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Beto O’Rourke’s Campaign Tests Power of Facebook in Elections

In most of the recent polls, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke is running behind in his quest to win a U.S. Senate seat from incumbent Republican Ted Cruz. But, if O’Rourke wins next Tuesday, much of the credit will go to his unprecedented Facebook messaging. Alexis C. Madrigal explains at The Atlantic:

Through October 20, O’Rourke alone had spent $5.4 million advertising on the platform, according to Facebook’s Ad Archive Report. J. B. Pritzker, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, Claire McCaskill, and Heidi Heitkamp had spent $5.5 million total. O’Rourke’s opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, had spent only $427,000 on Facebook, about 1/13th as much as O’Rourke…Much of O’Rourke’s Facebook-ad buy seems to be going toward short videos of the candidate talking to crowds or directly to the camera.

Not that O’Rourke is neglecting TV and Google, as Madrigal notes:

The two Texas Senate hopefuls are relatively close in spending on television ads. While O’Rourke had spent more than $15 million on television ads through mid-October, Cruz and associated pacs had spent $12 million and were on pace to nearly catch up there. O’Rourke has also spent $1.3 million on Google ads, also top among all candidates, though by a much narrower margin (Rick Scott has spent more than $1 million). Cruz has spent little on Google—$181,000—according to the company’s political transparency report.

But O’Rourke’s online campaign has already proven to be a tremendous success in terms of fund-raising, and “his unexpected fund-raising success—pulling in $62 million through September 30—has catapulted the relatively unknown congressman from El Paso onto the national stage.”

Perhaps, even more importantly, O’Rourke’s campaign has also invested heavily in assembling a first-rate video production team.

But O’Rourke’s own video team has proved able to get and recognize hot footage, according to Kasra Shokat, a digital-media strategist at the consultancy Winning Mark. “He has invested a ton of infrastructure that can turn around and produce video on a dime and get those up quickly,” Shokat said. “That’s the kind of engaging content that works really well.”…Shokat said he’s begun to recommend that campaigns, especially those of charismatic talkers, hire full-time video help to create content.

Through widespread re-postings of his diverse videos, “it’s looking like O’Rourke’s total spending on Facebook has generated into the hundreds of millions of impressions,” notes Madrigal. It seems a wise bet. When a political campaign has a charismatic candidate, who is an underdog, maximizing face-time can only help.

“Facebook remains the primary platform for most Americans,” report Aaron Smith and Monica Anderson at pewinternet.org. “Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis. With the exception of those 65 and older, a majority of Americans across a wide range of demographic groups now use Facebook.”

“O’Rourke’s remarkable fund-raising might not be duplicative by candidates with less star power or in less contentious races, “warns Madrigal. “But if O’Rourke’s Facebook-heavy campaign surprises, even with a closer-than-expected loss, his approach could be a blueprint for state-level candidates devoting more resources to the platform.”


Did Facebook Just Cave to the GOP?

Yesterday J.P. Green noted an article in Campaigns & Elections underscoring the high regard Repubican party political operatives have for Facebook as a media outlet for their ads — despite the efforts of Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to discredit Facebook as tainted by liberal bias.
But Thune’s record suggests more than a little hypocrisy, as Steve Benen noted at Maddowblog:

…John Thune says he’s concerned about Facebook’s “culture” and the integrity of its mission statement, but again, how in the world is that any of his business? Isn’t the Republican model based on the idea that the free market should decide and if online consumers don’t like Facebook’s “culture,” we can take our clicks elsewhere?
But even more striking still is Thune’s uniquely weak position. When the South Dakota Republican became Congress’ leading opponent of net neutrality, Thune made the case that any political interference in how the Internet operates is inherently unacceptable.
Worse, in 2007, Thune railed against the “Fairness Doctrine,” arguing at the time, “I know the hair stands up on the back of my neck when I hear government officials offering to regulate the news media and talk radio to ensure fairness. I think most Americans have the same reaction.”

For the sake of argument, so what if Facebook had more “liiberal” content? Fox News, Breitbart and the Drudge Report display relentless conservative bias every day, and no Senators are trying to intimidate them to change their polices to reflect a more liberal point of view. Not all media has to be nonpartisan.
But Facebook has 1.6 billion “users,” and dwarfs all other websites in some key metrics that measure influence, which explain Thune’s meddling.
In reality, however, the political content of Facebook is mostly determined by the public, as its “users” choose which articles, videos and other content to share with their FB friends. It’s different for every user, from moment to moment. Liberals see mostly liberal content, and the same principle applies for both conservatives and moderates. Facebook does provide a powerful forum for peer-to-peer political education. But everyone can choose what to read and view and what to ignore, and that includes content spotlighted by Facebook’s administrators and staff.
But Brian Fung’s Washington Post article, “Facebook is making some big changes to Trending Topics, responding to conservatives” raises a disturbing possibility that facebook is caving to political pressure. As Fung reports,

