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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategists Are Asking the Wrong Question About the White Working Class

If you were a Democratic political strategist with a multi-million dollar budget for opinion research about the white working class, which question would you want to investigate?

Read the Memo.

Democrats: Let’s Face Reality – The Term “People of Color” Doesn’t Describe a Political Coalition That Actually Exists.

The term “People of Color” is now playing a central role in the Democratic discussion of political strategy.

Read the memo.

Democratic Candidates: The Whole Debate about “Critical Race Theory” is a Cynical GOP propaganda trap – Here’s What you Should Say Instead

The latest example of this extremely effective GOP exploitation of language is the current debate over “Critical Race Theory” – a perspective about race that is supposedly being foisted on children in classrooms around the country.

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

Democratic officeholders and candidates who plan to run in 2022 and 2024 need to face a simple, brutal fact – many will lose their next elections and will return control of government to the GOP if they do not offer a more plausible strategy for reducing the surge of immigrants at the border

Democrats in 2022 and 2024 will lose elections without a strategy.

Let’s Face It: The Democratic Party is Not a “Big Tent” Political Coalition – But it Desperately Needs to Become One.

Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.

American Business Has the Power to Stop the GOP Assault on Democracy – Here’s a Strategy to Make Them Do It.

America is now well on its way to creating an electoral system that functions like Mexico’s during its era of one-party rule.

The Daily Strategist

December 2, 2021

Political Strategy Notes

From “Carville: Democrats “Think It’s Beneath Them” To Go Out And Sell Biden’s Plan, Quit Hounding Manchin and Sinema” at RealClear Politics: “Democratic strategist and former Clinton adviser James Carville admonished Democrats on Wednesday on MSNBC for believing it is “beneath them” to campaign for President Biden’s agenda and for an “idiotic strategy” to protest and hound moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)…..”The issue right now is Democrats in Congress are asked to do very popular things,” Carville said. “It doesn’t take much courage to negotiate prescription drug prices. It doesn’t take much courage to raise taxes on the wealthy. It doesn’t take much courage to expand health care. Somebody has to get into the room and say, ‘Okay, we want to do ten things, we can do five. Let’s do these five and then take the other five and run them in 2022….They have got to understand the reality is they’re just running around like they are people in a locker room banging their helmets against the lockers,” Carville said. “That’s not going to do you any good. You are not going move any further than Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema. So quit this idiotic protesting and hounding them and tell President Biden get them in the room, get the Speaker in there, get the Majority Leader, let’s hammer something out, and what we don’t get let’s go for it in 2022….”Is that a failure of Democratic messaging?” the host asked. “Of course it is,” Carville answered. “They didn’t get out in the country enough, they didn’t sell it enough.” Watch the video at this link for tips on hw to close a political sale.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. largely agrees in his latest Washington Post column, and observes “Democrats are a maddening bunch, especially to their supporters….A party that should be celebrating its efforts to expand health coverage, help families with children, build roads and fight climate change is instead engaged in a messy and increasingly angry confrontation over how much it can and should accomplish….Democrats are effectively running what would be a coalition government in countries with multiparty systems — but without the disciplines that formal coalition agreements typically impose in advance on an alliance’s various components. Democrats are making their deals on the fly, and it shows….I sat down last week with the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, co-authors of the justly celebrated 2018 book “How Democracies Die.” Both speak with deep worry about the anti-majoritarian nature of the American system with a Senate and electoral college that vastly underrepresent rban and suburban voters as well as racial and ethnic minorities….None of this gets Democrats off the hook. As the late Donald H. Rumsfeld might advise them, you have to work with the system you have, not the system you wish you had. It is no excuse for making a mess of what should be a moment of achievement.”

If you were wondering “How Close Is Virginia’s Governors Race?,” Geoffrey Skelley and Mackenzie Wilkes have a good update at FiveThirtyEight: “Election Day 2021 is only about two weeks away, and the big race to watch is undoubtedly Virginia’s gubernatorial contest. A still-somewhat purple state with a Democratic lean in recent presidential elections, Virginia will be viewed by many as a bellwether for the 2022 midterms, and the race is already proving to be a testing ground for some of the big national issues  that could very well influence elections next year, including COVID-19 policies, what should be in taught in schools and the economy.” Noting a slight edge for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in recent polls, but with worrsome upticks for his opponent,  Skelley and Wilkes write, “Still, the polls could be overselling the GOP’s chances, like they did in 2017 when Republican Ed Gillespie trailed Democrat Ralph Northam by about 3 points going into the election — similar to where Youngkin is now — but ended up losing by 9 points. That’s impossible to say with any certainty, as the direction of polling error is inconsistent from one cycle to the next. But polls that model higher turnout, such as the CBS News/YouGov survey, which found that McAuliffe led Youngkin by 8 points instead of 3 points in a high-turnout situation, suggest Democrats could perform better than expected if pollsters are underestimating turnout….Historically, Virginia hasn’t been an especially good barometer of the overall national environment“….one election should never be used as a benchmark on its own, but the spotlight will shine brightly on Virginia’s result nevertheless.”

