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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

To Regain the Support of “Culturally Traditional but Not Extremist” Working Class Voters Democrats Need to Understand the Compelling Political Narrative That Leads Them to Vote for the GOP.

Read the Memo

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

As the 2022 and 2024 elections approach Democrats have responded to their declining working class support by proposing variations on one or another of two strategies that they have advocated ever since the 1970’s.

The Popular “Moderates versus the Left” narrative about Democrats’ struggle to regain the support of working class voters is the “Night of the Living Dead” of American political commentary.

No matter how many times it is buried by the weight of events it keeps on coming back.

The culturally traditional but non-extremist working class voters: who they are, how they think and what Democrats Must Understand to regain their support.

By Andrew Levison

Read the Report.

The Daily Strategist

November 28, 2022

Oregon Governor’s Race a Warning That Party Affiliation No Guarantee of Victory

The Oregon gubernatorial contest has horrified me all year as a sort of slow-motion nervous breakdown for Democrats, so I wrote about it at New York:

You have to wonder what would have happened in Oregon’s gubernatorial race if New York Times columnist Nick Kristof hadn’t been booted off the ballot for nonresidency back in January. Yes, the messianic air Kristof exuded when offering to come parachuting into the troubled political waters of his home state was annoying to some. But Oregon, specifically its Democratic Party, could use some “outsider” energy right now. As it stands, Democrats are in danger of losing the governorship they have held since 1986.

As confirmed by fresh polling from Morning Consult, two-term (and term-limited) incumbent governor Kate Brown is the most unpopular chief executive in the U.S. amid a widespread sense that Oregon’s political Establishment has done a poor job of handling chronic and worsening problems. These include the intertwined housing and drug-addiction crises that have made the state’s dominant city, Portland, a source of anger and embarrassment to many voters. Democratic nominee and former longtime Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, who is backed by unions and the party’s more-or-less dominant progressive activists, is being described by many critics as “Kate Brown 2.0,” which some of her allies resent as a slur on the LGBTQ self-identification Kotek and Brown share.

But a correlation with an unpopular incumbent is just one of Kotek’s problems in seeking to win her party’s tenth-straight governor’s race. An independent ex-Democratic state senator, Betsy Johnson, is running a well-financed campaign (she got a big chunk of change from Nike founder Phil Knight) on an outspokenly centrist platform. Johnson is probably drawing voters from both parties, but at a time when Democrats elsewhere are benefiting significantly from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, Johnson offers voters a pro-choice option combined with a pro-business, get-tough-on-government message that could most hurt Kotek. And that could provide an opening for Republican nominee and legislator Christine Drazan, who won her party’s nomination as a sane alternative to multiple MAGA candidates. Drazan shows the standard GOP hostility to legalized abortion (not entirely a disadvantage in a race against two pro-choice rivals) but has promised to respect Oregon’s existing Roe-era laws.

Polls consistently show Kotek and Drazan in a close race with Johnson (who may have the most money on hand for late ads) in a distant but substantial third. All the national election forecasters call the contest a toss-up. But the risk of losing such a deep-blue state, likely alongside cries for help from Democratic constituency groups, convinced Joe Biden to go to Oregon and give Kotek a boost. It’s an interesting decision since Biden is more generally aligned with centrist Democrats who have been at odds with Kotek for years. (Biden endorsed rogue centrist congressman Kurt Schrader during his most recent trip to Oregon, shortly before Schrader lost his primary to progressive rival Jamie McLeod-Skinner.) But it’s all hands on deck for Oregon Democrats.

Biden may woo Democrats away from support for Johnson and also dramatize issue differences between Kotek and Drazan. But Kotek’s main problem may be the sour mood of Oregon voters who are susceptible to arguments from both of her challengers that it’s time for a change in Salem. The one thing we know for sure is that the next governor will be a woman with state legislative experience. And Kristof will be left wondering if he would be in charge of this race had he just spent more time in the state before endeavoring to rescue it.

Dem Chances in Midterms: Forecasts, Wild Cards and Hunches

Can Democrats Win 52 Senate Seats And Kill The Filibuster?” Daniel Rakich addresses the question at FiveThirtyEight, digests FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting data and writes:

“Democrats may currently control the Senate, but many within the party believe 52 Democratic senators are necessary for a true governing majority. That’s because moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are reluctant to change the Senate rules and abolish or circumvent the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to vote on most legislation.

However, suppose the party wins 52 seats this November and at least 50 senators vote to suspend the filibuster in the following Congress. The Senate could then pass stalled Democratic priorities like codifying abortion rights into federal law and expanding voting rights. As a result, that’s where Democrats are setting the bar this election cycle: Even President Biden has publicly asked voters to “give me two more Democratic senators.”

