“Significantly Ambivalent On Key Issues”: The White Working Class As “Yes, But” And “No, But” Voters
I think we are beginning to understand this year more than in the past that non-college white voters–a.k.a. the “white working class” are currently bifurcated into those who intensely dislike government but aren’t sold on conservative economic panaceas and those who are very angry about the “rigged” economy but aren’t sure they trust government to do anything about it. The former are heavily represented in the current support base of Donald Trump, while the latter should be targets for Democrats. That proposition about the latter was, of course, the main message in Stan Greenberg’s essay on the white working class in the current issue of the Washington Monthly, which also served as the basis for the roundtable discussion WaMo sponsored in conjunction with The Democratic Strategist.
In his WaPo column yesterday, E.J. Dionne grasped the importance of this realization in writing about “yes, but” voters who may have partisan voting habits but are significantly ambivalent on key issues. After discussing some polling from WaPo and Pew, Dionne noted:
[A] third study, a joint product of the Democratic Strategist Web site and Washington Monthly magazine, points to the work Democrats need to do with white working-class voters.
One key finding, from pollster Stan Greenberg: Such voters are “open to an expansive Democratic economic agenda” but “are only ready to listen when they think that Democrats understand their deeply held belief that politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” This calls for not only “populist measures to reduce the control of big money and corruption” but also, as Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation argued, “high-profile efforts to show that government can be innovative, accessible and responsive.”
This ambivalent feeling about government is the most important “yes, but” impulse in the American electorate, and the party that masters this blend of hope and skepticism will win the 2016 election.
Yessir. The broader lesson is that the stereotype of swing voters as Broderesque, Fournierite “centrists” looking for bipartisan compromises that don’t upset elites misses the real swing voters, who may not be as numerous on the surface as is years past, but who could move political mountains in response to the right combination of messages that take seriously their concerns.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 27, 2015
“Holes In Walker’s Electability Claims Getting Noticed”: Boilerplate Rhetoric With A Distinct Aroma Of Fraud
I’m going to do something I rarely do here at PA, but that will save time and space right now: quote extensively from an earlier post–in this case one on the different “electability” arguments of different GOP presidential candidates, as published back in March. Bear with me:
Jeb Bush’s is the traditional Median Voter Theorem-driven argument: conservatives need to avoid extremism on issues where they disagree with swing voters—you know, like immigration and education. GOP needs to trust their nominees to be ideologically reliable and give them flexibility to “run to the center.”
Rand Paul, who challenged Ted Cruz’s “winnability” yesterday, is offering what I’d call the “new coalition” argument based on picking off independents and even Democrats via an emphasis on common areas of interest like criminal justice reform and privacy. This is not a “move to the center” argument; it’s more like “move the debate” to subjects where there is a natural convergence without the need for much compromise.
And then there is Cruz, and even more strikingly Scott Walker, offering the traditional, if much-mocked, movement conservative argument that a combination of ultra-high “base” turnout, “hidden voter” turnout, and swing voters attracted by the sheer principled power of unadulterated conservative ideas is the winning formula.
Walker is far and away the most articulate about this; his motto that “you don’t have to go to the center to win the center” is a direct repudiation of the traditional view Jeb’s team is espousing. And he has what he considers proof of this ancient conservative belief: his three wins in Wisconsin in four years, which he attributes to his ability to impress and attract Obama voters (a somewhat dubious proposition given the different electorates in presidential and midterm—not to mention specials like the Wisconsin recall election of 2012—elections, but it’s at least plausible) with exactly the kind of vicious and uncompromising conservatism the base prefers.
Cruz tries to emulate the Walker appeal by claiming he put together the same kind of “big tent” coalition in Texas, though it’s not real convincing since in his one general election he ran against weak Democratic opposition in a deep red state.
You will note the little hole in Walker’s electability argument that was evident to anyone who thought about it with an awareness of turnout disparities between presidential and non-presidential elections.
Well, now that awareness is spreading. On the day of Walker’s presidential announcement, Josh Kraushaar of National Journal went deep on the subject and threw a lot of cold water on the idea that the Wisconsin governor has shown any real appeal beyond “the base.”
