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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Debate over country song is a right-wing trap for Democrats.

The debate over the song “Try That in a Small Town” is an excellent example of a particularly devious right-wing extremist trap – one that the GOP will use against Democrats again and again in 2024. Dems need to understand what the trap is designed to accomplish, how it works and how to defend against it.

Read the Memo.

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

Progressives need to apologize to Oliver Anthony

He understands working people better than they do, he can talk to them better than they can.

Read the Memo.

Why Don’t Working People Recognize and Appreciate Democratic Programs and Policies

The mythology of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days” and the Modern Debate Over “Deliverism.”

Read the Memo.

Innovative Study Offers New Insight into White Working Class Voters.

Innovative Study Provides Startling New Insight About Working Class Voters
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

December 2, 2023

Teixeira: Why Can’t the Democrats Be More Moderate?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, co-founder and politics editor of  The Liberal Patriot, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

What kind of voters do Democrats need more of?

David Leonhardt had the answer in a recent column. He calls them “Scaffles”—socially conservative and fiscally liberal voters. These are cross-pressured swing voters—and there are a lot of them. Socially liberal, fiscally liberal voters vote Democratic. Socially and fiscally conservative voters vote Republican. And there just aren’t very many socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters. So the Scaffles are where the action is. If the Democrats hope to vanquish the Republicans decisively, this is where the Democrats should be concentrating. As they say down South, you gotta go hunting where the ducks are.

So why don’t they? After all, as Leonhardt points out:

These socially conservative and fiscally liberal voters… have voted for progressive economic policies when they appear as ballot initiatives, even in red states. Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nebraska, for instance, have passed minimum-wage increases. Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah have expanded Medicaid through Obamacare. Republicans without a college degree are often the ones who break with their party on these ballot initiatives.

On the other hand:

At the same time, Scaffles are the reason that a Times poll last year showed that most voters, including many Latinos, prefer the Republican Party’s stance on illegal immigration to the Democratic Party’s. Or consider a recent KFF/Washington Post poll on transgender issues, in which most Americans said they opposed puberty-blocking treatments for children.

There are many, many other examples along these lines. Echelon Insights tested a series of basic values statements on sociocultural issues including: Racism is built into our society, including into its policies and institutions vs. Racism comes from individuals who hold racist views, not from our society and institutions. The result: Hispanics endorsed the second, allegedly “conservative” statement that racism comes from individuals by 58-36, as did working-class (noncollege) voters by 57-33.

Or consider the findings from a recent USC Dornsife survey on “What Americans Really Think About Controversial Topics in Schools”. The survey, among other things, asked about what topics respondents thought elementary school students should learn about. Overwhelming majorities thought elementary school children should learn about slavery, the environment, critical thinking, patriotism, the contributions of women and persons of color, and the contributions of the Founding Fathers. But just 29 percent thought elementary school children should learn about gender identity. The figure was even lower among working-class respondents.

The survey also asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about race in America. One was a classic statement of colorblind equality: “Our goal as a society should be to treat all people the same without regard to the color of their skin”. This Martin Luther King-style statement elicited sky-high (92 percent) agreement from the public, despite the assaults on this idea from Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the likes of Ibram X. Kendi and large sectorsof the Democratic left. In a fascinating related finding, the researchers found that most people who claim to have heard about CRT believe CRT includes this colorblind perspective, rather than directly contradicting it. Perhaps they just can’t believe any theory that has anything to do with race would reject this fundamental principle.

These and other findings fairly scream out for compromise on the part of Democrats to meet the Scaffles closer to where they live in cultural and value terms. So why aren’t they doing so?

To put it in the simplest possible terms: follow the money. The Democrats are a far different party than they were back in their heyday as the party of America’s working class. They are far more dependent in every way on more affluent and educated voters. Today Democrats control around two-thirds of the Congressional districts where median income exceeds the national average, while Republicans control around two-thirds of the districts where the median income is below the national average. That’s quite a change.

Political scientist Sam Zacher reports in “Polarization of the Rich: The New Democratic Allegiance of Affluent Americans and the Politics of Redistribution” that we are now seeing majority Democratic support among the top 5 percent, the top 1 percent, stock owners, and the highest income occupations. This is truly not your father’s Democratic Party.

Of course, the trend where Democrats do ever-better among college-educated voters and ever worse among working-class voters is well-documented. In 2022, Democratic performances among college-educated and working-class voters were perfect mirror images of each other. Democrats were +10 among college-educated voters in the national two-party House vote and -10 among working-class voters.

And what do these affluent, educated voters want? I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite different from what Scaffles have in mind. These affluent, educated voters are very socially liberal voters. Among white Democrats—who are increasingly affluent and educated—there has been an astonishing 37-point increase in professed liberalism between 1994 and today according to Gallup. White Democrats are now far more liberal than their black and Hispanic counterparts, who are overwhelmingly moderate to conservative. Indeed, white liberals are now more liberal on many racial issues than black and Hispanic voters.

Gallup data also indicate that two-thirds of white college Democrats are liberal while 70 percent of black working-class and two-thirds of Hispanic working-class Democrats are moderate or conservative. As one example among many, by 13 percentage points, white college liberals disagree that there are just two genders, male and female. But moderates and conservatives from the nonwhite working class agree by 31 points that there are in fact just two genders.

These affluent, educated voters contribute an enormous amount to the Democratic Party. That ranges from direct support through money and party activism to indirect support through nonprofits, advocacy organizations, foundations, academia and much of the media. To put it simply, these voters now have a lot of numerical weight in the party and punch far above that weight due to their outsize contributions to party support.

