NDN Blog

A Year of Opportunity for Democrats - Looking Ahead to the Fall Elections

Last week we took a deep dive on what Clinton and Trump have to do to put their parties back together after contentious primaries.  This week I look further forward, and offer an early take on what the landscape might be for this fall's election in an admittedly unpredictable year: 

Current Polls (all data from the Huffington Post Pollster aggregate) -

Party – Dems lead in Party ID 36/28, and in favorability 46/47 (minus 1) to the GOP’s 31/60 (minus 29), a substantial margin. Congress, which is controlled by the GOP, has a historically low approval rating of 14 (14/72).

The President/Party Leaders – President Obama’s job approval is 49/47, and his overall approval is 48/46. Vice President Biden’s approval is 47/37, and Bernie Sander is 51/40. On the other hand, there are no major GOP political figures with net positive approval ratings – Ryan is 32/39, Kasich is 36/39 and McConnell is 17/43.

Trump vs. Clinton – In the latest Huff Po aggregate, Clinton leads by 7 in direct head to heads with Trump, 47/40. Her approval rating, while low, is far better than Trump’s, 41/55 (minus 14) to 33/62 (minus 29).

The Issue Landscape – There isn’t an obvious opening on domestic issues for the Republicans this cycle. The economy is vastly improved from where it was, and should continue to do well through the fall. Annual deficits are a 1/3 of what they were. Health inflation has slowed, and tens of millions have insurance who didn’t have it before. Energy prices are low, and the US is making real progress is transitioning to a better energy future. On immigration, one of Mr. Trump’s signature issues, the country is with the Democrats, and not him. The basket of issues around “security” remain the GOP’s one obvious opening, with Obama at 39/48 in his handling of foreign policy, and the Secretary having some lingering issues from her time as Secretary of State. Expect a tremendous level of engagement from the GOP on “security” issues this year.

The Map – As we covered in previous posts (here and here), the map is particularly advantageous for Democrats this year. The significant overlap among the states/districts Democrats need to win for the President, Senate and House both allow Democrats to maximize a Presidential state advantage, and use efficiencies gained through coordinated efforts to go on offense in states like Arizona, California, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, Additionally, Trump’s hard line immigration approach will make Democratic success in states with heavily Hispanic populations like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Virginia and perhaps even North Carolina more likely.

Expanding the map to more states and voters is also important for Democrats to not only ensure that they win, but that they can govern effectively. Due to low turnout and only a small number of targeted Presidential states, only about one in three of eligible voters cast their ballot for President Obama in 2012. By expanding the map, Democrats could get that number up, creating more buy-in from the American people, or the “consent of the governed” our founders intended. This extra level of support could make become meaningful in a closely divided Congress next year.

The Choice of Vice President – For Donald Trump there seems to be one really good pick – John Kasich – and lots of less helpful ones. Kasich brings delegates to wrap up the nomination quickly, has as good a favorable rating as any GOPer in the country, has deep governing experience to complement Trump’s inexperience, hails from the region of the country where Trump must win, and is the Governor of the state where the GOP Convention is taking place. Kasich’s standing inside the Party will grow for “taking one for the team” by joining the ticket. I just don’t see how this doesn’t happen.

As for the Democrats, my money is still on Tim Kaine of Virginia. He is a former Party chair, governor and is deeply respected by people on both sides of the aisle. He hails from a swing state, speaks fluent Spanish, is Catholic (Rustbelt, Hispanics) and reinforces the “steady hand on the rudder” sensibility that will likely be a core Democratic offering this year. There are other good choices out there – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Mark Warner, Elizabeth Warren, etc – but I think Kaine just feels like the right choice for this race at this time.

Looking Ahead – Six months out, signs point to this being a year of significant opportunity for the Democrats. The playing field leans Democratic right now, and the map is particularly advantageous to Democrats this year. The Party’s leaders are well liked, and it has a strong track record of success in each of the last two Presidencies and in winning national elections. Taken together, all of this gives the Democrats a formidable advantage against an unpopular GOP without well regarded leaders and very little to show for their time in power over the past generation.

While the basic structure of the race favors Secretary Clinton, Trump is only 7 points behind at this point. Clinton’s high negatives will give Trump an opportunity to make his case. His even higher negatives and lack of a true campaign at this stage of the race are enormous liabilities for him, ones that will make it very hard for him to turn this into a competitive race in the months ahead. But expect very aggressive attacks around the “security” theme (note 1st major policy speech was on foreign policy), and on her honesty and overall leadership capabilities. Also expect the GOP to come together rapidly around Trump in the months to come, as on may of the major issues – tax cuts, climate denial, Obamacare repeal, hard line immigration policies, interventionist/jingoistic foreign policy – is very much a mainstream Republican.  While Trump appears weak today, he has been over-performing expectations for almost a year now, and cannot be written off.

While perhaps playing defense on “security” issues and her own record, there is a real opportunity for the Secretary to go on offense as the next CEO of a party with well liked leaders and a strong track record of success now in two Presidencies. It would be wise for the Clinton campaign to spend the time through the July Convention leading a national effort to tell the story of Democratic governing success (jobs, deficit, health care, energy/climate, equal opportunity for all, political reform, safer world), establishing the basic contrast of D progress/R decline prior to rolling out her closing argument and shifting the focus to her candidacy at the Convention itself.  Helping the Democrats understand and own their own success will make every Democrat stronger up no matter where they are on the ticket.

It will also be remarkable to see a very popular set of Democratic leaders – Biden, Bill Clinton, both Obamas, Sanders, the VP – standing alongside and campaigning with Secretary Clinton in the months ahead. That image of a powerful team lead by an experienced leader (and first woman!) will not be easily answered by an unpopular, isolated Trump and a deeply unpopular Party without a single national leader with net positive favorability ratings. An unprecedented “Democratic Team” that includes two former Presidents could end up being an extraordinary advantage for her this fall.

To address her weakness with Millennials, Clinton would be wise to do two things: 1) showcase younger, compelling leaders like Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Joe Kennedy at the Convention, giving them outsized and very public roles, and showcasing them thru post-broadcast media and forums; 2) adopt a far reaching plan to renew our democracy and reform our politics, along the lines of something I published last week. Whatever the Clinton plan is for bringing along the Sanders world, particularly Millennials, it must be an aggressive and serious effort, and should begin right away.

Conclusion – All signs point to it being a year of opportunity for Democrats.  Though Trump should not be underestimated, the hole he and his party have dug for themselves is very deep.  It remains to seen if they can make the fall election competitive. 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Simon In The News on The 2016 Election: Print/Digital Media

Simon's analysis has been recently featured in several national and international media outlets. Be sure to check out full articles by clicking on the links. (Updated on Friday 4/29/16)

Media Appearance and Citations

"Can Hill thrill after you've felt the Bern," Courtney Weaver and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, 4/28/16.

"Will young Sanders backers stay and steer the Democrats leftward," John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/28/18.

"Obama, who once stood as party outsider, now works to strengthen Democrats," Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, 4/25/16.

"Supreme Court showdown to begin over Obama's moves to block deporation," David Nakamura, The Washington Post, 4/17/16.

"Here's one way the Clinton-Sanders brawl could end well," Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 4/11/16.

"Bernie surges toward New York showdown," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 4/6/16.

"For Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a Debate Over More Debates Brews," Colleen McCain Nelson The Wall Street Journal, 3/25/16.

"Sander scrambles to keep pace with Clinton," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 3/23/16.

"Why Sanders Trails Clinton Among Minority Voters," Noam Schieber, The New York Times, 3/21/16.

"The Great Divide: Clinton, Sanders, and the future of the Democratic Party," Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, March 21, 2016 Issue

"Why trade matters in the Rust Belt," Alex Seitz-Wald, MSNBC, 3/12/16.

"Trump's Path to Victory: Both Parties' Working-Class Whites," Nicholas Riccardi, Associated Press, 3/7/16.

"Democrats are taking the Trump threat very, very seriously. They're right," Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 3/1/16.

"Pay close attention to what Chris Christie just said about Trump, Democrats," Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 2/26/16.

"Obama's plan to visit Cuba is reminiscent of opening to Burma," David Nakamura, The Washington Post, 2/18/16.

"Hillary's debate desire: DNC rolls over now now that she wants more Bernie bashing," Howard Kurtz, Fox News, 2/12/16.

"Bernie Sanders has already succeeded in a huge way (even if he loses)," Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, 2/11/16

"Democrats to Clinton: Fix your messaging," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 2/10/16.

"Hillary Clinton's Recurring Struggle to Connect With Young Voters," Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic, 2/4/16.

"Trade deal to be signed, but presidential politics could doom passage," Doug Palmer, Politico, 2/3/16.

"Clinton may have won Iowa, but she's got a lot of problems," Joe Garofoli, San Franscisco Chronicle, 2/2/16.

"America's Agitator: Donald Trump Is the World's Most Dangerous Man," Markus Feldenkirchen, Veit Medick, and Holger Stark, Der Spiegel, 2/1/16.

"MSNBC, NH newspaper to hold unsanctioned Dem debate," Ben Kamisar and Rebecca Savransky, The Hill, 1/26/16.

"Sanders battle with DNC overshadows Dem Debate," Ben Kamisar, The Hill, 12/19/15.

"The 'astounding' levels of campaign ads are just getting started," Nik DeCosta-Kipa, Boston.com, 11/17/15.

"So far, the Republican debates are way more popular than the Democratic debates," Alving Chang, Vox, 11/16/15.

"CBS Democratic debate draws lowest ratings," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/15/15.

"Saturday nights with Hillary, Bernie and Martin," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/13/15. 

"Democrats Eye More National Events As Anger Over Debate Schedule Grows," Sam Frizell, TIME, 10/16/15.

Renewing Our Democracy, Restoring Consent - A Note to the NDN Community

This week I published an op-ed on the US News website that lays out a three part plan for modernizing and improving how our democracy works in America.  I hope you will take a few moments to read it in the coming days.  It is one of the more important pieces I’ve written in recent years. 

I draw particular attention to this piece because I’ve become convinced that getting more people to meaningful participate in the process of choosing their leaders, restoring the “consent of the governed” imagined by our Founding Fathers, is an essential and necessary step in restoring faith in our institutions and moving our nation successfully into the 21st century. 

I and NDN have dabbled in these issues over the years.  I was one of the first non-Oregon investors in the Oregon vote by mail experiment in mid-1990s, one that has helped created a voting system with among the highest citizen participation in the nation.  I was an early champion of the use of the Internet in US politics as a way of lowering the barrier of entry for every day people into the political system, even putting the first American political party on line (the Democrats) in 1993.  I was an architect of the plan that added a southern and southwestern state to the early DNC nominating calendar, allowing voters of colors to play a much greater role in choosing the Democrat’s nominee.  And recently, NDN successfully advocated for an improved DNC debate schedule, allowing tens of millions of people to become better informed in their choice for President in 2016.

I also sit on the board of the Tisch College for Civic Life at Tufts University, arguably the leading academic institution in America today looking at citizen engagement and healthy societies.  I am honored that I will be teaching a class there this fall on American politics that will be allow me to spend a bit more time looking at these issues.    

I write all this to the NDN community today as a way of saying that I and our team will be committing far more time and energy to the basket of issues around political and electoral reform, and restoring “consent.”  As I look ahead over the next few years, I have become convinced that the distance many Americans feel from Washington must be addressed head on or progress on so many other issues that we care about will be disappointingly elusive.  

And there is urgent international context to this discussion as well.  If America is to remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing democracy abroad, our own democracy must be an exemplar, not a laggard or even an embarrassment (5 hour lines to vote!).  Acknowledging that even we in the world’s oldest democracy don’t always get things right, and can make improvements, will be an inspiration to other nations and advocates looking to modernize and improve their own political systems. 

Thanks for all that you do for us here at NDN and the many other organizations and leaders our community supports each and every day.

Best,

Simon 

SF Chronicle: Simon on Democrats and the Sanders Legacy

In their recent piece, "Will young Sanders backers stay and steer Democrats leftward," John Wildermuth and Joe Garofoli interviewed Simon for his take on Sanders' performance during the 2016 Democratic Primary election. Simon's is quoted at length in the article.

In the first passage, Simon points out the opportunity the Democratic Party now has to engage young voters and build its base:

That surge of young, enthusiastic and progressive support for a longtime independent congressman and senator who wasn’t even registered as a Democrat until last year should be a loud wake-up call for the party, said Simon Rosenberg, founder of NDN, a center-left think tank.

“This presents Democrats with an enormous opportunity to make their case” to many young people who are more identified with Sanders and his progressive ideals than with any particular party, said Rosenberg, a veteran of former President Bill Clinton’s campaigns. “The question of whether these folks become Democrats is up to the Democratic Party itself.”

In the second passage, Simon describes the advent of the generational turn in party leadership:

Like it or not, though, change is coming for the Democratic Party and party leaders have to deal with it, Rosenberg said.

“Parties always change when another generation takes power,” he said. “The era of Clinton, (Rep. Nancy) Pelosi and (Nevada Sen.) Harry Reid is changing to the era of Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, (Hawaii Rep.) Tulsi Gabbard and (New Jersey Sen.) Cory Booker.”

The Democrats are in the midst of a transition from a party of the 20th century to a party of the 21st century, Rosenberg said, and Sanders’ supporters have to be an important part of that change.

These new voters “see a failed set of elites running the country and have the sense that the country is not well-led,” he added. Democratic leaders “must realize these aren’t wild-eyed critiques, not the critiques of bomb-throwers. ... They must have humility and realize they have a lot to learn.”

Unpublished
n/a

US News: Simon on Restoring the Consent of the Governed

Simon has a new op-ed in US News today on the urgent task of restoring the "consent of the governed" to American politics. The opening graphs:

"It is easy to forget perhaps how radical an idea America's democracy was in the 18th century. Oligarchical elites controlled governments and people, and authority was derived from the "divine right of kings." Our Founding Fathers had to replace that authority with a new one, writing in the Declaration of Independence that governments would derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Through the lens of today, this simple phrase is profound and powerful. The clear implication is that our Founders believed that it was only through the process of achieving consent could a government be just; and that governments without consent would struggle to be just (or effective, popular, etc). In a year in which there has been so much talk of corruption and rigged political systems, this idea – whether part of the problem we face today in America is that the system is no longer capable of conveying consent – is something I think worth exploring." 

The full article is available on the US News website.

Putting Their Parties Back Together

2016 Overview - With big wins in New York last week fueling them now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on track to win their Party’s nomination this July. The central story in US politics these next few months will be how each of them puts their parties back together after what has been a contentious primary season. The challenges for Trump and Clinton are different, and perhaps can best be summed up by the national polling aggregate graphs from the Huffington Post below.

Today, Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in delegates and has essentially won her nomination, but Democratic voters remain remarkably split between her and Bernie Sanders. For Clinton, putting her party back together will revolve heavily on the perception of how Sanders and his followers are treated, both at a national level and in every state. Given the success of the Sanders campaign against overwhelming odds, and his very high standing in the polls, many Sanders backers will be expecting to play a meaningful role in the emerging post Obama Democratic Party. Accommodating the Senator, his many delegates and his followers, will be a fundamentally difference process than the successful Obama Clinton rapprochement in 2008. The defeated Senator then was a professional politician with future ambitions, and the Clinton world knew how to fall in line and get on board. We simply cannot expect the same from Sanders and Sandernistas across the country.  Many are new to politics, and come at the process with a degree of contempt for the system.  For Clinton 2008 was a "loss."  For Sanders 2016 will be seen by him and his supporters as a "win." Additionally, that there is such a wide held perception that the DNC and “the Party” improperly intervened on Clinton’s behalf in the primary renders the Party, its Chair and the Convention itself a far less effective tool for reconciliation than is usual.

The team around Clinton is a sophisticated bunch, and I am confident they will be able to make all this work. But the constant references to one finds on social media to “we got on board in 2008, your turn,” while perhaps comforting to Clinton supporters, is not now, and will not be a compelling argument to the very different sensibility of the Sanders world. 

Trump, on the other hand, is in a less advantageous delegate position today than Clinton but does not face the kind of popular alternative Sanders has come to represent. It is possible that if a more attractive and less extreme alternative to Trump had emerged in the primaries than Cruz, Trump could have been beaten. But it didn’t happen, and as one can see from the graph above, recent polling has Trump gaining and his two opponents losing ground. In some ways he enters this next phase in a more dominant position than Clinton, as he has doesn’t have a real opponent any more. Yet, his party is far more deeply fractured than the Democratic Party, and putting it back together would be an extraordinary challenge for any nominee, let alone one without political experience. What will make Trump’s job a bit easier is that he is not really at odds with his party on the big issues, arguing for big tax cuts, an interventionist foreign policy, a hard line immigration agenda, climate denial and rolling back Obamacare. He is perhaps louder, more boorish and less experienced than more establishment Republicans, but the ideological distance between him and Paul Ryan may be closer than the one between Clinton and Sanders today and thus easier to bridge than many realize.

The Pick of Vice President - The choice of Vice President will be an important step in this process of putting the party back together for both Clinton and Trump. I still think Senator Tim Kaine has the edge on the Democratic side – swing state, Spanish speaker, Catholic, former Party Chair, good guy, principled thoughtful national leader. He will help reinforce the “steady hand on the rudder” narrative that will contrast well with Trump this fall. But given my analysis above, will also be interesting to see if a nod to the next generation would be appropriate this time, with folks like Cory Booker and Julian Castro getting an extended look. Regardless of who Clinton picks, it would be wise for her to make a group of emerging, compelling Democrats – Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Kennedy, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom for example – co-chairs of the Democratic Convention this summer. Something significant will have to be done to excite and engage younger Sanders supporters. Celebrating our inspiring next generation of leaders, the ones who will inherit the party after the age of Clinton, Reid and Pelosi, would be one savvy step in this effort.

For Trump, there is one pick that seems to make so much sense that I have to believe it will happen soon – Ohio’s John Kasich. He brings delegates to help wrap up the nomination. He brings unparalleled government experience to complement Trump’s inexperience. He hails from the swingiest of general election states, and the site of the GOP convention. He will be an effective bridge to the “GOP establishment.” Given the events of recent days the cost of this deal clearly has gone up for Trump, but assume these talks are already well underway. There is just no one else who brings more to the ticket now than Kasich, and getting him to come on board will be of the most important tests of whether the Trump makeover has any chance of succeeding.

Further Reading - Two good reads from the last few days on this next phase of the process - The New York Times's Adam Nagourney "Can Clinton Feel the Bern?" and Politico's Gabriel Debenedetti's "Sanders Caught in a Political Trap." 

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Report: Presidential Primary Debate Audiences

This memo looks at the audiences the Presidential Primary debates received in 2016 and 2008.  The Republicans have completed their full 12 debate schedule for the 2015-2016 cycle.  On April 14th in Brooklyn, the Democrats conducted their 9th debate in their expanded schedule and have 1 more planned for May although the date and location are still to be determined.  Top line analysis can be found below, and tables of the audiences of each debate which received ratings in both 2016 and 2008 can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the full memo, attached (at bottom).  More information about the debate over the 2016 debates can be found in our backgrounder (Updated on Thursday 4/21/16).  

Summary 

2016, Republicans – 12 debates, 186.3m total viewers, 15.53m viewers per debate.   

2016, Democrats – 9 debates, 72.03m total viewers, 8m viewers per debate.  At current rates, the 10 scheduled Dem debates will be seen by 80m people.

2008, Republicans – 14 debates, 42.87m total viewers, 3.07m viewers per debate.

2008, Democrats – 16 debates, 75.22m total viewers, 4.7m viewers per debate (Dems had another 10 debates which were not rated, so total viewership was higher than 75.22m).

Key Findings

GOP Dramatically Outperforms Dems in 2016 and Rs in 2008 – In 2008, the 16 Democratic debates outperformed the 14 GOP debates by more than 55% per debate (4.7m per debate vs 3.07m).  In 2016, the 12 GOP debates have outperformed the 9 Democratic debates by a much larger margin, over 94% per debate (15.53m vs 8m).  It is a dramatic reversal. 

The 12 GOP debates have produced more than 5 times the audience per debate than their 14 debates produced in 2008, and almost 5 times the total audience.  The DNC debates are producing about twice the audience per debate that the 2008 debates produced, and, in aggregate, are on track to produce about the same total audience the 2008 debates produced.  

Democratic Debate Schedule Struggles to Match 2008 – Despite very large audiences for the debates this cycle, the smaller number of Democratic debates (10 compared to 12 GOP in 2016 and 26 in 2008) means that the total audience of the Democratic debates in 2016 will be only slightly larger than the 2008 Democratic total, and possibly as much as 100m less than the GOP total.

DNC’s Original Debate Schedule Audience – The DNC’s original six debate schedule produced an audience of 48.4m.  After requests from many, including the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, the DNC added four debates on February 3rd.  The DNC also smartly brought in CNN to augment its PBS and Univision debates.  These improvements in the schedule brought an additional 24m viewers, 8m from the CNN re-broadcasts and 16m from the three additional debates conducted so far.  Augmenting the original schedule increased the overall Democratic debate audience by 50%. 

The Townhalls – While the audiences for the CNN town halls were not significant, the formats were.  Each of these programs gave viewers a window into the candidate the more rigid debate formats have not.  They have been an important innovation this cycle by the DNC, and in coming years should be given more prominence.  Our guess is if adequately promoted with more time, viewership for these town halls could be far more significant.  

 

Audience Per Debate

 

Total Audience

(Note: 2016 Democrat debate total audience is based on projections)

Backgrounder: Improving the Democratic Debate Schedule

Debate viewership tally so far: 12 GOP debates, 186.3m viewers (15.53m per debate), 9 Dem debates, 72.03m viewers, (8m per debate).  As of March 10th, the Republicans have concluded their 12 debates.  The final total audience size for the 12 GOP debates is 186.3m viewers.  At their current rate, the 10 Democratic debates are on track to be watched by a total of 80m viewers, falling short by at least 106m viwers.  At 10.2m viewers, NBC's 4th Democratic debate was the second most watched Democratic debate, but still came in lower than any of the 6 GOP debates so far, including their two on a little watched cable network, Fox Business.  The 1/25/16 CNN Democratic "Townhall" drew 3.2m viewers, bringing in less than half the audience of the previously lowest watched major candidate event of the 2016 cycle. (Updated on Tuesday 4/19/16) 

In 2008, 16 of the 26 Democratic debates had enough viewers to be rated.  Those 16 debates were seen by a total of more than 75m people.  So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 10 debates will come in only about 16.5m more than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and just a little under half of what the Rs are getting this cycle with their better debate approach.  Very hard to spin any of this as positive for Democrats, or "maximizing" opportunities. (Updated on Friday 2/12/16)

Four More Debates Added - The Washington Post is reporting that the DNC and Sanders and Clinton campaigns have reached a deal to add four more debates in NH, MI, PA and CA.  This will bring the Democratic debate total for the 2016 cycle to 10.  It is also consistent with our recommended changes, which advocated one more debate before IA/NH and more debates after February.  We are obviously pleased with this development, but hope in the future a better schedule would not force candidates in the most important part of the campaign to be spending time negotiating over debates rather than reaching voters.  We will be updating this "backgrounder" over the next few days. (Updated on Wednesday 2/3/16)  

Full Debate Schedules - Here's a link to complete debate schedule, including the 12 GOP debates and the 10 scheduled by the DNC.  Note that in the first three months of 2016, the RNC has 7 debates scheduled, the DNC 4, 1 of which will be conducted in Spanish on the Spanish-language network Univision.  

Some in Clinton camp now regret limited debate schedule - An article by Patrick Healy in The New York Times Saturday morning, January 16th, contains the following: 

"Several Clinton advisers are also regretting that they did not push for more debates, where Mrs. Clinton excels, to more skillfully marginalize Mr. Sanders over his Senate votes in support of the gun industry and the enormous costs and likely tax increases tied to his big-government agenda.

Instead, Mrs. Clinton, who entered the race as the prohibitive favorite, played it safe, opting for as few debates as possible, which were scheduled at times when viewership was likely to be low — like this Sunday at 9 p.m. on a long holiday weekend."

Oct 23rd, 2015 - NDN has joined the chorus calling for a better Democratic debate schedule, writing: "There are too few debates, too many are on weekends or holidays when viewership is much lower, and there aren’t enough close to when the most consequential voting will take place." 

A few stats: in 2007/8 Democrats had 26 debates, this cycle they will have 10.  The RNC has scheduled 12 debates, the Democrats will have 7 with one shown only on a Spanish language network.  In the all important Jan thru March window next year, when close to 60% of eligible voters will vote, the GOP will have 7 English language debates and the Democrats 3.  All in all the DNC will have 3 English language debates in prime time during the week for the entire nominating process, the RNC could have as many as 10. 

If the current debate viewing level for each party (16.61m vs 10.63m) holds through the remaining debates, the RNC's candidates will have a total audience of 199.32m people for their 12 debates.  The Democratic candidates will be seen by just 106.3m over 10 debates.  And even that number for the Democrats could be high as of the 4 remaining debates, one is in Spanish and another is with PBS, a network that simply doesnt have the reach of the commercial broadcast networks.  And in a new piece Simon's finds that there is clear evidence now that this early exposure is boosting not harming the GOP field.  

Regardless of the virtue of the original DNC debate strategy, the RNC has produced a far better approach that will guarantee their candidates hundreds of millions of more impressions.  This gap is so large that it could sway the outcome of a very close race, and the DNC should take steps to close this gap in the weeks ahead.  Simon's recent piece offers three simple steps the DNC could take today to address the problem, and suggests other things the Party could be doing to generate more interest in its candidates and emerging leaders (MSNBC forum good step, though still very limited in reach). 

We've built this backgrounder with our work and the most recent and best pieces from other sources to help keep people up to date.  If you agree with us that Democrats deserve a better debate schedule, join us in making your voice heard.  

From NDN

"A Very Good Week for Bernie Sanders; Our Creaky Democracy," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 3/28/16.

"Dem/GOP Presidential Primary Debates Audiences in 2008 and 2016," Simon Rosenberg and Chris Murphy, NDN, 1/28/16. (Updated on Friday 3/18/16)

"As feared and predicted, 2nd Dem debate draws very small audience," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 11/15/15

"Monday Musings on 2016: Clinton/Obama strong, Carson unraveling and a warning about Dems/2016," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 11/9/15.

"Early Exposure Appears To Be Helping GOP Presidential Field," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/17/15

"On Dem debates, progress, but more to do - 3 steps the DNC should take next," Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/10/15

Democrats are playing a dangerous game with the debate schedule,” Simon Rosenberg, TIME, 9/16/15.

"The Democratic debate schedule is a mess. Here's how to fix it," Simon Rosenberg, MSNBC, 9/9/15. 

"The Consent of the Governed," SImon Rosenberg and Corey Cantor, NDN, 12/17/14.  This analysis looks at how the decline in competitive states and races in our Federal elections is allowing far too few Americans to meaningful participate in picking their leaders, and questions whether our political system is still capable of providing "the consent of the governed." 

Media Appearences and Citations

"Hillary's debate desire: DNC rolls over now that she wants more Bernie bashing," Howard Kurtz, Fox News, 2/12/16.

"Hillary Clinton's Recurring Struggle to Connect With Young Voters," Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic, 2/4/16.

"Clinton may have won Iowa, but she's got a lot of problems," Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/2/16.

"MSNBC, NH newspaper to hold unsanctioned Dem debate," Ben Kamisar and Rebecca Savransky, The Hill, 1/26/16.

"Sanders battle with DNC overshadows Dem Debate," Ben Kamisar, The Hill, 12/19/15.

"The 'astounding' levels of campaign ads are just getting started," Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Boston.com, 11/17/15.

"So far, the Republican debates are way more popular than the Democratic debates," Alvin Chang, Vox, 11/16/15.

"CBS Democratic debate draws lowest ratings," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/15/15.

"Saturday nights with Hillary, Bernie and Martin," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/13/15. 

"Democrats Eye More National Events As Anger Over Debate Schedule Grows," Sam Frizell, TIME, 10/16/15.

"Hillary Clinton should push hard for more Democratic debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/16/15.

Simon discusses the 'debate' debate on KABC, 9/11/15. (starts at the 10:00 minute mark).  

Other Prominent Pieces and Op-Eds

"CNN picks up Flint Democratic debate," Hadas Gold, 2/7/16.

"Clinton, Sanders agree to debates in Michigan and California," Hadas Gold, Politico, 2/3/16.

"It's on: We're getting four more Democratic debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 2/3/16.

"Game on: Sanders says he will attend MSNBC debate," Hadas Gold, Politico, 2/3/16.

"The battle between Clinton and Sanders is about to get a lot more intense," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 2/2/16.

"There's a Democratic debate fight, too, and Bernie Sanders just upped the ante," Chris Megerian, LA Times, 1/27/16.

"Democratic debates set to 'maximize' exposure, Wasserman Schultz cliams, but evidence is dubious," Amy Sherman, Politifact, 1/20/16.

"Winners and losers from the fourth Democratic presidential debate," Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 1/17/16.

"Clinton campaign underestimated Sanders strength, allies say," Patrick Healy, New York Times, 1/17/16

""Helping" Hillary Clinton with little-watched Saturday debates was a terrible plan," Matthew Yglesis, Vox, 12/18/15 (Updated from 11/13/15 version).

"Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders Bristle at Holding Debates on Weekends," Alan Rappeport, New York Times, 12/18/15.

"The Invisible Democratic Debates," Frank Bruni, New York Times, 12/17/15.

"18 million viewers tune in for CNN GOP debate," Hadas Gold, Politico, 12/16/15.

"Debates Help Fuel Strong Interest in 2016 Campaign," Pew Research Center, 12/14/15.

"Disappointing debate ratings spark Democratic campaign complaints," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 11/15/15.

""Helping" Hillary Clinton with little-watched Saturday debates was a terrible plan," Matthew Yglesias, Vox, 11/13/15.

"Democrats scheduled debates on days when no one will watch," Alvin Chang, Vox, 11/12/15.

"Fox Business GOP debate draws 13.5 million viewers," Hadas Gold, Politico, 11/11/15.

"Former Democratic Chairs Deny Consutling on Debate Schedule," Sam Frizell, TIME, 11/9/15.

"Democrats Just Can't Muster That Much Enthusiasm for 2016," Jim Newell, Slate, 11/9/15.

"Insurrection Erupts at the Democratic National Commitee," John Heilemann, Bloomberg, 10/16/15.

"Some Democrats Push DNC Chairwoman to Allow More Debates", Peter Nicolas, The Wall Street Journal, 9/30/15. 

"How Democrats got bogged down in a messy dispute over debates," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/21/15.

"Democrats demand more debate time as intra-party rift reaches boiling point," Lauren Gambino, The Guardian, 9/20/15.

"Democrats have a growing debate problem on their hands," Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, 9/20/15.

"DNC chair heckled over Democratic primary debates," Alex Seitz-Wald, MSNBC, 9/19/15.

"Pelosi joins calls to add more Democratic primary debates," Theodore Schleifer, CNN, 9/18/15.  

"Clinton in N.H. to counter Sanders, says she wants more debates," Matt Stout, Boston Herald, 9/17/15. 

"Clinton, DNC face pressure to add debates," Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico, 9/16/15.

"Two D.N.C. Officials Call for Adding More Debates," Maggie Haberman, New York Times, 9/9/15.

"Does the Sanders surge pose a serious threat to Clinton? Howard Dean weighs in," Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/8/15. 

Consequential Days Ahead

2016 Overview – As we discussed last week, the central question in the Presidential race now is whether Clinton and Trump can use the late April states to reestablish control over their nominating contests. Both are polling well in New York (April 19th), and on April 26’s “Super Tuesday” of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. If the polls hold, both Trump and Clinton will enter the final month of primaries in very dominant positions, raising questions about whether their opposition can or should continue. So there is a lot riding on the outcomes of these late April states.

On the Democratic side, the margin in New York will matter.  Polls have Clinton with double digit leads.  Recent states have found Bernie overperforming public polls, however, and in other large states like Michigan and Wisconsin without other contests Sanders has been able to close very strong.  My guess is that the final outcome will be closer to mid single digits than 15 points. But whatever it is, the final margin tomorrow night will be important for setting the stage for the five states voting next week.  

How Do Dems Make Peace? If Clinton does as well as is expected over the next week, calls for Sanders to drop out will get very loud. Clinton needs Sanders and his spirited following for her general election campaign. How will the peace be made? What can Sanders show his supporters they got for their remarkable run? Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote a few pieces on this matter last week, suggesting that at least one partof the deal could be the Democrats’ adopting significant changes in their own party nominating process at the July convention. Among the things Sargent says that could be considered are eliminating caucuses, establishing an independent process to schedule debates, opening up primaries to independent voters, limiting the number of states that can vote on any given day and more.  His pieces are well worth a read, and offer some smart thinking about the road ahead. 

Is Trump getting a makeover? Perhaps the most interesting development in the Presidential race is the apparent rebooting of the Trump campaign. Shaken perhaps by unexpected losses, inadequate political preparation, legal challenges for his campaign manager and historically high disapproval ratings, it appears that Mr. Trump is in the process of professionalizing his campaign. This is a deeply pragmatic step, both by him and his party. He is still the likely nominee, and Republicans need to do everything they can to salvage his candidacy as a blowout this year will do particular damage to Rs across the country. With long time establishment figure Paul Manafort joining the Trump campaign, it will now become acceptable for others to follow, justifying it as “good for the party.” This sensibility will eventually extend to Trump’s choice for Vice President. If offered, the pressure on folks like Kasich, Walker and Rubio (all named by Trump for his shortlist) to join the Trump ticket, “for the good of the party,” will be immense. And my assumption is that one of them will indeed hop on board.

Whether all of this will be enough to make the general election competitive given the damage Trump has already done to his brand of course is the big question. But remember, for the GOP, there is a huge and consequential difference between Trump losing with 48% of the vote, and losing with 45 or 44%. One early sign of this makeover will be in how Trump handles his victories over the next week. Will there be a change in tone? Style? Language? Worth watching.

More on the 2016 Election - Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP. 

"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward

Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign. I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.

Syndicate content