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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE.

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

R.I.P. G.O.P.

You can find out more about the return to progressive politics from our founder Stanley Greenberg in his new book!

Pre-Order Now.

The Daily Strategist

July 10, 2020

Teixeira: Biden Unites the ‘Widest Possible Coalition’

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

So, Was Biden the Most Electable Candidate? Yup.

Once upon a time, there was quite a debate about this, including whether electability was even a real thing. Political scientist David Hopkins notes in his Honest Graft blog:

“In the young progressive circles that are disproportionately well-represented in the online world, it was common either to reject the electability logic altogether or to claim that it actually favored candidates on the left. The science reporter at a well-known “explainer” website even argued that because differences in the relative potential strength of prospective nominees cannot be determined precisely in advance, the entire concept was dubious even in the abstract: “it’s subjective, not objective . . . electability ain’t no science.”

These arguments did not carry the day. Rank-and-file Democrats did think Biden was more electable and they were right to do so. Hopkins:

“From one perspective, the electability argument for Biden has been completely vindicated. Biden has opened up a bigger lead over Trump in the national popular vote than any candidate has enjoyed at this stage since Bill Clinton coasted to re-election in 1996, and he is so well-positioned in the electoral college that the battleground map has expanded into the traditional red territory of Arizona, Georgia, and even Texas. The Trump campaign has proven unable as of yet to land a damaging punch on Biden, and has even struggled to find a promising line of attack.

Biden hasn’t been as invisible a candidate as some critics claim, but his campaign activities during the pandemic have not generated much sustained attention. Because journalists do not find the very familiar Biden to be a particularly fruitful source of interesting stories, the national media has been focusing instead almost entirely on Trump, and Trump’s spiraling political problems, since the Democratic nomination wrapped up after Super Tuesday. The relative novelty of nearly every other major potential nominee—Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg—would have attracted more coverage from the media and pulled the spotlight away from Trump much more frequently….

[E]enough evidence now exists to shed light on two claims made by some advocates of non-Biden candidates in the 2020 Democratic primaries. One is that there are so few remaining swing voters in our current age of rampant polarization that mobilization of the party base is more productive than trying to achieve a broader appeal, and the other is that a Biden nomination would not excite enough voters on the left to stimulate this necessary mobilization.

Both of these claims have already been contradicted by the polls. Biden wouldn’t have pulled into the strong lead he now holds if he weren’t drawing significant support from previous Republican voters. (According to recent surveys by the New York Times, 14 percent of battleground state residents who supported Trump in 2016 are not supporting him in 2020.) After years of media stories about Trump’s skill in stoking the passionate devotion of his own party, the last few months have forced a widespread journalistic rediscovery of the importance of swing voters and the danger of Trump’s declining popularity among this still-pivotal bloc. And while Biden himself doesn’t inspire as much personal enthusiasm among Democrats as Trump does among many Republicans, overall levels of interest in the election are equal across party lines: Democratic voters are as motivated to vote against the president as Republicans are to vote for him.”

it’s also worth noting the overwhelming support Biden is receiving from the supporters of other Democratic nomination candidates. Nate Cohn:

“Over all, voters in the battleground states who said Bernie Sanders was their top choice for president said they backed Mr. Biden over President Trump, 87 percent to 4 percent. If there was a Bernie-or-Bust movement, it has either faded with the conclusion of the Democratic race, or it never existed in serious numbers in the battleground states.

Mr. Biden commands even more significant support from voters who supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary. The Democrats who said she was their top choice to be the Democratic nominee backed Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump by a staggering margin of 96 percent to 0 percent — even wider than Mr. Biden’s 96-1 lead among those who said he was their top choice in the Democratic primary….

The unity of Democratic voters in the Times/Siena polls represents a marked change from four years ago, when a significant number of Sanders supporters never embraced Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, she won just 74 percent of voters who backed Mr. Sanders in the 2016 primary, while 12 percent voted for Mr. Trump.”

I know some–many–are reluctant to admit it but Biden is turning out to be a truly excellent candidate for the current moment and his opponent. He is uniting the widest possible coalition and efficiently turning Trump disapproval into the cold, hard currency of Democratic votes. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s why the conservative Cook Political Report ratings now have Biden with a majority of the electoral college solid, likely or leaning Democratic (see graphic below). That’s why Biden is:

* Steadily firming up overwhelming youth and nonwhite support

* Cleaning up among white college voters

* Cutting Clinton’s deficit among white noncollege voters in half

* Producing a double-digit pro-Democratic shift among senior voters.

Like I say, it’s a beautiful thing.


Galston: President Trump is losing support among young white working-class voters

The following article by William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of  “Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy” and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from Brookings:

So far in his re-election campaign, President Trump has stubbornly refused to expand his base, playing instead to a brand of populist conservatism that rests on solid support from white working-class voters. But a Pew Research Center survey released at the end of June suggests that voters in this group under age 40 are breaking ranks. They are less likely to say that they plan to vote for the president this November than are their parents and grandparents, they question his competence to handle the major issues facing the country, and they have formed a negative assessment of his character.

The same poll shows that 87% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going, and only 17% are proud of the country’s condition. Only 39% approve of how Donald Trump is handling his job as president, and former Vice President Joe Biden leads him by 10 percentage points, 54-44.

