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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

A flash poll conducted by CNN immediately after Biden finished his address found that nearly three-quarters of respondents had a favorable impression. So far, so normal,” Sasha Abramsky writes at The Nation. “Most presidents, from both political parties, end up with positive public reactions to their big February speeches. But buried in the polling was a far more interesting number: Among those who had told pollsters before the speech that they disapproved of the direction of Biden’s presidency, only 7 percent went into the speech thinking that the president’s specific policy proposals would move the country in the right direction; after the speech, that number increased to 45 percent. Among independents, the number rose from 40 percent pre-speech to 66 percent afterwards….These are huge perception shifts, of a magnitude that could serve as a launch vehicle for the president’s reelection campaign, and that could reverse his currently underwater approval numbers. Biden has, consistently, been underestimated by pollsters and by pundits. He was written off in the 2020 primaries. He was declared dead on arrival in the run-up to the 2022 midterms. But it turns out he’s got a pretty good bead on where the American people are at and what policies they believe will improve their daily lives. He was right, back in the autumn, when he banged the “democracy is in danger” drum before the elections. And it looks like he was right on Tuesday night when he devoted most of his State of the Union address to fashioning an unapologetically progressive economic agenda: raise taxes on the rich, make prescription drugs more affordable, make it easier for workers to organize into unions, make it harder for corporate scofflaws to avoid both taxes and also economic competition, increase access to child care and preschool facilities, invest more in American manufacturing and in big infrastructure projects, and protect Social Security and Medicare….These are popular ideas—even among the white working class that, in recent years, has fled the Democratic Party largely because of wedge “cultural issues.” More than three-quarters of Americans support limiting annual drug price increases. A majority of Americans support increasing taxes on the super-wealthy. Seven in 10 tell pollsters that they support trade unions. If the Democrats can really focus in on these themes over the coming years, using major infrastructure projects as a launch pad to reinvent the economy for those lower down the economic ladder, Biden’s bet is that he can win back many of those voters who shifted rightward over the last couple decades.”

Here’s some of Abramsky’s take on class politics in the west: “This has already been done, with much success, by progressive governors and state legislators in the racially diverse Pacific West, and increasingly in Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, where non-white working-class movements provide critical levels of support for left-leaning leaders. In California, large majorities of the state’s non-white population are registered as Democrats, while far fewer than 20 percent are registered as Republicans. In 2021, when Governor Gavin Newsom faced a recall election, more than four of every five voters in densely populated Latino-majority neighborhoods of LA County cast ballots against recalling him. In Oregon, according to Pew Research data, 38 percent of Democratic voters have a family income of less than $30,000 per year, a far higher percentage than the number of low-income voters within the Republican fold. In Nevada, multiracial trade unions in Las Vegas have long been instrumental to Democrats’ victories; in 2022 Catherine Cortez Masto was reelected to the Senate with a 9,000 vote majority, a majority that would not have been possible without high levels of union organizing and turnout. Similarly, Katie Hobbs won the Arizona governor’s race in part because of ongoing organizing efforts by immigrants’ rights groups and trade unions that brought large numbers of working-class Latino voters to the polls. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Governor Lujan Grisham won reelection with high levels of supportfrom the state’s Hispanic population. For all the ink that has been spilled nationally in recent years exploring how and why the working class abandoned the Democratic Party—an angst-fest that is really only reacting to white working-class voting patterns—in the West that abandonment simply hasn’t occurred….True, Washington State seems to buck this trend slightly, with working-class voters of all colors shifting somewhat toward the Republican Party during the 2022 midterms. But taken as a whole, the West and Southwest have, over the past decade or two, crafted a strong counternarrative to the idea that working-class voters are shying away from the Democrats, showing that the party thrives in states with large non-white working-class populations….Biden’s instincts seem to be to take that Western model and expand it, to put forward a series of unapologetically progressive economic ideas and policies that have the capacity to bind more working-class voters, both white and non-white, to the Democratic Party in all regions of the country….For too many years, the Democrats at a national level have tried to triangulate their way to power. Now, in the unlikely guise of an 80-year-old longtime centrist, those advocating a programmatic effort to reshape and rebalance the American economy in a social democratic direction may have finally found their White House messenger.

