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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

Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times column, “‘There Are Two Americas Now: One With a B.A. and One Without’,” Thomas B. Edsall writes, “I asked [M.I.T. economist David] Autor for his thoughts on the implications of these developments for the Trump electorate. He replied by email:

Many among the majority of American workers who do not have a four-year college degree feel, justifiably, that the last three decades of rapid globalization and automation have made their jobs more precarious, scarcer, less prestigious, and lower paid. Neither party has been successful in restoring the economic security and standing of non-college workers (and yes, especially non-college white males). The roots of these economic grievances are authentic, so I don’t think these voters should be denigrated for seeking a change in policy direction. That said, I don’t think the Trump/MAGA brand has much in the way of substantive policy to address these issues, and I believe that Democrats do far more to protect and improve economic prospects for blue-collar workers.

There is some evidence that partisanship correlates with mortality rates….In their June 2022 paper, “The Association Between Covid-19 Mortality and the County-Level Partisan Divide in the United States,” Neil Jay Sehgal, Dahai Yue, Elle Pope, Ren Hao Wang and Dylan H. Roby, public health experts at the University of Maryland, found in their study of county-level Covid-19 mortality data from Jan. 1, 2020, to Oct. 31, 2021, that “majority Republican counties experienced 72.9 additional deaths per 100,000 people.”….The authors cites studies showing that “counties with a greater proportion of Trump voters were less likely to search for information about Covid-19 and engage in physical distancing despite state-level mandates. Differences in Covid-19 mortality grew during the pandemic to create substantial variation in death rates in counties with higher levels of Trump support.”….Sehgal and his colleagues conclude from their analysis that “voting behavior acts as a proxy for compliance with and support for public health measures, vaccine uptake, and the likelihood of engaging in riskier behaviors (for example, unmasked social events and in-person dining) that could affect disease spread and mortality.”

Edsall continues, “In addition, the authors write:

Local leaders may be hesitant to implement evidence-based policies to combat the pandemic because of pressure or oversight from state or local elected officials or constituents in more conservative areas. Even if they did institute protective policies, they may face challenges with compliance because of pressure from conservative constituents.

For the past two decades, white working-class Americans have faced a series of economic dislocations similar to those that had a devastating impact on Black neighborhoods starting in the 1960s, as the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson described them in his 1987 book, “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy.”….How easy would it be to apply Wilson’s description of “extraordinary rates of black joblessness,” disordered lives, family breakdown and substance abuse to the emergence of similar patterns of disorder in white exurban America? How easy to transpose Black with white or inner city and urban with rural and small town?….It is very likely, as Anne Case wrote in her email, that the United States is fast approaching a point where

Education divides everything, including connection to the labor market, marriage, connection to institutions (like organized religion), physical and mental health, and mortality. It does so for whites, Blacks and Hispanics. There has been a profound (not yet complete) convergence in life expectancy by education. There are two Americas now: one with a B.A. and one without.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. addresses an important question, “Can blue-collar Pennsylvania help save the Democratic House?,” and writes: “Control of the House of Representatives might be determined this November not by the issues of abortion, democracy or inflation, but by cement and methane….Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but two of the most tightly contested House races in the country are a reminder that the 10,000-feet view of the 2022 election can easily miss what is happening on the ground — in places such as Allentown and Bethlehem, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, all venerable Pennsylvania factory towns….The first two are in Democratic Rep. Susan Wild’s district, the others part of Democratic Rep. Matthew Cartwright’s. Wild’s constituents just barely voted for Joe Biden in 2020, while Cartwright’s backed President Donald Trump by four percentage points….In a Republican wave election, Wild and Cartwright would likely be among the first casualties. But both of them now have a fighting chance. This gives Democrats a margin of hope in their uphill climb to hold the House — and brings us to cement and methane….“This is a manufacturing district to its core,” Wild told me. “It started with Bethlehem Steel and Mack Trucks. … We have just got amazing, cutting-edge manufacturers here in the district that provide not only great paying jobs, but they are producing products that are used all over the country and all over the world.”….One of those products, she said, makes the bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress enacted “huge” in her area, “home to one of the largest cement industries in the United States.”….Wild, in a rematch with Republican businesswoman Lisa Scheller, also touts the Chips and Science Act as “one of the best things that happened to my district” because of its growing semiconductor industry.” Dionne reports that Cartwright is running ads highlighting “a bill he supported in the House that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to “go after the big oil companies that are gouging people” and “his support for a new plant being built in his district by Texas-based Nacero Inc. that would “turn local shale gas into regular car gas.” Dionne explains, further, “The Wild and Cartwright races matter not only to the Democrats’ majority, but also as indicators of the party’s ability to hold on in White, working-class areas where Trump increased Republican support.”….For Democrats such as Wild and Cartwright in 50/50 districts, the challenge is to be just distant enough from their party (Wild’s ads tout her as “moderate and bipartisan”) while also warning of the danger of a Republican victory…..Cartwright’s solution is to separate Republican voters from their leaders. “There’s a big difference between local people down on their luck choosing to vote Republican in an election or two,” he said, “and the Republican politicians down inside the beltway. They have no good plans. They have no answers.”….If Cartwright and Wild hang on to their seats — and especially if the Democrats beat the odds and hang on to their House majority — that will a major reason.”