Against this backdrop, the erosion in the Trump white working-class base is a major blow to the president’s reelection chances. As the following tables show, weakness appears in four areas tested by the poll—voting intentions, assessments of Trump’s presidency and character, and judgments on his handling of key issues.

Table 1: Voting intentions of white working-class voters by age

  18-39 40-64 65+
Voting for/leaning toward Trump 55% 66% 62%
Voting for/leaning toward Biden 40% 32% 35%

Former Vice President Biden doesn’t hold any special appeal for white working-class voters under 40. Indeed, voters over 65 are more likely to think well of him. Of the 40% of young voters who support Biden, only 5% express approval of him, while 35% say they that they will be casting a vote against President Trump. As Table 2 shows, a plurality of these voters think that the Trump presidency is a failure.

Table 2: Has Trump been a good president? (White working-class voters by age)

18-39 40-64 65+
Trump has been a good or great president 44% 59% 57%
Trump has been a poor or terrible president 46% 31% 37%

President Trump’s competence

Table 3 summarizes white working-class voters’ confidence that the president can address key issues “very” or “somewhat” well.

Table 3: Trump’s handling of issues among white working-class voters by age

18-39 40-64 65+
Handle the coronavirus outbreak 46% 64% 59%
Make good decisions about foreign policy 47% 67% 61%
Make good decisions about economic policy 57% 72% 66%
Effectively handle race relations 35% 57% 55%
Effectively handle law enforcement and criminal justice 46% 65% 60%
Bring the country together 35% 51% 47%

President Trump’s character

Table 4 summarizes white working-class voters’ belief that certain words describe Mr. Trump “very” or “fairly” well.

Table 4: Descriptions of President Trump among white working-class voters by age

18-39 40-64 65+
Courageous 50% 66% 61%
Honest 41% 58% 54%
Even-tempered 26% 42% 39%
Cares about the needs of ordinary people 46% 64% 59%
A good role model 34% 50% 50%

Here, as with questions of competence, there is a consistent difference between white working-class voters under age 40 and older voters. Among the plausible hypotheses: the younger members of this group are more comfortable with diversity and less moved by the memory of vanished high-pay manufacturing jobs. While we can speculate about the reasons for this difference, only further research can clarify them.

Losing the future

After the 2012 election, Republican leaders issued a report recommending that their party reach out to younger and non-white voters. Four years later, Donald Trump shocked the world by doing the reverse—and winning. But the question remains: as education and demography have made white working-class voters a shrinking share of the electorate, was Trump’s victory a harbinger of the future or the last gasp of a dying order?

The results summarized in this article suggest that the latter is more likely. If even younger white Americans without college degrees are turning away from what the Republican Party has become, the choice Mr. Trump represents is a cul de sac.

We will not know until the votes are cast. But if current surveys are leading indicators, after November 3rd the Republican Party will be forced to debate its future more fundamentally than at any time since the 1970s.


A note on method: All numbers are for registered voters, and the differences between 18-39-year-olds and other age groups are statistically significant. I am grateful to the Pew team, and especially to Calvin Jordan, for their patient responsiveness to my endless requests for additional information.


Political Strategy Notes

In her column, “New July 2020 Electoral College Ratings,” Amy Walter notes at The Cook Political Report, “This election is looking more like a Democratic tsunami than simply a Blue wave. President Trump, mired in some of the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency, is trailing Biden by significant margins in key battleground states like Pennsylvania (8 points), Michigan (9 points), and Wisconsin (9 points). He’s even running behind Biden in his firewall states of Florida and North Carolina…We’ve made changes to our Electoral College ratings to reflect this reality…Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska’s 2nd district move from Toss Up to Lean Democrat…Maine, once in Lean Democrat, moves to the safer Likely Democratic category…Georgia has joined Arizona, North Carolina and Florida in the Toss Up column, although, at this point, Biden would be slightly favored to win at least Arizona and Florida…Maine’s 2nd district has moved from Likely Republican to a more competitive Lean Republican…These moves alone push Biden over the 270 electoral vote threshold (to 279).”

“One of the biggest unknowns, however,” Walter continues, “is voting itself. As we’ve seen this spring and early summer, most states are not prepared for an onslaught of absentee ballots. And confusion about how/where to vote could impact turnout. Moreover, if voters start to sense that the race for president is a blow-out, will they be more willing to split their tickets to ensure a ‘check and balance’ in Washington next fall? At least one Republican I spoke with, however, was wary of a check and balance working this year, telling me that “people are looking for a restart and a reset.” That includes down-ballot candidates as well as the president.”

Also at The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook discusses the roles of key demographic groups in the election and writes, “It’s among white voters that things get more interesting. The first thing to note is that their overall share of the electorate is shrinking at a fairly rapid rate, dropping about 2 percentage points every four years, from 74 percent in 2008 to 72 percent in 2012 and 70 percent in the last election—something that Republicans should keep in mind…Among those four quadrants of white voters, split by gender and level of educational attainment, Trump won the support of white men with less than a four-year college degree (17 percent of the 2016 electorate) by a 49-point margin (72 to 23 percent) in 2016. He has led Biden by anywhere from 25 to 44 points in polling over the past two months. This is Trump’s base; only among self-described Republicans, conservatives, and evangelicals does he do better.”

