washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

Read the article…

The Daily Strategist

March 20, 2018

Leaked Iraq Report Hobbles GOP Strategy

The Republican strategy of characterizing Democratic candidates as “soft on terrorism” just suffered a damaging if not lethal blow in the form of a leaked “National Intelligence Estimate.” The report reflects “U.S. intelligence community’s first formal evaluation of global trends in terrorism since the April 2003 invasion of Iraq,” according to Washington Post reporters Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weissman. The authors say “the report concludes that the Iraq war has fueled the growth of Islamic extremism and terror groups.”
In his article “No Silent Majority for Bush,” WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes further:

…News over the weekend of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is especially troublesome for Republican electoral chances. By finding that the war in Iraq has encouraged global terrorism and spawned a new generation of Islamic radicals, the report by 16 government intelligence services undercuts the administration’s central argument that the Iraq war has made the United States safer.
Nor is there any way to dismiss the assessment as partisan, left-wing or unpatriotic. That high-level government officials have offered their own criticisms of the war’s impact makes it difficult for Republicans to force the argument into a classic “he said-she said” framework in which facts can be set aside and the claims of critics dismissed as political.

Meanwhile a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted 9/22-24, indicates that 59 percent of Americans oppose the Iraq war and 55 percent of likely voters said they would vote for a Democrat if the election were held now, compared to 42 percent for a republican.
There will be a lot more said and written about the leaked report over the next seven weeks. But it’s clear that the “soft on terrorism” label the GOP has tried to pin on Dems so frequently now has “backfire” written all over it.

Fair Trade Gives Dems Mid-Terms Edge

In nation-wide polls ranking the political priorities of voters, foreign trade rarely scores very high. Indeed the issue is often submerged in voter concerns about “the economy.”
But trade is a major issue this year in key congressional and state-wide elections, reports Molly Hennessy-Fiske in today’s L.A. Times. Hennessy-Fiske focuses on Democratic convert Jack Davis’s campaign to unseat Republican Thomas M. Reynolds from his western NY district as a marquee campaign with trade as a pivotal issue, and she provides an interesting run-down of how the issue is playing out at the state and district level:

With wages stagnating for many Americans, trade has become a significant campaign factor this fall in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states. In Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, where manufacturers continue to shutter plants and cut jobs, free trade has become a major issue of campaigns.
In Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is seeking reelection, recently ran a TV ad highlighting her effort to create a “trade prosecutor” to investigate unfair foreign competition.
In Ohio, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown, have repeatedly sparred over trade, with Brown calling for “fair-trade” policies that hold foreign companies to U.S. workplace standards.
In North Carolina, Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, a textile heir, is under attack from his opponent, a former textile worker, for supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement last year. Hayes cast the deciding vote

Trade is an issue that clearly has GOP candidates dodging and equivocating, particularly with working-class voters. Democratic candidates who successfully articulate strong “fair trade” arguments in districts hit hard by job losses to foreign trade may have the edge that leads to victory on November 7.

New Site Content

by Scott Winship
This week we closed out our Missing the Middle roundtable with a final response from Third Way. I’m also happy to report that today a new article went up on our homepage. “Authoritarianism and the American Political Divide,” by political scientists Jonathan Weiler and Marc J. Hetherington, shows that the extent to which people hold authoritarian child-rearing attitudes predicts their political preferences. Not only that, but when the perceived threat from some development — say, terrorism or gay marriage — the preferences of anti-authoritarians tend to move toward those of authoritarians. Check out this important article, and let us know what you think.

NYT/CBS Poll: Dems Ahead 15 Points in Mid-Term Races

With 47 days to go before the mid-term election, Democrats have a 15 point lead over Republicans among registered voters in a generic vote for congressional representatives, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 9/15-19. As Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder explain in their NYT poll summary:

In the poll, 50 percent said they would support a Democrat in the fall Congressional elections, compared with 35 percent who said they would support a Republican….In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give a new people a chance. That is the highest number of voters saying it is “time for new people” since the fall of 1994.

