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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times colmnist Thomas B. Edsall probes recent scholarship on racial attitudes of white Democrats and Republicans and notes: “In his 2019 paper, “White People’s Racial Attitudes are Changing to Match Partisanship,” Andrew Engelhardt, a political scientist at Brown, shows a dramatic increase in partisan racial polarization from 2016 to 2018…The accompanying charts show the percentage of white Democrats in the most racially liberal category growing from 10 percent in 2016 to 15 percent in 2018, the leading edge of a general turn to the left among party members. The percentage of white Republicans in the most racially conservative cohort, in contrast, grew from 14 percent to 21 percent, a tilt to the right with a potentially substantial impact…On a scale from zero to 100, ranking levels of racial resentment, the mean for white Democrats fell from 43 to 34. For white Republicans, the mean rose from 71 to 76…n a more recent paper, “Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?” Engelhardt answers in the affirmative the question posed in his title….Poll data, he writes, supports “seeing changes in white racial attitudes as genuine. The decline in Democrats’ racial resentment levels between 2012 and 2016 appears sincere, not cheap talk.” And, Engelhardt contends, there will be significant political and policymaking consequences…

Edsall adds, “In their paper — “The Rise of Trump, the Fall of Prejudice? Tracking White Americans’ Racial Attitudes 2008-2018 via a Panel Survey” — [Daniel} Hopkins and [Samantha] Washington use a measure of prejudice that is significantly different from the one used by Engelhardt…Hopkins explained in an email why he and Engelhardt differ in their assessment of white Republicans. In his study, Engelhardt uses responses to the battery of what are known as “racial resentment” questions. Hopkins argued that these questions tend to push Republicans in a conservative direction because some directly relate to a separate issue, the role of government, including questions asking whether the government should intervene to help minorities…According to Hopkins, some Republicans will oppose intervention on the basis of ideological “small government” principle, not racism, nonetheless raising their racial resentment score…Hopkins and Washington found bipartisan declines in anti-black and anti-Hispanic prejudice.”

Edsall notes, further: “There is a third analysis that stands apart from those of both Engelhardt and Hopkins and Washington: that the growing racial liberalism of white Democrats is more about claiming a moral posture than deeply felt conviction…Hakeem Jefferson, a political scientist at Stanford, challenged the sincerity of white Democrats’ growing racial liberalism in an April 21 Twitter thread: “The white left” can sometimes look more “progressive” than black folks because the white left has the luxury of approaching questions that bear on marginalized people’s lives with a kind of reckless abandon that many others don’t have…I remain rather skeptical that we are in a period where black people can trust that white liberals have embraced a liberatory politics.” Edsll cites another study: “[Tufts political scientist Deborah J.] Schildkraut conducted a series of surveys to gauge liberal and conservative racial identity among whites. She found that just over 40 percent of conservatives said that their white identity was “very” or “extremely” important to them. A smaller percentage (23 percent) of white liberals saw their racial identity as similarly important…There were also vastly different perceptions of the level of discrimination against blacks and whites between white liberals and conservatives: “44 percent of white liberals said there is no discrimination against whites and 28 percent said there is a great deal of discrimination against blacks, while only 2 percent of conservatives said there is no discrimination against whites and only 8 percent said there is a great deal of discrimination against blacks.”

Edsall concludes, “If, as Hopkins and Washington find, whites are abandoning the relatively high levels of prejudice of 2016 in meaningful numbers, and if this decline contributed to Democratic victories in 2018, Trump will face a steeper climb in capitalizing on racial resentment than he did four years ago…The drop since Trump took office in what had been a fairly consistent sense of white racial superiority, according to Hopkins and Washington, would suggest that Trump’s ongoing racial appeals may have crossed a line, potentially endangering his re-election…Has the exploitation of racial anxiety reached the end of its politically useful life? No. Nor will it fade from American history anytime soon, if it ever does. But the very fact that more and more people now question whether Trump’s re-election is assured provides a ray of hope.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. reports that “President Trump, who has largely declined to use his power under the Defense Production Act for needed medical and protective equipment, used that same power on Tuesday night to force meat processors to remain open. Never mind that food-processing and meatpacking plants are hot spots for covid-19 — at least 79 have reported outbreaks. Never mind that at least 20 workers in the industry have died from the disease or that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) reports that at least 6,500 workers in the industry have been diagnosed or exposed. Dionne quotes Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker health and safety program at the National Employment Law Project: “Trump has created a false choice between worker safety and feeding America,” Berkowitz, who has spent decades working on safety issues in meat processing, said in an interview. “We can do both. Other parts of the economy are doing both.” Dionne adds, “When social solidarity is essential, it’s common to hear pious sermons against class warfare. Unfortunately, there is a class war. And its victims, so many of them front-line workers, didn’t start it.”

