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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

“In deploying federal forces,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic, “Trump appears to be trying to provoke clashes with protesters, which he can use to convince white suburban voters that he’s the last line of defense between them and the chaos allegedly incubating in cities, Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor, told me. Referring to the street battle between construction workers and anti-war protesters in Manhattan in 1970, Emanuel said, “Trump is trying to create his own hard-hat riot, and they are wearing [law-enforcement] helmets.”…The political risk for Republicans in that strategy, many political observers told me, is not only that it could provoke more opposition from residents in the city centers, but that it could also accelerate the shift toward Democrats in the large, well-educated, and more and more diverse inner suburbs around the major cities. Over time, the “larger denser suburbs” have become “like cities and throw in with the cities”—they don’t identify as much with the less-populated areas, says Robert Lang, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and a co-author of the upcoming book Blue Metros, Red States.”

“The politics of all these proliferating battles between Republican officials and Democratic cities may unfold at two levels,” Brownstein continues. “With Trump monumentally unpopular in urban centers but still strong in rural places, the most immediate political question is how suburban voters will respond…since the 1990s, more suburbanites have concluded that their political views align more with the diverse, cosmopolitan cities nearby than with the more culturally conservative, preponderantly white, and Christian smaller places far from the urban core. Under Trump that process has intensified: He’s precipitated a significant shift toward the Democrats in white-collar suburbs that fueled the party’s sweeping gains in the House in 2018. Though Republicans once could count on big margins as soon as they crossed a city’s boundaries, Lang notes, now, in most places, “the line for Republicans has moved outward further” in the metro, he says…Trump’s alarms about “angry mobs” and “violent mayhem” in Democratic cities might allow him to recapture some Republican-leaning white suburbanites and energize his rural and small-town support, analysts in both parties told me. But as I’ve written before, his belligerent tone simultaneously risks hardening the opposition he’s facing from the many suburban voters who feel that he’s exposing them to more danger—both in his response to the policing protests and his unrelenting push to reopen the economy despite the coronavirus’s resurgence. In last week’s national Quinnipiac University poll, just over seven in 10 white voters holding at least a four-year college degree disapproved of Trump’s handling of both race relations and the outbreak.”

At The New York Times, columnist Thomas B. Edsall takes a look at a range of studies of the determinates of liberal and conservative views, and his findings may help explain Trump’s messaging success in 2016. As Edsall writes “In a February 2019 paper, “Liberals lecture, conservatives communicate: Analyzing complexity and ideology in 381,609 political speeches,” four political scientists, Martijn Schoonvelde, Anna Brosius, Gijs Schumacher and Bert N. Bakker, argue that “speakers from culturally liberal parties use more complex language than speakers from culturally conservative parties” and that this variance in linguistic complexity is “rooted in personality differences among conservative and liberal politicians. The former prefer short, unambiguous statements, and the latter prefer longer compound sentences, expressing multiple points of view.”…The authors cite studies suggesting that this linguistic divide is persistent: “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” published in The Political Studies Review and “Research on linguistic habits of American and British politicians shows that conservative politicians make less complex statements than liberal politicians.”

Edsall writes, further, “One study showed that “the speeches of liberal US presidents score higher on integrative complexity than those of conservatives, as measured by the presence of “words involved in differentiation (exclusive words, tentative words, negations) as well as integration of different perspectives (conjunctions).”…Another found that “conservative political bloggers use less complex language than their liberal counterparts and conservative citizens use language that scores lower on integrative complexity than liberal citizens.”…Separate studies of the language used by presidents — both “The Readability and Simplicity of Donald Trump’s Language,” and an analysis of the language used by the last 15 presidents on the blog Factbase — concluded that President Trump speaks at the lowest level of all those studied, as measured on the on the Flesch-Kincaid index. As Factbase put it: “By any metric to measure vocabulary, using more than a half dozen tests with different methodologies, Donald Trump has the most basic, most simplistically constructed, least diverse vocabulary of any president in the last 90 years.”

