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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Read “Yes, Joe Biden Can Win the Working-Class Vote: Since 2020, Joe Biden’s support among working-class voters of all races has fallen alarmingly. Here are seven ways he and his party can reverse the slide” by Timothy Noah at The New Republic. Among bis observations: “Only half of the Democratic-candidate websites surveyed by the Center for Working-Class Politics bothered to mention Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Only about one-quarter mentioned Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which is spending another half-trillion on technologies to reduce climate change. And only 15 percent mentioned the CHIPS Act, signed into law three months before the election, which will spend another $53 billion to boost domestic manufacture of semiconductors. The combined effect of these three bills has been to nearly triple the construction of manufacturing facilities since Biden took office….however unpopular Biden was (and remains), Biden’s policies are very popular, especially among working-class voters—on those rare occasions when they hear about it. The IRA, for example, was favored in a March 2023 poll by 68 percent of people earning between $50,000 and $99,999. But these working-class people needed the pollsters (from Yale and George Mason) to first explain what the Inflation Reduction Act was. A 61 percent majority had no idea….To prevail in 2024, Biden will need to win the working-class vote. Over the past century, no Democrat—with one exception—has ever won the presidency without winning a majority of working-class voters. The single exception was Joe Biden in 2020; Biden lost noncollege voters that year to President Donald Trump, 47 to 51. That was slightly worse than Hillary Clinton did with noncollege voters in 2016. Biden performed better than Clinton among noncollege whites, but 8 percentage points worse among noncollege Latinos and 3 percentage points worse among noncollege African Americans. Biden became president anyway, but under a unique set of circumstances—a deadly and economically costly pandemic that the incumbent mishandled badly. It’s doubtful the president can remain an exception in 2024 and win reelection….electoral math compels the Democrats to pick up two college graduates for every noncollege voter who leaves….The electoral math gets even worse when you consider this year’s battleground states. Battleground swing voters will likely determine who becomes president (not to mention whether the Senate remains Democratic), and they skew more heavily toward noncollege voters (72 percent) than the nation as a whole (63 percent). Democrats in those crucial states, according to Jared Abbott and Fred DeVeaux of the Center for Working-Class Politics, will need to pick up not two but three college grads for every noncollege voter they lose. Rather than obsess about further expanding its share of college voters, the party would do better to think hard about how it can shore up a working-class constituency that, even at this late date, remains essential to winning the White House.”

At nbcnews.com, Mark Murray reports that “RFK Jr. candidacy hurts Trump more than Biden, NBC News poll finds: The finding contrasts with a number of other national polls, and it comes amid concerted Democratic efforts to prevent Kennedy from harming Biden’s campaign” and writes: “The latest national NBC News poll shows the third-party vote — and especially independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — cutting deeper into former President Donald Trumps support than President Joe Biden’s, though the movement the other candidates create is within the poll’s margin of error….Trump leads Biden by 2 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, 46% to 44%, in the new NBC News poll….Yet when the ballot is expanded to five named candidates, Biden is the one with a 2-point advantage: Biden 39%, Trump 37%, Kennedy 13%, Jill Stein 3% and Cornel West 2%….The big reason why is that the poll finds a greater share of Trump voters in the head-to-head matchup backing Kennedy in the expanded ballot. Fifteen percent of respondents who picked Trump the first time pick Kennedy in the five-way ballot, compared with 7% of those who initially picked Biden….Also, Republican voters view Kennedy much more favorably (40% positive, 15% negative) than Democratic voters do (16% positive, 53% negative).” Plug in all the caveats: It’s only one poll; it’s too early to take polls seriously. We’re only talking about a couple of points, anyway. And perhaps more important, it’s a national, instead of swing states polls, which would be more significant. Dems must guard against wishful thinking. As Murray writes, “The NBC News poll results on Kennedy’s impact are “different than other surveys,” said McInturff, the GOP pollster. “So there’s always two possibilities: One, it’s an outlier. … Or two, we’re going to be seeing more of this, and our survey is a harbinger of what’s to come….The Biden campaign has actively tried to peel support away from Kennedy. Most recently, Biden held an event Thursday with members of the Kennedy family who are endorsing the president over their relative.” One could also hope that Trump’s infantile behavior in his trials has finally become embarrassing for a few more of his supporters.

