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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Democratic Political Strategy for Reaching Working Class Voters That Starts from the Actual “Class Consciousness” of Modern Working Americans.

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo

“Less Than College” Workers Are Not a Social Class. Democrats Need to Understand Who Persuadable Workers Really Are.

Read the Memo.

Democrats Can Win Non-MAGA Working Class GOP Voters. The First Step is Understanding What They Really Think.

Read the Memo.

The Non-Extremist Wing of the Working Class Needs a National Political Alliance That Champions its Distinct Values

by Andrew Levison

Read the Memo.

Democrats Will Lose Elections in 2022 and 2024 if They do Not Offer a Plausible Strategy for Reducing the Surge of Immigrants at the Border.

Read on…

The Daily Strategist

June 10, 2023

Lux: Toward Building ‘Sustained Democratic Majorities’

From Mike Lux’s  Executive Summary of  “A Strategy for Factory Towns,” a report by American Family Values:

Hard times, effective right-wing messaging, the demise of local news, and sometimes the Democratic Party itself have led to big changes in the voting and opinions of people living in small and midsized towns that have been most impacted by deindustrialization and increased Big Business power in the economy. But these Factory Towns voters are not lost causes to the Democratic Party, and we cannot afford to write them off. They comprise 48% of the voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, and if we continue to lose ground with them, the entire region will become more and more like Iowa and Missouri – tough states for the foreseeable future. However, if these counties start to move back toward the Democrats, that kind of progress could be the linchpin to building sustained Democratic majorities that can usher our country into a more progressive future.

This report is part of a continuing effort by American Family Voices to do on-the-ground research and data analysis to understand the thinking and motivation of working-class voters, and to recommend strategies that can begin to rebuild the Democratic Party’s and progressive movement’s historic connection to America’s working class.

The project focuses on voters in “Factory Town” counties in six key states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These states were Ground Zero in 2016, breaking down the “Blue Wall” critical to Democratic victories. Joe Biden did just enough better in 2020 to help win back Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, but these communities in all six states remain very tough for Democrats and will be among the most highly competitive counties for 2024.

Despite the challenges, this is a moment where Democrats have an opportunity to make more gains. Biden and the Democratic Congress have passed substantial legislation that can bring progressive change, all the way down to the community level, over the next two years. The president’s policies, background, and genuine affinity for these working-class communities make him an ideal leader for this effort.

This report combines data from our most recent polling, Facebook and digital analytics, and comparisons of county-by-county elections results in 2022 to the past decade of state election results. The report closes with recommendations on how Democrats and progressive issue advocates should move forward with Factory Towns voters and counties.

Here is the bottom line in our findings:

1. The presidential horse race numbers are very competitive in these counties, but Republicans are stronger in terms of the economic frame.

2. Voters have negative opinions of both parties: this presents both challenges and opportunities for Democrats. Voters in these counties tend to think Democrats lack an economic plan, but they see the GOP as the party of wealthy corporations and CEOs.

3. Populist economics and the Democratic economic policy agenda play very well in these counties. These voters respond best to an agenda focused on kitchen-table economic issues.

4. Contrary to conventional wisdom, populist economic messaging works much better than cultural war messaging. Our strongest Democratic message on the economy beats the Republican culture war message easily. The Republican economic message is a bigger threat to us.

5. Community building needs to be at the heart of our organizing strategy.

6. I recommend that Democrats and progressives make major investments in local field organizing and door-to-door, special events that build community, online community building, existing local media and progressive media targeted to these counties, and progressive organizations that make sure voters know how to benefit directly from the Biden policy initiatives of the last two years.

Read The Poll.

Democrats Can Find Pro-Choice Votes in Many Republican Strongholds

In a continuing effort to figure out the political consequences of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, I took a look at an important new survey and wrote it up at New York:

Since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade empowered state governments to ban abortion, predictions about the future of U.S. abortion policy have focused on which party holds power in state governments. But public opinion in red states is not always aligned with the majority party’s positions, as shown by voters in deep-red Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana rejecting anti-abortion ballot measures last year. It’s been clear all along that there is a formidable pro-choice majority nationally, but how this majority is distributed matters a great deal under the Dobbs regime. Fortunately, the Public Religion Research Institute has now published a 50-state survey on abortion attitudes. And it should make a lot of Republican politicians and anti-abortion activists fearful.

PPRI found that there are pro-choice majorities in all but seven states:

“Majorities of residents in 43 states and the District of Columbia say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and in 13 of those states and in DC, more than seven in ten residents support legal abortion. There are only seven states in which less than half of residents say abortion should be legal in most or all cases: South Dakota (42%), Utah (42%), Arkansas (43%), Oklahoma (45%), Idaho (49%), Mississippi (49%), and Tennessee (49%).”

There are also some particularly large pockets of pro-choice opinion in electoral-battleground states. Even if this data is only roughly accurate, it raises some important questions. Do Nevada Republicans really want to stake their future on imposing abortion policies opposed by 80 percent of their citizens? And do they want to defy 60 percent–plus support for legal abortion in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin? The trend lines are pretty clear as well: “Residents of nearly all states have become more likely to say abortion should be legal in most or all cases since PRRI’s last state-level data analysis, in 2018.”

