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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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10 Reasons Democrats Can Be Thankful

In the spirit of Thanksgiving weekend, at New York I wrote up some reasons for Democratic gratitude this year:

As a new poll from SurveyMonkey shows, Donald J. Trump will loom over Thanksgiving tables this year to a remarkable extent; his name is far more likely to spark arguments than any other topic, public or private. And for liberals, such arguments will serve as a reminder that there is no moment, however sacred, that the 45th president cannot spoil with his vengeful, glowering presence, so much like a nightmare the morning light cannot dispel.

Last Thanksgiving Day the shock of Trump’s election was too fresh to be fully absorbed. But now, a year later, the reality of President Trump is with us like an endless nagging headache that periodically flares into a life-threatening stab of pain. So when his name inevitably comes up at the Thanksgiving table or at postprandial gatherings of families and friends, it will be a good time for left-of-center Americans to count their blessings. I offer some comforting thoughts about things for which we should be thankful, in no particular order:

1. The U.S. Constitution endures. Yes, conservatives sometimes act as though the First Amendment is strictly about letting tax-exempt churches and their affiliates do whatever they want; that the Second Amendment is the only other significant element of the Bill of Rights; and that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments aren’t really valid because the Founders weren’t around. But the Constitution does provide major hurdles against would-be tyrants, which is why the president spends so much time raging against the federal judges who enforce it.

2. Obamacare lives. A year ago I would have bet the farm, had I owned one, that the Republicans who controlled the White House and Congress would have repealed the Affordable Care Act by now. They had the congressional majorities, the means (the budget process, making enactment of legislation by a simple majority possible), and the motive (years and years of fiery promises to dismantle the 44th president’s great legacy) to get it done. But it turns out they didn’t have the unity in the U.S. Senate, or the ability to persuade the public that going back to the days when insurers walked tall and citizens had no protections beyond their own wealth was a good idea.

3. Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are still the law of the land. Trump would not have become president had he not convinced conservative evangelical leaders that even though he might not share their faith, he shared their determination to make reproductive rights and marriage equality things of the past. With Neil Gorsuch, he got halfway to a Supreme Court that would likely reverse or significantly modify Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood and turn back the clock to 1973, and perhaps repeal or at least curtail LGBTQ rights. But he remains a Justice short, so liberals should combine thanks for that fragile reality with prayers and best wishes for the health of 84-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 79-year-old Stephen Breyer.

4. The 2017 elections represented a liberal comeback. While the fairly steady Democratic vote gains in the special elections of 2017 could be dismissed as no more than moral victories so long as they didn’t produce actual takeovers of congressional or statewide offices, November 7, 2017, was an unambiguous anti-Trump triumph. It came complete with the kind of suburban wins and Democratic “base” turnout patterns that augur very well for Donkey Party prospects in 2018.

5. The 2018 elections represent liberal hope. Taking back the U.S. House (much less the Senate) remains a tough challenge for Democrats in 2018, but one that looks more realistic every day. So long as Trump’s approval ratings remain underwater, Democrats have a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and the anti-Trump young and minority voters who normally sit out midterms remain energized, then at a minimum the 2018 elections should reduce the GOP’s margin of control in the House to a sliver that makes governing even more difficult than before, and with some luck will give Paul Ryan’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

6. There’s a competitive Senate race in Alabama. A whole series of incidents from a corrupt-looking appointment of a temporary Republican senator to a vicious primary culminating in the nomination of the highly controversial extremist Roy Moore to revelations that the self-same Moore used to troll for (and perhaps assault) teenage girls when he was a 30-something prosecutor, have all combined to make Democrat Doug Jones an even bet to be elected in Alabama next month. The very possibility is playing havoc with Senate Republicans’ tax bill and year-end spending bill. And a Jones win would open up a path to the once-remote possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2018. If that were to happen, all of the right’s ambitions for flooding the judiciary with right-wing Trump appointees could come to a screeching halt.

7. Robert Mueller. Whether or not the special counsel investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election finds evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign, and/or finds reason to chase significant figures in the president’s entourage toward the hoosegow, his proceedings represent if nothing else a reminder that this president is not yet above the law. Beyond that, the slow unfolding of the Mueller investigation and the steadily climbing number of indictments mean that liberals aren’t the only ones with reasons to dread the future.

8. The Reckoning. Yes, the current firestorm over sexual harassment and assault in government and media is creating some difficult questions and some painful repercussions for liberal as well as conservative leaders. But in the end, like the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy over a quarter-century ago, the sudden defenestration of powerful men caught acting very badly will likely represent a step forward toward workplaces where actual work is valued and abuses are no longer tolerated. And as a bonus, every time a sexual predator is disgraced he may well be replaced by a talented woman previously denied a fair chance at advancement. Nancy Pelosi isn’t the only woman who may get a promotion in 2018.

9. William J. Barber II. The North Carolina clergyman and leader of “Moral Mondays” protests against right-wing dominance of his state is a living reminder that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not the exclusive face of American Christianity.

