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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Daily Strategist

October 22, 2018

Teixeira: Rebuilding the Blue Wall in the Rustbelt

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

Rebuilding the Blue Wall in the Rustbelt

Reid Wilson has a good article about this in The Hill. For reference, here are current RCP poll averages for D candidates for Governor and Senator in Rustbelt-ish states (note: not all of these states were typically included in the Blue Wall category).

Governor:

IA: D+4
IL: D+13
MI: D+10
MN: D+7
OH: D+3
PA: D+17
WI: D+5

Senator:

IN: D+1
MI: D+19
MN 1: D+22
MN 2: D+7
OH: D+15
PA: D+16
WI: D+11

I think I detect a pattern. From Reid Wilson’s article:

“The Midwest used to be what was referred to as the blue wall, with working class and middle class communities” voting Democratic, said Jim Ananich, the Democratic minority leader in the Michigan state Senate. “Obviously, that fell apart in 2016.”

Now, five weeks before Election Day, public polls show Democrats surging in races up and down the ballot in those Midwestern states, and even in less competitive states like conservative Kansas and liberal Illinois.

The contrast between the Republican dominance of the last decade and Democrats’ apparent advantage this year is most notable in gubernatorial contests.

Democrats hold just one governorship in the Midwest this year, in Minnesota. But public polls show Democratic candidates leading races for governor in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and even Iowa, where Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) trailed businessman Fred Hubbell in a recent poll conducted for the Des Moines Register.

If a Democratic wave crests over the Midwest this year, even Ohio and Kansas are in play. Public polls show former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray (D) running neck and neck with Attorney General Mike DeWine (R). A recent survey in Kansas found Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), an arch-conservative, running even with state Sen. Laura Kelly (D), the Democratic nominee.

The situation is so grim in some states that Republican strategists believe weak gubernatorial candidates may cost the party down-ballot, in races for U.S. House seats…..

Republicans watching the Midwest with growing alarm say their candidates are being dragged down by Trump, whose approval ratings in Midwestern states is lower than in other regions. Recent polling has pegged Trump’s approval rating below 40 percent in Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota, and only in the low-to-mid 40s in Ohio and Wisconsin.”


Working America: How to Mobilize Voters into a Progressive Governing Majority

Some excerpts from three Working America e-blasts by executive director Matt Morrison, following up to his New York Times op-ed, “The Best Way for Democrats to Win Working-Class Voters“:

Our view of what’s working

In addition to what messages work with voters, we want to use our experience and analytics to share what’s proving to be most effective this cycle.

The Persuadable Voter: With such a volatile, yet seemingly polarized electorate, identifying the best voters to move from being undecided or opposed to supporting our candidates is essential, but difficult. One way we are solving this problem is by using our store of dozens of clinical persuasion experiments from the last eight years to identify the type of voter who is consistently responsive to canvass contact. This meta-analysis tells us that from Tacoma to Greensboro, and places in between, certain types of voters will consistently be persuadable.

While some of the attributes of this group are unsurprising —no college degree, younger, etc. — it is determining how these demographic and behavioral traits combine that makes the targeting more efficient. Per calculations by the Analyst Institute, this approach can increase our targeting efficiency by 80 percent.

To put these lessons into practice, Working America ran additional experiments earlier this cycle to validate that the model works in different environments (a Midwestern gubernatorial race and a coastal U.S. House contest). We are finding success among both expected and unexpected targets. Segments of our best persuasion targets this year include:

  • Republicans and conservative voters under age 50
  • Non-college female voters
  • Latinx voters, many of whom regularly vote

Our Mobilization Targets: Similar to the meta-analysis of our persuasion experiments, we have combined the statistical power of dozens of turnout experiments to model which voters are most likely to increase their voter participation rates.

Much of the existing of meta-analysis, such as Gerber and Green’s authoritative book Get Out the Vote, points us to target lower-propensity voters (i.e. those with a 30%-50% likelihood to vote). That guidance is especially useful when the election context allows us to focus on these low-propensity voters, accepting that a large share will not vote even after being contacted.

What our new meta-analysis shows us is that there may be opportunities for increased turnout where we haven’t been looking, including among important segments of high-propensity voters (65%-80% vote likelihood). We have found this group can be mobilized as efficiently as lower-propensity voters — meaning we can achieve a similar proportion of vote gain, while spending less time and fewer resources in September and October trying to convince harder-to-reach low-propensity voters to turn out, and more time on the best bets. Examples of these types of voters include:

  • Previously contacted voters, usually from earlier in the year or even earlier election cycles
  • Those with whom we have the strongest ideological agreement

Importantly, mode of voting matters both in the short term and long term. During our work in 2014 in states with big vote-by-mail and early vote electorates, not only did we see increased turnout gains that cycle, but most of that increased turnout impact remained intact during the 2016 election two years later. As we think about 2018 as an opportunity to win more votes now, we are also looking at it from the perspective of how we realize the vote gain in 2020.

Consistent Engagement: The refrain every election cycle is that we must engage voters year-round, not just the last few months before an election. Yet, quantifying the value of that sustained engagement has proven difficult, leaving many to allocate resources and program to the same narrow window.