Nicole Narea reports on “The states where the midterms will directly decide the future of abortion access: Republicans are laying a path to gut abortion rights after Election Day” at Vox. As Narea writes, “Ballot initiatives in three states could determine abortion access for millions of women and what kind of reproductive health care is available to them. Abortion has also become a key issue in races for governor and state attorneys general, who have direct control over their states’ abortion laws and how they are enforced….Democratic candidates for governor want to gain or retain veto power over Republican-controlled state legislatures that want to curb abortion rights. Elsewhere, Republicans want to use governorships to chart a path to further curb access to the procedure. And Democratic attorney general candidates have vowed not to enforce their states’ anti-abortion laws and protect access, while their Republican opponents want to see maximum enforcement….Here, we take a look at the eight states where abortion rights are most imminently at risk. This includes both deep red states and states with split political control where Republican candidates have articulated a desire to further restrict abortion, in several cases without any exceptions….Depending on the outcome of November’s elections, the outlook for abortion access in these states could be grim, limiting residents’ options and further stressing the resources of neighboring states where abortion remains legal.” Narea then takes an in-depth look at each of the states with ballot initiatives and those “Where abortion is at stake up and down the ballot.”

Nobody Knows How Well Political Ads Work

From “Do Political Ads Even Work? 2022 is set to be the most expensive midterm election in history. But the political science research is murky on how much that matters” by Walter Shapiro at The New Republic:

For anyone living in a media market featuring contested political races—especially places such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Atlanta—these are the jackhammer months. Never in an off-year election have so many campaign spots been aired. TV spending will more than double from 2018 levels, according to estimates by the analytical firm AdImpact. The Wesleyan Media Project, which studies campaign commercials, calculated that more than two million ads had aired on broadcast television by early August—long before campaigns began their fall offensive….No candidate will willingly stop spending on TV ads to test whether they are really effective.

Is all this spending justified? Convincing data on the cost/benefit ratio is scarce, according to political scientists.

….But as the political science professors John Sides, Lynn Vavreck, and Christopher Warshaw concede in an article in the May issue of the American Political Science Review, “There are significant limitations to what we know about the effects of televised campaign advertising on election outcomes.”….There are so many ads that it is impossible to find evidence that any single spot—no matter how emotionally powerful—made a measurable difference in voter sentiment. When it comes to campaign spots, volume, not artistry, is what makes a difference.

And the effectiveness of political ads varies according to the offices being sought:

Many academic studies of TV ads have focused on presidential races. But the effects of ads, while still small, are significantly larger in races that are not at the top of the ticket, such as a House election. Vavreck and her two co-authors used polling and other data to assess the potency of TV ads from 2000 to 2018. Their conclusion: “Despite increasing partisanship in the electorate, there are still persuadable voters that respond to television advertising—especially in down-ballot elections, where voters have less information about candidates.” As Vavreck summarized when we spoke, “The effects of advertising are small and go away quickly. But small does not mean inconsequential, especially in a close race.”

Regarding the ways political attitudes and behavior are shaped by ads vs. other campaign investments, Shapiro writes:

The study also came to the surprising conclusion, partly based on an analysis of voter files, that the limited power of TV ads lies mostly in the realm of changing perceptions of candidates rather than in motivating people to turn out. John Sides, who teaches at Vanderbilt and is a co-author of the study, told me, “If you want to mobilize voters, it’s much better to do it with personal contact than TV ads.”

On the impact of positive vs. negative political ads:

….Travis Ridout, a professor of political science at Washington State University and a co-director of the Wesleyan Advertising Project, said, “According to the best studies, negative ads are not more effective than positive ads.” Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock, who studies persuasion, is also dubious. “I have a low opinion of the focus-group approach,” he told me. “You don’t have to remember or like an ad for it to be effective. It can still work if you hate it.”

How much is enough?

….A prime example of uncertainty is whether in free-spending races there is a saturation point when an additional commercial fails to have any effect. It seems logical, but proving it is akin to finding the great white whale. “We didn’t find a point of diminishing returns,” Sides said, but he theorized that it probably exists. In the context of a campaign, there is always pressure to put more money on TV. Part of it is a competitive instinct and part of it, frankly, is that many consultants are paid on the basis of the size of the media buy. “Clearly, this is an industry where nobody knows what’s effective,” Coppock said. “And everyone involved says, ‘You have to do more.’”

Looking at one of the marquee U.S. Senate races, Shapiro notes,

….But what is intriguing is the situation in Ohio where Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan dominated the airwaves over the summer while his GOP rival, J.D. Vance, did not air a single spot until August after winning a bruising May primary. Over a four-week period before Labor Day, Ryan aired 5,503 TV ads, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, dwarfing Vance’s modest buy. But will Ryan’s early advertising advantage matter in November? “I’m inclined to think that Ryan’s early advantage isn’t worth nothing,” Sides said, “but it’s not worth very much.” Ridout, however, makes the point, “We know from psychology that early impressions stick. And if you get the impression that Tim Ryan is a good guy fighting for the working class, it will take more negative ads to dislodge it.”

