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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Vote Blue!

No Matter Who!

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

Vote Blue! No Matter Who.

VOTE BLUE!

No Matter Who.

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

Vote Blue No Matter Who bumper sticker

Vote Blue

No matter who.

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

RIP GOP book by Stanley Greenberg

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You can find out more about the return to progressive politics from our founder Stanley Greenberg in his new book!

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The Daily Strategist

April 5, 2020

Can Biden’s New Narrative Unify Democrats?

There is a lot of rethinking of the races for the Democratic presidential nomination going on today, as a result of Biden’s juggernaut sweeping the south and winning MN and MA, along with with the campaigns of Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer folding up shop. In his article, “Many young voters sat out Super Tuesday, contributing to Bernie Sanders’ losses,” Ledyard King reports on one of the most striking turnout trends, confounding many pundits:

Exit polls for several states Biden won, including  Massachusetts, Texas and a number of southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status, found that while more young voters went to the polls this election cycle, they did not show up at the rate they did in 2016.

In Virginia, for example, more than 1.3 million voters cast ballots compared to the roughly 800,000 four years ago. But exit polls on Super Tuesday showed that the share of young voters as a percentage of the entire electorate declined in the Old Dominion, diminishing their influence as a voting bloc.”

Further, King notes, “the Vermont senator has been grabbing a smaller share of them in most cases.”

  • In Alabama, only  10% of the voters were in the 17-29 range compared to 14% in 2016. Sanders won six of every 10 of those voters Tuesday compared to 46% in 2016.

  • In North Carolina, 14% of Tuesday’s electorate were young voters, compared to 16% four years ago. Of those, 57% went for Sanders in 2020 compared to 69% in 2016.

  • In South Carolina which held its primary Saturday, young voters made up 11% of the electorate compared to 15% in 2016. Sanders won 43% of those voters compared to 54% four years ago.

  • In Tennessee, 11% of those voters showed up Tuesday versus 15% in 2016. Sanders did better among that group Tuesday winning 63% compared to 61% four years ago.

  • In Virginia, young voters comprised 13% of Tuesday’s vote compared to 16% in 2016. Sanders won 55% of those voters Tuesday compared with 69% four years ago.

King adds that “Sanders’ home state of Vermont showed a lackluster turnout of young millennials and ‘Gen Zers.’ Only 11% of the state’s electorate was under 30 compared to 15% when he ran against Clinton, according to exit polls.”

Biden’s upset includes Texas, “where 15% of voters was between 17 and 29 compared to 20% in 2016″ Ditto for Warren’s “Massachusetts where the share of young voters dropped from 19% four years ago to 16% Tuesday…The common theme in all those states: Sanders fared worse this year than he did when he faced eventual nominee Hillary Clinton four years ago.”

It isn’t the first time predictions of youth turnout proved to be over-hyped. The disappointing youth turnout for Sanders was one of the key reasons for Biden’s Super Tuesday upset, but not the only one. There was Rep. Clyburn’s moving endorsement of Biden in S.C., which became a powerful rallying cry for African American voters across the south. You have to also give some credit to the candidate, whose warm brand of retail politics served him well with southerners in general. Biden’s eloquent interviews and speeches closing in on Tuesday also breathed new vitality into his campaign.

Also, don’t overlook Warren’s takedown of Mayor Bloomberg, which encouraged moderates to focus more on Biden. In addition, it looks like the socialist boogeyman turned out to be more of a zombie, who still refuses to die, at least in the sunbelt. And give it up for Biden’s campaign strategists and staff, who did a great job of marshalling a series of impressive endorsements by Bloomberg, O’Rourke, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, and just managing their candidate in general with very little money. Former Vice President Biden had a powerful personal ‘narrative’ even before Super Tuesday. Now he may have an irresistible one.

For more data-driven analysis of Biden’s sweep and prospects going forward, check out Steve Kornacki’s excellent MSNBC report, right here.


Teixeira: The Failure of Intersectional Politics

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

I don’t always agree with Matt Yglesias but in this case I think he has it exactly right. In the process, he cements his position as Vox’s token political realist. If his judgement here is right–and I think it is–we may look back on South Carolina as not only a positive inflection point for the Biden campaign bit as a negative one for a certain kind of politics popular with a voluble set of activists and no one else.

“Loser (from the South Carolina primary): Assuming normal voters think like professional activists

Clinton won the 2016 nomination due in large part to scoring huge margins with African American voters in places like South Carolina.

Once it became clear how central black voters were to her support, she started talking about politics in a particular way — talking about intersectionality, asking “if we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism?”, and invoking the phrase “systematic racism.” These are ideas familiar to younger college graduates, often developed by black intellectuals and popular in racial justice activism circles. And since Clinton did, in fact, obtain overwhelming majorities among African American voters, many 2020 contenders essentially tried to imitate this approach.

Suzanna Danuta Walters in the Nation hailed Warren for running “an unapologetically intersectional campaign,” which she certainly did. So did Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former US housing secretary Julian Castro, both of whom ended up dropping out early, with Castro endorsing Warren and becoming a frequently used campaign surrogate.

In South Carolina, this approach delivered meager results with the electorate. Both in the Palmetto State and in national polls, black voters seem split between Biden’s back-to-basics kitchen table economics pitch and Sanders’s democratic socialist pitch, with the divisions mostly falling along age lines.

The two candidates’ pitches on economic issues are very different, but Biden and Sanders are similar in having some of the weakest claims to wokeness and least explicitly intersectional rhetoric in the field.

It’s not that racial issues aren’t important or that the candidates doing well in South Carolina don’t have strong policies on them. But most voters are working class, not necessarily super-familiar with particular social justice issues, and not as siloed in their concerns as activists.

