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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Teixeira: The Democrats’ Big Problem Is Now Obvious

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

It’s culture. Put very simply, the culture that dominates the party makes it very difficult for the party to reach–or perhaps even to understand that it must reach–the voters it needs to succeed politically. Begin with this piece by Sheri Berman on party “representation gaps”.

“A disconnect exists between the preferences of voters and the stances of the Democratic Party on social and cultural issues, while an equivalent chasm exists for Republicans on economic matters. Both are facing what political scientists call a “representation gap.”

A majority of voters, including many Republicans, support Democratic, even progressive, positions on economic issues including tax policy, healthcare, education, the minimum wage and more. But on crucial non-economic issues, voters are moderate, and the Democratic Party’s stances—in particular those of its progressive activists regarding illegal immigration and border security, police reform, “political correctness,” gender identity, sexual harassment and affirmative action—are unpopular, even among many Democratic voters.”

Berman details four possible responses by parties to such representation gaps: avoidance, intransigence, concession and persuasion. She recommends persuasion:

“Here, the party attempts to close the representation gap by trying to move voters closer to its policies. Changing people’s preferences requires openly grappling with the unpopularity of particular policies, and engaging with those who disagree, rather than disparaging or ignoring them.

Successful engagement means avoiding language and behavior that can be easily misunderstood or trigger fears in voters, and can be exploited by opponents. Progressive activists erred by ignoring this, with some describing themselves as “socialists,” embracing the slogan “defund the police,” and failing to denounce looting and violence that accompanied some protests—behavior that scared some voters away from the Democratic Party. Above all, the persuasion strategy requires patience since shifting voters’ preferences and priorities takes time.

One disadvantage of the persuasion strategy is obvious: It is the most difficult. But its advantages are great. It is the only strategy that reconciles idealism with realism, joining a commitment to currently unpopular but prized policies with a recognition that realizing such policies first requires winning elections.”

And winning elections–enough of the right type of elections–is very difficult for Democrats in the actually-existing electoral system of the United States (not the dream system frequently invoked by progressives). Derek Thompson in the Atlantic:

“As Democrats like to point out, they have won the national popular vote seven times in the past eight presidential elections, along with a majority of ballots cast nationwide in six of the past eight Senate elections. But national vote tallies don’t count for anything under our constitutional rules. Liberals can (and do) complain about this all day, but saying “If the Constitution didn’t exist, Capitol Hill would be mostly Democrats” is like saying “If the weak nuclear force didn’t exist, the galaxy would be mostly photons.” Neat, but so what?…

“We have an election system that makes it basically impossible for Democrats’ current coalition to ever wield legislative power,” the polling analyst David Shor told Politico….If Democrats don’t find a way to broaden their coalition into less populous states with smaller metro areas, it may be impossible to pass liberal laws for the next generation.”

This is above all a cultural problem.

“Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published an analysis of California ballot measures that found that “the state’s two major population centers have grown more and more different” from the rest of the state. Residents of Los Angeles and the Bay Area were at least 30 percentage points more likely than other Californians to support various propositions, such as reinstating affirmative action and allowing parolees to vote….

This phenomenon is not specific to California; it is evident across the country. America’s richest and most progressive cities—from San Francisco to New York and Washington, D.C.—have filled with young, unmarried, “extremely online” graduates of elite colleges, who have collectively birthed a novel philosophy you could call “Instagram socialism.” Instagram socialists are highly educated, but not necessarily high-earning, urbanites who shop like capitalists and post like Marxists and frequently do so in adjacent tabs. Many of their causes are virtuous, such as universal health care and higher pay for low-income service workers. But given the dynamics of online communication, which prizes extremity, Instagram socialism usually functions as a crowd-sourcing exercise to brand widely appealing ideas in their most emotional and viral—and, therefore, most radical—fashion. Thus, major police reform (a popular idea) is branded “Abolish the Police” (an unpopular idea); a welcoming disposition toward immigrants (a popular idea) is blurred with calls for open borders (an unpopular idea); and universal health care (a popular idea) is folded into socialism (an unpopular idea)….

The urban-online core of the Democratic Party is arguably its most fecund source of new ideas, but it has evolved to become a kind of third party whose ideology and tone are not a good fit for the typical swing voter toggling between the two major parties. The “culture problem” of liberals’ urban dominance also has important implications for the media. As national politics has polarized according to youth, education, and density, the news industry has become particularly young, educated, and densely packed into a handful of cities. Thus people who work in national journalism (like me, a resident of Washington, D.C.) tend to have a set of strongly held views about the world that are artifacts of their zip code. America’s most progressive metros are becoming politically unusual at the same time that national journalists are less capable of seeing how unusual they have become.”