Will supermarket shortages hurt Dems in the 2022 midterms? Are they already doing so? I got to  wondering yesterday by a customer next to me at the meat bin in a rural Food Lion, who grumbled “I don’t know how people can afford to eat any more,” then walked away empty-handed. I noticed some empty shelf space throughout the market, though not as bad as the early days of the pandemic. But it’s still a bad look. Talking heads debate whether the high meat prices and some product scarcity are caused by labor shortages or “shipping bottlenecks” or”pipeline issues.” Nathaniel Meyerson reports that “Grocery store shelves aren’t going back to normal this year” at CNN Business, and notes, “These latest limits mean that stores won’t have all things for all customers heading into the holidays….” Grimly, I remember the way-back Saturday Night Live skit with Akroyd’s Jimmy Carter punchline “Inflation is our friend.” Low unemployment is a good thing for Dems. But, politically, I’m less worried about a Pringles shortage than high meat prices still hanging around a year from now.

Biden Is the Early Favorite For Reelection Even if Dems Lose Ground in 2022

After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:

The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.

Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).

It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.

Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.

In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.


Dems Must Sell Accomplishments to Key Blocs

Can Democrats Get Surge Voters To Show Up in 2022?,” Amy Walter asks at The Cook Political Report, and shares her response:

Among independent voters, Gallup polling shows Biden has lost a lot of ground. Back in April, 58 percent of independent voters approved of the job Biden was doing as president. That number has been steadily dropping ever since. Biden’s approval rating with independent voters now sits at a dismal 37 percent.

There’s also been empirical and anecdotal evidence of a decided drop in enthusiasm among younger voters and voters of color. A recent Pew Research survey found that while Biden’s overall job approval had slipped, some of the biggest drops in support came from young voters (-14) and Black voters (-18).

Terrance Woodbury, founding partner and chief executive officer of HIT Strategies, a firm focused on people of color and millennials, isn’t particularly surprised by the lack of enthusiasm among Black voters, especially younger Black voters.

Walter argues that “Black voters propelled Biden to victory in places like Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, three states that will be pivotal again in 2022. So, getting these Black voters (re)engaged and (re)enthused is going to be critical for Democrats’ ability to hold the Senate.”

Walter quotes Woodbury, who says Democrats, “are actually making progress on things that matter to them, they just don’t know about it.” In other words, stop focusing on what you haven’t yet accomplished, and spend more time telling people what you’ve already done for them. He wants to see Democrats spend as much money telling these voters why their vote to put Democrats in charge mattered as they spent in 2020 bombarding them with texts telling them to vote.”

For example, Woodbury argues that Democrats should be talking up the Department of Justice’s work in banning no-knock entries and chokeholds by federal agents. Text voters directly and let them know how many free COVID vaccines and test kits have been delivered in their community and help connect them with those same resources.

Woodbury also worries that not connecting with these voters today will only give Republicans more opportunities to siphon them away in the future. The Trump campaign flooded social media with messages that played up the frustration and cynicism these voters already have about the Democratic Party. “We have to talk to them because someone already is.”

However, Walter cautions, “Even a robust messaging and marketing program of the size and scale Woodbury proposes is unlikely to move the needle in 2022. But, Woodbury’s research has uncovered a more fundamental challenge for Democrats. For the last 12 years, two people — Barack Obama and Donald Trump — have been the animating forces engaging Democratic voters; one motivated with hope, the other fear. But, they can’t rely on them for much longer. Instead, Democrats need to show their most loyal voters that they’ve delivered on the issues most important to their lives, not just the legislation that is taking up so much of the political capital and oxygen in Washington.”

Political Strategy Notes

From “How Democrats can rebuild their ‘blue wall’ in the Midwest” by John Austin at The Hill: “Popular perceptions aside, and as I have written before, today there is no monolithic Midwestern “Rust Belt” of struggling manufacturing and mill towns. There was once a common economic storyline among the small, mid-sized and large manufacturing communities strung through the fields, forests and along the rivers and lakefronts of the upper Midwest….But this manufacturing-based economy, rocked by globalization, technological change and new competitors has undergone decades of restructuring. and in some places the total disappearance of manufacturing plants and their well-paying jobs. Communities have struggled to adapt….These small and medium-sized factory towns have outsized political influence. In Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, more than half of the voting population resides in the smaller and midsize manufacturing communities….And as the report by Midwestern Democratic strategists Richard Martin, David Wilhelm and Mike Lux documents, in the communities that have seen the most severe manufacturing job loss, the ground is fertile for a nationalist, nostalgic and populist appeal of the kind offered by Donald Trump….Why is this? Residents of struggling industrial communities are responsive to the messages of leaders who identify with them and against urban elites — leaders who promise to bring back the industries that once provided well-paying jobs, and blame trade deals and immigrants for their community’s woes….And this populist message can come from the left or the right. Both Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (who did very well in Midwest factory town communities in the 2016 primary, defeating Hillary Clinton outright in Michigan) offered a politics of resentment — essentially a message that says: “you are getting screwed and someone else is getting theirs at your expense.”

