Among the most regrettable developments for Democrats in recent years, the Republican takeover of a majority of state legislatures and governorships has done a lot of damage. At the same time, the GOP-friendly American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was able to spearhead enactment of hundreds of regressive laws in state legislatures each year. ALEC and the Republicans have enacted state laws that: undermine environmental protection; privatize corrections facilities for profit; change rules to benefit big tobacco; and weaken consumer safety protection, to name a few.
Democrats reversed the trend in the 2018 midterm elections and picked up six “trifecta” states, in which one party has a majority of both houses of the state’s legislature plus the governorship. Dems added another trifecta in 2019. At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik reports that “Republicans retain a narrow 26-24 edge in governorships…But that’s a big shift from mid-2017, when Democrats held just 15.”
Ballottpedia reports also that, “As of December 31, 2019, Republicans controlled 52.1 percent of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 46.6 percent. Republicans held a majority in 61 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 37 chambers. One chamber (Alaska House) was sharing power between two parties.”
The 16 states with “divided government” include: AK; DE; KS; KY; LA; MA; MI; MN; MT; MD; NJ; NC; NH; PA; VT; and WI. Dems now hope the edge provided by a presidential election will provide a pivotal boost to their candidates for Governor and state legislative seats in November. In a ‘blue wave’ election, it’s not hard to see how Dems could get a net trifecta pick-up of 3 or 4 states.
Democrats now hold the Secretary of State offices, which count the votes in elections, in 22 states. Three states, Alaska, Hawaii and Utah have no such office, and assign vote counting duties to the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Since 2018, Democrats have held the SOS offices in swing states AZ; CO; MI; NJ; PA; WI.
“A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012. This fact is surprising given studies that emphasize “activation” of racial conservatism in 2016—the increased relationship between vote choice and racial attitudes among voters.
But this relationship provides almost no information about how many votes candidates receive from individuals with particular attitudes. To understand how many votes a voting bloc contributes to a candidate’s total, we must also consider a bloc’s size and its turnout rate.
Taking these into account, we find that Trump’s most significant gains came from whites with moderate attitudes about race and immigration. Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates. Our analysis demonstrates that focusing only on vote choice is insufficient to explain sources of candidate support in the electorate.”
The case against the Democratic nominee in 2020, whomever he or she may be, is simple. Trump is the incumbent! The economy’s good! This recipe for re-election can’t be beat, so he can’t be beat. So have concluded a number of allegedly savvy pundits whose sad duty it is to deliver this bad news to the Democrats.
But perhaps they’re not as smart as they think they are. Alan Abramowitz has the case against the case on Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
“Since the end of World War II, three incumbent presidents have lost their bids for reelection — Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Carter and Bush suffered from approval ratings that were well under water and Ford, while personally popular, was damaged by his association with his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon. All eight successful incumbents had net approval ratings that were either positive or, in the cases of Harry Truman (-4) and George W. Bush (-1), only slightly negative, in the months preceding their elections. In contrast, Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained mired in negative territory from the beginning of his presidency. As of Wednesday, his net approval rating stood at -10.8% (approval 42.2%, disapproval 53.0%), according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polls. Moreover, polls measuring the intensity of these opinions have consistently found that those strongly disapproving of Trump’s performance outnumber those strongly approving by a fairly wide margin. In a Jan. 7-9 YouGov poll, for example, 45% of Americans strongly disapproved of Trump’s job performance compared with 26% who strongly approved….
According to recent research on congressional elections, the advantage of incumbency has declined sharply in recent years as a result of growing partisan polarization. Gary Jacobson of the University of California, San Diego has shown that voters have become increasingly reluctant to cross party lines to support incumbents based on their voting records or constituency service. The same logic may well apply at the presidential level, especially with an incumbent like Trump whose electoral strategy is based on reinforcing partisan divisions among the public. Indeed, Trump’s presidency has produced the sharpest partisan divisions in job approval ratings in the history of public opinion polling. In a December Quinnipiac poll, for example, 91% of Republican identifiers approved of Trump’s performance with 79% strongly approving. In contrast, 94% of Democratic identifiers disapproved of Trump’s performance with 89% strongly disapproving.
