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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides a succinct as you are going to find description of GOP strategy: “The playbook is quite consistent: Harvest votes from less affluent social conservatives and pursue policies that benefit well-off economic conservatives.” Dionne adds, “This weekend is surprisingly instructive about how these two brands of politics overlap and reinforce each other.” Dionne digs into the history of Memorial Day (“Decoration Day), going back to the Civil War, and then writes, “The arguments around the budget and the debt ceiling in 2023 reflect a similar interaction of fiscal issues and questions of social and political equality (with the two parties largely switching sides)….One of the thorniest issues in the negotiations between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) involved so-called work requirements for the recipients of various public benefits….Because such requirements don’t get anyone a job and mostly create bureaucratic obstacles for working people entitled to benefits, Biden sought and won sharply narrower provisions affecting fewer programs and individuals while increasing help for veterans and the homeless. The work requirements shouldn’t have survived at all. The fact that McCarthy made them a bottom line speaks to the power of the signal they send about who is “worthy” of public help and who is not, with racial stereotypes lurking in the background….At the same time, said Johns Hopkins political scientist Lilliana Mason, author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” the rhetorical strategies of Trump and DeSantis move attention away from “broadly unpopular cuts” to “extremely popular programs.”….Under these circumstances, it’s easier to advance a general attack on government spending, thereby evading debate on the merits of particular government benefits and investments….The good news about the debt ceiling deal is that the country will not default on its debt (avoiding a fight of this sort for the remainder of Biden’s presidency) and will escape the extreme cuts right-wing Republicans originally hoped for. This is balanced by the reality that divided control of Congress will foil social advances through 2024.”

“Defying the adage among practitioners and scholars of politics that voters become more conservative as they age,” writes Thomas B. Edsall in his New York Times column, “— millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born in 1997 and afterward) have in fact become decidedly more Democratic over time, according to data compiled by the Cooperative Election Study.“….“I think it’s a real shift,” [Tufts political scientists Brian] Schaffner wrote in an email, quoting an analysis from December 2022 by John Burn-Murdoch of The Financial Times, “Millennials Are Shattering the Oldest Rule in Politics”:

If millennials’ liberal inclinations are merely a result of this age effect, then at age 35 they too should be around five points less conservative than the national average and can be relied upon to gradually become more conservative. In fact, they’re more like 15 points less conservative and in both Britain and the U.S. are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history.

Schaffner noted that Burn-Murdoch’s article “is pretty convincing and focuses on not just vote share but also issue positions, so I don’t think it is just a Trump thing.” However, Schaffner explains, “Because the population is very big and turnout rates tend to be much higher for older adults, these trends can be slow to lead to significant gains. For example, in 2018, I applied a life expectancy model to our C.E.S. data and using that model I calculated that it would take more than 20 years for Democrats to gain just 3 percentage points on their vote share from differential mortality….Those gains could easily be offset by Republicans doing a bit better among other groups. For example, part of what has helped them in recent elections is that even while the share of the population who are non-college white people is in decline, it is still a large group that (1) has come to vote more Republican in the past decade and (2) has seen its turnout rate increase during the same period.”

Edsall adds, “In a report published this month, “What Happened in 2022,” Catalist, a progressive data analysis firm, found more developments among young voters that favor Democrats: “Gen Z and millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6 percent among those who were eligible in both elections.”….What’s more, as the Catalist report noted,

65 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022….Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55 percent to 57 percent support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4 percent support).

Edsall also quotes Notre Dame political scientist Geoffrey Layman, who “cited 2000 and 2020 data from American National Election Studies to prove his point:”

White working-class people, white evangelicals, white Catholics and white Christians in general all voted significantly more Republican in 2020 than in 2000. White people with no college education: 56 percent for Bush in 2000, 68 percent for Trump in 2020. White evangelicals who regularly attend church: 75 percent for Bush in 2000, 89 percent for Trump in 2020. White Catholics who regularly attend church: 56 percent for Bush in 2000, 67 percent for Trump in 2020….Those countervailing trends have left the two parties in about the same competitive balance as in 2000. However, as the pro-Democratic sociodemographic trends continue, it will become increasingly difficult for the G.O.P. to stay nationally competitive with a base of just white working-class people, devout white Christians and older white people. The Republicans are starting to max out their support among these groups.

Edsall writes further, “The white backlash to the growing strength of liberal constituencies not only prompted conservative voters to back Republicans by higher margins; they also turned out to vote at exceptionally high rates to make up for their falling share of the electorate.” Unfortunately, “The Catalist report points to gains by Trump and Republican candidates among racial and ethnic minorities. The level of Hispanic support for Republican House candidates rose from 29 percent in 2016 to 38 percent in 2020, where it stayed in 2022. In a separate report on the 2020 election, Catalist found Black support for Republican candidates rose by three points from 7 percent in 2016 to 10 percent in 2020.”

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