Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Politico's story "Teflon Don Confounds Democrats" is disheartening, but I think it's misleading.
Data from a range of focus groups and internal polls in swing states paint a difficult picture for the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. It suggests that Democrats are naive if they believe Trump’s historically low approval numbers mean a landslide is coming....

The research [was] conducted by private firms and for Democratic campaign arms....

[Trump] is still viewed as an outsider shaking up the system, which people in the various surveys say they like, and which Democrats don’t stack up well against.

... no single Democratic attack on the president is sticking — not on his temperament, his lack of accomplishments or the deals he’s touted that have turned out to be less than advertised, like the president’s claim that he would keep Carrier from shutting down its Indianapolis plant and moving production to Mexico....

Many of the proposals Democrats are pushing fall flat in focus groups and polling.

The call for free college tuition fosters both resentment at ivory tower elitism and regret from people who have degrees but are now buried under debt. Many voters see “free” as a lie — either they’ll end up paying for tuition some other way, or worse, they’ll be paying the tuition of someone else who’ll be getting a degree for free....

Medicare-for-all tests better, but it, too, generates suspicion. The challenge is that most voters in focus groups believe it’s a pipe dream — they ask who will pay for it and suspect it will lead to a government takeover of health care.
I see that one of the firms that conducted this research is Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, whom I respect. So I take it seriously. But I don't think it means Democratic electoral efforts are doomed.

Pollsters are getting these results, and yet Democrats are winning special elections, at least at the state legislative level:
On Tuesday night, Democrats flipped two Republican-held state legislative seats -- one in Oklahoma, one in New Hampshire -- that Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election.

That makes six turnovers from Republican to Democrat in contested state House and Senate races so far in 2017 -- and 26 out of 35 races (at the state legislative and congressional level) in which the Democratic nominee has overperformed Hillary Clinton's showing last November. (Worth noting: Republicans have yet to flip a Democratic-controlled seat so far this year.)
It's likely that the typical voter is still skeptical of the Democrats and wary of their promises. But I think the electorates in these special elections have been far from typical. I think Democrats are motivated to vote right now, and Republicans are unmotivated. If that's the case, it could be true that Democrats aren't well loved overall, but the voters who do like Democrats are turning out in bigger numbers than usual.

I'll add a caveat: It's probably easier right now for Democrats to win state legislative elections than congressional elections, because the national party (and the national right-wing noise machine) are less likely to weigh in during local races. At the state legislative level, Republicans can't effectively run against Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or evil Kenyan socialist Barack Obama.

In general, Democrats may be making a mistake by trying to win voters over with specific proposals. That's not how Republicans do it. Average Americans don't vote Republican in large numbers because they want huge tax cuts for rich people, or because they want Planned Parenthood driven out of business. Most Americans, even GOP voters, don't support those things. Many (most?) Republican voters aren't on Team GOP for specific positions on issues. They're on Team GOP because they see the GOP as the party of non-elite, mono-ethnic Norman Rockwell American culture, and because they've been trained by the GOP to despise the Democrats as the party of taxes, intrusive government, multi-ethnicity, and cultural weirdness (electric cars, rap music).

Democrats don't need policies to be a team voters are excited about. They need a Big Idea, an easily digestible elevator pitch of an idea that's broadly appealing. "The people vs. the powerful" used to work for them, but corporate overlords have been squeezing the middle class since the 1970s, and especially since the Reagan-Thatcher era. No one knows how to stop the rich from taking more and more of the pie -- this is a problem throughout the First World -- so it's hard for Democrats to sell themselves as the people who can make it happen. (I've come suspect that it can't happen now unless class-conscious ordinary itizens literally make the rich fear for their lives or fortunes.)

And yet Democrats aren't Trump. And Trump, far from having Teflon, is mired at a roughly 37% approval rating. Democrats will do fine in 2018 -- though I wish I knew how they could do better.

No comments: