"Something much weirder has happened."
November 9, 2020 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Why do people often vote the weird ways they do? What can Democrats learn from that? David Shor, a college Marxist turned into one of the most influential data scientists in Democratic politics, has some thoughts (and a lot of data).

While Shor's interview was conducted months before the election, Alex Pareene brings up a similar point just a few days after it (and the strange case of Florida backing a $15 minimum wage...along with the presidential candidate who is against a $15 minimum wage):
At a time when great masses of voters support obvious contradictions like raising the minimum wage and viciously anti-worker state legislatures, or decriminalizing drugs and politicians who think of prison construction as the only legitimate form of local government stimulus, it’s hard to believe anyone, at least in the short term, has a compelling or even plausible strategy for consistently winning elections. The mission to build power for the left—or, much more modestly, to help an improved Democratic Party consolidate power—will not come down to simply announcing support for the right policies, while decrying or downplaying the wrong ones. It will, unfortunately, be much longer and harder work.
posted by Ouverture (93 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
Other research has shown that messaging centered around the potential for cooperation and positive-sum change really appeals to educated people, while messaging that emphasizes zero-sum conflict resonates much more with non-college-educated people. Arguably, this is because college-educated professionals live really blessed lives filled with mutually beneficial exchange, while negative-sum conflicts play a very big part of working-class people’s lives, in ways that richer people are sheltered from. But it manifests in a lot of ways and leads to divergent political attitudes.
With a couple of not-WEIRD examples. The optimistic take is that the more a polity manages to make the lives of its worst-off fair and safe, the easier the political going should be - but the reverse is also true.
posted by clew at 10:36 AM on November 9 [21 favorites]


In that case, raising taxes on the billionaire class ought to be the easiest sell imaginable: "We're going to take the money away from them and give it to you!" And yet...
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:39 AM on November 9 [24 favorites]


In that case, raising taxes on the billionaire class ought to be the easiest sell imaginable: "We're going to take the money away from them and give it to you!" And yet...

It only works if you actually believe that the party selling it to you is going to do it. Whereas "we're going to tread on people below you and give you some scraps" is a more believable line that Trump sort of followed through on.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:42 AM on November 9 [35 favorites]


It only works if you actually believe that the party selling it to you is going to do it.

Yeah, the credibility gap for Democrats is immense. No matter who is in office, a whole lot of people's lives have not materially improved in decades. This is especially true for what should be the most engaged base for Democrats: young people, poor people, and people of color (and this deprivation is compounded with each intersecting identity).

One of the bigger problems is that the party, along with the media in general, is led by people whose lives have generally gotten better over time. As this gap continues to widen, Republicans will continue to siphon off support from the above three segments, just as they did in this year's election.
posted by Ouverture at 10:50 AM on November 9 [50 favorites]


A treasure trove of views and perspectives.
Are Democrats losing ground with nonwhite, non-college-educated voters?

Yeah. Black voters trended Republican in 2016. Hispanic voters also trended right in battleground states. In 2018, I think it’s absolutely clear that, relative to the rest of the country, nonwhite voters trended Republican. In Florida, Democratic senator Bill Nelson did 2 or 3 points better than Clinton among white voters but lost because he did considerably worse than her among Black and Hispanic voters. We’re seeing this in 2020 polling, too. I think there’s a lot of denial about this fact.

I don’t think there are obvious answers as to why this is happening. But non-college-educated white voters and non-college-educated nonwhite voters have a lot in common with each other culturally. So as the salience of cultural issues with strong education-based splits increases — whether it’s gender politics or authoritarianism or immigration — it would make sense that we’d see some convergence between non-college-educated voters across racial lines.
posted by dmh at 10:51 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


From other stuff in the article, it also matters if the median voter feels like most billionaires are good-ish or bad-ish, and they probably don’t get that feeling from position papers, and I’m guessing Mefite feels are maybe unusually anti-billionaire.

(We now really know that most people don’t get exponential growth; probably we emotionally don’t get 10^6 vs 10^9 either.)
posted by clew at 10:53 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


this is reductive, but maybe voting for Trump is like eating the marshmallow. delayed gratification is hard enough when you're doing okay, it's worse when you don't trust anyone in authority who is telling you that you can have two marshmallows later. Trump et al offer something like instant gratification, in the same way $15 minimum wage referenda do, so people vote for Trump and also for the $15 minimum wage and marijuana legalization. They're not paying attention to Trump & co being on record opposing those things; they just see two things that sound good to them and vote for both.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:54 AM on November 9 [16 favorites]


(We now really know that most people don’t get exponential growth; probably we emotionally don’t get 10^6 vs 10^9 either.)

Boy, you can say that again!
posted by y2karl at 11:04 AM on November 9 [7 favorites]


(To add to my previous comment, this effect of nonwhite voters gradually turning Republican is obviously bad for the Democrats, as well as for the country, but I like to think it's also a sign of emancipation. After all what is emancipation if not the autonomy to do things that ~your betters~ find silly and unbecoming?)
posted by dmh at 11:05 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Emancipation, or desperation? Down here in south Louisiana, I see a whole lot of Democrats for whom the party might as well not even exist. Eventually they're going to vote for the party that can get them a job, get their kid into college, and so on.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:40 AM on November 9 [16 favorites]


back in september David Shor gave a talk about data & the upcoming 2020 election (slyt) . Worth a look if you read through the intelligencer article and want to keep diving deeper.
posted by are-coral-made at 11:42 AM on November 9


I am dumbfounded that people can't fathom why folks would vote for the party that says We're gonna kick you around, rather than the party that's said on numerous occasions, we're here to help, only to back paddle furiously once they're in office. Sort of like now.
posted by evilDoug at 11:52 AM on November 9 [14 favorites]


In that case, raising taxes on the billionaire class ought to be the easiest sell imaginable: "We're going to take the money away from them and give it to you!" And yet...

Sure, but I can also see how a zero-sum view of the world would also make me want to define that "you" as narrowly to only include me and my in-group as much as possible and exclude others who don't deserve it as much as possible. After all, if other people gain, then I start to lose.
posted by FJT at 11:52 AM on November 9


only to back paddle furiously once they're in office

Trump hasn't even conceded and is doing everything he can to make life hard for them and yet they're still backpedaling as fast as they can into Austerity mode.

Are they trying to beat Trump at how fast they can fail to deliver?
posted by deadaluspark at 12:01 PM on November 9 [7 favorites]


I get a real sense that people expect the Democratic party to perform miracles when the Republicans control the Executive and the House. "Why haven't the Democrats passed a stimulus yet?" They have, but the Senate refuses to consider it. There isn't anything they can do! People don't get how the system works and why gridlock happens.
posted by SansPoint at 12:08 PM on November 9 [49 favorites]


Also, virtually everything Dems do that falls into the category of delivering for the poor or middle class is categorized immediately as "tax and spend" and handouts, etc. Demonized if you do, demonized if you don't.
posted by jzb at 12:10 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


So they might as well fucking DO it and learn the lesson that even if you pander to centrists and republicans they’re still going to hate you and call you socialists.
posted by youthenrage at 12:16 PM on November 9 [40 favorites]


youthenrage: If they can do it. A Democratic house can't do shit with a GOP-controlled Senate.
posted by SansPoint at 12:17 PM on November 9 [14 favorites]


I get a real sense that people expect the Democratic party to perform miracles when the Republicans control the Executive and the House.

I’m pretty sure people expect the party that controls the executive branch to be able to do things, somewhat disproportionately to what they can actually do without the Senate... but isn’t part of what we’re trying to explain here why the Democrats keep losing the Senate?

(Part of that is that the deck is stacked against urban interests, but it’s not as if the party hasn’t known that’s part of the game for a couple hundred years.)
posted by atoxyl at 12:19 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


his analysis seems to be right in the overall gestalt, but of all these correlations and political science findings he cites, I wonder how much they actually replicate? probably some won't, and probably some are real but will disappear as the situation changes. I would definitely bet on education polarization being real, though.

One thing I've noticed is Democrats positioning themselves as the party in favor of science and listening to experts. Maybe this could work, but it seems like there's a big risk of accidentally becoming the party of smug professionals who think they know better than you. Gotta back up the posturing about expertise with actual competence and humility -- but it seems there is an endless supply of highly-credentialed people who want to make public pronouncements and be deferred to without any consequences for being wrong.

