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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

June 23, 2018

Abramowitz: Democratic Lead in Generic Ballot Holds Steady

Despite concerns about a slight uptick in Trump’s approval ratings in some recent polls, Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, makes the case that “The Very Stable House Generic Ballot” bodes well for Democrats.

“On average,” writes Abramowitz, “Democrats led the generic ballot by 7.1 points over the past year. The monthly average ranged from 6.2 points in February 2018 to 10.1 points in December 2017. The December result was clearly an outlier, however, and may have led to a misinterpretation of more recent results as indicating a significant decline in the Democratic lead.”

When it comes to evaluating poll averages, Ambramowitz makes ful use of available data, explaining that “Over the past 12 months (May 2017 to April 2018), there were a total of 279 generic ballot polls included in FiveThirtyEight’s database. I used the raw, unadjusted poll results (in other words, I used the actual poll results as opposed to the adjusted numbers FiveThirtyEight uses in its average). The number of polls ranged from 18 to 32 per month.” The results are quite impressive and consistent over time, as Ambramowitz notes:

On average, Democrats led by 7.1 points over the past year, and Democrats have led in almost every individual poll. The monthly average ranged from 6.2 points in February 2018 to 10.1 points in December 2017. The December result was clearly an outlier, however, and may have led to a misinterpretation of more recent results as indicating a significant decline in the Democratic lead. Except for the December results, the monthly averages have fallen within a fairly narrow range of 6.2 to 7.8 points. December 2017 was also generally the weakest time for President Donald Trump’s approval rating, so the Republican brand as a whole just seemed weaker in December than before or since.

No wonder Republicans prefer to emphasize Trump’s slight improvement in his average approval ratings, or any other data points aside from the generic ballot data. Looking toward the midterm elections, Abramowitz adds,

What does this Democratic lead mean for the fall? While experts differ on how large of a lead Democrats need to feel good about their chances to flip the House, my House prediction model — described here in a previous Crystal Ball article — suggests lead of as small as four points might be sufficient, although the model’s standard error is wide enough that Democrats certainly would feel better about their odds if their lead in the generic ballot average was in the high single or even low double digits. Table 2 shows the model’s predictions for Democratic seat gains based on the House generic ballot average.

Table 2: Predicted change in Republican House seats by generic ballot polling

Teixeira: Class Mobility Considerations for Political Messaging and Policy Advocacy

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis (cross-posted from his facebook page):

What’s happening with the middle class?

Does the middle class want to get ahead faster or stop falling? It makes a difference which of these is correct, when thinking about what message to promulgate and what programs to emphasize.

Noah Smith rounds up data that suggest a focus on getting ahead faster might be warranted, despite the well-known problems with wage gains since the 1970’s.

“The average American has, in fact, seen modest gains since the early 1970s; the falling wages of production workers don’t tell the whole story. A more comprehensive measure is median real person income. This, it turns out, has risen substantially since 1974 — though at a slower pace than in the past decades. If the consumer price index is used as the inflation measure, real income has gone up by about a third. If personal consumption expenditure inflation — which covers more goods and takes greater account of changes in consumption habits — is used instead, the rise is more than 40 percent:

The median American’s income fell in the late 1970s, then began a steady multidecade rise, interrupted by recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. In the 2000s, incomes began to stagnate, then took a disastrous beating during the Great Recession. But the recovery beginning in 2013 was robust, and by 2016 income was at a record high.

Personal income looks at individual adults. But other measures, such as median family income, tell the same story of a slow and bumpy rise.

What explains the difference between wages and income? Two things. First, wages aren’t the only way Americans make money in the market. Income from assets, like retirement accounts and pensions, is increasingly important, as are nonwage compensation like employer contributions to retirement accounts. Second, the income numbers include government transfers, which have shifted more and more income from rich Americans to those who earn less in the market. These factors are all bigger than in the 1970s:

Increased redistribution has been helping the poor as well as the middle class. Recent calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that child poverty in the U.S. has fallen to record lows once government assistance is taken into account.”

I would add to Smith’s account the following:

Consider the basic measure of a society’s affluence, GDP per capita. Per capita GDP in the US rose by 111 percent between 1947 and 1979. Between 1979 and 2007 (the last business cycle peak) growth was slower, but per capita GDP still rose by 67 percent over the time period . Obviously, the US became a much richer society over that time period, despite the slower growth.

Of course, this growth has been very unequally distributed, so the effect of this growth on living standards has been much more modest than that suggested by the substantial increase in GDP per capita. The starkest measure of this are the figures for growth of family income from the Census Current Population Survey (CPS). In the 1947-79 period, median family income went up 113 percent, closely matching the gain in GDP per capita over the time period. But in the 1979-2007 period, median family income grew from around $56,000 to $66,000 (2011 dollars), a gain of only 18 percent . Obviously, this lags far behind the growth of GDP per capita over the same time period. On the other hand, it is a gain of nearly a fifth—modest in comparative terms but not nothing and certainly not backsliding.

Moreover, the CPS data do not take into account the changing size of households, the value of non-cash benefits (food stamps, employer-provided health insurance, etc) and changes in the tax structure. Thus—and there are endless arguments about this among economists —the CPS data may underestimate the gain in living standards over time. Indeed, once all that is taken into account, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that real (inflation-adjusted) after- tax income for the median household grew 50 percent between 1979 and 2007. Again, even this figure lags behind the growth of GDP per capita and is short measure compared to the 314 percent increase for the top 1 percent—but it is far from nothing. Even if one splits the difference between the CPS and CBO figures—in effect, assuming some of the CBO income is not as important as the unadjusted cash income measured by CPS—that would still give median income growth of 34 percent between 1979 and 2007. This is disappointing by historical standards but is far from the miserable picture embraced by many on the left. As the Pew Research Center notes, 84 percent of today’s adults have family incomes above what their parents had at similar ages .

