Friday, December 23 2016
By Stanley Greenberg & Anna Greenberg
This article appeared in the New York Times on December 23, 2016.
President Obama will be remembered as a thoughtful and dignified president who led a scrupulously honest administration that achieved major changes.
People argue over whether his impatience with politicians and Republican intransigence denied him bigger accomplishments, but that argument is beside the point: He rescued an economy in crisis and passed the recovery program, pulled America back from its military overreach, passed the Affordable Care Act and committed the nation to addressing climate change. To be truly transformative in the way he wanted, however, his success had to translate into electoral gains for those who shared his vision and wanted to reform government. On that count, Mr. Obama failed.
His legacy regrettably includes the more than 1,000 Democrats who lost their elections during his two terms. Republicans now have total control in half of America’s states.
Why such political carnage?
Faced with the economy’s potential collapse as he took office, Mr. Obama devoted his presidency to the economic recovery, starting with restoring the financial sector. But he never made wage stagnation and growing inequality central to his economic mission, even though most Americans struggled financially for the whole of his term.
At the same time, Mr. Obama declined to really spend time and capital explaining his initiatives in an effective way. He believed that positive changes on the ground, especially from economic policies and the Affordable Care Act, would succeed, vindicating his judgment and marginalizing his opponents.
Absent a president educating the public about his plans, for voters, the economic recovery effort morphed into bailouts — bank bailouts, auto bailouts, insurance bailouts. By his second year in office, he spotlighted the creation of new jobs and urged Democrats to defend our “progress.”
When President Obama began focusing on those “left behind” by the recovery, he called for building “ladders of opportunity.” That communicated that the president believed the country’s main challenges were unrealized opportunity for a newly ascendant, multicultural America, rather than the continuing economic struggle experienced by a majority of Americans.
Mr. Obama also offered only tepid support to the most important political actor in progressive and Democratic politics: the labor movement. In the absence of progressive funders in the mode of the conservative Koch brothers, unions are the most important actors at the state legislative level. Yet when the 2010 election ushered in a spate of anti-union governors, who eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees and passed “right to work” laws, Mr. Obama never really joined this fight. In fact, he spent the last couple of years of his presidency pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a free trade law vociferously opposed by the labor movement. Under President Obama, union membership has declined to 11.1 percent from 12.3 percent.
While the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were models of innovation in online organizing and microtargeting, they did not translate into success in the midterm elections or in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Democratic turnout dropped in 2010, 2012 and significantly in 2014. Models, it appears, do not substitute for the hard work of organizing and engaging voters in nonpresidential years; models that apparently drove nearly every decision made by the Clinton campaign are no substitute for listening to voters.
Finally, just as he governed, the campaign messages from the president in the midterms and in 2016 were focused on progress and growth.
On the eve of the 2016 election, the president used the refrain: “We’ve seen America turn recession into recovery” and 15.5 million new jobs. Pointedly, he said, “Incomes are rising. Poverty is falling.”
The public’s reaction was stark from the beginning. People did not believe his view on the economy, and his approval ratings fell in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2010 and in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2014 — the states that led the working-class move away from the Democrats.
Just as important, however, was the discontent brewing with the Democrats’ own base. Combined, the approximately 40 percent of minority, unmarried female and millennial voters disapproved of how President Obama was handling his job in 2010 and 2014, and many stayed home during the off-year elections. Mitt Romney carried white millennials by 7percentage points in 2012.
Mr. Obama did win re-election that year, though only after embracing Teddy Roosevelt’s populist spirit and criticizing the “breathtaking greed of a few.” He declared it a “make-or-break moment for the middle class.” This posture did not animate his governing message or the 2016 presidential election. The president will leave office with a rising approval rating near the same league of Ronald Reagan, an economy nearing full employment and real wages tipping up. Yet a majority of voters in the last election said the economy was the top issue in their vote.
We think voters were sending a clear message: They want more than a recovery. They want an economy and government that works for them, and that task is unfinished.
Monday, December 05 2016
By Stanley Greenberg, co-founder of Democracy Corps and Page Gardner, president and found of Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
Appeared on TheHill.com on December 5, 2016
For more than a decade now, we have been predicting that the changing demographic make-up of our country would change the electorate and our politics and decide elections. Last year we projected that the rising American electorate (RAE) — the rapidly growing group of unmarried women, millennials and non-white voters — “will be the game changers in the upcoming elections.” As we saw on Election Day, these groups emerged as the majority of voters (55 percent) for the first time and contributed to Hillary Clinton’s 2 million vote popular vote lead and rising.
Donald Trump won the presidency, in large part, John Judis argues in The Washington Post, because Clinton’s presidential campaign was counting on these demographic groups to “carry Clinton across the finish line, “and acted as if it could prevail by “appealing to the identity of the groups of the rising American electorate” and not worry about the white working class, which was a declining share of the electorate.
Judis might just well be right about the motivation and strategy of the Clinton campaign. But Judis could not be more inaccurate in stating we believed “Democrats didn’t need to worry so much about the shrinking white working class” and that appeals to identity would “automatically” produce a new national, government majority.
In fact, we said the opposite.
The studies done by Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund underscored how white millennials, white unmarried women and white working class women would only consolidate around Democrats if they were pushing for change, limiting special interest money and making the economy work for all, not just those at the top. The bolder the reforms and agenda, the more engaged these groups became.
White working class women make up 45 percent of voting eligible unmarried women nationally, and even larger numbers in less diverse and less college-educated Rust Belt states. White working class women share so much of their experience in the economy with unmarried women and millennials that we called this the “RAE+” strategy to building a winning national coalition.
In the final presidential debate, Clinton embraced this analysis in her responses, which resulted in her strongest point in the national polls, and with the RAE and white working class women, according to polls by Democracy Corps and NBC/Wall Street Journal. Yet instead of spending the final weeks of the campaign advancing a compelling economic message to show Clinton would bring change, the campaign closed with a promise to fight for opportunity and to unite a multicultural America under the banner of being “stronger together.”
As a result, this new American majority underperformed for Democrats in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In the end, the Clinton campaign underestimated how desperately the RAE and Americans who share their economic experience wanted change. As Judis stated, the RAE “want[ed] a larger vision of the future” and that “in this year’s election, Clinton didn’t give it to them.”
Clinton’s closing arguments did not speak to their economic insecurities, and reinforced their belief that the elite in Washington do not listen to their concerns. Meanwhile, Trump was vowing to “drain the swamp” and doubling down on an economic narrative that motivated voters who felt left behind by globalization.
Over the past eight years, our economy has been transformed, and the RAE is the one struggling the most in this new reality. Many in it are working multiple jobs to put together enough money to get by and are overwhelmed by the rising costs of child care and healthcare, the lack of paid leave and the burdens of student-loan debt. Unmarried women are particularly strained, with 53 percent saying they are unable to bear a sudden $500 expense. They were hungry for leaders who would make these concerns central and offer real solutions.
Our message, and that of many of our progressive allies, has been about changing and reforming America so it would work for the middle class and working families, not identity politics. The message has been aspirational and largely centered on raising incomes, increased support for working families, and a focus on the economic solutions to the problems facing this new majority as a way to realize their potential power.
The RAE will continue to grow and change the make-up of the electorate and play an increasing role in the outcome of national elections. But the 2016 result is a cruel reminder that Democrats will only win the confidence and participation of the RAE by understanding their lives and aspirations and what they share with so many other Americans.
The country depends on it more than ever.
Tuesday, November 15 2016
American voters were desperate for change, so Hillary Clinton’s late focus on continuity and incrementalism shifted the balance – ultimately producing a reactionary result
By Stanley Greenberg
Appeared in The Guardian on November 15, 2016.
America is being shaped irreversibly by a growing new majority of millennials, racial minorities, immigrants and secular people. So how did the presidential election produce such a reactionary result, surprising all the pollsters, including me? “Shy” Tories and Brexiters apparently upended Britain. Did “shy” Trump voters upend America?
To understand what happened, you have to start with the demand for “change”.
The elites, academics, pundits and even President Barack Obama look at the US and see a dynamic country that is economically and culturally ascendant. But America is also a country of deepening inequality and growing political corruption. Most people struggle with declining or stagnant incomes, while CEOs and billionaires have taken most of the gains in income and wealth. More than anything, people are angry that the game appears to be rigged by corporate special interests.
Donald Trump managed to become the Republicans’ candidate of change by attacking crony capitalism, trade deals favoured by big business, the billionaire SuperPacs that fund the candidates and Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. That allowed him to ride the support of the Tea Party and white people without a four-year college degree all the way to the nomination.
But the cry for change coming from the new liberal American majority was just as intense. Bernie Sanders’ call for a “revolution” produced landslide victories with millennials and white Democrats without a four-year degree. This progress nearly allowed him to contest the convention. No less than Trump, Sanders attacked Clinton for her Wall Street speeches and SuperPacs.
Clinton achieved her most impressive leads in the polls when she, Sanders and Elizabeth Warren embraced after the primaries and after her convention speech that demanded an economy that worked for all, not just the well connected. She emerged with her biggest lead when she closed the debates with a “mission” to “grow an economy, to make it fairer, to make it work for everyone”, and “stand up for families against special interests, against corporations”.
That led many more voters to see Clinton as standing for the American middle class, which most working people aspire to, and being better on the economy, truthful and willing to stand up to special interests.
Working as a pollster for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Al Gore in 2000, I watched voters settle into their decisions immediately after the debates. Trump and Hillary Clinton were both talking about change, and Clinton was winning.
But then the campaign’s close was disrupted by a flood of hacked emails, whose release was linked to Russia, intended to show that friends of Bill Clinton were using the Clinton Foundation to enrich the former president, and then by FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the reopening of his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
This allowed Trump to close his campaign with a call to “drain the swamp” and reject “the Clintons’ big business trade deals that decimated so many communities”.
The Clinton campaign fought back. It attacked Comey for his unprecedented intervention and then used its advertising muscle to shift the spotlight from Clinton to Trump. Its ads running right through the very last weekend showed Trump at his worst. By then, nobody could remember that Hillary Clinton was a candidate with bold economic plans who demanded that government should work for working people and the middle class, not corporations. She was no longer a candidate of change.
As President Obama campaigned for her at the end, Clinton urged voters to “build on the progress”. She closed her campaign with a call for continuity and incrementalism. That turn is why the polls turned out to be so wrong.
This was a “change election” for the new American majority too, and that late turn by Clinton produced disappointing turnout among Hispanics, African Americans, single women and millennials. The African Americans’ greatly diminished turnout in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee likely gave the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Trump.
Clinton’s total vote fell well below Obama’s in 2008 and 2012.
The new American majority really did make up the majority of voters for the first time, and they helped Clinton win the popular vote. But their late pull back upended the pollsters’ key assumptions about turnout.
The other change voters, the white men without a four-year college degree, did their part too. They were never shy about their support for Trump, but concentrated in rural and smaller towns in the rust belt, they became even more consolidated in their support for him, put out lawn signs and turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers. Our polls showed him with a 36-point lead before the conventions. But further consolidation and higher-than-expected turnout gave Trump an unimaginable 49-point lead and 72% of the vote among this group. The Trump vote was never shy, just not fully consolidated.
And don’t forget the non-college-educated white women who, after all, are a majority of the white working class. Through most of the campaign, Trump’s disrespect of women and Clinton’s plans for change allowed her to compete with him for their support. She trailed by just nine points after the debates. But with Clinton mostly attacking Trump and no longer talking about change, the women shifted, almost unnoticed but dramatically, to Trump. He won them by 27 points, a nine-point bigger margin than that achieved by Romney in 2012.
These late turns allowed Trump to win Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a percentage point.
America has changed, but this change election produced a reactionary result.
Thursday, October 13 2016
For at-risk Republican candidates, wrestling with how to run vis-à-vis Donald Trump is nothing new. Distancing yourself from Trump risks alienating his hardcore supporters, but embracing Trump could push away moderate Republicans and swing voters turned off by the GOP nominee. Until recently it seemed they may have their cake and eat it too. A season of attempts to tie them to the unpopular GOP nominee had failed as a 48 percent plurality of voters believed “most Republicans do not share Donald Trump’s ideas.” Republican Senate candidates were running 7 points ahead of Trump across the battleground and their maintaining control of the upper chamber was more likely than not.
Donald Trump’s determination to publicly admonish Republicans withdrawing support in reaction to his sexually aggressive 2005 remarks snapped the tightrope those candidates walked. Democracy Corps’ September battleground survey for WVWVAF found almost one-quarter of Trump voters in the most contested states are prepared to punish a Republican congressional candidate who holds back from supporting Donald Trump.
Polls conducted after last Friday’s revelations confirm the price of abandoning the top of the ticket. In the Politico/Morning Consult poll, 74 percent of Republicans said GOP leaders should continue to back the embattled nominee and the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 67 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning Independents wish the same of GOP congressional candidates.
We will watch the “post-video” polls to see whether candidates like John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Joe Heck, and Pat Toomey are overcoming that deficit with enough “Never Trump” Republicans. For now, two things are clear. First, an “unshackled” Donald Trump has reinvigorated Democratic hopes of retaking the U.S. Congress. Second, Democrats must change their message to take advantage of this new opportunity because the well-covered flight from Trump undermines attempts to connect downballot Republicans to the GOP nominee.
Monday, August 22 2016
America is about to experience a once-in-a-lifetime earthquake of an election, but progressives do not seem to trust the new American majority and its ascendant values and thus, continue to be tactical, reactive, and fight old wars. As a result, they may miss the chance to create a governing majority after November 8th.
Hillary Clinton is beginning to emerge with the kind of lead you would expect in a country where over 60 percent of the electorate will be racial minorities, single women, millennials, and seculars and where the positive sentiment about the Democratic Party is 9 points higher than for the Republicans.
Progressives, pundits and the media are consumed with the pivotal role of angry white working class men when their vote share is declining every presidential election and will be only 18 percent of the electorate this year. When Clinton’s margin was only 3 points, their share of the electorate would have to jump to 25 percent to push the overall vote to parity.
I am the person who invented the term “Reagan Democrats” and took Bill Clinton to Warren in Macomb County, Michigan. But then, the white working class men’s share of the electorate was twice what it is today.
Today, I want progressives to embrace an economic narrative that seeks to “level the playing field,” because that is key to motivating working class voters, white and minority, including women who are now a majority of the working class, not because of its appeal to Reagan Democrats.
Because progressives did not trust the new American majority, they thought Donald Trump’s dark convention and speech was effective and waited for the polls to be sure. They thought Pennsylvania would be close, underestimating the new dynamics in the state. And their priority and strategy was to stop Trump in the Rust Belt states to stamp out any chance of Trump being elected.
But Trump already lost this election before his disastrous last week, as only 6 percent of Clinton voters would even consider supporting Trump. The number of potential switchers in this election has shrunk to just a third of what it was in the last three presidential elections.
This misplaced priority comes at the expense of efforts to produce the biggest possible wins in the elections for the U.S. Senate and House and state elections.
Campaigns and media should be focused on this number: 38 percent. That is the percent of the vote that Trump is likely to win in this multi-party election, matching the vote share for George Bush in 1992 when he lost to Bill Clinton by 5 points. That 38 percent should concentrate the mind on what is the real opportunity for Republican votes and voters to disappear down the ballot.
This memo outlines what progressives should focus on to maximize that opportunity.
READ THE MEMO.
 Huffpollster average, August 11, 2016. Democrats viewed favorably by 44 percent, Republicans by 35 percent.
 In a three way race, white non-college educated men vote for Trump over Clinton, 58 percent to 22 percent. In a two way ballot, 61 percent vote for Trump and 35 percent vote for Clinton. With all else equal, white non-college men would need to count for 25 percent of voters in order for Trump to tie Clinton in a competitive three-way race and they would need to count for 36 percent of the electorate in order for Trump to tie Clinton in a two way race.