“The next-best group for Trump,” Cook adds “is white women with less than a four-year degree. They also made up 17 percent of the 2016 electorate, siding with the Republicans by a 28-point margin (62 to 34 percent). This group has strayed from the Trump camp since 2016; most recent polling has him ahead by somewhere between 5 and 15 points…White men with college degrees come next, again with 17 percent of the 2016 vote. Then, they voted for Trump over Clinton by 15 points (54 to 39 percent). But public polling in the current race has been all over the map. The early June PBS/NPR/Marist College poll had Biden up by 2 points (47 to 45 percent), the May and June Fox News polls had Trump up by 8 (51 to 43 percent) and 10 percent (50 to 40 percent). A late June PBS/NPR/Marist poll as well as March and May ABC News/Washington Post polls had Trump up by 12 points and 4 points, respectively.”

Further, Cook notes, “White women with college degrees give Trump the least support of the four white quadrants. They made up 20 percent of the electorate in the last presidential election, going for Clinton by a 6-point margin. This year, they’ve been siding with Biden by 20- and 30-point margins…The Trump forces will obviously put considerable resources into getting out the vote of white men without college degrees; the Biden campaign will put the same kind of resources into African Americans, Latinos and white women with college degrees. The battlefield will be the persuadable college-educated men and women without degrees.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall probes the roots of political polarization in 2020, and shares observations from several studies, including: “Jaime Settle, a political scientist at the College of William and Mary, has also explored the ambiguities of heritability of psychological traits with political consequences. “While there is a consistent pattern that ideology is heritable, the direction of partisanship typically has not been found to be heritable,” she wrote in an email. However, she continued, “My expectation is that the sorting in American politics that occurred in the post-Civil Rights Era has changed that. Thus, partisanship today might show up to be heritable, but it would be a statistical artifact of the consequence of the alignment of ideology and partisanship…Our ideological labels in America have become identities as much as statements about our political beliefs. In the parlance of political scientists, people have much stronger symbolic ideologies than operational ideologies. The intractability of polarization is because of the alignment of many of our social identities, an argument that Lily Mason [author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identitymakes, and the reason “culture war” issues resonate so much is that they are much more threatening to people’s layered identities.””

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides an insightful assessment of the recent Supreme Court ruling “that allows even publicly traded corporations — not just family-owned companies — to deny their female employees this coverage if they have religious objections.” Dionne argues: “Given that more than two-thirds of Americans believe, in principle at least, that private health insurance plans should cover contraception, it’s strange that we can’t seem to settle the matter. You would think a functioning democracy could work this issue out in a reasonable way that respected the rights of women as well as the rights of those with religious objections to contraception…in dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, asked exactly the right question: “May the Government jettison an arrangement that promotes women workers’ well-being while accommodating employers’ religious tenets and, instead, defer entirely to employers’ religious beliefs, although that course harms women who do not share those beliefs?”…ultimately, it will be for the voters to decide whether we want leadership that seeks reasonable and durable settlements of divisive cultural questions. Doing so will help us move on to such pressing concerns as getting everyone health coverage in the first place.”

“Over the last few decades, Georgia has gone from a swing state to reliably GOP. But it’s now looking like a genuinely competitive state again,” J. Miles Coleman and Nials Francis write in “States of Play: Georgia – Once-dominant Democrats need formerly Republican suburbs to come through for them in 2020” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Democrats have made major inroads in both urban Atlanta and its suburbs, but their gains have been somewhat blunted by the sharp Republican trend in other parts of the state…In the state’s regular Senate election this year, we’re downgrading Sen. David Perdue’s chances. We now have both Georgia’s seats rated as Leans Republican…Looking to November, Georgia seems poised to receive attention from both sides, up and down the ballot. While it does seem to be shifting more into the purple state category, if Biden carries the state, he would likely already be over 270 electoral votes. With one, or both, of its Senate races likely heading to a runoff, political junkies could have Georgia on their minds even after the November general elections. Finally, Georgia’s two competitive House seats speak to the rapid pace of changes that parts of the state have seen. In 2016, the Crystal Ball rated both GA-6 and GA-7 as Safe Republican. After nearly a full term of the Trump presidency, Democrats are favored to hold the former and have at least an even money chance to flip the latter.”

From “Biden-Sanders taskforces unveil proposals for party unity” at msn.com: “US presidential hopeful Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled proposals crafted with supporters of his progressive ex-rival Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party prepares to release its platform at next month’s national convention…The recommendations include more ambitious environmental timelines than those in Biden’s initial climate proposal, such as eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035…They also include criminal justice reforms that take on added significance in the wake of the May killing of African-American man George Floyd by Minneapolis police…The proposals home in on the coronavirus pandemic and aim to end the disadvantage that blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and women “have suffered disproportionately due to the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s recession,” and have received less than their fair share of economic relief…The task forces on climate change, health care, the economy, immigration, education and criminal justice reform came together in May to forge a roadmap for defeating Trump, and to engage voters who supported more progressive candidates in the primary race including Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren…”Though the end result is not what I or my supporters would have written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families,” Sanders said in a statement.”


Trump’s Approaching Convention Fiasco

I’ve been following this story for a good while, and did an update this week at New York:

With each passing day, it’s becoming more obvious that the old-school, packed-hall national political convention the president is forcing his party to undertake — despite the inconvenience, cost, and risk — may have to be canceled or scaled back, lest it become a supersize version of the Trump fiasco in Tulsa.

