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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Teixeira: Friends Don’t Let Friends Take the Exit Polls Too Seriously

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

My friend, former colleague and co-author Rob Griffin nails it in this Post Monkey Cage piece. Read it and shake your head sadly. Ah what fools we mortals be….
Note: NEP is the National Election Pool, the nom de guerre of the exit polls.

“[T]he NEP’s estimates of who voted — what percentage of voters fall into any given demographic group — appear to be wrong. This kind of problem has plagued the NEP in the past and, apparently, it is an issue again this year. If the NEP’s estimate of who voted is incorrect, then the vote margins — the percent by which each demographic group voted for each candidate — could be incorrect. That can distort our picture of how different groups voted. And if the numbers for how different groups voted Trump/Biden are wrong, they shouldn’t be used to try to explain what happened in this election.

This year the NEP suggests that just 65 percent of voters were White and 34 percent were White without a four-year college degree. These estimates are dramatically smaller than what other research has found during prior elections. For example, the States of Change project — a series of reports that I co-authored with Ruy Teixeira and Bill Frey — found that 74 percent of voters were White in 2016, and 44 percent were White non-college. These estimates are identical to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of a large voter-validated survey.

What can that tell us about this year’s voters? We know that the relative turnout of different groups does not typically change dramatically between elections. If the relative turnout rates of different groups stayed the same, long-term demographic trends would lead us to expect 72 percent of 2020 voters to be White and 41 percent to be Whites without a college degree. For the NEP’s estimates of 65 and 34 percent to be correct, the relative turnout rates of different racial groups would have to have changed substantially and in ways that are not believable…..

I find that the NEP implies that 66 percent of White Americans turned out in the last election. This is just barely higher than the implied turnout rates of Hispanic Americans (63 percent) and notably lower than the implied turnout rate of Americans who are Asian or belong to another racial and ethnic group (74 percent). That’s out of line with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, widely considered to be one of the best sources of information about the U.S. electorate. The CPS has consistently shown that White citizens cast ballots at rates higher than those groups.”


Metzgar: Cultural and Political Diversity in the White Working-Class

The following article by Jack Metzgar, former president of the Working-Class Studies Association and author of the forthcoming No One Right Way: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society (Cornell University Press), is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Influential political analyst Ron Brownstein thinks American politics is all about answering this question: “How long can Paducah tell Seattle what to do?”

The question resonates because metro areas vote so differently from small town and rural areas and because our electoral-college leftover from slavery (like the Senate) gives these non-metro places outsized influence in our politics. Regionally, large majorities on the coasts vote Democratic while the South and Midwest are majority Republican. But to Brownstein’s readers in The Atlantic, Paducah (population 23,000 and in Kentucky) likely also connotes “hick” or “hillbilly,” terms that are stand-ins for “poorly educated” whites without bachelor’s degrees — or the so-called white working class.

Brownstein presents the core conflict in American politics as between a backward-looking, aggrieved “coalition of restoration” (Paducah) and a forward-looking, virtuous “coalition of transformation” (Seattle). The unstated assumption is that highly educated folks, the transformers, are the norm as well as the ideal, whereas poorly educated whites are ignorant and backward at best, or deplorable at worst. Those whites seemed to prove that again last Tuesday by voting 64 to 35 for Donald J. Trump. (All 2020 election results here are from preliminary and not entirely reliable Edison exit polls as reported in The New York Times.)

At this moment it’s pretty tempting for us highly educated folks to think that all Trump voters are deplorable people resisting the important transformations we are all busy working toward. But there are different transformations afoot and they’re not all positive. And there’s also some restoration we could use a lot more of.

Teixeira: Who Restored the Blue Wall?

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

I would say that most of the commentary around what drove Biden’s retaking of the Rustbelt three–Michigan, Wisconsin and now apparently Pennsylvania–has been focused more around white college voters than their more numerous noncollege counterparts. This is usually illustrated by reference to some suburban counties who swung big toward Biden (conveniently forgetting that many of these counties have large numbers of white noncollege voters, not just white college voters).

This fits a long-standing narrative about this election but is it right? I don’t think so though I, like anyone else, have to rely on very imperfect data at this point for assessing this claim. Right now, I am using the AP/NORC Votecast data and comparing it to States of Change data from 2016. This is not ideal but better than using the exit polls, which have some truly unbelievable estimates of voter composition at this point and will be probably be reweighted to a fare-thee-well in the near future. Eventually, States of Change will have 2020 estimates to use in such a comparison but that won’t be for quite awhile. I am hopeful Catalist, whose data are very solid, will release their estimates (with comparisons to 2016) much sooner and we can sift through those. But for now, we got what we got.