10. Memories of 2016 will eventually fade. As we approach the 2020 elections and the possibility of an orderly end to the Trump Era (barring the very long odds against its being more abruptly ended by resignation or impeachment), memories of that traumatic night in 2016 when it began will slowly fade, and psychic wounds will slowly heal. It is even possible that by next Thanksgiving fights between liberals over the Clinton–Sanders nominating contest can begin to wind down. For that I would be profoundly thankful.

Political Strategy Notes

Now that the dust has settled in the Virginia legislative races, the Republicans will hold very slim majorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates in January, 21-19 and 51-49 respectively, while Democrats will still have the governorship. However, “the battle for the majority continues outside the election cycle,” reports Fenit Nirappil at The Washington Post. “Northam can offer incumbent GOP lawmakers jobs in his administration, creating pickup opportunities for Democrats. Then-Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) used that tactic in 1998 to erode Democratic majorities in the legislature.” Rarer still, but not unprecedented, would be successful inducements for red to blue to party-switching. More likely, Dems may be able to win support from a few Republican legislators for such increasingly popular reforms as paid family leave, Medicaid expansion, gun safety, more affordable education and renewable energy.

At The Boston Globe, Astead W. Herndon’s “Democrats seize on tax plan’s inequities” pinpoints a pivotal economic rip-off in the U.S. Senate’s tax proposals that Dems will be targeting in thw weeks ahead: “Though analysts say both the House and Senate versions would immediately cut taxes across the board for all income groups, only the tax cut to 20 percent from 35 percent for corporations is permanent in the Senate’s version of the bill.This, for taxpayers, would mean that after the temporary personal cuts expired in 2025, taxes for those in lower income brackets would actually increase, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and the Tax Policy Center…“Compared to current law, 9 percent of taxpayers would pay more in 2019, 12 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2027,’’ according to a separate study, by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a Washington analysis group.”

2018 could be the ‘Year of the Woman’ on steroids, with growing backlash to the culture of sexual harassment,” writes James Hohman at PowerPost. Hohman notes, “Democratic victories in this month’s off-year elections were driven by women. Exit polls showed a big swing in the party’s direction among married women and white women with college degrees…A bumper crop of women won down-ballot races. A nurse decided to run against a county commissioner in New Jersey because of an offensive Facebook post about the women’s march. She beat him…The filing deadline to run for Congress next year has not yet come in most states, and there are many highly qualified female candidates in crowded primary fields who are vying to take on male incumbents…Now there are dozens of high-profile cases of alleged sexual misconduct, from the U.S. House to state houses and from the military to the media. It stands to reason that this could lead to bigger backlash at the polls in 2018 and 2020 than we saw during what’s known as the Year of the Woman.”

While allegations of sexual assault and harassment have targeted both Republican and Democratic candidates and office-holders so far, most of the corrective measures are coming from Democratic leaders. But the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, also known as the ME TOO Congress Act co-sponsored by Democrats Senator Kirstin Gillibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier may draw bipartisan support. The proposal, which includes training provisions to prevent sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and change the process of dealing with complaints, has attracted roughly equal numbers of cosponsors from both parties to date.

Conservative scribe Byron York has a column on “Six scenarios for GOP disaster in Roy Moore Senate race” at The East Oregonian (via the Washington Examiner). The last of his disaster scenarios unfolds thusly: “(6) Doug Jones wins. This is a very real possibility, regardless of what the GOP does. What would it mean for the Senate’s Republican leadership? Just ask how hard it has been for the GOP to pass legislation with a 52-seat majority. It would become far harder with a 51-seat majority. Plus, losing the Alabama seat would make it easier — not easy, but easier — for Democrats to win control of the Senate in 2018. That would have profound effects. For example, President Trump could probably forget about putting another justice on the Supreme Court, should a vacancy arise. Trump and Republicans could forget about passing legislation, even with the lowered requirements of the reconciliation process. And Democratic committee chairmen would be running all the investigations of the Trump administration they like.”

Jonathan Chait offers this perceptive take on Trump’s manipulation of law enforcement concerns to gin up racial animosity: “Renegotiating trade agreements, building a wall, passing an infrastructure bill, or designing a replacement for Obamacare requires technocratic aptitude Trump (and, for that matter, his party) lacks. But sending crude signals of ethnic affiliation is a simple task, the only requirement for which is a lack of scruples…Examining Trump’s racial agenda is to have a glimpse into an arena where he is enjoying clear success. It is an arena in which the president can achieve his goals without competence. Indeed, incompetence is the surest way to achieve them. By tearing down effective law enforcement, and courting a backlash, Trump creates mutual anger from which he plausibly stands to benefit. As I argued, “A cycle of police abuse, enraged protest, and bloody crackdowns seems not only probable but — from Trump’s point of view — desirable.”

Plugging his new book, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit,” at The Miami Book Fair, MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews blistered elitist Democrats in a painfully quotable way: “Ever since we started this Archie Bunker thing in the early ’70s, making fun of white working people, we kissed them goodbye. You make fun of people. You look down on them. They get the message…You call them ‘deplorables,’ they hear it,” Matthews explained. “You say they cling to their guns and their religion. ‘Oh yeah? I cling to my religion? OK. I’m a little person, and you’re a big person. Thank you. I’ll be voting for the other guy this time.” My hunch is that the portion of liberal Democrats who actually use condescending terms like “deplorables” is frequently exaggerated. But it only takes a few loudmouths to create a stereotype, and Matthew’s point still resonates.

Is the notion of an authentic working-class hero with progressive values coming from the shadows to win high political office a realistic possibility, or more of a romanticized fantasy? Dems could surely benefit by recruiting more candidates from the ranks of local union leadership. We do have such a candidate in union ironworker Randy Bryce, who is doing pretty good in his race against Speaker Paul Ryan, but it’s going to take a really strong Democratic tide in 2018 to carry him to victory. Working-class bard Rob Quist ran an energetic campaign for congress in Montana earlier this year, but was overwhelmed by his Republican opponent’s money. At The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner discusses the possibility of J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, becoming a candidate in Ohio. But Vance would more likely run as a moderate Republican (his wife is a clerk in the office of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts). There is some buzz urging social media star Trae Crowder to run for something, and if creative profanity becomes OK in televised political dialogue, he will be a shoo-in. But the best bet remains candidates from working-class backgrounds who have advanced through traditional politics, a credential already held by many Democratic state legislators and House members.

Jason Zengerle’s “The Voices in Blue America’s Head: For years, liberals have tried, and failed, to create their own version of conservative talk radio. Has Crooked Media finally figured it out?” at The New York Times Magazine reports on a promising initiative by a group of progressive agitators, including two former Obama speechwriters. For too long, Democrats and liberals have failed to adequately challenge right-wing domination of talk radio, which spoon-feeds propaganda to American workers during their workday commute and while running weekend errands. But this project is a podcast, which isn’t yet heard in most cars, owing in part to to a lack of enough cell phone towers in many areas, on the one hand, and the hassle of using your cell phone as a radio while driving, on the other. So far only some BMWs and Minis have user-friendly, built-in dashboard hardware that can receive podcasts in autos. When internet radio pre-sets start showing up on pick-up truck dashboards, it could be a game changer for political talk radio.

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:

Sargent: How GOP Tax Bill Gives Dems Leverage

In his Plum Line post, “How Democrats hope to make Trump pay for his awful tax plan,” Greg Sargent observes:

One looming challenge Democrats face is to close what you might call the “pluto-populist gap” — the vast disconnect between how working-class whites perceive President Trump’s instincts and intentions on the one hand, and his full-on embrace of the congressional GOP’s plutocratic agenda on the other.

Democrats are set to go up on the air with a seven-figure TV ad buy targeting House Republicans in multiple districts with a lot of working-class whites — as well as in districts with more college-educated whites, I’ve learned. The animating idea is that the GOP tax proposals — which will be featured in the ads — are likely to prove toxic among both those constituencies, and particularly among those working-class whites who switched from Barack Obama to Trump.

As for the content of the ads, Sargent notes,

The goal of the ads will be to hit two messages. The first is that the GOP changes to the tax code themselves would be enormously regressive, showering most of their benefits on the wealthy while giving crumbs to working- and middle-class Americans or even raising their taxes. The second is that these tax cuts would necessitate big cuts to the safety net later — the ad references $25 billion in Medicare cuts that could be triggered by the GOP plan’s deficit busting — further compounding the GOP agenda’s regressiveness down the line.

Sargent quotes Geoff Garin, pollster for Priorities USA,  who  explains “polling shows that this combination alienates working-class whites, particularly Obama-Trump voters.” Garin adds that these voters “find big breaks to corporations and the wealthy especially heinous when the flip side of that means cutting Medicare and Medicaid.”

Garin cites polls by Hart Research and Global Strategy Group, which indicate that “when the GOP tax plan is described to non-college-educated white men — Trump’s base — they oppose it by 58-34. Non-college-educated white women oppose it by 61-24.” He calls the tax bill “the ultimate betrayal of the Trump promise to working-class voters — that he would be on their side” and “a huge vulnerability for Republicans in those kinds of districts with working-class whites.”

It can be argued that Trump’s approval ratings indicate his base has been whittled down to the hard core, non-persuadable part of the white working-class, along with equally non-persuadable upper middle class and wealthy ideologues. And the 2017 special elections indicate that Trump’s tanking polls numbers are accompanied by considerable collateral damage to his fellow Republican office-holders.

In light of the extremely regressive GOP tax plan, however, it would be political malpractice for Democrats to abandon appeals to white working-class voters in the midterm campaigns. This is  especially true for Obama to Trump voters, who have an immediate pocket-book interest in the tax bill.

What will remain debatable up until the final day of the midterm campaign is how to allocate Democratic resources — investments in time, money and energy between winning support from white working-class voters vs. turning out base voters and the ‘rising American electorate.’ These are unavoidably-tough decisions, which will vary in difficulty from campaign to campaign.

Whether Republicans are able to pass their tax plan or not, it seals their party’s identity as wholly dedicated to enriching the already-wealthy at the expense of working people of all races. That’s a great gift to Democrats.

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.

