Democrats

Monday Musings: Trump Rising, Dems Battle, Thoughts on Political Reform/Dem Bench

The trend lines we discussed last week continued into this one: Trump appears to be in the process of besting Cruz in Iowa and everywhere else; and the Democratic race remained too close to call in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some observations:

Humility About What Comes Next – Given the poll mistakes/errors of recent years, the challenges with getting an accurate likely voter screen rate, lots of political volatility, rapidly changing demographics, voters having far more access to political information than before, it is important that all of us have a bit of humility about predicting outcomes this election season. I’ve tried to stick with poll aggregates and trends, which while not predictive, are instructive. Doing a deep dive on the numbers this morning it sure seems as if Trump is in a very strong position to win the GOP nomination, while the Democratic race is too close to call. If Sanders wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, I have far less faith in the Clinton “fire wall” than others. Wins in those early states along with a very strong grassroots money machine and organization could make Sanders a significant threat to Clinton as the map gets bigger. But if Hillary wins Iowa she will re-assert a degree of control over the race she doesn’t have right now.

Likewise, I am not convinced at this point that Trump ends up being a disaster for the Rs in the general. Possible, but so is a long transformation into a more conventional figure enhanced by extraordinary Trumpian media instincts and skills. Folks have been underestimating him from the get go, and it would be unwise to write him off in the fall.

Returning to the Democrats, it is also important to remember that the last three Democrats to get to the White House ran against the “establishment” and beat the conventional wisdom of their time. Democrats are just not in the coronation business. Along these lines be sure to review Greg Sargent’s recent piece which explains why the Sanders challenge is important for Clinton. What happens now with the Democrats? All comes down to strategy and execution. A great window into this final week is the new Sanders and Clinton “closing” ads. And be sure to watch the CNN “town hall” tonight at 9pm - will matter!

Clinton and Political Reform – One of the more puzzling elements of the 2016 campaign is why Hillary Clinton hasn’t run more aggressively on her very ambitious and thoughtful political reform agenda. I think there is an obvious way to turn her experience and understanding of the dark side of politics into a broader argument that it takes an insider to fix the system from the inside. She can not only run on her articulated plans, but could commit to suspending the foundation if she were to become the nominee and closing it if elected, leading a government wide effort to modernize the treatment of data and email in a new cyber age, tying Congressional pay to getting budgets done on time (no budget no pay), creating a minimum number of days Congress must be in session each cycle, etc. The reforms she could offer to change the system have to be biting, real, and bring about real change. While I think she is smart to hug Obama and offer continuity as a matter of core strategy, this is one area she should offer a sharper break with him. Trump, Sanders and Cruz all are offering some version of a radical overhaul of the system. She needs to join this chorus in her own way, recognizing that part of her argument – first women President – is unlikely to be sufficient.

Reflections on the Democratic Bench – The strong reviews Senator Cory Booker received this weekend while stumping for Hillary Clinton brought to mind the ongoing debate about the strength of the Democratic bench. My own take on this debate is that the high end of the next generation of Democrats is very strong, and can match the Ryan, Rubio, Cruz cohort – Booker, Newsom, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Patrick Murphy, Castro, Cuomo, Kaine, O’Malley. If Democrats didn’t have such an usual election this time we may have seen many of these candidates take a run and audition on the national stage the way the Rs have done this time. Part of what is holding back this next generation of Democrats is the success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and their larger than life allies – Gore, Hillary, Kerry, Biden, Reid, Pelosi – who occupy a space that has no equivalent on the Republican side. There is only so much space in the political universe, and the Democrats have a highly successful aging boomer cohort that is just not leaving a lot of room for the next generation. The next gen Rs – a group I call the “children of Reagan” – have no successful set of Presidents and allies to crowd their progress. So the “lack of a Democratic bench” insight is actually the result of a good problem to have, one the Rs don’t have – the presence of two living successful Democratic Presidents and Administrations (filling the Cabinet over 16 years also took many potential Senators and Governors out of electoral play). 

While this upper end of next gen Democrats can hold its own with the upper end of the Rs, the problem for the Democrats is what comes underneath this talented tier. This is where the enormous GOP advantage in the state legislatures and governor’s mansions will, over time, become an enormous structural problem for the national Democratic Party. The pipeline the Rs have now will allow them to produce far more higher and medium tier politicians capable of winning elections and exercising power. Add to this the exposure a more open party is giving to Ryan, Rubio, Cruz, Christie etc and you can imagine the Rs being able to maintain a degree of political power in Washington and in the states for a decade or more, even as the nation as a whole moves closer to the Democrats. My analogy is the Democrats have a better product but the Rs have a better management team right now. No Democrat should be optimistic about how this competition is likely to play out in the short and medium term.

Tuesday morning update - The Dem Town Hall.  I thought all three candidates performed well, continuing to show growth and improvement on the trail (why you have these things on TV).  Sanders was probably seen by the most people by going first, and did well, adding more information to people still wanting to learn more about him.   Hillary was unusually animated and effective last night too, showing her experience and facility on a wide range of issues.   I don't know if the Town Hall was seen be enough people to be a difference maker, and was hard to see how last night could have swayed people one way or the other (and Clinton did get dinged up a bit).  But Clinton and her campaign have clearly begun to rise to the serious Sanders challenge now, and are throwing everything they got into this final week in Iowa.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Mondays Musings: With Two Weeks To Go Till Iowa, A Close Race

What a political week. 2 debates, a State of the Union, dramatic events in/with Iran. Where do things stand?