First of all, thanks to Trump’s decision to yank key parts of the convention from its original site in Charlotte, financing the event has become a struggle, as the New York Times reports:

“The abrupt uprooting of the Republican National Convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville has created a tangled financial predicament for party officials as they effectively try to pay for two big events instead of one. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent in a city that will now host little more than a G.O.P. business meeting, and donors are wary of opening their wallets again to bankroll a Jacksonville gathering thrown into uncertainty by a surge in coronavirus cases.”

The financial situation has been exacerbated by the second big problem: Trump has moved his convention from a coronavirus frying pan to a coronavirus wildfire:

“In Jacksonville, fund-raisers are describing the process as the most difficult they have ever confronted: Florida has been setting daily records for new virus cases, freezing money as donors wait and worry about the safety risks of the pandemic.

“’I don’t want to encourage people getting sick,’ said Stanley S. Hubbard, a Minnesota billionaire who has donated more than $2 million to help Republicans, including President Trump, since the beginning of the 2016 election … ‘Unless this thing goes away, I think it’s a bad choice,’ he said.”

The third big problem is that people associated with Trump are now beginning to hint that the convention itself could go away, or at least be held under conditions similar to the virtual convention Democrats moved toward early in the pandemic. On Sunday, Trump-appointed FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said that it was “too early to tell” if Florida will be a safe place to host the RNC.

Texas Democrats more prudently held a virtual event last month.

It’s also possible, of course, that Trump is so enamored of the kind of convention he wants that he will push on with it despite the risk of delegates not showing up or, worse yet, attending a super-spreader event that makes a lot of people sick.

What makes this whole convoluted mess particularly dubious is that there are growing signs it won’t do Trump much good even if it comes off precisely as planned. As Geoffrey Skelley explains at FiveThirtyEight, the idea of a convention “bounce” for either party’s presidential candidate may be outdated:

“[C]onvention bounces have been getting smaller, which is likely a byproduct of how polarized our politics have become. There are just fewer swing voters, so it’s harder for a candidate to attract support outside of his or her core base of supporters.”

Beyond that, of course, the very idea of conventions as stage-managed infomercials that dominate the airwaves with positive messaging could be dead wrong this particular year. Unless the coronavirus really does miraculously vanish between now and late August (Trump’s big acceptance speech is scheduled for August 27), the risks the GOP is taking will get a lot of attention even if the worst doesn’t happen. And the pandemic and its economic impact will probably rob both conventions of the kind of obsessive media attention they typically get.

Republicans should have stuck with Charlotte and moved to a largely virtual convention that would have been far safer and likely more effective from the party’s point of view. As it is, the whole event may simply demonstrate how the president’s narcissism is the GOP’s real — if inadvertent — reelection message.


KY’s McGrath-McConnell Battle As the Marquee Senate Race

As Trump’s chief enabler, Mitch McConnell, will have a lot to answer for when historians look back on the Trump era as the most polarizing and destructive presidency in American history. Not that Senate Majority Leader McConnell cares, for his overarching concern seems to be acquisition and deployment of political power, without regard to moral considerations, including the well-being of his constituents or the nation as a whole.

And if the G.O.P. suffers an historic rout on November 3rd, McConnell will have earned a large share of the blame as the one Republican who could have kept Trump on a leash, simply by insisting on more of a spirit of bipartisanship and a just a little moderation for the sake of legislative success. Even if McConnell wins re-election, but his party loses their senate majority, his fellow Republicans may call for new party leadership as an essential requirement for rebuilding.

Thus Amy McGrath’s campaign to defeat McConnell is now drawing more media coverage than any of the other competitive Senate races. But there are some other, less obvious reasons for the growing attention being focused on McGrath’s campaign, some of which are outlined by Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics, including:

…McGrath doesn’t need to beat McConnell to reshape the Senate map. All she has to do is be competitive enough that she a) keeps McConnell focused on his own race and b) forces him (and, potentially, the national Republican Party) to spend time and money ensuring that the Republican leader wins.

While Booker, the youngest black Kentucky lawmaker at 35 years old, got the lion’s share of positive press attention in the final weeks of the primary race, there was a reason that Senate Democrats’ campaign arm had endorsed McGrath’s candidacy in February: Because she is a remarkably strong fundraiser…And, as of June 3, McGrath had raised $41 million for her Senate campaign — and had more than $19 million left in her bank account as of that date. That’s $4 million more than McConnell had on hand at the same time. (McConnell has raised more than $32 million for the race so far.)
Cillizza concedes that “McGrath is a less able campaigner than she is a fundraiser…she didn’t beat [Rep. Andy] Barr in 2018 — despite that being a very good year to be a Democratic challenger…Yet, “if she can raise, let’s say, $80 million total, then McConnell and the national Republican Party apparatus are also going to have to spend heavily to ensure he wins again — despite the clear Republican lean of the state at the federal level. (The last Democrat to win a Senate race in Kentucky was Sen. Wendell Ford back in 1992.)” Further,
So, let’s say that $20 million gets spent on the Kentucky race to make sure that McConnell is insulated from the TV ad onslaught that McGrath’s fundraising can buy…Well, that’s $20 million that can’t be spent on trying to reelect Arizona Sen. Martha McSally. Or Maine Sen. Susan Collins. Or North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. Or Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. You get the idea.