Facebook said Monday it will stop relying as much on other news outlets to inform what goes into its Trending Topics section — a part of Facebook’s website that despite its small size has grown into a national political controversy amid accusations that the social network is stifling conservative voices on its platform.
Under the change, Facebook will discontinue the algorithmic analysis of media organizations’ websites and digital news feeds that partly determines which stories should be included in Trending Topics. Also being thrown out is a list of 1,000 journalism outlets that currently helps Facebook’s curators evaluate and describe the newsworthiness of potential topics, as well as a more exclusive list of 10 news sites that includes BuzzFeed News, the Guardian, the New York Times and The Washington Post.
…Facebook’s policy change Monday appears to be aimed at defusing the palpable tension between it and Republicans outraged over reports that Facebook’s Trending Topics could be biased against conservatives. Facebook’s announcement ending the scraping of news sites and RSS feeds for Trending Topics came in a response to Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Thune demanded on May 10 that Facebook answer a series of questions in light of the mounting outcry over the perceived bias.

Facebook has reponded that “Suppressing political content or preventing people from seeing what matters most to them is directly contrary to our mission and our business objectives.” But the changes regarding the selection of ‘Trending Topics” content suggest otherwise.
Most Facebook users will probably not notice much change in political slant and tone. That will still be largely determined by user posts. But the possibility that Facebook’s content policy can be influenced by political intimidation, especially from the politician who leads the opposition to net neurtrality, is disturbing.


July 21: Like Republicans in 2017, Democrats Learn a Trifecta Ain’t All That

Mulling the angst among Democrats over the continuing shrinkage of their FY 2022 budget reconciliation bill, I wrote at New York the not-so-distant time the opposition was in the same sport:

Democrats are in a state of agony over the possibility that their hard-earned governing trifecta, which is very likely to expire after the November midterm elections, will produce far less in the way of legislation than they had envisioned. And while there are, as my colleague Jonathan Chait put it, “a thousand fathers” for the disappointing end to the saga of the once-robust Build Back Better package, much of the blame for Democrats’ steadily shrinking agenda is being cast toward a tiny group of self-styled “centrists” led by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Democrats famously have a tendency to regard themselves as a party in disarray and are uniquely prone to letting down their activist base by underachievement. But the truth is that narrow congressional majorities often produce devastating legislative setbacks. Ask the Republicans who watched their own domestic policy Great White Whale, a repeal of Obamacare, go down the tubes in the wee hours of July 28, 2017. The coup de grâce was administered by the late John McCain, whose famous “thumbs-down” gesture signaling his decisive vote against the last-gasp “skinny repeal” bill became the symbol of Republican frustration (much like Manchin’s pronouncements against this or that Democratic priority today) in the 115th Congress.

But then as now, the failure was not so simple. Obamacare repeal — like the Build Back Better package, an initiative utilizing the filibuster-skirting budget reconciliation process — was beset by a host of problems. These ranged from hostage taking by Republican dissidents in both Houses who used their leverage over the bill to reshape and sometimes delay it; the nonnegotiable demands of the Senate parliamentarian who used the power to block inclusion of provisions that didn’t meet the obscure germaneness requirements of the Byrd Rule; intra-party factional fights over the scope and audacity of the legislation (which in most versions included explosive add-ons like a Medicaid spending cap); and nervous glances at polling with the upcoming midterm elections in mind. This should all sound familiar to those watching the Democratic dance over BBB.

Republicans in 2017 had the additional handicap of dealing with the most unpredictable president in recent memory, whose support for long-agreed-upon plans could never be taken for granted. And while some may think Democrats are uniquely devastated today because of the enormous possibilities that appeared to open up when their party took over the White House and the Senate in 2021 (with much debate as to whether FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society blitz provided the best precedent), Republicans had their own sky-high expectations after winning a trifecta in 2016. As I wrote days after the 2016 election:

“With Trump in the White House and the GOP controlling Congress — the condition that will prevail in January, based on the results of Tuesday’s election — Republicans are now in a position to work a revolution in domestic policy. It will likely be at least as dramatic as anything we’ve seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, and perhaps since LBJ and congressional Democrats enacted the Great Society legislation that is now in peril …

“[A]s Paul Ryan told us all in early October, he has long planned to use the budget reconciliation process — where there is no filibuster available in the Senate — to enact his entire budget in one bill. Again, a bill that cannot be filibustered. He referred to it, appropriately, as a bazooka in his pocket. And while there are some things you cannot do in a reconciliation bill, there aren’t many of them: Congressional Republicans did a trial run last year (nobody paid much attention, because they knew Barack Obama would veto it), and it aimed at crippling Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and disabling regulators, in addition to the nasty surprises for poor people mentioned above.”

Alarmist as this might sound in retrospect, it was realistic at the time … until Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump found out how hard it was to rush through a budget reconciliation bill with narrow majorities in both Houses.