In other words, party activists are increasingly ill-equipped to successfully reach out to the rest of the country that doesn’t share their views–or indeed to even realize how far they need to reach to do so.
Thompson concludes:

“In the past 100 years, Democrats have transformed from a largely rural party to a coalition of density and diplomas—a political handshake between the cities and highly educated suburbs. To win not only the presidency but also legislative majorities, Democrats will have to turn back the clock and refamiliarize themselves with Americans who live outside denser zip codes where Democrats currently dominate. They will have to rediscover the right balance between their progressive urban core and the moderate exurban frontier—between metro and retro.”

In some ways it is very easy to explain how this unfortunate state of affairs arose: it is all about the increasing domination of college-educated whites in Democratic politics. This has several strands to it:

1. There are simply more of them in the party’s support base, due to their rise in numbers and significant shift into the Democratic party. Their weight in the Democratic coalition is now much larger than it was 30 years ago.
2. They are heavily over-represented in the donor base of the party.
3. They are heavily over-represented in media that cover the activities of the party and give it publicity.
4. They literally run the party on a day to day basis, providing the professionals who staff the infrastructure and run for office.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the culture of this demographic group increasingly dominates the party. But that it is understandable does not make it desirable. The party cannot achieve the success it desires without competing more successfully in rural, small town and less densely-populated parts of the country, which have disproportionate political influence and where noncollege whites are especially numerous. And it cannot compete successfully in these areas without moving out of its current cultural comfort zone. Indeed, we are now getting to the point where even Democrats’ hold on noncollege nonwhites may be threatened by the cultural dominance of educated whites.

I’ll give the final word to data scientist David Shor: “The big-picture problem is that the Democratic Party is increasingly reflecting the cultural values and political preferences of educated white people…Culturally, working-class nonwhite people have more in common with working-class white people.”

That’s it in a nutshell. A serious course correction is in order.


GA Runoff Poll Favors Dems

From “Warnock leading Loeffler, other Georgia Senate runoff race deadlocked: poll” by Marina Pitofsky at The Hill:

Democrat the Rev. Raphael Warnock holds a lead over GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler (Ga.) in a poll of one of two Georgia runoff races that will determine the balance of the Senate.

Warnock leads Loeffler 52 percent to 45 percent in a new poll from SurveyUSA commissioned by WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

The poll, released Thursday, also shows that Democrat John Ossoff is narrowly leading Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) 50 percent to the Republican’s 48 percent in the state’s other runoff election that will take place in January. 

The poll respondents included 850 Georgians, with 717 RVs and 583 LVs. A couple of demographic breakdown nuggets:

White voters in the Peach State gave Perdue a 43-point lead and Loeffler a 37-point lead, according to the poll. Among Black voters, Ossoff led in his runoff race with an 87-point advantage and Warnock with an 83-point advantage.

Men gave Perdue a 10-point lead over Ossoff and Loeffler a 9-point lead over Warnock. Women gave Ossoff an 11-point lead over Perdue, as well as a 19-point advantage for Warnock.

Of course it will all come down to turnout, and Democratic hopes ride on an energetic GOTV effort spearheaded by Georgia’s activist groups and divisions in the state GOP’s rank and file. Georgia is currently being blanketed by a fierce ad war from both parties.  Georgians and out-of-state volunteers who want to help the Democratic effort can find suggestions here and a guide to making donations here.


Teixeira: Quit Whining and Figure Out How to Win!

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

With the sub-optimal down-ballot election results has come the predictable loud complaints from the left about the structure of the American electoral system especially, of course, the Senate. There is no doubt that given the current distribution of partisan preferences the structure of the Senate disadvantages the Democrats. And there is no doubt that if you were designing a fair electoral system from scratch, you probably wouldn’t have the Senate in its current incarnation.

But, in the immortal words of James Earl Carter, Jr., there are many things in life that are not fair–and this is one of them! However, that structure is not likely to change anytime soon so Democrats need to suck it up and figure out how to win with the structure they’ve got. Jeff Greenfield makes the argument well in a recent Washington Post piece.

“The Senate isn’t quite the unsolvable problem that Democratic critics think it is. The chamber’s current Republican tilt is political, not structural — and it could be overcome without any changes to the Constitution. The Democrats just have to start winning elections….

