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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

The Daily Strategist

November 29, 2021

Political Strategy Notes

From Tal Axelrod’s “Democrats Scramble to Reclaim Lost Ground in statehouse Battles” at The Hill:  “How Democrats Scramble”Democrats are licking their wounds and looking to cobble together a new strategy for success in state legislative races after failing to flip a single chamber throughout the entire country last year. Those defeats are particularly stinging now as Republicans are left in control of redistricting for 187 House districts, while Democrats will have full control to delineate jus…“This is not a scenario where you show up in the last election of the decade to try to flip a chamber,” said Texas state Rep. Trey Martínez Fischer (D). “You spend a decade committing yourself to flipping a chamber in a particular state, and you don’t give up. You don’t play the short game on this, this is a long game.t 84….Those defeats stand in stark contrast to the victories Democrats projected in states like Arizona, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas. Adding insult to injury, Democrats also ceded both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature….And with redistricting coming just ahead of the 2022 midterms, those losses have Democrats alarmed….“I think it’s devastating,” said Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, which helps Democrats win state legislative races. “If we hold the House in 2022, it will be a structural miracle. Because Democrats failing to flip a single chamber and in fact losing two in 2020 is the kind of thing that will set Congress back decades.”….Democrats have been tantalizingly close in several chambers. The party last year was two seats away from flipping the Arizona state House and Minnesota Senate and nine seats away from flipping the Texas state House, to name a few. Democrats made no headway in Arizona or Texas and won only one seat in Minnesota.”

Here’s a headline that ought to provoke intense discusssion about redistricting in the Lone Star State: “Just 35 Percent of Texas’ Congressional Districts Are Majority-White — Down From 58% in 2010” by Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report. As Walter explains, “Perhaps no state has seen as much demographic change as Texas. Of the states 36 CDs, 13 of them (or just over 35 percent) have a majority white population. Just ten years ago, more than half (58 percent) of the state’s CD’s were majority white….Nowhere has this surge in the population of people of color been more pronounced than Texas’ 3rd CD held by GOP Rep. Van Taylor. Back in 2010, this district, which takes in the fast growing exurbs north of Dallas (such as Plano and McKinney), was 62 percent white. Today, Census data shows that the white population has dropped almost 13 points to 49.8 percent. Leading the surge in population growth in these exurbs were Asian residents who now make up almost a quarter of the population in the district — up from 15 percent just ten years ago….Of the eight CDs that were majority white in 2010 but are not today, all but one (suburban Dallas’ 32nd CD) are represented by Republicans….Notably, six of those eight districts have gotten much more competitive at the presidential level as well. Or, to put it another way, six CDs that looked safely Republican when these lines were last drawn back in 2012, are now either Democratic-leaning or evenly divided. For example, back in 2012 Mitt Romney won GOP Rep. Michael McCaul’s Austin and Houston suburban district by more than 20 points. Last year, however, Donald Trump narrowly carried it by just 1.7 percent.”

“The vaccinated, across party lines, have kind of had it with the unvaccinated, an array of new polls suggests,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic. “While most state and national GOP leaders are focused on defending the rights of unvaccinated Americans, new polling shows that the large majority of vaccinated adults—including a substantial portion of Republicans—support tougher measures against those who have refused COVID-19 shots….These new results, shared exclusively with The Atlantic by several pollsters, reveal that significant majorities of people who have been vaccinated support vaccine mandates for health workers, government employees, college students, and airline travelers—even, in some surveys, for all Americans or all private-sector workers. Most of the vaccinated respondents also say that entry to entertainment and sporting arenas should require proof of vaccination, and half say the same about restaurants….All of this suggests that as the Delta variant’s “pandemic of the unvaccinated” disrupts the return to “normal” life promised by the vaccines, a backlash may be intensifying among those who have received the shots against those who have not. And that could leave Republican leaders who have unstintingly stressed the rights of the unvaccinated—including Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—in an exposed position….About 85 percent of Democrats and just over half of Republicans have been vaccinated, according to a recent survey by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which is conducting monthly polls about experiences and attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccines….But big majorities of the vaccinated in both parties assigned responsibility to the unvaccinated; almost two in three vaccinated Republicans joined nearly nine in 10 vaccinated Democrats in blaming them for the case rise. By contrast, less than one in 14 of the Republicans who hadn’t received the shot blamed the unvaccinated. (In this survey, like most of those I examined, the group of unvaccinated Democrats was too small to reliably analyze.)