But, while Democrats have a 66-in-100 chance of holding onto control of the Senate (according to the Deluxe version of the FiveThirtyEight forecast),1 their odds of winning 52 seats are dicier. In the two most likely scenarios, the party would win either 50 or 51 seats (there’s a 32-in-100 chance of that happening).

However, it’s not out of the question that the Democratic dream scenario will come true. According to our forecast, there’s a 34-in-100 chance that Democrats will win 52 or more Senate seats this November. In other words, it’s roughly equally as likely that Republicans will win the Senate, that Democrats will win the Senate with 50 or 51 seats and that Democrats will win the Senate with at least 52 seats.”

Rakich notes that PA, WI, NC and OH are the most likely states to flip senate seats from red to blue, but cautions that “liberal Democrats have one more roadblock.” They also have to pass their legislative agenda in the House, and holding on to their House majority is a much tougher challenge. “They have just a 29-in-100 chance of maintaining control of the lower chamber, a bit lower than their chances of winning at least 52 Senate seats.” Further, “There is a 22-in-100 chance that Democrats will win a majority of House seats and at least 52 Senate seats.” Rakich also links to a hover map that provides data for each state.

A better than one in five chance may be an improvement over what Dems were expecting a few months ago. And this is just one forecasting model’s data, not that there is any reason to believe that other models would be all that   different. But it’s worth remembering that no pundits thought Georgia was going to elect two Democratic senators until late in the 2020 campaign. Sobering as Rakich’s numbers are, a lot of wild cards are floating around in this year’s game, including an exceptionally lame GOP field of senate candidates, fallout from the January 6 hearings and anger at the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which should be weighed against all of the Dem’s vulnerabilities. And despite evidence to the contrary, I can’t dismiss the hunch that increasing numbers of swing voters are thinking something like “The Dems have their screw-ups, but it sure looks like a lot of Republicans have gone nuts.”

Abortion Issue Could Be a Perpetual Turnout Machine for Democrats

It’s looking more and more like Republicans may regret kicking over the abortion hornet’s nest, and I wrote about it at New York:

When Gavin Newsom started deploying billboards in seven red states advertising California as an abortion-rights sanctuary, the standard cynical reaction was that the famously ambitious politician was laying the groundwork for a presidential bid in 2024 or later. You can’t say that about his latest abortion-related expenditure of reelection-campaign funds, though: an ad rollout strictly for Californians urging a “yes” vote on Proposition 1, a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to enshrine abortion rights.

To be clear, the governor doesn’t need to run any ads to get himself reelected. He’s very comfortably ahead of Republican Brian Dahle in a state that is emphatically Democratic (the GOP badly lost in its best opportunity to dislodge Newsom, the 2021 recall election). For that matter, there is zero doubt Prop 1 is going to pass. A September poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed the initiative leading among likely voters by a 69-25 margin (even one-third of self-identified Republicans supported it, according to this and other polls).

Newsom is spending money promoting Prop 1 for the very good reason that it’s a turnout generator for the Democratic-leaning voters who could also help the party win close congressional, state legislative, and local government contests. That’s why Democrats in other states are figuring out how to get an abortion referendum on their own ballots — if not in 2022 (where it will appear in one shape or another in Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont as well as California), then in 2024, as the Washington Post reports:

“While in the early stages, discussions around whether to pursue an abortion rights ballot measure are occurring in states including Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado and Missouri, according to interviews with over a dozen advocates, liberal groups and others, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations. One person familiar with the discussions said at least a dozen states are exploring — or are expected to soon explore — whether a citizen-led petition is a viable path to restoring or protecting abortion access in their state.

“’Every state that has access to direct democracy as a tool will consider if that is a strategy that makes sense for 2024, for 2026 and beyond,’ said Sarah Standiford, the national campaigns director at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.”

States with Democratic-controlled legislatures may also act to create abortion-rights ballot measures in future years. And it’s possible that anti-abortion activists and legislators may miscalculate and create a ballot test on abortion that they will proceed to lose. That famously happened in Kansas in August and could happen in November in Kentucky and/or Montana.

For decades, the anti-abortion movement claimed it wanted nothing more than to abolish the illegitimate judicial usurpation of abortion policy-making and “return it to the people” where it belonged. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has done just that in the Dobbs decision, it turns out that, in many places, “the people” want to choose reproductive rights and, in doing so, have boosted the electoral prospects of the pro-choice party. In this as in many other respects, the anti-abortion GOP is the eager dog that finally caught the bus.

