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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

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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

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The Daily Strategist

March 19, 2018

Campaign ’06 Wrap-Ups Everywhere

Labor Day has morphed into more of an occasion for publishing wrap-ups about mid-term congressional campaigns than assessing the prospects for American workers. In this spirit, The Grey Lady leads with “G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House” by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike. The authors provide a host of insightful quotes from both parties, proving that the arts of spin and denial are still in practice. But Dems will be encouraged by this admission:

“It’s the most difficult off-year cycle for the Republicans since 1982,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee. “Environmentally, it’s about as good from the Democratic perspective as they could hope to have.”

The Sunday WaPo featured a long article by Dan Balz and David Broder with the happy (for Dems) title “More GOP Districts Counted as Vulnerable: Number Doubled Over the Summer.” Broder and Balz also present spin from both sides, but offer their assessment that “everything points today to Democratic gains across the board on Nov. 7.”
Republicans won’t find much encouragement in Janet Hook’s long L.A. Times article “GOP’s Hold on House Shakier,” either. Subtitled “As Labor Day gets the campaign in full swing, Democrats are counting on voters unhappy with one-party rule and Bush’s leadership,” Hook gives fair vent to leaders of both parties, but points out that:

But many analysts predict any throw-the-bums-out tide will take a greater toll on Republicans. Tim Storey, election analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, sees warning signs for the GOP in the results of 53 special elections for state legislative seats. In 13 cases, incumbents were dumped; all but two were Republicans.

And Slate‘s new feature “Election Scorecard: Where the midterm elections stand today,” written by polling experts Mark Blumenthal (Mystery Pollster) and Charles Franklin (PolitcalArithmetik), offers this cautious assessment for Senate races:

In recent weeks, Democratic candidates have gained slightly in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, while Republicans have picked up a few points in Missouri and New Jersey. Most of the states we are tracking, however, have no meaningful change. Since the net shifts at the state level have been largely offsetting our overall momentum shift, all of the races begin in the “no advantage” position, with no visible national trend helping either party.

With respect to House of Reps races, Democrats have done well in recent “generic ballot” polls. But Blumenthal and Franklin point out that:

While the generic House ballot has been a reasonable indicator of which party is faring better, it is a very imperfect predictor of both the total national congressional vote and, perhaps more importantly, how that vote translates into seats.

Franklin and Blumenthal are collaborating on a new website Pollster.com, which will be a regular stop for poll-watchers of all stripes.
On a more optimistic note, Reuters’ John Whitesides provides the following quote in his Sunday wrap-up “Democrats on a roll in battle for U.S. Congress“:

“I don’t think the question any longer is can Democrats win control of Congress, it’s can Republicans do anything to stop it?” said Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter. “All the factors and issues are pushing so strongly against Republicans.”

Mid-term mania notwithstanding, it is Labor Day, so check in with The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuval, whose “Lessons for Labor Day” provides incisive commentary on the disconnect between the aspirations of working people and the poltiicians who purport to represent them.

NYT Article Peeks at GOP Nov. 7 Strategy

The Sunday New York Times has a good one for the oppo research file, “Rove’s Word Is No Longer G.O.P. Gospel” by Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg. The authors claim of Karl Rove’s diminished influence in his party is of less interest than the clues they provide in dilineating the GOP’s strategy for the weeks ahead. As Rutenberg and Nagourney explain:

Mr. Rove — with Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, and Ms. [White House political director Sarah]Taylor, both of whom have assumed a higher profile than in past years — has settled on a narrow strategy to try to minimize Congressional losses while tending to Mr. Bush’s political strength. The White House will reprise the two T’s of its successful campaign strategy since 2002: terrorism and turnout.
They have determined that control of Congress is likely to be settled in as few as six states and have decided to focus most of the party’s resources there, said Republican officials who did not want to be identified discussing internal deliberations. Those states will likely include Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, though officials said the battle lines could shift in coming weeks…Mr. Mehlman, whom Mr. Rove assigned to master get-out-the-vote techniques years ago, has handed custom compact discs with lists of voters, along with information on their voting and consumer habits, to every state Republican chairman.

The article suggests that Rove is less focused on the GOP House campaigns, which are being directed by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York. And there is less national coordination of the GOP gubernatorial campaigns, say the authors:

The White House is largely turning away from the 36 governors’ races, although Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush will continue to help Republican candidates for governor raise money, party officials said. The decision has broad significance because building a foundation of Republican governors had been a main part of Mr. Rove’s goal of creating a long-lasting Republican majority.

