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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

“Vote Blue, No Matter Who” do-it-yourself t-shirts and bumper stickers–just call your local, unionized print shop and ask for an estimate. They can contact editors@thedemocraticstrategist.org for the artwork.

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The Daily Strategist

April 5, 2020

Coronavirus and Trump’s Reelection Prospects

There’s been a lot of speculation about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Trump’s popularity, so I tried to analyze the evidence at New York:

[T]railing the progression of the coronavirus pandemic is a low fever of speculation about the impact of this terrible development on the 2020 elections, and most particularly, on the fate of the ever-erratic president who is purporting to lead this country through the crisis.

Trump critics watch him and see someone who was in deep and destructive denial about COVID-19 until very recently, and then briefly cleaned up his act before again chafing at the restraints of responsibility and seeking to buck up the markets and get the economy rolling, whether the rapid spread of the disease has been curtailed or not.

But according to the available evidence, a narrow majority of Americans currently approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. So the question inevitably arises: Could this horrid experience, along with the economic pain it will inflict, actually help Trump get reelected in November?

There’s general agreement that his reelection prospects now depend on what happens next as much as on what happened the first three years of his presidency, though deeply entrenched and intensely partisan perceptions of him still shape day-to-day reactions to Trump’s behavior. The best indicator of where he stands with the public overall remains his job approval ratings, and while they are higher than the average for his tenure as a whole, they remain under his de facto ceiling of the mid-40s, and are as sluggish as ever right now. According to RealClearPolitics, his approval ratings are currently averaging 44.5 percent, down from a high of 46.3 percent on February 20, before the U.S. outbreak began. FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, which are adjusted for partisan bias and weighted for accuracy, put Trump’s approval at 44.0 percent, down from a high of 44.6 percent on February 18.

Possibly, but as political scientist David Hopkins notes, the “rallying effect” that often benefits leaders in times of crisis doesn’t always last that long:

“[C]itizens close psychological ranks around their national leaders in a moment of uncertainty and fear; they evaluate these figures on different criteria than they did before the crisis erupted; and the normally critical opposition party (sometimes) mutes its attacks on the incumbent. Both French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte have enjoyed spikes in popularity during the current coronavirus outbreak, despite (especially in Italy’s case) substantial national dislocation and tragedy.

“But these popularity bumps fade with time. Either the crisis is soon resolved and citizens turn their attention to other things, or it is not, in which case they start to grow impatient with the effectiveness of their leader. The 2020 general election is still far enough away that even if Trump were to benefit from the rally effect in the short term, it wouldn’t be a very reliable signal of his popularity more than seven months in the future.”

The connection between reelection prospects for incumbent presidents and the state of the economy is stronger and more persistent than such “rallying effects,” as Newsweek recently observed:

“Since 1900, only one president has won re-election with a recession occurring sometime in the last two years of their first term: William McKinley.

“Since then, the four presidents who ran for a second term during such an economic downturn—William Taft in 1912, Herber Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992—were unsuccessful.

“The only person to defy the trend was Democrat Harry Truman in 1948. But the recession that year only started in November, the same month that Americans went to the polls to vote.”

It’s no wonder Trump is frantic to turn the economy around quickly and take credit for a resurgence. But as Alan Abramowitz observes, all economic impressions are not equal when it comes to presidential elections:

“Some forecasters are predicting a major recession with the economy shrinking by 5% or more in the second quarter of 2020. That’s significant because, in many election forecasting models, including my own ‘time for change’ model, economic growth in the second quarter is a key predictor of the election results. Models like mine use second quarter GDP growth to measure the state of the economy because GDP is a broad measure of economic activity and the performance of the economy in the second quarter seems to shape opinions of the economy in the fall. So it’s possible that even if the economy recovers later in the year, the most electorally-salient perceptions will nonetheless be formed in the spring and summer.

It’s true, of course, that this particular economic downturn, attributable to a pandemic that no one is going to blame on Trump, is different than most. And that means how he handles it could be crucial, and as conservative polling analyst Jay Cost suggests, how he explains it could matter as well:

“He has to make sense of this virus for the American people. What lessons must we learn from its emergence? What does it say about our current place in the world? What do we need to do to fix it?

“This president is the best person to tell a compelling story about this disease. Virtually alone among top politicians, he has been a skeptic of globalization. He has resisted the impulse to let America float along in the currents of the world. He has to make that argument to the people once again.”

As I put it more bluntly recently, there’s a potential take on this calamity that plays right into Trump’s MAGA wheelhouse, at least within his own base of core supporters:

“[E]ven if (or, more likely, when) the virus spreads beyond the big metropolitan areas, there’s a chance it will simply reinforce small-town and rural hostility to the culturally alien influence of big-city folk aligned with foreigners, given the more cosmopolitan (demographically and economically as well) nature of Urban America.”

It may be no mistake that Trump is emphasizing the foreign origins of what he calls the “Chinese virus,” or is criticizing Democrats for not helping him seal the borders or in other ways anticipate the pandemic.

The bottom line is that we cannot anticipate at this point what the current crisis means for the 2020 presidential election. But strong winds are blowing in different directions from moment to moment.


Political Strategy Notes

Regarding the big difference between the coronavirus stimulus plans being advocated by Republicans and Democrats, Joan McCarter notes at Daily Kos: “One Democrat details the problems with the Republican bill as of now: no strong worker protections, with language that says corporations must keep employees “to the extent possible,” allowing them to keep bailout money and still fire workers, the Democrats would offer loan forgiveness to companies that keep at minimum of 90% of employees; the corporate bailout fund has “virtually no restraints,” and is all up to Mnuchin to determine—which means the Trump Organization could be getting bailed out with these funds by the Trump administration, as if he hasn’t profited enough off the taxpayers at this point; “very weak buybacks restrictions” to keep corporations from using any of the funds to buyback stocks, rather than pump money into operating expenses—and those restrictions that can be waived by Mnuchin; they would impose just a 2 year limit on corporations increasing executive compensation; the assistance to airlines is all in loans rather than grants, which could result in tens of thousands of layoffs (the industry unions want grants)…”We are the ones who are on the front lines fighting the virus,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told the Washington Post. “Our entire economy depends on relief focused on workers. We must keep everyone in their job and connected to their health care.”…As of Sunday morning, Pelosi says she’s not on board. “From my standpoint, we’re apart,” she told reporters. Schumer concurs. “I’m just going to tell you that we need a bill that puts workers first, not corporations,” he told reporters.” The hope is that the Senate will vote today at noon.