Political Strategy Notes

Eugene Scott explains why “Millennial voters could play a crucial role in Alabama Senate race” at The Fix: “In a recent Fox News poll, Jones leads Moore by eight points, in part on the strength of his advantages among voters 45 and younger. But activists on the ground say the Democratic candidate could do much more to target his outreach toward millennials…There’s been a swell of activity among young voters in Alabama since the election of President Trump. From the Women’s March in Birmingham to Human Rights Campaign volunteers working phone banks, the deep red state has seen liberals advocate for liberal policies. But activist Julia Juarez said if Jones reaps those benefits, it might be more because millennials dislike Moore than are enthusiastic about Jones. “The momentum of the #Resist marches and protests have morphed into an measurably more active bloc of voters in Birmingham, as noticed and enhanced by [Mayor] Randall Woodfin’s victory,” she told the Fix.” Scott quotes Woodfin, who adds “Millennials have a major role to play in this race…If millennials turn out to vote at higher than average numbers like they did in the mayoral race last month (5,000 voters between the ages of 18-35 turned out to vote in a municipal election for the first time), then they can be a deciding factor in this race…Millennials have the power to change the political dynamics here. If they turn out in high numbers, they will guarantee that Doug Jones will be the next senator from Alabama,” Woodfin added.

From Amy Walter’s “A Wave Is A Comin’” at The Cook Political Report: “My colleague David Wasserman has been digging into the question of just how big of a wave Democrats need to get in order to surf into the majority.  The short answer: they need to see a generic ballot advantage of +8 or more, which roughly translates to getting at least 54 percent or more of the national House vote in 2018…Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats – even with a big wave or tailwind.  But, do not ignore what’s right in front of us. A wave is building. If I were a Republican running for Congress, I’d be taking that more seriously than ever.”

Democrats may be able to learn a little something from their U.K. brethren by reading Matt Walsh’s post “Understanding Labour’s ingenious campaign strategy on Facebook” at democraticaudit.com. One of Walsh’s observations: “…Going back to July 2016, the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis wrote of Jeremy Corbyn: “There is one place where he is unambiguously winning: Facebook”. She was right, and 2017 was unambiguously a Facebook election…The sheer number of people following Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour party’s Facebook posts meant that the party was able to achieve very high levels of organic reach. That’s important because, in the 2015 election, the winning Facebook strategy was targeting undecided voters in marginal constituencies. In 2017, it was a numbers game. The first indicator that the tectonic plates were shifting was the number of followers party leaders and party accounts were reaching…dramatic growth in Facebook likes for Jeremy Corbyn, up by more than 35%, and the Labour Party, up 71%, during the short campaign. This is despite a strong starting position at the beginning of the campaign. While there was growth for all the parties and leaders, it is notable that the performance of Labour and Corbyn considerably outstripped their rivals: the Conservatives, for example, rose 11%, and Theresa May gained less than 22%.” In addition, “The Labour party simply produced more content than its competitors, it posted more frequently and the content was more engaging. According to the content analytics company, News Whip, in the month leading up to the vote, the Labour page pulled in 2.56 million engagements on 450 posts, while the Conservative page saw 1.07 million interactions on 116 posts.”

Here’s a nifty chart from Walsh’s article, revealing types of the Labour Party’s Facebook posts:



“The combatants in the intraparty arguments might usefully start by acknowledging the merits of some of the insights their opponents offer,” writes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated column “Stop the sniping, Washington Democrats. Learn from the grass roots.” Dionne continues, “The combatants in the intraparty arguments might usefully start by acknowledging the merits of some of the insights their opponents offer. Jared Leopold, the communications director of the Democratic Governors Association, said that Northam’s approach resonated with Virginia voters who “were looking for a calm and strong leader in the midst of chaos in Washington.” Moderates have a point when they say that voters nationally are similarly seeking steady and reliable leadership. But progressives, in turn, are right to argue for clear, compelling and comprehensible policies to deal with the economic inequalities that are hurting many in the ranks of Clinton and Trump voters alike. Bold, not bland, is the way to go.”

At The Upshot, Nate Cohn says “it’s not obvious that the building Democratic wave will be enough to flip control of the House,” and notes, “If you emphasized the special congressional election results, and believed that Democrats would only do about two points worse in races with incumbents (the difference in Virginia and New Jersey), the Democrats might be poised to pick up more than 40 seats. My view is that there haven’t been nearly enough of these contests to be confident that Democrats are on track for such significant gains, or to be sure that the incumbency bonus for Republicans is so small. But it is at least an argument for a larger Democratic gain than 27 seats if next year’s elections resemble this year’s contests.

In the wake of the big Democratic win in VA, Facing South’s Chris Kromm explores “Lessons from 2017: Can Democrats retake Southern legislatures?” Among Kromm’s observations: “In Virginia, where voters cast ballots for all 100 members of the House of Delegates, Democrats controlled only 34 seats heading into the 2017 elections. After Election Day, they had picked up 15 seats. Republicans currently cling to a 51-49 majority, although three of the races are still too close to call and will be decided by lawsuits and recounts. In Virginia House District 94, which includes Newport News, the GOP candidate is currently ahead by a mere 10 votes.”…If Democrats can run more candidates and build on changing demographics and anti-Trump sentiment to make gains in 2018, reformers hope this can at least generate enough competition that there will be momentum for reform as the post-2020 redistricting process nears.”

