Sunday, November 03, 2019


In the latest of his many New York Times op-eds begging Democrats not to move to the left, Thomas Edsall approvingly quotes "a respected Republican pollster" who wishes to remain anonymous. The pollster tells Edsall:
In our last national poll of registered voters, taken in the last week of August, the ideological distribution of the electorate is: Very liberal 13 percent; Somewhat liberal 18 percent; Moderate 28 percent; Somewhat conservative 22 percent; Very conservative 14 percent.
Edsall writes:
This shows, the pollster continued, that
three-fourths of the electorate is within shouting distance of the center, and only one-fourth is on the extremes. That tells you much of what you need to know about the “center” vs. “progressive” debate.
So, um, why is Donald Trump president? Why is the Senate Republican? Why, until the 2018 elections, did an increasingly ideological Republican Party dominate America's governor's mansions and state legislatures? I guess these numbers don't tell "much of what you need to know" about the center vs. ideologically extreme conservative debate, at least in terms of winning elections.

Edsall goes on:
Trump, this pollster continued, “is very unlikely to gain more than the 46 percent of the popular vote that he received in 2016, because he has made no effort to do so.” That, in turn, places the burden on Democrats to “nominate someone who can consolidate the 54 percent majority of non-Trump voters.”

Democrats cannot bank on the theory “that non-Trump voters have ‘no place else to go,’ ” he said, because in 2016 they did just that” — went elsewhere:
About 8 million voters — greater than the population of 38 of our 50 states — voted for 3rd party candidates in 2016, almost 6 percent of the total vote. The same thing is likely to happen again in 2020 if the choice is Trump vs a real leftie, i.e. Sanders or Warren.
Do you see the illogic here? The pollster is saying that if Democrats nominate someone who's very left-wing, they're likely to lose a significant portion of the anti-Trump electorate to third parties, just the way they did in 2016 -- when they rejected the candidate who was very left-wing.

In other words, Democrats are screwed no matter what they do.

I agree that there's some truth to this -- Republicans now seem to have a built-in Electoral College advantage (or maybe they just drew to an inside straight in 2016). They have gerrymandering and vote suppression on their side.

On the other hand, I'll point out that more than 5 million of those 8 million third-party voters voted for either Libertarian Gary Johnson (who won three times as many votes as Jill Stein) or conservative independent Evan McMullin. (It can't be the case that all of Johnson's voters were left-leaners drawn to his position on legal weed.)

But for the moment, let's accept the argument Edsall and this pollster are making. Let's assume that Trump can win reelection with 46% of the vote (or, as some observers have argued, with even less) because the Rust Belt states will still fall his way, all because Democrats lost too many voters in the middle. If that happens, what will be the explanation for Democrats' failure to consolidate the anti-Trump vote?

If it happens, I think it will be because Republicans are much more capable of leveraging negative partisanship. Conservative media outlets -- and, increasingly, Republican officials -- incessantly poison voters' minds against leftists, liberals, "cultural elitists" (Hollywood stars, college professors, "soy boys," and anyone who drives a Prius), not to mention left-of-liberal politicians in other countries such as Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro. The shorthand term for this hated enemy group is "Democrats." So in every election section, Republicans have much less work to do to convince voters that they're the party holding off the Apocalypse.

Democrats could benefit from closing the negative partisanship gap -- and in theory it shouldn't be hard, because the Republican Party really is a collection of ideological extremists, people who don't believe climate change exists, don't think mass shootings are bad, can't understand why being uninsured is a problem, and would rather run over their own grandmothers than raise taxes on the rich. But the news sources Democratic voters respect cling to the myth of the Good Republican, as do many Democratic politicians.

Republican voters love Trump because he professes hatred for all the groups lumped under the catchall term "Democrats." If Trump wins in 2020, or if he's defeated in 2020 but Democrats fail to build an enduring Democratic majority, it could very well be because they still haven't persuaded a sufficient number of voters that Republican rule is bad. It's an urgent task -- if only the Democratic Party understood that.

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