And then there’s this to consider: If McConnell, the best fundraiser among Senate Republicans, is focused on raising money for his own reelection race, he can’t raise as much money for all of those senators I just named above. Ditto for if he is pinned down in Kentucky rather than traveling across the country for events to collect cash for the most vulnerable GOP incumbents.
Winning, when it comes to McConnell, isn’t necessarily the goal for Senate Democrats as they try to net the three seats (if Joe Biden wins the White House) or four (if he doesn’t) they need for the majority. Senate Democrats don’t need Kentucky to get to the majority. In fact, there are roughly a dozen GOP seats that would likely fall before McConnell loses.
Instead, keeping McConnell occupied on his own race has to be Democrats’ goal. And McGrath makes that much more likely.

McGrath’s weaknesses as a candidate as a “less able campaigner than she is a fund-raiser” cited by Cillizza may matter less in the pandemic environment, since traveling around giving speeches and participating in debates is not a campaign priority in 2020. Democrats should nonetheless make sure their best debate coaches and media advisors are available to McGrath’s campaign.

But McGrath’s campaign should leverage her impressive success as a fund-raiser by producing the most effective ads, social media strategy and ground game. In so doing, she will maximize her chances to win. But even if she loses, she will have served the causes of strengthening Democratic prospects and hastening the end of McConnell’s reckless reign of the Senate. Those who want to contribute to these goals can do so right here.


Teixeira: Is Stan Greenberg Right to Say We Should Believe the Polls This Time?

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

I largely agree with Greenberg’s analysis in this Atlantic piece. I thought it would be interesting to go through the piece and annotate his argument a bit where I have something to add.

“[T]his moment is very different. To start, during the summer and fall of 2016, Clinton never had the kind of national poll lead that Biden now has. She led by an average of four points four months before the election and the same four points just before Election Day. This year, after Biden effectively clinched the nomination, he moved into an average six-point lead over Trump, which has grown to nearly 10 points after the death of George Floyd and the weeks of protests that have followed. The lingering apprehension among Democrats fails to recognize just how much the political landscape has changed since 2016. We are looking at different polls, a different America, and different campaigns with different leaders.”

This is all correct. It is now incorrect to say Clinton followed the same trajectory and still lost.

“The Clinton campaign’s worst blunder came in September 2016, when the candidate described “half of Trump’s supporters” as “deplorables” and walked right into the white working-class revolt against elites. Her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders had exposed a lack of enthusiasm for her in white working-class suburbs that Barack Obama had won. Her campaign hoped to make up for the lost votes with landslide wins among women, voters of color, and voters in big cities. White working-class voters noticed the lack of respect, and Trump ran up startling margins with them: He won these men by 48 points and women by 27, according to exit polls.”

I agree with this; anyone who doesn’t think Clinton committed political malpractice with how she handled white working class voters in 2016 has rocks in their head. However, note that the exit poll figures quoted by Greenberg are almost certainly too high. Better data however still show an immense swing away from the Democrats among this demographic.

“And the white working-class shift toward Trump is the biggest reason the national polls overestimated Clinton’s margin by two points and the state polls by much more. Mostly using exit polls from prior elections as their guide, pollsters—including me—had overestimated the number of four-year college graduates in the electorate. Getting that wrong mattered a lot in an election where the white working class was in revolt. Crucially, many pollsters, including me, have adjusted our assumptions about the makeup of the November 2020 electorate.”

Correct. Though of course I had been pointing this out for 20 years or so prior to 2016 and no one seemed to think t was a problem worth attending to.

“So one reason to trust my polls more now than in 2016 is this change: Four years ago, those without a four-year degree made up 48 percent of my survey respondents; today they account for 60 percent. Whites without a college degree were 33 percent of my surveys; today they are 43 percent. That is a huge change—an elixir against being deceived again. The pain of Trump’s victory and disastrous presidency has concentrated the minds of campaign staff and the polling profession in ways that give me confidence that Biden’s lead in the polls is real.”

Better late than never. Let’s hope other pollsters have followed the same trajectory.

“Much more devastating to Trump’s prospects is waning support from women who form a majority of the white working class. Without strong support from these voters, Trump cannot win. Right now, Biden is losing them by only seven points in my same battleground poll.”

This is correct and is a point I have stressed many times. It really is true that Trump cannot win with his current support levels among this demographic.

“Recently, Trump’s average approval rating has slipped a bit to about 41 percent, while his disapproval rating has jumped to about 56 percent. That looks a lot like the 14-point margin for Biden over Trump in the most recent New York Times poll.”

This is consistent with the 538 running poll average on approval. The importance of such low approval cannot be overemphasized–approval numbers like this are a death sentence.

“In the next four months, many things could put Biden’s current lead at risk. On occasion, between now and November, Biden will garble his words in an interview or make some public statement that many people will struggle to understand. He will surely sound out of touch or offend one group or another. Younger voters and Sanders primary voters do not appear to be rapturously excited about Biden. Calls for defunding the police reveal genuine fractures in the Democratic Party.”

I am less worried about the youth vote at this point. The defunding the police movement could be more of a genuine problem but Biden seems to be fairly deft in how he’s handling it.