Perhaps even more significantly, the percentage of those on either side of the abortion debate who treat the issue as a litmus test for voting has changed dramatically since Dobbs. In 2020, only 15 percent of pro-choice voters told PRRI “they will only vote for candidates who share their view on abortion”; now that number is 26 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of anti-abortion voters treating this as a litmus test has declined slightly from 29 percent to 25 percent. Abortion is no longer an issue salient mostly for those most likely to vote Republican.

There are some signs of hope in this data for would-be Republican anti-abortion lawmakers. PRRI finds that somewhat larger minorities of Americans support selected abortion restrictions that fall short of total bans (though not majorities in any of the restrictions tested), such as prohibitions on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But, by the same token, there is overwhelming public opposition to some draconian measures the anti-abortion movement is insisting upon, such as bans on interstate travel to secure abortions (77 percent opposition) or the refusal to allow rape/incest exceptions to bans (72 percent opposition).

One potentially significant finding for Republicans who want to shake the iron grip of anti-abortion activists on their party is that the proportion of their own partisans who say they want to make all abortions illegal has dropped from 21 percent in 2021 to 14 percent in 2022. There is a sizable pro-choice minority among Republicans, as we saw in some of the 2022 ballot measure votes. PRRI finds that 37 percent of Republicans want abortion to be legal in all or most cases. In contrast, the anti-abortion faction of Democrats has all but disappeared; 86 percent of Democrats want all or most abortions to be legal, up from 71 percent as recently as 2010.

All in all, the notion that this is an equally divided nation on abortion policy, or that Republican state-level strength will make anti-abortion policies prevail everywhere other than in “coastal elite” pockets, doesn’t reflect the realities on the ground. The long-standing debate over gun violence does show that the GOP is willing and able to buck public opinion on issues near and dear to the hearts of those in their conservative base. But it’s no longer clear that Republican politicians or most Republican voters want to stake everything on remaining the party of forced birth.

Political Strategy Notes

Why isn’t Joe Biden getting credit for the economic recovery?” Christian Paz probes the possible answers at Vox, and writes: “President Joe Biden has a lot to be proud of. Riding off a State of the Union speech earlier this month that felt like a victory lap, he and his Cabinet have been blitzing across the country to sharpen his economic message. The Biden administration has sought to contrast Republican threats to Social Security and Medicare with its own legislative work to invest in infrastructure and manufacturing, and bring down the costs of education, health care, and energy….The image of the accelerating “Biden boom” that the White House has been trying to project is rooted in economic data: unemployment is now at its lowest level since 1969, January saw the seventh straight month of slowing inflation, the economy has continued to grow despite fears of a recession, and over 12 million jobs have been created since Biden took office two years ago….But why doesn’t it feel that way? The average American is still likely to say the economy is in relatively dire straits, according to Gallup polling data, and large numbers fear worsening inflation, higher interest rates and unemployment, and the possibility of a recession in 2023. Some 80 percent of American adults think the economy is either in poor or fair shape, according to January data from Pew Research Center….The short answer is, of course, inflation. Prices are still much higher at this point than they were two years ago, and news about expensive eggs and expensive housing are likely still putting a damper on our collective sense of an improving economy….“The bad news of the economy (rising inflation, declining real incomes) has outweighed the good news (mostly consistent growth in GDP, low unemployment),” John Sides, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, said. “Negative economic news is both more prevalent in news coverage and is also more salient to consumers, relative to positive economic news. So even in an economy with mixed signals, the bad news wins out.”

Paz adds, “Sides, who has studied the relationship between political prospects and economic news extensively, uses the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment to analyze how down people are on the economy. The index, which measures how people feel about the general economic climate from a monthly random survey of Americans, tells an unsurprising story: though consumer sentiment remains way below the historical average, it has been steadily rising for three consecutive months, and is significantly higher than it was a year ago, matching the trend of cooling inflation. That matches up pretty closely with how people feel about Joe Biden as a president….For most of the time that index has been collecting data, there was a straightforward correlation between presidential approval ratings and feelings about the economy: better economic news reliably translated into higher approval ratings. But Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s presidencies disrupted this relationship, Sides found. Higher consumer sentiment didn’t translate into a political advantage for either of them, despite the post-Great Recession recovery under Obama and the Trump economic boom…“Inflation is an everyone problem and unemployment is a some-people problem,” the economic columnist Annie Lowrey argued in the Atlantic last year. When things were bad during the Covid recession in 2020, everyone felt fear, but only some people lost their jobs. “The pain was uneven. In contrast, nobody escapes inflation, even if rising prices affect some people far more than others,” Lowrey wrote….Speaking to the New Yorker, Biden’s recently departed chief of staff, Ron Klain, alluded to a larger problem across the world….“We’re just at a place where, in democracies, we’re going to find that forty-three or forty-four [percent] will turn out to be a very high approval rating, just because people are polarized: the people on the other side are never going to say you’re doing a good job, and for the people in the middle it’s just easier to say, ‘Eh’,” he told the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos….The better measure of success is elections, Klain said. And Biden will have another chance to prove his messaging and agenda are working next year.”