Political Strategy Notes

If Democratic GOTV pros need another reason to pour it on during the next couple of weeks, Jennifer Agiesta has some data at CNN Politics which might help energize voter mobilization. As Agiesta writes, “Americans are closely divided over which party’s candidate they would support in their congressional districts, with preferences in competitive districts tilting toward Republicans, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS….Among likely voters nationwide, the race is a tight split, with 50% backing the Democratic candidate and 47% behind the Republican. But in competitive congressional districts, Democratic support among likely voters dips and preferences tilt toward the Republicans: 48% of likely voters in that group prefer the Republican candidate, 43% the Democrat….Voters are narrowly more likely to say that Republican candidates near them have a clear plan for solving the country’s problems (32%) than they are to say the same about Democratic candidates (28%). In a notable party divide…Asked which party’s candidates running for Congress in the area where they live have the right priorities, registered voters are again split (40% Republicans, 39% Democrats), even as they narrowly give Democratic candidates an advantage as more likely to agree with them on the most important issues (43% to 39%)….Republican registered voters nationwide and in competitive congressional districts are a bit more likely to say they are deeply motivated to vote than are Democratic registered voters (52% extremely motivated among Republicans nationally, 46% among Democrats; in competitive districts, it’s 55% among Republicans vs. 45% among Democrats) ….Democratic candidates do hold some advantages, though. Registered voters nationwide are more likely to see local Democratic candidates than their Republican rivals as caring about people like them (40% to 34%), working to protect democracy (43% to 36%), and uniting the country rather than dividing it (37% to 31%). And voters are more likely to see Republican candidates as too extreme (40%) than Democratic ones (36%)….In competitive congressional districts, the economy and inflation take on added importance. While 59% of registered voters nationally call the economy extremely important to their vote, that rises to 67% in those districts, and the share calling inflation that important rises from 56% to 64%.”

Apparently, it has never occurred to Republican leaders that their party is quite vulnerable when trying to stereotype Democrats as “soft on crime. ” At salon.com, however, Amanda Marcotte has messaging points Democratic candidates and campaigns might be able to use when GOP candidates try to exploit the issue. As Marcotte writes, “For decades, Republican messaging on crime has not really been about crime; rather, it’s been used as a convenient cover for tickling racial anxieties in white voters. That’s why candidates campaign on “crime” even when crime rates are low or dropping, as they have been in the past year as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, and why the single best policy move that could affect the murder rate — expanding gun restrictions — gets ignored because those laws would affect white gun owners too. It’s why GOP advertising paints violent crime as a problem in blue states, even though it’s actually worse in red states. It’s why Republican concerns over “crime” don’t appear to extend to prosecuting the January 6 insurrectionists. And it’s why many Republicans continue to support Donald Trump, who is gearing up to be the 2024 nominee despite his wide-ranging legal problems, which include allegations of tax fraudelection interferenceand stealing classified documents.” There is also the disgraceful GOP policy of refusing to accept election certification laws, even when validated by Republican-appointed judges. Democratic campaigns should hit back fast and hard, when Republicans roll out the “soft-on-crime” smear. Don’t defend; Attack. Dems have plenty of ammunition to use in debates and soundbites.

In “How Bruce Springsteen’s musical legacy can guide Democratic campaign strategy,” John Kapcar writes at The Michigan Daily: “Springsteen gained notoriety because so many working-class Americans identified with the messages in his music. To be successful in the midterms, Democrats will need to do the same on the campaign trail….Fetterman leads Oz by more than three and a half points, largely because Fetterman uses every messaging mistake Oz makes as a chance to showcase his own authenticity. Fetterman has done this by taking advantage of Oz’s phoniness. His campaign pounced when Oz claimed to own only two houses (he has ten) and responded swiftly when the Oz campaign made fun of Fetterman for having a stroke, using the opportunity to talk about the health care struggles many other Americans face….Fetterman has used Oz’s gaffes to enhance his own credibility with voters, while speaking on the issues that Pennsylvania voters are passionate about. Just as Springsteen did in “Streets of Philadelphia,” Fetterman proves it’s possible to take controversial opinions without alienating moderate bases if the candidate is authentic in their beliefs….This isn’t to say that every Democrat needs to sport Fetterman’s fashionably-questionable cargo shorts to win elections. Democrats can also be successful by following Springsteen’s second lesson: focusing on jobs and manufacturing. …In his song “Youngstown,” Springsteen chronicles the bleak, industrial history of the eponymous Ohio rust belt city. From Youngstown’s origins of building cannonballs for Union armies to its near collapse amid the loss of blue-collar jobs, Springsteen describes the despair many of the town’s inhabitants have fallen into. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is following that songbook by focusing on the loss of manufacturing jobs in the same area….The upcoming elections are critically important to the nation’s future, and the outcome will have rippling effects in the years to come. But motivating voters to turn out will only work if Democrats have optimism and hope.”

“Sometimes, the quiet voices end up ringing the loudest,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes in his Washington Post column. “Cheri Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, has gone about the business of running for U.S. Senate without clamor….While news media and party committees obsess over Senate races in, say, Georgia (for obvious reasons) and Pennsylvania, the 56-year old Democrat has turned the battle here into one of the closest in the country….So in November, the nation might find control of the Senate hangs on whether Beasley’s, well, judicious but systematic campaign pushed her past Rep. Ted Budd, the former president Donald Trump favorite nominated by the Republicans. A poll released this month by WRAL News in Raleigh, N.C., found Beasley just one point behind Budd….The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade has further moved expectations in favor of both Beasley and Democratic state legislative candidates. State Rep. Rachel Hunt, a Democrat who is seeking a North Carolina Senate seat, said that while Democrats feared earlier this year that they might lose seats, they were now “cautiously optimistic.” The abortion issue was arousing participation, she said, particularly among younger voters “who never thought their constitutional rights would be taken away.”…Budd clearly knows he is vulnerable on the question. He struggled during last week’s debate to insist that while he had “always been pro-life,” he had also “always been about protecting the life of the mother,” something that’s not clear from his past statements. Beasley hit back hard. “The bottom line is Congressman Budd wants to be in between a woman and her doctor,” she said. “There is no place in the exam room for Congressman Budd….When I asked Beasley how her background as a judge might affect her work as a senator, she was quick to draw another contrast. “Respect for the rule of law really ought to matter as policymakers are making decisions about people’s everyday lives,” she said.” Beaseley’s campaign could use more financial support to be competitive in the closing weeks. Here is her ActBlue page for those who want to help.

Will the Lioness Roar in the Midterms?

Despite evidence that the Dobbs decision of the Supreme Court has awakened women voters, fewer women are running for major political office this year than in recent midterm elections.

Meredith Conroy and Nathaniel Rakich report at FiveThirtEight that:

In the last midterm elections, Democratic women won a historic number of congressional races. Two years later, the GOP had its own “Year of the Woman.” But now that the 2022 primaries are long over, we can say that any signs that Republican women would continue to gain on their Democratic counterparts were likely a flash in the pan, not a watershed.

FiveThirtyEight, with an assist from political scientists Bernard Fraga and Hunter Rendleman, collected a trove of demographic and political information (such as endorsements, race and ethnicity and gender) for every major-party candidate running in a Senate, House and governor’s race this cycle. Based on our analysis of this data, the share of women running for office this November is lower than it was in 2020 (with one type of office serving as a notable exception). Both parties have passed on opportunities to add more women to their ranks. But Democrats have provided more opportunities for female politicians than Republicans — thanks in part to divisions in the GOP’s infrastructure for electing women.

Conroy and Rakich notę further, “This cycle, among candidates who advanced to the general election,2 women made up 43 percent of Democratic nominees and 20 percent of Republican nominees. This was a slight decline compared to 2020,3 when women were 47 percent of Democratic nominees and 22 percent of Republican nominees. The exception they refer to is Governor’s races, in which “women from both parties broke records in gubernatorial races.”

In terms of racial diversity, the authors note further that 84 percent of Republican candidates in this year’s Senate, House and Governorship primaries were white males, compared to 37 percent for Democrats. Conroy and Rakich don’t get  into the reasons for the overall decline in women candidates, but Covid may have a little something to do with it, since women are still the “primary caregivers.”

Contrary to the title of their article, “2022 is Not Another ‘Year of the Woman,'” this midterm election may yet prove to be the most important election year ever for women – in a good way. If, for example, the Democrats hold their House majority and add to their Senate majority, it will almost certainly happen because women voters rose up in unprecedented percentages in protest against the Dobbs decision and cast their ballots to elect pro-choice candidates, who are  overwhelmingly Democrats. If that lovely scenario unfolds, which is asking a lot, 2022 will be a watershed year for women in politics. The lioness will have roared and democracies all over the world will take notice. It would also go a long way to help persuade the G.O.P. that bully-boy politics is now a yuge loser for them, and maybe they ought to embrace a more rational conservatism.

On the other hand, if women don’t rise up in historic protest, the Supreme Court will likely turn a hard right on all issues of concern to women and Trumpismo will gain power in the G.O.P. and national politics. It could mean decades of stagnation, deepening polarization and erosion of human rights in the U.S.

Of course it’s extremely unfair to hold women voters to a higher standard than their male counterparts. Women are already voting more often for Democrats and progressive reforms than are men. For swing voters of any gender, the question they should be considering is “which candidates will help end political gridlock and get America moving forward again?” Nevertheless, an historic opportunity for women voters is fast approaching. Much depends on whether or not they seize it.

Teixeira: Democrats Should Embrace Patriotism

The following post by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from The Liberal Patriot:

Here is the uncomfortable fact Democrats need to face: whatever the outcome of the 2022 election, Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive disadvantage given the structure of the American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent slippage in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters. Without better performance among these voter groups, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to actually fix the problems they say they want to fix.

To address this problem, I suggest a three point plan for reform and renewal. I covered the first two parts of this plan in my last two posts:

Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

This week I will discuss the third and final part of the plan.

Democrats Must Embrace Patriotism and Liberal Nationalism

Let’s face it: today’s Democrats have a bit of a problem with patriotism. It’s kind of hard to strike up the band on patriotism when you’ve been endorsing the view that America was born in slavery, marinated in racism and remains a white supremacist society, shot through with multiple, intersecting levels of injustice that make everybody either oppressed or oppressor on a daily basis. Of course, America today may be a racist, dystopian hellhole, but Democrats assure us that it could get even worse if the Republicans get elected. Then it’ll be a fascist, racist, dystopian hellhole.

Hmm. This doesn’t seem like a very inspirational approach.


Political Strategy Notes

Some insights from Cook Political Report Editor Amy Walter’s column,”Which Way Is the Wind Blowing?” As Walter writes, “Perceptions of the president have improved over the course of the summer. Since July, according to FiveThirtyEight.com tracker, President Biden’s job approval ratings have risen by almost four points.  On its face, that improvement looks like a disruption of ‘normal’ midterm trends. Since 1970, no first term president has seen an improvement in his job approval ratings between January and October of a midterm year. However, Biden’s bump between July and now wasn’t an improvement from his standing earlier this year. Instead, his job approval ratings today are basically where they were in January; Biden was at 43.3 percent on January 1st and currently sits at 42.4 percent. In other words, Biden is more popular than he was in July, but he’s not anymore popular today than he was in the beginning of the year….By October of most mid-term elections, political gravity has kicked in. Members of the president’s party have spent much of the year putting distance between themselves and an unpopular commander-in-chief. But, a month out from the election, the pull of partisanship and polarization becomes too much for the candidates to overcome. This October, however, there’s evidence to suggest that Democrat candidates continue to defy political gravity….Even as President Biden’s job approval rating is underwater at -10 (42 percent approve to 52 percent disapprove), Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot by just over one point (45.4 to 44.3 percent). But, as I’ve written before, if you focus on vote share and not the margin, the gap between Biden and the ‘generic’ Democrat isn’t that impressive. Biden is currently at 42.4 percent job approve, while Democrats sit at 45.4 percent of the vote in generic matchup with the GOP. In other words, a generic Democrat is performing about 3 points better than Biden’s job rating. In a close race, of course, that could be a difference maker. But, it is not history defying.” National statistics like the President’s approval rate will likely matter more for the 435 races that will determine the House majority than it will matter for control of the Senate, where Republicans have weaker than usual candidates in the handful of  swing states.

At CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson shares some notes on the political reverberations of President Biden’s  marijuana reforms: “In some ways, the debate over the legal status of marijuana parallels the changing social attitudes that drove the fight to legalize same sex marriage, in that the public appeared to be well ahead of political leaders on the issue….Weed is becoming more socially acceptable and popular, a factor that is being recognized below the federal level with multiple state ballot initiatives and laws legalizing it….Just a few months ago, Gallup’s polling found for the first time that more Americans (16%) said they smoke weed than had smoked a tobacco cigarette in the preceding week (11%)….And in research that may underscore Biden’s political goals, the National Institutes of Health reported in August that marijuana use among young adults had reached all-time highs. Some 43% of that cohort reported using weed over the past year in 2021 – up from 34% in 2016 and from 29% in 2011….Last year, Gallup found that 68% of Americans favored legalizing marijuana for recreational use. That figure suggests significant bipartisan support for the President’s historic first foray into the marijuana debate. This is also a takeaway from ballot initiatives and legislative moves to decriminalize or legalize marijuana from Democratic-run Oregon to Republican-dominated South Dakota. A total of 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization dedicated to legalizing cannabis….Beto O’Rourke, who is mounting a long-shot bid to unseat Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, issued a statement pledging, “When I am governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.”….“President Biden’s executive order is transformative for the lives of thousands of people and families harmed by our broken cannabis laws,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said in a statement. “This is a huge step forward toward a more just criminal justice system and more rational drug policy.”

For a good update on a marquee midterm race, check out “Political scientists say Ohio U.S. Senate election is one of the key races in the nation” by Lynn Hulsey at the Dayton Daily News: “Multiple public polls show Ryan and Vance are running about even in Ohio, something that surprises [Wright State University political Scientist Lee] Hannah given the state’s rightward tilt in recent elections, the popularity of retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, whose seat the men are seeking, and given the historical trend for the president’s party to not do well in midterm elections….“Ryan understands that Ohio is trending toward being a consistently Republican state. For any Democrat to win a state-wide election, they will have to appeal to Republicans and independents to one degree or another,” [Cedarville University political scientist Mark] Smith said….Ryan’s campaign focuses on appealing to working class voters and he touts his vote with Trump to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and his disagreement with Biden on things like forgiving federal student loans….“He definitely has a theory that he needs to run to the center in order to win,” Hannah said….[University of Dayton political scientist Daniel] Birdsong argues that Ryan’s effort to draw Republican and independent voters is a gamble….“For them, this is an easy choice. It is possible that Ohio could help decide the entire progressive agenda in Congress,” Smith said. “Even if Ryan is not the ideal Senator for progressives, he will be far more supportive of their agenda than J.D. Vance and a Republican controlled Senate.”

