Monday, August 31, 2020

Yes, Democrats Really Do Need the White Working Class

As I have repeatedly noted, the primary driver of Biden's relatively large lead in the polls and in battleground states is Biden's improved performance relative to Clinton '16 among white working class voters. If the race tightens--I mean, really tightens, not the modest changes we're seeing right now--it will likely be because Biden's relatively good performance among these voters erodes.

If that's not enough to convince you how important these voters are I commend to you my friend Andy Levison's terrific new piece on Does The Democratic Coalition Really Need the White Working Class? Read the whole thing. He makes a very compelling case for a Democratic "big tent" strategy that includes these voters. Here's the conclusion of his essay:

"The political arguments for the urgent need to build a broad or commanding “big tent” Democratic majority are well known:

a. Without winning the Senate and State Legislatures as well as the presidency Democrats will not be able to prevent more attacks on democratic institutions or advance an agenda that can win them enduring popular support.

b. With Trump’s demagogic claims that the election will be stolen, even a very solid Democratic victory in the popular vote and the electoral college will be rejected by many Trump supporters. To gain legitimacy, a Democratic victory will have to be so clear and decisive that it convinces even Trump’s supporters that it is valid.

But beyond this, there is a deeper sociological reason why a big tent coalition is indispensable. At the present time America is deeply divided between educated, diverse people living in urban, metropolitan areas on the one hand and overwhelmingly white working class people, many living in Red States, rural areas and small towns.

This deep separation creates the sociological foundation for political extremism. When people live in the same areas and communities and share schools, sporting events, parks and streets they tend to see each other as neighbors. When a deep social distance divides them, they can easily come to see each other as aliens and strangers.

So long as the Democratic and Republican parties shared a fairly wide degree of consensus, as they did in the post-World War II era, people saw members of the opposite party as “normal” people who were their friends and neighbors and with whom they socialized in daily life—at PTA meetings, Little League games and a host of other shared activities.

As the social and demographic character of Democrats and Republicans began to diverge in the 1970’s and 1980’s, on the other hand, it became easier for right wing demagogues in the GOP to portray Democrats as subversive, sinister and even evil rather than as fellow Americans with whom one just happens to somewhat disagree.

Each successive stage of this evolution has been more grotesque than the last. In the 1990’s Fox News, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh began the process of demonizing the Democrats, but the resulting militia movement remained a fringe phenomenon, especially after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1998. After Obama’s election new and more extreme demagogues like Glen Beck and Breitbart provided the ideology for the much larger Tea Party movement. Now Trump has legitimized the worst extremism ever seen in America, ranging from the conspiracy theories of Q-anon to the proud and open neo-fascists marching in Charlottesville and his own paranoid fantasies.

In this context, increasing the presence of culturally traditional Democrats in white working class and Red State districts across America is crucial for reducing extremism. Right now in many districts Republicans win 70 or 80% of the vote, making Democrats essentially invisible. Reducing the Republican advantage to 60 or 65% may seem irrelevant in purely electoral terms but in sociological terms the effect would be profound. If your next door neighbor or the captain of the baseball team is a Democrat, it becomes harder to believe conspiracy theories that claim Democrats are secret degenerates running child sex slave rings.

As a result, winning a sector of the more moderate culturally traditional white working class voters to the Democratic Party would profoundly undermine the social foundation of the current GOP extremism. This is the most important reason why a “big tent” and commanding Democratic majority is vital not only for Democrats but for the future of America."

Amen. The big tent strategy is not just a good idea; it's a necessity.


Friday, August 28, 2020

How Biden Could Lose

I'm not saying it will happen or even that it's likely it will happen. But we can begin to see the outlines of how it might happen. George Packer:

"If Donald Trump wins, in a trustworthy vote, what’s happening this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will be one reason. Maybe the reason. And yet Joe Biden has it in his power to spare the country a second Trump term....

