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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


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The Daily Strategist

May 6, 2021

Teixeira: Voter ID? Fuggedaboutit, That Ship Has Sailed

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

It makes sense to oppose Republicans’ efforts to make voting harder, though the potential efficacy of such efforts tends to be considerably exaggerated. (More potentially consequential are efforts to enhance partisan control over the vote-counting process.) But one thing Democrats and activists should stop worrying about is voter ID requirements. As poll after poll after poll has shown, voter ID requirements are widely popular and viewed as procedurally fair, rather than an onerous and unfair burden.

The latest confirmation of this comes from a UMass Amherst/WCBV poll which found 67 percent of the public favoring requiring all voters to show photo ID to vote, compared to just 25 percent who were opposed. Not only that, the requirement was favored by 62 percent of blacks, 64 percent of Latinos and 80 percent of Asians.

So let’s give up on this one OK? Voters are fine with this and we should be too.

Bacon: Big Racial Divides Hurt GOP, But Limit Dems

In his article, “American Politics Now Has Two Big Racial Divides,” Perry Bacon, Jr. writes at FiveThirtyEight:

There’s been a recent flurry of studies and analyses that take a deeper look at the results of the 2020 election. These examinations don’t contradict our early interpretation of the results from the days and weeks immediately following Election Day: The overwhelming majority of voters backed the candidate from the party that they normally lean toward, though then-President Trump did slightly better with voters of color and slightly worse with white voters than he did in 2016. But the new examinations and other data tell a nuanced story about the role of race in the 2020 contest.

American voters …

  1. Remain deeply polarized based on ethnicity and racial identity;

  2. Were less polarized by racial identity in 2020 compared to 2016; and

  3. Are very polarized by attitudes about racial and cultural issues.

Bacon notes, further that “Despite the news coverage that sometimes implies that non-Hispanic white voters with college degrees are all flocking to the Democrats, about 42 percent of that group backed Trump in 2020, according to the recently released Cooperative Election Study. About 64 percent of Hispanic Americans backed Biden, per CES, which might be hard to remember amid the intense (and accurate) coverage of Trump’s gains among that voting bloc.” Drilling down, Bacon adds:

In many ways, the 2020 election was basically like every recent Americanpresidential election: The Republican candidate won the white vote (54 percent to 44 percent, per CES), and the Democratic candidate won the overwhelming majority of the Black (90 percent to 8 percent), Asian American (66 percent to 31 percent) and Hispanic (64 percent to 33 percent) vote. Like in 2016, there was a huge difference among non-Hispanic white voters by education, as those with at least a four-year college degree favored Biden (55 percent to 42 percent), while those without degrees (63 to 35) favored Trump. (There wasn’t a huge education split among voters of color.)1

Other surveys tell the same general story: Trump won white voters overall by a margin in the double digits and won whites without four-year degrees by even more; Trump lost among whites with at least a four-year college degree, lost by a big margin with Asian American and Latino voters and lost by an enormous margin among African Americans.

So the main reason that Trump nearly won a second term was not his increased support among Latinos, who are only about 10 percent of American voters and are a group he lost by more than 20 points. Trump’s main strength was his huge advantage among non-Hispanic white voters without college degrees, who are about 42 percent of American voters. His second biggest bloc of support was among non-Hispanic white Americans with degrees, who are about 30 percent of all voters. According to the CES, over 80 percent of Trump’s voters were non-Hispanic white voters, with or without a college degree. In contrast, around 70 percent of nonwhite voters supported Biden, and they made up close to 40 percent of his supporters. So it is very much still the case that the Republicans are an overwhelmingly white party and that the Democratic coalition is much more racially diverse.

There are no big surprises in those findings. But Bacon does note that Trump did a litle bit better with non-white voters in 2020, comapred to 2016. Specifically,

Trump did 7 percentage points better among Asian American voters in 2020 compared to 2016, 4 points better among Hispanic voters and 1 point better among both white and Black voters, per the CES. Biden did 4 percentage points worse among Asian American voters and 1 points worse among Hispanic voters compared to Hillary Clinton, while doing 1 point better among Black voters and 3 points stronger among white voters compared to Clinton.