In “Most Americans Think House Republicans Aren’t Investigating Real Problems,” Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes at FiveThirtyEight: “According to a Fox News/Beacon Research/Shaw & Company Research poll conducted in late January, more than two-thirds of registered voters said it’s at least somewhat important for Congress to investigate the origins of COVID-19, federal agencies’ potential bias against conservatives and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Republicans’ targets don’t really line up with the issues that registered voters are most concerned about, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted in November. When voters were asked about their “top priority” for congressional investigations, fentanyl trafficking into the U.S., operations at the U.S.-Mexico border and the infant formula shortage of summer 2022 topped the list. This suggests that the Republicans’ border-security investigation could have some legs — but other issues, like the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impeachment of Mayorkas and Hunter Biden’s finances, were ranked lower….Other polls, meanwhile, suggest that Americans are concerned that Republican investigations will focus too much on digging up dirt on political rivals. A Pew Research Center poll conducted in January found that 65 percent of Americans were concerned that the GOP will focus too much on investigating the Biden administration, while only 32 percent were worried that the GOP wouldn’t focus enough on Biden. And when a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll asked about the GOP’s investigation into so-called targeting of conservatives by federal agencies, Americans were much likelier to say that the investigation is an attempt to score political points (56 percent) than a legitimate investigation (36 percent). Similarly, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in December found that a majority (51 percent) of registered voters agreed with a statement that impending House GOP investigations will be “mostly a political effort to embarrass the Biden administration,” while 38 percent called the investigations “an appropriate way to hold the Biden administration accountable.”

Thomason-DeVeaux notes further, “To be clear: Republicans’ investigations are going to happen whether Americans want them or not. Congressional investigations of presidents during periods of divided government are something of an American tradition. Two political scientists, Douglas Kriner and Eric Schickler, looked at congressional-investigation data between 1969 and 2014, and found that the number of days the House spent investigating the executive branch spiked whenever the two were controlled by different parties….Kriner and Schickler found that, in the past, aggressive investigations were pretty effective for attacking a sitting president. According to their analysis, 20 days of investigations in a month caused a drop in the president’s approval of about 2.5 percentage points. But it’s also possible that congressional investigations don’t pack the punch they used to. After all, Trump’s first impeachment didn’t do much to change Americans’ perspectives on him. And if Americans are already skeptical about Republicans’ investigations, GOP House members will have an even higher bar for convincing the public to pay attention….When Democrats took control of the House in 2019, Americans were similarly suspicious that their investigations for Trump would be politically tinged. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted in December 2018 found that nearly half (49 percent) of registered voters thought Democrats would go too far in their investigations of Trump, while 36 percent thought that Democrats wouldn’t go far enough. And by the end of Democrats’ four-year stint in control of the House, one of their biggest investigations hadn’t made a huge impact on public opinion: According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll published this past October, 56 percent of Americans said that their views of Trump hadn’t changed because of the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol….So while some Republicans will no doubt cheer the House GOP’s investigative zeal, the inquiries will probably seem to most Americans like more political noise.”

Brownstein: Biden’s Pitch to Senior Voters Spotlights GOP Split on Social Security, Medicare

From “How an old debate previews Biden’s new strategy for winning senior voters” by Ronald Brownstein at CNN Politics:

In pressing Republicans on Social Security and Medicare, President Joe Biden is reprising one of the most dramatic moments of his long career.

During the 2012 vice-presidential debate, Biden engaged in a nearly 11-minute exchange with GOP nominee Paul Ryan over Republican plans to reconfigure the two massive programs for the elderly, several of which Ryan had authored himself.

Biden and many Democrats felt he had won the argument on stage. Yet on Election Day, Ryan and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney routed Biden and President Barack Obama among White seniors, and beat them soundly among seniors overall, exit polls found.

That outcome underscores the obstacles facing Biden now as he tries to recapture older voters by portraying Republicans as threats to the two towers of America’s safety net for the elderly. While polls consistently show that voters trust Democrats more than Republicans to safeguard the programs, GOP presidential nominees have carried all seniors in every presidential election back to 2004 and have reached at least 58% support among White seniors in each of the past four contests, exit polls have found. Democrats have likewise consistently struggled among those nearing retirement, older working adults aged 45-64.

Those results suggest that for most older voters, affinity for the GOP messages on other issues – particularly its resistance, in the Donald Trump era, to cultural and racial change – has outweighed their views about Social Security and Medicare. Those grooves are now cut so deeply, over so many elections, that Biden may struggle to change them much no matter how hard he rails against a range of GOP proposals that could retrench or restructure the programs.

Biden’s charge that Republicans are threatening the two giant entitlement programs for the elderly – which triggered his striking back and forth exchanges with GOP legislators during the State of the Union – fits squarely in his broader political positioning as he turns toward his expected reelection campaign.

Brownstein goes on to liken President Biden to “a pre-1970s Democrat, who is most comfortable with a party focused less on cultural crusades than on delivering kitchen-table benefits to people who work with their hands.” Brownstein cites Biden’s “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America” – the planks in his economic plans, such as generous incentives to revive domestic manufacturing, aimed at creating more opportunity for workers without a college degree. Politically, Biden’s staunch defense of Social Security and Medicare, programs critical to the economic security of financially vulnerable retirees, represents a logical bookend to that emphasis.”

Teixeira: Revisiting the Three Point Plan to Fix the Democrats and Their Coalition

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

In October of last year, I wrote a widely-circulated post on “A Three Point Plan to Fix the Democrats and Their Coalition”. I argued:

The Democratic coalition today is not fit for purpose. It cannot beat Republicans consistently in enough areas of the country to achieve dominance and implement its agenda at scale. The Democratic Party may be the party of blue America, especially deep blue metro America, but its bid to be the party of the ordinary American, the common man and woman, is falling short.

There is a simple—and painful—reason for this. The Democrats really are no longer the party of the common man and woman. The priorities and values that dominate the party today are instead those of educated, liberal America which only partially overlap—and sometimes not at all—with those of ordinary Americans.