No wonder the Scaffles are given short shrift. Democrats are simply too dependent on the votes and support of voters for whom social liberalism is a top—and frequently the top—priority. As political scientist Zach Goldberg puts it:

[I]ndividuals of higher socioeconomic status are more socially progressive and are more likely to prioritize post-material or moral-value-related issues (e.g., abortion, climate change, LGBT rights) over kitchen-table issues… The result of this phenomenon is the selection of candidates who are—or who are pressured and incentivized to be—far more socially progressive than would [otherwise] be the case… There are also opportunity costs: the more time invested in debating and attempting to pass progressive legislative agendas, the less time that can be spent on “normal” economic and quality-of-life issues…

And more crassly: who’s writing the checks? Lakshya Jain at Split-Ticket.org has reported some powerful findings:

There is a very clear correlation between the amount of money spent by a party and its college educated vote share; the greater the share of college-educated voters that a party gets, the greater its share of spending in a cycle. As an example, from 1998 to 2014, the Republican Party was responsible for 51% of the (non-third party, inflation-adjusted) money spent in elections, and in 2014, they were getting 51% of the college-educated vote, as per Catalist. From 2016-2020, their spending percentage plummeted to 43%; perhaps not coincidentally, they were only netting 41% of the college-educated vote by 2020.

This correlation should come as little surprise, given the strong relationship between income and education levels. As the Democratic Party continues to pick up educated suburbanites, its coalition has proceeded to become wealthier than ever before, and it is reflected in the asymmetric spending spike the Democratic Party has seen of late. In fact, by 2020, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party received six times as much secret donor support (termed “dark money” by some) as Donald Trump and the GOP did.

And so while it was once taken as a given by many Democrats that the increase of money in politics might result in Republican hegemony at the ballot box, the picture is now no longer as clear; campaign finance reform measures might genuinely hurt the Democratic Party more than it would harm the Republican Party.

This gives a whole new meaning to the traditional leftist slogan of “get money out of politics!” And also perhaps a whole new perspective on why Democrats can’t seem to moderate their approach on cultural issues to appeal to Scaffles, despite the trove of votes that might be awaiting them there. Follow the money. It’s really that simple.

I have a new book with John Judis coming out this November, Where Have All the Democrats Gone?: The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes. If you like what you read on The Liberal Patriot, you’ll love this book! Now available for pre-order on Amazon. Be the first one on your block, etc.

Political Strategy Notes

For a good lefty take on the debt ceiling deal, check out Harold Meyerson’s well-titled “You Go to War (or Not) With the President You Have” at the American Prospect. Among Meyerson’s observations: “Like the world according to T.S. Eliot, it ended with a whimper. Which is about the best progressives could have hoped for, given Republicans’ control of the House and the president’s limited ability to transcend that unfortunate state of affairs with some powerful messaging….This is not a president who does—who can do—powerful messaging….Joe Biden’s strengths and weaknesses are those of a workhorse senator. He can deal. He can keep lines of communication open to his fellow pols. He can’t use the powers of speech to reframe a debate or lift it to a higher level where his position becomes the obvious solution.Had he been so able, he might have gone on television to tell the nation why the very existence of the debt ceiling was an affront to both the Constitution and the nation’s standing. He would have laid out the reasons why he was inviting the Court to rule on it….But in his 50 years in the public eye, Biden has never delivered a speech with the power to alter the public’s understanding of a major issue. That wasn’t really a problem when he was a senator or even a vice president. It is, however, a genuinely limiting factor on his de facto powers as president….What he can enter into (a lot better than Donald Trump ever could) is the art of the deal. The concessions that Biden made are not only much less damaging than those of the 2011 arrangement—which ensured that the recovery from the 2008 crash would take a full decade—but might provide some political advantages in battles yet to come. Consider, for instance, one of the deal’s most egregious provisions, which my colleague David Dayen has termed the Pipeline Payoff. By ensuring that Joe Manchin’s pet pipeline is completed, now magically empowered to leap all remaining judicial and agency reviews in a single bound, Biden strengthens Manchin’s prospects for re-election next year, which the Democrats need if they’re to retain control of the Senate. He also lessens the prospect that Manchin will wage an independent presidential candidacy on the No Labels line, which would almost surely boost Republicans’ chances to win that election. For that matter, he makes it harder for No Labels to pretend that he’s a dangerous leftist who must be replaced. And, of course, he avoids the biggest obstacle to his own re-election, which was the economic implosion that would have followed a default, remote though the chance of an actual default actually was….This is not to say that Biden’s deal making didn’t come with a cost. From my perspective, its greatest cost was the omission of any permitting deal that would have sped the construction of electric transmission lines, absent which it could be a very long time before wind and solar power can light up distant cities and farms. That task now falls to a better Congress than the one we have now….He can’t speak but he can deal. As presidents go, we’ve done better, and we’ve done lots, LOTS worse.” You want more eloquence, find another Obama. You want a shrewd poker-player, Biden can deal.

Plenty has been said about the Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling deal, which just passed the House of Reps, and should sail through the senate. We’ll just add a snippet from “The good, the bad, and the ugly of the debt ceiling deal” by MSNBC Opinion Writer/Editor Hayes Brown: “…The final vote — 314 — 117, with Democrats providing the majority of the votes in favor — highlighted just how much the final agreement changed versus when the GOP passed its “Limit, Save, Grow Act” in April….Tellingly, the vote reflects the fact that the deal is bipartisan in the sense that it’s gotten votes from both parties, not that it is a win for both parties equally. Likewise, it is a compromise in that only some Americans will have their lives impacted for the worse. The alternative was either a massive hole Republicans tried to cut into the social safety net with their original bill, or widespread economic chaos a default would have caused….the bill could have been much worse. The Republican priorities it contains have been significantly pared back and there are a few Democratic priorities that were unexpectedly worked into the deal….Its budget provisions also get us through the next two fiscal years, which means the odds for a potential government shutdown have shrunk significantly. And, importantly, no matter what happens in 2024, the debt limit revision expires when Democrats will still control the Senate and White House….The bill is proof that Biden successfully defended the vast majority of his agenda passed by the last Congress. For example, there were only minor tweaks to the Inflation Reduction Act; the climate and health care provisions it contained were left intact. And a set of spending caps in the bill are pegged to the current year’s budget, not to fiscal year 2022’s budget as the GOP sought.”  Well-played, Mr. President.

One more mini-screed from Emily Brooks and Mike Willis at The Hill, who have one of those ‘Five takeaways’ posts. An excerpt from their subsection, “Jeffries, Dem leaders keep a tight ship“: “McCarthy was not the only untested congressional leader heading into the debt ceiling fight….Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the newly tapped Democratic leader, was also under heavy pressure to deliver for the party in his first major battle with a tight deadline and the economy in the balance…. That gave Jeffries and his leadership team the delicate task of protecting Biden, an unpopular president who’s running for reelection, from charges that he gave away too much, while also giving rank-and-file members of his caucus free rein to air their protests with the deal — and even vote against it when it hit the floor. There was no whip operation on final passage….“Members will make the decision that is best for them,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday morning….Jeffries also orchestrated several deft maneuvers throughout the debate….In January, Democratic leaders very quietly launched the process, known as a discharge petition, to force a vote on a clean debt ceiling bill as an emergency hatch if the talks went sideways. Behind Jeffries and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the Democratic whip, party leaders then secured unanimous support for that petition, which heightened the pressure on Republicans to cut a deal with Biden….And Wednesday, when McCarthy failed to secure the necessary Republican votes to pass the rule governing the bill, Jeffries mobilized Democrats to buck tradition and fill the void to ensure the measure could pass — but only after it was clear that Democrats would be needed to rescue the vote….Even McCarthy was impressed with that strategy….“I probably would have done the same [thing],” McCarthy said. “Good play.” And great teamwork, Dems.

Another good post at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner’s “Biden, Student Debt, and the 2024 Election: Today on TAP: The president could make generational justice a big winner for basic decency—and for his re-election” provides some worthy insights, including: “Buried in the text of the debt deal is a provision codifying in law Biden’s plan to end serial student debt pauses as of September, pending a Supreme Court ruling on his partial debt cancellation. If the Court rules against him, the result will be a massive jolt to younger Americans (and not-so-young Americans) saddled with debt, as well as a big macroeconomic contraction to the economy….Thanks to the debt payment pause, which began in the bipartisan CARES Act of March 2020 and was extended indefinitely by executive order on Biden’s first day in office, some 48 million former students have had a three-year respite from this financial burden, which now totals over $1.7 trillion. By September, all could be paying the full tab….When Biden announced his plan for debt cancellation in August 2022, the decision was carefully poll-tested. Strategists weighed the benefit to those saddled with debt against the annoyance of those who either never attended college or who had already repaid their debts in full….Biden needs to embrace a broad agenda of generational justice for the young. A young adult today pursuing upward mobility is not only saddled with student debt. Many are unable to buy a house, or afford rent without multiple roommates. The young have difficulty finding a stable payroll job with benefits and career prospects that are more than a gig. The calculus is even worse for African Americans and for those who did not complete college and are still stuck with debt….My generation—and Biden’s—faced nothing like this. Student debt hadn’t even been invented; college and housing were affordable; and there were plenty of career-track jobs….Young people are precisely the segment of the electorate who are somewhat skeptical of Biden’s geezer-hood and who need to be motivated to vote, big-time. The youth vote turned out big and broke heavily for Democrats in 2018, allowing a takeback of the House….We need that in 2024, and more. The old guy needs to be a radical champion of the young….Go big again, Joe.”

Debt Default Crisis May Soon Give Way to a Government Shutdown Crisis

In reviewing the Biden-McCarthy debt limit deal, it became apparent to me that a lot of disputes were delayed more than resolved, as I pointed out at New York. Don’t get too comfortable just yet.

Since the federal government will be unable to meet its debt-servicing obligations as early as June 5, per Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the political world is understandably focused on Congress ratifying the debt-limit deal reached between negotiators representing President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Despite the deep desire of many members of Congress in both parties to vote against this deal, it will likely be enacted after some significant yelling and screaming. But it’s important to understand that the deal is by no means self-implementing. Its crucial agreements on federal spending have to be enacted via the entirely separate congressional appropriations process. To a considerable extent the dealmakers have simply kicked the can down the road until autumn when actual funding decisions are made.

Moreover, the provisions of the deal that constrain the appropriations process reflect a House Republican obsession that didn’t get a lot of attention during the debt-limit negotiations: demands for a return to so-called “regular order,” in which the federal government is funded by 14 distinct appropriations bills. The last time Congress actually completed all of these appropriations bills was in 1996; more typically, big chunks of federal spending are appropriated through catchall “continuing resolutions” or “omnibus appropriations bills” that (according to conservatives) protect liberal spending priorities and associated policies. But it’s supposed to happen prior to the September 30 end of the current fiscal year when FY 2023 appropriations expire.

There will probably be plenty of partisan fighting over the contents of these appropriations bills. The debt-limit deal specifies some of them (e.g., funding levels for defense and veterans’ benefits backed by both parties). But others will be worked out in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, on the House and Senate floor, and ultimately through House-Senate conferences and potential veto battles with the White House. If any of these appropriations aren’t settled by October 1 and aren’t addressed in stopgap spending deals (which, again, House Republicans tend to oppose as a matter of principle), the portions of the federal government affected will be shut down. And in the details of the debt-limit-deal legislation is a final, powerful inducement to regular appropriations: At the end of the calendar year, any appropriations contained in a stopgap spending bill will automatically be cut by one percent (via the “sequestration” process employed to enforce the spending caps enacted during the previous big debt-default agreements in 2011 and 2013) above and beyond any cuts already enacted.

This means it will be impossible under the debt-limit deal to paper over partisan and House-Senate differences on spending levels for individual federal programs by just tossing them into a stopgap spending bill that ultimately gets extended until the end of the fiscal year, after which the whole process begins again. So the odds of at least partial government shutdowns beginning in October and extending to the end of December are very high. Moreover, if Congress cannot somehow regain the ability to enact 14 appropriations bills for the first time this century, the cuts in appropriated programs will go deeper than previously expected via the mindless across-the-board cuts inflicted by sequestration.