If your definition of hell is watching 300 political ads to gain perspective on the midterm elections next month, you may want to skip Kyle Kondik’s “The 2022 Ad Wars: What we learned watching more than 300 campaign ads released in the second half of September” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. But if you’re a political junkie, who values Kondik’s impressive analytical skills, here’s a teaser: “Just as a caveat before we begin: The actual efficacy of campaign ads has long been debated, and we are not really trying to address that debate today. Ads do represent the major way that candidates and outside groups end up communicating with the public — meaning that they are one of the few aspects of a campaign that the candidate or group can actually control. So what they choose to focus on seems worth analyzing, even if it’s hard to measure how effective the ads actually are….We primarily used the compilation of ads that appears at the end of Daily Kos Elections’s Morning Digest newsletter — the liberal site includes a list of ads from both sides in every issue. There were slightly more ads from Republican sources than Democratic ones, although the totals were fairly even — about 175 were from Republican candidates or outside groups, while about 160 were from Democratic candidates or their allies….Nearly every ad was 30 seconds long, the standard length of a television ad. That amounts to about 2 hours and 45 minutes of ads, although it of course takes longer to actually watch all the ads, take notes on them, click through links, etc….We have 5 takeaways from our campaign ad binge:” In brief, Kondik’s 5 takeaways include: 1. Abortion dominates Democratic advertising; 2. Checks and balances….A prominent feature of Republican messaging is simply arguing that Democrats are much too in lockstep with their unpopular national leaders; 3. Tough-on-crime messaging predominates – Crime has become a major focus for Republicans, and Democrats are trying to inoculate themselves on Republican crime messaging by championing their own support for law enforcement; 4. Guest stars – including AOC, MTG and MM.  National political figures sometimes appear in ads as a way to nationalize races; and 5.Student loan forgiveness, largely forgotten….In his conclusion, Kondik notes, “Although there are plenty of specific topics that come up in ads that we didn’t really hit on above, such as immigration; personal scandal; Social Security and Medicare; and much more.”

Yes, MAGA Yankees Can Be Neo-Confederates, Too

One of my pet peeves is the revival of veneration for the symbols of the Confederacy that sought to perpetuate slavery and yoked my home region to so many decades of oppression and poverty. So when new research on the subject popped up, aI sought to interpret it at New York:

New public-opinion findings from the Public Religion Research Institute and E Pluribus Unum confirm a counterintuitive phenomenon that is becoming hard to ignore or deny: Affection for the insignia and monuments associated with the Confederate States of America is not at all confined to the southern states that once formed a seditious compact to defend slavery. As white (and especially rural) conservatives nationwide have begun to share stereotypically southern feelings of racial grievance, support for maintaining memorials to the Lost Cause of white supremacist laws and institutions has spread as well. The Atlantic’s David A. Graham succinctly summarized the takeaways:

“Where things get interesting is when the survey measures support for reforms, whether destruction of these markers or removal to a museum: Across race, party, and education levels, numbers diverge, but views about reform are nearly identical in the South and in the rest of the country. Nearly identical portions of southerners and Americans elsewhere (22 percent versus 25 percent) back reform, and nearly identical portions oppose it (17 percent versus 20 percent). The remainder are split between leaning one way or another, again closely mirrored. In other words, non-southerners feel the same way about Confederate monuments that southerners do.”

Graham hits the nail on the head: “The South is no longer simply a region: A certain version of it has become an identity shared among white, rural, conservative Americans from coast to coast.”

It’s important to understand that “neo-Confederacy” — the aggressive defense of the monuments and “heritage” of the Confederate States of America — is not really about Civil War history at all. Most of the monuments were built long after the war when Jim Crow laws were being aggressively imposed and defended. The heyday of the famous Confederate battle flag was in Jim Crow’s final days in the mid-20th century, when southern states were attaching it to state flags and white supremacists (very much a mass movement at the time) flourished it at every opportunity.

I know this because the high point of the neo-Confederacy coincided with my own childhood in small-town Georgia. No high-school football game was complete without a performance of “Dixie.” The dominant radio station in a nearby city called itself “The Big Johnny Reb.” Georgia required no front license plates, so many vehicle owners used that spot to display a cartoon rebel holding the battle flag and declaiming, “Hell no, I ain’t forgetting!” None of this was really about history. It was about defending segregation, under assault from the federal courts and eventually Congress, and insisting on racism against Black people as the essence of regional pride. It was contemporary, not an exercise in nostalgia.