Brownstein continues, “The COVID States Project’s national polling has found the broadest support for mandates: In its latest survey, 63 percent of vaccinated Republicans, as well as 95 percent of vaccinated Democrats and 65 percent of unvaccinated Democrats, supported government action “requiring everyone” to obtain a vaccination. Unvaccinated Republicans stood isolated in their opposition; just 14 percent supported such a sweeping mandate….When Kaiser recently asked whether “the federal government should recommend that employers” require their workers to get vaccinated, four-fifths of vaccinated Democrats and nearly half of vaccinated Republicans agreed that it should. But nearly nine in 10 unvaccinated Republicans disagreed (as did about six in 10 unvaccinated Democrats)….Quinnipiac University found similar patterns when it recently tested attitudes toward a broad range of vaccine and mask requirements. Among vaccinated Democrats, at least 85 percent backed vaccine mandates for government workers, university students, health-care workers, and all private-sector employees; well over 80 percent backed proof-of-vaccination requirements for flying or entering large arenas; and 90 percent or more backed mask requirements for public-school students and staff, as well as for participants in indoor activities in high-risk areas. (Seventy percent of vaccinated Democrats also backed proof-of-vaccination requirements for restaurants.)” Brownstein concludes, “Biden, who has generally muted issues that might spark culture-war confrontations, has clearly been reluctant to test the public’s tolerance for more coercive measures to pressure unvaccinated individuals to receive a vaccine. But if the virus continues to find a safe harbor primarily in Republican-leaning states with low vaccination rates and lax public-health protections, he may eventually have no choice but to enter that fight.”

For Democrats the Future Is Now

I decided it was time for some blunt advice to Democrats mulling 2021 and 2022, and offered it at New York:

Every political party that achieves power in Washington has to make a central strategic decision: Does it want to focus on substantive accomplishments or on perpetuating its power? Democrats who hold a fragile trifecta right now need to make that choice very soon.

It’s not always a binary choice: Sometimes governing well is a political asset. Indeed, to hear ideologues of both the left and right tell it, pursuing their agendas (which have, as they tell it, never been given a fair test thanks to the cowardice and venality of centrists) will definitely produce massive landslides as far as the eye can see. But true or not, in the legislative branch at least, the most vulnerable representatives facing voters universally reject the belief that loud-and-proud extremism is the ticket to reelection.

So you have the situation facing Democrats today, in which congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are trying to enact Joe Biden’s presidential agenda tout court in just two interrelated bills (the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the FY 2022 budget reconciliation package). They have no margin for error, even as progressives demand shooting the moon while centrists want to shrink, tone down, and maybe even defeat the larger and much more important of the two bills (the reconciliation package) in hopes of surviving their next election.

On the reconciliation bill, bipartisanship is not an option. So deals must be cut, sooner rather than later, to get all Democratic senators and nearly all Democratic House members on board. The reckoning in the House could come very quickly in the form of a key procedural vote next week, with Pelosi looking to hold the infrastructure bill hostage until the reconciliation bill passes, and a group of centrists pressuring her to do exactly the opposite.

Underlying this struggle is the dirty little secret of the Democratic Party: Barring something beyond anyone’s control, it is extremely unlikely that Democrats will hold onto the House, and thus their trifecta, in 2022. I won’t go through the entire explanation that I have written elsewhere, but the simple reality is that no president with job-approval ratings south of 60 percent has ever had a first midterm in which his party failed to lose House seats (indeed, a couple with job-approval ratings over 60 percent still lost House seats). In 2022, the burden of history will be augmented by Republican gains via redistricting. In part due to partisan polarization, the odds of Biden, whose own approval ratings have now slumped down into the 40s, reaching the 60s any time soon are vanishingly small.

Three of the last four presidents had terrible first midterms (the one who didn’t, George W. Bush, benefitted immeasurably from one of those events beyond anyone’s control, September 11). But here’s the silver lining: Three of the last four presidents were nonetheless reelected, with the other, Donald Trump, coming pretty close despite his heroic efforts to offend as many Americans as possible. Minimizing 2022 losses while joining the ranks of the reelected is a reasonable (and perhaps the only reasonable) strategy for Joe Biden.

What this means in terms of the current legislative choices being made by Democrats is they shouldn’t sacrifice too much to accommodate highly vulnerable House members who are probably going to lose anyway. Yes, Democrats need their votes right now, so accommodations will be necessary. But perhaps in some cases a future ambassadorship or an assistant secretary cabinet post or just a big political chit would be more appropriate than knocking a half-trillion dollars off a reconciliation bill that may wind up being the summit of the Biden presidency or the chief accomplishment of a president running for reelection in 2024. I don’t know if it will work, but the same logic should apply to Senate Democrats standing in the way of filibuster reforms necessary to enacting voting rights legislation: If there is anything within the president’s power that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema want — that does not involve obstructing or gutting crucial legislation — I am sure Democrats everywhere, most especially progressives, would love to see them fully gratified.

What Democrats do not owe to vulnerable members of Congress, however, is the opportunity to go home and campaign on the boast that they thwarted their own party’s agenda. And make no mistake, politicians fighting for survival are as principled as any other cornered animal; some would sell vials with the tears of small children denied “socialist” benefits if it produced a positive op-ed from some inflation-obsessed windbag back home in the district. They need to know that if they sabotage Joe Biden’s presidency, there will be consequences far worse than losing one election.