In his article, “GOP Stimulus Plan Is a Trillion-Dollar Trump Re-Election Fund” at The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes, “It’s revolting to watch these Trump press conferences…The president of the United States standing up there in the midst of this crisis—we started March with 89 cases; as I write, on March 19, we’re above 11,000—picking fights with the press, still insistently saying “Chinese virus,” taking credit for things he didn’t do, bragging about how it would all be much worse if he hadn’t banned travel from China.” As for Republiocans in congress, Tomasky adds, “But to watch these people, who’ve spent 40 years policing the Government Is Evil beat, see that now we need government after all exposes the lie that’s been at the heart of conservative rhetoric for two generations…This campaign is going to be about this, period. The virus. When the Biden campaign hits the air with commercials about Trump disbanding the National Security Council pandemic unit, how many people are going to vote on what Hunter Biden did six years ago?”

Could Biden’s Weakness With Young Voters Hurt Him In The General Election?” Perry Bacon, Jr. addresses the question at FiveThirtyEight and responds, “According to exit polls from recent elections and polling data from this year, the answer is, not necessarily…First, Biden is likely to win voters under 45 by double digits against Trump. The former vice president would have two big advantages: He’s a Democrat, and he’s running against Trump. Democrats have won the under-45 vote in every recent election — even in cycles that were terrible to mediocre for the party overall, such as in 2010, 2014 and 2016…Furthermore, the cohort of Americans under 40 includes significantly more Asian, black and Latino people than the cohort over 40 — all Democratic-leaning groups. But even younger white people tend to vote for Democrats at higher rates than their older counterparts…Hillary Clinton won the under-45 vote by 14 percentage points in the 2016 general election, according to exit polls, a margin similar to that won by then-President Barack Obama four years earlier.1 But in the 2018 midterms — essentially a referendum on Trump’s performance even though he wasn’t on the ballot — Democrats won voters under 45 by 25 points...All that said, a potential problem for the Democrats with Biden at the top of the ticket is not that younger voters will back Trump but that they might either stay home or vote third-party.”

Ronald Brownstein explains why “Red and Blue America Aren’t Experiencing the Same Pandemic: The disconnect is already shaping, even distorting, the nation’s response” at The Atlantic: “In several key respects, the outbreak’s early stages are unfolding very differently in Republican- and Democratic-leaning parts of the country. That disconnect is already shaping, even distorting, the nation’s response to this unprecedented challenge—and it could determine the pandemic’s ultimate political consequences as well…A flurry of new national polls released this week reveals that while anxiety about the disease is rising on both sides of the partisan divide, Democrats consistently express much more concern about it than Republicans do, and they are much more likely to say they have changed their personal behavior as a result. A similar gap separates people who live in large metropolitan centers, which have become the foundation of the Democratic electoral coalition, from those who live in the small towns and rural areas that are the modern bedrock of the GOP.”

Brownstein cites recent polls indicating a wide disparity: “A national Gallup poll released Monday, for instance, found that while 73 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents said they feared that they or someone in their family might be exposed to the coronavirus, only 42 percent of Republicans agreed. That 31-percentage-point difference dwarfed the gap in February, when slightly more Republicans (30 percent) than Democrats (26 percent) said they were concerned…Other surveys have found comparably stunning differences. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday, Republicans were only half as likely as Democrats to say that they planned to stop attending large gatherings, and just one-third as likely to say that they had cut back on eating at restaurants. In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday, just over half of Republicans said the threat from the virus had been exaggerated, compared with one in five Democrats and two in five independents…In a nationwide Kaiser Family Foundation poll released the same day, about half of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents said the outbreak had disrupted their life at least some, according to detailed results provided to me by the pollsters. But only one-third of Republicans and those who leaned Republican agreed. About half of Democrats said they had changed travel plans and decided not to attend large gatherings. In both cases, less than one-third of Republicans agreed.”

“Government responses have followed these same tracks,” Brownstein adds. “With a few prominent exceptions, especially Ohio, states with Republican governors have been slower, or less likely, than those run by Democrats to impose restrictions on their residents. Until earlier this week, Donald Trump downplayed the disease’s danger and overstated the extent to which the United States had “control” over it, as the conservative publication The Bulwark recently documented. Conservative media figures including Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity likewise insisted for weeks that the media and Democrats were exaggerating the danger as a means of weakening Trump. Several Republicanelected officials encouraged their constituents to visit bars and restaurants precisely when federal public-health officials were urging the opposite…This divergence reflects not only ideological but also geographic realities. So far, the greatest clusters of the disease, and the most aggressive responses to it, have indeed been centered in a few large, Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas, including Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Boston. At Thursday’s White House press briefing, Deborah Birx, the administration’s response coordinator, said half of the nation’s cases so far are located in just 10 counties. The outbreak’s eventual political effects may vary significantly depending on how extensively it spreads beyond these initial beachheads.”