[O]n Monday, the Republicans began their remote convention. The simultaneous mayhem in Kenosha seemed like part of the script, as it played into their main theme: that Biden is a tool of radical leftists who hate America, who want to bring the chaos of the cities they govern out to the suburbs where the real Americans live. The Republicans won’t let such an opportunity go to waste. “Law and order are on the ballot,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday night. Other speakers were harsher.

It’s no use dismissing their words as partisan talking points. They are effective ones, backed up by certain facts. Trump will bang this loud, ugly drum until Election Day. He knows that Kenosha has placed Democrats in a trap. They’ve embraced the protests and the causes that drive them. The third night of the Democratic convention was consumed with the language and imagery of protest—as if all Americans watching were activists.

On Monday, the day after Blake’s shooting, Biden and his vice-presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, released statements expressing outrage. The next day, Biden’s spokesperson released a statement opposing “burning down communities and needless destruction.” And on Wednesday, Biden, after speaking with the Blake family, condemned both the initial incident and the subsequent destruction. “Burning down communities is not protest,” he pleaded in a video. “It’s needless violence.” He said the same after George Floyd’s killing.

How many Americans have heard him? In the crude terms of a presidential campaign, voters know that the Democrat means it when he denounces police brutality, but less so when he denounces riots. To reach the public and convince it otherwise, Biden has to go beyond boilerplate and make it personal, memorable."

Packer has a suggestion for how to do this which seems eminently sensible to me. In fact, I can't think of a good reason for Biden not to do it.

"Biden, then, should go immediately to Wisconsin, the crucial state that Hillary Clinton infamously ignored. He should meet the Blake family and give them his support and comfort. He should also meet Kenoshans like the small-business owners quoted in the Times piece, who doubt that Democrats care about the wreckage of their dreams. Then, on the burned-out streets, without a script, from the heart, Biden should speak to the city and the country. He should speak for justice and for safety, for reform and against riots, for the crying need to bring the country together. If he says these things half as well as Julia Jackson did, we might not have to live with four more years of Trump."

I can, however, think of a bad reason why Biden might not do this. From a good Politico report on the situation in Kenosha and Wisconsin:

"John “Sly” Sylvester, a longtime Democrat and radio personality who has been active in the labor movement, said he feared Democrats have a "blind spot" to rioters and looters.

“I think there are some people on the left who don’t understand the concept of how important public safety is to people,” Sylvester said. “We all saw the shooting and are deeply troubled by it, but that doesn’t negate the need for public safety.”

That's right: public safety! It's very,very important to voters and Democrats need to show they're 100 percent on the right side of this issue. That means denunciations of violence and looting can't just be an afterthought to support of the current movement against police brutality. It has to be front and center and if that means incurring the wrath of some activists, BLM leaders and Twitter denizens, so be it. This election is too important to be held hostage to the actions of small groups of radicals whose tactics and illiberal ideology are toxic to the progressive cause. Time for Democrats to break out of the trap.…/20…/08/how-biden-loses/615835/…/its-playing-into-trumps-hands-de…

Some Wisconsin Democrats worry that the images of violence and destruction will turn suburban voters against the party.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Approval of BLM Declines in a Key Swing State (Wisconsin!)

Charles Franklin, who helms the widely-respected Marquette Law School poll in Wisconsin, has released a detailed series of findings on attitudes of Wisconsin voters toward BLM, the police and related issues. I strongly recommend perusing his findings for a sense of how these attitudes have been evolving recently in a key swing state. It is sobering.

Note that their most recent poll was taken before the Kenosha events and thus these findings do not reflect the extent to which attitudes toward BLM may have become more negative (or positive) in reaction to these events.

Here are the key findings:

1. Approval of BLM has dropped sharply in the state between mid-June and mid-August

"In June approval of protests was widespread, with 61 percent approving of the protests and 36 percent disapproving. Approval declined in August with 48 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.