The next time some Republican starts blithering about family values, your response can quote from Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column, “Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach,” which notes “Nine of the 10 states with the highest teen birthrates voted Republican in 2016. And nine of the 10 states with the lowest teen birthrates voted Democratic.“ Red regions of the country have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages and lower average ages at marriage and first birth,” Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in their important 2010 book, “Red Families v. Blue Families.”…Divorce rates show a similar pattern: They tend to be higher in red states than in blue states, with Arkansas highest of all. “Individual religious conservatism is positively related to individual divorce risk,” according to a 50-state study reported in the American Journal of Sociology.”

Here we have a formidable contender for headline understatement of the month, “The Senate Republican tax bill does not look good for the working class at all” at quartz.com. Author Tim Fernholz notes one particularly brutal provision: “Removing the individual mandate means that fewer healthy people will sign up for insurance, so the Congressional Budget Office expects the cost of individual health insurance to rise by 10%. And people who don’t have insurance could still wind up paying out-of-pocket if they become ill, which can be ruinous.”

Trump and the Alabama GOP Can’t Bring Themselves To Oppose Roy Moore

The saga of the Ayatollah of Alabama, Roy Moore, took another turn this week when Donald Trump and the Alabama Republican Party decided against showing the embattled theocrat and accused sexual predator the door. I wrote about it at New York.

In dual developments that together represent a huge victory for embattled Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, his state’s Republican Party reaffirmed its support for him (and more importantly, its unwillingness to strip him of its nomination) as the White House signaled the president would not intervene to try to get him to withdraw from the race.

These developments probably ensure that Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones on December 12 without official opposition from his own party. But that could mean this very red state has a chance of going blue. Even as Republicans got out of the Judge’s way, a Fox News poll of Alabama showed Jones leading among likely voters by a 48-40 margin, with a narrow plurality (38-37) expressing belief in the allegations against Moore — though only 13 percent of self-identified Republicans feel that way. The poll also shows Jones voters support their candidate as intensely as do Moore’s famously dedicated followers.

It should be noted that an October Fox News poll showed the race tied at a time when everyone else had Moore with a solid lead. Still, the Judge has been losing ground in every poll taken since the Washington Post allegations were published on November 9, with the only question being how strong he was before all hell broke lose.

The state GOP’s statement (issued subsequent to a meeting of its steering committee last night) wasn’t quite a ringing endorsement of Moore’s side of the story with respect to the multiplying allegations of sexual misconduct toward underage women. Instead, it argued he deserved a “presumption of innocence” in the case despite some pretty solid evidence against him, and expressed trust in “voters as they make the ultimate decision in this crucial race.” After noting the sharp policy differences between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, the statement punted on any judgement of Moore and mixed a metaphor for good measure: “Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election — not the media or those from afar.” And not, apparently, the Republican Party of Alabama.

This statement was important to Moore because the state party had the power to strip him of the GOP nomination, which would have had the legal effect of nullifying any votes for him in the special general election on December 12. Barring some late reversal of position, that’s not happening now, which means any hypothetical write-in effort for another candidate (which had been widely discussed) would split the GOP vote and presumably all but ensure Jones’s election.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made it clear Trump, too, was ready to defer to Alabama voters:

“President Trump believes that the people of Alabama should decide whether to elect Roy Moore, despite mounting allegations of sexual assault and harassment of girls as young as 14 years old, the White House said.

“‘Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he believes the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.”

In other words, Trump will not answer the public and private pleas of Senate Republicans that he push Moore out of the race.

So unless something really unexpected happens, Moore will be fighting Doug Jones with one hand and his accusers with another, as Republicans tut-tut or even condemn him, but do nothing practical to keep him out of the Senate.

Did Youthquake Swing VA Election?

It’s important that Democrats look at all possible explanations for their landslide upset in the Virginia gubernatorial election, even though common sense says that no one factor alone can explain it adequately. Toward that end, The Center for Information & Research on Civic learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) presents some instructive data making the case that youth voter turnout was a (not ‘the’) pivotal factor in the Democratic victory.

According to CIRCLE,

In what could be an early indicator of young people’s political engagement and mobilization after the contentious 2016 presidential race—and ahead of the 2018 midterms—youth turnout surged in Virginia, and in both gubernatorial races young people strongly preferred the Democratic candidates.

If the Virginia and New Jersey exit polls captured precise and accurate estimates of the proportion of voters who were young, then youth turnout was 34% in Virginia and 18% in New Jersey, according to CIRCLE’s calculations.[1] These turnout estimates are based on CIRCLE analysis of Edison Research exit polls conducted in both states with Census population data…

CIRCLE does acknowledge that “in recent elections, exit polls have not always captured accurate age demographics and preliminary exit poll results are subject to revision,” as Ruy Teixeira has also pointed out. But the turnout numbers CIRCLE provides are striking nonetheless, 222,000 voters age 18-29 in New Jersey, compared to 366,000 in Virginia — especially considering that New Jersey’s population is about a half-million larger than that of Virginia. According to CIRCLE, these young voters are 11 percent of the electorate in New Jersey and 14 percent in Virginia. It appears that titanic exit poll errors or impressive youth voter GOTV made a big difference, or perhaps both factors were in play. Further,

The 18% youth turnout in New Jersey equaled the 2013 rate and follows a very stable trend in New Jersey youth turnout, which has hovered just below 20% in the past three off-year elections. Meanwhile, Virginia’s 34% youth turnout is 8 percentage points higher than in 2013 (26%)—and double what it was in 2009 (17%).