Brownstein notes further, “If the virus never becomes pervasive beyond big cities, that could reinforce the sense among many Republican voters and office-holders that the threat has been overstated. It could also fuel the kind of xenophobia that Trump and other GOP leaders, such as Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have encouraged by labeling the disease the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan virus.”…Conversely, the charge that Trump failed to move quickly enough may cut more deeply if the burden of the disease is heavily felt in the smaller communities where his support is deepest. Most medical experts believe that, eventually, the outbreak will reach all corners of the country, including the mostly Republican-leaning small towns and rural areas that are now less visibly affected…“There’s no reason to think that smaller communities will be protected from it,” Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “It may take longer for it to get there, but as long as there are people coming and going … the virus will eventually find its way to rural communities as well.”

For a bit of good news, check out “All is not lost: These groups are fighting Trump’s environmental deregulations—and winning by Besame on behalf of Daily Kos Community Contributors Team. As Besame, writes, “In December 2019, NRDC [National Resources Defense Council] announced the filing of their 100th lawsuit against the Trump administration in 1,000 days…NRDC has won 92% of the 61 cases resolved either by court decision or by withdrawal of the proposed change. Other victories resulted in a banning seven cancer-causing food additives, blocking an Executive Order allowing oil and gas leases in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and stronger protection for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee. Cecilia Segal, an attorney on NRDC’s litigation team, sums up their successes, “I started my job at NRDC five days after Trump’s inauguration and immediately got to work on our lawsuit against the president’s disastrous 2-for-1 Executive Order and our fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Our Trump defense work hasn’t slowed down since—but the hard work is paying off.”

Democratic governors take note: Kentucky’s new Democratic Governor Andy Beshear is getting high marks for his response to the coronavirus crisis. The title of Erin Keane’s salon.com article, ““Govern me, daddy”: Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear a clean-cut sex symbol for the coronavirus age: People are now lusting after Kentucky’s “hot Mr. Rogers” because of his calm and empathetic leadership,” sums it up. Keane also notes, “During Beshear’s daily talks — a sort of Fireside Chat for the Facebook Live era — the governor gets visibly emotional about the sacrifices Kentuckians are making with regard to their livelihoods, extended family contact and religious practices in order to help flatten the curve. He mourns the Kentuckians who have died from the virus (there have been three fatalities so far). He talks openly and directly about why mental health is important too, and why empathy and caring for others is non-negotiable. He coaches folks applying for unemployment about processes and deadlines and reinforces that there’s no stigma in filing for assistance. When needed, he scolds. On Saturday, Beshear all but shamed a company by name that bragged about offering employees six weeks of unpaid sick leave. “Please don’t be that organization that acts like you’re doing something great when your people need so much more from you,” he said. He’s not mad; he’s just disappointed. And constituents stuck at home, anxious and restless, are getting extremely horny for this big dad energy.”


Teixeira: Trump’s Net Approval Rate, Economic Decline Spells Trouble for GOP

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

Is Trump Now an Underdog for Re-Election?

Probably. He wasn’t in great shape to begin with and the coronavirus, especially its economic effects, will hurt his chances even more. Plus the Democrats now are almost certain to nominate a candidate who, while far from perfect, can appeal to persuadable voters and will present a far more difficult target for the GOP attack machine.

Here’s a solid quantitative take from Alan Abramowitz, based on his updated “Time for a Change” Presidential election model. Of course, any model like this should be viewed cautiously, but the logic of Abramowitz’ model is sound and has a pretty good track record. Here’s his description of the model and analysis:

“With major sectors of the economy grinding to a near-standstill due to the pandemic, many economic forecasters are now predicting that the U.S. will experience a major downturn in economic growth in the current quarter that could continue for at least the next two quarters. Some forecasters are predicting a major recession with the economy shrinking by 5% or more in the second quarter of 2020. That’s significant because, in many election forecasting models, including my own “time for change” model, economic growth in the second quarter is a key predictor of the election results. Models like mine use second quarter GDP growth to measure the state of the economy because GDP is a broad measure of economic activity and the performance of the economy in the second quarter seems to shape opinions of the economy in the fall. So it’s possible that even if the economy recovers later in the year, the most electorally-salient perceptions will nonetheless be formed in the spring and summer.

For the 2020 election, I have modified my time for change model by focusing entirely on elections with a running incumbent. That is because, in these elections, both the incumbent’s approval rating in late June and the growth rate of the economy in the second quarter have much stronger effects than in elections without a running incumbent. I have also modified the model to make the electoral vote, rather than the popular vote, the dependent variable because it is the electoral vote that decides the winner. I unveiled this version of the model last April in the Crystal Ball……

Table 2 presents the conditional forecasts of the electoral vote for President Trump depending on his net approval rating in late June and the growth rate of the U.S. economy during the second quarter. It takes 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election. The results indicate that, despite the huge boost that Trump is predicted to receive as a first-term incumbent, an economic downturn in the second quarter, combined with a net approval rating in negative territory, would very likely doom Trump’s chances of winning a second term. The only scenario here in which Trump would be favored to win a second term would be modest economic growth combined with a small improvement in his net approval rating, which has been stuck in the vicinity of -10 for many months according to the FiveThirtyEight average. The model suggests that a major recession would likely result in an Electoral College landslide for Trump’s Democratic challenger, especially if it is accompanied by a further decline in the president’s approval rating.

Based on the results of presidential elections since World War II with running incumbents, a president with an upside-down approval rating and an economy in recession would have little chance of winning a second term in the White House. If President Trump’s net approval rating remains where it is now or declines further, and if the recession is severe, with real GDP shrinking by three points or more in the second quarter, the result could well be a defeat of landslide proportions.”

It is important to emphasize here that Abramowitz’ model suggests that Trump is a poor bet for re-election, given second quarter economic contraction, even if his net approval rating does not decline. Thus, even if partisan polarization manages to keep his generally poor approval rating from declining further, he will still be in very bad shape. And if his approval rating does decline significantly–well, he may be out of bullets.