Shapiro concludes, “And most of all, don’t assume that campaign ad decisions are based on impeccable research. In truth, campaigns are flying blind just like the rest of us.” Here’s another take on the effectiveness of political ads from one of our recent articles. And it looks like there is a lot of room for quality research into how different ads work with particular constituencies.

Teixeira: The Median Voter Doesn’t Want a Green New Deal – Try an Abundance Agenda Instead

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

Last week I argued that, 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 attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters….[T]he current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swathes of American voters who might potentially be their allies. And those swathes are very, very important. Without better performance there, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to implement their agenda at scale.

To fix this problem, I suggest a three point plan for reform and renewal. I covered the first part of that plan last week:

Democrats Must Move to the Center on Cultural Issues

This week I will discuss the second part of the plan (the third part will follow next week):

Democrats Must Promote an Abundance Agenda

Voters do not think much of Democratic management of the economy. Despite considerable legislative activity that impacts the economy and a very tight labor market, Republicans are consistently preferred to Democrats on handling the economy. In the most recent NBC poll, Republicans have a 19 point lead over Democrats on dealing with the economy, the largest lead for the GOP ever recorded by this poll.

Obviously this has a lot to do with high inflation and energy prices, along with lingering supply chain problems. In the last year, real wages for workers have actually gone down, because wage increases have not kept pace with inflation.

Democrats can argue that these are merely episodic problems along the road to something much better. But voters are not convinced and they can be forgiven for their skepticism. The truth of the matter is that Democrats’ theory of the case on the economy leans heavily on the idea that a dramatic expansion of the social safety net and a rapid move to a clean energy economy will—eventually–result in strong growth, a burgeoning supply of good jobs and a rising standard of living for all. So far the results have not been impressive.

This theory reflects the priorities of Democratic elites who are primarily interested in redistribution and action on climate change. But voters, especially working class voters, are interested in abundance: more stuff, more growth, more opportunity, cheaper prices, nicer, more comfortable lives.

Thus to reach and hold these voters, the Democrats need an abundance agenda. Right now, they don’t have one. Sure, they have a climate agenda. But the two things are not the same.

Start with the fact that climate change, while having very, very high salience for Democratic elites, has low salience for ordinary voters, particularly working class voters. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate this. In a Gallup “most important problem” poll this year, climate change came in at  a very modest 2 percent (open-ended response). A Pew survey asked the public about a lengthy series of policy priorities and whether they should be a “top priority” to address in the coming year. Dealiing with climate change came in 14th overall and among working class (noncollege) voters.

Surveys have repeatedly showed that, while the public mostly acknowledges climate change is ongoing and they are at least somewhat concerned about it, the issue is not so salient that they are willing to sacrifice much to combat it. In a an AP-NORC survey testing this, less than half of working class respondents said they would be willing to pay an extra dollar on their electricity bills to combat climate change and just 23 percent would be willing to pony up $10 a month.

No wonder Democratic messaging around a Green New Deal tends to rate poorly. Testing by Blue Rose Research for Data For Progress found this message on a Green New Deal ranking in the bottom third of possible Democratic messages to voters:

The Green New Deal decarbonizes our economy while ensuring we leave no community behind, including job transitions for miners, labor rights, healthcare and wages. We are running out of time to act on climate. We need a Green New Deal now.

Maybe the median voter isn’t terribly interested in a Green New Deal, which is predicated on getting rid of fossil fuels entirely and fast and replacing them with renewables. The median voter’s view is more an “all of the above” approach as captured by a recent Pew question. Pew asked the public which energy supply approach it preferred “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only” or “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources”. The all of the above approach was favored by an overwhelming 67 percent to 31 percent margin.

Maybe instead of a Green New Deal, they’d rather have abundance. It has been a huge mistake for the left to lose sight of the need for faster growth. Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes easier the achievement of Democrats’ other goals. Hard economic times typically generate pessimism about the future and fear of change, not broad support for more democracy and social justice. In contrast, when times are good, when the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most of the population, people see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward social generosity, tolerance, and collective advance.

Yet many Democrats still regard the goal of more and faster economic growth with suspicion, preferring to focus on the fairness of how current growth is distributed and its potential effect on climate change. This reflects not just laudable progressive goals, but also a general feeling that the fruits of growth are poisoned, encouraging unhealthy consumerist lifestyles and, worse, driving the climate crisis that is hurtling humanity toward doom.

Democrats should set their sights instead on a generally more productive, higher growth, and less regionally unequal American capitalism. That will take some time and require more robust and far-reaching industrial policy and regulatory reform than Democrats are currently comfortable with. What they are comfortable with is collapsing industrial policy to climate policy and collapsing climate policy to renewables. This is highly inadequate and will not produce the desired results.

This is true even with a narrow focus on the energy sector. If there is to be an abundant clean energy future, it will depend on our ability to develop the requisite energy technologies which must necessarily go beyond wind and solar to include nuclear, geothermal, CCS and other possibilities. This will require a considerably streamlined regulatory process plus a lengthy period of backup by fossil fuels. The rush to renewables has attempted to skip these steps with predictably negative effectson the price and reliability of energy.

The same needs for societal investment and patience apply to a wide range of other technological challenges that could underpin a future of abundance: AI and machine learning; CRISPR and mRNA biotechnology; advanced robotics and the internet of things. These technologies, just like clean energy technologies, need to be developed aggressively and over a lengthy period to unleash their potential.

That’s why it’s inadequate for Democrats to focus narrowly on a clean energy, Green New Deal-type future. Not only is there an excessive focus on wind and solar, but the challenges for an abundant future cannot be reduced to the need for a clean energy transition. And make no mistake: what Americans want is an abundant future not just a green one that, they are told, is mostly necessary to stave off planetary disaster.

In short, what Americans want and need is an abundant economy, of which a clean energy economy (and even more, renewables) are merely subsets or components. That can be a winning vision of where Democrats want to take the economy in ways a Green New Deal simply can’t.

As British science journalist Leigh Phillips has observed:

Once upon a time, the Left . . . promised more innovation, faster progress, greater abundance. One of the reasons . . . that the historically fringe ideology of libertarianism is today so surprisingly popular in Silicon Valley and with tech-savvy young people more broadly . . . is that libertarianism is the only extant ideology that so substantially promises a significantly materially better future.

That should be the Democrats’ mantra: more innovation, faster progress, greater abundance. Without that, simply being fairer and greener will fail as a unifying economic offer.

Political Strategy Notes

In “Will Democratic Leaders Get Their Message Right? Our polling suggests winning themes,” Stanley B. Greenberg, a top Democratic pollster, strategist and author of major works of political analysis, writes at The American Prospect: “Democrats have the momentum in the 2022 midterm election, our new Democracy Corps survey shows. Democrats have pulled into a 3-point lead with registered voters and 2 points in the likely electorate. Amazingly, Democratic partisans are no longer less enthusiastic and engaged. Democrats are slightly more consolidated, and Republican fractures are growing. Cheney conservatives will give Democrats a few more points, as she now says is her goal….Yet much of this momentum seems accidental and ahistorical, and the Democrats’ lead is fragile and at risk. This also means Democrats, progressives, and commentators could take the wrong lessons from 2022….Democrats have narrowed the gap on the economy but still trail Republicans by 8 points. Staying there is fatal. People are on the edge financially, and they are paying a lot of attention to what is happening in Washington. The parties are now at parity on who is better on the cost of living, including a big change in who is “much better”—one of the most important changes since July….And fortunately, Democratic campaigns in practice are delivering a message consistent with that finding. The NBC poll tests the message that Democrats are actually saying, and it starts with their advocacy for working people on the cost of living: “we need to keep delivering for working Americans by lowering costs, including health care and prescription drugs, and ensuring the corporations pay their fair share of taxes.” That message gives the Democrats a 7-point advantage compared to the Republican message….Our poll shows that we make our biggest gains when Democrats take on the corporate monopolies that are driving up prices, despite making super profits. It contests the cost of livingby hitting Republicans hard on doing big corporations’ bidding on price-gouging and taxes….”

Greenberg continues, “In this key experiment where half the respondents also hear the Democrats contest the cost of living, their lead grows to 4 points….Democrats hold their lead in this poll only when they embrace helping working people with the cost of living as their first priority. They make further gains when they address abortion, assault weapons, and the Child Tax Credit….Across the base of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Gen Z and millennials, and unmarried women, the top legislative accomplishment that most impressed voters was bringing down health care costs. The Child Tax Credit was top for Gen Z and millennial voters. Their affirming Roe v. Wade in law in the House was top for Hispanics, Gen Z, and unmarried women, including whites. That was the very top accomplishment for all under-50 white working-class voters….The results should lead to messages that attack Republicans for being corrupt and extreme on doing the bidding of the biggest corporations, raising taxes on working people, and billionaires paying no tax….Democratic leaders need to see the America that was revealed in our focus groups….The revulsion with the “top 1 percent” is stronger than hatred generated by Trump’s “Make America Great.” Just throw out the phrase “top 1 percent,” and marvel at the reaction, as I did in focus groups conducted for Rethink Trade. In Philadelphia, the service workers shouted out, “rich,” “wish I was part of it,” “fortunate,” “spoiled,” “don’t have a clue, entitled.” “Better than ever before.”….What Trump and many Democrats miss was a deepening consciousness of all Americans that the country is ruled by the top 1 percent, elites, billionaires, and big corporate monopolies that use their almost unlimited money to exert their power over government….In this poll, I asked voters their reaction to the term “corporate monopolies.” Their hostile responses topped their positive ones by a 3-to-1 ratio (60 to 19 percent). And what about America’s partisan polarization? Republicans are actually slightly more put off than Democrats by corporate monopolies and their power….The Democrats’ winning message centers on working people, the cost of living, protecting health care, raising taxes on big corporations, and providing tax relief, as well as challenging monopolies, battling for democracy, being against assault rifles, and defending the right of women to have legal abortions….The battle for the economy is now not over the number of jobs, but what government is doing to make work pay—and to champion working people and attack the billionaires who prosper at the expense of everyone else. This is the core message that will enable Democrats to win and keep winning.”