We have learned during the prior 21 federal-government shutdowns that these interruptions in the normal functioning of agencies are deeply annoying but tolerable, especially compared with a debt default that could throw the national and global economies into recession. And the cuts we will ultimately see in nondefense programs that aren’t specifically protected in the debt-limit deal will be preferable to a debt default triggering a recession that forces even deeper funding cuts by increasing future debt-service requirements and reducing revenues. All in all, the debt-limit deal could have been worse, and the alternatives could have been disastrous.

But let’s not pretend the deal has resolved anything other than avoiding a default; the one big fight over the debt limit will give way to a thousand battles over appropriations. And don’t forget: The even bigger act of kicking the can down the road reflected in the debt-limit deal is the understanding that spending levels beyond FY 2025 will be determined by the results of the 2024 elections. If either party wins a trifecta, it could be in a position (subject to the Senate filibuster) to impose its spending priorities on the minority party. If, as is more likely, divided government continues beyond the next election, the sort of interminable battles over the size and shape of the federal government that produced the current debt crisis and the imminent government-shutdown crisis will continue for the foreseeable future. American voters really do owe it to their country to give somebody effective control of Washington next year. Otherwise, the shadow show of agreements now to disagree later could become the annual game in Washington.

‘Trump Drag’ a Worry of GOP Candidates….and a Boon for Dems

Republican 2024 candidates will be interested in “Can Republicans Hope To Outrun Trump In 2024 House Races?” by Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report. But Democrats should also give it a read, and flip the question into “Can Democrats Make Sure Republican 2024 candidates are branded as Trump’s lapdogs?” Of course, there is no guarantee Trump will win the GOP. But that is the most likely scenario at this juncture.

Here’s an excerpt from Walter’s article:

Last week, POLITICO’s Ally Mutnick and Holly Otterbein reported on how former President Donald Trump’s “early dominance” in the GOP presidential primary has “spooked some potential down-ballot candidates” and made the job of recruiting top-tier talent into key swing seat contests difficult. I’ve heard similar hand-wringing from GOP strategists, including the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, which released the results of a swing-state survey they conducted showing a ticket led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis produced a generic ballot advantage of one point for Republicans, while a Trump-led ticket produced a down-ballot advantage to Democrats of three points.

So, how worried should GOP candidates be about the “Trump drag” in 2024?

Walter reviews the history of Trump drag for both times he has been on the ballot and the midterms during his presidency and she sees some significant ‘Trump Drag.’  Further,

In 2022, Republicans narrowly won control of the House thanks to the fact that 18 Republicans won in districts Biden had carried in 2020. However, Republicans’ failure to flip other high-profile seats that Biden narrowly carried two years earlier (like MI-08, MI-07, PA-07, CO-08, NM-02 and OH-13) cost them a more robust majority.

To hold the House in 2024, Republicans first have to limit their losses in Biden-held districts. The most vulnerable Republicans are the five freshmen who outperformed Trump’s 2020 showing in their districts by double digits: John Duarte (CA-13), George Santos (NY-03), Anthony D’Esposito (NY-04), Mike Lawler (NY-17) and Lori Chavez DeRemer (OR-05). For example, Biden won the Central Valley-based 13th District by 11 points. Freshman Rep. John Duarte carried it by just under one point.

Walter concludes, “To hold the House, Republicans are going to need to beat Democrats in districts where Trump will likely lose.” Also,

In 2016, when Trump was a novelty, 23 Republican candidates won in districts Trump lost. Four years later, only nine Republicans were able to do the same thing. In 2022, Democrats effectively branded the GOP as the party of MAGA and Trump, helping them to pick up a Senate seat and hold down their losses in the House.

This is why many Republicans are correctly worried that Trump on the top of the ticket could risk their majority.

So, in the event of Trump’s winning the GOP nomination, Democrats should get out their branding irons and make sure GOP candidates have “Trump lapdog” emblazoned their foreheads. But save a little room for “anti-choice puppet,” which could come in handy, — especially if Trump tanks, and some other extremist gets the Republican nod.

It’s true that the ‘Trump Lapdog’ brand has not hurt some of his most obsequious minions, like Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham in the recent past. But keep in mind that demographic transformations, though modest from year to year, favor Democrats in many states and congressional districts. Graham does not have to run in 2024. But Cruz is facing a charismatic Democrat, Colin Allred. A good Democratic branding effort in Texas, for example, could help flip a couple of points – and win an Allred victory – for Dems.

Gun Poll: Support for Reforms Increasing….for Now

It’s only one poll about gun safety reforms. But I’m beginning to wonder if proximity to an election is more important than poll averaging for evaluating public attitudes for reforms on this particular issue. Everyone is outraged after a mass shooting. Then there is big talk about enacting gun restrictions. Then the issue fades away with politicians until the next massacre, and the cycle starts again.

We can hope that this latest poll, by CNN/SSRS signals a more permanent change in public attitudes and support for political action. As reported by Ariel Edwards-Levy at CNN Politics, “Most Americans continue to say gun control laws should be generally stricter, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, which finds broad support for preventing people under the age of 21 from buying any type of gun. At the same time, the country remains closely divided about how the availability of guns affects public safety, with sharp differences in views across partisan and demographic lines.” Further,

Overall, 64% say they favor stricter gun control laws, with 36% opposed, little changed since a survey taken last summer in the wake of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

About one-third of Americans, 36%, say that the presence of guns makes public places less safe, while 32% say that allowing gun owners to carry their guns in public makes those places safer and the rest that it makes no difference to safety.

Just over half the public, 54%, say they believe having stricter gun control laws would reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the country.