Political Strategy Notes

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has some messaging tips addressing the health care crisis, which Democratic candidates up and down-ballot may find useful in his article, “Coronavirus Outbreak Proves There Is No Public Health System in the US” at Common Dreams: “Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job…Even if a test for the Covid-19 virus had been developed and approved in time, no institutions are in place to administer it to tens of millions of Americans free of charge…Healthcare in America is delivered mainly by private for-profit corporations which, unlike financial institutions, are not required to maintain reserve capacity. As a result, the nation’s supply of ventilators isn’t nearly large enough to care for projected numbers of critically ill coronavirus victims unable to breathe for themselves. Its 45,000 intensive care unit beds fall woefully short of the 2.9 million that are likely to be needed…There is no public health system in the US, in short, because the richest nation in the world has no capacity to protect the public as a whole, apart from national defense.”

In similar vein, Leon Fink writes at Dissent: “Our current healthcare system, with its chaotic and motley mix of private and public insurance systems—along with tens of millions of uninsured—is wholly inadequate to the current crisis, which requires, above all, coordination and universalism. What we need is socialized medicine. The poor and uninsured—including millions of undocumented workers—deserve care. And if they are not invited into the system of health protection, then no one is truly protected…The coronavirus arrived too late to help either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, the only two candidates for U.S. president who had prioritized universal access to healthcare. Sanders, the dogged champion of socialized medicine, has supported the right program for decades. But perhaps we need to reconsider his terminology. Likely in an effort to overcome opposition government-run programs, he frames his call within a language of individual rights—everyone has a right to healthcare…Today, we need not just “rights” but a strong public apparatus that is up to the task of governing. Our public health, like our response to climate change, is a social, collective imperative. The impact falls most heavily on low-wage workers and the most vulnerable among us—their welfare and recovery must be priorities—but the consequences reach into every sector of society. And only a powerful, administrative state that dispenses expert authority for the good of all can do the job.”

M4A (Medicare for All) is not the same thing as a functional public health care system, but it’s looking more like a step in the right direction. No doubt some supporters of Bernie Sanders are wondering where his campaign would be, had the Covid-19 pandemic started a couple of months earlier. No one should be too surprised if Biden moves more decisively towards a national health care system in the weeks ahead. But the real fight may be in the U.S. Senate. Former congressman/MSNBC anchorman Joe Scarbrough writes in The Washington Post that Sanders could play a pivotal role now: “If Sanders has that ability to shape the national debate and bend history toward a more just future, then that opportunity is awaiting him on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and not in an empty studio fighting a lost cause by streaming irrelevant campaign speeches…I choose to believe that Sanders will put his constituents and his country first, suspend his campaign and begin in earnest the battle before us all. That fight will be waged more on Capitol Hill than through a presidential campaign that, in effect, ended weeks ago.” In addition to his M4A bill, Sanders, more than any other Senator, has the credibility to advance reforms that can move America towards a functional public health care system.

Charles Pierce shares some salient thoughts on Sanders’s contributions to our current political dialogue at Esquire: “The two presidential campaigns Bernie Sanders has run have cleared the biggest space for progressive ideas that our politics has seen since the Great Society. His 2016 campaign opened 2020 up to progressive ideas and candidates. Now, in extremis, we are seeing the results of that clearing. Good god, the two parties are fighting in Congress over how much Free Money! each of us is going to get. That Bernie Sanders was able to run as strongly as he did in two campaigns is part of the reason for that, and it’s just pigheaded to deny that…it has been a long time since unapologetic liberalism got a serious unequivocal hearing in one of our two major political parties. Bernie Sanders, in his own characteristically grumpy and stubborn way, has forced that issue, and now he’s done so at a time of serendipitous crisis as well. History is going to reckon seriously with him. So should we all.”

At The Guardian, Ady Barkan argues, “Coronavirus crisis: paid sick leave is a start to our collective security as a nation” and observes, “we should not let a crisis go to waste. Some of our most fundamental, bedrock public programs were a product of immense crises and challenges, social security chief among them. Today, we could not imagine life without it. With the heightened threat coronavirus poses to the elderly, where would we be if social security and Medicare were not guaranteed to them? We must look back on this crisis and say the same of guaranteed paid sick leave, in addition to a raft of social protections that will allow us to weather this challenge: such as expansions of social security and unemployment benefits, new direct payments, moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions, student loan debt cancellations, and decisive steps toward a Medicare for All system that can protect everyone – fully and equally – in a crisis like this.”

Alan I. Abramowitz has some bad news for Republicans in his post, “A Coronavirus Recession Could Doom Trump’s Reelection Chances” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Abramowitz tempers his conclusions with caveats, while observing, “With major sectors of the economy grinding to a near-standstill due to the pandemic, many economic forecasters are now predicting that the U.S. will experience a major downturn in economic growth in the current quarter that could continue for at least the next two quarters. Some forecasters are predicting a major recession with the economy shrinking by 5% or more in the second quarter of 2020. That’s significant because, in many election forecasting models, including my own “time for change” model, economic growth in the second quarter is a key predictor of the election results…Based on the results of presidential elections since World War II with running incumbents, a president with an upside-down approval rating and an economy in recession would have little chance of winning a second term in the White House. If President Trump’s net approval rating remains where it is now or declines further, and if the recession is severe, with real GDP shrinking by three points or more in the second quarter, the result could well be a defeat of landslide proportions.”

Also at Crystal Ball, Louis Jacobsen’s “One-Party Dominance Extends to Statewide Elected Offices: Up-and-coming candidates from the wrong party in one-party states, like Pete Buttigieg, don’t have much practical chance for statewide advancement” should be of interest to Democrats concerned about leadership development in the party. Jacobsen notes that “For talented young political prospects who belong to the minority party in states dominated by one party, the path to statewide advancement is rocky…In 34 of the 50 states, a single party controls all of the statewide elected offices…Only four states have a relatively balanced mix of Republican and Democratic statewide officeholders.” Of course, Buttigieg and other promising Democrats in these states can emulate the example of Hillary Clinton, who moved to a liberal state and was elected a U.S. Senator.

