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The Daily Strategist

January 19, 2021

Biden’s Electability Revisited

Now that we know Joe Biden has, thank God, won, it’s not too early for a look back at the big debate of the presidential primary season, which I undertook at New York:

Democrats are inevitably grappling with in a lot of glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty mixed feelings about the 2020 elections. They have harpooned their White Whale — even if he hasn’t yet conceded and may never do so. On the other hand, Joe Biden didn’t win by the margins national and state polls predicted, and down-ballot performance was at best mixed and at worst disastrous. Democrats lost quite a few House seats and didn’t flip the Senate (though they still could in January). The predicted bonanza of state legislative takeovers that was supposed to make redistricting look less daunting than it has in the past simply did not happen. All these disappointments cannot be attributed to Biden, but given the narrow presidential win and the prevalence of straight-ticket voting, his campaign cannot be absolved of responsibility, either.

Since Biden’s perceived “electability” was without question a huge part of his appeal to the Democratic primary voters who elevated him over a big field of diverse and talented rivals, you have to wonder, Was Uncle Joe really the most electable Democrat? 

There’s no way to know for sure, and a lot of the evidence we have about partisanship suggests that all the Democratic presidential candidates might have wound up as “generic Democrats” by the time voters voted. But it’s worth looking at what Biden did and did not accomplish, as Ron Brownstein has already sought to do:

“During the Democratic primaries, Biden’s unique selling proposition was his contention that he was better positioned than any of his rivals to win back voters in the heavily white and working-class communities that keyed Trump’s victory last time, especially across the Rust Belt.

“On that front, the evidence suggests Biden sort of, kind of delivered—but only barely. Biden didn’t make big gains: For instance, he and Harris spent the day before the election campaigning in the heavily white, blue-collar Beaver and Luzerne Counties, in Pennsylvania, yet lost them by about the same margins as Clinton did. Biden did not loosen Trump’s iron grip over the suburban blue-collar counties around Tampa and Orlando, in Florida, and the president posted towering margins in rural, heavily blue-collar counties across the Sun Belt battlefields, particularly in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. Still, Biden’s modest improvements over Clinton in places like Erie and Scranton, in Pennsylvania; the Green Bay area, in Wisconsin; and Macomb County, outside Detroit, helped him recapture the big three “blue wall” states that Trump dislodged in 2016.”

But Biden clearly did not mobilize minority voters generally and performed poorly among the Latino voters in particular who delivered Florida and Texas to Trump while voting for Republican U.S. House candidates. And some analysts believe Biden (like Hillary Clinton in 2016) reduced down-ballot gains by treating Trump as an aberration from Republican orthodoxy rather than its nasty culmination.

You have to wonder if Bernie Sanders, who formed such a connection with Latino voters in the primaries, might have done better there, while making criticisms of Trump more strictly partisan. On the other hand, would a self-identified socialist have done better in South Florida than a candidate clearly damaged by claims that he was a puppet of people like Sanders? Was the terrible performance of the Democratic ticket in the Rio Grande Valley the product of long-term Democratic negligence rather than anything the presidential candidate did or didn’t do? And would Bernie really have done as well as Biden in upper-income suburbs?

You could go through similarly inconclusive exercises with other Democratic alternatives. Kamala Harris clearly electrified a lot of Black and Asian American women as the vice-presidential nominee. Might she have done even more at the top of the ticket? Possibly. Though her poor poll numbers among Black voters in the run-up to the primaries suggest otherwise. Could Elizabeth Warren have torn Trump limb from limb in the debates and left him bleeding on the cusp of the election? Sure. But Biden more than held his own in those debates, and there’s no real evidence that they mattered. Yes, Mike Bloomberg could have tried to drown Republicans with his limitless financial reserves. But in the end, Biden (and other defeated Democrats like record fund-raiser Jaime Harrison) had more than enough money to do whatever he wanted to do — and as with Clinton in 2016, it didn’t seem to matter.

It’s probably useful to ask why Democratic primary voters were so sure about Biden’s electability in the first place. It wasn’t because they were transfixed by polls; he retained his reputation even when his campaign wasn’t doing that well. It probably wasn’t a purely ideological matter either, since fellow centrists like Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Harris were never thought of as particularly electable. One prominent study back in 2019 suggested it was all about Biden’s personality. And in that respect, Uncle Joe probably delivered: His decency and steadiness during a general election campaign dominated by COVID-19 and a raging Donald Trump were most likely crucial assets.

If Biden was indeed the most electable candidate Democrats could have run, what does that say about the party’s appeal as of November 2020? Nothing terribly good. Brownstein thinks Biden was the best available bridge between the party’s blue-collar Rust Belt past and its more diverse Sun Belt future. They can try to do it all over again in 2024 with Biden or someone else, or seek to accelerate the advent of the Democratic Party of the future. Perhaps Kamala Harris — after serving as Joe’s trusty surrogate and help-meet — will manage to do both.

Experts Advise Biden ‘Don’t Fuel the Fire’ of Trump’s Election Lies

At The Guardian, Lois Beckett rounds up top “disinformation experts” and shares their advice to Vice President-elect Biden regarding Trump’s efforts to invalidate the presidential election. As Beckett writes,

Some experts on disinformation say that Biden’s current strategy of downplaying Trump’s behavior may be the correct one at the moment, even if it can be “frustrating to watch”, said Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at Data & Society Research Institute, who studies misinformation….“By not giving Trump the attention that he craves, it deflates a lot of the strength and power that Trump and his supporters have in this moment,” Lewis said.

Biden’s calm dismissal of Trump’s desperate ploy and the President-elect’s pivot to substantive issues of concern to all voters has been effective thus far. As Beckett adds,

Rather than attempting to respond point-by-point, the Biden campaign bluntly dismissed the story as “a conspiracy theory”, said Whitney Phillips, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. “It was done in a tone of, ‘We’re responding to this because we have to. We’re not giving it very much mental energy,’ whether or not that’s how they felt behind the scenes.”

“That particular strategy really did seem to work,” she said.

Having Biden acknowledge Trump’s norm-shattering behavior since the election, rather than try to ignore it, was important, Phillips said, but his quick pivot to talking about the issues facing Americans next, and the challenges the government needed to start dealing with, was “effective rhetorically, but also emotionally”.

Biden was responding “like an adult,” she said.

Beckett quotes other experts, who explain:

For the Biden team, “directly responding to any of these allegations at this stage is just adding more oxygen to the fire”, said Joan Donovan, the research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Shafiqah Hudson, an author and researcher who has studied online disinformation campaigns, said she would like to see Democrats take a stronger stance and condemn Trump’s actions “in the strongest possible terms.” But Biden’s response “is the sort of answer I would expect from someone who has the job of attempting to mend a fractured nation,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that other Democrats shouldn’t have more to say about it, as Beckett notes further:

…Democrats should keep explaining how the election process actually works, and what built-in checks and auditing are being done as votes are counted, said I’Nasah Crockett, a researcher and artist who has tracked manipulation and misinformation on social media.

“I think it would be great if Biden and his campaign took a very kindergarten approach to the situation that we’re in,” Crockett said. “If you’re working with little kids and you’re trying to get them to understand some basic concept, you have to keep repeating it, bringing it back to square one.”

Shireen Mitchell, a disinformation researcher and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women points out in Beckett’s article that Republicans’ lies about voter fraud target Black voters and urge invalidating their votes.

“They’re using coded language to say anyone other than white people are illegal voters,” Mitchell said. Trump’s attacks on voting by mail, which many Americans chose to do during a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black and brown people, is part of a long history of constantly evolving strategies to disenfranchise black Americans, she said.

Beckett notes further, “While social media users have been furiously debating whether it’s time to label Trump’s undermining of democracy as an attempt at a “coup”, disinformation experts said that framing might not be particularly useful at the moment.” Also,

Talking about a “coup” might speak to the concerns of some Americans, including those who have been following the news very closely, but it might not communicate that much to those who have been paying less attention, and it might alienate others, Phillips said…..“I think the problem is less that ‘coup’ is a strong word, than that people don’t know what a coup is,” Hudson said.

Trump attacked the integrity of the election well before the first ballot was even cast. As Beckett writes,

“This was a communications strategy before a single vote was cast,” Phillips said. Reminding Americans of the long timeline of Trump’s claims about the election “allows people to exercise their savvy, to sniff out bullshit. If someone has been seeding a lie before an event takes place, it should give a person pause.”

However, Beckett cautions, “Biden and the Democratic party should not overestimate the strength of American democracy in the face of Trump’s attacks – or the number of Americans who see the current system as legitimate, Crockett said: “The thing that worries me most is there’s a fundamental faith in institutions that I think mainstream Democrats have which is, honestly, idealistic at this point.”

Further, “If Trump escalates his refusal to concede, and if powerful Republican politicians continue to stand with him, it may not be enough to keep dismissing and deflecting attention from their behavior,” Beckett adds.

“Depending on how much this snowballs, there may be a time that [Biden] has to take it seriously,” Lewis said.

Evaluating Biden’s post-election communication strategy in perspective, the President-elect has handled Trump’s sore-loser petulance well, by keeping his comments focused on the pandemic and staffing his administration to address the critical concerns of Americans, instead of getting drawn into an  endless debate about the election — which is over.

Political Strategy Notes

NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall writes that we have just experienced  “an election in which Republican victories up and down the ballot are accepted unquestioningly, while votes for president-elect Biden on the same ballots are not.” Edsall notes also, “So far, only five out of 53 Republican Senators have publicly suggested that Trump take steps to open the transition process to Biden; none are in the leadership….Frank Wilkinson, a writer at Bloomberg and a friend of mine, provided the best explanation for Republican complicity in a July 15 column. His headline says it all: “Trump’s Party Cannot Survive in a Multiracial Democracy.”….In other words, Trump’s refusal to concede, and the support he is getting from his fellow Republicans, is part and parcel of the sustained drive by the right, especially since Barack Obama won a majority in 2008, to constrain and limit political participation by minorities by every available means: gerrymandering, voter suppression, restricting the time and place of balloting, setting new rules for voter identification and so forth.”

In his column, “Of Course Republicans Are Doing This. It’s Who They Are,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. also shares some choice words concerning what the GOP has become: “Well, the GOP has turned out to be as despicably ready to validate Trump’s falsehoods and authoritarian behavior as its worst critics feared. With precious few exceptions, Republican leaders are quite happy to be complicit in Trump’s subversion….Some innocent souls still want to see the GOP as a normal party ready to work with Biden to solve the nation’s problems…..Sorry, but that party disappeared long ago, and we should not, in retrospect, have expected anything else….And notice how Republicans have escalated their level of irresponsibility over the years. They started with a phony election analysis in 1992; by 2008, they were allowing a wild lie to poison the consciousness of their base. Now, they are willing to do something even worse. As Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of “How Democracies Die,” said in an interview, the GOP could “damage the legitimacy not just of Biden but of our democracy as a whole.”

It will be a while before we have reliable stats regarding which demographic groups showed up and how they voted in the November 3 election. But at Esquire, Charles Pierce has a richly-deserved tribute to two groups whose contributions proved heroic: “There are lovely little rainbows over the landscape elsewhere. The most glorious one is the simple fact that the demographic groups that have the most reasons to hate the government for its empty rhetoric and broken promises—Black Americans and Native Americans—turned out like champions in a result that ought to shame the rest of us. That goes from the high-profile organizers all the way down to the door-knockers, phone-callers, envelope-stuffers, and election observers….Stacey Abrams is a power who now may well have the fate of the Senate in her hands. Congresswomen Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, whose embrace on the floor of the House in 2019 still moves me when I think about it, both won re-election to the House. (Republican Yvette Harrell won a seat from New Mexico, too.) Indigenous voters very likely were a big part of Joe Biden’s margin of victory in both Arizona and Wisconsin.”

Georgia is already being flooded with a tsunami of Republican ads targeting Georgia voters in connection with the critically-important Jan. 5th run-off election for two U.S. Senate seats. Those who want to help Democrats win a U.S. Senate majority should check out “How To Help Win the 2 Georgia Senate Runoff Elections” by Tokyosand at Political Charge, make a donation and share the article with Georgia friends. The article includes information about where to make contributions and a comprehensive directory of links to organizations that are working to elect Democrats Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff. The article also notes that “Did you know there are 23,000 young people in Georgia who were not old enough to vote in the November 3rd election but will be for the January 5th runoff? It’s true! We need to get those young people registered to vote!” It’s no exaggeration to describe this election as one of the most important run-offs in U.S. history, as well as likely pivotal for the success of the Biden administration.

