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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democracy Corps first debate stats

Democracy Corps: All Candidates Gained Favorability

The first night Democratic Debate had a big audience and raised the favorability of all 10 participants. It was strongest for Elizabeth Warren, but also grew significantly for Corey Booker, Julian Castro, and Amy Klobuchar, raising for four all four candidates to at or above 60% favorability. The first debate also raised interesting dynamics for Vice President Joe Biden.

The Daily Strategist

July 22, 2019

If the “Big Four” Continue to Dominate the 2020 Field, It Could Mean an Early Conclusion–or a Contested Convention

It’s pretty generally recognized that four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have separated themselves from the rest of the field. But not many observers are teasing out the implications if it continues, as I tried to do this week at New York:

[L]ess than a year before Democrats meet in Milwaukee to nominate a presidential candidate, the field’s two old white men have lost a significant amount of support, while two women (Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris) have gained significant strength. While everyone understands that Warren and Harris represent a threat to Biden and Sanders, it’s underappreciated how much all four candidates are now separated from the rest of the field.

Using the RealClearPolitics national polling averages as a yardstick, as recently as two months ago, Biden was at 38 percent and Sanders at 19 percent, with Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg clustered in the high single digits; O’Rourke and Booker were a few points behind them; and everyone else was struggling for oxygen. Now Biden (28 percent), Sanders (15 percent), Warren (ditto), and Harris (13 percent) are more closely bunched, with Buttigieg the next in sight at 5 percent. After a boffo second quarter in fundraising, Mayor Pete may have the resources to lift himself from the madding crowd the way Warren and Harris have done. And some other current bottom-feeder could rocket into contention with a big-time performance in the July 30 and 31 debates in Detroit (after that, the heightened requirements for participation in two rounds of autumn debates are likely to serve as an abattoir for struggling candidacies).

And as noted, there are scenarios under which each of these four candidates could put it all away early. Most obviously, despite his recent loss of support nationally, Biden remains in the lead in all four of the early states that vote in February. If he wins them all, he’d be extremely hard to stop. Sanders has one of the more consistent bases of support in the key early states, is showing signs of addressing his minority-voting weakness from 2016, and has plenty of money, so he could plausibly win Iowa and New Hampshire and roar into Super Tuesday with a head of steam. Warren has what is generally conceded to be the best Iowa organization, is rising rapidly in New Hampshire, and can compete with both Sanders and Biden in harvesting good will among a national constituency of admirers. And Harris, building on her first-debate success, has a very plausible Obama-esque strategy of wrecking Biden in South Carolina among the black voters he heavily relies upon, and then forging into front-runner status with a big win in her native California just a few days later.

But if all of these candidates fall just a bit short of their most ambitious goals, and fail to land the knockout punch when they need it, then we could be looking at a truly protracted battle in which no one rival has an indomitable advantage. That does not necessarily mean a contested convention would occur: candidates could try to achieve some breakthrough via unconventional coalitions, alliances among themselves, or early running-mate announcements (tried unsuccessfully by Republicans Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Ted Cruz in 2016, but still worth considering). Democrats do not strictly require pledged delegates to stick with their original candidates (particularly if that candidate has withdrawn), so things could change before delegates arrive in Milwaukee. And then, yes, a gridlocked convention could turn to suddenly re-enfranchised superdelegates, all 764 of them, to help make a decision after the first ballot ends.

If nobody’s made a big move by early March, it’s time to start thinking seriously about these wild convention scenarios — and about which candidate might best unify the Donkey Party. By this time next year, the fear of letting Trump win again will be so palpable that you will be able to weigh it on scales and grill it up for an anxious meal.

Teixeira: How Trump Could Win

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

He is still the incumbent and the economy is still pretty good. So those are advantages. But I think the biggest problem for the Democrats is that they may not run a very smart campaign. In fact, it seems a distinct possibility that they will run a dumb one. Martin Longman at the Washington Monthly points this out in a good piece that echoes some of my arguments and adds some interesting observations concerning the two parties’ coalitions:

“The Democrats have basically substituted their farmer/labor alliance for an urban/suburban one, and it may work out as a nearly even trade in the raw numbers but it has exacerbated the problem of having most of their votes concentrated into small areas while also creating an Electoral College challenge (see 2016).

The flip side of the Republicans losing all their moderates is that the Democrats are now living in a bubble. What they see as obvious is not obvious in most congressional districts. What they see as virtuous is not necessarily seen as virtuous, patriotic, or even sane in most congressional districts.

They are creating two problems for themselves. The first is a possible repeat of 2016, where they become perceived as so out of touch with the values and concerns of small-town and rural Americans that even a ridiculous man like Donald Trump seems highly preferable. The second is that they’re beginning to stress their suburban support with some of their policies, and the only way to offset rural losses is to do even better in the suburbs than they did four years ago. If Trump does as well or even better in his base areas than he did in 2016, and the Democrats do not improve on their suburban numbers, then the president will almost surely be reelected….

[Trump] does have a strategy and the strategy is correctly calibrated for the task at hand. He must racialize the electorate to maximize his vote in heavily-white communities and tap a wedge in between the urban and suburban Democrats so that the latter will defect in sufficient numbers for him to recover his losses. His problem is that efforts to maximize his white vote actually have the effect of pushing urban and suburban Democrats into a closer alliance. For this reason, he will fail unless the Democrats help ramp up his base numbers and depress their own.

This is where policies like free health care for undocumented people or abolishing all private health insurance are going to do damage. These things are not popular in general and are especially unpopular with the Democrats’ suburban base. A lot of the Democrats’ rhetoric on border issues is toxic not just in the sticks but also in the communities ringing our cities.