Ruy Teixeira notes of the tweet below, “There’s Something Wrong With This Poll But I Can’t Quite Put My Finger On It….”


Towards Universal Voting-By-Mail

As the COVID-19 pandemic roils primary elections around the country, it’s time to worry about the possibility that conditions won’t improve enough to enable a normal general election in November. I wrote about what we can do about that at New York:

[A]s the timeline for getting through the coronavirus pandemic continues to stretch out, buying some time may not be enough to avoid serious disruptions of elections this year. Yes, the two major-party presidential contests may soon effectively end, but there are a host of Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislative primaries with significant implications that are scheduled to occur in the spring and summer. And if we are unlucky — or even if fears last far beyond the actual likelihood of COVID-19 infection — this crisis could greatly affect participating in what most people consider the most consequential general election in many years.

The obvious way to separate elections from the fear of coronavirus is to encourage remote voting — usually by mail, but “mail” ballots can also sometimes be placed in drop boxes or even picked up by intermediaries. But moving in that direction nationally is easier said than done, since many states actively discourage this mechanism, and others accept or promote it in widely varying degrees. And in case you haven’t gotten the memo, states and localities run even “federal” elections in this country, with the Constitution and the federal government regulating them around the edges. There is no “national election system,” so big changes like the one we may need this year will probably have to be enacted on a state-by-state basis.

States That Discourage Voting by Mail

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia

Fully 16 states limit remote voting to “absentee ballots” that must be requested by the voter along with an affadavit offering an excuse (typically some unavoidable absence from one’s residence on election day) for not being able to vote in person. Seven of those states waive the “excuse” requirement for voters over a certain age (usually 65). Some of the states that discourage voting by mail do offer early voting in-person (e.g., Texas and beginning this year, New York), which is sometimes viewed as the functional equivalent, but obviously is no substitute during a pandemic.

It will vary state by state as to whether a relaxation or abolition of restrictions on voting by mail can be accomplished by some sort of executive action or will require legislation. But an awful lot of states are holding special legislative sessions to deal with various aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, and they should have an opportunity to liberalize voting rules, even if it’s a temporary measure.

States That Allow No-Excuse Voting by Mail, But Don’t Make It That Easy

Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming

Of the 33 states that do allow voting by mail without some excuse, 23 require that voters proactively request a mail ballot. Of those, 9 require separate applications for each election (12 allow for annual applications covering election in a calendar year). Often political parties or advocacy groups are involved — sometimes heavily — in facilitating mail-ballot requests, though in states with in-person early voting that may become the favored nontraditional turnout strategy for particular groups (that’s particularly true of minority voting advocates in the South, for example).

Again, moving toward a system in which voting by mail becomes the rule rather than an exception may require legislation in many states.

States That Encourage Voting by Mail With Permanent Registration

Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, and New Jersey

Five states plus the District of Columbia allow voters to register as permanent voters-by-mail who will automatically receive mail ballots so long as they keep voting regularly. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of voting by mail (and total turnout) has gone up in these jurisdictions.

Permanent voting by mail typically requires state legislation.

All Voting-by-Mail States

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington

In five states all or virtually all voting is done remotely, generally with an option to mail in ballots or drop them off at voting centers or in special drop boxes (some counties in California have also moved to universal voting by mail). Every registered voter gets a mail ballot for every election without having to request it. In the 2018 general election these states averaged turnout 10 percent higher than the country as a whole.

Moving to all voting by mail does not eliminate all COVID-19 anxieties. Prior to Washington’s March 10 primary, voters and election officials fretted about possible contamination of licked envelopes and stamps, and in the future, poorly staffed postal systems (already an issue in certain rural and tribal areas) could be a problem as well.

Measures Needed to Make All-Mail-Ballot Elections Fair

States that are already (or are, like California, moving toward) all-mail elections are beginning to take measures to make that method of voting equally accessible to all voters in ways that are often controversial, particularly to Republicans who tend to think of voting as a privilege rather than a right.

Allow proxies to deliver mail ballots
To deal with voters who have limited access to postal services and/or are elderly or disabled, California allows sealed and signed mail ballots to be delivered to election officials by anyone authorized to do so by voters themselves. This practice has been invidiously called “ballot harvesting” by Republicans in California and elsewhere, as though it somehow represents or enables a fraudulent practice. But opening, much less filling out or altering, mail ballots remains a felony in California, so the practice is really no different than asking a neighbor to drop a mail ballot off at the post office. That won’t cut much ice in Republican-governed states absent a real determination to make voting by mail work.

Set the mail-in ballot deadline for Election Day
Another by-product of voting by mail that may cause bipartisan heartburn is the issue of when mail ballots must be returned. ColoradoHawaii, and Oregon require that mail ballots be received by close of business on Election Day to count, though again, those states make a real effort to provide plenty of drop-off locations. But Utah counts any mail ballot postmarked by the day before the election, and California and Washington count those postmarked on or before Election Day. These latter practices make sense from a fairness point of view: Why should by-mail voters have to anticipate Election Day any more than traditional in–person–on–Election Day voters? But accepting mail ballots — which have to be individually opened and signatures authenticated — so late inevitably slows down the counting and reporting of results. If the whole country moved in that direction, could Americans, the news media, and the two major parties psychologically handle not knowing the results for days after November 3? Is there any remote chance Donald J. Trump would fail to fire off tweets every 15 minutes alleging without a shred of evidence that the godless socialistic Democrat Party was stealing the election with millions of illegal votes from homicidal Mexicans? It’s a real concern.

Perhaps more to the point, getting from today’s system to universal voting by mail — again, even if it’s temporary — could be very difficult. Oregon senator Ron Wyden has introduced legislation to give the transition a real legal and financial boost, as the Washington Post reported:

“Sen. Ron Wyden (D) is proposing $500 million of federal funding to help states prepare for possible voting disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Wyden’s bill also would give Americans the option to vote by mail in case of a widespread emergency …

“Wyden’s bill would give all Americans the right to vote by mail if 25 percent of states declared an emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak. The bill also would require state and local officials to prepare for possible coronavirus disruptions and to offer prepaid envelopes with self-sealing flaps to minimize the risk of contagion from voters’ licking envelopes.”