But the article warns that Democrats should anticipate an even larger GOP turnout effort:

The Republican National Committee expects to spend over $60 million, which would be a record, for the midterm elections. Officials say half of that would pay for get-out-the-vote operations in the targeted states….In states where Mr. Bush’s presence could be problematic, like Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the turnout operations give Mr. Rove a way to provide below-the-radar help.

Indications are the GOP “Terrorism and Turnout” strategy will face significant obstacles, including the Republican rank-and-file’s growing disenchantment with the Administration’s Iraq quagmire, as well as better-funded and organized Democratic campaigns than were the case in the last mid-terms. And if Dems can match or better the GOP’s turnout effort, November 7 should be a very good day for the donkey.

Wall St. Journal: Dems Gaining on National Security

The Wall St. Journal caps a particularly bad week for Republicans with a page one article in today’s issue by Jackie Calmes, “Republican Advantage on Issue Of National Security Erodes.” It’s a fairly thorough wrap-up of recent developments on the topic, with very little that offers comfort to the GOP. Calmes sets the stage thusly:

The public’s patience has frayed as the Iraq war grows bloodier in its fourth year, eroding confidence in Mr. Bush’s stewardship of national security. Mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina contributed. Democrats, having ceded the security issue to Republicans in the past, now are on the offensive. They’re attacking the administration’s competence at home and abroad and fielding candidates with military experience.
Democrats are also pressing an argument opposite to the president’s: that Iraq isn’t central to the broader war on terror but distracts from it, and breeds more terrorists. How voters ultimately decide on that issue is “one of the most important dynamics of this election,” says Republican pollster David Winston.

Calmes cites recent polls giving the Dems a three-point advantage on which party can most effectively deal with Iraq, a 27-point gain for Dems in less than two years, as well as a nine-point lead in handling foreign affairs. Calmes notes that the Republicans still have a 24 point advantage on “insuring a strong national defense,” but that too is way down.
The article points out that Republicans have more money, as usual, but they are “spending millions to defend seats they thought would be safe, leaving them strapped for helping their challengers running against Democratic incumbents.” In addiiton to Iraq, other issues driving the trend favoring Democrats include corruption, economic insecurity, soaring gas prices, record federal spending and an “anti-incumbent mood.”
The GOP has identified several specific national security issues, which they believe still give them an advantage, according to Calmes. In the nine weeks remaining before the election, Republican strategists will seek congressional debate and votes on strengthening federal surveillance and prosecutory powers, detainment of suspected terrorists and electronic eavesdropping without warrants. But it will be difficult for Republicans to gain ground in light of current trends, as Calmes explains:

Most simply put, time has worn the public’s patience on Iraq — and with it the Republicans’ edge on security issues. With Democrats noting that the war soon will exceed the length of U.S. involvement in World War II, and with Iraq on the verge of sectarian civil war, the unpopularity of the war has become the year’s central issue. Not since March 2004 has a Journal/NBC poll shown that a majority believed the Iraq invasion was worth the cost and casualties. Now polls consistently show a majority thinking the war was a mistake. Majorities favor troop reductions, though not immediate withdrawal. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of foreign policy, and of Iraq specifically.

Even the GOP “cut and run” critique has been undermined by a growing chorus of Republicans withdrawing their support of the Administration’s Iraq policies and Calmes quotes key conservatives expressing doubts about continuing US occupation of Iraq.
Despite the Democrats internal disagreements on national security issues, it appears that Dems may well have the edge on on this all-important issue on November 7. And when the nation’s leading conservative newspaper acknowledges this trend, that is good news indeed.

New Roundtable Marks the Launch of Our September Issue

by Scott Winship
I’m happy to announce that we have posted a provocative discussion piece on the Democrats’ economic agenda that will serve as the basis for our next roundtable. The piece, by Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, and Jim Kessler of Third Way, argues that Democrats are losing the middle class not just because of national security or values concerns, but because our economic agenda does not speak to their aspirations and concerns. Discussants include Elizabeth Warren, John Halpin, Jacob Hacker, and our own Ruy Teixeira and Bill Galston.
Look for a second roundtable later in the month on the Democrats’ electoral weakness on national security. Hope you find the discussion stimulating.

