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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors Against Trump

Who Are the Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

The Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

Democrats – Get Ready for the Inevitable Republican Counterattack

It’s coming, and we should be prepared.
By Andrew Levison

Read the Strategy Memo.

Seniors Against Trump

Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

The Daily Strategist

August 4, 2020

Teixeira: Public Opinion on the Protests, Black Lives Matter and the Police

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

It’s important to understand what public opinion is and is not saying about the protests, BLM and the police.

First, as widely understood, net favorability toward Black Lives Matter has spiked upward in the last few weeks. The public generally sees the associated protests as justified, overwhemingly condemns the killing of George Floyd and police brutality generally and is increasingly likely to see a racial bias problem in policing.

Not surprisingly, support for reforming the police and police practices is now very strong indeed, as poll after poll has shown (see graphic below for one example).

But that does not mean the public is suddenly on an anti-police vendetta and wants to defund or abolish (!) police forces. That is a view among some BLM and associated activists but it is wildly unpopular with the public (see below for a representative polling result). Even “cutting funding” for the police isn’t popular and the most anodyne formulation possible–reducing the police budget in your community to shift funding to mental health, housing and education–only garners 39 percent support vs. 60 percent opposition (Ipsos). This result no doubt reflects the fact that most people are very or somewhat satisfied with the job the policy are doing in their local community (71 percent, Monmouth).

Finally, the embrace of the Black Lives Matter by the public does not mean the embrace of what you might call the ideology of the movement, which sees the US as a white supremacist society where radical steps like defunding the police are a necessity. It reflects, rather, horror at the specific George Floyd incident and a general opposition to racism and policy brutality that is rooted in the deeply-held value that all should be treated fairly. This is shown by a recent Yougov/Economist result where people were asked about whether they had positive or negative reactions to different slogans, including Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. The associations with Black Lives Matter were 52 percent positive/22 percent negative. The associations with All Lives Matter were….56 percent positive/23 percent negative.

So it’s a different world out there than you find on Twitter or among activists or within elite media circles. But that world is the real one and the one where change has to take place.

I’ll give the last word to the very wise James Clyburn:

“When you allow people to use incendiary terms, we create a climate within which we can’t get much done,…‘Defund the police’ is unnecessarily confusing, I think all of us know that sound bites tend to get interpreted in all kinds of ways and if you’ve got to explain the sound bite, you’re losing the whole issue.

For me, the word defund means what Merriam-Webster says that it means. So if you’re talking about reallocating resources, say that. If you mean reimagining policing, say that. If you’re going to reform policing, say that. Don’t tell me you’re going to use a term that you know is charged — and tell me that it doesn’t mean what it says.

Nobody wants George Floyd to be remembered by a burning building — we want to remember him by reforming policing,”

Amen.


Political Strategy Notes

An excerpt from Geoffrey Skelley’s “The Latest Swing State Polls Look Good For Biden” at FiveThirtyEight: “As for the polling picture in the Sun Belt states — Arizona, Georgia and Texas — they all seemed more or less in line with what you would expect, once you account for Biden’s lead in the national polls and how these states voted in 2016. But they do signal potential trouble for Trump. For instance, the fact that Trump carried Arizona by 3.5 points in 2016 seems to have been erased by Biden’s polling lead. On average, Biden led by 3 points, including a high-quality early June survey from Fox News that showed him up 4 points. In Georgia and Texas, on the other hand, Trump was still in the lead, by 1 and 2 points, respectively. Yet this is not as cushy of a margin as one would expect for Trump, considering he carried Georgia by 5 points and Texas by 9 points in 2016. If this trio of states are all in play — and Arizona is possibly even leaning Democratic — that would give Biden many additional paths to 270 electoral votes…Polls in Florida, the über swing state, also tilted slightly toward Biden, though we didn’t have much in the way of high-quality polls here. These surveys all gave Biden a narrow lead ranging from 1 to 5 points. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s eight polls suggest a competitive race in the state — collectively, the results ranged from Trump by 3 points to Biden by 4 points, averaging out to about even.”

In “Other Polling Bites, Skelley notes, “60 percent of people who said they intended to vote for Biden in November said their support for Biden is more “a vote against Donald Trump” than “a vote for Joe Biden,” according to a new CNN/SSRS poll, while just 37 percent of Biden backers said that their support for Biden was more a vote for him. Conversely, 70 percent of Trump backers said that their support of Trump was more a vote for him than against Biden, while just 27 percent described it as more a vote against Biden than a vote for Trump.”

In “The Tea Party’s Last Stand: The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away,” Stanley B. Greenberg writes about Trump’s supporters at The American Prospect: “His relentless, venomous base strategy has created a bloc of Republican refugees who have nothing but contempt for his armed Tea Party, anti-stay-at-home protesters…The proportion of Republicans who call themselves moderates has dropped from 23 percent in 2018 to only 16 percent now. When the McCain conservatives are added to those moderates, they now constitute 35 percent of the party, down from 41 percent two years ago. That leaves President Trump with a secure hold over his enthusiastic base—but as I wrote in March in The Atlantic, the Republican Party is “a diminished party” that is “shedding voters.”…When Trump took office, about 39 to 40 percent of Americans identified with the Republican Party. That fell to about 35 to 36 percent. Today, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, Republican identification has fallen to 33 percent.”…President Trump is trapped by a pandemic and protests that only magnify his insecurity and weak hold on his own party—and by his need to provoke a Tea Party to make its last stand.”