So, yes, the Democrats really could blow this election by running a non-strategic campaign based on abstract values against a campaign that is laser-focused on just the voters it needs to win.

This isn’t an argument for changing values, but it is an argument for not being too stupid to beat a man like Donald Trump.”

This is all well-put and, like the prospect of a hanging, should concentrate the mind. I should add that Longman does not say he thinks Trump is likely to pull this off–merely that it is a distinct possibility given how most Democratic candidates are currently handling themselves.

I continue to hope for an outbreak of political common sense. Don’t let Biden–a flawed candidate to be sure–have this “lane” all to himself!

Teixeira: It’s the Salience, Stupid!

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

I thought this was a very interesting essay from Sheri Berman on the Social Europe site. While her essay is focused on Europe I think there are some very clear lessons here for the left in the United States.

“Rather than rising numbers of immigrants or increasingly negative attitudes towards them, what seems to contribute most to populism’s success is the centrality of immigration to political competition. During much of the postwar period, political competition in Europe pivoted primarily around economic issues, and so voters who had conservative social views (for example, many members of the working class) didn’t vote on the basis of them. Over recent decades, however, political competition has increasingly focused on social issues such as immigration and national identity, leading voters to be more likely to vote on that basis.

When concerns about immigration are at the forefront of debate—in political-science terms, when immigration’s salience is high—the populist right benefits. This is because in most European countries right-populist parties now ‘own’ this issue: they are most associated with it and their voters are united in their views about it (whereas the left’s voting constituency is divided between social conservatives and social progressives). That populists benefit when the salience of social issues such as immigration is high explains why they spend so much time trying to keep such issues at the forefront of debate: demonising immigrants, spreading ‘fake news‘ about them and so on….

Parties succeed when the issues on which they have an advantage are at the forefront of debate: populists do well when attention is focused on immigration, green parties do well when attention is focused on the environment and social-democratic parties do well when attention is focused on economic issues and, in particular, on the downsides of capitalism and unregulated markets—assuming they have something distinctive and attractive to offer on the economic front. (This has not been the case for many social-democratic parties for too long but many authors at Social Europe are trying to rectify that.)

What the Danish elections should remind us is that politics is largely a struggle over agenda-setting. Defeating populism requires removing the issues on which populism thrives from the forefront of debate. But for the social-democratic left to succeed, it must do more than neutralise the fears populists exploit. It must also focus attention on the myriad economic problems facing our societies—and convince voters it has the best solutions to them.”

Food for thought.

2020 Frenzy Not a Guaranteed Net Turnout Generator for Democrats

Since the 2020 presidential election is looking to be wild and wooly and passionate, it’s important that Democrats are clear-eyed about the implications of abandoning swing voter persuasion altogether in the pursuit of base mobilization. I wrote about that this week at New York:

Of all the reasons Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, the most compelling (to me, at least) is that he sprang the upset because an awful lot of voters who didn’t really want the mogul to become president stayed home, voted for a minor-party candidate or even cast a “protest vote” for Trump on the theory that he could not possibly win. From that sound hypothesis has grown the somewhat more dubious postulate that in 2020, if turnout is high, the 45th president is toast. Part of the reason people instinctively believe this is that there are more Democratic than Republicans out there; in other words, an energized Democratic base is going to be larger than its GOP counterpart. But the more tangible rationale is probably a lot simpler: 2018 was a very high-turnout midterm, in which Democrats did well. So if turnout stays high, the donkeys will again romp, right?

Well, that’s plausible, but hardly a lead-pipe cinch, in part because 2018’s high turnout was in fact skewed positively toward Democrats, which may or may not happen again. Historically (and particularly in the previous two midterms in 2010 and 2014), midterm turnout patterns strongly favored Republicans because the older and whiter voters who leaned GOP were since time immemorial more likely to show up for non-presidential elections. In 2018, though, that pattern was turned on its head, as Louis Jacobson recently explained at the Cook Political Report:

“In four states (Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota) Democratic gubernatorial vote totals in 2018 were more than 10 percent higher than the party’s showing in the presidential year of 2016. In six more, vote totals increased, but by less than 10 percent (Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Mexico). And in 11 other states, Democratic votes for governor dropped by less than 10 percent from presidential levels (Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) …

“In three states, gubernatorial votes for the GOP nominee increased over Trump’s total by more than 10 percent (Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont). In four others, GOP votes increased but by less than 10 percent (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Oregon). And in five states, GOP candidates dropped from presidential-year vote totals by less than 10 percent (Connecticut, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin).

“All told, then, Republicans saw gains or modest losses in 2018 in 12 states. However, the strongest showings came in blue states where the party had broken with the Trump-era pattern by running a moderate candidate with crossover appeal. Subtracting those states leaves about nine states in which the GOP gubernatorial nominee overperformed Trump or didn’t see a big fall-off.”

The partisan gap in extremely high midterm turnout was even more notable, Jacobson found, in Senate races. In the most similar recent midterm, moreover, that in 2010, neither party beat presidential turnout levels in more than a few states.

So if Democrats can match those patterns in 2020, victory should be relatively easy. But another way to look at it is that Republicans may have a larger pool of presidential voters who stayed home in 2018 than do Democrats, which is unusual but hardly impossible. That is essentially what Nate Cohn found in a new analysis of what a high-turnout presidential election in 2020 might look like:

“The voters who turned out in 2016, but stayed home in 2018, were relatively favorable to Mr. Trump, and they’re presumably more likely to join the electorate than those who turned out in neither election. In a high-turnout election, these Trump supporters could turn out at a higher rate than the more Democratic group of voters who didn’t vote in either election, potentially shifting the electorate toward the president.”

Perhaps these midterm stay-at-homes are now alienated from Trump, and will either stay home again or flip to the Democratic candidate. But it’s not a sure thing, particularly if you look at the Electoral College map:

“The danger for Democrats is that higher turnout would do little to help them in the Electoral College if it did not improve their position in the crucial Midwestern battlegrounds. Higher turnout could even help the president there, where an outsize number of white working-class voters who back the president stayed home in 2018, potentially creating a larger split between the national vote and the Electoral College in 2020 than in 2016.”

The arguments over the identity of marginal voters and nonvoters could lead in various directions. But the one inescapable conclusion is that driving turnout upward by making the 2020 election a frenzied test of comparative “enthusiasm” is a dangerous game for Democrats, if it’s not supplemented by (1) a least some “swing voter” strategy, and (2) quieter turnout measures (e.g., voter registration drives, data-driven voter-targeting messages, or even traditional knock-and-drag GOTV efforts) that don’t run the risk of riling up both sides equally.

It’s certainly safe to say that Trump and his party are risking disaster by making every presidential utterance an outrage that at best excites his base as much as it infuriates Democrats. And since time immemorial, ideologues on both the left and the right have asserted as a matter of quasi-religious faith that some hidden majority favor their prescriptions, with tens of millions of citizens refusing to vote because the radicalism they crave has been withheld by Establishment centrists. In 2020, though, the stakes are higher than ever if Democrats are wrong about relying on the intensity of voter enthusiasm. It would be smart for them to have a backup plan.


Political Strategy Notes

How are Trump’s recent comments urging the congresswomen of ‘the squad” to go back to where they came from polling? At Daily Kos, Hunter explains that “Two thirds of Americans call Trump’s racist tweets ‘offensive;’ a majority call them ‘un-American’“. Hunter notes that “The American public, aside from Republican members of Congress, isn’t going to take nonsense on this one. In a new USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, Americans are calling Donald Trump’s racist weekend tweets “offensive.” And in a result Trump and his allies might be more pointedly concerned about, 59% of Americans are calling Trump’s racist tweets “un-American.”…That is not to say that a majority of self-identified Republicans aren’t standing by Trump. After all, 57% say they agree with Trump’s tweet for his targeted non-white, American-citizen congresswomen to “go back” to their “original” countries. But those Trump allies are overwhelmed by widespread public revulsion by Democrats and independents. Women, in particular, found the tweets offensive by a three-fourths majority…The poll underscores, yet again, just how far the Republican base has drifted from the rest of America’s beliefs and morality.”

With respect to the same poll, Catherine Kim notes at Vox that “A new poll indicates why GOP members are reluctant to chastise the president. Although a USA Today/Ipsos poll found that a majority of people, 68 percent, saw Trump’s tweets as offensive, there was a stark partisan divide: 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents found the tweet offensive, while only 37 percent of Republicans did, according to the poll, which was released on Wednesday…Only 45 percent of Republicans found telling minorities to “go back where they came from” to be a racist statement, which starkly contrasts with the 85 percent of Democrats who think that way…While 88 percent of Democrats found the president’s tweets “un-American,” only 25 percent of Republicans felt the same way. The difference became more evident when people were asked if it was American to “to point out where America falls short and try to do better.” Fifty-two percent of Republicans found those who criticized American to be un-American, while only 17 percent of Democrats agreed….Following the uproar surrounding Trump’s racist comments, support for the president among Republicans rose by 5 percentage points to 72 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday. The same could not be said for his support among other groups: His net approval rating dropped by 2 percent among Democrats…Overall approval of his performance in office remained at 41 percent, while 55 percent disapproved, the same as last week.”

In FiveThirtyEight’s panel discussion, “Will ‘The Squad’ vs. Pelosi Be A Big Problem For Democrats In 2020?,” Perry Bacon, Jr. observes, “My own, non-data judgement, is yes, Democrats would be slightly better off if AOC and her allies were less prominent in the run-up to the 2020 election. Why? Because having issues of race and identity (like immigration policy and four very liberal, female people of color) being central to the presidential election is hard for Democrats. They have become the party of people of color but most voters are white and this is especially true in key swing states (in particular, Michigan and Wisconsin). Also, Trump is likely to run a 2020 campaign about race and identity that raises the question of who should represent America–forcing voters to take sides…Pelosi, I assume, does not want the 2020 election to be seen by the public as a battle between AOC’s vision of America (even if Biden is the Democratic nominee) and Trump’s vision of America. And I think she is right to be concerned about that. This is not a new challenge for Democrats. Hillary Clinton was probably not helped by the rise of Black Lives Matter preceding the 2016 election, and backlash to the civil rights movement arguably helped Richard Nixon win the 1972 election.”

Chris Cillizza explains “Why Trump so badly wants 2020 to be all about socialism” at CNN’s ‘The Point’:”In the Pew poll, which was done earlier this spring, 84% of Republicans and lean Republicans said they have a negative view of socialism. That number included 63% of Republicans who said they has a “strongly” negative view of it…How do you convince those soft(er) Republicans to be for Trump in 2020 despite their misgivings? You find an issue that you can brand the other side with that makes the choice in 2020 between someone you have doubts about and someone that you believe will fundamentally undermine the capitalist system that has, to borrow a phrase, made America great…You getting it now?  If the choice in 2020 is between Trump and and a Democrat, he likely loses. If it’s between Trump and a Democrat-who-is-really-a-Socialist, he has a hell of a lot better chance at a 2nd term.”

“If Trump does as well or even better in his base areas than he did in 2016, and the Democrats do not improve on their suburban numbers, then the president will almost surely be reelected,” Martin Longman writes at The Washington Monthly. “This is still not all that likely to happen in my view for the simple reason that Trump has lost support throughout his four years in office. He cannot depend on people to vote for him on the assumption that he’s going to lose anyway. He’s not a (ha, ha) joke or protest candidate anymore. He won’t get the considerable bloc of people who always vote against the incumbent regardless of party. He won’t automatically get the historically anti-Clinton suburban vote either, since there will be no Clinton on the ballot. More than this, Trump has definitely lost support among moderates, particularly well-educated folks from the professional classes. He’s going to do worse with South Asians, East Asians, Latinos, and blacks than he did four years ago. He’s not beginning this race at the starting line with his opponent. Despite the advantages of incumbency, he is starting from the rear…Nixon did not suffer from most of these disadvantages in 1972. He would have been difficult to defeat no matter who the Democrats nominated or what they promised on the campaign trail. Trump is not looking at potentially winning 49 states. He’s looking at trying to win twice while losing the popular vote.”

Nathaniel Rackich brings good news for Dems, also at FiveThirtyEight: “One of the strongest signs of a blue wave in the 2018 election was the green wave that preceded it: Democratic candidates running in that cycle raised googobs of money (a highly technical term). So in addition to indicators like the generic congressional ballot and special election results, the second-quarter fundraising reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission are another clue as to whether Democratic momentum will carry forward into 2020’s congressional races. And while it’s still early in the election cycle, it looks like fundraising is once again a bullish indicator for Democrats’ success, at least in the Senate…In competitive Senate elections — those that the three major electionhandicappers rate as anything other than solid red or blue1 — Democrats have raised $34.1 million in total contributions in the first six months of 2019, and Republicans have raised $29.3 million…That gap is especially troubling for the GOP because there are eight Republican incumbents running in those 14 races, and incumbents usually raise more money than challengers early on. While Democrats have only four incumbents running, they’ve raised more than four times as much as their Republican challengers in those races. And in the two open-seat races, Democrats are outraising Republicans $1.9 million to $763,771.”

“California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are in a close race in California, according to a new Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday,” Grace Sparks writes at CNN Politics. “The poll shows Harris at 23%, Biden at 21% and Sanders at 18%. The difference between the candidates’ numbers are within the poll’s margin of error…Beyond the top three, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sits at 16%…The race has tightened since a Quinnipiac April survey found Biden, who had not yet formally announced his candidacy, besting the other contenders with 26% of Democratic voters in the Golden State; in that poll, Sanders was at 18%, Harris 17% and Warren 7%…Harris and Warren have both surged since that survey, while Biden has dropped and Sanders has remained steady.”

Oliver Willis notes that “Mitch McConnell is so unpopular only 9% of his campaign cash came from his home state” at shareblue.com. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only received 9% of his reelection campaign donations from his home state of Kentucky, reflecting poorly on his popularity there…The biggest blocks of contributions during the period came from two global financial services firms based in New York: 29 people with Blackstone Group made contributions totaling $95,400; and 14 executives of KKR & Co. are listed as giving a combined $51,000,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Wednesday…”The lack of home state dollars could give potential challengers an opening to criticize McConnell as out of step with the state,” the Center for Responsive Politics, who compiled the embarrassing data on McConnell, noted.”

The stereotype of military veterans as supporters of war takes a big hit in a new Pew Research poll. As Adam Weinstein explains at The New Republic: “The “Long War” that began on September 11, 2001, added to veterans’ already-outsize role in the American narrative. Worship of military service has become an indispensable cog in every politician’s and corporation’s endearment strategy. But on the actual subject of war, almost no one in mainstream politics is actually listening to “the troops.”…That’s the main takeaway from the Pew Research Center’s latest rolling poll of U.S. veterans, published Thursday, in which solid majorities of former troops said the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria were not worth fighting. The gaps between approval and disapproval were not even close to the poll’s 3.9 percent margin of error; barely a third of veterans considered any of those conflicts worthwhile: “Among veterans, 64% say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting considering the costs versus the benefits to the United States, while 33% say it was. The general public’s views are nearly identical: 62% of Americans overall say the Iraq War wasn’t worth it and 32% say it was. Similarly, majorities of both veterans (58%) and the public (59%) say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting. About four-in-ten or fewer say it was worth fighting…Veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan are no more supportive of those engagements than those who did not serve in these wars. And views do not differ based on rank or combat experience.” The only meaningful variation pollsters found among vets was by party identification: Republican-identifying veterans were likelier to approve of the wars. But even a majority of those GOP vets now say the wars were not worth waging.”

Brownstein: How Dems Navigate the Politics of Health Security for Immigrants

In his article, “The Democrats’ Gamble on Health Care for the Undocumented” at The Atlantic, Ronald Browstein writes:

Anxiety spiked among many centrist Democrats when all 10 presidential candidates at a recent debate raised their hand, as if pledging allegiance, to declare they would support providing health care to undocumented immigrants…Led by Senator Bernie Sanders, nearly a half-dozen 2020 Democrats have embraced a clear position of offering full access to health-care benefits. Others, including former Vice President Joe Biden, the nominal front-runner, oppose full benefits, although that wasn’t apparent at the debate. The latter group would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, but only with their own money. That approach would cover far fewer people, but also potentially create much less exposure to Republican counterattacks.

Regarding the scale of the actual problem, Brownstein notes:

This debate affects millions of people. The Kaiser Family Foundation, using census data, has estimated that 47 percent of the country’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants are uninsured, compared with one-fourth of legally present immigrants and about one-tenth of American citizens. Similarly, the Urban Institute places the number of uninsured undocumented immigrants at nearly 4.9 million , or about one-sixth of the total population of uninsured people in America.

