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Teixeira: Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Elections

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

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

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

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

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 Trump and the GOP have not repealed the laws of politics.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Strategy Notes

In their The Harvard Business Review article, “What Trump’s Campaign Speeches Show About His Lasting Appeal to the White Working Class,” Michelle Lamont, Bo Yun Park and Elena Ayala Hurtado write of their study of Trump’s electoral speeches, “Our detailed, computer-assisted content analysis of 73 of Trump’s speeches, accessed through the American Presidency Project, sheds light on his overall communication strategy. We looked at the words he used most commonly and how he used those words positively or negatively. We then examined how Trump spoke (both positively and negatively) about various groups throughout the campaign…We focused on his references to groups such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, “legal” and “illegal” immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the poor, women, and the LGBTQ community.” The authors cite “three pillars of his rhetorical strategy,” including: Moral absolution for his base of supporters, white workers without college degrees; Clear “foes” that can be redefined on the fly; and An emphasis on specific, shared class values. Further, “The resonance of these speeches was also made possible by the declining influence of unions, which have lost their cultural impact in conveying to workers where their material class interest lies, as well as in anchoring their sense of belonging and pride in being “labor.” Trump provides these same workers alternative frames to make sense of their downward economic mobility and a blueprint for how to fight back against their sense of growing social marginality…The lasting loyalty of this group to Trump may be due in no small part to the continued resonance of Trump’s rhetoric with their current predicament, as their economic position remains weak and their social status even weaker.”

Democrats broke some new ground in terms of message discipline and coordination in the digital arena in the Virginia campaign, reports Eric Bradner at CNN Politics: “Democrats see Ralph Northam’s big win in the Virginia governor’s race as a breakthrough moment for the left’s digital efforts…A year after Republicans leapfrogged the Democrats’ digital capacities on the way to President Donald Trump’s election, progressive groups combined spent nearly $3 million on an innovative effort to modernize the party’s digital advertising…The effort, organized by Planned Parenthood and coordinated by veteran Democratic digital strategist Tara McGowan, reached 2.4 million Virginia voters without Northam’s campaign having to spend any money at all on digital advertising…The groups’ coordination included sharing creative resources — that is, the ads themselves, and the content that went into them — as well as voter targeting and audience information and data that detailed how effective each ad had been…The win in Virginia showed that “building a robust digital infrastructure to break through echo chambers and reach voters online is more vital than ever, and Priorities will be working to replicate our success in races around the country in 2018,” said Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil.”

Is it too much to hope that last week’s elections indicate Dems may have some prospects in the south? Gabriel Debenedetti explores the possibilities at Politico, and notes, “Democrats plainly smell opportunity. They are monitoring a crop of muddy GOP situations — like a South Carolina corruption scandal that’s seen six Republican lawmakers indicted — and national trends — like Trump-inspired primary fights in South Carolina’s gubernatorial race, Tennessee’s Senate race and, potentially, Mississippi’s Senate race…The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list now includes eight GOP-held seats in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, on top of 14 others in Virginia, Florida and Texas. Stronger-than-usual recruits have party operatives uncharacteristically hopeful about open gubernatorial races in Georgia and Tennessee, and others are working on recruiting former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Bob Corker.”

Ed Kilgore addresses the same topic at New York Magazine, and notes, “What makes Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida potentially winnable for Democrats is a combination of upscale suburban areas with college-educated voters and a relatively large minority vote. There is little in the Virginia numbers to reinforce any hopes of a Democratic resurgence among small-town or rural white voters. But Virginia’s 33 percent of the vote cast by nonwhite voters (in both 2016 and 2017) is exceeded by Georgia’s 40 percent (in 2016) and Florida’s 38 percent (also in 2016). North Carolina’s 30 percent is not far behind, either. And Texas, with 43 percent of voters being nonwhite, is potentially the sleeping giant for Democratic voters…and the most exciting thing about the Virginia results for Democrats in the South and everywhere else is that the Donkey Party may be overcoming its “midterm falloff” problem, wherein young and minority voters simply did not participate at rates commensurate with presidential contests.”