Walker’s success had as much to do with the political calendar and the state’s polarized electorate as it did with crossover appeal. He won only 6 percent of Democratic voters in his 2014 reelection. Many African-American voters simply stayed home during Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns, while a disproportionate number of college students sat out the contentious June 2012 recall election—which took place after campuses’ spring semester concluded. That’s not likely to repeat itself if he’s the GOP presidential nominee.
According to exit polling, young adults under the age of 30 made up 20 percent of the 2012 presidential electorate, but that number dropped to 16 percent during the recall election. White voters made up 91 percent of the recall vote, but only 86 percent in the last presidential campaign. The African-American percentage of the electorate was nearly twice as high in November 2012 (7 percent) as it was two years prior in 2010 (4 percent). In the Democratic bastion of Milwaukee County, turnout for the 2014 midterm election was only 74 percent of the vote total for the 2012 presidential election. In deeply conservative Waukesha County, that number was much higher: 83 percent.
I found it interesting that on Twitter Mike Murphy, Jeb Bush’s chief strategist, was hyping Kraushaar’s findings.
Does it matter that Walker’s electability claims may be based on a misunderstanding? Maybe not. As I noted in the March post, it’s based not just on his electoral record but on an ancient conviction of movement conservatives (dating back to the title of Phyllis Schlafly’s pro-Goldwater book of 1964: A Choice Not an Echo). As a matter of fact, many folks on the left share it; you could put together a pretty good organizing meeting for the Church of Maximum Partisan Differentiation drawing from both tribes. If challenged on his record, Walker could easily say, as Cruz is prone to do, that the GOP tried the “median voter theory” approach in the last two cycles and lost.
Still, Walker’s electability claims are much like his “economic development” program in Wisconsin: boilerplate rhetoric with a distinct aroma of fraud. Another few polls showing him getting trounced by HRC in Wisconsin should do the trick, but won’t for true believers.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 14, 2015
On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.
These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.
You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?
Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.
At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.
But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.
On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.
I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.
As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?
And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.
As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.
And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.
Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.
By: Paul Krugman, Opinion Writer, The New York Times, June 15, 2015
Another day, another trio of new candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
A brain surgeon with no particular feel for politics. A business executive who lost the only election she ever entered. And the most famous graduate of Ouachita Bible College, who made a stop in the Arkansas’ governor’s house before becoming a talk-show host. Just throw Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Mike Huckabee on the pile.
It’s already a big pile: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are official. Jeb Bush is officially unofficial, just as Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and George Pataki are. Lindsey Graham and John Kasich are unofficially unofficial. But they are thinking about it! A few of these would-be candidates are sure to find the likelihood of embarrassment too great, and will stop before they officially start. But I’m betting that the first debates will include 10 or more candidates.
So has the addition of this week’s candidates added to the ferment of ideas? No, not really.
In some ways, Fiorina understands the minds of many modern primary voters. She’s all but promised to be a paladin of the existing orthodoxy of her party’s conservative base. So she sells herself on her ability to sell. And she sells her identity. On day one of her campaign, she rattled off the talking points her nomination would cross off Hillary Clinton’s list. She told reporters: “Because I am a woman, there are many things she can’t say. She can’t play the gender card. She can’t talk about being the first woman president. She can’t talk about the war on women.” Mutually assured decorum, I guess.
In a lineup of politicians, the non-politician Ben Carson is easily the most impressive and accomplished person in the room. But his charm is almost entirely in being charmless. He speaks with great poise, which is refreshing. But his professed political views, and his manner of expressing them, are distinguishable only in volume and lack of spittle from the apocryphal “paranoid right-wing uncle” that is the foil of every annual Thanksgiving advice column.
Mike Huckabee is the most plausible of the three, actually having been elected to a statewide office. He also performed not-terribly when he ran for president in 2008. As a bonus, he offers some good and some bad populist critiques of the party’s establishment. Is the magic still there? I’m not sure. Ted Cruz has already soaked up so much of the “I hate the Establishment and they hate me” cred. And Cruz is going directly after Huckabee’s base of evangelical voters, while Huckabee himself has yet to prove he can win the middle-income Catholics and moderate voters of the Midwest. It’s Iowa or bust for Huck.
