washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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

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

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

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

Read the memo.

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

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

Plausible Strategy for Surge of Immigrants

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

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

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

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

The Daily Strategist

October 26, 2021

New Site Content

by Scott Winship
This week we closed out our Missing the Middle roundtable with a final response from Third Way. I’m also happy to report that today a new article went up on our homepage. “Authoritarianism and the American Political Divide,” by political scientists Jonathan Weiler and Marc J. Hetherington, shows that the extent to which people hold authoritarian child-rearing attitudes predicts their political preferences. Not only that, but when the perceived threat from some development — say, terrorism or gay marriage — the preferences of anti-authoritarians tend to move toward those of authoritarians. Check out this important article, and let us know what you think.


NYT/CBS Poll: Dems Ahead 15 Points in Mid-Term Races

With 47 days to go before the mid-term election, Democrats have a 15 point lead over Republicans among registered voters in a generic vote for congressional representatives, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 9/15-19. As Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder explain in their NYT poll summary:

In the poll, 50 percent said they would support a Democrat in the fall Congressional elections, compared with 35 percent who said they would support a Republican….In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give a new people a chance. That is the highest number of voters saying it is “time for new people” since the fall of 1994.

But Elder and Nagourney warn that Dems should temper their expectations because of several factors:

But the poll found that Democrats continued to struggle to offer a strong case for turning government control over to them; only 38 percent said the Democrats had a clear plan for how they would run the country, compared with 45 percent who said the Republicans had offered a clear plan…Democrats face substantial institutional obstacles in trying to repeat what Republicans accomplished in 1994, including a Republican financial advantage and the fact that far fewer seats are in play…Most analysts judge only about 40 House seats to be in play at the moment, compared with over 100 seats in play at this point 12 years ago, in large part because redistricting has created more safe seats for both parties.

Still, Democrats can be encouraged by the fact that 43 percent of respondents said they were “more enthusiastic” about voting on November 7. In addition, Dems have narrowed the GOP advantage on addressing terrorism to 5 percent, according to the poll.


Dems Gain in Key Swing States

For an insightful analysis of current congressional campaigns in key swing states, read “Mood Indigo: A Democratic Revival” by John B. Judis in the New Republic Online. Judis, NR senior editor, author and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has recently returned from swing states Colorado and Ohio, where he interviewed voters and candidates. His report has a lot for Dems to be encouraged about, including:

…this year, Democrats could unseat as many as five House Republicans in Ohio and win a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. In Colorado, Democrats are very likely to win the governorship and both state legislatures, and to take as many as three House seats from the Republicans. And, in both states, it’s not just a sudden and fleeting reaction to Bush, but the resumption of a movement among upscale suburban voters and working-class Reagan Democrats. America may not turn blue this year, but it looks as if it is definitely becoming purple.

Judis says there are two general types of districts that are morphing Democratic:

The first is suburbs of older manufacturing regions in the East, Midwest, and West that have shifted to producing high-tech information services. These areas are heavily populated by professionals–from scientists and software programmers to teachers and nurses–who began voting Democratic in the late ’80s and early ’90s in response to the GOP’s embrace of the religious right and adoption of a deregulatory, anti-New Deal business agenda. Democratic support in these areas was particularly high among women voters and voters with a postgraduate education.
…The second kind of district where Democrats have a chance of unseating Republicans is white, working-class, and located in or near a mid-sized city like South Bend or Louisville. Voters in these districts tend to be less affluent, less educated, and more socially conservative.

Judis has a lot more interesting detail and analysis about this trend and the political dynamics of the campaigns — particularly the role of women voters. His article is highly reccommended for everyone interested in Democratic political strategy.


Vote Theft, Poll Screw-ups Cut Dem Wins

In a better world, political strategists wouldn’t have to factor voter suppression, polling shenanigans and glitches into their planning. All votes would be accurately counted and the polls would run smoothly. Doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, in a great democracy.
In 21st century America, however, ignoring voter theft and polling screw-ups in formulating strategy is a prescription for defeat in too many localities. Writing in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, Sasha Abramsky explains it thusly in “Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America’s worst places to cast a ballot (or try): Machines that count backward, slice-and-dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming, and plenty of dirty tricks”:

We used to think the voting system was something like the traffic laws — a set of rules clear to everyone, enforced everywhere, with penalties for transgressions; we used to think, in other words, that we had a national election system. How wrong a notion this was has become painfully apparent since 2000: As it turns out, except for a rudimentary federal framework (which determines the voting age, channels money to states and counties, and enforces protections for minorities and the disabled), U.S. elections are shaped by a dizzying mélange of inconsistently enforced laws, conflicting court rulings, local traditions, various technology choices, and partisan trickery.