The analogy between each party’s recent struggles with passing a reconciliation bill is hardly precise, of course. In late 2017, Republicans would bounce back from repeated failed efforts to repeal Obamacare and use reconciliation to enact the very tax cuts that most (though crucially, not all) Democrats want to revise or repeal now. Then they lost control of the House (and thus their trifecta) in November 2018. In the case of today’s Democrats, they got their successful reconciliation bill earlier, in March 2021, in the form of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that combined COVID relief and recovery measures with small bites of Biden’s economic agenda. Because so much of it was keyed to the pandemic, it was easier to enact than the various long-term measures contemplated in the second planned reconciliation bill (Build Back Better), but its luster as an accomplishment has been diminished by claims that it contributed to the current inflation crisis.

So what’s the lesson for Democrats? The trouble they’ve had isn’t simply about their alleged disunity, or the president’s alleged lack of leadership, or even about the pernicious use of leverage by Manchin or others to throw sand into the legislative machinery. It all comes back to the shakiness of small congressional majorities, and the power of the Senate filibuster, and the creaky imperfections of the budget process as one of the few ways around around the filibuster. Institutional reforms are ultimately the only solution — and yes, Manchin is a huge obstacle to those as well — rather than some surgery on the soul of the Democratic donkey and its various limbs and organs.


Like Republicans in 2017, Democrats Learn a Trifecta Ain’t All That

Mulling the angst among Democrats over the continuing shrinkage of their FY 2022 budget reconciliation bill, I wrote at New York the not-so-distant time the opposition was in the same sport:

Democrats are in a state of agony over the possibility that their hard-earned governing trifecta, which is very likely to expire after the November midterm elections, will produce far less in the way of legislation than they had envisioned. And while there are, as my colleague Jonathan Chait put it, “a thousand fathers” for the disappointing end to the saga of the once-robust Build Back Better package, much of the blame for Democrats’ steadily shrinking agenda is being cast toward a tiny group of self-styled “centrists” led by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Democrats famously have a tendency to regard themselves as a party in disarray and are uniquely prone to letting down their activist base by underachievement. But the truth is that narrow congressional majorities often produce devastating legislative setbacks. Ask the Republicans who watched their own domestic policy Great White Whale, a repeal of Obamacare, go down the tubes in the wee hours of July 28, 2017. The coup de grâce was administered by the late John McCain, whose famous “thumbs-down” gesture signaling his decisive vote against the last-gasp “skinny repeal” bill became the symbol of Republican frustration (much like Manchin’s pronouncements against this or that Democratic priority today) in the 115th Congress.

But then as now, the failure was not so simple. Obamacare repeal — like the Build Back Better package, an initiative utilizing the filibuster-skirting budget reconciliation process — was beset by a host of problems. These ranged from hostage taking by Republican dissidents in both Houses who used their leverage over the bill to reshape and sometimes delay it; the nonnegotiable demands of the Senate parliamentarian who used the power to block inclusion of provisions that didn’t meet the obscure germaneness requirements of the Byrd Rule; intra-party factional fights over the scope and audacity of the legislation (which in most versions included explosive add-ons like a Medicaid spending cap); and nervous glances at polling with the upcoming midterm elections in mind. This should all sound familiar to those watching the Democratic dance over BBB.

Republicans in 2017 had the additional handicap of dealing with the most unpredictable president in recent memory, whose support for long-agreed-upon plans could never be taken for granted. And while some may think Democrats are uniquely devastated today because of the enormous possibilities that appeared to open up when their party took over the White House and the Senate in 2021 (with much debate as to whether FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society blitz provided the best precedent), Republicans had their own sky-high expectations after winning a trifecta in 2016. As I wrote days after the 2016 election:

“With Trump in the White House and the GOP controlling Congress — the condition that will prevail in January, based on the results of Tuesday’s election — Republicans are now in a position to work a revolution in domestic policy. It will likely be at least as dramatic as anything we’ve seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, and perhaps since LBJ and congressional Democrats enacted the Great Society legislation that is now in peril …

“[A]s Paul Ryan told us all in early October, he has long planned to use the budget reconciliation process — where there is no filibuster available in the Senate — to enact his entire budget in one bill. Again, a bill that cannot be filibustered. He referred to it, appropriately, as a bazooka in his pocket. And while there are some things you cannot do in a reconciliation bill, there aren’t many of them: Congressional Republicans did a trial run last year (nobody paid much attention, because they knew Barack Obama would veto it), and it aimed at crippling Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood, and disabling regulators, in addition to the nasty surprises for poor people mentioned above.”

Alarmist as this might sound in retrospect, it was realistic at the time … until Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump found out how hard it was to rush through a budget reconciliation bill with narrow majorities in both Houses.