Approval remained strong among Black or Hispanic respondents and in the City of Milwaukee, but declined among white respondents and in the four media-market regions of the state outside the city of Milwaukee. Approval also declined in each of five urban-suburban categories including cities, suburbs, exurbs, small towns and rural areas. In August more respondents approved than disapproved in cities. Suburban areas, which were substantially net positive in June, became net negative on approval in August, though not as negative as exurban, small towns or rural areas. Net approval also declined across all three categories of party identification, with the largest declines among Republicans."

2. Wisconsin voters are very favorable toward the police.

"Wisconsin respondents are extremely favorable toward the police, including 44 percent of Black or Hispanic respondents and 78 percent of white respondents in the June and August data combined.

There was a small increase in favorable views of the police between June and August, with increases across almost all groups and geographies. Small declines in the north and west and in exurbs occurred in groups with very high favorability in both months."

3. Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly oppose defunding the police.

"Large majorities oppose calls to defund the police. In June a bare majority (51 percent) of Black or Hispanic respondents supported defunding but this reversed in August with a larger majority opposed. In no region of the state does a majority support defunding and no partisan group has majority support."

4. Wisconsin voters overwhelming support reforming the policy and increasing accountability.

"Unlike defunding, there is overwhelming support to “restructure the role of the police and require greater accountability for police misconduct.” Eighty-one percent support restructuring, with 16 percent opposed. These large majorities hold across racial, geographic and political divides, including support by two-thirds of Republicans."

There's lots more there, with some very nice, detailed tables so I recommend checking out the entire document.

Will these trends, combined with recent events in the state, result in a backlash that hurts Biden and the Democrats? There are two things that can be said about this. The first is that so far, both in Wisconsin and nationally, declining support for BLM does not appear to have hurt Biden electorally.

The second is that the possibility of anti-Democratic backlash remains. We do not know how the riots and visuals of burning buildings will net out in Wisconsin when ranged against the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the killing of protesters by a right wing vigilante. Possibly support for BLM will rise again. But possibly it will continue to fall to the point where it starts to be a drag on the Biden-Harris ticket.

Biden's support for peaceful protests but clear condemnation of protest violence may help forestall this. So might a stoppage of violence associated with the protests. But it's early days and the situation is volatile, both on the ground and in the court of public opinion.

Image may contain: text that says 'Approval of Black Lives Matter protests, June and August 2020 Poll dates 6/14-18/20 Net Approve Disapprove Don't know 25 61 8/4-9/20 36 0 48 2 48 3'

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time To Draw Some Lines

There is nothing progressive about burning buildings. There is nothing progressive about mobbing diners outside restaurants and demanding they demonstrate solidarity with your cause by raising their fists. Nothing.

Yet many progressives appear reluctant to draw these lines clearly. This is bad, politically, morally and every other way. And it is contributing to declining support for the BLM movement, as shown below in the graphic.

What people on the sensible center-left refuse to understand Is that BLM is a very loose movement where strategic decisions are made locally by various factions whom no other faction will call to account. Thus there is no brake on lunacy when it arises....which leads to more lunacy. There is no way for the center-left to avoid taking a hard line on this craziness eventually. There is no BLM "leadership" that is going to stop it and bail them out from having to take a stand. The political-moral imperative is clear.

John Judis outlines the situation very well in his latest post on TPM:

"If I were younger and living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I would have been in the streets protesting the police shooting a Black man in the back as he got into a car with his three children already seated there. There may have been extraordinary extenuating circumstances, but based on the video, it would seem that this was as egregious an act as the killing of George Floyd and that the officers involved should be prosecuted and that the city’s police department dramatically reformed.

That said, I have extreme misgivings about the violent protests that have occurred over the last months and most recently in response to the Kenosha shooting. After night fell, protestors in Kenosha and Madison and as far away as Portland set fires and broke shop windows. Some looting also reportedly took place.