Even if Democratic leaders follow this advice, they will not, and should not, make their calculations public. They should still fight for every congressional seat in 2022 for multiple reasons: Minimizing losses makes recovering easier, for one thing; for another, I’m sure that if she has to hand her gavel to Kevin McCarthy in 2023, Pelosi would prefer he have to suffer from the kind of unstable and insecure majority she has endured this year. Democrats do, moreover, have a realistic shot at hanging onto the Senate next year, which could be critically important in terms of judicial confirmations if nothing else.

But as Democrats make the fateful choice between getting things done or making substantive concessions to add a decimal point to bad midterm odds, they should understand this: The future is now.

Sen. Sanders Energizes Push for Democratic Unity

Democratic moderates and liberals have their diffferences about the Administration’s infrastucture package. But amid the current tensions, there are encouraging signs that Dems are coming together to move the Biden administration’s agenda forward. In “Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden’s spending package,” Jordan Carney reports at The Hill:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is hitting the road to pitch Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending plan, which they are hoping to pass through Congress later this year. 

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and led the talks on the blueprint for the spending package, will travel later this month to Indiana and Iowa, where he’ll hold a town hall on Aug. 27 and Aug. 29, respectively.

Senate Democrats approved a budget earlier this month that will allow them to write and pass a $3.5 trillion spending package as soon as next month without GOP support. The spending package is expected to include top priorities like child care, expanding Medicare, combating climate change and immigration reform.

Carney adds that “Sanders will travel to two congressional districts where former President Trump increased his number of voters between 2016 and 2020, according to details from Sanders’s political apparatus.” Sanders explains further, “While it will have no Republican support in Washington, Democrats, independents and working-class Republicans all over the country support our plan to finally invest in the long-neglected needs of working families.”

Carney notes further, “Congressional Republicans are lining up in unified opposition against the $3.5 trillion spending package, and Democrats are facing pushback from moderates in both chambers who are sending warning signals that they want to lower the price tag. Democrats need total unity in the Senate, and near total unity in the House, to pass the plan under budget rules that let them avoid the normal 60-vote Senate hurdle.” In addition,

But Biden and congressional Democrats are betting that they’ll be able to sell their plan to swing voters and some Republicans outside of Washington by emphasizing its health care, child care and housing benefits. The strategy is similar to the COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats passed on their own earlier this year but touted as bipartisan because it picked up support in polling from GOP voters.

And they’re hoping to be able to tout the plan, as well as a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, heading into the 2022 midterms, where their control of the House and Senate are at stake. Biden has put both at the center of his legislative agenda.

A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month found that Americans supported a $3.5 trillion spending plan for social programs, including child care, education and expanding Medicare for seniors, 62 percent to 32 percent.

Democratic progressives and moderates will continue to butt heads about federal spending levels, as well as social issues. But it’s good to see the party’s top progressive working with moderates for a unified Democratic agenda.

California’s Strange Recall Ballot

After getting my mail ballot for the September 14 gubernatorial recall election in California, I offered some reactions at New York:

Over the weekend I received (like 22 million other registered voters in my state) an unsolicited mail ballot to vote in the California gubernatorial recall election. I’ve been reading and writing about this election for months. But I couldn’t help but find the actual ballot weird, and remain a bit conflicted about how to fill out and return it.

Typically, California primary or general election ballots have a lot of questions, in part thanks to the state’s permissive rules on ballot initiatives. The recall ballot has exactly two:

Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the Office of Governor?

Candidates to succeed GAVIN NEWSOM if he is recalled:

Following this second question (and the instruction to “Vote for One”) is a list of 46 names, with each candidate’s party preference (if any), and brief self-descriptions. These are highly restricted in practice: former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, for example, is identified simply as as a “Businessman/Educator,” while the iconic erotic billboard figure and singer Angelyne is described simply as an “Entertainer.”

Now the number and variety of candidates is not that strange in California these days; thanks to the top-two primary system the state has utilized since 2011, a large jumble of candidates from every and no party appears on primary ballots regularly. But the contrast between one stark binary ballot question and one with luxurious options is jarring, and potentially confusing. Yes, if you read the county voting instructions that accompany the mail ballot (and don’t throw them out on purpose or by accident), you will see that “Each question will be counted independently,” whatever that means, and that “You may vote for a successor candidate regardless of whether or how you vote on the recall question.” The alert voter will realize that she may vote to keep Newsom in office and still express an opinion on a successor, but it’s unclear how many such voters will exercise that choice since Team Newsom is discouraging it as a matter of message discipline.

The big question, however, is how many and which voters will bother to participate in this confusing election. Politically active California Republicans may be super-psyched to send back their mail ballots (despite the disdain their hero the 45th president held for this method of voting), since it is a rare opportunity to register a statewide victory in a place where they are outnumbered two-to-one in party registration, hold no statewide offices, and are on the losing side of a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. Pure partisanship aside, Gavin Newsom is sort of a parody of everything today’s Republicans are prone to hate: a wealthy and culturally hip man from Sodom itself (San Francisco), who looks like he stepped out of an upscale fashion ad and oozes superiority, along with a conventionally liberal viewpoint on nearly everything.