Observations from Rep. Jim Clyburn on the topic of police reform vs. ‘defund the police’, as reported by Zeesham Aleem  at Vox: “In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Clyburn firmly opposed embracing the concept amid Democrats’ push for criminal justice reform legislation…“I would simply say, as I have always said, nobody is going to defund the police,” he said. “We can restructure the police forces, restructure, reimagine policing. That is what we are going to do…“The fact of the matter is this is a structure that has been developed that we’ve got to deconstruct. So I wouldn’t say defund. Deconstruct our policing,” he said..The fact of the matter is, the police have a role to play. What we have got to do is make sure that their role is one that meets the times, one that responds to these communities that they operate in…Clyburn has previously suggested that he opposes defunding the police because he believes it is a phrase that is vulnerable to opposition messaging from the GOP…“You know all that will do is give Donald Trump the cover he needs,” Clyburn told CNN’s Ana Cabrera Saturday in a separate discussion about the slogan. “I’ve been saying to people all the time, ‘If you allow yourself to play the opponent’s game, you’re going to lose and the opponent will win.’ Let’s not play his game.”

In “As virus cases rise in states where Trump won, Republican attitudes may shift,” Tom McCarthy notes at The Guardian: “In the early stages of the pandemic, African Americans died of Covid-19 at three times the rate of white people, according to figures compiled by the non-partisan APM Research Lab. Only 21% of Covid-19 deaths by late May were recorded in counties won by Trump in 2016, according to a New York Times analysis…But coronavirus cases are now growing quickly in some rural and exurban areas with strong Trump support. Covid-19 cases are climbing in Arizona, Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas, and in Texas hospitalizations for Covid-19 are up 42% since Memorial Day…A relative lack of health infrastructure in parts of rural America and economic devastation from the Covid-19 closures mean that already vulnerable communities could be overwhelmed. Older, rural voters in Republican-led states that declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are more likely to lack health insurance than the urban poor, according to a 2018 study.”

Simon Tisdale explains why “Joe Biden needs more than virtue to win. He will have to pick an exciting vice-president,” also at The Guardian: “Biden indicated last year that, should he win, he would only serve one term. Running again as an octogenarian was more or less ruled out, assuming he could count on a trusted successor. That makes his choice of vice president, or veep, vastly more important than usual. His pick can expect a ready-made launchpad for their own 2024 presidential bid – and a reasonable chance of success…More than anything, picking a black woman, with the possibility of her becoming the first female president, would be a historic move. It would inject excitement and moral authority into Biden’s campaign, especially among younger voters. It would be hailed as a major, practical advance for racial equality and a rebuff to the white supremacist Trump rump…It would be a signal that America really is changing. And it would offer posthumous vindication to George Floyd and the many, many others who have suffered as he did.”

“A lot of the reason why young people don’t turn out and vote is because they see voting and registration as overly complex and difficult and foreign to them,” John Holbein, co-author of ‘Making Young Voters: Converting Civic Attitudes into Civic Action Reforms‘ notes in an interview at The American Prospect. “Reforms that make registration easier, such as same-day registration that allow young people to register when they show up at the ballot box (if they missed a voter registration deadline) and other reforms that make registration more transparent and easy— increase youth voter participation quite a bit…So number one is teaching young people the skills and knowledge they need to participate. Number two is making the voting process more streamlined, more transparent and easier. Given that young people really want to engage, these types of things will actually help them follow through on that…The evidence that we have on vote-by-mail suggests that young people really latch onto this reform. There’s great evidence out of the state of Washington, which implemented its universal vote by mail system a couple of years ago that suggests that young people when given the opportunity to vote by mail, it increases the chances that they’ll go vote. They spring into action.”

Thomas B. Edsall shares perceptive insights about racial injustice and politics at this political moment from Democratic Pollster Celinda Lake”: “1) There has emerged a much stronger awareness of racism and discrimination especially around policing and the chance to get ahead. 2) The pattern of killings and the video have had a cumulative effect of creating a real turning point. 3) Trump’s response had been so out of touch with what people were feeling and the pain, healing, and change they want. 4) It’s a different America than Trump understands especially with young voters so diverse and white women so upset at his style of governing. 5) And then there are unexpected and vivid validators, the generals and police themselves.”

Washington Post coilumnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the coming months are critical as the news turns inevitably back to the resurgence of the novel coronavirus. Former vice president Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have an obligation to turn the shock of moral recognition from Floyd’s murder into a movement for a new community…Precisely because Biden is widely seen as a traditional figure of restoration, he has been given a historic opportunity to argue that restoration demands change. To become “who we think we are,” Americans must break decisively not only with the Trumpian present but also with the long history of reaction the president represents…More than that: Biden can make the case, as he has begun to, that those who genuinely seek, yes, law and order must embrace justice and reform as the only alternatives to fragmentation and ongoing chaos. We will continue to be tormented, as the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer observed, as long as we refuse to deal comprehensively with our legacy of racism.”


Why Biden May Need That Big Lead

As Democrats took cheer at Joe Biden’s recent strong showing in horse-race polls, I offered a cautionary word at New York:

At a time when Joe Biden is enjoying comfortable leads in both national and battleground-state polls, it’s a good time for us all to remember the most fundamental lesson of what happened four years ago: Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election while winning the national popular vote by 2.1 percent, or more than 2.8 million votes. The current Republican skew in the composition of the Electoral College (or if you prefer, the “wastage” of “excess” Democratic votes in noncompetitive states like California) has not gone away, as David Wasserman noted last year:

“The ultimate nightmare scenario for Democrats might look something like this: Trump loses the popular vote by more than 5 million ballots, and the Democratic nominee converts Michigan and Pennsylvania back to blue. But Trump wins re-election by two Electoral votes by barely hanging onto Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.”