After reviewing a daunting litany of obstacles Democratic senatorial nominee Doug Jones faces in Alabama, despite the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, Perry Bacon, Jr. and Harry Enten observe at fivethirtyeight.com, “there are signs that some Republican voters may simply stay home in December. A Decision Desk HQ poll taken on Thursday (the day that the latest Moore news broke) showed a tied race in part because more than 10 percent of self-identified Republicans said they weren’t voting for either candidate, compared with fewer than 3 percent of self-identified Democrats who didn’t back Jones or Moore.”

“After a year of self-flagellation and angst, Democrats finally got some good news last week,” Lee Drutman, senior fellow at New America, writes in his New York Times article, How Democrats Can Extend the Winning Streak Into 2018. “But they shouldn’t get carried away: They also got some bad news…First the bad news: Rural America still really dislikes Democrats. But that wasn’t a surprise. The good news came in increasingly affluent and diverse Virginia: In the age of Trump, well-educated suburbanites like Democrats considerably more than they used to. And voters are, overall, quite energized (turnout was at a 20-year high for the Virginia governor’s race) — especially younger voters, who supported the Democrat, Ralph Northam, overwhelmingly as compared with the Democratic nominee in 2013 and turned out at much higher rates…the better bet for Democrats would be to present a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters.

More and more House Republicans are deciding they want no part of the 2018 elections: And that will help Democrats,” argues Andrew Prokop at Vox. Prokop explains, “Last week, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) all announced they would retire from Congress rather than run for reelection. This makes 12 House Republicans and two senators who are calling it quits, not counting several more who are stepping down to run for another political office…So far, that number of GOP retirements isn’t outside the historical norm. But reports have suggested that this is just the start, and that several more Republican House members — perhaps many more — will also soon announce they’ll head for the exits. And revealingly, only two House Democrats and zero Democratic senators have so far made the same choice. That’s a dramatic discrepancy.”

“…The principal engine of the Democratic sweep was a suburban tsunami in white-collar communities in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and even the suburbs of Seattle, where Democrats convincingly captured a state Senate seat that flipped control of that chamber to themt…A suburban recoil from Trump in places like New Jersey; the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania; and Orange County, California, can propel Democrats to the brink of a U.S. House majority: Eighteen of the 23 House Republicans holding seats that Clinton carried in 2016 represent districts with more white college graduates than the national average. And Republicans hold another 30 House seats with higher-than-average numbers of white college graduates where Clinton improved over Obama’s showing in 2012. Tuesday’s blowout is also likely to encourage more retirements among House Republicans in white-collar districts, increasing Democratic opportunity. Still, relying only on white-collar places would leave Democrats very little margin for error.” — from Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats’ Narrow Path to Winning the House: The party’s suburban sweep in Virginia and New Jersey offers one template for 2018. But Democrats will have little room for error if they don’t expand their coalition.” at The Atlantic.

Following up on the suggestion of one of his readers, New York Times economist/Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman suggests the Republican Tax bill “be renamed the Leona Helmsley Act, after the New York hotelier convicted of tax evasion, who famously declared that “only the little people pay taxes.”…That, after all, is the main thrust of the bill. It hugely favors the wealthy over the middle class, which is pretty much always true of Republican proposals. But it’s not just about favoring high incomes: It also systematically favors people who live off their assets, especially inherited wealth, over the little people — that is, poor shlubs who actually have to work for a living.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roy Moore’s Troubles Could Open the Door for Democrats

As we all absorbed the lurid story of predatory behavior by Roy Moore towards teenage girls that the Washington Post reported, I began thinking ahead a bit at New York about the broader partisan implications if the allegations stick:

Moore’s immediate reaction was to deny everything and claim the story was “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post,” the media outlet that ran the story. But despite Moore’s carefully cultivated image of religiosity and moral probity (he is sometimes called the Ayatollah of Alabama), the allegations are numerous enough, detailed enough, disturbing enough, and, well, creepy enough to cause him some serious problems unless they are somehow discredited.

The alleged behavior, especially the story of the 32-year-old prosecutor whisking away 14-year-old Leigh Corfman for illicit sexual conduct after offering to “watch” her while her mother was in a court proceeding, is not the sort of thing that can be dismissed as a “youthful indiscretion” or as a product of contemporary standards of acceptable conduct. Given the multiple accusations of Moore pursuing minors during that period of his life, there’s always the chance more accusers will now come forward.

So this could well be a five-alarm political fire for the GOP in one of its strongholds. And it opens up the first realistic path for Democrats to secure control of the Senate by the end of 2018.

Thanks to his long record of hypercontroversial statements compounded by not one but two occasions on which he lost his gavel as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defiance of federal law, Moore was already more vulnerable than Republicans usually are in Alabama statewide races. The current RealClearPolitics polling average gives him only a six-point lead over Democrat Doug Jones. If the new allegations aren’t dispelled very quickly, Moore could be in enough trouble to convince Democrats to make a major investment in Jones, and then anything could happen.

The emerging situation brings back memories of the Missouri Senate race in 2012, when it was widely assumed Democrat Claire McCaskill was going to lose. Then hard-right Republican Todd Akin won a complicated primary and proceeded to destroy his candidacy with ignorant and misogynistic comments suggesting rape exceptions for an abortion ban were unnecessary because “legitimate” rapes don’t cause pregnancy. For a while national and Missouri Republicans talked about substituting another candidate for the doomed Akin, but in the end they just watched him go down to defeat. Along with another favored GOP candidate who couldn’t stop saying stupid things about rape, Richard Mourdock of Indiana, Akin helped dash Republican dreams of retaking the Senate that year. And these incidents involved unfortunate words from GOP candidates. What Moore stands accused of is far worse.

This time around, if Moore craters, reducing the GOP Senate margin to 51/49, Democrats could have a real chance of winning back the Senate next year, despite only eight Republican seats being up for reelection. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona and Dean Heller’s in Arizona are already highly competitive. It’s finding that third realistic target that’s been tough for Democrats. But a Jones win this year would reduce the magic number to just two.

Yes, a Jones win is still a reach, and to regain the Senate Democrats would have to win a large number of races involving vulnerable members of their own party. But with what looks like a possible Democratic wave forming for 2018, the landscape may be shifting dramatically. What Democrats most need now to place the Senate in play is some luck, and the prospect of another oh-so-holy cultural conservative blowing up his campaign might be just what the donkey ordered.

And if it turns out Roy Moore is guilty of what the Post story reports, he may discover that the sin the Lord most swiftly and surely punishes is self-righteousness.

As the Post story spreads, the odds of political punishment for Moore are climbing rapidly. Mitch McConnell is saying that “[i]f these allegations are true, he must step aside.” So is Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee. John McCain is already convinced Moore should hang it up. And even Moore’s would-be Senate colleague from Alabama Richard Shelby will only say: “Let’s see how the story runs.” That’s not exactly a vote of confidence.

Political Strategy Notes

“Make no mistake: The results Tuesday are fully consistent with a so-called wave election, like the ones that brought Democrats to power in the House in 2006 and back out in 2010,” writes Nate Cohn at The Upshot. “All of the conditions for a 2018 wave are in place. The president’s approval rating is stuck in the mid-to-high 30s. The Democrats hold nearly a double-digit lead on the generic congressional ballot. The president’s party nearly always struggles in midterm elections.”

In his Plum Line post, “After massive rejection of Trumpism, Democrats expand offensive to take back House,” Greg Sargent reports that “House Democratic strategists, convinced that Tuesday’s results represent a massive voter uprising against Trumpism that will continue through next year, are adding nearly a dozen GOP districts to their list of 2018 takeover targets, in an effort to expand the map to keep pace with the rapid deterioration of the GOP’s political fortunes.” Sargent lists the congrersssional distrixts, which includes Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat (WI-1)and adds “By putting these districts on its target list, the DCCC isn’t necessarily saying it will heavily invest in these races yet. The committee will actively recruit in them and lend staff, research, analytical and communications support to candidates in them and consider them for future expenditures.”

Matthew Yglesias explains at Vox why “Democrats ought to invest in Doug Jones’s campaign against Roy Moore” for the U.S. Senate seat: “…The party needs to show that it stands for something and will fight for it even on unfavorable terrain. Moore’s blatant support for unconstitutional religious discrimination, overt hostility to the rule of law, and backing for a grossly regressive tax scheme violates core principles, and Democrats ought to be seen as fighting back against this vision everywhere…If a real race is joined, then Republicans nationally will of course do their part to support Moore, and in doing so, they will help further discredit themselves. Letting Moore run without meaningful opposition lets Republicans help themselves to his Senate seat without getting his stink on themselves — which would be a mistake.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore writes of the child predator allegations against Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore and the GOP calls for him to quit the campaign that “this could well be a five-alarm political fire for the GOP in one of its strongholds. And it opens up the first realistic path for Democrats to secure control of the Senate by the end of 2018…Moore was already more vulnerable than Republicans usually are in Alabama statewide races. The current RealClearPolitics polling average gives him only a six-point lead over Democrat Doug Jones. If the new allegations aren’t dispelled very quickly, Moore could be in enough trouble to convince Democrats to make a major investment in Jones, and then anything could happen.”

Clare Malone and Harry Enten note at fivethirtyeight.com that “Moore’s name will appear on the ballot — it’s too late to switch it out for the Dec. 12 election — but there’s certainly still a chance for Republicans to launch a write-in campaign. Who’s at the top of the list? Strange. Murkowski, who famously won a write-in victory of her own, has already said that she’s in touch with Strange about this very thing. Should Moore stay in the race — as he has said he will — and Strange jumps in, the Republican vote could split. That would be good news for Jones.” Meanwhile, the Jones campaign would do well to connect with whoever mobilized the Democratic GOTV in northern Virginia.

Helaine Olen makes a salient point in her Plum Line post, “So there’s infighting among Democrats? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” As she puts it, “For more than a year, there has been a load of hand-wringing about how the political divisions among Democrats and the all-too-public fighting over them is going to cost them at the polling booth…This is all so much insider baseball. Many of the people arguing about this stuff on a daily basis are Washington insiders and others steeped in the minutia of party politics. (It’s quite possible some are Russian bots.) None of this describes the vast majority of voters…What’s more, the number of people whose voting behavior might be influenced by this infighting is likely infinitesimal. The typical voter gives less priority to the party’s long-term agenda, and more to protecting what he or she has in the present, and making at least some progress for the future…So it probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to discover that Democrats were angrier at Trump than at one another, and prioritized accordingly. Who would have thought it?” So much for the media’s tired “Dems in Disarray” cliche.

Democrats, Republicans, take note: A new era has begun” by E, J, Dionne, Jr. provides a call to arms for progressives: “Tuesday’s Democratic sweep obliterated a series of outdated story lines in American politics and opened a new era. Forget those repetitious tales about some piece of President Trump’s base still sticking with him. It’s now clear, from Virginia and New Jersey to Washington state, Georgia, New York, Connecticut and Maine, that the energy Trump has unleashed among those who loathe him has the potential to realign the country….A brief memo to Democrats: You’d be fools to descend into sectarian infighting between your moderate and progressive wings. The results on Tuesday showed that voters across a broad spectrum backed candidates of various ideological hues to demand a new political direction. Your first job is to rally what we now know is an American majority that sees Trump’s presidency as a disaster for our nation.”