Austin adds, that “the report notes that the Midwest mirrors the nation’s voting trends, with Democrats gaining votes in recent years in the bigger cities and their suburbs while losing votes in rural areas. But according to the report, the biggest losses came in the small and midsize industrial communities that shed manufacturing jobs (and the good health care that goes with them) during the past eight years. More than 2.6 million fewer Democratic votes in 2020 versus 2012 came from once solidly blue Democratic strongholds such Chippewa Falls, Wis., and Bay City, Mich….Strategists worry that without the polarizing presence of Trump on the ballot (at least in 2022), suburban moderate Republicans, repelled by Trump, may return to their party. Absent these votes in key Midwest congressional districts, the Democrats’ electoral goose may be cooked….there is also compelling evidence that where former “Rust Belt” communities find new economic footing, the lure of resentful populism wanes as residents grow more optimistic about the future….This has been the case in the Midwest. Residents of industrial communities that have made the transition to a new economy exhibit different attitudes and voting patterns than those in communities that still struggle. Resurgent industrial communities, such as Pittsburgh, Pa., and Grand Rapids, Mich., as well several smaller Midwest former industrial communities that have turned an economic corner, see powerful trends away from nationalism and nostalgia and towards moderate centrism. This was true in both the 2018 midterm elections and in the November 2020 election results — when once solidly Republican counties such as Kent County, Mich., home to newly thriving Grand Rapids, went for both a Democratic governor and President Biden….What working-class voters want to hear from Democratic leaders is: “We see you. We understand why you are upset with the conditions of your community. You and your community and future success are a national priority. We are here to support and offer resources for you to build your own future.”….Only then can Democrats begin to rebuild the blue wall.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman share some insights about bellwether Virginia’s gubernatorial race, including: “Though the McAuliffe campaign has worked relentlessly to tie Youngkin to Trump, an unpopular figure in the commonwealth who has endorsed Youngkin several times, President Biden’s weakened approval ratings weigh on Democrats. Congressional Democrats’ lack of action on big-item legislation, specifically on infrastructure and social spending, also seems to be dampening enthusiasm among their rank-and-file voters….The down-ballot races will probably be linked closely with the top of the ticket, with the state House of Delegates up for grabs in addition to the other statewide offices….While early voting is down a good deal compared to last year’s presidential race, as expected, it is hard to draw firm conclusions from these totals because the lion’s share of Virginians have traditionally voted on Election Day, aside from last year during the pandemic….So the early/mail vote share has already surpassed all of 2017, when early/mail-in voting was much harder to do in Virginia, but the pace is likely behind 2020 at a comparable point of the election. Given a trend toward Democrats preferring to vote early and Republicans preferring to vote in-person, one could see this as alarming for Democrats — and it may indeed represent a lack of Democratic enthusiasm in the post-Trump era. On the other hand, Virginia has such little tradition of early/mail voting — and voters may be more comfortable voting in-person despite the pandemic compared to a year ago — that it’s possible many voters from both parties are just going to vote on Election Day even if they voted early a year ago.”

Former President Trump finally came up with a good idea, and he should be reminded of it repeatedly by the media. As reported by Zachary Evans in “Trump Urges Republicans to Sit Out Coming Elections” at Yahoo News: “Former President Trump is urging Republicans not to vote in upcoming elections unless the “fraud” of the 2020 elections is uncovered….“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ’22 and ’24,” Trump said in a statement released Wednesday. “It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.” Perhaps some independent group could make it a viral video, leading up to the midterm elections. Evans notes further, “Trump’s claims of a “rigged” election also depressed voter turnout during the Georgia Senate runoff elections on January 5. Georgians elected two Democratic senators as a result, giving the party 50 total Senate seats.”

Yes, Democrats Can Finish Biden’s 2021 Agenda in 2022 If They Save Some Popular Initiatives

Listening to the back-and-forth among Democrats on what to include in a shrunken Build Back Better package, I offered a way out of the dilemma at New York:

It’s clear the price tag of the Build Back Better budget-reconciliation bill will have to come down from $3.5 trillion to the roughly $1.5 to $2 trillion their senatorial majesties Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will allow. The two ways to pare the package are pretty obvious: enact a few big things in their original glory and drop others, or enact the whole enchilada in some sort of bargain-basement form. The latter approach typically involves either means-testing to reduce the number of beneficiaries, which progressives and those who poll likely voters stoutly oppose, or providing shorter-term benefits and daring Republicans to kill them if they can, which some progressives and polling mavens do like.