Unfortunately for Newsom, there is another category of highly motivated recall voter that includes independents and Democrats as well as Republicans: people who are enduringly angry about restrictive COVID-19 measures. This includes small business owners forced to shut down or radically restrict operations; parents compelled to keep and educate kids at home; and church members shunted into parking lots or virtual services. The late-2020 incident wherein the governor disobeyed his own pandemic rules by attending an indoor birthday party for a rich lobbyist friend at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants pulled together all the threads of Newsom-phobia and made him a cartoon villain to his detractors and an exasperating figure to his allies.

Until recently it looked like vaccinations (which, after a rough start, went relatively well in California) and a revenue boom that enabled both free spending and a balanced budget might dull resentment of the incumbent. But now the resurgence of both COVID cases and California malaise (fed by another megadrought, wildfires, spiraling living costs, and homelessness) is energizing recall supporters without necessarily arousing opponents.

Newsom has consistently campaigned against the recall as an effort by Republican Trump supporters to overturn the will of the voters who elected the governor in 2018, and even as sort of a ballot-box version of the Capitol riot in Washington. As part of this deliberate polarization effort, he successfully kept any prominent Democrat from running as a replacement candidate. This was in keeping with the common belief that earlier recall victim Gray Davis’s ejection from office in 2003 was attributable to his Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante’s decision to file as a replacement candidate, splitting (or at least confusing) Democrats fatally. More recently, Newsom has instructed Democratic voters to ignore those 46 names that take up the bulk of the ballot, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Voters who choose to keep Newsom as governor by voting ‘no’ on the first question can still select a replacement candidate on the second question if the recall prevails. Even so, the governor has urged Democrats to skip the replacement contest — and did so again Saturday.

“’One question. One answer. No on the recall. Move on. Send in the ballot,’ Newsom said during the event in El Sereno. ‘We’ve got to turn out the vote and remind people of the consequences.’”

But California Democrats may be unable to entirely ignore that second ballot question, which could determine whether their future governor is the old guy (John Cox) who is campaigning with a rented grizzly bear; the transgender activist, former Olympian, and reality-TV star (Caitlyn Jenner); or even the rare Democrat (YouTube financial adviser Kevin Paffrath), who disobeyed the party line and is running in the replacement race. Despite his stern instructions to ignore the second ballot question, Newsom himself has been bashing the candidate who leads most polls, veteran conservative talk-show host Larry Elder, who, like most veteran conservative talks-show hosts, has said a lot of stupid and profoundly unpopular things over the years.  And down the stretch, Team Newsom could decide an ace in the hole is the argument that, even if he is recalled, his support will dwarf the small number of Californians voting for the plurality winner of the replacement contest. Even though it’s how California’s system is set up, it ain’t right.

As the official election date of September 14 approaches, the recall campaign will heat up and that, Democrats hope, will save Newsom by waking up their voters to the disastrous local and national consequences of messing up the party’s current control of America’s preeminent blue state — the state that contributed 5 million to Joe Biden’s 7 million-vote national popular vote advantage last year. The polls are beginning to show a close race that could go either way. But staring at my mail ballot, I can’t say we really know how voters will navigate this strange  set of choices.

Political Strategy Notes

Yesterday the TDS staff post noted some of the recent polling about the U.S. withdrawall from Afghanistan. At MSNBC, Steve Benen shares some more polling on the topic. “On Monday, the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll found support for withdrawal had dropped sharply compared to April’s results, but a plurality nevertheless sided with Biden’s position: 49% backed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, while 39% did not. The poll was conducted while Americans confronted a weekend of headlines about the Taliban returning to power….The latest findings from Data for Progress pointed in a similar direction. ‘New polling from Data for Progress shows that voters still support President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, even after learning that Taliban fighters have captured these cities. Voters support the decision to withdraw by a 14-point margin, including Democrats by a 51-point margin, Independents by a 13-point margin, and nearly a third of Republicans.’ Though there were predictable partisan divisions, the overall results found 51% of Americans endorsing the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, while 37% were opposed to the policy. (The poll was conducted between Aug. 13 to 16.)…As NBC News reported overnight, the same survey results found that a 55% majority of the public also supports the Biden administration speeding up the process of giving immigrant visas to U.S. allies in Afghanistan, as opposed to 30% who believe the administration should take no additional action to bring Afghans here….Even a plurality of Republican voters sided with the White House on this issue.”

Benen continues, “In other words, there does not appear to be any kind of backlash against the president’s policy toward Afghanistan. A narrow majority appears to believe Biden’s policies are the right ones, despite the recent unrest and the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul….To be sure, public attitudes can change quickly, and there’s no shortage of unpredictable variables. It’s possible, for example, that support for the president’s agenda could actually grow as the chaotic images fade from view. If operations run relatively smoothly in the coming days and weeks, the likelihood of a public backlash will grow more remote….On the other hand, much of the media coverage in recent days has emphasized bipartisan opposition to Biden’s policy, which often helps shape opinions. Similarly, if conditions in Afghanistan deteriorate further, it’s easy to imagine many Americans souring on the administration’s efforts.”….Andrew Romano reports on the findings of a Yahoo News poll, conducted Aug. 16 to 18, which “found that while 50 percent of respondents said one month ago that they favored the decision to “withdraw all [U.S.] combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of August,” just 40 percent say the same today. Over the same period, opposition to Biden’s plan to withdraw increased from 22 percent to 28 percent….At the same time, more Americans still favor the U.S. withdrawal than oppose it — and there are early signs that the political fallout for the president could be limited in the long run.”

Alexandra Hutzler notes at Newsweek that “A new Reuters poll conducted Monday found Biden’s approval rating dipped to 46 percent nationally, a seven-point decrease from just last Friday when the president enjoyed a 53 percent approval rating….Behind Biden’s sliding approval numbers are independent voters, noted FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley….The Reuters poll found a majority of Americans, 61 percent, still support completing the withdrawal of American troops on schedule. Biden had previously set a deadline of August 31 to remove combat forces from Afghanistan….Most people surveyed, 68 percent, also agreed with the statement that the war in Afghanistan was going to end badly no matter when the U.S. military left….But Biden was rated worse than the other three presidents who presided over the United States’ longest war. Just 44 percent of respondents said the current administration has done a good job presiding over the war. Forty-seven percent thought the Bush administration did a good job, while 51 percent thought the Obama and Trump administrations did a good job.”

At U.S. News, Chris Kahn notes that “A separate Ipsos snap poll, also conducted on Monday, found that fewer than half of Americans liked the way Biden has steered the U.S. military and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan this year. The president, who just last month praised Afghan forces for being “as well-equipped as any in the world,” was rated worse than the other three presidents who presided over the United States’ longest war….The Ipsos poll found that 75% of Americans supported the decision to send in additional troops to secure key facilities in Afghanistan until the withdrawal is complete, and about the same number supported the evacuation of Afghans who helped U.S. forces in the country….Yet Americans appeared to be largely unsettled on what to think of the war, with majorities expressing somewhat contradictory views about what the U.S. military should have done.” At FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley examines a series of recent polls, and concludes, “On the whole, we don’t expect to see a big shift in Biden’s approval rating, given just how polarized American politics are. But it’s also impossible to currently ascertain the longer-term consequences of the Taliban’s takeover, such as a potential increase in terrorism. It’s possible that what’s happened in Afghanistan will dominate headlines for weeks to come, but even that’s uncertain. After all, American news coverage of Afghanistan has surged before, only to quickly evaporate. And even if the spotlight stays on the crisis in Afghanistan, that doesn’t necessarily mean Biden will lose ground in approval.” Skelley shares a chart showing recent polling data:

Share of Americans who supported or opposed the decision to remove U.S. military troops from Afghanistan in polls conducted since July 1, 2021, by the most recent poll available

Politico/Morning Consult* Aug. 13-16 49% 37% +12
Redfield & Wilton Strategies Aug. 2-3 49 19 +30
Chicago Council on Global Affairs July 7-26 70 29 +41
Echelon Insights July 19-23 64 22 +42
Yahoo News/YouGov July 13-15 50 22 +28
The Economist/YouGov July 10-13 57 20 +37
Politico/Morning Consult July 9-12 59 25 +34
The Hill/HarrisX July 2-3 73 27 +46

*Poll was conducted as news broke over the weekend that the Taliban were making advances into Kabul, forcing the evacuation of U.S. and allied personnel.


Polls Show Solid Support for Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Although nearly everyone is horrified by the images of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden Administration has broad support for ending the U.S. military role in that nation. Dina Smeltz and Emily Sullivan report that “the just-completed 2021 Chicago Council Survey, fielded July 7-26, shows that seven in ten Americans continue to back this decision.” Further,

When asked whether they support or oppose the decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 2021 Chicago Council Survey finds that 70 percent of Americans support it (29% oppose). This support spans partisan affiliations, though larger majorities of Democrats (77%) and Independents (73%) than Republicans (56%) agree.

These results corroborate the findings of other polls conducted over the past several months. A May Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent approved of President Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year, and an April Economist/YouGov poll found that 58 percent approved of the plan for withdrawal by September 11. The Economist/YouGov poll also found that majorities in military households (61%) and just over half of those currently serving in the military (52%) or those who served in the past (53%) supported the withdrawal.