There is a strong case for insuring immigrants, as Brownstein explains:

The case for expanding their health-care access rests on financial, public-health, and moral arguments. Supporters contend that it’s cheaper to provide access to medical care up front, rather than deal with health crises in emergency rooms; that allowing the undocumented to go untreated increases health risks for legal residents who come in contact with them; and that it is unjust to let people face health threats without care, regardless of their status.

Put another way, contagious diseases don’t care about your citizenship status. But health secuirity for immigrants is not an easy sell, As Brownstein observes:

Emergency rooms must provide aid to all who need it. But polls have consistently found that most Americans resist offering public benefits to the undocumented beyond that. In a recent CNN survey, Americans by a solid 3–2 margin said that “health insurance provided by the government” should not be available to immigrants here illegally. The idea faced resistance across a wide array of constituencies, including several that Democrats rely on: Just over half of college-educated white voters, half of young adults ages 18 to 34, and more than two-fifths of nonwhites said they opposed providing coverage for the undocumented. At the same time, three-fifths of voters who identified as Democrats or lean Democratic said they support the idea.

Brownstein highlights the moderate approach outlined by some Democratic presidential candidates, which may be the safest position for Democrats who want to win the support of persuadable voters:

Three years later, the current slate of candidates seem to have significant differences in how they would treat the undocumented, even if, as a group, they have moved beyond the Obama administration’s more cautious position on the ACA. Biden and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, both of whom raised their hand at the debate last month, are taking a similar position to House Democrats’ in 2009 and Clinton’s in 2016: In addition to opening the ACA exchanges to the undocumented, they would also allow them to buy into the new public insurance option they would create through an expanded Medicare system. But they would still deny the undocumented any public assistance. Biden, in his CNN interview, put greater emphasis on expanding federally funded community-health clinics as a means of delivering more health care to undocumented immigrants than he has on offering them insurance.

Other presidential candidates, however, are making cases for complete coverage for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.:

At the other pole of the debate is Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal, which would entitle the undocumented to the same health-care services as anyone else in America. The actual language of the bill is less definitive: It says that while “every individual who is a resident of the United States is entitled to benefits for health care services under this Act,” the federal government will promulgate regulations for “determining residency for eligibility purposes.” But in response to a health-care questionnaire from The New York Times, Sanders unequivocally included the undocumented in his system: “Medicare for All means just that: all. Bernie’s plan would provide coverage to all U.S. residents, regardless of immigration status,” his campaign wrote.

In response to my questions, the campaigns of Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey said they would provide full benefits to the undocumented; so would former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made a passionate case for covering the uninsured during last month’s debate, but his campaign would not specify his exact plan for doing so, particularly whether he would subsidize coverage with public dollars. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas likewise would not nail down his position on that point.

There is no doubt that the Republicans will demogogue the issue to portray all Democrats as spendthrift politicians who are ‘soft on illegals.’ Democratic candidates, not just presidential hopefuls, but all candidates for the Senate and House, should get to work on soundbites, tweets and short comments to support their positions on health care for undocumented immigrants, and portray the GOP as irresponsible advocates of public health chaos. Meanwhile, now would be a good time to collect data showing that health care protection for these immigrants would be a cost-effective investment in protecting the public as a whole from unnecessary illnesses.

Teixeira: The Turnout Myth

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

No myth is stronger in left-progressive circles than the magical, wonder-working powers of turnout. It’s become this sort of pixie dust that you sprinkle over your strenuously progressive positions to brush aside any questions of negative electoral effects from such positions. This quote from Saikat Chakrabarti, AOC;s chief of staff, encapsulates the theory of the case so many progressives hold dear.

“[W]e’ve got a completely different theory of change, which is: You do the biggest, most badass thing you possibly can — and that’s going to excite people, and then they’re going to go vote. Because the reality is, our problem isn’t that more people are voting Republican than Democrat — our problem is most people who would vote Democrat aren’t voting.”

This view, despite how much it warms of the hearts of many progressive activists, has remarkably little empirical support. Take 2018. Turnout in that election was outstanding and the demographic composition of the electorate came remarkably close to that of a Presidential election year. This was due to fewer Presidential dropoff voters and more midterm surge voters.

But despite this stellar turnout performance, the overwhelming majority of the Democrats’ improved performance came not from less Presidential dropoff and more midterm surge but rather from voters who voted in both elections and switched their votes from Republican in 2016 to Democratic in 2018. When I say “overwhelming” I mean it: The Democratic big data firm Catalist– whose data on 2018 are the best available–estimates that 89 percent of the Democrats’ improved performance came from persuasion–from vote-switchers–not turnout.

Or take 2016. Analysis using States of Change data indicates that, even if black turnout in that election had matched turnout in 2012, Clinton would have lost the election anyway. On the other hand, if she had merely managed to reduce her losses among white noncollege voters by one-quarter she’d be President today.

But perhaps 2020 will be different, if Democrats can just get nonvoters to the polls in large enough numbers. Then Democrats won’t have to worry about persuading Obama-Trump voters or any other voters in the much-derided “swing” category. Wrong! Nate Cohn of the Times brings a massive amount of data to bear on this question and finds the following:

“The 2020 presidential election is poised to have the highest turnout in a century, with the potential to reshape the composition of the electorate in a decisive way.

But perhaps surprisingly, it is not obvious which party would benefit. There are opportunities and risks for both parties, based on an Upshot analysis of voter registration files, the validated turnout of 50,000 respondents to The New York Times/Siena College pre-election surveys in 2018, census data, and public polls of unregistered voters.

It is commonly assumed that Democrats benefit from higher turnout because young and nonwhite and low-income voters are overrepresented among nonvoters. And for decades, polls have shown that Democrats do better among all adults than among all registered voters, and better among all registered voters than among all actual voters.