Start with national margin shift figures:

White noncollege +7
White college 0
Fwiw, which is not much, exit poll comparisons are consistent with this pattern.
White college +2
White noncollege +7
White college +2
White noncollege +7
White college +9
White noncollege +4

So there are significant white noncollege shifts nationally in all three of these states and only in Michigan is the white college shift actually larger than the white noncollege shift. And keep in mind that–especially in these three states–the proportion of white noncollege voters is much higher than the proportion of white college voters.

More and better data are needed to settle this question but at the least it appears to call into question the standard media narrative. While Biden didn’t carry the white working class vote–nobody in their right mind thought he would–he did accomplish his objective, significantly cutting into Trump’s margins with these voters and carrying these states.

Dems’ Failure to Flip State Legislatures Needs Review

Writing at Vox, Jerusalem Demsas provides a painful report, “Democrats fail to make gains in state legislative races in advance of 2021 redistricting.” Subtitled “Democrats point to gerrymandering as Republicans successfully fend off state legislative challenges,” Demsas explains:

This year, banking on a blue wave, Democrats staked out an ambitious map aiming to spend $50 million to win legislative majorities in GOP-held chambers and gain control of key chambers in advance of next year’s redistricting fights. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) targeted both chambers in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kansas as well as the Iowa and Michigan Houses and the Minnesota Senate.

In the end, Democrats raised $88 million to Republicans’ $60 million — but they don’t have much to show for it.

Votes in Arizona are still being counted, but if those chambers remain in GOP hands, Democrats will have failed to flip a single state chamber. In fact, the only chambers that will have changed hands are the New Hampshire House and Senate, which flipped to Republican control. This is a surprising defeat for Democrats — particularly as New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly reelected Democrats to the US Congress and voted for former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide margin.

According to the NCSL, this means that out of 98 chambers (not counting Nebraska’s unicameral and facially nonpartisan body), “59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats.” And when it comes to unified control — meaning one party controls both the legislature and the governorship — Republicans have the edge holding 23 states to Democrats’ 15.

Democrats likely weren’t the only ones surprised by this outcome. In its October overview, Cook Political Report wrote: “ominously for Republicans, the GOP holds 14 of the 19 vulnerable chambers on our list. This suggests that the Democrats are well-positioned to net up to a half-dozen new chambers this fall, and more if it’s a genuine blue wave.” Cook pointed to Biden’s “strong” running in key states, expecting this to “boost down-ballot candidates.”

The painful Kicker:

If Democratic losses this year are due to 2010’s redistricting at the hands of the GOP, it’s hard to see their path forward as Republicans are yet again set to spearhead the redistricting process next year. The DLCC believes their losses are due to the map being “rigged” and point to gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts as proof.

No doubt there were individual success stories for Dems in state legislative races. But, after all of the valid points about GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression have been made, Dems will have to do some soul-searching about their brand and how it is perceived at the local level- and then get busy creating a beter plan for 2022.

Teixeira: Some (Very) Preliminary Thoughts on the Election

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

Results aren’t all in, the demographic data are iffy and even contradictory between sources but….

1. Biden probably underperformed Clinton among Latinos (black vote less clear, but looking at AP Votecast–I don’t trust the exits– and comparing to 2016 States of Change, margins look stable).

2. This suggests that lumping in Latinos as “people of color” who will cleave to the Democrats simply because they are “anti-racist” is not a useful approach for Dems.

3. Democrats therefore need to shift their offer to Latinos to more bread and butter/upward mobility issues where D positions are a good fit (and what the median Latino voter really wants).

4. Not being able to count on outsize majorities of the Latino vote implies that making inroads among white voters will be key to the Biden coalition going forward. Indeed, that is why he will (likely) be elected president, not due to the nonwhite vote, especially Latinos. This is not just white college voters but also white noncollege voters, where the pro-D shifts appear to have actually been larger.

To be revisited as more data come in…..