Also lost in the standard tale of middle class decline is the fact that life cycle improvements in living standards have not been repealed by the relatively poor post-1979 environment. That is, it is still the case that as people age, they and their families typically get substantially better off. For example, economist Stephen Rose studied the same individuals as captured by the longitudinal Panel Survey of Income Dynamics and found that 20-31 year olds in 1979 experienced a median growth rate of 56 percent in their income as they aged to 48-59 by 2007.

Speaking of the middle class, this can be another source of definitional dispute between researchers. It is quite possible, for example, for the middle class under some definitions to become smaller even as there is considerable upward mobility from the middle class. This is demonstrated by a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center . According to Pew’s definition of the middle class—those with size-adjusted household incomes between two-thirds to double the median—the middle class shrank from 61 percent of adults to 50 percent in the 1971-2015 period. However, most of that shrinkage was due an increase in the share of adults who were in the upper middle or highest classes (up 7 points) rather than an increase in the share of adults who were in the lower middle or lowest classes (up 4 points). So the middle class, under their definition did shrink, but primarily because of upward, not downward, mobility.

Another excessively gloomy claim about the last several decades is that middle class jobs are disappearing and being replaced by “McJobs”. However, this view equates the decline of low skill, relatively well-paid jobs like those in manufacturing—which has been going on since 1948–to an overall decline in middle class jobs, which is not merited. The middle class jobs of today are in the growth areas of offices and high skill services. These two areas of the economy now provide 64 percent of all jobs and have expanded more as a share of jobs since 1967 than manufacturing and related jobs have declined. Thus, middle class jobs are not disappearing but have rather have moved to different sectors that require higher levels of education and cognitive training.

When thinking about progress in living standards it is also important to keep in mind the ways life has improved for most Americans that are not reflected in income or jobs data . For example, American life expectancy has gone up 5 years since 1979. Homes are far bigger (median new home size has risen from 1600 to 2600 square feet since 1979) and more well-appointed; food and clothing are cheaper and take up a smaller proportion of family budgets; cars are safer and get better gas mileage; access to travel and leisure, including foreign travel, has gone up; and device-enabled connection to the internet has brought the typical American into contact with a universe of information and entertainment that was literally unthinkable 30 or 40 years ago.

That’s progress. Now what we need is more of it–and faster please.

Political Strategy Notes

In her article, “Democratic candidates are focused on issues such as health care, despite what pundits say” At mic.com, Emily C. Singer”notes that “A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll from early April found that health care is the top issue for voters in the midterm elections. Nearly a third, or 30%, of voters said health care is their top issue, while guns and immigration tied for second place, with 25% each…“In the polling, when you ask people what’s the most important issue, health care comes up at the top or near the top,” Peter Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster who helps conduct the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, said in an interview.”

Here’s a political ad focusing on health care for Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is running for Senate in Nevada:

Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera make a persuasive case that “The gaming of Hatch-Waxman is one of the two most important reasons why drug prices are so out of control. The other reason is that drug company executives — like executives in every other industries — began kneeling at the altar of “shareholder value.” And the easiest way to boost profits, and thus the stock price, was to raise prices relentlessly…But the single best way to get drug prices under control would be to put the teeth back into Hatch-Waxman. It would not be a particularly difficult thing to do. First, shorten the patent exclusivity period to 10 years. (Drug companies say they need the longer time to recoup their research and development costs, but the truth is most companies spend more on marketing than R&D.)..Second, outlaw the practice of paying companies to keep generics off the market and similar forms of gamesmanship. Third — and most important of all — don’t allow companies to extend the period of exclusivity beyond the original 10 years.” Democrats should do all of the above, while also making a strong case for “allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with the drug companies over pricing. Given that Medicare spends over $400 billion on drugs, it would have tremendous negotiating power, that could yield billions in savings. Of course, that is exactly what the Republicans are afraid of, and why they persuaded the president to take it off the table.”

Washington Post business writers Erica Werner and Carolyn Y. Johnson note that “Democrats are trying to take back an issue Donald Trump effectively stole from them during the 2016 presidential campaign: the high cost of prescription drugs…Democrats are also promising to appoint a “price gouging” enforcer who would fine drug companies if their price increases surpassed certain thresholds — another piece they believe will show voters that Democrats are prepared to tackle the issue in a way Trump hasn’t…“There’s no question that it provides an opening for us,” said Rep. Richard E. Neal (Mass.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee…A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in March found that 52 percent of Americans said passing legislation to lower prescription drug prices should be a “top priority” for Trump and Congress. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said pharmaceutical companies have too much influence in Washington, a view shared by both Democrats and Republicans.”

Overconfidence that feeds complacency is always a bad thing, which Democrats should keep in mind, regarding their strong performance in special elections since 2016. Powerpost’s Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report that “Trump’s improved standing, energized GOP voters worry Democrats,” and note “After months of confidence that public discontent with President Trump would lift Democrats back to power in Congress, some party leaders are fretting that their advantages in this year’s midterms are eroding amid a shifting political landscape…Driving their concerns are Trump’s approval rating, which has ticked upward in recent weeks, and high Republican turnout in some recent primaries, suggesting the GOP base remains energized. What’s more, Republicans stand to benefit politically from a thriving economy and are choosing formidable candidates to take on vulnerable Democratic senators.” Fair enough. But Dems should not do too much handwringing. The sky is more likely to fall on Republicans than Dems in the coming months, as the Mueller probe zeroes in on the Trump Administration’s unprecedented level of corruption, dragging Trump’s approval ratings downward. The blue wave may be smaller than expected a few weeks ago. But the smart money is still on Dems winning a House majority, with gains in state legislatures. Moreover, “Republicans still have messy intraparty fights to navigate in Mississippi and Arizona, with polarizing Senate candidates who party officials believe could lose to Democrats. They are plotting ways to elevate the more electable ones…If Democrats can flip one or both of those seats, their path to the majority will be easier, contingent on holding seats. Democrats also have a plum opportunity for a pickup in Nevada.”

The Trump Trade Hawk walkback begins. As Brett Samuels reports at The Hill, “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday criticized President Trump for directing the Commerce Department to assist a Chinese telecommunications company…“How about helping some American companies first?” Schumer tweeted in response to Trump’s earlier tweet on the matter…Trump earlier in the day said he’s working with Chinese President Xi Jingping to get Chinese company ZTE “a way to get back into business, fast.”…“Too many jobs in China lost,” Trump tweeted.

L.A. Times writer Christine Mai-Duc reports on a new strategy for California Democrats competing in ‘top two’ primaries: “Vexed for months over the prospect of getting boxed out of crucial House races after California’s primary, Democrats think they’ve found a way to fight back….The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week began airing television adsthat go after two Republicans running for retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s seat. The ads made no mention of a third, Young Kim, who has led polls, has the backing of Royce, and is widely seen as the Democrats’ most formidable potential opponent in November…By attacking two Republicans viewed as second-tier, Democrats are hoping to suppress GOP votes for those candidates while ensuring that Kim gets far enough ahead to be the only Republican in the general election. They also hope to avoid explicitly backing or attacking one of their own in the increasingly nasty intraparty fights in some districts.’

In Neil Rothchild’s “The Senate Democrats who keep saying no to Trump nominees” at Axios, he indicates that only 10 Democratic Senators voted against confirming Trump nominees in more than 70.3 percent of the 37 selected votes, and only two, Gillibrand and Warren, did so more than 90 percent of the time. Given Trump’s record of poorly-qualified and morally-dubious nominees, are too many Democratic senators giving them an easy ride?

“Today, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and its offshoot — the Black Women’s Roundtable — launched the Unity ’18 Black Voting & Power Building “Time4APowerShift” campaign in Atlanta, Georgia,” reports Donna Owens at Essence magazine. “The goal is to leverage the impact of the Black vote and collective leadership, with a special emphasis on the South, Black women, and young voters. Unity ’18 is phase one of a four-year campaign that includes developing and organizing a long-term Black political and economic power building strategy. It will encompass the 2018 midterms, the 2020 Presidential election and more, including the 2020 census and redistricting that help will determine the balance of political power for the coming decade and beyond…The new campaign, said organizers, will partner more than 60 national and state-based organizations and networks, that are primarily led by Black women…There will be an emphasis on getting out the vote in places where the Black vote will be key to shifting political power, such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.”

Who Will Get the Blame in California for High Gas Prices?

Looking at two entirely different phenomena that happen to be converging at the gas pumps in the nation’s largest state, I wrote up an analysis for New York:

In most of the country, the likelihood that the president’s new fight with Iran will boost gas prices just as voters start thinking about the November midterm elections is some additional grief already embattled Republican candidates could really do without. It could be a real pocketbook problem, as CNN reports:

“Dan Eberhart, CEO of oilfield services company Canary LLC, drew a direct connection: ‘Withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal will support higher oil prices.'”

“Crude topped $70 a barrel this week for the first time in nearly four years. Hours before Trump’s announcement, federal government forecasters raised their estimate for 2018 oil prices by 10.5% to an average of $65.58 a barrel….

“Gasoline prices, which generally follow oil prices, have jumped to a national average of $2.81 a gallon, according to AAA. A gallon of gas went for $2.34 a year ago. The typical family will spend about $200 more this summer driving season, according to the Oil Price Information Service.”

But there’s a wrinkle in the potential fallout from higher gas taxes in California, where prices are already topping $4 per gallon in some locales. Prices were already rising significantly in the state thanks to a gas tax increase imposed by the Democratic-controlled legislature in 2017. The biggest increase took effect last November, but it coincided with a point in which gas stations in the state switch to a less expensive “winter blend” of fuels as smog abates. So the full weight of the tax increase is just now being felt, even as world oil and domestic gas prices are going up for various reasons, including Trump playing with fire in the Middle East.

As it happens, California voters are going to be dealing with a November ballot initiative avidly backed by the state’s Republicans, which would repeal the gas tax increase and require voter approval of future fuel tax hikes. Indeed, the struggling California GOP is hoping this measure will goose “base” turnout while convincing some swing voters that Democratic control of Sacramento is too expensive.

So that sets up an interesting situation for voters inclined to lash out at politicians for making a tank of gas cost significantly more: Do they blame Democrats for the gas tax increase or Republicans for being the party of a president who’s fecklessly throwing his weight around in the world’s most dangerous region?

You’d have to guess that if supporters of the gas tax repeal kick out the jams on advertising the easier connection between higher gas prices and higher taxes would be the easier sell. On the other hand, Democrats (and the business groups that supported the gas tax increase) will run ads making it clear that without the higher gas tax the long-overdue road and bridge repairs that are finally under way around the state will come to an abrupt halt. So easing gas prices by repealing the new taxes will come at its own price, particularly for motorists sick of potholes and traffic congestion. But punishing the GOP for Trump’s dumb foreign policies is what California’s Democratic-leaning electorate is inclined to do anyway.

Survey Shows Need for New Democratic Message Platform in Key Midterm Battlegrounds

The following memo by Page Gardner of Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Research and Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps, is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

Democrats sit at the edge of a landslide repudiation of President Trump and Republicans – in the Congress and states where they govern in November. Though their momentum has stalled in the last few months, Democrats have important opportunities with minorities, millennials, and unmarried women, and, to some extent, white working class women, that will allow them to increase the number of competitive races and dominate in many battlegrounds in 2018. This is according to the first of three waves of a phone survey (conducted mostly on cell-phones) of registered voters and a coordinated on-going web-panel of more than 3,100 target voters in 12 states that include 12 Governor races, 10 Senate races, and 18 races in DCCC battleground districts. This suite of research provides clear guidance for progressives to get on the winning track.1

Democratic victories in 2017 and 2018 were the result of differential turnout and strong perfor- mance across base and swing groups. Compared to 2016, there is a greater belief that the results of elections matter. But in the past few months, Democrats have appeared less focused on the economic and health care battles that most engage anti-Trump voters; at the same time, Republican base voters, especially white working class men, could finally point to a signature conservative policy achievement in the new tax cut law, where before they were grasping for news to justify their vote. This new research shows an evolved message as well as attacks on Trump and Republicans that allow Democrats to reclaim their footing.

The advice is straightforward: take away the GOP’s presumed strengths – the state of the macroeconomy and the new Republican tax cut – and make the most of their weaknesses on key issues that go to the heart of the case against Republican Trump-ism.


Political Strategy Notes

“To take back the majority in the House this November, political scientists calculate Democrats will have to win the popular vote by an extra 7 to 11 percent to overcome lines drawn by Republicans to keep them out.” notes Amber Phillips in her article, “Ohio voters just made gerrymandering more trouble than it’s worth” at The Fix. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that if Democrats can’t win back a seat at the table for drawing maps by the time the 2020 Census comes out, they could be locked out of power for a generation.” On Tuesday, “Ohio voters decided to limit one party’s power to draw congressional lines that would lock the other out of power for a decade. Advocates say their success in Ohio on Tuesday could be the start of a record-breaking year for redistricting reform, which could be on the ballot in five more states. And that raises the question: Are voters who are sick of Washington now turning their frustration to gerrymandering?”

At slate.com, Josh Voorhees reports that “Women keep winning. On Tuesday night, nearly two-thirds of the women running in congressional primaries won their nomination. Overall, female candidates snagged 27 of the 81 major party House nominations that were up for grabs in Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia. That continues a trend that began with the nation’s first primary in Texas this year and then seemed to stall a bit in the second, in Illinois later that same month…According to Gender Watch 2018, a project of the nonpartisan Center for American Women and Politics, 22 of the 31 women running in a House Democratic primary on Tuesday won the nomination. That means women will make up a majority of the party’s 40 congressional nominees in those states.”

From Ronald Brownstein’s take on the primaries at the Atlantic: “The results of Tuesday’s primary elections simultaneously bolstered the Republican Party mainstream and demonstrated how much ground it has yielded to Donald Trump, particularly on the volatile issue of immigration….In several key races, GOP primary voters rejected candidates who presented themselves as the most ardent acolytes of Trump, in terms of style, political agenda, or both. But the relatively more mainstream alternatives triumphed in those contests only after embracing much, or all, of Trump’s hostility toward immigration. That dynamic underscores Trump’s success at eroding resistance in the GOP toward his racially infused nationalism. And that could prove a defining gamble for the party in a nation inexorably growing more diverse…But in the broader electorate, roughly three-fifths of Americans have opposed building the border wall and an even higher share has supported some legal status for the undocumented. While sanctuary policies can be more difficult ground for Democrats to defend, polls consistently show that significantly more Americans believe immigration strengthens, rather than weakens, the country; the margin was greater than 2 to 1, for instance, in an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released last September.”

“Donald Trump’s disgraceful personal behavior makes him a very tempting target. But there’s not much more that any Democratic can say about Trump that voters haven’t heard already,” writes Democratic pollster Brad Bannon in “A winning strategy for Democrats in 2020: populism, not Trump bashing” at The Hill. “To address Trump’s failure to help working families, Democrats should challenge his tax cuts for corporations, which have led to cuts in spending for education and health care. And to get there, the Democratic presidential hopefuls have an obligation to outline their approach to improve the economy for working families…A powerful populist economic message will attract voters. Personal attacks on Trump will distract people. It’s not enough for Democratic presidential candidates to bash Trump. Presidential hopefuls will also need to lay out their program for moving America forward. The same goes for Democratic Party leaders who want to turn out the party base to vote this year in the midterm elections.”

A new study by Politico indicates that “Trump thrives in areas that lack traditional news outlets: Relentless use of social media and partisan outlets helped him swamp Clinton and exceed Romney’s performance in places lacking trusted local news media.” Shawn Musgrave and Andrew Nussbaum note that “Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.” Also, “Trump struggled against Clinton in places with more news subscribers: Counties in the top 10 percent of subscription rates were twice as likely to go for Clinton as those in the lowest 10 percent. Clinton was also more than 3.7 times as likely to beat former President Barack Obama’s 2012 performance in counties in the top 10 percent compared to those in the lowest 10 percent — the driest of the so-called news deserts.” Clearly, Democrats have to expand and intensify their social media outreach in rural areas, if they want to improve their prospects beyond the suburbs.