My colleague Eric Levitz recently weighed these options and came down emphatically in favor of the few-things-done-well approach (or, as his headline put it, “against temporary half-assed reforms”). More important, it’s the strong preference of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as she wrote to her caucus over the weekend:

“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!”

Aside from imposing that approach on unhappy progressives favoring a broader if less permanent agenda and on “centrists” who want means-testing or other limitations on the “transformative” items remaining, there’s the question of choosing what’s in and what’s out. It won’t be easy to achieve consensus, and any resolution will leave significant elements of the Democratic coalition unhappy.

But a lot of the angst involved in this set of decisions depends on a bit of dogma that really needs to be reexamined: Congress cannot do anything important in an election year.

Yes, it’s true that members of Congress up for reelection in any given cycle, as well as their Senate colleagues whose majority status is at risk, are less likely to favor perilous votes in an election year — particularly for the party controlling the White House in a midterm election where they are likely to lose ground in any event. But how about votes on genuinely popular initiatives that may actually improve the reelection odds of incumbents supporting them while giving that party’s challengers a strong and united message?

This could be one way out of the current Democratic dilemma: Remove from the FY 2022 budget-reconciliation package and reserve for a FY 2023 follow-on measure — to be debated and enacted in 2022 — some tasty, poll-tested initiatives that aren’t central to any short-term economic-stimulus strategy. A very good candidate for this treatment is the expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits. It’s very popular (a June 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 90 percent of respondents called it a “top” or “important” priority for Congress). It’s also pretty expensive (the enhancement was “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office as costing $358 billion in 2019).

Delaying, rather than dropping, the initiative could reduce the price tag of the Build Back Batter package significantly without infuriating its progressive proponents (such as Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders). The delay may also accommodate dubious but strongly expressed centrist fears that too big a spending package right now could escalate inflation and/or make Democrats look fiscally irresponsible.

A shift from 2021 to 2022 for the most popular spending initiatives may be even more effective if matched with the most popular revenue-raising measures to pay for them, which might include higher taxes on the very wealthy or Medicare drug-price-negotiating authority.

For this gambit to work, of course, Democratic leaders would need to be resolute about their willingness to move another big reconciliation bill in 2022. The centrists who forced down the size and shape of the Build Back Better package would also need to be open to it. They should be since they say they’re just hesitant to commit to more spending before we know the future direction of the economy.

As for the impact on Democratic prospects in the midterms, it’s hard to see how a united party advancing a clear, highly popular agenda just as voters begin to focus on their 2022 preferences (presumably late next summer or even in the early fall) could fail to benefit. The Democratic base would be gratified by a promise delayed yet still fulfilled, while persuadable swing voters are precisely those boosting the poll numbers of the most popular initiatives like the Medicare expansion. If you’re like me and figure that Democrats will probably lose the House next year no matter what they do and that they need to accomplish all they can before 2023, splitting the original Build Back Better wish list into sequential pieces of legislation makes perfect sense.

So it’s possible for Democrats to have their cake and eat it, too, while remaining unified. The first step is to stop assuming their ability to legislate ends with 2021.

How Can Biden Restore His MoJo?

From “Biden’s approval rating has fallen. Pollsters say there’s one way to bounce back. Voters are looking for a return on what they were promised,” said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster who co-conducts the NBC News poll” by Sahil Kapur at NBC News:

The honeymoon is over. And the fading Republican support was inevitable. But Democrats are alarmed by President Joe Biden‘s decline in job approval among groups central to his base — most notably Black voters, Hispanics and women.

Despite the slip in his job approval, Biden’s economic agendaremains popular in the same polls, which find that voters support his plans to overhaul U.S. infrastructure, expand Medicare, fund universal pre-K and put money into clean energy.

But the bills have been caught up in a complex legislative logjam for months. Since late June, Biden’s approval rating has fallen from 52.7 percent to 44.5 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, with disapproval outstripping approval since the end of August.

Democratic pollsters say Biden needs Congress to pass his agenda for his approval to recover.

“Voters are looking for a return on what they were promised,” said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster who co-conducts the NBC News poll….The good news for Democrats is that there’s time. But you need to have some wins.”

Kapur shares data from the Pew Research poll cited in TDS yesterday and adds, “But the same poll found 2-to-1 national support for the two pillars of Biden’s agenda: the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion package of economic and social programs.” Further,

Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster to co-conducts the NBC News poll, said Biden is stuck in a “negative loop” of setbacks and bad stories about them, from the Afghanistan withdrawal to missed deadlines on Capitol Hill to Democratic infighting over his domestic agenda….McInturff said passing the two bills would brighten the outlook for Biden, particularly with his base.