If the Senate’s small-state bias is locked in, that doesn’t mean the upper chamber is destined to remain a GOP bastion. This year, Republicans minimized their potential losses in the Senate by winning every seat in states that went for President Trump, probably retaining control. But you don’t have to look very far back in the past to find Democrats regularly winning Senate seats in states that vote deeply crimson at the presidential level. North Dakota had two Democrats in the Senate from 1987 through 2011, and one until 2019. Both of Montana’s senators were Democrats from 2007 to 2015, and one was reelected just two years ago. Until the 2014 midterms, Democrats held seats from Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Iowa and South Dakota….

None of [Democrats’] hopes for altering its imbalance — granting statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, killing the filibuster, ending conservative domination of the federal bench — can happen unless Democrats first take the upper chamber, which essentially means winning the battle on a Republican-tilted playing field.

But that’s a political problem, not a structural one. And it’s solvable: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have been elected and reelected; are they the only Democrats who can win in increasingly red states? Is it impossible to imagine, for example, that a candidate who acknowledged the failure of both parties to stem the economic decline of the working class might strike a responsive chord? Might a candidate find a way to insulate herself against the more provocative arguments of more progressive Democrats, like “defund the police,” while emphasizing the economic-fairness arguments that bridge the gap between the party’s wings? If Democrats could hold 60 Senate seats 11 years ago, is a return to the majority really beyond reach?”

Difficult but not impossible. So time to stop the whining and figure out ways of winning in places Democrats have been losing. As Greenfield notes:

‘[Democrats] cannot build a time machine to bring them back to 1789, so that they can stiffen James Madison’s spine against the small states’ demands. They cannot erase Article V from the Constitution. They probably cannot persuade Mike Bloomberg and other billionaires to pay for the resettlement of a few hundred thousand Californians and New Yorkers to the Dakotas. They have no choice, then, but to find the messages and the organizing tools that can break through that new red wall that stands between their national majority and the power to govern.”

Greenfield is correct. There is no choice but to do exactly that.


Charlie Cook: GA Senate Races ‘Very, Very Close’

From “The Double Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Cook at The Cook Political Report:

Don’t expect much ticket splitting in the Peachtree State. Putting the Georgia races aside, in every Senate race this year, save the one in Maine, voters chose the same party for president and Senate. In 2016, every single Senate and presidential contest went the same way.

Simply put, anyone voting for Republican incumbent David Perdue in the race for the full-term, regularly scheduled Senate race is almost certainly going to vote for the appointed Senate incumbent, Kelly Loeffler, in the special-election runoff, and vice versa. Anyone voting for Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in the regular-seat contest is also likely to vote for Raphael Warnock in the special, and vice versa. These two pairs are package deals.

And the races are going to be very, very close.

Cook explains further,

On Nov. 3, with 4.9 million votes cast, Perdue pulled 49.7 percent of the vote, Ossoff 48 percent, and Libertarian Shane Hazel 2.3 percent. Warnock, the pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church (where both Martin Luther King Sr. and Martin Luther King Jr. preached), pulled 32.9 percent of the vote, and seven other Democrats pulled 15.5 percent, bringing the Democratic total to 48.4 percent. Loeffler won 25.9 percent of the vote, Rep. Doug Collins another 19.9 percent, and four other GOP contenders pulled 3.5 points for a GOP total of 49.3 percent—nine-tenths of a point more.

Factor in Joe Biden’s 14,000-vote win (pending the recount) in the state, and toss in the 1.4-point margin between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams in the gubernatorial race two years ago, and a good case can be made that Georgia is the most evenly divided state in the country.

Cook shares some of Georgia’s political history since the early 1990s, then writes:

Will Trump supporters be mad as hell, looking for vengeance as they turn out in big numbers, or demoralized that their guy lost? Conversely, will Democratic voters be satisfied having slain their nemesis and stay home, or will their big win atop the ticket make them want more?

The truth is that we don’t know. I just expect a very, very close race, with virtually no votes separating the support levels of either Republican incumbent or the two Democratic challengers. Double or nothing—no splits!

That’s a hell of a bet. But the good news is that one of the top political analysts in America sees a two Senate seat pick-up for Democrats in toss-up territory. Both parties are already flooding the state with money and ads. Given all at stake, let it not be said that Dems got outworked.


Teixeira: Georgia On My Mind

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

There are two questions to address: What happened in Georgia? And what will happen in Georgia?

Neither question is particularly easy to answer. But since predictions are hard, especially about the future, I’ll take the first one first.

To repeat something I’ve said before, the available survey data aren’t great and while we have good county-level and now precinct level data, these data are susceptible to the ecological fallacy, when aggregate geographic patterns are used to infer the behavior of voter groups contained with the aggregates.

OK then. Here we go!