Since then, the Democrats had a relatively good election where, despite narrowly losing the House, they held their competitive Senate seats and even gained one (Pennsylvania). They also had strong victories in the Pennsylvania and Michigan governor’s races and netted two additional governor’s offices, thanks to their victories in the deep blue states of Maryland and Massachusetts. Democrats are also feeling their oats because of the two big bills passed shortly before the election—the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (really a climate bill with a little bit of health care thrown in). Biden is attempting to build on these bills by launching a widely-covered “turn to the working class” touting the job-creating and Build America/Buy America effects of these bills. This recently culminated in his well-received (especially in Democratic circles) State of the Union address where he struck a distinctly populist pose and claimed the Democrats’ policies were nothing less than a “blue collar blueprint to rebuild America”.

Biden has been credited with stealing Trump’s populism, displaying the political savvy of Bill Clinton and practicing the class politics of FDR. Critics of Democratic Party strategy have been urged to take a victory lap and stow their criticisms. After all, “he’s doing what you said he should do”! There is no need for further reform; Democrats are on track.

Perhaps Biden boosters should contain their enthusiasm. As was predictable, ordinary voters, as opposed to the Democrats’ amen corner, were unmoved by the speech. Morning Consult:

After remarks focused on touting his achievements and urging lawmakers to help “finish the job” with his agenda, 39% of registered voters said Biden “has been keeping his promises” while in office, unchanged from a survey conducted before his Feb. 7 speech. Just under half of voters (46%) said he has not kept his promises.

The 538 rolling average of Biden’s approval rating shows that Biden approval has been remarkably static since September, not dipping below 41 percent and not rising above 44 percent. The great majority of time it has been in the 42-43 percent range with 52-53 percent disapproval. On the day Biden delivered his speech, his approval rating was 43. 2 percent; a week later it was 43.1 percent. Now that’s stability.

Even more concerning, Biden has not been running strongly against his probable opponents in 2024, Trump or DeSantis. The Washington Post/ABC News poll just tested Biden against Trump and found Biden behind by 3 points, 48-45. The internals of the poll are pretty brutal. Biden loses to Trump by 17 points among all working class (non-college) voters. He lost these voters by just 4 points in 2020. And he gets crushed by Trump among white working class voters by 38 points; Biden “only” lost them by 25 in 2020.

That’s quite a hill for “blue collar Joe” to climb! And for those inclined to dismiss these results as too early, too weird, etc. to mean anything, I refer you to Harry Enten, here:

Multiple surveys since last year have shown Trump ahead of Biden in a potential 2024 election. Some polls also have Biden trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Over the entire 2020 campaign, not a single reputable poll found Trump ahead of Biden.

Quite simply, the polling today looks nothing like it did when Biden won his first term. If anything, it looks considerably worse for him.

And here:

There was not a single poll in 2019 or 2020 that met CNN’s standards for publication in which more respondents said they preferred Trump over Biden to be the next president. That ABC News/Washington Post poll is one of a number that already put Trump in a better position than Biden in the 2024 general election.

And have I mentioned the 2024 Senate map? The top 8 competitive seats for 2024 are all Democratic-held: West Virginia, Montana, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.. The white working class share of eligible voters in West Virginia is 74 percent; in Montana, 60 percent; in Ohio and Wisconsin, 58 percent; in Michigan, 55 percent; and in Pennsylvania, 53 percent (States of Change 2020 data). The other two states, Arizona and Nevada are “only” around 40 percent white working class but the overall working class share of eligibles in these states is astronomical: 71 and 75 percent, respectively. Ouch.

Political Strategy Notes

At FiveThirtyEight’s “Other Polling Bites,” Monica Potts notes, “Sixty-three percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the level of immigration to the country; of that group, a 64 percent majority say they want the level of immigration to decrease, according to a Gallup survey from January. Overall, the number of Americans who want immigration to decrease stands at 40 percent, more than double the number two years ago. There’s also a partisan split in how Americans view immigration: 71 percent of Republicans say there should be less immigration. Only 19 percent of Democrats agree. And while that’s a jump from only 2 percent of Democrats two years ago, Americans seem to be aware of a partisan split on this issue: An Ipsos poll from Feb. 3 to 5 found that 78 percent of adults think Americans are far apart on the issue of immigration, ranking it as one of the more divisive political issues asked about.” Democrats, take note that the high-turnout senior demographic is significantly more “dissatisfied with level of immigration and wanting it decreased” than other age groups, according to the Gallup Poll data.

Nonetheless, David J. Bier and Alex Nowrasteh report that “Biden’s Plan to End the Border Crisis Is Already Working” at The Daily Beast, and note: “In December 2022, the last full month before humanitarian parole, Border Patrol had 84,176 encounters with migrants from those four countries which accounted for over 36 percent of all encounters that month at the U.S.-Mexico border. In January, the number had already dropped to 11,909—an 86 percent decline. As a result, overall U.S.-Mexico border encounters are down 42 percent….This was similar to the decline in Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion showing up at the Southwest border in Spring 2022 after a similar program was announced. Their numbers dropped from 20,118 in April 2022 to 375 in May, a 98 percent reduction, after the Uniting for Ukraine parole program allowed them to come directly from abroad with a U.S. sponsor….The Ukrainian program was the model for Biden’s Latin American humanitarian parole and it’s having similarly dramatic effects on improving border security.” The authors, both affiliated with the libertarian Cato Institute, note some of the problems of the policy, but conclude: “The Biden administration has turned a massive flow of illegal immigrants into a smaller flow of legal immigrants using a 71-year-old legal power granted to him by Congress. Migrants on humanitarian parole are legal migrants, lawfully allowed to live and work in the United States….By extending humanitarian parole to other countries, increasing the numbers, attaching work authorization to parole, and reinstituting normal immigration fees, President Biden can be the first president to gain control of the border in generations.”

