Thursday, March 21, 2019

How Democrats Can Win (and Keep Winning)

Paul Starr's new column on the Prospect website makes a lot of good points on how Democrats can win going forward and stick around long enough to actually get things done. He notes:
"The challenge for Democrats....isn’t just to gain power but to keep it. The big changes that Democrats want to bring about will take a long time to see through. The last two Democratic presidents both lost control of Congress at the first midterm election. To break that pattern, Democrats need a strategy that can maintain and even expand their coalition instead of undercutting it....
To avoid the problems Clinton faced in 2016 in conveying a message about change, the Democrats need to focus on a few big ideas that embrace many of the specific policies they will be promising to pursue...."
Starr mentions a couple of these big ideas. One is a Green New Deal. He frames it like this:
"[A] narrowly tailored climate policy—built, for example, around a carbon tax—will not work. To succeed politically, a program has to provide voters with immediate and tangible benefits, and the way to do that is to frame climate reform as a program for rebuilding America, which, in fact, it necessarily must be. Trump promised an infrastructure program but has failed to deliver it; the Green New Deal can be that program, except now aimed at meeting both economic and urgent environmental goals. This shouldn’t be a Christmas tree hung with every progressive ornament, but it has to be socially inclusive, deliver increased earnings (for example, through a higher minimum wage), and attend to the legitimate worries of workers and communities, especially those threatened at least initially by the coming energy transition. Borrowing is a proper way to finance public investments that bring a future return, and that is principally what Democrats should rely on, without being intimidated by deficit scolds as they were in recent Democratic administrations."
The points about providing voters with "immediate and tangible benefits" and not being afraid of borrowing for public investment are important ones. His other recommended big idea is family security. Besides a child allowance and an expanded child tax credit,
"Proposals for paid family leave and universal child care would also fit into what could be conceived of as a broader Family Security Act, aimed at helping young families get a start and providing a secure foundation for their—that is, for America’s—children. Democrats ought to finance these programs not only by repealing most of the unpopular 2017 Republican tax legislation but also through higher taxes on the superrich, as in Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on households with net assets of more than $50 million."
All good by me. Starr also stresses the need to stay away from unpopular or problematic ideas that will make it harder to get elected or get things done once your are. Music to my ears. He mentions specifically:
* reparations for descendants of slaves.
* single payer health care that eliminates private insurance
On the latter idea, Starr touts instead extending Medicare to those 50-65. I guess I would be tempted to go a bit farther and advocate the Medicare for Anyone idea (see previous post), which would make Medicare broadly available but allow people to keep their private health insurance if they wish. Perhaps that's a third big idea.
This third idea could be particularly important given that Trump appears determined to continue his advocacy for repealing Obamacare (see his latest budget). This is a tremendous opening for Democrats, given the role of health care in the 2018 election and the contrast this will allow the Democratic candidate to draw with Trump. Ron Brownstein in a recent Atlantic article cites some particularly illuminating data from 2018 that should clarify the stakes for Democrats on the health care issue:
"Health care, most strategists agree, was especially important in helping Democrats claw back some support from the working-class white voters who stampeded to Trump in 2016. In previously unpublished results provided to me by Edison, non-college-educated white women, usually a solidly Republican-leaning group, split nearly evenly when asked which party would do a better job at protecting patients with preexisting conditions. Fully 90 percent of the blue-collar white women who picked Democrats on that question also voted Democratic for the House. Blue-collar men still leaned more toward the GOP, but even 40 percent of them said that Democrats would better protect people with preexisting conditions, and almost four-fifths who felt that way voted Democratic for the House.
Most of the key dynamics about the 2020 general election, of course, remain unknown this far from the vote. But after Trump’s budget, two things appear more certain. One is that repeal of the ACA will be on the ballot. The other is that Democrats are much more eager to take on that fight than they were in 2012 or even in 2016, when Mitt Romney and Trump each ran on the law’s repeal."
So Democrats need to take up that fight but take it up wisely. That's the trick.
About this website
The Democrats can and must think big, but they have to frame their ideas around the realities of a coalition party that includes suburban moderates.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Do Democrats Actually Have an Immigration Policy? Do They Need One?

