Sunday, November 10, 2019

More on the Virginia Story

Good Washington Post article discussing the shifts in Virginia, with some quotes from yours truly.
"A GOP candidate hasn’t won statewide office in Virginia since 2009. On Tuesday, Democrats gained majorities in both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation; the House of Delegates swung from a 66-34 Republican edge in 2017 to a 55-45 Democratic advantage for next year’s session.
In presidential elections, Virginia has moved so swiftly to the left in recent contests that it barely paused to be a swing state.
“This is the nightmare scenario for a lot of people in the Republican Party,” said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer at the liberal Center for American Progress. “Virginia is an example of a possible future for some of the states that are now part of the Republican coalition.”
Virginia now stands as a fearful avatar for Republicans of what the nation’s unrelenting demographic and cultural changes mean for the party, as the moderate-to-liberal urban and suburban areas grow and more conservative rural areas lose ground. Similar shifts are starting to hit such states as North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and Texas, as minority populations increase and white college-educated voters continue to turn away from the Republican brand."
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Virginia’s growth has pulled it to the left, a metamorphosis that is extending to other states that have been part of the Republican coalition.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The Fight for the Suburbs

Here is a representative take on the 2019 election from Ron Brownstein, highlighting the movement of the suburbs away from Trump and the GOP.
“When Trump was elected, there was an initial rejection of him in the suburbs,” says Jesse Ferguson, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist. “We are now seeing a full-on realignment.”
In that way, the GOP’s losses again raised the stakes for Republicans heading into 2020. In both message and agenda, Trump has reoriented the Republican Party toward the priorities and grievances of non-college-educated, evangelical, and nonurban white voters. His campaign has already signaled that it will focus its 2020 efforts primarily on turning out more working-class and rural white voters who did not participate in 2016.
But yesterday’s results again suggested that the costs of that intensely polarizing strategy may exceed the benefits. Republicans again suffered resounding repudiations in urban centers and inner suburbs, which contain many of the nonwhite, young-adult, and white-collar white voters who polls show are most resistant to Trump. If the metropolitan movement away from the Trump-era GOP “is permanent, there’s not much of a path for Republican victories nationally,” former Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee about two decades ago, told me."
This is fine as far as it goes but it's important to stress that the battle for the suburbs is not over. The battle will continue into 2020 and is likely to be decisive to the outcome. That's because the suburbs where the Democrats have been cleaning up tend to be suburbs that are fairly close to the city--"inner-ring" suburbs. But beyond the inner ring suburbs lies a vast amount of suburbia--"outer ring" suburbs, where the Democrats are not doing so well.
Robert Gebeloff explains in an excellent piece in the New York Times, where he analyzes all census tracts in the US and categorizes them on a 1-10 scale based on population and development density.
"We categorized the tracts that scored 1 or 2 as rural, and those that scored 9 or 10 as urban.
Everything in between was suburbia, although we eventually divided the suburbs into two groups as well. The reason? When we started running the numbers for demographics and 2016 election results, we realized that the more-dense suburban tracts were, as a group, far different from the less-dense tracts.
We called less-dense suburbs “outer ring,” and denser suburbs “inner ring.”...
[T]here is [a] distinction within the suburbs. All of suburbia has grown more diverse, but inner-ring neighborhoods have a much higher share of nonwhite residents than outer-ring neighborhoods do.
And the inner ring is more likely to support Democratic candidates; the outer more likely to vote Republican. Our analysis jibes with what some others have pointed out, there is a relationship between density and political preference.
“Majorities tend to flip from blue to red roughly where commuter suburbs give way to ‘exurban’ sprawl,” wrote Will Wilkinson, a researcher at the libertarian Niskanen Center, in a recent report. “That’s where the political boundary of the density divide is drawn.”
If 2016 is an indication, the battle lines are clear for 2020. Hillary Clinton dominated the inner-ring suburbs, and Donald J. Trump was dominant in the outer ring."
Where exactly the line in suburbia is drawn between Democratic and Republican strength will probably determine the outcome in 2020.
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With suburbia now split in two parts, we needed a more precise method to distinguish them.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Nonvoters and the 2020 Election

