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Best in the Big Tent: February 2023
FiveThirtyEight does a victory lap, rise of the normal Democrats, moderates cut deals to make government work, and more.
Check out highlights from the past month in big-tent reading…
1. FiveThirtyEight Does a Victory Lap
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver just released a recap of the ratings agency’s performance in 2022. In his words:
While some polling firms badly missed the mark, in the aggregate the polls had one of their most accurate cycles in recent history. As a result, FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts had a pretty good year, too. Media proclamations of a “red wave” occurred largely despite polls that showed a close race for the U.S. Senate and a close generic congressional ballot. It was the pundits who made the red wave narrative, not the data.
At a high-level, Silver is correct to tout the performance of his agency and the polls in general. The “red wave” did not appear to materialize when it came to the overall balance of power on Capitol Hill (in which Democrats gained a Senate seat and kept their losses relatively small in the House), and many of FiveThirtyEight’s pre-election forecasts were vindicated in the election results.
But look under the hood and a different picture emerges.
First off, there was a red wave in 2022 — it just didn’t crash in swing districts where brand-differentiated moderates overperformed.
Second, while FiveThirtyEight was generally correct in predicting winners and losers across the board, their forecasts missed the mark in a number of critical races. From our perspective, we had only picked three places to play in during the 2022 cycle (OH statewide, CA-41, and CO-3) and those places ended up having four competitive House races in which Democrats overperformed the agency’s forecasts:
They had Greg Landsman losing by 5.8 points in OH-01, when he ended up winning by 5.6 (11.4 point swing)
They had Adam Frisch losing by 13.8 points in CO-03, when he ended up coming within just 546 votes of beating Lauren Boebert and losing by just 0.2 points (13.6 point swing)
They had Emilia Sykes losing by 5 points in OH-13 when she won by 5.4 points (10.4 point swing)
And they had Ken Calvert winning by 10 points in CA-41 when he won by 4.6 (5.4 point swing)
These swing margins are significant, especially given the central role ratings from agencies like FiveThirtyEight and others play in influencing Democratic resource allocation. With swings like these on the board, Democrats should be taking these forecasts with a grain of salt and playing to win everywhere.
2. Rise of the Normal Democrats
As Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post, Democrats would be smart to follow Elissa Slotkin’s example.
Slotkin, she argues, has kicked off her campaign in stunningly mainstream fashion:
If the MAGA Republican Party is pining to return to a time when White males dominated, Slotkin shows how Democrats can win on shared values in a Senate campaign announcement ad that is finely crafted for her swing state and for contemporary America.
Moderation doesn’t boil down to just policy — it’s about temperament, too. Popularism + Normalism is a recipe for good things, and Slotkin is well aware:
Political pundits focus excessively on ideology, stressing a candidate like Slotkin’s moderation. But tone and demeanor can communicate far more than a politicians’ words. Republican politicians these days appear perpetually outraged, belligerent and hysterical. That’s the way social media and right-wing “news” outlets keep the MAGA base engaged. But something in Slotkin’s approach seems to echo President Biden’s promise of a return to normalcy.
3. Moderates Cut Deals to Make Government Work
Writing for The Hill, Aris Folley chronicles how Moderate House Democrats offer help to McCarthy, Biden on debt limit:
A coalition of moderate House Democrats is offering a helping hand to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Biden in debt limit talks while urging them to work toward “good faith negotiations” as both leaders prepare to meet on Wednesday.
Some of the most vocal moderate Democrats in Congress recently released a letter offering their support as negotiations begin on averting the fiscal cliff:
The letter, which was first obtained by Politico, featured signatures from Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Sanford Bishop Jr. (Ga.), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).
4. Mainstream Democrats Defend Democracy
The playbook — which is the product of conversations between Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, and Nevada Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, and Montgomery County, PA Commissioner Ken Lawrence — focuses on three core pillars of democracy (election integrity, voting access, and civic engagement) and offers a path forward for elected officials at all levels of government seeking to strengthen trust in elections.
The playbook caught the attention of the Washington Post Editorial Board, which distilled its recommendations into 5 easy ways to increase public confidence that every vote counts:
Election administrators from several presidential battlegrounds, including the secretaries of state from Michigan and Arizona, prepared what is being billed as a “Democracy Playbook” for the NewDEAL Forum, a center-left nonprofit that supports a network of about 200 state and local Democratic officials. They focused on how to improve election integrity, voting access and civic engagement. Here are five of their proposals that we believe would help build confidence across the ideological spectrum that the 2024 elections are free, fair and safe.
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Best of the Liberal Patriot
White Liberals vs. The Working Class by Ruy Teixeira:
The [Democratic] party’s claim to be a working class party these days rests primarily on its undeniable—though diminishing—strength among nonwhite working class (noncollege) voters. These voters made up about 28 percent of Democratic supporters in 2020 according to States of Change data and probably about the same in 2022. But a substantially larger 37 percent of Democratic voters are white liberals (Gallup data cross-walked with States of Change data). This size mismatch is heavily exacerbated by the high educational levels of white liberals which translates into much higher levels of political attention, interest, knowledge, donations and activism among these voters than among working class nonwhites.
The Fox News Fallacy is alive and well throughout the [Democratic] party—if Fox News and conservatives are criticizing the Democrats for X then there couldn’t possibly be anything to X and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often. But if there is something to the issue and persuadable voters have real concerns, you will not allay those concerns by embracing the Fox News Fallacy. In fact, you'll probably intensify them by giving such voters the impression that Democrats simply don't care about their concerns and will do nothing to address them.
The Democrats’ Patriotism Problem by Ruy Teixeira:
Reviving the American civil religion is a noble cause which is also a precondition for building the robust coalition across social and regional divides that Democrats seek. Democrats have tried uniting the country around the need to dismantle “systemic racism” and promote “equity”….and failed (and will continue to fail). Democrats have tried uniting the country around the need to save the planet through a rapid green transition…and failed (and will continue to fail). It’s time for Democrats to return to something’s that’s tried and true.
The Democrats’ Abundance Problem by Ruy Teixeira:
Abundance means just what you think it means: more stuff, more growth, more opportunity, being able to easily afford life’s necessities with a lot left over. In short, nicer, genuinely comfortable lives for all. That’s what voters, especially working-class voters, want. But that’s not what they have.
Economic Patriotism, Rightly Understood by John Halpin:
President Biden should resist the urge to toot his own horn too much [in his SOTU address]. Instead, he should act as America’s chief booster and offer sincere thanks to all Americans—and governors, mayors, and business leaders across the nation—who led this recovery… If Biden wants to hit the sweet spot… he needs to give Americans a healthy dose of economic patriotism—rightly understood.
Best of Slow Boring
Why are young liberals so depressed? by Matt Yglesias:
Life is complicated, and this is difficult. But for a very wide range of problems, part of helping people get out of their trap is teaching them not to catastrophize. People who are paralyzed by anxiety or depression or who are lashing out with rage aren’t usually totally untethered from reality. They are worried or sad or angry about real things. But instead of changing the things they can change and seeking the grace to accept the things they can’t, they’re dwelling unproductively as problems fester.
Don’t give up on police reform by Matt Yglesias:
That’s all just to say that there’s a real conceptual fork in the road here: you can take the need for quality policing seriously and invest the time and money and effort to try to do it, or you can decide to ignore the history and evidence and throw your hands up and declare the whole thing hopeless. Unfortunately, I think the “throw your hands up” approach tends to do a better job of giving voice to the frustrations people feel in the face of the most egregious misconduct. But throwing your hands up never really solves anything, and the objective ought to be to make things better.
Best of The Bulwark
Nikki Haley Is the Perfect Republican Presidential Candidate (for 2015) by Sarah Longwell:
While many Republican voters may be moving off Trump the man, the forces that he unleashed within the party—economic populism, isolationist foreign policy, election denialism, and above all, an unapologetic and vulgar focus on fighting culture war issues—remain incredibly popular with GOP voters.
America, According to Joe by Amanda Carpenter:
Biden has a fine line to walk for the remainder of his term, regardless of his decision on whether to run for re-election. Deprived of his Democratic House, he must, at least optically, appeal to Republicans, while at the same time, most Republicans are reflexively opposed to anything he does. Awkward, to say the least.
Best of The Welcome Party
Republican propaganda won't work against Sherrod Brown in Ohio by Lauren Harper in The Columbus Dispatch:
Sherrod Brown is an independent Democrat — certainly not some New York or California liberal. Ohio voters recognize this, and it’s likely why many GOP voters have split their tickets to support Brown in the past. In 2018, for example, Brown won his race for Senate on the same ticket that Mike DeWine won for governor (Brown’s Republican opponent, Jim Renacci, lagged behind DeWine by more than 8 points). The steep dropoff in support between Brown and other statewide Democrats running that year demonstrates that he garnered a unique level of support among voters who could otherwise be expected to vote for Republicans.
Socialism Sux by Liam Kerr in The Bulwark:
The reality of our political moment is that Democrats have no choice but to be a big tent in order to win. Democrats must not only reach out to independents and moderate Republican voters in order to win swing races and national elections, but they must also stop hemorrhaging support from Hispanic and working-class voters. Despite the insistence from the far-left that there’s no penalty that comes with Democrats calling themselves socialists (literally, as in the case of self-described socialists like Bernie Sanders and AOC) or that Republicans will call Democrats “crazy socialists” no matter what, these voters care what candidates call themselves.
How can leaders take the temperature down, overcome Twitter unreality, and win the middle? We interviewed Ryan last week — a few months after his dynamic campaign won almost 400,000 split-ticket voters in Ohio. In Ryan’s view, it’s time for Americans to stop spinning their wheels and wasting their energy on the culture wars and usher in an “age of reform, renewal, and recommitment to each other.”
There’s tons of demand for moderation among voters, but a relative scarcity of supply in the political arena. Such scarcity must be addressed in both the candidate and attentional marketplaces.
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