From “Both White and Nonwhite Democrats are Moving Left” by Alan I. Abramowitz at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “Growing partisan-ideological congruence has been one of the most important trends affecting American politics over the past several decades. The ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans has increased dramatically since the 1970s as Republicans have grown increasingly conservative and Democrats have grown increasingly liberal. This increase in partisan-ideological congruence has affected rank-and-file voters as well as party elites and activists….In this article, I use data from American National Election Studies surveys to examine trends in partisan-ideological congruence among Democratic and Republican voters since 2012. To measure partisan-ideological congruence, I examine trends in ideological identification and policy preferences among Democrats and Republicans. In addition, I examine whether there is evidence of an emerging ideological divide between white and nonwhite Democratic voters. The findings indicate that from 2012 to 2020, there was a dramatic increase in liberalism among Democratic voters. This leftward shift has been somewhat greater among white Democrats than among nonwhite Democrats. However, both white and nonwhite Democrats moved to the left over that timespan. As a result, for the first time in recent history, partisan-ideological congruence is as great among Democrats as among Republicans. This trend has important implications for voting behavior….The sharp leftward movement among Democratic voters in recent years has led some political observers to suggest that Democrats need to be concerned about a growing racial divide in political ideology.

Abramowitz continues, “Nonwhites make up a large share of Democratic voters — 43% in 2020 according to the ANES data — and nonwhite Democrats have traditionally been less likely than white Democrats to self-identify as liberal. A growing racial divide in ideology could lead to an erosion in support for Democratic candidates among nonwhites, who have been some of the most loyal Democratic voters….Nonwhite Democrats continue to be somewhat less likely than white Democrats to self-identify as liberal and to support abortion rights. However, they are just as liberal as white Democrats on other issues such as government responsibility for jobs and living standards and aid to Blacks. The most significant trend in attitudes on these issues has been a dramatic shift to the left among white Democrats.” In his conclusion, Abramowitz explains, “The increase in loyalty among white Democratic identifiers is due largely to their increased liberalism because defections among white Democrats have been heavily concentrated among those with relatively conservative ideological orientations. This increased loyalty has also been apparent in other types of elections including those for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In 2022, according to data from the American National Election Studies Pilot Survey, 96% of Democratic identifiers, including leaning independents, voted for Democratic candidates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Growing ideological congruence among Democrats, and especially among white Democrats, suggests that these high levels of loyalty are likely to continue in 2024 and beyond.” Abramowitz establishes that the trend is clear. But centrist Democrats see the party’s left lean as more of a problem, because it gives the Republicans much more opportunity to win votes from moderates.

Winning the White Working-Class vs. Winning a Bigger Share of It

Democrats should aspire to be the party of a majority of working-class voters of all races. But that isn’t going to happen overnight; it will take a few election cycles, and that is an optimistic scenario.

It should nonetheless remain a primary long-term goal of the party. If Democrats don’t represent working-class people, then what are they really about? Abandoning that goal would guarantee continued political impotence and stagnation. Demographic realities do not support a “skip the white workers” strategy.

White workers, narrowly defined as non-college voters, are about 40-45 percent of the most recent electorate, nation-wide. But let’s keep in mind that “non-college” is a statistically-useful designation, but not a perfect definition of working-class voters. There are substantial numbers of white, college-educated workers doing service work and ‘pink collar’ jobs in the U.S. economy. It’s likely that a majority of today’s voters hail from the white working-class.

Moreover, the morality of seeking a work-around the white working class is pretty shameful. Democrats must keep moving toward becoming a party that workers of all races can look to for leadership that can make their lives better.

In the short term, however, a more achievable goal is needed to prevent disaster for Dems: Democrats should try hard to win a modestly-larger share of working-class voters: taking away just 5 percent of white working-class voters from Republicans in 2024 would be a great victory. Taking 10 percent of their white worker voters would be politically-transformative, and go a long way toward enacting a full-blown progressive economic agenda.

These percentages can be even smaller if Democrats do a better job of mobilizing a larger turnout of sizable Dem-friendly constituencies, like Black voters, Mexican Americans, college students and women concerned about reproductive rights. It won’t be easy, since turnout of some traditionally pro-Democratic groups has declined in recent elections. But there is so much room for turnout improvement with all of these constituencies that abandoning that goal would be political malpractice.

Few Democratic elected officials and Democratic voters actually embrace unpopular policies like ‘open borders’ or ‘defunding the police.’ Some organizations do, they are very loud and big media amplifies their voices. That gives the impression to many that most Democrats are in favor of such policies, and that screws up the Democratic ‘brand.’

Some progressive Democrats advocate policies that are unpopular with white workers, like banning fracking, gun control or tuition-free college education, to name a few. Their views are usually tailored to appeal to their particular constituencies and they are sometimes right. But the arrogant way they sometimes express their views too often invites hostility from blue collar workers. Hence the bumper sticker, “Drill everywhere: My truck won’t run on unicorn piss.”

