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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: The Blue-ing of Virginia

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

Sabato’s Crystal Ball covers today’s state legislative elections in Virginia.

“In an era of political nationalization that is bleeding down the ballot even to state-level races, the best bet in all three states would be to go with partisanship. And that’s where we’re leaning: Our ratings for the gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi remain Leans Republican and, while we don’t issue ratings for specific state legislative chambers and races, our sense is that the Democrats are better-positioned than Republicans to win both the Virginia House of Delegates and (especially) the Virginia Senate…..

Virginia, driven by the growth of demographic groups favorable to the Democrats, is moving away from the Republicans. That change is coming specifically in many affluent, highly-educated suburban areas that used to vote Republican but now do not in large part because of a negative reaction to Trump’s candidacy and presidency. This has been enough to offset a Republican trend in the more rural, less diverse, and less populated western part of the state. Virginia’s overall trend toward the Democrats is in some ways decoupling it from its traditional political association with the conservative South and realigning it with the states of the Mid-Atlantic, such as Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey (which has elections of its own next week, as described below). To be clear, Virginia is not as Democratic as those states are, but its direction may be similar…..

Overall, the most important races in Virginia are being contested on turf that is, on paper, favorable to Democrats. Following the House remap, Clinton carried 56 of the state’s 100 districts, and Republicans currently hold seven of those districts. Democrats don’t hold any Trump-won seats. In the Senate, where districts have not been redrawn, Republicans hold four Clinton-won seats, while Democrats don’t hold any Trump-won seats. In fact, none of the 19 Democratic-held Senate seats (out of 40 total) appear flippable for Republicans….”

Teixeira: A Calmer Look at the Latest Battleground Polls

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

How Seriously Should We Take the New York Times/Siena Battleground Polls?

On one level, I think these polls fruitfully remind us that Trump is likely to be quite competitive in most battleground states. As has been widely noted, Biden, the candidate who runs strongest against Trump, has slender registered voter leads in these polls of 3 points or less in the key Rustbelt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (Oddly,Biden runs stronger in these polls in Arizona where they give him a 5 point lead.)

They also confirm that, at this point, Biden does run the strongest against Trump in these states and that the differential between Biden’s slim leads and the performance of other candidates like Warren and Sanders, while small, is enough to tip some of these states back in Trump’s direction. The significance of this differential has been cloaked by polling that has shown Biden farther ahead in these states, so that lagging his performance by a few points was not enough to tip the states in Trump’s direction.

That said, I do wonder about some of these results. Again, look at the three Rustbelt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: previous polling had Biden ahead of Trump by an average of 11 points in Michigan, 10 points in Pennsylvania and 7 points in Wisconsin. And this is in a national environment where Biden leads Trump by an average of 9 points. So the NYT/Sienna results are pretty different. (Note: the results shown below for MI include the NYT//Siena likely voter result, but this doesn’t really affect the comparison since the LV and RV results barely differed.)

That’s not to say they’re wrong. It could be the previous polls that were wrong. At any rate, if you scrutinize the NYT/Siena methodology document, it’s easy to see ways in which their approach could have introduced error–or corrected it! Impossible to tell.

So the safest thing is to treat this set of polls as a new data point, but not a definitive one. As always, it’s best to treat a single poll’s findings in the context of data and trend from other sources.

Skelley: One Year Out, Dems Face a Narrow Path to a Senate Majority

At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley writes:

“Republicans are favored to hold on to the Senate, as they currently have a 53-to-47 seat edge, which means Democrats must gain a net of four seats for outright control, or three seats and the vice presidency, as the vice president casts the tiebreaking vote. What’s more, the competitive races in the Senate in 2020 will probably be on Republican-leaning turf, which should give the GOP a baseline advantage. However, Democrats’ silver lining is that the GOP has to defend 23 of the 35 seats on the ballot next year, and election forecasters Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report currently rate Democrats’ opportunities to pick up seats more favorably than Republicans’. (Though Republicans, of course, can win the Senate by simply hanging on to the seats they have.)

And keep in mind that the presidential race at the top of the ticket may be critical in determining which party wins control because of just how nationalized our elections have become. In the 2016 election, for instance, every state with a Senate race backed the same party for both president and Senate for the first time ever.

Skelley provides a chart showing the current “partisan lean” of every 2020 U.S. Senate race, and notes that “all five GOP senators defending seats in states with a partisan lean of less than R+10 saw their approval ratings worsen in the third quarter of 2019, according to data from Morning Consult. And all but one — Arizona Sen. Martha McSally — has a net negative rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating).”

At this political moment, polls indicate that the most vulnerable Republican Senators include Tillis (NC) and Ernst (IA), in addition to McSally. Skelley rates the Gardner (CO) and Collins (ME) races in toss-up territory. Plus there is an open seat in GA, where Dems may benefit from favorable demographic trends since 2016.

As for Democratic seats, Skelley notes that “in currently competitive contests (that is, those not rated as “safe” for either party), only Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith saw a decline in her net approval, although it remains fairly positive overall (+13).” Doug Jones (MS) has the toughest race, followed by Democratic Sen. Gary Peters (MI). Dems may need a landslide presidential win to regain a majority of the U.S.  Senate.

Absent that landslide, Dems have a pretty narrow path to regaining a Senate majority. Sure it could happen, with some strong candidates. But Dems may profit more from studying how gubernatorial candidates Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum nearly won their 2018 statewide races in GA and FL respectively.

Elections Next Month Critical for Public Health in Four States

From “Health care is on the ballot in state elections starting next week: Thousands of lives are at stake in mostly ignored upcoming elections” by Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

…A recent study from four researchers — University of Michigan economist Sarah Miller; University of California, Los Angeles public health scholar Laura Wherry; National Institutes of Health’s Sean Altekruse; and Norman Johnson with the US Census Bureau — estimates that failure to expand Medicaid leads to about 15,600 extra deaths per year just among people ages 55-64.

After the passage of the ACA, Democratic states mostly took the expansion money, adding over 7 million more Americans to insurance rolls in recent years. GOP-run states mostly didn’t, though a handful of GOP governors have accepted expansion funding but done so under waiver systems that let them impose heavy work requirements and other administrative burdens on recipients.

Originally, the ACA stipulated that states that failed to expand Medicaid would lose their existing federal funding, which would have made expansion all but inevitable. But a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling in which the five conservative justices were joined by Elena Kagan struck down that punitive aspect of ACA expansion as unconstitutional.

The decision set off a years-long series of state-by-state battles with very real stakes. Next week several of those fights are coming to a head.

Yglesias notes that November’s governorship elections in Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia will determine whether or not hundreds of thousands of low and moderate-income people in those states will have access to life-savng health care. He explains that “Leaders in the four states have rejected or put tough restrictions on extremely generous federal matching funds allocated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to extend their Medicaid programs to cover families earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.” Democratic victories in those states would mean new hope for thousands of seriously-ill people in thiose states.

“In Kentucky and Louisiana,” Yglesias adds, “Republican candidates want to keep or set new work requirements for Medicaid recipients while Democrats want to lift or prevent them.” In Mississippi Democrats have “a strong candidate in longtime Attorney General Jim Hood, and the (scant) polling has shown a tight race between him and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves…the mere fact that it’s such a long-shot race would send a clear signal about the potency of the Medicaid expansion as an issue.” In Virginia,

Republicans currently hold narrow two-seat advantages in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, but [Democratic Governor] Northam carried strong majorities in districts for both houses during his 2017 election. That, plus strong fundraising and polling that seems to show Trump has become even less popular in Virginia over time, makes Democrats very optimistic about the ability to flip both chambers despite the cloud of scandal hanging over their statewide elected officials.

The implications of a possible flip in control are wide-ranging, especially that they include control over the redistricting process after the 2020 census, but, of course, extend to health care. A Democratic state legislature would likely lift those restrictions on eligibility and could even join other Democratic-run states in experimenting with larger expansions of government-provided health insurance.

“Virginia could be the perfect example of how Democrats, if they’re disciplined and take the long view, can flip a state legislature that’s been gerrymandered in two cycles,” says Chris Bachman, founder of Virginia Matters and a digital political consultant to several in the class of 2017, as well as some 2019 hopefuls,” Joan Walsh reports at The Nation. Walsh adds that women candidates and activists are leading the Democratic surge in Virginia, which provides “a test case of whether they could undo the damage of 10 years of ignoring state legislative races…Nancy Guy, who’s running for another Virginia Beach delegate seat, put it this way at a Saturday canvass launch: “Virginia has the chance to lead the nation again—to be the first state in the South to flip Democratic in modern times. We can join the 21st Century from the 19th!”

It’s encouraging that, despite all of the noise about impeachment and Trump’s distractions du jour, Democrats have kept a sustained focus on the most pivotal issue for millions of Americans — health security. That’s why next month’s elections could set the stage for a Democratic landslide in 2020.

Teixeira: On the Other Hand, Trump Is Definitely in Serious Trouble, Perhaps Most Importantly with White Noncollege Women

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 this before and I’ll say it again. The key demographic in the 2020 election is likely to be white noncollege women. If Trump loses enough support among this group, he’s done.

More evidence for this comes from the latest Democracy Corps/Voter Participation Center survey. This phone/web survey was conducted in what they refer to as the Presidential/Senate battleground, which includes these 17 states, divided into four regions:

Northeast (ME, NH, PA),
Midwest (IA, MI, MN, OH, WI)
South (FL, GA, NC, VA)
West (AZ, CO, NM, NV, TX)

For those keeping score, these are the 15 states I covered in my recent report on The Path to 270 in 2020 plus New Hampshire and Maine.

Even correcting for the perhaps excessive optimism that at times creeps into the memo on the survey, the quantitative findings are impressive and don’t strike me as outliers compared to other polls. Both the memo and accompanying slide show are worth looking at but I want to focus here on the striking findings on white noncollege women.

“Trump’s weakened position is led first and foremost by the white working class women who form nearly a quarter of the electorate and over half the white working class. Nationally, it was white working class women and men who shifted the most in the high turnout 2018 mid-terms (13 and 14 points, respectively). It was news when our combined data for the summer of 2019 showed both Biden and Warren bringing the Trump margin down to about 10 points.

But this poll in the presidential and Senate battleground shows both Biden and Warren running even with the white working class women (see chart below)— which would be historic, indeed, wiping out Trump’s 2016 margin of 27 points with them.

Both candidates are losing among white working class men by a stunning 32 points, but that is roughly the same as in 2018. Trump has not regained his 2016 position with the white working class men where he won by 48 points. Here, Democrats have gone from losing by more than 3- to-1 to 2-to-1. There is no evidence that Trump’s attempts to rally the base are working, at least with the men, and indeed, may be pushing the women away.”

Trust me. If this pans out, it’s big.

Teixeira: Is Trump Doomed? Probably Not

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

Is Trump Doomed? Probably Not.

EJ Dionne uses his latest column in the Washington Post to tackle this issue, in the process discussing the implications of my latest report.

“The situation Democrats face is…more treacherous than they might want to believe, given that a flailing Trump seems to be losing the messaging war on impeachment rather badly. Yes, the public seems ready to throw Trump out of office. But will Democrats make that easy or hard?

A report released last week by the Center for American Progress sheds important light on the party’s choices. One of its key findings will cheer Trump’s foes: If every demographic group votes as it did in 2016, Trump will lose the popular vote by an even greater margin than he did last time and fall short in the three states that put him over the top: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Why? Because, write Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, the study’s authors, “the nonwhite share of the eligible electorate will increase by 2 percentage points, almost entirely from increases in the shares of Hispanics, Asians, and voters of other races. That will be balanced by a commensurate decrease in the share of white noncollege eligible voters.”

But Democrats should not think that victory is already in the bank. The electoral college decides who is president, and Teixeira and Halpin note that these demographic shifts alone would produce only very narrow margins in the three key states. If Democrats fail to convert some of Trump’s voters or increase turnout among the faithful, the party’s candidate would still be at risk.

“Whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Teixeira said in an interview, “he or she must do two things above all: reach out to the white working class and increase black turnout.”….

As for Trump, Teixeira sees his most promising path to reelection as “increasing his share of the white ­working-class vote and also increasing turnout in this group,” while holding down his losses among the white ­college-educated.

So if Trump’s approach to impeachment seems undisciplined, its main purpose is to incite rage, energy and thus turnout among those who put him in the White House in the first place — Republican base voters plus white working-class swing voters. “Is his strategy working?” Teixeira asked. “Probably not. But there may be method in his madness.”

Which is why Trump’s madness will continue. Democrats cannot afford to assume that this alone will doom him.”

No they cannot. And if they do, they may well live to regret their complacency.

Teixeira: Trump Has No Room for Error

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 just published an excellent analysis on the Atlantic site based on my new Path to 270 in 2020 report. If you can’t read my report, at least read this article! Brownstein:

“The risk in Donald Trump’s base-first electoral strategy is only rising—because the size of his base is shrinking.

Working-class whites are on track to continue declining as a share of eligible voters in 2020, according to a study released today by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. In turn, two groups much more resistant to Trump will keep growing: Nonwhite voters will swell substantially, while college-educated white voters will modestly increase.

These shifts in the electorate’s composition may seem small, but they could have big implications next year. The report projects that these demographic changes alone could provide Democrats a slim Electoral College majority by reversing Trump’s narrow victories in the three blue-wall states that keyed his 2016 victory: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Indeed, the shifts could be enough to narrowly tip these states back toward the Democrats even if college- and non-college-educated whites and minorities behave exactly as they did in 2016—if their turnout rates stay the same and if they split their votes between Trump and the Democratic nominee in exactly the same proportions as they did then.

And, if all other voting patterns hold equal, these changes alone could add another percentage point to the Democratic nominee’s margin of victory in the national popular vote, giving that candidate an advantage over Trump of more than 3 points. All told, the study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, underscores how narrow a pathway the president is following headed into 2020.

If Democrats “are relying on demographic change to win, you are praying nothing else will change, and you are hoping to squeak out a victory by the tiniest margins,” Teixeira says. But it is a “bonus” for Democrats, he explains: “Even if [Trump] accomplished exactly what he did in 2016, he would probably lose the election. So he not only has to do that; he has to try to do more.”….

Given the resistance Trump has faced from minorities and college-educated whites, especially women, the report’s findings highlight how much he will depend next year on maximizing both turnout and his margins among white voters without a college degree. Yet both goals could prove challenging. Though Trump remains extremely popular with non-college-educated white men, an array of polls shows him suffering erosion among white women without a college degree, a group that notably moved away from the GOP in 2018.

And even if Trump, as he’s shown the capacity to do, can further juice turnout among non-college-educated whites, especially outside of urban areas, those gains could be offset by higher engagement among the groups that are growing in the electorate. That’s what happened last year: Working-class whites turned out at elevated levels for the midterms, but that increase was swamped by a spike in participation among college-educated whites and minorities. As a result, blue-collar whites plummeted by 4 percentage points as a share of the total vote compared with the 2014 midterms, according to calculations by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in voting behavior. That’s an unusually large decline.

Something like that could happen again in 2020, Teixeira notes. “They can shrink [more] if everyone else comes out—that is the nature of the beast,” Teixeira says. “This is part and parcel of the challenge that Trump will face. He is utterly dependent on this group, but he can’t really stop their ongoing decline as a share of voters … In a high-turnout election, things may turn out even worse” for them, given the growth among other demographic groups.

The report makes clear that Trump could again manage a narrow Electoral College win, even if he loses the popular vote. (Teixeira believes that the demographic trends virtually ensure he won’t win the most voters overall.) Non-college-educated whites, even after their expected decline, will still represent a much larger share of the total vote in the key Rust Belt battlegrounds than they do nationally. And in many of the Sun Belt battlegrounds, Democrats have struggled to turn out growing minority populations, failed to match their gains elsewhere among college-educated whites, or both. The strong economy might also allow Trump to suppress defections among college-educated white men and possibly make some gains among black and Latino men.

Taken together, these factors could mean, as I wrote on Election Day in 2016, that the Democratic coalition in the Rust Belt again crumbles faster than it coalesces in the Sun Belt, allowing Trump to break through to another win. But the study also pinpoints the inexorable math pressing on Trump’s exclusionary vision for the GOP: His most likely path to a second term will require him to squeeze even bigger advantages out of dwindling groups.

Trump’s incendiary populism has been unable to reverse the tides of demographic change that, like an ocean encroaching on a beach, are diminishing the constituencies most drawn to him. And that unstinting current of change leaves him with even less margin for error in 2020 than in 2016.”

Meyerson: An Economic Case for Medicare for All

Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, has a post, “How Elizabeth Warren Can Address the Medicare for All Question,” which merits a read from those who want to make sure Dems have a credible consensus on health care reform when the 2020 election rolls around.

Meyerson notes that “Elizabeth Warren is now dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on her own Medicare for All plan, which she has pledged to release shortly. As David Dayen astutely notes today, the plans put forth by Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’s primary opponents—chiefly, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg—will, if they’re any good, end up costing about as much as the Medicare for All proposals they’ve disparaged.”

Meyerson emphasizes Warren’s point that “the great majority of Americans pay far more for their private insurance than they would in higher taxes, though what they pay now is largely concealed from them because their employer routinely takes it out of their pay.” The media could do a better job of addressing the issue with sound research. Medicare for All supporters need some better soundbites to make the case that their plan is economically sound.

Top poll analysts have noted that public support for ‘Medicare for All’ lags far behind support for ‘Medicare for all who want it.” Some of that skepticism is due to the way the poll questions are framed, some of it emanates from the difficulty of evaluating and explaining economic factors. But most of it comes from a public perception that freedom of choice is important for health care.

Meyerson asks, “How can Elizabeth Warren address the major savings workers can win by shifting to Medicare for All?” He shares this quote attributed to Steve Tarzynski, president of the California Physicians Alliance:

Right now, you and your family pay $18,000 a year in premiums for employer-sponsored insurance that doesn’t even cover everything and that you could lose at any time. Plus another $2,000 in deductibles before it even kicks in and another $1,000 in co-pays. That’s about $21,000 every year for a basically defective product. That’s the “private tax” you’re paying right now. And your choice of doctor is restricted and you can even lose access to your doctor at any time. All that would go away with Medicare for All—no more premiums, no more deductibles, and no more co-pays. And all the care you and your family need will be covered and can never be taken away. You can choose any doctor you want. Yes. You’ll pay $5,000 more in taxes for all of that. But it will put $16,000 back in your pocket. And it doesn’t even include the share of the premium that your employer pays now that you could get back in wages and salary. Would you settle for that?

That’s about as good a one-paragraph economic case for Medicare for All as can be made. The question is, can it be sold to the public during the next year? For high-information voters – those who seriously read and think about it with an open mind – maybe so. For low-information, time-challenged and otherwise distracted voters, probably not.

The Democratic presidential nominee should build a consensus between the two proposals that can unify Democrats and progressives, perhaps including incentives for private insurance policy-holders to buy in to Medicare. The idea is to win a healthy majority of voters who can say, “the Democrats’ health care reform plan doesn’t do everything I want, but it’s the best one out there.”

Teixeira: The Path to 270 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:

The Path to 270 in 2020!

It’s coming out this Thursday from CAP, authored by myself and my colleague John Halpin!

In the report we discuss in detail what the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may, needs to do to put together the requisite 270 EVs, as well as what Trump needs to do to win a second term. Strictly objective and based on hard numbers, we look at the overall national picture and no fewer than 15 potential swing states, breaking down R and D objectives in each state. The states we cover are Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, Something for everyone.

So look for it on Thursday. There will also be an Atlantic article by Ron Brownstein covering our report on the same day but I know you’re going to want to read the whole thing!

“Our analysis examines how a Democratic candidate and Republican incumbent Donald Trump might fare in terms of demographic and geographic support in 2020. It focuses on the electoral potential of the Democratic coalition using 2016 as a baseline, comparing that with the potential support for Trump in relation to his 2016 performance.

This much is clear: Despite demographic trends that continue to favor the Democrats, and Trump’s unpopularity among wide swathes of the electorate, it will still be difficult for the Democrats to prevail against an incumbent President who has presided over a growing, low-unemployment economy and retains strong loyalty among key sectors of the electorate. Conversely, Trump’s continuously high level of unpopularity does make him unusually vulnerable for an incumbent President. The question then becomes how, given the current political environment and structure of voter inclinations, each side can take advantage of their opportunities and reach 270 EVs.

We begin with a look at the broad 2020 national picture for both the popular vote and, most important, overall Electoral College vote results. We then proceed to a state-by-state breakdown of how a winning electoral vote coalition might be assembled by either side.”

Linkon and Russo: Trump’s Racism Empowered by his Middle, Upper Class Supporters

The following atricle by Sherry Linkon and John Russo of the Georgetown University Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and co-authors of “Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown,” is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

What do you picture when someone refers to the “Trump’s base”? If you’ve watched television coverage of his rallies or read any of the dozens of articles in which reporters and commentators try to explain Trump’s appeal, then you probably imagine white people wearing “MAGA” hats and t-shirts chanting “Lock her up” or “send her back” in an arena in a mid-size Midwestern or Southern city. You might assume they include laid-off industrial workers, residents of declining cities or rural areas who view immigrants as a threat, people who spend their weekends at gun shows, and uninsured people who resent the “government intrusion” of the Affordable Care Act.

This image might come to mind when you read that polls show support for Trump increasing when he tweets racist jibes at women of color in the U.S. Congress or calls a black Representative’s district a “rat and rodent infested mess.” While some shake their heads in frustration at these poor foolish dupes, some also feel some empathy. It isn’t their fault they were “left behind” by the global economy or laid low by the exploitations of the opioid scandal. They just aren’t smart enough to see that they’re being manipulated.

As several recent articles have pointed out, this story is wrong – though it’s probably reassuring to educated urban middle class and elites. It suggests that the problem with this country lies somewhere out there, among people who can easily be labelled as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, old-fashioned, and most important, working-class.