The answers to these questions are, respectively, no and yes. No one should kid themselves that opposition to the way Trump handles the issue and to the various racist and nativist things he says constitutes a coherent policy. It does not. Immigration is a complicated policy issue and an even more complicated political issue. Democrats must eventually define their position in this area or suffer consequences.
Of course, it is fair to point out that Americans are broadly sympathetic to immigrants, think they should be treated humanely and see them as generally strengthening the country--but that does not mean these same Americans do not favor defined limits on immigration levels, tighter border security and curtailing illegal immigration. Put simply, Americans do not favor open borders and believe (correctly) that this would not make sense as a national policy.
David Leonhardt makes some of these same points in an excellent piece in his New York Times newsletter. He notes that Democrats were not always so afraid to define their position on immigration and should not avoid doing so today simply because Trump is so terrible. He puts it this way:
"I understand why the Democratic Party has moved to the left on immigration policy over the past few years. It is, in significant part, an honorable reaction to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant racism and a desire to stand up for immigrants during his presidency. The Trump administration has separated immigrant children from their parents, and Democrats are trying to protect those families.
What’s less clear to me is exactly what the Democratic Party’s new position on immigration is.
Among the questions that I’d like Democrats to answer:
* What kind of border security do you believe in? Do you favor the policies Obama put in place to reduce illegal immigration — or a different approach?
* Do you believe that immigrants who enter this country illegally should be allowed to stay? If not, which categories of undocumented immigrants should be at risk of deportation? (In a 2016 debate, Clinton and Sanders didn’t offer clear answers when Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked similar questions.)
* What do you believe should happen to future levels of legal immigration? And what should happen to the mix of different categories of immigration? Should family connections play as large a role as they now do? Should workplace skills continue to play a small role?
* Do you believe, as Sanders suggested in 2015, that more immigration can reduce wages, especially for lower-income workers and recent immigrants themselves?"
These are all good questions and they deserve answers! Trump has an immigration policy; Democrats must have one too--and it can't simply be opposition to whatever Trump does/says. Voters will eventually infer from this that you simply want the opposite of what Trump wants--i.e,, Trump wants to close the borders, so Democrats must want to open them. That's not good policy and it sure isn't good politics.
About this website
Not so long ago, the party had a clear platform. It no longer does.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Medicare for Anyone

I think Paul Waldman has this exactly right--Medicare for Anyone is the future for the Democrats. I called the "Medicare for Anyone" idea "Medicare for All (Who Want It)" in a post awhile back but it's the same idea. Instead of replacing the private insurance market wholesale, we simply open up Medicare to anyone who wants it. But if they don't want it, they can keep the health insurance they have.
Of course, the policy details of this get complicated in terms of cost, organization, implementation, etc. They are well worked out in the DeLauro-Schakowdky Medicare for America plan and in CAP's Medicare Extra for All plan. Those details need not detain us here.
The point is that the basic idea is simple, salable, avoids big political potholes and gets us a hell of a long way in the right direction. As Waldman says:
"There are three main reasons [why this is the direction Democrats will go in]. First, this kind of plan satisfies, at least for the most part, the progressive desire to insure everyone and eliminate the pathological features of the current system. Second, it addresses what is probably the greatest vulnerability of single-payer plans: the fear of change. It’s foolish to think that fear can be eliminated through sufficient logical persuasion, and Republicans will absolutely exploit it when they fight against whatever Democrats propose. So the fact that joining Medicare would be voluntary is essential to these proposals.
And finally, it’s easy to explain. I cannot stress enough how important this is. The ACA was an absolute nightmare to explain to people, which left it vulnerable to all the demagoguery and lies Republicans could muster. Like Medicare-for-all, Medicare For Anyone is just three words, and it requires no explanation at all. You know what Medicare is, right? It’s the program your grandmother is on, the one she loves. Now anyone can join. That’s it."
That's it indeed. The press will continue to feast on stories about Democratic disagreements on health care. But in the end I suspect this is where we'll end up. And that'll be a good thing.
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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Understanding Prospects for a Blue Texas

Nate Cohn presents some new data on the 2018 Texas Senate election based on survey data, actual election results and the voter file for the state. His analysis largely accords with what I and some other analysts have been saying about trends in Texas and prospects for Democrats. Here's the basic story:
"[H]ow did Mr. O’Rourke fare so well? He did it through old-fashioned persuasion, by winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates....
Mr. O’Rourke’s strong showing had essentially nothing to do with the initial vision of a Blue Texas powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Hispanic population. The Texas electorate was only two points more Hispanic in 2018 than it was in 2012, but President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012, compared with Mr. O’Rourke’s 2.6-point loss.
At the same time, Mr. O’Rourke fared worse than Mr. Obama or Hillary Clinton in many of the state’s heavily Hispanic areas, particularly in more conservative South Texas. This could reflect Mr. Cruz’s relative strength among Hispanic voters compared with a typical Republican.
Instead, Mr. O’Rourke’s improvement came almost exclusively from white voters, and particularly college-educated white voters. Whites probably gave him around 33 percent of their votes, up from a mere 22 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.
There’s clearly additional upside for Democrats if they could pair their recent gains among white voters with improvement among Hispanic voters (through some combination of persuasion, higher turnout among registrants and newly registered voters).....
Put it together, and Texas is on the cusp of being a true (if Republican-tilting) battleground state. It might not be immediately and vigorously contested, as Arizona or North Carolina will most likely be, given the greater expense of campaigning in Texas and the fact that it starts out to the right of those states. But if Democrats chose to contest it seriously in 2020, there wouldn’t be anything crazy about that."
So there you have it. Texas really is becoming a battleground state, through a very interesting combination of persuasion, turnout and demographic change. There's a lesson there for people who are just included to look at one factor!
About this website
Hispanics represent the (elusive) upside for Democrats, but it’s a shift in white voters that is making the biggest difference.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Struggling Communities and the 2020 Election

Trump's re-election prospects depend importantly on how he fares in the struggling rural and small town communities where he did so well in 2016. If he can duplicate that performance, he'll have a good shot at a second term.
First of all, are these communities still struggling? If not, that would perhaps help him retain these voters. But it looks like recovery has been slow. From a Brookings report on the geography of employment growth:
"[W]e compared job growth across places since the depths of the recession, grouping places by how economically successful they were prior to 2011. We find that employment is growing faster in thriving places than in struggling places, but it is particularly lagging in struggling rural places."
So, the Democrats logically should have an opportunity here. Will they show up? The 2018 election might be a model. From an interesting article on political behavior by dollar store concentration in Congressional Districts:
"Very few districts moved towards the GOP in 2018. Those that did were almost entirely in (and remained in) Democratic hands. Rather, even in districts with many dollar stores, congressional votes totals moved somewhere between a little and a lot towards the Democratic candidate.In fact, in 2018, Democrats improved their vote share as much in high-dollar-store districts as they did in ones with the fewest stores. The party’s vote share improved most in the mid-to-high dollar store districts in between. They even managed to win in VA-02.
Up through the 2016 elections, the ongoing geographic concentration of prosperity drove a widening political divide. Democrats were positioned as caring about the kinds of people who live in urban areas, and the kinds of poverty and inequality they face. That left Democrats vulnerable to Republican claims that they didn’t care about the kinds of people who live in small town and rural areas or the hardships they face. The social infrastructure through which Democrats once made their case in dollar-store country, like unions and working-class churches, was battered by the same grim trends that favored dollar stores’ arrival.
So how did Democrats make a comeback? In place after place, in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, local progressives decided they could no longer wait for someone else to fix a political system they saw as broken. They stepped forward, found each other, created and used online resources, and took hands-on political action. Where Democrats’ local infrastructure had most atrophied, the new presence was most impactful."
Hope the article's authors are right about the salience of local activism. We'll see.
About this website
Trump overwhelmingly won in small towns and rural areas. Here's why that might be changing.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Turnout and Persuasion in the 2018 Texas Senate Election

With Beto O'Rourke apparently about to enter the Presidential race, it's a good time to consider how he did so well in that 2018 Senate election. Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights recently published some detailed data on Twitter which I think are quite interesting. The main takeaways are below. I was particularly struck by the findings on persuasion vs. turnout. The key to O'Rourke's excellent performance was apparently persuading folks to vote for him, rather than simply getting more Democrats our to vote.
 Turnout leaned slightly right of ‘16.
 Backbone of Dem ‘18 voter surges: Whites in metros and young voters.
 Stronger Latino turnout than in CA or FL
 Dem gains entirely persuasion- (not turnout-) based
About this website
With Beto gearing up for 2020, what can his 2018 race teach us?

Friday, March 8, 2019

Are We Underestimating Trump?

