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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Matthew Yglesias brings the a central argument about Democratic strategy up to date in his post, “The debate over swing voters versus mobilizing the base, explained” at Vox. Yglesias writes, “Tory Gavito and Sean McElwee warned in a spring GQ article that “in chasing a narrow swath of white swing voters, [Democratic Party] leadership has ignored a broader coalition of voters who have delivered blue victories time and time again.”…John Long in the New Republic, similarly, describes swing voters as “a persona from a political landscape that simply no longer exists.” Instead of chasing these mythical beasts, he says, Democrats should see that “mobilizing more Democratic voters is the key to the 2020 election.”…Absolutely nothing about this argument is new…The truth, however, is while mobilization is unquestionably important to winning elections, so is flipping swing voters. Activists who want to push Democrats to the left while still winning can do so by identifying popular progressive ideas to run on. But the notion that there’s some mobilization strategy that will eliminate the need to cater to the median voter is a fantasy.”

Yglesias continues, noting that “Harry Enten writes for FiveThirtyEightthat “Trump probably would have lost to Hillary Clinton had Republican- and Democratic-leaning registered voters cast ballots at equal rates.”…Nate Cohn at the New York Times offered the superficially opposite thesis that “turnout wasn’t the driver of Clinton’s defeat.” He points, instead, to white voters who went for Trump after having voted for Barack Obama four years earlier…Enten and Cohn are working with the same numbers. The real debate is what the implications are for 2020…The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth…Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.”

“Of course, Yglesias adds, “when it comes to certain kinds of resource allocation questions — where do you run ads, whose doors do you knock on, whose social media feeds do you target — there is a zero-sum tradeoff between trying to mobilize non-voters and trying to persuade swing voters. Any prudent campaign would want to do some of both, but decisions need to be made at the margin about where to spend money…One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.”

David Wasserman shares “Five Takeaways from Republicans’ Narrow NC-09 Escape” at The Cook Political Report, including this one, which shows how a “wild card” factor can make a defference in a  congressional race: “4. The key to Bishop’s victory may have been a local Native American tribe. One of the most economically distressed places in North Carolina is Robeson County, home to the Lumbee Tribe and a sixth of NC-09’s population. By party registration, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a massive 60 percent to 13 percent. But in 2016, Trump’s appeal to “forgotten” America helped him carry the county by four points…In 2018, Robeson County reverted to form, voting for McCready by a healthy 15 points. According to one local source, McCready benefited from a Lumbee Democrat running for state House on the same ballot last fall. But on Tuesday, McCready won Robeson County by just one point, potentially costing him victory. An analysis by J. Miles Coleman showed the biggest swing occurred in heavily Lumbee precincts…So how did Bishop, whose state Charlotte area senate district is nowhere near Robeson County, do so well there? It turns out that in March, when Bishop was just launching his bid for the do-over congressional election, he sponsored a bill to open more grant opportunities for the Lumbees by clarifying state recognition of the tribe. Bishop’s picture appeared in the Robesonian, and it likely paid off on Tuesday.”

One final point about the NC-9 congressional seat from this reminder by John Nichols in his article, “We Can Have Free, Fair, and Secure Elections—if We Demand Them” at The Nation: “If Republican operatives had not cheated last year, it’s likely that Don McCready would be sitting in the US House today as the Democratic representative from North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Their cheating was exposed and it forced a new election, which was good. But that new election, which was held yesterday, in the gerrymandered district saw massive spending by Republican-aligned groups, a presidential visit on the eve of the vote, and, ultimately, a narrow defeat for McCready in the last contest of the 2018 election cycle.” Nichols goes on to argue for electoral reforms being advocated by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and writes, “after the mangled mess we’ve seen play out in North Carolina…It is time to make high-quality voting in the greatest democracy in the world easy, convenient, and professional. It’s time to secure our elections from all threats, foreign and domestic. It’s time to address election security, administration problems, and voter suppression.”

Charlie Cook offers some answers to the question, “Just Who Are These Undecided Voters, Anyway?,” also at The Cook Political Report: Commenting on Kaiser Family Foundation May 30-June 4 and July 18-23 national health tracking polls, Cook writes, “Swing voters tend to be younger, more moderate, and less engaged in politics compared to those who have decided and to the overall electorate. While 72 percent of voters who are 65 years of age or older have decided for sure, just 47 percent of 18-29-year-olds have decided…Ideologically speaking, 56 percent of all swing voters identify themselves as moderates, compared to 38 percent of all voters. Just 16 percent of swing voters called themselves liberal, while 26 percent self-identified as conservative. Eleven percent of all voters are “pure independents”—that is, they don’t identify with or even lean toward either major party—but 18 percent of swing voters are pure independents…When asked, “How much attention do you normally pay to what is going on in national government and politics?” 57 percent of voters and 68 percent of decided voters said they pay a lot of attention, but only 39 percent of swing voters said so. Twice as many swing voters said they pay only a little attention or none at all—17 percent, compared with just 8 percent of those who are decided.”

Could targeted digital Content Persuade Trump Voters to Jump Ship?,” asks Colin Delaney at Campaigns & Elections. Delaney’s responds, “Trump’s team mastered the art of social-media ad outreach on a vast scale in 2016, often reaching small segments of the electorate with messages designed to appeal just to them…This time around, Trump’s reelection campaign has spent at least $5 million on Facebook just since the beginning of June, buying ads designed to rile up his base and build his grassroots donor list…The thought that Trump’s paid messaging might go unanswered for an entire year has driven Democratic organizations including Priorities USA and American Bridge to launch the kind of large-scale, multi-state digital advertising campaigns we usually expect from political parties and presidential campaigns. Priorities plans to spend $100 million between now and next summer, with American Bridge chipping in another $50 million…if an Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden locks it all up early, the campaign will have the time to indulge in persuasion ads designed to dampen Trump’s support on his own ground…If Democrats really want to make serious inroads in Trump country, though, they’re looking at a battle that would last for years, not just a few months before an election. Whether the party or any PAC  could take on a task of that magnitude is an open question, but it’s one that Democratic activists should be asking.”

In his NYT column, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted,” Thomas B. Edsall notes that “The African-American electorate has been undergoing a quiet, long-term transformation, moving from the left toward the center on several social and cultural issues, while remaining decisively liberal, even radical, on economic issues, according to a series of studies by prominent African-American scholars…“There has been a shift in the attitudes of black masses about the extent to which systematic discrimination and prejudice are the primary reasons blacks continue to lag behind whites,” Candis Watts Smith, a political scientist at Penn State, wrote in a paper published in the Journal of Black Studies in 2014, “Shifting From Structural to Individual Attributions of Black Disadvantage: Age, Period and Cohort Effects on Black Explanations of Racial Disparities.”…Now, on some of the most controversial issues currently under debate, African-Americans — who make up an estimated 25 percent of Democratic primary voters — have emerged as a force for more moderate stands as white Democrats have moved sharply left.”…While less committed to many of the broad social and cultural issues important to white liberals, black Democrats remain more committed than their white counterparts to progressive stands on economic issues of the type that characterized the New Deal coalition of the last century that also established the Great Society programs of the 1960s like Medicare and Medicaid.”

Edsall concludes, “At the same time, the contemporary multiracial, multiethnic Democratic Party needs more than vigorous black mobilization; it also needs high turnout from constituencies with conflicting agendas — radical and progressive millennials, the “creative class,” suburban women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslims and those working and middle class whites who still count themselves Democrats…To deal with all this, Democrats will need an overarching message broad enough to bring together its entire coalition in a political uprising against Trump’s presidency at the same time that it will need to rely on the tools of narrowcasting: hyperpersonalization of campaign messages, segmented appeals to dedicated niches, slipping voters into discrete “bubbles.” They will need a firm grasp of America’s disparate, conflicted and warring center-left alliance. Without an ingenious campaign, even widespread hatred of Trump will not be sufficient to dislodge him from the White House.”

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