….Cornell Belcher, a pollster who worked for former President Barack Obama, said Biden has been through “a tumultuous period,” and he questioned whether passing his economic proposals would be enough to win back lost Democratic support.

….”Democrats are trying to put points up on a board passing legislation like Build Back Better and infrastructure, which are solid and popular pieces of legislation,” Belcher said. “But those kids and those young people, those progressives who gave Democrats a majority and gave Joe Biden a majority in this country — they were not marching for potholes.”….”In a nutshell, if Democrats are not giving their base something to be energized so we can mobilize and energize them around, we’re going to have 2010 and 2014 again,” he said.

Kapur concludes, “Horwitt took a more optimistic view, arguing that Biden is facing “a low point” in the polls and will bounce back as long as he gets his economic agenda passed….”If these bills fail, that’s a huge problem,” he said. “If you can’t pass these bills and demonstrate that you can deliver, then the rationale for voting Democrat is really called into question.”

So now there is sustantial agreement among pollsters and pundits about what Biden should do to get his groove back. A little guidance about how to do it would be even more welcome.

Teixeira: Hispanic Biden Job Approval Watch

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

As a sort of sequel to yesterday’s post on Democrats’ Hispanic voters problem, here are Biden job approval numbers among Hispanics in the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Overall job approval: 42 percent approve/51 percent disapprove
Coronavirus job approval: 48/50
Economy job approval: 39/54
Foreign policy job approval: 33/62
Taxes job approval: 28/64
Immigration job approval: 23/69
Situation at the Mexican border job approval: 24/68
Commander in chief job approval: 35/58

Addendum: Figures on Texas Hispanics from the latest Dallas Morning News poll

Overall job approval: 35/54
Immigration at Mexican border: 29/47

Note: this poll gives respondents a “neither” option.

Even making allowances for the Q poll running low on job approval relative to other recent polls, these are still pretty disturbing figures.

Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Harry Enten reports some results from CNN’s latest opinion poll: “Democrats hold a 1-point advantage among all registered voters on the generic congressional ballot, which is within the margin of error. Among those voters who say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in the midterms, Republicans hold a 4-point edge. Democrats, meanwhile, are up 6 points among those who are only somewhat or not enthusiastic about voting next year….Now look at those who say they’re going to vote Democratic and are enthusiastic vs. those who are not. Very liberals make up 20% of those who are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting next year, while only 11% of those aren’t. That is, the Democratic voters who are more enthusiastic about voting next year are more likely to be very liberal than those are lack enthusiasm….You can see this in party identification (instead of going by who they’re going to vote for) too. Very liberals make up 20% among those who identify as closer to the Democratic Party and are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting next year. They’re 11% of those who aren’t….Take a look at the post-election polling with a Democratic president in every midterm since 1978. In those five midterms, Republican voters were far more likely to show up than Democratic midterms. The median midterm of them saw Republicans making up 6 points more of voters who showed up in midterms than they made up of all registered voters….Democrats who didn’t cast a ballot in 2014 were 9 points less likely to say they were very liberal and 12 points less likely to say they were liberal (very or somewhat) than those who did vote.”

“Among the Democrats who were verified as voting in 2016 and 2018 by the Pew Research Center, 54% were liberal,” Enten adds. “Liberals were a minority (42%) of those who voted in 2016 but not 2018. They were a minority too (43%) of those who voted in 2020 but not 2018….A mere 37% of the Democrats who didn’t vote in either 2016, 2018 or 2020 said they were liberal….Of course, none of this should be terribly surprising. The voters who sit out elections are more moderate overall, regardless of their party affiliation, in the Pew dataset….Therein lies the potentially good news for Democrats. The people less likely to vote as well as those who are persuadable voters are more likely to be closer to the center of the aisle….A more similar message than one might expect could work to capture both of these groups. Biden and the Democrats may need a strong one ahead of 2022.”

Larry Schack and Mick McWilliams, co-founders of Project Home Fire, share results from a University of Virginia/Project Home Fire poll on immigration at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Among the poll findings, according to McWilliams and Schack, “For swing groups open to compromise on this issue, immigration does not set up as an “all or nothing” issue. These voters are concerned about immigration but are also more persuadable on this topic. They are looking for policies that balance their interests with those of immigrants, helping them feel more safe and secure….For example, relative to the Tax Conscious Seniors, Concerned Moms are significantly less fearful of the negative effects of immigration. Compared to the base group of voters for whom immigration is a non-issue, these Concerned Moms are worried about higher housing costs, taxes, and potential negative employment effects due to immigration. They need to feel that creating pathways and opportunities for immigrants won’t disadvantage them. They present as open to messaging and policies that balance continued progress on immigration with safeguarding and protecting the interests of themselves and their children….Tax Conscious Seniors prioritize economic concerns — specifically, higher taxes — above all else. They see too much immigration as running up welfare, health care, and education costs, driving up the amount of taxes they pay. They worry that if things continue on what they see as the current trajectory, America will become more socialist. They see rising housing costs as the next domino to fall. They are prone to be older and retired voters, for whom the compromise-reinforcing goal is to engage them in a discussion that moves them from uncertainty to stability, and then to security and reassurance that they will not slip backwards through no fault of their own because of immigration….For those who wish to foster compromise between Biden and Trump voters, focusing on these sorts of messages may be a way to start a conversation and reduce the heat surrounding the immigration issue.”

From E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Biden needs a reboot. Fighting for democracy is the key” at The Washington Post: “Biden needs to restore the sense he created early on that he knows where he’s going. This requires refining his original objectives in response to events….The tension between bipartisan Joe and Democratic Joe is now unsustainable. Biden needs to accept that Republicans will do him no favors between now and the 2022 elections and turn this to his advantage….The broader argument for Biden’s presidency comes in two parts. First, insist that everything he wants to do — vaccination mandates, child care, elder care, health care and the rest — is in the interest not only of his own supporters but also of most Americans who voted for Donald Trump….Harry Truman-style, Biden should press Republicans about what benefits they propose to deny to Americans who need them. Do they want less child care? Less health coverage? More expensive drugs? No tax breaks under the child tax credit? And do recalcitrant Republican governors want an unending pandemic? Biden’s tough speech in Chicago last Thursday on vaccinations was in keeping with his growing militancy on the subject….He also needs to be more vividly Reagan-esque in describing the stronger, fairer and more prosperous country he’s trying to build. Biden is not bowing to some “liberal wish list.” He’s attempting to bring to life a country less divided — socially, regionally and racially — by creating opportunity where it doesn’t exist now….Biden must insist that Republicans can’t have it both ways on Trump’s election subversion. They are either for it or against it. Those who quietly tell reporters they bemoan what Trump is doing should be called upon to say so out loud, forcefully, and act accordingly….By recognizing that rallying the nation behind the cause of democracy is now his most important task, Biden would do more than reboot his presidency and give his party a fighting chance in 2022. He’d be doing what he was elected to do.”

Congressional Democrats Are Actually More Unified Than Ever

After months of reading and writing about Democratic congressional battles over infrastructure and reconciliation, I offered a bit of a historical corrective at New York:

If you follow the buzz in Washington, you would think there are massive divisions in the Democratic Party between “progressives” and “centrists” that threaten to blow up Joe Biden’s agenda. The “centrists” in particular have been troublesome by insisting on the shrinkage of said agenda, both quantitatively (various demands to reduce the price tag on the Build Back Better budget-reconciliation package) and qualitatively (complaints about too much climate-change activism or too many new entitlements or too little means-testing or too many taxes).

But lost in all the bickering and hostage taking is the fact that Democrats in Congress are almost certainly more united than they’ve ever been. And there are a lot more “centrists” working quietly in harness with party leaders and progressives than are out there making demands at press conferences.

There are two major groupings of Democratic centrists (or “moderates,” a term used almost interchangeably) in the U.S. House: the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition. The Blue Dogs have eternally made “fiscal discipline” a signature issue for their membership and have in the past been more than willing to stand up to party leaders. Of the nine “rebels” led by Josh Gottheimer who insisted on a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before they would countenance a reconciliation bill in the big blowup in September, eight were Blue Dogs (plus, Blue Dog co-chair Stephanie Graham made some sympathetic noises). But ten Blue Dogs stayed out of the rebellion.

The minority status of the rebels becomes even clearer if you look at the New Democrat Coalition, a newer group that was once considered close to the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council (the famously controversial organization that coined the “New Democrat” brand). There are 95 NDC members in the House. Nine of them (ten if you count Murphy) were among Gottheimer’s rebels. Fully 85, including all the group’s leadership, were not.

In the Senate, every member is a caucus, so you don’t tend to have factional groups. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been the hostage takers and naysayers among “centrist” Democrats. But think about all the other “centrists” who haven’t been issuing demands or kicking and screaming about the Build Back Better package. I would count a lot of Senate Democrats as conspicuously moderate over the years: Michael Bennet, Tom Carper, Chris Coons, Dianne Feinstein, Maggie Hassan, Jeanne Shaheen, John Hickenlooper, Tim Kaine, Mark Kelly, Amy Klobuchar, Jon Tester, and Mark Warner. Maybe some of them sympathize with Manchin and Sinema on this or that issue. But they aren’t out there disrupting Democratic unity, are they?

