washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Dann and Jennings: A Law and Order Platform to Unite Working-Class Voters

The following article, by Marc Dann, former  Attorney General of Ohio and head of DannLaw and Leo Jennings III, a leading Northeast Ohio political consultant and media specialist, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Donald Trump has positioned himself as the “law and order” president, because the term provides a positive framing for the racially-tinged rhetoric he uses to divide members of the white working and middle classes from people of color. The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy explains the tactic as “convincing voters that crime is a threat – scaring them into such a belief, if necessary – and then convincing them only you can stop it.”  For decades, American politicians have used it “to play on racist fears, using code language – ‘crime’, ‘inner cities’, ‘quiet neighborhoods’ – in an attempt to connect especially with white voters.”

Pundits continue to debate how large a role Trump’s explicit and implicit racism and his promises to crack down on crime and criminals—particularly those with dark skin–played in his 2016 victory. He’s now directing his hate-filled oratory at the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that started after the killing of George Floyd and have ramped up again last week after the officers who shot Breonna Taylor were not charged with her murder. Such rhetoric seems more effective than ever at motivating his hardcore supporters and some white suburbanites who are appalled by the violence they see in the news every day.

Teixeira: Pennsylvania – Ground Zero of the 2020 Campaign

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

Pennsylvania is widely believed to be the “tipping point” state of the 2020 election, including by the Trump campaign apparently. Right now, the 538 rolling average has Biden ahead by around 5 in the state, pushing 50 percent support, and their model gives him a 3 in 4 chance of taking the state. The latest high quality poll in PA (Fox, Biden +7) shows Trump’s difficulties and Biden’s potential winning formula in the state.

* Biden’s 8 point margin among white college graduates is running slightly ahead of Clinton’s 2016 support.

* Biden’s 17 point deficit among white noncollege voters is 15 points less than Clinton’s in 2016.

* Biden’s 74 point advantage among nonwhites (who are dominated by black voters) is essentially identical with Clinton’s margin in 2016.

These data make clear the contours of Trump’s challenge in the states. No wonder he’s spending so much time there.

Teixeira: The Bluing of the Buckeye State?

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

Ohio hasn’t perhaps gotten as much attention as it deserves this cycle. That’s a little odd because it is very much in play–indeed, more so than GA and TX about which one hears much more. Right now, Biden is running a 1 point lead in the 538 polling average for the state and their model very slightly favors Biden (52 percent) to take the state. In contrast, the 538 averages have Biden behind by a point in GA and 2 points in TX and their model currently favors Biden in neither state.

How’s Biden doing so well in OH? In my Path to 270 in 2020 report with John Halpin we remarked on how the Democrats might be able to take back OH:

“For the Democratic candidate, even increasing Black turnout and support back to their strong levels in 2012 (they both declined significantly in 2016) would still leave them with a 4-point deficit in the state. The most efficacious change for the Democrats would be to cut Trump’s advantage with white non-college voters, concentrating on white non-college women, where Democrats’ deficit in 2016 was 30 points less than among men. Shaving 10 margin points off of Trump’s advantage among white non-college voters would, by itself, bring the Democratic candidate within 2 points in the state, and replicating Obama’s 2012 performance among this demographic in the state would allow them to actually carry the state, all else from 2016 remaining the same.

In all likelihood, a combination of these changes, at different levels, would be necessary for the Democrats to prevail. Trump, in a sense, just needs to hold serve.”

So, how’s Biden doing by these metrics? Cue the data! The two most recent OH polls are Fox and Quinnipiac.

In the Fox poll (Biden +5), Biden is carrying white college graduates by 7 (an 8 point swing in the Democrats’ favor) and white noncollege voters by 18 points (a 15 point pro-Democratic swing).

In the Quinnipiac poll (Biden +1), Biden is carrying white college graduates by 13 (a 14 point swing) and losing white noncollege voters by 19 (also a 14 point swing). And he is carrying black voters by 85 points, actually 5 points better than Clinton did in 2016.

So let’s hear it for the great state of Ohio! May the bluing last through election day.

For a very detailed geographic analysis of political dynamics, I recommend the Crystal Ball piece by Kyle Kondik on the state. Excellent.

Brownstein: How Dems Can Leverage Health Care Concerns in SCOTUS Fight to Win Swing States

In his article, “Democrats’ SCOTUS Message Could Really Work in Swing States: The party may have an easier time taking back the Senate if it focuses voters’ attention on the Court’s impact on health care.” in The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein sees a powerful opportunity opening up for Democrats:

The struggle over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court could help propel Democrats to the brink of a Senate majority in November’s election. But whether it lifts them over that threshold could turn on the terms of the confirmation fight. Given the nature of the states that will decide Senate control, the Democrats’ path to a majority may be much easier if they can keep the debate centered on economic issues—particularly the survival of the Affordable Care Act—rather than social issues, especially abortion.

The reason: The confirmation fight is likely to further weaken the position of endangered Republican senators in Colorado, Maine, and Arizona—states where polls show that a solid majority of voters support legal abortion. But even if Democrats flip all three, they will still likely need to win one more seat to take the majority. And in the next tier of states where they could possibly flip a seat, the politics of abortion will make that more difficult.

What the confirmation fight could do is “give the Democrats a path to picking up two or even three Senate seats but make it harder in those other four or five states,” says Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based GOP strategist.

Teixeira: Will the Impending Struggle Over the Next Supreme Court Justice Help Biden or Trump?

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

To be honest, it’s hard to game out exactly how this is going to go down but, as always, the data we currently have are a helpful guide. As Harry Enten points out, while the he polling data could change over time, right now it looks the situation could well help Biden more than Trump.

“A new Marquette University Law School poll paints the landscape well. Nationally, it finds that 59% of Biden voters say that appointing the next Supreme Court justice is very important to their vote. Compare that with only 51% of Trump voters.

This finding matches what we saw in a CNN/SSRS poll last month. In that poll, 78% of Biden backers told pollsters that nominating the next justice was extremely or very important to their vote. That compared with 64% of Trump supporters. (It was 47% Biden supporters and 32% Trump supporters who said it was extremely important.)

Compare these numbers to what we saw heading into the 2016 election. The final CNN/ORC poll in that cycle showed that 58% of Trump supporters said that nominating the next Supreme Court justice was extremely important to their vote, while only 46% of Hillary Clinton voters said the same. In the 2016 exit poll, Trump beat Clinton by a 15 point margin among those who put Supreme Court appointments as the most important factor to their vote.

In other words, it seems, at least initially, that unlike in 2016, a Supreme Court nominating fight could be more of a motivating factor for Democrats than Republicans….

New York Times and Siena College polled voters this week in Arizona, Maine and North Carolina about their views of the presidential candidates and the Supreme Court.

Biden was more trusted to pick a nominee in the average of all three states by a 53% to 41% margin. That was actually larger than his average lead against Trump in the horserace of 50% to 41% in the three states.

This phenomenon of Biden getting slightly more favorable numbers on who should pick the next Supreme Court nominee than in the horserace matches what a recent Fox News national poll found.

But perhaps more interesting is what the New York Times found among persuadable voters (i.e. those who said they could change their mind or were not backing either Biden or Trump). They preferred Biden to pick the next nominee by a 49% to 31% margin.

And among those voters who might not vote (i.e. those who said were less than very likely to cast a ballot), Biden led Trump by a 52% to 23% margin on who would be better at picking the next Supreme Court justice.”

Teixeira: Biden’s White Noncollege Gains, State by State

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

As noted, the key to Biden’s dominance of the race so far, and Trump’s inability to dislodge him, has been Biden’s ability to cut into Trump’s 2016 margins among white noncollege voters, the demographic Trump was depending on to get himself re-elected.

Morning Consult recently released data from a variety of swing states that, among other things, break down the race in each state by white college/noncollege. Here is Biden’s current performance among white noncollege voters in the consensus top six swing states (MI, PA, WI, AZ, FL, NC) with Biden’s margin improvement relative to Clinton 2016 in parentheses, as estimated by the States of Change project.

Michigan -6 (+15)
Pennsylvania -13 (+19)
Wisconsin 0 (19)
Arizona -7 (+18)
Florida -21 (+13)
North Carolina -33 (+17)

Pretty impressive eh? It’s very interesting that improvements are large not just in the key Rustbelt states but also in the key Sunbelt states. It continues to amaze me that this isn’t a bigger part of the narrative around the election when the data are so damn clear.

Teixeira: Trump’s Minnesota Mirage

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

Minnesota, despite the noisy assertions of the Trump team, was always going to be a very heavy lift for him in this campaign. Back in November, I wrote with John Halpin:

“The Democratic candidate in 2020 will seek to keep the Democratic streak going, while Minnesota, given the closeness of the 2016 result, will be on the short list of states that Trump targets to try to expand his coalition. This may be difficult; he is quite unpopular in the states, with a current negative net approval rating of -15.

Nonwhites were just 11 percent of Minnesota voters in 2016. Asians/other race were the largest nonwhite group at 4.5 percent and they supported Clinton 50-36 percent. Blacks were 4.3 percent of voters and went heavily for Clinton by 90-6 percent. Hispanics were just 2 percent of voters and supported Clinton 61-30 percent. In addition, white college graduates, an unusually large 36 percent of voters, backed Clinton by 22 points. The bright spot for Trump was white non-college voters, 54 percent of the voting electorate, who favored him by 21 points….

The logical strategic choice for Trump would be to enhance his 21-point margin among white non-college voters from 2016. A 10-point margin shift in Trump’s direction among this demographic group would result, all else remaining the same, in a 3-point GOP victory. A more difficult target would be to reduce his deficit among white college voters by 10 points; that would result in a narrow 1-point victory for him.”

Well, none of that is happening for Trump. That last two polls of MN, by New York Times/Sienna and CBS/Yougov, each have Biden ahead by 9 in the state. Not only has Trump failed to increase his 2016 margin among white noncollege voters by that 10 point target, he has failed to increase it at all, down by 5 points in the CBS poll and cut in half in the New York Times poll. And among white college voters, he is losing by several points more than he did in 2016 according to both polls.

Sure, it’s still possible Trump could take the state. But right now, it looks like a mirage.

Greenberg: Trump’s Failure to Address Covid-19 Crisis, Health Care Reform Cuts His Support from Working-Class

In “How Trump Is Losing His Base: Focus groups with working-class and rural voters show the deep health care crisis in America, and trouble for Trump’s re-election,” Stanley B. Greenberg reports at The American Prospect:

The heartbreaking health care crisis that is ravaging working-class and rural communities threatens to cut short Donald Trump’s political career, and demands a forceful response from opposition Democrats. It will teach big lessons about how to reach working people who are struggling, regardless of color.

That is clear to me after listening to white working-class voters in Zoom focus groups for the American Federation of Teachers and Voter Participation Center in the first week of August, outside of metropolitan areas in rural Wisconsin, the Mahoning Valley region in Ohio (also known as Steel Valley), northern Maine, and suburban Macomb County, Michigan.

Greenberg notes that “The results of these sessions also fit with the results of a phone survey I conducted of working-class voters in the 16 battleground states,” and “The Republican House margin dropped 13 points across the white working class” in the 2018 midterm elections.

Greenberg calls the pandemic “the perfect storm,” and notes further,

I have never seen such a poignant discussion of the health and disability problems facing families and their children, the risks they faced at work, and the prospect of even higher health care and prescription drug costs. The final straw was a president who battled not for the “forgotten Americans,” but for himself, the top one percent, and the biggest, greediest companies.

That is why most in the Zoom focus groups pulled back from President Trump. Three-quarters of these voters supported Trump in 2016, but less than half planned to vote for him now. Even those who still supported him did not push back when other participants expressed anger with his doing nothing about health care, fostering hatred and racism, dividing the country, siding with the upper classes, and having no plan for COVID-19. This is a life-and-death issue for them, as much as nearly any other group in American society.

He adds that “Like lots of other working people, they are looking for a leader who will make big changes in health care, fight for working people over big business, and unite the country to defeat the current economic and public-health crisis.” In addition, “In today’s working-classand rural communities, health care is everything. In introductory remarks, participants in the focus groups went right to the personal health care crises they were facing every day.”

Greenberg shares some statistics regarding the prevalence of helath disabilities in working-class communities, and explains,

Across the country, 12.6 percent of the population has disabilities, rising to 15.1 percent in rural areas. Black and Native American populations are more likely to have disabilities than their white counterparts. The rate is over a quarter for those 65 to 74 years old and half of those over 75 years—all groups that are overrepresented in these rural areas. And structural racism has played a powerful role here: 20 percent of Blacks with disabilities were employed at the beginning of this year, compared to 30 percent of whites and Hispanics with disabilities.

Then I looked at census data for the congressional districts where these sessions were being held. It was a new window into America in the pandemic. In suburban Macomb County, the disability rate looks like the rural areas, with 14 percent of both whites and Blacks disabled. In northern Maine, the numbers show one in five with disabilities, slightly more for whites. In Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District, both one in five whites and Blacks are disabled. And seniors in these areas are even more disabled than other rural Americans.

So COVID violently brought together the personal health crises of these people and the failed and corrupted government response, breaking their emotional bond with Trump.

Just throw out the words “health care,” and people relayed a train of horrors: a “$16,000 deductible,” employers throwing them off health insurance, “ridiculous” premiums, a $400 bill for their asthma medicine paid for out of pocket. They spoke of the frustrations of making too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to stay in the solid middle class. They explained how people avoid treatment because they can’t pay the associated costs. “The way we deliver health care is just unbelievable,” said one woman from Michigan, “the amount of waste and how much it costs to let people go bankrupt to pay for medical bills.”

While some of the respondents were critical of the shortcommings of the Affordable Care Act, they believe that Trump “failed to take the virus seriously and has just made a mess of it. They think he is failing at the most important issue for them…Respondents despaired about the lack of a national plan of action, with everyone “just left on their own.” Greenberg adds,

In emails we asked the participants to send to President Trump, you can feel that the spirit that led them to join the working-class revolt is just broken. While some hope he will get back in the right direction, most used their email to express their deep disillusionment. You can feel that they wanted a president who didn’t divide the country and make it a “laughingstock” (two writers used that exact word) internationally. They wanted a president who put the interests of the people, not just big business, first.

“I supported you in the beginning over Hillary but in the end unfortunately, you show me you’re just not for the people,” wrote one man from Wisconsin. “You lied to the American people about COVID,” wrote another. “You are everything that is wrong with America, you have effectively ruined this country,” added a woman from Ohio. “Congrats, you suck.”

Greenberg concludes, “COVID has shattered so many lives, but also seemingly insurmountable political barriers. The great majority of working people, regardless of color, are desperate for a government that stops taking direction from the pharmaceutical companies, and brings the boldest feasible changes to our health care system.”

Teixeira: Riot On?

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

Protest-associated violence continues and shows no signs of going away. In Rochester Friday night:

“Police fired pepper balls and tear gas, and authorities said officers were hospitalized with cuts, serious swelling, burns and bruises from “projectiles and incendiary devices.” A bus stop went up in flames, and patrons hurriedly left restaurants where people threw tables and broke glass amid protest chants.”

BLM leaders, such as they are, appear either unwilling or unable to stop it, despite the obvious fact that such violence is bad for their movement and progressive politics in general.

By and large, liberals and progressives have seemed remarkably untroubled by this unfortunate development. Probably the main reason for this is that, so far, it hasn’t had much of an effect on Biden’s lead over Trump and general Democratic chances in 2020.

There are several reasons for this. One is that Biden has generally said what he needed to say in terms of condemning violence on all sides, albeit with a bit of a lag at times. But the main reason is that Trump is held in very low esteem by most voters and is not viewed as a trusted agent to deal with race relations and tamping down violent conflicts. So, voters may detest violent protests but so far that does not make these same voters feel like switching their support to Trump if he does not already have it.

This situation may not last forever. Yes, America in 2020 is not America in 1968 and Trump is not nearly as clever a politician as Richard Nixon. But if public opinion about the protest movement becomes negative enough, it could affect the political climate in a way that would hurt Biden and other Democrats.

Consider these recent public opinion data summarized by Geoffrey Skelley on 538:

“Americans are less inclined to view as peaceful those protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha compared with those who were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. This week’s survey from The Economist/YouGov found that 41 percent of Americans considered the protesters themselves “mostly peaceful,” while 40 percent said they were “mostly violent.” This marked a sizable departure from early July, when the pollster last asked this question — back then, 54 percent viewed the protesters as more peaceful, while only 31 percent viewed them as more violent. And late last week, a Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that a majority of Americans — 54 percent — thought the protests had gone too far, compared with 31 percent who said that they hadn’t.”

David Byler of the Washington Post notes:

“Earlier this summer, Americans solidly backed the protests against police brutality and racism. But that support has been diminishing in recent weeks, in particular after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wis., and ensuing riots. According to YouGov, 46 percent of respondents say that “protesters want to destroy America” comes closer to their view than the milder “protesters want to improve America.” While support for the Black Lives Matter movement spiked in June, opposition has been rising since.”

Byler, while he notes, as do other political observers, that so far Biden has ridden out this storm without much damage, outlines the potential problem for Biden:

“The riots pose a danger for Biden. If riots continue to dominate coverage of the protests, the public will probably become more critical of the broader movement. Trump’s dream scenario — Americans slow the spread of covid-19, the economy recovers and his campaign successfully ties Biden to the looting and rioting — could still come to pass.”