“Even before the pandemic, the American political landscape had changed dramatically since Trump’s election, and not in ways that favor the incumbent. Biden’s big poll lead should not make Democrats complacent, but neither should members of my party shake their heads and think, Here it comes again. Rather, the current polls should persuade Democrats to work for the greatest possible rejection of a widely distrusted U.S. president and the political party that enables him.”

What he said.


Political Strategy Notes

In his post, “Republican internal polling signals a Democratic rout” at CNN Politics, Harry Enten shares this insight: “Whenever I hear an operative complain about public polling, I have just one thing to say: Put up or shut up. Release your own numbers that show the race in a different place than the public polling, or let the public polling stand. This is especially true in House races, where public polling is limited and there’s a real chance to shape the conventional wisdom…Perhaps, it’s not surprising then that when one party puts out a lot more internal polls than normal, it is good for their side. Parties tend to release good polling when they have it. Since 2004, there has been a near perfect correlation (+0.96 on a scale from -1 to +1) between the share of partisan polls released by the Democrats and the November results…Democratic and liberal aligned groups have put out 17 House polls taken in April or later. Republican aligned groups have put out 0. That’s a very bad ratio for Republicans.”

Arlette Saenz and Sarah Mucha report “Biden campaign readying hundreds of lawyers in expansive vote protection effort” at CNN Politics. ” Joe Biden‘s campaign is assembling hundreds of lawyers nationwide to monitor potential voting issues as part of its extensive voter protection efforts heading into the general election…Speaking at a virtual fundraiser Wednesday, the presumptive Democratic nominee said his team has organized 600 lawyers and others across the country to “try to figure out why the chicanery is likely to take place.” He also said they have recruited 10,000 people as volunteers…”Too often the norm in a campaign is that voter protection staff come on the ground in September or even sometimes in October unfortunately, and they’re sort of on-hand to triage issues that come up, on Election Day or leading up to it,” said David Bergstein, the director of battleground state communications for the DNC. “That model is not the best one to be utilizing particularly this cycle.”

At Vox, Ian Millhiser explains why progressives shouldn’t entertain the delusion that Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are not so bad, after all. Commenting on two new high court rulings, Millhiser writes, “In recent weeks, the Court has handed down a handful of left-leaning decisions — including a narrow decision temporarily preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)  program and an even narrower decision striking down a Louisiana anti-abortion law…But on the most important question in a democracy — whether citizens are empowered to choose their own leaders — this Supreme Court remains unsympathetic to parties seeking to protect the right to vote, despite the greatest public health crisis in more than a century.” All evidence indicates that Justice Roberts has not changed much at all on voting rights since the days when he was the Reagan Administration’s point man for voter suppression. Nor can voting rights advocates expect any support from Gorsuch or Kavanaugh.

In Jake Braun’s “A Perfect Storm of Vulnerabilities Could Determine the 2020 Election,” in The Boston Review, he observes “As we have seen all year, beginning with the days-long debacle of tallying delegates for the Iowa Caucus, Georgia is not the exception but rather a particularly egregious instance of the rule for 2020 election catastrophes. It is imperative we take action now to protect the security and integrity of our elections. Over the last few years four key weaknesses have emerged in our election ecosystem: flawed infrastructure that invariably breaks, organically generated conspiracies and public outcry, vulnerability to low-cost, unattributable system hacks, and susceptibility to trolls and bots. Each of these weaknesses is problematic enough on its own, but taken together they compound the effect of one another to generate a seemingly insurmountable challenge. To ensure the integrity of our elections, we must understand the vulnerabilities as a whole rather than confront them in isolation…Enhancing the transparency of our election infrastructure and security measures with a publicly accessible database would dramatically enhance the security of our elections. Further, talking openly to the public about the broad threat landscape will harden their cognitive security. Both these transparency measures engender trust in our elections and give stakeholders the tools needed to enhance the security of our elections. While these measures would not fully mitigate the expanded threat landscape we face, it would dramatically enhance transparency of election administration—one positive step in what will surely be a decades-long struggle to secure our elections.”

“As for deliverables to the electorate,’ E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in “A vicious culture war is all Trump has left,” his Washington Post column, “Biden has it all over Trump. The former vice president’s website is chockablock with popular and specific proposals on matters ranging from access to health care and higher education to infrastructure, climate change and higher wages. What is Trump offering? When Fox News’s Sean Hannity recently askedTrump what he wanted to do in a second term, the president offered 138-words of rambling emptiness adding up to nothing. Lacking even a few ideas scribbled on a “sheet of notepaper,” he can only conjure terrorizing national nightmares…It’s true that Trump’s Independence weekend escapades mean we face months of being led by someone so desperate to avoid defeat that he will warp our history, shatter what little unity we have left, and leave it to others to clear the wreckage. But there is hope here, too: Trump is acting like a frightened man who realizes that if his opponents keep their heads and avoid rising to his bait, his days are numbered.”