In addition to the turnout edge, 73 percent  of youth in New Jersey voted for Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, while 69 percent of young voters cast ballots for Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia. Teixeira notes that “Democrats carried the youth vote by 39 and 48 points, respectively, in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.”

Unfortunately, the data doesn’t provide a breakdown of youth voters by key subgroups, such as race, education or gender, which may be pivotal factors. But my hunch is that Virginia’s Democratic GOTV strategists have a pretty good idea, via precinct analysis, of how these subgroups of youth voters turned out and voted. And we do know that Northam benefitted from larger than expected turnouts and/or margins from African Americans and Women.

Here’s hoping Virginia’s Democratic GOTV wizards are already in Alabama, offering tips to the U.S. Senate campaign of Democrat Doug Jones.


[1] The estimated percent of young people who voted in the governor’s’ races were calculated using: (1) the number of ballots cast in each race according to the media, (2) the youth share of those who voted, based on the exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, (3) the estimated number of 18-29 year old citizens taken from the Census Current Population Survey, March Demographic File of that year.  Edison Research estimates that its exit polls have a margin of error rate of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Odds of a House Democratic Wave Next Year Moving On Up

The 2017 elections have cast some new light on the 2018 midterms, and I did a reassessment at New York.

Just under a year before the 2018 midterm elections, Democratic prospects for gaining the 24 net seats they need to take control of the U.S. House of Representative are getting stronger. Aside from a number of long-in-advance indicators like presidential approval ratings and the congressional generic ballot, the 2017 election returns, capped by high-profile Democratic wins in Virginia and elsewhere on November 7, have provided objective evidence that Democrats are regularly exceeding expectations based on past performance (if not always meeting last-minute expectations of big wins). But you win elections in particular places and one at a time, and at the level of individual races, Republicans retain a lot of advantages that could keep them in control of the House even if they lose the national popular vote.

Republicans also have a lot of exposure, having made a net gain of 68 House seats in the last three elections. This can matter even more than presidential approval ratings: In 2010, Obama’s pre-midterm approval rating was 45 percent, but his party — engorged by big House performances in 2006 and 2008 — lost 63 seats. Four years later, Obama’s approval ratings were sharply lower, at 40 percent, but his party only lost 13 net House seats.

The big-picture factors favoring Democrats are clear. The party controlling the White House almost always loses House seats in midterms; the two exceptions in recorded history occurred in years in which the presidents in question were enjoying very high approval ratings (Clinton at 66 percent in 1998 and George W. Bush at 63 percent in 2002). Since 1946, the average midterm House losses for presidents with approval ratings under 50 percent has been 36 seats. President Trump’s approval ratings (using the RealClearPolitics polling averages as a benchmark) have never topped 50 percent, and have mostly bounced around the low side of 40 percent since the spring.

The other big indicator for House races is the generic congressional ballot: a polling question that simply measures partisan voting intentions for upcoming congressional elections. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, the final generic ballot before midterm elections is on average as accurate as final presidential polls, hitting within 2 percent of the actual national House popular vote. The generic ballot can, of course, change significantly during the final year of a midterm cycle; at this point in 2009, for example, a CNN survey gave Democrats a six-point advantage in the generic ballot; the final RealClearPolitics average just before the 2010 midterms favored Republicans by 9.4 percent. But such big movements tend to occur in synch with presidential approval ratings, and beyond that, the usual trend is away from the president’s party, as in 2010.

The current RealClearPolitics generic ballot average gives Democrats a 10.2 percent advantage. The gap has been slowly increasing throughout 2017; six months ago it was at 5.8 percent.

Special (and regular off-year) elections in 2017 have shown a similar Democratic advantage. In an analysis of 38 such contests (mostly for state legislative seats), Daniel Donner found a clear trend:

“Out of all the special elections with typical Democrat vs. Republican dynamics, Democrats have overperformed the 2016 presidential margin by more than 10 points in 25 of them. Republicans have overperformed by more than 10 points in just four — but one of those was actually a Democratic flip! On average, Democrats are doing about 13 points better than Hillary Clinton.”

The Virginia results in November were equally impressive, with gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam winning by the largest margin of any Democrat since 1985. And the Donkey Party’s shocking Virginia state legislative gains, heavily concentrated in suburban communities, showed that the disdain for Donald Trump among college-educated white voters was rubbing off on down-ballot Republicans.

Still, all these positive indicators for Democrats don’t translate proportionately to gained House seats, even if they persist in 2018. The generic ballot, for example, simply predicts the national House popular vote, not seats gained, and it’s not at all clear how big a margin in the popular vote Democrats will need in 2018 to win back the House. Harry Enten explained the problem back in February:

“[I]f Democrats win the national House vote by a margin in the low- to mid-single digits, that may not be enough to take back the House. The median congressional district was 5.5 percentage points more Republican-leaning in the presidential race than the nation as a whole in 2016, meaning Democrats are essentially spotting the GOP 5.5 points in the battle for control of the House. And even that may be underestimating Republicans ability to win a majority of seats without a majority of the vote. Since 2012 (or when most states instituted the current House district lines), Republicans have won, on average, 51 percent of the two-party House vote and 55 percent of House seats. If that difference holds for 2018, Democrats would need to win the House popular vote by about 8 percentage points to win half the House seats.”

