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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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The Daily Strategist

December 5, 2020

Political Strategy Notes

At The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein has some insights about the reasons for Trump and McConnell’s continued refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory: “Most Democrats I’ve spoken with believe that Trump will be pushing against an open door if he demands blanket Republican opposition to the incoming president. Biden has mostly shrugged off congressional Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge his victory or to call for the transition process to begin, insisting that he can still work with those legislators later. But other Democrats see a resemblance between the GOP’s recent actions and the scorched-earth resistance Mitch McConnell pursued against Obama for eight years. “As someone who spent a long time in the Senate, I see a poison coursing through the body and the Republican Party that is going to be very difficult to get out,” Jim Manley, who served as a top communications aide to the former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, told me. “I think we are in this for the long term.” Another high-ranking Democrat in close touch with Biden’s transition team, who asked for anonymity to discuss his advice, told me he worries that McConnell is supporting Trump’s stonewalling of the transition process because he believes it will cause Biden to stumble out of the gate, weakening Democrats for the 2022 elections. Yet as much as the GOP’s continuing deference to Trump constrains Biden’s options, it also limits the ability of congressional Republicans and potential 2024 candidates to question, or even just recalibrate, the outgoing president’s polarizing direction for the party.”

In “Biden reaches out. The GOP slaps him in the face,” Washington Post syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes that Biden “can take no comfort if Republicans who stayed mum during Trump’s attempted election theft turn around later and pretend that they had nothing to do with this. Their silence is complicity….This presents a challenge to those of us on the progressive side who in the past respected conservatism as a coherent and morally serious worldview. We saw it as a set of ideas, advanced by thinkers such as Edmund Burke and Robert Nisbet, dedicated to preserving what is good in our institutions and traditions. Even when we emphatically disagreed, we could understand why they might be skeptical of the unintended costs of some of the reforms we might put forward….But now we confront a form of conservatism that openly disdains democracy, its rules and its obligations. In his book “Democracy and Tradition,” the philosopher and religion scholar Jeffrey Stoutargues that “one thing a democratic people had better have in common is a form of ethical discourse, a way of exchanging reasons about ethical and political topics.”….Those who lack the conviction to sustain that tradition by defending rationality and the democratic rules of engagement forfeit their standing to ask the rest of us to believe that they are operating in good faith.”

Kyle Kondik ponders the 2022 U.S. Senate races and observes at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:”Democrats may have a better chance of winning the Senate in 2022 than holding the House, even if Democrats lose both Georgia special elections in January…The president’s party often struggles in midterms, which gives the GOP a generic advantage in the battle for Congress…The Republicans’ three most vulnerable Senate seats may all be open in 2022….Democrats may have a better chance of winning a Senate majority than a House majority in the next national election….That is not to say Democrats have a great chance of winning a Senate majority — they don’t, particularly if Republicans hold the two Georgia Senate seats in a Jan. 5, 2021 runoff. Rather, it suggests that the Democratic Senate path might be more plausible than the Democratic path in the House, given looming redistricting and reapportionment and the history of presidential party House losses in midterm elections….Of course, we know little about the Senate candidates, national environment, and other factors that will determine the outcome of the next cycle. Nor do we even know what the Senate will look like next year, thanks to the Georgia runoffs….Biden is not guaranteed to suffer down-ballot losses in the House and Senate, even though that is the usual midterm pattern. That Biden does not enjoy big majorities to start his presidency may make it less likely for him to agitate the opposition through the divisive, one-party legislating that helped cost the Democrats and the Republicans the House majority in 2010 and 2018 respectively….Based on the history, we should presume Republicans will have an edge in the 2022 midterm, but there are no guarantees.”

The Washington Monthly’s David Atkins notes that “the slow demographic death spiral of the GOP is still continuing apace. Donald Trump embodies the Republican Party’s doom: older, mostly white, mostly male voters yearning for the imagined cultural dominance of decades past and increasingly divorced from the reality of America today….Yes, the Emerging Democratic Majority has been long promised without overwhelming success–so much so that it is now often widely mocked as a fallacy. But it is still very real. The oldest Millennials are now turning 40, and they haven’t gotten any more conservative with age. Zoomers, once hoped by conservatives to be a new vanguard for them, are even more progressive than Millennials (despite a very loud and obnoxious fascist minority of young white men.) Generation X has turned into a surprisingly conservative bastion for Trumpism, but Generation X is also smaller than the Baby Boom or the Millennials. The country gets less white every year. Women are becoming more hostile to conservatism….The greatest political divides in America outside of generation, race and gender are education and geographic polarization. There again, the trends are very much against conservatives. Americans are becoming more educated than ever, and moving away from rural areas and small towns into cities and suburbs. The greatest bulwark against white racism is a college degree, and as younger whites become better educated the overall percentage of the white population becomes more immune to the appeal of Trumpist demagoguery. And, of course, there is the fact that the suburbs are trending rapidly blue…If Trumpism can continue to pull strong numbers even without Trump himself on the ballot, the country (and the world) will be in for a very difficult next decade or two. But if it can’t, generational trends will compound the interest on a bad demographic deficit for the GOP that will overwhelm even its artificial geographic advantages. And if Democrats manage to change even a few of the rules, from the electoral college to adding states to reversing gerrymandering, the disaster for the GOP may be irreversible.”


Team Trump Melts Down

This may wind up being an ephemeral event on the road to Joe Biden’s inauguration, but it should stand in infamy, as I explained at New York:

When the Trump campaign announced a noon press conference today, there was some speculation that it might signal an end to the president’s doomed effort to challenge his election defeat. That might have seemed rational, since Team Trump and its subordinate allies have again and again struck out in court, all over the country, in efforts to even raise the remote possibility there was enough “fraud” to change the outcome. And with state certifications of the results on the very near horizon, there’s no question Republicans were privately whispering to the president and his staff that it was time to end the circus and move along.