With that possibility in mind, it’s useful to look at the analysis of recent battleground-state polls (taken in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) conducted by Geoffrey Skelley for FiveThirtyEight. According to the data Skelley assembles, Biden leads in six of them (all but Georgia and Texas). But here’s the thing: In just one of them does Biden’s lead match his national polling lead.

“There are two big takeaways here. One, Biden is in an enviable position in many of these battleground states. However, the second takeaway — which is the caveat we mentioned earlier — is that all of these battleground states save Michigan are more Republican-leaning than the national average. In other words, most of the states that will decide the presidential election are to the right of the country as a whole, and that speaks to Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College.”

And that means Democrats shouldn’t get at all complacent about Biden’s national polling lead:

The other reason Biden needs a big national popular vote win is that he really needs a Democratic Senate to accomplish anything legislatively as president, and to the modest but very real extent he may have coattails, it could be crucial in close Senate races. That obviously matters in battleground states with Senate races, like Arizona, Georgia (two races), Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Texas. But it could matter even more in red states where a narrower-than-2016 presidential loss could be the key to a Democratic Senate win, such as Iowa, Kansas, Montana, and perhaps even Kentucky and Alabama.

One advantage Biden has over Hillary Clinton in managing a polling lead is that Democrats are almost certainly going to refuse to be overconfident this time around. Uncle Joe may have to be up by 20 points before they relax for a moment.


Teixeira: ‘You Live By the Sword, You Die By the Sword’ – Trump and White Noncollege Voters

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

Trump’s had a lot of bad polling news lately. But arguably the worst news of all for him is that he’s losing ground among white noncollege voters. This is despite clearly targeting his campaign toward getting more of these voters than he did in 2016 to make up for his overwhelming disadvantage among nonwhite voters and a widening gap with white college voters. But he’s not getting more of these voters, he’s getting less. This is catastrophic for his campaign if it continues.

This is a general pattern but it definitely applies to the three key Rustbelt states he has to win; Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. According to the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey (6000 cases a week, over 110,000 since the beginning of the year, 45,000 just since April 1), Trump’s lead against Biden among white noncollege voters in Michigan and Wisconsin is only in single digits and in Pennsylvania it is less than half of what it was in 2016.

I’m not the only one to notice this. Nate Cohn in his latest New York Times analysis notes that:

“The decline in the president’s standing has been particularly pronounced among white voters without a college degree, helping to explain why the Trump campaign has felt compelled to air advertisements in Ohio and Iowa, two mostly white working-class battleground states where Mr. Trump won by nearly 10 points four years ago.

In the most recent polls, white voters without a college degree back the president by 21 points, down from 31 points in March and April and down from the 29-point lead Mr. Trump held in the final polls of registered voters in 2016.

Mr. Trump didn’t just lose support to the undecided column; Mr. Biden ticked up to an average of 37 percent among white voters without a degree. The figure would be enough to assure Mr. Biden the presidency, given his considerable strength among white college graduates. In the most recent polls, white college graduates back Mr. Biden by a 20-point margin, up four points since the spring. It’s also an eight-point improvement for the Democratic nominee since 2016, and a 26-point improvement since 2012.”

Evan Scrimshaw at Decision Desk HQ sums up the situation for Trump succinctly:

“What Biden is doing is a very tricky double, essentially. He is marrying the anti-chaos reactions of many white voters, especially those with degrees, to an immense degree while holding Obama-esque shares of working class, non-degree whites. He is winning the voters who gave the Democrats the House by upwards of 25% per CNN while holding his losses with White Non-College voters to the high teens in both NBC/WSJ and CNN. That coalition – holding the overall white margin to a near tie while winning non-white voters – is the most efficient possible coalition in the US, and either means that the South is in play (if Southern Non-College whites are moving at all to Biden) or the Rust Belt is just moving to Biden at a rapid pace (if Southern Non-college whites are staying ruby red). Either way, Trump needs to fix this or he’s done.”

Yup. It ain’t over ’til it’s over but right now Trump is in a world of trouble. You live by the sword, you die by the sword…..


Political Strategy Notes

The Democrats have a nominee for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia now occupied by Republican Sen. David Perdue. As Greg Bluestein reports at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Jon Ossoff captured the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, emerging from a crowded field that included two well-financed rivals to win an outright victory in the race to challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue…Ossoff, 33, notched a clear win that eluded him three years ago when he waged a special election campaign for a suburban Atlanta congressional district that earned national attention..His victory comes after a primary marred by long lines, equipment malfunctions and missing absentee ballots that put the state’s voting problems in the national spotlight…Ossoff’s victory was called by The Associated Press as absentee ballots from metro Atlanta, his biggest base of support, steadily boosted his vote total above the 50% mark.” His message: “This is not a moment to let up. This is a moment to double down,” said Ossoff, who owns an investigative journalism firm. “We can no longer go down a path of authoritarianism, of racism, of corruption. We are better than this…“I expose corruption for a living,” he said at a forum, “and David Perdue sells access for campaign cash.”