Mobilizing nonvoters is viewed in many left activist circles as the perfect solution to all political problems. There are huge numbers of nonvoters from Democrat-friendly demographics so if a large proportion of nonvoters vote it should be enough to overcome the GOP, without worrying about the pesky business of persuasion. Plus the way to mobilize Democrat-leaning nonvoters is with the most progressive possible policies, so you can not only win but win and be super-progressive at the same time.
This view can be boiled down to two propositions:
1. High levels of nonvoter mobilization will produce victory for Democrats
2. Nonvoters who can be persuaded to vote Democratic are lefter than normal Democrats
Neither one of these propositions is true. The country and particularly the key battleground states are full of nonvoters that can be mobilized not just by Democrats but also by Republicans. The typical nonvoter in the midwest for example is white noncollege, not a particularly friending demographic for the Democrats. Therefore, while Democrats could certainly benefit from high levels of voting by current nonvoters, there is no guarantee: it may well be a wash or even somewhat favor the other side.
Secondly, nonvoters who are most persuadable for the Democrats are not more left than typical Democrats. On the contrary, in many ways, they are more moderate. So that part of the equation is suspect too.
Nate Cohn in a lengthy New York Times presents recent evidence on these questions. It is well worth reading.
"For Democrats, part of the problem is that the demographics of nonvoters no longer work so clearly in their favor. Nonvoters are less likely to have graduated from a four-year college, and the president excels among the less educated white voters who are overrepresented among nonvoters in the battleground states.
But the Democratic challenge runs beyond demographics. In general, the nonvoters are less ideological and less partisan than demographically similar voters, which weakens the expected Democratic demographic edge.....
[N]onvoting Democrats look about the same as those who vote. But the group looks relatively likely to include voters who have not been animated by the cultural fights of the last half decade, which might be something of a surprise given their relative youth.
Nonvoters are the likeliest group of Democratic leaners to oppose an assault weapons ban or to support reducing legal immigration to the United States. They’re likeliest to agree that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minorities, even though the group is only 50 percent white. They’re also likeliest to agree that political correctness has gone too far."
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Demographically, they seem like people who’d want to vote out Trump. Yet at least in the battleground states, many favor Republicans.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Can the Democrats Walk Down the Street and Chew Gum at the Same Time?