Biden’s Popular Vote Win Is Impressive

Comparing the 2020 presidential election results to its precedents, I wrote up this impression for New York:

Joe Biden’s national popular vote lead over Donald Trump, and his percentage of the total vote, is beginning to look pretty impressive despite how close the Electoral College vote has remained, — and also despite Trump’s increasingly empty claims that he somehow actually won. Biden currently leads Trump by over five million votes, or by 3.4 percent of the total. Both numbers are certain to go higher. His popular vote percentage lead is already higher than that of the popular vote winner in 2016, 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968 and 1960. And with the exception of the two earlier Democratic tickets on which Biden appeared (2008 and 2012), the 50.8 percent of the national popular vote the Biden-Harris ticket has won is higher than that of any Democratic ticket since 1964. And that total could soon eclipse the 51.1 percent Obama and Biden received in 2012.

Biden’s percentage of the national popular vote is also higher than that of any Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988. George W. Bush’s 2004 victory over John Kerry is remembered as a close race, but not one that was seriously contested. W. won 50.7 percent of the popular vote, prevailing by a 2.4 percent margin. For that matter, the endlessly touted political genius Ronald Reagan took only 50.7 percent of the popular vote when he won the presidency in 1980. The man he beat, Jimmy Carter, was for many years the last Democrat (and the only Democrat since LBJ) to win a popular vote majority (until Obama — and Biden — did so in 2008), He won 50.1 percent of the vote in 1976.

To be sure, Biden didn’t win by anything like a landslide, but efforts to minimize his popular vote numbers don’t bear comparison to other candidates in our often highly competitive two-party system.

Teixeira: Friends Don’t Let Friends Take the Exit Polls Too Seriously

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

My friend, former colleague and co-author Rob Griffin nails it in this Post Monkey Cage piece. Read it and shake your head sadly. Ah what fools we mortals be….
Note: NEP is the National Election Pool, the nom de guerre of the exit polls.

“[T]he NEP’s estimates of who voted — what percentage of voters fall into any given demographic group — appear to be wrong. This kind of problem has plagued the NEP in the past and, apparently, it is an issue again this year. If the NEP’s estimate of who voted is incorrect, then the vote margins — the percent by which each demographic group voted for each candidate — could be incorrect. That can distort our picture of how different groups voted. And if the numbers for how different groups voted Trump/Biden are wrong, they shouldn’t be used to try to explain what happened in this election.

This year the NEP suggests that just 65 percent of voters were White and 34 percent were White without a four-year college degree. These estimates are dramatically smaller than what other research has found during prior elections. For example, the States of Change project — a series of reports that I co-authored with Ruy Teixeira and Bill Frey — found that 74 percent of voters were White in 2016, and 44 percent were White non-college. These estimates are identical to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of a large voter-validated survey.

What can that tell us about this year’s voters? We know that the relative turnout of different groups does not typically change dramatically between elections. If the relative turnout rates of different groups stayed the same, long-term demographic trends would lead us to expect 72 percent of 2020 voters to be White and 41 percent to be Whites without a college degree. For the NEP’s estimates of 65 and 34 percent to be correct, the relative turnout rates of different racial groups would have to have changed substantially and in ways that are not believable…..

I find that the NEP implies that 66 percent of White Americans turned out in the last election. This is just barely higher than the implied turnout rates of Hispanic Americans (63 percent) and notably lower than the implied turnout rate of Americans who are Asian or belong to another racial and ethnic group (74 percent). That’s out of line with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, widely considered to be one of the best sources of information about the U.S. electorate. The CPS has consistently shown that White citizens cast ballots at rates higher than those groups.”


Metzgar: Cultural and Political Diversity in the White Working-Class

The following article by Jack Metzgar, former president of the Working-Class Studies Association and author of the forthcoming No One Right Way: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society (Cornell University Press), is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Influential political analyst Ron Brownstein thinks American politics is all about answering this question: “How long can Paducah tell Seattle what to do?”

The question resonates because metro areas vote so differently from small town and rural areas and because our electoral-college leftover from slavery (like the Senate) gives these non-metro places outsized influence in our politics. Regionally, large majorities on the coasts vote Democratic while the South and Midwest are majority Republican. But to Brownstein’s readers in The Atlantic, Paducah (population 23,000 and in Kentucky) likely also connotes “hick” or “hillbilly,” terms that are stand-ins for “poorly educated” whites without bachelor’s degrees — or the so-called white working class.