Incumbency and redistricting are the big institutional reasons the GOP upholds its House majority, despite likely Democratic margins in the overall popular vote. But as the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter notes, those advantages may be eroding as the party and its president grow less popular:

“In the most recent October survey, [NBC News] found that Republicans had a six-point advantage in GOP-held seats (R+6), while Democrats had a 29 point advantage in seats they hold (D+29). What’s significant—or what NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Bill McInturff called a “flashing yellow light,” was that the GOP advantage in seats they already hold dropped eight points from September to October—from R+14 to R+5. It also stands in stark contrast to the average generic advantage Republicans had in seats they held in the most recent mid-term elections (R+15 in 2010 and R+18 in 2014).”

The pace of House Republican retirements has picked up recently as well, and with incumbency worth an estimated seven points as compared to similar races with non-incumbents, that could be a really big deal. But most of the 29 announced GOP retirements are for Members in non-competitive districts. According to Cook Political Report, there are at present just six competitive House seats being vacated by retiring Republicans, along with three such Democratic seats. A few more, particularly in the 23 certified Trump-resistant districts carried by Hillary Clinton last year, could make a big difference. Another factor that could erode the usual advantages of incumbency is the unusually large number of Democratic challengers who are raising serious early money….

In 2010, the last wave election, the Cook Political Report showed the competitive districts literally doubling between November 2009 and November 2010, with the number of vulnerable Democratic seats jumping from 37 to 91. One thing to watch right in the very near future is whether House Republicans pass a tax bill that kills the state and local tax deduction — hammering upper-middle-class itemizers in California, New Jersey, and New York — and how many of the nine vulnerable GOP incumbents from those states vote for it. As the actual midterm election year approaches over the holidays, it could be a perilous time for House Republicans.

In the end, control of the House would be of great value to Democrats, given the majority’s power in that chamber to control what comes to the floor and what gets attention. It would signal a formal end to the GOP’s window of opportunity in enjoying a federal government “trifecta.” But even if Democrats simply make significant gains short of a majority, shrinking the GOP margin could have a major practical effect. As we’ve seen in the Senate this year, the Republican Party is not unified enough to pass legislation with much of a margin for error.

Political Strategy Notes

Writing at The Upshot, Nate Cohn sees a couple of rays of hope for Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the Senate special election in Alabama: “It’s not easy to come up with recent favorable precedents for Democratic victories in the Deep South. Perhaps the best involves David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who managed to lose the governor’s race by 12 points in 2015. Mr. Obama lost Louisiana by 17 points in 2012. Mr. Vitter was dogged by a prostitution scandal from nearly a decade earlier…Democrats fared well even though neither Mr. Vitter nor Mr. Moore in 2012 was as weak as Mr. Moore is today. Now, national political conditions are plainly more favorable for the Democrats. And this is a special election, when surprising results are a little more common….Another promising precedent for Democrats happens to be Mr. Moore himself. He won by only four points in his 2012 campaign for Alabama chief justice, and that was without the sexual harassment allegations that have shaken his current Senate campaign. It was the worst performance by an Alabama Republican running for statewide office since 2008.”

“It’s amazing to write, and there’s time for our outlook to change, but here goes: A Democrat is now a narrow favorite to win a Senate special election in Alabama,” write Kye Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “We’re changing our rating of the Dec. 12 special election from Likely Republican all the way to Leans Democratic…Polls, already close before the really bad stories about Moore began appearing about a week ago, seem to have tightened further, with Jones even leading in some. For instance, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported on Wednesday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee — no friend of Moore’s even before the sexual misconduct stories broke, to be sure — has Moore down 51%-39% to Jones in its polling. However, we’re not sure how useful polls will be in this race: Anticipating turnout in a special election like this is very hard. What we do know is 1.) Last week’s elections and special elections conducted throughout the year have shown high levels of Democratic enthusiasm in both liberal and conservative jurisdictions; 2.) Jones is likely to have a big resource advantage in this race — he’s already outspent Moore 11-to-one on TV ads, according to Advertising Analytics — with national Republicans staying away from Moore; and 3.) Moore may have trouble preventing poor Republican turnout given his horribly damaged candidacy.”

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss outline a three-part path to vicotry for Democratic senate nominee Jones: “…He does have a path. Here’s how it looks, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Democrats within and near Jones’ team since Moore was hit with accusations of pursuing — and in two cases abusing — teenage girls. First, create a permission structure for alienated Republicans who are skeptical of Moore — primarily those who voted against him in the GOP primary — to cross the aisle. At the same time invigorate the base, especially African-Americans, who make up over a quarter of registered voters, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. And finally, keep the national Democratic Party and its despised brand as far out of the picture as possible, while still benefiting from its money.”