Lord have mercy, was the end-is-coming speculation wrong! In an interminable press conference, Trump’s legal team upped the ante by about a million percent, alleging a massive national conspiracy personally directed by Joe Biden, but bankrolled by “communist money,” to steal an election that “the president clearly won by a landslide,” as Trump attorney Sidney Powell said at one point. Chief lawyer Rudy Giuliani became more and more agitated as the strange event went on, spending most of his time attacking reporters from the “fake media” in the room and symbolizing the heat of his words when his hair-dye melted, leaving brown streaks down each side of his face.

But the longer the presser went on, the more it became clear that the Trump campaign was relying not so much on affidavits of misconduct or statistical demonstrations of altered results but rather the broadest sorts of conspiracy theories, most of them inherently absurd or previously exploded. Giuliani repeatedly spoke of mail ballots as though they are some sort of sinister new invention rather than a method of voting that has been available in one form or another in every state for years. He also with a straight face argued that the reversal of early Trump leads in many states as mail ballots were counted was prima facie evidence of fraud, rather than a reflection of his own client’s loud, constant, and successful efforts to convince Republicans not to vote by mail – and of Republican legislators’ decision to ban the counting of mail ballots until Election Day or immediately before it.

In other words, having failed to supply evidence of wrongdoing sufficient to change the results in individual states, Team Trump has headed into the murky and dangerous territory of declaring the entire election illegitimate, from sea to shining sea.

This became plain when Sidney Powell took the presser far down the rabbit hole into discredited claims that voting machines designed in Venezuela had systematically miscounted the vote in order to throw the election to Biden. Weeping actual tears, Powell spoke darkly of “communist money” and veered off into murky claims from years far past. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her: “Even by the standards of the Trump legal team, Sidney Powell is making no sense right now. You have to be just mainlining http://TheDonald.win and Gateway Pundit to have any idea what she’s referencing,” observed the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer.

Other than lashing the media for failing to “cover” its incoherent theories and alerting the president’s supporters that the fight was by no means winding down, what was the point of the presser? It appears that the lawsuits Giuliani threatened will seek to get judges to stop state certification of results. Since they will probably not gain any more traction than earlier campaign or GOP efforts to slow down the process, the real goal was probably indicated by Ellis and Powell, both of whom mentioned “constitutional provisions” for “fixing” a rigged election. By that I am assuming they meant the questionable theory that state legislatures can put aside “disputed” results and just appoint electors on their own.

It’s no coincidence that the legislatures of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are controlled by Trump’s GOP. And worried observers have long feared Trump had in mind exactly this sort of end-run of the results if he lost. Based on the overall impression left by Trump’s team after this stunning event, it’s reasonably clear the strategy is to get the MAGA masses to press Republican legislators in the key states to steal the 2020 election on grounds that it was earlier stolen by Democrats.

I’ve been watching political developments closely for a half-century, and have witnessed all sorts of craziness. But the spectacle of the president’s lawyers menacing reporters (“You’re lying! You’re lying! You’re lying!” Giuliani screamed at one reporter trying to ask a question, after asking her “What fake media do you work for?”) trying to unravel their wild claims was something out of a bad alternative history where the bad guys won World War II. At one point, Powell said: “This is the 1775 of our generation and beyond!” Are these people threatening violent revolution if they don’t get their way? Normally I’d say, “Of course not!” But for the first time, I’m really not sure.


More on the Georgia Flip

Mike Freedberg of Here and Sphere shares an instructive graphic that helps explain the Georgia flip to an Electoral College blue state:

Freedberg writes:

A map of voter shifts, precinct by precinct, in Georgia from the 2016 election to the 2020 tells a lot about how Joe Biden became President-elect. Let’s study the map, pictured above, and make some determinations based on what is shown.

You will notice, of course, the enormous shift of votes in the Atlanta suburbs, all of them, as well as in greater Savannah (the blue precincts on the coast). As happened in suburbs all over America, Joe Biden won tons of votes that Hillary Clinton lost. This part of the Biden win in Georgia is common knowledge. Absent this vast a shift, Biden could not have won Georgia by some 12,880 votes. Everything that follows this shift depended on it, and Biden certainly is aware that he will be the President of suburban America.

The voters who so drastically moved away from, Mr. Trump are middle class, mostly, and overwhelmingly white. Their entrance into the Democratic coalition changes the party — as I have previously written about — from being a mostly working-class party to a party chiefly of educated affluents.

However, Freedberg adds, “Joe Biden did not carry Georgia by suburban voters only. Two other outcomes played an equally cruicial part :

( 1 ) almost all Black voters chose Biden, but not more than chose Clinton in 2016. His percentage actually dropped by one percent ( 1% ) from Hillary Clinton’s number. As has been noted by others, Mr. Trump had some success, nationwide, winning more Black votes than in 2016 — not many, but some. Black voters in this Georgia election numbered only 27 percent of the total — down from 30 percent in 2012 — yet even that one percent shift to Mr. Trump cost Joe Biden about 16,400 votes, enough to have moved Georgia into Trump’s column despite the suburban landslide for Biden.

( 2 ) that Mr. Trump’s increase of Black votes did not cost Biden this State is due to a shift among voters who nationwide became Mr. Biden’s crucial success : Biden GAINED one percent of rural white voters, over Hillary Clinton’s totals, mostly in very white North Georgia but also throughout the State. Rural white voters have been Mr. Trump’s base, and he won them big in this election as in 2016 : but not quite AS big. Rural white votes totaled about 25 percent of Georgia’s total, and a one percent shift of them from Trump to Biden was just enough to counter Biden’s 16,400 vote shortfall among Black voters.

Freedberg notes that many believe “Joe Biden, himself of white working class background, was the only 2020 Democratic candidate who could have peeled off enough rural white voters to defeat Mr. Trump.” Further, “Almost no other Democrat running for office this past election won a similar break. Voters in Republican counties did not switch their Congress votes as they did for President.”

Freedberg says that winning both senate seats in the Georgia run-off would be a “difficult task,” which will require “a profounder shift of voter sentiment than the one which benefitted Biden.” Democrats can hope that the historic low turnouts for run-off elections in Georgia provide an opportunity for them to win a disproportionate share of voters. But that will require a heroic GOTV mobilization of pro-Democratic constituencies, a formidable challenge for GA activists.


Political Strategy Notes

In “How Georgia Turned Blue: And why it might not stay that way,” Perry Bacon, Jr. writes at FiveThirtyEight that “overall, the story is clear: Biden won Georgia because he did really well in the Atlanta area, far better than Obama eight years ago and significantly better than Clinton, too. Biden won about 65 percent of the two-party share of the votes in these 10 Atlanta-area counties, up from Clinton’s 59 percent in 2018. He also gained in the other 149 Georgia counties in Georgia, but it was smaller: Clinton received about 34 percent of the vote outside the Atlanta area, while Biden received about 37 percent….What does this very blue Atlanta mean for future Georgia elections — not only for the Jan. 5 runoffs for the U.S. Senate seats, but also Abrams’s likely 2022 gubernatorial campaign and subsequent presidential elections?….Remember, the Democrats are losing badly in most areas of Georgia outside of Atlanta — and the state is only competitive if the Atlanta area stays as blue as it has been during the Trump era. If some Atlanta-area voters no longer view Trump as the defining figure of the GOP, do they go back to the GOP in the Senate runoffs and in subsequent elections?”

When an incomming President-elect comes from a different party from the incumbent, much of the media coverage focuses on upcoming changes regarding the cabinet and Supreme Court, along with policies regarding health care, abortion rights or environmental protection, among others. But one of the most consequential agencies, which affects the quality of life for millions of Americans is the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces labor law regarding collective baraining and unfair labor practices. As President, Biden will have the opportunity to transform this pivotal agency from an anti-labor agency into a pro-worker force with his appointments. At present the NLRB has four Republicans and one Democrat, with one seat vacant. Two of the Trump appointees, including Chairman John Ring and William Emmanuel will be replaced by Biden, who will also fill the vacant seat, giving pro-worker Democrats a majority on the Board. As Sahid Fawaz writes at Labor 411, “So how do things look for labor? Pretty good, depending on the what the Senate will look like….Biden can nominate a Democrat to the current vacant seat right after he takes office. And he can nominate another in August of next year. The two nominations, if confirmed by the Senate, would flip the Board from Republican to Democrat….Given the rash of anti-union decisions by the Board during Trump’s term, it would be a welcome change, to say the least, to see a Board that is no longer dominated by Trump-appointed Republicans…And a (big) bonus is that the term of Trump-appointed NLRB General Counsel, Peter Robb, who is definitely no friend of labor, expires November of next year.” But note Fawaz’s key phrase, “depending on the what the Senate will look like” — which underscores once more the pivotal importance of Georgia’s two senate run-off election on January 5th.

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall quotes a “Democratic operative with experience working on elections from the presidency on down to local contests,” who “emailed me his views on the complexities involved in developing Democratic strategies. He insisted on anonymity to protect his job: “I do think that defund the police and socialism hurt in Trump-leaning swing districts with more culturally conservative swing voters,” he wrote, but, he continued, “it’s not clear what one can do about it as you can’t reject your own base. You do need progressive politicians to be a bit more “OK” with centrists denouncing their own base. And you need centrist politicians being OK that the grass roots will have ideas that they don’t like….This all needs to be more of a “wink wink do what you need to do” arrangement, but it’s not there right now — it’s all too raw and divisive. So as someone involved in campaign strategy, that is frustrating. But to me, this is less of a campaign and message issue, and more of a political one — it’s about organizing and aligning the various constituencies of our party to work together. If we can do that, then we can figure out how to solve the message puzzle. But if you don’t do that, then this conflict will continue….We need to extend the tent and extend the map further in some way — out of necessity. That’s where I sympathize with the centrists. You also need a strong, passionate, determined base. That’s where I sympathize with the progressives…From race, to culture, to socioeconomic status. All of these items — knowledge professions vs. working class, young vs. old, rural vs. suburban vs. urban — makes us far more complex to manage than the G.O.P.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes that “in 2020, Trump voters came out in droves and thus boosted down-ballot Republicans. Trump won over 10 million more votes in 2020 than in 2016 — exit polls suggest that 6.5 million of his ballots came from first-time voters — which means he brought new supporters into the electorate who were important to this year’s House GOP victories….Going forward, figuring out how Trump won an additional 10 million votes is one of the most important questions in politics. Here’s a plausible and discouraging theory: Given Trump’s intemperate and often wild ranting in the campaign’s final weeks and the growing public role in GOP politics of QAnon conspiracists, the Proud Boys and other previously marginal extremist groups, these voters may well be more radical than the party as a whole. This means that Republicans looking to the future may be more focused on keeping such Trump loyalists in the electorate than on backing away from his abuses.” Another theory, which is compatible with reports that Republicans registered more new voters in 2020 than did Democrats in key states, is that GOP strategists deployed a strategy used by the successful ‘Brexit’ movement in the U.K.: invest money and time in identifying non-voters, then match them with 500 data points (developed by Cambridge Analytica) to target them as potential Republicans for GOTV.  C.A. was involved in 44 Republican races in the U.S. in 2014, as well as Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2015 and Trump’s 2016 campaign.


Georgia’s Democratic Gains More Durable Than Some Think

After reading a couple of pieces suggesting that Biden’s Georgia win was attributable solely to Republicans who will never again vote Democratic, I decided to respond at New York:

[E]ven as Republicans vainly dispute Biden’s win in Georgia, and operatives and donors in both parties prepare for the epic January battle, there’s an interpretive dispute breaking out over what really happened in Georgia in the general election, and what it means for Democrats there and elsewhere in the future. Data journalist David Shor initially raised the issue in an interview with New York’s Eric Levitz:

“If you look at county-level returns in Georgia, it’s pretty clear that nonwhite voters, as a share of the electorate, decreased at a time when the nonwhite share of the state’s population probably increased. Relative to the electorate as a whole, nonwhite turnout fell. And then, among nonwhite voters who turned out, support for the Democratic nominee fell. That’s just not consistent with nonwhite turnout being the decisive factor. The only reason we won is that there were these very large swings toward us among college-educated white people in the Atlanta suburbs.”

Now the data team at the New York Times is making the same argument looking at the same numbers:

“Joe Biden put Georgia in the Democratic column for the first time since 1992 by making huge gains among affluent, college-educated and older voters in the suburbs around Atlanta, according to an Upshot analysis of the results by precinct. The Black share of the electorate fell to its lowest level since 2006, based on an Upshot analysis of newly published turnout data from the Georgia secretary of state. In an election marked by a big rise in turnout, Black turnout increased, too, but less than that of some other groups.”

As it happens, some Georgia Democrats are pushing back on the Shor/Times data, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “A growing number of voters are refusing to identify themselves by race, and some of them are certainly Black voters. That could create a 3% or so difference between what the data says and who actually showed up at the polls, Democrats say.”

This may sound like a nerd fight over numbers in a hazy environment, partly caused by a general consensus not to rely on this year’s shaky exit polls. But the lessons both Shor and the Times take from the racial turnout data have profound implications for how Democrats handle the January runoffs, and for a general understanding of what’s happening in Georgia and similar states overall. Here’s how Shor puts it:

“I think it’s important for us to be clear-eyed about what happened in 2020. We’re not going to know exactly what happened until there’s more analysis of precinct results. But I think that the county-level data we have tells a pretty clear big-picture story. Which is that we won the presidency because, one, while we lost non-college-educated white voters, we kept those defections to a relatively low level, and two, a bunch of moderate Republicans who had voted for Trump in 2016 decided to vote for Biden this time.”

The Times is even blunter:

“The findings suggest that Mr. Biden’s win in Georgia may not yet herald a new progressive majority in what was a reliably red state, as Democrats still depend on the support of traditionally conservative voters to win statewide.”

These claims sure sound like a challenge to the general belief going into this cycle that Georgia and similar southern states were moving “blue” because of a combination of Black voter mobilization and a general shift to the left among highly educated suburbanites of all races.

As a fellow believer in that “progressive New South” interpretation, I’d offer my own pushback to the revisionist idea that Biden carried the state by appealing to Republicans who won’t vote for other Democrats down ballot, or even for president if Trump’s not on the ballot. All along, the premise advanced by Stacey Abrams and like-minded Georgia Democratic leaders was that a majority could be forged from a multiracial coalition centered in Atlanta’s rapidly diversifying (racially, economically, and culturally) suburbs. Abrams herself, though best known nationally as a voting rights and Black-voter-mobilization advocate, improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in the north Atlanta suburbs in her own near-miss 2018 gubernatorial campaign. And the idea that Biden’s success in those same suburbs is a sui generis product of Never Trump Republicans temporarily leaving their party in that one race is belied by the fact that two legendarily Republican suburban counties, Cobb and Gwinnett, ejected Republican local government executives for Democrats for the first time in a generation. This isn’t just about Trump, though he has obviously given Democrats suburban opportunities they didn’t previously enjoy.

Yes, relatively low Black turnout and marginally lower Democratic vote shares among nonwhite voters are a problem for Democrats in Georgia and many other states. But that should not become the basis for some sort of blue-dog redux theory in which Georgia Democrats pursue “conservative” suburban voters with conservative policies, at the expense of Black voter interests and resources. That would be a terrible U-turn for a Democratic coalition that is just now beginning to reach its potential for creating a party in which there are no longer any second-class, taken-for-granted voters. If anything, the nonwhite-voter-mobilization problems Shor and the Times identified, assuming they aren’t a statistical illusion, may provide an opportunity for Democrats in January, and certainly in 2022, when Stacey Abrams is likely to run for governor again. But in the longer run, the once-elusive dream of a southern Democratic Party that doesn’t only have eyes for white conservative voters is more than worth the effort.


Enten: Battle of the ‘Burbs Gave Biden Victory

From Harry Enten’s “Trump’s fraud accusations make no sense. The suburbs, not the cities, are why he lost” at CNN Politics:

What Trump and his campaign don’t seem to realize is that the cities (Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee) in the three most important Great Lakes battlegrounds (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) were not responsible for President-elect Joe Biden’s improvement compared with Hillary Clinton….Biden won in large part because of a dramatic improvement in the suburbs surrounding the major cities in these states.
Getting down to particulars, Enten notes,
Start off in Michigan and Detroit. Biden actually got about 1,000 fewer votes than Clinton in Detroit. Trump, meanwhile, got nearly 5,000 more votes. Given Trump received so few votes in Detroit, this was good enough for a 65% increase for Trump….Then look at the counties surrounding Wayne County (where Detroit is located) as well as the places in Wayne outside of Detroit. Biden saw a 25% increase in his vote share, while Trump’s vote share increased by just 15%. That alone was worth a net of more than 120,000 votes for Biden’s margin over Trump compared with Clinton and 2016.
In PA:
As in Detroit, Trump’s been the one who has been disproportionately outperforming his 2016 Philadelphia performance. At this hour, Biden is doing fewer than 5,000 votes better than Clinton in 2016. Trump’s doing more than 20,000 votes better than he did in 2016. That’s about a 20% increase in his vote total in the city….The surrounding suburban counties have been much friendlier to Biden. His margin over Trump is about 80,000 votes more than Clinton’s was in these same counties. The percentage increase for Biden in his vote total (21%) dwarfs Trump’s (11%)….Again, these 80,000 votes were more than enough to overcome Trump’s 2016 statewide margin in Pennsylvania of about 45,000.
In Wisconsin:
Trump’s problem wasn’t Milwaukee. While Biden did pick up votes in the city of Milwaukee compared with Clinton, it was a rather small amount (about 6,000). Trump snagged an additional 3,000 or so votes. Trump’s percentage increase (because he started at such a low baseline) in his vote total of 7% in the city of Milwaukee was actually double that of Biden’s over Clinton’s (3%)….The suburban counties and Milwaukee County outside the city of Milwaukee are where Biden advanced the ball over Trump. Biden’s percentage increase of the vote in these counties (25%) compared with Clinton more than doubled Trump’s (12%). That’s the opposite of what happened in the city of Milwaukee, where Trump’s percentage vote increase was larger than the one on the Democratic side….In vote terms, Biden’s margin in these suburbs improved by about 25,000 compared with Clinton’s….As in Michigan and Pennsylvania, this alone would have wiped out Trump’s 2016 statewide margin. He took Wisconsin by a touch under 23,000 in 2016.

Enten doesn’t address the Georgia flip. But William Frey has noted at Brookings that “Georgia’s urban core counties (including several close-in Atlanta counties that are sometime thought of as suburbs) helped the 2020 result swing toward Democrats. The counties of Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton have consistently voted Democratic in recent elections….The populous counties of Gwinnett, Cobb, and Henry flipped to voting Democratic in 2016, and increased their Democratic margins even more so this year. Other suburban counties that showed increased Democratic support since 2016 were Douglas, Newton, and Rockdale.”

Enten’s conclusion about Biden’s victory: “The bottom line is that all these numbers make sense and tell a consistent story: Biden won because he was able to build on the traditional Democratic strength in the big cities by expanding his support into the suburban areas right outside of them. There wasn’t any grand conspiracy by big city machines. Trump simply got beat because suburban voters were tired of him.”


Teixeira: Shor’s Insights Light Path for Dems

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

David Shor on the 2020 Election

Perhaps you’ve heard of Shor, if for no other reason than he got purged from the Civiqs research firm for wrongthink–daring to tweet, based on academic research, that violent protests tend to produce less positive change than peaceful protests.

But Shor is also one of sharpest data science people around and obsessively dedicated to helping Democrats get elected and pass progressive legislation. He has very high level technical skills, intimate acquaintance with a wide range of data and deep understanding of the relevant political science research. Refreshingly, he takes his analysis in whatever direction the data indicate and is entirely willing to discard the conventional wisdom where appropriate. He is very definitely not trying to be politically correct.

So this long interview with Shor on Politico is very much worth reading. I don’t agree with everything here but I take it all very seriously. I urge you to do so as well. Some particularly cogent excerpts–

On the vexed influence of college educated white liberals on the Democrats:

“[A]s college-educated white people enter the Democratic Party and become an increasingly large share of the Democratic Party while the reverse happens to Republicans, that naturally is going to influence who wins party primaries and what kind of people win internal party fights. In practice — given the fact that college-educated whites donate at disproportionate rates and volunteer at disproportionate rates — I think it’s going to be very hard for Democrats to resist the pull of catering to their preferences, which is naturally going to lead to losing votes among people who aren’t them: not just non-college educated whites, but, as we as we saw this cycle, also non-white voters.

It’s a reasonable expectation that these gaps will continue to grow unless parties make a concerted effort to swim upstream. And even then, it’s probably going to be more about slowing things down or keeping things where they were. I think an underappreciated aspect of Barack Obama is that he actually presided over one of the only periods of educational depolarization. In 2008 and 2012, the education gap actually depolarized, because he did unusually well among non-college whites in the Midwest. And some of that is probably the recession. So, it’s not impossible, but it will be hard.”

On the decline of ticket-splitting and the implications for Democrats in swing districts:

“In 2020, there was this idea that ticket-splitting was going to increase, but actually, there was considerably less ticket-splitting than we were expecting. Democrats really expected our Senate candidates to overperform Biden. That didn’t happen at the rates the public polls suggested they would. There’s a pretty similar story you can tell about the U.S. House. This decline in ticket-splitting means that when people are voting on their local House candidate, they’re increasingly doing that on the basis of the news they read about the national Democratic Party. And this creates a hard tradeoff: It’s no longer true, in a way that might have been true 20 or 30 years ago, that someone in a safe seat can say whatever they want to energize the base without creating consequences in swing districts. Now, that doesn’t mean that Abigail Spanberger, for instance, should control the exact contents of what gets said, but it really highlights the importance of being disciplined and embracing things that are popular and not embracing things that are unpopular. I think that AOC has proposed a lot of things that are incredibly popular. The Loan Shark Prevention Act, which caps credit card interest rates at 15 percent — in the New Progressive Agenda Project polling we did with Sean [McElwee], where we have pro and con arguments, this was one of the most popular policies we ever tested.

But now that we have this increased polarization, we can’t escape that. There are very real tradeoffs to talking about things that aren’t popular. Obviously, there’s a lot of disagreement about what is popular and what isn’t, and polling is hard. It’s very easy to create polls that make single-payer health care popular or background checks [for gun purchases] popular. But then when these things show up at the ballot box in various ways, they end up losing. The things that liberals want — or that the left wants — some of them are very popular and some aren’t, and I think we have to be honest with ourselves about which is which. And that can be difficult, both from a coalition perspective and emotionally, but the importance of it is very high.”

On the utility of “anti-racist deep canvassing”:

“The important thing to remember about campaigns, big picture, is this: The average voter in a general election is something like 50 years old — in a midterm or primary, it’s higher. They don’t have a college degree. They watch about six hours of TV a day — that’s the average; there are people who watch more. They generally don’t read partisan media. They still largely get their news from mainstream sources. They’re watching what’s on the ABC Nightly News. Maybe they see some stuff on Facebook, but it’s really mostly from mainstream sources.

You have to center on this person, and think about how they’re interacting with politics. With all of these things, whether canvassing or digital ads, the reality is that people are mostly forming their opinions on the basis of what the press says….In 2016, we didn’t lose because our get-out-the-vote lists were not sorted well enough. And it wasn’t that we had the wrong kind of digital targeting. We lost because, big picture, we ran a campaign that increased the salience of immigration at a time when marginal voters in swing states in the Midwest disagreed with us on immigration. That’s why we lost. Obviously, it was a close election, and maybe you could have done something different and gotten 0.4 points more in Wisconsin. But big picture, that is what happened.”

On defund the police:

“When you look at “defund the police” specifically, there was a real movement among educated, liberal people in the media and among activists across a broad swath of the left to elevate this issue and get folks to talk about it. And there are pros and cons to doing that. I’m not going to claim that I know what the right thing to do is — sometimes, it makes sense to talk about unpopular issues. But we should acknowledge that in practice, those decisions to elevate the salience of certain issues and reduce it on other issues — those decisions are actually something campaigns and activists have a lot of control over. And they are going to end up influencing vote share much more than any decision that any individual campaign makes about what digital vendors they use, or how many digital ads they use versus what TV ads they use.

Ultimately, in this hyperpolarized world, what national media outlets choose to talk about is going to be much more important in determining whether [Democratic Congressman] Collin Peterson survives in Minnesota’s 7th district than anything he does. That’s just the reality. [This month, Peterson lost his bid for reelection.]”

On why Georgia went blue (it wasn’t black turnout):

“The real story behind Georgia, much more than demographic inflow, is just these enormous swings in the Atlanta suburbs, which make up most of the state. There are a bunch of precincts where Obama got 30 percent of the vote, where now Trump got 30 percent of the vote — absolutely wild swings in these highly educated suburbs. That’s most of the story.

In both 2018 and 2020, you see the Black share of the electorate dropping or staying steady, and the support for Democrats among Black and non-white voters in general also dropping, but then support among college-educated white people and turnout among college-educated white people being off the charts. And that is the story: We had already bottomed out among non-college educated whites, and had a lot of room to grow among college-educated whites.”

On the Democrats’ drop in Hispanic support:

“There was an initial tendency to say, “Oh, of course we lost Cubans in Florida,” or “In the Rio Grande Valley, they’re all very conservative.” But within Texas, we also fell tremendously in Hispanic precincts in Houston; there were substantial drops in Hispanic support for Democrats in the northeast, around Massachusetts; same thing in Osceola County, Florida, which is predominantly Puerto Ricans who live near Orlando. In large swaths of the country, there was a pretty broad-based decline. Looking at precincts in Miami-Dade specifically, the decline was basically the same for Cuban precincts and non-Cuban precincts — it was a little bit larger in Cuban precincts, but not by very much.

What’s really interesting is that this change was reflected down-ballot. That’s actually very surprising. In 2016, there were a lot of areas that swung 20 points against Democrats — rural, white working-class areas — but still voted for Democratic Senate, House and state legislative candidates. This year, in a lot of Hispanic areas, down-ballot Democrats got slaughtered. In Florida, we lost Hispanic House seats, and on the state-legislative level, it was pretty brutal. There was a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley [Texas’ 15th district] that we had won by 20 points in 2018 and 2016, and this time only won by 3 points. It’s possible that politics is just different now in 2020 than in 2016, but that really tells me that this was a change in party ID more than anything specifically that Trump or Biden did.

There is a broader trend, though, that as college-educated white people become a larger share of the Democratic coalition and a larger share of the Democratic voice, they do pull the party on cultural issues. Non-college educated white people have more culturally in common with working-class Black and working-class Hispanic voters. So, it should be unsurprising that as the cultural power of college-educated white people increases in the Democratic Party, non-white voters will move against us.”

On the coalition the Democrats need:

“We need to change the nature of our coalition if we want to wield legislative power. It’s possible that maybe the Republican Party will just really mess up. But we just had basically the most unpopular Republican president since Nixon, and Democrats were not able to capture the kind of legislative majorities we need to affect change. That highlights the need for us to try to change the nature of our coalition.

That’s not saying anything new to anyone who works in Democratic politics. Everyone from Bernie Sanders to Chuck Schumer to Nancy Pelosi — they would all love to have more working-class white votes. It’s a big question of how you actually do that, but if we care about enacting legislative majorities, the alternatives to us making these changes are bleak.”

On the relative importance of turnout:

“In general, I think people really overestimate the importance of turnout in high-turnout elections. It’s definitely true that turnout was higher in 2020 than in 2016. But it’s clear, looking at the county results, that for the most part, these new voters were Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal numbers.

The story for this turnout increase is less about the mobilization efforts of either Democrats or Republicans; it’s that interest in politics increased in general. You saw this when you polled people and asked how closely they’re following things — it was much higher than four years ago. We’ve had a four-year period where everyone has been very intensely interested in politics. And we’ve never really seen that kind of permanent mobilization before. It’s led to record fundraising numbers, and a record number of protests, and more people running for office, and politics has become higher-status….

I still think mobilization in general is good for Democrats, but it’s a much less clear trade than it used to be, and in whiter parts of the country, it really might not be true at all. In terms of the partisan implications, I expect the effects to be small. The reality is that most of the change from election to election is people changing their minds, not who voted.”

Food for thought. For many thoughts.


Political Strategy Notes

Charlie Cook asks “Why Couldn’t Democrats Ride the Blue Wave?” at The Cook Political Report and observes, “Did the label of “socialist” finally give enough swing voters cause for hesitation? What about charges that Democrats were going to push Medicare-for-all, or pack the Court? What about questions of exactly what would be in a Green New Deal and what would it do to jobs during a fragile economy? Was there a fear that Democrats would or could not keep law and order, given the “Defund the Police” movement?….This argument got some reinforcement when Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Democracy Corps, a group he founded decades ago with James Carville, conducted a 2,000-person phone sample in 16 battleground states from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4. Greenberg’s argument, based on that study, was: “The big story is Donald Trump led an incendiary, race-laden working-class revolt against the elites, fueled by attacks on defunding the police, ads with Black urban violence and his demand for law and order that cost Democrats dearly in rural areas, with older voters and white working-class men, some GOP defectors, some suburban voters, and … an unprecedented rush of white working-class voters in the blue wall states. Trump pushed his white working-class men’s vote up 7 points at the end to match the support he got in 2016 and pushed up his rural vote 14 points to exceed it….Were there “shy Trump voters?” Although I was skeptical, it would appear that there were. In the POS Election Day survey, 19 percent of Trump voters indicated that they had hidden their support for him from most of their friends, while just 8 percent of Biden voters kept keep their support for him to themselves. The survey quoted one woman as saying, “I got called a white supremacist and a racist so I kept it to myself so I wouldn’t hear those words.”

At Brookings, William H. Frey explains why “Biden’s victory came from the suburbs.” Frey writes that “Trump’s loss to Joe Biden was due mostly to voters in large metropolitan suburbs, especially in important battleground states….That is the primary conclusion from this analysis of 2020 presidential votes using a Brookings Institution classification of U.S. counties by urban status. It shows that suburban counties and smaller metropolitan areas strongly contributed to Biden’s victories in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as his competitive showing in Georgia.  Nonmetropolitan counties did not move far, if at all, from their strong 2016 support of Trump….large suburban areas in 2020 registered a net Democratic advantage for the first time since Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. This is significant because more voters reside there than in the other three categories. In terms of aggregate votes in these large suburban counties, there was a shift from a 1.2 million vote advantage for Trump in 2016 to (at last count) a 613,000 vote advantage for Biden—a nearly 2 million vote flip. In addition, Biden benefitted from more modest Republican margins in small metropolitan areas. These advantages for the President-elect were even greater in key battleground states….As the nation’s demography becomes more diverse in terms of race, age, and educational attainment, the growing Democratic-leaning voting blocs are likely to comprise even greater shares of the suburban electorate—cementing the importance of the suburbs in elections to come.”

It appears that Democrats have a lot of work to do in persuading more young, white voters to support their candidates, especially in Georgia. Keeping in mind that available exit polls are not as reliable as the better crafted retrospective polls that will appear in a couple of months, Rachel Janfaza notes in “Organizers look to build off momentum and turn out a new batch of young voters in Georgia’s runoffs” at CNN Politics: “According to CNN’s national exit polls, young voters of color broke hard for Biden in Georgia, while their White counterparts were more loyal to Trump. While Black voters in Georgia ages 18-29 supported Biden over Trump by 76% to 23% and Latino voters in Georgia ages 18-29 supported Biden over Trump by 74% to 25%, White voters in Georgia ages 18-29 supported Trump over Biden by 60% to 38%.” Janfaza reports that a number of youth voter activist groups are already working to register and mobilize a record turnout in Georgia’s Jan. 5 run-off election that will decide which party has majority control of the U.S. Senate.

Of course Democrats are already arguing about 2022 strategy. At Vox Ella Nilsen shares some observations: “To be clear, Democrats will have control of the US House of Representatives in the next Congress, albeit with a much slimmer majority than in the current session. So far, seven moderate Democratic members lost their seats, compared to Democrats flipping just one Republican-held seat (plus two open seats)….Moderate Democrats like Spanberger and Lamb were clear that they think Republican attack ads tying centrist members to the party’s most left-wing positions were particularly damaging to frontline members — and could be Democrats’ downfall in 2022…..Progressives have gotten a foothold in the party on issues such as climate and racial justice. But even if their goal is trying to move the Overton window on the party’s big-picture goals through activism and organizing, members like Spanberger think ideas like defunding police departments and a Green New Deal are politically toxic….Lamb echoed similar sentiments in an interview with Vox earlier this year, saying Democrats needed to eschew left-wing priorities and focus on commonsense issues such as lowering prescription drug prices, preserving Social Security and Medicare, and protecting jobs — even if those jobs are fracking for natural gas in places like western Pennsylvania…..“I think one of the things that is very important is to realize that very effective Republican attacks are going to happen every cycle,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent CNN interview. “Not a single member of Congress that I’m aware of campaigned on socialism or defunding the police in this general election. The question is how can we build a more effective Democratic operation that is stronger and more resilient to Republican attacks.”


Biden’s Electability Revisited

Now that we know Joe Biden has, thank God, won, it’s not too early for a look back at the big debate of the presidential primary season, which I undertook at New York:

Democrats are inevitably grappling with in a lot of glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty mixed feelings about the 2020 elections. They have harpooned their White Whale — even if he hasn’t yet conceded and may never do so. On the other hand, Joe Biden didn’t win by the margins national and state polls predicted, and down-ballot performance was at best mixed and at worst disastrous. Democrats lost quite a few House seats and didn’t flip the Senate (though they still could in January). The predicted bonanza of state legislative takeovers that was supposed to make redistricting look less daunting than it has in the past simply did not happen. All these disappointments cannot be attributed to Biden, but given the narrow presidential win and the prevalence of straight-ticket voting, his campaign cannot be absolved of responsibility, either.

Since Biden’s perceived “electability” was without question a huge part of his appeal to the Democratic primary voters who elevated him over a big field of diverse and talented rivals, you have to wonder, Was Uncle Joe really the most electable Democrat? 

There’s no way to know for sure, and a lot of the evidence we have about partisanship suggests that all the Democratic presidential candidates might have wound up as “generic Democrats” by the time voters voted. But it’s worth looking at what Biden did and did not accomplish, as Ron Brownstein has already sought to do:

“During the Democratic primaries, Biden’s unique selling proposition was his contention that he was better positioned than any of his rivals to win back voters in the heavily white and working-class communities that keyed Trump’s victory last time, especially across the Rust Belt.

“On that front, the evidence suggests Biden sort of, kind of delivered—but only barely. Biden didn’t make big gains: For instance, he and Harris spent the day before the election campaigning in the heavily white, blue-collar Beaver and Luzerne Counties, in Pennsylvania, yet lost them by about the same margins as Clinton did. Biden did not loosen Trump’s iron grip over the suburban blue-collar counties around Tampa and Orlando, in Florida, and the president posted towering margins in rural, heavily blue-collar counties across the Sun Belt battlefields, particularly in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. Still, Biden’s modest improvements over Clinton in places like Erie and Scranton, in Pennsylvania; the Green Bay area, in Wisconsin; and Macomb County, outside Detroit, helped him recapture the big three “blue wall” states that Trump dislodged in 2016.”

But Biden clearly did not mobilize minority voters generally and performed poorly among the Latino voters in particular who delivered Florida and Texas to Trump while voting for Republican U.S. House candidates. And some analysts believe Biden (like Hillary Clinton in 2016) reduced down-ballot gains by treating Trump as an aberration from Republican orthodoxy rather than its nasty culmination.

You have to wonder if Bernie Sanders, who formed such a connection with Latino voters in the primaries, might have done better there, while making criticisms of Trump more strictly partisan. On the other hand, would a self-identified socialist have done better in South Florida than a candidate clearly damaged by claims that he was a puppet of people like Sanders? Was the terrible performance of the Democratic ticket in the Rio Grande Valley the product of long-term Democratic negligence rather than anything the presidential candidate did or didn’t do? And would Bernie really have done as well as Biden in upper-income suburbs?

You could go through similarly inconclusive exercises with other Democratic alternatives. Kamala Harris clearly electrified a lot of Black and Asian American women as the vice-presidential nominee. Might she have done even more at the top of the ticket? Possibly. Though her poor poll numbers among Black voters in the run-up to the primaries suggest otherwise. Could Elizabeth Warren have torn Trump limb from limb in the debates and left him bleeding on the cusp of the election? Sure. But Biden more than held his own in those debates, and there’s no real evidence that they mattered. Yes, Mike Bloomberg could have tried to drown Republicans with his limitless financial reserves. But in the end, Biden (and other defeated Democrats like record fund-raiser Jaime Harrison) had more than enough money to do whatever he wanted to do — and as with Clinton in 2016, it didn’t seem to matter.

It’s probably useful to ask why Democratic primary voters were so sure about Biden’s electability in the first place. It wasn’t because they were transfixed by polls; he retained his reputation even when his campaign wasn’t doing that well. It probably wasn’t a purely ideological matter either, since fellow centrists like Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Harris were never thought of as particularly electable. One prominent study back in 2019 suggested it was all about Biden’s personality. And in that respect, Uncle Joe probably delivered: His decency and steadiness during a general election campaign dominated by COVID-19 and a raging Donald Trump were most likely crucial assets.

If Biden was indeed the most electable candidate Democrats could have run, what does that say about the party’s appeal as of November 2020? Nothing terribly good. Brownstein thinks Biden was the best available bridge between the party’s blue-collar Rust Belt past and its more diverse Sun Belt future. They can try to do it all over again in 2024 with Biden or someone else, or seek to accelerate the advent of the Democratic Party of the future. Perhaps Kamala Harris — after serving as Joe’s trusty surrogate and help-meet — will manage to do both.


Experts Advise Biden ‘Don’t Fuel the Fire’ of Trump’s Election Lies

At The Guardian, Lois Beckett rounds up top “disinformation experts” and shares their advice to Vice President-elect Biden regarding Trump’s efforts to invalidate the presidential election. As Beckett writes,

Some experts on disinformation say that Biden’s current strategy of downplaying Trump’s behavior may be the correct one at the moment, even if it can be “frustrating to watch”, said Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at Data & Society Research Institute, who studies misinformation….“By not giving Trump the attention that he craves, it deflates a lot of the strength and power that Trump and his supporters have in this moment,” Lewis said.

Biden’s calm dismissal of Trump’s desperate ploy and the President-elect’s pivot to substantive issues of concern to all voters has been effective thus far. As Beckett adds,

Rather than attempting to respond point-by-point, the Biden campaign bluntly dismissed the story as “a conspiracy theory”, said Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. “It was done in a tone of, ‘We’re responding to this because we have to. We’re not giving it very much mental energy,’ whether or not that’s how they felt behind the scenes.”

“That particular strategy really did seem to work,” she said.

Having Biden acknowledge Trump’s norm-shattering behavior since the election, rather than try to ignore it, was important, Phillips said, but his quick pivot to talking about the issues facing Americans next, and the challenges the government needed to start dealing with, was “effective rhetorically, but also emotionally”.

Biden was responding “like an adult,” she said.

Beckett quotes other experts, who explain:

For the Biden team, “directly responding to any of these allegations at this stage is just adding more oxygen to the fire”, said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Shafiqah Hudson, an author and researcher who has studied online disinformation campaigns, said she would like to see Democrats take a stronger stance and condemn Trump’s actions “in the strongest possible terms.” But Biden’s response “is the sort of answer I would expect from someone who has the job of attempting to mend a fractured nation,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that other Democrats shouldn’t have more to say about it, as Beckett notes further:

…Democrats should keep explaining how the election process actually works, and what built-in checks and auditing are being done as votes are counted, said I’Nasah Crockett, a researcher and artist who has tracked manipulation and misinformation on social media.

“I think it would be great if Biden and his campaign took a very kindergarten approach to the situation that we’re in,” Crockett said. “If you’re working with little kids and you’re trying to get them to understand some basic concept, you have to keep repeating it, bringing it back to square one.”

Shireen Mitchell, a disinformation researcher and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women points out in Beckett’s article that Republicans’ lies about voter fraud target Black voters and urge invalidating their votes.

“They’re using coded language to say anyone other than white people are illegal voters,” Mitchell said. Trump’s attacks on voting by mail, which many Americans chose to do during a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black and brown people, is part of a long history of constantly evolving strategies to disenfranchise black Americans, she said.

Beckett notes further, “While social media users have been furiously debating whether it’s time to label Trump’s undermining of democracy as an attempt at a “coup”, disinformation experts said that framing might not be particularly useful at the moment.” Also,

Talking about a “coup” might speak to the concerns of some Americans, including those who have been following the news very closely, but it might not communicate that much to those who have been paying less attention, and it might alienate others, Phillips said…..“I think the problem is less that ‘coup’ is a strong word, than that people don’t know what a coup is,” Hudson said.

Trump attacked the integrity of the election well before the first ballot was even cast. As Beckett writes,

“This was a communications strategy before a single vote was cast,” Phillips said. Reminding Americans of the long timeline of Trump’s claims about the election “allows people to exercise their savvy, to sniff out bullshit. If someone has been seeding a lie before an event takes place, it should give a person pause.”

However, Beckett cautions, “Biden and the Democratic party should not overestimate the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump’s attacks – or the number of Americans who see the current system as legitimate, Crockett said: “The thing that worries me most is there’s a fundamental faith in institutions that I think mainstream Democrats have which is, honestly, idealistic at this point.”

Further, “If Trump escalates his refusal to concede, and if powerful Republican politicians continue to stand with him, it may not be enough to keep dismissing and deflecting attention from their behavior,” Beckett adds.

“Depending on how much this snowballs, there may be a time that [Biden] has to take it seriously,” Lewis said.

Evaluating Biden’s post-election communication strategy in perspective, the President-elect has handled Trump’s sore-loser petulance well, by keeping his comments focused on the pandemic and staffing his administration to address the critical concerns of Americans, instead of getting drawn into an  endless debate about the election — which is over.