But this longstanding pattern has become more complicated in the Trump years. The president is strong among less educated white voters, who are also overrepresented among nonvoters….

Nationwide, the longstanding Republican edge in the gap between registered and actual voters all but vanished in 2018, even though young and nonwhite voters continued to vote at lower rates than older and white voters.

At the same time, the president’s white working-class supporters from 2016 were relatively likely to stay home. Voters like these are likeliest to return to the electorate in 2020, and it could set back Democrats in crucial battleground states….A large increase in voter registration would do much more to hurt the president in the national vote than in the Northern battleground states, where registration is generally high and where people who aren’t registered are disproportionately whites without a college degree….

The voters who turned out in 2016, but stayed home in 2018, were relatively favorable to Mr. Trump, and they’re presumably more likely to join the electorate than those who turned out in neither election. In a high-turnout election, these Trump supporters could turn out at a higher rate than the more Democratic group of voters who didn’t vote in either election, potentially shifting the electorate toward the president…..”

Cohn’s bottom line:

“The danger for Democrats is that higher turnout would do little to help them in the Electoral College if it did not improve their position in the crucial Midwestern battlegrounds. Higher turnout could even help the president there, where an outsize number of white working-class voters who back the president stayed home in 2018, potentially creating a larger split between the national vote and the Electoral College in 2020 than in 2016.

There’s nothing about the composition of nonvoters that means a higher-turnout election would invariably make it easier for Democrats to win the presidency, or for Republicans to keep it.”

This makes clear the embedded assumption of the turnout-will-solve-everything crowd. If we polarize the election around our progressive issues, all of our nonvoters will show up at the polls but none of the nonvoters from the other side will. That is truly magical thinking. Democrats who want to win in 2020 should–must–discard this view.

Questioning the Governors-Run-Best Theory of Presidential Campaigns

This week Politico resurrected a time-worn theory that I decided to challenge at New York:

It was once common to assert that governors (or former governors) had a big leg up on other candidates for president — and there was plenty of empirical data to back that up. Of the 50 major-party presidential nominations awarded in the 20th century (from 1904 through 2000), 24 went to current or former governors, while only 13 went to current or former U.S. senators (and eight of those involved candidates who had served as vice-president). Famously, no sitting senator was elected president between Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy, and after JFK, it was another 48 years before Barack Obama broke the senatorial slump.

So at Politico, Natasha Korecki and Charlie Mahtesian wonder why the two sitting governors (Steve Bullock and Jay Inslee) and one former governor (John Hickenlooper) are not doing well in the vast 2020 Democratic field, and they have a hypothesis:

“While the steady stream of scandal and controversy surrounding the president is proving to be a boon to members of Congress running for the White House — giving some of them almost limitless opportunities for media exposure — it’s turning out to be a problem for the statehouse-based candidates.

“Lacking a nexus to the nation’s capital and the Trump administration story of the day, the governors are left standing on the outside looking in, news cycle after news cycle.”

And so we have a bumper crop of members of Congress — seven senators and four representatives, plus a former senator and two former representatives — running for the Democratic nomination in 2020, benefiting, the hypothesis suggests, from their proximity to the center ring of the Trump-driven circus in Washington:

It’s interesting to hear T-Mac of all people — a longtime national political money-hustler and former DNC chairman, who as governor was a short drive from Washington — complain that he was too distant from The Show in D.C. to get any attention. But beyond that, the It’s All About Trump hypothesis has some notable holes once you examine it.

Being a senator is a limited factor in the candidacies of those doing well so far in the 2020 competition. Yes, Joe Biden became a senator before half the electorate was born, but it’s his tenure as Barack Obama’s veep that is his main — arguably his only significant — political asset. Bernie Sanders made his bones as a surprisingly successful factional candidate for president in 2016. He’d probably be just as strong today had he resigned from the Senate then. Elizabeth Warren was a national progressive celebrity as an anti-corporate crusader before her election to the Senate. And Kamala Harris is a multiracial woman who served as attorney general in the country’s largest state.

All of these candidates would probably be getting more or less the same amount of media attention had they left the Senate before running for president. That may also be true of Cory Booker, who to this day is better known as a “reform” mayor of Newark than as a legislator. And in any event, Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, and Kirsten Gillibrand — not to mention all of the current and former House members — aren’t doing much better in the polls than the three governors. If being in the shadow of the Big Man in Washington is really crucial, moreover, how can one account for the relative success of Pete Buttigieg, mayor of a small city in Indiana, hardly a media epicenter?

Truth is the meme about governorships representing the high road to the White House had become a bit shopworn before Trump became president. On the Democratic side, the only current or former governor to launch a viable presidential campaign since Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 was Howard Dean, whose temporarily successful 2004 campaign had little or nothing to do with his record in Montpelier (there was a war going on, as you might remember, and all of HoDean’s rivals supported it). Clinton was a bit of a factional candidate himself, running as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and “a different kind of Democrat.”

And even among Republicans, who have had a deeper gubernatorial bench in recent years, governors with White House aspirations have had a mixed record and/or complicated backgrounds. Yes, in 2000 George W. Bush ran in part on his gubernatorial record in Texas, but he was also the scion of a national political dynasty. And yes, in 2012 Mitt Romney’s big credential was his one-term as governor of Massachusetts, but he spent the entire cycle running away from his record there. In 2016, nine current or former governors ran for the GOP nomination. Four of them, including two considered extremely viable initially (Scott Walker and Rick Perry) dropped out before voters started voting. Four others quit in February, including Jeb Bush, who executed one of the most spectacularly bad campaigns in political history.

So maybe it’s time to retire the governors-do-best theory for the time being. The current batch has problems other than distance from the Sun King’s glare of publicity. Inslee has chosen to run as a “movement” candidate whose distinction is the heaviest emphasis on an issue — climate change — that all the others are talking about as well. Hickenlooper has probably marginalized himself by attacking the current leftward drift in his party. And Bullock waited until very late — most would say too late — in the game to launch his candidacy. Perhaps down the road governors in both parties will make a comeback when it comes to national politics, particularly if chronic gridlock continues to paralyze the legislative process in Congress. But for now, it’s just another interesting gig that is subordinate to having the right identity, message, or ability to spin fundraising gold out of straw.

Galston: How to Make Sense of Post-Debate ‘Polling Anarchy’

Brookings Senior Fellow William A. Galston, author of “Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy” and other works of political science, explains “What we know after the first Democratic debate“:

In the wake of the first Democratic debates, polling anarchy has erupted. There have been six post-debate surveys. Three place support for Joe Biden, the putative leader of the pack, in the low 20s with other candidates nipping at his heels. Three others put him at 30 percent or above, with a comfortable lead over his challengers. Differences in timing and methodology may explain part of this disagreement, but not all.

One common way to make sense out of disparate polls is simply to average the results, on the theory that the average is likely to be closer to reality than any single poll. For what it’s worth, this technique produces the following post-debate standings:

Polling Average
Biden 27
Sanders 15
Harris 15
Warren 15
Buttigieg 5

However, Galston writes, “A safer strategy is to look at the direction of change in order to get a sense of the pre-debate/post-debate dynamics.” He adds that “There’s no doubt that Biden has taken a hit, Kamala Harris has surged, Bernie Sanders has fallen back a bit, Elizabeth Warren is somewhat stronger, and the bloom is off Pete Buttigieg’s rose…”

Scrutinizing an average of two Iowa polls, Galson notes finds that Harris is the clear winner, with a +10 net change, compared to -1 for Warren, -3 for Biden, -7 for Buttigieg and -10 for Bernie Sanders. “These data suggest that Biden suffered a flesh wound rather than a mortal injury during the first debate and that Harris’s surge came mostly at the expense of candidates other than Biden,” concludes Galston.

Galston also cites a FiveThirtyEight/Morning Consult poll comparing the views of debate watchers with those who only watched post-debate media coverage and debate clips. Biden did slightly worse with debate watchers, while Harris did about 9 points better with those who watched the debates, than with those who didn’t watch debates. Sanders and Warren did nearly the same withj both groups. Ditto for Buttigieg, Castro, Boooker and O’Rourke, while “no other candidates moved the needle, one way or the other.”

Asked “Aside from the candidate you support, which candidates do you most want to hear more about?” before and after the deabtes by CNN’s survey team, respondents gave Castro a +13 increase, with +7 for Harris, +6 for Buttigieg, +4 for Warren and +2 for Booker.

Galston notes also that, in a post-debate Iowa poll, Harris scored a +45 on the “Who did better than you expected?” question, followed by Castro’s +26, Buttigieg’s +17, Warren’s +14, and Booker’s +8. Biden suffered the biggest hit, with -33, followed by Sanders (-19) and O’Rourke (-13).

Regarding ‘electability,’ Galston writes that “In the most recent Gallup survey, electability beats issue agreement, 58 percent to 39 percent; CNN puts it at 61-30, and Economist/YouGov at 66-34.” Galston provides this chart for assessing Biden’s lead in electability:

Best chance of beating Trump First choice for the nomination Gap
Quinnipiac 42 22 20
CNN 43 22 21
ABC/WP 45 30 15

Galston also shares a chart for the Economist/YouGov survey, which asks respondents to evaluate the top four candidates’s chances vs. President Trump. The results:

Will probably defeat Trump Will probably lose to Trump
Biden 62 16
Harris 50 20
Buttigieg 32 27
Warren 29 44

Looking a registered voters as a whole, Galston highlights the results of from an ABC/Washington Post survey released July 7, which has Biden beating Trump by 10 points, compared to m.o.e. ties with Trump for Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders and Harris.

However, notes Galston, “Seasoned observers will take these results with a healthy pinch of salt. Early in 1983, a survey showed Walter Mondale leading Ronald Reagan by 12 percentage points, and the former vice president still led, by a smaller margin, as late as September of the pre-election year. History records what happened next.” He concludes that Biden “remains the man to beat—which is not to say that he cannot be beaten.”

Political Strategy Notes

Democrats tend to think of Florida as a red state, and it is a ‘do or die’ state for Trump. But sometimes, it’s more instructrive to think in terms of swing counties. “If history is any guide, whichever way Pinellas county voters swing next November will decide if Trump wins another four years in the White House,” Richard Luscombe reports in The Guardian. ” The heavily populated county at the western end of Florida’s I-4 corridor has backed every winning presidential candidate, five Republicans and four Democrats, since 1980, the anomaly of the 2000 election excepted. It was also the largest of only four Florida counties, out of 67, that swung to Trump in 2016 after supporting Obama in the two previous contests…“The county is a swatch of America. In St Pete, you could easily be in California – they lean left big time. In the north part of the county there are a lot of retirees, people who are older, more conservative, and in the middle you have this mix, the older population and young families, who are 30s to 50s…“We’ve pushed south Pinellas, I believe, strongly to be blue, and the middle part is now leaning really blue. And we’re going to turn the north part of this county purple. That’s our plan to deliver Pinellas in 2020.”