At The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains why “A partisan Supreme Court is 2022’s other incumbent.” As Dionne writes, “The proof of how radically the new court majority has polarized opinion along partisan lines lies in the polling. The Pew Research Center has been asking Americans their views of the court since 1987, when 80 percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP had a favorable view, as did 75 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners….The high point in bipartisan comity and sympathy came a few years later, in 1994, when 83 percent of those inclined toward the Democrats and 79 percent of those disposed toward the Republicans had a favorable view of the Supreme Court….That’s bipartisan legitimacy. It’s gone….This summer, as Pew noted, it found that “ratings of the Supreme Court are now as negative as — and more politically polarized than — at any point in more than three decades of polling.”….Just 28 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents viewed the court favorably. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, the court’s favorable rating stood at 73 percent….It’s obvious that Republicans are aware that a double-incumbent election is dangerous to their chances in November. That’s why they have been playing down abortion in recent weeks, and why many once-ardent abortion foes in the GOP are scrubbing their websites of their once-bold promises to enact broad bans on the procedure. They are clearly hoping that the more time passes since the Dobbs decision, the less of a voting issue abortion will become….But Democrats are not letting up on abortion, guns and other issues where the incumbent court has taken stands out of step with public opinion. The beginning of the court’s new term, and the increasingly public clashes between liberal and conservative justices over its direction, will further underscore the depth of the political and philosophical conflict the country confronts….The election of 2022 is only the beginning of a long, angry and consequential struggle.”

From “Republican states keep refusing to expand Medicaid — until you ask their voters: Medicaid expansion is 6-for-6 with voters on ballot initiatives. South Dakota could make it seven in a row” by Dylan Scott at Vox: “Six times since 2017, voters in a state have weighed in directly on whether to expand Medicaid and make more low-income adults eligible for free public health coverage. Six times, the ballot measure has passed….That undefeated streak could extend to seven wins in South Dakota this November….On Election Day, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would extend Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. If it passes, anybody making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $18,000 for an individual or $36,900 for a family of four) would qualify for Medicaid coverage. Right now, 5 percent of the state is uninsured. Childless adults of working age can not qualify for coverage at all. Pregnant women, children, and the elderly can currently receive Medicaid benefits, but working parents must have a very low income — less than 63 percent of the federal poverty level, about $17,500 for a family of four — to enroll….Polling commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network found 62 percent of South Dakota voters said they support the measure….Across the six states that have expanded Medicaid through a ballot measure — Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Utah — an estimated 811,000 people have either enrolled or become eligible for Medicaid coverage. It’s a new frontier for expanding access to health insurance in America….To date, Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives have been an unqualified success. But their usefulness might soon be running out. Only about half of states allow citizen-initiated ballot measures and, of the 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only four of them permit such initiatives: South Dakota — which is already voting on it this fall — plus Florida, Mississippi, and Wyoming.”

Real Democrats Don’t Love “the Senate As an Institution”

I ran across a quote from Kyrsten Sinema this week that made me angry, so I vented my spleen at New York.

In a cloying little exchange of pleasantries before Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke from the podium of Mitch McConnell’s eponymous center at the University of Louisville on Monday, the Senate Republican leader called the Democrat “the most effective first-term senator” he’d ever seen. McConnell was probably being sincere given Sinema’s role, along with Joe Manchin, in saving the filibuster, the chief tool in the GOP’s obstructionist bag of tricks. He could have called her a “one-term senator” since her demise in 2024 seems all but certain after she alienated as many Arizona Democrats as she could, but that wouldn’t have been gracious. Instead, he went on to give her the highest token of his esteem, calling her a “deal-maker.”

For her part, Sinema noted that she and McConnell share a “respect for the Senate as an institution,” a statement she reinforced by calling for the restoration of 60-vote thresholds for executive and judicial-branch confirmations in the upper chamber, which were abolished by serial Democratic and Republican majorities in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Sinema is, you see, an old-school respecter of the Senate, which makes me sick to my stomach.

Anyone who spends time around the Senate (I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s and with Senate offices for years before and after that) is aware of the extremely high regard in which senators hold themselves “as an institution.” They don’t publicly bash House members as petty-minded, party-bossed parochial Lilliputians who have to spend all their time running for reelection. But the unstated though very real mutual disdain of the two congressional chambers is deeply rooted in the Senate’s distinctive constitutional role as an anti-democratic redoubt of entrenched privilege.

