Democrats Downballot Losses Are of the Party’s Own Making

vote-elections-voting-boothOnce a hallmark of the Democratic party’s strength, control of state legislatures and Governorships, the party now controls a mere 30 state legislatures and only 19 of the nation’s 50 Governors mansions.  Now, a new DNC report showcases why this has happened,.

According to the report, the Democratic party since 2008 has lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 legislative seats, 30 legislative chambers and a whopping 11 Governorships.  Notably, the party only controls four of the eleven Governorships in states considered competitive for the 2016 Presidential race (Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia).

The report hints at several reasons why the Democratic Party has suffered such heavy losses since 2008.  The first, the party has failed to focus enough on state legislative races.  Another reasons is the failure to groom future candidates.  Third, the party has failed to communicate a clear and concise message. The report cites other reasons but these are the three that stand out.

But, the report misses other very important factors.  The first is the party that holds the White House almost always gets smashed in midterms (minus Clinton 98 and GW 2002).  The elections of 2008 and 2010 were carbon copies of 1980 and 1982.  Republicans romped in 80 and were soundly rebuked in 82.  Democrats triumphed in 2008 only to be crushed in 2010.

Another factor is something the Democratic Party had little control of; generational change.  Many of the legislative chambers that switched allegiances in 2010 came from the South where older, traditionally Democratic white voters are dying off and being replaced by younger Boomer and Millennial Republicans.  Redistricting after 2010 only compounded the problem with traditionally Republican constituencies being drawn into safe districts.

However, by 2014, many legislative chambers and Governorships in the South were GOP.  So this explanation does not explain why Republicans could win swing chambers in Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and Maine and also take Governors mansions in blue states like Maryland and Illinois.  Further, many of the party’s gains in the House came in light blue Congressional districts.

The DNC report misses the mark on Democratic struggles at the state and local level largely because like the RNC 2012 election autopsy it attempts to present a rosy picture for the future of the party.  There is no rosy future for the Democratic Party at the state level.  The party’s heavy bleeding of white, working class voters has damaged them in even deep blue states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts (all states the party lost btw).

The primary reason for Democratic struggles is clear.  The Democratic coalition is top-down heavy and many of the party’s core constituencies do not show up in midterms (drop-off voters).  But, less clear and not mentioned in the report is why Democrats struggle to relate to voters in state elections (ie. white, working class). Unfortunately, it is a problem the party made for itself.

Due to the unwieldy nature of the Democratic coalition the party has forged a modern coalition based on culture and cultural issues play a far more prominent role in federal elections.  Debates over cultural issues such as abortion, gay marriage and welfare often take center stage in federal races.  Meanwhile, cultural issues are often downplayed in state races and Republicans in state races tend to focus on fiscal issues.

Two examples stand out. In Maryland, then GOP gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan announced he was pro-life but said he would not seek to change the state’s abortion laws.  His opponent relentlessly focused on the issue and lost while Hogan largely won because of his focus on spending and its results.  In Illinois, then GOP candidate Bruce Rauner announced he supported abortion rights and gay marriage.  There was little his Democratic opponent could do but to paint him as a Mitt Romney look a like.

Worse for the Democratic Party is that short of GOP implosions seen in 2010 (Colorado) and 2012 (Indiana, Missouri) the party’s appeal on cultural issues only goes so far.  In Colorado Senator Mark Udall used more than half of all his ads to attack now Senator Corey Gardner on abortion.  While Udall did win women he was crushed among Republican and Independent men.

As if it could not get worse for Democrats voters value issues differently in state races.  Fiscal issues tend to dominate.  This suggests that Democrats do not just suffer from a drop-off problem among voters but they struggle to translate support at the federal level to the state level.  Consider that in Illinois among voters who somewhat approved of Obama (using as a proxy for voting in 2012) Rauner won 23% and 11% of those that strongly approved of the President.  Quinn managed to win only 7% who strongly disapproved of the President.

Structural weakness also plays a part in this drama.  The first is fairly obvious in the form of redistricting.  Democrats suffer even more than the GOP in redistricting largely because their voters are often packed into a few, large metropolitan areas.

Second, the party is unable to sustain a strong bench.  Unlike the GOP that has a strong bench of young Senators and Governors the Democratic Party has few.  Further, the GOP can count on strong future statewide candidates due to their control of state legislative chambers (paging Marco Rubio and Joni Ernst).

Third, and likely most important for the party’s success is it creates a lack of institutional knowledge and pressure.  Without institutional pressure there is little demand for the party to change.  Without institutional knowledge the party lacks leaders to implement such change.  As the DNC report indicates, there is little institutional pressure for the party to reform.  Hence, “Voters like our policies but…”.

The DNC report is a good start for the party but it should go much further.  A full report is expected in May but don’t expect it to cover the party’s structural deficiencies.  Instead, it will be full of flowery and hopeful rhetoric about the future and the need to expand the party’s constituencies.  Unfortunately, the way the Democratic party is set up now that is a herculean if not impossible task.


Teachers Unions Besieged On All Sides

chicago-teachers-union1It is tough to be a union these days.  Besieged on all sides from Republicans AND Democrats, the public, and businesses unions have been under assault since Obama took office.  Once able to count on the solid support of Democrats, unions have found that Democrats don’t feel they need to walk in lockstep with them to win elections anymore.