Another swing county in a different state may also decide the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Tom McCarthy writes, also at The Guardian: “In the two and a half years since Trump became president, his bedrock of support has not shifted. People who love Trump still love Trump. But life has changed in Northampton county, Pennsylvania, one of those crucial swing counties nationwide that voted twice for Barack Obama before flipping for Trump – and which could decide whether Trump gets a second term…the electorate in Northampton has changed. While some older voters have died, new residents – commuters, retirees, warehouse industry employees – have moved in, and a flood of new voters has entered the field, with turnout among young voters tripling from the midterm elections of 2014 to the midterm elections of 2018…If Trump wins here in 2020, he has a great shot at retaking the state of Pennsylvania, and at recapturing the White House, political analysts say. But if Trump loses here, he might become the first one-term president since George HW Bush.” In 2018, “That turnout drove huge gains for Democrats in the Pennsylvania state legislature, while the Democratic governor won re-election with 57% of the vote. In a US senate race, the incumbent Democrat beat a virulently anti-immigrant Trump cutout by 13 points.”

From “Notes on the State of Politics” by Larry J. Sabato and Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Map 1: Crystal Ball Senate ratings

In yet another Guardian article, Lloyd Green sheds light on the stakes in a Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare: “The latest polls tell us that half the country views “Obamacare” as “mostly a good thing”, while fewer than 40% disagree with that proposition. Since the ACA’s enactment in 2010, the hostility surrounding the law has markedly abated. In fact, voters have come to particularly appreciate those ACA provisions that mandate coverage for pre-existing conditions, and coverage for dependent children up to the age of 26. By the numbers, almost seven in 10 Americans “do not want to see” the supreme court overturn protections for pre-existing conditions…On the other hand, if the ACA and its protections were struck down, the consequences could be grave. The Urban Institute reports that “the number of uninsured people in the US would increase by 19.9 million, or 65%”. In fact, the effects in swing-state America could be even more devastating, both on the personal and political planes…All things being equal, the ranks of uninsured would more than double in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Florida would probably see a jump in uninsured by two-thirds. As for Wisconsin and Texas, the figure would swell by one-third. In other words, ACA repeal would be a dagger in the chest of the most purple of states. Were Trump to lose any three of those states, he would be forced into unplanned and early retirement.”

Romesh Ponnuru underscores the pivotal importance of the High Court’s ruling on the ACA in “Winning the Obamacare Suit Would Be a Disaster for Republicans” at Bloomberg Opinion: “There’s an important bit of contingency planning that Republicans have neglected to do. Neither in the White House nor on Capitol Hill are they prepared for the possibility that their lawsuit against Obamacare will succeed…Most observers don’t expect the courts to strike down the law, and Tuesday’s oral arguments in a New Orleans federal courtroom didn’t change many minds. If the suit is successful, however, it will create an acute problem for a lot of people. Insurers will again be able to discriminate against people with chronic conditions. Many states’ budgets will be thrown into turmoil as Washington stops covering most of the tab for the expansion of Medicaid coverage to households just above the poverty line. People who get their insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges will stop receiving the tax credits that make it affordable…If the Affordable Care Act were to lose in court, and Congress and the president failed to agree on legislation afterward, Americans would go through the largest disruption in health-care arrangements that Washington has ever imposed.”

At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley argues that “the Bluegrass State is probably too red to elect a Democratic senator at the moment, barring some unexpected development…while McGrath might be one of the best candidates Democrats can put up against McConnell, it will still be mighty difficult for her to actually win in ruby red Kentucky.” He also writes, however, “Is it possible? Sure. It would take nearly everything to break McGrath’s way, though. For one, the national environment would need to be reallybeneficial for Democrats — probably even more Democratic-leaning than the 2018 cycle was. Maybe McGrath can get help from a strong Democatic presidential nominee. And it’s not like McConnell himself is invulnerable: He has a poor approval rating in his home state, despite its strong GOP lean. The most recent Morning Consult data pegged his approval rating at just 36 percent compared with 50 percent who disapprove of him, making him the most unpopular senator in the country.”

Kentucky may still be political fool’s gold for Democrats, but at least McGrath has collected a lot of it — at record amount, actually. As Matthew Rozsa notes at salon.com, “Amy McGrath, the former fighter pilot vying for the Democratic nomination to run against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky next year, raked in $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign…McGrath’s team confirmed the sky-high figure to NBC News, which campaign manager Mark Nickolas said represents the most ever raised by a Senate campaign in its first day. The campaign noted that more than $1 million of that total was donated within the first five hours of its announcement, and the average donation was $36. The previous record was the $1 million netted by former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly when he announced his candidacy for the Senate in Arizona earlier this year, according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee…The entirety of the $2.5 million in donations came in the form of online contributions, with checks and promised contributions not being counted in that figure.”

Nathaniel Rakich shares a revealing chart regarding secoond choices in the Democratic contest for the party’s presidential nomination, also at FiveThirtyEight:

Sen. Bernie Sanders has a novel twist on presidential campaign endorsements. Gregory Krieg reports at CNN Politics: “Sen. Bernie Sanders has long bathed in the antipathy of his political enemies. Now, he’s using their unkind words to bolster his progressive credentials in the heat of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary…The Sanders campaign on Wednesday unveiled a new page of “anti-endorsements” on its website — a list of a dozen wealthy businessmen and one centrist think tank — who have publicly criticized him and his agenda…In a speech last month, Sanders quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once said of his industrialist rivals, “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” Throughout the campaign, Sanders has channeled that sentiment, highlighting attacks from wealthy adversaries and establishment figures in fundraising pitches and stump speeches. Their opposition, Sanders argues, is evidence that he can be trusted to fight against their interests, whether it means taxing Wall Street or agitating for higher wages at companies like Walmart…”It should come as no surprise that corporate CEOs and billionaires have united against our movement. These people have a vested interest in preserving the status quo so they can keep their grip on power and continue to exploit working people across America,” Sanders said in a statement following the rollout. “We welcome their hatred.”