of living.

Eager to validate such promises, local leaders brought in an array of speakers, including Irving Kristol and Michael Novak from the American Enterprise Institute, who gave public lectures at Youngstown State University. Both insisted that the Mahoning Valley would prosper over time as new industries took root and workers retrained for new jobs. It was all part of what Novak called The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

Texting Beats Email for GOTV — Big Time

Raven Brooks, chief operating officer of Vote.org, has a post up at Campaigns & Elections showing a strong edge for texting over email as a tool for getting out the vote. Here’s the lede and the link:

At the beginning of the 2016 cycle, we felt that text messages held promise based on some existing studies done by our peers in the civic engagement world. They were promising, but not done with large sample sizes because on the whole most campaigns organizations hadn’t invested much in mobile programs yet. We were eager to build on their work and run some larger studies as well as testing a new mode of contact.

In 2014 the Analyst Institute conducted a study of texting with around 150,000 participants. They found this increased turnout in that midterm year by 0.9 and 1.4 percent for “plan-making” texts (those that get the voter to go through the mental process of planning how they will get to the polls). The program operated at an incredibly low cost when looking at cost per vote, especially compared to other modes of contact.

At vote.org, we ran three experiments in 2016 using SMS for voter registration and two varieties of GOTV. But before we get into the findings, some explanation of terminology is in order.


Carville and Greenberg: The country hates the GOP Congress: Why don’t Democrats have a knock-out lead?

The following article by James Carville and Stan Greenberg is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

About 9 months into his presidency, Donald Trump has settled into a historically weak job ap- proval of 41 percent, well below his presidential vote, and with the strong disapproval over 45 percent of voters. He remains an unrepentant divider which pervades all political discourse.1

Yet the most hated politicians are the Republicans in Congress, and perhaps they ought to be more of the focus as they are on the ballot in 2018. Mitch McConnell is the least popular con- gressional leader in Democracy Corps’ polling, followed by Speaker Ryan. Voters know that the Republicans are in charge in Congress and these are the poster children. So why do the Democrats not enjoy a stronger lead in the ballot?


1 National phone survey of 1,000 registered voters conducted by Democracy Corps and Greenberg Research from September 30 – October 6, 2017. The survey was matched to voter file and 67 percent of respondents were reached by cell phones. Of these registered voters, 667 are “likely voters” in 2018. Greenberg Research maintains its own survey and weighting methods, independent of surveys released by GQRR.

The Democrats are ahead by just 8-points among registered voters, and 5-points among likely 2018 voters in Democracy Corps’ most recent national survey. That is marginally down from the 10-point and 7-point advantages (among registered and likely voters, respectively) Democrats held in our June polling on behalf of WVWVAF. (We will release new findings on behalf of WVWVAF next week.)

See graph at this link.

The focus should be more on the GOP Congress, but contributing is the Democratic Party brand, which is unimpressive in this poll. They are viewed more favorably by just net 4-points. There has been no growth in identification with the Democratic Party, as there was in going into 2016.

This dynamic is producing a situation where self-identified Democrats, generic Democratic voters and Hillary Clinton-supporters hold their preferences with great certainty, but they are no more likely to turnout for Democrats in the off-year election, according to this poll.

A remarkable 81 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Donald Trump, while just 55 per- cent of Republicans strongly approve of his job performance. Those voting for the Democrat for Congress are more certain of their choice by 62 to 38 percent, while those voting Republican are split in their certainty (52 very certain to 48 percent somewhat certain).

Yet when it comes to the measures used to gauge interest and intention to vote, Democrats and Republicans are showing equal engagement. That will not produce the landslide election Democrats are hoping to achieve.

See graph at this link.

Maybe Steve Bannon is right that stoking the flames of identify politics creates an environment where Democrats calling for big economic change don’t get heard. We saw in the polling we re- cently released with Public Citizen that Donald Trump has high approval marks when it comes to ‘keeping jobs in the US’ (+27) and ‘putting American workers before the interests of big corpo- rations’ (+7).


But two things catch our eye in this poll to suggest the election could take shape in very different ways by next year. First, watch the seniors and Baby-Boomers. With acute sensitivity to the impact of health care changes, seniors and Boomers are giving particularly high negative marks to Trump and Republicans. The Democrats even hold a 2-point lead in the generic ballot among seniors, breaking the age pattern that has shaped our recent elections.

Second, in our first poll testing a 2020 presidential contest between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren, the Senator wins by 12-points (54 to 42 percent). In coming polls, we will test other potential nominees, but that result is some measure of the real structure of the partisan balance.