(Of course you've got fake Republican experts too but it seems like they don't care if you acknowledge their superiority -- it's more conspiratorial, like they're doing you a favor by giving you some secret info.)
posted by vogon_poet at 12:19 PM on November 9 [18 favorites]


Also when the Republicans have had narrow control of the Senate they’ve done a better job circumventing gridlock.
posted by atoxyl at 12:20 PM on November 9


The one thing that much left-leaning analysis, including that Alex Pareene piece, misses is the federalism issue. Yes, Florida voters favor raising the minimum wage. That doesn't mean they will automatically vote for a presidential candidate who favors raising the minimum wage. Perhaps they believe minimum wage is a state-level issue, and would rather decide for themselves by referendum than have the decision made for them in Washington.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:23 PM on November 9 [7 favorites]


Also when the Republicans have had narrow control of the Senate they’ve done a better job circumventing gridlock.

Only because their agenda has been causing gridlock and approving judges. Those are easy to do with a bare majority in the Senate. Actually legislating is much harder.

Especially if the median Senator is Joe Manchin.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:24 PM on November 9 [12 favorites]


He’s listening to the stupid scientists. They don’t understand everything.
Guest at a Palm Beach $500 a head celebration of Trumps "Victory".
How do you even begin to deal with this level of dangerous lunacy?
posted by adamvasco at 12:27 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


In short, Republicans at the presidential level are depending on a shrinking White population in a shrinking number of states. The GOP cannot expect to win the presidency purely through just voter suppression and a built-in advantage in the electoral college (in which the less populated, deep-red states carry disproportionate weight)...
This is how much trouble Republicans are in
posted by y2karl at 12:29 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


This was kind of a holy-shit graf for me:
The reason people aren’t splitting their tickets anymore is probably because the internet exists now and people are better informed than they used to be. There was this broadband rollout study where they looked at the fact that different places got broadband at different times. And what they saw was that when broadband reached a given congressional district, ticket-splitting declined and ideological polarization went up.
It fits hand-in-hand with the image of social-network-driven filter bubbles. Ideological polarization is starting to scare me more and more, because it seems a lot harder to trade past. In the old pork barrel days you could get some Congressman from Arkansas to vote for your thing because you were sending federal dollars for a missile base his way, but today? Not so much.
posted by migurski at 12:30 PM on November 9 [30 favorites]


I feel like I have read the opinion piece y2karl linked to after every one of the last infinity elections. When does this Republican Party weakness actually manifest so that Dems can win the senate?
posted by wittgenstein at 12:35 PM on November 9 [30 favorites]


migurski: And part of why is a polarization of the Congress going back to Newt Gingrich who insisted Republican representatives go home (to fundraise) during recesses rather than stay in DC and interact with their fellow congresspeople. On the one hand, it's frustrating as hell to see someone like Diane Feinstein hug Lindsay Graham, but it was easier to do pork-barrel politics when the people on the other side of the aisle could be friendly with each other.
posted by SansPoint at 12:36 PM on November 9 [7 favorites]


I'd go out on a limb and say that the low unemployment rate pre-covid really did convert a lot of voters - especially hispanic and black, given how divided the exit polls were for covid vs economy vs whatever else, and given how unevenly distributed covid job losses were.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:53 PM on November 9 [8 favorites]


Odds are outside of Dem strongholds your local Republican party contests every seat, dominates local Chambers of Commerce, and is constantly pushing their messaging in op-eds and social media 24/7 so that their take on every issue faced by local communities and a good baker's dozen issues that aren't really relevant but they're just hyping up to make noise is the dominant take being heard by people.

And until the Democrats can actually get local parties doing that...

I mean don't get me wrong, the Democratic party is totally getting better at that, it's happening. I feel like it's more of an issue in specific noticeable hotspots now than just across the board. But it's a process of plugging away for years with local voices, there is no quick fix.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:10 PM on November 9 [24 favorites]


This is how much trouble Republicans are in

That article is ridiculous. It completely ignores the data linked in this post and what we just saw on Election Night regarding Republican inroads among nonwhite voters. It rests on this false assumption on the left, one that I've seen repeated here, that the Democrats are destined to be the Eternal Party of the Inevitable Demographic Future. It really isn't clear anymore from how people are actually voting that demographic shifts reducing (or eliminating) the white majority in the US automatically means liberal/Democrat domination everywhere forever, and that's going to have be reckoned with by the Democrats instead of being taken for granted.

Part of that reckoning will have to be recognizing that the Hispanic population isn't a uniform monolith across the country that will always reliably vote Democrat (except for maybe Cubans in South Florida) and so can be safely ignored, which is one of the biggest lessons of the 2020 election.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:24 PM on November 9 [27 favorites]


The fact is the Democrats have had successful campaigns and just don't want to do them again because ???...well, I don't even know.

The Obama campaign did such a good job at mobilizing the grassroots that both Trump campaigns used it as a blueprint for their campaigns. This is the book they required their senior staff to read. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, dismantled Obama for America and the other campaign organizations/apparatus and shrugged when they got rolled in mid-terms. The 50 State Strategy did really well so they...forgot all about it.

Part of the reason "the Democrats are just controlled opposition" sticks is they truly don't seem to be trying to win. (AOC is already out there talking about how they screwed up digital this time). Or they wail "It's hard! They'll call us socialists!" then put up token resistance and do what the Republicans want anyway. For being the party of "smart people"/science, they sure as hell act like idiots sometimes.

Likewise, the Republican strategy is obvious and well documented, they just don't copy it. 40 years ago or so Republicans began running for every local office and small election they could. This is why even in blue areas and blue states, there are tons of Republican office holders that run unopposed in every local election. And they go from dogcatcher to city council to county sheriff to state legislature to Congress and then Democrats wonder why Republicans have a deep bench of qualified people and the Democrat bench is empty. (The young progressives are slowly and painfully making ground but the party seems to fight them harder than they do the Republicans and you get the sense they'd be happier if AOC lost rather than making her the future of the party and doing what she wants).

I volunteered with the first Obama campaign to swing Colorado back when that couldn't be done. And, like, if you want to take over the local Democratic Party apparatus, you just need like 10 people to reliably show up to meetings and you can seize the levers of power. But the national-level Dems will fight you every step of the way, like Schumer flying in to crown McGrath to run against McConnell and turning a potentially winnable race into a clown show.

The only thing I've been able to come up with is this: The old Democrats in the Schumer/Pelosi/Feinstein clique remember Reagan breaking the back of the old Democratic coalition and have a kind of political PTSD from being so soundly defeated, which is why their default reaction is to freeze up like a scared rabbit and hope the Republicans don't notice them and why they fight against doing anything for fear of being socialists and losing their precious seats, even when the electoral landscape has drastically changed.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:29 PM on November 9 [89 favorites]


It rests on this false assumption on the left, one that I've seen repeated here, that the Democrats are destined to be the Eternal Party of the Inevitable Demographic Future.

First of all, Jennifer Rubin is a right-wing opinion writer who is infamously awful at political analysis. Second, "the left" isn't the one determining that, it's the moderates of the party and quite a bit of the liberal base. When people started sounding the alarm two years ago about assumptions Democrats were making about demographics, the establishment and leadership got pissed at the mere suggestion they could be wrong. As far as I can tell, it seems like the only ones that heeded their words were politicians and activists on "the left," and yet the reaction to both the election results and being warned a second time has so far been almost exactly the same.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 1:43 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


the Inevitable Demographic Future

Have we forgotten How the Irish Became White?
posted by clew at 1:48 PM on November 9 [14 favorites]


Or they wail "It's hard! They'll call us socialists!"

That's only relevant if the "they" in question is the actual voting population for this specific candidate.

It doesn't matter if Fox News declares "Democrats are socialists" if the local candidate can say, "I'm not a socialist - I want you people to have the rewards you've earned. My R opponent wants socialism for the wealthy; he wants to take YOUR tax dollars and give them to MULTI-NATIONAL BUSINESSES instead of YOUR COMMUNITIES where you earned them! You've worked hard, and you should all get the benefits of that work. Those tax dollars need to go to your children, your streets, your hospitals."

And the voters can absorb both "Democrats are socialists" and "Except for our guy, who's fighting to save us."

We are never going to root out all possible forms of cognitive dissonance, and we shouldn't try. We need to get people voting for their local candidates, not assuming some vague national principles are made manifest in whoever carries the "D" next to their name on the ballot.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:01 PM on November 9 [30 favorites]


I feel like a lot of commenters here didn't read the main link fully. I found it fascinating, the proposal that Democrats should study the demographics they need, and try to talk about the issues that matter to those people while avoidinng the topics that will turn them off. This, of course, is complicated by the fact that you have to appeal to multiple demographics with opposing sets of interests, and by the fact that the two parties are trusted on different topics. Meanwhile, your opponent is trying to get you to talk about the stuff you're trying to avoid. Oh, and you can make big positive social impacts that hurt your party in the long run.

Mostly it makes me worry that human psychology is incompatible with large-scale representative government, at least during times of change and crisis. And that makes me very nervous.

It seems like the best politician would be the one who has the most progressive views but who is the most secretive (or even deceptive) about them during the campaign. A likeable candidate who you just have to trust has better ideas than they are running on. Someone practically indistinguishable from the other party at times. But then when they get into the office, we hope they will show themselves to be better than the campaigns they ran. This was the hope for Bill Clinton, for Obama, even for Hillary. And the stakes get ever higher as the Republicans realize that a total shitshow works for them, the bigger the shitshow the better.

Scary stuff, but it makes more sense out of incomprehensible patterns than any other theory I've seen.
posted by rikschell at 2:04 PM on November 9 [21 favorites]


But the national-level Dems will fight you every step of the way

You might as well through George Soros in there for good measure.

Anyone who has worked in an actual national campaign can yell you that The Democrats™ is really a loosely aligned group of like 1000 different organizations, most of which who think they know the only "correct" way to win and are just middle-fingers-in-the-air to absolutely everyone else above and below them in the ladder between the local voter and the candidate. People assume and top there is some sort of rigid command and control structure in place, but there just is not.

In 2016, I spent like 3-4 months volunteering my engineering expertise to build a ride sharing tool to get Dem voters to the polls, for free, outside of the rides sharing companies like Uber and friends. Our charter was under the DNC under a group called DevProgress, but towards the end we were regularly meeting with people inside the HRC campaign and were practically just working directly with them.

So, one of places were really pushing people to use this solution was Pennsylvania. The Pittsburg Dems org really loved it, so we trained them a bit and on Election Day 1.2k people made it to the polls that likely would not have voted if they didn't use our stuff.

But, the Philadelphia dude (can't remember the name) basically told us, the DNC, the HRC campaign, and basically Hillary herself to go fuck off and that he didn't want/need our help. People at high levels for the DNC and the HRC got hung up on, repeatedly. We never even got to the part where we explained our system and how it might help people get to the polls.

End result was Black voter turnout was 35k less in Philly for 2016 and than 2012. Would a free ride to the polls have made a dent? Our Pittsburg experience says it might have. What I do know that lots of the local groups are run like fiefdoms and the people running it do not give one fuck the opinion of those up top in party leadership.

Anyway, we're all going to hear a lot about The Democrats doing this, or not doing that, and it will mostly be meaningless. There is no one pulling the strings up top, and even if your personal political savior whom is 100% on your wavelength was installed somewhere up there, they won't be pulling the strings either.
posted by sideshow at 2:11 PM on November 9 [74 favorites]


I feel like I have read the opinion piece y2karl linked to after every one of the last infinity elections.

Considering that it was published today that makes it either one truly timeless article or else deja vu all over again.
posted by y2karl at 2:12 PM on November 9


I was in DevProgress too, sideshow. My recollection was that the Clinton liaison understood his job to be keeping the rabble out of the campaign’s hair. It was not a great experience compared to the 2012 campaign who welcomed volunteers with desks right inside their Chicago HQ.
posted by migurski at 2:21 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


I'm truly curious how much actionable information can be gleaned from this election that carries over into normal elections without a big ol COVID wrench thrown in the works. We've spent most of a year watching in horror as people across the political and socioeconomic spectrum were rampantly irresponsible about COVID and then the party of "let's ignore COVID and it'll all go away!" does surprisingly well with voters across the political and socioeconomic spectrum...

Like before this election it was easy to look at registration stats and think "young voters are turning out this year, they'll save us!" while ignoring the masses of young adults absolutely fucking up a public health crisis response because lockdowns are boooring.

The "mom said I can't go outside during COVID so I'm voting for dad!" voter might be a very real thing here and the GOP perfectly positioned themselves to get it.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:37 PM on November 9 [9 favorites]


migurski: our project was pretty tied into the campaign, I think mostly because the dude who was already building it before he brought it to DevProgress might have had previous personal relationships with Stephanie Hannon and/or Kyle Rush, the tech big shots in Hillary's group. Also, in case you don't remember, in retrospect the timing of much of the "firewall" that went up between us and the HRC people coincided with the Podesta email hack that we didn't know about until much later.

Also, the HRC people were reaaaallly worked up about in-kind campaign contributions from us at DevProgress calling up our buddies in Silicon Valley and getting free help. I honestly wish we could go back and tell our 2016 selves that Trump has likely fucked people caring about that kind of thing forever.

In any case, the point I was making was that no one at any level can issue orders that anyone else would to even acknowledge, let alone follow. Maybe the 2012 .Obama people could have sweet talked that Philly dude into not hanging up on us repeatedly, but my guess is he wasn't talking calls from anybody.
posted by sideshow at 2:44 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Also, the HRC people were reaaaallly worked up about in-kind campaign contributions from us at DevProgress calling up our buddies in Silicon Valley and getting free help. I honestly wish we could go back and tell our 2016 selves that Trump has likely fucked people caring about that kind of thing forever.

Don't worry, it will still be used as a cudgel against everyone who is not a republican. People will always care about the shenanigans a democratic candidate gets up to. They already, long before Trump, stopped giving a shit when republicans do anything at all. You can't be the Rules and Sense and Grownups party and ever let yourself fuck up. But if you style yourself as the Party of Fuck You Everyone All the Time...
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:49 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


Found this interview to bewildering and discouraging in a lot of ways but I think that the discussion about the long-term trends in support for gay marriage over the years is also a helpful illustration of the tenuous connections between "winning elections" and "pushing for social change".
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 3:00 PM on November 9 [3 favorites]


I'm truly curious how much actionable information can be gleaned from this election that carries over into normal elections without a big ol COVID wrench thrown in the works.

Strongly agree. Wouldn't put it entirely on young people, necessarily - where I am (not in the US, admittedly), Covid denial knows no age group and the olds behave just as recklessly as the young. But I really think longing for Covid denial turned out a lot of people for Trump and I'm surprised how surpised I was about it. Like, I really fell for the red mirage in those initial hours, because I had been so sure the high turnout would favour dems, and I hadn't considered that Trump might have his own red wave too and was so shocked to lose all hope at once. But in retrospect it seems terribly predictable.

In Europe we're seeing "strange" coalitions right now when it comes to covid deniers, left-over hippies, the eco-esoteric "free spirits", otherwise "unpolitical" antivaxers, all happily marching next to the nazis to protest lockdown-measures and mask orders - except here too, there's nothing actually that strange about it. These people have never been ideologically reliably anti-fascist, they aren't ideologically reliably anything. They probably won't insist on white supremacy on a good day, but it's clearly no deal-breaker for them either. And my guess is, a lot of these people who stayed home last time, now came out for Trump, simply because he's the one not asking anything of them. Covid might have helped him more than it harmed.
posted by sohalt at 3:05 PM on November 9 [11 favorites]


I feel like Shor is overselling the extent to which his analysis differers from the standard left-wing take.

But then you read about other countries and you see that the same story is happening everywhere. It happened in England with Tony Blair. It happened in Germany with Gerhard Schröder.

I mean, are those guys not generally regarded by the Left as neoliberal reformers? If you want to make the case that they are actually dissimilar to each other then by all means do so, but the “conventional wisdom” among people who use words like “neoliberalism” is that it was an international trend.
posted by atoxyl at 3:15 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


I feel like Shor is overselling the extent to which his analysis differers from the standard left-wing take.

Well, I think the standard left-wing take is that there is an immense amount of support for leftist policies like universal healthcare and wealth redistribution and that Democrats just need to shed their neoliberal cowardice and run on these policies in order to win. That's certainly what I believed up until a few months ago (and this interview was one of the reasons why I shifted my beliefs on that).

Shor's analysis is different and what happened in Florida is an indicator for how it just isn't about people and policy, but also messaging and credibility.
posted by Ouverture at 3:28 PM on November 9 [12 favorites]


people who give money to Democrats are more economically left wing than Democrats overall. And the more money people give, the more economically left wing they are.

Perhaps the data in the study he links does show this correlation to an extent - I can’t read the whole thing at the moment - but the written conclusion of the study he links identifies the major trends as closer to what one would expect.
posted by atoxyl at 3:40 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


Arguably, this is because college-educated professionals live really blessed lives filled with mutually beneficial exchange, while negative-sum conflicts play a very big part of working-class people’s lives, in ways that richer people are sheltered from.
This might be true. But, it's very different from my personal experience. As a poor kid, every neighbor would give you a ride or a meal if you needed one. Every job and educational position I got was due to someone I barely, knew who makes a lot less than I do now, going far out of their way to recommend me. (I wasn't a charismatic kid.)

As a professional-class adult, every decision I make is strategic with regard to competition both locally and internationally. I have competed with hundreds of non-Americans for every job I've gotten in twenty years. The only economic difference, as far as I can tell, is that I'm not worried that a Black person will take my job. (I wish I was. Well, I wish there are a lot more Black candidates for my job.) But, also, my working class, recently immigrated childhood neighbors probably were worried that I'd take their jobs. There's a good chance I actually did take their jobs. They still babysat me for free and shared food and tools with my family and facebook tells me they all voted democrat.

Racism and religion are, I think, far more complicated than most white people on the left (including me) want to believe.
And if you look at the [George Floyd] protests, there was some violence in the first two or three days. But then that largely subsided, and was followed by very high-profile incidents of the state using violence against innocent people.
And the media didn't pay any attention to the vast majority of it. Even when their own reporters were brutalized.

"Trending" is very often a word used by people who know their data don't actually agree with their beliefs. Very interesting article. I am not entirely convinced by its arguments.
posted by eotvos at 3:55 PM on November 9 [12 favorites]


I thought there were fascinating political tidbits like who pays for the Democratic Party, but I don't understand Shor's theory.

The way I'm inclined to use Shor's argument is to say that all he's really saying is that the Democrats really are neoliberals, but the more subtle point is that their being neoliberals was not the cause of mistakes and losses, i.e. leftists are technically wrong about the donations and so forth.
posted by polymodus at 3:59 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


Well, I think the standard left-wing take is that there is an immense amount of support for leftist policies like universal healthcare and wealth redistribution and that Democrats just need to shed their neoliberal cowardice and run on these policies in order to win.

The word “just” is doing a lot of work there. It doesn’t really sound to me like Shor diverges a whole lot from socdem consensus regarding which economic policies are a good idea to run on? Of course one has to sell them with effective messaging, but something like “Medicare for all” is already an example of messaging that is designed to make a policy that has significant support in theory also sound possible.

Even what he says about the white working class and racism doesn’t seem that unorthodox - he contrasts his view that people are motivated by racism but can be won by addressing universal economic concerns with the view that people are motivated by universal economic concerns more than racism... but doesn’t it mean basically the same thing, strategically?

He does rather clearly support the idea that the Left should lead with economic issues rather than social issues in its messaging. I guess I already kind of believed that - as far as national campaigns go, anyway.
posted by atoxyl at 4:05 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Democrats got around 54 percent of small donors in 2012. In 2018, we got 76 percent. People like to chalk that up to ActBlue or technology or whatever. But 2018 was also the first year where super-PACs, as a spending group, gave more to Democrats than Republicans.

So these constituencies that previously did a lot to uphold conservative power are now liberal.
That strikes me as an extremely optimistic interpretation of the 2018 election. It feels like he's mistaking a temporary desire to slow down Trump for a long-term leftward trend.
posted by clawsoon at 4:12 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


this is reductive, but maybe voting for Trump is like eating the marshmallow.

Coincidentally, a recent study found that young children will wait nearly twice as long for a reward if they are told their teacher will find out how long they wait.

I'm not sure if this offers us any insight about Trump voters.
posted by clawsoon at 4:28 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


i really got a specific undercurrent on this shor's intellectual motivations: he is trying to run campaigns, to win voters, to seat his guy.

a lot of effort goes into to: how to sway voters to align with the campaign's goals.

i hear little about: find out what people want, form a party around that, elect candidates who will implement it.

in short, party, then candidate, then attract electorate is totally the wrong priority.

what do i know?
posted by j_curiouser at 4:35 PM on November 9 [12 favorites]


"...the idea that the limiting factor on what moves policy to the left in this country is the personal decisions of individual Democrats is kind of crazy. Democratic politicians, relative to the country, are very left wing.... a lot of labor’s agenda — repealing right-to-work laws, establishing sectoral bargaining — is unpopular. But Democrats do pro-labor policies because the people who work on Democratic campaigns, and who run for office as Democrats, are generally very liberal people. Leftists just don’t understand how small of a minority we are."
This observation combined with the one about how I'm part of the minority of he country described as having "cosmopolitan" values is not cheerful, but it confirms suspicions, including how much work there is to do.
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:48 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I work on an environmental campaigns in Louisiana and this Shor guy sounds a lot like how we win. the environment is extremely popular, but ideological consistency is not. Have you seen the Louisiana Climate Task Force? It s the highest density of ideological contradictions per meter in the United States. But I digress.

Capital controls what information gets out there, so the newspaper is a mess of contradictions. There s just not a lot of information out there, so many data gaps in policy issues,more gaps than data. and then, It takes a lot of time, even for educated people, to catch up on an issue unless there s a public moral confrontation about it. A moral confrontation you can win, even if small, is preferable to ten expert whitepapers.

It also resonates with the success of Bernie versus, say Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader.Slanders was the 10 to 30 candidate, Warren was the 30 to 70 who needed Sanders to get to 30. In 2018, Sanders and Warren were feeding off of each other's campaigns, because of this dynamic. As soon as they fell out with one another, they both took a big hit.
posted by eustatic at 5:27 PM on November 9 [10 favorites]


Wildblueyonder's quote about unions makes the statement about Democratic politicians and donors being economically to the left of the average voter make much more sense to me. Somehow I doubt corporate donors are on board with "extreme" reforms to the health care system, for example. And to be accurate: the study Shorr quoted mentioned that Democratic politicians were "slightly" to the left of voters economically, while they were well to the left of voters "socially" (not sure how that is defined - definitions are everything). Republican politicians meanwhile are well to the right of their own voters economically .....

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend reading to the end if your looking for a reason to be optimistic about the coming decade. Basically, his thesis seems to be that the Democrat's shift to becoming the party of college educated professionals means they'll be at a massive disadvantage because of the Senate and electoral college. The good news is that young people are shifting markedly to the left, which incidentally explains part of the shift of the college educated vote to the left since millennials are much more likely to have a college degree - and the debt to show for it - than boomers and silents. Unfortunately it doesn't help Democrats much because young people are much less likely to vote than older people, and they tend to cluster in the same coastal and urban areas as the Democrat's new middle class votes. Still, it would be nice if the party didn't seem to be at war with the younger voters who do come out to support them.

Either way, I honestly can't see much reason to dispute his point. The only silver lining I can find is that every action has a reaction. Trump will lose, and it remains to be seen how the Republicans respond to that. There are already politicians and right wing media figures who want to follow in his footsteps with a more aggressive attempt to implement the kind of "big government nativism" that Trump sort of campaigned on in 2016 but quickly abandoned once he got into office. Will the rest of the party follow them? Will they have the outsider charisma and media savvy Trump displayed in 2016? There will also be Republicans who will want to return to their "Tea Party" roots or the suburban flavored "compassionate conservatism" of the Bush years. I would think there will be some intra-party warfare ahead once the reality of Trump's defeat sets in. What comes out of that may tip the grim calculus above somewhat; although its tough to say in what direction.

That's all I got for optimism at the moment. Oh, it looks like the vaccines are going to work. That's good!
posted by eagles123 at 9:16 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


re: marketing/messaging:
  • This is very important to remember: "People like it when you send them money"
  • That's right: "i think the democrats should use every available lever of government to simply hand out cash and build infrastructure (especially in red states). they should put joe biden's name on everything."
  • Americans just want to grill for god's sake: "It's time we implement the leisure agenda, so dudes can spend more time just bein' dudes"
  • Boomer memes: "EUROPEANS THINK THEY CAN BUILD BETTER WELFARE STATES THAN AMERICA. WE'RE GOING TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYONE SO WELL THAT IT MAKES THEM BLUSH."
etc.
posted by kliuless at 9:19 PM on November 9 [21 favorites]


This might be true. But, it's very different from my personal experience. As a poor kid, every neighbor would give you a ride or a meal if you needed one

I don't think that goes against what Shor is saying. I think what he's getting at is that in a low opportunity environment, the tribe / neighbours / family form the support system. But tribes are insular. They don't trust outsiders and they don't trust other tribes. Movement between tribes is limited, because for your tribe to gain a member means for my tribe to lose a member. So as an individual, there is limited freedom to engage in voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges with individuals from other tribes.

In other words, when you're poor, your primary resource is other people, and you can't afford to antagonize them too much. Whereas when you're rich, you can simply cut ties with people who don't benefit you, since you don't depend on them for security. This flexibility makes for a more dynamic environment in which individuals have more opportunities to pursue and satisfy their private interests. But from the tribal point of view this flexibility is a kind of betrayal, because it weakens the tribe/hood/family.
posted by dmh at 1:37 AM on November 10 [9 favorites]


Black voters trended Republican in 2016. Hispanic voters also trended right in battleground states.

You want to be very careful when hearing this language. It makes it sounds like Black and Hispanic voters are becoming Republicans but what they are really talking about is relative change and not absolute numbers. It's worrying but the presentation always seems to be as if it is a done deal. Plus some of it is regression from Clinton's performance with those groups which was surprisingly good. "Trend" is generally a red flag word for caution me in data presentations
posted by srboisvert at 5:22 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


I think it's often been understated exactly how powerful both social peers and employer climate can result in significant partisan advantage for the GOP in large sections of the US. Being the token liberal in a conservative state, with conservative friends/family and a conservative employer is definitely going to impact how you view the world and even if it doesn't change your preferences it can force you into a state of quiet compliance with the dominant viewpoint. And of course for some people silence = consent.

This can be even more important in areas that depend heavily on state/local contracts because despite rules for bids to be awarded impartially there is still a tendency of some contracts to be awarded to political allies and supporters. This sort of crony capitalism was also seen as extremely important to the Trump administration. If supporting Republicans in red states has material value to a person it's more likely they'll seek to protect that.

I think it's also important to note that the Trump administration did whatever it could to claim any sort of credit for moderating the economic impact of COVID by framing it as Democrats don't want you to go back to work thus impacting your income. Also the need for Trump to sign his name to the stimulus checks that to many of us seemed like vanity was apparently able to create a positive association between Trump and "free stuff". Trump also made all sorts of attempts to moderate the impact of his stupid policies through payments to farmers (thereby removing some states like Iowa from play) while also postponing some of the inevitable economic impact by blocking foreclosures/evictions.

Fears about Biden harming wealthier Americans by increasing taxes was also an issue for some people. They heard increases in taxes and ignored any caveat of for people making $400,000+ and Democratic messaging to counteract that was mediocre in places. There are also fear among people in resource extraction industries (oil & gas, etc) that Biden will continue pushing the green economic agenda while also returning environmental regulations to a pre-Trump level. Many in these industries are already facing increased economic uncertainty due to the increasing glut of fossil fuels in the market and the reduced demand (covid related and shifts to our power consumption). It really doesn't matter if Biden is for or against fracking if fracking is no longer economically viable but that doesn't make much difference to people and areas that have been using that to forestall economic decline.

Finally it can never be understated how many voters vote their values rather than vote for policy. We see over and over based upon ballot initiatives that without R or D attached to these policies most voters tend to adopt progressive policy agendas (Florida adopting a $15 minimum wage is a key example) especially if those policy agendas are pocketbook issues. However when it comes to 2 candidates people tend to gravitate to the candidate that they feel embodies their ideals whether that is accurate or not. Regardless of any sort of empirical evidence to the contrary voters consistent view Republican candidates as being better on the economy. This seems to be 100% based upon branding, taxation and anti-regulatory agendas. I've seen many "job creators" who seem to be reflexively conservative simply based upon a perception that liberals push policies that make it harder to hire and fire people that they want. Even if many of those decisions are based upon explicit or implicit bias rather than actual assessments of a candidate or employee they feel deeply aggrieved by feeling constrained in their HR activities. Factor in the single issue voters on things like abortion (completely manufactured outrage) and guns (the SCOTUS has laid a hard line in the sand that limits anything but the weakest regulation of firearms) and all of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant angst about no longer being the majority and the privileged class of citizens and you have a potent mix of rhetoric to fall back on even if you are always failing to deliver on your promises.

I think that at least some of the inroads Republicans have made with some groups of PoC has also been related to the tendency of the definition of whiteness to shift as needed to make sure that the in-group always has enough white people and perceived acceptable minority populations to maintain hegemony especially when a strict majority is not required to hold power in the US. Just like conferred whiteness shifted in previous generations to include less desirable European ethnicities such as the Irish and Southern European populations there are efforts to define some PoC as maybe being lesser than fully white but acceptable enough to be conferred enough of the rights and privileges of being white to some populations. This definitely seems to be happening in regards to some Hispanic populations (Cubans in particular) but also happens with some other preferred minority groups particularly if they have higher socio-economic status and are geographically concentrated to the level where they don't have impact on the lives of many white people. Over and over we've seen how having whiteness conferred onto an out group has resulted in that group often adopting many of the same values as the in group. This inevitably becomes a division between populations as at least some in the now included group begin to pull up the ladders behind them and often engage in othering behaviors. This happened multiple times during the 19th and 20th century and is likely to happen in the future.

One aspect of note that I think is encouraging is that the political divide is definitely still rooted in racism, sexism and classism but it's also becoming very geographical in nature (rural vs urban) and education based (higher levels of educational attainment are positively correlated to adopting more liberal viewpoints). This would seem to suggest less of our polarization is based upon intrinsic elements related to gender/race and are more related to traits that are more flexible in nature (move a rural conservative to an urban location and there is often a softening of their views). This might also mean that typical strategies to divide populations through racism/sexism/classism are going to be less effective. Yes you can other people based upon "coastal elites" vs "flyover states" but I feel like it's harder to place people into rigid boxes based solely on these traits as they aren't always readily apparent to surface inspection.
posted by vuron at 7:29 AM on November 10 [8 favorites]


srboisvert- I agree 1 data point is not a trend line. Considering how much electoral advantage a incumbent has in many elections increases in some populations especially when at least some percentage of Americans feel like they are better of in 2020 than they were in 2016 despite all of the terrible policy mistakes of the Trump administration having at least some of these voters vote in greater numbers for the incumbent is not unusual. In regards to the House I think it's also probably important to note that many of the freshmen congressmen of 2018 are competing in ostensibly red district and thus have somewhat of an uphill climb even with the advantage of incumbency.

I do however agree with some of the assessments about how the Democratic campaigns failed to target Hispanic populations in a particular convincing manner and how a lot of the advertising was still based upon traditional modalities of political advertising (print and TV) when many individuals don't necessarily consume either of those modalities in any great amount. Like many people I don't really watch live TV so I don't see most political advertisements unless I hear about something catchy second hand. I think a lot of Americans really engage with political campaigns primarily through social media and on-line advertising and while many of us are savvy enough to differentiate advertising especially negative advertising or we use all sorts of preventative measures like ad blockers to limit how much we see altogether many prospective viewers of political advertising don't have that level of sophistication and if Republicans are blanketing that modality and Democrats are only playing around in the shallow end it does provide a material disadvantage.

A somewhat related issue is the tendency of right-wing online "news" to be free or extremely nominal costs whereas most traditional news has costs associated with consuming it (gotta pay more for actual reporters instead of clickbait farms and reposters) but this results in many people only consuming the free (and hyper conservative) alternatives simply because they either can't afford mainstream news or don't value it enough to actually purchase it at market rates.
posted by vuron at 7:45 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


David Shor interview on why the polls got it wrong.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:11 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


I do think us on the left are absolutely the worst at sloganeering. Then we use them as purity tests and all hell breaks loose. Like I get that we want radical change and we want it decades ago but the normies need to be frogs in a pot or they jump straight out.

Medicare for all should have been something like "Medicare as a safety net".
Defund police should have been something like "Communities not Violence".
Pack the courts should have been "Fix the judiciary".

We literally think up the worst, most terrifying phrasing for our ideas, then let them be used as wedge issues against our own side. No shit Fox can make us all out to be radical anarchists.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:55 AM on November 10 [24 favorites]


Odds are outside of Dem strongholds your local Republican party contests every seat, dominates local Chambers of Commerce, and is constantly pushing their messaging...

I agree. Here in Texas, Dems tend to focus on the large counties and the border counties, but the Reps double down on the mid-sized and smaller counties and smartly so, because the number of voters in these mid-sized and smaller counties outnumber the large ones. Some rough stats: In the 1 million+ pop. counties, Dems won 58.7% of 5.1 million votes in those counties; 50.6% of 1.8 million votes in the mid-tier counties; and only 31.2% in all the rest of the state's 4.2 million votes. The dems can continue to hammer at the large counties and get some more votes but I think it's time for Dems to become much more active in the mid-tier and smaller counties. There is growth of democrat voters in these areas, but they don't get much attention from the party. And I think the messaging for these areas has to focus more on those that are economically beneficial to these voters.
posted by SA456 at 9:07 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


I do think us on the left are absolutely the worst at sloganeering. Then we use them as purity tests and all hell breaks loose. Like I get that we want radical change and we want it decades ago but the normies need to be frogs in a pot or they jump straight out.

Medicare for all should have been something like "Medicare as a safety net".
Defund police should have been something like "Communities not Violence".
Pack the courts should have been "Fix the judiciary".

We literally think up the worst, most terrifying phrasing for our ideas, then let them be used as wedge issues against our own side. No shit Fox can make us all out to be radical anarchists.


Here's the thing. Who's "we" in your statement? Did the Democrats - I mean the elected Democrats, not the rank and file - come out and push hard for all these nice proposals you have in quotes there, before the left started pushing them to do more radical things? I would say that they did not. And I am goddamn sick and tired of being told to lie about what I actually want out of my elected officials because what I want is too gosh darn scary. I WANT Medicare for all. I WANT to defund the police. I will say what I want to happen and if they think it's too radical then they can good and well propose and sell another idea.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:10 AM on November 10 [8 favorites]


I think the slogans make sense from an engagement perspective with liberals/progressives although defund the police was very poorly branded in that it wasn't even really accurate as to the policy goal being pushed. Unfortunately defund turned it into a zero sum game issue so Police were going to react in a negative way and people with strong admiration for law enforcement (or who are dependent on law enforcement to protect their interests) were liable to adopt similar stances especially if they tended to react emotionally instead of digging into policy specifics. Fund social services and use them in combination with law enforcement would've resulted in a less reactionary viewpoint among conservatives although they would inevitably be "how are we going to pay for this" or "i don't want my tax dollars going for this". Considering the virtual hero worship large sections of the US have in regards to first responders of any sort this was always going to be a tough sell.

However when you rebrand progressive/liberal ideas into a message that is more centrist or likely to be incrementalism you also risk that x% of liberals/progressives will disengage because they feel like nothing will ever change and that incrementalism is inappropriate to the challenges being faced by our country.

If someone could find a magic formula that allows liberals/progressives to define big issues and policy goals to increase low propensity liberal/progressive voters turnout without making centrists/incrementalists scared and prone towards turning to Republicans they'd probably make a ton of money as a political consultant. Conservative strategists seem to have it easier since even though not all conservatives want regressive social policies and many social conservatives are somewhat antagonistic to free market conservatives the alliance between these factions seems able to deliver enough benefits to both camps to make it worthwhile to continue to be allies. In contrast the big tent approach of the Democrats is critical towards their efforts at being the majority party but let's be honest what might be the preferred stance in NYC/SF/LA/Chicago might be hard sells in other blue states. And conversely progressives often see voting for Democrats as never actually delivering the policies that they want. Again solve this seeming dilemma and you'll probably be willing to charge millions.
posted by vuron at 9:15 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


I WANT Medicare for all. I WANT to defund the police.

I want those things too, but both those phrases miss the nuance of the positions by a wide berth.

Medicare for all is about making sure every person has healthcare for their particular situation. The problem is that some people find their current situation tolerable. Things are working, the situation is stable, and now a Democrat wants to come through with something brand new where they don't know what's going to happen with their personal situation. Medicare coverage is better than nothing but still worse than some private plans. Medicare for all misses overhauling a lot of the for-profit healthcare system that will need to take place.

Defunding the police is what we want to do but for what ends? We want the end of police brutality but we also want social housing, medical professionals responding to medical emergencies, social issues that cause crimes to be solved at their root, and end to the petty crime to prison pipeline. All of those are more attractive than just "defund the police" and "defund the police" misses all of that extra stuff we demand to have done.

This is what I'm saying. The few words to explain a position need to be chosen more wisely because it gives the wrong first impression to people. We need our sloganeering to be better.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:17 AM on November 10 [12 favorites]


We literally think up the worst, most terrifying phrasing for our ideas, then let them be used as wedge issues against our own side. No shit Fox can make us all out to be radical anarchists.

I'm 99% sure that all of the safer slogans on your list, or very similar ones, were already being used by organizations and activists interested in these issues. But... the press didn't pay any attention to them, and the Twitterverse didn't pay any attention to them, so they didn't get much attention.

It's probably partly our fault for what we react to. I think eustatic made a great point upthread in the context of getting environmental proposals passed in Louisiana:
It takes a lot of time, even for educated people, to catch up on an issue unless there s a public moral confrontation about it. A moral confrontation you can win, even if small, is preferable to ten expert whitepapers.
"Defund the police" created a moral confrontation, and that's maybe why it got the attention that it did.
posted by clawsoon at 9:19 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]


"Abolish the police is too scary, go with defund the police"
"Nobody knows what defund the police means, go with reform the police"
"Reforming the police is going to take money, how about a bill expanding police budgets?"


At some point, it's not the wording that's the issue and but-for that we'd have senior Democrats full-throatedly supporting the desired changes.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:23 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


I'm not American. I live in a rural community populated by surprisingly progressive folks. In our recent provincial election, almost everybody voted for either the small "s" socialist candidate or the Green Party. The socialist won handily.

Almost nobody here over the age of thirty responds favorably to the idea of "Defund The Police". I've personally long supported the basic idea of it, but as worded and SHOUTED, it hasn't been received well here. Bad messaging.

One of my neighbors, an old draft dodger type, assures me it's the work of agent provocateurs*.

* Not to be confused with ...
posted by philip-random at 9:39 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


Inequalities in terms of access to healthcare, inequity in terms of how law enforcement treat people of color, policies towards legal immigration, the treatment of the LGBTQ community, the likely impact of climate change on human civilization and the natural world, etc. can all be life and death issues so for people that are impacted by those issues there is a need for immediate progressive issues or some number of people will absolutely die due to inaction or a lack of appropriate action.

If those issues are important to you or you or your loved ones will be materially impacted by those issues you are strongly incentivized towards pushing policy solutions as quickly as possible and you are going to be justifiably frustrated when people tell you that incremental approaches are the only way to make progress. Alignment with centrists is seen as forever giving and never getting anything in return. The result is often disengagement since nothing ever changes or entertaining third party candidates even though the US electoral system makes third parties nonviable (either they fail to achieve any success or they get incorporated into an existing party or replace them). In the worst scenario they can result in burn it all down accelerationism because surely electing the conservative will result in a progressive backlash but thus far this seems to be a very minority position (although like all extreme positions tends to be way louder than the numbers would otherwise indicate).

In the face of extreme partisanship it seems like horse-trading and logrolling aka incrementalism is ultimately how coalitions achieve policy goals and on a variety of issues of importance to social conservatives it's how they've achieved policy goals although you'd think that multiple decades of failing to fight off recognition of various rights (LGBTQ, etc) and the failure to reverse Roe v. Wade would've resulted in a dispirited coalition partner. But is it truly fair for centrists to say to progressives to say "hey it's going to take 20-40 years to get your progressive goals sorry about anyone that dies in the meantime" and expect people to be happy with that outcome.

Factor in the lack of consensus about how we would want to actually achieve policy goal X and it's clear why there continues to be tension between members of the coalition. In the case of an extreme threat like Trump those fissures went away for the greater good but they will always be there. It's also more volatile due to how our system of government allows the minority population (rural conservative) states to assert control over a majority population through the electoral college and the Senate. So even when you achieve a majority approval of a given progressive policy goal it can be impossible to achieve said policy simply due to how these political structures give outsized influence to the minority. Needless to say this also tends to increase disengagement with politics and policy.
posted by vuron at 9:52 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


If someone could find a magic formula that allows liberals/progressives to define big issues ...

Unfortunately, I think such a magic formula for getting progressive policies in place would mean scrapping our two-party system for a robust multi-party one. The days of forming coalitions across party lines are over, and the reps and dems are just going to continue their zero-sum battles for the benefit of the few. Seems to me countries that have passed progressive agendas usually have multi-party or parliamentary systems where progressives can form coalitions with other parties to get the votes. I know it's a pipe dream, but it surely would break up the stagnation of our government. And if that's not possible, at least begin using ranked-choice voting more across the country to help third party candidates and better reflect the will of the voters.
posted by SA456 at 9:56 AM on November 10


Yeah, the credibility gap for Democrats is immense. No matter who is in office, a whole lot of people's lives have not materially improved in decades. This is especially true for what should be the most engaged base for Democrats: young people, poor people, and people of color (and this deprivation is compounded with each intersecting identity).

This sounds very reminiscent of what I heard as a partial explanation for Bernie's failure to win South Carolina. There were a lot of factors at work there, of course; Clyburn's endorsement, the media's drumbeat of How To Stop Bernie, etc. But one of them was that this was a battle, in simplistic terms, between someone who wanted to restore the system and its components (Biden) and someone who wanted to replace the system with something far more equitable.

And voters of color may not have believed that restoring the system of Democratic governance would help them much, but it was something they'd seen before, whereas the idea of "let's try something new where rich people and white people will share more with other people" caused FAR more skeptical reactions.
posted by delfin at 10:17 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]


Do I have this argument right? We need white voters to win, many white voters are motivated by racial animus, so don't talk about controversial issues related to race during campaigns. I can see the appeal of this idea, but I don't get how it's supposed to play out when the right is explicitly appealing to racial animus as was the case with Trump. You just let them totally own the argument? From a moral point of view it is wrong but also how is that supposed to work tactically? Furthermore, it actually seems to be what both Clinton and Biden did and they had different outcomes. I'm confused.
posted by latkes at 10:27 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


Medicare for All means expanding an already popular program that Republicans ran ads in this very election promising to defend so that it covers everyone. I don't want it to mean anything else. If you change the slogan to mean, Medicare for those who Want It or something that seems more palatable to voters scared of losing the ability for their employers to choose their health insurance, then your problem isn't with the slogan, your problem is with the policy proposal it accurately describes. Biden and the Democrats are basically running on "Medicare for those Who Want It" anyway with the public option, so I'm not sure what would change.
posted by eagles123 at 10:28 AM on November 10


If Joe Biden and a lot of Dem incumbents and challengers explicitly disagree with Medicare for All, Defund the Police and the Green New Deal in favor of more moderate proposals to the point that it causes strife within the big tent and all it takes is Republicans saying "nuh uh, they totally want to do all that stuff!" to negatively effect them at the polls, I don't know what good trying to meticulously police the branding choices of dozens (hundreds?) of activist groups that those proposals grew out of would do. Like, it literally doesn't matter how you sell it if it takes an iota of nuanced understanding to get and the electorate where you're running is primed to accept big dumb fearmongering about literally anything left of "hey guys maybe don't cut social security too much".

The answer isn't branding it's genuine local advocates for those policies plugging away at them day in day out until they get traction and that takes a long time. Branding helps but it's wildly unpredictable in effectiveness as a strategy on its own.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:34 AM on November 10 [8 favorites]


TheophileEscargot: David Shor interview on why the polls got it wrong.
It used to be that once you control for age and race and gender and education, that people who trusted their neighbors basically voted the same as people who didn’t trust their neighbors. But then, starting in 2016, suddenly that shifted. If you look at white people without college education, high-trust non-college whites tended toward [Democrats], and low-trust non-college whites heavily turned against us.
So Democrats and Republicans used to have an equal share of the distrust-your-neighbours vote, but now the Republicans have captured it all? I wonder how much of the distrustful vote lines up with the conspiracy vote, and Qanon's success in sucking all the conspiracies into it.
posted by clawsoon at 10:40 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


One of the Republican-leaning pollsters - Zogby or Rasmussen or one of those - was saying before the election that they're adjusting their polling by also asking respondents who they think their neighbours are voting for. I wonder if that's a correction that all the pollsters will have to start trying out in order to adjust to people-who-don't-answer-polls skewing to one party over the other.
posted by clawsoon at 10:45 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


The answer isn't branding it's genuine local advocates for those policies plugging away at them day in day out until they get traction

Absolutely. An historical example is the "The New Deal" regardless the name, trouble was going to come and FDR said, In a "fireside chat":
"Some will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it 'Fascism', sometimes 'Communism', sometimes 'Regimentation', sometimes 'Socialism'. But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.... Plausible self-seekers and theoretical die-hards will tell you of the loss of individual liberty. Answer this question out of the facts of your own life. Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice?"
posted by clavdivs at 10:51 AM on November 10 [13 favorites]


I do think us on the left are absolutely the worst at sloganeering. Then we use them as purity tests and all hell breaks loose. Like I get that we want radical change and we want it decades ago but the normies need to be frogs in a pot or they jump straight out.

Medicare for all should have been something like "Medicare as a safety net".


It's a bit funny to talk about the left being the absolute worst at sloganeering and then offering a slogan that would never gain any traction in real communities. My experience in community organizing taught me over and over again that universal programs are really easy to explain to people and to get them excited and engaged to fight for them.

Means-testing is only appealing to the people designing the means tests.
posted by Ouverture at 11:24 AM on November 10 [15 favorites]


I agree to a point that differences in terms of strategies vs differences in terms of goals continue to be a massive issue that often divides the left the second we make any sort of progress in beating back the regressive policies of conservatives.

I think where we fundamentally get outmaneuvered by conservatives is that by focusing on the means of achieving said goal we fail to get conservatives and centrists on board with said goal. It thus becomes easy for conservatives to rally opposition to a liberal proposal on any number of issues and with the structural issues inherent to our political system it becomes hard to enact progressive policies and also avoid having them run aground of the judiciary whom conservatives have spent generations building into a backstop against what they see as Democratic legislative and executive overreach.

It also helps conservatives that their primary political goals are a)reduce taxation, b)limit regulations and c)slow any rate of change or d)expansion of government. Because most of those can be achieved without actually passing legislation and instead providing roadblocks to liberals it can seem like they are succeeding in achieving their goals. It also reinforces their intransigence to act in a bipartisan manner for the good of all Americans because their policy goals are being achieved through stasis and gridlock. Yeah there are other factors in place like conservatives relentlessly being willing to primary centrist Republicans from the right in order to force them out of politics but I feel this is a major part of the Republican strategy at the current time.

In contrast trying to primary centrist Democrats from the left can only achieve so much because progressive by definition need to be making progress through legislative, administrative and judicial arenas. Stasis and gridlock cannot achieve progressive goals so by necessity we have the bigger challenge of actually assembling a coalition to achieve a policy goal which is a higher barrier than just blocking something.

Getting back to the strategy vs goal question it seems like we assume universal consensus on policy goals like everyone needs to have access to quality healthcare so then we go on to the fun part of crafting policy but then we can't agree on how to actually achieve said goal. In the meantime we've lost x number of Republicans in step 1 because they are being told that we are going to limit care for elders through death panels and that they can't see their regular doctor or that they'll have to wait months.

For these voters they see this in a zero sum game manner where something like MfA threatens to take away something they already have (rightly or wrongly). For most Americans the idea that they might have to give up something in order to benefit the whole is very problematic. It can even be a dealbreaker with some liberals. In order to achieve consensus to the point where Republican voters are even putting pressure on their representatives to support a bipartisan solution you absolutely need to get people to agree to the fundamental goal. In this case my assumption is that we want everyone to have access to quality healthcare and that healthcare costs should not have the inherent risk of ruining someone and their loved ones. Framed in that way there is broad bipartisan support from the electorate for some form of universal healthcare but for a lot of people it needs to coexist with their employer provided healthcare especially when for a large number of US workers employer provided healthcare has been a major goal of any sort of collective bargaining agreement.

For these people you have to give them something in return for what they feel like they are giving up under a single payer system. It's not reasonable to expect that most employees that have employer provided healthcare could expect an x% increase in their take home pay equivalent to amount their employer was providing. They thereby see MfA as a net loss for themselves. That a single payer system would constrain costs and achieve a net benefit for society in terms of longer lifespan and improved productivity due to less hours being lost to untreated illnesses until they result in a critical situation. Voting for a big change to the existing system is much more palatable if people feel like they are personally benefiting from the change. Personally I would prefer a single payer system at some point because it can provide a number of benefits even over other ways of achieving universal coverage but until it can be presented in a way that people with employer provided healthcare or who already have medicare can see as advantageous I think it will continue to be a non-starter from an legislative agenda in the current hyper partisan environment.

Many of these other major issues for progressives have similar problems that allow conservatives to scare off voters by presenting them as zero sum games or even just failing to answer "what's in it for me?". I think the only real solutions are either growing the liberal coalition to the level that progressive goals can be achieved at a rapid rate even through incremental approaches or we have to approach it by presenting it a such an overriding issue that it needs bipartisan support in the form of intense pressure from Republican and Democratic voters. I feel like we are just about to get to the point where people on the right and left acknowledge climate change is a major issue even though there is still a ton of conflict over the cause (seriously just accept that it's man-made already) much less how to address it in the long term but at least there seems to be some willingness by conservatives to accept it's an issue that needs policy initiatives to address.
posted by vuron at 11:51 AM on November 10 [6 favorites]


One of the things this discussion is missing is the fact that the Democratic Party is still a coalition, while the Republican Party no longer is. Republicans used to have a lot of infighting and “what direction should we go?” soul searching too, but movement conservatism has flattened any divisions. There are no more social conservatives who are skeptical of full-on Ayn Rand capitalism, or pro-life pro-immigration types who support gun rights and are hawkish on the military. Well, there are (this me raising my hand), but they’re not Republicans anymore. Because Republicans would not let them be. The Republican Party is movement conservatism, and movement conservatism is a particular set of well-defined policies, to wit: unfettered capitalism, evangelical morality, over the top military aggressiveness, extreme law and order authoritarianism, and othering of non-dominant groups. These are not negotiable, as the evangelical leaders who supported Trump demonstrated. If you agree with four of the five planks but dissent even slightly on the fifth, you will face a primary challenge and probably lose. If you somehow win, you’ll be shut out of committee assignments and shunned socially. It’s a machine that’s been under construction since before Reagan, and it has reached peak efficiency.

Democrats are... the opposite. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. In my opinion, movement conservatism (particularly the congressional reforms under Gingrich) is responsible for a lot of the problems we face now. But it makes it much easier to win elections, and to make use of legislative majorities once you’ve won.

The problem Democrats have is that they’re still mostly a coalition, and the constituent parts of that coalition sometimes have competing interests. This is why Trump saw peeling off the white working class as a winning strategy. The various planks of the Democratic platform have different bases, and the base for interventionist economic policy is not the same as the base for gay rights. Sometimes there’s overlap, and sometimes there’s not. And when there’s not, being a Democrat gets messy and uncomfortable.

I think you could plausibly make a case that Democrats overvalue centrism for precisely those reason, that pretty much every Democrat has experience in compromise politics. But it doesn’t work when the other side isn’t playing the game.

Movement conservatism achieved this by elevating a popular leader (Reagan) to demigod status and then appealing to the demigod to settle disputes. Even if Democrats wanted to do this, there’s no comparable figure on the left. Obama has the popularity but (to his credit) he was temperamentally unsuited for it. I think at least some of the hype around AOC is that she could prove to be that figure. She at least seems to have a foot on each plank.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:54 PM on November 10 [13 favorites]


Isn't Sanders proof that the more actually left you are, the more excluded you will be from the reins of Democratic power? And need it be reminded by modern leftist standards that Bernie's platform, the New New Deal, was minimally left (source: Noam Chomsky). Thus my worry is that AOC and The Squad by being forthright and vocal, puts them in a bind, having to walk a tightrope path to power. And it should be emphasized more that a political system that requires one to hide their true political self, in order to win campaigns... Is fundamentally a neoliberal system. Compromise that is not done openly is a form of anti-politics, which is what Shor is advocating for in the article here. An essential characteristic of leftist thought is the challenging of such presuppositions and intellectual structures on which false choices or narrow political categories rest.
posted by polymodus at 3:11 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]


Light relief or something.
I truly did not think we'd be able to top Four Seasons Total Landscaping and yet here we are with Patti Labelle's Son Is A Paid Actor Hired To Cover Former Republican Congressional Candidate Dean Browning's Ass After He Tweeted Pretending To Be A Black Man On Main By Accident.
posted by adamvasco at 3:33 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]


And it should be emphasized more that a political system that requires one to hide their true political self, in order to win campaigns... Is fundamentally a neoliberal system

How do you figure? I think hypocrisy has a history beyond neoliberalism.
posted by dmh at 5:10 AM on November 12 [3 favorites]




I don't know. I read the postmortem. I mean, this guy obviously thinks really hard about this stuff and has done a lot of research and careful analysis, but like every other analyst, he seems to have a sense of certainty about causality that is misplaced. Hard to trust anyone who doesn't say "I don't know" or "I could be wrong" about elections. Like everyone across the spectrum, he has an analysis that confirms his priors.

I mean, dude's whole thesis here is Dems should only talk economics - not race - to avoid alienating white and centrist voters. He says Bernie did worse in 2020 than 2016 (is that even true??) because he took a 'leftward turn' (??) which seems to mean he talked about race. Bernie is great and all, but he did not spend a lot of time talking about race. I mean, where's the data analysis to say that's actually demonstrably true? Did he actually compare Bernie ads or speeches from 2016 to 2020? These people who claim to rely on data - where is the data to support this?

For Dem politicians to concede on all messaging and only take the most uncontroversial of takes - that just makes no intuitive sense to me. I mean, maybe that DOES help some people win. But it's so immoral to say nothing while children are stolen from their parents at the border and given to evangelicals. And where's the data that supports the idea that Dems should only talk mild economics and avoid every saying socialism or mentioning race? Some centrists won. Some socialists won. Like, this shit isn't a spherical cow. It's a massive set of huge, messy systems that interact in unpredictable ways. The idea that we can reduce this to a simple equation where every candidate and campaign should behave the same way, then we're guaranteed a win? It's just demonstrably false.
posted by latkes at 10:27 AM on November 13 [5 favorites]


> Hard to trust anyone who doesn't say "I don't know" or "I could be wrong" about elections. Like everyone across the spectrum, he has an analysis that confirms his priors.

Politico has their own post-mortem up with Shor now covering some of the same topics as the one he did with NYMag, and I think he does a better job in several spots noting the uncertainty inherent in what he's doing, including an explicit statement that he really doesn't know what happened in the Rio Grande Valley:
Let’s talk about that. What happened in Texas’ border counties, where we saw this Hispanic surge for Trump?

I want to be honest and say that I don’t really know.

That’s totally fine.

I’ll still talk! [Laughter] I just want to be clear that I have a lot less certainty.
Having read both pieces, I feel like he's got a much better handle on what's going on than any other high-profile strategist/analyst type the Democrats have had in a long time. Obviously, that's a very low bar considering the competition is guys like James Carville, Robbie Mook, Mark Penn, and David Axelrod, but still, you've got to start somewhere, and I'll throw my lot in with the socialist who got a lot of things right about this election over the washed up moderate at best clowns who basically got everything wrong in the past. Understanding where the problems are isn't sufficient, but it is necessary. I don't know that I'm ready to follow him down the path of running more moderates in places where moderates have traditionally won without knowing more about exactly what kind of moderates we're talking about, but as long as it's coupled with running strong progressives where they can win, I'm at least willing to consider it.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:28 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]


And where's the data that supports the idea that Dems should only talk mild economics and avoid every saying socialism or mentioning race?

I think what Shor is carefully saying in the post-mortem is that the polls were not just wrong, but systemically wrong because conservatives avoid pollsters and liberals love them, which is a fact not yet known to pollsters. So this could mean that any area might be eight points more conservative than realized, as he noted in Wisconsin. If so, then any candidate message that was intended to appeal to an assumed liberal majority (but which never existed) may instead motivate the other side as an unwanted social change. This may cause those sleeper voters to elect someone else who they may have been indifferent to otherwise, because although some districts can run a vanguard candidate and talk higher taxes and spending, it wouldn't succeed in most places. In other words, politics is a game to win or lose each cycle, which requires some coordination where moderates run in most areas in order to achieve a bare majority in the chambers they are running for.
posted by Brian B. at 8:59 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]


That makes sense Brian B. But I also saw him saying that given people everywhere have much more access to national rather than local news, whatever makes the national news about Dems is then taken to indicate the views of local Dems. So I guess the takeaway from that supports the idea that AOC is ruining everything for the local districts with potential moderate Dem wins, which, I think that gets into much muddier strategic and moral questions and I find personally very objectionable, even if I don't claim to know what the real impact nationally of her statements are.
posted by latkes at 1:53 PM on November 14 [1 favorite]


I no longer have any confidence in the idea that voters generally care about policy issues. Like, at all. Trump voters were clearly voting against their own economic and medical interests. Saying that they were motivated by racism and xenophobia gets us partly there, but they weren't making calculations about the likelihood that racist policing and border control would affect their lives for the better: it probably just felt good to them. In fact they can't have been motivated by policy, because the Republican party actually voted to not adopt a platform in 2020, other than
The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration [...]the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.
I don't think there's any deeper significance to Republican support than team loyalty. They're on Team Trump; they're on Team Trump for the same reason people support one wrestler or one football team over another. They don't know or care what AOC said, or how it differed from what Sanders said, or how it squares with what Biden says: it just serves as a bit of theatre for them, a wrestling gimmick that they can boo. None of these people can be won over by wonky political arguments; it's going to have to be spectacle or entertainment.

I think the Democratic Party should lean into this. Start consciously thinking of politics as spectacle. If the Democrats control the Senate then let Democratic victories be personalised as the VP's victories against Republican heels. Let AOC lead hearings at which she can eviscerate the plutocrats who saw the COVID-19 epidemic as a way to make money. Let Buttigieg reinforce the Goodies vs Baddies narrative on TV talk shows, but keep it exciting. I wish it wasn't this way, but we're stuck with an electorate that doesn't vote on policy. So give them what they want, and make good policy the thing that they're cheering for.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:07 PM on November 15 [1 favorite]


It's almost as though their primary concern is to follow a strong leader in order to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society, while advocating a mixed economy, with a principle goal of achieving autarky (national economic self-sufficiency) through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:48 PM on November 15 [2 favorites]


Republicans want fascism. What should Democrats do about it?
posted by xammerboy at 10:04 PM on November 15


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