An extended and rather heated exchange has broken out over at TAPPED regarding Third Way’s recent analysis of electoral trends between 2004 and 2006, which, to make a long story short, suggests that Democrats main vote gains last year were in “red” elements of the electorate, especially white men and high earners. The report drew criticism from Tom Schaller, Mark Schmitt and Ezra Klein. Then TAPPED let the Third Way folks respond in a guest blog, and Schaller came back at them once again.For all the fire in these posts, I have to say both sides of the argument have important, legitimate points to make. In particular, Schmitt is right, generally, about the different nature of the electorate in midterm versus general elections (though I don’t know that there’s much to gain from staring at comparisons of 2006 with 2002, given the anomylous nature of the latter). But Third Way’s right that there’s something significant about the ability of Democrats to do so well in a less congenial electorate. Schaller’s right that looking at percentage performances among different subelements of the electorate shows a different picture than Third Way’s, and avoids some of the pitfalls of the “normalization” methodology Third Way used to create its raw vote comparisons. But Third Way’s right that comparing percentages is misleading as well, since small gains in large segments of the electorate often produce more votes than large gains in small segments.I do have a couple of observations to add based on my own unpublished, unscientific analysis of 2004 and 2006 House exit polls a few months back. First of all, trends in some of the subgroups of the electorate partially undermine the assumption that Democratic gains among whites, men, marrieds, upscale voters and self-identified independents (all of which definitely occurred) can be interpreted as gains in “red” or “red-leaning” voters. In particular, when you break the electorate down into self-identified liberals, moderates and conservatives, Democrats gained roughly the same percentages across the board, without any significant change in the ideological composition of the electorate.Second of all, and more importantly, the national exit poll trends disguised some very striking regional variations. In the Northeast, Democratic gains strongly reflected the trends Third Way talks about, concentrated among white upscale suburbanites. But ideologically, Democrats gained an amazing 10 points among self-identified liberals, more than twice the gain among moderates. The West, Democrats’ second-best region, was like a different country, with gains heavily concentrated among less-educated white men, and in rural areas. In the Midwest, Democrats made no gains among suburbanites, and made surprisingly strong gains among African-Americans. And in the South, Democrats actually lost ground with suburbanites and gained nothing from moderates, while the African-American percentage of the electorate dropped significantly.Topping off all these confusing variations is the fact that the 2006 exit polls showed double-digit Democratic gains among Latinos. But virtually everyone thinks the 2004 exit polls significantly understated the Democratic Latino vote, so it’s hard to know how seriously to take that “trend.”All in all, probably the safest thing to say is that Democrats’ fine year in 2006 owed itself to a variety of national, regional and local factors; that Dems did pretty well in categories of the electorate where they’ve been struggling recently; and that the single most important trend was the strong showing Democrats made among self-identified independents, who may be “swing” voters but aren’t necessarily “moderates.” It was neither the base-mobilization election so many people predicted; nor the classic Clintonian seize-the-center election others suggested after the fact.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
With the clock running down and real problems emerging on the legislative front, the president is beginning to meet with key congressional Democrats representing different factions. At New York I took a shot at suggesting what he needs to get them to understand:
We have breathlessly been told by all the Beltway insider outlets that Joe Biden has summoned various congressional Democrats to the White House in hopes of saving his 2021 legislative agenda, which is on the brink of disaster thanks to the irreconcilable demands of competing factions. For once, the eternal “Democrats in disarray” narrative is accurate. On September 27, the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a vote rebellious House “centrists” extorted from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to get the votes for a must-pass budget resolution. They are quietly backed by rebellious Senate centrists. Multiple House progressives, who have their own cheering gallery in the Senate, are promising to kill the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation bill is enacted, which won’t happen for weeks. The one sure thing is that if this transpires, House Republicans will make certain there are not enough votes for the bill in their ranks to save it.
This is a BFD!
Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.
The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.
Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes.
The posturing needs to stop
Obviously, the president must acknowledge and show respect for the fact that legitimate differences of opinion exist in his big-tent party. But lawmakers posturing and grandstanding in order to get a shout-out at Politico as big-time wheeler-dealers are not legitimate or worthy of respect. Biden needs to challenge congressional Democrats very directly on this: Let’s go a week without any name other than mine and Nancy’s and Chuck’s appearing in the national political media. If they are questioned about intra-Democratic negotiations, they should refuse comment, go vague, or say “watch and learn.”
Why is this important? Because the centrist-progressive (and on some issues House-Senate) dynamics are reciprocal and virtually guarantee escalation. A ceasefire in factional hostilities requires some peace and quiet.
Public demands, threats, and hostage taking must end instantly
Whether it’s centrists placing some arbitrary “cap” on the size of a reconciliation bill they can accept or progressives making their votes for reconciliation contingent on inclusion of this or that priority, the proliferation of absolute and totally irreconcilable demands is what has really brought congressional Democrats to the brink of disaster.
Biden needs to show Democrats he understands how and why this is happening: It’s mostly the result of the extremely small margin of control in both Houses — which in fact, objectively speaking, gives every senator and every group of a few House members the power to destroy their party’s agenda. In the past, if that had happened, leaders might have been able to offset intraparty hostage taking by securing votes from the opposition. That’s just not practicable in the current environment. Even on the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are now making it clear they would love to see it go down to defeat and will work to produce that outcome.
But while expressing empathy for the temptations facing individual members, Biden has to insist that the public demands and threats stop right now and promise with whatever cold anger he can muster that there will be real consequences for those who go rogue at this sensitive moment. Successfully negotiating the size and shape of the reconciliation bill, for example, is going to be excruciatingly hard if the landscape is constantly shifting because Problem-Solver X or Progressive Caucus Y has laid down some personal marker through a press release or a staff leak.
There’s one plan, and we’re all sticking to it
With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.
In asking Democratic factions and individual members to give up their leverage over one another, Biden will supply his own leverage to keep the party united. It’s probably the only thing, at this point, that will work. And what does the president have to lose in making some exceptional promises and threats of his own? He’s a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly a half-century putting himself in the position to enact the kind of legislative package that is at stake right now. If he loses it, his presidency will at best be hollow and short, and his party will go into the wilderness. Only he can stop that from happening.