Bacon explores possible some reasons for Trump doing a little better with these voters, but he sees no one reason that overwhelms all others. However, he notes, “It is a huge problem for Republicans that the clear majority of people of color vote against them, since that’s a big and growing bloc of the electorate. It is unlikely those broad dynamics will change.”

Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall has an important article, “Should Biden Emphasize Race or Class or Both or None of the Above?,” which merits the interest of Democratic political strategists, who are concerned about ‘message frames.’ Edsall writes, “Should the Democratic Party focus on race or class when trying to build support for new initiatives and — perhaps equally important — when seeking to achieve a durable Election Day majority?…The publication on April 26 of a scholarly paper, “Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support,” has stirred up a hornet’s nest among Democratic strategists and analysts. The authors, Micah English and Joshua L. Kalla, who are both political scientists at Yale, warned proponents of liberal legislative proposals that Despite increasing awareness of racial inequities and a greater use of progressive race framing by Democratic elites, linking public policies to race is detrimental for support of those policies….The English-Kalla paper infuriated critics who are involved in the Race-Class Narrative Project. The founder of the project, Ian Haney López, a law professor at Berkeley and one of the chairmen of the AFL-CIO’s Advisory Council on Racial and Economic Justice, vigorously disputes the English-Kalla thesis. In his view, “Powerful elites exploit social divisions, so no matter what our race, color or ethnicity, our best future requires building cross-racial solidarity….In an email, López wrote me that the English and Kalla study seems to confirm a conclusion common among Democratic strategists since at least 1970: Democrats can maximize support among whites, without losing too much enthusiasm from voters of color, by running silent on racial justice while emphasizing class issues of concern to all racial groups. Since at least 2017, this conclusion is demonstrably wrong.”

Edsall goes on to share the perspective of a host of other researchers, including: “A late February survey of 1,551 likely voters by Vox and Data for Progress produced similar results. Half the sample was asked whether it would support or oppose zoning for multiple-family housing based on the argument that It’s a matter of racial justice. Single-family zoning requirements lock in America’s system of racial segregation, blocking Black Americans from pursuing economic opportunity and the American dream of homeownership….The other half of the sample read that supporters of multiple-family zoning say that this will drive economic growth as more people will be able to move to high opportunity regions with good jobs and will allow more Americans the opportunity to get affordable housing on their own, making it easier to start families….The voters to whom the racial justice message was given were split, 44 in support, 43 in opposition, while those who were given the economic growth argument supported multiple-family zoning 47-36….After being exposed to the economic growth message, Democrats were supportive 63-25, but less so after the racial justice message, 56-28. Republicans were opposed after hearing either message, but less so in the case of economic growth, 35-50, compared to racial justice 31-60.”

Edsall adds, “López founded the Race-Class Narrative Project along with Anat Shenker-Osorio, a California-based communications consultant, and Heather McGhee, a former president of Demos, a liberal think tank and author of the recent book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”….I asked López about the English-Kalla paper. He was forthright in his emailed reply: As my work and that of others demonstrates, the most potent political message today is one that foregrounds combating intentional divide-and-conquer racial politics by building a multiracial coalition among all racial groups. This frame performs more strongly than a class-only frame as well as a racial justice frame. It is also the sole liberal frame that consistently beats Republican dog whistling….Unless Democrats explicitly address race, Shenker-Osorio wrote, millions of whites, flooded with Republican messages demonizing minorities, will continue to be primed to view government as taking from “hard working people” (coded as white) and handing it to “undeserving people” (coded as Black and brown). If we do not contend with this basic fact — and today’s unrelenting race baiting from the right — then Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” will simply continue to haunt us. In other words, if the left chooses to say nothing about race, the race conversation doesn’t simply end. The only thing voters hear about the topic are the lies the right peddles to keep us from joining together to demand true progressive solutions….The race and class message did substantially better than the class alone message among both base Democratic voters and persuadable voters.”

