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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing!

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

At the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, there was an ostentatious lack of interest in anything remotely resembling an actual swing voter. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “Our swing voter is not red to blue; it’s nonvoter to voter”. In other words, it’s all mobilization not persuasion, according to her and others at the conference.

That may be unwise. Henry Olsen offers some hard data from the Voter Study Group surveys (full disclosure: I was involved in the collection of these data and sit on the editorial board of the group) on the potential salience of good old-fashioned swing voters in the coming election. Olsen may overstate his case a bit but attention must be paid to the data he presents.

“Most strategists and analysts say this November’s midterms will be determined by turnout. According to this view, whichever party more fully energizes its partisans will come out on top. New data, though, shows this common wisdom has it exactly backward. It’s the voters who sit between the two parties, not the party bases, who will choose which party wins…

“Romney-Clinton” voters are generally the sort of highly educated, affluent, more moderate voters who disapprove of Donald Trump. The most recent Voter Survey shows Mr. Trump had less than a 20 percent job approval rating among them; nearly 70 percent of these formerly Republican voters disapprove of his job performance. And they are taking this dislike with them to the voting booth. Forty-three percent say they will vote for Democrats this fall; only about 20 percent intend to back Republicans.

These voters are very important for the battle for the House. Democrats need to pick up 24 House seats to get a majority, and Republicans hold 25 seats in areas that Hillary Clinton carried. Mitt Romney won the districts of 13 of those seats in 2012, and his margin of defeat was smaller than Mr. Trump’s in another nine. Democrats simply cannot retake the House unless they get a lot of these voters to stick with them when Mr. Trump isn’t personally on the ballot.

“Obama-Trump” voters are the people you’ve heard a lot about recently: largely white, less educated and middle or working class. By and large the latest Voter Survey shows that they still like Trump: 76 percent approve of his performance. But like Romney-Clinton voters, they aren’t yet completely sold on their new party’s congressional candidates. While 41 percent say they will vote Republican in the fall, 44 percent say they are either unsure whom they will back or plan to vote for a third-party candidate. That’s a lot of Trump backers who haven’t yet made the leap to the G.O.P.”

This suggests that airy dismissals of the importance of swing voters border on political malpractice.The objective is to win and win big and for that swing voters are essential. The Democrats’ motto should be: No voter left behind!

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