Brownstein presents the core conflict in American politics as between a backward-looking, aggrieved “coalition of restoration” (Paducah) and a forward-looking, virtuous “coalition of transformation” (Seattle). The unstated assumption is that highly educated folks, the transformers, are the norm as well as the ideal, whereas poorly educated whites are ignorant and backward at best, or deplorable at worst. Those whites seemed to prove that again last Tuesday by voting 64 to 35 for Donald J. Trump. (All 2020 election results here are from preliminary and not entirely reliable Edison exit polls as reported in The New York Times.)

At this moment it’s pretty tempting for us highly educated folks to think that all Trump voters are deplorable people resisting the important transformations we are all busy working toward. But there are different transformations afoot and they’re not all positive. And there’s also some restoration we could use a lot more of.

Biden Was the Essential Winner

After the presidential contest was finally called, I had this take on its ultimate meaning at New York:

After all the madness of this plague year, and a surprising if hardly unprecedented Election Night full of uncertainty, the presidential election produced the most predictable outcome available. The least-controversial candidate the Democratic Party could have nominated defeated an unpopular incumbent at a time when the country feared for the future and craved stability.

President Trump and his partisans — if they ever come clean and stop raving about voter fraud — will certainly argue that he was robbed of a second term by the “China virus” and its impact on the “greatest economy ever” that he claimed as a personal accomplishment. But the president’s job-approval rating was the lowest this year in January, before the pandemic began, and reached its highest point in March, when the first big wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths had already hit. Trump’s reelection bid made the voting inevitably a referendum on his presidency, and the negative judgment Americans rendered on his performance never varied enough to matter for the ultimate outcome. His strategy of polarizing the electorate, energizing his base, and demonizing the opposition never varied, either; those waiting for a Trump “pivot” to a positive case for his record or a clear-cut presentation of his agenda waited in vain.

It became obvious well before Election Day that Trump’s only realistic hope for reelection was to hold down turnout among the majority unhappy with his performance and then seek via legal and political chicanery to eke out an Electoral College win by the kind of small miracle he achieved in 2016 or by contesting the results. Far and away the most consistent presidential message of the entire 2020 cycle was his relentless series of attacks on voting by mail, which succeeded in convincing many millions of Republicans to vote in person on Election Day and to suspect mail ballots as presumptively illegitimate. But when Trump pulled the trigger late on Election Night by claiming a premature win, he simply did not have the credibility to bring along his party and Fox News into a coup attempt.

President-elect Biden, as is increasingly obvious, is going to have a very tough row to hoe. Democrats will have to win two January runoffs to control the Senate. If they fail to do so that could make executive and judicial confirmations problematic and place any comprehensive progressive agenda, including the crucial step of filibuster reform, beyond his reach. Democrats also lost ground in the House. Beginning with a Senate runoff (or possibly runoffs) in Georgia in January, we will enter a 2022 midterm cycle in which emboldened Republicans will give no quarter and Biden will have no honeymoon. Democratic intra-party tensions that were briefly submerged by the drive to topple Trump will reemerge, particularly if it appears the new president will not seriously consider running for a second term.

But make no mistake: Biden did topple Trump, albeit by a much narrower margin than recently expected, and in the end that’s all that he really promised Democrats. Big policy ambitions ranging from urgent climate-change activism to health-care reform to voting rights and an assault on economic inequality will take a back seat to efforts to get a grip on the pandemic and avoid all sorts of catastrophes. Demographic change is still on the Democratic Party’s side, even though, as we have learned yet again, its progress can be uneven. Biden is arguably the perfect transitional figure for his party and his country.