The analogy between each party’s recent struggles with passing a reconciliation bill is hardly precise, of course. In late 2017, Republicans would bounce back from repeated failed efforts to repeal Obamacare and use reconciliation to enact the very tax cuts that most (though crucially, not all) Democrats want to revise or repeal now. Then they lost control of the House (and thus their trifecta) in November 2018. In the case of today’s Democrats, they got their successful reconciliation bill earlier, in March 2021, in the form of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that combined COVID relief and recovery measures with small bites of Biden’s economic agenda. Because so much of it was keyed to the pandemic, it was easier to enact than the various long-term measures contemplated in the second planned reconciliation bill (Build Back Better), but its luster as an accomplishment has been diminished by claims that it contributed to the current inflation crisis.

So what’s the lesson for Democrats? The trouble they’ve had isn’t simply about their alleged disunity, or the president’s alleged lack of leadership, or even about the pernicious use of leverage by Manchin or others to throw sand into the legislative machinery. It all comes back to the shakiness of small congressional majorities, and the power of the Senate filibuster, and the creaky imperfections of the budget process as one of the few ways around around the filibuster. Institutional reforms are ultimately the only solution — and yes, Manchin is a huge obstacle to those as well — rather than some surgery on the soul of the Democratic donkey and its various limbs and organs.


Teixeira: Winning ‘Culturally Traditional, but Not Extremist’ Working-Class Voters

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his facebook page:

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.
Andy Levison is just right about this. I highly recommend you read his excellent memo.

Levison summarizes his argument as follows:

1. As the 2022 elections approach, a critical question for Democratic strategists is why a significant group of working class voters choose to support Republican extremists even though they themselves are more accurately described as “cultural traditionalists” rather than extremists. In opinion surveys and focus groups this group of white (and now also increasingly Latino) working class voters make clear that they do not actually believe MAGA/Q-Anon/Tucker Carlson conspiracy theories or view all Democrats as literal “enemies” but they nonetheless vote for extremist candidates who assert these views on election day.

2. A major reason for this is that working class voters do not make their political choices primarily based on examining specific issues and policies. They evaluate candidates based on their broader outlook and philosophy – a perspective that the candidates frequently present as a basic “story” or “narrative” about America.

3. The basic extremist narrative is actually undergirded by three profoundly important subsidiary narratives that are nested within the larger narrative and which long predate the modern MAGA ideology. These three linked sub-narratives are not inherently extremist. They express a genuine and understandable frustration and sense of abandonment by the Democratic Party.

4. Democratic candidates can identify with these narratives and seek ways to address the legitimate concerns that are a deeply felt part of the working class experience in modern America without endorsing the extremist narrative that has incorporated and exploited them with such marked success.

Read it all here.


Pfeiffer: It’s the Megaphone, Not the Message

So, “Why Do Democrats Suck at messaging?” Dan Pfeiffer, former communications director for President Obama and author of “Battling the Big Lie,” shares some thoughts on the topic at Vanity Fair, including:

“Pundits and the political press are constantly haranguing Democrats for their messaging mistakes. One liberal writer of several well-reviewed presidential histories called me often during Obama’s first term to lecture me on why Obama didn’t yet have a version of FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society. The subtext of these conversations was that great slogans make great presidents. Much of Progressive Twitter is filled with lamentations about some failure or missed messaging opportunity. There was a running joke in the Obama White House that you needed a master’s in economics to discuss economic policy and a doctorate in public health to offer health care ideas, but everyone believed that reading the newspaper made them qualified to opine on messaging strategy.

….A series of focus groups conducted in the first few months of the Biden presidency found that voters were unable to identify what the Democratic Party stood for. Two electoral landslide victories for Obama, a huge popular-vote win for President Biden, and four years of resistance to  Trump—and the Democrats still have a brand problem. This is more than a failure by party leaders and activists to settle on a narrative.

…How does one compose a pithy slogan or a tweet-length narrative to accurately and appealingly describe a coalition so broad that it extends from Joe Manchin to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? It’s the difference between being asked to come up with a brand for one television network like HBO or ESPN and being asked to brand “television” more broadly. What compelling slogan would be inclusive of every channel, from Bravo to CNBC?

Frankly, the messaging and branding task is more challenging for Democrats than it is for Republicans. The geographic disparities in the Senate and the Electoral College mean that Democrats must turn out liberal-base voters and appeal to voters much more conservative than the median Democratic voter. Democrats have to sell a wider array of products to a wider array of people.

The Republican coalition is narrower. It’s more ideologically homogenous and as white as a field of lilies. The Electoral College is biased toward Republican states, and the Senate gives small rural states like Wyoming the same number of votes as California and New York. To succeed, Republicans need only appeal to their base and little else, which allows for a simpler message.

However, Pfeiffer notes, “For all the party’s messaging mishaps, there are some facts running counter to the prevailing narrative that Republicans are messaging maestros. First, Democrats have won the popular vote in all but one presidential election since 1988. Second, the Democratic Party’s approval rating, while nothing to write home about, has been consistently higher than the Republican Party’s for many years. Finally, the Democratic position on immigration, taxes, reproductive freedom, minimum wage, civil rights, voting rights, and climate change is more popular than the Republican position.” Further,

These facts help explain why Republicans and their billionaire supporters invest so much time and energy in building a disinformation apparatus that can overcome the opinions of the majority of Americans. Hence, the megaphone problem…..Democratic messaging is not perfect; far from it. It’s often too wonky and wordy, an Ezra Klein column distilled into a paragraph of focus-grouped verbal applesauce. Our party leaders are all over 70, and none of them rose to the pinnacle of party leadership based on their communication chops. They are generationally disconnected from the party’s base, but the problem isn’t their age. It’s that each has spent more than half their years serving in Congress, where authentic human speaking goes to die.