In their post-mortem, “Democratic Domination in the Old Dominion,” VA politics wonks Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, write, “…The big shock to us, and to anyone who is honest about their pre-election expectations, was the Democrats winning what could be a 50-50 tie in the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrats went into the election at a 66-34 deficit in the House, and while they were expected to win seats, the low double digits seemed like the absolute max. Instead they are on track to net 15 or more seats, with a chance of getting to a 50-50 split or even taking a slim majority (the canvass is ongoing and recounts loom in a few seats)…Virginia Democrats were able to make huge gains in the state House of Delegates by effectively winning only Clinton-won seats (they only won a single Trump-won seat, and it was a marginal one at that). Democrats cannot get to a House of Representatives majority exclusively through Clinton-won seats. They need to net 24 seats next year to win the House, and there are only 23 Republicans in Clinton-won seats. It’s also impractical to think Democrats could flip all 23 of these seats: Many of them are held by skilled incumbents. So Democrats will need to win some Trump-won territory to capture the House.”

But the award for best sentence about the Democratic landslide in Virginia goes to Harold Meyerson, executive editor of The American Prospect, who writes, “After the Third Battle of Bull Run, Manassas will now be represented in Richmond by one transgender delegate and one socialist delegate.”  Meyerson explains, further: “Not only did Northam pile up huge margins in Northern Virginia’s suburbs, but that’s also where the Democrats made most of their House of Delegates pick-ups. The most prominent of these was the victory of Danica Roem, who will become Virginia’s first transgender legislator, having defeated longtime GOP delegate and self-professed homophobe Robert Marshall. But no less unlikely was the victory of Democrat Lee Carter, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, in the district adjoining Roem’s.” Such are the consequences of Trumpisma in 2017.

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.

Anatomy Of A Very Good Night For Democrats In Virginia

After watching returns for a while on the evening of November 7, I offered some thoughts at New York about Ralph Northam’s win and its implications.

Democrat Ralph Northam handily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s election by turning out his “base” and also doing very well in suburban counties in both Northern Virginia and the Richmond area. The New York Times estimates the final margin will be 54/45, far above Northam’s 3.3 percent lead in the pre-election RealClearPolitics polling average. Democrats shared their gubernatorial candidate’s win, electing (by narrower margins than Northam’s) Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, and making major gains in the Republican-controlled Virginia House (stunningly, control of that chamber is still in play with a few seats still undecided; Republicans enjoyed a 66/34 margin going into this election).

Team Northam’s turnout operation seems to have done its job, with voting up across much of Northern Virginia despite terrible weather (though higher early voting also contributed to the results). African-Americans were a steady 20 percent of the electorate, nearly as high as in last year’s presidential election. And Latino and Asian voting was notably higher:

But Northam’s margins among white and suburban voters really stand out. If exit polls are accurate, he carried 42 percent of the white vote, which is well above the percentage won in Virginia by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (35 percent), Mark Warner in 2014 (37 percent), Terry McAuliffe in 2013 (36 percent), and Barack Obama in either 2008 (39 percent) or 2012 (37 percent).

Northam’s performance in key suburban jurisdictions was equally impressive. In his narrow 2014 Senate loss to Mark Warner, Ed Gillespie won Northern Virginia swing jurisdiction Loudon County; Northam won it 60/39 today. Gillespie only lost another key NoVa suburb, Prince William County, to Warner by 3 percent; he lost it to Northam by 23 points. In the state’s largest county, the NoVa suburb of Fairfax, Northam won 67/31; even Hillary Clinton, who did very well in Fairfax, only won 65 percent there.