Biden won GA by .3 percentage points and a little under 13,000 votes, so every gain he made anywhere was important.

1. Turnout. Data sources agree that turnout was up sharply in GA, including black turnout, but that the increase in turnout among blacks was less than the increase in turnout among non-blacks; therefore the black share of voters actually declined relative to 2016.

2. Black voter margins. An 2016-2020 exit poll comparison and a VoteCast 2020/States of Change (SOC) 2016 comparison disagree. The exit polls indicate that the black Democratic margin in GA dropped from +80 to +77. But the other comparison shows the black Democratic margin rising from +80 to +86.

Precinct-level analysis reported by Nate Cohn (shown below) shows a 2 point margin gain (the two party vote share shifts have to be doubled) in majority black precincts and a 1 point decline in precincts more than 80 percent black. So this is inconclusive.

3. White voter margins. All data sources agree that there was a very sharp movement of white voters overall toward the Democrats. But which white voters?

4. White college voters. Data sources agree there were strong margin gains for Biden among white college voters in GA. The exit polls are particularly gaudy, indicating a 30 point margin gain. That seems too high, but very strong gains are consistent with the county and precinct data.

5. White noncollege voters. Both the exit polls and the VoteCast/SOC comparison suggest significant white noncollege Democratic margin gains–+7 in the former and +10 in the latter. However, the county and precinct data also suggest gains, but more modest gains; note the 2 point pro-Democratic margin shift in the white noncollege areas shown below.

So every little bit helped! Can this coalition stay together to elect two Democratic Senators? The polls say it’s possible–though these days we can be forgiven for not knowing what to make of this (though GA Presidential polls were actually pretty decent). Black turnout that outpaced white turnout would certainly help. I guess I’m still a bit skeptical this can really happen but I can think of no better way to make the case that it’s a still a strong possibility than reading this piece of Sean Trende, the excellent conservative political analyst.

“Control of the Senate is going to come down to two Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia. Sen. David Perdue came a hair’s breadth from winning his race against Jon Ossoff outright, but ultimately fell just short of 50% plus one. Sen. Kelly Loeffler will face off against the Rev. Raphael Warnock to complete the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson (the reward for the winner is running again in two years for the full term).

Somewhat surprisingly, articles discussing these races have framed the races to claim that Republicans are favored in both. Politico declares that Democrats begin behind the eight ball, while other pieces casually cast Republicans as “likely” or “probable” victors in the Peach State.

I’m not sure that is correct, and would view these races as pure tossups from the start. Here are six reasons why.”

They’re pretty interesting reasons! Check it out.


More on the Georgia Flip

Mike Freedberg of Here and Sphere shares an instructive graphic that helps explain the Georgia flip to an Electoral College blue state:

Freedberg writes:

A map of voter shifts, precinct by precinct, in Georgia from the 2016 election to the 2020 tells a lot about how Joe Biden became President-elect. Let’s study the map, pictured above, and make some determinations based on what is shown.

You will notice, of course, the enormous shift of votes in the Atlanta suburbs, all of them, as well as in greater Savannah (the blue precincts on the coast). As happened in suburbs all over America, Joe Biden won tons of votes that Hillary Clinton lost. This part of the Biden win in Georgia is common knowledge. Absent this vast a shift, Biden could not have won Georgia by some 12,880 votes. Everything that follows this shift depended on it, and Biden certainly is aware that he will be the President of suburban America.

The voters who so drastically moved away from, Mr. Trump are middle class, mostly, and overwhelmingly white. Their entrance into the Democratic coalition changes the party — as I have previously written about — from being a mostly working-class party to a party chiefly of educated affluents.

However, Freedberg adds, “Joe Biden did not carry Georgia by suburban voters only. Two other outcomes played an equally cruicial part :

( 1 ) almost all Black voters chose Biden, but not more than chose Clinton in 2016. His percentage actually dropped by one percent ( 1% ) from Hillary Clinton’s number. As has been noted by others, Mr. Trump had some success, nationwide, winning more Black votes than in 2016 — not many, but some. Black voters in this Georgia election numbered only 27 percent of the total — down from 30 percent in 2012 — yet even that one percent shift to Mr. Trump cost Joe Biden about 16,400 votes, enough to have moved Georgia into Trump’s column despite the suburban landslide for Biden.

( 2 ) that Mr. Trump’s increase of Black votes did not cost Biden this State is due to a shift among voters who nationwide became Mr. Biden’s crucial success : Biden GAINED one percent of rural white voters, over Hillary Clinton’s totals, mostly in very white North Georgia but also throughout the State. Rural white voters have been Mr. Trump’s base, and he won them big in this election as in 2016 : but not quite AS big. Rural white votes totaled about 25 percent of Georgia’s total, and a one percent shift of them from Trump to Biden was just enough to counter Biden’s 16,400 vote shortfall among Black voters.