Edsall notes, further, “Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster who conducted much of the research for the Race-Class Narrative Project, was outspoken in her criticism of the English-Kalla paper, writing in an email: “There are huge flaws in their study and therefore in their conclusions. No candidate would run on what they put forward as the ‘race’ message.”…When I asked Kalla about these criticisms, he countered: The messages that we tested did come from the real world of politics. Our messages came from actual politicians. As we note in the paper: “To improve the external validity of these findings, we adapted the frames from real-world political sources.”….Elizabeth Suhay, a political scientist at American University, captured the complexity of the debate….Suhay’s caveat: Broad public approval is not the only thing politicians care about. From a strategic perspective, they must also be responsive to activists, interest groups, and donors. Given the intense focus on racial justice among some of the most active Democrats — including but not exclusively African Americans — Biden needs to not only deliver on this issue but also to tell people about it. Suhay went on: They face intense demands from Democratic activists for both policy and symbolic actions that address racial inequity; however, these actions do threaten to turn off many whites, especially those without a college degree. Biden, Suhay argues, “seems to have no choice but to find some middle road: focusing communication on how his policies benefit most Americans while also, more infrequently but unmistakably, making clear his commitment to racial equality” and, she added, “he seems to be walking the tightrope well.”

Why the 2022 Midterms Are a Toss-Up

At The Cook Political Report Charlie Cook explains why “The Midterm Elections Are a Jump Ball“:

With the Senate 50-50 and the current House split 218 to 212, with five vacant seats we’re headed toward another compelling cycle.

Republicans have more exposure in the Senate, as they’re defending 20 seats, against just 14 for Democrats. Republicans are also trying to hold onto five open seats, versus Democrats’ none.

Yet history is on Republicans’ side. In the House, the party holding the presidency has had a net loss of seats in 37 (95 percent) out of 39 midterm elections. The two exceptions were 1934, Franklin Roosevelt’s first midterm election when voters were not yet finished punishing Herbert Hoover’s party, and 2002, when George W. Bush still had an unusually high 63 percent Gallup job-approval rating 14 months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the 26 midterms since the direct election of senators began in 1914, the president’s party has lost seats in 19 (73 percent), remained even in one (Bill Clinton’s second midterm), and gained in six midterms, most recently 2018, when President Trump’s GOP picked up seats.


How President Biden is faring on Election Day in 565 days is the great unknown. But at this stage, he’s at 53 percent approval in both the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages, and 54 percent in Gallup. Biden is doing better than Trump was at this point in his presidency, roughly on par with Clinton, and slightly below Bush 43, and Obama.

In addition,

While most voters cast ballots straight down party lines, the economic picture will be important. Right now, the forecasts are for very strong growth through next year but if some of the warnings about Biden’s spending initiatives overheating the economy come to pass and result in a round of inflation, it is pretty safe to assume that this would tank Democratic hopes to retain their majorities….While there are some struggles between the progressive and establishment wings of the Democratic Party, the potential for strife between the Trump acolytes and legacy Republicans looks potentially graver. Most critically, will the GOP nominate “exotic” nominees in critical races, which hurt its chances of winning.

Cook concludes:

Given that the current Democratic Senate majority was basically determined by their narrowest win in the last election—Sen. Raphael Warnock’s 55,354-vote victory in the Jan. 5 special runoff election in Georgia—and the House by a total of 31,751 votes in a handful of districts around the country, just about any factor could be determinative. Anyone who professes certainty at this stage is just blowing (or inhaling) smoke.

As usual, hold your bets to the closing weeks of the midterm elections.

Republicans Can’t Get a Clear Focus on Biden

Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:

When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.

Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:

“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”

This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.

But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.

Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.

Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.

Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.