Our research shows that sustained organizing and engagement — whether done at the doors or through digital channels, or whether the target is persuasion or mobilization — consistently results in measurable vote gain effects 3-5X larger than late contact alone.

Many of the communities where political engagement has the most potential to increase — those with more voters who are people of color, young and low-income — simply do not receive this type of investment. Yet, our research finds time and again that shifting resources to contact these voters early and again during the last few months of an election is not only cost-neutral, but in most cases, significantly decreases the cost per vote.

——-

Highlights from the field:

I. We Are Growing: 11 states, dozens of campaigns and growing

II. “Minting” Progressive Voters: How we are using analytics to realign the politics of millions of members

III. The Digital Difference: Our high impact Door to Digital GOTV program is coming this Fall.

IV. Final Notes: Fran’s Front Porch, and Jane’s new documentary

I. We are growing. As of this writing, we are running voter contact programs out of a dozen offices across ten states (FL, CT, PA, OH, MI, IL, IA, MN, NM, ND, and CA), and adding more locations each week. By the end of the election cycle, we will have visited over 2.2 million voters and reached 650,000 through face to face conversations in dozens of important races. Some of our most exciting work is in races like PA-17, where Conor Lamb will defend the only House special election victory for Democrats since the Trump election. Another example is in Tallahassee and in Jacksonville, where we are fighting for Andrew Gillum, who would be the first African American governor in Florida history.

Despite the national political environment, most voters are focused on what’s closest to home—affordable healthcare, arguably the top issue this cycle. One story from the Minnesota gubernatorial contest:

One couple who identified as health care voters told us they were voting for conservative GOP nominee Jeff Johnson this election because they are conservative. The went on to say “honestly, we haven’t spent too much time thinking about it yet because our son is in the hospital.” They shared that they were having a rough time because they’re worried about their son’s hospital bills and how to pay for them when he got better, all while hoping the treatments were working. The canvasser responded by saying, “You know, that’s exactly why I’m here. I’m really worried about health insurance for my family too, and that’s why I’m talking to people about Tim Walz. He is pushing for a public option. No one should lose their house for hospital bills.” The couple agreed and promised to reconsider their vote. 

Indeed, when we look at elections across the country, those who are worried about health care back our endorsed candidates by a 25 percentage point margin, even when controlling for the partisan lean of voters.

II. “Minting” Progressive Voters. You may recall seeing our growing body of clinical research showing the multiplier effect on voter behavior derived from being a Working America member. An additional insight is that the impact lasts for years.

We studied the long-term effect of increasing voter turnout in 2014 elections in Iowa and Washington. In 2014, we added 4 votes for every 100 conversations. In a confirmation that voting can be habit forming, 2 of the 4 extra votes turned out in the 2016 contests.

This type of evidence points to the importance of early organizing in shaping long-term voter behavior. In a measurable way, Working America is literally building up a bulwark of votes with every conversation we have right now that will make the difference in the 2020 presidential race.

III. The Working America Digital Difference in 100s of Elections. Digital communications allow us to reach exponentially more voters. Our approach starts by establishing a relationship at the door and is amplified through digital channels. This layered communications combination shows remarkable potential to gain more votes at 1/8th the costs of a typical peer-to-peer text messaging program. We will be sending out a list of races around the country where our digital GOTV program aimed at our 3 million Working America members will add thousands of votes for our candidates.

What It All Means. We are building a set of tools that will win more elections. More importantly, they can be used to change how working people approach political AND economic choices for the long haul. These tools are our building blocks for large-scale engagement to make the economy fairer for working people.

—————

As part of our political program this year, we have revisited a number of Trump voters we canvassed in 2016. In January of that year, we sounded the alarm about Trump’s appeal to Ohio and Pennsylvania swing voters at a time when he was still widely dismissed. We saw that, among Republican voters, Trump had more support than all other GOP candidates combined. But what proved even more consequential were the 1 in 4 Democrats who planned to vote for him.

Here is what we have learned from these recent conversations in central Ohio and southwest Pennsylvania:

  1. The defection of these Trump voters from GOP candidates toward Democrats is widespread. Those most likely to defect were:
    1. Mid-partisan and Democratic-leaning voters
    2. Voters with a four-year college degree
    3. Voters aged 50-70
  2. Better-known Democratic incumbents were more likely to benefit from these votes than lesser-known challengers.
  3. The issues that are driving the most defectors to Democrats are affordable health care and concern about the economy.

It seems that this is about more than just a partisan shift. From our vantage point, these voters reflect the great volatility of American politics over the last decade. These swing voters are people who do not relate to either party, but are yearning for something to change.

To get a sense of what we mean, watch for yourself:


To see the data on these responses, click here.

So what does it all mean?

The progressive challenge is not just how we win 2018, but how we establish a home for voters who are adrift that stabilizes politics for an economically progressive governing majority.


Russo: Is the Fever Breaking? Ground Zero Youngstown

The following article by John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University and associate editor of the blog Working-Class Perspectives, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Two years ago, I described the Youngstown area as “crossover ground zero” for Donald Trump and the politics of resentment in working-class and rust belt communities. In local rallies during the 2016 campaign and since he took office, Trump has repeatedly promised an economic renaissance and immigration reform. These issues resonated with local voters.

His success in Youngstown might seem surprising, since Mahoning and Trumbull Counties usually vote by large margins for Democratic Presidential candidates. In 2012, 63.5% of Mahoning County voters supported for Obama, even more than in 2008. But in the 2016 Republican primary, more than 6000 Mahoning County Democrats switched parties, and another 20,000 people who had not been registered voters signed up to vote. Clinton won the Presidential race here by less than 1%, and Trump won in Trumbull County.

When I returned to Youngstown this summer, I wondered whether Trump’s support remained strong. In this highly nationalistic working-class community, the first thing I saw driving into the city were American flags were plastered wall-to-wall on overpasses. No wonder Trump made a “rare Presidential visit” in July 2017 to boost his flagging support and renew his appeal to “Make America Great Again.”

But as the summer went on, I sensed an undercurrent of uneasiness, especially among the area’s much-touted swing voters. While Trump crows about what a “great job” he’s doing, some of his supporters wonder whether local residents will benefit from the tax cuts. The national debt climbs to over one trillion dollars, and rising health care costs and gas prices have eroded any financial gains for most Americans. Yes, unemployment rates have fallen, but underemployment, low wages, reduced pensions, low property values, and increasing precarity in the Mahoning Valley have made it hard to believe in Trump’s economic happy talk. And talk among some in Congress about cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits to offset the deficit is adding to the local anxiety.

The local economic picture clearly does not offer many signs of hope. The GM Lordstown plant has eliminated two shifts, cutting 3000 jobs since Trump took office. According to recently retired UAW Local Vice President Tim O’Hara, about 40% of union members voted for Trump in 2016.  Dave Green, the current union President, has appealed to GM and President Trump to help bring a new car to the plant that currently builds the Chevy Cruze, but Trump has remained silent, and GM will not make a commitment. In fact, the company responded to the President’s trade policy by announcing that it will build a new car at its Ramos, Mexico plant, which also builds the Cruze. The local paper, The Vindicator, offered a blunt “reality check: Donald Trump is not going to intervene to save one of the leading employers in the Mahoning Valley.”

Yet Trump’s trade policy still appeals to many local voters. Youngstowners have long blamed the loss of its steel industry on unfair trade, and many here still support the protectionist ideas of Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and local free trade critics like Democrats Sherrod Brown and Tim Ryan. But local steel producers and fabricators have indicated that instead of expanding their labor force here, they may downsize or move facilities to Mexico because of Trump’s trade policies, so more local workers can expect to lose good-paying jobs. As Trump supporter and local steelworker Michael Lang said in an interview with Reuters, “I voted for Trump because I thought he’d straighten things out, not do something like this.”

Few of the  retail, public sector, and healthcare workers I’ve spoken with admitted they had supported Trump. Those who did were evasive and seemed uncomfortable talking about him. It seems likely that workers in these jobs are anxious about the continuing budget cuts, loss of local state funding and government assistance, and more recently the closing one of the two local hospitals, which displaced 400 nurses and other staff. Service workers who supported Trump may be starting to understand the limits of the politics of resentment.

Clearly, neither Trump’s campaign promises nor his policies are making Youngstown great again. The question is, will the community’s continuing economic struggles lead people to turn against Trump and the Republicans? Or bring them back to the Democrats? NPR reporter Asma Khalid, who has tracked Trump’s support in Youngstown for the past two years, is uncertain. Among the “disillusioned” Democrats she spoke with, some still support Trump, though they also  plan vote for Democrats like Brown and Ryan this November.

Mahoning County Democratic Chairperson David Betras also doubts whether the Trump fever has broken in Youngstown. The best he can say is that “the temperature is going down.” His advice to Democrats: follow the lead of Brown and Ryan — stress concrete economic programs, healthcare, education, and building trust. A focus on the economy, Betras believes, will win out, even as Trump and the Republicans try to distract voters with often-racist cultural divides, like whether NFL players should be allowed to kneel.

Yet many in Youngstown are fed-up with both parties. When I asked retired small businessman, Democrat, and Trump enthusiast Sam Carely who he supports in 2018, his response reflects a distinct lack of enthusiasm: “I am not sure if I will vote. But if I do I would probably vote for a Democrat — if I could find a reason.” Carely is tired of interparty fighting, and he is not alone. Many would prefer to vote for Democrats, but they are desperate for an economic plan that isn’t just campaign rhetoric.  For them, as for many voters around the country, the Trump fever will only break when Democrats give them something to believe in.


Political Strategy Notes

At nbcnews.com Alex Seitz-Wald and Benjy Sarlin write that “Democrats predicted the wave of women who marched against Trump, shared stories of abuse in the #MeToo era, and powered female candidates to primary victories this year, would only build after watching Christine Blasey Ford’s poised testimony on Thursday describing Kavanaugh laughing as he assaulted her. A record number of women are running for Congress this year, and 75 percent of them are Democrats…”The women of this country identify with Dr. Ford and will not forget what is happening here,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “They are not angry, they are furious, and I expect the largest women’s turnout in a midterm — ever.”…ActBlue, an online clearinghouse for Democratic donors, reported that they raised $10 million from small donors on Friday, their highest daily total ever since the site was founded in 2004.”

In her post, “Republicans vs. Democracy” at The Washington Monthly, Stephanie Mencimer shares a chilling reminder that allegations of sexual assault are not the only good reasons why Democrats should fight to kill the Kavanaugh nomination: “While Kavanaugh clerked for Kennedy, he has said his real hero is the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a noted foe of the Voting Rights Act who spent his early years as a lawyer in the 1960s assisting with a Republican poll-watching program accused of harassing and trying to turn away black voters. In 2011, Kavanaugh endorsed the modern version of that program, upholding a South Carolina law requiring a government-issued ID for voting, even though the Obama administration had found that it violated the Voting Rights Act because it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of minority voters.” There is every indication that  Kavanaugh woud be a rubber-stamp voter-suppressor in the spirit of his buddy, Kark Rove. If that wasn’t enough, it’s clear Kavanaugh’s confirmation would also be a disaster for the environment.

In his New York Times op-ed, William H. Frey explains why “Trump Can’t Win the War on Demography,” and observes, “The demographic trends make this plain. America’s white population is growing tepidly because of substantial declines among younger whites. Since 2000, the white population under the age of 18 has shrunk by seven million, and declines are projected among white 20-somethings and 30-somethings over the next two decades and beyond. This is a result of both low fertility rates among young whites and modest white immigration…the older retirement-age white population will grow by one-third over the next 15 years and, with it, the need for the government to support Social Security, Medicare, hospitals and the like.” But Frey writes that a failure to accuately count these demographic transformations in the Census could lead to cuts in “federal funds for housing assistance, job training, community development and a variety of social services that should be distributed on the basis of census counts.”

A ‘polling nugget” from FiveThirtyEight’s Janie Velencia and Dhrumil Mehta: “A Quinnipiac University poll in Florida shows good news for Democrats in the state’s Senate and governor races. The poll found Democrat Andrew Gillum 9 points ahead of his Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, in the race for governor. That comes on the heels of several high quality polls4 showing Gillum in the lead. It also shows Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson 7 points ahead of Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Senate race following one poll that found Nelson 3 points ahead and another that found the two in a dead heat. The FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast currently gives Nelson a 5 in 8 chance of winning.”

“I think there will be a modest uptick in the Latino vote,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political scientist at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas who studies immigration and Latino political influence,” notes Albert R. Hunt in “Latino Voters Are Making the Democrats Sweat: They don’t like Trump or Republicans. The question is how many will turn out in November” at Bloomberg Opinion. “That would be good news for Democrats, but not the great news they hope for…That vote will be critical in the uphill battle to win control of the Senate. Of the 10 states with the most competitive Senate races, four — Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada — have sizable but quite different Hispanic populations. There’s a large Cuban-American community in Florida that has tended to favor Republicans, while Democratic-leaning unions play a bigger role with Nevada’s Latino voters, who are mostly of Mexican descent…There also are up to a dozen competitive races in those four states for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In a few tightly contested ones, for example in Dallas and Houston, Latino voters could provide the margin to unseat veteran Republican legislators.”

“Clinton won two-thirds of the Latino vote nationally in 2016, exit polls showed, and Trump’s attacks on immigrants keep him strikingly unpopular with this constituency, according to many polls, including a September survey of Latino voters by Hart Research Associates,” Hunt notes further. “Nearly two-thirds of respondents to that poll said they disapproved of Trump’s presidency. They wanted Democrats to win control of Congress by a three-to-one margin over Republicans. They overwhelmingly preferred candidates who side with the Dreamers, young adults who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and were allowed to stay under President Barack Obama, and those who oppose building a wall along the Mexican border. Obama was viewed positively by 67 percent of respondents and negatively by only 14 percent. Republicans hope that the strong economy will keep more Latino voters in their corner on Nov. 6, and are also appealing to the cultural conservatives among them.”

From “Working-Class Politics and the Foremen Problem” by Allison Hurst at The American Prospect: “How might working-class people’s class identifications and loyalties affect their political choices? We all know that there are workers who identify with the working class, who work in solidarity with their fellow workers, who seek to advance their interests as a class, while others identify with the boss and seek to advance their interests on their own…GSS data from elections over the past 50 years shows that people in working-class jobs who identify as middle class are more likely to vote Republican than similarly situated working-class people who identify as working class or lower class. (GSS doesn’t include data from 2016, but I extrapolated the percentages based on information from American National Election Studies (ANES).)..If we look only at white working-class men, who may be especially prone to bossism, we find even greater differences, not just between those who voted Republican and those who voted Democrat, but also those who did not vote at all. White working-class men are (a) more likely to vote Republican if they identify as middle class and (b) less likely to vote at all if they identify as working class, lower class, or poor.

“Across the country, the past few years have witnessed a spike in state preemption of local authority—every state except one has at least one such law on the books and nearly three-quarters of states have three or more,” writes Sophie Kasakove in The New Republic. “In the past year alone, 19 new preemption laws were passed in different states. The effort has been quiet, but nonetheless coordinated and precise: In many states, particularly conservative ones, preemption law has rendered left-leaning local policy-making largely impotent. It has revealed yet another way Republicans have paralyzed government, while underscoring the need for progressives to win back not just Congress, but statehouses across the country…Democrats for too long have been ignoring legislatures while Republicans have been, frankly, eating our lunches,” says Steve Farley, an Arizona state senator. “That’s why we’ve seen so much gerrymandering—Republicans have understood the power the legislatures have to be able to change a lot of things.”…Democrats are aiming to flip 14 legislative chambers in ten states in November, and advocacy groups are promoting a new generation of state leaders more favorable to local progressive power.”


The New Supreme Court Timetable

After a frantic and unpredictable week, I tried to figure out the new timetable for a Supreme Court confirmation this year, and shared it at New York.

[T]hanks to a surprise gambit from Senator Jeff Flake, a final Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation for the Supreme Court will be delayed for roughly a week to allow for an FBI investigation of allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct against him, upsetting the confirmation timeline.

What happens next depends, of course, on what form the FBI investigation takes, what it produces, and how seriously various senators take the results. There are differences of opinion as to whether Flake (supported, so far, by at least one fellow Republican, Lisa Murkowski) is genuinely undecided, is looking for a reason to buck the party line, or is just checking a “due diligence” box before dutifully voting for Kavanaugh. It’s possible the FBI will raise so many additional questions that Democrats will push for a reopening of Judiciary Committee hearings, or essentially demand that the full Senate hold its own inquiry instead of just proceeding to a vote.

Assuming the investigation doesn’t turn everything upside down, the next question is whether Mitch McConnell will put the Senate through all the preliminary steps of confirming Kavanaugh while the investigation is going on, so that a final vote can be held immediately when the one-week pause has expired. We think of the Senate filibuster against Supreme Court confirmations as having been “abolished,” but technically all that happened when Republicans “nuked” it in 2017 is that a majority vote can cut off debate after a limited period of time. That time will still have to expire, which could add another week to the timetable unless McConnell starts right away and a majority of senators (meaning, likely, all the Republicans) back him up. We may actually get our best indication of where fence-sitters like Collins and Murkowski and Flake (and a few undecided Democrats like Joe Manchin) will wind up via these preliminary votes.

The Kavanaugh nomination itself will not expire until and unless (a) it is withdrawn by the president; (b) he is rejected by the Senate; or (c) January 3, 2019, when a new Congress is sworn in. Even if there are more brief delays, the Senate has plenty of time to deal with Kavanaugh before breaking for the midterm elections. Indeed, with significantly more Democratic than Republican senators in tough reelection races this year, McConnell may be happy to keep them around and off the campaign trail. And so long as Kavanaugh maintains strong support from Trump, Republicans will want to keep pressure up on Democratic senators in states where Trump is popular to vote for his nominee.

If, however, Kavanaugh confirmation remains in doubt, each passing day will add to Republican fears that if Democrats take control of the Senate on November 6, Trump and the GOP would have a compressed window for getting this crucial Supreme Court seat filled before January 3, when the new Congress arrives. Yes, a postelection lame duck session would most definitely be convened by Republicans, and there would be just enough time for vetting, Judiciary Committee hearing, and a Senate vote. There wouldn’t be any margin for error, however, particularly given holiday distractions. So there may be a strong temptation if Kavanaugh is in trouble after the FBI investigation to push a vote even if he’s likely to lose, or to withdraw his nomination altogether. Either way, the decks would be clear then for Trump to quickly pull another right-wing jurist from his pre-vetted SCOTUS prospect list, start the clock ticking again, and maybe even get his MAGA base excited about the new kid on the judicial block.

Should Republicans hang onto control of the Senate on November 6, however — and at present FiveThirtyEight projects them as having a 2 in 3 chance of prevailing — then they can relax a bit; if their nominee isn’t confirmed by January 3, then Trump can renominate him or her at that point. But nothing about this process so far has gone totally according to schedule.

 


Political Strategy Notes

From The New York Times editorial, “Hit Pause on Brett Kavanaugh“: “Enough…With a third woman stepping forward with accusations that the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh committed sexual assault as a young man, this destructive stampede of a confirmation, driven so far by partisan calculation, needs to yield at last to common sense: Let qualified investigators — the F.B.I. — do their job. Let them interview the many witnesses whose names are already in the public record, among them Judge Kavanaugh’s close high-school friend Mark Judge, then weigh the credibility of the various claims and write a report for the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee…To jam Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation through now, without seeking to dispel the darkening cloud over his head, would be to leave the public in doubt about his honesty and character — and to set an even lower standard for taking claims of sexual abuse seriously than the Senate did 27 years ago in considering the accusations against Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill.”

“The Kavanaugh controversy erupted as polls were already showing a threat to GOP candidates this fall, in the form of an intense backlash against Donald Trump that’s fueling unprecedented deficits among college-educated white women and energized turnout among African American women,” writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic. “Democrats have positioned themselves to benefit from that energy by nominating a record number of women in House, Senate, and gubernatorial elections…Even before Ford testifies, nearly three-fifths of college-educated white women opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation in a recent Fox News poll. And while a plurality of non-college-educated white women backed Kavanaugh in that survey, a strong performance from Ford could strain that conviction. The fierce recoil from Trump among college-educated white women is the single greatest source of Republican vulnerability in House races this year; if the party’s defenses among blue-collar white women also crack, a difficult election night could turn disastrous.”

Perry Bacon, Jr. spotlights “The 7 Senators Who Will Decide Kavanaugh’s Fate” at FiveThirtyEight. The 7 senators include 3 Senate Democrats, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, along with Republicans Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. As Bacon writes, “47 Republicans are safe bets to favor Kavanaugh, and 46 Democrats are safe bets to vote against him. He needs at least 50 votes to be confirmed, so he needs three of the seven swing senators identified above. (A 50-50 vote would put Vice President Mike Pence in position to cast a tiebreaking vote for Kavanaugh.)” After watching Dr. Ford’s heartfelt testimony, it’s hard to imagine any of the 7  undecided senators willing to acccept the consequences of supporting Kavanaugh.

In is post, “New Poll: Kavanaugh, Trump Losing Support of Republican Women,” Ed Kilgore cites a new Morning Consult poll and writes, “there is fresh evidence that another category of voters Republicans will need on November 6 is not reacting with pleasure to the crusade for Kavanaugh: “Public support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat has dropped to its lowest point since President Donald Trump nominated him in July, driven in large part by a sector of the president’s base: Republican women …[Since last week] Kavanaugh’s net support among Republicans — the share who oppose his confirmation subtracted from those who support it — dropped 11 points, with 58 percent now in support of his confirmation and 14 percent opposed. The shift was driven by an 18-point fall in support among Republican women, with 49 percent now in favor and 15 percent in opposition.”

Ruy Teixeira notes on his Facebook page that “A new USC/LA Times poll is out and it has the Democrats up by 14 points in the generic Congressional, which seems too high. But they have a lot of interesting data in their writeup, particularly in terms of shifts since the summer. The graphic below showing shifts among subgroups of women is striking. Note that the biggest shift they show is among white noncollege women, who have moved 10 margin points toward the Democrats.”

At The National Journal, Ally Mutnick writes, “Internal Democratic polling conducted in August and September revealed the party’s candidate leading or trailing by small margins in a dozen seats on the outer edges of the battlefield. And outside money is already starting to flow beyond the 50 or so districts that initially drew major TV ad reservations…“For Republicans, this is a game of Whac-A-Mole,” said John Lapp, a Democratic strategist who served as the DCCC’s executive director in 2006. “With a battleground map this big, they simply can’t be everywhere. There are competitive races in blue, purple, and ruby-red districts popping up every day.”..”Almost nobody should assume that they’re cruising,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger said. “If the president won by 10 points or less, it’s a competitive race.”

“In our polling of battleground districts, President Trump has a minus-12 approval rating among undecided voters, with 34 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving,” notes Nate Cohn at The Upshot. “He has a minus-9 approval rating among decided voters (43-52)…Decided voters want Democrats to take control of Congress by three percentage points, 49-46. Undecided voters are split, 32-32. You’ll note that a lot of our undecided voters are also undecided on these questions…This sort of goes against some conventional wisdom on midterms: Well-known incumbents wrap up a larger proportion of their voters early, while undecided voters who don’t know the challenger but who are skeptical of the incumbent and the incumbent’s party break the other way. If this were true, you would expect the preponderance of the undecided vote to lean somewhat Democratic.”

Tim Storey, the elections guru at the National Conference of State Legislatures, “estimates that with a generic-congressional-ballot-test advantage of Democrats up by 6 points, that would likely translate into a gain of close to 500 state legislative seats nationwide for Democrats. Like in the U.S. House, the curve is asymmetric, the chances of over 500 are greater than under 400,” according to Charlie Cook’s article, “A Grim Fall Awaits GOP” at The Cook Political Report. Commenting on Cook’s post, Ruy Teixeira adds, “Democrats certainly have enough of a lead on the national generic to make a 500 seat gain for the party in state legislatures seem, if anything, like a pretty conservative estimate. Data indicate that there could be as many 1,000 Republican state legislative seats where Trump’s approval rating is below 50 percent. That’s a lot of targets.”

Teixeira also notes, “No doubt many have been following the New York Times/Siena polls as they get updated in real time (a gimmick but irresistible nonetheless). Here’s a nugget from Alan Abramowitz that puts the results in a helpful context: “In 22 House districts with completed polls, 21 currently held by Republicans, most with incumbents running, Dem candidates on average lead by 0.5 points. That may be a more meaningful indicator of the state of the midterm race than the individual district results. Being tied in your own districts at this stage of the campaign signals huge problems for the GOP as district polls tend to underestimate swing in a wave election like this one.”


Here’s What We Learned During the 2018 Primaries

After following primaries throughout 2018, I offered some thoughts at New York on lessons learned:

The long, eventful 2018 primary election season finally ended on Thursday, September 13, with New York holding its nominating contests for state offices. Some of the proposed narratives we’ve heard over the months for what it all means have faded or morphed, while others remain strong. But here’s a good summary of takeaways:

1) Voters were a lot more engaged than in the last midterm. According to the authoritative election analyst Reid Wilson, total turnout jumped from 29 million in 2014 to 43 million this year (a figure not that far off from the 57 million who participated in the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses, which featured competitive contests in both parties). That doesn’t necessarily mean voters are “enthusiastic” or “excited,” since some of the uptick involves an increase in competitive races attributable to more open seats and more challengers to incumbents.

2) Democrats had a turnout advantage that may mean a general election advantage. According to Wilson’s estimates, Democratic turnout was up 72 percent from 2014. The Republican increase was 25 percent. The Democratic share of total turnout rose from 47 percent to 53 percent (the same as the GOP’s share in 2014). According to an analysis from the New York Times dating back to 2004, the party with the higher primary vote has won the House in all three midterms (2006, 2010 and 2014). But that’s a small sample, and again, the party with fewer incumbents might naturally have more competitive primaries driving turnout.

Primary turnout obviously varies by state. One tabulation of 2018 primary turnout in 38 states showed Democrats with higher increases in 30 and Republicans with higher increases in just eight. Most of the nation’s competitive House seats are in states where Democratic primary turnout increased disproportionately.

It’s also notable that the two Republican senators up for reelection this year who were the chilliest towards Trump, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, both retired.

4) It really was an extraordinary primary season for Democratic women. 15 women have won Democratic Senate primaries (as compared to seven Republicans); 182 have won Democratic House nominations (as compared to 52 Republicans); and 12 have won gubernatorial nominations (just four Republican women have won primaries). These are all record numbers; the previous high for House nominations by women was just 120.

If as expected women voters tilt Democratic in the midterms (said Ron Brownstein in August: “[F]or months, many public polls have shown that about 60 percent [of women]— sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less — prefer Democrats for Congress”), the plethora of women on the ballot could create a self-reinforcing trend in which more women elect more of their peers to congressional and statewide office as Democrats.

5) The “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” was oversold. Despite a lot of media talk about ideological clashes between “progressive” and “centrist” primary candidates, there was no clear pattern for who won primaries. Some of the notable “progressive” victories were in safe Democratic House districts (e.g., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s NY-14 and Ayanna Pressley’s MA-07) where district diversity and generational change were at least as important as ideology. Overall, “establishment” candidates did pretty well; an analysis of all Democratic House primaries by the Brookings Foundation showed 27 percent of “progressives” and 35 percent of “establishment” types winning.

6) There is, however, a new template emerging for Democratic success in diverse sunbelt states that should cheer progressives. The ancient formula for Democratic success or survival in southern and western red states with reasonably large minority populations was to run fairly conservative campaigns aimed at white swing voters, counting on minority voters to play along. This year there are several Democrats trying to break the mold in ways that could change the party regionally and nationally, such as African-American gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Andrew Gillum of Florida–both of whom defeated “moderate” white opponents in their primaries–Latino gubernatorial nominee David Garcia of Arizona, and white progressive Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke of Texas. All these candidates are looking very competitive in their general elections.

7) Even in conservative states, the old cutting-taxes-and-spending agenda is losing steam. One of the more remarkable trends of the primary season, which accompanied and in some states affected primaries in both parties, was renewed public interest in teacher pay, educational investments, and expanded health care services. A wave of strikes and protests around education issues hit West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado. Veteran government-bashing pols like Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker are in serious trouble. Initiatives to force Republican legislatures to expand Medicaid are on the ballot in Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Utah.

8) A lot could still happen to affect midterm results. Despite a pretty clear pro-Democratic trend that is typical of the losses the White House party usually suffers in midterms (especially when the president’s job approval ratings are as low as Trump’s), there are a lot of close races. The authoritative Cook Political Report rates 30 House races, eight Senate races, and nine gubernatorial races as toss-ups. Despite signs of Democratic enthusiasm, there are still grounds for doubting that young and Latinovoters will shake their habits of skipping midterms. Economic trends, developments in the Mueller investigation, Supreme Court confirmations, and even a possible government shutdown could all create the kind of small but significant mini-trends that tip close races. The primaries were by-and-large encouraging to Democrats. But Republican turnout has been up as well, and November 6 could be a battle of polarized voter “bases” that are roughly equal in intensity.


Teixeira: Are White Noncollege Women Bailing Out on the GOP?

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

Some interesting internals in this writeup of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll by John Harwood. The data on white noncollege women are stunning. As I’ve noted before, serious defection from the GOP among this group would make a severe dent in their coalition.

“Among white college graduates, a group Republicans carried by nine points in 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans now trail by 15 points. Among white women without college degrees, a group Republicans carried by 10 points in 2014, Republicans now trail by five points.”

Teixeira: Democratic Primary Turnout and the November Election

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

Dante Chinni and Susan Bronson have a very interesting article up on the NBC News site, going over the final turnout numbers for this year’s primaries. Here’s the basic story:

“Democrats have been turning out in record numbers this year, and midterm history suggests that could have real significance in November.

In the most basic sense, the numbers show the difference in enthusiasm between 2018 and the last midterm election in 2014. There have been increases in turnout for both of the major political parties in this year’s House primaries, but the number for Democrats has skyrocketed…..

In 2010, when the Republicans rode a massive wave election to gain 63 seats in the House — as well as six Senate seats and numerous governorships — the party had an enormous 4.9-million vote edge in House primaries. And in 2014, the GOP had a smaller 2.2-million vote advantage in the House primary vote and gained 13 seats in the chamber.

So how big is the Democratic turnout edge this year? It’s pretty big. About 4.3 million more Democrats than Republicans voted in the House primaries of 2018….

That number compares favorably with others from recent elections. In raw terms, that’s a larger advantage than Democrats held in 2006 and close to the GOP number from 2010….

[T]he size of the difference between Democratic and Republican House primary vote offers some real, data-based evidence of the 2018 enthusiasm gap. And if past elections are any guide, the numbers here suggest Democrats have good reason to be hopeful about November.”

No guarantees of course. But data this strong has to count as a very good sign.


Morrison: The Best Way for Democrats to Win Working-Class Voters

The following article by Matt Morrison, executive director of Working America, an organizing arm of the AFL-CIO, is cross-posted from the New York Times.

When we asked 4,035 working-class voters in battleground races to name an elected official who was fighting for them, the top response was not a Republican or a Democrat. It was “no one.”

That goes a long way toward explaining why debates among political elites about the strategic direction Democrats must take to win in 2018 and 2020 continue to miss the point. Should Democrats pursue moderate or liberal policies? Should they persuade white working-class voters or mobilize a diverse base? These arguments feel utterly irrelevant to the daily choices of working-class voters.

How do we know? Since Donald Trump’s election, my organization, Working America, a political organizing arm of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., has spoken with 450,000 voters across 17 states. The overwhelming sentiment from these conversations was captured by an African-American voter in central Ohio named Carol (the voters’ last names weren’t provided). Asked to consider the difference in her economic well-being when Democrats are in power versus Republicans, she replied, “Does it even matter?”

Carol, and tens of millions of working people just like her, harbor a deep skepticism that politicians of either party can deliver any kind of meaningful change for them. Our current politics fail to engage working people in a conversation about what matters to them and to draw connections between their lived experience and the reason they should cast a ballot in the first place.

Working-class people share common anxieties about their economic security. Like Carol, they see few solutions from the politicians in either party seeking their vote.

Darren, a white voter in his mid-40s who lives in Philadelphia, said that “we mean nothing” to politicians. “Regular people don’t have money.”

Working-class voters like Darren, a longtime Democrat who voted for Mr. Trump, aren’t ideological; they’re fed up and politically adrift. Persuadable voters like Darren and pessimistic Democrats like Carol are looking for politicians with tangible solutions to help the majority of Americans who have been left out of the country’s growing prosperity.

A voter in Pennsylvania’s 18th District — where Conor Lamb won a special election this year — said, “I care about right here,” as he pointed to his feet on his doorstep. “Tell me what they’re going to do right here.”

Policy prescriptions and white papers don’t overcome this cynicism. The growing number of people living in areas with dwindling newspaper subscriptions or with Sinclair-owned television stations that spend more time on “must run” segments and less time on local issues never even hear the policies in the first place.

For Democrats, simply turning up the volume on political communications through these same channels has not quelled the distrust or broken through. My organization has found that we can get so much more with a different approach: Start where the voters are.

First, our experience running a large-scale, year-round field canvass reveals a somewhat obvious truth. Beginning the conversation by asking, “What matters to you?” instead of telling voters what should matter to them gets a more receptive audience.

Next, when we introduce new information by telling voters about something they don’t know rather than telling them that what they think they know is wrong, you can see the light come on.

Elaine, 70, a white Trump voter in Grove City, Ohio, told us she watches Fox News “in the morning till I go to bed.” Yet when we told her about our push to raise wages and improve working standards, something clicked for her. She shared that her adult children are struggling with low pay and poor benefits.

Like Elaine, two-thirds of Ohio Trump supporters agreed, when we asked them last summer, with a battery of progressive economic policies, including ending employers’ treating workers as independent contractors, so that they’re not saddled with tax and benefit costs, and measures that make it easier to unionize. They had just never heard any politician addressing these issues. The irony is that even where there’s ubiquitous content, people feel less informed. But when swing voters like Elaine can discuss and reason out loud, they can connect powerful stories from their own lives to pragmatic progressive policies — only if they hear about them.

We can’t assume voters like Elaine, Darren and Carol will pull the lever for a progressive in 2018. For this approach to be successful, it must be grounded in more than anecdote and observation. We need evidence that’s produced by clinical research about what changes minds.

An authoritative analysis by the political scientists David Broockman and Josh Kalla comparing nine Working America campaigns with 40 other clinical experiments measuring all major forms of voter communication validated our approach. By engaging in sustained organizing with voters identified via clinical analysis as the best targets, even in communities saturated with campaign communications, we were able to persuade swing voters to vote for Democrats in 2016 in places such as Ohio and to mobilize the party’s base voters in places such as North Carolina.

The recipe is simple: credibility derived from listening, compelling solutions, new information that breaks through and thoughtful analytics. And it works with working-class swing voters and disaffected Democrats equally.

Winning back the confidence of these voters is essential for gaining control of Congress and for building strength in the states ahead of redistricting fights after 2020.

Putting a check on the White House in 2018 won’t fix what’s broken. Radically changing how voters perceive their own agency in relation to politics will. Follow this recipe and progressives can win and govern for a generation.