This is nowhere more apparent than in Sinema’s beloved filibuster, which in its most recent incarnation has made supermajorities a requirement for even routine legislation. But lest we forget, even if the filibuster went away, the Senate’s grant of equal power to all 50 states is profoundly undemocratic. The states themselves are not allowed to get away with such a gross misappropriation of legislative power. In the 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Equal Protection Act of the 14th Amendment, state legislatures had to respect the principal of “one person, one vote,” with seats in the upper as well as lower chambers being awarded in districts of equal population. As Chief Justice Earl Warren famously wrote in the Court’s opinion in a 8-1 decision:

“Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.”

The logic is the same with respect to the model for all those once-oligarchical state upper chambers, the U.S. Senate itself. But the Senate has its own separate, unassailable constitutional basis. The Article I, Section 3 provision of the Constitution providing for equal representation of states in the Senate is expressly exempted from amendment in Article V (“no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate”). So we are stuck with an anti-democratic chamber. But we don’t have to celebrate it.

It’s important to remember the two reasons we have a U.S. Senate. First, it represented a compromise with those in the founding generation who wanted an unelected body like Britain’s House of Lords to counteract “the people’s House,” the lower chamber. But more important, as James Madison made clear in “Federalist 62,” it was essential to the ratification of the Constitution that the country maintain its original character as a compact of states, not as a truly United States:

“It may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each state, is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual states, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty …

“Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of the senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the states.”

This understanding of the country as a modified confederation of states with a stronger central government than it originally had more or less perished with the outcome of the Civil War and the ratification of the Civil Rights Amendments (including the 14th Amendment, that great and still-evolving guarantee of individual rights against states rights). But the Senate remains as a relic of the era when McConnell’s hero Henry Clay and a host of other patriarchal slaveholders held the Union temporarily together by engaging in “deal-making” at the expense of human dignity. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913 and providing for the popular election of senators instead of letting state legislatures choose them, took the chamber as far toward democracy as a flawed Constitution would allow.

“Respect for the Senate as an institution” means contempt for democracy as a fundamental value. That is why those with respect for democracy — particularly those who profess to be a member of the Democratic Party — should do everything possible to minimize the Senate’s ability to function according to the Founders’ design instead of boasting about making the chamber even more susceptible to high-handed measures to frustrate the popular will.

Media Should Do More to Publicize Voter Registration Deadlines

Writing at The Journalist’s Resource, Thomas E. Patterson, author of  “Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?,”notes that “In most Western democracies, voter registration takes place automatically through the government. France is one of the few that, like the United States, require citizens to initiate their registration. But France has one thing the United States does not have, and it helps tardy citizens to remember to register in time — a uniform national registration date. News outlets throughout France highlight the pending closing of the registration rolls.”

In addition, “Registration deadlines in the U.S. are a patchwork of state deadlines. They come and go with little fanfare from election officials and not much more from the news media. Not surprisingly, research has found that few Americans know their state’s registration deadline, although the number jumps up in the states where it’s easiest to remember — those that allow residents to register at the polls on Election Day.”

Patterson provides this list of voter registration deadlines in the U.S.:

Oct. 9  
Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas

Oct. 10  
Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Florida

Oct. 11   

Oct. 12
Illinois, Missouri

Oct. 14  
North Carolina, Oklahoma

Oct. 15

Oct. 17

Oct. 18
District of Columbia, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia

Oct. 19  

Oct. 24  
Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota

Nov. 1 

Nov. 8  — Election Day      
California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Patterson concludes, “The news media have a role to play in ensuring that Americans get a chance to vote. They could do more to tell citizens when and how to register. Research indicates that large numbers of the unregistered are unaware of where to go to register, when registration offices reopen, or what they need to bring with them as proof of eligibility. If there’s space in the news for yet another poll on the midterms, space can be found to alert Americans to registration deadlines.”

There are exceptions. But generally, big media all across America, including newspapers, television news programs, radio and social media, do a poor job of informing the public about voter registration deadlines and other important information related to voting. Voter registration deadlines and relevant information about how, when and where to register to vote should be posted every day at least during the last six weeks leading up to elections in newspapers, television news and websites, as a public service.

Political Strategy Notes

Some thoughts from Michael A. Cohen’s “Democrats’ strategy to boost MAGA Republicans is vindicated: Whatever sane Republicans remain in office, they remain largely enablers of the party’s anti-democracy majority” at msnbc.com. Cohen writes that “some pundits and even some Democratic politicians took the party leadership to task for what, on the surface, might seem like a cynical decision. Democrats “or their political consultants,” wrote Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker last August, “may have become too enraptured by the idea of their own cleverness or toughness” to recognize they were “immers(ing) themselves deeper in folly” by boosting the candidacies of pro-Trump Republicans. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just damn wrong,” said Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, to risk putting people in Congress who would undermine the nation’s democratic guardrails….On Wednesday, the House voted on the Presidential Election Reform Act. The bill would protect American elections from the kind of machinations that endangered our electoral process just two years ago, such as making it more difficult for state legislators to overrule election results and clarifying that the vice president plays only a ministerial role in counting electoral votes….Every Democrat backed the legislation, but just nine Republicans joined them….But last week’s vote confirms that electing any Republican, even those who are not fully indoctrinated in pro-MAGA thinking, risks placing American democracy in peril….The arguments criticizing Democrats for working against occasionally pro-democracy Republicans were based on a faulty premise: that there exists a sane and reasonable wing of the modern Republican Party.” Cohen provides some notable examples to support his argument. It does seem defeatist to argue that Dems should be tactical purists in light of Mitch McConnell’s trashing bipartisan initiatives going back to the day he urged opposing everything President Obama supported regardless of its substance. That’s not to say that supporting unelectable opponents is always a good idea. But the threat to democracy is so immediate, that if helps prevent the authoritarian nightmare, it will be ok for 2022.