Noting that “Democrats spend 99% of their time worrying about what they should say and only 1% figuring out how to get people to hear what they are sayin,” Pfeiffer adds,

The Republicans have a cable television network whose sole raison d’être is to attack Democrats and promote pro-GOP talking points. The conservative media dwarfs the progressive media in size and scope. And even then, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. The bulk of the media on the right is an adjunct of the party apparatus; during the Trump presidency it was state-adjacent propaganda—Pravda, but with plausible deniability…..Facebook, the biggest, most important media outlet in the world, aggressively promotes conservative content. Democrats are out-gunned. We have fewer outlets with less reach. What we say is being drowned out. Sure, we need a better message, but first we need to get a bigger megaphone….Democrats have a much smaller megaphone, and our message is getting drowned out.

Republicans dictate the terms of the conversation in American politics and have done so for much of the 21st century. Democrats aren’t doing everything right, but we also must recognize that doing everything right is still insufficient. Until more Democrats figure this out, we will remain trapped in the doom loop. During every campaign cycle, our strategy is defense.

The better question, says Pfeiffer, is “So, how do we build a bigger, better megaphone?”


Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall quotes Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos on the political fallout of the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade: “At first blush, the overturning of Roe certainly seems like it could be a mobilizing event: it involves a medical procedure that is extremely common and has been experienced by a large portion of women in the United States and could materially affect the lives of millions of people. In some states, it will be the rare instance of the state taking away a right that people have previously enjoyed. To my knowledge, this has not happened since Southern states moved to strip voting rights after the end of Reconstruction….Your typical voter has only a vague notion of the ideological composition of the court, let alone how it got that way. While the Republican hijacking of the court to push an ideological agenda seems like a grave injustice to many of us, understanding why this is an injustice takes a level of engagement with politics that most voters simply don’t have….A more likely way for Roe to matter is that the most active Democrats, those who donate money and volunteer, will be animated for the midterm. Democrats were so animated by Donald Trump that they brought an energy to the election in 2020 that was impossible for them to sustain. While this might return in 2024 if Trump is on the ballot, it was not going to be there in 2022 without a catalyzing force — overturning Roe might be that force.”

At The Daily Beast, Sam Brodey notes, “In the absence of tangible results, Democrats are attempting to turn the conversation to the hardline actions Republicans would take on abortion if they control Congress….Republican leaders and campaign organizations have largely been reluctant to amplify their anti-abortion views in the last week, Democrats believe they have more than enough material to work with in persuading voters that the GOP would embrace extreme measures….One Democratic aide said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remark that a national abortion ban would be “possible” under a GOP majority was “a gift for us.”…The party’s nominee for Senate in Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan, ran Facebook ads saying that his “extremist opponent”—J.D. Vance—“supports the end of Roe.” Vance has gone so far as to state he does not believe there should be abortion access even in cases of rape or incest….A Roe rollback “gives us the opportunity to show the stakes of holding the House in a way we’ve struggled to do so far this cycle,” said one swing-district campaign aide….Regardless of how Democratic voters and donors respond to that pitch, the biggest fundraising shift brought about by the Roe news could be an unprecedented level of focus, and dollars, to often overlooked state-level races.”

“To suggest that the collapse of Roe could effectively inspire the sort of movement-building for the broader left that it has for the right is to misunderstand at once the class politics of abortion and the role it’s played within both parties, Natalie Shure writes in “The End of Roe v. Wade Won’t Motivate Democrats” in The New Republic. “As much as we might wish otherwise, the most plausible impact the end of Roe v. Wade will have on electoral politics is little to none at all….In short, the anti-abortion movement is class war disguised as culture war, and reproductive justice must entail not just the right to abortion but resource redistribution and funding of the sorts of universal programs that the far right has used issues like abortion to block. (Compare a comprehensive reproductive justice demand to the pro-choice movement’s political strategy, which in no small part amounts to giving money to corporate Democrats.)….Once you reframe abortion as a top-down class war, it’s easy to see why the fall of Roe won’t amp people up the way some expect it to. While higher-class women understandably see Roe as a powerful guarantor of their personhood and equal status with men, poorer women have already lacked Roe’s protections for a long time—and it’s unclear whether an oppressed population already long under political siege and less likely to vote will be thrust toward an epiphany by a SCOTUS ruling. In polls, the people who report caring most about abortion relative to other issues are young, progressive, educated, concentrated in cities, and of higher income—already one of the Democratic Party’s strongest bases. The moderate suburban voters some analysis predicted could be brought into the Democratic fold have largely already entered, in 2018 and 2020—and even if they disapprove of overturning Roe, polls suggest they may not care quite enough to prioritize it over other issues.”

From “The Truth About Inflation: Saudi Arabia and Russia fueled inflation, but Biden’s relief plan probably didn’t, and there are hopeful signs even with high prices likely to continue into 2023” by Robert Shapiro at The Washington Monthly: “While consumer prices rose 8.2 percent from April 2021 to April 2022, prices for energy commodities (mainly oil, natural gas, and coal) jumped 45 percent, fuel oil prices soared 81 percent, and gasoline prices increased 44 percent. Unsurprisingly, inflation is much higher for goods that need lots of energy to produce and transport, so prices have jumped 17.3 percent for cars and trucks, 9.4 percent for food, and 12.1 percent for large appliances. But services need much less energy, and over the past year, prices increased only 1.2 percent for doctors’ services, 1.7 percent for prescription drugs, and 2.1 percent for college tuition….The current inflation is not only about energy. Many economists emphasize the strong demand from the 2021 boom colliding with global supply chain problems in China and at American ports. The pandemic shook up the economy, and those effects have contributed to inflation….The bad news is that energy markets expect Russia and the Saudis to keep oil prices high well into 2023. Those oil prices will keep inflation relatively high in the energy-dependent goods that everyone uses every day, here and in much of the world—including European countries that provided much less pandemic-related relief. And fortunately, the recent jump in oil prices is likely a one-time event that may dog us for another year or so.” If Shapiro is right, Democrats shouldn’t waste too much time trying to fix inflation or justify Biden’s economic policies. Time is short anyway. Better to instensify Democratic attacks on their Republican opponents, who have coddled Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as price gouging corporations. A good mantra for Democratic midterm candidates going forward: “Don’t defend, attack fiercely and frequently.”


Teixeira: How Dems Can Leverage Public Opinion on Abortion

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Public Opinion on Abortion
Time to get re-acquainted with the data, now that it looks the Supremes are going to strike down Roe v. .Wade! This is a complicated issue–more complicated than many Democrats think–but, handled carefully, this is an issue on which Democrats can potentially make real gains even in the current dreadful political environment.
Click thru the link for lots more charts and tables from Gallup.

Political Strategy Notes

Can Democrats knock Republicans off their two-faced midterm strategy?,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. asks in his Washington Post column. Dionne’s take: “Polls for congressional contests are closer than the conventional wisdom suggests about impending Democratic catastrophe. Some even give Democrats a slight lead in generic surveys for House races. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday found Democrats with 46 percent among registered voters, Republicans with 45. But the Republicans’ two-step, and enthusiasm in their base, give the GOP confidence about the fall….Democrats, being Democrats, are wringing their hands with apprehension. They often blame each other for the party’s troubles — the left goes after the center, the center assails the left, and the congressional and White House wings sometimes seem to be speaking different languages….But there are signs that Democrats, collectively, have begun to identify the first task in front of them: to call out the stark contradiction inherent in the GOP’s strategy and to force the Republican Party as a whole to own the meanness of its loudest voices….Even if they salvage some of the president’s climate and social spending this spring, Democrats realize they can’t prevail on accomplishments alone. They need to force voters to confront what a vote for Republicans could lead to….“I think we make a mistake if we don’t go straight at Republicans on their obsession with these very narrowcast, broadly unpopular cultural fights,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told me during an interview. “It’s just not true that it’s popular to pick on gay kids. That riles up a subsection of the Republican base.”….Murphy has been at the forefront in pushing Democrats toward a more aggressive strategy. His approach was on display in a widely shared tweet last weekend: “Republicans fight Disney to force them to discriminate against gay kids. Democrats fight drug companies to force them to lower insulin prices for sick kids. Run on that.”….The point, he told me, is to “call out their bigotry and their obsession with these wedge social issues and contrast it … with our decision to spend our time working on issues that matter to a much broader cross-section of Americans.”….Yes, 2022 will be a challenging year for Democrats. But playing offense is a better political bet than playing defense. And wagering that the basic decency of moderate voters will inspire a recoil from intolerance and culture-war obsessions is a fine place to start.”

Charlie Cook addresses the question, “Could Roe Change the Subject This November?” at The Cook Political Report, then responds:”Democrats need the subject of this election to change, to shift away from them and toward Republicans—a tall order indeed when the GOP is out of power and not held responsible for much that does or does not happen. Keeping in mind that election years are notoriously unproductive in terms of legislation, if something happens to shift the focus of this election, it is more likely to come from the opposite side of First Street than where the Senate and House chambers are situated: that is, the Supreme Court….A reversal of Roe would basically punt the entire abortion issue to the states to fight over, just as they did on partisan (though not racial) gerrymandering. But given how many states are already safely ensconced in the back pockets of one party or the other, a substantial share of the electorate lives in states where little change in state abortion law is likely. States that preponderantly favor abortion rights are unlikely to enact antiabortion legislation, and vice versa. Potential change is more likely in states on the bubble, where the partisan and state legislative balance is either evenly balanced or in transition….The states worth watching are pretty much the swing states that we see on the presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial levels. One could do a lot worse than focus on the six states that political sage Doug Sosnik identifies as critical for 2022 and, arguably, 2024 as well: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Nevada….In terms of individual minds being changed, it is unlikely that a reversal or near reversal of Roe would have much more than a ripple. Those most likely to be outraged by a reversal are mostly either already in the Democratic camp or find themselves cross-pressured on many issues, thus hardly likely to be single-issue voters. Those who would greet such a decision in a jubilant fashion are already on the GOP side, making motivation the only game in town, not persuasion….If any issue or event on the radar screen could shift the focus of this election, it would be Roe, but the prospect of it changing which way the river is flowing is pretty unlikely.”

From Harry Enten’s “The 3 things that need to happen for Democrats to keep the Senate” at CNN Politics: “For Senate Democrats to have a good election night in November, some combination of at least three things needs to happen….1. Republicans nominate weak candidates. The 2022 Senate map is not that great for the GOP, with all Democrats up for reelection running in states Biden won in 2020 and Republicans defending two seats in Biden states. Most neutral observers have noted that the leading Republican candidates in high-profile Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire are not the strongest candidates. That accounts for 21% of all GOP Senate challengers this year. (While three weak challengers in the 435-member House is unlikely to make a difference to the final outcome, it can make a huge difference in the 100-member Senate.)….2. The economy improves. Inflation is sky-high, disposable income has dropped and even the nation’s GDP has declined. When the economy is the top concern, it’s hard to win as the incumbent party.The good news for Democrats is that the election is still six months away. Although none of these metrics are likely to improve dramatically, all are forecast to get at least a little better by November…..3. Everyone who approves of Biden votes Democratic. Biden’s job approval rating is going to be key this fall, at a time when straight-ticket voting is very high….Historically, the magic mark for a president in midterm elections has been 60% approval. But that may not be the case anymore with more Americans voting for the party in the White House when they approve of the president and voting against it when they disapprove….So Biden’s approval rating may only need to be around 50% — if not a little lower should Democrats have an advantage in candidate quality.”

Monica Potts and Jean Yi explain why “Why Twitter Is Unlikely To Become The ‘Digital Town Square’ Elon Musk Envisions” at FiveThirtyEight: “Overall, though, Twitter might be more accurately described as a scrolling newspaper than a public square. Other social media sites, like Facebook, stretch farther into the information ecosystem and are likelier to reveal what most Americans are currently reading, sharing and saying….The Pew Research Center conducts regular surveys on social media use in the United States, and the most popular networks across demographics and political affiliation remain, by far, YouTube and Facebook. As of early 2021, 81 percent and 69 percent of American adults, respectively, reported using these two sites, and the majority of each site’s users visited frequently. This is particularly true of Facebook: 71 percent of users said they visited the site daily, and nearly half of all users visited multiple times a day….By comparison, just under a quarter of American adults reported being on Twitter. And according to a Pew study released in April 2019, only a tiny portion (10 percent) of its adult users in America made up 80 percent of all tweets from that same group. And according to another Pew survey from 2021, only a very small share of tweets from American adults (14 percent) were original content. In other words, these users are mostly retweeting, quote-tweeting or replying….Overall, though, 66 percent of Americans said that social media does more to hurt than help free speech and democracy. That reasoning, however, broke starkly along partisan lines: Republicans were likelier to say speaking freely online was important, while Democrats were likelier to think it was more important that people felt safe and welcome online.”


Political Strategy Notes

At Vox, Li Zhou answers a question many Democrats have been wondering about, “Can executive actions save Democrats in the midterms?” As Zhou writes, “In recent weeks, progressives have issued a dire warning for Democrats. If President Joe Biden doesn’t try to get more done via executive action, they argue, voters won’t turn out because they’ll feel like the party hasn’t delivered for them….“If the president does pursue and start to govern decisively using executive action and other tools at his disposal, I think we’re in the game,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told New York magazine in an interview this week. “But if we decide to just kind of sit back for the rest of the year and not change people’s lives — yeah, I do think we’re in trouble.”…In March, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) unveiled a slate of 55 executive actions they’ve recommended Biden take, including canceling student debt, changing rules around overtime pay so more workers are eligible for it, and reducing prescription drug prices.” Zhou opines, “When it comes to mobilization, progressives are correct. Democrats need to do more to energize their base after the party failed to pass the expansive social spending legislation and voting rights protections they promised to advance in 2020. Given their narrow majority in the Senate and the impasse they’ve faced there, it’s possible executive action might be the only route Democrats now have for certain policy changes.” However, “Whether executive action will be enough to stem their overall midterm losses, though, is unclear.” Zhou adds, “Executive actions could help rally many of the Democratic voters who’ve become disillusioned with the party’s leadership, though experts note that they’ll have to make sure these efforts don’t turn swing voters away. “Executive actions that relate to the economy historically have the potential to boost participation of the president’s base,” says the Brookings Institution’s Nicole Willcoxon.”