Rather than trying to expand his electoral coalition by appealing to Democrats and independents, Trump’s strategy for 2020 appears to be based almost entirely on energizing and mobilizing the Republican base. The problem with this approach, however, is that efforts to energize and mobilize the Republican base also energize and mobilize the Democratic base. Thus, the 2018 election produced the highest turnout for any midterm election in over a century and big gains for Democrats, and recent polls have found that voter interest in the 2020 election is very high among Democrats as well as Republicans….
Despite the solid economic numbers, however, there are good reasons to believe that the economy may not be as big an advantage for Trump as some analysts, and the president himself, believe. For one thing, the rate of economic growth under Trump has actually been fairly modest and consistent with that under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Economic forecasts generally have the U.S. economy expanding a rate of about 2% during the first half of 2020. The average growth rate of GDP for incumbent presidents since World War II is 3.9%. And while unemployment is near record low levels, gains from the growing economy have been concentrated heavily among the wealthiest Americans.
Another reason why the president may not receive much political benefit from a growing economy is partisan polarization. John Sides of George Washington University has recently shown that public opinion about the state of the U.S. economy is now far more divided along party lines than in the past. Republicans generally have very favorable opinions about economic conditions and credit the president for producing those results. Democrats, on the other hand, are far less sanguine about the economy and give the president far less credit for any positive results. As a result, Sides argues, Trump may receive less benefit from positive economic trends than earlier presidents who presided over growing economies…..
Based on his current net approval rating of approximately -10 and the expected growth rate of real GDP during the second quarter of 2020, Trump would be expected to win approximately 237 electoral votes — well short of the 270 needed to win. Given the fairly large standard error of this estimate, a reflection of the small number of elections it is based on, the prediction of a Trump defeat is far from certain — he would still have about a 30% chance of winning. But these results suggest that Trump begins 2020 as a clear underdog.
Abramowitz concludes on a cautionary note that Democrats would do well to heed:
“The biggest unknown about the upcoming election is the identity of President Trump’s Democratic opponent. While a presidential election with a running incumbent is largely a referendum on the incumbent’s performance, the political appeal and campaign ability of the challenger also matters. The more the campaign and the election revolve around the president’s record and performance, the better the chance that he will be defeated. And while Trump and his allies will undoubtedly try to portray any Democratic challenger as a radical socialist whose extreme policies would destroy the economy and embolden America’s adversaries, some potential Democratic candidates might make that task easier than others.”
John Halpin and I review EJ Dionne’s new book Code Red and find much to like there but something missing as well. That missing something is a new vision; we call it “a New Frontier for contemporary times.”
“Given the collapse of the Reagan-Thatcher economic model, Dionne argues, the time is ripe for both moderates and progressives to again work cohesively to reverse decades of deregulation, supply-side tax cuts, underinvestment, and rising inequality. He argues that each side will complement the other well. Progressives need moderates for their values of balance, pluralism, and aversion to extremism—“virtues that any successful democracy requires.” In turn, moderates need progressives for their energy, activism, and willingness to challenge entrenched power, the privileges of the wealthy, and the assumptions of conservative economics. To overcome Trump and his reactionary nationalism, the two sides need to reconcile their differences, reason together, and “get the country moving again by demonstrating anew our nation’s capacity of self-correction, social reconstruction, and democratic self-government.”
When it comes to explaining what this reconciliation would look like in terms of policy, Dionne is intentionally squishy. He embraces the political theorist Michael Harrington’s “visionary gradualism” as a good approach to resolving disputes, arguing that both sides should try to pursue a left wing of the possible. On the issue of health care, for example, Dionne says that while universal coverage must be the end aim, the left needs to recognize that a robust public option, which is clearly more popular with voters than a single-payer model, is not some sellout of the cause and goes far beyond the Affordable Care Act. But Dionne also argues that debt-free college and the “Green New Deal” are necessary goals to drive state and federal actions that will lower education costs and grapple with climate change.
