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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Research Confirms Dems Need Both Stronger Base Turnout, Plus Better Engagement of White Working-Class

Alex Roarty of McClatchy’s DC Bureau shares the findings from a new study, which clarifies the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college vote, and what Democrats must do to win future elections. As Roarty writes:

…New information shows that Clinton had a much bigger problem with voters who had supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but backed Trump four years later.

Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost, according to Matt Canter, a senior vice president of the Democratic political firm Global Strategy Group. In his group’s analysis, about 70 percent of Clinton’s failure to reach Obama’s vote total in 2012 was because she lost these voters.

Roarty reports that the findings are “shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)” Each of these groups did a data-driven analysis, based on demographics in key states and “prior vote history.”

The white working-class is a still large share of the national electorate and that of many states and congressional districts. Yet, “There’s still a real concern that persuasion is harder and costs more than mobilization,” notes Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way. She says many say “let’s just triple down on getting out the people who already agree with us” is the more promising approach.

But the study solidifies the growing consensus that arguments for focusing on base turnout vs. winning back a majority of the white working-class present a false choice. Democrats are going to have to do a better job of meeting both challenges to be competitive.  “This idea that Democrats can somehow ignore this constituency and just turn out more of our voters, the math doesn’t work,” Canter said. “We have to do both.” Further, explains Roarty,

Democrats are quick to acknowledge that even if voters switching allegiance had been Clinton’s biggest problem, in such a close election she still could have defeated Trump with better turnout. She could have won, for instance, if African-American turnout in Michigan and Florida matched 2012 levels.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA  adds “I really do believe that we should reject this idea that if we just focus on turnout and the Democratic base that that will be enough. If that really is our approach, we’re going to lose six or seven Senate seats in this election…But, I also believe that just talking about persuasion means we are not capitalizing on an enormous opportunity.”

Overall, Roarty  adds, “the data says turnout was less of a problem for Clinton than defections were.” Trump didn’t win so many new voters in the key states — Clinton actually did better in that metric. It was the “defections,” Obama voters who voted for Trump. Focus groups indicate that many of these disenchanted voters felt that the Democratic leaders have gotte too cozy with Wall St. and the wealthy, while failing to defend the interests of working people — of all races.

The centerpiece of a winning Democratic strategy is “a strong message rooted in economic populism,” reports Roarty. Democrats also have to brand their party as the one that looks out for working families. That has to be the indelible message that reaches all voters by election day. This shouldn’t be so hard, especially since the Republicans have already branded themselves as the party of privilege and greed.

None of the lets F.B.I. Director James Comey off the hook. Regardless of the different theories Other data indicate at least a strong possibility that Clinton would have won, had Comey refused to be used for partisan intervention in the closing days of the 2016 campaign.

Trump threaded such a narrow path to electoral college victory than any number of ‘what if’ factors could have changed the outcome. What is now crystal clear is that Democrats can do a lot better with a new committment to both turn out their base and win more support from white working-class voters. Democrats already have the policies and history of accomplishments, including Social Security, Medicare, and numerous other reforms improving wages and working conditions for working people. But they have to do a better job of claiming this heritage, making it known and explaining their policies.

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