But Elder and Nagourney warn that Dems should temper their expectations because of several factors:

But the poll found that Democrats continued to struggle to offer a strong case for turning government control over to them; only 38 percent said the Democrats had a clear plan for how they would run the country, compared with 45 percent who said the Republicans had offered a clear plan…Democrats face substantial institutional obstacles in trying to repeat what Republicans accomplished in 1994, including a Republican financial advantage and the fact that far fewer seats are in play…Most analysts judge only about 40 House seats to be in play at the moment, compared with over 100 seats in play at this point 12 years ago, in large part because redistricting has created more safe seats for both parties.

Still, Democrats can be encouraged by the fact that 43 percent of respondents said they were “more enthusiastic” about voting on November 7. In addition, Dems have narrowed the GOP advantage on addressing terrorism to 5 percent, according to the poll.

Dems Gain in Key Swing States

For an insightful analysis of current congressional campaigns in key swing states, read “Mood Indigo: A Democratic Revival” by John B. Judis in the New Republic Online. Judis, NR senior editor, author and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has recently returned from swing states Colorado and Ohio, where he interviewed voters and candidates. His report has a lot for Dems to be encouraged about, including:

…this year, Democrats could unseat as many as five House Republicans in Ohio and win a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. In Colorado, Democrats are very likely to win the governorship and both state legislatures, and to take as many as three House seats from the Republicans. And, in both states, it’s not just a sudden and fleeting reaction to Bush, but the resumption of a movement among upscale suburban voters and working-class Reagan Democrats. America may not turn blue this year, but it looks as if it is definitely becoming purple.

Judis says there are two general types of districts that are morphing Democratic:

The first is suburbs of older manufacturing regions in the East, Midwest, and West that have shifted to producing high-tech information services. These areas are heavily populated by professionals–from scientists and software programmers to teachers and nurses–who began voting Democratic in the late ’80s and early ’90s in response to the GOP’s embrace of the religious right and adoption of a deregulatory, anti-New Deal business agenda. Democratic support in these areas was particularly high among women voters and voters with a postgraduate education.
…The second kind of district where Democrats have a chance of unseating Republicans is white, working-class, and located in or near a mid-sized city like South Bend or Louisville. Voters in these districts tend to be less affluent, less educated, and more socially conservative.

Judis has a lot more interesting detail and analysis about this trend and the political dynamics of the campaigns — particularly the role of women voters. His article is highly reccommended for everyone interested in Democratic political strategy.

Vote Theft, Poll Screw-ups Cut Dem Wins

In a better world, political strategists wouldn’t have to factor voter suppression, polling shenanigans and glitches into their planning. All votes would be accurately counted and the polls would run smoothly. Doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, in a great democracy.
In 21st century America, however, ignoring voter theft and polling screw-ups in formulating strategy is a prescription for defeat in too many localities. Writing in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, Sasha Abramsky explains it thusly in “Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America’s worst places to cast a ballot (or try): Machines that count backward, slice-and-dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming, and plenty of dirty tricks”:

We used to think the voting system was something like the traffic laws — a set of rules clear to everyone, enforced everywhere, with penalties for transgressions; we used to think, in other words, that we had a national election system. How wrong a notion this was has become painfully apparent since 2000: As it turns out, except for a rudimentary federal framework (which determines the voting age, channels money to states and counties, and enforces protections for minorities and the disabled), U.S. elections are shaped by a dizzying mélange of inconsistently enforced laws, conflicting court rulings, local traditions, various technology choices, and partisan trickery.

Abramsky then describes vote rip-offs and polling screw-ups in some of the ‘worst places’ for voters, including Atlanta; Beaufort, N. C. ; Fort Worth, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Franklin and Cuyahogo counties in Ohio; Travis County, TX; the Mississippi Delta; Charleston, S.C. and Waller County, TX . He also spotlights major statewide problems in Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.
It’s a sobering litany of compromised voting rights, particularly for voters living in those localities – and for Democrats in general, who are the undercounted in every instance. Reforms to correct vote suppression ought to be a high priority for Dems who want to level the playing field.

