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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Biden, the White Working Class and Michigan

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

John Cassidy of The New Yorker uses some of my data to make the case that Trump has a great deal to be worried about in Michigan and similar states. I think Cassidy is correct. Remember: almost any erosion in Trump’s margin of support among white noncollege voters in November puts his re-election in extreme danger.

“When Joe Biden entered the Democratic Presidential primary, last spring, he put forward a straightforward case for why he would be the best choice for the Party. In addition to gaining the support of the Democratic Party base, which consists of minority voters and highly educated whites, Biden argued that he could win over some white working-class Americans, particularly in the industrial Midwest, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Appearing before a crowd of Teamsters and firefighters in Pittsburgh, Biden said, “If I’m going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it’s going to happen here.”…

[Y]ou can’t directly translate the results of a Democratic primary to a general election, where the voting pool is much bigger and more conservative. In 2016, about 4.8 million people voted in the general election in Michigan, compared to 1.2 million who voted in the Democratic primary. But you can’t ignore the results of primary elections, either. “You have to be careful about the signal-to-noise ratio, but there is certainly some signal there,” Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert on electoral demographics, told me on Wednesday. “It seems to fit the proposition that Biden is putting forward. If I was part of the Trump campaign, I’d be a little concerned.”

That might be an understatement. In a recent analysis of what it will take to win the Presidency in 2020, Teixeira and a colleague, John Halpin, pointed out that in November, 2016, whites without college degrees made up about forty-four per cent of the electorate, making them the largest single group, and Trump carried them by more than twenty points. In 2020, Trump is once more basing his campaign on appealing to these voters and getting more of them to turn out. The good news for the Democrats—and the worrying thing for the President—is that they don’t need to eliminate Trump’s advantage with white working-class voters, which would be a huge task. Given the Democrats’ advantage in other demographics, merely restricting Trump’s advantage with that group to more manageable levels could be sufficient to carry Biden to the White House.

Take Michigan again. In 2016, Trump’s extremely narrow victory there relied on a margin of twenty-one points among whites without college degrees. (He got fifty-seven per cent, and Clinton got thirty-six per cent.) In their analysis, Teixeira and Halpin show that, if Biden can replicate Barack Obama’s performance in 2012, and reduce this margin to ten points, it would help boost his over-all vote in the state by five percentage points. That would virtually guarantee Biden sixteen votes in the electoral college.

“The same analysis applies, with different levels of difficulty, to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Teixeira told me. In Pennsylvania, which Trump won by forty-four thousand votes in 2016, white non-college voters made up fifty-one per cent of the electorate, and Trump carried them by thirty points. According to Teixeira and Halpin’s study, if Biden could reduce this margin by even five points, it “would give the Democrats a several-point cushion in the state.” In Wisconsin, which Trump won by twenty-three thousand votes, whites without college degrees formed an even bigger share of the November, 2016, electorate—fifty-eight per cent—and Trump’s margin was eighteen points.”

Keep your fingers and toes crossed but we are starting to get The Orange One right where we want him.

Teixeira: Biden, the White Working Class and Michigan (II)

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

Nice chart from The Economist. It shows that the more white noncollege a county was, the sharper the decline in Sanders’ vote share. Ditto for rurality/population density: Sanders’ sharpest losses were in the least dense, rural counties.

Teixeira: Biden’s Convincing Win in Michigan

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

Well, That About Does It

Stick a fork in him and all that. Sanders is done. Let me call your attention to a few exit poll results that caught my eye from Michigan.

First, as noted in this space a little earlier, the white working class was not enthusiastic about Bernie this year and they showed it. Sanders lost both white noncollege (43-50) and college (41-56) voters to Biden in Michigan. (Table below)

Looking forward to the general election, Biden is showing important strength in Michigan among the white noncollege demographic. In a recent Michigan Biden-Trump matchup where Biden leads Trump by 7 points (Monmouth poll), Biden does about as well among white college graduates today as Clinton did in 2016 in a comparison with States of Change data. But among white noncollege voters, he runs 9 points better (-12 vs. -21).