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Adam Levy, Ethan Cohen and Liz Stark report that “Republicans are narrowing the early voting gap in these states,” and write: “In the last week, voters under 30 have slightly increased their share of Florida’s early voting electorate, from 8% to 10%. Other age groups have also seen small increases, further diminishing the dominance of Florida’s senior voters 65 or older, who made up 45% of early voters a week ago, but now make up only 39%….Florida’s early voting electorate is slightly more diverse than at this time four years ago. Hispanic voters’ share of the pre-Election Day vote has increased from 14% four years ago to 16% now, and Black voters’ share has ticked slightly up from 12% then to 13% now. The vote from White voters is down three points from this point in 2016….Republicans are narrowing the gap in pre-election ballots cast. Democrats currently lead by four points. A week ago, it was nine points. Party advantage is not predictive of outcome — but nationwide polling shows many Republicans also prefer voting in person on Election Day rather than early.” In North Carolina, “Trump won the Tar Heel State by more than three percentage points in 2016….Young people are continuing to vote in large numbers in North Carolina. Last week, voters under 30 made up about 11% of early voters but that’s now ticked up slightly to over 12%….Democrats have lost some of their lead in the pre-election vote. Last week, they had a 12-point advantage over Republicans in ballots cast. Currently, it stands at eight points….By race, White voters account for the majority of ballots already cast in North Carolina at 72%, followed by Black voters with the second largest share of those ballots at 22%. This remains nearly identical to the racial composition of the early voting electorate four years ago.”

The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy makes a case that fears that the Supreme Court will steal the election are not well-grounded: “For all its flaws and added complications this year from the coronavirus pandemic, the US elections system has basic features to ensure a high correlation between the vote that is cast and the result that is announced….It is highly decentralized, with thousands of jurisdictions staffed by members of each major party, all using different technologies and independently reporting results, which can be reviewed or recounted, with both sides and the media watching out for irregularities before, during and after election day. It might take awhile, and the tragic story of disenfranchisement in the United States continues, but elections officials have vowed to deliver an accurate count.” This is not to deny the effects of voter suppression, which are glaringly evident in the unnecessary long lines and closed polls in predominantly African-American communities in many states. That’s where the election is more likely to be stolen than in a Supreme Court ruling.

Nonetheless, court rulings can have an effect, as MSNBC’s Steve Benen notes, “Politico had a related report today, adding, “Never before in modern presidential politics has a candidate been so reliant on wide-scale efforts to depress the vote as Trump. “In Philadelphia, his campaign is videotaping voters as they return ballots. In Nevada, it’s suing to force elections officials in Nevada’s Democratic-heavy Clark County to more rigorously examine ballot signatures for discrepancies that could disqualify them. The Trump campaign has sued to prevent the expanded use of ballot drop boxes in Ohio, sought to shoot down an attempt to expand absentee ballot access in New Hampshire and tried to intervene against a lawsuit brought by members of the Navajo Nation in Arizona which sought to allow ballots received from reservations after Election Day because of mail delays. And that’s just a few of its efforts….The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank added in his new column, “This election isn’t just to choose a president and a Congress. It’s a referendum on the right to vote itself. The once-proud Republican Party has determined, correctly, that its only way to prevail in this election is to keep people from voting.”

David Wasserman argues that “Yes, the Polls Could Be Wrong. but That Could Help Biden, Not Just Trump” at The Cook Political Report: “Fundamentally, the current polling in the 2020 race is different from 2016 in three important ways….First, Biden’s lead is larger and much more stable than Clinton’s was at this point. Second, there are far fewer undecided and third-party voters left to woo — reducing the chances of a late break toward one side….Third, the scores of district and state-level polls conducted by the parties to make spending decisions in down-ballot races generally align with national polls showing Trump running behind his 2016 pace, including in key states. In 2016, these same polls had shown flashing red warning signs for Hillary Clinton, particularly in districts with lots of white working-class voters….But in light of recent evidence, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Biden defies polls by winning a higher share of the vote in Arizona than Wisconsin — or breaks through in Texas more than he does in Ohio.”

Working America: Where do Biden’s chances look strongest?

The following post by Matt Morrison of Working America is cross-posted from a Working America e-blast:

We are six days out until voting ends on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The ever-present noise machine has the volume turned all the way up, and it’s even louder if you live in a battleground state. But all of us are being buffeted by the news of the day: Everyone around Pence is COVID-positive and he is still campaigning; Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in to RBG’s seat on the Supreme Court and each day there is a new record for COVID cases in the U.S. After all that, Trump’s tax returns, which show an astonishing level of indebtedness and near complete tax avoidance, while perhaps offering a greater explanation of his motivations, are no longer a topic of discussion.

If you are wondering when it will all end, consider what battleground state voters, who don’t necessarily even like politics, think of the deluge they’re experiencing. That, in part, explains why so many have rushed to cast ballots early (they know we will stop calling them).
So, let’s look at what we know about the state of the race today.

Where Do Biden’s Chances Look Strongest?

Last Sunday, Working America surveyed 38,871 battleground-state voters who have already cast their votes and compared those results to responses from people yet to vote whom we have surveyed in the last month. This research approach means we can look beyond the simple ballot returns by voter partisanship or aggregate polling data. By dividing up survey data between those who have voted and those likely voters who have yet to cast ballots, we can get clearer insight on the range of election outcomes.

First, we compared how many ballots have been cast in this year’s contest versus the total 2016 turnout. We found that it’s likely that a majority of the total vote is already in across a handful of states, while others are moving at a slower pace. (Of course, a big unknown is whether voter turnout will surge or decrease and if it does, among which voters, in the last few days — hence we are not making projections on the final tally.)

Next, we looked at how the race breaks among early voters. One of the important distinctions between our data and some of the voter-file-based reports is that we see the Biden margin increasing more than partisan identity would suggest virtually everywhere. The difference is that we are reflecting what voters shared with us, while other reports simply use the probable vote choice based on voter file data.

We can also examine where the race stands among those who have yet to vote. Here, the picture is less favorable for Biden, (but still not bad). In states such as Arizona and Michigan, it is notable that Biden is running even with or slightly behind Trump in the remaining vote — a promising indication, especially when combined with his strong leads among early voters. But other states like Florida will be closer calls.

These data tell us that while Democrats are voting earlier and Republicans are voting later in the election cycle, Trump has a steep hill to climb in certain states.

How We (And You) Are Shaping the Outcome

But, more than simply reporting on electoral outcomes, Working America is working to shape them.

Using our 2020 playbook, Working America has fully deployed its electoral outreach program. We continue to reach voters across racial, geographic and political divides to move them to support Biden and pro-worker Democrats up and down the ballot. The map shows where the Working America program has already been making the difference this cycle. For example, if recent testing results are fully replicated on Election Day, we will add 81,212 votes in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won by 44,292 votes in 2016. This is just one part of a national program that’s adding hundreds of thousands of Biden votes, as well as down-ticket candidate supporters.

As a down payment on that substantial vote gain, we can confirm we have already banked 24,854 extra Biden votes (from just one program we evaluated) based on the survey conducted Sunday among early voters. We’re picking up every vote possible and continuing to focus on the interests and concerns of voters all the way through Election Day and beyond. Keep up the good work.

In solidarity,


Russo: Why Trump Will Lose Ohio

The following article by John Russo of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

It is always dangerous to publicly predict the outcome of a presidential election, especially in a purple state like Ohio. But I’ve done it twice, in 2011 and 2016, months in advance, when both of my predicted winners, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, respectively, were behind.

Photo by Alex Brandon, Trump speaking at a rally at the Toledo airport
This year, I am predicting that Trump will lose in Ohio. That might seem like a somewhat safe bet, since the most recent Real Clear Politics polls for Ohio show Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a very slight lead. Then again, at this point in 2016 the Real Clear Politics average showed Trump ahead by less than 2 percent, and Hillary Clinton ultimately lost Ohio by 8 points. So it’s worth considering how the Democrats will overcome the political ineptitude they displayed in 2016 and—as was not the case in the rest of the nation—2018, when the “Democratic Party left Ohio.”

The answer lies in changing demographics, Trump’s failures, the shifting views of some evangelicals, and problems in the Ohio Republican Party.

Teixeira: The White Noncollege Shift to Biden by Age

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

I have frequently noted here the large scale and political significance of the white noncollege shift toward Biden relative to Trump’s performance in 2016. It’s an interesting question what parts of the white noncollege voting pool are responsible for this shift. One way to look at it is by age–is it younger or older white noncollege voters who are driving this shift?

I looked at this using the UCLA + Democracy Fund Nationscape survey data (which includes about 1800 likely white noncollege voters per week) since September 1 and comparing the white noncollege Trump-Biden vote by age to the Trump-Clinton white noncollege by age split from 2016, as estimated by the States of Change project.

What I found is quite eye-opening. At least by this comparison, the shifts we are seeing are by no means uniform across the white noncollege population.. Older white noncollege voters, especially seniors, are heavily driving the shift, while the shifts among younger white noncollege voters are much more modest.

white noncollege 18-29: +6 toward Biden
white noncollege 30-44: +3 toward Biden
white noncollege 45-64: +19 toward Biden
white noncollege 65+: +32 toward Biden

Political Strategy Notes

In “A Crusade for Something Noble: Americans are coming together to save our Republic, right now. And it means something” at The Bulwark, James Carville writes, “I know it’s difficult for so many of us to feel hope in this moment, which seems so incomprehensibly dark. We are a nation deeply wounded from a liberated virus. We’re struggling with systemic racism. And we’ve endured lashing mental abuse, time and again, from the president of the United States. But it is not a darker moment than what Ike saw when he looked across the English Channel on June 6, 1944 at the continent of Europe, dominated by the Nazis…So I see a light ahead. Just days away, a unified and electrified coalition of Americans, coming together like our country did in World War II, standing united to send a message that will be heard around the world to all those who look with expectant hope to the America that led the crusade more than half a century ago: That America has not succumbed to a demagogue and would-be autocrat. That we have overcome. And that Donald J. Trump is not who we are…In just a short time, America will go from its darkest hour to its finest hour.”

From Harry Enten’s “9 days to go: Biden’s lead over Trump is holding, while Clinton’s was collapsing at this point” at CNN Politics: “The clock is running out on President Donald Trump’s chances for a comeback. He continues to trail former Vice President Joe Biden nationally and in the key swing states with just nine days to go…But perhaps most worrisome for the President: Trump’s clearly behind his 2016 pace. By this point four years ago, he was rapidly closing the gap with Hillary Clinton. No such advancements can be seen in the 2020 polling against Biden…Right now, Biden is up by about 9 to 10 pointsnationally, depending on the average you examine. He is, importantly, over 50%. Biden’s edge may be down a point or so from early October, though it is well within the historical average from the beginning of the year.”

Thomas B. Edsall writes in “What if Beating Trump Is the Easy Part? If Biden holds on, keeping the Democratic coalition intact will take an unusual level of political skill” at The New York Times: “Winning control of the Senate is critically important, of course, and will shape what happens as much as anything else an election can decide…FiveThirtyEight estimates the odds of a Democratic takeover of the Senate at 74-26, or three to one…David Card, an economist at Berkeley, posed the question, “How crucial for the success of a Biden presidency is a Democratic Senate?” and answered the question himself: 100 percent. Obama came in after 2009 with a lot of troubles but Biden is taking over with nearly impossible deficit, pandemic and completely gutted federal government…Not only does Biden need a Senate majority, the size of the majority will also be crucial…If he only has a cushion of one or two votes, Gary Burtless, an economist at Brookings, argues,

it would greatly reduce the chances Democrats could enact sweeping political and regulatory reforms, including major climate change legislation and rationalization of the Affordable Care Act.

But, Burtless continued,

Even a bare majority would allow Democrats to enact sensible fiscal policies, provide adequate relief to the unemployed, confirm centrist and liberal federal judges, and give the Democratic President greater leeway to reverse Trump-era regulations/deregulations.”

Enlarging the Supreme Court is the only answer to the right’s judicial radicalism,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in The Washington Post: “The truly scandalous lack of institutional patriotism on the right has finally led many of the most sober liberals and moderates to ponder what they opposed even a month ago: The only genuinely practical and proper remedy to conservative court-packing is to undo its impact by enlarging the court…Note the language I just used. Court-packing is now a fact. It was carried out by a Republican Senate that was cynically inconsistent when it came to the question of filling a court seat during an election year…And conservatives are as hypocritical about court enlargement as they are about Garland and Barrett: In 2016, Republicans expanded the state supreme courts of Georgia and Arizona to enhance their party’s philosophical sway…Court enlargement will be a long battle, but those of us who support it should be encouraged, not discouraged, by Joe Biden’s call for a bipartisan commission to study a court system that is, as Biden put it, “getting out of whack.”…Biden is a long-standing opponent of enlargement, so his statement is an acknowledgment that this crisis can’t be avoided. His commission would help the public, which usually doesn’t want to worry about judges, understand the danger of a judiciary dominated by reactionaries.”