Myah Ward provides some evidence that it iS working in “Dems’ big midterm bet pays off — so far” at Politico. “It was a risky bet, but at the moment, it appears to be paying off. In the six races where Democrats were successful in boosting hard-right candidates to the GOP nomination, many of the Republicans are lagging in the polls, struggling to raise money and forced to explain past controversial statements. In three governors races where Democrats played a role in shaping the primary outcome — Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois — cash-poor GOP candidates haven’t aired any TV ads since winning their primaries….In the Illinois governor’s race, incumbent Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has led Republican Darren Bailey by double digits in nearly every poll since July. Even a recent poll sponsored by Bailey’s campaign showed Pritzker ahead by 7 percentage points….Bailey’s troubles extend beyond the polling. The downstate Republican’s comments about Chicago — he’s referred to the state’s largest city as a “hellhole” — aren’t helping in the populous Chicagoland area: Bailey, a farmer from Louisville, Ill., is now living in a Chicago high-rise to “immerse” himself in the “culture” of the city….He also has money problems. Bailey’s $1.7 million in cash on hand is just a fraction of the billionaire governor’s $60 million war chest….There hasn’t been much polling in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, but what’s out there shows a huge advantage for Democrat Wes Moore. You can tell Republican Dan Cox is feeling the heat: He’s upped his attacks against Mooresince the unflattering numbers were published….Last month, the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed the race’s rating from “likely Democratic” to “safe Democratic.”….The closely watched race for Pennsylvania governor’s mansion has had a few more polls to examine than the other races. FiveThirtyEight’s polling average has Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro leading Republican Doug Mastriano by 10.4 points….There’s not much out there in terms of public polling data for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, where Republican John Gibbs ousted Rep. Peter Meijer in an August primary….both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball shifted this race from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic,” reflecting the perceived weakness of his campaign.” Ward goes on to cite more examples in New Hampshires Senate race and 2nd congressional district.

“Despite still trailing their Republican counterparts in fundraising this cycle, a jolt of post Dobbs enthusiasm had the president of the Democrats’ main fundraising arm for state legislatures confident enough on Tuesday to declare optimism for flipping GOP majorities in three states,” Jake Lahut and Scott Bixby report in “Dems Are Newly Bullish About Flipping These Statehouses” at The Daily Beast. “We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday….Lahut and Bixby quote an unnamed strategist who explains, “if you’re serious about protecting Roe, winning, winning Congress is very important, winning the gubernatorial races is very important, but also you get much more bang for your buck protecting Roe by winning state house and senate seats.”….Post said that while the DLCC has made improvements compared to their GOP counterparts—including setting back-to-back fundraising records in the two days following the leak of the Dobbs decision and the decision itself—they’re “still being outspent by our Republican counterparts who are flooding money into battleground states.” Readers who would like to contribute to Democratic candidates  for the state legislatures via the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee can do so right here.

In “Hey, Democrats, It’s Time for Unity, Not Purity,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly: “Democrats shouldn’t make Schumer’s job harder than it already is. The party is on a hot streak, partly because of a legislative strategy sensitive to the needs of vulnerable swing district incumbents. Not since 2002—when President George W. Bush’s Republicans picked up eight House seats—has the president’s party led in generic congressional ballot polls this close to the midterms. Remarkably, Democrats have mustered a slight one- to two-point lead in the Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight averages even though they’re saddled with what’s usually the burden of an incumbent president. Why put this momentum at risk?….the demands of backbencher purists did not help Democrats rack up legislative accomplishments and give themselves a rare chance to keep control of Congress during a midterm when they hold the White House. Democrats unified through compromise, and they fused progressivism with pragmatism. They took on seemingly unsolvable problems and delivered. They can do it one more time before America votes if all wings of the party remember what’s brought them to the cusp of victory.”

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The Gridlock Theory of the 2022 Midterms

In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:

With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).

But as political observers anxiously parse polls and hold up weather vanes to test partisan winds, Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter offers another way of looking at this election cycle:

“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’

“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’

“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”

If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:

“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”

To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.

When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.

