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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Gardner and Greenberg: They Don’t Want Trump OR Biden. Here’s How They Still Can Elect Biden

Page Gardner of PSG Consulting is a senior political and communications strategist who founded the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information and has recently launched Innovating for the Public Good: R&D for Democracy. Stanley B. Greenberg, a founding partner of Greenberg Research, Democracy Corps, and Climate Policy & Strategy, and Prospect board member, is a New York Times best-selling author and co-author of ‘It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!’ The following article is cross-posted from The American Prospect:

President Biden and Donald Trump have now each won enough delegates to ensure their respective presidential nominations. Yet we are facing an election in which an unprecedented share of voters desperately wish that the two major parties don’t nominate these leaders.

We’ve had such “dual haters” before. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton faced Donald Trump, they comprised 18 percent of the voters and they played a pivotal role in putting Trump in the White House. They gave Trump an over 20-point margin in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

This year, the “dual haters” are 23 percent of the electorate, and they will not be easy voters for Biden to win. Right now, he is losing them by 8 points in a two-way contest and by 10 in the multicandidate field.

These numbers come from a survey of 2,500 potential voters in battleground states that Democracy Corps and PSG Consulting conducted at the end of 2023, which included 500 over- samples of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians at the end of the year. Our survey used the thermometer scale used by the University of Michigan’s National Election Studies, asking voters to give “warm” and “cool” ratings on a 100-degree thermometer.

The most important finding was the share of these “dual haters” who are potential swing voters. Fully 45 percent are independents; 51 percent are moderates. Only 4 percent are “very conservative.” And a 55 percent majority say they’ll vote for independent candidates, led by Robert F. Kennedy. In a simulated race against Biden, 57 percent said they’d choose Nikki Haley.

This is a group of voters that could break for Biden.

We cheered President Biden’s spirited State of the Union speech, which could reverse the momentum and get this race back to parity. It was a speech that could well have won over some moderate Republicans and Liz Cheney conservatives.

But the president was not yet speaking to the “dual haters,” though he will have many more opportunities to do that in this long campaign.

The president started the speech by declaring “the state of our Union is strong and getting stronger”—which probably didn’t ring true for these alienated and angry voters. A daunting 91 percent of such voters say the country is “on the wrong track.” They are looking for a big change; barring that, many would choose not to vote. Only a third chose 10 on the 1-to-10 ladder that measures voter interest, compared to over half of all voters. They are not close news-watchers and might well have skipped a 68-minute speech.

Democrats will have a better chance of winning them if they bring a more accurate view of what they have achieved and how it impacted people. The expanded Child Tax Credit, for example, expired and many reductions in prescription drug prices are anticipated in the future. Working people saw bigger wage gains under Trump; consumer confidence is still 20 points below its level when Biden took office; and by a wide margin, “dual haters” think Trump will help more than Biden in ensuring wages keep up with prices. They give the Republicans a 33-point advantage on “getting things done.”

But Biden can still get ahead with these voters because our survey of the battleground shows he has the potential to get heard on abortion and women’s rights, and on opposition to MAGA Republicans. He can connect with these voters’ fear of autocracy and white supremacists. They liked his joining a picket line and getting billionaires to pay taxes. They wanted to hear more on climate change.

This is just the launch of the 2024 campaign. Past Democratic presidential campaigns have altered their strategy and message and made dramatic gains around the time of the Democratic conventions in August.

Consider the example of two presidential campaigns that co-author Greenberg advised.

In 2000, Al Gore trailed George W. Bush by about 10 points for the entire year before the party conventions. After the Republican convention, Bush’s lead grew to a remarkable 17 points.

At the Democratic convention, though, Gore delivered a powerful pro­–working class acceptance speech. That wiped out Bush’s long-held lead. The candidates were tied after Labor Day, and this working-class message and strategy gave Gore a small lead going into the debates at the end of September.

The debates were a disaster, however. They put Bush into the lead, though our polls showed us with a fraction-of-a-point lead on Election Day. (And, of course, Gore did beat Bush in the national popular vote count.)


Teixeira: The Democrats and the Rise of Racial Radicalism

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

In the 1960s, spurred by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Educationand the civil rights movement, the United States undertook what has been called a “second Reconstruction.” Washington passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. This legislation, it was hoped, would bring the country closer to fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But while these reforms sparked the development of a black middle class, and ended Jim Crow discrimination in the South, American blacks still suffered from discrimination, and many were afflicted with joblessness, broken families, drug addiction, and violent crime.

The persistence of racial inequality sparked a debate over what should be done among conservatives, liberals, social democrats, and radicals. In the last decade, the radicals, whose political views we consider divisive and based on an outworn conception of American society, have become ascendant. Their ranks include a well-funded organization, Black Lives Matter, and best-selling authors and Ivy League professors. They also boast the support of liberal foundations, policy groups, think tanks, and media. Their radical views have become identified in the public mind with the Democratic Party and are a significant obstacle to the party reclaiming its historic role as the party of the common man and woman.

The Debate

This debate over what should be done dates back to the last decades of the twentieth century. Initially there were three clear alternatives. Conservatives blamed blacks’ failure to progress on a culture that devalued family, education, and work. They blamed the permissiveness of Johnson’s War on Poverty and increased welfare benefits for fostering that culture and called for cutting welfare payments and requiring recipients to work.

Left-wing or social-democratic theorists brought a class analysis to bear. A key figure was William Julius Wilson, a University of Chicago sociologist. In two widely read books, The Declining Significance of Race and The Truly Disadvantaged, Wilson attributed the rise of this desiccated black underclass in cities like Chicago primarily to the exodus of blue-collar industries and the departure to the suburbs of the black working and middle class, which had “reinforced and perpetuated mainstream patterns of norms and behavior.”

Wilson rejected explanations that put the blame entirely on racism for the plight of the inner cities. “One does not have to ‘trot out’ the concept of racism to demonstrate, for example, that blacks have been severely hurt by deindustrialization because of their heavy concentration in the automobile, rubber, steel, and other smokestack industries,” he wrote.

Wilson also rejected affirmative action as a blanket solution to racial inequality.  “The race-specific policies emanating from the civil rights revolution, although beneficial to more advantaged blacks (i.e., those with higher income, greater education and training, and more prestigious occupations), do little for those who are truly disadvantaged,” he wrote. Instead, Wilson urged government policies that would promote full employment and higher wages, along with universal childcare and family allowance programs. These programs, he argued, would ease the burden of inner-city families without provoking a racial backlash. Criticized by radicals for offering “conservative” remedies for poverty, Wilson responded, “I am a social-democrat.”

Radicals, who hearkened back to the black power movement of the Sixties and the Black Panther Party, rejected Wilson’s class analysis. They argued that Brown v. the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Acts had failed to dislodge an underlying racism that affected all blacks. They called this racism “systemic,” “systematic,” and “structural.” They called for aggressive affirmative action, including quotas, the abandonment of race-neutral standards in school admissions, and racial reparations.