Abramsky then describes vote rip-offs and polling screw-ups in some of the ‘worst places’ for voters, including Atlanta; Beaufort, N. C. ; Fort Worth, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Franklin and Cuyahogo counties in Ohio; Travis County, TX; the Mississippi Delta; Charleston, S.C. and Waller County, TX . He also spotlights major statewide problems in Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.
It’s a sobering litany of compromised voting rights, particularly for voters living in those localities – and for Democrats in general, who are the undercounted in every instance. Reforms to correct vote suppression ought to be a high priority for Dems who want to level the playing field.


Does Emotion Trump Reason in Voter Choice?

Shankar Vedantam’s “In Politics, Aim for the Heart, Not the Head” in today’s WaPo explores a provocative idea for political strategists. Although his proposition is tethered to a 71 year-old experiment in which voters responded twice as positively to a raw, emotional appeal over a rational one, the idea deserves some consideration. Vedantam puts it this way:

Given the enormous proliferation of policy questions today, surfing the emotional wave nowadays may be even more important than it was in 1935. George E. Marcus, president of the International Society of Political Psychology, said modern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don’t have much effect. Voters, he explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention.
The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons — and partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising — but it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas. Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle level.

An interesting idea which warrants more long-range exploration. In terms of short-range strategy, Vedantam offers the following:

What works much better, because it influences people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a different issue — the one where the candidate is the strongest.
“The agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about,” said Nicholas A. Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel about an issue, but which issue they should focus on — that is the struggle of most modern campaign managers.”
“Campaigns have been much more successful at shifting people’s attentions to different issues rather than shifting people’s positions,” he added.

Is Vedantam on to something here? Or is this another way of saying people often vote their gut feelings? Either way, the idea merits further study.


Academic Studies Point to Democratic Wins

Over at The Atlantic Online, ace political writer Jack Beatty has an article with a title we like — “The “S” Word Spells Trouble for the GOP: If history is any guide, the Republicans will lose the House this year and the presidency in 2008.” Beatty chews on a few theories of winning elections, and offers some appealing (for Dems) observations:

American politics knows no more certain a predicative metric than that increasing unemployment or rising prices in an election year defeat the incumbent party. The phenomenon is called “economic retrospective voting.” In the long sweep of political history, it appears that, more perhaps than any other factor, the answer to Ronald Reagan’s question in his first debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980—”Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” — decides elections.

Sounds good. And citing an earlier landmark study of voting behavior, Beatty observes:

In “off-years,” when there were no presidential elections, falling real incomes predicted defeat for the incumbent party in statewide races for the U.S. House. For example, a 10 percent decrease in per capita income translated into a loss of 40 House seats.
…In short, either falling real incomes or rising unemployment strongly predicts defeat for the incumbent—that is, the president’s party in off-year elections. If the experts quoted in the Times are right, real personal incomes, which have fallen since 2001, will fall this year—that’s what inflation means. If, to moderate inflation, the Fed raises interest rates to slow the economy, then unemployment will rise. Both are likely to rise together, if Gordon is right, between now and 2008. Thus, if history is any guide, economic retrospective voting should cost the Republicans the House this year and the presidency in 2008

Yep, that’s a lot of “ifs.” But Beatty also points out that:

Correlations between the economy and the presidential vote are weaker than between the economy and the congressional vote…The economy—understood as personal incomes going up or down and unemployment going up or down—is the classic “valence-issue” in politics. “Instead of ‘position’ issues, where one party favors policy X and the other party favors policy Y…’valence’ issues chiefly hinge on perceived government management: my party can manage the economy or the war, for example, better than your party has been doing,” David R. Mayhew, a Yale political scientist, explains in Electoral Realignments (2002). “The more one examines American electoral history, the more it seems to tilt toward valence-issue as opposed to position-issue junctures.” In his 1963 paper introducing the term, Donald E. Stokes defined “valence-issues” as “those that merely involve the linking of the parties with some condition that is positively or negatively valued by the electorate.”