Democratic campaigns looking for a succinct indictment of Trump/Republican health care policy should check out Harold Meyerson’s article, “Still Exceptional After All These Years” at The American Prospect. As Meyerson writes, “the share of our economy devoted to health care—to pharmaceutical companies, the insurance industry, hospital chains, and so on—far exceeds that of any other nation…When a nation this rich and powerful is also this vulnerable and weak, the causes of its dysfunctions must run very deep. The most proximate cause, of course, is a national government that, since Donald Trump took power, has arrayed its power against fictitious threats it has manufactured itself, like dangerous immigrants or fraudulent voters. This makes it all the easier for conservatives to stoke fear and anger within their political base. At the same time, the Trump administration has ignored the very real threats to its citizens posed by mutating diseases and a worsening climate—not just ignored them, but consistently downplayed them, and diminished our capacity to counter them by defunding public-health agencies and driving scientists from the government, lest their empiricism dispel the imagined enemies and fake cures that Republicans parade before us…while we tally just that 4 percent of earthlings, we constitute a mind-boggling 25 percent of the earthlings who’ve come down with COVID-19 and a further 25 percent of those who’ve died from it.”

At Mother Jones, Kara Voght notes that “The Coronavirus is Knocking Progressive Priorities Off the Ballot: Progressives have increasingly turned to ballot initiatives in red states. COVID-19 has screwed that all up,”  and observes, “Across the country, coronavirus and the efforts to contain it have made it impossible to meet the requirements for putting measures on the ballot. The pandemic will stymie a cycle’s worth of progressive policy that, in some instances, would have directly addressed the medical and financial hardships it has worsened…Twenty-seven US states and territories allow for ballot measures, and in order for a proposed measure to make it onto the ballot, organizers need to collect some minimum number of handwritten signatures…In addition to Idaho’s minimum wage campaign, activists in Arizona suspended their signature-gathering for a measure that would have stopped surprise medical billing and increased health care worker pay. In Oregon, a petition for safe gun storage has stopped, as well, as has a push to legalize marijuana in Missouri. Most of these efforts can reboot for the 2022 cycle, but some cannot: A Oklahoma campaign to establish an independent redistricting committee –an effort to combat gerrymandering—will have lost its window of opportunity by then.”

As reported by Steven Shepard, Politico’s Election Forecast, “based on continual interviews with strategists and operatives, polling and other data streams and the electoral and demographic trends driving the 2020 campaign,” finds that “President Donald Trump is now an underdog to win a second term, and Republicans’ Senate majority is in serious danger of being swept out with him, according to the latest edition of POLITICO’s Election Forecast…A series of crises over the past three months has seen the political environment deteriorate markedly for Trump and his party. The percentage of voters who think the country is headed in the wrong direction is hitting new highs — a record 75 percent in the latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll — and Trump’s approval rating is settling near his all-time lows….Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump is swelling to roughly 10 points nationally — and for the first time, our forecast classifies Biden as the clear favorite in the race…But the race for Senate control is now close to a coin flip. Democrats now have discernible leads in Arizona and Colorado. Retired astronaut Mark Kelly has consistently outpolled appointed Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona’s special election.”


Affirmative Action Restoration Leads 12 California Ballot Initiatives

California ballot initiatives often set national trends and affect down-ballot races in the Golden State. I wrote about this year’s batch at New York:

California offers reasonably easy access to the ballot for groups wanting to change state policies, and requires public approval of constitutional amendments passed by the legislature. So it has a rich history of ballot initiative fights that sometimes overshadow elections for public office, from the tax revolts of the 1970s to the immigration backlash of the 1990s and beyond. 2020 is no exception, with 12 measures on the ballot in a year when California won’t be competitive in the presidential contest and has no Senate seats up for grabs.

Going into 2020, it was widely anticipated that a so-called “split roll” initiative removing strict limits on property tax increases from commercial property might blot out the sky and produce one of the most expensive and consequential battles ever. Long the apple of the eye of many public-sector unions and good government groups seeking a broader tax base, the initiative would limit the sacrosanct Proposition 13 protections against tax increases to (largely) residential real estate, exposing commercial property to tax assessments based on current market value rather than its value when the property last changed hands.

Backers of a “split roll” figured a presidential year with high Democratic turnout would be the best time to pursue this measure, but didn’t account for the arrival of the coronavirus and a deep economic recession, which may have made voters averse to major changes in the status quo. The defeat by voters of a statewide bond initiative for education in the March primary may indicate California’s entering a period of fiscal retrenchment, though the huge budget deficits the state is now facing could cut the other way. An April PPIC survey showed.a slim majority of voters then favoring the split roll initiative.

While Prop 209 won 55 percent approval from California voters, the state’s demographics have significantly changed since then. Additionally, past hostility to affirmative action among the state’s Asian-American leadership has abated; a majority of Asian-American legislators supported the repeal initiative on grounds that whatever losses their community might have in university admissions would be more than offset in gains in public employment and contracts, but there may be grassroots opposition among white and Asian-American voters. The repeal is being supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, the Regents of the University of California and most elected Democrats.

Two other ballot initiatives of note would be aimed at expanding voting rights. One would extend restoration of voting rights to parolees as well as the probationers who currently qualify. According to one study, about 40,000 Californians would benefit from this initiative if it passes. A separate amendment would allow those who will turn 18 by any general election date to vote in the preceding primaries (or special elections) at the age of 17.

An initiative relaxing state limits on local imposition of rent control was defeated in 2018. A narrower measure is back on the ballot this year that supplements a new state law limiting the size of rent increases generally.