And the Democrat’s suburban wins weren’t limited to Northern Virginia. One of the state’s classic Republican-leaning suburbs is Chesterfield County, south of Richmond. Gillespie won it by 9 percent against Warner, and Donald Trump carried it by two points in 2016. The candidates basically tied there today. In another suburban Richmond County, Henrico, Northam ran two points ahead of Hillary Clinton, eight points ahead of Terry McAuliffe in 2013, and five points ahead of Mark Warner.

More predictably, Northam did well in his native Tidewater region, and Gillespie’s equally predictable margins in Western, West-Central, and Southside Virginia weren’t enough to overcome his suburban shortfalls.

Who were these suburban Northam voters? According to the exit polls, he actually won white college graduates by a 51/48 margin. Hillary Clinton’s statewide win in 2016 was attributed heavily to her success in winning 45 percent of college-educated white voters. Northam lost non-college-educated whites by a stunning 72/26 margin, basically the same shellacking Clinton took from these voters.

One would be tempted to guess Northam won a good number of anti-Trump Republicans. But the exits suggest he won only 4 percent of self-identified members of the GOP. What seems to have mattered more is that self-identified Democrats were 41 percent of the electorate, as opposed to only 31 percent who were Republicans. That is a testament to the Democratic voter targeting and turnout operation, and possibly an indication that Republicans are losing a significant number of Virginia’s white suburban voters altogether.

In terms of the dynamics of the campaign, it is reasonably clear that Gillespie’s investment in racially tinged culture-war messages did not significantly improve his performance in his “base” areas, and clearly cost him in the suburbs, where an Establishment Republican like him (who actually lives in Fairfax County) would have been expected to do well.

The president’s Twitter reaction to the results suggested that Gillespie lost because he didn’t wear a MAGA hat or explicitly appeal to Trump voters:

Actually, Gillespie’s support pretty closely tracked the president’s 2016 proposal in heavily pro-Trump jurisdictions like Augusta County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 73 percent) or Campbell County (Trump, 71 percent; Gillespie, 74 percent).

In general, it appears Northam took Hillary Clinton’s advantages over Donald Trump and intensified them. That this happened in a non-presidential year where low turnout typically helps Republicans is a very good sign for the Donkey Party going forward.

Some Telling Numbers from the VA Exit Polls

Notable statistical nuggets from “Exit poll results: How different groups of Virginians voted” at The Washington Post:

Gender – Men favored Republican Ed Gillespie by a two-point margin, smaller than Trump’s nine-point edge in 2016. But Democrat Ralph Northam won women voters by 22 points, larger than Clinton’s 17-point advantage last year.

Race – Northam got 8 of 10 nonwhite voters, while Gillespie received support from less than 2 in 10 among this group. “African Americans have made up just under one-fifth of Virginia’s electorate, and a surge in black voting has been decisive in recent statewide elections.”

Age – Northam won 47 percent of those age 65+, 2 percent better than Clinton and 69 percent of 18-29 year-old voters, 15 percent more than Clinton.

Education – Six in 10 college graduates supported Northam according to exit polls, up from the 55 percent who supported Clinton in 2016.

White Working-Class – Northam improved slightly with his 26 percent share of white non-college voters, compared to 24 percent for Clinton last year. But he won 32 percent of white non-college women, compard to Clinton’s 29 percent. Northam won 22 percent of white non-college men, compared to Clinton’s 19 percent.”

Party Identification – Northam won 47 percent of self-described “Independents,” compared to Clinton’s 43 percent.

Ideology – 64 percent of self-described “Moderates” voted for Northam, compared to Clinton’s 58 percent. But he won only 9 percent of “Conservatives,” compared to Clinton’s 12 percent.

Marital Status – Northam won 77 percent of single women, compared to Clinton’s 61 percent.

In addition to the exit pollingReal Clear Politics reports that Quinippiac’s November poll came closest to the actual vote in Virginia, with a 9 point edge for Northam, who won by 8.6 percent. Rasmussen did the worst of major pollsters in November, with a 45 percent tie.

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.