Law students and professors created what they called “Critical Race Theory” or CRT. One of CRT’s chief theorists, UCLA Law Professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw described blacks’ situation at the end of the twentieth century as “American apartheid.” Black politicians and activists also revived the call for reparations. In 1987, the National Conference of Black Lawyers and two other groups formed the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations. In 1994, they assembled an all-star cast in Detroit, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. John Conyers, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, to endorse its demand for reparation and Conyers’ bill to set up a Congressional commission to “study and develop reparations proposals.”

The conservative approach to racial equality, stressing flaws in black culture traceable to liberal permissiveness, would continue to be influential among Republicans. Wilson would receive awards for his books on the economic roots of race relations, but his proposal for labor market strategies that would stem deindustrialization would be ignored by the Clinton and Obama administrations. Critical Race Theory enjoyed popularity among education schools, ethnic studies departments, as well as law schools. Then, in the 2010s, a new wave of radicalism, drawing upon CRT and the call for reparations, burst forth and became the dominant strain of anti-racist politics on the left and in the Democratic Party.

Black Lives Matter

The new wave of radicalism was sparked by George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014 and climaxed with the murder of George Floyd in 2020 in Minneapolis. These were, of course, not the first instances of police brutality against blacks, but they occurred in the era of smart phones and social media. Floyd’s murder was captured on a smartphone and the video became viral. The group at the forefront of the protests was Black Lives Matter, which had originated as three women’s twitter hashtag in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal.

In 2014, BLM’s founders created the Movement for Black Lives. Its platform championed defunding of the police and “an end of public jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them.” It called for racial reparations. It demanded the federal government create a new welfare system specifically for black people. It would include a “guaranteed minimum livable income” for black people, “full and free access to higher and technical education, and “corporate and government reparations” that would provide healthcare and access to “food sources, housing and land.”

The group won support from liberal foundations. In July 2016, the Ford Foundation joined forces with the Borealis Philanthropy to launch a six-year fundraising project aimed at providing $100 million for the Movement for Black Lives. “We’ll provide long-term support for the Movement for Black Lives so that these visionary leaders and organizations can continue to cultivate and maintain a movement of young black women and men who are pushing through established boundaries as they seek to realize the promise of equality and justice for all,” Ford’s statement said.

The New Intellectuals

While Black Lives Matter groups were protesting police violence, a group of intellectuals were writing widely-read and highly acclaimed essays and books that refined and advanced the radical arguments that black power advocates and critical race theorists had made decades before. In 2014, Ta-Nahesi Coates, the son of a former Black Panther Party member from Baltimore, published “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic. Coates blamed whatever ills had befallen blacks on a “trenchant racism” that was a legacy of black enslavement. Columbia University Professor John McWhorter dismissed Coates’ argument as “victimology,” but a panel of judges from NYU’s School of Journalism later named “The Case for Reparations” the top work of journalism for the decade.

Ibram X. Kendi published the bestselling How to be an Antiracist in 2020 just as the protests against Floyd’s murder were heating up. Kendi argued that racism pervades all institutions in America and that to eliminate it, policies had to discriminate on behalf of blacks against whites. If blacks were underrepresented in colleges on the basis of tests, the tests had to be eliminated. If they were overrepresented among convicted felons, then police and judicial practices had to be altered. “A racist policy,” he wrote, “is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.” “Equity” became the accepted buzzword to describe equality of outcome rather than opportunity.

The most important institutional affirmation of this new racial radicalism came from The New York Times Magazine. In August 2019, it devoted an entire issue to “The 1619 Project,” conceived, edited and introduced by a staff reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones. In an introduction, Hannah-Jones claimed that 1619, when the first slave ship arrived, and not 1776, when the colonies declared their independence, was “our true founding” and that “one of the primary reasons colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was to protect the institution of slavery.” Hannah-Jones claimed that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Some American historians cried foul, but Hannah-Jones was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her essay.

Brownstein: Biden vs. Inflation

From Ronald Brownstein’s “How Biden hopes to recapture voters scarred by inflation” at CNN Politics:

Biden is portraying himself as committed to standing up for average Americans against powerful interests and the wealthy. But polls consistently show that significantly more Americans, including substantial numbers of Black and Hispanic voters, believe they personally benefited from Trump’s policies than Biden’s.

That sentiment risks blunting Biden’s populist arguments: even if he can convince voters that Trump’s policies helped the rich and corporations the most, they may not mind as much if they believe that they also benefited more under Trump than they have under Biden.

In a way, it’s Biden against a form of the “rising tide lifts all boats” tax strategy Republicans have deployed effectively for decades. “It’s Ok if the wealthy get huge tax breaks, as long as I get a modest one too.” Brownstein notes further,

Biden has plenty of ammunition to mount a traditional populist case against Trump. The former president’s principal legislative accomplishment was a massive tax cut that provided most of its direct benefits to corporations and the most affluent. Trump came within one Senate vote of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has significantly increased health care coverage for lower-income working Americans. As a candidate in 2016, Trump pledged to seek legislative authority for Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices from pharmaceutical companies, but in office, under intense pressure from the industry, he abandoned that promise. Across a wide range of regulatory issues, from the environment to consumer protection, his administration consistently sided with business interests.

Biden has set a very different course. He won the legislative authority for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, and his administration is now negotiating lower prices for the first 10 drugs under that program; he also won authority to limit seniors’ monthly costs for insulin to $35 per month and to cap seniors’ annual out-of-pocket expenses for all drugs at $2,000. He passed significantly larger subsidies to help the uninsured buy coverage under the ACA, which has pushed enrollment to record highs. His administration has enforced the antitrust laws more aggressively than any in recent times and pursued a multi-pronged regulatory offensive against what he calls junk fees. The Covid-19 stimulus bill passed in 2021 included an expansion of the tax credit for families with children big enough to cut childhood poverty roughly in half, though the credit expired when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin insisted on its removal in the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden did pass in that law a new 15% minimum tax for corporations.

Brownstrein adds:

The new proposals Biden highlighted in his State of the Union last week and new federal budget released Monday also lean heavily into economic populism.Overall, issues that economic populists have worked for years to put into the political mainstream got validated by President Biden,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Biden is proposing to raise the corporate tax rate, impose a 25% minimum tax on billionaires and end the Trump tax cuts for families earning over $400,000 per year (while retaining them for those making less). He wants to restore the expanded children’s tax credit, make permanent the larger subsidies for buying health insurance, provide a $10,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, establish a nationwide paid family leave program, and subsidize families’ child care expenses, partly by establishing universal access to preschool. He also called for increasing five-fold annually the number of drugs subject to Medicare negotiations, and to extend the caps on insulin and out-of-pocket drug costs to all Americans, not just seniors.

Biden’s agenda, and the contrast it establishes with Trump’s policy priorities, gives Democrats plenty to work with in trying to portray themselves as champions of average families and Republicans as servants of the wealthy. “Our economic contrast is going to be that of Scranton, Pennsylvania, versus Park Avenue,” said Michael Tyler, the Biden campaign’s communications director. “We have the receipts because we are also running against a de facto incumbent. We saw what his economic policy looked like when he was in office and we have to clearly articulate that to people and remind people of what his priorities are.”

However, notes Brownstein,

But inflation, and its impact on the ability of working families to meet their bills, has greatly complicated Biden’s task in winning a conventional populist argument against Trump. Inflation has significantly moderated from its peak immediately after the Covid pandemic, but while prices are no longer increasing as fast, they remain about 18% higher than when Biden took office, and higher than that for such essentials as groceries, gas and rent. And while wages have been rising faster than prices since spring 2023, the cumulative increase in pay has not yet surpassed the cumulative increase in prices during Biden’s presidency, leaving many workers feeling squeezed. “What’s the disconnect between people’s experience and the [positive] economic movement that we’ve seen in the last four or five months?” asked Republican pollster Micah Roberts. “It’s three words: In-fla-tion. That’s it. It’s not a hard thing.”

Pollsters in both parties say it is common in focus groups to hear participants say that they felt they had more money in their pocket at the end of the week when Trump was president. “Right before Covid, people were telling us it was the best economy they had seen in their lifetime,” said Jim McLaughlin, a pollster for Trump. Now, he says, “They specifically blame Joe Biden for” their increased difficulty making ends meet. “Stand outside a grocery store,” McLaughlin added, “they’ll tell you how booming the economy is.”

Polls leave little doubt Biden today is not only losing the economic comparison to Trump, but facing substantial skepticism among constituencies that usually are the principal target for a populist Democratic economic message. In a CNBC poll last October, not only did White voters say they were better off financially under Trump than Biden by a margin of more than 4-to-1, but so did non-white voters by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, according to figures provided by Roberts, whose firm conducts the survey with a Democratic partner. In the latest national NBC News poll, conducted by the same Republican-Democratic partnership, voters who identified as low-income and working-class trusted Trump over Biden on the economy by a crushing margin of 61% to 25%.

Brownstein goes on to note that Biden’s poll numbers are even worse with Hispanic voters and cites anger about Biden’s immigration policy as feeding nostalgia for Trump’s pre-Covid years. But Biden may have found a powerful message point in populist economics:

“In a report released last week,” Brownstein notes, “the Winning Jobs Narrative Project, a consortium of liberal advocacy groups, concluded that Democrats’ best chance to overcome voters’ continuing concerns about meeting their bills is to hammer home the populist case Biden sketched out in the State of the Union. By framing the election as a choice between “middle-out” versus “top down” and “trickle down” economics, “we think the president is absolutely on to something central to the direction Democrats should take in this election – which is who gets prioritized and how,” said Bobby Clark, a senior adviser to the group.

After voters were exposed to Biden’s populist arguments, assessments of his economic record improved in the group’s polling, Clark said. But even after hearing that case, most voters in the group’s surveys still gave Biden negative marks for his economic performance, the study found….That finding may suggest the limits on how much Biden’s prospective agenda can offset voters’ discontent over their actual economic experience during his presidency. To win in November, most strategists in both parties agree, Biden doesn’t need to completely erase Trump’s advantage on the economy because so many voters resist the former president on other grounds, such as democracy, abortion rights, and the general chaos and conflict that he ignites.”

Brownstein concludes that “Biden needs positive trends on the economy to persist – in particular, for wages to continue rising faster than prices, as they have since last spring….But he also needs to persuade enough voters that his agenda will do more than Trump’s to help them make ends meet in the future – even if they mostly believe the opposite has so far been true of Biden’s time in the White House.”

Where Dems Can Win Votes with Improved Voter Registration

Some stats from “How voter registration rules discourage some Americans from voting: An explainer and research roundup” by Denise-Marie Ordway at Journalist’s Resource:

In 2022, 69% of U.S. citizens aged 18 years and older were registered to vote, according to a report the U.S. Census Bureau released last year. Registration rates ranged from 61% in North Carolina to 83% in Oregon.

The four most populous states — California, Texas, Florida and New York — had some of the lowest registration rates: 67%, 65%, 63% and 66%, respectively.

White U.S. citizens are much more likely to be registered to vote than citizens of other racial and ethnic groups. Nationally, about 71% of white adult citizens, 64% of Black adult citizens, 60% of Asian adult citizens and 58% of Hispanic adult citizens were registered to vote in November 2022, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Older adult citizens are more likely to be registered than younger ones. While 77% of citizens aged 65 years and older were registered to vote in November 2022, 63% of citizens aged 25 to 34 and 49% of citizens aged 18 to 24 were.

Voter registration rates differed by job status in November 2022. For example, 60% of unemployed adult citizens reporting being registered compared with 72% of self-employed adult citizens and 79% with government jobs.

Adult citizens with lower incomes are less likely to register to vote than those with higher incomes. For example, 83% of adult citizens with family incomes of $150,000 per year or higher were registered to vote in November 2022. Meanwhile, 58% of adult citizens with family incomes of $15,000 to $19,999 were.

The voter registration rate among Hispanic adult citizens in November 2022 was lowest in Mississippi, at 23%, and highest in Minnesota, at 75%.

In Iowa, 76% of white adult citizens were registered to vote, compared with 41% of Black adult citizens, 45% of Asian adult citizens and 58% of Hispanic adult citizens.

In 10 states, fewer than half of Black adult citizens were registered to vote in November 2022. In 15 states, fewer than half of Asian adult citizens were.

In Florida, younger voters and racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to have their voter registration applications put “on hold,” meaning they needed to correct errors and provide additional information before their applications can be processed.

Although there are no shockers in any of these statistics, they do suggest that Democrats can improve their prospects with specific demographic groups in places with a little extra effort.

Teixeira: Nonwhite Working Class Bails Out on Democrats

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

Cast your mind back to those heady days of 2012 when Barack Obama vanquished Mitt Romney and won a second term in the White House. In that election, Obama carried nonwhite working-class (noncollege) voters by a massive 67 points, while losing white college graduates by 7 points. That means Obama did 74 points betteramong the nonwhite working class than among white college graduates.

In the next two presidential elections, that differential steadily narrowed as Democrats did worse among nonwhite working-class voters even as they improved among white college graduates. In 2020, Biden carried the nonwhite working class by 48 points (19 points less than Obama did in 2012) while carrying white college graduates by 9 points (16 points better than Obama). That cut the Democrats’ positive differential between these two groups almost in half, down to 39 points.

Now it’s Biden running for a second term and, astonishingly, that positive differential may have entirely disappeared. According to the just-released New York Times/Siena poll, Biden is actually doing worse among the nonwhite working class, carrying them by a mere six points, than among white college graduates, where he enjoys a 15 point advantage over Trump. Amazing. There is perhaps no better illustration of the Democrats’ transformation into a Brahmin Left party, beloved by the educated but increasingly viewed with suspicion by the working classes of all races.

The Times data allow us to dig into the attitudinal differences that currently exist between white college graduates and the nonwhite working class and help explain these trends.

1. Biden’s job approval. Biden’s job approval among the nonwhite working class is a dreadful 34 percent. Among white college graduates it’s a comparatively healthy 47 percent. The nonwhite working class is actually closer to the white working class’ assessment of Biden (28 percent approval) than to white college graduates’ view of Biden.

2. Trump favorability. Trump has a 44 percent favorability rating among nonwhite working-class voters. That’s lower than the 55 percent rating among the white working class but still closer to that rating than Trump’s 29 percent favorability among white college graduates.

3. Personality and temperament to be an effective president. White and nonwhite working-class voters are very close on the assessment of Biden (42 percent vs. 46 percent say Biden has what it takes to be an effective president), way lower than the 63 percent thumbs up from white college grads. And on Trump’s capabilities, the two working-class sectors are almost identical (48 percent vs. 47 percent think Trump can do the job), way higher than the 29 percent among white college voters who agree.

4. Assessments of the economy. About three-fifths (59 percent) of the nonwhite working class characterizes current economic conditions as “poor.” That’s identical with views among the white working class and way more negative than among white college voters, only 38 percent of whom believe the economy is that bad.

In terms of whether the economy is better or worse than a year ago, a mere 15 percent of nonwhite working-class voters believe the economy has gotten better while 51 percent believe it has gotten worse. That’s close to white working-class voters, where 21 percent say better and 42 percent say worse. But for white college graduates views are much sunnier: 32 percent better and 29 percent worse.

Looking back further, the nonwhite working class deems the economy worse rather than better than four years ago by 67 percent to 12 percent, quite similar to the white working class at 74 percent worse/16 percent better. That compares to white college grads at 50 percent worse/30 percent better.

5. Personal assessments. Just 12 percent of the the nonwhite working class are willing to say that Biden’s policies have helped them personally. That’s actually slightly less than the 14 percent of the white working class who are willing to say the same thing. Both sectors of the working class trail white college voters, who are much higher (if hardly enthusiastic) at 28 percent on this measure.

An even starker contrast is on assessments of personal financial situation. Over half of nonwhite working-class voters describe their financial situation as only fair (33 percent) or poor (23 percent), as do white working-class voters (33 percent only fair/20 percent poor). But only a third of white college grads feel that way (27 percent only fair/just 7 percent poor).

6. Cost of living. Specifically asked to rate “prices for food and consumer goods” as an aspect of the current economy, 70 percent of the nonwhite working class assesses the situation as poor, as does 71 percent of the white working class, while white college graduates at 54 percent are significantly less negative. The same pattern is evident on gas prices. Fifty-five percent of both nonwhite and white working-class voters characterize the situation as poor, compared to only 35 percent of white college grads.

This convergence of views between the nonwhite and white working class, and their divergence from those of white college graduates, helps explain the trends we have been seeing. Clearly, the Biden years have been experienced by nonwhite working-class voters in a different and less pleasant way than they have been by white college graduates. As the data reviewed here suggest, a lot of this is about the economy. But there are other factors.

As I noted last week, as the Democrats have moved to the left on sociocultural issues, they are increasingly diverging from the comfort zone of the moderate-to-conservative supermajority of nonwhite working-class voters. Democratic positions in these areas are, however, congenial to white college graduates who have rewarded Democrats with increasing support. The accelerating “Brahminization” of the party is the result.

Can Democrats escape the negative effects of this Brahminization? It’s certainly possible though oddly their chances will be best in a relatively low turnout election, where their educated, engaged voters are more important and working-class voters less. And it is mathematically possible for Democrats to drive up their support among white college grads sufficiently to counterbalance whatever losses they might experience among working-class voters. Mathematically possible but not easy.

To get a sense of how heavy the lift could be here, consider a scenario where both the white and nonwhite working class move away from the Democrats by 10 margin points—slightly more than indicated by the Times data among white working-class voters but far less than indicated among nonwhite working-class voters. This can be simulated using States of Change data that allow both nonwhite and white working-class preferences by detailed subgroup (race, gender, age) nationally and within states to be estimated for 2020 and then moved to the right by the specified amount. Those adjusted estimates (with all other preferences held constant at their 2020 levels) are then applied to the projected structure of the eligible electorate in 2024 and subsequent elections.

In 2024, this shift toward Republicans among both nonwhite and white working-class voters produces a solid 312-226 GOP electoral vote majority. The states that move into the GOP column are Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Nevada by 3 points, Arizona and Georgia by 4 points and Wisconsin by 5 points—all six of the key swing states for the coming election.

Republicans also carry the popular vote, albeit by just a point. Thereafter, the GOP starts to lose the popular vote but continues to win the electoral vote through 2040. Again, the Democrats can conceivably counter these—or any other losses—by a sufficiently improved performance among other parts of the electorate. But it does give you a sense of the working class-sized hole the Democrats may be digging for themselves.

It might be worthwhile for Democrats to start seriously thinking about how they can de-Brahminize their party. The rewards could be great—and the penalties for not doing so even greater.

Teixeira: Dems’ “What, Me Worry?” Approach to Losing Working Class Voters Invites Disaster

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

The Democrats seem to have a “What, me worry?” take on their ongoing loss of working-class (noncollege) voters. That take has several components: white working-class voters who support Trump/Republicans are racist reactionaries who Democrats can’t reach; nonwhite working-class voters who vote Republican are just voting their ideology and so too are beyond persuasion by Democrats; working-class voters are declining as a share of voters over time (and the college-educated are increasing) so the Democrats’ problems will solve themselves; and trying to reach persuadable working-class voters by moving to the center would alienate left progressives and be a net vote-loser.

None of these views are correct.

1. Claim: white working-class voters who support Trump/Republicans are racist reactionaries who Democrats can’t reach. This assumes white working-class voters who vote Republican or would consider doing are all cut from the same reactionary, super-conservative cloth. Not so; many can reasonably be characterized as persuadable. Consider the 2016 Trump vote.

When analysts sifted through the wreckage of Democratic performance in 2016 trying to understand where all the Trump voting had come from, some key themes emerged. One was geographical. Across county-level studies, it was clear that low educational levels among whites was a very robust predictor of shifts toward Trump. These studies also indicated that counties that swung toward Trump tended to be dependent on low-skill jobs, relatively poor performers on a range of economic measures and had local economies particularly vulnerable to automation and offshoring. Finally, there was strong evidence that Trump-swinging counties tended to be literally “sick” in the sense that their inhabitants had relatively poor physical health and high mortality due to alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide.

The picture was more complicated when it came to individual level characteristics related to Trump voting, especially Obama-Trump voting. There were a number of correlates with Trump voting. They included some aspects of economic populism—opposition to cutting Social Security and Medicare, suspicion of free trade and trade agreements, taxing the rich—as well as traditional populist attitudes like anti-elitism and mistrust of experts. But the star of the show, so to speak, was a variable labelled “racial resentment” by political scientists, which many studies showed bore a strengthened relationship to Republican presidential voting in 2016.

This variable is a scale created from questions like: “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” The variable is widely and uncritically employed by political scientists to indicate racial animus despite the obvious problem that statements such as these correspond closely to a generic conservative view of avenues to social mobility. And indeed political scientists Riley Carney and Ryan Enos have shown that responses to questions like these change very little if you substitute “Nepalese” or “Lithuanians” for blacks. That implies the questions that make up the scale tap views that are not at all specific to blacks. Carney and Enos term these views “just world belief” which sounds quite a bit different from racial resentment.

But in the aftermath of the Trump election, researchers continued to use the same scale with the same name and the same interpretation with no caveats. The strong relationship of the scale to Trump voting was proof, they argued, that Trump support, including vote-switching from Obama to Trump, was simply a matter of activating underlying racism and xenophobia. Imagine though how these studies might have landed if they had tied Trump support to activating just world belief, which is an eminently reasonable interpretation of their star variable, instead of racial resentment. The lack of even a hint of interest in exploring this alternative interpretation strongly suggests that the researchers’ own political beliefs were playing a strong role in how they chose to pursue and present their studies.

In short, they went looking for racism—and they found it.

Other studies played variations on this theme, adding variables around immigration and even trade to the mix, where negative views were presumed to show “status threat” or some other euphemism for racism and xenophobia. As sociologist Stephen Morgan has noted in a series of papers, this amounts to a labeling exercise where issues that have a clear economic component are stripped of that component and reduced to simple indicators of unenlightened social attitudes. Again, it seems clear that researchers’ priors and political beliefs were heavily influencing both their analytical approach and their interpretation of results.

And there is an even deeper problem with the conventional view. Start with a fact that was glossed over or ignored by most studies: trends in so-called racial resentment went in the “wrong” direction between the 2012 and 2016 election. That is, fewer whites had high levels of racial resentment in 2016 than 2012. This make racial resentment an odd candidate to explain the shift of white voters toward Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Political scientists Justin Grimmer and William Marble investigated this conundrum intensively by looking directly at whether an indicator like racial resentment really could explain, or account for, the shift of millions of white votes toward Trump. The studies that gave pride of place to racial resentment as an explanation for Trump’s victory did no such accounting; they simply showed a stronger relationship between this variable and Republican voting in 2016 and thought they’d provided a complete explanation.

They had not. When you look at the actual population of voters and how racial resentment was distributed in 2016, as Grimmer and Marble did, it turns out that the racial resentment explanation simply does not fit what really happened in terms of voter shifts. A rigorous accounting of vote shifts toward Trump shows instead that they were primarily among whites, especially low education whites, with moderate views on race and immigration, not whites with high levels of racial resentment. In fact, Trump actually netted fewer votes among whites with high levels of racial resentment than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

So much for the racial resentment explanation of Trump’s victory. Not only is racial resentment a misnamed variable that does not mean what people think it means, it literally cannot account for the actual shifts that occurred in the 2016 election. Clearly a much more complex explanation for Trump’s victory was—or should have been—in order, integrating negative views on immigration, trade and liberal elites with a sense of unfairness rooted in just world belief. That would have helped Democrats understand why voters in Trump-shifting counties, whose ways of life were being torn asunder by economic and social change, were so attracted to Trump’s appeals.

Grimmer and Marble, with Cole Tanigawa-Lau, followed up that initial study with one that included data from the 2020 election. Grimmer summed up their findings this way:

Our findings provide an important correction to a popular narrative about how Trump won office. Hillary Clinton argued that Trump supporters could be placed in a “basket of deplorables.” And election-night pundits and even some academics have claimed that Trump’s victory was the result of appealing to white Americans’ racist and xenophobic attitudes. We show this conventional wisdom is (at best) incomplete. Trump’s supporters were less xenophobic than prior Republican candidates’ [supporters], less sexist, had lower animus to minority groups, and lower levels of racial resentment. Far from deplorables, Trump voters were, on average, more tolerant and understanding than voters for prior Republican candidates…

[The data] point to two important and undeniable facts. First, analyses focused on vote choice alone cannot tell us where candidates receive support. We must know the size of groups and who turns out to vote. And we cannot confuse candidates’ rhetoric with the voters who support them, because voters might support the candidate despite the rhetoric, not because of it.

This sounds more like voters who aren’t being reached by Democrats than voters who can’t be reached by Democrats.

2. Claim: nonwhite working-class voters who vote Republican are just voting their ideology and so are beyond persuasion by Democrats. But it is white college graduates not white working-class or nonwhite voters who are most constrained in their ideology. As Echelon Insights’ Patrick Ruffini has noted, white college graduates exhibit the most ideological consistency in the electorate—just 38 percent are in the middle on an ideological consistency scale, not consistently conservative or liberal. In contrast, 83 percent of black voters, 77 percent of Hispanic voters, 69 percent of Asian voters, and 58 percent of white working-class voters are in the middle group. Notably only 31 percent of white working-class voters are consistently conservative, contrary to the lazy presumptions of most Democrats.

And white college graduates, while more ideologically consistent, are not an adequate fix for Democrats’ working-class problems. It is important not to confuse white college graduates overall with white college Democrats. Most white college graduates are not liberal; this is true only of white college Democrats, who have indeed become much more liberal (and ideologically consistent) over time. But white college graduates as a whole are not particularly liberal. In a survey of more than 6,000 adults that I helped conduct between late March and May of last year with the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life (SCAL) and the nonpartisan research institute NORC at the University of Chicago, 28 percent of these voters identified as liberal. The overwhelming majority said they were moderate (45 percent) or conservative (26 percent).

As for nonwhite working-class voters, it is true that more are voting their ideology. But this is no reason for Democrats to throw up their hands and say, in effect, there’s nothing that we can do. They simply can’t afford to sustain significantly larger losses among these voters without fatally undercutting their coalition. Recent polling data make this brutally obvious.

In the latest New York Times/Siena poll, Biden leads Trump by a mere 17 points among this demographic. This compares to his lead over Trump of 48 points in 2020. And even that lead was a big drop-off from Obama’s 67-point advantage in 2012. The trend line is not good.

Why is this happening? The beginning of wisdom is understanding that the nonwhite working class is not particularly progressive while the Democratic Party has become more so. In the Times poll, these voters overwhelmingly say they are moderate-to-conservative, with less than a quarter identifying as liberal. This has created increased contradictions between the Democratic Party and the nonwhite working-class voters they have relied upon for huge margins to make up for shortfalls elsewhere.

Data from the SCAL/NORC survey exposes these contradictions by allowing the views of moderate-to-conservative nonwhite working-class voters to be examined in detail. My analysis shows many large differences between standard Democratic Party positions and the views of these nonwhite working-class voters. As just one example, consider the issue of “structural racism.”

Is racism “built into our society, including into its policies and institutions,” as held by current Democratic Party orthodoxy, or does racism “come from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions?” In the SCAL/NORC survey, by 61 to 39 percent, moderate-to-conservative nonwhite working-class voters (70 percent of whom are moderate, not conservative) chose the latter view, that racism comes from individuals, not society. In stark contrast, the comparatively tiny group of nonwhite college graduate liberals favored the structural racism position by 78 to 20 percent. White college graduate liberals were even more lop-sided at 82 to 18 percent. That tells you a lot about who influences the Democratic Party today and who does not.

Thus, the nonwhite working class is not super-liberal. But neither are they super-conservative. As the numbers cited here indicate, they are more mixed in their views and thus subject to persuasion. Thinking nonwhite working-class defections are simply a matter of conservative ideology coming to the fore would be a big mistake, even if many Democrats find it comforting.

3. Claim: since working-class voters are declining as a share of voters over time (and the college-educated are increasing), Democrats’ problems will solve themselves. The trend is correct but the interpretation is not. It is the case today and will be the case going forward that working-class voters will still dominate the electorate. They will be the overwhelming majority of eligible voters (around two-thirds) in 2024 and, even allowing for turnout patterns, only slightly less dominant among actual voters (around three-fifths). Moreover, in all six key swing states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—the working-class share of the electorate, both as eligible voters and as projected 2024 voters, will be higher than the national average.

As I have noted, because we now live in the Upside Down, Democrats reliably win the college-educated but lose the working class. That means that, given the disproportion between the two groups, Democrats need to win the college-educated by way more than they lose the working class to win elections. That is mathematically possible but very challenging—and the worse the working-class deficit gets the more challenging it becomes.

To get a sense of this challenge, consider that in the Times poll previously mentioned, Biden’s deficit among working-class voters was 17 points, 13 points worse than his 4-point deficit in 2020. This is consistent with other polls which generally have Biden’s working-class deficit in the mid-teens. Benchmarking off a 15-point working-class deficit, Biden would have to carry college-educated voters by 33 points in this scenario to replicate his 2020 national showing. That would be quite a jump from his 18-point advantage in that election. Not impossible of course but very, very difficult and shows how much this disproportion could matter in 2024.

Nor will this disproportion go away tomorrow. Estimates from the States of Change project have the working class proportion of eligible voters dropping only slowly from 67 percent today to 62 percent in 2036.

4. Claim: trying to reach persuadable working-class voters by moving to the center would alienate left progressives and be a net vote-loser. The concept that Democrats should shy away from moving to the center because the progressive left will take their toys and go home is ludicrous. This view is backed up what is essentially a threat: if Democrats don’t move in the direction recommended by the progressive left, “their” voters, especially young voters, will fail to be “energized” in 2024, endangering Biden’s re-election and Democratic electoral prospects generally.

But is that really true? Leaving aside the question of whether that would be a responsible use of their power (I don’t think so), do they even have that kind of power? I doubt it. In fact, I think the progressive left is more of a paper tiger, claiming power and influence way above what they actually have.

Start with the fundamental fact that the progressive or intersectional left, for whom issues from ending fossil fuels to open borders to decriminalizing and decolonizing everything (free Palestine!) are inseparably linked moral commitments, is actually a pretty small slice of voters—six percent in the Pew typology (“progressive left”), eight percent in the More in Common typology(“progressive activists”). So we should ask whether and to what extent their commitments are reflected in the views of the voter groups in whose name they claim to speak.

Probably the most important of these is young voters, lately lionized as Democrats’ best hope—but also perhaps their downfall, if not appropriately catered to. And it is true that young voters generally lean more left than older voters. But that does not mean that young voters as a group are flaming left-wingers. Far from it. Indeed, in the Pew typology, the “progressive left” group among those under 30 is only 5 points more (11 percent) than among the population as a whole.

This can be seen on many issues. One such is how to tackle the problem of climate change. The progressive left is in a state of perpetual outrage that the country is not moving faster to get rid of fossil fuels and transition to renewable (e.g., wind and solar) energy, the alleged solution to the problem. This too is supposed to be an issue where the Biden administration is out of sync with younger voters, who therefore will fail to be energized by his re-election bid. Fear of this possibility was presumably why the Biden administration caved to pressure from climate activists and halted permitting on liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, a decision that makes no policy sense and seems likely to alienate working-class voters.

But is it really true that young voters in their tens of millions are demanding moves like this? In the SCAL/NORC survey cited earlier, respondents were asked about their preferences for the country’s energy supply. By 64 percent to 36 percent, Millennial/Gen Z (18-44 year old) voters favored “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources” over “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only.” This does not seem consistent with the mantra of progressive left activists.

Similarly, in a 3,000 voter survey conducted by YouGov for The Liberal Patriot last June, the following choices were offered to voters about energy strategy:

We need a rapid green transition to end the use of fossil fuels and replace them with fully renewable energy sources;

We need an “all-of-the above” strategy that provides abundant and cheap energy from multiple sources including oil and gas to renewables to advanced nuclear power; or

We need to stop the push to replace domestic oil and gas production with unproven green energy projects that raise costs and undercut jobs.

Among the same Millennial/Gen Z (18-44 year old) voters, the progressive left-preferred first position, emphasizing ending the use of fossil fuels and rapidly adopting renewables, is a distinctly minoritarian one, embraced by just 36 percent of these voters. The most popular position is the second, all-of-the above approach that emphasizes energy abundance and the use of fossil fuels and renewables and nuclear, favored by 48 percent of Millennial/Gen Z voters. Another 16 percent flat-out support production of fossil fuels and oppose green energy projects. Together that’s 64 percent of these voters who are not singing from the progressive left hymnbook.

So the progressive left’s claim that failing to embrace their positions is the death-knell for Democrats among younger generation voters is highly suspect. Indeed when progressive left politicians like the ever-reliable and ever-wrong Seattle congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, say things like this…

In reality, tacking to the center may lose a few voters in the progressive hard core—which is small—who choose not to vote or vote for a minor party (they’re unlikely to vote for Trump), but the tradeoff in ability to reach more moderate, especially working class, voters would be well worth it. And potentially crucial in a tight race. That’s why a “What, me worry?” attitude toward the working class and bending over backwards to please the progressive left is a luxury Democrats cannot afford.

Could Reproductive Freedom Win Florida for Dems in November?

Some excerpts from the transcript of Jon Weiner’s interview of Amy Littlefield, abortion access correspondent for The Nation:

JW: You say Florida is going to be the most important state to watch in the 2024 election. I have a lot of political friends who disagree with that, who say Florida has become a red state. Let’s face it, Trump won the state in 2016 and 2020. The legislature has a Republican super majority. Nevertheless, you think Florida is still a battleground state. Why is that?

AL: I know I’m fighting an uphill battle here, Jon, to convince people that Florida is in play. Okay. And let’s not forget that the Governor Ron DeSantis recently considered a presidential contender is a man who likes to send asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard as a fun hobby on the side. But it’s time to start taking Florida seriously. And one of the reasons, Jon, is that Florida has to be important because it is the last bastion of abortion access in the southeast. The South is basically a funnel of states where abortion is banned that are all directing patients into Florida. And I have to say, I’ve got my abortion goggles on. I will admit that that is how I look at everything.

But you know what? Abortion has the power to do things at the ballot box that people assume are impossible. And we have seen that with Michigan, where an abortion rights ballot measure helped Democrats get trifecta control of the state government for the first time in years. We saw that in 2022 in Kentucky, a state that has among the highest percentages of anti-abortion residents in the country where voters rejected an amendment declaring there’s no right to abortion in the state constitution. So, especially in the wake of the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade and the collective outrage going on and the momentum behind these ballot initiatives, I think nothing is impossible. And I also think it’ll be fascinating to see, Florida is such a diverse and big state, so representative of the country in so many ways. It’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out there.

JW: Lots to talk about. Florida is one of a dozen states that have abortion rights initiatives on the ballot or in the process of qualifying to get enough signatures. Arizona is one of them. There are a lot of obstacles to getting this initiative before the voters in Florida, but the group organizing it, Floridians Protecting Freedom has already done quite a bit. What have they accomplished so far?

AL: Florida has so many hurdles that have to be cleared in order to get a measure on the ballot, they had to gather and verify almost 900,000 signatures from at least half of the state’s 28 congressional districts. And they blew past even their own expectations. I think on that one, they verified close to a million signatures. And then of course they’ve got the DeSantis administration and anti-abortion state officials, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who have been throwing up whatever obstacles they can scheme up to try to prevent this thing from getting on the ballot. Florida also has the highest threshold for citizen-initiated amendments in the country, which means that in order to pass this amendment, if it makes it onto the ballot, is going to need more than 60% of votes.

JW: Let me just underline that. Majorities do not rule on Florida amendments. It takes a super majority, 60%. This is what Ohio voters turned down, but Florida initiatives don’t become law unless they get more than 60% – 

AL: Which is hard, but not impossible.

JW: Well, that’s what I wanted to ask. What do the polls say about support for abortion rights in Florida?

AL: So, abortion is really popular, Jon. I mean, Lauren Brenzel, who is leading the campaign there in Florida, said that they’re polling so far is consistent with about a decade of research in Florida that shows 70% and upwards of Floridians support access to safe and legal abortion, so-

JW: 70% – let me emphasize that. Not 50%, not 60%, 70% support.

AL: Abortion is popular, and the campaign is banking on it being popular among Republicans, being popular among unaffiliated voters. And we have seen that play out. I mean, I was on the ground reporting for The Nation in Kansas in the wake of the Dobbs decision when everyone was commenting on what a red state Kansas is. I mean, this is the home of George Tiller, the assassinated abortion provider. I mean, we knew the odds there. And yet Kansas surprised everybody except those of us who have been chanting “Abortion is popular,” and driving everyone crazy for years. And Florida does have a history of passing progressive ballot measures. For example, in 2020, making that 60%, they got close to 61% of Floridians voting in favor of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. And so, this is not impossible, although as you point out, Ohio tried to do this, abortion opponents in Ohio tried to raise their threshold in order to stop the abortion rights ballot initiative from passing there, and Florida’s already got that threshold. So yes, a steep climb.

JW: When will we hear from the Florida State Supreme Court about whether people in Florida get to vote on abortion rights?

AL: They need to rule by April 1st. So, that is when we will know for sure if this initiative has cleared the Florida Supreme Court and will make it to the ballot in November.

How to Respond to Concerns About Biden’s Age

Kerry Eleveld shares some thoughts regarding”Here’s how every Democrat should answer questions about Biden’s age” at Daily Kos:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a messaging masterclass over the weekend on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” beating back questions about whether President Joe Biden, 81, is too old to serve a second term.

Yes, Donald Trump is 77. But Newsom doesn’t waste a moment on that. Instead, he demonstrated how Biden’s age—and the wisdom that comes with it—is the reason he has notched so many important legislative successes as president.

As Eleveld noted in a Biden-Harris HQ tweet:

Q: Do you think it’s responsible for Joe Biden to be at the top of the ticket?


Responsible? I revere his record. What he’s done in three years is a masterclass. Close to 15 million jobs is eight times more than the last three Republican presidents combined.

As Eleveld notes further,

“The economy is booming, inflation is cooling,” Newsom continued. “We have American manufacturing coming back home—all because of Biden’s wisdom, because of his temperance, his capacity to lead in a bipartisan manner, which is an underrepresented point. And so I have great confidence moving forward. So the answer is: Absolutely—all in, in terms of the next four years.”

Newsom’s delivery was, quite frankly, performance art. All his points were solid, succinct, and informative. But his tone and assuredness inspired confidence not just in how he felt but also in how voters should feel.

Of course, there’s more than one way to combat the age issue. Another is to point out that Biden may be old, but he ain’t crazy—an approach that The Bulwark publisher Sarah Longwell took after Trump suggested he would let Russia do “whatever the hell they want” to America’s NATO allies.

….Newsom’s argument works on several levels, educating the public about Biden’s successes and building pride among Democrats about what Biden has accomplished—not in spite of his age but because of it. Wisdom, temperance, and bipartisan leadership are three perfect qualities to invoke as crucial to Biden’s successes—because Trump has exactly none of them.

Eleveld concludes, “Newsom’s answer, if replicated by a wide swath of younger Biden surrogates, will inspire Democratic participation in November.

Teixeira: Fixing the Democrats’ Education Problem

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, politics editor of The Liberal Patriot newsletter and co-author with John B. Judis of the new Book “Where Have All the Democrats Gone?,” is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

For decades, the Democrats were “the party of education,” ringing up double-digit leads in polls asking Americans which major party they trusted most to handle education. During parts of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, that lead topped 30 points. Now, though, the Dems’ edge has shrunk to just a few points, with the occasional poll showing Republicans nosing ahead.

Why are Democrats fumbling the issue of education, which they dominated for so many years? There are multiple reasons: they mishandled the Covid-related school closures, they are letting the culture wars distract from the core mission of schools, and they are downplaying the importance of merit and academic achievement. Before I discuss how the Dems could effect a turnaround, let’s dig deeper into these missteps and unfortunate trends.

The school closures went on way too long. Democrats, far more than Republicans, worked to keep public schools closed during the Covid pandemic—longer than in other advanced countries and far longer than was justified by emerging scientific understanding of the virus and its effects. Pushed by their allies in the teachers unions, Democrats ignored the justified warnings that extended school closures would severely harm student learning and social development, especially for poorer children. The returns are now in, and it is clear that the warnings Democrats ignored were, if anything, too mild.

This was no minor error made by Democratic officials in the fog of pandemic confusion but a profound tragedy for millions of children that could have been avoided or at least substantially mitigated. To add to the shameful episode, parents in many communities around the country who wanted the schools reopened faster were frequently demonized by progressives as heartless, anti-science right-wingers who didn’t care about public health. The wounds from this still fester today.

Privileging politics over pedagogy. The culture wars rage on in the schools. Democrats argue that it is all the fault of the Right, who they say wishes to “ban books,” prevent children from learning about slavery, and subject gay and transgender-identifying children to bullying and worse. Progressive educators and school systems, on the other hand, simply stand for a modern, inclusive education that no decent, unprejudiced person should oppose.

This is disingenuous in the extreme. Over the last decade, and especially after the George Floyd summer of 2020, there has been a concerted effort by many school systems and educators to promote “anti-racist” education that goes way beyond benign pedagogical practices such as teaching about slavery, Jim Crow, the Tulsa Race Massacre, redlining, and so on. Instead, pedagogy itself is to be infused, from top to bottom and in every subject, with concepts drawn from the anti-racist playbook. As noted by sociologist Ilana Redstone, these concepts include the assertion that “[a]n unwillingness to recognize the full force of systemic racism as determining disparities between groups is a denial of the reality of racism today (and evidence of ignorance at best and racism at worst).” An army of diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants have stood at the ready to assist school systems in training their staff and teachers to implement this creed and incorporate it into their curricula.

This is politics, not pedagogy as traditionally and properly understood. It has little to do with what most parents want schools to do: develop their children’s academic skills and knowledge base so they can succeed in the world. Democrats have been hurt by their increasing identification with this ideological project rather than the traditional goals of public education.

Downgrading merit and educational achievement. Consistent with this ongoing politicization of educational practices, there has been a concomitant downgrading of academic merit and standard measures of educational achievement, especially standardized tests. In the name of fairness and “equity,” school systems in Democratic-controlled states and counties have taken steps to de-emphasize such measures as a means of evaluating students and controlling admissions to advanced courses, programs, and elite schools.

It hasn’t quite reached the “all shall have prizes” stage, but the message to aspiring students and parents who see educational achievement as their route to upward mobility and success in life is clear: students can no longer rely on hard work and objectively good academic performance to attain their goals. Other priorities of the school system may take precedence, reducing the payoff from their performance. This does not sit well with most parents, who see it as public schools’ responsibility to encourage and reward their children’s talent and hard work. Democrats have been hurt by their diminishing association with what parents care about the most.

Getting Their Groove Back

In light of all this, is it possible for Democrats to regain their mojo on education during the 2024 election cycle? I think it is, though it will require changing their approach considerably from current practices. And it’s worth doing so. Even if education is not a central issue in the presidential contest, it is sure to loom large in many congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative races.

Here’s how Democrats can decisively change their current image on education and rebuild their advantage on the issue.

Get ideology, whether from the Left or Right, out of schools. Voters are sick of the culture wars around schools. Overwhelmingly, they just want children to get a good education based on standard academic competencies, not instruction in a politically inflected worldview. Democrats must assure voters that the former is their number-one priority. Just as they oppose attempts from the Right to inject their ideology into schools by restricting critical discussion of American history and society, so they must also oppose efforts by those on the Left to impose their views on curricula and analysis of social issues. Neither is appropriate. The job of schools is to give students the tools to make informed judgments, not tell them what those judgments should be.

[Editor’s note: Read the rest of Ruy’s prescription for the Democrats at Education Next.]

Biden Considers Bold Immigration Order

Hans Nichols an Stef W. Kight report at Axios that “The Senate’s bipartisan border negotiations are dead. But the  “dramatic actions that Biden is considering on the southern border – including an executive order that would restrict the ability of migrants to claim asylum — don’t require congressional approval.”

Nichols and Kight add thatThrough executive action, Biden would attempt to turn asylum seekers away at the border if they cross illegally, similar to what the Senate compromise plan contemplated, as first reported by CNN.… Trump repeatedly tried to restrict access to asylum – and is planning to do so again if he returns to the White House.”

However, Nichols and Kight note that “The actions under consideration will inflame Latino groups and the progressive wing of Biden’s party, which has expressed alarm about some of the policy changes Biden has been mulling.” But, “a White House official cautioned that a final decision has not been made on any potential executive actions.”

Camille Montoya Galvez adds at CBS News that “Mr. Biden is weighing citing a law dating back to 1952 to severely restrict access to the U.S. asylum system, which has buckled under the weight of record levels of migrant arrivals along the border with Mexico, the sources said, requesting anonymity to discuss internal government deliberations….That law, known as 212(f), allows the president to “suspend the entry” of foreigners when it is determined their arrival is not in the best interest of the country.”

Myah Ward writes at Politico that “The administration is also discussing tying that directive to a trigger — meaning that it would only come into effect after a certain number of illegal crossings took place, said the three people, who were granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations….The administration is also discussing ways to make it harder for migrants to pass the initial screening for asylum seekers, essentially raising the “credible fear standard,” as well as ways to quickly deport others who don’t meet those elevated asylum standards. Two of the people said the policy announcements could come as soon as next week ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on March 7.”

Ward warns that “There are other complications as well. The implementation of any action from the White House would come without the finding and resources that could make implementation easier, though the administration is looking into ways to unlock additional funding. The actions would likely face legal challenges as well.”

Noting that “The Administration spent months negotiating in good faith to deliver the toughest and fairest bipartisan border security bill in decades because we need Congress to make significant policy reforms and to provide additional funding to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández explained that “Congressional Republicans chose to put partisan politics ahead of our national security, rejected what border agents have said they need, and then gave themselves a two-week vacation,” Mary Bruce and Molly Eagle report at ABC News. However, noted Hernandez “no executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide.”

The political value added of such immigration restrictions to President Biden’s campaign would come from the President appearing tough and decisive on immigration policy, which is emerging as a top concern of working-class voters who fear a threat to their job security if nothing is done. The political value subtracted would come from anger expressed by progressive groups which favor a less restrictive immigration policy. But it is unlikely that many supporters of a less restrictive immigration policy would vote for Trump, or even not vote, if President Biden initiates the reforms under discussion. Given the large number of working class voters – more than half of the electorate – it appears that the greater risk to Biden and the Democrats is doing nothing.