Public appetite for stricter gun laws has often tended to spike in the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings – but with the frequency of such incidents, that elevated support may have become somewhat more durable. CNN’s polling has found consistent majority backing for stricter guns laws since 2016, with 60% or more favoring tighter restrictions in every survey to ask the question since the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

There’s also been a sustained shift over the past decade in the intensity of opinions, which now consistently and substantially favor gun control advocates. In CNN polls conducted between 2013 and 2017, strong support for stricter gun laws outpaced strong opposition by an average margin of only 5 percentage points. In the years following the Parkland shooting, that margin has surged to an average of 30 points.

In the latest survey, strong support for gun control laws among the full public stands at 46%, while strong opposition stands at 20%. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to hold intensely felt views: 80% say they strongly support stricter laws, nearly doubling the 42% of strong opposition among Republicans.

There are more details to consider in Edwards-Levi’s report. Read it here.

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. provides a succinct as you are going to find description of GOP strategy: “The playbook is quite consistent: Harvest votes from less affluent social conservatives and pursue policies that benefit well-off economic conservatives.” Dionne adds, “This weekend is surprisingly instructive about how these two brands of politics overlap and reinforce each other.” Dionne digs into the history of Memorial Day (“Decoration Day), going back to the Civil War, and then writes, “The arguments around the budget and the debt ceiling in 2023 reflect a similar interaction of fiscal issues and questions of social and political equality (with the two parties largely switching sides)….One of the thorniest issues in the negotiations between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) involved so-called work requirements for the recipients of various public benefits….Because such requirements don’t get anyone a job and mostly create bureaucratic obstacles for working people entitled to benefits, Biden sought and won sharply narrower provisions affecting fewer programs and individuals while increasing help for veterans and the homeless. The work requirements shouldn’t have survived at all. The fact that McCarthy made them a bottom line speaks to the power of the signal they send about who is “worthy” of public help and who is not, with racial stereotypes lurking in the background….At the same time, said Johns Hopkins political scientist Lilliana Mason, author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity,” the rhetorical strategies of Trump and DeSantis move attention away from “broadly unpopular cuts” to “extremely popular programs.”….Under these circumstances, it’s easier to advance a general attack on government spending, thereby evading debate on the merits of particular government benefits and investments….The good news about the debt ceiling deal is that the country will not default on its debt (avoiding a fight of this sort for the remainder of Biden’s presidency) and will escape the extreme cuts right-wing Republicans originally hoped for. This is balanced by the reality that divided control of Congress will foil social advances through 2024.”

“Defying the adage among practitioners and scholars of politics that voters become more conservative as they age,” writes Thomas B. Edsall in his New York Times column, “— millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born in 1997 and afterward) have in fact become decidedly more Democratic over time, according to data compiled by the Cooperative Election Study.“….“I think it’s a real shift,” [Tufts political scientists Brian] Schaffner wrote in an email, quoting an analysis from December 2022 by John Burn-Murdoch of The Financial Times, “Millennials Are Shattering the Oldest Rule in Politics”:

If millennials’ liberal inclinations are merely a result of this age effect, then at age 35 they too should be around five points less conservative than the national average and can be relied upon to gradually become more conservative. In fact, they’re more like 15 points less conservative and in both Britain and the U.S. are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history.

Schaffner noted that Burn-Murdoch’s article “is pretty convincing and focuses on not just vote share but also issue positions, so I don’t think it is just a Trump thing.” However, Schaffner explains, “Because the population is very big and turnout rates tend to be much higher for older adults, these trends can be slow to lead to significant gains. For example, in 2018, I applied a life expectancy model to our C.E.S. data and using that model I calculated that it would take more than 20 years for Democrats to gain just 3 percentage points on their vote share from differential mortality….Those gains could easily be offset by Republicans doing a bit better among other groups. For example, part of what has helped them in recent elections is that even while the share of the population who are non-college white people is in decline, it is still a large group that (1) has come to vote more Republican in the past decade and (2) has seen its turnout rate increase during the same period.”

Edsall adds, “In a report published this month, “What Happened in 2022,” Catalist, a progressive data analysis firm, found more developments among young voters that favor Democrats: “Gen Z and millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6 percent among those who were eligible in both elections.”….What’s more, as the Catalist report noted,

65 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats, cementing their role as a key part of a winning coalition for the party. While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats. Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022….Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55 percent to 57 percent support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4 percent support).

Edsall also quotes Notre Dame political scientist Geoffrey Layman, who “cited 2000 and 2020 data from American National Election Studies to prove his point:”

White working-class people, white evangelicals, white Catholics and white Christians in general all voted significantly more Republican in 2020 than in 2000. White people with no college education: 56 percent for Bush in 2000, 68 percent for Trump in 2020. White evangelicals who regularly attend church: 75 percent for Bush in 2000, 89 percent for Trump in 2020. White Catholics who regularly attend church: 56 percent for Bush in 2000, 67 percent for Trump in 2020….Those countervailing trends have left the two parties in about the same competitive balance as in 2000. However, as the pro-Democratic sociodemographic trends continue, it will become increasingly difficult for the G.O.P. to stay nationally competitive with a base of just white working-class people, devout white Christians and older white people. The Republicans are starting to max out their support among these groups.

Edsall writes further, “The white backlash to the growing strength of liberal constituencies not only prompted conservative voters to back Republicans by higher margins; they also turned out to vote at exceptionally high rates to make up for their falling share of the electorate.” Unfortunately, “The Catalist report points to gains by Trump and Republican candidates among racial and ethnic minorities. The level of Hispanic support for Republican House candidates rose from 29 percent in 2016 to 38 percent in 2020, where it stayed in 2022. In a separate report on the 2020 election, Catalist found Black support for Republican candidates rose by three points from 7 percent in 2016 to 10 percent in 2020.”

DeSantis Stumbles Out of the Gate

Like everyone else, I listened to DeSantis’s botched Twitter Spaces launch, but then reached some conclusions about the trajectory of his campaign at New York:

Before long, the laughter over the technical glitches that marred Ron DeSantis’s official presidential campaign launch with Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces will fade. We’ll all probably look back and place this moment in better perspective. Political-media folk (not to mention DeSantis’s Republican rivals and Democratic enemies) tend to overreact to “game changing” moments in campaigns when fundamentals and long-term trends matter infinitely more. Relatively few actual voters were tuned in to Twitter to watch the botched launch, and even fewer will think less of DeSantis as a potential president because of this incident.