Dionne’s goals-not-policies approach won’t please everyone, but he does put forth a compelling and historically valid model for progressive action. For example, the coupling of expansive progressive visions with pragmatic legislation and shrewd politics was the model for Social Security, which initially limited who could benefit but grew over time to include more people in more lines of work and developed into one of American liberalism’s crowning achievements. The same is potentially possible on health care, education, and climate change today….
We find little to object to in Dionne’s advocacy of a new synthesis within the Democratic Party. Indeed, in the current conjuncture, it really amounts to common sense and important practical advice.
But the…example [of 2018] also highlights potential limitations to the model of progressive-moderate dialogue put forth in Code Red. In 2018, it was enough for the party to be against Trump. But as Democrats select a presidential candidate, they need more than common sense, more than just a plea for all sides to learn from what works and discard what doesn’t. They need a unifying vision. Is there a thread that can and should unite the factions of the Democratic Party beyond the overriding desire to beat Trump?
We believe there is: a New Frontier for contemporary times, an optimistic vision of the future focused on making the U.S. again the world’s most innovative and advanced country with broadly shared economic growth. All wings of the Democratic Party already embrace elements of this plan. Both moderates and liberals believe that we should have a dramatic jump in public investment in infrastructure. The whole party should expand that support to new domains, like education, science, and technology, that will drive future economic gains and improve public services. It should explicitly commit to ensuring that, as FDR said, all Americans enjoy “the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”
This entails a massive national commitment to clean-energy development and deployment to meet the climate challenge, as well as a nationwide push to reduce and eliminate poverty and low-opportunity environments for all. Rather than promoting abstract theoretical arguments about inequality and social identity that often lead to public confusion and coalitional divisions, Democrats should put forth concrete plans to fight existing housing, education, and employment discrimination and break up concentrated wealth and political power. And they should develop new avenues for public service and civic participation and take seriously the need to rebuild trust in government through effective and honest public management.
America has an important opportunity at this pivotal moment—it can become the home to the industries of the future and the jobs they’ll generate, especially in areas of critical need like clean energy and public health. Democrats should call on America to be the undisputed international leader in scientific achievement and technological progress across the board, doing our part to cooperatively solve global problems like climate change, pandemic disease, and poverty; increase overall equality and opportunity for more people; and develop new knowledge for the benefit of humanity.
That is a positive vision that can be embraced by all wings of the Democratic Party. And it must be, if Dionne’s new synthesis is to be more than a tactical truce.”
When I heard Hillary Clinton refer to half of Trump supporters as “deplorables” during her 2016 presidential campaign, I knew she would lose. Her comment exemplified the arrogant, elitist, dismissive attitudes that make many white working-class voters suspicious of the Democratic Party. Four years later, as Democrats try to figure out how to beat one of the least popular Republican presidents ever, they’re still trying to get over their deplorables problem.
Political advisers suggest two strategies for winning this year. One says that “demography is destiny,” arguing that Democrats will win because of the increasing power of voters of color, young people, and middle-class whites, especially suburban women. If Democrats can secure votes from these groups, they don’t need to worry about the white working class. After all, this theory suggests, white working-class voters didn’t suddenly shift to the right in 2016. They had been moving in that direction since the late 1960s with Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” of emphasizing racial resentment. Further, some argue that as more people earn college degrees, the working class is getting smaller.
The second electoral strategy argues that many white working-class voters remain “persuadable,” especially those who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then switched to Trump in 2016. And even if the working class, as defined by education, is declining, they still constitute a significant portion of the electorate, and Democrats have to win support from at least some of them in order to win in 2020.
I know I write a lot about how key the Rustbelt will be in this election, particularly the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. I stand by that view for what I believe are sound empirical reasons. But there are also sound empirical reasons for thinking about the Democrats’ future beyond this election as primarily lying in a different part of the country.
“For Democrats, the Sun Belt imperative is growing more urgent.
While most in the party are preoccupied with winning back the three Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Donald Trump, both people and political power are continuing to migrate inexorably from that region to the younger and more diverse states in the Southeast and Southwest.
This sustained population shift reinforces the consequences of Trump’s political repositioning of the Republican Party. Trump has targeted his polarizing message and agenda heavily toward the priorities of the older and non-college-educated white voters who still dominate most of the Rust Belt. That will make it tough for Democrats to rely on those states, particularly in presidential races, as much as they did during the 1990s and earlier this century.
In the near future, then, Democrats will likely need to offset any Republican gains in the Rust Belt by winning more elections in Sun Belt states, which are adding more of the diverse, white-collar, and urbanized voters at the core of the modern Democratic coalition. Through the coming decade and beyond, the crucial variable that could tilt the national balance of power between the parties may be whether Democrats can leverage those demographic advantages in the Sun Belt to break the hold Republicans have enjoyed on most of the region since at least the 1970s.”
In aid of thinking about trends in these states and possibilities for the future, I offer the coverage in my Path to 270 in 2020 report of these states.
The Southwest includes five states that could be in play between the Democratic nominee and Trump:
• Texas: 38 electoral votes
• Arizona: 11 electoral votes
• Colorado: nine electoral votes
• Nevada: six electoral votes
• New Mexico: five electoral votes
Together, these five Southwestern target states have 69 electoral votes. In 2016, Trump carried Texas and Arizona, and Clinton took Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. While Texas is still likely in the Republican camp for this cycle, despite recent positive trends, Arizona is a stronger—and important—possibility for Democrats. Arizona could put the Democrats over 270 if the their candidate took Michigan and Pennsylvania but failed to take Wisconsin.
The GOP strategy will focus on safeguarding Arizona and Texas and trying to pick off one or two other Southwestern swing states as insurance against Rust Belt losses. The Trump campaign has publicly mentioned New Mexico and Nevada as targets.
These Southwestern states are all fast growing relative to the national average. They also have relatively large nonwhite populations, especially compared with the Midwest/Rust Belt states. Overall, these Southwestern states present a demographic profile and growth dynamic that is more favorable for the Democratic nominee than the Midwest/Rust Belt swing region, where the heavily white populations and slow pace of demographic change are relatively advantageous for the GOP. Below, we provide a detailed discussion of these states in descending order of electoral votes.
Texas: 38 electoral votes
Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016, a significant drop from Romney’s 16-point victory four years earlier. Despite this enticing improvement for the Democrats, it should be emphasized that Republicans have carried the state since 1976.
Democrats also had some successes in Texas in 2018. They lost the House popular vote by less than 4 points—a big advance for them in the state—and flipped two GOP-held House seats. Moreover, since that election, no fewer than six GOP House incumbents have announced their retirements, creating further possibilities for the Democrats. The Democrats also flipped 14 state legislative seats from the GOP and broke their supermajority in the upper chamber. Finally, while Republicans won handily by a double-digit margin in the governor’s race, Democrats made the race against incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz far closer than almost anyone thought possible; Democrat Beto O’Rourke wound up losing by less than 3 points.
The Democratic candidate in 2020 will seek to build on these trends. But of course, Democrats would need quite a swing relative to 2016 to succeed in flipping the state. Trump only needs to come close to the voting patterns he benefited from in 2016 to once again carry the state. Currently, he has only a modest +3 net approval rating in the state, so that is not something he can take for granted.
Texas has a huge nonwhite population, though it is somewhat less represented among actual voters. In 2016, nonwhites made up 39 percent of voters in the state in 2016—13 percent Black; 21 percent Hispanic; and 5 percent Asian/other races. Blacks and Hispanics supported Clinton by 76 points and 26 points, respectively. Asians/other races, however, supported Trump by 13 points. Texas white college graduates (27 percent of voters) also supported Trump by 20 points, 57 percent to 37 percent, while the largest group—white noncollege voters (34 percent)—backed him by a whopping 55 points, 76 percent to 21 percent.
Our estimates indicate that white noncollege eligible voters in 2020 should decline by 2.5 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should also decline, though only very slightly. Black eligible voters should remain roughly stable, while Hispanics should increase by more than 2 points as a share of eligible voters, and Asians/other race will go up by half a point. On net, these changes favor the Democrats and will put a modest dent—1.6 points—in the GOP advantage in the state if voting patterns by group do not change in 2020.
As Trump’s massive lead among white noncollege voters suggests, if he can maintain or come close to his support among this group in 2020, he will most likely win Texas. Even a shift of 10 margin points against Trump among white college graduates, continuing a recent pro-Democratic trend, would still leave him with a 5-point lead in the state.
For the Democratic candidate, a winning coalition would have to include not only this big white college swing but also a large (15 margin points or so) pro-Democratic swing among Hispanics, Asians, and voters of other races, combined with increased nonwhite turnout overall. But even with these favorable changes, the Democratic candidate probably needs to reduce at least slightly the massive deficit among the white noncollege group. All in all, one would still have to favor Trump to take the state, but certainly the trends from 2018 onward suggest that Democrats may be able to take advantage of some of these pro-Democratic changes and that the state could be quite competitive in 2020.
Arizona: 11 electoral votes
Trump won Arizona by just 3.5 points in 2016, a substantial drop from Romney’s 9-point margin in 2012. Republicans have carried the state since 1996, but the 2016 result has given Democrats hope they can carry the state in 2020 for the first time in decades.
Democrats reduced this deficit further in Arizona in 2018. They won the House popular vote by just less than 2 points and flipped a GOP House seat. The Democrats also flipped four state legislative seats from the GOP. Finally, and most importantly, they flipped one of Arizona’s GOP-held Senate seats, as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally by 2 points. In the governor’s race, however, the Republican candidate soundly beat the Democrat by double digits.
The Democratic candidate in 2020 will have a lot of upward trends to build on to turn 2016’s close loss into a close victory in 2020. As for Trump, he will need to hold the line from 2016 and make voting patterns in 2020 as much like the previous election’s as possible. Adding to that challenge, he currently has a negative net approval rating in the state of -5.
Arizona has a substantial nonwhite population, though, as with Texas, it is somewhat less represented among actual voters. In 2016, nonwhites made up 27 percent of voters in the state in 2016—17 percent Hispanic; 6 percent Asian/other races (a group that includes Native Americans); and just 4 percent Black. Hispanics supported Clinton by 36 points; Blacks by 52 points; and Asians/other races by 8 points. Arizona’s white college graduates (30 percent of voters) supported Trump only narrowly, by 47 percent to 46 percent, while noncollege whites, 44 percent of voters, backed him by 27 points, 60 percent to 33 percent.
We expect white noncollege eligible voters in 2020 to decline by almost 3 points relative to 2016, while white college-graduate eligible voters should remain stable. Black eligible voters should also remain roughly stable, while Hispanic voters should increase by more than 2 points and Asians/other races by half a point. These changes in the underlying demographic structure of the electorate are enough to knock a point off Trump’s advantage in 2020, even if voting patterns from 2016 remain in force.
Given the narrowness of Trump’s victory in 2016 and the projected deterioration in his margin from demographic change, Trump needs, at minimum, to hold his 2016 levels of support from various demographic groups. His most effective safeguard against losing the state would be to increase his support among his friendliest group, white noncollege voters. A 10-point margin shift in his favor among these voters would take his projected advantage in the state up to 7 points, all other voting patterns remaining the same.
For the Democratic candidate, a winning coalition could be assembled in several different ways. A 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white college graduates (going from -1 points to +9 points) would be enough to generate a half-point victory in the state. A 15-point pro-Democratic swing among Hispanics, Asians, and voters of other races, would be even more effective, taking the victory margin over a point. And a 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white noncollege voters would take the Democratic candidate’s advantage to just less than 2 points. Given that a number of trends seen in 2018 were consistent with these possible changes and that Trump’s margin in 2016 was already so thin, Trump may have difficulty holding the state in 2020.
Excellent data from 538 on the relationship between Presidential approval and election outcomes. Make no mistake: history suggests that Trump’s low and essentially unchanging approval ratings put his re-election in very serious danger.
“Now that the 2020 election has gone from “next year” to “this year,” it’s worth taking a step back and asking a question that we first posed in early 2017: How popular is Donald Trump? After all, a president’s job approval rating can be predictive of his reelection chances, especially as November draws closer.
On Jan. 1, 42.6 percent of Americans approved of President Trump’s job performance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker (52.9 percent disapproved). That’s a pretty typical number for Trump (although it’s worth noting that, since Jan. 1, the U.S. and Iran have taken actions that could shake Trump’s approval rating loose from that anchor), but ominously for the president, that’s the second-lowest FiveThirtyEight average approval rating of any recent1 president on the first day of their reelection year. Only Gerald Ford (39.3 percent on Jan. 1, 1976) was less popular — and, of course, Ford lost that campaign to Jimmy Carter.”
Trump disapproval; there is nothing more important. That is why I have repeatedly said that the top three things the Democratic nominee must do in the 2020 general election are:
1. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes.
2. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes.
3. Convert Trump disapproval into Democratic votes
That’s assuming Trump disapproval ratings remain high. But the pattern so far suggests they will. So if you want to know which Democratic candidate is the most “electable”, ask yourself this question: Which candidate is likely to be the most effective at turning Trump disapproval into Democratic votes?
States of Change data featured in the Wall Street Journal in an excellent article on Trump’s demographic challenge by Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni. Nice graphic (see below)
“President Trump’s 2020 election strategy relies largely on the white, working-class base that he excited in 2016. But he faces a demographic challenge: The electorate has changed since he was last on the ballot in ways likely to benefit Democrats.
Working-class, white voters are projected to decline by 2.3 percentage points nationally as a share of eligible voters, compared with the last election, because they are older and therefore dying at a faster rate than are Democratic groups. As those voters pass on, they are most likely to be replaced by those from minority groups or young, white voters with college degrees—groups that lean Democratic.
That means Mr. Trump will have to coax more votes from a shrinking base—or else find more votes in other parts of the electorate.
“Trump has a certain hill to climb, and this suggests that the hill gets a little steeper,’’ said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer with the States of Change project, which provided assessments of the 2020 electorate….
Projections by Mr. Teixeira and his colleagues find that the declining presence of working-class whites as eligible voters, if considered in isolation from other factors, would be enough to tip Michigan and Pennsylvania from narrow Trump wins into narrow Democratic wins, while producing the barest of margins in favor of Democrats in Wisconsin. Mr. Trump won each state by less than 1 percentage point, or a combined 77,000 votes.
Projected changes in the eligible electorate, holding other factors the same as in the last election, also narrow Mr. Trump’s winning 2016 margin in three swing states in the Sunbelt analyzed by States of Change: Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.
“Demographic change is making all six of these states closer,’’ Mr. Teixeira said.
If he were to rely on working-class, white voters to make up the ground he loses to demographic change, Mr. Trump would need to raise turnout among that group by 3 percentage points in Pennsylvania and Michigan and one point in Wisconsin, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the States of Change projections finds.”
Note that their analysis assumes no other group’s turnout increases from 2016 levels, which is of course unlikely. This is really telling you that white working class turnout in these states has to outrun turnout increases among the rest of the electorate in these states. Possible but definitely a challenge.
