NDN Blog

Release: Dem/GOP Presidential Primary Debates Audiences in 2008 and 2016

We have updated our memo from its original version to include updated projections on the total 2016 debate audience for Democrats now that the DNC has sanctioned an additional four debates (2/3/16). 

This memo looks at the audiences the Presidential Primary debates received in 2016 and 2008.  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 2 and 3 of the full memo, attached (at bottom).  More information about the debate over the 2016 debates can be found in our backgrounder.  

Summary

-2016, Republicans – 8 debates, 129.5m total viewers, 16.19m per debate. At current rates, the 12 scheduled GOP debates will be seen by 194.26m people.

-2016, Democrats – 5 debates, 47m, 9.4m per debate. At current rates, the 10 scheduled Dem debates will be seen by 94m people.

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

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

Key Findings

- 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 6 GOP debates are outperforming the 4 Democratic debates by a similar margin, 72% per debate (16.19m vs 9.4m per debate).  It is a dramatic reversal. 

- 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, which amounts to about half of the GOP total  

-The 12 GOP debates are on track to produce more than 4 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 25 percent more in total audience than the 2008 debates produced.   

Backgrounder: The Trans-Pacific Partnership

As the debate on the President's trade agenda in Washington continues with discussions over TPP, we wanted to have one place to share all background resources for those who wish to learn more. We hope you find these reports and pieces to be helpful:

Obama Administration Materials

 Noteworthy Op-Eds/Articles

 Other Useful Materials

 NDN Materials

NDN in the Press

Additional Important Websites

 

Backgrounder: Improving the Democratic Debate Schedule

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 (2/3/16).

Debate viewership tally so far: 7 GOP debates, 116.3m viewers (16.61m per debate), 4 Dem debates, 42.5m viewers, (10.63m per debate).  At this rate the 12 GOP debates will be seen by about 199.32m viewers, the 10 Democratic debates 106.3m.  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.     

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 31.1m more than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and just a little over 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 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

"Dem/GOP Presidential Primary Debates Audiences in 2008 and 2016," Simon Rosenberg and Chris Murphy, NDN, 1/28/16. 

"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 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 Debendetti, Politico, 9/16/15.

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

Howard Dean comes out for more debates, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, 9/8/15. 

GOP Hopefuls Understand Little about Older Americans and Social Security

 In last Thursday’s GOP debate, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie avoided any mention of their common proposal to “reform entitlements” by raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70. Their silence was the right decision: Their proposal demonstrates their lack of understanding about the demographics of older Americans, especially the dramatic disparities in their life expectancy associated with education and race.

Recent research on life expectancy indicates that their proposed change would effectively nullify Social Security for millions of Americans and sharply limit benefits for many millions more. While many people in their 30s and 40s today can look forward to living into their 80s, the average life expectancy for the majority of Americans who hold no college degree hovers closer to 70, or the average life expectancy for all Americans in 1950.
 
A recent study in Health Affairs explored the average life expectancy of Americans who were age 25 in 2008, or 33 years-old today. It reports that the average expected life span of 33-year-old high school educated men is now 73.2 years among whites and 69.3 years among black—n compared to 81.7 years for whites and 78.2 years for blacks for their college-educated counterparts. American women on average live longer than American men, but their differences based on race and education also are dramatic. The average life expectancy of high-school educated women age 33 today is 79 years for whites and 75.4 years for blacks, compared to 84.7 years for 33-year old whites and 81.6 years for blacks of that age with college degrees. The projected life spans of Americans now in their 30s without a high school diploma are lowest of all, ranging from 68.2 years (black men) and 68.6 years (white men) to 74.2 years (black and white women). Surprisingly, the data suggest that Hispanics have the longest life expectancies of any group, even though they also have the lowest average years of education; but those anomalous results may reflect sampling problems.
 
(The Brookings Institution just issued a more detailed version of my analysis, with tables, which you can find here.)
 
Using Census data on the distribution by education of people age 30 to 39 in 2014, we further know that 20,292,000 thirty-somethings or 54.9 percent of all Americans in their 30s fall in educational groups with much lower life expectancies. Some 45.4 percent of whites in their 30s or 10,613,000 Americans have a high school degree or less, and their average life expectancy is 9.4 years less than whites in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree. Similarly, 64.4 percent of blacks in their 30s or 3,436,000 Americans have a high school degree or less; their life expectancy is 8.6 years less than blacks in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree. Finally, 75.6 percent of Hispanics in their 30s or 6,243,000 Americans have a high school degree or less, and their life expectancy is 5.0 years less than Hispanics in their 30s with a B.A. or associates degree.
Across all communities – white, black, Hispanic — improvements in secondary education to prepare everyone for higher education, and measures to ensure full economic access to higher education, would add years to the lives of many millions of Americans.
 