Bluestein continues, “The coronavirus pandemic may have helped his campaign, too. All three candidates were forced to resort to virtual campaigning as restrictions took hold in March, but analysts said it could give candidates with high profiles and deep pockets an edge since old-fashioned retail politicking was largely off-limits…Armed with the endorsements of U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis — veteran Democrats he considers mentors — Ossoff has embraced left-leaning policies he didn’t emphasize during his 2017 campaign…Ossoff has talked often about deep racial inequities that shape every facet of American life, and he’s promised to fight for stronger civil rights protections, an end to mandatory minimum prison sentences and a ban on private prisons…One of his recent TV ads invokes the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old shot dead while running near his Brunswick neighborhood, in his push to overhaul the criminal justice system. He’s called the pandemic a “massive wake-up call” to expand health insurance and bolster public health funding.”

Ossoff had the endorsement of Rep. John Lewis, and he hopes to build a broad electoral coalition to win the seat. African Americans are nearly 1/3 of Georgia’s eligible voters. So it’s possible that Ossoff could win in November with 2 out of 7 white voters. Stacy Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2018, has mobilized an energetic campaign against voter suppression, and if her efforts produce an increase in Black voter turnout, Ossoff could benefit. Georgia’s other senate seat, now occupied by  Republican appointee Kelly Loeffler, will also be on the ballot in a special election. Voters will chose from a long list of candidates on the ballot, with party identifiers by their names. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election on January 5, 2021. Both Republican incumbent senators are facing tough questions about insider trading and profiteering from the coronavirus pandemic.

At Newsweek, James Walker reports that “Donald Trump’s Economic Approval Rating Falls Below 50 Percent for First Time in Over Two Years.” Walker writes, “The latest presidential approval poll, published by Gallup on Wednesday, found that 47 percent of U.S. adults approved of the president’s record on the economy…When the same poll was conducted in January, Trump’s economy approval rating was 16 points higher—standing at 63 percent…The last time the president had an economic approval rating below 50 percent was in November 2017, when Gallup found only 45 percent of U.S. adults backed his record on the issue…In the pollster’s latest survey, 51 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy—a level also unseen since Gallup’s November 2017 poll…Asked for their overall opinion of Trump’s performance in the Oval Office thus far, less than four in ten (39 percent) said they approved. Fifty-seven percent of surveyed Americans said they disapproved of the president’s record in office…The current unemployment rate exceeds anything seen since the Great Depression, when roughly a quarter of the working population was out of a job.”

John Cassidy explains why “Why the Polls Are Alarming for Donald Trump” at The New Yorker: “Here are some bad signs for Trump that struck me after I spent some time burrowing into the invaluable polling databases that are maintained by RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight…In the past two months, Trump hasn’t led in a single national poll. The FiveThirtyEight general-election database contains the results of hundreds of surveys, and the last one showing Trump in front of Biden nationally was conducted by Change Research on April 2nd and 3rd—a moment at which Bernie Sanders was still contesting the Democratic primary. Back in 2016, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in the vast majority of national surveys, too. But, during the two-month period from April 9th to June 9th of that year, he led in five of them, including a poll in May from ABC News/Washington Post that got quite a bit of attention. Since early April of this year, every single national poll in the FiveThirtyEight database, including some that tend to lean Republican, has shown Biden ahead.”

Cassidy adds, “Polls from key states are also pointing to trouble for Trump. The R.C.P. database lists thirteen states as battlegrounds: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. According to R.C.P.’s poll averages, Trump is leading in just three of these states—Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas—and only in Iowa is his advantage more than three percentage points. In Arizona, Florida, and Ohio, all of which Trump carried in 2016, Biden is slightly ahead. And in Michigan, which was another linchpin of Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College, a new poll released on Monday showed Biden doubling his lead, to twelve points, compared with a survey that the same pollster, EPIC-MRA, took in January…Finally, compared with this point in 2016, Biden is much less unpopular than Clinton was.” Hoever, “Biden’s polling lead in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—two of the Rust Belt states that ensured Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016—is small: 3.3 percentage points and 3.4 percentage points, respectively, according to the R.C.P. averages.”

At The Boston Review, professor Jocelyn Simonson shares some insights regarding “Power Over Policing,” which Democratic candidates may find helpful in honing their messaging. Simonson notes that “There is a distressing disconnect between the ringing demands for justice on the streets and the suite of “police reform” proposals that many experts say satisfy these demands. Protesters and social movements talk about divesting from policing and investing in black communities. They talk about ensuring that “the most impacted in our communities need to control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us,” as the Movement for Black Lives stated in its list of demands this week. The call is for stability, resources, control. The call is for power.” Further, “expert explications of the gold standard methods of “reforming police departments” focus on how to increase the efficiency and decrease the harmfulness of existing police forces. They emphasize measurable “success” in police reform: either instrumentally focusing on the “costs” and “benefits” of particular police tactics or seeking out “legitimacy” and cooperation between law enforcement and communities.”

In his article, “Biden: The 21st-Century FDR?” Harold Meyerson writes at The American Prospect that “the president who Biden now hopes to model himself on isn’t so much Lincoln as it is Franklin Roosevelt—specifically, the FDR who tilted public policy in favor of workers and a more and better managed capitalism…If Biden is serious about initiating the huge economic reforms and the economic recovery the country so manifestly needs, not to mention the reforms required to move us toward more actual, more lived racial equality, he’ll need to rely on advisers who aren’t the 21st-century versions of Douglas and Morgenthau—who aren’t, in short, Summers and Emanuel. He shouldn’t take my word for it; he should ask what would Roosevelt and Lincoln do?”