Does Emotion Trump Reason in Voter Choice?

Shankar Vedantam’s “In Politics, Aim for the Heart, Not the Head” in today’s WaPo explores a provocative idea for political strategists. Although his proposition is tethered to a 71 year-old experiment in which voters responded twice as positively to a raw, emotional appeal over a rational one, the idea deserves some consideration. Vedantam puts it this way:

Given the enormous proliferation of policy questions today, surfing the emotional wave nowadays may be even more important than it was in 1935. George E. Marcus, president of the International Society of Political Psychology, said modern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don’t have much effect. Voters, he explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention.
The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons — and partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising — but it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas. Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle level.

An interesting idea which warrants more long-range exploration. In terms of short-range strategy, Vedantam offers the following:

What works much better, because it influences people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a different issue — the one where the candidate is the strongest.
“The agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about,” said Nicholas A. Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel about an issue, but which issue they should focus on — that is the struggle of most modern campaign managers.”
“Campaigns have been much more successful at shifting people’s attentions to different issues rather than shifting people’s positions,” he added.

Is Vedantam on to something here? Or is this another way of saying people often vote their gut feelings? Either way, the idea merits further study.

Academic Studies Point to Democratic Wins

Over at The Atlantic Online, ace political writer Jack Beatty has an article with a title we like — “The “S” Word Spells Trouble for the GOP: If history is any guide, the Republicans will lose the House this year and the presidency in 2008.” Beatty chews on a few theories of winning elections, and offers some appealing (for Dems) observations:

American politics knows no more certain a predicative metric than that increasing unemployment or rising prices in an election year defeat the incumbent party. The phenomenon is called “economic retrospective voting.” In the long sweep of political history, it appears that, more perhaps than any other factor, the answer to Ronald Reagan’s question in his first debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980—”Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” — decides elections.

Sounds good. And citing an earlier landmark study of voting behavior, Beatty observes:

In “off-years,” when there were no presidential elections, falling real incomes predicted defeat for the incumbent party in statewide races for the U.S. House. For example, a 10 percent decrease in per capita income translated into a loss of 40 House seats.
…In short, either falling real incomes or rising unemployment strongly predicts defeat for the incumbent—that is, the president’s party in off-year elections. If the experts quoted in the Times are right, real personal incomes, which have fallen since 2001, will fall this year—that’s what inflation means. If, to moderate inflation, the Fed raises interest rates to slow the economy, then unemployment will rise. Both are likely to rise together, if Gordon is right, between now and 2008. Thus, if history is any guide, economic retrospective voting should cost the Republicans the House this year and the presidency in 2008

Yep, that’s a lot of “ifs.” But Beatty also points out that:

Correlations between the economy and the presidential vote are weaker than between the economy and the congressional vote…The economy—understood as personal incomes going up or down and unemployment going up or down—is the classic “valence-issue” in politics. “Instead of ‘position’ issues, where one party favors policy X and the other party favors policy Y…’valence’ issues chiefly hinge on perceived government management: my party can manage the economy or the war, for example, better than your party has been doing,” David R. Mayhew, a Yale political scientist, explains in Electoral Realignments (2002). “The more one examines American electoral history, the more it seems to tilt toward valence-issue as opposed to position-issue junctures.” In his 1963 paper introducing the term, Donald E. Stokes defined “valence-issues” as “those that merely involve the linking of the parties with some condition that is positively or negatively valued by the electorate.”

Based on the above, his conclusion makes sense:

If this excursion into political science has any relevance for Democratic electioneering, it may be this: downplay “position-issues”; they leave you open to attack. Instead link the Republicans to “conditions negatively valued by the electorate”—incompetent management of the government and falling real incomes or rising unemployment or both. Make the 2006 and 2008 elections referenda on a record of miserable failure.

Dry, yes. But considering that no such academic studies predicting GOP victories based on historical trends and current indicators are in evidence, Democrats should be be at least cautiously optimistic.