Second, note how well Biden especially did among white noncollege women who, as I have argued, could be they key to the 2020 election for the Democrats. Biden carried white noncollege women 55-42 over Sanders in Michigan. (Table below)

Finally, note that, as in other states, while Sanders got overwhelming support of young voters (actually slightly less than in 2016), he failed to get exceptionally high turnout from these voters. In 2016, 18-29 year olds were 19 percent of primary voters in Michigan in 2016; this year they were just 16 percent.

And so it goes. Pretty much every weakness Sanders displayed in Super Tuesday voting was on display again tonight. And of course he got crushed in the black vote.

There is no longer a viable Sanders theory of the case. Time to pack ’em up, Bernard brothers and sisters.

Teixeira: The No Malarkey Express Comes to Vox!

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

Ezra Klein, co-founder and Grand Poobah of the very woke “explainer” site, Vox, has commendably admitted “It’s time for a fresh look at Uncle Joe” He notes that:

“Before Super Tuesday, the conventional wisdom was simple. Bernie Sanders was the turnout candidate, and Biden the uninspiring generic Democrat. You could see this in Sanders’s packed rallies, his die-hard social media brigades, his army of individual donors — and in Biden’s inability to match those markers of enthusiasm. If new voters flooded the primary, it would be proof that Sanders’s political revolution was brewing. But if the political revolution failed and turnout stagnated, Biden might slip through. What virtually no one predicted was Biden winning a high-turnout contest. But he did.

So what did the narrative get wrong? As someone who believed that narrative, what did I get wrong?”

What indeed. Of course, if Klein had been following the non-woke commentary here on my FB feed and blog, he might have wised up a bit earlier. But better late than never!

“[O]ver and over again, we’ve seen that voters just don’t care that much about malapropisms and meandering rhetorical styles…Journalists who’ve based their professional lives on clear, crisp, stylish communication find it shocking when candidates get lost in rhetorical mazes of their own construction. But both Bush and Trump won the presidency. And Ronald Reagan won reelection in a landslide, even though he couldn’t recall what city he was in during the first presidential debate and admitted to being “confused.”

Biden’s most visible weakness in day-to-day campaigning, in other words, is a weakness the media consistently overrates, at least when it comes to election outcomes.”


And even more important…..

“Lurking beneath the theory that high turnout would disadvantage Joe Biden is what we might call the “disappointed nonvoter thesis.” Scratch a political devotee and you’ll almost always find the same theory of turnout underpinning their plans: If only a candidate would say what I already think but louder. This reflects the disappointment that the very engaged have with their leaders: Practicing politicians have to appeal to mixed constituencies to win reelection or pass anything in Congress, and so they compromise their beliefs, sand down their edges, trim their ambitions.

The politically engaged perennially argue that the way to mobilize the nonvoters is to offer a clearer choice, rather than a muddled echo. Under this theory, Bernie Sanders is the clear turnout candidate, as his sharper and more ambitious agenda can mobilize nonvoters who don’t think either party speaks for them. Conversely, Biden is the business-as-usual choice.

In general, this strategy disappoints. The most famous “choice, not an echo” candidate, Barry Goldwater, lost in a landslide. And he’s the rule, not the exception. Political scientists have long found that more ideologically extreme candidates face an electoral penalty. There’s some evidence that the penalty is weakening, but as Matt Yglesias documents, it has not disappeared…..

One of the easiest and most common fallacies in politics is to imagine that one’s own political reactions are generalizable. But there’s no evidence that a more sharply ideological agenda and a more conflict-driven theory of politics will turn out nonvoters. That’s often what the most politically active voters find mobilizing, but the most politically engaged are, by definition, quite different than the least politically engaged, and so there’s no reason to believe that what the two groups want are the same.