The single biggest obstacle to a big push like Wyden’s toward voting by mail is the recent resistance of the GOP to all expansions of the franchise via more convenient registration and voting. Even if Republicans go along with the general drift, they may gnaw at the margins of a universal voting-by-mail system to make it hard to access for voters deemed hostile to their party. But there is one thing about the coronavirus crisis that may jolt Republicans nationally and in the states to change their tune about “convenience” voting measures: The very high likelihood that older voters, who tilt toward the GOP (Trump carried seniors by seven points in 2016), will be most reluctant to risk their health (and in many cases, their lives) by voting in person during the primaries and perhaps in November. For once, Republicans may have a partisan interest in making it easier for everyone to vote. Lawmakers should take advantage of that opportunity.


What Should Sanders Get…Besides Out?

Tuesday’s primary results should convince even die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters that former Vice President Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for president. Now comes the problematic choice that Sanders, his campaign and his supporters must face: What should Sanders do to serve the causes he championed and the country he loves?

It would be helpful if the more contentious social media Bidenistas would tone down their “Bernie should just quit” mantra. Do we really have to remind them that any presidential campaign that wins more than 40 percent of the delegates in primaries and caucuses has earned some respect? What is not going to happen is Sanders and his supporters quietly pledging their wholehearted fealty to Biden, while getting nothing in return.

The Democratic presidential contest is not a football game in which you annihilate your adversary then gloat about it. Here’s hoping the Bernie-haters among Biden supporters get the clue. Fortunately, Biden, unlike the current President, is mature enough to understand that successful politics is about bringing people together.

As Harold Meyerson observes in his article, “Biden: The Leader as Follower: Over the past few days, the Democratic front-runner has begun inching leftward, since he’s realized he needs to in order to beat Trump” at The American Prospect:

For those who want to see the Democratic nominee dispatch Donald Trump in November, and those who want to see the Democratic nominee move to a more progressive position, there was good news yesterday—only, it didn’t come during last night’s debate. It came before the debate began, when Joe Biden’s campaign announced he’d shifted his position on free public college. Previously, Biden had supported tuition-free education only at two-year community colleges. Now, he supports it at four-year public universities and colleges as well, for every student whose annual family income doesn’t exceed $125,000—a position his debate-stage rival, Bernie Sanders, staked out several years ago, and has improved upon since.

The move was of a piece with Biden’s decision on Saturday to support Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for making bankruptcy far less onerous for middle-class Americans—a clear turnaround from Biden’s zealous promotion of the very onerous bankruptcy legislation he helped turn into law in 2005, which made it almost impossible for people to get out from under medical and other forms of debt.

In other words, the Biden campaign has figured out that in order to win in November, he has to do more to win over progressive voters and voters under 50—so long as that requires embracing positions that are widely popular.

Well, the campaign has sort of figured that out. Partially. Sometimes.

Biden has also inched a bit leftward on the leading issue of health care reform. He understands that there is a large contituency for Medicare for all, and perhaps an even larger one for Medicare for all who want it. Those constituencies are not going to quietly embrace a more timid health care reform package, especially in light of the Coronavirus crisis. (The bumper sticker version: “Don’t like ‘big government’? Next time you want to stop a pandemic, call your insurance company.”)

Yet, Sanders supporters should also not expect too much. Biden is more moderate than their candidate, and he did win by large margins in many states. They too should be fair-minded and realistic enough to tone down the residual acrimony. ‘Sore loser’ is as bad a look as ‘sore winner.’

Sure, there are specific ‘gets’ that many Sanders supporters would welcome, such as Warren as veep, other left-leaning Dems in the cabinet, a more progressive party platform, or changes in party delegate rules. But policies are the core concern of the Sanders movement, and any bridges Biden can build in that regard will help unify Democrats in November.

So it’s time for adult supervision among all of the 2020 presidential candidates and their supporters. Democrats are in an exceptionally-good position at the moment to unify and win back the White House, control of congress and a bunch of state governments — if the party’s grown-ups will rise to the challenge.


Teixeira: What Trump Vs. Biden Looks Like Today

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

The folks at Decision Desk HQ are pretty level-headed and are generally cautious about assessing trend. But they are currently quite bearish on Trump and the GOP.

“With Sunday’s release of a Wall Street Journal/NBC National poll, we now have a third data point this week showing Joe Biden with a big lead. From a 9 point lead in WSJ/NBC to CNN’s Biden +10 to Quinnipiac’s even more bullish +11, there’s a clear trend line. The LeanTossup average, which includes all polling of the Biden versus Donald Trump race, not just those three, has the race at Biden +8.2% currently, and no matter what electoral college advantage Donald Trump has – as he did in 2016 – he would lose if that popular vote result were to come through. Entering the (incredibly likely, although, not technically guaranteed) general election matchup, the Democrats have to be favored.

If the Democrats were to win by the average’s 8.2%, that would represent a 6.1% swing since the 2016 Presidential Election, enough to swing 7 states, and the election – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Arizona – on a uniform swing. The Democrats need three of those under most constructions of the Electoral College, and such a wide popular vote lead would result in a rebuke to Trump and the GOP.

Now, none of this is to say that Biden can’t blow this lead and lose the election…but to sugarcoat this is a disservice to people – Donald Trump is an underdog to be re-elected.