Freedberg notes that many believe “Joe Biden, himself of white working class background, was the only 2020 Democratic candidate who could have peeled off enough rural white voters to defeat Mr. Trump.” Further, “Almost no other Democrat running for office this past election won a similar break. Voters in Republican counties did not switch their Congress votes as they did for President.”

Freedberg says that winning both senate seats in the Georgia run-off would be a “difficult task,” which will require “a profounder shift of voter sentiment than the one which benefitted Biden.” Democrats can hope that the historic low turnouts for run-off elections in Georgia provide an opportunity for them to win a disproportionate share of voters. But that will require a heroic GOTV mobilization of pro-Democratic constituencies, a formidable challenge for GA activists.


Enten: Battle of the ‘Burbs Gave Biden Victory

From Harry Enten’s “Trump’s fraud accusations make no sense. The suburbs, not the cities, are why he lost” at CNN Politics:

What Trump and his campaign don’t seem to realize is that the cities (Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee) in the three most important Great Lakes battlegrounds (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) were not responsible for President-elect Joe Biden’s improvement compared with Hillary Clinton….Biden won in large part because of a dramatic improvement in the suburbs surrounding the major cities in these states.
Getting down to particulars, Enten notes,
Start off in Michigan and Detroit. Biden actually got about 1,000 fewer votes than Clinton in Detroit. Trump, meanwhile, got nearly 5,000 more votes. Given Trump received so few votes in Detroit, this was good enough for a 65% increase for Trump….Then look at the counties surrounding Wayne County (where Detroit is located) as well as the places in Wayne outside of Detroit. Biden saw a 25% increase in his vote share, while Trump’s vote share increased by just 15%. That alone was worth a net of more than 120,000 votes for Biden’s margin over Trump compared with Clinton and 2016.
In PA:
As in Detroit, Trump’s been the one who has been disproportionately outperforming his 2016 Philadelphia performance. At this hour, Biden is doing fewer than 5,000 votes better than Clinton in 2016. Trump’s doing more than 20,000 votes better than he did in 2016. That’s about a 20% increase in his vote total in the city….The surrounding suburban counties have been much friendlier to Biden. His margin over Trump is about 80,000 votes more than Clinton’s was in these same counties. The percentage increase for Biden in his vote total (21%) dwarfs Trump’s (11%)….Again, these 80,000 votes were more than enough to overcome Trump’s 2016 statewide margin in Pennsylvania of about 45,000.
In Wisconsin:
Trump’s problem wasn’t Milwaukee. While Biden did pick up votes in the city of Milwaukee compared with Clinton, it was a rather small amount (about 6,000). Trump snagged an additional 3,000 or so votes. Trump’s percentage increase (because he started at such a low baseline) in his vote total of 7% in the city of Milwaukee was actually double that of Biden’s over Clinton’s (3%)….The suburban counties and Milwaukee County outside the city of Milwaukee are where Biden advanced the ball over Trump. Biden’s percentage increase of the vote in these counties (25%) compared with Clinton more than doubled Trump’s (12%). That’s the opposite of what happened in the city of Milwaukee, where Trump’s percentage vote increase was larger than the one on the Democratic side….In vote terms, Biden’s margin in these suburbs improved by about 25,000 compared with Clinton’s….As in Michigan and Pennsylvania, this alone would have wiped out Trump’s 2016 statewide margin. He took Wisconsin by a touch under 23,000 in 2016.

Enten doesn’t address the Georgia flip. But William Frey has noted at Brookings that “Georgia’s urban core counties (including several close-in Atlanta counties that are sometime thought of as suburbs) helped the 2020 result swing toward Democrats. The counties of Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton have consistently voted Democratic in recent elections….The populous counties of Gwinnett, Cobb, and Henry flipped to voting Democratic in 2016, and increased their Democratic margins even more so this year. Other suburban counties that showed increased Democratic support since 2016 were Douglas, Newton, and Rockdale.”

Enten’s conclusion about Biden’s victory: “The bottom line is that all these numbers make sense and tell a consistent story: Biden won because he was able to build on the traditional Democratic strength in the big cities by expanding his support into the suburban areas right outside of them. There wasn’t any grand conspiracy by big city machines. Trump simply got beat because suburban voters were tired of him.”


Teixeira: Shor’s Insights Light Path for Dems

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

David Shor on the 2020 Election

Perhaps you’ve heard of Shor, if for no other reason than he got purged from the Civiqs research firm for wrongthink–daring to tweet, based on academic research, that violent protests tend to produce less positive change than peaceful protests.

But Shor is also one of sharpest data science people around and obsessively dedicated to helping Democrats get elected and pass progressive legislation. He has very high level technical skills, intimate acquaintance with a wide range of data and deep understanding of the relevant political science research. Refreshingly, he takes his analysis in whatever direction the data indicate and is entirely willing to discard the conventional wisdom where appropriate. He is very definitely not trying to be politically correct.

So this long interview with Shor on Politico is very much worth reading. I don’t agree with everything here but I take it all very seriously. I urge you to do so as well. Some particularly cogent excerpts–

On the vexed influence of college educated white liberals on the Democrats:

“[A]s college-educated white people enter the Democratic Party and become an increasingly large share of the Democratic Party while the reverse happens to Republicans, that naturally is going to influence who wins party primaries and what kind of people win internal party fights. In practice — given the fact that college-educated whites donate at disproportionate rates and volunteer at disproportionate rates — I think it’s going to be very hard for Democrats to resist the pull of catering to their preferences, which is naturally going to lead to losing votes among people who aren’t them: not just non-college educated whites, but, as we as we saw this cycle, also non-white voters.

It’s a reasonable expectation that these gaps will continue to grow unless parties make a concerted effort to swim upstream. And even then, it’s probably going to be more about slowing things down or keeping things where they were. I think an underappreciated aspect of Barack Obama is that he actually presided over one of the only periods of educational depolarization. In 2008 and 2012, the education gap actually depolarized, because he did unusually well among non-college whites in the Midwest. And some of that is probably the recession. So, it’s not impossible, but it will be hard.”

On the decline of ticket-splitting and the implications for Democrats in swing districts:

“In 2020, there was this idea that ticket-splitting was going to increase, but actually, there was considerably less ticket-splitting than we were expecting. Democrats really expected our Senate candidates to overperform Biden. That didn’t happen at the rates the public polls suggested they would. There’s a pretty similar story you can tell about the U.S. House. This decline in ticket-splitting means that when people are voting on their local House candidate, they’re increasingly doing that on the basis of the news they read about the national Democratic Party. And this creates a hard tradeoff: It’s no longer true, in a way that might have been true 20 or 30 years ago, that someone in a safe seat can say whatever they want to energize the base without creating consequences in swing districts. Now, that doesn’t mean that Abigail Spanberger, for instance, should control the exact contents of what gets said, but it really highlights the importance of being disciplined and embracing things that are popular and not embracing things that are unpopular. I think that AOC has proposed a lot of things that are incredibly popular. The Loan Shark Prevention Act, which caps credit card interest rates at 15 percent — in the New Progressive Agenda Project polling we did with Sean [McElwee], where we have pro and con arguments, this was one of the most popular policies we ever tested.

But now that we have this increased polarization, we can’t escape that. There are very real tradeoffs to talking about things that aren’t popular. Obviously, there’s a lot of disagreement about what is popular and what isn’t, and polling is hard. It’s very easy to create polls that make single-payer health care popular or background checks [for gun purchases] popular. But then when these things show up at the ballot box in various ways, they end up losing. The things that liberals want — or that the left wants — some of them are very popular and some aren’t, and I think we have to be honest with ourselves about which is which. And that can be difficult, both from a coalition perspective and emotionally, but the importance of it is very high.”

On the utility of “anti-racist deep canvassing”:

“The important thing to remember about campaigns, big picture, is this: The average voter in a general election is something like 50 years old — in a midterm or primary, it’s higher. They don’t have a college degree. They watch about six hours of TV a day — that’s the average; there are people who watch more. They generally don’t read partisan media. They still largely get their news from mainstream sources. They’re watching what’s on the ABC Nightly News. Maybe they see some stuff on Facebook, but it’s really mostly from mainstream sources.

You have to center on this person, and think about how they’re interacting with politics. With all of these things, whether canvassing or digital ads, the reality is that people are mostly forming their opinions on the basis of what the press says….In 2016, we didn’t lose because our get-out-the-vote lists were not sorted well enough. And it wasn’t that we had the wrong kind of digital targeting. We lost because, big picture, we ran a campaign that increased the salience of immigration at a time when marginal voters in swing states in the Midwest disagreed with us on immigration. That’s why we lost. Obviously, it was a close election, and maybe you could have done something different and gotten 0.4 points more in Wisconsin. But big picture, that is what happened.”

On defund the police:

“When you look at “defund the police” specifically, there was a real movement among educated, liberal people in the media and among activists across a broad swath of the left to elevate this issue and get folks to talk about it. And there are pros and cons to doing that. I’m not going to claim that I know what the right thing to do is — sometimes, it makes sense to talk about unpopular issues. But we should acknowledge that in practice, those decisions to elevate the salience of certain issues and reduce it on other issues — those decisions are actually something campaigns and activists have a lot of control over. And they are going to end up influencing vote share much more than any decision that any individual campaign makes about what digital vendors they use, or how many digital ads they use versus what TV ads they use.

Ultimately, in this hyperpolarized world, what national media outlets choose to talk about is going to be much more important in determining whether [Democratic Congressman] Collin Peterson survives in Minnesota’s 7th district than anything he does. That’s just the reality. [This month, Peterson lost his bid for reelection.]”

On why Georgia went blue (it wasn’t black turnout):

“The real story behind Georgia, much more than demographic inflow, is just these enormous swings in the Atlanta suburbs, which make up most of the state. There are a bunch of precincts where Obama got 30 percent of the vote, where now Trump got 30 percent of the vote — absolutely wild swings in these highly educated suburbs. That’s most of the story.

In both 2018 and 2020, you see the Black share of the electorate dropping or staying steady, and the support for Democrats among Black and non-white voters in general also dropping, but then support among college-educated white people and turnout among college-educated white people being off the charts. And that is the story: We had already bottomed out among non-college educated whites, and had a lot of room to grow among college-educated whites.”

On the Democrats’ drop in Hispanic support:

“There was an initial tendency to say, “Oh, of course we lost Cubans in Florida,” or “In the Rio Grande Valley, they’re all very conservative.” But within Texas, we also fell tremendously in Hispanic precincts in Houston; there were substantial drops in Hispanic support for Democrats in the northeast, around Massachusetts; same thing in Osceola County, Florida, which is predominantly Puerto Ricans who live near Orlando. In large swaths of the country, there was a pretty broad-based decline. Looking at precincts in Miami-Dade specifically, the decline was basically the same for Cuban precincts and non-Cuban precincts — it was a little bit larger in Cuban precincts, but not by very much.

What’s really interesting is that this change was reflected down-ballot. That’s actually very surprising. In 2016, there were a lot of areas that swung 20 points against Democrats — rural, white working-class areas — but still voted for Democratic Senate, House and state legislative candidates. This year, in a lot of Hispanic areas, down-ballot Democrats got slaughtered. In Florida, we lost Hispanic House seats, and on the state-legislative level, it was pretty brutal. There was a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley [Texas’ 15th district] that we had won by 20 points in 2018 and 2016, and this time only won by 3 points. It’s possible that politics is just different now in 2020 than in 2016, but that really tells me that this was a change in party ID more than anything specifically that Trump or Biden did.

There is a broader trend, though, that as college-educated white people become a larger share of the Democratic coalition and a larger share of the Democratic voice, they do pull the party on cultural issues. Non-college educated white people have more culturally in common with working-class Black and working-class Hispanic voters. So, it should be unsurprising that as the cultural power of college-educated white people increases in the Democratic Party, non-white voters will move against us.”

On the coalition the Democrats need:

“We need to change the nature of our coalition if we want to wield legislative power. It’s possible that maybe the Republican Party will just really mess up. But we just had basically the most unpopular Republican president since Nixon, and Democrats were not able to capture the kind of legislative majorities we need to affect change. That highlights the need for us to try to change the nature of our coalition.

That’s not saying anything new to anyone who works in Democratic politics. Everyone from Bernie Sanders to Chuck Schumer to Nancy Pelosi — they would all love to have more working-class white votes. It’s a big question of how you actually do that, but if we care about enacting legislative majorities, the alternatives to us making these changes are bleak.”

On the relative importance of turnout:

“In general, I think people really overestimate the importance of turnout in high-turnout elections. It’s definitely true that turnout was higher in 2020 than in 2016. But it’s clear, looking at the county results, that for the most part, these new voters were Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal numbers.

The story for this turnout increase is less about the mobilization efforts of either Democrats or Republicans; it’s that interest in politics increased in general. You saw this when you polled people and asked how closely they’re following things — it was much higher than four years ago. We’ve had a four-year period where everyone has been very intensely interested in politics. And we’ve never really seen that kind of permanent mobilization before. It’s led to record fundraising numbers, and a record number of protests, and more people running for office, and politics has become higher-status….

I still think mobilization in general is good for Democrats, but it’s a much less clear trade than it used to be, and in whiter parts of the country, it really might not be true at all. In terms of the partisan implications, I expect the effects to be small. The reality is that most of the change from election to election is people changing their minds, not who voted.”

Food for thought. For many thoughts.


Experts Advise Biden ‘Don’t Fuel the Fire’ of Trump’s Election Lies

At The Guardian, Lois Beckett rounds up top “disinformation experts” and shares their advice to Vice President-elect Biden regarding Trump’s efforts to invalidate the presidential election. As Beckett writes,

Some experts on disinformation say that Biden’s current strategy of downplaying Trump’s behavior may be the correct one at the moment, even if it can be “frustrating to watch”, said Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at Data & Society Research Institute, who studies misinformation….“By not giving Trump the attention that he craves, it deflates a lot of the strength and power that Trump and his supporters have in this moment,” Lewis said.

Biden’s calm dismissal of Trump’s desperate ploy and the President-elect’s pivot to substantive issues of concern to all voters has been effective thus far. As Beckett adds,

Rather than attempting to respond point-by-point, the Biden campaign bluntly dismissed the story as “a conspiracy theory”, said Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. “It was done in a tone of, ‘We’re responding to this because we have to. We’re not giving it very much mental energy,’ whether or not that’s how they felt behind the scenes.”

“That particular strategy really did seem to work,” she said.

Having Biden acknowledge Trump’s norm-shattering behavior since the election, rather than try to ignore it, was important, Phillips said, but his quick pivot to talking about the issues facing Americans next, and the challenges the government needed to start dealing with, was “effective rhetorically, but also emotionally”.

Biden was responding “like an adult,” she said.

Beckett quotes other experts, who explain:

For the Biden team, “directly responding to any of these allegations at this stage is just adding more oxygen to the fire”, said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Shafiqah Hudson, an author and researcher who has studied online disinformation campaigns, said she would like to see Democrats take a stronger stance and condemn Trump’s actions “in the strongest possible terms.” But Biden’s response “is the sort of answer I would expect from someone who has the job of attempting to mend a fractured nation,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that other Democrats shouldn’t have more to say about it, as Beckett notes further:

…Democrats should keep explaining how the election process actually works, and what built-in checks and auditing are being done as votes are counted, said I’Nasah Crockett, a researcher and artist who has tracked manipulation and misinformation on social media.

“I think it would be great if Biden and his campaign took a very kindergarten approach to the situation that we’re in,” Crockett said. “If you’re working with little kids and you’re trying to get them to understand some basic concept, you have to keep repeating it, bringing it back to square one.”

Shireen Mitchell, a disinformation researcher and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women points out in Beckett’s article that Republicans’ lies about voter fraud target Black voters and urge invalidating their votes.

“They’re using coded language to say anyone other than white people are illegal voters,” Mitchell said. Trump’s attacks on voting by mail, which many Americans chose to do during a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black and brown people, is part of a long history of constantly evolving strategies to disenfranchise black Americans, she said.

Beckett notes further, “While social media users have been furiously debating whether it’s time to label Trump’s undermining of democracy as an attempt at a “coup”, disinformation experts said that framing might not be particularly useful at the moment.” Also,

Talking about a “coup” might speak to the concerns of some Americans, including those who have been following the news very closely, but it might not communicate that much to those who have been paying less attention, and it might alienate others, Phillips said…..“I think the problem is less that ‘coup’ is a strong word, than that people don’t know what a coup is,” Hudson said.

Trump attacked the integrity of the election well before the first ballot was even cast. As Beckett writes,

“This was a communications strategy before a single vote was cast,” Phillips said. Reminding Americans of the long timeline of Trump’s claims about the election “allows people to exercise their savvy, to sniff out bullshit. If someone has been seeding a lie before an event takes place, it should give a person pause.”

However, Beckett cautions, “Biden and the Democratic party should not overestimate the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump’s attacks – or the number of Americans who see the current system as legitimate, Crockett said: “The thing that worries me most is there’s a fundamental faith in institutions that I think mainstream Democrats have which is, honestly, idealistic at this point.”

Further, “If Trump escalates his refusal to concede, and if powerful Republican politicians continue to stand with him, it may not be enough to keep dismissing and deflecting attention from their behavior,” Beckett adds.

“Depending on how much this snowballs, there may be a time that [Biden] has to take it seriously,” Lewis said.

Evaluating Biden’s post-election communication strategy in perspective, the President-elect has handled Trump’s sore-loser petulance well, by keeping his comments focused on the pandemic and staffing his administration to address the critical concerns of Americans, instead of getting drawn into an  endless debate about the election — which is over.