Based on the above, his conclusion makes sense:

If this excursion into political science has any relevance for Democratic electioneering, it may be this: downplay “position-issues”; they leave you open to attack. Instead link the Republicans to “conditions negatively valued by the electorate”—incompetent management of the government and falling real incomes or rising unemployment or both. Make the 2006 and 2008 elections referenda on a record of miserable failure.

Dry, yes. But considering that no such academic studies predicting GOP victories based on historical trends and current indicators are in evidence, Democrats should be be at least cautiously optimistic.


New Pew Report on Economic Security

by Scott Winship
So, my intent with this post was to emphasize that I really was playing devil’s advocate in my last post on the middle class. I received an email from the Pew Research Center with the following plug:

Americans See Less Progress on Their Ladder of Life
In the past four years, some of the edge has come off good old American optimism. As economists and politicians debate whether there is less mobility in the United States now than in the past, a new Pew Social Trends survey finds that many among the public are seeing less progress in their own lives.

I thought that I’d highlight this study [pdf] and thereby provide counter-evidence against my devil’s advocacy. Well, you’re just going to have to believe me that I’m agnostic on the question of middle-class insecurity because it turns out that my read of this study is that things ain’t that bad.
The report begins by noting that the number of Americans saying that they’d be better off in 5 years declined from 61 percent in 2002 to 49 percent today — less than half the population. Sounds kind of ominous on first glance. But only 12 percent think that the in 5 years they will be worse off. It turns out that 74 percent think they will be at least as well off as they currently are (14% don’t know). And while the report doesn’t give the information necessary to say for sure, I’m willing to bet that the 2006 figure isn’t statistically different from the figures Pew found for the years 1964 to 1979. Much of this period was actually economically a pretty lousy era, but the second half of the 1960s were robust years.
Similarly, while the number of people saying that they are better off today than 5 years ago has declined, it stands at 48 percent, versus 21 percent saying they are worse off. That’s no worse than from 1976 to 1996, which again includes good years and bad years.
Next is the finding that the average rating for how respondents will be doing in 5 years is down from 1999. True enough, but it is still 15% higher than the average for how they say they are currently doing, and nearly 30 percent higher than the average for how they say they did 5 years ago. And the 5-years-from-now figure is no worse than any year between 1964 and 1997.
Young people are even more optimistic about the future, with those 18-49 much significantly more optimistic than older adults. That could be due to the fact that people earn more as they age. However, blacks and Latinos are more optimistic than whites. Optimism declines as family income increases, but 48 percent of those with less than $30,000 in income are optimistic, compared with 14 percent who think they’ll do worse in 5 years.
Americans are more optimistic than their counterparts in nearly every European country.
Finally, the report indicates that Americans’ predicted rating of how they’ll be doing in 5 years is always higher than how Americans 5 years later rate the present. Aha!! The poor naifs are simply mistaken in their optimism! Maybe a bit, but Americans in 2006 ranked the present higher than respondents in any year from 1964 to 1996 did, so compared with the past, they feel they’re actually doing better than people in those years.
The patterns shown in the report tend to confirm that people who are more disadvantaged tend to be more likely to think they were better off in the past and that they’ll be better off in the future, but that’s what we’d expect if most of these folks are currently at their low point economically. They probably were better off in the past and will be better off in the future.
Oh, one more finding: Republicans and conservatives are more optimistic than Democrats and liberals….