Just to pile on re the SOTU, here’s an excerpt from “GOP boos fool no one: Everyone knows Republicans want to slash Social Security and Medicare” by Amanda Marcotte at salon.com: “McCarthy allowed Biden the space during his State of the Union address to show the public that Republicans are gunning for these popular programs by provoking a defensive denial of yelling and heckling from Republicans that is so over-the-top that it ended up confirming the accusation. Now McCarthy is having to deal with the very thing he was trying to avoid: A news cycle dominated by talk about how Republicans want to steal away the money in accounts workers spend their lives paying into as security when they retire….Just how badly did McCarthy’s gambit backfire? So badly that even Republican-friendly outlets like Axios and Politico ran with stories about the GOP’s secret yearnings to end Social Security and Medicare. Axios described Biden as “baiting Republicans to agree with his push to protect Medicare and Social Security….Despite his flailing denials, it’s been clear from the moment that Scott first released his 11-point plan that the main purpose of the “sunset” provision was so that Social Security and Medicare would expire, and a GOP-controlled Congress would just never get around to voting to keep it around. It’s once again proof that Republicans think voters are extremely stupid. Scott really does seem to think that if Republicans just kill these programs passively instead of taking a vote against them, people wouldn’t notice or blame the GOP. In reality, of course, people tend to notice when their checks stop showing up or their doctor won’t see them anymore….Republicans thought they could smuggle Social Security destruction past voters by calling it “privatization.” They soon learned that voters, who tend to be skeptical of politicians already, saw directly through that ruse. Democrats won the 2006 midterms by healthy margins. But the Republican dream that they can fool the public with flimsy code words never dies. Former Vice President Mike Pence, also never mistaken for the sharpest tool, has been out there putting the final nail in his presidential aspirations by talking up Social Security “privatization.””

Then Marcotte goes there, to the place most commentators dare not tread: “Being generous to Republicans for a moment, there is one reason for them to think a majority of Americans are stupid: They do keep voting for Republicans. Republicans, in fact, won more voters in 2022 than Democrats. That’s hard evidence right there that a majority of Americans are easily snowed into voting against their own interests….Those numbers are disappointing reminders that voters could definitely be smarter, of course, but it’s not the slam dunk evidence of American imbecility that Republican politicians seem to think it is. The likelier explanation is that voters understand that Democrats will protect them from Republican efforts to decimate Medicare and Social Security. Perversely, that understanding freed some people up to vote GOP as a means to exercise their racist and sexist resentments, secure in the knowledge that Biden is in the White House to shield them from the worst consequences of electing a bunch of right-wing radicals….We’ve seen this time and again: Swing voters will reward Republicans for their culture war nonsense up until the point where Republicans cause massive damage. Then they’ll run back to Democrats, to fish the country out of the gutter. We saw this in 2008 when voters elected Barack Obama to bail them out of the disastrous Bush presidency. We saw it again in 2020 when Biden was brought in to clean up for Trump. Voters are irrational at times and prone to complacency — but they aren’t as dumb as Republicans assume.” While pundits wince at the white working-class “voting against their own interests” grumble of liberals, Marcotte’s take on swing voters’ course correction approach provides one explanation for the motivation of those fickle swingers. who bash Dems for their worst culture war rants, but will quickly turn on Republicans who dare to mess with retirement benefits. If only SOTUs had better shelf life….

4 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. R Whisk on

    A flash poll of 552 people cannot be equated to “all Americans” in any way. Nothing more than another piece of the narrative propaganda.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    It is inconceivable that a voter would vote against his own interest, as he sees that interest. It is much more plausible that he defines his best interest differently from the way you do. If you consider him stupid for that, his contempt for you will equal your contempt for him. Condescension does not win anybody’s trust.

  3. Victor on

    The difference between Hispanics in places like California and New York vs places like Texas and Florida is that unions provide political socialization.


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