In addition, Edsall notes that “Some scholars argue that a focus on ideological conflict masks the most salient divisions in the era of Donald Trump: authoritarians versus non-authoritarians…Karen Stenner, the author of “The Authoritarian Dynamic,” emailed me on this point to say that “It’s really critical to help people understand the difference between conservatives and authoritarians. Conservatives are by nature opposed to change and novelty, whereas authoritarians are averse to diversity and complexity. It’s a subtle but absolutely critical distinction…“What we’re facing,” she continued, “is an authoritarian revolution — not a conservative revolution, the term is inherently contradictory — which in the U.S. has been creeping up since the 1960s…Authoritarianism, Stenner continued, is “clearly distinct from what I call “laissez faire conservatism.” In fact, in cross-national research I consistently find that these two dimensions are actually negatively related. If anything, authoritarians tend to be wary of free markets and more supportive of government intervention and redistribution, perhaps even schemes of equalization and progressive taxation.””

Trump’s messaging has taken the politics of distraction to a new low, piling one outrage on top of another so quickly that the news media has trouble keeping focused on his unprecedented corruption. “Trump has been involved in so many scandals and says so many reprehensible things,” writes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his Washington Post column, “that our country has developed a kind of herd immunity to the outrage that just one of his actions would have called forth in any previous administration. We have allowed Trump to fend off one scandal with . . . another scandal…The key is seeing that Trump’s entirely selfish approach to the presidency has a measurable and material impact on the lives of citizens and on the policies he pursues — to the extent that he is interested in policy at all. He cares above all about his own finances, his ego, his ratings and escaping accountability. Everything else falls by the wayside …Trump’s opponents cannot assume, as they did in 2016, that if they drive home just how awful Trump is personally, voters will recoil in horror. This year, it is essential to make the case that Trump’s corruption means that most of the time he pays no attention to governing. And when he does, he governs in a way that subordinates the public interest to his own interests — and the interests of those who keep him in power.”

The Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Indexmeasures how much more Democratic or Republican a district performs compared to the national average.” For example, AL-1 has a p.v.i. rating of R+15, which means that this congressional district voted an average of 15 points more for Republican presidential candidates than the national average in the last two presidential elections.  To find out your congressional district’s p.v.i., click here.

In his article, “Primary voting was a disaster. The general election doesn’t have to be that way,” David Litt, former speechwriter for President Barack Obama and author of “Democracy In One Book Or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think,” writes: “But it’s not too late to protect the integrity of the 2020 election while making it safe for every eligible American to vote. There are simple steps states and counties can take that would dramatically reduce the possibility of disaster at the ballot box or mailbox this year…First, states must set clear ground rules as early as possible. Because the impacts of coronavirus weren’t really felt in America until March, many officials had little time to make decisions about how to run the primary election process, leading to fear and confusion among the electorate. But when it comes to the general election, we have more time to prepare…Who automatically gets sent an absentee ballot? How many polling places remain open? When is the deadline for ballots to be sent or received? With the coronavirus still raging across the country, these kinds of questions must be decided decisively and quickly enough that any legal challenges to new rules can work their way through the courts.”

Litt adds, “Second, when adapting to the virus, states should err on the side of making it easier, not harder, to vote. Contrary to President Donald Trump’s evidence-free tweets, there’s no indication that mail-in voting will lead to large-scale election fraud. Five states already conducted their elections entirely by mail before the pandemic hit, and the President himself voted by mail in 2018. But there is clear evidence that confusion over mail-in balloting, coupled with overly strict rules about which ballots do and do not count, can discourage voting and invalidate eligible citizens’ ballots…To prevent this, states should mail all registered voters not only an absentee ballot, but clear instructions for how to use it. Upon receiving those ballots, states should apply the election equivalent of “innocent until proven guilty.” Rather than assume ballots with small errors are fraudulent and shouldn’t be counted, they should assume they’re valid and should be counted. In practice, this means making an aggressive effort to contact voters whose ballots are in danger of being thrown out for minor errors and giving them ample time to correct any irregularities…By acting quickly and taking commonsense, non-partisan steps, we can preserve the most important element of our country’s promise: that we, the people, can shape our destiny together.”

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