The misperceptions here are likely compounded by Twitter, which has an outsize role in shaping how both media and political elites perceive politics but misrepresent the electorate. A February Pew study found that Democrats on Twitter were significantly more conflict-oriented than Democrats off Twitter, and perhaps for that reason, Democrats on Twitter were significantly more likely to support Sanders or Elizabeth Warren over Biden than Democrats off Twitter. This held true even when looking at Americans who leaned Democratic but weren’t registered to vote.”

Yep. I believe I’ve made these very points not just once but many times. It probably helps that I stay as far away from Twitter as I possibly can.

“In his new book Un-Trumping America, Pod Save America’s Dan Pfeiffer writes that “The biggest divide in the Democratic Party is not between left and center. It’s between those who believe once Trump is gone things will go back to normal and those who believe that our democracy is under a threat that goes beyond Trump.”

The Democratic debates have, for obvious reasons, featured Democratic candidates arguing with each other. Differentiating from each other means going beyond their shared differences with Trump. At almost every debate, the various candidates say that it’s not enough to simply beat Trump — you need a bigger agenda, a more inspiring vision. “We’re trying to transform this country, not win an election, not just beat Trump,” Sanders told Rachel Maddow.

Biden is the closest thing to a candidate who disagrees. His tagline is that he’ll “beat Trump like a drum.” He routinely gets criticized by liberals for saying things like “History will treat this administration’s time as an aberration,” or “This is not the Republican Party.” His answers trade heavily on nostalgia for the Obama administration, which is to say, for the pre-Trump status quo. It’s basically as close to the Democrats’ 2018 congressional strategy as a presidential campaign can run.

This annoys leftists who think the Obama administration was characterized by neoliberal half-measures and liberal analysts who think, like Pfeiffer does, that Trump is a symptom, not the cause, of America’s political crisis….But most Democrats seem to agree with Biden. As CNN noted, “Majorities of Democratic voters in every Super Tuesday state said they would prefer a nominee who can beat Trump over one with whom they agree on the issues.”

As I believe I’ve also said many times, job #1 in this election is to turn Trump disapproval into Democratic voters. Biden understood that better than his opponents so, in the end, the voters have rewarded him. And that’s no malarkey.

Teixeira: Bernie to White Working Class: We’re In This Together; White Working Class to Bernie: What Do You Mean “We”?

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

The upcoming Michigan primary is generally seen as an important one, where Sanders could conceivably reignite his campaign in a state where he had great success in 2016. In that election, he dominated Hillary Clinton among white noncollege voters. As the chart of States of Change data shows below, Michigan Democrats are heavily white noncollege.

So could Sanders do the same thing to Biden in 2020 and build on that to win the state? It seems doubtful for the simple reason that Sanders has not done especially well with white working class voters this cycle. And he’s done very poorly among black voters. So that does not seem to be a recipe for success for Sanders in Michigan and similar states.

Sanders’ white working class problem was well-described by Nate Cohn in a recent article:

“Mr. Sanders has so far failed to match his 2016 strength across the white, working-class North this year, and that suggests it will be hard for him to win Michigan.

This pattern has held without exception this primary season. It was true in Iowa and New Hampshire against Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. It was true in Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts and even Vermont on Super Tuesday against Mr. Biden.

Over all, Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Sanders by 10 points, 38 percent to 28 percent, in counties across Maine, Minnesota and Massachusetts where white voters made up at least 80 percent of the electorate and where college graduates represented less than 40 percent of the electorate. According to the exit polls, Mr. Biden was tied or ahead among white voters in every state east of the Mississippi River on Super Tuesday.

This is a marked departure from 2016. Back then, Mr. Sanders tended to excel among white, working-class and rural voters across the North. This made Michigan, where white voters represent a well-above-average share of the Democratic electorate, one of his stronger states. He dominated in Michigan’s small towns and rural areas, losing only in few counties that tended to have older voters….

Mr. Sanders has often made up for losses in white, working-class areas this year with gains among Latino voters and white voters who live in left-liberal areas. In a sense, he has traded strength in states like Maine and Minnesota for strength in California. This is a bad trade in Michigan, where Latino voters make up only a sliver of the Democratic electorate. It may be an even worse trade in Michigan than it was in Minnesota or Maine, since there are relatively few overwhelmingly Democratic left-liberal enclaves akin to Minneapolis or Portland, Maine. Only Ann Arbor and Lansing fall into a similar category.”