It mattered in one respect, however: The screwed-up launch stepped all over a DeSantis campaign reset designed to depict the Florida governor as a political Death Star with unlimited funds and an unbeatable strategy for winning the GOP nomination. The reset was important to rebut the prevailing story line that DeSantis had lost an extraordinary amount of ground since the salad days following his landslide reelection last year, when he briefly looked to be consolidating partywide support as a more electable and less erratic replacement for Donald Trump. For reasons both within and beyond his control, he missed two critical strategic objectives going into the 2024 race: keeping the presidential field small enough to give him a one-on-one shot at Trump and keeping Trump from reestablishing himself as the front-runner with an air of inevitability about a third straight nomination.

To dissipate growing concerns about the DeSantis candidacy, the top chieftains of his Never Back Down super-PAC let it be known earlier this week that they had a plan that would shock and awe the political world, based on their extraordinary financial resources (fed by an $80 million surplus DeSantis transferred from his Florida reelection campaign account). The New York Times wrote up the scheme without questioning its connection to reality:

“A key political group supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential run is preparing a $100 million voter-outreach push so big it plans to knock on the door of every possible DeSantis voter at least four times in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and five times in the kickoff Iowa caucuses.

“The effort is part of an on-the-ground organizing operation that intends to hire more than 2,600 field organizers by Labor Day, an extraordinary number of people for even the best-funded campaigns….

“The group said it expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million.”

In case the numbers didn’t properly document the audacity of this plan, Team DeSantis made it explicit. The Times report continues:

“‘No one has ever contemplated the scale of this organization or operation, let alone done it,’ said Chris Jankowski, the group’s chief executive. ‘This has just never even been dreamed up.’” …

At the helm of the DeSantis super PAC is Jeff Roe, a veteran Republican strategist who was Mr. [Ted] Cruz’s campaign manager in 2016. In an interview, Mr. Roe described an ambitious political apparatus whose 2,600 field organizers by the fall would be roughly double the peak of Senator Bernie Sanders’s entire 2020 primary campaign staff.

Clearly opening up the thesaurus to find metaphors for the extraordinary power and glory of their plans, one DeSantis operative told the Dispatch they were “light speed and light years ahead of any campaign out there, including Trump’s.”

Now more than ever, DeSantis’s campaign will have to prove its grand plans aren’t just fantasies. Those doors in Iowa really will have to be knocked. Thanks to Trump’s current lead, DeSantis will absolutely have to beat expectations there and do just as well in New Hampshire and South Carolina before facing an existential challenge in his and Trump’s home state of Florida. And while DeSantis had a good weekend in Iowa recently, picking up a lot of state legislative endorsements even as Trump canceled a rally due to bad weather that never arrived, he’s got a ways to go. A new Emerson poll of the first-in-the-nation-caucuses state shows Trump leading by an astonishing margin of 62 percent to 20 percent. And obviously enough, Iowa is where DeSantis will likely face the largest number of rivals aside from Trump; he’s a sudden surge from Tim Scott or Mike Pence or Nikki Haley or even Vivek Ramaswamy away from a real Iowa crisis.

Door knocking aside, a focus on Iowa, with its base-dominated caucus system and its large and powerful conservative Evangelical population, will likely force DeSantis to run to Trump’s right even more than he already has. The newly official candidate did not mention abortion policy during his launch event on Twitter; that will have to change, since he has a crucial opportunity to tell Iowa Evangelicals about the six-week ban he recently signed (similar, in fact, to the law Iowa governor Kim Reynolds enacted), in contrast to Trump’s scolding of the anti-abortion movement for extremism. DeSantis also failed once again to talk about his own religious faith, whatever it is; that will probably have to change in Iowa too. He did, however, talk a lot during the launch about his battle against the COVID-19 restrictions the federal government sought to impose on Florida even during the Trump administration. That will very likely continue.

The glitchy launch basically cost DeSantis whatever room for maneuvering he might have enjoyed as the 2024 competition begins to get very real — less than eight months before Iowa Republicans caucus (the exact date remains TBD). He’d better get used to spending a lot of time in Iowa’s churches and Pizza Ranches, and he also needs to begin winning more of the exchanges of potshots with Trump, which will only accelerate from here on out. All the money he has and all the hype and spin his campaign puts out won’t win the nomination now that Trump is fully engaged, and it sure doesn’t look like the 45th president’s legal problems will represent anything other than rocket fuel for his jaunt through the primaries. So for DeSantis, it’s time to put up or shut up.

The Very Problematic No Labels Ticket

Like a lot of Democrats, I’m concerned about the possibility No Labels will sponsor an independent presidential candidacy that could throw the 2024 election to Donald Trump. Here are some of the problems with their thinking, as I explained at New York:

The nonpartisan group No Labels wants to put a hypothetical independent unity ticket on the presidential ballot in 2024. There are a lot of problems with this plan. The biggest is that the group says it won’t launch such a candidacy unless victory is entirely possible. This means if it doesn’t get on enough ballots to ensure 270 electoral votes, the whole thing will have been a waste of time and of the money the group’s shadowy donors have ponied up.

Another problem is figuring out who will determine the ticket’s viability before it is (potentially) unveiled at No Labels’ April 2024 convention in Dallas. Will it be No Labels CEO Nancy Jacobson? Her husband, the pollster-strategist Mark Penn (who has supplied the group’s … interesting past polling showing that Joe Biden’s Delaware is in play)? Or perhaps the same shadowy donors who are paying for the show?

