Thursday, August 12, 2021

Which Voters Made Joe Biden President?

Progressives and moderates in the House clearly have their differences on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. I suspect they'll work out their differences eventually. But one part of this debate should be disregarded. That's the idea, advanced by progressives, that "their" voters won the election for Biden so they are owed deference on their policy demands.
Now, progressives' policy demands may have merit as policy that would be good for the country and therefore deserve consideration. But not because progressives are "owed".
The simple fact of the matter is that, not only do progressives not really control the votes of vast numbers of nonwhite and young voters, but it is also the case that these voter groups were not responsible for Biden doing better than Hillary Clinton and actually winning. Bill Galston's recent article in the Wall Street Journal points this out:
"A new myth is gathering momentum among progressive Democrats: Their “movement” elected Joe Biden, who therefore should support everything they want. This theory is politically naive and analytically wrong.
In polarized politics, in which the parties are both deeply and closely divided, elections are won or lost at the margin. Hillary Clinton attracted 48% of the popular vote and lost; Joe Biden got 51% and won. The central question is how President Biden managed to do 3 points better than Mrs. Clinton.
Because the 2020 election featured the highest voter turnout in more than a century, higher turnout in a particular group proves nothing. The issue is how gains in this group contributed to the victor’s winning margin."
Galston goes on to advance his case by relying on data from the Pew Research Center validated voter survey and breaking down the results by various demographics. This is fine as far as it goes and is serviceable for making his case.
But there's a better, cleaner way to do this. First use the Catalist data, which are better (the Pew survey may be vote validated but that validation is within their sample so by definition does not solve any problems that may be traceable to the sample itself). Second, analyze the data by contributions to Democratic margin (CDM),
CDM can be calculated by multiplying an election’s proportion of voters in a given demographic by their Democratic margin in that election. The result takes account of both vote share and vote margin and can be compared across elections to see how demographic groups change in their contribution to the overall Democratic margin.
This simple method yields clear results. For example, black voters made a negative contribution to Biden's improved margin over 2016. That is, by themselves they would have made Biden's vote margin *worse* than Clinton's (by one point).
The same thing is true about Hispanic voters; despite their increased vote share, their margin for the Democrats decreased so much that they also made a negative one point contribution to Biden's vote margin improvement. All of the improvement in Biden's vote margin--that is both making up for black and Latino negative contributions and providing his ultimate victory margin--came from white voters, split about evenly between college and working class (noncollege).
Whites can also be broken down by urban/suburban/rural. Suburban whites contributed 3 points to Biden's improved margin, urban whites nothing at all and, interestingly, rural whites one point.
Looking over nonwhite voters as a whole, they made a negative two point contribution of Biden's improved margin. Significantly, that negative contribution is almost entirely accounted for by working class nonwhites' negative contribution.
Another cut is by age. Voters under 30 basically contributed nothing to Biden's improved margin relative to Clinton; the positive (one point each) contributions for Biden came 30-44 year olds and voters 65 and over.
This seems pretty clear to me. Progressives and even "their" groups did not deliver the election for Biden. Progressives have some good ideas but they are not due special deference because of electoral performance. Like other party actors they will have to make their case on the merits and do the messy horse-trading with moderates that they wish to avoid. The sooner they realize that, the faster a reasonable bill can be put together.

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