Tomasky: Dems Must Connect Economics, Democracy and Freedom

Eric Alterman’s ‘Altercation’ at The American Prospect features an interview with Michael Tomasky, editor of The New Republic and Democracy and author of The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity, on the topic of “How the Democrats’ Economics Changed.” Among Tomasky’s observations:

How can liberalism win the economic argument against the right? People need to wrap their heads around four propositions:

1. Even when the economy today is “good,” it’s not really good. That is, even when unemployment is low and the market is doing well and so on, the fact is—a fact mostly unremarked in the daily media—we are still in the midst of an economy whose main feature is that millions of dollars every year are being transferred from the poor and the middle class to the top. So even when the working class (the 50th percentile, say) is doing better, the super-rich (the 1 percent and even the .1 percent) are doing way better.

2. Economics has finally recognized the existence of politics. For decades, or centuries even, economics gave no thought to politics. Wages, for example, were determined by a set of market forces, and politics had nothing to do with it. That’s how academics thought, but it’s not how the world works. In the world, workers make what they have the political power to make. That seems obvious to you and me, but economists were (and many still are) deeply resistant to acknowledging this. The book tells the story of how this change came about, through the work of people like Joseph Stiglitz and groups like the Economic Policy Institute. It’s a really important change because it rejects the assumption of classical economics that left alone, the market will find equilibrium. No—the state has to play an evening-out role.

3. Economics has changed profoundly in this century. In sum, much of economics has moved from being based on theoretical modeling to being based on empirical data. And as this change has happened, economics has moved left, not because economists are leftists, but because the empirical data showed, for example, that r > g, in Thomas Piketty’s famous formulation. That is, the data show that the system is rigged for the rich in a way theoretical modeling did not. There are still, of course, plenty of conservative economists, but a younger and more diverse generation of economists is changing the profession, and those changes are seeping their way into politics.

4. Finally, here’s how the Democrats should explain all this to people. Republicans and the right are not, of course, just going to lie down and stop arguing economics. We’re in for a long battle. I think the best way for Democrats to win it is this: They need to attach their economic ideas to the ideals that Americans are taught to cherish from an early age—democracy and freedom. They should say something like: Yes, our economic policies will put more money in your pocket. But they’ll do more. They are good for democracy, because as the founders knew, a healthy democracy depends on a strong middle class. Too much economic and political power in the hands of the rich leads to oligarchy, and that’s where we’re headed if the trend of the last few decades isn’t arrested.

In addition, our economic plans will advance freedom. The right has sold people one definition of freedom: The free market means freedom. Well, there are a lot of small towns across this country where people are “free” to work at the dollar store or sell a little Oxy. That’s not freedom. There’s another definition of freedom: making people free to live up to their fullest potential. That’s a kind of freedom that dates to Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” and the definition of rights advanced in his 1944 State of the Union; it even goes back to some founders, as Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath show in an important recent book. When that single mom who works at the dollar store can go to free community college and has a safe and affordable place to park her toddler while she takes those night classes, she is doing exactly that: fulfilling her potential, and in addition, contributing more to the economy. That’s freedom, too. I think the Democrats need to say that—especially after the Dobbs decision. When the right has taken away a half-century-old freedom from women, the door is open to repossess that word and radically redefine it.

Long-standing neoliberal economic assumptions are finally being successfully challenged. If we can save our democracy in these next couple of years, we can win this fight. And I think we’re more likely to win it when we make people understand that economics, democracy, and freedom are not separate things. It’s all one argument.

Teixeira: Does the Abortion Issue Mean Democrats Have Won the Culture War? Not Even Close

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

Some Democrats may believe that they have now fixed what’s wrong with their party. They just passed some key legislation and are set to do better than expected in the 2022 election. Republicans are on the defensive about abortion. Democrats are unified, particularly in their depiction of their opponents as an ultra-MAGA party controlled by semi-fascists. Perhaps their problems are now solved.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The reality is that, when the smoke clears and the dust settles this November, Democrats will likely control just the Senate (if that) of the two houses of Congress and still face the same daunting obstacles that were looming before their fortunes improved in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. The same geographic and educational polarization that undercuts the power of the Democratic coalition will remain. Indeed that polarization is likely to increase as the party relies more and more on white college-educated voters in affluent metropolitan areas.

This has profound implications for Democrats in the Electoral College and in Congress, especially in the Senate. Put simply, Democrats’ uncompetitiveness among white working class voters and among voters in exurban, small town and rural America puts them at a massive structural disadvantage given the structure of American electoral system. This problem has only been exacerbated by recent attrition in Democratic support among nonwhite working class voters.

Nothing that has happened in the last several months changes this underlying and uncomfortable fact: Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the current Democratic brand suffers from multiple deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to wide swathes of American voters who might potentially be their allies. And those swathes are very, very important. Without better performance there, Democrats’ hold on power will be ever tenuous, as will be their ability to implement their agenda at scale.

So, what to do? I have a modest three point plan for reform and renewal. The Democrats, of course, will continue to win some elections and dominate their favored areas of the country, even without reform. But if they are serious about moving the country away from its current partisan stalemate toward robust political and economic health, they must follow a new path. Here is the first part of that path (I will cover the other two in subsequent posts):