In a FiveThirtyEight.com roundtable, Politics Editor Micah Cohen shares some polling on impeachmant: “In April, Monmouth University asked, “Do you think President Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency, or not?” and 39 percent said “should” vs. 56 percent who said “not.”…A Quinnipiac poll in April found 38 percent of people think Trump should be impeached and removed; 55 percent do not…A new CBS News poll found that 30 percent of people would be more likely to vote for a Congressional candidate who supports impeachment; 40 percent said less likely. (Twenty-nine percent were unsure or didn’t answer.)…But there’s obviously a big partisan split; here’s the party breakdown from a Marist/NPR poll…”

Impeachment advocates might also give some thought to “Trump Is No Longer the Worst Person in Government,” by WaPo columnist George F. Will, who notes: “Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing…Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not-at-all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.”

Women Aren’t the Only “Risky” Candidates–By a Long Shot

In the wake of the sudden, shocking, self-immolation of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s political career, I thought a bit about the broader implications and wrote it all up for New York:

[P]erhaps we should no longer be shocked by incidents like this. Here’s Esquire’s Charles Pierce [on the subject]:

“The downfall of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completes the unholy trinity of prominent liberal New York politicians whose careers went into the acid bath because, at one level or another, they failed to see women as actual human beings. Eliot Spitzer got involved with a prostitution ring. Anthony Weiner used women as sounding boards for his own pleasure. And Schneiderman, allegedly, physically assaulted his romantic partners. And, in this, again, political pundits learn the lesson that gets drummed into every sportswriter over and over: none of us really know these guys.”

It’s not like you could see Schneiderman’s disgrace coming via some misogynistic political impulse. As David Freedlander notes, he was a progressive role model:

“Schneiderman was the scion of a wealthy Manhattan lawyer who donated generously to causes like Planned Parenthood and public radio. He came up through the world of public interest law, one of those do-good types who keep protesters away from abortion clinics and government running with a minimum of corruption.”

But even if he is a lefty “golden boy” rather than a right-wing “good old boy,” Schneiderman is, after all, a boy. And at some point, people should begin to wonder if placing big bets on male politicians at this particular juncture of history is a mite risky, all else being equal. Indeed, if equity or fair representation isn’t a good enough reason for 2018 to be a “Year of the Woman,” the significantly lower likelihood of female candidates turning out to be abusive could be the clincher, at least until pre-#MeToo-movement generations have passed from the scene. I’m not talking about any sort of ban or crusade against members of my own gender, but just a long look at the growing number of celebrities facing a reckoning and a realistic assessment of the odds of a random politician conflating power with opportunities for coercive sex.

This is true even at the highest levels of politics and government. This isn’t the sort of thing that tends to make it into print, but I cannot tell you how many times progressive friends and acquaintances (including serious feminists) have told me that after what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Democrats would be foolish to run another woman against Donald Trump in 2020, encouraging the same kind of sexist voter reactions and media coverage that beset HRC. From that perspective, the ontological necessity of denying Trump a second term outweighs another assault on the country’s most important glass ceiling; let Nikki Haley or (shudder) Joni Ernst become the first woman to serve as president and defang electoral sexism once and for all.

The reckoning, though, ought to make Democrats think less about the perils of a female nominee and a more about the potentially serious consequences of a male nominee who may, like Schneiderman, have a hidden habit of treating his success as a license to act in a beastly manner out of the public eye. Yes, all human beings, and certainly all politicians, are in some respects weak and fallible. But let’s face it: the kind of sins that tend to lose elections are not equally distributed between the sexes.

Teixeira: Progressive Coalition Now Far Broader Than Industrial Working-Class

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis (cross-posted from his facebook page):

On Marx’s 200th Birthday: Farewell to the Proletariat

Paul Mason, my favorite radical left writer, has another great piece out in his series on Open Democracy. He asks:

“We can only move forward if we can answer the…question: who wants to change the world, and who has the agency to do it?”

He answers:

“After reporting on the 2011 revolts, and observing the similarities between the people in the streets and squares of Cairo, Athens and New York City, I became convinced that a new kind of person had emerged, which sociologists labelled the “networked individual”.

Networked technology, combined with high levels of education and personal freedom have created a new historical subject across most countries and cultures which will supplant the industrial working class in the progressive project, just as they replaced the cottage weavers and artisans of the 18th century.

Orthodox Marxists are appalled by this proposal, and for good reason. If the classic proletariat, owning no substantial property and destined to spontaneously solidaristic ways of life, is not in fact destined to overthrow class society, then a key tenet of Marxism is disproved.

This, as I argued in ‘Postcapitalism’, is the inevitable conclusion we have to draw from 200+ years of working class history. The working class always wanted to go beyond the piecemeal reforms offered by parliamentary socialists like Beatrice Webb, but never – outside extreme circumstances – wanted to impose the proletarian dictatorship proposed by Marx. Nor during the rare times that workers’ council-type bodies gained power were the working class able to secure these institutions against the influence of outside parties and bureaucracies.

The actual 200 year record of the proletariat is heroic: it wanted control and cultural space within capitalism and would fight to the death for this, even against parties claiming to be communist. But it persistently refused to play the role of capitalism’s gravedigger.”

I think this is exactly right. In this light the political configurations of today make sense. Conversely seeing the industrial working class as the leader of the progressive parade is at best confusing, at worst utterly depressing.

I would add to Mason’s analysis something he touches on only briefly: the inescapable demographic/structural facts of our situation.

Broadly speaking, the progressive coalition for perhaps 150 years—but most robustly for the hundred years between 1870 and 1970—was primarily based in the industrial working class (though of course additional support, especially for the non-socialist left, came from reformist elements of the white collar middle class and the agrarian sector). This coalition led by the industrial working class ebbed and flowed in this period but reached its peak of power and influence in the 30 years after World War II, resulting in the progressive welfare state that dominated the Western world. But this dominance did not last and one of the key reasons is very simple: the industrial working class had typically peaked in size by 1970 (in some countries somewhat earlier) and after 1970 experienced a precipitous decline. The general pattern has been a decline from 40-50 percent of the workforce to only around a quarter in a very short historical time span.

For example, in Germany the proportion of blue collar workers in the workforce has been cut in half since the late 1950’s to just over one-quarter of the workforce today, while the proportion of white collar workers has nearly tripled to 57 percent . Similarly, in Sweden the proportion of blue collar workers has been cut in half to one quarter of the workforce just since the mid-1970’s .

Closely related to this trend, employment in the industrial sector has dropped rapidly across countries, replaced by employment in the service sector. In Germany, the industrial sector has declined from 55 percent of employment in 1950 to just 26 percent today . Similarly, in the Netherlands industrial employment dropped from 40 to 20 percent of the workforce between 1950 and 2003 and in the UK from 47 to 24 percent over the same period .

In the United States, these changes have, if anything, been even stronger. The blue collar workforce is now down to just 21 percent of workers and industrial employment is down to just 16 percent .

To put these changes in perspective, consider that industrial employment in the United States, after rising for around 150 years, is now back roughly back to the level it was in 1820, when 70 percent of employment was agricultural . And now services are well over three-quarters of employment, so agriculture and services have essentially swapped places since 1820, while industry over this nearly 200 year time span has wound up back in the same place as a share of employment.

The profound significance of this remarkable change has yet to be fully absorbed by the left. Surely it is of earth-shaking significance that the class upon which progressive coalitions were built for so long has subsided back to its level of the early 1800’s.

And there are related changes that deepen the significance of this shift in the class structure. For example, union membership, a traditional driver of left voting, has been steadily dropping across countries, as well as shifting its composition toward public sector employees. In the United States, union membership peaked at 35 percent of the non-agricultural workforce in the mid-1950’s and is now down to about 11 percent and even lower (7 percent) in the private sector .

Similarly, in the Netherlands, union membership has dropped from 37 to 21 percent of the workforce between 1979 and 2007. In Germany over the same period, unionization dropped from 35 to 20 percent. In the UK, the decline was from 52 to 29 percent; in Spain, from 43 to 15 percent . Only the Nordic countries have been able to maintain their high union membership rates at close to their historic levels.

But even more significant is the glaring fact that, as the industrial working class has declined in numbers, it has become less supportive of traditional left parties. In Sweden, the social democrats’ share of the LO (blue collar workers union) vote has declined by 20 points from 1982 to 2010. In Denmark, social democrats’ share of the traditional working class vote declined by 17 points from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, in the UK by 18 points from the 1960’s to the 2000’s and in France (second round Presidential) by 19 points from 1974 to 2007. And in the United States, the white sector of the working class is now more likely to vote Republican than Democratic in most elections.

Outside of the US, there is also considerable variation in where the lost support from blue collar workers is going. Some of it is going to the traditional right but in countries with strong multi-party systems much of that lost support has been finding its way to parties of the populist right (e.g., the Freedom Party in Netherlands, the National Front in France, the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, the Danish People’s Party in Denmark, JOBBIK in Hungary) A much smaller portion has typically migrated to parties of the populist left (e.g., the Socialist Party in Netherlands, the Left Party in Germany, the Socialist People’s Party in Denmark). However, the recent emergence of new left populist parties like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece indicates that the situation may be more fluid in Southern Europe.

In short, the old progressive coalition is dead; by dint of declining numbers and attenuating support, the industrial working class can no longer play a leading role in the broad left. The ongoing (indeed, never-ending) struggle to reform capitalism will have to be waged on a new basis.

The left in the US is probably the farthest along in absorbing the implications of this change and building a new progressive coalition. Partially this reflects the fact that modernizing structural change is somewhat farther along in the US, creating new left constituencies at a particularly rapid rate. But if also reflects the advantage the US left gains from the simple two party nature of the US political system—the Democratic Party is the natural, indeed only viable, vehicle for progressive constituencies, new and old. By contrast, in Europe, to a greater or less degree, the multiparty nature of political systems has brought to the fore a variety of left socialist, ecological (green) and social liberal parties to compete with social democrats, the traditional parties of the industrial working class. To make things even more complicated, these alternative left parties typically do disproportionately well among new constituencies, a development social democrats have had a hard time accepting. This has made it even harder in these countries to fully harness the political power of emerging constituencies.

These emerging constituencies reflect the broad structural shift away from manufacturing and toward a postindustrial, knowledge-based society embedded in a global economy. Accompanying this shift have been changes in family and values norms—lowered fertility, diversity in family forms, rise of postmaterial values, decline of traditional religion—sometimes referred to as the Second Demographic Transition . Together these changes have given rise to an explosion of left-leaning groups that is making up for the decline of the traditional working class and powering the emergence of new left coalitions across the advanced Western world. Conservatives, in contrast, are relying ever more heavily on declining social sectors—very much including the traditional working class–to buoy their electoral fortunes.