“Biden, by most accounts, has been a different man since the pandemic hit,” Michale Tomasky writes at The New York Review of Books. “Last year, he sometimes spoke of his presidency as a return to a pre-Trump era. Now, with unemployment nearing 15 percent and calls for change from protesters becoming more urgent—and with the crisis starkly laying bare the economic precarity in which so many Americans were living even before the virus hit—he sees himself in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt, a leader who would rise to the vast challenge history has thrust upon him and introduce sweeping change. The change in Biden has sometimes been overstated. But it is real, and it makes the prospect of a Biden presidency (provided it’s combined with Democratic capture of the Senate) far more intriguing than it was just two months ago…It’s not so much that the virus has moved Biden to the left. Rather, it has nudged reality leftward, and Biden has followed…So Biden’s current shift is probably less a policy shift than a persona shift. But we shouldn’t gainsay the potential importance of persona shifts. They can lead politicians to change their emphasis and their actual priorities.”


Remember: A Vote’s a Vote

At New York this week, I repeated a bit of strategic advice I offer now and then:

Those of us in the political analysis industry love nothing more than slicing and dicing the electorate into its constituent parts and divining via polls and election results which are moving where at what velocity. That is often the best way not only to predict future elections, but to understand their implications, and also to evaluate political parties as coalitions.

But it’s easy to get carried away with such distinctions, and act as though this or that “key” group literally holds the key to victory. In the end (with an exception I will get to in a minute), a vote’s a vote, and candidates who do poorly in a “key” constituency can make it up elsewhere. Indeed, it’s especially dangerous to pretend that winning some voter group matters most; sometimes losing a group by less than the expected margin is just as important. For example, the conventional wisdom is that Democrats made big gains in the 2018 midterm by winning college-educated white voters (who leaned Republican in 2016). But it was also important that Democrats cut their margin of loss among non-college-educated white voters from 37 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2018 (according to exit polls).

There are times, of course, when harping on one group makes sense because polls are underestimating their numbers (one reason white working-class voters have gotten so much attention since 2016, when polls clearly under-sampled them), or have ignored them altogether as a distinct group (some polls and analysis lump together disparate voters with imprecise categories – are voters under or over the age of 45 really a “group”? – or failure to make obvious subdivisions such as by gender, or by the various identities of “non-white voters.”).

“In the most recent polls, white college graduates back Mr. Biden by a 20-point margin, up four points since the spring. It’s also an eight-point improvement for the Democratic nominee since 2016, and a 26-point improvement since 2012.

“Mr. Biden has also made some progress toward redressing his weakness among younger voters. Voters ages 18 to 34 now back Mr. Biden by a 22-point margin, up six points from the spring and now somewhat ahead of Hillary Clinton’s lead in the final polls of 2016….

“Remarkably, Mr. Biden still leads by seven points among voters 65 and over in the most recent surveys, despite the kind of racial unrest that led many of these voters to support Republican candidates at various points in their lifetimes.”

In other words, there are multiple paths to a popular-vote plurality nationally and in any one state. But that does call to mind the biggest exception to the doctrine that a vote’s a vote. The Electoral College makes huge numbers of voters irrelevant in presidential elections, and reduces the influence of various groups who are or aren’t situated in battleground states. The single biggest reason for the recent focus on white working-class voters is that they are disproportionately represented in the Rust Belt states where Donald Trump pulled his 2016 upset. Conversely, even though Latinos are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the electorate, their clout in presidential contests is reduced by the large number living in states that have not been competitive recently (Arizona, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas). If, as some Democrats hope, Arizona and/or Texas do become competitive this year, you will hear a lot about Latino voters in the aftermath.

But even in battleground states that are easy to stereotype, there’s a lot going on under the surface. Was Trump’s 10,704 margin in Michigan in 2016 attributable to underestimated white working-class voters, or low turnout among African-Americans, or a late minor-party trend among younger voters? You can make a case for any of those propositions, or for any number of combinations of them. So beware over-simplification.


Does Georgia’s Election Mess Mean Trouble for Dems in November?

A sampling of headlines in reports about Georgia’s primary election: “Georgia election ‘catastrophe’ in largely minority areas sparks investigation: Long lines, lack of voting machines and shortages of primary ballots plagued voters. (from nbcnews.com); “Primary results: Highlights from a messy election night in Georgia and 4 other states” (from CNN Politics); Voters See Chaos At Georgia Primary Elections (npr.org).

Not a good look for the Georgia GOP. As you might expect the state’s Secretary of State’s office blames the problems on an unusually-large turnout, new voting machines and, somehow, Democrats, even though Republicans control the voting process. As Kevin Collier, Cyrus Farivar, Dareh Gregorian and Ben Popken report at NBC News:

Hourslong waits, problems with new voting machines and a lack of available ballots plagued voters in majority minority counties in Georgia on Tuesday — conditions the secretary of state called “unacceptable” and vowed to investigate.

Democrats and election watchers said voting issues in a state that has been plagued for years by similar problems, along with allegations of racial bias, didn’t bode well for the November presidential election, when Georgia could be in play.

“This seems to be happening throughout Atlanta and perhaps throughout the county. People have been in line since before 7:00 am this morning,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, tweeted shortly after polls were supposed to open — and in some cases still hadn’t.