If you were wondering, “How Big Is the House Playing Field?,” Amy Walter has some answers at The Cook Political Report: “This week, Democratic and Republican campaign operations acknowledged that the House playing field is expanding. The NRCC added another 10 House districts to its already robust list of 72 Democratic-held targets. And on the Democratic side, the House Majority PAC announced it would be reserving nearly $102 million in advertising in a whopping 51 media markets for the fall campaign….Currently, RealClear Politics shows Republicans ahead by 3.6 points in the generic ballot tracker. If that holds up through Election Day, it will represent a 6.6 percent positive shift to Republicans from 2020 (Democrats won the national House vote by 3.1 points in 2020)….So, what would a 6.6 point shift to the right look like? At a very crude level, we could say that it would shift the 2020 vote margin in every CD, about 7 points more Republican. So, forample, a district that Biden carried 52 percent to 45 percent (+7) would become a jump ball (50-50) in 2022. Or, a better way to think of it is that any district that Biden carried by less than 7 points would be in danger of flipping to the GOP….The good news for Democrats is that (at this point) there are only 21 districts where Biden’s margin was fewer than seven points. Even if we expand that universe to include districts Biden carried by 8-10 points, that universe of potentially vulnerable Democratic-held seats expands only slightly….However, the good news for Republicans is that they currently hold eight of those 21 seats that Biden carried by less than seven points. In other words, it would make some of the most vulnerable GOP-held districts’s, like Rep. Don Bacon’s Omaha-based NE-02 (Biden +6) and Rep. Dave Schweikert’s Phoenix-based AZ-01(Biden +1.4), tougher for Democrats to pick off. But, these are “holds,” not flips, which lowers the ceiling for GOP gains….Another factor that may cap GOP gains is that Democrats don’t have to defend many Trump-won districts. Right now, Democrats represent only six districts (AZ-02, IA-03, WI-03, PA-08, ME-02, and OH-09) that Biden did not win. In 2018, Republicans were defending four times as many districts that Hillary Clinton had carried in the 2016 election.”

Sam Brodey writes that “Democrats are left to turn to that time-honored security blanket for the party in charge: pork projects” at The Daily Beast. “Thousands of so-called “earmarked” projects like these, scattered across hundreds of districts, were included in Congress’ $1.5 trillion annual spending bill that passed earlier this month. And Democrats believe they can spin this cash—which was a political liability not long ago—into a viable election backup plan….Earmarks—rebranded as “member-directed spending”—returned this year for the first time in over a decade, and they couldn’t have come at a better time for Democrats.’ Some House Democrats have been “advertising their earmark achievements as well, taking out Facebook ads, scheduling town halls with constituents, and appearing at countless ribbon-cuttings and huge check hand-outs. That could be just a preview of what’s to come for Democrats heading into the midterm season. Several party aides and operatives told The Daily Beast that lawmakers in challenging races should tout their earmark wins everywhere as often as possible….Martha McKenna, a Democratic strategist and campaign ad maker, said Democrats should “definitely” run on their earmarks—and, in general, should be “louder and more aggressive” in claiming credit for their local wins….“In a world where independent voters are turned off by partisan bickering, if we can cut through that and say, ‘This is a project your local Democrat got done and here’s the impact,’ that should be a message that cuts through,” McKenna said.”

Writing at The American Prospect, Jon Walker warns that “if Republicans win in 2022, Democrats are unlikely to win another trifecta for at least another decade, if not longer. In addition, if millions of people feel they have been burned by making the mistake of choosing to use the Democrats’ health care program, public opinion of the program could take a big hit. The ACA’s favorable rating has improved by five points since Democrats enhanced the subsidies, but remains at 58 percent, owing in part to implacable opposition from the right wing. Those numbers will likely rocket downward if the subsidy enhancements expire….On a separate track, previous pandemic relief measures included a “continuous coverage” option that gave states higher shares of Medicaid funding. Those changes end if the administration ends the public-health emergency created by COVID-19. The emergency could end as soon as this summer, according to published reports, which would instantly allow states to cull their Medicaid rolls and throw 12 million people, by one estimate, off public health insurance. Build Back Better would have stepped down the increased payments to states slowly, kept a small portion of them in place, and made it harder for states to disenroll lots of beneficiaries in one shot. But with Build Back Better dead, that’s gone too, imperiling millions of Medicaid patients, again just before the midterms….If Democrats miss the opportunity to permanently fix Medicaid and the ACA subsidies, it might not be possible to ever rebuild trust in the ACA or in the Democrats’ brand as the party of health care. It will be very hard to sell slowly building on the ACA if Democrats prove they can’t be trusted to ever do that.”