There’s a strong market in South Carolina for “similar to Obama” and a smaller but also strong market for Sanders’s youth-fueled revolution, with few voters looking to attend a critical race theory seminar.”


Political Strategy Notes

In the wake of Joe Biden’s impressive victory in South Carolina and the end of the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer, the outcome Super Tuesday’s Democratic presidential contests in 14 states are even more in doubt. Eli Yokley writes at morningconsult.com that “The latest Morning Consult polling, conducted Feb. 23-27 among 13,428 Democratic primary voters, found Buttigieg’s supporters almost equally inclined to back Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg…21% of Buttigieg’s supporters said their second choice was Sen. Bernie Sanders” and “19% picked former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and 17% chose former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.” However, at CNN Politics Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg and Dan Merica note that “states like California and Texas began voting well before these [S.C.] results came in.”

Yokley adds, “Morning Consult polling conducted in January found 63 percent of Buttigieg’s supporters said they would back Biden or Warren if he were to endorse either candidate, while 52 percent said they would follow his lead if he backed Bloomberg…About half (49 percent) said they would support Sanders or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who became a chief critic of Buttigieg during the post-Iowa debates.” One interesting question: how will these second choices change, now that the respondents know that Biden won so decisively in S.C.? Yokley did not provide any data about the second choices of Tom Steyer supporters, a much smaller number than Buttigieg supporters.

Here’s how the Morning Consult poll second choices might affect today’s Democratic horse race, if they hold steady:

At USA Today, however, Rebecca Morin notes that “26% of Buttigieg voters said Klobuchar would be their second choice for president, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released in February. That percentage was tied for the highest of any other candidate with Warren, also at 26%…According to the Quinnipiac poll, 19% of Buttigieg voters said Biden was their second choice…At least one Buttigieg supporter has already thrown his support behind Biden. Shortly after Buttigieg left the race, Congressman Don Beyer, who had initially endorsed Buttigieg, threw his support to Biden. Beyer represents a district in Virginia, a Super Tuesday state…But Sanders could also see a lift from Buttigieg suspending his campaign. According to the Quinnipiac poll, 11% of Buttigieg supporters said Sanders was their second choice. In fact, he could receive an even larger share of Buttigieg support…According to the Quinnipiac poll, only 9% of Buttigieg supporters said Bloomberg was their second choice.”

Some Edison Media Research exit poll nuggets from the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary:  Of the 56 percent of voters who were African American, Biden won 61 percent, with 17 for Sanders, 13 for Steyer, 5 for Warren, 3 for Buttigieg and 1 for Klobuchar. Biden won a plurality of the 40 percent of S.C. voters who are white, with 33 percent to Sanders’s 23, Buttigieg 16, Steyer 10, Warren 9 and Klobuchar 7…Biden led among non-college voters, with 50 percent, Sanders second with 22 percent…Only 5 percent of S.C. Democratic primary voters self-identified as Republicans…41 percent identified health care as the most important issue, and Biden led among them with 50 percent with 22 percent for Sanders…49 percent of S.C. voters favored “a single government [health] plan for all,” with 46 percent opposed. Biden led among them with 44 percent, with Sanders at 29 percent…Bloomberg had the highest “unfavorable” rating with 66 percent, followed by Klobuchar at 48 percent.

“To put Joe Biden’s South Carolina win in perspective,” Michael Tomasky writes in “California is the Ballgame for Joe Biden Now: If he breaks 15 percent statewide on Tuesday, it’s a two-man race. If he doesn’t, he’ll have a lot of catching up to do” at The Daily Beast, “remind yourself of this. Ten or so days ago, he’d lost nearly all of a huge lead there and was nipping Bernie Sanders by very near the margin of error in some polls. I remember a 27-23 in there, with all the movement toward Sanders, him tightening up even the black vote. You could see the Sanders people on cable and Twitter carefully pre-gloating about the Palmetto Revolution….Now, boom. Biden crushed the field. He won every county. In the exits, he won nearly every category, including African Americans by a thumping 61 to 17. Also, and this is interesting, turnout was very strong. It matched 2008, that year of peak Dem enthusiasm, which didn’t happen in Iowa or Nevada. It did happen in New Hampshire, but as David Wasserman noted, that appeared to be driven by Republicans voting (Republicans were eligible to vote in South Carolina, too; I don’t know how many did)…In other words, for the second time in four contests, we see high turnout correlated not with the candidate whose theory of victory is predicated on getting millions of new voters to the polls, but with the more mainstream Democrats, while the two states where Sanders won the popular vote had pretty anemic.”

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter notes that “Biden has been outgunned on the airwaves in Super Tuesday states. According to data compiled for the Cook Political Report by Advertising Analytics, as of February 25, in 13 of the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday, neither the Biden campaign nor Unite the Country, Biden’s affiliated SuperPAC, had any TV or digital presence. The campaign has spent about $100,000 in North Carolina, but it’s not clear if that was dedicated to the South Carolina primary or North Carolina’s Super Tuesday primary…Every other major candidate in the race has put more money on-air/digital than Biden has…The other big roadblock standing in the way of potential Biden momentum is the fact that so many voters have already cast their ballots. According to the Texas Tribune early vote tracker, over 425,000 ballots have been cast in the Democratic primary. In California, according to Political Data Inc., more than 1.3 million Democratic ballots have already been sent in. And, in North Carolina, the Civitas Institute tracker shows more than 205,000 Democratic votes cast.”