But neo-Confederacy seemed to be dying out until quite recently when it became part of the cultural-political uprising that gave the country President Donald Trump. As I noted when Trump blessed the defenders of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville in 2017, the 45th president and many of his supporters essentially revived the neo-Confederacy as part of its demand to “Make America Great Again”:

“In the blink of an eye, the backlash to acts of simple racial decency began. It was not confined to Donald Trump’s campaign, but in many corners of the right, hostility to ‘political correctness’ — defined as sensitivity to the fears and concerns of, well, anyone other than white men — became a hallmark of the “populist” conservatism Trump made fashionable and ultimately ascendent.

“And so the relatively uncontroversial movement to get Jim Crow era Confederate insignia and memorials out of the public square and back into museums and history books suddenly faced renewed opposition — not just from the motley crew of open white supremacists who viewed the 45th president as their hero, but from politicians who saw a broader constituency for a brand-new era of white backlash.”

In effect, the white backlash to “political correctness,” and the notion that America still has some work to do in recognizing and atoning for racism, has appropriated neo-Confederate symbols — just as it has appropriated Christianity, the U.S. armed forces, and “Americanism” itself. It’s a crowning irony that the MAGA movement has adorned itself most of all with the red-white-and-blue insignia of those who fought and died to crush the actual Confederacy, whose ghosts live on in the resentments of angry conservatives everywhere.

Biden’s ‘October Surprise’ Should Generate Some Good Buzz

In “Biden pardons all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession in first major steps toward decriminalization,” Kevin Lipton writes at CNN Politics:

President Joe Biden is taking his first major steps toward decriminalizing marijuana, fulfilling a campaign pledge to erase prior federal possession convictions and beginning the process of potentially loosening federal classification of the drug.

Biden on Thursday pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, a move that senior administration officials said would affect thousands of Americans charged with that crime.

The announcement comes a month ahead of critical November elections that will determine control of Congress. Some candidates – in particular Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for his state’s US Senate seat – have made the issue of marijuana legalization central to their campaigns. When Fetterman and Biden met last month, the candidate said he would raise the issue with the President. At the same time, Democrats have sought to rebuff allegations they are soft on crime, an issue that has risen to the top of some voters’ agendas in certain swing districts.

As part of the announcement, Biden also encouraged governors to take similar steps to pardon state simple marijuana possession charges, a move that would potentially affect many thousands more Americans.

Biden’s statement accompanying the pardon should get some attention:

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video announcing his executive actions. “It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”….“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” the President said.

The raw number of those immediately affected is not large. As Lipton reports, “Officials said there are currently no Americans serving prison time solely on federal simple marijuana possession charges. But they said the number who had been charged with that crime was north of 6,500.” But Biden’s decision will help alleviate worries of millions of marijuana users in jurisdictions that still punish them, as fair minded judges and other local officials realize that it is politically unprofitable to impose draconian punishment on voters who would face no such threats in many other places across the nation.

The President is on very solid political ground. Asked, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal, or not?,” 68 percent of Gallup poll respondents said they “think it should be” a year ago, with 32 percent saying it should not. Even 62 percent of Republicans favored legalization of weed. Polls by Quinnipiac and CBS news found very similar results. “Keeping in mind that all of your answers in this survey are confidential, have you, yourself, ever happened to try marijuana?, 49 percent of Gallup respondents admitted they did in July of last year.

No doubt, most younger voters will like Biden’s move, which is likely a major reason behind it. Rolling Stone magazine is already having lots of fun with the “Dank Brandon” meme. Biden’s move may or may not give him a small bump in his approval ratings. But it certainly won’t hurt younger voter turnout

Biden’s ‘October surprise’ will likely be met with some grudging denunciations from Republican politicians who are not up for re-election in the midterms. Smarter Republicans probably won’t have much to say about it and will grumble in private, knowing that their criticism will only add to Biden’s favorable buzz.

For some interesting data, maps and charts re pot legalization world-wide, check out this wikipedia entry.

What Do the Polls Say? It Depends.

Having experienced some vertigo in sorting through polling data this year, I looked into some of the reasons for all the disparate findings, and wrote about it at New York:

There’s been a lot of talk about polling accuracy this election year, as there has been in the last five election cycles. Four of those election years (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2020) produced results significantly different from the expectations created by the best-known and (previously) most reliable outfits conducting national and state-level public-opinion research. In 2012, Democrats overachieved their standing in the polls, as did Republicans in 2016 and 2020. In 2018, the polls pretty much nailed the results nationally, though there were some misses in Senate races won by Republicans.