This does not sound promising–at all–for Sanders.

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Teixeira: Time for Democrats To Get Their House in Order on the Immigration Issue

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

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Once it comes time to face Donald Trump in the general election, Democrats will need much clearer and more salable positions on immigration than the ones Democratic candidates drifted into in the primary season. Otherwise, Trump will do real damage to the Democratic nominee on the issue.

Jason DeParle of The New York Times sets up the problem well:

“Plunge into the progressive discourse on immigration, and you’ll quickly hear that it’s not enough just to legalize America’s 11 million unauthorized migrants, however cherished the goal may be and however long it has eluded reach.

Outraged at a president who has gone as far as seizing toddlers from their undocumented parents, a progressive vanguard seeks to decriminalize border crossing, ban deportations, end detention, “abolish ICE” (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) and make undocumented migrants eligible for government aid.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the progressive standard-bearer, likens detention facilities to “concentration camps.” Eight advocacy groups have released an immigration plan they call “Free to Move, Free to Stay,” a slogan that suggests no limits.

Eager to court activists, whom they consider influential with the Latino vote, the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination have moved sharply left from the party’s norms. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vows a moratorium on deportations and a move to “break up” ICE. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joins him in pledging to make border crossings a civil, not criminal offense. Both candidates include undocumented migrants in their plans for universal health insurance (as did the former mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, a moderate who recently left the race).”

As DeParle notes, none of these positions are necessary ones to take if you want to oppose Trump’s cruelty at the border and find a humane way to deal with undocumented immigrants who are already here. In fact, by shifting the conversation to ideas that are massively unpopular with the American public, advocates actually make it harder to achieve these goals.

And such ideas certainly make it harder for Democrats to focus on what they actually need to do: make a positive case for immigration that recognizes the need for limits and border security and outlines a new immigration system to manage immigration flows over the long term to benefit the country.

DeParle quotes Charles Kamasaki of UnidosUS:

“We can’t make progress without acknowledging the legitimacy of basic immigrant enforcement, and that means some people who come here unlawfully will have to be returned,” he said.

In his recent book, “Immigration Reform,” Mr. Kamasaki, who has worked for migrant rights for nearly 40 years, advises other progressives to moderate their tone — to seek bipartisan compromise, avoid assuming all opponents are racist, and question whether “unfettered immigration is necessarily in their community’s interest.” (UnidosUS itself has subtly broadened its image, dropping “La Raza,” sometimes translated as “the race,” for a name that evokes national unity.)”

But such sensible views are remarkably lacking among the various advocates DeParle talks to, who take one nutty position after another on various immigration issues. You read through them and just shake your head: what planet are these people living on?

The Democratic nominee in 2020 needs to decisively reject the open borders talk and utter lack of realism on border security and what a workable immigration system might look like that appears to dominate these advocates’ thinking. Otherwise Trump will have a field day and immigrants will be worse off, not better off.

Trump won’t stop talking and tweeting about them. But when it comes to immigration, what do Democrats actually believe?

Teixeira: Turnout Lessons of Super Tuesday

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

Who’s the Real Turnout Candidate?

Well, his last name ain’t Sanders. Aaron Zitner and John McCormick in the Wall Street Journal:

“The electorate that backed Mr. Biden in South Carolina on Saturday and fueled his victories in 10 of 14 states on Super Tuesday had many similarities to the one that boosted his party in the 2018 midterm elections. Suburban voters turned out in droves, along with more traditional elements of the Democratic coalition, particularly African-American voters.

Mr. Sanders’s appeal among the young, the liberal and the politically independent was too weak in many places to create the revolution he promised. Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Vermont, he acknowledged that he hadn’t been as successful as he had hoped in increasing youth voter turnout. “It isn’t easy,” he said…

In many states, those backing Mr. Sanders were simply outnumbered by more centrist Democrats, who showed far more enthusiasm for voting than four years ago, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was considered the front-runner for her party’s nomination and Donald Trump hadn’t yet come to dominate the nation’s politics. The electorate in many states was older and less liberal than in 2016….