The Democrats – Polls suggest that Sanders and Clinton head into the all important February window with Iowa a tossup and Sanders slightly ahead in New Hampshire. If Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will then be able to mount a very serious challenge to Secretary Clinton as he has the resources and organization to compete even as the map gets bigger.  I am not sold, like many, that the “Clinton firewall” survives losses in Iowa and New Hampshire so what happens in Iowa in two weeks is shaping up to be very consequential.

My take on the Sunday night debate was all three candidates did well, and there was no “winner.” Sanders held his own in what was a very tough debate for him. O’Malley impressed, again. But Clinton may have had the best night, strategically, as she opened up an attack on Sanders (his distance from Obama) that I think over time will be very troublesome for the Vermont Senator. Yesterday the President hit 51% approval in the Gallup daily track, his best showing since early 2013 and a very respectable number this late in his Administration. It has long been my contention that Democrats must defend the Obama Presidency in 2016, for if we cannot convince the public our team can do a good job when in the White House why elect more of us? So I think this argument will be central to both the primary and the general, and it was artfully argued by Secretary Clinton on Sunday night.

And of course hats off to the President for a terrific SOTU speech, and for what will be increasingly seen as a successful two terms in the White House.

The Republicans – They also face the prospect of an outsider candidate winning both Iowa and New Hampshire – Trump in this case. Two weeks out Iowa appears to be a tossup between him and Cruz, with Trump holding big leads everywhere else. If Trump wins Iowa sure feels it will be hard to stop him from winning the nomination at that point. There is evidence that the various attacks on Cruz – Goldman loan, eligibility, Ethanol opposition – are beginning to take their toll on him. How much so? We will find out in two weeks. Unlike the Ds, the Rs have another debate before Iowa/NH, coming on Jan 28th. This one will really matter.

Debate viewership tally so far: 6 GOP debates, 102m viewers (17m per debate), 4 Dem debates, 43m viewers, (10.75m per debate). At this rate the 12 GOP debates will be seen by about 204m viewers, the 6 Democratic debates 64m At 10.2m viewers, NBC's 4th Democratic debate was the second most watched Democratic debate, but still came in lower than any of the 6 GOP debates so far, including their two on a little watched cable network, Fox Business (updated 1/18/16).

Over the next 10 weeks the Republicans will have 6 more debates, the Democrats 2. Of those 2 Democratic debates one will be in Spanish. Despite the prospect of the Democratic race going into the late spring, the last English language debate the DNC has scheduled is on Feb 11th.

In 2008, the 17 Democratic debates which had ratings were seen by at least 75m viewers. So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 6 debates will come in about 10m less than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and only a third of what the Rs are getting this cycle with their better debate approach. Very hard to spin any of this as positive for Democrats, or "maximizing" opportunities. 

See here for more on the "debate debate."   

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.  And yes this one came out on a Tuesday. 

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Some Thoughts on Election Day, 2014

Some thoughts on this very close election on a beautiful fall morning in Washington, DC:

2014 Predictions: A Dead Even Race – We enter Election Day with an enormous number of critical races in statistical dead heats.   Making predictions in this environment is a bit tricky (wish the media had held back a bit more), but my predictions for 2014 were once again submitted to the Hill’s Election Prediction contest.  Proud to have won this competitive contest in both 2012 and 2008, I predict Democrats will end up with 51 Senators and control the Senate after the Georgia run-off.   My admittedly optimistic analysis has been bolstered by the final WSJ/NBC poll, the last major media poll in the field this year.  In what might be the poll closest to the actual results, it shows the national race dead even.  Democrats have a 46-42 advantage with registered voters, and are tied in the Congressional Generic, Senate Battleground and in vote interest.  These findings comport with many of the polls in the individual races these last few days showing them true toss ups, and the effect of strong Democratic ground games kicking in.  Analysis of the poll from Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann has this fascinating data showing the Congressional vote preference (Congressional Generic) progression from their previous polls:

Aug. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 41% (GOP +8)

Sept. 2014: GOP 49%, Dem 44% (GOP +5)

Mid-Oct. 2014: GOP 46%, Dem 44% (GOP +2)

Now: GOP 46%, Dem 45% (GOP +1)

If the GOP Takes the Senate, Tenure Likely to Be Unstable, Short – Even if the GOP takes the Senate, it is not clear who will really be in charge of the Congressional agenda.  Whoever is the GOP’s Majority Leader will face challenges from a bigger pool of Tea Partyish hardliners in his conference; struggles with aligning with the even more conservative House; the challenge of having up to 4 members of the conference run for President; and perhaps most importantly, the difficult math of passing anything through the Senate.

For argument’s sake, let’s give the Rs 51 in the Senate next year.   This means they will still need to get 9 Democrats on board to break any filibuster.   Of the 34 Senators up for re-election next year, 24 are GOP held seats, just 10 are Democratic, and only 2 Democrats are likely to face tough races (even these – CO, NV – fair far better for Democrats in a Presidential year).   For the Republicans 7 of these 34 seats come in states Obama won twice and are likely to go Dem again in 2016 – FL, IA, IL, NH, OH, PA and WI.  Of these 7, 4 – FL, IL, PA and WI – were won with less than 52% of the vote in a high water mark GOP midterm election.   These Senators are simply going to have a hard time aligning consistently with the more conservative part of the conference as they will be facing Democratic electorates in their states next cycle.   There will be no similar gang of Democrats being pressured to vote with the Rs, however.   Given this it may be hard for the GOP Senate Leader to get to 50 votes on some major GOP priorities next year, let alone 60.

Pulling against this GOP “gang of 7” will not only be a more conservative Senate, but a more conservative House.   Speaker Boehner had a hard time rallying his caucus behind his priorities in this Congress.   The anti-establishment Tea Partyish wing of the GOP will be stronger, and the establishment wing weaker in the coming Congress.    This means that whatever comes out of the House over the next two years is likely to be even more conservative than before.   This will make getting to 50, and to 60, even harder in the Senate next year.  Certainly one would expect President Obama to be far more aggressive in issuing veto threats early in these legislative fights to put even more pressure in the Senate for Dem heavy Rs and more conservative Dems to oppose whatever comes out of the Republican House Majority.  

The Senate map is so favorable to Democrats in 2016 that it will put the Rs on the defensive politically from day one, something that may encourage McConnell’s team to be even more cautious of the hard line House than usual.   Taken together, it is a bit hard to see how the Republicans can make their possible new found control of Congress anything other than messy.   The issue next year will not be what President Obama does – his agenda is well established at this point – but what can this new unstable and fragile Congressional majority do.  

Not A Lot of Good News in the 2016 Map for the GOP – At this point, it doesn’t look like the GOP has done very much to weaken the Democratic Electoral college advantage of recent years.  Most of their Senate wins will come from outside the Presidential map.   In critical 2016 states – FL, GA, MI, PA, WI – the GOP is showing ominous weakness in Senate and/or gubernatorial races.   Hard to argue that dead even Senate races in CO and IA are big bright spots, though the GOP’s success in Ohio this cycle could become significant in 2016.   Whatever GOP strategic gains might come from Ohio moving to be a true Presidential toss-up are likely to be offset by Democrats adding two Red states – AZ and GA - to their 2016 targets. 

All of this comes against the backdrop of an electorate becoming 2 percentage points less white every four years, making the GOP’s 2016 Presidential Hill that much higher to climb.   In 2012 the electorate was 72% white.  Due to inexorable population trends, it is estimated to be just 70% white in 2016.   Additionally, far more Millennials will be of voting age in 2016, and though the Dem advantage with this group may not be what it was, it is still significant and there will be more of them in coming elections.   The math means that even a lower vote share for Democrats with Millennials in 2016 might not translate into the GOP gaining any additional net vote given the expanding voting age Millennial population. 

No Evidence of Any Big Shifts in the Hispanic Vote - Election Day may tell a different story, but today there is no evidence of a statistically or politically significant shift in the Hispanic vote in the US.   The most recent Pew Hispanic poll – perhaps the most credible independent poll of Hispanics - released just a week ago has the 2014 Hispanic vote at 2-1 Democrat, 57-28, or about where Obama ended up in 2008. Diving deeper into the data, the favs/unfavs also show 2008 level numbers, which of course may leave the GOP a bit better off than 2012 but far away from being competitive at the Presidential level.   In their pre-election poll from a few weeks ago, the Democratic leaning pollsters at Latino Decisions have the numbers even worse right now for Republicans: 59-25 in 2014, and 55-20 in 2016.  And in their recent state polls in CO, FL and NC traditional Democratic advantages are holding, and there is no sign of Republican gains. 

The Pew Hispanic poll has data which suggests that advocates on both sides may have exaggerated the impact of the President’s delay in taking Executive Action on the Hispanic vote.   Only 24% of Hispanics in this poll say they are unhappy (disappointed/angry) with the delay in Executive Action, and only 6% say they are angry.   76% either had no opinion about the delay, or supported it – three times as many as were disappointed or angry.   These findings reinforce that what we are seeing is a slight dip in support for Democrats in this community but no real structural change. 

Claims from Republican interests of their gains with Hispanics thus seem to be far more wishful thinking than data-driven analysis at this point. 

And while the possibility of a Bush on the ballot in 2016 might improve the Rs standing with Hispanics, the underlying trends are far worse for the Republican Party than is commonly understood.  The last four years has seen a dramatic escalation by the GOP in advancing policies hostile to Hispanic and immigrant interests, while Democrats have perhaps advanced an agenda that is among the most pro-Hispanic and immigrant of the modern era.   Depending on the candidates the two sides choose, and the agenda their allies in Congress advance, it is far more likely that over the next two years the Democrats will be able to make this stark contrast clearer they have this cycle than the opposite taking place - the Republicans switching core positions on things like the ACA, minimum wage, opposition to CIR and the President’s coming Executive Action, deportation of DREAMers, cutting federal education spending and advocating voting restrictions.   Remember that the only potential 2016 GOP candidate with an unequivocal embrace of Comprehensive Immigration Reform is Jeb Bush.   So there is no real evidence in the data of GOP gains with Hispanics, and the path for them to regain critical lost ground seems politically out of reach.   

Our System Needs Reform – Assuming the GOP takes the Senate tonight, in just three elections the US political system will have given one Party its biggest back to back majorities at the Presidential level in 70 years will also stripping both Houses of Congress from that Party and giving it to their opposition.  From a political science/design standpoint, it is frankly hard to produce election results like this in a political/electoral system even if one tried.  

And it gets worse.  In 2012 Democrats won more one than 1 million more votes in the House than the GOP but didn’t win the chamber.   In 2014, according to the latest major national poll, registered voters favor the Democrats 46-42, and likely voters are split evenly 46R-45D.  Yet the Republicans are likely to make significant gains in both the Senate and House.  It is at this point a realistic possibility that the Democrats could win more votes nationally in 2014 and end up with the GOP controlling both Houses of Congress.   Results like these should raise legitimate questions about whether something has gone wrong with the way our democracy works these days, and reinforce the need for the center-left to make political reform one of its highest priorities in the years ahead. 

In a recent essay, I raised related questions about whether with so few people voting in contested races every two years our democracy is still capable of providing the “consent of the governed” as imagined by The Founding Fathers. And of course there are many other issues – the role of money, the difficulty of voting, the pernicious development of a true small state basis in our Congress, the anachronistic Electoral College and more.  I hope in the coming months the chattering classes in Washington can start having a serious conversation about what is happening in our political system, and whether there are things we can do to make it better.  

The DNC Should Have A Single Minded Mission: Expanding the Electorate – The return of the mid-term turnout problem for Democrats, and what appears to be early evidence of success in mitigating it in targeted Senate races, suggests a new and very concentrated mission for the DNC:  single minded focus on closing this gap, and advancing efforts to make it easier for people to vote in all 50 states.   While these efforts are already underway at the DNC, they needed to be stepped up, funded and staffed at a level commensurate with the challenge.   

Can a Party Run Away From Its Own President in the Mid-Terms?  I have long doubted that a Congressional Party has the capacity to distance itself from its own Presidential candidate or President.   I fall in the camp that believes Democrats should have found a way to run on their record this cycle, as 6 years of a Democratic President has made once again made the nation far better than he found it (been true of both Clinton and Obama, not true of either Bush).  Whether that narrative was an easy one to sell or not we will never really know for while it is statistically true it was never really tried.   Democrats managed to get all of the downside of President Obama this cycle and far too little of the upside.

The across the board policy successes of President Obama on the economy, deficit, health care reform energy policy and border security also leaves the GOP very little running intellectual and policy running room in the next Congress, and reinforce how little of a mandate the GOP will have in 2015-2016.   Will be interesting to see how exactly GOP leaders criticize plummeting deficits, gas prices, unemployment and uninsured rates; declining costs of health care; very strong stock market valuations and GDP/growth rates; significant advances in renewable and traditional energy production;  and a net undocumented flow of zero and declining crime rates all along the US-Mexico border.    Do we think in any kind of serious and sustained debate the GOP will be able to convince the US public that Obama has been a bad President given all this, and that they somehow could have done a better job?  Assume this is possible, but it sure isn’t a given.  

Finally, in what should be one of the major stories of 2014, the total meltdown of the conservative experiment in Kansas, and the struggles/loses of GOP governors in FL, PA, MI and WI reinforce that while 2014 might be a good election for the GOP politically, it has not been a good one for them ideologically.  A dead even national vote, power potentially granted by a handful of races decided by a few thousands votes, no big argument, significant setbacks and struggles in big states does not a mandate make.   The potential for overreach by a new GOP Congressional majority is very real, and may be hard to avoid. 

More to Come - Look for an update (and perhaps corrections) later this week. 

NDN’s Corey Cantor also contributed to this memo. 

Other Items We Found Helpful

Ronald Brownstein: “The Tectonic Plates of 2014,” National Journal.

Norm Ornstein: “A Republican Victory Could Splinter The Party,” National Journal.

Nate Cohn: “Why 2014 Isn’t Good As It Seems for the Republicans,” New York Times.

Joe Rospars: “Obama  Digital Guru to Democrats: Stop Being Lame,” Time Magazine.

Jill Lawrence:  “A Wasted Opportunity for Democrats,” National Memo.  

2 New Polls Show Significant 7 Point Gains for the Democrats

More evidence this morning confirming the argument we've been making for the past few weeks - the Republican wave has crested, and a new dynamic in election 2010 has taken hold.  New Rasmussen and Washington Post polls each show a 7 point swing towards the Democrats in the national Congressional Generic in the past few weeks.  As we wrote yesterday this movement tracks similar movement seen in other polls released over the past few days, indicating that the Democrats have made substantial improvement in their position over the past month. 

The national media had been a little slow to acknowledge the significance of the dramatic change in the election but has clearly come around.  Look for new analyses in the Politico, Reuters, Slate and this video "Fast Fix" piece from Chris Cillizza.  John Dickerson's piece in Slate is particularly thoughtful, and it has this passage:

When voters were asked whether they would vote for a Democrat or a Republican, the GOP had a steady lead over the last two months in an average of the polls. Now the two parties are almost tied. The Gallup poll shows the same narrowing, as does the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Democrats usually discount Rasmussen polls as biased for the GOP, but even Rasmussen shows a nine-point Democratic surge. "There is life left in this baby," says Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network, who has been arguing the case for a reappraisal of the election for weeks.

There is a clear understanding now in the political class that things have changed, but the big hedge is still on.  In the lead Washington Post story on their new poll, the 7 point Democratic gain was "modest," and the 6 point Republican lead "significant."  Not sure how that got by their editor this morning but shows how fundamentally invested much of DC's political class is in the September version of this story which had Democrats losing the House, a wave election and big Republican gains were already "baked in the cake." I am not sure where we will be in November but it is clear now that the election is going through a fundamental late shift, and this new dynamic has become, appropriately, a major topic for discussion now in the national media.  I just think most commentators are understating the significance of what is going on.

Two more observations this morning:

- When a new clear dynamic emerges in any election this late in the cycle, it is very hard for that dynamic to be altered or dissipate.  In the case of 2010, I think this will prove particularly true.  The Democrats have more tools to effect the national environment in the final month.  They have a much more powerful closing argument.  They have the bully pulpit of the White House, and a charasmatic President who has found his voice in recent weeks on the number one issue for all voters - the economy.  The Republicans, on the other hand, have tired and unappealing leaders, have failed to present a compelling election agenda, have fielded far too many fringe candidates, and the country still holds them - accurately - accountable for the mess we are in today.  The inherent weakness of the GOP's offering failed to close the deal with the public, and has left the door open for the apparent Democrat revival we are seeing now.   Given current trends it is reasonable to conclude that the Democrats could pick up another 3-6 points in the national polls before election day, which would have a significant impact of course on the many close races across the country.  One of the shortcomings of many of the current political analyses of this endgame electoral dynamic is the reluctance of the authors to acknowledge that the current trend lines are likely to continue to through election day, and if they do this really is a whole new ball game.  No candidate or political party wants to be losing ground - particularly 6 or 7 points - as they head in the final month.

-  The current American electorate is unlike any electorate most political observers have ever seen.   Democrats went in to the 2010 cycle having completed their strongest electoral performances in over 40 and perhaps even 70 years.   Democrats won 52% and 53% of the vote in 2006 and 2008, with 2008 being the best Presidential performance since 1964 and only the 2nd time since 1944 Democrats won more than 50.1% of the national vote in a Presidential election.  Simply put more people voted for a Democrat in 2008 than in 44 years.   In contrast, the Democrats went into 1994 having only won 43% of the vote in 1992, giving them a very different relationship to the electorate than the current Democrats.   In essence the ceiling for Democrats is higher in this midterm than it has been in a very long time, which may help explain why the Democrats are defying conventional wisdom and gaining ground in the end game of 2010. 

I am struck that in most national polls the Republican number is that very same 46% they got in 2006 and 2008.  Meaning that despite all that has gone on the Republicans have not improved their standing with the American public at all since their wipeout elections in 2006 and 2008.  For the Democrats, starting again back at 53%, the question in this end game of 2010 was could they got those who had wandered from them but not yet gone to the GOP to return.  And what seems to be happening now is that the Democrats are reclaiming some of that majority vote they received in the last two elections.

So lets do some math here.  If the Republicans have peaked at 46%, and the Democrats are somewhere between 43% and 46% and gaining, what do we believe is the most likely outcome in this final month?  Can Democrats regain half of their lost 2008/2006 vote, and get their national number up to 48/49% given the Republicans have shown no capacity to grow?  Somehow I think this feels like the likely outcome in 2010.  We end up with the Democrats even or ahead few points in the Congressional Generic, ahead or even in all regions of the country outside the South, and with a result that will be disapointing to the Republicans who started their victory laps just a little bit too early.  

Morning Update - The always sharp John Heilemann cites our analysis in his weekly New York Magazine column, and the equally savvy Mike Tomasky has an interesting riff on all this in The Guardian today.

NDN Analysis - A New Dynamic Has Taken Hold in the 2010 Elections

After a few weeks of writing and discussing some changes we had picked up in the national polls, I think it is clear a new national dynamic has emerged - the Republicans are losing ground, and the Democrats are gaining.

Consider the two charts below.  The first is an aggregate of all national polling of the so-called "Congressional Generic Ballot," which asks the simple question "do you intend to vote Democrat or Republican this fall?"  In this aggregate, the Republican advantage has gone from 5-6 points to 1 1/2 percentage points in recent weeks.  In the independent Gallup survey chart a similar trend can be found, with the GOP losing 6 percentage points in the generic in the last month.  That same six point drop can be found in the recent WSJ/MSNBC poll released late last week.  In that poll the GOP advantage went from 49-40 to 46-43. 

 Pollster4

 Gallup

The data now indicates that any talk of a "Republican Wave" needs to be dismissed, and a new theory of the 2010 elections, one which takes into account this late movement towards the Democrats and away from the Republicans, needs to be fashioned. 

We've offered some initial thoughts on why this all may be happening in a series of recent essays, which you can find HERE.   Also be sure to read this new national Reuters story, which takes an in depth look at this new dynamic.

PM Update - New polling from GOP friendly Rasmussen has found a 7 point net swing to the Democrats in recent weeks. and now has the generic at 45-42. 

Further Evidence the GOP Wave Has Crested, and Is Receding Now

The new WSJ/MSNBC poll out this morning shows similar movement that we've seen in other polls of late - a dip in the GOP's numbers and a rise for the Democrats.   Their likely voter Congressional Generic sample moved from 49-40 for the GOP in August, to 46-43.  As I've written elsewhere, what is important here is that it is not just that the Democrats are gaining, it is also that the GOP is dropping.  And as anyone in politics knows, you don't want to go into the last 5 weeks of any election as the GOP is entering the home stretch of 2010 - losing ground while your opponent is gaining.  These kind of trend lines are hard to reverse at this stage of an election.  I have believed for a long time that the election would end this way, for the Democrats have a much stronger closing argument than the GOP.

As we saw yesterday analysts are finding evidence of Democrats gaining ground across the country.  Consider that in a slew of Senate races - DE, KY, PA, CO, NV, CA, WA - the Democratic candidate is in much stronger shape than a few weeks ago.  

I also find it of interest that the GOP is hovering around 46% in most of the aggregate averages and in the new WSJ/MSNBC poll.   This is the same percentage of the vote they received in the last two elections, indicating that despite all the noise the Republican Party is exactly where it was in 2006 and 2008, and those were not good elections for them.  As Barack Obama said yesterday if everyone who votes for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 just vote again his party will be fine.  Clearly at this stage the same cannot be said for the GOP. 

There is now enough evidence of late to indicate that 2010 should no longer be considered a "wave election."  Or if it is, then it appears that the GOP wave has crested, and is receding now - a dangerous mental image for a party as unpopular, ideologically divided and as out of touch with every day Americans as the modern GOP.

Was on Fox yesterday talking about all this.  Check it out below:

Hope for the Dems? - Part II

Last week, after a deep look at polls across the country, I wrote a piece, Hope for the Dems? which argued that there signs that the election was beginning to shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats.  

The piece got a lot of play last week, and I called around to some folks who track this stuff to see if they were seeing the same thing.  Two of the folks I talked to, Mark Blumenthal and Chris Cillizza, have pieces out today which finds a bit more evidence that things may be improving for the Democrats (you can find them here and here).  In my piece last week I lay out why I think this may be happening, so I wont repeat it here.  But I do want to offer a few more observations on this remarkable election.

- Pay attention to demography.  For over five years NDN has been arguing that a "new politics" was emerging in America, driven by vast changes in our governing agenda, our media and technology and our people.  In 2008 President Obama built a new and powerful electoral coalition for the Democrats, the strongest built for center-left politics in over 40 and perhaps even in over 70 years.  This new coalition was built around a very different - and continually changing - electorate of the 21st century.

Going all the back to the primary against Hillary Clinton, the electorate began to split - younger for Barack, older for Clinton.  This trend continued in the fall election of 2008, where older folks went with McCain, younger for Obama.   Younger people are also much more non-white than the aging generations in the US, so the Obama vote was also much more racially mixed than McCains.  As a bi-racial man himself Obama was very much the leader of this new much more diverse and younger coalition that really looked like no other majority coalition built in US political history.

In 2010 this trend continues to play out.  Older, whiter, more conservative parts of the country - the South, the Rustbelt - are trending a bit more Republican now.  Younger, more full of recent immigrants and more racially diverse parts of the country remain pretty strong for the Dems.   There appear to be at least five major regions of the country now -

The Northeast - Solid Dem

The Rustbelt - Democratic, but trending GOP

The South - Solid GOP

The Latin Belt (from FL to TX through the SW and CA) - Leaning Dem

The Pacific Coast - Solid Dem

While important, the national poll numbers dont really tell the story of our complex country.  For example in this "wave election" the Democrats could very well win the governorships in CA, TX and FL.  Harry Reid has come back strong in Nevada, as has Patty Murray in WA.  New polls showing Democrats doing well in House races in NM.  California in trending Democratic again. 

As a rule of thumb I think you should expect the Dems to do a bit better in the younger, more diverse parts of the country this fall, the Republicans a bit better in the older, whiter and more conservative parts of the country.   While this may be enough to see significant Republican gains this fall, long term the GOP's current coalition is a slowly melting icecube and cannot sustain them over time.

- The Republicans Have No Closing Argument, the Democrats Have A Good One Available to Them.  The arguments the GOP are making now about the Democrats are the same arguments they were making six months and even a year ago when the electorate started moving heavily against the Democrats.  So in that sense they have already gotten everything they can out of them in this election.  Putting $2 million dollars behind a campaign which argues that Democrats have seen the deficits rise and the economy worsen will not be very effective as voters already know and understand all this. The Democrats, on the other hand, have a potentially potent closing argument they can use in their ads full of things which have been front of mind for voters this past year. 

I layed out my sense of this dynamic in a piece I penned for the Huffington Post last week called "The Closing Argument."  Essentially I argue that if the Dems close with this narrative - the GOP screwed everything up, the Democrats have started to put things right, the Dems have a smart and good plan for the future which needs more time to work, the Republicans have a bad and reckless plan with ideas already proven to hurt the nation - they can significantly improve their posiition.

To me the one devastating attack against the GOP now open to the Dems is to make clear that the entire GOP economic argument - the single biggest issue in the election right now - is built upon an extraordinary lie.  As President Obama pointed out yesterday, the core of the GOP's promise this year is to cut the deficit, and yet not a single GOP candidate running for office in the US can produce a plan which will reduce the deficit even by a penny in the next ten years. When the Republicans say that they will reduce the deficit - and there is no nice way to say this - it is a lie.  Adroit Democratic campaigns can and will use this basic truth to weaken sentiment about individual Republicans and the overall Republican economic argument. 

So, like many, I am still trying to figure out what is going on in this complicated election.  But what I do know is that there is still life left in this baby, and nothing is "baked in the cake."

Poll Watch - Hope for the Dems?

Both the Real Clear Politics Congressional Generic average and the new Gallup track show similar national trend lines - Dems gaining ground, GOP dropping.   Similarly, the Gallup track has Obama's approval rating improving by 10 net percentage points in the past month, from 42/51 to 47/46 (RCP has shown movement despite 2 clear outlier Rasmussen and AP polls).

If these trend lines are true, no one should be suprised.  The underlining favorability of the Republican Party is still far below that of the Dems and Obama.   This election has never been like 1994 where at this point there had been both a fall of the Dems and a rise in the GOP.  The memory of the disasterous GOP reign in the last decade is still too fresh, their leaders still to unreformed, their candidates far too wacky, and their ideas still to reckless for the current GOP to have fully taken advantage of the Democratic underpeformance this past cycle. This election, like all elections, is not like any other election.  It has its own contours, its own set of dynamics.  Like all elections it is sui generis.

As NDN has been arguing for most of 2010, the real questions in the election were 1) could the Democrats get their huge base to come home and vote 2) could the Dems do a better job at engaging on the main issue of the election, the economy, and better define the GOP as a reckless party? The late movement in this election, despite the truly silly "baked in the cake" arguments we've heard on TV of late, was always likely to be towards the Democrats.  This current Congress had done too much right for the summer perceptions of Democratic performance to continue to be as bad as it was.  And the underlying strength of the Democratic and Obama brands were just too great for their standing not to improve with some focused recalibration, which has happened now.  We dont really now exactly why these things have happened, but I for one believe its because the President has begun to make the choice on the economy much more clear.

Remember that in the last two elections, the Democrats garnered 52 and 53 percent of the national vote. The last time they received such numbers two elections in a row was in the 1930s, meaning that for those covering politics there had not been an environment so Democratic since prior to Reagan's rehabilitation of the GOP, and maybe even all the way back to the 1960s or 1930s.  The Democrats started this cycle in a position where if got those who already voted from them in the last two elections to vote for them again they could win a smashing 1934 like victory, bucking historical mid-term trends of parties in historically weaker shape than the 2010 Democrats.  

I hope given these polls that the comparisons to 1994 will come to an end.  For the GOP this polls should be very worrying.  They are now dropping as a national political party 6 weeks before an election.  They have no argument where they want to take the country.  They have unattractive leaders and far too many fringe candidates.  Led by a re-energized President, the Democrats have begun to find their voice, and their numbers are improving.

Underneath all the noise the political terrain of 2010 is changing, and so far this new terrain is far more favorable to the Dems than the Rs.  My sense is that Democrats have reclaimed ground they never should have lost in the first place.  The real question now is what happens next, how does this election close? If I were a Republican I would not like the charts on Gallup and RCP showing sharp downward movement this close to an election, as they have very few tools now to reverse what could be a significant drop in their standing.  For Democrats there is muted but renewed hope.

Update - A new poll by John Zogby released today shows similar movement in both Obama's approval and the Congressional generic.  More evidence that these trends are real.  

Some Early Thoughts on the New Gallup Congressional Generic Numbers

The Beltway is already abuzz this am with a new Gallup poll showing a huge swing towards the Democrats in the Congressional Generic Ballot test, from 47-46 to 49-43.  While we don't know if this is a significant shift yet - time and other polls will tell us more in the weeks to come - we do know that such an outcome is perfectly plausible as the Democrats retain a huge Party ID advantage this year, ranging from 7-12 points depending on the poll. 

NDN has been arguing all year that despite a drop in Democrat favorability, the structural changes which took place in the electorate in 2006 and 2008 have not abated.  Democrats won those two elections with historically large majorities, winning each election by 53-46.  Given that the last time the national Democratic Party had won a Presidential election by more than 50.1 percent was 1964, these back to back majorities signaled an end of what we have called "the era of conservative ascendency" and signaled that a new post-conservative age had begun, that a "new politics" had been born. What happened in 2006 and 2008 was a structural shift in the American electorate, making it much more Democratic than it had been since at least the 1960s, and making the political environment different than any strategist, consultant, reporter or pundit had seen in 45 years, and certainly different than virtually any of these professionals had experienced in their adult lifetime. 

In late June, I wrote the following in a post called Fighting Conventional Wisdom on Deficits, The Economy and the Strength of the GOP,

Democrats Still Hold a Substantial Lead in Party ID - In each poll, the Democratic Party held a 9 point Party ID advantage over the GOP (45/36 in NBC/Wall Street Journal, 43/34 in Public Policy).  9 points is of course a bigger spread than the  actual vote in each of the last two elections, which broke 53% to 46% for the Democrats.  In 1994, by comparison, the GOP had a party ID advantage over the Democrats. 

What is remarkable about these findings is that the structural shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats is not showing signs of abating.  Looking at the Congressional Generic Ballot (even these days, with Ds and Rs being in the mid 40s) and Obama/Dem approval (mid to high 40s) there is evidence the Democrats have lost some ground since 2008.  But there simply is no evidence in either of these polls that the GOP has gained at all, and remains in the same mid 40 percent range - or less - the party achieved in each of its last two losing election performances (Real Clear Politics average of the Generic Congressional Ballot now has the Democrats up a bit, 43/42.6 - if you take out the always GOP biased Rasmussen it is closer to 2 points now).

In fact, a reasonable interpretation of these polls is that the GOP is stuck at a ceiling of 45/46/47, the Dems have dropped to similar terrain, but with Party ID being so strong for the Dems, there is more of a clear path now for the Dems to regain their lost ground than for the GOP to grow beyond their current position. With the GOP now stuck in the mid 40s, a lot of what happens in 2010 will depend on what happens with that 5-8 percent the Democrats have lost - will they come home? Not turn out? Go to the GOP?

It is fair to say from these polls that neither party should be happy with their position 4 1/2 months from the 2010 midterms.  The Democrats have lost too much of its recent historic vote, and the GOP has not shown any capacity to take advantage of the Democratic weakness.

What may be happening now is that the Democrats may be in the process of reclaiming their lost vote, something that we have argued is more likely than an unreformed and reactionary GOP taking advantage of the recent Democratic slippage. It is too soon to know if this happening, but certainly if it is there is a data driven explanation for why this shift could be taking place.

We are not suprised that even experienced pundits are having a hard time making sense of the current electorate.  It is unlike any electorate that the political class has seen.  It is demographically very different from any electorate in American history, and has been, and remains, the most pro-Democratic electorate we've seen in at least 45 years.  For the current pundit class this is unfamiliar terrain, and applying old models to a new electorate simply will not work.

For more on this see Mike Hais's recent excellent Data Matters column, Democrats, Not Independents or Republicans, Will Decide Who Wins in 2010 and Beyond.

Fighting Conventional Wisdom on Deficits, The Economy and the Strength of the GOP

In prepping for my last two segments on Fox News (here and here) I had to review new polls which had some not so good news for Democrats. The first was from Public Policy Polling. The second one from NBC/Wall Street Journal.  In digging down on these polls, I found some suprising results (perhaps for DC):

Democrats Still Hold a Substantial Lead in Party ID - In each poll, the Democratic Party held a 9 point Party ID advantage over the GOP (45/36 in NBC/Wall Street Journal, 43/34 in Public Policy).  9 points is of course a bigger spread than the  actual vote in each of the last two elections, which broke 53% to 46% for the Democrats.  In 1994, by comparison, the GOP had a party ID advantage over the Democrats. 

What is remarkable about these findings is that the structural shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats is not showing signs of abating.  Looking at the Congressional Generic Ballot (even these days, with Ds and Rs being in the mid 40s) and Obama/Dem approval (mid to high 40s) there is evidence the Democrats have lost some ground since 2008.  But there simply is no evidence in either of these polls that the GOP has gained at all, and remains in the same mid 40 percent range - or less - the party achieved in each of its last two losing election performances (Real Clear Politics average of the Generic Congressional Ballot now has the Democrats up a bit, 43/42.6 - if you take out the always GOP biased Rasmussen it is closer to 2 points now).

In fact, a reasonable interpretation of these polls is that the GOP is stuck at a ceiling of 45/46/47, the Dems have dropped to similar terrain, but with Party ID being so strong for the Dems, there is more of a clear path now for the Dems to regain their lost ground than for the GOP to grow beyond their current position. With the GOP now stuck in the mid 40s, a lot of what happens in 2010 will depend on what happens with that 5-8 percent the Democrats have lost - will they come home? Not turn out? Go to the GOP?

It is fair to say from these polls that neither party should be happy with their position 4 1/2 months from the 2010 midterms.  The Democrats have lost too much of its recent historic vote, and the GOP has not shown any capacity to take advantage of the Democratic weakness.

Spending and Deficits Are a Secondary Concern For Most Voters - Adding in a third recent poll, a YouGov/Economist poll, the other remarkable thing in these recent polls is how clear it is that spending and deficits - despite the media frenzy of late - remain a secondary concern - at best - for most voters.  In each poll, as most polls over the past five years, the economy is the overwhelming concern of voters, with the spending/deficit numbers far behind.  As it should - for every day Americans suffering through a "lost decade" of no wage and income growth, the state of the economy is a much more immediate and significant concern than the more abstract concern about the federal budget.   Concerns about deficits and spending spike among conservatives and Republicans, but in the In The Economist poll, for example, less than 10 percent of moderates and independents cited the deficit as a major concern.  In the NBC poll, those citing the importance of deficits actually dropped over the past month and still trailed the economy by 20 points. There simply is no data in these polls showing spending/deficits to be the killer app of 2010.

In each poll there was a great deal of intensity about spending and the deficit among Republicans, and much more interest in the economy/jobs in the rest of the electorate.  Which begs the question - how did the Democrats allow fiscal issues to become so dominant? I take a look at that in another post, this one on how the all important debate over the economy might play out this year.

Come to Our Event Wednesday Which Will Look at All This In Greater Detail - On Wednesday, NDN will be holding an event, noon, at our offices, which will take a much deeper look at all this matters.  Join us live, or on the web. 

If anyone can find polling which shows spending and deficits to be ranked higher than these two polls showcased by Fox News please send them our way.  And for a roundup of our thinking about the American economy, visit here.

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