In a New York Times opinion piece, Sean McElwee and Brian F. Schaffner explain “How Democrats Can Win Back Obama-Trump Defectors” and argue that “They don’t have to lose their souls to do it. Just the opposite.” It’s a familiar theme for TDS readers, but McElwee and Schaffner make a fresh case for it:
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, analysts fiercely debated the role of the approximately six million voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but shifted their support to Mr. Trump in 2016. Democratic strategists also had to worry about their future behavior: Was 2016 a temporary blip or were these voters gone forever? With newly available data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey, the largest publicly-available election survey, we can now analyze what happened with these Obama-Trump voters in 2018 and what that might portend for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
To understand the potential ramifications of Obama-Trump voters in 2020, it’s worth understanding how they voted in 2018. Among those who voted, three-quarters stuck with the Republican Party. But Democrats did win back about one-fifth of the Obama-Trump group in 2018, which would amount to a net swing of about 1.5 million votes. While the idiosyncratic governing style of Mr. Trump may have been one key factor in bringing Obama-Trump voters back into the Democratic fold, it wasn’t the only reason. It’s true that most Obama-Trump voters who stuck with the Republican Party in 2018 strongly approved of the job Mr. Trump was doing as president, but interestingly even half of those who flipped back to the Democratic side at least somewhat approved of Mr. Trump. Democrats won back a significant share of Obama-Trump voters not because those voters disliked Mr. Trump, but in spite of the fact that many actually approved of him.
Instead, these voters appeared to be drawn back toward the Democrats by some of the party’s bread-and butter-issues, and in spite of others. On issues like gun control, health care and the environment, these voters look remarkably like the Democratic Party’s base — those who voted for Obama in 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a Democratic House candidate in 2018. Eighty-four percent of Obama-Trump voters who voted for Democratic House candidates in 2018 want to ban assault rifles, compared to 92 percent of the Democratic base. By contrast, 57 percent of Obama-Trump voters who stayed with Republicans in 2018 support an assault weapons ban (which has far less support among the Republican base).
McElwee and Schaffner have some welcome poll numbers for Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in particular, noting that “Medicare for all is surprisingly popular among all Obama-Trump voters…especially those who voted for Democrats in 2018.” Further, “Eighty-three percent of those who switched back to the Democratic Party in 2018 support Medicare for all…”
Environmentalist Democratic candidates will be gladdened to note that “Seventy-three percent of Obama-Trump voters who came back to the Democratic Party in 2018 oppose the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.”
With respect to immigration reform, however, a majority of the Democratic 2018 returnees “support building a border wall and Mr. Trump’s ban on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.” But “two-thirds of these voters support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to receive deferred action on deportation.”
With respect to racial injustice, “less than half of these voters agree that whites have advantages because of the color of their skin.” In terms of gender justice, “an even smaller share think that feminists are making reasonable demands of men.”
McElwee and Schaffner say, “These are your classic cross-pressured voters, aligned with Democrats on many policies that are part of the progressive wish list but likely to be turned off by the party’s rhetoric on identity politics.” This is not to argue that Democrats should avoid racial and gender justice concerns and immigration reform — just that the best time to address them is after winning the 2020 elections.
The authors also address the problem of 2012 Obama voters who didn’t vote in 2016, and note, “In 2018, Democrats regained some support among this group as well. About one-third turned out for the 2018 election, and Democrats won them 4 to 1.” In addition,
Half of the remobilized Obama-nonvoters are people of color and more than 70 percent are women. Unlike the Obama-Trump voters who supported Democrats in 2018, the Obama-nonvoters appear to have been remobilized by their dislike of Trump — more than 80 percent reported that they strongly disapproved of the job he was doing as president. Strong disapproval of Mr. Trump was a strong predictor of Obama-nonvoters coming back into the electorate to vote for Democrats in 2018.
The story of Democratic success in winning back the House in 2018 seems to be driven by two patterns — the ability to win back some cross-pressured members of the Obama coalition who voted for Trump in 2016, while also remobilizing former Obama voters who failed to show up at the polls two years earlier. Progressive economic and climate views unite these two coalitions, while the groups are more divided when it comes to racial justice and gender equity. Both Obama-nonvoter-Democrats (92 percent) and Obama-Trump-Democrats (88 percent) support a $12 minimum wage and a millionaire’s tax (92 percent and 79 percent).
McElwee and Schaffner note that Clinton’s 2016 campaign “aired fewer issue-based ads than any other presidential candidate since they started collecting the data in 2000,” while “In 2018 the Wesleyan researchers found that Democratic campaign ads were “laser focused” on issues, especially health care, which was the focus of more than half of the advertisements run by Democratic candidates.”
Looking towards the November election, the authors conclude, “if Democrats continue to learn from these elections, they will focus this year’s campaign on their plans to address issues like health care, wages and the environment” — these are the leading priorities that will give Dems real traction in 2020.
Mason Dixon has released a new Florida poll that has trial heat numbers plus broad crosstabs for Trump vs. Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. Biden has a slim lead of 2 points, while the others lose to trump by 9, 5 and 4 points, respectively.
The internal comparisons are interesting (graphic below). Biden has Obama-level support among blacks (92-4) while Warren’s numbers look very similar to Clinton’s 2016 black support 87-8. And, while Biden leads Trump by 61-32 among Hispanics, Warren has a more modest 54-35 lead among this demographic–again, similar to Clinton’s performance in 2016.
After the seventh Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, I called at New York for the turning of a corner:
[A]s the voting phase of the nominating process approaches, and the field of candidates inevitably continues to shrink, it’s time for the practical part of the debate discussions to grow a lot larger, as legal expert Jeffrey Toobin suggested earlier this week at the New Yorker:
“The Democratic debates so far have featured detailed discussions of the candidates’ competing health-care plans—none of which is likely to become law in any form close to what’s so far been described…. But one thing we know for sure is that, if a Democrat wins the White House this year, he or she will be responsible for appointing federal judges, including a few likely vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
Yes, that subject did come up in the October debate, but even then it was more about visionary ideas of how to reshape SCOTUS to protect cherished rights via court-packing or terms limits or some other unlikely-to-be-enacted scheme. More specific, short-term plans are more relevant. Will the candidates, for example, emulate Trump’s politically smart approach of setting up a vetting process for prospective SCOTUS candidates and a list of potential nominees before the 2020 election cycle ends? Bernie Sanders recently said in an interview that he’d “consider” doing that, even before the nominating contest is over. Let’s hear more about that from him and from his rivals. But that’s not the only question, even on judges: how will the candidate deal with such nominations if Republicans continue to control the Senate, which at present is more likely than not? And will she or he devote some real political capital to legal fights in the state and lower courts where reproductive rights, health care protections, treatment of immigrants, and other key issues are being litigated every single day?
As Toobin points out, a coalition of progressive groups focused on such issues (including the Demand Justice Initiative, the Center for Reproductive Rights and NARAL Pro-Choice America) are sponsoring a presidential forum (not a debate, but a series of candidate interviews) on February 8 in New Hampshire. That’s the day after the eighth official candidate debate, and just three days before the New Hampshire primary. It will be a great opportunity to get into real detail on each candidate’s perspective on constitutional rights, SCOTUS, and the judiciary generally. But this questions should be on the agenda wherever candidates gather.
The judiciary isn’t the only practical issue that needs more airing before the primary ends. Given the many structural obstacles to the enactment of progressive policies in Congress, with or without Democratic majorities, candidates need to be pressed on their “theories of change,” their strategies for overcoming entrenched opposition, whether it’s Amy Klobuchar’s focus on executive orders or Elizabeth Warren’s belief that an anti-corruption push can break the power of lobbyists. The health care and climate change arenas are both high-priority areas in which there simply aren not and won’t automatically be working majorities for what has to be done. It’s not enough to say, like Joe Biden does, that Trump’s departure will change everything, or to claim, like Bernie Sanders does, that a “political revolution” will materialize to square every circle. A sustained questioning of the candidates on crucial issues of implementation, definitively nailing them down on items like filibuster reform where several have been slippery, could be worth a lot to voters who seem very hard-headed when it comes to electability but not necessarily in terms of exactly what electable candidates are expected to accomplish.
Yes, some parts of the Democratic primary electorate may feel that beating Trump and getting him and his cronies out of power is enough for one year; actually accomplishing anything is gravy. But that’s a sad and defensive posture to have, and one that voters are not likely to reward, either. Values are essential and vision can be inspiring in a president. But if that’s all a candidate offers, we need to know the next four years could become a huge disappointment and a lost opportunity.