Political Strategy Notes

For  succinct take on President Biden’s first address to congress, try E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “Biden’s speech was bipartisan and partisan at the same time,” in which he writes “President Biden on Wednesday night went big, populist, folksy, hopeful, urgent — and bipartisan and partisan at the same time. Addressing a pandemic-reduced gathering of lawmakers at the Capitol, Biden proposed a sweeping program of change that would create four more years of free schooling, expand child care and family leave, and attempt to beat back climate change through large infrastructure investments….He pressed for police reform — to “rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve” and “root out systemic racism” — as well as broad reforms to political and voting rights, big repairs to the immigration system, and new gun-control measures….Biden welcomed the help of Republicans again and again, but he took clear aim at their favored economic doctrines. “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” he declared. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle-out….And he took a victory lap on progress against covid-19, proclaiming that widespread vaccinations were offering “a dose of hope.”….This address wasn’t exactly the New Deal or the Great Society, but it was equally ambitious. Biden, reassuringly unradical with his plain, avuncular demeanor, is bidding to create a new common sense rooted in political lessons that Democrats have learned the hard way….Calling his American Jobs Plan “a blue-collar blueprint to build America,” he noted that nearly 90 percent of its infrastructure jobs “do not require a college degree” and that “75 percent don’t require an associate’s degree.”….And in a deft bit of political jujitsu, he touted his proposed investments in alternative energy to fight climate change as a form of economic nationalism. “There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing. . . . No reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.”

But Tim Nichols’s “Biden message to China and Russia: America is back, Trump is gone, the free ride is over” at USA Today focused on America’s more assertive role in the world under his administrion: “Joe Biden’s speech to Congress was the first time in four years that people who focus on foreign policy and national security have had to pay attention to a presidential address. There was actually a recognizable foreign policy in it, a statement of principles about democracy and America’s role as a global leader, from a functioning White House that seems to care about engagement with the rest of the world….Unfortunately, one of Biden’s clear themes on foreign affairs was his recognition of the destruction former President Donald Trump left in his wake and the need to restore American credibility. The past four years were good days for the world’s dictators and other miscreants, and Biden on Wednesday night began the job of making a case for restoring America’s alliances, of defending American ideals, and of warning off the various wolves that have circled the democratic camp while the American lanterns were dimmed….While Biden is concerned about China, he is openly angry about Russia and what Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin was allowed to get away with for the past four years. (Trump had only one truly consistent policy in his time in office, and it was to avoid antagonizing Moscow at all costs, a humiliating obsession that was driven by Trump’s obvious and paralyzing personal fear of Putin.)….Biden on Wednesday night began the job of making a case for restoring America’s alliances, of defending American ideals, and of warning off the various wolves that have circled the democratic camp while the American lanterns were dimmed.”

From “James Carville says Democrats ‘don’t have the votes’ to be ‘more liberal’ than Joe Manchin” by John L. Dorman at Business Insider: “The longtime Democratic strategist James Carville knows a thing or two about winning an election. As the chief strategist of former President Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 campaign, he helped the Democratic Party end a 12-year streak of GOP control of the White House….In a recent Vox interview, Carville pushed back against suggestions from some Democrats that the party, no matter the consequences, should be passing its highest-priority legislation since it has control of the House and Senate….Carville spoke of Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginian who opposes axing the filibuster and has called for more bipartisan cooperation on President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill, in arguing that the party currently has a limit for what it wants to pursue….”The Democratic Party can’t be more liberal than Sen. Joe Manchin,” he told Vox. “That’s the fact. We don’t have the votes.” Despite the disappointment of   more progressive Democrats in Manchin, he has recently affirmed his loyalty to the Democratic Party, which is good news for everyone who opposes restoring Mitch McConnell’s one-man veto of all legislation he dislikes.

Democrats Should Use Power Fully While They Have It

There is a lot of neurotic fretting about past and future elections going on in Democratic circles right now. Introspection is fine, but there are limits, as I explained at New York:

Since Joe Biden took office, we’ve seen a striking contrast between the audacious legislative agenda that the new president and his congressional allies are implacably advancing and the anxiety that so many of them (but decidedly not Biden himself) are expressing about their narrow escape from defeat in 2020 and the probable rough electoral sledding ahead. Even as Congress accomplishes things unimaginable in the Obama administration, Democrats keep fretting about the lost opportunities that the expected 2020 landslide could have given them, the traction that many fear Republicans are obtaining with their anti-wokeness crusade, and the baleful history of midterm elections that have shattered the plans of new administrations.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Punchbowl he figures there is a direct connection between the political anxieties of congressional Democrats and their audacious legislative agenda:

“Majorities are not given, they are earned. This is not like 1994 and 2010 …

“[Y]ou had to win 40 seats in 2010 … I think everybody knows the majority is in play. So the reason why it’s different, the majority is in play. In ’94 and 2010, at the beginning of those years, they didn’t believe the majority was at play in the nation. I believe it is, and the Democrats, I think, believe it is too; that’s why they’re going so far left, knowing that they’re gonna lose it.”