Do not hold your breath, waiting for photos of long lines and confusion at predominantly-Republican polls in GA. Kristen Clarke, president and CEO of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, said “Three-quarters of voters who called with problems identified as African American.”

You may remember that Georgia was also an election problem child in 2018. As Collier, Farivar, Gregorian and Popken explain,

Voting problems also plagued Fulton County in 2018, which led to allegations of voter suppression by Democrats. The secretary of state at the time was Brian Kemp, a Republican, who wound up winning the governorship by a thin margin against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Abrams at the time called the election “rotten and rigged.”

Georgia has added 700,000 voters to the registration rolls since 2018. Massive incompetence may be the kindest description of Georgia’s curent government. As Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, put it: “Whether it is incompetence or intentional voter suppression — the result is the same — Georgians denied their rights as citizens in this democracy.”

Since Georgia is not only a swing state in the presidential election, but also has two senate seats in play, Democrats can not be blamed for thinking the worst, and their party is challenged to respond with a robust legal, media and GOTV strategy.


Teixeira: Et Tu, Ohio?

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

Trump’s definitely having his problems these days but it is still surprising the Ohio is actually looking like it might be in play. The recent Fox poll (a highly-rated poll, by the way) had Biden up by a couple of points. And Markos at Daily Kos provides a table based on Civiqs data that shows Ohio’s ranking among various swing states in terms of net Trump approval. Interesting!

That got me curious so I went back and looked at the internals of the Fox poll–if Trump is in trouble in Ohio, what’s driving that? In contrast to some other states, the problem here for Trump appears to be white noncollege voters, not white college voters. Comparing States of Change data to the Fox poll, Trump is doing about as well (tied) as he did in 2016 among white college voters, but among white noncollege his lead has is down from 32 to 17 points. Even more interesting, that is exactly how Obama won Ohio (by 3 points) in 2012–he tied with white college voters and while losing white noncollege by about 17 points!

Let’s keep an eye on this one.


Teixeira: Protests Yes, Police Reform Yes, Defund the Police No

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

The protests around the country sparked by the police killing of George Floyd continue to gather support. As measured by Morning Consult polling, support for the protests is now at 62 percent, up from 54 percent a week ago. Other polling shows strong majorities saying the protests are legitimate, justified expressions of dissent not people acting unlawfully or rioting.

No doubt these solid numbers reflect both the popularity of the cause itself and the recent decline in incidents of looting and arson, which threatened to divert attention from the peaceful protests. They also reflect the general view that Trump has done a poor job or handling these protests and resulting social tensions.

As a result, Trump’s overall popularity continues to decline and his standing in trial heat polls vs. Biden has also been slipping. Assuming that protests remain peaceful, Trump may have a hard time regaining more favorable political terrain.

The protests have also raised the profile of police reform as an issue and here there is great potential for progress.. As Conor Friedersdorf summarizes in an Atlantic article, a late May YouGov/Yahoo poll found the following:

“Eighty-nine percent of respondents believe that Floyd’s killer should be charged with at least third-degree murder. “Going forward, Americans largely favor a set of reforms to reduce deadly-force encounters with police,” the poll found. “Sixty-seven percent support banning neck restraints; 80 percent support an early-warning system to identify problematic officers; 87 percent support outfitting all cops with body cameras; and 88 percent training officers to de-escalate conflicts and avoid using force.”

That’s extraordinary––super majorities in favor of broad reforms specifically targeted to reduce unjust killings.”

Good stuff; these kind of reform measures and more are already finding their way into Biden’s platform deliberations and Democratic legislative proposals. Progress seems likely though how much will greatly depend in what happens this November.

It may also depend on the current movement not becoming diverted by quixotic demands that repel potential supporters and muddy the political waters. The most obvious example here is the newly popular (among activists) slogan of “defund the police”. This slogan has been advanced by a number of BLM leaders and just today was spray-painted in huge yellow letters on a downtown Washington street.

Defund the police is terrible idea: it’s toxic as politics and insane as policy. As politics: the overwhelming majority of voters have no interest whatsoever in defunding the police. Political scientist Emily Ekins notes the following:

“[F]ew people support calls to abolish or defund the police: 9 in 10 black, white and Hispanic Americans oppose reducing the number of police officers in their community—and a third say their community needs more officers the Cato survey [on police reform] found. And a Yahoo/​Yougov survey found that only 16% of Americans favor cutting funding for police departments, including 12% of whites, 33% of blacks, and 17% of Hispanics.”

In short, people don’t want to get ride of cops, they want better cops. And, as policy, what makes sense is not to get rid of cops but to have more of them. The case for this is very strong, Matt Yglesias wrote a lengthy article summarizing the relevant research over a year ago which repays careful attention at the present time.

“The swing toward greater attention to racial disparities in the criminal justice system and desire to find more humane methods of crime control is long overdue. But there’s a very real risk that in the wake of the leftward swing in the Black Lives Matter era, Democrats are leaving behind genuinely effective and politically appealing approaches to criminal justice that the party has championed in the recent past.

Solid data suggests that even if you take a realistic view of the police, spending money to hire more police officers — an idea espoused by both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — is a sound approach to the multifaceted problem of criminal justice. More police officers, in particular, doesn’t need to mean more arrests and more incarceration. More beat cops walking the streets seems to deter crime and reduce the need to arrest anyone. And some of the best-validated approaches to reducing excessive use of force by police officers require departments to adopt more manpower-intensive practices.