Maybe we are. He is the incumbent President after all and the economy has been pretty good. He's got a strong base. That said, he is pretty darn vulnerable as incumbent Presidents go. Democrats are very motivated and his approval ratings have been consistently bad with extraordinarily high strong disapproval.
But, let's face it, he could win again and therefore you really, really don't want to make too many mistakes in the effort to get rid of him, David Byler, the Post's new political data columnist, makes this case strongly in a new article. After noting Trump's strong points and cautioning against the assumption that Trump's approval rating can only go down, not up, he has the following words of wisdom for Democrats:
"Democrats could underestimate Trump and incorrectly think they have more room to move to the left than they really do. I want to be clear here — this isn’t a “Back To The Center, Democrats” take. I think a Democratic Party that adopts a people-versus-the-powerful ethos, heads left on economics and pushes on issues where Trump has been especially un-populist could work. But not every left-leaning position is as popular as marriage equality. Some 2020 Democrats (most notably Kamala Harris) have signaled that they’re open to some form of reparations for slavery. Whatever you think of the merits of that policy, it polls badly.
Underrating Trump could also lead Democrats to make bad decisions about the map. It would be easy for Democratic politicians to look at Trump’s low approval numbers, the growing number of Asian American and Latino voters, and conclude that they should de-emphasize the Midwest (or take the region for granted) and run hard in long-term targets such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas so they can run up the electoral college score.
Democrats shouldn’t do that. They should try to play on a broad map that includes Midwestern swing states as well as suburban, diversifying America. It’s smart for Democrats to try to get Republicans to spend money and effort on Georgia and Arizona, but Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are still arguably the lowest hanging fruit and the best route to 270 electoral votes."
Sound right to me. We just can't afford big mistakes this time 'round...We gotta play it smart.
About this website
The conventional wisdom is underrating Trump. And that could lead to bad decisions and consequences for both sides.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

In Praise of Climate Realism

I detect a distinct lack of realism in the approach of many activists to the global warming problem. I'm for some sort of Green New Deal too but it seems quite unlikely to me that warming, relative to pre-industrial levels, is going to be held under 1.5 degrees C or even 2 degrees C. So how do we adapt and, at the same time, prevent warming that goes even farther? And does the current wave of climate catastrophism (e.g., David Wallace-Wells' The Uninhabitable Earth, but there are countless others) help or hurt such an effort?
I thought this article by Ted Nordhaus and Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute was an excellent attempt to grapple with these questions in a real world, cut-the-bullshit way. YMMV.
Is climate change more like an asteroid or diabetes? Last month, one of us argued at Slate that climate advocates should resist calls to declare a national climate emergency because climate change was more like “diabetes for the planet” than an asteroid. The diabetes metaphor was surprisingly co...

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Democratic Shifts Between 2016 and 2018 Occurred Almost Everywhere

My friend and frequent co-author Bill Frey had an excellent article out on voting shifts between 2016 and 2018, based on county-level data. By comparing Presidential voting in 2016 to House voting in 2018 on a county by county (and also state by state) basis, he finds the following:
"[T]he Democratic wave is all encompassing: 83 percent of the voting population lived in counties where support for Democrats has improved since 2016. This increased Democratic support was not confined to traditional Democratic base counties. It occurred in suburbs, smaller metropolitan and rural counties, and most noticeably, in counties with concentrations of older, native-born and white residents without college degrees. Moreover, at the state level, enough states flipped from Republican majorities in the 2016 presidential election to Democratic majorities in the 2018 House elections to project a 2020 Democratic Electoral College win....
in a vast majority of counties—even in those won by Republicans in 2018—more voters favored Democrats in 2018 than in 2016....In a majority of counties (2,445 of 3,111)—irrespective of whether the final 2018 vote favored Republican or Democratic candidates—there was a positive D-R margin shift between 2016 and 2018 (meaning either a greater Democratic advantage or a smaller Republican advantage)....
Counties with [the biggest shifts in} D-R margins tend to have “Republican leaning” attributes, when compared with all counties: greater shares of non-college whites and persons over age 45, and smaller shares of minorities and persons who are foreign born. This occurs among both Democratic-voting and Republican-voting counties, and suggests that there was a shift toward Democratic support in counties that helped elect Donald Trump in 2016...
Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona...[which went for Trump in 2016] registered Democratic advantages in their 2018 House elections. If those results hold for the 2020 election, the Democratic candidate would receive 293 electoral votes—enough to win the presidency Moreover, in all but two [of the 50} states, 2018 House D-R margins showed more positive or less negative values than those for the 2016 presidential race—both in “red” Republican states and in “blue” Democratic states "
Fascinating stuff, with some interesting political implications. And copiously illustrated with maps, charts and tables! Check it out.
About this website
Contents: More than four-fifths of 2018 voters reside in counties with rising Democratic support Increased 2018 Democratic support occurred in suburbs, small metros, and rural areas. Counties with …