First, it’s a question of the politics in an election year when the president seeking re-election is Donald Trump. I haven’t needed to read Omar Wasow’s excellent research to know that violent rather than peaceful protests and rioting can lead to political consequences that undermine whatever the protestors had hoped to achieve. I lived in California during the ’60s when the conservative Republicans led by Ronald Reagan took over a government that had historically been run by progressive Republicans and Democrats.

Wasow argues that violent rather than peaceful protests in the ’60s contributed to the victory of Richard Nixon in 1968. The initial impact of the violent protests after Floyd’s murder suggested that they were not helping Donald Trump’s re-election this year, but I think that was largely because Trump overreacted — to put it mildly — in his staged event outside a church after he had enlisted troops to clear away peaceful protestors.

Trump and the Republicans may continue to overreact, but I wouldn’t count on it. As political scientist Michael Tesler has written in FiveThirtyEight, white support for Black Lives Matter, after an initial spurt in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, has begun to decline. It will continue to do so if late-night protestors continue to burn down government buildings and loot small businesses, while demanding that the police be defunded or even abolished.

Also, Wisconsin, unlike Oregon and Washington, is a critical swing state in the election. It turned conservative Republican under Scott Walker partly because of Walker’s support in upscale suburbs that were initially peopled by white flight from Milwaukee. Trump did not do as well as Walker or even Mitt Romney among the college-educated voters in these suburbs, and in 2018, Walker was defeated by Democrat Tony Evers partly because of defections from these suburban voters whom Trump had alienated. Democrats need to win a share of these voters in 2020 to win the state, and it is reasonable, I think, to worry that a succession of violent protests in Kenosha and Madison could make that more difficult.

Second, there is the larger question of politics and morality. One author in The Nation asserts that “property destruction needs to be taken seriously as a coherent, intelligent form of free speech.” That may not be obvious if you own or work at a small business that had nothing to do with George Floyd’s death, or if you are a taxpayer and homeowner in Seattle or Portland who suddenly find your downtown and public buildings you helped pay for decimated by members of the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front. And toward what end?....

Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been entirely right to condemn the police killings and shootings of Black men and women and to call for reform rather than defunding of police departments. But at this point, they and other leading Democrats, liberals, and leftists, including Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, need to draw a very clear line in the sand between the peaceful and violent protestors and between the demands for reform and racial justice and the demands to defund or abolish the police. Justice and the defeat of Donald Trump depend on their doing so."…/draw-distinctions-in-respon…

Image may contain: 1 person, text that says 'Patrick Ruffini @PatrickRuffini 10h BLM is back to about the same net fav/unfav as before the protests. S0% 2033-05-23 4% Suppert 10% 30%-Oppese Oppose crhes Oil 12% Nather Unsure Sarah Longwell @SarahLongwell25 Aug 24 The ongoing violence in American cities is an increasing vulnerability for Dems. It's popping in my focus groups as well. Americans were originally on the side of protesters. But as the unrest continues, attitudes are shifting. It's the one R talking point starting to stick.'

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Kids Are Alright?

An Interesting poll from College Pulse/Knight Foundation on the political views of college students at four year institutions has just been released Among other things, Biden is ahead of Trump by a gaudy 70-18. The findings seem trustworthy based on the methodology and the personnel involved; this isn't some ersatz advocacy or special interest poll.

Of course, college students are hardly all there is to the youth vote but these findings are a good sign. Combined with recent polling data that show Biden's overall youth support firming up (see the link to the Harry Enten piece), I am not too worried any more about Biden's ability to carry the youth vote by a wide margin. Of course, how many of these college students and youth overall actually wind up casting ballots is another matter.

College students demonstrated some of the most dramatic surges in voter turnout for the 2018 midterm election of any voter…

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Ineluctable Centrality of the White Noncollege Vote

I've been a bit puzzled lately with the apparent lack of interest by Democrats in the white noncollege vote. There didn't seem to be much of an attempt at the convention to highlight such voters who might be coming over to the Democrats' side (see the article below which summarizes the optics of the convention).