The usual caveats about how polling questions are phrased apply. As Smeltz and Sullivan add:

American attitudes toward Afghanistan are somewhat sensitive to wording as well as policy. An April 2021 Fox News poll found that more Americans said the United States should keep some troops in the country for counterterrorism operations (50%) than said that the US should remove all troops from the country (37%). And even though a solid majority of Americans in the 2021 Chicago Council Survey support the troop withdrawal, as recently as last January a Chicago Council poll showed that Americans were equally divided on whether the United States should have (48%) or should not have (49%) long term bases there. However, at the same time, two-thirds said that the war in Afghanistan had not been worth the costs (65%, 32% worth it).

For a longer-term look at attitudes toward US policy in Afghanistan, Karlyn Bowman offers a comprehensive summary.

Of course polls taken since the chaotic withdrawall images appeared will matter more than those reported so far. Republicans will keep flogging the withdrawal chaos meme in an attempt to discredit President Biden. But any honest discussion about Afghanistan will provoke mention that the Republicans started the mess, and ask why they didn’t conduct an orderly withdrawal during the previous administration when they had the chance. With this context in mind, significant longer-term damage to Biden’s approval ratings because of the end of our military presence in Afghanistan appears unlikely.

Teixeira: New Census Data Not All That Great 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:

I’ll have more to say about these data presently but for now, I’ll refer you to Nate Cohn’s article which makes the important point that the news for Democrats is not quite as good as some are making it out to be.

It’s also worth reading, if you haven’t already, my piece on “Demographic Change Giveth and Demographic Change Taketh Away


“At first blush, Thursday’s release of census data held great news for Democrats. It painted a portrait of a considerably more urban and metropolitan nation, with increasingly Democratic metropolitan areas bustling with new arrivals and the rural, Republican heartland steadily losing residents.

It is a much less white nation, too, with the white non-Hispanic population for the first time dropping in absolute numbers, a plunge that exceeded most experts’ estimates, and the growth in the Latino population slightly exceeding forecasts.

But the census paints a picture of America as it is. And as it is, America is not very Democratic.

Besides the census, the other great source of data on American politics is the result of the 2020 election, which revealed a deeply and narrowly divided nation. Despite nearly the full decade of demographic shifts shown by the census, Joe Biden won the national vote by the same four-point margin that he won by as Barack Obama’s running mate eight years earlier — and with fewer votes in the Electoral College….

Yet despite the seemingly favorable demographic portrait for Democrats depicted by the 2020 census, the 2020 election returned another closely divided result: a 50-50 Senate, one of the closest presidential elections in history, and a House majority so slender that it might be undone by the very data that Democrats were celebrating on Thursday.

The nation’s electoral system — which rewards flipping states and districts — has tended to mute the effect of demographic change. Many Democratic gains in vote margins have come in metropolitan areas, where Democratic candidates were already winning races, or in red states like Texas, where Democrats have made huge gains in presidential elections but haven’t yet won many additional electoral votes.

But Democrats haven’t fared much better over the past decade, as one would have expected based on favorable demographic trends alone. It’s not clear they’ve improved at all. Barack Obama and Joe Biden each won the national popular vote by four percentage points in 2012 and 2020. Demographic shifts, thus far, have been canceled out by Republican gains among nonwhite and especially Latino voters, who supported Mr. Trump in unexpectedly large numbers in 2020 and helped deny Democrats victory in Florida.”

So contain your enthusiasm. These results don’t really change anything in terms of Democratic prospects and challenges.

Political Strategy Notes

From “Biden’s complicated new task: keeping Democrats together” by the Associated Press: “President Joe Biden overcame skepticism, deep political polarization and legislative gamesmanship to win bipartisan approval in the Senate this week of his $1 trillion infrastructure bill….But as the bill moves to consideration in the House alongside a $3.5 trillion budget that achieves the rest of Biden’s agenda, the president is facing an even more complicated task. He must keep a diverse, sometimes fractious Democratic Party in line behind the fragile compromises that underpin both measures….If Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress hope to succeed with what they’ve called a two-track legislative strategy, the months ahead will almost certainly be dominated by a tedious balancing act. With exceedingly slim majorities in Congress, Biden can’t afford many defections in a party whose members include moderates and progressives….From Biden’s blueprint, the package will essentially rewire the social safety net and expand the role of government across industries and livelihoods, on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. White House aides are encouraged that, so far, both the liberals and moderates have engaged in mere saber rattling with no red lines drawn….“We have a diverse caucus, from Bernie Sanders, we have Joe Manchin, and everybody in between,” Schumer said. “There are some in my caucus who might believe it’s too much. There are some in my caucus we believe it’s too little. We are going to all come together to get something done.”….An array of progressive and pro-White House groups will aim to keep Democrats in line by spending nearly $100 million to promote Biden’s agenda while lawmakers are on recess. An outside coalition of progressive organizations launched a war room and is planning to host over 1,000 events and actions to bombard the home districts of members of Congress with ads — both televised and digital — to keep the pressure on to follow through on their votes as well as to underscore much of the agenda’s popularity with the public.”

Democrats are deploying a new strategic meme that flips the GOP narrative and has targeted Republicans squirming and flustered. “Several members have already started to implement the new strategy,” Akela Lacy reports at The Intercept. “The former President and Radical Republican are disrespecting police officers,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted July 22. “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle in @HouseJudiciary this morning were yet again talking about ‘supporting the police,’ ‘funding the police.’ But they voted against the opportunity to fund the police in the American Rescue Plan. Watch what they do, not what they say,” Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., Orlando’s former police chief, tweeted the previous day. Earlier this month, Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., tweeted the same slogan: “4 Months Ago: All Republicans voted against #AmericanRescuePlan including funding for Police. 1 Month Ago: 21 Republicans voted against honoring Police for their work during the 1/6 Capitol riot. Now: Capitol Police may run out of funds. Watch what they do, not what they say….After Capitol Police officers testified to Congress on Tuesday during the first hearing of the select committee investigating the January 6 riot, the DNC issued a press release describing the GOP as the caucus that “voted against additional funding for police” and criticized Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for “*counterprogramming* police officers testifying about the day they protected those very same members of Congress from the violence of January 6….Pelosi’s deputy communications director, Robyn Patterson, replied to the House GOP tweet: “Republicans can’t name a single Congressional Democrat who voted to defund the police. Fox News, however, can name 210 House Republicans and 50 Senate Republicans who voted to.”

Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “It’s Liberals Who Are the Tough-Minded Realists About Policy,” and writes, “Over the decades, conservatives have been enormously successful at selling a parody of liberalism. Liberals are cast as dreamy idealists who think “throwing money at problems” is the way to solve them. They’re painted as hostile to a tough-minded examination of their programs and indifferent to whether they work….This parody has things exactly backward. In 2021, it’s liberals who want citizens, politicians included, to look rigorously at the evidence. It shows how many public programs make a substantial, positive difference in the lives of Americans, especially kids from low-income families. It’s conservatives who prefer ideology and moralism to the facts….The spending that liberals favor these days — much of it included in President Biden’s American Families Plan that Democrats are pushing through Congress — is for government interventions that have been tested and proved.’ Dionne cites “a report released this month by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a think tank devoted to careful policy analysis aimed at lifting up those who have been left out,” which notes that ““When children grew up in a household receiving additional cash benefits, their academic achievement increased on a lasting basis.”….“When children had access to quality pre-kindergarten at age 4, they were likelier to enter college on time.”….“When high school students were guaranteed grants to pay for community college, they were likelier to complete community college.” Dionne adds, “A major obstacle to more energetic efforts to help the least advantaged, Parrott said, is “the cynicism that it doesn’t matter what we do.” But it does matter. When it comes to public programs, the antithesis of cynicism is reality itself: We know a great deal about what works. Let’s do it.”

In “Other Polling Bites,” Alex Samuels reports at FiveThirtyEight: “There’s been a big discussion as of late into whether schools should be allowed to teach critical race theory and have frank discussions about racism in the U.S. And new polling from the Pew Research Center shows that most Americans believe increased attention to  the history of racism is a good thing for society. Per the poll, 53 percent of U.S. adults think it’s “very” or “somewhat” good for society to be aware of the history of slavery and racism in America, while 26 percent of respondents think it’s bad for society. The survey found wide partisan and racial divides, too. Black (75 percent), Asian American (64 percent) and Hispanic adults (59 percent) were more likely to view heightened attention to this topic as a good thing, while just a little under half of white adults (46 percent) felt the same way. The partisan divide was even more stark, Pew found. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, only 25 percent said greater attention to racism and slavery was good for society, compared to 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. “

Cuomo’s Resignation Speech and Its Antecedents

After watching Andrew Cuomo’s resignation speech and listening to some of the excited and outraged chatter about it, I decided to offer some historical context at New York:

As a midday TV drama, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s speech culminating with his resignation from office was first-rate, despite all the self-serving, weasel-like content. That it came after his lawyer’s attack on an attorney general’s report that had destroyed Cuomo’s base of support among New York Democrats added a lot of momentary suspense. Would the famously obstinate veteran governor force the Legislature to move toward removing him from office? Would he resign only at the 11th hour to prevent any action that would deny him a comeback opportunity in 2022 or beyond? It wasn’t clear until the very end, after his weird, bathetic effort to pose as a feminist through identification with his three daughters, who must have been cringing if they watched at all.

Drama aside, as a resignation message rooted in a non-apologetic apology and an alleged desire not to let his accusers disrupt governance, the immediate analogy that came to the mind of us baby boomers was Richard M. Nixon’s speech to the nation almost exactly 47 years ago, on August 8, 1974.

There really wasn’t much doubt about what Nixon was going to do. Republican leaders had made clear to him that impeachment and removal from office were a certainty if he didn’t quit in the wake of the appearance of a “smoking gun” tape exposing the president’s personal involvement in a cover-up of the Watergate scandal.