The Boston Review has a forum entitled “The New Blue Divide,” in which Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson probe  the possibilities for a “bold economic agenda” in the Democratic Party, despite relying on “affluent suburbanites” for support. As Hacker and Pierson write, “The place to begin is the changing geography of American politics. The partisan divide is now a “density divide.” Over the past few election cycles, Republicans have registered particularly big gains among white voters in lower-density regions of the country battered by the shift to a postindustrial knowledge economy. The consequences of the GOP’s retreat from dense metro areas are now well understood. It has powered the party’s embrace of Christian nationalism and right-wing populism as well as its growing attack on American democracy, leading to a base that is older, whiter, more heavily Evangelical, and less highly educated….Less well understood is the other half of the story—the transformation of the Democratic Party. Democrats are now firmly established as the political voice of multiracial, cross-class, metro America. Democrats have always done well in urban cores; what has changed over the past several decades is the party’s performance in the suburbs, which have grown more Democratic even as they have grown more affluent. Some of these gains have occurred because the suburbs have diversified racially and economically. Yet the most striking change in recent cycles is growing Democratic margins in the richest suburban communities—the biggest beneficiaries of U.S. economic growth over the last two decades. Most of these areas remain disproportionately white, and many leaned Republican not long ago….Because of these shifts, Democrats are now much less clearly the party of the “have nots.” In 2021–22, they represented twenty-four of the twenty-five congressional districts with the highest median household income—a striking change from the past. (Documentation for most of the statistics in this piece can be found in a recent academic article we wrote with Amelia Malpas and Sam Zacher.) At the presidential level, Democrats now win counties that produce the lion’s share of the nation’s economic output; some 71 percent of GDP came from the 1 in 6 counties that backed Biden in 2020. Indeed Biden won every one of the twenty-four most economically productive metro areas, and forty-three of the top fifty.”

“In remaking their coalition to bring in affluent college-educated voters,” Hacker and Pierson add, “Democrats are hardly alone. Left-of-center parties in most other rich democracies have evolved along broadly similar lines as the knowledge economy has built up steam—gaining highly educated professionals while losing white working-class voters, who increasingly embrace the populist right. In economist Thomas Piketty’s evocative depiction, parties that were once oriented toward the working class—the British Labor Party, the French Socialists, the German Social Democrats, as well as the U.S. Democratic Party—now represent the “Brahmin left.” In their efforts to court the affluent and educated, Piketty maintains, these left parties have retreated from their historical commitment to redistribution….This argument echoes the claims of many American observers, including prominent journalists and analysts such as David Leonhardt, Thomas Frank, Thomas Edsall, John Judis, and Ruy Teixeira. In their recent book Where Have All the Democrats Gone? (2023), for example, Judis and Teixeira lament that the party has “steadily lost the allegiance of ‘everyday Americans’” and that the “main problem” is its “cultural insularity and arrogance.” Democrats, these critics insist, have embraced the social liberalism of their affluent, college-educated white voters at the expense of the working class….Perhaps change will only come with greater direct investments in building a stronger network of supportive organizations, including labor unions. Or perhaps polarization is now so deeply entrenched—and the media landscape is now so noisy—that the ability of a party to build electoral support through economic governance is severely limited. Indeed, the changing media landscape is probably a major reason why sharply negative perceptions of Democrats are so hard to shake. Both GOP leaders and right-wing commentators relentlessly pillory the Democrats as obsessed with identity and culture. These narratives, amplified through mainstream as well as conservative media, make it extremely difficult for the party to reshape its image, especially when its policy initiatives so often fall victim to congressional gridlock….With a slightly stronger Democratic hand in Congress, the agenda of 2021 could be revived. The money will certainly be there—the only benefit of the spectacular transfer of financial resources to corporations and the wealthy over the past generation—and if the electoral shifts we have charted endure, there is a real chance that the political momentum could be as well.”

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