So basically, McCarthy is charging that Democrats are shooting for the moon in 2021 because they understand that their governing trifecta is fragile and will likely end in 2022. It’s a hostile, self-serving hypothesis but nonetheless worth considering.

Any governing party implicitly has to balance, if not choose between, the goals of implementing its desired policies and of sustaining its power by positioning itself to win future elections. Ideally, of course, such parties hope their legislative priorities are popular enough to serve as a future campaign platform. Democrats who understand how ambitious their current legislative agenda is are particularly encouraged that it is polling well so far. And as New York’s Jonathan Chait has observed, Biden himself has adopted a presidential style that downplays the audacity of the legislation he is promoting, which helps get it enacted while giving the opposition fewer ripe targets.

But at some point very soon, Democrats may no longer be able to avoid a choice between accomplishments and political sustainability. Even if they are able to keep big policy proposals on issues like climate change, police reform, or housing supply from becoming politically fraught right away, they must take into account how they may play into Republican messaging on “socialism,” “wokeness,” or “class warfare.” Do they hold back on legislative audacity, then, in order to maximize the odds of hanging on to Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024? Or do they move ahead as quickly and ambitiously as they can and hope for the best? I’d offer four pretty compelling reasons for continuing to shoot for the moon.

Democrats’ power is too fragile to protect, so they may as well use it

Thanks to where 2020 left Democrats in Congress, a screeching halt to their legislative progress is no further away than an unexpected death or the resignation of a single senator, a decision by one senator that “going rogue” is in her or his self-interest, or an adverse ruling by the unelected Senate parliamentarian on the ability of Democrats to move a major item via the budget-reconciliation process (as has already happened on the $15 mimimum wage and will probably happen soon on immigration reform). Enacting as much legislation as possible before any of those setbacks occurs could be critical, justifying any and all political risks.

Similarly, the Democratic margin in the House is so small that it may be impossible to sustain against the overwhelming historical precedent of midterm losses by the party controlling the White House — especially since Republicans will have the upper hand in the decennial redistricting process, which is about to get under way.

If the Democratic trifecta is too weak to rely upon or is doomed anyway, why not get as much done as possible and hope for good luck in 2022 and 2024 and perhaps even better luck down the road?

Partisan polarization has made moderation meaningless

The idea that pulling legislative punches will improve future electoral outcomes may be a vestige of a bygone era of swing-voter hegemony and plausible bipartisanship. It’s not clear exactly who in the electorate will award Democrats for “moderation” in fully pursuing their policy goals. To put it another way, no matter what Biden and congressional Democrats do, McCarthy and the conservative-media machine are going to accuse them of “going so far left.” That was the great lesson of the Obama administration, in which every conciliatory gesture simply gave the GOP incentives to radicalize its demands and ramp up the volume of its protests against alleged Democratic extremism.

It also offers an alternative interpretation of the relative disappointment of Democratic underachievement in 2020. Instead of neurotically looking around to see which “woke” or “socialist” pol gave Republicans the opportunity to shriek about the terrible consequences of Democratic power, as many Democrats are doing now, it may make more sense to recognize that the Donkey Party can do nothing short of surrender that would undermine such messaging. The Republican base is clearly in a state of cultural panic that has little to do with the specter of the Green New Deal or the Iran nuclear pact or anything else Democrats say or do. Sure, Democrats can try to lower the temperature of political conflict as their chill president is doing, but they may as well use their current leverage as not. Joe Manchin will ensure that they don’t go hog wild.