The state polls don’t show a much different picture – while not as strong for the Democratic challenger, Biden currently leads by 4.8% in Michigan, 3.8% in Pennsylvania, 3.4% in North Carolina, and 5% in Arizona, per Real Clear Politics averages. In addition to those four states – which would be enough for a reasonably robust victory, Trump is only down 0.5% in Florida and tied in Wisconsin – and leading in 3 of the five most recent Wisconsin polls. Even in Texas, where the GOP won the Presidency by 9% last time, is close, with Trump only up 2.6%, and with a CNN poll of the state showing Biden winning by 1%. Even if Texas doesn’t flip – and that appears to be likelier than not, as of today – the GOP having to play defense in the Lone Star State is a disaster – a load of money, effort, and visits that now don’t get to go to Michigan or Florida or other more traditional backgrounds….

For the Republicans, the warning lights are going off – Trump’s in trouble at the top of the ticket, their defensive Senate map is widening, and the Democrats are nominating the moderate option.”

Some just-released state polls underscore this assessment. First, two new NBC/Marist polls of Arizona and Ohio.

“In [Arizona], Biden leads Trump by 1 point among registered voters, 47 percent to 46 percent — which is in within the poll’s margin of error.

The president, however, is ahead of Sanders by 3 points, 48 percent to 45 percent…..

And Biden leads the president by 4 points in the Buckeye State, 49 percent to 45 percent, while Sanders is ahead by 2 points, 48 percent to 46 percent.”

In addition, Monmouth has a new poll of Arizona out, with Biden up 3 points over Trump. While Hispanic support looks about the same as Clinton’s in 2016, white college is significantly better (+3 vs. -2) and white noncollege is way better (-11 vs. -27).

These are very good numbers. On to November!


Political Strategy Notes

From the assessment of upcoming Democratic presidential primaries by Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “There are no signs things will get better for Sanders next week, when four more large states vote: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. Sanders has never shown any strength in Florida, and Biden should rout him there. Sanders lost Illinois narrowly and Ohio not-so-narrowly in 2016. Biden’s sweep of both Michigan and Missouri’s counties suggests we should expect something similar in their regional neighbors. Sanders carried much of downstate Illinois and also some of the Chicago collar counties in 2016. The results so far this year suggest he won’t replicate that. Sanders has done better out West, and he has also done well with Hispanic voters, which gives him a glimmer of hope in Arizona. But Arizona also has a lot of older voters and well-off suburbanites, high-turnout groups that have been flocking to Biden.”

Some quick takes from Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate: “The debate changed nothing, but at the end of the evening Joe Biden was sitting on the cusp of the Democratic nomination” (Lloyd Green)…”It’s hard not to wonder what the debate would be like if Warren were on the stage, since she came out with an infectious-disease plan in response to the coronavirus back in January”  (Amelia Thomson-Deveaux)…”This was by far the best debate because it involved just two candidates and they disagree on a lot. They represent the two dominant ways of thinking within in the Democratic Party. I wish this kind of debate had happened when the results of the primary weren’t basically already decided and many people will feel uncomfortable heading out to vote. (Perry Bacon, Jr.)…”Well the first 40 minutes were substantive and on point but now it’s like two old frenemies with coronavirus cabin fever arguing about decades-long misunderstandings and perceived personal slights” (Amanda Becker)…”This debate took a first step to bringing the Democratic party together, and it reminded the general electorate that competence is at hand. Especially when Biden names a female running mate, as he pledged” (Art Cullen).

Regarding the big news of the debate, front-runner Biden cemented a female running mate into the mix, and speculation is already in overdrive. On other occasions, Biden has mentioned as possible picks: Sen. Kamala Harris; former GA. State Rep. Stacy Abrams; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; Sen. Maggie Hassan; and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Other frequently-mentioned possibilities include: Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Rep. Val. Demings;  Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto; and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham; Biden has also said he would nominate an African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court at first opportunity.

Alexander Sammon explores “How to Win Concessions From Candidate Biden: The left—beginning with Sanders and Warren—should push him on both policy and personnel” at The American Prospect. Sammon observes, “You’d be hard-pressed to identify Biden’s agenda for the presidency. His policy-driven contributions during the many-months-long debate circuit were largely nonexistent. While his website features a sprawling mosaic of “bold ideas,” it’s tough to know how committed he is to any of them, given how infrequently he’s brought them up during his sporadic stump speeches, press scrums, and public appearances. The one thing we know for sure is his commitment to a return to much of Obama-era thinking, to a degree of political normalcy: the return of the “Obiden Bama” Democrat, as he calls it, perhaps with more spending on social programs… He’s nothing if not malleable. As Sanders again spearheads the fight for the platform, for which the first real battle will happen Sunday night on the debate stage, it’s certainly worth pushing for personnel concessions as well…Biden desperately needs the grassroots and youth support of the party’s progressive wing if he wants any hope of defeating Trump, and those groups should push for major influence over the Biden cabinet— and Biden policy—when the moment for horse-trading arrives.”

Also at The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson’s “Whither (Not Wither) the Post-Bernie Left” includes this insight: “Should Biden be elected, it’s not likely that he will come to power with his own mass grassroots organization, as Barack Obama did only to let it decay and disappear. What organization there will be, if the left—and I mean an expanded left, including such groups as Indivisible and a number of unions—sticks together, will be a mobilized left wing of the Democratic Party. Such a coalition can serve to block the return of Wall Street to the kind of power it exercised in the Clinton and Obama administrations, as my colleague Bob Kuttner outlines in an article the Prospect posted today. But it can also be a source of left pressure on Biden policy, as Deepak Bhargava suggests in an article in The Nation. After all, the landmark advances of the New Deal were in many ways a response to worker uprisings, and those of the Great Society a response to the civil rights movement. That, of course, requires this generation’s left to view a Biden presidency as an arena of struggle where victories will be possible, not the unalterable enemy that some on the left may regard it. The labor left backed Franklin Roosevelt when he enacted the reforms they supported, as the civil rights movement backed Lyndon Johnson when he did the same.”