It’s not surprising to note unions fighting with the GOP.  In Wisconsin, unions spent millions to defeat Scott Walker only to fail three times.  Both Michigan and Indiana became a right to work states in 2012.  Wisconsin appears set to join them in the next few weeks.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie partnered with than Newark mayor Corey Booker (now Senator) to expand charter schools in the city.  In all cases unions, particularly teachers unions, opposed such efforts.  But Democrats are also increasingly in conflict with teachers unions.

Take the case of Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel.  A seasoned politico, the former Obama administration official won his inaugural mayoral race with strong backing from the NAACP and Chicago’s Teacher union.  Since that time it has gone nowhere but downhill.  Elected in 2011, a mere year later Emanuel engaged in a tussle with unions that ultimately saw them go on strike before some of their demands were met.  Emanuel got significant concessions as well.

Now, as he gears up for his reelection, his shaky prospects appeared tied to his education agenda which has cut salaries and pensions for teachers and closed dozens of low performing schools.  Unions have spent heavily to defeat him but his challengers are subpar at best.  The only question is whether Rahm can hit 50% and avoid an embarrassing run-off.

Chicago is not an isolated incident.  Reflecting perhaps the only ideologically conservative aspect of Obama’s administration former Obama officials have embarked on attacking teachers unions over things they see as detrimental to education including tenure, outrageous salaries and overly generous pensions.

Obama has also jumped on the education reform bandwagon, His education effort Head Start which emphasized student achievement and teacher evaluations to be based in part on student performance has never been embraced by the AFT and NEA.  Common Core, strongly supported by the President, has enraged both unions and conservatives, though for different reasons.

Other Democrats have taken on teachers unions but in less direct ways.  Mario Cuomo’s reelection bid in 2014 was complicated by a contentious primary where his lack of support for teachers and support of charter and private schools was attacked.  Now, Cuomo has proposed a 2015 budget that would make a conservative proud including expanding the number of charter schools to 560 from 460 and using teacher evaluations to fire bad teachers and limit tenure.  Unsurprisingly, unions have balked and attacked the Governor.

But teachers unions

are increasingly finding their support isolated.  Instead of working with administrators and politicians many unions are increasingly in conflict with such individuals.  They also are losing the public.  California illustrates such a trend.

In 2012, Students Matter, a nonprofit group founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, filed a lawsuit against California’s tenure system on behalf of nine inner city High School students.  The suit alleged that California’s tenure system kept poor teachers from being fired, better teachers from being hired and disadvantaged poor and minority students stuck in failing inner city schools.

In June 2014, California judge Rolf M Treu agreed stating, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

Unions have found an ally in Democratic Governor Jerry Brown who appealed the ruling in an effort to get support for his reelection bid.  Treu did stay his decision until the appeal by Governor Brown made its way through the process.

Such a case from California illustrates how little support unions are receiving from the once friendly public.  Polls consistently show voters value and respect teachers but they see a clear distinction between a “teacher” and a “teacher’s union.”

In 2012 Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance asked both teachers and the public how they felt about teachers unions.  They did it in two ways.  They asked the following, “Some people say that teacher unions are a stumbling block to school reform. Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers. What do you think? Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?” Participants were asked to choose one of five responses: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative.

Between 2009 and 2011 participants generally were more favorable to unions but in 2012 the numbers flipped.  Whereas in 2011 29% of the public held a very positive view of teachers unions only 22% did in 2012.  Most striking, in 2011 58% of teachers had a positive view of teachers unions but in 2012 that number dropped to 43%.  However, when given only two options 71% of teachers gave their unions a positive image while the public split down the middle: 51% said unions had a negative impact, while 49% said their effect was positive.

The nuanced views of the public can be displayed by a simple example here in Idaho.  In 2011, the Idaho legislature passed what was termed the Luna Laws.  These laws mandated tenure be eliminated, collective bargaining further limited and all students to take at least one online class.  The IEA with help from the NEA and AFT fought back and launched a petition to have a referendum on the laws.

While the laws all fell in 2012 it is notable how the laws were attacked.  No mention of unions were made in advertisements for repealing the laws but rather the laws would harm teachers and students.  And while the laws fell virtually every Republican in the legislature who voted for the laws was reelected.  Many of the Luna Law ideas were re-passed in 2013 and have yet to breed much controversy.

It is unclear how one views teachers unions significantly impacts their votes.  But both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are clearly becoming united around the idea our education system needs serious reform.  Unions, defending the status quo, are increasingly losing allies among both the public and political parties.






Do Democrats Have a Shot in Mississippi 1?

Travis Childers was the last Democrat to represent Mississippi's 1st CD due to a unique confluence of factors.  His tenure last a mere two years.

Travis Childers was the last Democrat to represent Mississippi’s 1st CD due to a unique confluence of factors. His tenure lasted a mere two years.

The unexpected death of Congressman Alan Nunnelee has thrown the Mississippi GOP into scramble mode as they struggle to find a replacement.  Under Mississippi law special elections are non-partisan affairs which means in a crowded field a Democratic could hypothetically act and behave like a Republican.  The GOP’s saving grace is that a run-off would occur if no candidate hits the 50% mark.

The district is solidly Republican, taking in Desoto County and formerly Democratic Northern Mississippi but it represents to very different wings of the party.  Many voters in Desoto County live in the Memphis suburbs and while they affiliate with Mississippi they have a different political culture. Desoto County Republicans tend to be the hardline Tea Party and libertarian type.  Voters in much of the rest of the district are traditionally Democratic but have been increasingly drawn to the GOP on fiscal and cultural issues.

Such a divide can be illustrated by two cases.  The first, illustrated by Stu Rothenburg can be viewed here.  The second case is more recent and involves the 2014 Mississippi Senate primary and run-off between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniels.

Thad Cochran has long represented the traditional Mississippi GOP, fiscally and culturally conservative but also “getting mine.”  McDaniel’s style was more confrontational and direct.  In the initial primary where McDaniels won statewide he only managed to win the 1st district’s vote total but he did so because he carried 62% of Desoto County’s 9,300 votes.  He lost the majority of counties in the district.  In the run-off McDaniel increased his margin in Desoto County to 69% out of over 18,000 votes.  But reflective of the district GOP’s divide and Cochran’s strength he ran strong in Tupelo and culturally conservative and rural areas in the district and statewide.

This gives Democrats their opening.  Find a conservative candidate with appeal to the district can exploit the GOP’s divide, especially if Republicans split along Tea Party vs. traditional Republican lines.  But this is easier said than done.

Since the last time Democrats were able to exploit GOP divisions in the state in 08 partisan polarization has dramatically increased.  Consider that between 2009 and 2010 almost half of the South’s majority-white seats had Democratic representation.  Following 2010 and 2012 that number had shrunk to one and John Barrow’s defeat in 2014 means there are more black Republicans than white Democrats in the Deep South.

The line a Democrat would have to walk to not just win a non-partisan special election but a partisan general election is incredibly thin.  Travis Childers won an open seat race in 08 on the back of increased black turnout and a weak GOP opponent.  Notably, Childers won every county in the district short of Desoto.  But in 2010, when black turnout dropped and whites turned against Democrats Childers lost by 15% to Alan Nunnelee who united the wings of the GOP around a platform of “anybody but a Democrat.”

Keep in mind 2010 was before we have had the last three years of gridlock, culture wars and the like as well.  Plus, as mentioned above, at least there were still some white Southern Democrats left. For a Democrat to win this district everything, and I mean everything would have to go right to replicate Childer’s success.

First, they would have to be lucky enough to face a weak general election Republican (in an expected run-off).  Second, they would need this Republican to alienate one of the two wings of the party.  Thirdly, they would need to be able to distance themselves from the national Democratic brand and President, something increasingly difficult today in federally polarized races.

It might still be all for naught if the state has permanently turned away from any Democrat.  Case in point, 2014.  Despite Cochran winning a divided primary run-off he still managed to beat Childers handily statewide.  Childers only won three counties in his old district and lost the state by over 20%.

Democrats should obviously try to win the district if for no other reason than they could get lucky.  But all the factors would be stacked against them.  Much as Democrats have done with NY 10 (a more winnable special election) the party is unlikely to invest much in the race and that would spell certain doom for a Democrat even in a Republican divided district.

Revisiting the Blue State Diaspora Theory

download-48blue-state-diasporaFollowing the 2012 election it was conventional wisdom to argue that traditionally red states were becoming bluer.  Even as North Carolina and Indiana returned to their Republican roots by voting against Obama Mitt Romney was losing traditionally red states just as John McCain did a mere four years earlier.  Obama’s victories fueled a number of new theories based on the general premise that demographic change was at work.  But not just in-state demographic change but regional and national migratory patterns,

Two such articles sum up this theory nicely.  The first, written by NPR political analyst Alan Greenblatt in early 2013, posited that socially liberal Californians were turning Nevada and Colorado blue.  Greenblatt, aware that Idaho and Arizona have the third and fourth highest percentage of Californians in the West, makes the point that it has established liberal enclaves in both states such as Boise, Idaho and Tuscon, Arizona.  More on this in a second.The second article was written almost exactly a year later by Robert Gebeloff and David Leonhardt.  The authors analyzed migratory trends nationwide and found that traditionally red states were becoming bluer largely because liberal Northeasterners were moving into Virginia, North Carolina and other states.

But here’s the rub.  Their theory is just that.  A theory.  And a number of good counterarguments, some of my own and others can easily be made to refute their claims.  Let’s look at them shall we.  The first comes from Harry Enten and Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight politics.  They find that the migratory patterns have not led to Democratic dominance but rather increased geographic and partisan polarization.  Enten and Silver write, “Remember, the GOP controls the House of Representatives, a plurality of state legislatures and amajority of governor’s mansions, and Republicans are slight favorites to take the Senate in November. Democrats have done well in recent presidential elections, but if Republicans take the Senate and hold the House, then by 2016 the GOP will have had control of the Senate for 12.5 of the past 24 years and the House for 18 of 24.”

Silver and Enten also find using Census track migration data and GSS (General Social Survey) information that the people who moved from the South Atlantic region (Virginia, North Carolina) are as liberal as those who moved from the Northeast.  In other words, migratory patterns send liberals to liberal areas of states and vice-versa for conservatives.  This should come as little surprise.  Americans self sort all the time and as urban areas have become more liberal, rural areas have become that much more conservative.