At Inside Elections, Nathan L. Gonzales has an update, “Ten Thoughts after Democrats’ Big Wins in Virginia,” which includes this observation: “Don’t rely too much on the national generic ballot and presidential job ratings. Those numbers can help describe the national political mood, but we don’t have national elections. The presidential race and Senate majority is fought on a state-by-state level, while the House is a district-by-district battle, and President Trump is not uniformly liked or disliked around the country. Trump is doing better in the types of districts Democrats need to win for a majority. And even if you had a model which predicted the number of seats Republicans will lose, you still have to look at a district level to know precisely which seats will fall to the Democrats. For example, John Katko represents one of 23 congressional districts Clinton carried but is held by a Republican. According to Tuesday’s results, he would lose next November. But Democrats don’t have a credible challenger against him.”

The NRA apparently didn’t have much clout in the Virginia election, as Fred Yang and Geoff Garin explain in their Washington Post op-ed: “…The exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research on Election Day showed that people who said gun policy was their top voting issue were as likely to vote for the Northam, the candidate who supported gun-safety measures, as for Ed Gillespie, the bearer of the NRA’s “A” rating. Seventeen percent of voters listed gun policy as their No. 1 voting issue (second only to health care), and they split their votes evenly between the two candidates. So much for the so-called “enthusiasm gap” on gun violence prevention…The finding from the exit polls corresponds to what we were seeing in our pre-election surveys for the Northam campaign. Likely general election voters in Virginia said by a margin of 55 percent to 41 percent that they favored additional laws in Virginia to regulate the sale of firearms. The support for gun-safety measures was even higher in questions that specifically addressed measures such as universal background checks. In the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia, for example, 71 percent favored additional laws such as expanded background checks. In the Roanoke media market, voters supported these expanded measures 51 percent to 39 percent.”

While the Virginia elelction got most of the media buzz, there are some insights to be considered regarding the New Jersey gubernatorial election, as Richard Eskow observes at Blog for Our Future: “[Democratic candidate Phil] Murphy’s Goldman Sachs career presented a hurdle, too, but it was not as steep. According to the same poll, 29 percent of voters thought less of him as a result, but 59 percent said they didn’t care…Despite his Wall Street background, there was no way to mistake Murphy for a centrist. His economic plan included a $15-an-hour minimum wage, guaranteed sick leave, closing the gender pay gap, and higher taxes for millionaires and corporations. He proposed a state bank to promote the public good, an excellent idea with strong support from the left. He rejected the idea of cutting pensions for New Jersey employees, saying, “The state has to stand up for its side of the bargain. Period.”..Murphy proposed a state-run retirement plan for employees of small businesses. And he embraced another left idea to reduce gender and other pay inequities by proposing that employers be banned from asking applicants about their salary history.”

Jacob Pramuk reports at CNBC Politics that “Most American voters — 52 percent — disapprove of the GOP proposals to overhaul the tax system, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday. Only 25 percent of respondents approve of the Republican effort…Sixty-one percent of voters said the plan would mainly help the wealthy. Twenty-four percent responded that it would primarily benefit the middle class, while only 6 percent said the same about low-income people…The proposals favor the rich at the expense of the middle class, 59 percent of respondents said. Only 33 percent disagreed with that statement.

The Republican tax plan is deeply unpopular — and unimportant to many Americans,” as Philp Bump explains at Post Politics: “The Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans what Congress and the president should focus on. What’s important to address, the survey asked: Tax reform? Reauthorizing the children’s health insurance program (CHIP)? Funding the recovery from this year’s hurricanes?..More than 6-in-10 Americans said CHIP reauthorization and hurricane recovery should be a top priority. Only 28 percent said reforming the tax code should be…Nearly as many Americans (24 percent) said tax reform shouldn’t happen at all as said it should be a top priority (28 percent). It was mostly Republicans who said it should be a top priority; Republicans were about as likely to say tax reform was a top priority as they were to say repealing Obamacare or hurricane recovery were…Kaiser Family Foundation also asked about repealing the individual mandate. A majority supported the idea…until they learned what a repeal would mean. When they were informed repeal would increase premiums for those who buy their own insurance, 60 percent opposed the idea.”

In their Business Insider post “Democrats still need a strategy for left-behind areas — here’s how tech can help,” Kristal Ball and Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-7) point out that Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s landslide was based on a geographically-concentrated mandate: “…For the first time in modern history, the Democratic candidate for Governor in Virginia did not win a single precinct west of Radford, in the southwesternmost part of the state extending toward Kentucky. In the parts of Virginia struggling the most, where drug addiction is rampant, jobs are scarce and suicide is on the rise, voters just threw their lot in again with the Republican candidate by 50 and 60 point margins.” In the nation as a whole, “Just five metro areas account for half of all new net business creation. In contrast, over two-thirds of the counties in America have lost businesses over the past decade. According to the nonpartisan Economic Innovation Group, 52 million Americans live in economically depressed communities: places where the poverty rate is 27% and 42% of prime-age adults aren’t working.” Rep. Khanna and Ms. Ball urge Dems to become advocates for locating new tyechg busineses in rural areas. “…Unless the Democratic Party offers a plan for economic opportunity for twenty-first century jobs in places left behind, we will not earn a governing majority.”