There are several reasons fears about polling accuracy are strong right now. First, 2022 is a midterm election where very small changes in the results could yield big consequences, thanks to the dead-even Senate and the tiny Democratic margin of control in the House (there are also many potential 2024 presidential battlegrounds where partisan control of the election machinery is up for grabs this year).

Second, there is a bit of residual trauma in the political commentariat about pro-Democratic polling errors before the astonishing victory of Donald Trump in 2016 and before his near-reelection (echoed by strong House gains by Republicans) in 2020. Pro-Republican errors in 2012, and the mostly accurate 2018 surveys, have been all but forgotten. Pro-Republican polling errors in 2022 special elections have all but been ignored or minimized.

Third, there are some pretty significant differences in what the pollsters are showing nationally and in individual contests this year. Consider the most-cited (and typically most reliable) indicator of the House national popular vote, the polling question known as the generic congressional ballot. The polling averages (per RealClearPolitics) on this indicator have been nearly even since the beginning of August. But one pollster, Trafalgar Group, has been showing Republicans with a five-to-eight point advantage in monthly soundings since July. (Another pollster Republicans love to love, Rasmussen, has consistently shown the GOP leading in the general ballot as well, though not by as large a margin.)

Similarly, Trafalgar has Republican Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley statistically tied with Washington’s Democratic incumbent Patty Murray, while all but one of the other polls of this race have Murray up by double digits. The Cook Political Report rates the contest as “Solid Democratic,” which means not remotely competitive. Then there’s the Pennsylvania governor’s race, which is turning into a Democratic rout, thanks to the incompetent campaigning and extremist antics of Republican nominee Doug Mastriano. Six of the last seven public polls have shown Democrat Josh Shapiro up by double digits. The exception? Trafalgar Group, which showed a statistical tie in mid-September.

There are some races where Tragalgar isn’t so much an outlier as one end of a pretty broad spectrum of findings. In the Ohio Senate race, for example, the RCP averages have Republican J.D. Vance leading Democratic Tim Ryan by 1.2 percent. Trafalgar Group shows Vance up by 5 percent, while Siena has Ryan up by 3 percent.

Now as it happens, Trafalgar got a lot of positive attention after the 2016 presidential election for accurately showing Donald Trump ahead in Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, when nearly every other national polling outfit had Hillary Clinton winning all three states. And the same pollster wound up with a relatively low average error in 2020, particularly as compared to some of the big established firms like Monmouth, Quinnipiac, and SSRS (though Trafalgar Group founder and former Republican operative Robert Cahaly incorrectly predicted a Trump reelection, and erroneously showed him ahead in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania). While Cahaly stubbornly keeps his full methodology private (he uses live calling, robocalling, and online sampling), he is famous for claiming he adjusts his findings to reflect alleged “social desirability bias,” which mostly means putting a thumb on the scales of red voters who allegedly assume pollsters want them to support blue candidates. So Trafalgar assumes a general pro-Democratic polling bias that he aims to correct. You can see how that might or might not work out well.

Another common source of polling differences involves the basic sample. Often Republicans look better in polls of “likely voters” rather than “registered voters” or “all adults,” particularly in a midterm election with Democrats controlling the White House, a scenario that usually (but not universally) gives the GOP a turnout advantage. But at this stage of the election cycle, virtually all pollsters have already “switched over” to likely voter models, eliminating one artificial reason for differences in findings.

The thing about a recent record for polling accuracy is that it earns pollsters more business, so Trafalgar Group (and to some extent Emerson College, which did pretty well in 2020) is expanding its footprint this year, and its arguably affecting the polling averages more than in the past. But in some of the more heavily polled contests, averages probably still smooth out the differences between pollsters and their methodologies. In the red-hot Georgia U.S. Senate contest between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, there have been eight published polls in the RealClearPolitics database since the beginning of August. Four (including Trafalgar Group, Emerson, Insider Advantage, and the University of Georgia) show Walker ahead, and four (Quinnipiac, Marist, YouGov, and Fox News) show Warnock ahead. The average puts Warnock ahead by 0.7 percent; in other words, the race is tied. For variety’s sake, you can consult the polling averages at FiveThirtyEight, which weights poll findings according to pollster accuracy and partisan bias. It’s still a tie race, with the projected vote share being 49.8 percent for Warnock and 48.6 for Walker. Indeed, if you are placing a bet on the contest the best wager is that neither candidate will win a majority and Georgia will again hold one of its notorious general election runoffs.

We won’t know until after the elections how to assess pollsters, or how to retroactively adjudge the impact on expectations of the very real differences in their findings. But at this point we can say that if Trafalgar Group’s polling is correct, there is a broader range of competitive statewide elections in play (if Patty Murray is truly in trouble, which Democrats are really safe?), and Kevin McCarthy can go ahead and put in an order for a Speaker’s gavel. But like partisan activists, a lot of people in the political prediction business will be white-knuckling it and composing their spins on and after November 8.