Political Strategy Notes

In his Washington Post column, “Don’t define Biden’s victory down,” E. J. Dionne Jr. writes, “Myths often grow out of mistaken first impressions. So it needs to be asserted unequivocally that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is far more substantial than the conventional take would have it and more revelatory about the future than Donald Trump’s election was four years ago…Biden rebuilt the Democrats’ blue wall even as he extended the party’s reach in the South and Southwest….It was, as Biden has said more colorfully in other contexts, a big deal….But because Democrats did not win all they hoped for in the House, Senate and state legislative races, the magnitude of what happened last Tuesday is being defined down. And so many who oppose Trump simply can’t believe that more than 70 million of their fellow citizens would vote to reelect such a profoundly flawed man…Now, look at what Biden achieved. He won the vote with 75 million ballots — more than any presidential candidate in history — and enjoys a lead of more than 4 million that is likely to grow substantially….Biden’s margins in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are comparable to Trump’s in 2016 while his margin in Michigan is more than 10 times larger. The former vice president could win as many as 306 electoral votes, exactly Trump’s 2016 haul….Yet there is no clamor for Republicans to get to know “the Biden voter,” no call on conservatives to be more in touch with the country they live in….Democrats have won a popular vote majority in three of the last four presidential elections; Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last 28 years. The country is changing in ways profoundly challenging to the GOP and the right. They’re the ones who should start worrying about being out of touch.”

Nate Silver puts it this way in his post, “Biden Won — Pretty Convincingly In The End” at FiveThirtyEight: “It’s not a landslide, by any means, but this is a map that almost any Democrat would have been thrilled about if you’d shown it to them a year ago. Biden looks to have reclaimed the three “blue wall” states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (ABC News has announced that Biden is the “apparent winner” in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin1) — that were central to Hillary Clinton’s loss. He may also win Arizona (he would become the first Democrat to do so since 1996) and, in the opposite corner of the country, Georgia (the first Democratic winner there since 1992). Additionally, Biden easily won Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, which could be a thorn in the side of Republicans going forward. He also ran far ahead of Clinton in rural northern states such as Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire….Extrapolating out from current vote totals, I project Biden winning the popular vote by 4.3 percentage points and getting 81.8 million votes to President Trump’s 74.9 million, with a turnout of around 160 million.” Silver also notes, “But Democrats underperformed in the U.S. House, where they’ve lost almost every toss-up race that has been projected so far and Republicans have made a net gain of five seats and counting. It also appears as though Democrats will underperform in the House popular vote relative to the presidential vote and the generic ballot, where Democrats led by about 7 percentage points. That looks like a significant polling miss (although the House popular vote can take a long time to finalize). In that sense, the election could be described as more of a repudiation of Trump specifically than of Republicans writ large.”

Jessica Taylor notes at The Cook Political Report: “Ultimately, the blue tsunami, a blue wave or even a blue tide didn’t materialize. Not even a green tsunami of cash could push Democrats across the finish line in the races they needed. Public and many Republican polls were off, but Democratic private polling was even more wrong. Some GOP polls showed several close races, but given the climate few strategists expected those races would ultimately break their way. Our final projection was a Democratic gain of between two and seven seats, but we expected it to be on the higher than the lower end. Instead, Democrats have only currently netted one seat, after flipping Colorado and Arizona — consistent with our Lean Democrat ratings —but also lost, as expected, Alabama….Like 2016, surveys failed again to capture the Trump base that did show up on Election Day, while Democrats got their voters to cast ballots early or by mail. And with most polling stopping a week or so before Tuesday, that late surge may not have been captured fully, though some Republicans say there were some signs. Additionally, the millions of dollars the Senate Leadership Fund raised and spent in the final weeks of the race surely made a perhaps determinative difference.”

“Just four days after the election,” John Cassidy writes in The New Yorker, “Democratic politicians and activists are still coming to terms with a result that bitterly disappointed many of them, despite Joe Biden’s victory in the Presidential race. In a heated private conference call on Thursday, centrist and progressive members of the House Democratic caucus jostled over who or what was to blame for the Party’s unexpectedly weak showing in congressional races. (With a number of contests still to be called, the G.O.P. has already made a net gain of five seats.) At the local level, there is also a lot of sparring over why the Party failed in its bid to gain control of legislatures in a number of big states, including Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas…The first step in any political inquest is to figure out exactly what happened. The Democrats’ struggles in local and statewide races will take more time to unpack, but there are data already available about the race at the top of the ticket that can offer some insight into what happened in 2020. Even here, however, there isn’t much agreement…“I think all of their estimates are pretty suspect,” Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told me on Friday. Citing an example, Teixeira pointed out that, although other estimates have suggested that at least seventy per cent of the 2020 electorate was white, the exit poll came up with a figure of sixty-five per cent. “Not on this planet, not in this election,” Teixeira said….”The theory that Biden would win, to a great extent, because he could reduce the white, non-college deficit turned out to be true,” Teixeira said. “He just didn’t win by as much as people wanted. Plus, people have trouble getting their minds around the fact that to go from minus thirty-two to minus twenty-five is just as good as going from plus seven to plus fourteen. And if the former group is bigger, it is actually better.”