In terms of the intersection of criminal justice policy and racial politics, new polling provided exclusively to Vox from the leading Democratic data firm Civis Analytics shows that black voters — just like white ones — support the idea of hiring more police officers. Black voters are likely aware that they are disproportionately likely to be victims of crime and disproportionately likely to benefit from extra police staffing in high-crime areas. Indeed, as Jenée Desmond-Harris wrote for Vox in 2015, one primary grievance African Americans have with the criminal justice systems is that black neighborhoods are paradoxically underpoliced.

Especially with America’s police departments facing staffing challenges as they’re squeezed between tight budgets and a recovering labor market, the political and policy case for more federal help hiring cops is impeccable….

[D]ifferent communities will and do feel differently about the police. But to rely on data rather than anecdotes, Civis Analytics ran a mid-January poll on a range of policing subjects and shared the results with Vox — finding that extra policing is broadly popular across racial groups and that most African Americans and Latinos express favorable views of their local police.

The firm framed the issue this way: “Some members of your state legislature are proposing increasing the budget for the police force and hiring more police officers in high crime areas. If you have to choose, do you support or oppose increasing the number of police officers?”

The results were unequivocally favorable to the proposal, with 60 percent of African Americans, 65 percent of Latinos, and 74 percent of whites saying they support it.

No one issue is going to be decisive in a presidential campaign, and certainly not something as small-bore as federal police funding. But the fact that this idea was embraced by the past two victorious Democratic presidential candidates, is broadly popular, is especially popular with key swing voters, and is also well-grounded in policy amounts to a powerful case that it deserves to make a comeback.

That’s especially true precisely because it’s a slightly odd thematic fit for a Black Lives Matter-conscious Democratic Party. It’s both politically and substantively important for a political movement that wants to advance reforms of the criminal justice system to emphasize that reform does not mean indifference to crime.

Providing money to put more cops on the beat is a proven and cost-effective means of bringing crime down that offers a humane alternative to harsh prison sentences as a deterrent and at least offers some prospect of cutting down on disproportionate use of force as well. The total amount of money involved is, moreover, pretty small. Even at the peak of Obama’s local police funding program, he allocated “only” $1 billion. But the symbolism is large, a clear statement that Democrats take the problem of crime seriously and see the value of police officers’ work…..

It’s one idea from the “tough on crime” 1990s that actually worked out well and deserves to make a comeback in 2020.”

I agree. And need I point out that Donald Trump would love to make this election about defunding the police? One hopes that the somewhat inchoate movement that has arisen to protest George Floyd’s death avoids this trap.


Political Strategy Notes

Stephen Collinson’s article, “Pressure mounts on Trump to project unity” at CNN politics iluminates a  glaring weakness of the GOP in the 2020 campaign, alongside one of Joe Biden’s unique assets as the likely Democratic presidential nominee. Collinson reports, “President Donald Trump, appearing badly out of touch with a national outpouring of support for racial justice and shedding political support just five months before the election, is edging toward a belated call for national unity…But after spending two weeks ripping at racial wounds and painting a picture of a nation under siege from looters, domestic terrorists and radicals, he’s probably already missed his chance…Trump’s team is beginning to signal a shift that might see the President tone down the rhetoric in a bid to win back independents and moderate suburban Republicans that he needs to win in November.” This would be a very tough sale for Trump, having squandered three and a half years dividing and polarizing Americans to an unprecedented extent. And it’s not just Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has marinated in scorched-earth partisanship. Together, Trump and McConnell have branded the GOP as the party of polarization, and five months won’t be enough time to turn it around. At the same time, Joe Biden’s compassionate personality, his impressive ability to reach out to disadvantaged Americans and his appeals to polarization-weary Americans to build bridges of unity instead of walls of division should serve Democrats well in November.

In his article, “Voters Unlikely to Want to Stay the Course” at The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook puts it this way: “As far as intraparty politics, it would seem that Trump now practically owns the Republican Party, having taken it away from those who had been its establishment figures and benefactors. According to the same strategist, there are three “institutional realities” that make Trump’s success within the party and how he wins his 90 percent approval rating among Republicans time and again. He cites “the Fox et al information system, greater credibility with and support from Republican voters than almost any of the 53 Republican senators enjoy in their own states, and a Republican Party that has been accelerating its abuse of norms in response to its diminishing popularity.” I have often wondered myself what was behind Trump’s hostile takeover of a party that he had only recently joined and whether the party’s back-to-back losses to Barack Obama, a figure reviled within the tea-party movement, might have contributed to this primal scream of frustration and rebellion against the long-dominant establishment…We still have just over five months until the election, which is plenty of time for things to change. But right now, this election is not headed in a direction that any Republican can like. Moreover, events of the past two months are hardly ones that would make voters want to “stay the course” or chant “four more years.”

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall explores the possible political fallout of the protests, coronovirus pandemic and economic meltdown, and writes, “While fear of disorder and crime tend to play into the hands of the Republican Party, at least traditionally, the opposite is true of health care and economic crises, which play to Democratic strengths as the party more sympathetic to the concerns of those who are suffering…In the context of three simultaneous crises — the pandemic, the economy and nationwide protests over police brutality toward African-Americans — Trump’s attempts to assert his role as the hard-nosed embodiment of law-and-order have been undermined by the public’s harsh assessment of his leadership role during the pandemic.”