However, few who advocate culturally ‘progressive’ views are going to change because of anything commentators say about them. Nor will many Democratic moderates change their views because of anything progressive Democrats say. That debate is never going to be resolved, and that’s not a bad thing. We’re supposed to have vigorous policy debates, unlike Republicans who don’t stand for much besides tax give-aways to the wealthy, cuts in social spending and deregulation.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategists should explore promising approaches, like developing targeted policy mixes and pitching strategies that can appeal to small business entrepreneurs, seniors or rural voters. Democratic elected officials already support an impressive range of policies that benefit white working-class voters. But they have to do a better job of spelling out these reforms, publicizing their support and calling out Republican opposition. Picking off a percent or two of Republicans share of the vote here and there can make a big difference.

Democrats are not going to suddenly become ‘the party of the working-class’ in time for next year’s elections. That’s going to take longer. But Dems must implement a short-term 2024 strategy that can win or at least prevent Republicans from being able to further gerrymander Democrats out of power. That has to include a full range of short-term tactics, including potentially-risky projects like opposition primary meddling where it will work – while making steady progress toward becoming the party working-class voters trust.

Democrats have to play a better short game as well as a more effective long-term one. There are overlapping strategies for both, but Dems must stay nimble and be ready to seize every short-term opportunity to make gains in the next election.

“Red Mirage” Scenario Getting Less Likely for 2024

The task of preventing another election theft effort in 2024 has rung up a few modest victories, including the enactment of Electoral Count Act reforms and the relatively small number of contested midterm results. But another step forward came from a most unlikely direction, as I explained at New York:

Of all the many evil (as opposed to merely criminal) things Donald Trump did during the 2020 presidential election cycle, what he did to demonize perfectly legal voting-by-mail opportunities ranked high. His unsubstantiated fraud claims against non–Election Day voting in person not only clouded (in the minds of his credulous supporters and cynical advisers) the legitimacy of marginal folk taking advantage of “convenience voting” to back the Democratic Party. He also convinced a lot of Republican voters to avoid mail-voting opportunities as morally tainted. And that created what came to be prophetically known as the “Red Mirage” scenario, in which Republicans would build up an early lead based on Election Day votes and then disparage late-arriving mail ballots as somehow fraudulent. Trump pulled the trigger on this strategy on Election Night, claiming an early victory that Democrats might subvert with ballot-box-stuffing utilizing presumably fake mail ballots that would be counted later on.

It all led to January 6, and then disgrace and ultimate defeat. And all along many Republicans complained that telling GOP voters to avoid early voting gave Democrats an advantage. A two-to-one advantage in the percentage of Democrats as compared to Republicans voting by mail in 2020 wound up being crucial. And finally, Trump is agreeing that’s unsustainable, as the Wall Street Journal reports:

“After years of assailing early voting, Donald Trump is having a change of heart. …

“Mr. Trump highlighted the move in a fundraising email this week, saying, ‘The radical Democrats have used ballot harvesting to cancel out YOUR vote and walk away with elections that they NEVER should have won. But I’m doing something HUGE to fight back.’

“The email added, ‘Our path forward is to MASTER the Democrats’ own game of harvesting ballots in every state we can. But that also means we need to start laying the foundation for victory RIGHT NOW.'”

Now this isn’t just a strategic retreat, much less an admission that critics of his attacks on voting by mail were right all along. Trump is essentially claiming Republicans need to engage in as much electoral skullduggery as Democrats in order to win.

It doesn’t mean he or his party will ever admit the legitimacy of past, present, or future electoral defeats.

But it does mean that Trump is going along with the GOP’s desire to compete with rather than attack or avoid early voting. And going down the road to 2024, it means Republicans (even if the 45th president is their presidential candidate) will be far less likely to claim premature victories or reject ultimate defeats on the basis of the flawed idea that only Election Day votes are legitimate. And for democracy, that is a very good thing.


Political Strategy Notes

Some polling data from “Just How Far Apart Are The Two Parties On Gun Control?” by Ryan Best, Mary Radcliffe and Kaleigh Rogers at FivdeThirtyEight: “What percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support requiring background checks for all gun purchasers? 77% of Republican and 91% of Democratic respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support universal background checks, a difference of 14 percentage points. (Source: Morning Consult/Politico, March 6-8, 2021, among 1,990 registered voters)….What percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support allowing a family member to seek a court order to temporarily take away guns if they feel a gun owner may harm themselves or others? 70% of Republican and 85% of Democratic respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support red-flag laws, a difference of 15 percentage points. (Source: APM Research Lab, July 16-21, 2019, among 1,009 U.S. adult residents) ….What percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they “strongly” or “somewhat” favor banning assault-style weapons? 37% of Republican and 83% of Democratic respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” favor banning assault weapons, a difference of 46 percentage points. (Source: Pew Research Center, April 5-11, 2021, among 5,109 adults). What percentage of Republican and Democratic respondents do you think said they believe the right of people to own guns is more important than protecting people from gun violence? 9% of Democratic and 39% of Republican respondents said they believe the right to own guns is more important, a difference of 30 percentage points. (Source: YouGov/The Economist, April 16-19, 2022, 1,500 U.S. adult citizens). And anyone concerned about improving gun safety in America should read Nicholas Kristof’s “A Smarter Way to Reduce Gun Deaths” in the New York Times.