GOP Primary Turnout in Rhode Island not so Impressive

by Alan Abramowitz
Republican Party leaders are claiming a lot of credit for their GOTV effort in Rhode Island on Tuesday and boasting that they’re going to apply the same techniques in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall. Leaving aside the question of whether it would be possible to duplicate this sort of all-out effort in 40+ House districts and 8-10 states, how impressive was the turnout in the Rhode Island Republican primary? Impressive for a Rhode Island Republican primary, but really not all that impressive. It’s not just that more votes were cast for Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse than for both Republicans combined even though Whitehouse faced only nominal opposition. GOP turnout in the hotly contested Rhode Island Senate primary was actually less impressive than Democratic turnout in the hotly contested Maryland Senate primary. When we calculate the votes cast in each primary as a percentage of the votes cast for the party’s 2004 presidential nominee we find that the Republican turnout in Rhode Island (64,000 votes) was 37.9 percent of the vote for George Bush in Rhode Island in 2004 (169,000 votes) while the Democratic turnout in Maryland (513,000 votes) was 38.5 percent of the vote for John Kerry in Maryland in 2004 (1,334,000 votes). So perhaps Democratic party leaders should be bragging about their great GOTV effort in Maryland and about how they’re going to duplicate it in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall.


Primaries Message: Ground Game, Poll Monitoring Critical

Democrats wondering how to tweak campaign strategies in the wake of Tuesday’s primaries are directed to Chris Cillizza’s and Jim VandeHei’s WaPo article “In R.I., a Model for Voter Turnout: Employing Senate Primary Strategy May Give GOP an Edge.” Read the entire article, but give this excerpt some extra thought:

The turnout campaign that Republican operatives used to help pull Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee to victory in the Rhode Island primary was a potent demonstration of how money and manpower can transform a race even in an unfavorable political environment — and a preview of the strategy that national party officials say they plan to replicate in the most competitive House and Senate races over the next 55 days.
In the past two national elections, in 2002 and 2004, Republicans outperformed Democrats in bringing their backers to the polls, but many Democrats and independent analysts have suggested that the competition may be different this year, in part because of slumping morale among GOP activists. But Chafee’s performance — combined with reports of late-starting organization and internal bickering on the Democratic side — suggest that the Republican advantage on turnout may remain intact even as many other trends are favoring the opposition.
The Republican National Committee, convinced that Chafee is the party’s only chance of keeping a seat in a Democratic-leaning state, spent $400,000 to ship 86 out-of-state volunteers and several paid staff members to Rhode Island. They targeted not just Republicans but also independent voters during the final days of the campaign, following a blueprint developed months ago by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Chafee campaign.
…”Their turnout operation is exquisite,” a senior Democratic strategist said. “We are not going to match them.”

Gulp. And then there’s this:

Recent history underscores the importance of superior voter-mobilization plans. In 2004, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) thought that if he received 190,000 votes it would be impossible for former congressman John Thune (R) to beat him. Daschle won 193,340 votes; Thune got 197,848. In Ohio — the central battleground in the race between Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) — Democrats met all of their projected vote totals but came up more than 100,000 short.

VandeHei and Cillizza provide a lot of very interesting detail about the GOP’s strategy and tactics in R.I.. Read it all. Twice.
Also check out Ron Brownstein’s more encouraging L.A. Times wrap-up of the primaries, probably the best yet published on the topic. Not to pile on with the hand-wringing, but Brownstein adds:

In a memo obtained by The Times, RNC officials said they used their “microtargeting” technology, which tries to deduce voter sympathies in part by tracking their consumer preferences, to direct a massive get-out-the-vote effort for Chafee. The RNC said its turnout program made 198,921 contacts with voters in the campaign’s final 11 days, helping to propel a record turnout nearly 40% larger than the previous high in a Republican primary.
That large influx to the polls “means there was a bunch of independents who flooded into that primary and they are the ones who saved Chafee,” said Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island. “It suggests that this general election is going to be very competitive.”

And if the GOP turnout machine wasn’t enough to worry about, Dems need to take a hard look at the failures of election day machinery, particularly the Maryland mess. For more on this, check out Richard Wolf’s disturbing USAToday piece “Election Watchers Predict Glitches” and hope — nay, pray — that Dems are on the case.


A Hairy Situation

by Scott Winship
We can talk about national security, values issues, tactics, and the like. But I think I’ve discovered the real problem we’re having: this.
According to this remarkable study by the respected firm Radar Magazine, 58% (14 of 24) of the Members of Congress with bad hair are Democrats (counting Bernie Sanders). Hell, we sweep the “Extreme Symmetry” and “Just-Nuts Hair” categories. Why is this not getting more attention? Look for an upcoming TDS issue devoted to better hair. I only hope this doesn’t decide the November elections….