Since this blog first went up in August of 2004, it has been sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council, where I have been Vice President for Policy and/or Policy Director for a good while.I’ve now gone part-time with the DLC and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute and am no longer acting as a spokesman for the DLC. And in an act of real generosity, the DLC is letting me take NewDonkey.com completely independent.I want to emphasize that my new status does not represent some sort of rift with the DLC. After nearly twelve years there, it was just time to do some other stuff as well, while enabling myself to work at home for the most part. Moreover, regular readers of NewDonkey probably won’t notice much of a change in content. Nobody at the DLC tried to censor NewDonkey, though I did occasionally censor myself (e.g., on Iraq) so as to avoid “disarray at the DLC” blog entries among the organization’s many detractors. Now that I’m no longer officially or unofficially speaking for anyone but myself, I’ll say exactly what I think. And that may well continue to include occasional ripostes to those who have lurid and completely inaccurate views of what the DLC is all about.This change in NewDonkey, I guess I should add, has absolutely nothing to do with the recent decision by my former colleague The Bull Moose, to shut down his own, DLC-sponsored blog. He decided to do that because he’s going to be a full-time spokesman for Joe Lieberman. I don’t have that handicap at present, but will shut down NewDonkey if any conflicts of interest develop in my non-DLC work (I am, for example, doing some contractual speechwriting work for a potential Democratic ’08er, and will strictly avoid blogging about the Democratic presidential nominating contest so long as that arrangement exists). In any event, I hope old readers stick with the New NewDonkey. I’ll try to keep it interesting.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I ran across a story on faulty focus group memories of Trump, and I wrote about the implications at New York.
As an unpopular president facing a sour electorate, Joe Biden really needs to make 2024 a comparative election rather than a straight referendum on his presidency. Luckily for him, his likely general-election opponent, Donald Trump, is equally unpopular for reasons that are quite vivid. He’s as well known as Biden, and he works very hard to reinforce the traits that might make an undecided voter (even one unhappy with Biden) reluctant to put him back in the White House. So half of Biden’s work in drawing contrasts is done for him, and part of the other half is made easy for him by Trump’s strongest supporters, the “deplorables” (to use the Hillary Clinton term that has become a MAGA badge of honor) who enjoy shocking the world by advertising their hero’s most questionable characteristics.
It is becoming apparent, however, that Trump’s potential coalition is being augmented by low-information voters with a hazy understanding of the Trumpier features of the 45th president’s record, character, and agenda. By that I do not mean the non-college-educated voters who make up so large a part of the Trump base. Many if not most of them are pretty educated about their candidate. But there’s evidence that disengaged and/or deeply alienated folks who may nonetheless vote in a presidential election (if not any others) don’t know as much about Trump as you might assume, as the New York Times’ Patrick Healey has observed:
“Our latest Times Opinion focus group discussion with 13 undecided independent voters included a striking result: 11 of the 13 said they would vote for Donald Trump if the election were held now, and only two said they would vote for President Biden. The reason: overwhelming concern about the economy.
“But I was less surprised by the big vote for Trump than by this: The group didn’t blame Trump for things he was responsible or accountable for.
“For instance, several people linked their economic troubles to COVID, but they didn’t put any blame on Trump for that. Some were upset with the end of abortion rights nationally, but they didn’t tie that to Trump’s Supreme Court appointments. Several wanted bipartisanship, but they didn’t blame Trump for his hand in sinking the recent bipartisan border deal. One person, a Latina, blamed Trump for worsening racism in the country and recounted a searing incident that happened to her — but she was among the 11 who would vote for him anyway.”
Healey concludes that “a lot of our focus-group participants — and many voters — see Trump as an acceptable option in November, yet they don’t know or remember a lot about him.” This makes them, of course, highly susceptible to Trump campaign messaging asserting that the economy during his presidency was the greatest ever; that he’s a natural peacemaker who inspired respect for the United States everywhere; and that he’s a decent, law-abiding businessman (and family man!) whose near-constant forced court appearances are uniformly the product of his persecution by the other party.
Democrats, of course, will have opportunities (and increasingly, an obligation) to set the record straight about Trump and his presidency. But the difficult thing is that low-information voters also tend to be low-trust voters, which means they don’t tend to believe traditional arbiters of objective reality like the mainstream news media, and may not grant more truthful politicians superior credibility. Further distorting understanding of the Trump administration (and thus its possible return) is the huge trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which gives everything that immediately preceded the disaster an undeserved glow, while immolating memories of less powerful traumas associated with the former president’s tenure.
In other words, low-information voters who dislike politics so much that they are not inclined to dig into facts and evidence touching on political topics are highly vulnerable to the kind of disinformation that benefits Donald Trump. And if they are in a bad mood in November, they could help turn the election into a negative referendum on Joe Biden even if they are inviting something — and someone — far worse. Democrats will have to work hard to break through with the truth.