In fact, if you look back at legislative challenges faced by recent Democratic presidents, the relative loyalty of today’s brand of “centrists,” becomes plainer. In 1993, Bill Clinton, himself a stalwart of the DLC who would drive some progressives batty, pushed a budget-reconciliation bill through Congress that had already been significantly pared of progressive provisions before it was introduced. In the end, though, Clinton lost 41 House Democrats and six Senate Democrats (nearly all of them conspicuous moderates or conservatives) who joined Republicans in voting against the legislation.

In 2009, Barack Obama had to deal with well-organized centrist Democrats in both chambers to get his budget enacted; the complex structure of Obamacare was one legacy of the compromises he had to accept after Joe Lieberman, among others, killed the “public option” before it was even incorporated into legislation. Fifteen Senate Democrats worked together to reduce the overall cost of the budget. In the end, 20 House Democrats voted against the package despite a host of accommodations.

The bigger picture is that in recent decades, ideological polarization has consolidated left-of-center voters and pols in the Democratic Party while right-of-center voters and pols have gone Republican. And partisan polarization has greatly reduced the number of ticket splitters. Both forces tend to enhance party unity in Congress. In 2008, despite Obama’s big national victory, 48 Democrats were elected in House districts carried by John McCain. In 2021, there are only seven House Democrats representing districts Trump won last year and only three from districts Trump carried by more than two points. The real outlier among House Democrats is Jared Golden of Maine, whose district went for Trump by seven points. Is it any wonder he’s one of the most vociferously adamant rebels against Biden’s budget bill? Or could anyone be surprised that Manchin isn’t “loyal to Biden” when Biden got less than 30 percent of the vote in West Virginia?

The real problem for Democrats in 2021 isn’t ideological disunity: It’s their shaky control of both chambers, which tempts individual House and Senate members to set themselves up as power brokers and posture for swing voters and wealthy and powerful interests back home.

After the 1992 elections, Clinton’s Democrats held 257 House seats and 57 Senate seats. After the 2008 election, Obama’s Democrats held 257 House seats and 59 Senate seats (which would soon become 60 when Arlen Specter changed parties). Now, Biden’s Democrats control 220 House seats and 50 Senate seats. Even a very unified party will have problems with such a small margin for error and that much incentive for factional or individual demands. And those who treat the current tensions as some sort of inherent “Democrats in Disarray” problem may be forgetting how much trouble Republicans had managing small congressional margins in 2017 and 2018. Remember the Obamacare repeal that never happened?

The cure for Democratic “disunity” isn’t expulsions or an imposed ideology; it’s to win bigger margins in Congress or to lose majorities altogether. Difficult as the status quo undoubtedly is, all Democrats would prefer the turbulent exercise of power to no power at all.

Brownstein: How Dems Can Escape a ‘Midterm Blowout’

Ronald Brownstein explains “What Democrats Need to Understand About the Changing Electorate: How the president’s party can avoid a midterm blowout” at The Atlantic:

Follow the sun. That’s the advice to Democrats from a leading party fundraising organization in an exhaustive analysis of the electoral landscape released today.

The study, from the group Way to Win, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, argues that to solidify their position in Congress and the Electoral College, Democrats must increase their investment and focus on Sun Belt states that have become more politically competitive over recent years as they have grown more urbanized and racially diverse. “The majority of new, likely Democratic voters live in the South and Southwest, places the Democratic establishment have long ignored or are just waking up to now,” the group argues in the report.

The study, focusing on 11 battleground states, is as much a warning as an exhortation. It contends that although the key to contesting Sun Belt states such as North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona is to sustain engagement among the largely nonwhite infrequent voters who turned out in huge numbers in 2018 and 2020, it also warns that Republicans could consolidate Donald Trump’s gains last year among some minority voters, particularly Latino men. “These trends across our multiracial coalition demonstrate the urgent need for campaigns and independent groups to stop assuming voters of color will vote Democrat,” the report asserts.

The study echoes the findings of other Democratic strategists such as Mike Podhorzer, the longtime political director of the AFL-CIO, in arguing that the Democrats’ best chance to avoid the usual midterm losses is to turn out large numbers of those surge voters next year.

Such a strategy would be the polar opposite of the “skip the south” approach advocated by some Democratic strategists a decade ago. Further,

Using an analysis of voter files by the firm TargetSmart, the report studied the 64.8 million voters who cast ballots last year in the 11 states where Way to Win focused its efforts: a Sun Belt–heavy list that includes Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida in the Southeast; Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas in the Southwest; and Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in the Rust Belt.

TargetSmart projects that nearly 41 million of the voters in those states turned out in all three of the most recent elections—2016, 2018, and 2020—and that those dependable voters split almost exactly in half between Biden and Trump. Way to Win sees little opportunity for moving those voters through persuasion efforts, writing that they “are polarized, deeply entrenched, partisan base voters.” Only about one in seven of these habitual voters, the group concludes, might be genuinely persuadable from election to election.