And at The Hill Olafimihan Oshin reports that “Americans’ dissatisfaction with gun laws at new high: Gallup poll,” and writes: “A majority of Americans surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with current gun laws in the U.S. amid a recent string of mass shootings affecting the country, according to a new Gallup poll….The poll, published Wednesday, found that 63 percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the nation’s laws and policies on firearms, while 34 percent of those surveyed said the opposite….The results marked the highest percentage of Americans that are dissatisfied with current gun laws in the last seven years, with a seven-point increase from last year, when 56 percent of respondents claimed they were unhappy….Satisfaction with gun policies in the country has also fallen since last year’s poll, tying the lowest on record, according to Gallup….Among political party lines, 54 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning Independent respondents said they are satisfied with the nation’s laws and policies on handguns, while 44 percent of those surveyed expressed their dissatisfaction with current law….On the other side, 84 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents expressed their dissatisfaction with the nation’s laws and policies, while 14 percent of those surveyed said they are satisfied with the nation’s current policies…Around 60 percent of Independent respondents express their dissatisfaction with the nation’s laws and firearm policies, while 36 percent of those surveyed said they are satisfied.”

Jason Linkins argues “The Case Against a Biden Run Is Obvious—and Weak” at The New Republic, and observes: “The political media are chaos junkies who treat conflict as catnip and would relish the crisis caused by Biden’s departure. Meanwhile, the lesson of the midterms is that voters are turned off by disarray. Biden’s own polling struggles reflect this: Nothing damaged his approval ratings more than the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is still struggling to recover from that one moment when it did not appear that the adults were in charge….But Afghanistan is instructive in a different way as well. The withdrawal may have hurt Biden’s numbers, but the fact that he was unwilling to keep paying the sunk costs of the Afghanistan scam was a real break from the status quo. Biden’s State of the Union address suggested that the president still has that yen for fresh thinking. As HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard noted: Clinton used his address “to declare the era of big government over, Obama used them to sell a grand bargain and a free trade deal.” Biden, by contrast, “used it to attack big pharma, rule out social security cuts, talk about antitrust policy, and declare the tax code unfair.”….This is a phenomenon that we’ve noted before: Many of Biden’s throwback instincts about the way America could be are incredibly well suited to the moment, and seem fresher than his predecessors’ ideas. Would-be Biden successors should take heed, because at the moment it’s Biden who sounds most like a bona fide party standard-bearer and a better tribune of the middle class than any of the GOP’s weird culture warriors, and more prepared to battle the larger universe of chiselers and cheats who have gotten away with nickel-and-diming ordinary Americans.”

So many of the internal arguments among Democrats boil down to how to spend money. At Campaigns & Elections, Swati Mylavarapu makes the case that “Democrats Need a Better Investment Strategy‘ and writes: “Currently, Democrats over-invest at the top of the ticket and prioritize federal races at the expense of state races. We fall in love with candidates and over-invest in individual campaigns at the expense of organizing infrastructure and pipeline building. And we invest late in an election cycle when resources can have limited impact….In practice, this means that for every campaign that’s raising millions in a given cycle, including long shots, we’re neglecting winnable state races and infrastructure investments that can help Democrats build lasting power for generations….First, we must invest early in the election cycle—and by early, I mean now. As Election Day approaches, campaigns become increasingly limited in how they can leverage resources, resulting in the majority of late money going to advertising….Reallocating a portion of that late money towards early investments would give Democrats the flexibility to prioritize tactics like voter registration and deep canvassing to message policy wins—efforts that can reduce election-year spend and build our base….Second, donors must distribute resources up and down the ballot. Last year’s historic state legislative gains came from a long-overdue recognition that state legislatures govern issues that have a profound impact on our lives. Prioritizing down-ballot investments can help us lock in those gains and flip other chambers — all while helping Democrats build a bench of talent and drive up vote tallies on top of the ticket races….Third, in addition to supporting candidates, we must invest in groups that strengthen Democratic infrastructure and help us build long-term power. We need permanent, year-round efforts to register voters, mobilize communities of color, expand the Democratic talent pipeline, and train campaign staff and volunteers. Investment in groups that do this work–like Arena, Run for Something, SwingLeft, and Sister District–pays both short and long-term dividends….Finally, rather than ceding ground, we should buy in the bear market with investments in states that are or are trending red, like Florida. Georgia is a perfect example of what Democrats can accomplish when we play the long game. Winning back power is a marathon, not a sprint — we can’t be short sighted and only focus on races that can be won immediately….Together, these shifts in tactics and strategy can help Democrats secure sustainable power for generations.”

What If Biden Did Retire? It Wouldn’t Be Pretty.

The odds of Joe Biden running for reelection are now very high, but since we keep hearing of polls where Democratic voters are restive, it’s worth pondering the road that probably won’t be taken, so I did that at New York:

The estimable New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg recent came out and said what a good number of Democrats occasionally think: They like Joe Biden and think he’s done a good job as president, but they’d rather see the 80-year-old step aside and let someone else run in 2024. Goldberg was very direct about it:

“It’s been widely reported that Biden plans to use the State of the Union to set up his case for re-election. There’s a rift in the Democratic Party about whether this is wise for an 80-year-old to do. Democratic officials are largely on board, at least publicly, but the majority of Democratic voters are not. ‘Democrats say he’s done a good job but he’s too old,’ said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist who conducts regular voter focus groups. ‘He’ll be closer to 90 than 80 by the end of his second term.’ Perhaps reflecting this dynamic, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that while 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents approved of the job Biden has done as president, 58 percent of them wanted a different candidate next year.”

Regardless of what Democrats may want, the odds of Biden stepping aside are very low. The last sitting president to retire on his own terms after just one full term was Calvin Coolidge nearly a century ago. There are zero signs of any serious challengers stepping up to challenge Biden’s renomination, and restive Democratic voters will almost certainly come around once the 46th president becomes the party’s standard-bearer again.

But it’s worth considering what might happen if Biden does step aside. Goldberg’s view of this scenario is fairly sunny:

“Plenty of Democrats worry that if Biden steps aside, the nomination will go to Vice President Kamala Harris, who polls poorly. But Democrats have a deep bench, including politicians who’ve won in important purple states, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Biden said he wanted to be a bridge to the next generation of Democrats. There are quite a few promising people qualified to cross it. A primary will give Democrats the chance to find the one who is suited for this moment.”

Unfortunately, a contested 2024 Democratic primary probably wouldn’t be a calm, deliberative process. It would more likely be a nasty and complicated slugfest leading to a shaky general-election campaign. The GOP presidential field is coming together pretty late compared with previous cycles, and even if Biden made a call soon, Democratic candidates would find themselves scrambling to put together a national campaign. Here are some likely consequences of a sudden Biden retirement.

Kamala Harris would run, but she wouldn’t clear the field.

The vice-president is Biden’s heir apparent, though most observers figured she would have until 2028 to polish her image and (assuming she and Biden were reelected) chalk up some distinctive accomplishments. Harris’s candidacy could get a big boost if Biden promoted her candidacy, but he might decide it’s more appropriate to stay out of the nominating process, much as Barack Obama did in the early stages of the 2016 primaries. Even with Biden’s active support, though, it’s unlikely Harris has the sort of political clout to preempt a challenge.

Furthermore, Harris might have to prove her appeal to Black voters. In 2020, Black voters strongly preferred Biden to Harris, ruining her efforts to pursue a strategy modeled on Obama’s in 2008. Would she do better with this crucial segment of the primary electorate in a second presidential campaign? It’s unclear, particularly if the “electability” concerns that helped boost Biden among Black and white voters alike turn out to be a millstone for Harris.

2020 candidates would flood the race.

In 2020, the Democratic primary field was the largest since the start of the modern primary system, and the many candidates who performed better than Harris would certainly be tempted to challenge her again.

Two progressive heavyweights, 81-year-old Bernie Sanders and 73-year-old Elizabeth Warren, probably retired their own presidential ambitions on the assumption that Biden would be the party’s candidate in 2024. But if he’s not in, they might consider running. In particular, the huge following Sanders built over two presidential campaigns might convince him to run again; he has pointedly not ruled out a bid if Biden isn’t in the field.

There are also younger 2020 candidates who envision themselves in the White House and may accelerate their plans given the surprising appearance of an “open” nomination contest and the uncertainty as to when the next “opening” might occur. For some reason, Pete Buttigieg is often the sole object of speculation on this possibility, but Amy KlobucharCory BookerJulian Castro, and even Michael Bennet might go for the gold again.

The primary would attract plenty of fresh candidates, too.

The 2024 primary field could be even more crowded than it was four years earlier. There are several major Democratic officeholders thought to be waiting for the right moment to run for president. If Biden doesn’t run, that moment might arrive early for three governors: California’s Gavin Newsom, Illinois’s J.B. Pritzker, and Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer. The first two governors have vast resources at their disposal, while the third checks an awful lot of boxes for Democrats valuing electability above all else.

The fight over the Democratic primary calendar would become red hot.

Right now, the Democratic National Committee’s Biden-driven bid to shake up the presidential primary calendar is a bit of an abstract proposition; it doesn’t really matter if Biden runs unopposed. If Biden isn’t the nominee, it will suddenly matter a great deal whether the primaries begin with South Carolina rather than New Hampshire, whether Iowa is excluded from the early states altogether, and whether Georgia or Michigan go third or fourth or fifth. In a late-developing open nomination contest, candidates may rise or fall based on how well they navigate the new calendar. So the DNC’s tentative decision to move ahead with a new order of states could suddenly become controversial and even disputed.

Democrats would fall right back into “disarray.”

Democrats are rightly proud of the unity they have been displaying in Congress lately in sharp contrast to the chaos and factionalism of the GOP.

But the relative ideological unity of the Democratic Party would by no means guarantee a peaceful nomination process if Biden retires. In primaries in which everyone is mostly aligned on the issues, candidates tend to differentiate themselves on personal matters, often leading to especially nasty battles. Warren’s demolition of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s 2020 candidacy candidacy in just one debate could provide the template for 2024. And, ideology aside, a competitive contest could revive disagreements over race and gender at a time when the Democratic coalition couldn’t afford any self-inflicted wounds.

Costs could be high for Democrats.

A Biden retirement might air out some dirty Democratic laundry and help identify future talent, but it would come at a high price. The money and energy that would be siphoned off into what would almost certainly be a big fight involving a large field of candidates could be more usefully deployed on behalf of a Biden-Harris reelection campaign. Yes, there’s a risk in moving forward with an 80-year-old nominee who doesn’t excite Democratic voters. But it’s not as big a risk as distracting Democratic voters with the carnage of a primary fight while Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis waits to pick up the pieces and blast all Democrats to perdition.