America’s current condition demands, and will reward, bold policies — particularly after the Trump presidency

Intense partisan polarization isn’t the only feature of the contemporary political landscape that makes caution inadvisable for Democrats. Quite obviously, the coronavirus pandemic and its economic and social by-products built a highly conducive atmosphere for the Biden administration’s first bold and theoretically risky venture, the American Rescue Plan. And even if the sense of emergency fades and Biden-esque “normalcy” begins to reign, there could be a significant residual appetite within and beyond the Democratic Party for legislative activism after four years in which the GOP lost its already minimal interest in solving problems through public policy and submitted itself to the chaotic, often pointless rage-based leadership of Donald Trump.

There’s a lot to get done, and, among those who aren’t fantasizing about a vengeful comeback for the 45th president, there’s just one party offering much of anything. Scary as “socialism” seems to many Americans, nihilism is scarier yet.

Some legislative goals are conditions precedent for future political success

As Ron Brownstein has convincingly argued, some form of voting-rights legislation may no longer be optional for Democrats if they want to remain politically viable in the short-term and long-range future:

“If Democrats lose their slim majority in either congressional chamber next year, they will lose their ability to pass voting-rights reform. After that, the party could face a debilitating dynamic: Republicans could use their state-level power to continue limiting ballot access, which would make regaining control of the House or the Senate more difficult for Democrats — and thus prevent them from passing future national voting rules that override the exclusionary state laws.”

Republicans understand that the power to limit ballot access for Democratic constituencies is something they need to exploit to the fullest right now. If Democrats demur from pursuing every avenue to preempt Republican voter suppression via federal legislation on grounds that it’s too “partisan,” the far more cynical GOP will have the last laugh, potentially for a long time. Loyalty to the young and minority voters most endangered by voter suppression should be enough to make voting rights job one in this Congress, even if that means risky tactics like filibuster reform. But it may also be a matter of political survival.

In general, this is no time for Democrats to be afraid of taking risks; like it or not, everything they do right now is risky business. The ancient arguments between progressives and centrists on the best way to appeal to swing voters are largely moot at this moment. They had best make hay while the sun shines.

Skelley and Rakich: Census Threatens Dems’ Edge In Midterms

Geoffrey Skelley and Nathaniel Rakich sort out ” Which States Won — and Lost — Seats in the 2020 Census” at FiveThirtyEight:

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Census Bureau announced how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House for the next 10 years — a once-in-a-decade process called reapportionment. In total, five states will gain one House seat each starting with the 2022 elections — and Texas even added two. But for every seat these states gained, another state had to lose one — and indeed, seven states lost one congressional district each.

Overall, the gains and losses following the 2020 census largely continue a pattern in recent decades whereby states in the Midwest and Northeast have lost seats because their population growth has stagnated, while states in the South and West have mostly gained seats because their populations have boomed. (There is one exception to this overarching trend: California actually lost ground for the first time in its history.)

Texas is on track to pick up 2 seats as a result of the census, while FL, NC, CO, OR and MT will each gain a seat. California, NY, IL, PA, OH, MI and WV each lost a seat. Worse, “As a result, we can now say with finality that Republicans will control the redrawing of 187 congressional districts (43 percent) — or 2.5 times as many as Democrats (who will redraw 75 districts, or 17 percent).” In adddition,

There are also 167 districts (38 percent) where neither party will enjoy exclusive control over redistricting (either because of independent commissions or split partisan control). And, of course, there are six districts (1 percent) that won’t need to be drawn at all (because they are at-large districts that cover their entire state).

But just because most of the states that are gaining seats are red and most of the states that are losing them are blue does not necessarily mean that reapportionment will help Republicans — in the House, at least.1 That’s because many of the fastest-growing areas of red states are increasingly Democratic, so it matters a lot how the new districts will be drawn.

Skelley and Rakich also note, “The three most populous states to gain seats are Texas, Florida and North Carolina, and in each, Republicans will control the redistricting process. For the first time in decades, they won’t have to seek preclearance from the Justice Department either before implementing their maps thanks to the 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. That, in turn, could open the door for more extreme gerrymandering in these states, which historically disenfranchised voters of color. “

The share a summary of the emerging political demographics and redistricting process in each affected state, and conclude:

Of course, we’re a long way from knowing the full political ramifications of redistricting, as the 31 other states that didn’t lose or gain a seat and will have more than one representative will also have to redraw their congressional lines. We also don’t know how the 13 states we’ve examined here will draw their maps. But today’s announcement of the reapportionment numbers marks the first step toward knowing what the lay of the land will be ahead of the 2022 election.

All in all, it’s a tough redistricting map ahead for Democrats, which makes Biden’s success even more critical for Democratic prospects in the 2022 midterm elections.

Teixeira: The Negative Payoff to Racial Framing of Policy Issues

The new paper by Micah English and Joshua L. Kalla, Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support: Survey Experimental Evidence, has gotten quite a lot of attention and deservedly so. Through a clever survey experiment, they show quite clearly that racial framing detracts from support for progressive policies relative to a class or even a neutral framing. This indicates that Democrats are marketing their policies poorly to the extent that they use racial framing to urge support for essentially race-neutral policies that will disproportionately benefit blacks and Latinos because they are disproportionately poor and disadvantaged. Therefore by increasingly relying on racial framing for progressive policies they are actually hurting the very constituencies (the black and Latino poor) they are so intent on helping.

The conclusion to the paper is worth quoting in full:

“As we have demonstrated, despite leftward shifts in public attitudes towards issues of racial equality, racial framing generally decreases support for progressive policies. Despite increasing awareness of racial inequities and a greater use of progressive race framing by Democratic elites, linking public policies to race is detrimental for support of those policies. Importantly, our results showed that Black Americans were just as swayed by the class frame as they were the race frame. Future research should investigate the causal mechanisms behind this.

As Mendelberg (2001, p. 187) detailed in her examination of racial appeals: “Democrats are correct in perceiving that their best interests lie in shifting the electoral agenda away from race and toward economic issues on which blacks and working class whites can agree. The Democrats can still pursue racially liberal policies while in office, and in fact it is in their interest to do so. By eroding racial inequality they will aid in bridging the racial divide that renders them so electorally vulnerable. But as many African Americans recognize, highlighting these efforts to white voters is likely to erode Democratic support among whites.”

It appears that this still holds true today. Democrats’ use of racial frames in describing their progressive policies may inadvertently make it harder for them to adopt public policies that will advance racial justice.”

Note particularly that the racial frame doesn’t even increase support among blacks for progressive policies. I would also note that it doesn’t matter why support among whites is decreased by a racial framing–that is, whether it’s “racial resentment” or the simple fact that when you’re highlighting how a policy will benefit a particular group, those not in the group will then tend to wonder what’s in it for them. The effect is the same: a racial framing does not work to increase support for progressive policies, it decreases it. Therefore, you shouldn’t do it.

A further note, discussed in the paper, is that the findings, while striking, are hardly a one-off. A wide range of studies and survey evidence has shown the same pattern. (See the graphic below for one of many examples, taken from a recent CAP poll.)

I will close by reiterating a principle I put forward in a recent post.

Just as Democrats should not advocate unpopular policies, they should not advocate popular policies in a way that makes them less popular.

This principle is more relevant than ever, given the current vogue for attaching the word “equity” to virtually everything the Democrats are advocating and frequently seeming to justify race-neutral and popular polices on the grounds that they would promote racial equity. As politics, this makes no sense. You are taking policies that have great appeal to persuadable voters–otherwise they would not be so popular–and framing them as equity policies, which will reduce their appeal to persuadable voters who have non-liberal views on racial issues.

This is a very bad idea. There are far more persuadables who support progressive economic positions but are non-woke on racial issues than there are those that are woke on racial issues but don’t support progressive economic positions. So framing race-neutral, popular Democratic economic programs as equity programs is a very poor tradeoff in support and electoral terms.

What more do you need to know?

Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, “A majority of Trump’s loyalists — the most fervent Republicans, ardent immigration foes, hard cultural conservatives, gun rights zealots, racial backlash voters — will never be available to Biden or the Democrats. But Biden is banking on his ability to use populist economics (relief checks, upward pressure on wages, a “Buy America” campaign to bring home more manufacturing work, confining tax increases to corporations and those earning more than $400,000 annually) to win back Trump voters whose dissatisfactions are primarily economic….Biden’s proposals have thus far won support in the polls from about a third of Republicans and a substantial majority of lower-income Republicans (in the case of the relief act). Their response has allowed Biden to challenge the traditional definitions of bipartisanship — House and Senate Republican votes for his bills — that hamstrung his predecessors. Instead, Biden argues that what he is doing is good for many Republican voters, and that a significant share of them agrees….As a result, Biden has contained hostility to his administration and left Republicans with few easy lines of attack. In polls conducted this month by Reuters/Ipsos, Economist/YouGov and Politico/Morning Consult, Biden’s approval rating averaged 54 percent. But perhaps more revealing, his disapproval rating averaged just under 40 percent. A Post/ABC News Poll released Sunday put approval of Biden at 52 percent, disapproval at 42 percent. In this very polarized era, not being hated is a major political achievement….Because Biden is focused on what pollsters see as less divisive “kitchen table” issues, he has been able, so far, to propose a great deal of spending and take steps progressives have long supported without running afoul of more moderate opinion….Republicans have challenged his broad definition of “infrastructure,” arguing that expanded child care and elder care do not fit into traditional definitions of the word. But, in both cases, Biden has again stressed the job-creating, income-generating aspects of his initiatives. They also happen to be popular with families with all manner of political views, particularly those with two earners working outside the home….Biden’s pandemic-plus-the-economy focus has had downsides, notably in his recent mishandling of caps on refugee admissions. He clearly fears that Republicans are gaining traction on immigration. Despite the political challenges, dealing with it comprehensively remains a far better course than a series of defensive postures. And progressives are looking for more from him on health care and a permanent child tax credit expansion….But the man who addresses the nation on Wednesday clearly knows what his presidency is about. And he can have confidence that his political strategy and the substance of what he is doing are mutually reinforcing.”

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook observes that “Democrats sense a key structural advantage that they hope has them set up for season after season of success: Their party is growing in precisely the sectors of the country that are prospering and best positioned for the future; by contrast, they see the Republican Party strongholds as scared of the future and shrinking in population, economic growth, and influence….Days after the November election, a Brookings study showed that the 2,586 counties that Donald Trump carried represented only 29 percent of gross domestic product, while the 527 counties that Joe Biden won made up the other 71 percent….The Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank funded by Silicon Valley, found recently that those same Biden counties were home to 83 percent of the new firms started between 2010 and 2018, the longest period of sustained peacetime economic growth in U.S. history, and 73 percent of the employment growth during that period. Its report also found that “from 2010 to 2019, the number of people in counties won by Biden grew by an average of 3.1 percent over the period, while the counties won by President Trump averaged an increase of just 0.6 percent.””

In “Americans From Both Parties Want Weed To Be Legal. Why Doesn’t The Federal Government Agree?” at FiveThirtyEight, Dhrumil Mehta notes “Gallup has asked Americans about whether they support legalizing marijuana since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans supported the idea. As of their most recent poll last November, that number has ticked up to 68 percent, the highest level of support on record. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of states where recreational marijuana is now legal has also steadily increased since the Obama administration announced in 2013 that it wouldn’t block state laws that legalized the drug, provided that marijuana was strongly regulated….Thirteen of the 18 states where marijuana is legal have done it via voter-driven ballot initiatives rather than legislation. That said, legalization is broadly popular even in more Republican-leaning states like Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas….More than one in three Americans live in states where marijuana is already legal for recreational use, and a sizable majority live in states where marijuana is legal for medical use.”

From  “Other Polling Bites,” also at FiveThirtyEight: “A special election in Texas’s 6th Congressional District will take place on May 1 to fill the seat of Republican representative Ronald Wright, who died from complications of COVID-19 in February. And a poll by Meeting Street Insights for the Washington Free Beacon shows no candidate anywhere close to the 50 percent needed to win outright, which means the race will likely go to a runoff. Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez leads in the poll with 20 percent of the vote, followed by Republican candidate Susan Wright, the widow of the congressman who previously held the seat, who received 17 percent. Two other Republican candidates polled in the double digits: Jake Ellzey, a current state representative, and Brian Harrison, a former Trump administration official, earned 16 percent and 12 percent support, respectively.”