With a little imagination, it’s not hard to conjure up a scenario in which Bloomberg becomes a king-maker, or at least co-king-maker with Rep Jim Clyburn. As Walter notes, Biden needs money. He is getting a nice bump in fund-raising post-South Carolina. As Brian Schwartz reports at cnbc.com, “Bundlers backing Joe Biden’s campaign told CNBC that they are seeing a surge in big money commitments in the wake of Saturday’s apparent blowout victory in the South Carolina primary.” Sanders may have lost some momentum, though that is kinda iffy, since so many Super Tuesday votes have already been banked. But Sanders still has plenty of money. What if Bloomberg gave a big bundle of cash to Biden, just to check Sanders’s advantage in ads and ground game? Bloomberg might buy some breathing space by helping Biden, although it is too late to help much with Super Tuesday. But if the Tuesday results are inconclusive, a large cash windfall from Bloomberg or another sugar-daddy/mama could help Biden with the next wave of important primaries. If you can’t be king, king-maker is a not a bad look for a biz tycoon.

It’s all about Super Tuesday’s presidential primaries now. But in an e-blast, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) focuses on “a pair of Tuesday special elections for red-leaning legislative districts in Maine and California – because victories right now in tough districts like these could be what sets the stage for Trump’s downfall…In Maine, we’re battling a former incumbent Republican in a House district Trump carried by nearly 8 points in 2016 – in a state that could be essential for keeping him in the White House. Republicans simply cannot afford a loss here if they want to put this state in play. In California, a normally rock-ribbed Republican state Senate seat is up for grabs in a race that could solidify the Democratic supermajority in the legislature and deal a demoralizing blow to Republican dreams of gaining seats this fall.” Those who want to contribute to this cause can do so right here.


Teixeira: An Outbreak of Common Sense on Electoral Strategy?

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

Ron Brownstein has an excellent article on CNN on the fallacies of a turnout-based strategy, such as Sanders has repeatedly advocated, for winning the 2020 election. He effectively summarizes the key points I and others have made against this strategy. But perhaps the most interesting part of the article is a series of quotes from Sean McElwee going on record that he, too, thinks the turnout strategy is bats.

This is a bit surprising since McElwee rose to prominence through his advocacy of the “abolish ICE” slogan and his fervent support for the AOC-brand of strenuous progressivism. He went on to co-found Data for Progress, whose work has generally seemed aimed in the same direction. That said, they have done some good work and are to be commended for fighting their battles on progressive strategy with data instead of dogma and assumptions.

Perhaps it was the experience of staring over and over at the actual data that has led McElwee to part company with orthodox Sandersism on this issue:

“[James] Carville has emerged as a leader among Democrats concerned that nominating Sanders will doom the party to defeat against Trump and put the House majority at grave risk as well. Unlike Carville, Sean McElwee, founder of the liberal-leaning group Data for Progress, believes Sanders can find a pathway to victory against Trump by attracting working-class voters across racial lines. But McElwee agrees with Carville that no candidate, Sanders included, can bet on winning mostly by transforming the nature of who votes.

“I think that all campaigns are incentivized to portray themselves as doing something unique and groundbreaking and really changing the structure of turnout.” McElwee says. “But turnout is a pretty durable attribute and it tends to correlate with intrinsic human identities: Older people tend to vote at much higher rates than younger; college educated vote more than non-; homeowners vote more than renters. It is really, really hard using the tools available to campaigns to change that.”

This dispute has profound implications as Democrats’ assess Sanders’ potential viability as a general election candidate. The Democratic front-runner brushes off concerns about whether his agenda will alienate swing voters by insisting he can compensate by bringing in millions of new voters to overwhelm them.”…

If Sanders can’t win a general election by changing the electorate, as these Democratic experts believe, that means he, like any other potential nominee, would need to win primarily by converting swing voters. Though Sanders always stresses mobilization, especially of young people, some of his supporters — and advisers — believe that he would be more likely to beat Trump by attracting working-class voters across racial lines, including whites, African Americans and Hispanics.

“If you are hitching your wagon on a youth quake [of new voters] you are in a bad place,” says McElwee. “But Bernie doesn’t have to hitch his argument on that. Bernie has a persuasion argument for swing voters.”

Now I have my doubts about Sanders’ ability to appeal to swing voters–or even interest in doing so–but at least we’re aiming at the right target here! Sanders could indeed be the nominee and he could indeed win, but to do so he will have take some of this wisdom on board.

He will also have to deal with these problems, as summarized by Brownstein:

“* [S]ubstantial resistance to his unprecedented tax-and-spending plans among the college-educated suburbanites who moved toward the party in 2018 because of their distaste for Trump. (A recent analysis using 170,000 interviews from the nonpartisan Nationscape survey found that Joe Biden and Sanders posted similar leads over Trump overall in tests of 2020 sentiment, but that the former vice president ran much better among college-educated white voters.)

* [R]esistance to many of his views on issues relating to race and culture. Polls last year by the Marist Institute found that most noncollege whites supported such core Sanders economic proposals as a wealth tax on large fortunes and raising the minimum wage. But they registered overwhelming opposition to other ideas he’s embraced: In one Marist survey, 67% of noncollege whites opposed eliminating the death penalty, 72% opposed decriminalizing illegal border crossing and 76% rejected providing subsidized health care to undocumented immigrants. In the Marist polling, a majority of noncollege whites have also consistently opposed one of Sanders’ core policy proposals: a single-payer national health care system that would eliminate private insurance with only a very few exceptions.”

It’s a steep hill to climb once you discard the turnout mythology. Perhaps it can be done, but it will require Sanders and his advisors to stop getting high on their own supply.


Teixeira: The Turnout Myth, Part 4

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

Well, as Ronald Reagan said in another context and another debate long ago: “There you go again”. In the debate tonight, Sanders once again gave his electability pitch and it was exactly the same as it has been all campaign: a gigantic, humongous surge of turnout that will sweep all the Democrats’ troubles away. I’ve been whacking away at this ridiculous assertion as best I can and, coincidentally released the same day as the debate, we have a new and thorough political science study (summarized on Vox) that makes clear just how heroic and unrealistic Sanders’ assertions are.

The study, by David Broockman and Joshua Kalla of Berkeley and Yale respectively, essentially shows that Sanders’ seeming electability in trial heat surveys–where he runs as good or better than “moderate” candidates–is attributable to two dynamics: (1) Sanders losing voters to Trump relative to moderate candidates but (2) making this up as people who say they are neither/third party/wouldn’t vote with a moderate candidate move to Sanders. The net of these two trends keeps Sanders afloat and “electable”.

Could this happen in real world? Probably not. The problem is that the implied turnout increase for young voters–who are the ones who come off the sidelines in a Trump-Sanders trial heat– is wildly implausible. As the study notes, Sanders would have to generate a larger increase in turnout among young voters than Obama managed to generate among black voters in his historic 2008 election. Looked at another way, youth turnout would have to not just go up 11 points but 11 points more than everyone else goes up in the 2020 election. So if turnout goes up 11 points in the rest of the population in 2020, youth turnout would have to go up 22 points. you get the idea.

So, more evidence that Sanders’ theory of the case on how he would beat Trump is furshlugginer (look it up).

Some excerpts from the researchers’ Vox summary of the study:

We found that nominating Sanders would drive many Americans who would otherwise vote for a moderate Democrat to vote for Trump, especially otherwise Trump-skeptical Republicans.

Republicans are more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated: Approximately 2 percent of Republicans choose Trump over Sanders but desert Trump when we pit him against a more moderate Democrat like Buttigieg, Biden, or Bloomberg.

Democrats and independents are also slightly more likely to say they would vote for Trump if Sanders is nominated. Swing voters may be rare — but their choices between candidates often determine elections, and many appear to favor Trump over Sanders but not over other Democrats.

Despite losing these voters to Trump, Sanders appears in our survey data to be similarly electable to the moderates, at least at first blush. Why? Mainly because 11 percent of left-leaning young people say they are undecided, would support a third-party candidate, or, most often, just would not vote if a moderate were nominated — but say they would turn out and vote for Sanders if he were nominated….

[T]he “Bernie or bust” phenomenon appears almost entirely limited to left-leaning young people, who are usually a small share of the overall electorate. This stands in contrast to many theories of Sanders’s electoral appeal: For example, whites without a college degree — a demographic some speculate Sanders could win over — are actually more likely to say they will vote for Trump against Sanders than against the other Democrats. The same is true of the rest of the electorate, except left-leaning young people….

The case that Bernie Sanders is just as electable as the more moderate candidates thus appears to rest on a leap of faith: that youth voter turnout would surge in the general election by double digits if and only if Bernie Sanders is nominated, compensating for the voters his nomination pushes to Trump among the rest of the electorate.

There are reasons to doubt a Sanders-driven youth turnout surge of this size would materialize. First, people who promise in surveys they will vote often don’t, meaning the turnout estimates that Sanders’s electability case rests upon are probably extremely inaccurate. Second, such a turnout surge is large in comparison to other effects on turnout. For example, Sanders would need to stimulate a youth turnout boost much larger than the turnout boost Barack Obama’s presence on the ballot stimulated among black voters in 2008….

And this enormous 11 percentage point turnout boost is only enough to make Sanders as electable as the more moderate candidates, given the other votes he loses to Trump. For him to be the most electable Democratic candidate based on his ability to inspire youth turnout, Sanders’s nomination would need to increase youth turnout by even more….

There is no way to be sure whether Sanders’s nomination would produce this historic youth turnout surge — but it seems doubtful. Turnout in the 2020 primaries so far has not exceeded 2008 levels, including among young voters. If anything, research suggests the opposite is more likely to occur: In response to an extreme Democratic nominee, Republicans could be inspired to turn out at higher rates to oppose him.


California’s Indies May Struggle to Vote in Democratic Primary

As a California resident, I have some insights on the growing brouhaha over independents’ voting on Super Tuesday, which I shared at New York:

There are increasingly loud complaints from the Bernie Sanders camp about the difficulties independent voters face in California in participating in the Super Tuesday primary, as Politico reported recently:

“Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders charged Friday that California’s primary system threatens to disenfranchise millions of independent voters whose support he has cultivated in the nation’s most populous state.

“Sanders said Friday during a press conference in Santa Ana that he and his team have been campaigning hard to reach California’s 5.3 million ‘no-party-preference’ voters, who now represent the second largest voting bloc in the state at 25.9 percent — ahead of Republicans, who comprise 23.7 percent …

“’Unfortunately, under the current NPP participation rules, we risk locking out millions of young people … millions of young people of color — and many, many other people who wanted to participate in the Democratic primary but may find it impossible for them to do so,’ he said. ‘And that seems to me to be very, very wrong.’”

The root of the problem here is that party preferences in California have become relatively insignificant thanks to the establishment via a 2010 ballot initiative of a nonpartisan top-two primary system in which everyone in the state gets the same ballot for sub-presidential contests that includes all the candidates competing regardless of party, with the top two vote winners proceeding to the general election. But voters are still asked to designate a party preference when registering, which makes those registration rolls a hot property for campaigns and other purchasers, and also guides the one partisan primary still remaining: the quadrennial presidential primaries.

What makes this affirmative requirement especially tricky is that big majorities of California voters now vote by mail, which means there’s not going to be some friendly election official in their faces to explain to NPP voters how to participate in the Democratic primary. So election officials have sent vote-by-mail NPP registrants postcards, which they are asked to return if they want to “replace” their empty NPP ballots with a chock-full-o-candidates Democratic ballot. It has not worked very well, as Capitol Weekly reported last week:

“To participate in the open Democratic presidential primary, independent voters need to request the partisan ‘crossover’ ballot.  To expedite this, counties sent all vote-by-mail independent voters a postcard for them to select their partisan ballot and then return the card to the registrars.

“But as the cards were mailed to independent voters over the holidays, very few of these voters responded to get the crossover ballots that would allow them to participate in the Democratic primary …

“Remarkably, only 9% of California’s growing independent and vote-by-mail population have successfully obtained a partisan presidential primary ballot. For 91% of nonpartisan voters, there is no presidential race on the ballot they received in the mail.”

We’re talking 3.7 million voters with those empty NPP ballots, even though a significant majority of them wanted to vote in the Democratic primary. Given Sanders’s regular over-performance among indies generally, he probably will be affected most, with Mike Bloomberg also taking a disproportionate hit.

There’s another, smaller (if still quite significant) problem for nearly 600,000 voters who are registered members of the American Independent Party. The AIP is the zombie survivor of George Wallace’s 1968 third-party candidacy that’s stuck around all these years mostly because voters persistently misunderstand the “independent” in the right-wing party’s name and think they are registering NPP. A bill to force the AIP to change its name to get “independent” out of it was vetoed this year by Governor Gavin Newsom on grounds that it was likely unconstitutional. In order to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, these low-information voters will have to change their party registration.

Now all these indies who have missed the deadline for requesting a Democratic ballot by mail can still fix the problem by showing up on primary day (so long as they haven’t already mailed in a ballot) and asking for the Donkey option, and presumably Team Bernie is letting them know that. But in response to the steady decline in live Election Day voting, some California counties have been replacing traditional precincts with “voting centers” that may confuse some by-mail voters. And in the state’s largest county, Los Angeles, new touchscreen voting machines are being deployed on March 3, which could create some additional confusion and delay.

Even if Sanders wins the state easily, which he is favored to do (FiveThirtyEight gives him a five-in-six chance of carrying the state), a shortfall in indie voting could cost him some delegates. So you will definitely hear about this on March 3.

The other problem all the candidates — and the news media — will be dealing with on March 3 is California’s slow count of ballots, which is mostly attributable to the rule allowing mail ballots postmarked by March 3 (and received by March 6) to be counted. These and other late mail ballots have to be opened individually and tabulated, which takes a while. But candidates who see themselves ahead on Election Night but then lose later aren’t happy about it, and some of them hint darkly at “fraud” or other dirty deeds (e.g., California Republicans after they lost half their U.S. House delegation in 2018). Unlike Iowa, California has baked late returns right into the electoral cake, and people just need to get used to it as a by-product of reforms to make it easier to vote — if not easy enough for a lot of indies.


Political Strategy Notes

On Wednesday, former Vice President Biden got a moving – and important – endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most influential African American leader. Clyburn’s heartfelt testimony about his friendship, trust and love for Biden left many who were present for the event tearing up. It also showcased Biden’s greatest strength as a candidate, the ability to call Democrats to return to their identity as the party of compassion and connection to the disadvantaged. At U.S. News, Lisa Hagen makes the case that the “Clyburn Endorsement Has Value for Biden Beyond South Carolina,” and observes that “his large network of endorsements could end up being particularly useful if the nominating contest drags on until the national convention and party leaders – like Clyburn – play a pivotal role in helping to name the Democratic presidential nominee…If he can pull out a victory in South Carolina and, more importantly, a decisive one, Biden could convert that momentum to buoy him in many of the contests held on Super Tuesday, in which more than a third of the pledged delegates will be up for grabs. And if he can demonstrate his strength among African American voters, he has the potential to perform well in a number of Southern states holding contests on March 3 that also have large constituencies of black voters.”

Could Sen. Bernie Sanders take a page from FDR to add credibility to his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination? Sophie Vaughan thinks so, and she explores the possibilities in “How Bernie Sanders Is Reviving the Promise of FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights: There are deep parallels between what Bernie Sanders is proposing and what Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised” at Common Dreams. As Vaughan writes, “Increasingly, Sanders surrogates on the campaign trail have framed the candidate’s ideas as an extension of the Economic Bill of Rights,” Vaughan writes, “a concept first proposed in 1944 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address…The remaining Democratic candidates—Vice President Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and billionaire investor Tom Steyer—all oppose a Medicare for All plan. But many propose that those who can’t find private insurance should be able to qualify for expanded government insurance plans…None of these candidates, however, have placed their policies so explicitly in the lineage of Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights as Sanders. While Sanders has not proposed a constitutional amendment for his economic rights as Roosevelt did, the point is already subject of debate among those who study Roosevelt.”

Vaughan continues, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence,” Roosevelt said in the 1944 speech. “Necessitous men are not free.”…The Economic Bill of Rights never came to fruition because Roosevelt’s illness and eventual death prohibited him from pushing further for the amendments. With his campaign, Sanders has now taken on the mantle of this bill of rights…One of the proposals that Roosevelt outlined, “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health,” sounds similar to the hope expressed by many Sanders supporters at the community conversation…[FDR scholar Harvey] Kaye says Roosevelt was serious about the constitutional amendment, but some scholars, such as Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, argue that the President never planned to actually go through with pushing for this amendment. Sunstein says the rights were merely a framework to advocate economic rights be respected to the same extent as social rights.” One demographic reality that makes the strategy palatable, is that many high-turnout senior voters, remember well that their parents regarded FDR as a peerless visionary, whose inspiring courage in the face of many doubters, saved America from ruin. Strongly invoking a connection to FDR can’t hurt Sanders — and it might help.

But Sanders will also have to more persuasively address this concern, cited in E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Democrats are dealing with a generational divide” in The Washington Post: “In January, Gallup asked: “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a socialist, would you vote for that person?”Among adults under 35 years old, 63 percent said yes. But only 42 percent of those aged 35-54 answered affirmatively, and just 35 percent of those over 55 said yes. Even among Democrats, 21 percent said they would not vote for a socialist; for independents, that figure was 51 percent…The S-word would thus be a heavy burden to carry into a tightly fought campaign, as a timely study by political scientists David Broockman and Joshua Kalla published Tuesday in Vox suggested…In analyzing an early-2020 40,000-person survey, they found that “nominating Sanders would drive many Americans who would otherwise vote for a moderate Democrat to vote for Trump.”…To offset these losses, Sanders “would need to boost turnout of young left-leaning voters enormously,” Broockman and Kalla wrote. They conclude: “There are good reasons to doubt that Sanders’s nomination would produce a youth turnout surge this large.”

In their article, “The Sanders Tax: How our Electoral College ratings might change if he becomes the presumptive nominee‘” Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman write at Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “If Democrats nominated Bernie Sanders, they would, initially, start off with somewhat of a penalty in our Electoral College ratings…Sanders’ policy prescriptions and rhetoric may complicate Democratic prospects in the Sun Belt, where the party’s recent growth has been driven by highly-educated suburbanites…Given the composition of the 2020 Senate map, which features more Sun Belt states, Sanders’ relative strength in the Rust Belt — assuming that even ends up being the case — nonetheless doesn’t help Democrats much in the race for the Senate.”

With respect to Sanders’s prospects in the largest swing state, Kondik and Coleman write, “State analyst and mapper Mathew Isbell attributes the Democratic losses in Florida in 2018 to their underperformance in Miami-Dade County. In 2018, then-Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee, then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, gained over Clinton elsewhere in the state, but they couldn’t match her showing in the Miami area. Instead of Clinton’s 29 percentage point margin there in 2016, Nelson and Gillum each carried it by a smaller 21 percentage point spread. Rather astoundingly, they each flipped four large Trump counties — St. Lucie, Pinellas (St. Petersburg), Seminole (Orlando suburbs), and Duval (Jacksonville) — but both came up short because of their weaker margins in Miami-Dade County. One-third of the county’s electorate is Cuban; Sanders’ comments praising some aspects of Fidel Castro’s regime could be uniquely toxic with this bloc, and may effectively push Florida out of reach.”

Kondik and Coleman continue: “Sanders is also a candidate whose strongest appeal is with the young, whereas Florida has an older electorate. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Florida’s median age is 41.8 years, and only four states rank higher. Interestingly, other comparatively old states include Maine, New Hampshire, and Sanders’ home state of Vermont, but retirees who can afford to move to Sun Belt states like Florida have typically voted Republican — and perhaps more importantly, they turn out. In 2016, senior citizens powered Trump’s coalition in the Sunshine State. Over 80% of voters 65 and older turned out, and exit polling showed Trump winning this group in a 57%-40% vote. Voters under 30 favored Clinton, but turned out at just 56%; Sanders likely would inspire higher turnout with millennials, but the GOP’s dominance with seniors in Florida has proved to be a potent electoral force.”

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has taken his share of heat in the battle between the so-called “moderate” Democratic presidential candidates, and he is still standing. Buttigieg may have underestimated the intensity of the resentment he would encounter as a result of his comparative inexperience. As a former Mayor of the 4th largest city in Indiana, he has made the most of his ‘outsider’ status. But it’s a tough sale to close, when voters compare his governing record to that of his opponents. Yet, a fair-minded review of Buttigieg’s policies indicates that he is a solid progressive, and face it, he is the most articulate communicator of the lot. However, the 2020 campaign has revealed that he has work to do in broadening his credibility with African American, Latino and blue collar voters. His recently-deleted tweet which dissed Sanders’s “nostalgia for the the revolutionary politics of the ’60s” seemed to overlook that it was also a time when MLK’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement transformed America (Sanders was an active member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who was arrested in a school desegregation protest in Chicago in 1963 and also participated in the March on Washington in that year). At 38, however, Buttigieg has plenty of time to build his resume and his cred with these key constituencies. It’s not hard to envision him as the front-runner in a future presidential campaign.

From Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a Columbia University political scientist, interviewed by Mary Harris in “ALEC: How Republicans Use It to Gain Power” at slate.com: “When Republicans take over state governments, they first try to weaken unions and other progressive activist groups, and then change election rules in ways that will make it easier for them to win again…Many state legislatures don’t give lawmakers the proper resources to make policy. ALEC provides all of those resources: the ideas behind the bills, the polling that they would need to pass, a hotline that lawmakers can call if they want help drafting a piece of legislation or coming up with a good argument. ALEC essentially serves as a private research assistant for state legislators…There have been a number of progressive efforts over time to construct counterweights to ALEC, [the American Legislative Exchange Council] but they’ve often fizzled out because they haven’t received sufficient attention from donors or were too focused on organizing power in states that were already progressive, like New York or California. The State Innovation Exchange supports local legislators in a number of key states. Future Now is trying to replicate ALEC’s success by building a national network and thinking about the ways policy can be used to either advantage one’s allies or defang one’s opponents.”


The Last Caucuses

As most commentators moved on after Nevada, I reflected on the future implications at New York:

This year’s Democratic caucuses are not entirely in the rearview mirror yet: There is one more on April 4 in Wyoming. But after the Caucus Night meltdown in Iowa, and then a near brush with disaster in Nevada, the odds of this form of nominating contest surviving into the next presidential cycle is somewhere not far north of zero.

Nevada Democrats were lucky on several counts. Most obviously, they had Iowa’s example to put them on high alert. Their basic caucusing procedures were modeled on Iowa’s; they had the same huge new complications based on the multiple reporting requirements imposed on them by the national party, exacerbated by a large field of candidates, and were originally planning to use the same technologies. On top of that, Nevada was experimenting with an “early caucusing” option utilizing ranked-choice voting that created another layer of complexity.

Horrified by the possibility of a second meltdown, the DNC offered a lot of technical assistance to the Nevada party and helped mobilize volunteers from other states to staff the event. But with all that, on Caucus Day the results came in v-e-r-y slowly. There were just enough returns, however, to justify the release of full entrance polls, and the really lucky thing for Nevada is that there was a clear winner, which allowed media types to spend many fine hours agitating the air about the Greater Meaning of a Bernie Sanders nomination — as though the thought had never occurred to them before — instead of complaining about the slow count.

“The statement is as follows:

“’I am so proud of the Nevada Democratic Party, its talented staff, and the thousands of grassroots volunteers who have done so much hard work over the years to build this operation. We have the best state party in the country, and that was shown again this past week after another successful caucus that featured a historic four days of early voting with more than 10,000 new voter registrations.

“”With so much Democratic enthusiasm in Nevada, demonstrated again by the tremendous caucus turnout this year, I believe we should make the process of selecting our nominee even more accessible. We’ve made it easier for people to register to vote here in Nevada in recent years and now we should make it easier for people to vote in the presidential contests. That’s why I believe it’s time for the Democratic Party to move to primaries everywhere.'”

No, of course, there’s no problem with holding caucuses: It’s just that primaries are even better! They didn’t just get that way, of course, but Reid knows when it’s time to count your blessings and move on. Besides, he and other Nevada Democrats have more important fish to fry:

“’I’m glad to have fought to make Nevada the first Western state in the Democratic nominating process since 2008, and we have proven more than worthy of holding that prominent early state position. I firmly believe that Nevada, with our broad diversity that truly reflects the rest of the country, should not just be among the early states — we should be the first in the nation.'”

A big part of the Great Iowa Freak-out of 2020 was attributable not just to the Caucus Night brouhaha but to long-standing and rapidly intensifying complaints about the state’s exceptionally pale demographics. Part of the reason Nevada and South Carolina got moved into the charmed circle of privileged and officially designated “early states” was to protect the status of Iowa (“First-in-the-Nation Caucus”) and the equally honkyfied New Hampshire (“First-in-the-Nation Primary”) by giving more diverse jurisdictions some representation. Now Nevada wants it all: to move past Iowa and New Hampshire to go first in a system without caucuses. Certainly Iowa is in no position to insist on a future with caucuses, and New Hampshire cannot hold on to the status quo forever on its own.

The abolition of caucuses may have been inevitable even without this year’s caucus issues. As Geoffrey Skelley noted last spring, fully 11 states that held caucuses in 2016 moved to primaries this year, mostly because the national party kept insisting on safeguards to improve access and accountability (e.g., all those raw-vote tabulations) that are difficult to reconcile with old-school party-run caucuses. You might wonder what states whose legislatures refuse to conduct and pay for partisan presidential primaries do instead of caucuses. There is the option (which four states will exercise this year) of a party-run primary — sometimes called a “firehouse primary,” because they typically use limited publicly owned polling places to hold down expenses.

Those of us who were fond of caucuses for the deliberative voting process and the sheer sense of community they fostered will have to move on in the great cattle drive of life.


Friedman’s Idea: Gimmicky or Good?

In his irresistibly-titled New York Times column, “Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide,” Thomas L. Friedman argues that “Democrats have to do something extraordinary — forge a national unity ticket the likes of which they have never forged before. And that’s true even if Democrats nominate someone other than Bernie Sanders.”

Many left Dems will see Friedman’s column as a reflection of the panic of moderate Democrats, and indeed there is a fair amount of nail-biting about Sanders momentum out there, as Paul Waldman notes in “Democrats, stop freaking out about Bernie Sanders” at The Washington Post. Their concerns may be justified, as indicated by the available polling data, which has been well-analyzed by Ruy Teixeira and others at TDS and elsewhere. Should a moderate somehow win the Democratic nomination, the fallout could be equally-divisive, particularly if Sanders wins a plurality of the delegates, but not a majority.

Trump has screwed up once-predictable politics so bad that nobody really knows what is going to happen. Friedman notes that “Veteran political analyst E.J. Dionne, in his valuable new book, “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country,” got this exactly right: We have no responsible Republican Party anymore. It is a deformed Trump personality cult.” Anyway, here’s the gist of Friedman’s idea:

“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my cabinet choices — my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.

“I want Kamala Harris for attorney general. She has the toughness and integrity needed to clean up the corrupt mess Donald Trump has created in our Justice Department. I would like Mayor Pete as homeland security secretary; his intelligence and military background would make him a quick study in that job. I would like Tom Steyer to head a new cabinet position: secretary of national infrastructure. We’re going to rebuild America, not just build a wall on the border with Mexico. And I am asking Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, to become secretary of housing and urban development. Who would bring more passion to the task of revitalizing our inner cities than Cory?

Friedman goes on to suggest Admiral Andrew McRaven at the Pentagon, Sen. Romney for Commerce Secretary and Andrew Yang at Energy, with Ocasio-Cortez as our United Nations Ambassador. Also “I want Senator Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, to be my secretary of education. No one understands education reform better than he does. Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna would be an ideal secretary of labor, balancing robots and workers to create “new collar” jobs.”

With a few tweaks, including more women in the cabinet, it’s a plausible enough ‘unity ticket’ and cabinet. Republicans will attack the idea as desperate. But it is certainly possible that polarization-weary voters might welcome such an approach. The specifics would be endlessly debatable. But the ‘Team of Rivals’ idea that Obama leveraged quite effectively could also help unify the party and impress some swing voters.

There’s lots to like in Friendman’s proposal. Quibble about the details, but what now seems inarguable is Friedman’s point that “if progressives think they can win without the moderates — or the moderates without the progressives — they are crazy.”


Teixeira: The Most Important Question Dems Must Address

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

Can Sanders Beat Trump?

It is certainly possible. But that’s really not the right question. The right question is: how likely is it that Sanders would beat Trump if he were the nominee?

Jon Chait makes this point with admirable clarity in his latest column:

“The truth is we are all clueless about what voters want or will accept,” argues conventional-wisdom-monger Jim VandeHei, in a signal of how deeply the anti-probabilistic fallacy has spread. It is true that there is uncertainty attached to every outcome. The talking heads who guarantee Sanders will lose are wrong — any nominee might win, and in a polarized electorate, both parties have a floor of support that gives even the most toxic candidate a fighting chance. In 2016, Trump was the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling, but he squeaked into office because everything broke just right for him. It could happen for Bernie, too.

But to concede that we cannot be certain about the future does not mean we know nothing. An imperfect comparison might be to predicting the outcome of sporting events. You don’t know the outcome in advance, but it is usually possible to make probabilistic predictions. Those predictions are wrong all the time. But it would be silly to conclude that, just because upsets happen, every game should be treated as a coin flip. A huge amount of pro-Sanders commentary is based on simplistically conflating the correct claim that we lack perfect clarity with the incorrect claim that we have no clarity at all.”

With that in mind, what do we know that might shed light on how Sanders would do against Trump? First, of course, there is the trial heat polling. That polling, according to RCP averages, has Sanders and Biden running ahead of Trump nationally by essentially identical amounts and both ahead of other tested Democratic candidates.

The same pattern with Biden and Sanders relative to the other Democratic candidates can be seen in swing state polling, with the difference that Biden generally generally runs a little bit better than Sanders in most swing states. You can see this both in the RCP trial heat averages and in preliminary state-level breakdowns of the Voter Study Group Nationscape survey (more than 170,000 interviews so far, 6000 nespondents per week)

This suggests that both Sanders and Biden, neither of whom has name recognition problems, are currently capturing anti-Trump, pro-Democratic preferences fairly efficiently. Put another way, simply hearing their names and knowing who they are, does not, at this point, deter large numbers of respondents from expressing pro-Democratic sentiments.

But in a general election campaign, of course, the Trump campaign will be working strenuously to sow doubts about the Democratic candidate and convince undecided voters and those with soft Democratic preferences that Trump, whatever objections such voters may have to him, is by far the lesser evil when compared to the Democrat. This is where Sanders will run into trouble, since since he is poorly set up to parry such attacks among persuadable voters.

David Leonhardt summarizes his problem succinctly:

“[Sanders] has taken a nearly maximalist liberal position on every major issue. It’s especially striking from him, because he has shown over his career that he grasps the importance of building a coalition.

Sanders once won over blue-collar Vermonters with help from a moderate position on guns. “We need a sensible debate about gun control which overcomes the cultural divide that exists in this country,” he said in 2015, “and I think I can play an important role in this.” He was also once an heir to organized labor’s skepticism of large-scale immigration. “At a time when the middle class is shrinking, the last thing we need is to bring over in a period of years, millions of people into this country who are prepared to lower wages for American workers,” he said in 2007.

Now, though, Sanders has evidently decided that progressives will no longer accept impurities — or even much tactical vagueness. He, along with Elizabeth Warren, has embraced policies that are popular on the left and nowhere else: a ban on fracking; the decriminalization of border crossings; the provision of federal health benefits to undocumented immigrants; the elimination of private health insurance.

For many progressives, each of these issues has become a moral litmus test. Any restriction of immigration is considered a denial of human rights. Any compromise on guns or health care is an acceptance of preventable deaths.

And I understand the progressive arguments on these issues. But turning every compromise into an existential moral failing is not a smart way to practice politics. It comforts the persuaded while alienating the persuadable.

F.D.R. and Reagan understood this, as did Abraham Lincoln and many great social reformers, including Frederick Douglass, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Strong political movements can accept impurity on individual issues in the service of a larger goal: winning.”

That’s the nub of his problem right there. He really is extremely vulnerable to brutal attacks from his Republican opponent, which will require unusual deftness and savvy to counter successfully. So far, we haven’t seen a Sanders who seems capable of doing that.

Of course, Sanders does have a response to the potential difficulty summarized here: turnout, turnout, turnout! But as I and others have shown, this is a chimera. If Sanders is to beat Trump, he’ll have to it the old-fashioned way: convincing many voters who don’t adore him that he is indeed a superior choice when compared to Trump.

Who are these voters? Some clues may be found a recent piece by Patrick Ruffini based on Nationscape data. Ruffini finds that while both Biden and Sanders have solid leads over Trump in the national data, their coalitions are not identical. Specifically, Sanders does quite a bit better than Biden among young voters but lags seriously lags behind among voters over 45. And while Sanders is comparably strong among nonwhite voters and lags Biden only slightly among white noncollege voters, he trails Biden’s performance by 8 points among white college voters.

If Sanders is the nominee and wants to maximize his probability of beating Trump, he is going to have to face up to these difficulties. If not, I fear we’re in for a long and painful next four years.