One key overlap between the Nixon and Cuomo speeches involves an insincere-sounding apology that evaded the allegations that made the resignation necessary. Here’s Nixon’s:

“I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.”

And here’s Cuomo’s:

“I have been too familiar with people. My sense of humor can be insensitive and off-putting. I do hug and kiss people casually, women and men. I have done it all my life. It’s who I’ve been since I can remember. In my mind, I’ve never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn’t fully appreciate, and I should have. No excuses.”

Both men also explained their resignations as the product of politics, rather than justice. Nixon said he was resigning because:

“I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future. But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.”

Cuomo was even more blunt:

“This situation and moment are not about the facts. It’s not about the truth. It’s not about thoughtful analysis. It’s not about how do we make the system better. This is about politics. And our political system today is too often driven by the extremes.”

Finally, both Nixon and Cuomo seemed most concerned with insisting they weren’t “quitters” but were selflessly putting aside personal feelings out of concern for the office they were resigning from. Here’s Nixon:

“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time president and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad. To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the president and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.”

And Cuomo:

“I am a fighter, and my instinct is to fight through this controversy, which I truly believe is politically motivated. I believe it is unfair and it is untruthful, and I believe that it demonizes behavior that is unsustainable for society. If I could communicate the facts through the frenzy, New Yorkers would understand … but I became a fighter for you, and it is your best interests that I must serve. This situation by its current trajectory will generate months of political and legal controversy … It will consume government. It will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. It will brutalize people …

“I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore, that’s what I’ll do because I work for you, and doing the right thing is doing the right thing for you.”

The biggest difference, of course, is that, as far as we know, Nixon wasn’t plotting a political comeback but to stay out of the hoosegow — a possibility soon removed by the pardon his successor, Gerald Ford, gave him.

Speaking of Ford, another famous resignation speech preceded Nixon’s by ten months: that of former vice-president Spiro T. Agnew. He had to explain to the American people the plea deal he had signed a few days earlier that included his stepping down as veep (to be replaced eventually by Ford).

Like Nixon and Cuomo, Agnew blustered his way through a denial of any real culpability, blaming his forced resignation on politics (in his case, the politics of Maryland’s tradition of bribes and shakedowns, in which he had been caught by shocked federal prosecutors who stumbled upon evidence that the former Baltimore County executive and Maryland governor had been and was still accepting cash kickbacks from road contractors). But there wasn’t much question that Agnew resigned to avoid prison (he instead got parole by pleading guilty of tax evasion on the money he had pocketed), and the only drama was the resignation itself, which occurred six days before his speech.

A gubernatorial resignation speech that did come out of the blue and that I thought of when watching Cuomo’s careful, serpentine exposition was that of Sarah Palin on July 2, 2009.

Palin offered up a characteristic word salad that never really explained why she was stepping down with nearly a year and a half remaining in her only term. She vaguely alluded to political enemies who were investigating her involvement in “Troopergate,” a state-employee firing scandal, but it was all quite confusing. As I noted at the time, “To the extent that there are any coherent rationales expressed in her announcement, they involve the distractions of her battles with her lower-48 enemies (and perhaps their Alaskan stooges) and her realization that she wouldn’t be doing much work as a lame duck, so why wait to resign?”

At least Cuomo didn’t leave us guessing about his motivations, much as we may wonder if he is already dreaming of a 2022 comeback — which would be delusional, albeit not much of a surprise from one of the most famously rampant egos in American politics. Regardless, the disgraced governor’s resignation speech will likely be of interest to political scientists, and psychologists, for a long time to come.

Some Fairly Good News for Dems in Census Data Release

From an Axios e-blast/post, “1 big thing: Census cements city supremacy”:

Almost all of the last decade’s U.S. population growth was in big metro areas, we learned this afternoon in a 2020 census data dump.

  • For the first time, all 10 of the largest U.S. cities have more than 1 million people, Axios’ Stef Kight writes.
  • Rural shrinkage: More than half of all counties saw population declines from 2010, with smaller counties more likely to lose.

What went up:

  • Diversity: There’s a 61% chance that two Americans chosen at random are from different races or ethnicities.
  • The South and the Southwest saw some of the most explosive population growth.
  • Florida’s The Villages, a 55+ master-planned community, was the fastest-growing metro area.

What went down:

  • America’s white population declined for the first time since the census’ inception. 57.8% of people were white — two points lower than estimates.
  • The Midwest and the Northeast saw some of the biggest losses.
  • Overall population growth was the slowest since the 1930s.

Election experts say the data is better news than Democrats expected — gains in cities, losses in rural areas and a bigger-than-expected drop in the white population.

  • “[T]his is a *much* more favorable Census count than minority advocacy groups/Dems had feared,” tweets Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman.
  • “[I]t’s a pretty decent set of data for Democrats in redistricting,” the N.Y. Times’ Nate Cohn tweets.

Go deeper: See the census releases.