Is any of this good for the party or the nation? No, not really.
There is broad agreement among elite Republicans that the sheer number of serious and unserious candidates may hurt the party. It crams the debate stage, elicits shallow questions, and reduces the nationally televised answers to the tiniest sound-bites or hand-raises. It’s bad for the party, and the country. It’s also a can’t-lose deal for any would-be candidate willing to endure flights to Des Moines and house parties in Nashua.
A losing campaign can generate new interest in your career. It connects you with the wealthiest backers of your party. And it generates mailing lists and emailing lists of people who are not quite as wealthy but whose contacts can be useful for selling books, or filling up a local venue and making you seem like an important voice in the life of the Republic. Because the Republican Party has a para-party shadow in the institutions of the conservative movement and conservative-media complex, even a failed presidential campaign can be quite a successful life-proposition.
And hey, if worse comes to worst, and the bottom falls out of your “candidacy,” you can just rent or sell outright the names and whatever data you collected to the highest-bidding erection pill or diabetes-treatment interests. I see you voted for Ben Carson. Are you interested in seeds that will help you survive the collapse of our currency?
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, May 5, 2015
“Same Dynamics Of Polarization And Bad Ideology As Anybody Else”: No, Governors Are Not Inherently Superior Candidates For President
For a professional political writer, nothing’s more fun than identifying a cliche your less esteemed colleagues are using that never made sense or has stopped making sense and just blowing it up. One that’s overdue for an explosion is the trope about governors making inherently superior presidential candidates. So that was the subject of my latest TPMCafe column.
Once you start looking at the 2016 Republican presidential field from this perspective, the first thing that jumps out at you is how many governors and former governors are struggling with home-state unpopularity or mistakes they made in office or both. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the entire Scott Walker candidacy could be unraveled by his growing problems in Wisconsin, where a lot of people who either voted for him or stayed home are angry at him for his nasty state budget proposals or for his pattern of doing highly controversial things (e.g., making Wisconsin a Dixie-style Right-to-Work state) he disclaimed or didn’t mention when running for office. That’s because his whole electability argument is that he won over swing voters in Wisconsin three times without compromising with the godless liberals. That argument loses a lot of punch if poll after poll starts showing Walker losing his state–by 52/40 in the latest Marquette Law School survey–to Hillary Clinton.
Then you look at Bobby Jindal, who is obviously miserable being, and miserable at being, governor of Louisiana. As a legendary whiz kid, diversity symbol, and rising star in the House, he was probably on the brink of being regarded as presidential timber before he became governor back in 2007. You think it might cross his mind now and then how much better positioned he’d be if he were now a Senator, or even still in the House, where he could pander to the conservative constituencies he is pursuing all day long without having to worry about Louisiana’s budget problems, which he is only making worse?
I won’t go through the whole column, but you get the idea. Perhaps governors aren’t afflicted with Washington Cooties, but they are actually required to do things that people notice, and are subject to the same dynamics of partisan polarization and bad ideology as anybody else. Republicans in Congress can go on and on and on about education vouchers or supply-side economics or privatizing government benefits without any risk of being held accountable for their “vision” being implemented. Governors are living much more unavoidably in the real world.
You can still make the case, I guess, that for this very reason governors make better presidents than, say, senators. But that’s not entirely clear, either. Sometimes governors get a good reputation simply for being in the right place at the right time, like a certain Texas governor who took office just as a national economic boom was gaining steam, and just as a decades-long realignment was pushing the last of his state’s conservative Democratic aristocracy in his direction. So he got to be a “reformer with results,” and his fellow governors had a lot to do with lifting him to a presidential nomination. Was he prepared to be president? Is his brother prepared now? Even though both men have benefited from their father’s vast network of moneyed elites, and from gubernatorial service, that’s really not so clear.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015