So there we are. On Marx’s 200th birthday, let us finally discard the proletariat as the historical subject in the progressive project and accept that we are playing in a different ballgame. The goal of social justice remains but the players have fundamentally changed.

Macomb and America’s new political moment: Learning from Obama-Trump working class voters in Macomb and Democratic base groups in greater Detroit

The following article by Stanley B. Greenberg of Greenberg Research and Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps, is cross-posted from Democracy Corps:

On the one-year anniversary of the Trump presidency, Democracy Corps traveled to Michigan to speak with the white working class Obama-Trump voters of Macomb County, the African Amer- ican women of Detroit and the college educated women of suburban Southfield. Each, in their own way, had contributed to one of the most unlikely political outcomes in American history in 2016; and now, each is contributing to an unprecedented level of politicization, polarization and genuine fear for the future of the country. That is the consequence of the Trump election and the context as the country heads into the 2018 election.

This research comes a year after Democracy Corps and The Roosevelt Institute held our first post-2016 focus groups in Macomb County. Democracy Corps and the American Federation of Teachers returned to Macomb to catch up with these Trump voters and Detroit-area base voters.1

The stakes are so elevated in this political moment that both sides speak about a virtual “civil war” in the country, and critically, in their own families. Ordinary voters in focus groups now insist on talking about politics, national issues and the state of the country; they will not be dis- tracted by our moderators who attempt to open conversations with popular culture and entertain- ment. Once participants realize they are in a room with fellow Trump or Clinton voters, they rush to politics. It sucks all the oxygen out of the room.

The anti-Trump voters are consolidated and motivated to resist the Trump presidency. They are seeking out tools and information to win arguments and maximize their engagement and are in- creasingly intent to vote. The college graduate women seemed as much a base, anti-Trump group as the African Americans. The latter said that they won’t make the same mistake again, as the last election allowed so many racists to come out of the closet.

A healthy diet of Fox News is feeding the white working class men fending off the challenges of Trump’s opponents, including those within their own families. They have taken a lot of heat from the millennials and children in their own families, but feel vindicated that a businessman like Trump has produced a strong macro-economy and kept his promises on immigration. They continue to appreciate how he speaks his mind, unlike a typical politician.

But the national drama has tested the resolve of the younger white working class ‘Obama- Trump’ women, especially those under 45 years old. They more openly express their concerns and doubts. They are primarily worried about rising health care costs, the quality of public edu- cation, safety from gun violence, and whether the president will sell out working people by going after entitlements.

From the white working class to African Americans to the college educated suburbs, voter con- sciousness is being shaped by the political pressure cooker set to explode in November.

(1 Democracy Corps and the American Federation of Teachers conducted focus groups on March 7-8, 2018 with white working class Obama-Trump voters and Trump-Democrats in Macomb County, MI and African American women from Detroit, MI. Democracy Corps conducted a focus group with white college-graduate women in Southfield, MI on behalf of The American Prospect on March 9, 2018.)

The politicized, polarized civil war

Voters across ‘the resistance’ and ‘Trump world’ use the same language to describe their feelings about the way things are going in the country. They are “terrified,” “nervous,” “depressed,” and “distraught” because of the political climate, and that is compounded by their fear of gun violence.

Political Strategy Notes

CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer’s “Democrats, focus on midterms — not Trump impeachment talk” pinpoints the party’s 2018 dilemma: “The biggest challenge for Democrats is to avoid letting anti-Trump fervor drown out their own message. To be sure, attacking the President is often an important part of wave elections. Though they already had control of the House in 1982, Democrats expanded their majority by urging voters to take a stand against the Reagan Revolution. In 1994, Newt Gingrich used President Bill Clinton — and his failed health care plan — as a foil to excite voters to turn out in the election. Nancy Pelosi returned the favor in 2006 as Democrats were determined to send a message to President George W. Bush, just as Tea Party Republicans did in 2010 when they took back the House.” However, “Democrats are making a big political bet if they think that the news over Russia, payments to porn stars and ongoing lies will be enough to bring voters out to the polls. This is especially risky given that unemployment is now at historically low 3.9% and Trump might be on the cusp of helping to orchestrate a major peace deal between North and South Korea…Democrats must avoid two big pitfalls — failing to deliver a compelling agenda and dampening their own turnout though excessively hard-line tactics in the primaries. And that could leave Republicans in much better shape than they otherwise would be in the age of Trump.”

The Washington Post provides the following video clip, explaining “How Democrats Are Planning to Take Back Power“:

At npr.com, Jessica Taylor reports that “Republican Fears About Holding The Senate Start To Sink In,” and observes, “In conversations with several top GOP strategists, nearly all conceded that the overwhelming Democratic enthusiasm they’re facing this November is incredibly worrisome. Most still think it’s a better than even chance that they do keep the Senate — albeit narrowly — but it’s no longer out of the realm of possibility that the upper chamber could change hands, especially given the volatility of the GOP’s two-seat majority…Lackluster fundraising as of late from GOP challengers and stronger-than-expected hauls from Democratic incumbents has further stoked worry among Republicans. Taylor probes the political dynamics of ther most vulnerable senate seats of both Democrats and Repubicans and notes, “Tennessee has emerged as the biggest wildcard that could make or break the Senate majority for both parties. Democrats scored a major coup by convincing former Gov. Phil Bredesen to enter the race after frequent Trump critic and GOP Sen. Bob Corker announced he wouldn’t run for re-election.”