Moreover, what if the theoretical viability of an independent unity ticket falls apart when the actual candidates are unveiled? There are lobbyists who swoon over the two senators whose names are most often mentioned as possible independent unity presidential candidates, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. But both politicians are very likely in the process of losing their Senate seats next year; it’s unlikely either would light up the sky as a presidential candidate. And even if they looked good initially, there’s a rich history of third-party candidacies (particularly the prior two “independent centrist” efforts, by John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992) polling well for a moment until reality sets in and the “maverick” option fades.

Beyond all these questions, though, is a more fundamental problem with the No Labels premise, based on the idea that the two “broken” political parties are holding a largely centrist nation hostage to the fanatical ideologues who control them. Perhaps you could make an argument that the party caucuses in Congress or powerful partisan interest groups are keeping Republicans and Democrats in Washington from the “commonsense” policies that are supposedly so easy to discern. But when it comes to the presidential nominations, “centrists” have every opportunity to influence the outcome, particularly in the Democratic Party.

To begin with, the idea that the plurality persuasion in American politics is “independent” is a much-exploded myth. Most independents regularly vote for one party or the other and just prefer to think of themselves as “independent”; many register as members of a party or participate in their preferred party’s primaries. Estimates of the percentage of the electorate that are “true” independents usually range from 7 percent to 9 percent. They aren’t typically “centrist.” And their most distinct characteristic is political disengagement, not a desperate, hand-wringing desire for more options.

But disengaged or not, independents are far from locked out of the presidential primaries. Independents participate in partisan primaries in 24 states, and 22 states allow voters to change their party registration and vote on Election Day. And along with the phony independents who regularly vote in such primaries, they could mount a serious effort to get rid of Donald Trump (who is going to have plenty of credible opponents) or Biden if they choose to do so.

Long story short, the No Labels ticket isn’t going to succeed, which means its most likely impact, as Democrats keep warning (including those affiliated with Third Way, an organization whose centrist credentials are as good as Jacobson’s and Penn’s, and with No Labels ex-supporters like Bill Galston), would be to toss a close election to Trump. And that brings to mind the most important false premise promoted by No Labels: that the two parties and their likely presidential nominees are equal threats to democracy and the future of sensible, “commonsense” governance. Anyone who believes that should watch or rewatch Trump’s wild performance at the recent CNN Town Hall event, which should scare any advocate of constructive centrist politics half to death.

Political Strategy Notes

Mike Lillis reports that “Democrats unanimously back debt ceiling discharge petition” at The Hill. Lillie explains that “Every House Democrat has endorsed the discharge petition to force a vote on legislation to hike the debt ceiling and prevent a default, party leaders announced Wednesday….The signatures of the last final holdouts — Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Ed Case (D-Hawaii) — puts the total number at 213, meaning Democratic leaders still need to find five Republicans if the petition is to be successful….That’s a heavy lift, since it would require GOP lawmakers to buck the wishes of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is in tense negotiations with the White House over a debt-ceiling package and is opposed to a vote on the “clean” debt-limit hike preferred by Democrats….The procedural gambit is a long-shot: Only two discharge petitions have been successful in the last two decades. Still, Democratic leaders are hoping their party’s unanimity on the document will pressure moderate Republicans to sign on, particularly if the talks between President Biden and McCarthy don’t yield fruit and the threat of default is imminent….“We’re five signatures away,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “So for our Republican colleagues who give interviews and go back home and talk about how they want to work together, and talk about how they’re not extreme like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and how she doesn’t speak for them — this is their opportunity.” Long shot or not, the discharge petition vote is important for two reasons: It puts 100 percent of Democrats solidly on record for a solution, in  stark contrast to the Republicans;  it also underscores the fact that just five Republican congress members could end the crisis and protect America’s credibility – if they so choose.

Luke Goldstein has an eye-opener article, “How Washington Bargained Away Rural America” at The American Prospect. Among his observations: “Liberal Democrats may be hesitant about lavishing subsidies on powerful corporations, but their main priority is to make sure poor people can afford food. Conservative Republicans have often fulminated against so-called welfare queens, but they want to keep farm interests happy. And so a corrupt bargain is struck every half-decade, where neither side does much to really challenge the other’s prized possession. The bundling of rural and urban interests ensures the farm bill’s passage, but it comes at a steep cost: a status quo bill full of endless logrolling and backroom deals, which stacks the deck against family farmers….This leaves only a narrow window for progress. A reform movement, composed of independent farmers and ranchers, environmental advocates, and anti-monopolists from both parties, may be more organized than it’s been since the 1980s farm crisis. But it will square up against the might of Big Ag, which spends more on lobbying in Washington than the defense industry. Ag lobbyists are so enmeshed in congressional dealings that in 2014 one of the largest trade groups, the North American Meat Association, held a barbecue with House Agriculture Committee lawmakers inside the very hearing room where the lobbyists’ clients testified the next day.” As with needed reforms across the board, our highly-polarized, angry politics makes bipartisan legislation a fading hope. Meanwhile Democrats have plenty of room for doing more to support family farms, which have been all but deserted by Big Ag’s lapdog Republicans. That’s a strategy worth exploring.

If you were wondering about the shelf-life of abortion politics with respect to he 2024 elections, consider Natalie Jackson’s observations, quoted here from “The Red Ripple Excerpts: Five Takeaways from 2022” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “The mixed outcome from the election mostly supported the idea that the combination of salience and competitive races meant that abortion mattered in some places more than the others,” she wrote, highlighting Michigan, where Democrats did well as voters approved a constitutional amendment in support of abortion rights as a prime example of a competitive state where abortion was a highly salient issue.”….As legislatures and health officials across the country struggle to adjust to the new post-Roe normal—in which there is no federal guidance, and state-level laws, exceptions, and conditions vary tremendously—it is likely that reproductive rights and restrictions will remain a significant part of electoral politics. The 2022 midterms did not show that the issue was a substantial determinant of the national mood, but it did show that it can matter for close contests, and it can produce some surprising results when on the ballot in the form of a referendum in Republican-led states….The public opinion landscape is still shifting, however. Late 2022 survey results showed that even most Republicans were against the harshest restrictions, including not allowing abortions in cases of incest and rape (70 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats oppose), and about two-thirds of Republicans (and more than eight in ten Americans overall) oppose allowing private citizens to sue those who seek abortions or criminalizing seeking an abortion. And, tracking data shows that Republicans went from about 20 percent saying abortion should be illegal in all cases to just 11 percent holding that view in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision….Looking toward 2024, reproductive rights are likely to play a similar role as they did in 2022. In the shadow of a presidential election that might include former president Donald Trump, there is little reason to think reproductive rights will be the top issue on Americans’ minds. But there is every reason to think the fluctuating state laws and associated court cases will keep the issue on the map as one that matters in some areas and for some competitive elections.”

The integrity and nonpartisan credibility of the U.S. Supreme Court ought to be higher priorities in all races for the U.S. Senate. and among all voters Yet, Devan Cole reports that the “Supreme Court approval rating declines amid controversy over ethics and transparency: Marquette poll” at CNN Politics. As Cole writes: “Americans’ approval of the Supreme Court has fallen since the start of the year, according to a new poll released Wednesday, with 41% of the country saying it approves of the nine justices amid a barrage of media reports and watchdog complaints concerning ethics and transparency at the nation’s highest court….The Marquette Law School poll provides fresh insight into how the public is reacting to a court that has become engulfed in controversy that, for the most part, is unrelated to its decisions in high-profile, politically fraught cases that typically shape the nation’s view of the court….Conducted between May 8 and May 18, the survey is the first to be completed by the school since ProPublica published an explosive report in early April about years of lavish trips and gifts Justice Clarence Thomas accepted from a GOP megadonor, the first in a series of stories concerning the conservative jurist’s lack of transparency on his financial disclosure forms….Since 2020, Marquette finds, approval of the court has frequently “oscillated” between surveys, but with declining high points in each cycle. The results of the new poll – which found that 59% of US adults disapproved of the court – are similar to those found in a July 2022 iteration of the survey taken days after the court overturned Roe v. Wade, but represent a downtick from more recent versions of the poll. In January, the same poll found that 47% of American approved of the court, while 53% disapproved….Democrats and Republicans were deeply divided in their view of the court, according to the new poll, which found that the court had a 24% approval rating among Democrats and a 60% approval rating among Republicans.” Every day the case for expanding the Supreme Court as soon as possible grows stronger.

When Feelings About Personal Finances Are More Negative Than Economic Stats

Lydia Saad reports that “Americans Remain Discouraged About Personal Finances” at Gallup, and writes,

“Americans remain guarded about their personal finances, with the majority (55%) saying their financial situation is “only fair” or “poor” rather than “excellent” or “good” (45%). More also report that their financial situation is worsening (50%) than improving (37%).

Consumers’ perspectives on their finances are nearly identical to what Gallup found a year ago but contrast with 2021, when Americans were generally upbeat about their financial circumstances and momentum.”

One indication of what’s weighing on consumers comes from an open-ended question in the new survey that asks respondents to name the most important financial problem facing their family. Inflation tops the list at 35%, the highest percentage naming inflation as their biggest financial problem since Gallup first asked the question two decades ago. Although inflation has eased over the past year, it remains higher than Americans were accustomed to before the pandemic, and prices for goods like food and gasoline remain elevated.

The survey was conducted April 3-25, before the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that inflation was 4.9% in April — the first time it has been below 5% in two years.

Nobody knows when or if public attitudes about personal finances will line up with economic indicators. But how voters feel about their economic status is more important for elections than the latest economic indicators. And the trend line is not good, as Saad notes:

An index summarizing the two financial assessment questions shows that consumers’ overall attitudes about their finances are essentially tied for the most negative they’ve been since Gallup began tracking these metrics annually in 2004. The index represents the average of Americans’ net positive evaluations of their current financial situations (the percentage rating them excellent/good minus the percentage only fair/poor) and their net positive outlook for their finances (the percentage saying their finances are getting better minus the percentage saying they are getting worse).

Today’s -12 score is the lowest since 2008 and 2009, when the financial index was at its numerical low point of -13 in the trend. Thereafter, the index gradually climbed to a high of +21 in 2019 before tumbling to -9 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020….The index spiked to +18 in April 2021 — a hopeful period for consumers during the vaccine rollout and as the economy was getting back to normal — nearly matching the 2019 high. But it fell to -10 in 2022 amid high and worsening inflation and is essentially the same this year.

As usual, there are sharp differences in how adults of different household income levels view their financial situation. The financial index score is positive (+28) among those in the top third of households by income (currently those earning $100,000 or more annually), while it is modestly negative, at -22, among middle-income earners ($40,000-$99,999) and more deeply negative, at -43, among the lowest income tier (less than $40,000).

All income groups’ financial confidence was shaken in 2020, improved in 2021, and dropped again in 2022. However, over the past year, financial confidence has fallen further among middle-income Americans to the lowest Gallup has recorded for that group in the two-decade trend, while it has been steady among upper- and lower-income earners.

Despite evaluating their personal finances as subpar, most adults still report they have enough money to live comfortably; however, the 64% doing so this year is among the smallest proportions Gallup has recorded in two decades of tracking….Lower- and middle-income Americans’ comfort with their financial means is at new lows in 2023, while upper-income Americans’ sentiment is closer to the long-term average for that group.

It’s hard to get poll averages for feelings about personal finances since the questions vary from poll to poll, more than approval rates. Saad concludes, “Although inflation is down sharply from a year ago, it remains high relative to what Americans have been accustomed to in recent decades. Given that, inflation continues to be both a top-of-mind financial concern as well as a likely driver of continued pessimism and uncertainty among Americans about their own finances.”

If the Gallup poll flips the personal finances ratings to about 55 percent “good” and 45 percent “fair” by October of next year, that could help give Dems some needed momentum for the 2024 elections.