My counterargument generally backs up these themes.  Consider Idaho in the West and Virginia and North Carolina in the Mid-Atlantic.  It has been noted that Boise has become bluer due to Californians moving into the state.  Maybe so.  But consider this fact.  In 1990 Democratic Governor Andrus carried all but two counties in the state of Idaho.  Since that point no Democratic candidate for Governor has won more than 10 of Idaho’s 44 counties.  Just as Boise has turned Ada County blue the surrounding suburban and rural counties have become redder.

The same situation is unfolding in Virginia and North Carolina.  Since 2000 the urban counties of Durham, Orange, Wake, Gilford and Forsythe counties have turned bluer.  Mecklenburg county, which contains Charlotte has become bluer.  But since 2000 Democrats have been losing ground in rural counties.  No Democratic candidate has captured more than 10 rural, majority-white counties in federal races except Kay Hagan (08, Senate and she lost ground in her failed reelection bid).

The same could be said in Virginia.  Bush captured Fairfax, Loundon and Prince William County in 2000.  In 04 Bush lost Fairfax.  In 2008 and 2012 when Obama won the state he won these formerly GOP strongholds but performed even worse in rural counties than Al Gore or John Kerry.  Obama was carried by the massive margins these counties gave him.

Now, one could argue that the continued growth of urban areas in red states could make the increasingly Republican leaning inclinations rural counties moot.  But, we are not there yet.  Don’t believe me.  Look at the results of races in North Carolina and CO in 2014 and Nevada in 2012.  In 2012 even as Obama was carrying the state Dean Heller managed to hold an open GOP Senate seat.  In 2014, Tom Tillis managed to defeat Kay Hagan even as she was crushing him in every urban country.  In the West, Colorado, which had not voted for a statewide Republican candidate in federal races since 2004, sent Senator Tom Udall packing in favor of Congressman Cory Gardner.

So, the idea that Democratic gains in red states are due to the movements of liberal voters is a little thin.  Rather, GOP struggles in red states seem increasingly related to their poor showings among minority voters.  Consider Mitt Romney did just as well among white voters in CO as George Bush did in 2000 but he still lost the state.  Why?  Because whites made up a smaller share of the electorate than 2000 and Romney performed worse among the growing blocs of Hispanic and Asian voters.  In other words, Republicans should not be worried about their poor showings in urban areas.  They should be worried about their poor showings among minorities in those urban areas.

All told, the verdict is out on whether migratory patterns from blue to red states is really making a difference.  Urban areas have become bluer but so have rural areas become redder.  Perhaps the population growth of urban areas will permanently turn Nevada and Colorado blue and make North Carolina a light blue.  But until that time comes the blue state diaspora is more conjecture than reality.




Why I am Open to Voting for Jeb Bush

Jeb BushAmong “true” conservatives and heck even many moderates and Independents it is heresy to even think about admitting one could vote for another Bush.  But with the prospect of Bush running growing larger and larger as a conservative I have to consider what he brings to the table.  And what he brings to the table makes me very interested.

I am not saying I would vote for Bush in the primary.  Nor am I saying I would in the general, though if Hillary is the Democratic nominee you bet your sweet but I would pull the lever for anybody but a Clinton.

Bush brings many qualities to the table I can admire.  He is a former successful two term Governor of a swing state where his conservative policies were implemented, a policy wonk and probably the brighter of the two Bushs, at least when it comes to policy.  Admittedly, Bush has his downsides.

He is a strong supporter of Common Core, a federal education initiative that has somehow united Democrats and Republicans in outrage nationwide over federal achievement standards.  The former Governor also strongly backs immigration reform that comes dangerously close to amnesty though Republicans are fooling themselves if they think they can continue to compete in Presidential races without some sort of reform laid out.

Still, I don’t expect to agree with the person I vote for 100% of the time.  For as the saying goes, “The only person you agree with 100% of the time is yourself.”  Rather, I want to choose the candidate with the best policy successes, ideas and electoral chances. On the first two Bush deserves my consideration.  I am undecided on the third.  Here is why.

Bush’s tenure as Governor of Florida was incredibly successful.  He reformed the state’s educational system, taking on teacher’s unions and expanding school choice.  Even in a right to work state taking on the unions is not an easy task.

He also reformed the state’s welfare system, reducing cost.  Further, he cut taxes all throughout his tenure and streamlined numerous government services.  Critics will note that under Bush the budget increased 47%.  True.  But the population was booming and more people means higher demand for services.  The population boom meant even as Bush was cutting taxes revenue grew (as in more people, more jobs, more revenue).  This might be why Bush is echoing the theme “streamlined government” and not smaller government.

His record of policy successes ties into his wonkiness and why I like it.  He recently spoke to the Detroit Chamber of Commerce where it was on full display.  He talked about expanding education choice, lifting people out of poverty and remaking America into a post-industrial 21st century economy without government doing everything.

Of course, while the above makes him attractive to me his lack of winning elections since 2002 is a worry.  A lot remains to determined about his electoral chances.  It will be interesting to see how he handles Democratic attacks on his wealth (because Hillary was broke when she left the WH).  Younger Republicans likely to run have more recent policy and electoral successes to stand on.

Another factor is that campaigns have changed significantly since 2002.  The social media aspect of campaigns is much harder to grasp for older candidates and unlike Romney, Bush would not have the option to learn from past mistakes.

Still, all in all, despite his blemishes and considering his strengths Bush is definitely worth considering.  Least, that is how this conservative Republican who fears Clinton 2.0 feels.

Where I Stand on HB 88

18bs9ng6c8hqajpgThe latest salvo in the culture wars was launched in the 2015 legislative session with HB 88.  The bill, just printed, can be found in the House State Affairs Committee.  Specifically, the bill makes it a requirement for a woman to get a drug induced abortion only if she consults a doctor face to face.  Not surprisingly, all Republicans in Committee voted to print the bill.  All Democrats opposed it.

The traditional groups have lined up on opposite sides of the issue.  Rural Republicans in both the House and Senate and conservative firebrand Lynn Luker all support the measure.  Democrats, by all accounts, view it as another example of the “war on women.”  Idaho Chooses Life helped draft and sponsor the bill while Planned Parenthood, NARAL and a new group, Better Idaho, oppose it.

What is ironic about the bill is that it is not an overreach.  The FDA, run by a political appointee appointed by a President who once voted “present” on live birth abortions in the Illinois legislature already recommends such policy.  Let me repeat, the FDA already recommends that people consult physicians before they take drugs inducing abortions.

So far, the bill has yet to provoke a large reaction.  Neither did the infamous SB 1387 when it was first printed.  But soon after the bill was introduced in Committee and put on the Senate floor Idaho temporarily became the center of the abortion debate in America.  Ultimately the bill died when the House refused to take up the measure amid widespread public opposition.

But I don’t see a comparison between HB 88 and SB 1387.  SB 1387 would have required an invasive medical procedure known as a transvaginal ultrasound to be performed to meet requirements in the bill.  No such procedure is required in HB 88.

Rather, HB 88 seems to just codify existing FDA recommendations into state law.  No doubt proponents will try to turn this into a debate over government interfering in “choice” but I don’t see how when one looks at this logically.

Consider these factoids.  To get a prescription for any regular kind of contraception you need to see/consult a doctor.  To get over the counter pain-meds, again, you must see a doctor for a prescription.  To get referred to say an ENT, you guessed it, you need to see another doctor.  So why are abortions so sacrosanct that women need not consult a physician when they choose to use an abortion inducing drug  The answer; choice is everything.  All the other stuff, eh, doesn’t matter.  But choice man.

Now, I do understand worries over women not having access to doctors in rural areas.  That is a real concern and a valid one.  But, it still does not explain why these drugs should be the exception.  Again, to get a prescription these individuals still need a doctor’s okay on many other major drugs.  Odds are good they somehow have made that work even in rural areas.

So, when everything is added up I actually don’t have a problem with this bill.  Women have to go see a doctor for just about everything.  Nothing makes drug induced abortions an exception to this rule.  Again, the FDA even agrees.

Not that it matters to the choice crowd.  I am sure they will rail against the bill as government getting in between women and their personal choice but you know what?  Government does that all the time anyways (see above about over the counter drugs).  From a policy perspective it will be interesting to see if this bill passes or dies like the SB 1387.

Personally, I hope it does pass.



Republicans Northeast Wins Show Limits of Full Throated Progressivism

downloadGOP victories in 2014 were deep and widespread.  Republicans unsurprisingly dominated in red and purple states but they also showed surprising strength in blue states in the Midwest and Northeast.  Beyond the electoral implications it also serves as a reminder that even in deeply partisan states voters are willing to switch allegiances, if just for a time, to remind their preferred party not to reach to far.

This message has more profound implications for Democrats than Republicans.  This is largely due to the fact the GOP went through its own struggles with ideological purity in 2010 and 2012 that cost them winnable races in red and purple states and districts.  Democrats, with a sitting President in the White House and a lacking bench, have turned to Clinton as their 2016 champion.  Her brand of centrism should aid the party in its quest to rebuild its brand and coalition.

But not everybody is on board with such a strategy.  Progressive purists are pining for the candidacy of Elizabeth Warren, a firebrand that fits all the boxes on the progressive checklist.  She hates big banks and business, is a dove on foreign policy and is about as socially liberal as you can be,  However, her odds of building a sustainable and winning coalition nationwide are much more doubtful than Clinton.  Likely an ideologue like Warren would alienate the section of voters both parties need most to win, middle class suburbanites with her desire for higher taxes and greater rredistributing of wealth.

The plight of blue state Democrats in 2014 highlight such a trend.  Take the cases of Massachusetts and Maryland in the Northeast and Illinois in the Midwest.  Illinois featured an incumbent Democrat going down while anointed candidates in MA and MD lost.  Republican candidates running on a platform of fiscal sanity appealed to segments of the electorate Romney and their partisan counterparts (or they) could not in 2010.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Just look at the results.  In Illinois, a bland self-made Republican, liberal on social issues defeated an incumbent Governor who had raised taxes and promised to make them permanent.  Taking social issues off the table he was able to unite fiscally conservative suburban voters around his candidacy.  Bruce Rauner (R) matched Quinn’s (D) numbers in Cook County by strongly winning the Collar Counties by huge margins.  Exit polls show Rauner won every region of the state minus Chicago and won the middle class By 24%.

In Maryland, outgoing Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley chose his black Lt. Governor Anthony Brown to replace him.  Brown ran a platform to keep the tax increases O’Malley had signed into existence in place.  His opponent, Larry Hogan, ran strictly on a fiscal platform and tied Brown to tax increases at every turn.  Voters worried about spending for no return sent Hogan to a resounding 52%-47% victory.  Hogan won both blue-collar and white-collar counties, counties Obama had carried in 2008 and 2012 and O’Malley had carried in 2006 and 2010.

The same theme played out in Massachusetts.  Running on a centrist, competency based theme Charlie Baker vastly exceeded his 2010 performance among white-collar and blue-collar workers.  Baker attacked his opponent, Martha Coakley, for being a rubber stamp for the strongly Dem legislature and the best way to be a check on their impulses.  Republicans in neighboring Rhode Island and Vermont running on similar themes almost captured upsets.

Now imagine this on a national scale.  It is unlikely this would turn Illinois or the Northeast blue but it could be enough to turn closer blue states and purple states red.  Republicans would be wise to notice.  The ideological wings of a party tend to exert the most pressure and both parties struggle to contain such impulses.  Democrats would be smart to not let their ideological impulses get in the way of electoral victories but like the GOP is learning from 08 and 012 and Democrats had to learn from 80 to 92, ideological impulses are harder and harder to ignore when you have a recent history of victory.


The New Republican Middle Class

Minorities with college degrees are more likely to vote Republican than their non-college counterparts.

Minorities with college degrees are more likely to vote Republican than their non-college counterparts.

To the casual observer the last five American elections have been a bizarre set of differing outcomes.  2006 and 2008 ushered in a Democratic President and the party’s strongest Congressional majorities since FDR.  Then, a mere two years later Republicans took back the House.  In 2012 the President was soundly reelected and his policies affirmed by the public (if not all its segments).  Last November, the public sent him a resounding verdict on the first two years of his second term.

But dig deeper into the results of these elections and you find a startling result that runs counter to common narrative.  The differing results of the last five elections are not just because of differing electorates (Presidential vs. midterm) but because the “middle class” has ever so slowly been drifting inexorably towards the GOP.

But first, let’s define what I mean by “middle class?” After all, it seems many have differing interpretations of who this group includes.  For our purposes it is the bloc of voters that earn between $50K to $100K, have a college degree (but not post-graduate) and work primarily in white collar professions (accounting, business, IT, etc.).

Let’s first look at this voting bloc’s electoral history.  Keep in mind for some of this bloc’s history certain common jobs today did not exist.  At the rise of the 20th century this bloc of voters was solidly Republican.  They counterbalanced the strongly Democratic South and gave the GOP numerous Presidential victories between 1896 and 1932.  Yet, when the Great Depression hit, this bloc of voters strongly backed FDR to get the economy moving again.  However, their mistrust of government was evident in 1946 a mere two years after FDR passed away.  Strong GOP Congressional majorities washed away many of America’s WWII governmental programs.

The bloc also showed its GOP leanings by strongly backing Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.  They backed Nixon in 60 and gave him the White House in 68 and 72.  After the stagflation of the Carter years the bloc helped form a key linchpin in the Reagan coalition. More recently, these “middle class” voters only narrowly backed Clinton in 92 and went slightly for Dole in 96.  The group backed GWB in 2000 and even more strongly in 2004.

What course has this increasingly diverse voting bloc charted since 2004?  Despite Democratic successes in 06 and 08 the party only narrowly carried these voters in both elections.  Republicans overwhelmingly won them in 2010, by less in 2012 and again by large margins in 2014.  But it is not just that Republicans are increasingly winning these voters but the middle class is expanding as a segment of the electorate and where the GOP is winning these voters that is having repercussions.

Unlike blue collar voters, middle income professionals are growing as a share of the electorate.  Primarily white (70%-75%) this group of voters went from 24% of the electorate in 2004 to 29% in 2008 and 31% in 2012.  Meanwhile, blue collar workers have slipped from 65% of the electorate in 1980 to just 39% in 2008.  According to census estimates, turnout among middle-class voters is 10 percentage points or more higher than among working-class voters

Even Democratic strength among Millennials and those with graduate degrees cannot match this trend.  The number of post-graduate degree holders is not expected to increase significantly and younger Millennials are starting to show a definitive GOP lean.  Among the Millennials in 2008 and 2012 that voted for Obama a series of Harvard Institute of Politics polls have shown today they mirror the public at large’s views on government.  So much for Obama locking in a generation of voters.

Republicans have been victorious in swing and blue states because of these voters.  For examples of this let’s look at the Colorado and Iowa Senate races in 2014 compared to 2012.  Let’s also look the the gubernatorial races in Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois (all blue states where Republicans captured the Governors mansions) and the 2012 and 2014 House exit polls.

In Colorado in 2012 college educated voters went for Romney 55%-43% but those earning between $50K-$100K went for Obama 50%-48%.  Now Republican Senator Corey Gardner dramatically outperformed Romney, winning bachelor holders 45%-50% (44%-51% among those with some college) and significantly among those between $50K-$100K 57%-40%.  Combined with an improved showing among lower income whites it gave Gardner his edge.

In Iowa, Obama carried bachelor holders 50%-48% and won middle income earners 50%-49%.  New Republican Senator Joni Ernst cruised among both groups, racking up a 57%-42% win among bachelor holders and 53%-42% among middle earners.  Like Gardner she also won those with associate degrees.

The results in 2014’s Governor’s races also illustrate how even in blue states middle income voters are moved by fiscal issues.  In Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner ran a campaign relentlessly focused on fiscal issues.  As a result he dominated among college graduates 60%-36% and 55%-44% among the 38% of the electorate that identified as middle income. No exit polls were done in Massachusetts or Maryland but it is instructive just looking at the geography of the vote.  In Massachusetts, Charlie Baker carried blue-collar Worcester County 56%-38%.  Even more importantly, he built on wins from his 2010 run in Essex and Bristol counties and every other county on the coast. These counties are heavy on white collar professions driving their economies. In Maryland, Larry Hogan won an upset victory over Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.  Brown only managed to carry four counties in the entire state while Hogan won Harford, Baltimore and Howard counties full of white collar professionals by healthy margins.

Let’s also not forget what the House exit polls tell us.  In 2012 Democrats lost middle income voters 54%-45% and college grads 52%-46%.  But in 2014 GOP victories among this group grew.  The GOP won among college grads 44%-54% and middle earners 44%-55%.  Those with associate degrees also backed Republicans by a similar margin.

This voting trend is a far cry from Democrats high-water mark among these voters in 2008.   Even in 2010, Democrats in blue states were able to successfully court these voters.  So has anything among these voters changed in the last two years?

The answer is no.  This group of voters is fiscally pragmatic and socially liberal.  They are attracted to Republicans who downplay social issues and do not practice a “destroy government at all costs” mentality. This explains why in Colorado attacks from Senator Mark Udall against Cory Gardner on abortion fell flat when he did not engage.  In Maryland, Hogan’s pro-life position was at odds with many in the state but he nullified the issue when he said he would not change the state’s abortion laws.

Middle class voters have held views of late that do not fit well into either party.  They don’t love the religious right or the Tea party.  But they also don’t fit into the liberal love affair with benevolent big government.  Instead, they view government skeptically and do not like spending without results.

So how does this play into the 2016 race?  I thought you would never ask.  Republicans would be mindful to remember that their victories in 2010 and 2014 were not just built off gains among working class whites but also college graduate professionals.  Unlike blue collar workers, professionals do not relish clashing over social issues but they share blue collar voters distrust of government.

Republicans should nominate a candidate that does not pitch a “burn it down” message but also brandishes enough socially conservative credentials to unite the party.  Still, said Republican will need to walk a fine line to win the religious right and keep GOP gains from 2014.

Democrats might be helped in gaining some ground among middle income professionals with Hillary.  She does not pitch the populist message of Elizabeth Warren that the base loves.  Many middle income professionals salaries and livelihood are tied to corporations and so they tend to have more nuanced viewss on the subject than hard-line left or right ideologies.

Ultimately, Republicans have gained among this group to the detriment of Democrats.  Skeptical of government, middle income professionals are willing to vote for Democrats when Republicans mess up (Great Depression, Watergate, Great Recession) but they generally return to a center right voting pattern.  If Republicans note this and nominate the right candidate in 2016 it could put them over the top in rapidly diversifying and increasingly educated states like Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.


Addendum 1: Lest anybody think only middle income whites are more likely to vote Republican according to a Pew study of the 2012 elections, Hispanic support for Obama was 13 percentage points lower among those with a college degree than among those without a college degree; and it was 23 points lower among those making more than $50,000 than among those making less than $50,000.  Asians, highly successful, went from voting for Obama by over 30% to splitting their vote for the House in 2014.




Republicans Lose Millennials on Cultural Issues

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner won a purple state and younger voters by avoiding divisive cultural issues.

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner won a purple state and younger voters by avoiding divisive cultural issues.

If the recently concluded legislative debate over “Add the Words” legislation proved anything it showed that the GOP just cannot win the younger generation on cultural issues.  Note I said cultural issues.  On social issues such as abortion the GOP does relatively well though they still manage to find ways to turn support for their views into opposition.  More on that in a minute.

Struggles on cultural issues is a new phenomenon for the GOP.  The party once found fertile ground in the 80s and 90s to play up cultural issues of crime and race.  But now, with the party facing a new generation of voters the same set of issues that once appealed, and still do, to a shrinking and older voting base does not appeal to Millennials, the most diverse and largest generation since the baby boomers.

The examples of GOP struggles are legion.  Virtually every analyst knows the GOP struggles with younger voters.  But why?  The answer is the party’s stance on gay marriage, marijuana legalization, LBGT rights and yes, even abortion.  Witness the statements on rape and abortion of former Congressman Todd Akin (MO) and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.  Their candidacies imploded in 2012 in sure win red states.  When the GOP moved away from these issues a mere two years later they were successful.

I am not advocating for the GOP to become more culturally liberal pro-choice.  It just is not going to happen.  But the way the party discusses cultural issues say a lot as well.  In Idaho, the GOP has been so dominant these issues are of little consequence.  The state’s strongly conservative bent combined with its unusual number of SoCal transplants and Mormons have given the GOP a strong base to build on.  But even the base’s support has limits.

Go back to 2012 and witness the GOP bill that would have required trans-vaginal ultrasounds before an abortion and the base, particularly fiscally conservative GOP women, rose up in arms.  The result was the bill dying.  Yet, in Idaho today, we still have proponents of such bills.  Senator Nuxoll has tried every session to bring a similar bill back and Representatives Lynn Luker and Brent Crane have made it clear they support such stringent legislation. I am pretty sure the rape inclusion thing also cost the Congressional GOP a bill that would have banned abortion at five months.  Many of the Caucus’s moderates and women turned against the bill and it was pulled.

Of course abortion is more a social issue as I said above.  But it still needs to be recognized as an example of the GOP’s tone deafness when it comes to politically sensitive issues.  Here in Idaho for nine years the GOP refused to allow an ATW hearing.  When they did last month not a single Republican voted for a bill that read like it was written by a conservative.  Already, the GOP’s foolishness on social issues has had an impact here in Idaho.

Metro Boise has become permanently blue.  Where before 2006 the city was known for both moderate and Democratic Republicans in its ranks it now has only Democrats.  Redistricting only cemented this trend along with younger, more upscale voters moving into the city and moving its districts further to the left.  Of course, these voters would probably have naturally gravitated to the left but the lean of the city would not have become so pronounced so quickly.  Consider that an openly gay Republican ran for a House seat in former swing D-18 and he lost by 30%.

Republicans have done much better both nationally and here in Idaho when they stay on the topic of fiscal issues.  Tax cuts that benefit the majority of taxpayers and fiscal austerity have a nice ring to them that appeals to many voters.  Further, smart governance allows the state to appropriately bump the budgets of state agencies and schools.  Notably, Democrats ran centrists in 2010 and 2014 for Governor who did not call for higher taxes and they still lost.

Today, Idaho is a red state.  But give it 10 or 20 years when most Millennials have reached political maturity and Idaho could lose a lot of its redness.  Not all at once, but ever so slowly, if the Idaho GOP does not adapt to political realities they will find themselves losing their grip on the state.  Nationally, the party could find itself cast into the political wilderness for a generation.

Idaho’s Dearth of Competitive Races Ensures Legislative Dominance for the GOP

imgIdaho is a red state.  Please, hold your duhs for the moment.  This is reflected in the legislature where the GOP controls 80% of both chambers combined 105 seats (84).  Again, I am sure you are not shocked.  But, what you may not be aware of is just how strong the GOP hold is on many of their legislative seats, ensuring a generational if not longer dominance of the legislature.

Historically, the GOP has dominated the state legislature since the 60’s.  The low-point for state Democrats came in 2000 when they controlled a mere three seats in the Senate and five in the House.  But, the 1994 created Independent Redistricting Committee drew new lines in 2000 that favored Democrats.  Combined with an influx of young and educated in Boise and affluent in Sun Valley Democrats gained nearly a dozen seats that year (even as Bush won the state with 67%).  Since that time Democratic legislative numbers have been stagnant and some interesting numbers show why.

In 2012, Barack Obama only carried two of Idaho’s 44 counties.  He managed to carry only four of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.  Showing just how important Boise is to the state party, all four of those districts are in metro and suburban Boise (16, 17, 18 and 19).  But what is most notable from 2012 is that Romney won two legislative districts represented solely by Democrats.  Obama?  Zero.  Further, Obama’s best showing was in District 19 with 62%.  By comparison, Romney won 22 legislative districts with over 62% of the vote. So what you say?  That was 2012 and a national election.  Local Democrats do better.  I can’t disagree.  But Romney’s numbers suggest just how Republican Idaho voters are.

But let’s look at a local race.  Heck, let’s look at several in 2014.  Despite the favorable political climate for the GOP nationally it was a different story in Idaho.  Governor Otter was dogged by education funding shortfalls and ethics.  Superintendent of Education candidate Sherri Ybarra was a weak candidate and even Secretary of State candidate Lawrence Denney looked vulnerable to a North End liberal.  But, in the end not a single candidate lost.

The legislature was where Democrats hoped to make the biggest gains.  Buoyed by a strong 2012 where they regained seats in District 18 and came close to winning seats in West Ada their best targets were in District 15 and up north in the Latah and Nez Perce based 5th and 6th districts.  But, Republicans had their eyes on some targets there as well.

When the dust settled only a single incumbent had lost, a freshman Rep. from District 5, Lucinda L. Agidius by 2%.  In the neighboring 6th, Representative John Rusche won by a mere 48 votes and Republican Thyra K Stevenson lost by 26.  However, Democrats lost an open district in LD 5.  They were competitive in 15 but lost all races.

But it is not the back and forth of a single seat switching that matters.  It is the overall vote totals.  In 75 of the legislative seats on the ballot, Republicans won with over 60% of the vote.  Taking out uncontested seats (and there were quite a few) and the GOP still won 35 contested races (whether it be a Democratic or third-party candidate challenging) with over 60% of the vote.

This has repercussions for public policy in the state.  Democrats are a nuisance at best and annoying at worst.  The real debate is among the socially conservative, libertarian and business wings of the GOP.  Notably, Republicans seem to be returning a bit to the center this cycle with a new emphasis on education funding and less on tax cuts.

This change of direction has not been brought on by electoral outcomes.  Rather, the GOP’s business friendly and establishment wing is reasserting its muscles after a successful election.  Conservative challenges to sitting lawmakers and statewide officeholders were defeated and even the best Democratic efforts fell short.

Maybe in time Idaho will change demographically enough that Democrats can compete for control of the Legislature (and statewide office beyond Superintendent of Education).  But when you don’t even try perhaps you deserve to lose.  Democrats did not even field candidates in 46 races.  That is almost half of all legislative seats!

Of course, when you only make up about 68,000 or so registered voters out of 760,647, you don’t even have a candidate recruitment base to speak of.  This and more, speak volumes about the strength of the GOP’s hold on the legislature.