We shall see. John Cassidy, in a recent New Yorker column, partly based on my research, makes the case that they must do so.
"[T]he Democratic candidate, whoever it is, needs a convincing strategy for winning at least some of the battleground states that Trump carried last time. Failing to focus on this goal relentlessly would be inviting a repeat of 2016.
At least mathematically, the elements of a successful battleground-state strategy are clear. The Democratic candidate needs to excite voters in the Democratic base, particularly minorities and highly educated whites, while also trying to appeal to as many people as possible in Trump’s core demographic, which consists of whites who don’t have a four-year college degree. Contrary to some analyses, both of these things are necessary: it isn’t an either-or choice. The Democrats need a dual strategy....
In 2016, about a third of Hispanics and Asians voted for Trump, according to Teixeira and Halpin’s figures, and so did more than four in ten college-educated whites. Conversely, even as Trump racked up a huge margin among white non-college-educated voters—thirty-two percentage points—almost a third of the people in this category voted for Hillary Clinton.
Regional differences also complicate things. In much of the Midwest, which has long been a key electoral region, non-college-educated whites still constitute a majority of the voters, or close to it. Teixeira and Halpin project that in 2020 this group will make up roughly fifty-six per cent of the eligible electorate in Wisconsin, fifty-two per cent in Michigan, roughly forty-nine per cent in Pennsylvania, and fifty-two per cent in Minnesota, which Trump lost narrowly in 2016 and is targeting again.
Because candidates can’t rely on monolithic voting patterns, they can’t rely on monolithic electoral strategies either. Successful Presidential candidates, even as they target their core supporters, somehow manage to limit their losses among groups that aren’t inherently favorable to them. That is what Barack Obama did in 2012, when he held Mitt Romney’s victory margin among white non-college-educated voters to twenty-two per cent, while racking up big victory margins among minorities and highly educated whites. This two-step garnered him three hundred and thirty-two votes in the Electoral College.
Given Trump’s popularity among working-class whites, and the emphasis that he and his campaign are placing on their vote, it would be very difficult for any Democrat in 2020 to match what Obama did in 2012. But this doesn’t mean that the Democrats should give up on this demographic. Even just preventing Trump from expanding his 2016 margin among non-college-educated whites could be sufficient to deny him a victory in key battleground states, and in the election over all, Teixeira and Halpin argue....
None of this means that the Democrats should limit efforts to mobilize minorities, college graduates, and other Democratic-leaning groups. To the contrary, it is absolutely imperative that they continue, for example, launching enrollment drives in black neighborhoods in Milwaukee and taking steps to cement their 2018 gains in affluent districts north and west of Philadelphia. That is what it means to follow a dual strategy of attacking Trump’s weaknesses and trying to neutralize his strengths.
And paying attention to working-class white voters doesn’t necessarily mean tempering progressive policy proposals like raising taxes on the rich, tackling political corruption, providing universal day care, and guaranteeing health care to everyone....
The fundamental point is that the Democrats need to lay out a policy platform that appeals to a wide range of Americans, regardless of their race, location, and educational background, while also hammering home the message that Trump is divisive, fraudulent, self-dealing, and dangerously erratic. Among white non-college-educated women, if not their male counterparts, there is already some evidence of a willing audience for this narrative....
Even if the Party’s 2020 candidate falls short of drawing even with working-class women, significantly reducing Trump’s advantage among these voters would go a long way toward assuring his defeat. Above anything else, that has to be the goal."
Yes indeed, that does have to be the goal--which calls for the chewing gum and walking down the street trick. Put more broadly, let me reintroduce my concept of Common Sense Democrats, which I motivate and explain as follows.
Looking forward to 2020, Democrats have a lot of very important questions that can reasonably be debated, from the specific candidate to nominate to which issues to emphasize to the best campaign tactics. But there is a need for political common sense to undergird these debates. If polling, trend data, campaign history and/or electoral arithmetic make clear that certain approaches are minimum requirements for success, they should be front-loaded into the discussion. That way discussion can focus on what is truly important instead of endlessly relitigating questions that are essentially settled.
In other words, start with common sense and then build from there. There will still be plenty of room for debates between left and right in the party, but matters of common sense should be neither left nor right. They are simply what is and what anyone's strategy, whatever their political leanings, must take into account.
Let's call practitioners of this approach "Common Sense Democrats". Here are 7 propositions Common Sense Democrats should agree on.
1. Of course, Democrats need to reach persuadable white working class voters. There is abundant evidence that such voters exist, that they were particularly important in the 2018 elections, that such voters have serious reservations about Trump and that they are central to a winning electoral coalition in Rustbelt states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Shifts among such voters do not have to be large to be effective.
2. Of course, Democrats need to target the Rustbelt. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were the closest states in 2016, gave the Democrats big bounceback victories in 2018 and, of states Clinton did not win in 2016, currently give Trump the lowest approval ratings.
3. Of course, Democrats need to promote as high turnout as possible among supportive constituencies like nonwhites and younger voters. But evidence indicates that high turnout is not a panacea and cannot be substituted for persuasion efforts.
4. Of course, Democrats need to compete strongly in southern and southwestern swing states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Recent election results, trend data and Trump approval ratings all indicate that these states are accessible to Democrats though less so than the key Rustbelt states. As such, they form a necessary complement to Rustbelt efforts but not a substitute.
5. Of course, Democrats need to run on more than denouncing Trump and Trump's racism. One lesson of the 2016 campaign is that it is not enough to "call out' Trump for having detestable views. That did not work then and it is not likely to work now. Democrats' 2018 successes were based on far more than that, effectively employing issue contrasts that disadvantaged the GOP. Trump will be happy to have an unending conversation about those he loves to denounce—criminal immigrants, radical Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc--and those who denounce his denunciations. Don't let him.
6. Of course, Democrats should not run against Trump with positions that are unambiguously unpopular. These include, but are not limited to, abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency), reparations for the descendants of slaves, abolishing private health insurance and decriminalizing the border with Mexico. Whatever merits such ideas may have as policy--and these are generally debatable--there is strong evidence that they are quite unpopular with most voters and therefore will operate as a drag on the Democratic nominee.
7. Of course, Democrats should focus on what will maximize their probability of beating Trump. By this I mean there are plenty of strategies that have some chance of beating Trump--if such and such happens, if such and such goes right (cutting-edge progressive positions produce high turnout among Democratic voters but not among Republicans). You can always tell a story. But the important thing is: what maximizes your chance of victory, given what we know about political trends and the current state of public opinion. In this election, Democrats can afford nothing less.
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NEWYORKER.COM
Successful Presidential candidates, even as they target their core supporters, somehow manage to limit their losses among groups that aren’t inherently favorable to them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

This Just In: Doing Unpopular Stuff Makes You Unpopular

David Frum has a good piece up on the Atlantic on GOP governor Matt Bevin's defeat in Kentucky. Frum reminds us that not only was Bevin a jerk (like Trump) but he was also pursuing a lot of very unpopular policies (like Trump and the entire GOP).
"Those [contentious] behaviors [by Bevin] may have contributed to the collapse of Republican support in Kentucky’s urban areas and more affluent suburbs, such as Campbell County and Kenton County, on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati....But the true fire bell in the night for Trump and his party comes from a different direction: from the slump in Republican voting in southeastern Kentucky, formerly coal country.
What happened there?
No state saw a more dramatic improvement in its health-care-insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act than Kentucky. And no part of Kentucky benefited more than the southeast from the ACA.....
Bevin’s personal behavior may have been extreme, but his policy priorities as governor were squarely in the GOP mainstream. Squeezing the ACA has been Trump policy, too. Nationwide, Medicaid and S-Chip enrollment has declined by 1.7 million over the past two years, a decline too big to be explained solely by improvements in the job market.
The central idea of the Trump candidacy and the Trump presidency has been that Trump’s abnormal behavior could win just enough votes from culturally conservative whites to overcome the unpopularity of the Republican agenda. Kentucky tested that proposition—and proved it false."
In other words, unpopular policies do wind up, on net, making you unpopular! Frum concludes
"Trump is even more unpopular in the suburbs of Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, than in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. Even more people have lost Medicaid coverage under Trump in Indiana and Tennessee than in Kentucky.
Trump is a historically unpopular president, delivering a historically unpopular agenda. If that message failed in Kentucky, where will it succeed?"
Where indeed? This is really Trump's fundamental problem--he's an unpopular guy doing unpopular things. Unless the Democrats screw this up (quite possible!) he should, deservedly so, wind up a one-term President.
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THEATLANTIC.COM
The Republican incumbent couldn’t overcome the unpopularity of the party’s agenda. That doesn’t bode well for the GOP in 2020.

I Don't Know About You, But I'm Still Not Tired of Winning!

Yes, yes, 2019 does not predict 2020. Lots of local factors, only a handful of elections, Presidential elections are really different, etc.,etc. .But perhaps we should take moment to savor what's happened over the 2017-2019 elections, all bad ones for Trump's team. As helpfully summarized by Aaron Blake in the Washington Post:
* The House was 241-194 Republican after the 2016 election. Today, it’s effectively 235-199 Democratic.
* Republicans held a historic 33-16 advantage in governor’s seats after the 2016 election. Today, it’s 26-24.
* Republicans had a 32-14 advantage in state legislatures controlled after 2016. Today, it’s 30-19. (Some legislatures are split, with one party controlling one chamber, and the other party in a majority in the other.)
*The GOP had total control over the governance of 24 states, vs. seven for Democrats. Today, it’s a much-closer 22-14.
* Republicans had an advantage of 57 percent to 42 percent in nationwide state legislative seats after 2016. Today, that 15-point edge is trimmed to five, 52-47.
And I'm still not tired! In fact, I feel kind of refreshed.
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So much losing, the party must be getting tired of it.

Monday, November 4, 2019

How Seriously Should We Take the New York Times/Siena Battleground Polls?