In FiveThirtyEight article, “Democrats’ Horrible 2018 Senate Map Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time” Nathaniel Rakitch writes, “Still, Democrats should probably be thrilled with an overperformance of even half that. It all comes back to that pesky Republican bias in the Senate — and specifically its lopsided distribution. In short, 2018 could be not just bad, but a veritable armaggeddon for Senate Democrats. They should count their lucky stars that their worst-case map looks like it’s going to coincide with their best-case turnout environment.” Rakitch cites Demo rats “healthy lead in generic-ballot polling,” but adds that “Democrats need to overperform by a whopping 11 seats in order to snag a majority. Still, Democrats should probably be thrilled with an overperformance of even half that…They should count their lucky stars that their worst-case map looks like it’s going to coincide with their best-case turnout environment.”

In another FiveThirtyEight post, “What’s At Stake In The First Big Primary Day Of 2018,” Rakich previews tommorrow’s primary contests and sets the stage with a trio of questions: “Will a new political dynasty be born? Will a man not quite a year removed from prison become the GOP’s candidate for Senate? Will Dennis Kucinich finally win a nomination — 14 years after his first quixotic presidential bid?” rackich writes, “These things could all happen Tuesday, primary day in the great states of Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. As opposed to recent special election days, when the entire political world turned its eyes to a single district, we’ll be dividing our attention among several key contests as the results come in. There are lots of weird, interesting races, but the most significant takeaway will be whether the Democratic and Republican parties are nominating strong candidates for the fall.” Rakitch provides in-depth insights about several of the major races.

Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin’s NYT op-ed “You Can’t Separate Money From Culture” explores the “misguided debate about whether culture or economics was the driving force in Mr. Trump’s win.” Cherlin argues that “those who try to distinguish between the explanatory power of stagnant wages and a declining industrial base on the one hand, and anxieties about the ascent of minority groups on the other, miss the point: These are not two different factors but two sides of the same coin…astute scholars do not see a wall between economics and culture. They acknowledge that financial hardship affects the daily lives of working-class Americans, but they add that how they respond is based on cultural beliefs that may lead them to scapegoat minority groups…People who are frustrated by their lack of progress may still try to defend the dignity of their work. It is a mistake to see economics and culture as distinct forces. Both propelled Mr. Trump to victory.”

Few political campaign media specialists will be surprised by the title and subtitle of Steven Musil’s CNET article, “Most Facebook users in US still loyal to social networking giant, poll finds: Three-quarters of America’s Facebook users say they use the social network as often or more frequently since a data scandal broke in March.” Sure millions of FB members are ticked off somewhat by revelations of compromised privacy. But anyone who believed that social media platform’s privacy protections were iron-clad was inviting disappointment. Musil notes, “User loyalty remains high with users of the social network, according to a Reuters/Ipsos online poll released Sunday that found about half of Facebook’s American users hadn’t recently changed the amount that they used the site. Indeed, another quarter said they were using it more. Of the approximaely one-quarter of users who said they were using it less frequently, don’t be shocked if they come back.

Further, Elizabeth Grieco reports at the Pew Research Center ‘FacTank’ that “Facebook claims the largest share of social media news consumers, and its news users are much more likely to rely solely on that site for news. Just under half (45%) of U.S. adults use Facebook for news. Half of Facebook’s news users get news from that social media site alone, with just one-in-five relying on three or more sites for news.” According to a survey by statista.com reported in January 2018, “58.3 million U.S. Facebook users were between 25 and 34 years old. This distribution also closely mirrors the overall number of social network users in the United States, as 35.3 million U.S. social media users were aged 25 to 34 years. The total Facebook audience in the United States amounted to 214 million users. With more than 1.8 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide. In 2014, U.S. users spent an average of 39 minutes on the site every day and the social network has become a part of daily online usage for millions of users.” For the 50 most widely-circulated newspaper’s digital editions, “In the fourth quarter of 2016, there was an average of roughly 11.7 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for these top 50 newspapers,” according to the Pew Research Center Newspapers Fact Sheet.

Democratic candidates and campaigns should take a gander at “Political Rhetoric 101 for Beginners (such as Democratic candidates)” by X Smith at Op-Ed news. Smith shares some interesting tips, including: “Democrats should make better use of patriotic imagery. When John Kerry was running (sort of) against Bush Jr. in 2004, being from Massachusetts he had massive scope to drape himself with New England’s patriotic imagery–Lexington’s Battle Green and Concord’s Old North Bridge; Faneuil Hall; the USS Constitution; the Old North Church and Paul Revere statue; working-class war memorials in South Boston and Worcester. He could have used those to counter-act the Massachusetts ultra-liberal label and remind people that New England is the birthplace of American patriotism. Total missed opportunity. Republicans have long since seized the flag; Democrats should seize it back while reminding people what it stands for” and “The hard right will always find a way to make their goals sound reasonable, even a popular imperative: uniter not divider; fiscal conservative, defend our borders, restrain government. So don’t try to argue that their stated goals are undesirable: instead attack them for failing to live up to their word. They’re not delivering what the people who voted for them wanted; worse, they’re skilled at disguising what they’re doing (for example fiscal conservatives who pile up massive deficits.) The goal of this line of attack is to peel some moderate conservative voters away from the phony-conservative party.”