Dem Elites, Rank-and-File Split on Iraq?

Justin Logan’s short but provocative article in The American Prospect, “Mind the Gap,” merits a read by Democrats searching for a credible Iraq policy that can produce victories in November and ’08. The subtitle succinctly captures the gist of his argument: “Democratic voters have unambiguously repudiated the Bush doctrine. The same can’t be said for Democratic foreign policy elites.” Logan makes a compelling case that the party’s hawkish opinion leaders defending long range occupation of Iraq have lost touch with an increasingly war-weary rank and file. There is ample evidence in recent opinion polls to back Logan’s claim, and he offers the following:

A recent CNN/New York Times poll showed 61 percent of Americans want to cut and run, with just 34 percent now supporting a “stay and die” policy.

As Logan says, “…sometimes it’s better to back away from the blackjack table instead of taking out a second mortgage to double down after a losing run.”

Will Katrina Relief Failure Affect the Election?

The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was marked by an all-out PR offensive by the Bush Administration to hype its limp relief efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Bush blitz, which deployed First Lady Laura Bush bragging about the restoration of a few libraries, as well as a host of GOP spin doctors, was calculated to offset media coverage revealing the continuing mess on the Gulf and the weak federal response. It seems doubtful that the media campaign will have much of an effect. But the stakes are high, particularly if the issue affects the outcome of the November elections.
So far there are no polls asking respondents how the Katrina relief response will affect their votes in November’s congressional elections. But today’s WaPo features Chris Cillizza’s article “Parsing the Polls: Hurrican Katrina,” discussing how Bush’s approval ratings have been adversely impacted by public perceptions of the federal Katrina relief effort. The polls Cillizza mulls over, taken just before the Bush media blitz, are bad news for the Administration, and Democrats hope public disapproval will extend to the GOP-lead, do-nothing congress. Regarding the polls, Cillizza notes:

Consider the poll conducted Aug. 24-25 by Princeton Survey Research for Newsweek. Asked whether Bush had followed through on his promise to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 32 percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said he had, 51 percent said he had not…Independents clearly thought Bush had not kept his promise (26/60).
Those results were confirmed in a number of other surveys taken earlier this month. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 41 percent of voters approved of “the way George W. Bush is responding to the needs of people affected by Hurricane Katrina,” while 51 percent disapproved. A CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation showed even more negative numbers: Just 34 percent of the sample approved of “the way George W. Bush has handled the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina,” while 64 percent disapproved.
There is little doubt that the latest numbers continue a trend that began in the spring of 2005 and accelerated in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when Bush’s disapproval numbers spiked to historic highs. For the most part, he has not recovered.

Cillizza quotes DSCC Chairman Senator Chuck Schumer’s contention that Bush’s inept Katrina response was a defining moment in the eyes of the public:

“It’s like the Wizard of Oz. “It showed the man behind the screen.”

Clearly, Democrats have a lot to gain by reminding voters that Bush is the leader of his party, and by forcing GOP candidates to defend his ineptitude and indifference. Cillizza concludes:

While they may have passively disapproved of the chief executive prior to Katrina, they became ardent opponents following the disaster and the administration’s handling of it. And, remember that in midterm elections only the most passionate (or most angry) of voters tend to turn out — a factor that could lead to major Democratic gains this November.

Another question being pondered in southern states in particular is what affect hundreds of thousands of Katrina evacuees — 250 thousand in Texas and 40 thousand in Georgia alone — will have in their new congressional district elections and state-wide races. If a healthy majority of them are as angry as media interviews indicate, they may provide margins of Democratic victory in key state and local races.

Dems House Prospects Brighten Nine Weeks Out

Chris Bowers debuts the “MyDD House Forecast 2006,” likely to be an obligatory stop for political pundits and strategists during the next two months. Bowers evaluates 60 of the most competitive House races in terms of the most recent polls, partisan voting trends, campaign cash, 2004 district election results and DCCC ad buys. He provides mini-commentaries on the campaigns in each district and offers his first projection, which should brigthen Democratic spirits:

I currently project Democrats to take 15-25 seats, which would give them a narrow majority of between 218-228 seats.

Bowers worries that he may be a smidge optimistic about a few races, but his projections are credibly calibrated by the up-to-date evidence he cites. Nobody works harder at mining and assaying political data than Bowers, and this should prove to be a vital resource for politicos looking toward November. His PDF data is tiny, even on a 19 inch screen, but is more readable in print.

Making the Case for Felon Enfranchisement

A writer with the handle “Mr. Populist” has an insightful post at Daily Kos on the Clinton-Kerry ‘Count Every Vote Act,” and its provision restoring voting rights to convicted felons — as well as the GOP spin machine’s efforts to discredit it. This is one of the better articles yet written on the topic of felon disenfranchisement, and it sheds fresh light on moral and practical concerns related to the issue.

More on the Uninformed Bloc

by Scott Winship
The comments to my post on the uninformed bloc were so interesting that I decided to dig into the data myself and address a couple of the questions and points raised by commenters. This is sort of the model I’ve always wanted for The Daily Strategist – an interactive one between you all and me. In the analyses below, I defined the uninformed bloc as those adults who “only now and then” or “hardly at all” follow government or public affairs (about one-third of the population). I used the American National Election Study (just like Bennett).
1. How likely are members of the uninformed bloc to vote? Appletini raised the point that if the uninformed don’t vote, then a lot of the fears I expressed go away, and Mark Paul and Mike N. also wondered what their voting rate was. The ANES shows that 61 percent of the uninformed said they vote, and another 17 percent said they were registered. These numbers are too high because of the well-known tendency of some respondents to say they voted in order not to look bad to the interviewer. But it seems highly likely that a majority voted in 2004. Still, among other adults, 84 percent said they voted and fully 95 percent said they were registered. So the voting rates of the uninformed bloc are much lower than for other adults.
Another way of expressing these patterns is to note that the uninformed bloc represents about one in four voters and 56 percent of nonvoters. Based on the apathy of the uninformed bloc, it does seem like mobilizing nonvoters is likely to be quite difficult, as “A political scientist” suggests.
2. Who did the uninformed vote for? Chris Glaze provides some cross-tabular evidence from the ANES and shows that the uninformed voted for Kerry. I found that when the uninformed are defined based on whether or not they know the Republicans are more conservative than Democrats (as Chris did), two thirds voted for Kerry. Presumably some of these people are disaffected Democrats who held their nose and voted for Kerry. When I defined the uninformed based on how closely they followed government, they split their vote evenly between Kerry and Bush (as did other adults). That means that the uninformed bloc is not the same as the “authoritarian bloc”, as John Clavis speculates, or the bloc of voters that still supports Bush, as DrBB half-seriously suggests as a possibility. It also implies that Rovian campaign tactics may not be as successful at winning these voters as one might have thought, or at least is no more effective than among informed voters.
The uninformed bloc made up one in four Bush voters as well as one in four Kerry voters.
3. How consistent are the uninformed over time? Given that the uninformed were less consistent in their positions across issues than other people, I wondered whether they were also less consistent over time. The ANES asked a few questions both before and after the election, so we can get some purchase on the answer. Thirteen percent of the uninformed said they were liberal in one survey but conservative in the other. But that was no different from the percentage of other adults. Nor were the uninformed more likely than other voters to rate Bush or Kerry warmly in one survey but coldly in the other. Finally, only eight percent of the uninformed said that they preferred diplomacy to military threats in one survey but contradicted themselves in the other, compared with 18 percent of other adults. Apparently, the views of the uninformed are just as consistent over time as the views of the informed.
Obviously this isn’t the last word on these questions. I’m planning to try a couple of other definitions and to tackle the views of the uninformed later this week. But in closing, I also wanted to warn that while it is easy to ridicule or denigrate what I have called the uninformed bloc, doing so is certainly counter-productive to building a Democratic majority. Most of us online are lucky enough to have the time and/or money to be somewhat obsessively political. Lots of us are childless, in school, or retired. Not everyone can spend enough time to inform themselves on political questions even if they want to. Just seemed worth mentioning….

Hello TPM Readers

by Scott Winship
I guess Josh gets, uh, a few more hits than I do. We’re glad to have you here, and I hope you’ll take a look at the two issues we have published thus far: our premiere issue featuring an all-star cast of strategists and their thoughts on building a Democratic majority, and our July issue which featured a roundtable discussion around Jonathan Krasno’s idea that redistricting isn’t a major cause of growing political polarization. Dig in….