Despite varied claims about ‘Bernie Bros’ voting for Trump, the most realistic estimate is that about “12 percent of people who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries voted for President Trump in the general election. That is according to the data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — a massive election survey of around 50,000 people.” Some reasons to believe it will be a much smaller figure in 2020 include: 1. Those 2016 Bernie to Trump voters couldn’t know how bad Trump would be; 2. Biden may be less objectionable to many voters than was Hillary Clinton; 3. Retirement investments may not recover much by November; 4. Trump’s firing of the CDC’s pandemic response team last year looks increasingly like a national security disaster.

Is postponing elections because of the pandemic justified? That’s what they are doing in Georgia, as Kelly Mena and Diane Gallagher report at CNN Politics: “Georgia elections officials will postpone the March 24 presidential primary to May 19 because of the coronavirus, becoming the second state in the nation to delay a vote in the race for the White House due to the pandemic, according to Walter Jones, a spokesman with the Secretary of State’s office.” Yes, a lot of poll workers are elderly and having people packed together in long lines is even a worse idea in a pandemic. But you can’t blame Georgia Democrats for being a bit suspicious that Georgia’s Republican leaders don’t want people voting when they are pissed off about mismanagement of a public health emergency. However, the postponement could also mean more pro-Democratic voters will cast ballots on May 19.

Charlie Cook has some sobering math for Democrats in a current column at The Cook Political Report: “The Cook Political Report on Monday released its updated Electoral College Ratings, with six states in the Toss Up column: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the three Frost Belt states that effectively determined the 2016 election; but also three Sun Belt states of Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. With Democrats having 232 electoral votes either Solidly, Likely, or Leaning in their direction, their candidate needs 38 of the 102 electoral votes in the Toss Up column, while Trump, with 204 electoral votes in his column, needs to win 66 out of that same 102.”

All Politics Is Local: Why Progressives Must Fight for the States” by Meaghan Winter explains how Democrats have “ceded control of state governments to the GOP, allowing them to rig our political system and undermine democracy itself. After the 2016 election, Republicans had their largest majority in the states since 1928, controlling legislative chambers in thirty-two states and governor offices in thirty-three. They also held both chambers of Congress and the presidency despite losing the popular vote.” Winter shows how Democrats and progressives “have spent the past several decades betting it all on the very risky and increasingly foolhardy strategy of abandoning the states to focus on federal races…For the American public, the fallout has been catastrophic…Republican lawmakers have diminished employee protections and healthcare access and thwarted action on climate change. Voting rights are being dismantled, and even the mildest gun safety measures are being blocked.” It has resulted in extreme abortion bans, undermining gun control to gutting unions,.” The New York Review of Books  credits Winter’s book “with remarkable clarity and tenacity.”


Teixeira: Biden, the White Working Class and Michigan

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

John Cassidy of The New Yorker uses some of my data to make the case that Trump has a great deal to be worried about in Michigan and similar states. I think Cassidy is correct. Remember: almost any erosion in Trump’s margin of support among white noncollege voters in November puts his re-election in extreme danger.

“When Joe Biden entered the Democratic Presidential primary, last spring, he put forward a straightforward case for why he would be the best choice for the Party. In addition to gaining the support of the Democratic Party base, which consists of minority voters and highly educated whites, Biden argued that he could win over some white working-class Americans, particularly in the industrial Midwest, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Appearing before a crowd of Teamsters and firefighters in Pittsburgh, Biden said, “If I’m going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it’s going to happen here.”…

[Y]ou can’t directly translate the results of a Democratic primary to a general election, where the voting pool is much bigger and more conservative. In 2016, about 4.8 million people voted in the general election in Michigan, compared to 1.2 million who voted in the Democratic primary. But you can’t ignore the results of primary elections, either. “You have to be careful about the signal-to-noise ratio, but there is certainly some signal there,” Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert on electoral demographics, told me on Wednesday. “It seems to fit the proposition that Biden is putting forward. If I was part of the Trump campaign, I’d be a little concerned.”

That might be an understatement. In a recent analysis of what it will take to win the Presidency in 2020, Teixeira and a colleague, John Halpin, pointed out that in November, 2016, whites without college degrees made up about forty-four per cent of the electorate, making them the largest single group, and Trump carried them by more than twenty points. In 2020, Trump is once more basing his campaign on appealing to these voters and getting more of them to turn out. The good news for the Democrats—and the worrying thing for the President—is that they don’t need to eliminate Trump’s advantage with white working-class voters, which would be a huge task. Given the Democrats’ advantage in other demographics, merely restricting Trump’s advantage with that group to more manageable levels could be sufficient to carry Biden to the White House.

Take Michigan again. In 2016, Trump’s extremely narrow victory there relied on a margin of twenty-one points among whites without college degrees. (He got fifty-seven per cent, and Clinton got thirty-six per cent.) In their analysis, Teixeira and Halpin show that, if Biden can replicate Barack Obama’s performance in 2012, and reduce this margin to ten points, it would help boost his over-all vote in the state by five percentage points. That would virtually guarantee Biden sixteen votes in the electoral college.

“The same analysis applies, with different levels of difficulty, to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Teixeira told me. In Pennsylvania, which Trump won by forty-four thousand votes in 2016, white non-college voters made up fifty-one per cent of the electorate, and Trump carried them by thirty points. According to Teixeira and Halpin’s study, if Biden could reduce this margin by even five points, it “would give the Democrats a several-point cushion in the state.” In Wisconsin, which Trump won by twenty-three thousand votes, whites without college degrees formed an even bigger share of the November, 2016, electorate—fifty-eight per cent—and Trump’s margin was eighteen points.”

Keep your fingers and toes crossed but we are starting to get The Orange One right where we want him.


Teixeira: Biden, the White Working Class and Michigan (II)

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

Nice chart from The Economist. It shows that the more white noncollege a county was, the sharper the decline in Sanders’ vote share. Ditto for rurality/population density: Sanders’ sharpest losses were in the least dense, rural counties.