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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Looking at the contests for majority control of the U.S. Senate, Charlie Cook writes at The Cook Political Report: “With the Senate currently split between 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, this year the GOP has 23 seats to defend to only 12 for Democrats. It’s a plausible bet that Democrats come out of November’s election with either 48 or 49 seats in the Senate, a net gain of one or two. But another seat-or-two gain for Democrats and a majority is distinctly possible, particularly if college-educated suburban women are on fire for Democrats the way they were in 2018. The current generic congressional ballot test, a rough measure of what direction the political winds are blowing and whether the velocity is light, moderate, or heavy, shows Democrats ahead by about the same margin as they were in 2018…Two years from now in 2022, the GOP is playing more defense again. They’ll have 22 senators up for reelection to a dozen for Democrats. It isn’t until 2024 that the shoe is on the other foot, when Democrats will have 21 seats up to Republicans’ 10, pending the winners of this year’s special elections in Georgia and Arizona.”

In his article, “Sanders and the Senate” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman observe, “Bernie Sanders may be a poorer fit for the Democrats’ Senate targets than some other Democratic contenders if he wins the nomination…There are two Senate rating changes this week: Colorado moves from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, while Alabama moves from Leans Republican to Likely Republican…Republicans remain favored to hold the majority.”

Table 2: Biden and Sanders vs. Trump in RCP polling average

Note: States in bold also have a Senate race this year (or two Senate races, in the case of Georgia).

Source: RealClearPolitics as of the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 19.

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Why Trump is gloating about Nevada” in The Washington Post: “The Vermont senator’s sweep of Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday is no proof he can win in November. But it does reveal a campaign that can back what for many voters is a trusted brand with the political machinery to close the sale…While Sanders’ more moderate opponents wring their hands over what to do next, they might consider that Sanders built this brand in part through a series of specific promises: single-payer health care, free college, a Green New Deal, universal child care and much more…Sanders may not have explained in detail how he’d pay for all this, let alone, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) pointed out on Saturday night, how he’d shepherd it through Congress. But Sanders understands the hunger for very specific forms of relief within a significant part of the Democratic electorate, particularly the young who suffered most from the fallout of the Great Recession.”

Dionne notes further, “Because so many Latinos think of themselves as moderates or conservatives — roughly 40 percent of them labeled themselves this way in Nevada, according to the Edison Entrance Poll — their strong support for expansive government programs and economic progressivism is often ignored. Sanders never made that mistake. He thus carried even self-described moderate and conservative Latinos by better than 2-to-1…A key test for Sanders will come on Super Tuesday in Texas, where Latinos rejected him in 2016 for Clinton. But here is the dilemma for the divided moderates: Roughly two-thirds of Nevada caucus-goers said their priority was to find a candidate who could beat Trump, and Sanders received less than a quarter of their preferences. But the rest of that beat-Trump-above-all crowd was relatively evenly scattered across the candidacies of Biden, Buttigieg, and then Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)…Sanders is beating them all because they are all beating each other.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edsall writes, “Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at Brookings and the author, with Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” was blunt in his assessment of the broad contemporary political environment. ‘Partisan polarization has become hard-wired in the American political system and is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. Our constitutional system is not well matched with our current party system. Partisan asymmetry makes it even worse. The GOP has radicalized into an anti-system party that does not accept the legitimacy of its opposition and enables a slide toward autocracy. Very dangerous times for American democracy.'”

Edsall adds, “It is an environment in which negative campaigning, on TV and on social media, has become the instrument of choice, not a tool, but the beating heart of political partisanship…Two political scientists, Gaurav Sood and Shanto Iyengar, describe this shift to antagonistic campaigning in “Coming to Dislike Your Opponents: The Polarizing Impact of Political Campaigns”…’Negative ads are especially effective in increasing partisan affect. A strong negativity bias influences information processing, making people more likely to attend to negative rather than positive appeals.'”…Sood and Iyengar see the use of divisive campaign tactics increasing in the future: ‘It is likely that as a consequence of the data revolution, and burgeoning social scientific research, campaigns will learn to target individuals better, and will be able to deliver more “potent” messages to them.'”

“Nonvoters lean slightly Democratic overall, but they favor President Trump in some key states,” Dhrumil Mehta writes at FiveThirtyEight.The poll also asked nonvoters who they would vote for if they were to vote, and found they were almost evenly split — 33 percent say they would vote for the Democratic nominee, 30 percent say they would vote for Trump and 18 percent say they would vote for someone else. However, this breakdown varied quite a bit in battleground states, which Knight sampled heavily. Nevada’s “chronic nonvoters,”1 for example, split evenly, but those in Pennsylvania and Florida skewed heavily toward Trump while those in Georgia would skew Democratic if they all voted.”

At medium.com Dr. Karin Temerius, a former psychiatrist, who is interested in political attitude change, probes how to “Flip Trump Voters the Easy Way: Leverage existing ambivalence with a few simple questions.” Temerius is more interested in peer to peer persuasion here than mass communications in a political campaign. Among her insights: “Most people are as ambivalent about politics as they are about changing bad habits. Even hardcore Trumpers will admit there are things they don’t like about the President — his use of Twitter, his disrespect of members of the military, his indifference to the ballooning national debt. But when they get into a conversation with a Trump opponent, they usually spend all their time thinking and talking about the ways in which Trump is great. As a result, they are likely to emerge from a transpartisan dialogue supporting the President even more strongly than they did before…So, how do we get people thinking and talking about what’s wrong with Trump instead of what they think is right?” She suggests “Use the commitment scale: On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being not at all and 10 being more than any other president ever, how strong is your support for President Trump?” It’s not easy to get a political conversation to this point, but if you can, “Then, when they answer, resist the urge to ask them what it is that they find so appealing about the President. (Trust me, that impulse will be strong and you will have to resist it.) Instead, nurture their ambivalence and support the part of them that wants to change with this response…When I use this approach with Trump supporters I am often shocked by how many aspects of the President they dislike. Things that — if I’d mentioned them in the form of an argument — would have triggered resistance and an unflinching defense of everything Trump stands for…As the French polymath Blaise Pascal once wrote, “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” The key to MI is giving people incentive and space to discover their own reasons for change rather than their reasons for staying the same.”

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