Sunday, July 22, 2018


A new NBC/Wall Sreet Journal poll was just released, and this set of numbers seems significant:

Democratic congressional candidates used to be seen as quite close to the mainstream. Now they aren't seen that way. What happened? And how worried should we be about it?

It's obvious what happened: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a Democratic congressional primary and instantly became the subject of a thousand media profiles. She's for single payer and free college tuition, and she'd like to abolish ICE.

I suspect the first two of those positions aren't seen as extreme -- in recent polling, a majority of Americans say they support single payer, and there's strong support for making four-year public colleges tuition free (even a plurality of Republicans are in favor).

No -- it's ICE. Even though ICE doesn't come off particularly well in the poll (38% of respondents view it positively, 37% negatively), "Abolish ICE" is a slogan that undoubtedly is being misinterpreted by many Americans as "Let's have no immigration enforcement whatsoever." (That's not what candidates who say "Abolish ICE" actually mean.)

On the other hand, how much benefit have Democrats gotten in the past from being seen as mainstream? A plurality of respondents regarded Democrats as mainstream in the summer of 2016 and the party failed to win either house of Congress the following November. Opinions were more or less evenly split on whether Democrats were mainstream in 2012, and the same thing happened.

Meanwhile, Republicans were seen as well outside the mainstream in both those years -- and they held Congress each time. So what's the electoral value of being seen as mainstream? (Also note that the Republicans aren't seen as mainstream now.)

"Mainstream" in this case might be a synonym for "too boring to inspire voters." So maybe it's good that Democrats aren't seen as mainstream anymore. We'll find out.

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