This would be easier to understand if there weren't such voters. But there are! Indeed, my analysis of high quality August polls where appropriate crosstabs are available indicates that Biden is running 10 margin points better than Clinton among white noncollege voters compared to 6 points better among white college voters. The difference in favor of white noncollege voters is even larger in my analysis of the ongoing Nationscape survey. Add in the fact that white noncollege voters are about 40 percent larger as a group than white college voters (more in heavily white noncollege states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) and it's clear that the single largest contributor to Biden's wider margin over Trump relative to Clinton is his superior performance among white noncollege voters.

Yet these voters rated hardly a mention. Perhaps it is assumed that such voters are so mad at Trump because of COVID, the economy and his broken promises that they are securely locked down and the only remaining task is to assure robust turnout among Democratic-leaning constituencies. I wouldn't assume that especially since you know exactly which voters Trump's going to go after. If he's successful Biden's wide lead could narrow very quickly.

That would be bad. When your opponent's on the floor, the best strategy is to keep him there rather than let him get up and wield his greatest weapon against you once again.

The hand-wringing after the 2016 election and the caution of 2018’s races were not visible during the Democratic National Convention this week.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Democratic Convention and the Dog That Didn't Bark

The Democratic convention generally went off very well and Joe Biden did a terrific job with his big speech.

But was something missing? It did seem like there wasn't much of an economic message. Presumably this was intentional and one can understand the logic behind it--keep the election a referendum on Trump, get voters very comfortable with Joe Biden the person, be inclusive in every kind of way from Democratic base groups to defecting Republicans. I get it.

But still....was an opportunity lost to put forward a crisp, clear message of economic growth and renewal that would galvanize working class voters, both white and nonwhite, and make them less potentially susceptible to Trump's economic messages? I do wonder about this. It could matter for the campaign and also to governing should Biden get elected.

John Judis remarks:

"The Democrats in the past have alternated between being the party emphasizing economic growth (Kennedy’s “get the country moving again”) or redistribution (Mondale’s “making the rich pay their fair share”). Biden’s party, as viewed at the convention, was a party of redistribution. There were scattered appeals to growth (Bloomberg’s speech). There was mention of the “Green New Deal” and “Infrastructure” but no attempt to visualize or in other ways dramatize the promise of economic growth in these abstractions. “Build back better” is a tongue twister, but lacks content. America remains a world leader in high technology, but you wouldn’t have known it from the convention — except for the magic of the virtual presentations....

The Democrats of 2000, 2004, and 2016 failed to make [the] case [that they were the party of the great American middle] . The Democrats of 2020 have a candidate in Biden who embodies this appeal, but much of their rhetoric and the program itself, more clearly reflected the identity politics of 2016 that emphasizes difference and ignores, whether intentionally or not, predominately white, flyover America. The point is not to appeal, as Trump undoubtedly will, only to this America, but to present an image of a unitary American small-d democrat. It may be hard to do,, but the party’s ability to sustain majorities depends on it."

Ron Brownstein elaborates:

"[Biden's] speech, as well as the convention itself, had a conspicuous blind spot: The event did not deliver a concise critique of Trump’s economic record or offer a tight explanation of Biden’s plans to improve the economic circumstances of middle-class families. Though Biden ran through an extended list of policy goals on issues including job creation and climate change during his address, he offered vanishingly little detail about how he would achieve them—though, in fact, he’s delivered a series of detailed speeches laying out his agenda....

Even if Biden emerges from the convention with a boost in the polls, his choice to focus less on economic appeals and more on sweeping themes and social issues, particularly racial justice, raises some of the same questions that surfaced after the Democrats’ last national meeting. Though Hillary Clinton’s 2016 convention drew strong reviews, it too emphasized the party’s embrace of diversity, the breadth of her coalition, and Trump’s deficiencies of character without delivering a clearly delineated economic agenda for working families. Those choices faced pointed second-guessing after Election Day, when Trump’s huge margins among non-college-educated white voters allowed him to dislodge the Rust Belt battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from the Democrats’ “blue wall” and claim his narrow victory....

One senior Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk frankly, told me that the issues highlighted during that sequence reflect the priorities of the party’s modern base, as the campaign sees it: young people (guns and climate), suburban women (guns and women’s rights), and people of color (racial justice and immigration).

Yet unless Biden can win across a wide range of Sun Belt states, he’s unlikely to reach 270 Electoral College votes without improving at least somewhat among working-class white voters in the key Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And analysts have long observed that many older Latino and African American voters in particular are more motivated to turn out to the polls by concrete plans to improve their life than by broad promises of confronting discrimination."

It's worth pointing out here that my analysis of Nationscape and other data indicates that the largest contribution to Biden's improved margin relative to Clinton 2016, both overall and in key Rust Belt battleground states, has been due to relative improvement among white noncollege voters. The campaign should not lose sight of this and the general necessity to have a clear and compelling economic message in the rest of the campaign.…/what-the-convention-reveale……/democratic-convention…/615547/

The Democratic Party took a gamble by not delivering a more targeted economic message to working- and middle-class families.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

My Latest: The Case for a New Liberal Nationalism

As I noted in my Wall Street Journal article, even if Biden wins and wins big, it will still be challenging to keep the Biden coalition together. To weld that coalition together and keep it together, Democrats will need a unifying vision and project that differs from what the left currently has on offer. Here is such a vision and project--the Next Frontier--outlined by myself and my friend and colleague Peter Juul in the new issue of the excellent heterodox journal, American Affairs (subscribe!; it's will worth it)

"When labor and civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin put forward their ambitious Freedom Budget for All Americans in 1966, they couched their political argument in the powerful idiom of liberal nationalism. “For better or worse,” Randolph avowed in his introduction, “We are one nation and one people.” The Freedom Budget, he went on, constituted “a challenge to the best traditions and possibilities of America” and “a call to all those who have grown weary of slogans and gestures to rededicate themselves to the cause of social reconstruction.” It was also, he added, “a plea to men of good will to give tangible substance to long-proclaimed ideals.”

To the detriment of the nation as a whole, the Democratic Party and left-wing political elites abandoned the successful and compelling idiom of liberal nationalism espoused by the likes of Randolph and Rustin, as well as by political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Hubert H. Humphrey. Instead, party and intellec­tual elites have retreated into an ideological hall of mirrors that has left them adrift at a critical time in the nation’s his­tory. They lack the political language required to move the United States beyond the rolling crisis it finds itself in as it barrels toward the 2020 presidential election.

Indeed, given current trends, it’s very possible, if not likely, that Democrats will win the White House this November (though the picture on the Senate is less clear). If former vice president Joe Biden proves victorious, he will assume the leadership of a deeply divided nation in desperate need of renewal and reconstruction—but likely without the sense of national unity or the broad political coalition such an effort demands. Focused on the short-term demands of win­ning a presidential campaign against an unscrupulous rival candidate amid bitter national divisions, Democrats will find themselves unpre­pared for the scope and difficulty of the task that will confront them in January 2021 if they hold fast to their current course.

Right now, Democrats do not have a vision adequate to the de­mands of the present moment, much less the future. While the coronavirus crisis has laid bare the incompetence of the Trump administration and the failings of conservative ideology, it has also magnified the inadequacy of the two newly fashionable streams of progressive politics on offer in recent years: left-wing multiculturalism and democratic socialism. Neither approach can unite a strong majority of the American people together in a shared project to re­build the nation after both the Trump presidency and the coronavirus. Such a project would require a sense of common purpose driven by a politics that speaks to all Americans and embraces the best of the nation’s potential, not its rejection in favor of ideological projects that pit Americans against one another."

When labor and civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin put forward their ambitious Freedom Budget for All Americans in 1966, they couched their political argument in the powerful idiom of liberal nationalism. “For better or worse,” Randolph avowed in his introduction, “We are...