On one level, I think these polls fruitfully remind us that Trump is likely to be quite competitive in most battleground states. As has been widely noted, Biden, the candidate who runs strongest against Trump, has slender registered voter leads in these polls of 3 points or less in the key Rustbelt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (Oddly,Biden runs stronger in these polls in Arizona where they give him a 5 point lead.)
They also confirm that, at this point, Biden does run the strongest against Trump in these states and that the differential between Biden's slim leads and the performance of other candidates like Warren and Sanders, while small, is enough to tip some of these states back in Trump's direction. The significance of this differential has been cloaked by polling that has shown Biden farther ahead in these states, so that lagging his performance by a few points was not enough to tip the states in Trump's direction.
That said, I do wonder about some of these results. Again, look at the three Rustbelt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: previous polling had Biden ahead of Trump by an average of 11 points in Michigan, 10 points in Pennsylvania and 7 points in Wisconsin. And this is in a national environment where Biden leads Trump by an average of 9 points. So the NYT/Sienna results are pretty different. (Note: the results shown below for MI include the NYT//Siena likely voter result, but this doesn't really affect the comparison since the LV and RV results barely differed.)
That's not to say they're wrong. It could be the previous polls that were wrong. At any rate, if you scrutinize the NYT/Siena methodology document, it's easy to see ways in which their approach could have introduced error--or corrected it! Impossible to tell.
So the safest thing is to treat this set of polls as a new data point, but not a definitive one. As always, it's best to treat a single poll's findings in the context of data and trend from other sources.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

How to Beat Trump? Ditch the PC Stuff

Time to talk turkey about the left's big problem. No, political correctness is not just some harmless and occasional excesses by well-meaning activists. And it not a myth ginned up by the right which therefore must be defended against attacks by all right-thinking progresses. It is a genuine and real political problem that could allow Trump to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in 2020.
Tom Edsall makes this case well in this latest piece in the New York Times, part of a series they are running on "How to Beat Trump in 2020"
"President Trump is unpopular, but that doesn’t mean defeating him is going to be easy. Democrats will have to tackle issues that may alienate — and even give offense to — progressives, women, Latinos and African-Americans.
Putting together a broad enough coalition to finish the job — to win 270 Electoral College votes — will require navigating fraught cultural arenas: race, immigration and women’s rights — while dodging the broadly loathed set of prohibitions that many voters, including many Democrats, file under the phrase “political correctness.”....
Last year, Matt Grossmann, a political scientist at Michigan State, “reviewed nearly every academic article containing the name ‘Donald Trump’,” and concluded that “attitudes about race, gender, and cultural change played outsized roles” in Trump’s victory. Trump’s adamant “aversion to political correctness,” Grossmann argued, was a crucial factor in the outcome in 2016:
"Many people dislike group-based claims of structural disadvantage and the norms obligating their public recognition. Those voters saw Trump as their champion. The 2016 election produced greater candidate and voter division around the celebration of diversity and accepted explanations for group disparities."....
Immigration is a particular trouble spot:
"Justin Gest, a professor of public policy at George Mason, in an email articulated a widely held view among Democratic strategists:
"In survey after survey, Americans favor immigration and immigrants but they also want to have the sense that their government regulates entry and exit at their borders and the various processes for acquiring visas and citizenship"
This compromise-oriented approach is reflected in....an Oct. 20 Public Religion Research Institute report showing that 56 percent of Americans support restrictive immigration policies but 89 percent have a positive view of immigrants.
Clearly, as Trump’s election demonstrated, some voters “want to severely truncate immigration and halt the diversification of the population,” Gest wrote, but “the vast majority just want the sense that the government is in control.”
But Democrats, Gest continued, are,
"loath to use the word “control.” The most effective position champions the virtue, value, and integrity of American immigrants while reassuring voters that the only way to attract the best and the brightest is to build a well-regulated system."
A Republican Trump critic, who asked to remain anonymous in order to offer advice to the other party, cautioned Democrats against appearing to support open borders by decriminalizing border crossing.
Instead, he argued, support for “a generous immigration policy” granting a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers, is best “made from a position of strength: We have control of the border, so let’s be generous and merciful about how we exercise that control. If we appear to cede control, it’s a lot harder to sell generosity and mercy.”
None of this is rocket science. Many, many voters will be looking for an excuse to vote against Trump but can definitely be put off the cluster of issues in and around political correctness. Democrats must be wiling to show a little courage and stand up to those who insist Democrats are not really progressive unless they embrace a certain nomenclature and set of priorities. The outcome of the 2020 election may well depend on that.
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And they don’t have to give up their principles to do it.