Mr. Sanders has long argued that his brand of government activism would draw a broad coalition of voters eager to defeat Mr. Trump, describing his campaign as “the strongest grass-roots movement of any campaign in modern American history.”…

William Frey, a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington who studies political trends, said of the strong turnout of moderate voters: “I think it’s a continuation of the trend we saw in the 2018 midterms, when there was huge turnout. A lot of it is a reaction to Trump.”

White women with college degrees strongly supported Mr. Biden and could be a source of strength for Democrats against Mr. Trump in November. “They did a lot for Biden yesterday,” Mr. Frey said. “That’s going to be a part of the coalition that the Democrats will be banking on.”

Voter turnout jumped by nearly 70% in Virginia over 2016 levels, unofficial results showed, while rising more than 40% in Texas and 16% in North Carolina, all states that Mr. Biden won. Mr. Biden, the man who most embodied the Democratic establishment, won substantial margins among African-Americans, a core Democratic group, as well as older voters.

The twin pillars of Mr. Sanders’s support in 2016—voters under age 30, and political independents—were far less reliable this time around. Those groups either shrank as a share of the 2020 voter pool or were poached by rival candidates.

The senator barely won some of the biggest college communities, including Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia. Montgomery County, home to Virginia Tech, favored Mr. Biden over Mr. Sanders. In North Carolina, Mr. Sanders won the county that is home to the UNC Asheville, but he lost to Mr. Biden in the home to UNC Chapel Hill.

Worse for Mr. Sanders: For all the talk that he would draw a wave of newcomers to the voter pool, those young voters made up a smaller share of the electorate than in 2016, while the share of voters age 65 and older rose.”

Teixeira: The Failure of Intersectional Politics

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

I don’t always agree with Matt Yglesias but in this case I think he has it exactly right. In the process, he cements his position as Vox’s token political realist. If his judgement here is right–and I think it is–we may look back on South Carolina as not only a positive inflection point for the Biden campaign bit as a negative one for a certain kind of politics popular with a voluble set of activists and no one else.

“Loser (from the South Carolina primary): Assuming normal voters think like professional activists

Clinton won the 2016 nomination due in large part to scoring huge margins with African American voters in places like South Carolina.

Once it became clear how central black voters were to her support, she started talking about politics in a particular way — talking about intersectionality, asking “if we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism?”, and invoking the phrase “systematic racism.” These are ideas familiar to younger college graduates, often developed by black intellectuals and popular in racial justice activism circles. And since Clinton did, in fact, obtain overwhelming majorities among African American voters, many 2020 contenders essentially tried to imitate this approach.

Suzanna Danuta Walters in the Nation hailed Warren for running “an unapologetically intersectional campaign,” which she certainly did. So did Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former US housing secretary Julian Castro, both of whom ended up dropping out early, with Castro endorsing Warren and becoming a frequently used campaign surrogate.

In South Carolina, this approach delivered meager results with the electorate. Both in the Palmetto State and in national polls, black voters seem split between Biden’s back-to-basics kitchen table economics pitch and Sanders’s democratic socialist pitch, with the divisions mostly falling along age lines.

The two candidates’ pitches on economic issues are very different, but Biden and Sanders are similar in having some of the weakest claims to wokeness and least explicitly intersectional rhetoric in the field.

It’s not that racial issues aren’t important or that the candidates doing well in South Carolina don’t have strong policies on them. But most voters are working class, not necessarily super-familiar with particular social justice issues, and not as siloed in their concerns as activists.

There’s a strong market in South Carolina for “similar to Obama” and a smaller but also strong market for Sanders’s youth-fueled revolution, with few voters looking to attend a critical race theory seminar.”

Teixeira: An Outbreak of Common Sense on Electoral Strategy?

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

Ron Brownstein has an excellent article on CNN on the fallacies of a turnout-based strategy, such as Sanders has repeatedly advocated, for winning the 2020 election. He effectively summarizes the key points I and others have made against this strategy. But perhaps the most interesting part of the article is a series of quotes from Sean McElwee going on record that he, too, thinks the turnout strategy is bats.

This is a bit surprising since McElwee rose to prominence through his advocacy of the “abolish ICE” slogan and his fervent support for the AOC-brand of strenuous progressivism. He went on to co-found Data for Progress, whose work has generally seemed aimed in the same direction. That said, they have done some good work and are to be commended for fighting their battles on progressive strategy with data instead of dogma and assumptions.

Perhaps it was the experience of staring over and over at the actual data that has led McElwee to part company with orthodox Sandersism on this issue:

“[James] Carville has emerged as a leader among Democrats concerned that nominating Sanders will doom the party to defeat against Trump and put the House majority at grave risk as well. Unlike Carville, Sean McElwee, founder of the liberal-leaning group Data for Progress, believes Sanders can find a pathway to victory against Trump by attracting working-class voters across racial lines. But McElwee agrees with Carville that no candidate, Sanders included, can bet on winning mostly by transforming the nature of who votes.

“I think that all campaigns are incentivized to portray themselves as doing something unique and groundbreaking and really changing the structure of turnout.” McElwee says. “But turnout is a pretty durable attribute and it tends to correlate with intrinsic human identities: Older people tend to vote at much higher rates than younger; college educated vote more than non-; homeowners vote more than renters. It is really, really hard using the tools available to campaigns to change that.”

This dispute has profound implications as Democrats’ assess Sanders’ potential viability as a general election candidate. The Democratic front-runner brushes off concerns about whether his agenda will alienate swing voters by insisting he can compensate by bringing in millions of new voters to overwhelm them.”…

If Sanders can’t win a general election by changing the electorate, as these Democratic experts believe, that means he, like any other potential nominee, would need to win primarily by converting swing voters. Though Sanders always stresses mobilization, especially of young people, some of his supporters — and advisers — believe that he would be more likely to beat Trump by attracting working-class voters across racial lines, including whites, African Americans and Hispanics.

“If you are hitching your wagon on a youth quake [of new voters] you are in a bad place,” says McElwee. “But Bernie doesn’t have to hitch his argument on that. Bernie has a persuasion argument for swing voters.”

Now I have my doubts about Sanders’ ability to appeal to swing voters–or even interest in doing so–but at least we’re aiming at the right target here! Sanders could indeed be the nominee and he could indeed win, but to do so he will have take some of this wisdom on board.

He will also have to deal with these problems, as summarized by Brownstein:

“* [S]ubstantial resistance to his unprecedented tax-and-spending plans among the college-educated suburbanites who moved toward the party in 2018 because of their distaste for Trump. (A recent analysis using 170,000 interviews from the nonpartisan Nationscape survey found that Joe Biden and Sanders posted similar leads over Trump overall in tests of 2020 sentiment, but that the former vice president ran much better among college-educated white voters.)

* [R]esistance to many of his views on issues relating to race and culture. Polls last year by the Marist Institute found that most noncollege whites supported such core Sanders economic proposals as a wealth tax on large fortunes and raising the minimum wage. But they registered overwhelming opposition to other ideas he’s embraced: In one Marist survey, 67% of noncollege whites opposed eliminating the death penalty, 72% opposed decriminalizing illegal border crossing and 76% rejected providing subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants. In the Marist polling, a majority of noncollege whites have also consistently opposed one of Sanders’ core policy proposals: a single-payer national health care system that would eliminate private insurance with only a very few exceptions.”

It’s a steep hill to climb once you discard the turnout mythology. Perhaps it can be done, but it will require Sanders and his advisors to stop getting high on their own supply.