Instead, the report argues that the Democratic Party has greater opportunity among less reliable voters. Despite Trump’s own success at energizing infrequent voters, the study found that in these crucial states, Biden actually generated more support from voters who turn out only occasionally.

Across the 11 states, TargetSmart calculated, nearly 13 million 2020 voters participated in just two of the past three elections, and they preferred Biden 52 percent to 48 percent. Another 11.1 million 2020 voters did not vote in either 2018 or 2016, and they gave Biden an estimated advantage of 54 percent to 46 percent. Looking beyond these infrequent voters, the study found that another nearly 25 million registered adults did not vote in any of the three most recent elections, and they model as more Democratic- than Republican-leaning in all 11 states.

These concentric circles of irregular voters—especially those who have now turned out to oppose Trump or his party in either 2018 or 2020, or both—represent the Democrats’ best chance of expanding their support, and contesting new states, in the years ahead, the report argues. “To expand the Democratic base with a durable coalition,” the report maintains, all of these infrequent voters “must be invited to become more habitual voters who consistently break for Democrats. Democrats cannot afford a scarcity mindset where we only talk to high-frequency ‘persuadable’ voters in 2022.”

But there are some caveats in this argument:

Even as it flags that opportunity, the Way to Win study echoes other Democratic analysts who have seen signs through Biden’s first months that Republicans may be preserving the unexpected gains Trump recorded among Latino voters, particularly men, and even (though fewer) Black voters. “In some ways this is a clarion call and a warning sign because it means that we need more investment and more work to figure out what is happening in these communities,” Gavito says. One lesson that’s clear already regarding Latinos, she says, is that emphasizing “a traditional Democratic message that’s centered on racial justice” without delivering improvement in material day-to-day conditions is “falling on deaf ears.”

….In the Sun Belt, non-college-educated white voters are both a smaller share of the electorate and more resistant to Democrats, in part because more of them than in the Rust Belt are evangelical Christians. (Although exit polls showed Biden winning about two in five non-college-educated white voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and even Iowa, he carried only about one in five of them in North Carolina and Georgia and only about one in four in Texas.) Conversely, the opportunity for mobilization is greater in the Sun Belt—where people of color constitute a majority of the population turning 18 each year in many of the states—than in the Rust Belt. Given those political and demographic realities, most Democratic campaigns and candidates across the Sun Belt believe their future depends primarily on engaging younger and nonwhite voters—and the registration and turnout efforts led by Stacey Abrams in Georgia is the model they hope to emulate.

But the best way forward for Democrats has never been to prioritize one region over the other; Dems have to focus on both ‘expansion’ and ‘persuasion’ to build an enduring voter coalition.

Fernandez Ancona says Way to Win isn’t calling for Democrats to abandon the Rust Belt, or to concede more working-class white voters to the GOP. Rather, she says, the group believes that party donors and campaigns must increase the resources devoted to “expansion” of the minority electorate so that it more closely matches the greater sums already devoted to the “persuasion” of mostly white swing voters.

“I don’t think it’s expansion versus persuasion: It’s that we have to prioritize expansion just as we have historically prioritized persuasion,” she says. “We saw that in 2020. It’s very clear: We needed it all.”

In fact, both Fernandez Ancona and Gavito argue, the entire debate over whether to stress recapturing more white voters or mobilizing more nonwhite voters obscures the party’s actual challenge: finding ways to unify a coalition that is inherently more multiracial and multigenerational than the Republicans’. Even with Trump’s gains among some minority voters, white voters still supplied almost 92 percent of his votes across these 11 states, the analysis found. Biden’s contrasting coalition was much more diverse: just under 60 percent white and more than 40 percent nonwhite.

“Sometimes we are missing the whole and we are not grasping that the multiracial coalition includes white people and people of color, and we have to hold that coalition together,” Fernandez Ancona says. “Thinking about the whole coalition [means] we have to find messages that unite around a shared vision that includes cross-racial solidarity.”

Democrats have a good mix of policies in b both the reconciliation and infrastructure legislation, although the substance of their legislative proposals is getting smothered be media emphasis on the economic cost. Democrats have to figure out how to get more focus on “the kind of kitchen-table programs embedded in the Democrats’ big budget-reconciliation bill, such as tax credits for children, lower prescription-drug prices, and increased subsidies for health- and child-care expenses.”

Brownstein concludes that, unless Dems can “persuade Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to pass the bill, debates about the Sun Belt versus the Rust Belt, or white versus nonwhite voters, may be washed away by a tide of disapproval from all of those directions.” Put another way, do the Manchin and Sinema visions of ‘bipartisanship’ have room for a viable Democratic Party, or do they prefer a wholesale cave to Mitch McConnell’s one-man veto?