Teixeira: Who Restored the Blue Wall?

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

I would say that most of the commentary around what drove Biden’s retaking of the Rustbelt three–Michigan, Wisconsin and now apparently Pennsylvania–has been focused more around white college voters than their more numerous noncollege counterparts. This is usually illustrated by reference to some suburban counties who swung big toward Biden (conveniently forgetting that many of these counties have large numbers of white noncollege voters, not just white college voters).

This fits a long-standing narrative about this election but is it right? I don’t think so though I, like anyone else, have to rely on very imperfect data at this point for assessing this claim. Right now, I am using the AP/NORC Votecast data and comparing it to States of Change data from 2016. This is not ideal but better than using the exit polls, which have some truly unbelievable estimates of voter composition at this point and will be probably be reweighted to a fare-thee-well in the near future. Eventually, States of Change will have 2020 estimates to use in such a comparison but that won’t be for quite awhile. I am hopeful Catalist, whose data are very solid, will release their estimates (with comparisons to 2016) much sooner and we can sift through those. But for now, we got what we got.

Start with national margin shift figures:

White noncollege +7
White college 0
Fwiw, which is not much, exit poll comparisons are consistent with this pattern.
White college +2
White noncollege +7
White college +2
White noncollege +7
White college +9
White noncollege +4

So there are significant white noncollege shifts nationally in all three of these states and only in Michigan is the white college shift actually larger than the white noncollege shift. And keep in mind that–especially in these three states–the proportion of white noncollege voters is much higher than the proportion of white college voters.

More and better data are needed to settle this question but at the least it appears to call into question the standard media narrative. While Biden didn’t carry the white working class vote–nobody in their right mind thought he would–he did accomplish his objective, significantly cutting into Trump’s margins with these voters and carrying these states.

Dems’ Failure to Flip State Legislatures Needs Review

Writing at Vox, Jerusalem Demsas provides a painful report, “Democrats fail to make gains in state legislative races in advance of 2021 redistricting.” Subtitled “Democrats point to gerrymandering as Republicans successfully fend off state legislative challenges,” Demsas explains:

This year, banking on a blue wave, Democrats staked out an ambitious map aiming to spend $50 million to win legislative majorities in GOP-held chambers and gain control of key chambers in advance of next year’s redistricting fights. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) targeted both chambers in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kansas as well as the Iowa and Michigan Houses and the Minnesota Senate.

In the end, Democrats raised $88 million to Republicans’ $60 million — but they don’t have much to show for it.

Votes in Arizona are still being counted, but if those chambers remain in GOP hands, Democrats will have failed to flip a single state chamber. In fact, the only chambers that will have changed hands are the New Hampshire House and Senate, which flipped to Republican control. This is a surprising defeat for Democrats — particularly as New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly reelected Democrats to the US Congress and voted for former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide margin.

According to the NCSL, this means that out of 98 chambers (not counting Nebraska’s unicameral and facially nonpartisan body), “59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats.” And when it comes to unified control — meaning one party controls both the legislature and the governorship — Republicans have the edge holding 23 states to Democrats’ 15.

Democrats likely weren’t the only ones surprised by this outcome. In its October overview, Cook Political Report wrote: “ominously for Republicans, the GOP holds 14 of the 19 vulnerable chambers on our list. This suggests that the Democrats are well-positioned to net up to a half-dozen new chambers this fall, and more if it’s a genuine blue wave.” Cook pointed to Biden’s “strong” running in key states, expecting this to “boost down-ballot candidates.”

The painful Kicker:

If Democratic losses this year are due to 2010’s redistricting at the hands of the GOP, it’s hard to see their path forward as Republicans are yet again set to spearhead the redistricting process next year. The DLCC believes their losses are due to the map being “rigged” and point to gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts as proof.

No doubt there were individual success stories for Dems in state legislative races. But, after all of the valid points about GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression have been made, Dems will have to do some soul-searching about their brand and how it is perceived at the local level- and then get busy creating a beter plan for 2022.