Edsall continues, “How the protests, both peaceful and violent, will play out on Nov. 3 remains uncertain. Perry Bacon Jr., a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight.com, points out that over the last decade, many whites, especially white Democrats, “have become increasingly conscious of discrimination against black Americans — particularly in the years since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 and Michael Brown was shot and killed in 2014.”…The looting of drugstores and high-end retail — much of it videotaped and repeatedly broadcast — may undermine the strength of these emerging liberal convictions. But will that matter more than Floyd’s stark death, which also exists on tape for all to see?…Which narrative prevails in the aftermath — legitimate grievance or rapacious looting — will play a key role in determining who our next president is and how the nation will resolve the tension between grief and anger.”

Noting the mess in last week’s primaries in Maryland and Washington, D.C., E.J. Dionne, Jr. warns, “Both the District of Columbia and Maryland hoped to push as much voting by mail as possible. It was an admirable instinct during a pandemic, but it didn’t work out so well…A big problem in both places: Optimism about voting by mail encouraged election officials to slash the number of polling places and voting centers — in Washington from the normal 143 to a mere 20. In Baltimore, a city with 296 precincts, there were only six Election Day voting sites…Mail voting means that even efficient systems can take a long time to get to a final result. Mailed ballots typically count as long as they are postmarked on Election Day. This means votes are still flowing in a week or more after the election. Americans need to be prepared for the possibility that because of mail voting, we may not know the winner until well after election night. Forewarning is the vaccine against the virus of Trump’s voter fraud claims.”

“Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden doubled his lead over President Trump in the battleground state of Michigan, according to a new poll,” Rebecca Klar writes at The Hill. ” Biden leads Trump by 12 points, earning 53 percent support compared with Trump’s 41 percent, according to a EPIC-MRA poll reported by the Detroit Free Press on Sunday…Biden’s lead in the latest poll is double his 6-point lead over the president in a poll conducted by EPIC-MRA in January, when Biden had 50 percent support compared with Trump’s 44 percent…The majority of independent voters, a key bloc in the battleground state, said they are backing Biden, with 63 percent saying they support the former vice president and 23 percent saying they support Trump, the newspaper reported…The same poll found that the majority of likely Michigan voters said they were not pleased with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic…Fifty-eight percent of likely voters gave Trump a negative rating, 41 percent gave him a positive rating, and 1 percent were undecided or refused to say, according to the report of the survey.”

Alex Thompson and James Arkin write in Politico that “The left wing has been wiped out in Senate primaries or failed to recruit at all in states across the map this year, leaving a slate of centrist candidates more in the ideological mold of Joe Biden than Bernie Sanders…Still, some take heart that at least many of the candidates in swing states are more liberal than their counterparts just a decade ago. Every Senate candidate in a major race, from Mark Kelly in Arizona to Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, supports a public option to compete with private health insurance plans. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock supports repealing the Senate filibuster so that legislation can pass with a simple majority…Even if Democrats win control of the chamber and eliminate the filibuster from Senate rules, their majority would be slim — meaning any big ticket agenda items would need the support of more moderate incumbent senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Synema and the incoming moderates…Party strategists argue their recruited candidates have won or are poised to win because of their fundraising power, in-state political networks and voters’ desire to back the candidate seen as most likely to unseat the incumbent Republicans.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Alan I. Abramowitz writes that “Recent polling in 13 swing states shows a consistent advantage for the presumptive Democratic challenger, Joseph Biden, over the current Republican incumbent, Donald Trump. Biden leads Trump in all 13 states, although his margin in five states is less than five points. In several of these states, the final 2016 polling overestimated Hillary Clinton’s support. However, Biden is also doing considerably better in the polls than Clinton did in the final 2016 polls in these swing states…Not only is Joe Biden doing considerably better in recent swing state polls than Hillary Clinton did in these states in the 2016 election, but he is also doing considerably better than she did in the final polls in these states. In fact, Biden’s recent polling is better than Clinton’s final poll results in 11 of these 13 states, with Minnesota and Wisconsin the only exceptions. On average, Biden is polling almost five points ahead of Clinton’s final poll results in terms of margin.” Abramowitz adds, “The recent 2020 polling results correlate much more strongly with the 2016 election results than with the final 2016 polling results…This suggests that pollsters have adjusted their sampling and weighting procedures to correct for some of the problems that occurred in 2016 in light of the 2016 results.”

Christopher Reeves shares some thoughts on “Nuts & Bolts: Inside a Democratic campaign. Creating your own frame” at Daily Kos: “The one mistake that Democratic candidates make in trying to achieve the frame is that it cannot be about just a bumper sticker. It cannot be about a big, bold refusal. Republicans respond to bumper stickers. Democratic voters want paragraphs. To convince both, you have to have both. You have to have a quick point and substance, too…In your local races, you should find signature issues you are for and discuss them first. Make them simple to understand, advance the framework, and make sure your opponent answers the questions. You also have to be prepared to show that you understand that topic, really care about it, and that it isn’t just a buzzy talking point. You do so by making sure your argument demolishes the Republican counterargument…Use your arguments at every level to snare your opponent, get them talking about issues you are advancing, and deal with the true issues on the ground rather than in hypotheticals…If you allow Republicans to spend an election cycle talking about problems they create and bad guy straw men they must defeat, you will have very little time to get your own messages out into the race and start the discussion on those issues.”