So the complacency of progressives and liberals around protest violence seems foolish. Just because something has not happened yet does not mean it will never happen.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that some on the liberal left seem inclined to make excuses for rioting, looting and arson on the grounds that it is the frustrated outcry of the oppressed….and besides it’s just buildings, they’ve got insurance, etc. This unbelievably lame and morally bankrupt attitude is encapsulated by the respectful hearing accorded to Vicky Osterweil’s new book In Defense of Looting. Rather than ignoring this demented manifesto the author and her screed have been respectfully covered in revered liberal outlets like NPR, the New Yorker and the Nation. This is not a good sign.

Cathy Young puts it well in a terrific article on Arc Digital on The Politics of Riots:

“Ultimately, progressive attitudes toward violent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement are shaped by the belief that the protests are on the right side, the rioters are simply good guys driven too far by frustration and despair, and whatever damage they may do pales in comparison to the slaughter of black people by racist forces.

But for one thing, this view ignores the fact that many of the violent protesters are genuine radicals whose motives are not identical to peaceful protesters’. Some want violent revolution. Some just want to break stuff.

For another, it ignores the fact that while too many innocent Americans — especially black Americans — are killed by the police, far more black lives are lost in places where the social order starts to collapse. This summer’s spike of violent crime in Chicago is one example. “We talk about Black Lives Matter, but I’m sick and tired of what’s going on in these streets,” Erikka Gordon, a black Chicago resident, told ABC7 recently after losing two nephews to gun violence.”

So let’s get our priorities straight: the rioters are not good guys and what they do is harmful not helpful. They are enemies of the progressive cause and will continue to be so even if Biden gets elected. It’s time liberals and progressives jettisoned their illusions on this score and made their opposition to these tactics crystal clear.

Dems Face Challenges in the Largest Swing State

Early September seems like a good time to take a look at the challenges Democrats face in the largest swing state. Dexter Filkins obliges in his New Yorker article, “Who Gets to Vote in Florida? With the election hanging in the balance, Republican leaders continue a long fight over voting rights.” As Filkins sets the stage:

For candidates in the coming Presidential election, Florida presents a singular opportunity and a vexing challenge. While other big states, such as Texas and California, reliably go to Republicans or Democrats, Florida is unpredictable. Polling suggests that Joe Biden could plausibly lose there and win the election, though the state’s twenty-nine electoral votes would surely make a victory easier; Trump, by most analyses, cannot win without them.

Stretching eight hundred miles from end to end, Florida encompasses the Deep South counties of the panhandle and the urban centers of Miami, Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, where Jewish and Latino voters predominate. There are growing Puerto Rican enclaves around Orlando, and main-line Republican areas in Naples and Tampa, linked demographically and culturally with the Midwest. This mixture creates an almost perfectly divided electorate. Statewide races are often decided by a few thousand votes, out of millions cast.

Even though Florida is closely split, Republican leaders dominate state politics; since 1999, they have controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. One key to their success has been restricting access to the polls. Lower turnout, particularly among Black voters, has usually favored their side. “Older and more affluent voters tend to be more conservative, and they tend to vote more often,” Daniel Smith, a professor of politics at the University of Florida, told me. That fact has motivated a relentless campaign to tamp down voter turnout. The most overt efforts were hindered by the Voting Rights Act, which until 2013 obligated places with a history of racial discrimination to get Justice Department approval before making major changes in electoral laws. But the less conspicuous efforts have had momentous effects. In 2000, they arguably helped decide the race for the Presidency.

Filkins goes on the flesh out the sordid history of voter suppression in the Sunshine State, where as little sunshine as possible is cast by Republicans on their ballot-counting and voter-verification processes. Looking toward the 2020 presidential election, Filkins notes,

This November marks the first Presidential election since 1980 in which the Republican National Committee will not be bound by a court decree that has tightly limited its activities around voting sites. The decree arose from a Democratic lawsuit charging that, in a New Jersey governor’s race, off-duty police officers, some carrying guns and wearing armbands that read “National Ballot Security Task Force,” had intimidated Black voters. “We fully expect Trump volunteers to be at every polling place in the state on Election Day,” Peñalosa said.

Polling averages show Biden leading Trump in Florida at this point, and with no voter suppression and an honest count, there would be every reason to bet on Biden winning a popular majority in the state, and an Electoral College majority. As it is, however, Democrats have to bring their ‘A game’ over the next 8 weeks to check these twin threats.