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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall shares this insight about American political attitudes shaped by trade-caused job insecurity: “Looking at the United States as a micro case study with global implications, David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., found that among white voters, those who lost jobs because of trade with China moved toward the political right….“Trade-exposed districts with an initial majority white population or initially in Republican hands became substantially more likely to elect a conservative Republican,” Autor and three colleagues wrote in a 2020 paper, “Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure.” The results support “a political economy literature that connects adverse economic conditions to support for nativist or extreme politicians.”

From Charlie Cook’s post on the “Democrats’ Double Standard” at The Cook Political Report: “In a provocative piece for The Democratic Strategist newsletter, political analyst Andrew Levison asks his fellow Democrats whether they agree with these three statements:

  1. “It is entirely reasonable for progressives to insist on candidates who do not just agree to support certain progressive policies because they are required as part of participation in a political alliance but who fully and sincerely embrace basic progressive values.
  2. “It is entirely reasonable for progressives to be suspicious of candidates who come from backgrounds and reflect the cultural outlook of communities that are culturally distant from the progressive world and culture.
  3. “It is entirely reasonable for progressives to feel that non-progressive voters ought to be willing to support a progressive candidate if they agree with his or her economic platform even if they disagree with other aspects of his or her agenda.”

According to Levison, for most progressives, “these three statements seem entirely reasonable, indeed obvious. After all, why shouldn’t progressives have the right to demand candidates who sincerely support progressive views and reflect a progressive cultural outlook …?”….Levison then turns the question on its head, with a second set of three statements:

  1. “It is entirely reasonable for culturally traditional rural and white working class people to insist on candidates who do not just agree to support certain culturally traditional policies because they are required as part of participation in a political alliance but who fully and sincerely embrace certain traditional cultural values.
  2. “It is entirely reasonable for culturally traditional rural and white working class people to be suspicious of candidates who come from backgrounds and reflect the cultural outlook of communities that are culturally distant from the rural and white working class world and culture.
  3. “It is entirely reasonable for rural and white working class people to feel that voters who are not rural or white working class ought to be willing to support a culturally traditional rural or white working class candidate if they agree with his or her economic agenda even if they may disagree with some of his or her other views and proposals.”

As Levison puts it, “the underlying logic is identical in the two cases. Yet many progressives will agree with the first set of propositions but then reject the second.”….Just as many Republican members of the House and Senate representing mostly rural- and small-town-oriented states and districts cannot seem to understand the pressures and considerations of their colleagues in highly suburban districts, many Democrats seem blissfully unaware that some of their colleagues represent (or more accurately, used to represent) constituents who see life, politics, and policy somewhat differently….Arguably, that is one of the things largely missing in American politics and conversations about politics: a hesitancy to judge others before you have walked a mile in their shoes, as the old admonition goes.”

In “Democrats Lost Ground With Non-College Voters of Color In 2020,” also at The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter reports on a disturbing trend for Democrats: “In digging through the 2020 voter data provided by the Democratic data firm Catalist, Third Way’s Aliza Astrow found that even as Biden was able to slightly improve on Clinton’s showing with white, non-college voters, “Democrats endured a sharp drop-off in support” from non-college voters of color. In 2016, according to the data from Catalist, Clinton took 81 percent of the vote from non-college voters of color. In 2020, Biden took 75 percent among this group, a 6-point drop. …While it’s hard to characterize a 75 percent showing as ‘weak,’ Democrats’ heavy reliance on voters of color means the party can’t afford to see more slippage among this demographic group in upcoming elections. Democrats’ long-term viability in Sun Belt states like Arizona, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina require more than just winning over white suburbanites and not losing any more ground with white, non-college voters. They have to continue to run up the score with voters of color….As with white voters, there is a decent gender gap among voters of color, both among non-college and college-educated voters. But, the drop in support among women (both college and non-college-educated) for Democrats between 2016 and 2020 was significant. For example, while Biden did 5 points worse among non-college men of color and 2 points worse among college-educated men of color than Clinton, he performed five points worse among college-educated women and seven points worse among non-college women. While many suspected that Trump’s appeal was unique to male voters of color (some attributed it to Trump’s direct appeal to ‘machismo’)  Astrow’s analysis shows that he gained among women voters of color too.”

“The deeper problem for Democrats in congressional elections is structural, due to the concentration of their voters in cities—and as Jonathan Rodden shows in Why Cities Lose, the Democratic vote is more concentrated in cities now than it has ever been,” Paul Starr writes in The American Prospect. “The Senate overrepresents the more rural and white states; in House elections, Democrats “waste” votes in urban districts where they run up lopsided victories. To win a majority of legislative seats, Democrats don’t just need a majority of votes nationally; they need to win by a majority-plus—by several extra percentage points—to compensate for their inefficient geographic distribution….That underlying problem, however, doesn’t wholly explain why Democrats met so many disappointments in down-ballot races in 2020. They initially seemed in a good position to win Senate races in Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana that they ultimately lost. They expected to gain House seats and instead lost 15, leaving them with a margin of only seven. Some voters who chose Biden apparently did not trust Democrats enough to vote for Democrats for Congress and give the party an unqualified mandate….This is where Democrats could be in a stronger position in 2022. The pandemic-related fear that Democrats would lock down the economy at the cost of jobs may have been responsible for some voters’ ambivalence in 2020. If the pandemic is behind us next year, the economy is booming, and Biden continues to provide steady leadership, Democrats may be able to offer a politics of hope and reassurance as a convincing alternative to the Republican politics of fear….It’s not clear that a democracy with a two-party system can survive when one of the parties no longer agrees to be bound by the rules of fair elections. We may have just been lucky in 2020 that the institutional checks held; they may not next time….Under these circumstances, Democrats have to be bold and careful simultaneously. They have to be bold in fighting the battles they are fighting, and they have to be careful in choosing which battles to fight and how they fight them. Not every cause is ripe; not every cause is equally urgent. Right now, they need to prove government works for ordinary people, and just as important, they need to pass federal election reforms to give American democracy the strongest possible defense against right-wing assault. If they are unable to do so because of the Senate filibuster, it will be the kind of colossal failure that later generations never forgive.”

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