Teixeira: The Turnout Myth, Part 4

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

Well, as Ronald Reagan said in another context and another debate long ago: “There you go again”. In the debate tonight, Sanders once again gave his electability pitch and it was exactly the same as it has been all campaign: a gigantic, humongous surge of turnout that will sweep all the Democrats’ troubles away. I’ve been whacking away at this ridiculous assertion as best I can and, coincidentally released the same day as the debate, we have a new and thorough political science study (summarized on Vox) that makes clear just how heroic and unrealistic Sanders’ assertions are.

The study, by David Broockman and Joshua Kalla of Berkeley and Yale respectively, essentially shows that Sanders’ seeming electability in trial heat surveys–where he runs as good or better than “moderate” candidates–is attributable to two dynamics: (1) Sanders losing voters to Trump relative to moderate candidates but (2) making this up as people who say they are neither/third party/wouldn’t vote with a moderate candidate move to Sanders. The net of these two trends keeps Sanders afloat and “electable”.

Could this happen in real world? Probably not. The problem is that the implied turnout increase for young voters–who are the ones who come off the sidelines in a Trump-Sanders trial heat– is wildly implausible. As the study notes, Sanders would have to generate a larger increase in turnout among young voters than Obama managed to generate among black voters in his historic 2008 election. Looked at another way, youth turnout would have to not just go up 11 points but 11 points more than everyone else goes up in the 2020 election. So if turnout goes up 11 points in the rest of the population in 2020, youth turnout would have to go up 22 points. you get the idea.

So, more evidence that Sanders’ theory of the case on how he would beat Trump is furshlugginer (look it up).

Some excerpts from the researchers’ Vox summary of the study:

We found that nominating Sanders would drive many Americans who would otherwise vote for a moderate Democrat to vote for Trump, especially otherwise Trump-skeptical Republicans.

Republicans are more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated: Approximately 2 percent of Republicans choose Trump over Sanders but desert Trump when we pit him against a more moderate Democrat like Buttigieg, Biden, or Bloomberg.

Democrats and independents are also slightly more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated. Swing voters may be rare — but their choices between candidates often determine elections, and many appear to favor Trump over Sanders but not over other Democrats.

Despite losing these voters to Trump, Sanders appears in our survey data to be similarly electable to the moderates, at least at first blush. Why? Mainly because 11 percent of left-leaning young people say they are undecided, would support a third-party candidate, or, most often, just would not vote if a moderate were nominated — but say they would turn out and vote for Sanders if he were nominated….

[T]he “Bernie or bust” phenomenon appears almost entirely limited to left-leaning young people, who are usually a small share of the overall electorate. This stands in contrast to many theories of Sanders’s electoral appeal: For example, whites without a college degree — a demographic some speculate Sanders could win over — are actually more likely to say they will vote for Trump against Sanders than against the other Democrats. The same is true of the rest of the electorate, except left-leaning young people….

The case that Bernie Sanders is just as electable as the more moderate candidates thus appears to rest on a leap of faith: that youth voter turnout would surge in the general election by double digits if and only if Bernie Sanders is nominated, compensating for the voters his nomination pushes to Trump among the rest of the electorate.

There are reasons to doubt a Sanders-driven youth turnout surge of this size would materialize. First, people who promise in surveys they will vote often don’t, meaning the turnout estimates that Sanders’s electability case rests upon are probably extremely inaccurate. Second, such a turnout surge is large in comparison to other effects on turnout. For example, Sanders would need to stimulate a youth turnout boost much larger than the turnout boost Barack Obama’s presence on the ballot stimulated among black voters in 2008….

And this enormous 11 percentage point turnout boost is only enough to make Sanders as electable as the more moderate candidates, given the other votes he loses to Trump. For him to be the most electable Democratic candidate based on his ability to inspire youth turnout, Sanders’s nomination would need to increase youth turnout by even more….

There is no way to be sure whether Sanders’s nomination would produce this historic youth turnout surge — but it seems doubtful. Turnout in the 2020 primaries so far has not exceeded 2008 levels, including among young voters. If anything, research suggests the opposite is more likely to occur: In response to an extreme Democratic nominee, Republicans could be inspired to turn out at higher rates to oppose him.