Another initiative that could spur heavy ad spending is one backed by Uber and Lyft and some delivery services that would essentially exempt their drivers from a new California law designed to limit the classification of workers as independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and benefits obligations.

And in one other notable battle, “split roll” isn’t the only ballot initiative that would change the Prop 13 property tax system. Another backed by realtors (who failed with a similar initiative in 2018) would let homeowners over 55 keep Prop 13 protections when buying new properties. As a sweetener to progressives often hostile to Prop 13, the initiative would also eliminate the so-called “Lebowski Loophole” (so named because actor Jeff Bridges was a major beneficiary, though he is all for its elimination) whereby children can continue Prop 13 protections on expensive investment and rental properties they inherit.

The California airwaves will be busy with ads for and against initiatives in the fall, and could help goose turnout, affecting U.S. House and state legislative races if not the presidential contest.


Which Anti-Trump Ads Resonate?

From “Democratic ad makers think they’ve discovered Trump’s soft spot” by David Siders at Politico:

As in 2016, ad makers are focusing on Trump’s character. But unlike four years ago, they are no longer focusing on his character in isolation — rather they are pouring tens of millions of dollars into ads yoking his behavior to substantive policy issues surrounding the coronavirus, the economy and the civil unrest since the death of George Floyd.

“You can’t chase the Trump clown car,” said Bradley Beychok, president of the progressive group American Bridge. “Him drinking water and throwing a glass is goofy and may make for a good meme, but it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things … What people care about is this outbreak.”

Siders notes that “In their preparations for 2020, outside Democratic groups spent more than a year surveying voters in swing states by phone and online. They convened in-person focus groups and enlisted voters in swing states to keep diaries of their media consumption…Multiple outside groups said they began to test their ads more rigorously than in 2016, using online panels to determine how likely an ad was to either change a viewer’s impression of Trump or to change how he or she planned to vote.”

In addition, “Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC, alone expects to test more than 500 ads this cycle. Priorities, American Bridge and other outside groups, including organized labor, have been meeting regularly to share internal research and media plans.”

Among research findings, Siders reports:

The advertising elements that appear to work, according to interviews with more than a dozen Democrats involved in message research, vary from ad to ad. Using Trump’s own words against him often tests well, as do charts and other graphics, which serve to highlight Trump’s distaste for science. Voters who swung from President Barack Obama to Trump in 2016 — and who regret it — are good messengers. And so is Joe Biden, whose voice is widely considered preferable to that of a professional narrator. Not only does he convey empathy, according to Democrats inside and outside Biden’s campaign, but using Biden’s voice “helps people think about him as president,” said Patrick Bonsignore, Biden’s director of paid media.

Siders concludes, “But the ad makers’ overarching takeaway from their research was this: While Trump may not be vulnerable on issues of character alone, as he demonstrated in 2016, he is vulnerable when character is tied to his policy record on the economy and health care.”


Teixeira: Dems Can Avoid Backlash – If They Reject Divisive Policies

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

Should or Should We Not Be Worried About Backlash? (2)

Well, at this point I’m not too worried, given the dire situation in the country and how badly Trump has handled it, both in policy and political terms. Voters increasingly just want to get rid of the guy, which makes them less likely to be swayed by issues that in other circumstances would have some significant potential for backlash.

But that’s no reason for complacency. Danger still lurks. And backlash remains a more significant potential problem than, say lack of support among black or young voters, which recent polls show firming up rapidly.

Indeed, the most activist-minded among these constituencies, who have been turning out for the BLM/George Floyd protests, seem likely to vote overwhelmingly for Biden. A tidbit from the most recent recent Tom Edsall column:

“In an article posted June 28 at Business Insider, [Sociologist Dana] Fisher wrote that in studying the demonstrators:

Every single person surveyed at events in Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles over the past month reported that they would be supporting Joe Biden in the election. In fact, not one respondent reported that they would vote for Donald Trump.”

This certainly suggests there is no reason for Biden to embrace the more radical demands coming out of the protests, such as for defunding the police and reparations. He’s already got the protesters’ votes and presumably those of their co-thinkers around the country.

But backlash, as I noted, has more potential to be a real problem. From the Edsall article:

“Fisher wrote that 60 to 65 percent of the demonstrators agreed with the statement “some level of violence is justified in the pursuit of political goals….

“The views of protesters concerning the legitimacy of violence stand in contrast to the views of voters taken as a whole.

A Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 72 percent of those polled disagreed with the statement “more violent protests and unrest are an appropriate response to the killing of an unarmed man by police,” including a solid majority of Democrats.

An even larger percentage (79), including 77 percent of Democrats, agreed with the statement: “The property damage caused by some protesters undermines the original protest’s case for justice.”

The Times/Siena survey asked voters whether they support or oppose “reducing funding to police departments,” a less extreme step than the call among some demonstrators to “defund the police.”

Nearly two thirds of voters polled, 63 percent, opposed reduction of funding of police departments, including 50 percent who said they “strongly oppose” such actions.

What makes these issues even more potentially polarizing, going into the 2020 election, is that there has been an increase in violent crime, especially homicide and shooting incidents, in the weeks since George Floyd was killed, in some of the cities experiencing sustained protests and anti-police demonstrations. These cities include Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Chicago.”

So continue to worry. Trump is his own worst enemy but that’s no reason to hand him issues that he can–and will–try to exploit to avert his free fall.