New Pew Report on Economic Security

by Scott Winship
So, my intent with this post was to emphasize that I really was playing devil’s advocate in my last post on the middle class. I received an email from the Pew Research Center with the following plug:

Americans See Less Progress on Their Ladder of Life
In the past four years, some of the edge has come off good old American optimism. As economists and politicians debate whether there is less mobility in the United States now than in the past, a new Pew Social Trends survey finds that many among the public are seeing less progress in their own lives.

I thought that I’d highlight this study [pdf] and thereby provide counter-evidence against my devil’s advocacy. Well, you’re just going to have to believe me that I’m agnostic on the question of middle-class insecurity because it turns out that my read of this study is that things ain’t that bad.
The report begins by noting that the number of Americans saying that they’d be better off in 5 years declined from 61 percent in 2002 to 49 percent today — less than half the population. Sounds kind of ominous on first glance. But only 12 percent think that the in 5 years they will be worse off. It turns out that 74 percent think they will be at least as well off as they currently are (14% don’t know). And while the report doesn’t give the information necessary to say for sure, I’m willing to bet that the 2006 figure isn’t statistically different from the figures Pew found for the years 1964 to 1979. Much of this period was actually economically a pretty lousy era, but the second half of the 1960s were robust years.
Similarly, while the number of people saying that they are better off today than 5 years ago has declined, it stands at 48 percent, versus 21 percent saying they are worse off. That’s no worse than from 1976 to 1996, which again includes good years and bad years.
Next is the finding that the average rating for how respondents will be doing in 5 years is down from 1999. True enough, but it is still 15% higher than the average for how they say they are currently doing, and nearly 30 percent higher than the average for how they say they did 5 years ago. And the 5-years-from-now figure is no worse than any year between 1964 and 1997.
Young people are even more optimistic about the future, with those 18-49 much significantly more optimistic than older adults. That could be due to the fact that people earn more as they age. However, blacks and Latinos are more optimistic than whites. Optimism declines as family income increases, but 48 percent of those with less than $30,000 in income are optimistic, compared with 14 percent who think they’ll do worse in 5 years.
Americans are more optimistic than their counterparts in nearly every European country.
Finally, the report indicates that Americans’ predicted rating of how they’ll be doing in 5 years is always higher than how Americans 5 years later rate the present. Aha!! The poor naifs are simply mistaken in their optimism! Maybe a bit, but Americans in 2006 ranked the present higher than respondents in any year from 1964 to 1996 did, so compared with the past, they feel they’re actually doing better than people in those years.
The patterns shown in the report tend to confirm that people who are more disadvantaged tend to be more likely to think they were better off in the past and that they’ll be better off in the future, but that’s what we’d expect if most of these folks are currently at their low point economically. They probably were better off in the past and will be better off in the future.
Oh, one more finding: Republicans and conservatives are more optimistic than Democrats and liberals….

GOP Primary Turnout in Rhode Island not so Impressive

by Alan Abramowitz
Republican Party leaders are claiming a lot of credit for their GOTV effort in Rhode Island on Tuesday and boasting that they’re going to apply the same techniques in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall. Leaving aside the question of whether it would be possible to duplicate this sort of all-out effort in 40+ House districts and 8-10 states, how impressive was the turnout in the Rhode Island Republican primary? Impressive for a Rhode Island Republican primary, but really not all that impressive. It’s not just that more votes were cast for Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse than for both Republicans combined even though Whitehouse faced only nominal opposition. GOP turnout in the hotly contested Rhode Island Senate primary was actually less impressive than Democratic turnout in the hotly contested Maryland Senate primary. When we calculate the votes cast in each primary as a percentage of the votes cast for the party’s 2004 presidential nominee we find that the Republican turnout in Rhode Island (64,000 votes) was 37.9 percent of the vote for George Bush in Rhode Island in 2004 (169,000 votes) while the Democratic turnout in Maryland (513,000 votes) was 38.5 percent of the vote for John Kerry in Maryland in 2004 (1,334,000 votes). So perhaps Democratic party leaders should be bragging about their great GOTV effort in Maryland and about how they’re going to duplicate it in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall.