washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Is Warren Electable?

Is Warren Electable?, Take 2

Some interesting new data from Democracy Corps, which show her running about as well against Trump as Biden (49-42 vs. 49-41). I was particularly encouraged by the chart below, which shows her doing relatively well among white working class women. This is a trend to keep an eye on, given the probable centrality of these voters to the 2020 election result.

Chart on Warren's Electability

To read Teixeira’s earlier post on Warren’s electability, click here.

Teixeira: Tell Me Again How Economic Trends Have Nothing to Do With Trumpism

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

The release of new data from a Brookings/Wall Street Journal collaboration provides a reason to revisit the utterly bizarre contention that economic trends have nothing to do with the rise of Trumpian politics. I don’t know how anyone can look at the charts below, drawn from the Brookings report, and continue to maintain that economic trends are largely irrelevant to the fissures in our politics and the cultural/racial concerns that, in a proximate sense, seem to drive them.

Authors Mark Muro and Jacob Whiton note in the Brookings report:

“[I]t’s clear that a series of genuine, penetrating [economic and demographic] shifts have been happening at warp speed through the last decade. These shifts are massively altering the two parties’ economic identities.

For one thing, the two parties have in just 10 years gone from near-parity on prosperity and income measures to stark, fast-moving divergence.

With their output surging as a result of the big-city tilt of the decade’s “winner-take-most” economy, Democratic districts have seen their median household income soar in a decade—from $54,000 in 2008 to $61,000 in 2018. By contrast, the income level in Republican districts began slightly higher in 2008, but then declined from $55,000 to $53,000.

Underlying these changes have been eye-popping shifts in economic performance. Democratic-voting districts have seen their GDP per seat grow by a third since 2008, from $35.7 billion to $48.5 billion a seat, whereas Republican districts saw their output slightly decline from $33.2 billion to $32.6 billion.”

Muro wrote in response to a query from Tom Edsall:that Democrats are winning in the “very powerful, dense, and prosperous economic areas that increasingly dominate the American economy….Democrats control the places that are most central to American economic power and prosperity.”

And we expect this divergence not to have political effects? That doesn’t seem plausible. As Edsall notes:

“A growing body of work demonstrates that scarcity, economic stagnation and relative decline are powerful factors driving intensified conservatism on issues of race, culture and immigration.”

Edsall also provides some interesting comments from political scientist Ronald Inglehart, whose work is sometimes invoked to defend the thesis that economic change has nothing to do with the current culture clash.

Inglehart made the case that a “combination of economic insecurity and cultural insecurity has contributed to the Trump vote.”…Most critical, in Inglehart’s view, is that treating economic and social issues separately creates a false dichotomy:

“The interaction between insecurity caused by rapid cultural change and economic insecurity drives the xenophobic reaction that brought Trump to power and is fueling similar reactions in other high-income countries. And the rise of the knowledge society is driving this polarization even farther.”

Here Inglehart appears to be departing from the common trope of many of his fellow political scientists whose approach has been simply to emphasize anti-immigrant sentiment and different forms of cultural/racial resentment, since they have tended to be the strongest predictors of Trump support in various quantitative studies. I applaud Inglehart’s view since, after all, how much does the standard political science approach really tell us? After all, it should not be a huge surprise that voting for an anti-immigrant, racially resentful candidate is predicted by, well, being anti-immigrant and racially resentful. But why now and why so much support for a candidate with those views? This is the really interesting and important question.

And frankly I don’t think the answer, in a broad sense is that hard to find. A toxic interaction between economic change and cultural reaction is entirely consistent with the historical record on the rise of right populisms. As political scientists Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick and Christopher Trebesch have shown in their paper , “Going to Extremes: Politics after Financial Crisis, 1870-2014”, covering 140 years, 800 general elections and 20 countries, far right populist parties driven heavily by xenophobia towards immigrants and minorities typically experience a surge in support in the aftermaths of large and lingering crises. And, as economist Claudia Goldin noted in her study of immigration policy debates in the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, “Almost all serious calls for the literacy test [to stem the flow immigrants] were preceded by economic downturns. … and few economic downturns of the era were not accompanied by a call for [immigration] restriction in the halls of Congress.”

So whey are we so surprised that Trumpism is happening now? We shouldn’t be. The answer is right in front of our noses. We also shouldn’t be surprised if Trumpian-style populism here and in other countries continues to be a huge problem if current economic divergences continue.

Chart on Partisan Polarization

Teixeira: Public to Democrats – ‘Here’s What We Want!’

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

The public is trying to tell the Democrats how to beat Trump! The latest messages are contained in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The poll asked about support for a series of proposals that have been advanced by various political actors. The graphic below helpfully compares the views of Democratic primary voter with those of all registered voters.

How Voters Agree and Disagree with Democratic Policy

Here’s the deal: if Democratic primary voters support a given proposal but the general electorate does not, that’s probably a proposal to shy away from. Really, the public is trying to help the Democrats out here! Note particularly, the very high support among all voters for allowing universal access to Medicare and the poor ratings for banning fracking, eliminating Obamacare, Medicare for All that eliminates private insurance and, at the very bottom, providing government health care to undocumented immigrants.

Let’s not make this beating Trump business harder than it has to be.

Teixeira: Can Dems Win GA in 2020?

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

Can the Democratic Nominee Win Georgia in 2020?

It’s certainly possible. Stacey Abrams recently released a lengthy memo on how she thinks this could be accomplished in 2020. It’s worth reading and has a lot of interesting data in it.

Abrams’ summary:

“1. Georgia is competitive up and down the ballot. With a diverse, growing population and rapidly changing electorate, Georgia is not a future opportunity for Democrats; it is a necessity right now.
2. The Abrams strategy provides a blueprint for Democratic victory up and down the ballot in 2020. By expanding the electorate and delivering a clear, values-based message to all voters, Democrats are poised to win Georgia in 2020.
3. Large national and local investments can unleash Georgia’s potential. By investing big and investing early in registration, organizing, and turnout, Democrats can further change Georgia’s electorate and maximize turnout among voters of color and Democratic-leaning white voters.
4. Democrats must reject false choices and apply an evidenced-based approach in Georgia and beyond. We do not lose winnable white voters because we engage communities of color. We do not lose urban votes because we campaign in rural areas.
5. Georgia is every bit as competitive as perennial battleground states. With one of the youngest and the most African American electorate of any competitive state, Georgia has demographic advantages that don’t exist in other states.”

I’m probably not quite as optimistic as Abrams and less convinced it’s as accessible to the Democrats as Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin (or Arizona for that matter). But I agree with her that the state is definitely worth a serious effort in 2020. Here’s my take on the various challenges involved. (All estimates by demographic group and simulated election outcomes based on States of Change data.)

Trump won Georgia by 5 points in 2016. This was a decline from Romney’s 8-point victory in 2012, making the trend in the state similar to that in Arizona and Texas. Democrats hope to build on this trend and make the state even closer in 2020.

Democrats had a fairly good election in Georgia in 2018, if not quite as good as in a number of other swing states. They lost the House popular vote by slightly less than 5 points but they did flip one GOP-held House seat. The Democrats also flipped a net of 13 state legislative seats from the GOP. But they lost the marquee governor’s race in the state, as Democrat Stacey Abrams fell just 1.4 points of defeating Republican Brian Kemp. This was the best performance by a Democrat in a Georgia governor’s race in this century.

These trends make the Democrats hopeful they can take the state in 2020. But the fact that the state has gotten no closer than 5 points in the last three elections makes the Trump campaign believe they can hold the line. Adding to this confidence, Trump is currently running a negative net approval rating in the state of -2, not great, but still better than in a lot of other 2020 swing states.

Georgia’s large nonwhite population—38 percent of the state’s voters in 2016—is dominated by Blacks. Blacks were 31 percent of the voting electorate, compared to 3 percent for Hispanics and just under 4 percent for Asians/other race. These groups supported Clinton by 76, 17 and 6 points, respectively, Georgia’s white college graduates, 25 percent of voters, strongly supported Trump by 24 points, 59-35 percent. But white non-college voters were even stronger in their support, giving him a lop-sided 63-point margin, 80-17.

States of Change estimates indicate that white non-college eligible voters in 2020 should decline by almost 2 points relative to 2016, while white college graduates should remain roughly stable. Black eligible voters should increase by almost a point, as should Hispanics, while Asians/other race should increase by half a point. These underlying demographic changes are enough to knock almost 2 points off the Democratic candidate’s projected disadvantage in 2020, all 2016 voting patterns remaining the same.

Given the relative closeness of Trump’s victory in 2016 plus the Democrats’ projected bonus from demographic change, Trump will seek to go beyond holding his 2016 levels of support from various demographic groups. Perhaps it’s a bit much to ask to increase his margin among white non-college voters over his already mammoth 63-point advantage. But white college voters were also strong for him and if he increased his margin among them by 10 points that would project to a 6-point victory in 2020.

For the Democratic candidate, the Black vote in Georgia will loom large. If the Democratic candidate could get Black turnout back to 2012 levels that would move the race within one and a half points of victory, all else equal. And if both Black turnout and support matched 2012 levels, that would actually produce a narrow victory. A 10-point pro-Democratic margin shift among white college grads would be similar in effect to the increased Black turnout scenario—narrowing the gap but not quite producing victory—while shaving Trump’s immense white non-college margin by 10 points would, in and of itself, project to a very close Democratic victory.

Dems Should Spotlight How Trump’s Junk Insurance Screws His Supporters

Zeke Faux, Polly Mosendz, and John Tozzi have a Bloomberg Businessweek post, “Health Insurance That Doesn’t Cover the Bills Has Flooded the Market Under Trump: The administration’s moves to weaken the Affordable Care Act have taken hold, and companies are cashing in,” which Democrats can leverage to weaken Trump’s base.

Not that the hardest-core Trump supporters will care that much – they vote their resentments over their interests already. But the revelations of the Bloomberg article are so devastating that it should give pause to whatever remaining voters in his base are concerned about their health security. Noting that Obamacare “bars insurers from capping coverage, canceling it retroactively, or turning away people with preexisting conditions,” the authors write,

But the law includes an exemption for short-term plans that serve as a stopgap for people between jobs. The Trump administration, thwarted in its attempts to overturn the ACA, has widened that loophole by stretching the definition of “short-term” from three months to a year, with the option of renewing for as long as three years.

Fewer than 100,000 people had such plans at the end of last year, according to state insurance regulators, but the Trump administration says that number will jump by 600,000 in 2019 as a result of the changes. Some brokers are taking advantage, selling plans so skimpy that they offer no meaningful coverage. And Health Insurance Innovations is at the center of the market. In interviews, lawsuits, and complaints to regulators, dozens of its customers say they were tricked into buying plans they didn’t realize were substandard until they were stuck with surprise bills. The company denies responsibility for any such incidents, saying it’s a technology platform that helps people find affordable policies through reputable agents.

The authors note the experience of the Diaz family, a Phoenix couple with a moderate income who had one of these ‘junk insurance’ policies, expected to pay a modest deductable, but ended up with an out-of-pocket bill for $244,447.91, following the husband’s heart attack. Faux, Mosendz and Tozzi continue:

The ACA was designed around a fundamental economic bargain: Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people who were already sick, and policies would have to cover a broad set of benefits, including prescription drugs, maternity care, and hospitalization. In return insurers were guaranteed that consumers would buy coverage or face tax penalties, and that subsidies would be available for people who needed them. The approach spread the financial risk of getting sick and aimed to guarantee that no one with insurance would have to worry about being bankrupted by necessary care. Preserving the bargain was essential, though; too many exceptions, and the edifice would crumble.

When the Republican-controlled Senate failed in 2017 to pass Trump-backed legislation that would have gutted the ACA, the administration instead seized on the loophole allowing consumers to buy certain noncompliant plans. Trump used an executive order to extend the time limit for temporary plans, which he and other Republicans talked up as a potential solution for cash-strapped consumers. Healthy people, they argued, could save money by buying policies that didn’t cover perceived nonessentials. “These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in August 2018.

By then, the ACA system was already wobbling. Aetna Inc. and some other big insurers had been dropping off the state exchanges created for consumers to buy compliant plans, leaving a void that “junk insurers,” as critics tagged them, rushed to fill. A recent study by Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, showed that ads for such plans often appeared at the top of internet searches for the government-run marketplaces. Health insurance also became the most common product pitched in robocalls—responsible, according to call-blocking service YouMail, for 387 million calls this April alone.

The article goes on to detail how the Phoenix couple, who were inexperienced and unaware of the complexities of health insurance options, took the sales pitch of the insurer in good faith. The couple believed that the plan they bought was comprehensive. But when the bills began arriving, only then did they learn:

The Everest plan didn’t cover preexisting conditions, limited the number of doctor visits, and capped hospital coverage at $1,000 a day. It allowed a maximum of $250 per emergency room visit and $5,000 per surgery, not nearly enough to cover the usual cost of those services. Most benefits didn’t kick in until the $7,500 deductible was met. And the listed maximum total payout of $750,000 was misleading: It didn’t mean the Diazes’ bills would be covered up to that amount after they paid the deductible; it just meant that if Marisia underwent, say, 150 surgeries, she could get $5,000 for each, leaving her to cover millions of dollars in additional bills.

The Diaz family has filed a lawsuit, which could take years to resolve. Meanwhile they have to live with the uncertainty and stress that comes with the very real possibility of bankruptsy, threatening bill  collectors and reductions in their already modest disposable income. They are not alone, as the authors write:

Similar stories aren’t hard to find. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission obtained by Businessweek via the Freedom of Information Act detail numerous cases of HIIQ customers buying medical insurance they believed was comprehensive, then having their claims rejected or barely paid out. “I feel me really dumb,” wrote one person who’d found out her ADHD medication wasn’t covered. Another customer said she was reminded of the John Grisham novel The Rainmaker, in which an insurance company has a policy of rejecting every claim. Trudy Slawson, a 65-year-old in Great Falls, Mont., who bought an HIIQ-administered plan in 2016, thought she had comprehensive coverage until getting a surprise bill for $60,000 after her husband’s emergency gallbladder removal. The insurer paid only $100. “I believed what they were telling me,” she says.

Some brokers who’ve worked with HIIQ have run into trouble with regulators. The Massachusetts attorney general is investigating HIIQ and at least one brokerage that formerly sold for the company over what she calls misleading tactics. “You sell bad products to people under false terms,” an anonymous reviewer on indeed.com wrote of the brokerage. “You get paid well if you scam enough people.”

HIIQ doesn’t directly employ brokers, but the company says it goes to great lengths to ensure that agents are honest with customers, including by providing training, running background checks, conducting site visits, and staging phone calls from secret shoppers. Those who break the rules can be kicked off the platform. “HIIQ has diligent vetting and effective ongoing compliance monitoring,” Elizabeth Locke, an attorney representing the company, wrote in a letter to Businessweek. Last year, HIIQ settled a 43-state investigation into broker sales practices by agreeing to pay $3 million and monitor salespeople more closely, without admitting wrongdoing.

A recent FTC lawsuit raised further questions about how closely the company has been watching its brokers. Filed in November 2018 in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, the suit sought to shut down a group of boiler rooms run by a flashy 35-year-old named Steven Dorfman. The FTC said he’d swindled tens of thousands of people out of more than $100 million by passing off “sham” insurance policies as comprehensive health insurance, spending the profits on private jet flights, a white Lamborghini Aventador, a black Rolls-Royce Wraith, and a $300,000 wedding in Bal Harbour, Fla. One former customer service manager told the commission that Dorfman’s operation fielded as many as 3,000 complaints a day.

Multiply these examples by thousands, and you begin to get a painful sense of the daily cost of junk insurance all across America. This is the Trump/GOP “alternative” to strenghtening Obamacare, a swindler’s paradise and a nightmare for all working people who make the mistake of buying one of these junk policies.

“On June 14,” the authors note, ” Trump held a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden to announce a new policy that lets employers steer as much as $1,800 in tax-exempt funds to their employees instead of offering them comprehensive health plans.”

Trump, the Republicans and their insurance company contributors have built their phony ‘alternative’ on the dubious proposition that all health care consumers have the time, inclination and ability to analyze  all of the complex, small print provisions that limit coverage, compare it to dozens of other policies, and decide what is best for their family. It’s the myth of the fully-educated health care consumer with oodles of free time made universal. “Why of course, everyone in the glorious free market will fully understand everything in their trust-worthy insurance policies.”

It will continue to get worse as long as Trump is president and Republicans control the senate. The only political remedy for preventing further such disasters on a massive scale is a public option alternative to private insurers. Medicare for anyone who wants it is a credible beginning, a first step toward real health security for every American. Only one political party stands for that, and Democrats now have to make the sale.

Teixeira: The White Working Class – Why Writing Them Off Is Political Insanity

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

The excellent David Wasserman had some astute comments on Twitter about the white working class and how nuts it is for Democrats to write them off. He is correct in all respects and his data is spot on!

“The bottom line: Dems don’t need to win a higher % of the WWC than in ’16 b/c 1) it’s declining as a % of voters and 2) Dems have made robust gains among college whites.

But Dems *can’t* afford to backslide much further & hope to win MI/PA/WI etc. And avoiding that isn’t simple.

Not about winning the demog. It’s about Dems not getting absolutely annihilated.

Moreover, the notion that voting behavior is polarized to the point that there aren’t any swing/persuadable voters left isn’t based in reality.

Not only did we see above-average swings from ’12 to ’16, Dems wouldn’t have gone +40 in ’18 without converting lots of ’16 R voters.

Much of the analysis I’m seeing on this site assumes there’s no more room for Dems to fall w/ white non-college voters, who are simply a “lost cause.”

In fact, Dems have an awful lot more room to fall w/ them, and that’s especially true in many of the most critical EC states.

Dems’ path to beating Trump absolutely depends on retaining the gains they made in diverse, college-educated burbs – the kinds we saw in 2018 & #NC09.

But even a slight drop among white non-college voters could negate all of it, given the demog’s size & geographic distribution.

Dems’ backslide w/ these voters is the main reason IA (66%) and OH (60%) have already exited stage right off the EC battleground, and why a Dem nominee who performs even worse w/ them could risk losses in ME (66%), NH (61%) or MN (56%).

Here’s why the “let’s win without working-class whites” mentality doesn’t hold water for Dems. That demog comprises 45% of all eligible U.S. voters, but:

61% in Wisconsin
61% in New Hampshire
56% in Michigan
56% in Minnesota
56% in Pennsylvania
47% in North Carolina

Good luck.”

Teixeira: The Key Demographic in 2020: White Noncollege Women (and How to Reach Them)

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

Good advice from David Axelrod on the centrality of white noncollege women to the 2020 election and how to reach them. I estimate they’ll be 22-23 percent of voters in 2020. It won’t take a very large shift among these voters to fatally undercut Trump’s chances of re-election. And the signs of weakening support for the President among these voters is already there. But to take advantage of this, the Democrats have to play it smart.

“Mr. Trump’s serial assaults on the decency and the decorum upon which civil society depends are enraging — and meant to be. It is only natural to respond to his every provocation with righteous indignation.

My advice to the Democratic nominee next year is: Donʼt play….

Mr. Trump was elected to shake things up and challenge the political establishment. And to many of his core supporters, his incendiary dog whistles, bullhorn attacks and nonstop flouting of “political correctness” remain energizing symbols of authenticity.

But polling and focus groups reflect a growing unease among a small but potentially decisive group of voters who sided with Mr. Trump in 2016 but are increasingly turned off by the unremitting nastiness, the gratuitous squabbles and the endless chaos he sows.

Plenty of attention has been paid to the historic shift in suburban areas Mr. Trump narrowly carried in 2016 but that broke decisively with his party last fall. That revolt was led by college-educated white women, who overwhelmingly turned against Republican candidates.

But what should be of even greater concern to Mr. Trump is the potential erosion among the non-college-educated white women he is counting on as a core constituency. Those women gave Mr. Trump a 27-point margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet in a recent Fox News poll, Mr. Trump was beating former Vice President Joe Biden by just four points in that group.

If I were sitting in the Trump war room, this number, more than any other, would alarm me. He won the presidency by the slimmest of margins in three battleground states. With little place to grow, even a small erosion of support among these women could prove fatal to Mr. Trump’s chances. While they are inclined to many of his positions, the thing that is driving these voters away is Mr. Trump himself…..

Mr. Trump’s impulse is always to create a binary choice, forcing Americans to retreat to tribe. He wants to define the battle around divisive cultural issues that will hem in his supporters, and it would be seductive for Democrats to chase every tweeted rabbit down the hole. The president would welcome a pitched battle over lines of race, ideology and culture.

But while Mr. Trump’s thermonuclear politics may rally both his base and Democrats who slumbered in 2016, it is the paralyzing disorder and anxiety his bilious behavior creates that is a distressing turnoff to voters at the margins who will make the difference.

To win, the Democrats will have to turn Mr. Trump’s negative energy against him without embodying it themselves.”

Teixeira: What Do You Mean “We”, Woke Person?

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

Today’s woke white liberals see themselves as committed allies of nonwhite voters, seeking to advance their well-being in a white supremacist society. Given this, one would assume that the views of these white liberals on various social and economic issues would be closely aligned with those of the nonwhites they seek to support.

One would think that but one would be wrong. The views of white liberals certainly represent their own preferences and perhaps those of some activist groups and intellectuals they use as reference points. But they do not, in fact, very closely match the expressed preferences of nonwhite voters.

Nowhere is this clearer than with black voters who are simply not as woke as the white liberals who aspire to advance their cause. In the simplest terms, black voters are more conservative on many social issues and more liberal, or at least more focused, on everyday economic issues. Tom Edsall goes a good job rounding up some of the relevant research and data in his most recent Times column. Some of the key parts:

“The African-American electorate has been undergoing a quiet, long-term transformation, moving from the left toward the center on several social and cultural issues, while remaining decisively liberal, even radical, on economic issues, according to a series of studies by prominent African-American scholars.

“There has been a shift in the attitudes of black masses about the extent to which systematic discrimination and prejudice are the primary reasons blacks continue to lag behind whites,” Candis Watts Smith, a political scientist at Penn State, wrote in a paper published in the Journal of Black Studies in 2014, “Shifting From Structural to Individual Attributions of Black Disadvantage: Age, Period and Cohort Effects on Black Explanations of Racial Disparities.”….

Contemporary polling provides evidence of moderation among black Democrats compared with the views of white Democrats. The poll data suggests a reversal of traditional roles. More conservative and more centrist Democratic whites were once the tempering force within party ranks. Now, on some of the most controversial issues currently under debate, African-Americans — who make up an estimated 25 percent of Democratic primary voters — have emerged as a force for more moderate stands as white Democrats have moved sharply left….

While less committed to many of the broad social and cultural issues important to white liberals, black Democrats remain more committed than their white counterparts to progressive stands on economic issues of the type that characterized the New Deal coalition of the last century that also established the Great Society programs of the 1960s like Medicare and Medicaid.”

The following data strike me as especially key and underscore how white liberals and blacks tend to have different priorities, despite the claims of white liberals that they struggling mightily against their “privilege”.

“Asked to rate the importance to them of jobs and wages, 84 percent of black Democrats said both are “very important,” 20 points more than the 64 percent of white Democrats who said so….

Asked if they “must hear” from candidates about their policies on creating jobs, 39 percent of whites agreed compared with 68 percent of African-Americans. Conversely, 76 percent of white Democrats and 48 percent of black Democrats said they must hear candidates’ proposals to combat climate change.”

This suggests that woke white liberals, if they truly want to help the people whose side they say they’re on, should listen more to the views of actually-existing nonwhite voters and less to trendy takes on the intrinsic perfidy of the country and all white people.

Teixeira: OK, So Here’s the Plan: We’ll Run on the Popular Stuff!

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

The debate last night didn’t seem like much of a game-changer. But maybe Elizabeth Warren’s Social Security proposal, rolled out on the eve of the debate, will actually turn out to be important. It’s exactly the kind of idea a Democrat should be running on in the general election against Trump. Social Security: Popular! Taxing the rich: Popular! Increasing and expanding Social Security benefits: Popular! This one could provide just the contrast a Democrat wants with Trump and should be exceptionally appealing to persuadable working class voters.

Let’s hope if Warren is the nominee she runs on this and not decriminalizing the border and Medicare for All (whether they want it or not). And if Warren isn’t the nominee, whoever it is should take up this idea.

Jonathan Chait:

“Democrats have been racing haphazardly to the left, with Warren often in the lead. Some of their ideas, like moving everybody off employer-sponsored insurance and onto a public plan, are toxic to general-election voters. But some ideas have appeal to the left and to swing voters. This is one of them.

Of all the potential soft spots in the Republican party, Social Security is among the most underrated. George W. Bush’s failed pursuit of a privatization scheme in 2005 was a major cause of his political collapse. Conservatives, seeking to deflect blame from their own ideas onto external forces, preferred to blame his response to Hurricane Katrina for his poor polling. But Bush’s polling was dropping like a stone for months before Katrina struck. By July of that year, his plan to change the system was polling 29–62….

The trauma of the 2016 election has left many Trump critics so skeptical of political fundamentals they have failed to discern some basic political realities that allowed Trump to win in the first place. Trump was not a popular candidate, but his opponent was unpopular, too. He neutralized public distrust of his party’s economic agenda by positioning himself to the left on economics, both in substance and style, as an outsider who would threaten insiders and the rich. His failure to keep this promise is a major reason why his polling has stagnated in the low 40s…

Democrats don’t need to cheat to beat [Trump]. But they do need to stop dreaming up blue-sky notions catering to progressive activists and refocus on some ideas with gut-level appeal to persuadable working-class voters. An extra $200 a month in Social Security is just the stuff.”

The Good News for Dems in the NC-9 Loss

A loss is a loss. But sometimes a loss can reveal the seeds of a future victory. FiveThirtyEight’s  Nathaniel Rakich sets the stage regarding the NC-9 special election, one of two congressional seats the GOP held on to yesterday.

That race was the do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where alleged election fraud tainted the results of the 2018 contest to such a degree that the state elections board opted to hold a new election. After the Republican candidate got just 905 more votes than the Democrat in the 2018 election, Republicans pulled off a clearer win this year: Based on unofficial results as of 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop defeated Democrat Dan McCready 51 percent to 49 percent. However, Democrats did 11 points better in the district than we’d expect them to in a neutral political environment, as this is normally a heavily Republican district; it is 14 points redder than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric. And Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016.

The results also represent a continuation of the mini-realignment we’ve seen in the Trump era of suburbs getting bluer and rural areas moving even more toward the GOP. For instance, McCready lost the district even as he won suburban Mecklenburg County by 13 percentage points, an improvement on the 2018 results, when he won Mecklenburg by 10 points. (The portion of Mecklenburg that falls in the 9th District consists of affluent white areas of metro Charlotte.) But as noted by Ryan Matsumoto, an analyst at Inside Elections, McCready did worse than his 2018 performance in every other county, most of which are sparsely populated.

It is good news for Dems about the Mecklenburg suburb. But it’s also a little worrisome that McCready lost support in some rural districts. Bishop may have gotten a ‘Trump bump’ in the wake of the President’s visit to the district. It’s unclear how McCready’s campaign allocated resources, which could explain the changes from the midterms. Or it could be that Republican Bishop just had a better turnout effort in the rural districts.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has a useful ‘hover map,’ which breaks down the vote by county. There is very little data on turnout or demographic breakdowns available yet.

Dems are less disappointed by the NC-3 loss, because they had more assets in play in NC-9, which has a Cook Partisan Voting Index score of R+8, compared to NC-3’s R+12.

In their article, “Why Republicans shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief after N.C. win,” Steven Shepard, Laura Barron-Lopez and Alex Isenstadt write at Politico,

Meanwhile, Democrats were quick to find the silver lining in McCready’s narrow defeat. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted that there are nearly three dozen GOP-held House seats that are less Republican-leaning than North Carolina’s 9th District.

“We fell an inch short tonight, but it took more than $6 million in outside Republican spending and a last-minute Trump rally to scrape by in a district that the president carried by 11.9 points,” Bustos said.

We have learned that, with Republicans, you can never rule out voter supression and other vote rigging “irregularities.” Hell, fraud was the reason for the NC-9 do-over in the first place. At least one legit poll indicated that MaCready was in position for an upset. Yet, considering the big picture, Rakich explains:

Other indicators also suggest that the national environment has gotten slightly less blue since 2018 but still favors Democrats, though they disagree how much. As of April, Democrats were also overperforming in the average state-legislative special election (of which we have dozens of examples since 2018) by 5 percentage points, and they have had several even stronger performances recently. And our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot4 gives Democrats a 6.5-point lead; just before the 2018 election, Democrats had an 8.7-point lead, which almost exactly matched the eventual House popular vote.

So, let’s not read too much into the results of a special election. Sure, there would have been delerious dancing in the Democratic streets had NC-9 gone the other way. But maybe cautious optimism is the best consolation tonic for Dems at this juncture.