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook writes, “Simply put, a referendum on his performance is going to be a tough sell for Trump. He’s the first president in history to never have a majority job approval rating. Plus, as Bill Scher noted in Politico Magazine, third-party candidates are unlikely to make the ballot in many states this year because the coronavirus shutdown has made gathering petition signatures all but impossible. This makes Trump’s climb tougher in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s vote share in each of those states was greater than Trump’s margin of victory. Thus, he will need to get closer to 50 percent in that all-important trio of states this time around than the 46 percent he got last time.” Cook warns, “The only way Trump wins is to make Joe Biden absolutely unelectable, to make him an unacceptable risk. That only happens one way, and it’s not by playing by the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for fair fighting…The Willie Horton, Bain Capital, and Swift Boat attacks that Michael Dukakis, Mitt Romney, and John Kerry faced, respectively, were child’s play compared to what is going to be thrown at Biden, his son, Hunter, and anyone else in the former vice president’s orbit. When this is over, Hillary Clinton will think she got off light from the 2016 Trump campaign. That’s the only way he can win, because a referendum isn’t going to go his way. Expect this to get ugly.”

Zack Stanton sketches “The Nightmare Scenario’: How Coronavirus Could Make the 2020 Vote a Disaster: Trump can’t cancel the presidential election. Here’s what you should really be worrying about” at Politico:=, and writes “the prospect that terrifies election experts isn’t the idea that Trump moves the election (something he lacks the power to do); it’s something altogether more plausible: Despite an ongoing pandemic, the 2020 election takes place as planned, and America is totally unprepared…The nightmare scenario goes something like this: Large numbers of voters become disenfranchised because they’re worried it’s not safe to vote and that participating makes it more likely they catch the coronavirus. Voter-registration efforts, almost always geared toward in-person sign-ups, bring in very few new voters. A surge of demand for absentee ballots overwhelms election administrators, who haven’t printed enough ballots. In some states, like Texas, where fear of coronavirus isn’t a valid reason to request an absentee ballot, turnout drops as Americans are forced to choose between voting in person (and risking contact with the coronavirus) or not voting at all…At the same time, confidence in the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service — whose coronavirus funding President Donald Trump has already threatened to block — teeters, and its involvement in handling so many absentee votes causes concern.”

Stanton interviews Rick Hasen, author of Election Meltdown, who says, “I’ve always been concerned that [Trump] would claim that fraud was the reason he might lose an election. And I still think that might happen, should he lose — which brings up the Election Administrators’ Prayer: “Lord, let this not be close.” If you have a real blowout, it’s hard to claim that fraud is the result…How do we ensure that elections are not only conducted fairly, but that people have confidence in them, when recent public opinion polling shows up to 40 percent of the public is not convinced that elections are conducted fairly? I think there’s a role to play for elected leaders, social media companies, traditional media companies, lawyers, members of Congress, state and local election officials — there are steps that all can take to try to minimize the chances of a meltdown. And that’s really where we have to focus our efforts, especially now in this Covid-19 era.”

At Sabato’s  Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman have an update on Democraic prospects for winning a U.S. Senate majority in November. Calling the battle for majority control a “toss-up,” Kondik and Coleman write, “The focus on the evenly-matched battle for the Senate has in some ways narrowed to four GOP-held seats: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina…Practically speaking, Democrats probably have to win all four, and the White House, to win the Senate…However, the map may be expanding. Democrats’ best bet among the other targets probably is Montana, but we still see a small Republican edge there…We are making two rating changes this week on the periphery of the Senate map: Alaska and South Carolina move from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.”

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