These findings have special significance for Social Security, because the number of years Americans can claim its benefits depends on how long they live. Americans in their 30s today will be able to retire with full benefits at age 67; but depending on their education and race, they should expect to collect those benefits, on average, for a period ranging from 1.2 years to 19.3 years. The most pressing cases involve white men, black men, and black women without college degrees. Among Americans age 33 today, white and black men without high school diplomas and black, male high school graduates can expect to live long enough, on average, to claim Social Security for less than three years. Similarly, white and black women without high school diplomas and black, female high school graduates, on average, can expect to collect their monthly benefits for less than eight years. By contrast, white college-educated men and women age 33 today can expect to receive Social Security for between 14.7 and 17.7 years, respectively; and 33-year old black men and women with college degrees, on average, will claim benefits for 11.2 to 14.6 years, respectively.
 
These findings dictate that proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age should be rejected as a matter of basic fairness. As noted earlier, GOP hopefuls Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie all have called for raising the retirement age to 70 years. Among Americans in their 30s today, their proposal would mean that black men without a college degree and white men without a high school diploma, on average, would not live long enough to collect any retirement benefits. White and black women without high school diplomas, and in their 30s today, along with 30-something white men with a high school diploma and black women who graduated high school, on average, would live long enough to receive Social Security for just 3.2 to 5.4 years. All told, the GOP proposals would mean that after working for 35 years or more, 25.2 percent of white Americans now in their 30s and 64.4 percent of blacks of similar age would be able to claim Social Security benefits for about five years or less. And that alone should disqualify any proponent of a higher retirement age from the presidency.
 
This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.

After Iowa, A Different Race for President

On Wednesday, February 3rd, this version was revised, and corrected, from the original.  See note below.

Those pesky voters did their thing last night and created a brand new Presidential race in both parties. Cruz, Rubio and Sanders all outperformed expectations, and head into New Hampshire with renewed vigor. Trump disappointed, though one would assume he will do better in a primary state where organization matters a bit less (if he doesn’t collapse). Hillary Clinton retains a huge structural advantage in the Democratic race, but received a very real warning that she will need to continue to improve, grow and respond to current circumstances or face a far more serious challenge than her team has seemed prepared for (see this recent Greg Sargent piece in the Washington Post for more on this).

What happens next? As I wrote last week, we all have to more humility in our projections about this race, as it is volatile and uncertain. Conventional wisdom has Trump and Sanders winning New Hampshire next week, but we have a week of campaigning, town halls, debates and other things that could once again toss the CW of 2016 on its head. Remember that in both 1992 and 2008 New Hampshire was very very good to the Clintons, and could be again. I have no real thoughts about the race post New Hampshire at this point though my assumption is that Sanders will close the gap with Clinton nationally and in most states, and raise enough money to allow him to compete with Clinton head to head for as the election moves beyond the four state early window.

A few additional observations on the Tuesday after Iowa:

The Democratic debates – Last week the Clinton campaign advocated for a debate to be added this week in New Hampshire, the Sanders campaign agreed but only if they and the DNC could agree to three more debates. The issue of a new debate schedule remains unresolved as of this morning, and of course all debates and forums for the Democrats going forward will only be Clinton and Sanders now. For the DNC this negotiation is an opportunity to erase the impression of favoritism they have clearly showed in the debate schedule to this point; or reinforce it. The outcome of the talks could have a huge impact on 2016.

Enthusiasm – Democrats should remain worried about enthusiasm. As we’ve documented elsewhere, the GOP debates are getting far larger audiences than the Democrats. Compared to 2008, the Rs debates are generating 5 times the viewership while the Dem debates are only up twofold. Similarly, the 2016 Iowa caucuses saw a 50% increase in turnout for the Rs from 2008 (120,000 to 180,000), while the Democratic turnout number was off by 40% from 2008 (240,000 to 171,000). While these numbers are not predictive of outcomes this fall, and the two primaries are of course very different, given the enthusiasm problem Democrats have experienced in 2010 and 2014 any evidence of an enthusiasm gap in 2016 has to be worrisome to party leaders.

Young People – According to the entrance polls last night Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 70 points with voters under 30, 84-14.. 70 points!. Will be important to watch if this gap begins to show up with voters of color in the coming states, mitigating Clinton’s much noted early advantage with nonwhites (particularly in higher turnout primary states). I will have more on issue later, as it is emerging as perhaps the most significant demographic story to watch on the Democratic side.

Political Reform/Changing the Clinton Narrative I made the case last week that Clinton’s refusal to take up the political reform mantle has been a bit inexplicable. She can run as both an experienced hand who can make the system work better, and argue that those who know the system best are most able to change it. But the agenda she offers on reform has to be real, meaningful, biting and persuasive. My piece from last week offers some ideas on what that agenda could be but it has to start with a commitment to close the Clinton Foundation and have family members forgo all speaking fees while she is President.

David Axelrod had a great related insight last night on CNN.  Paraprhasing, he said that when you run on "experience" the campaign is all about you, not about the country, the voters, an agenda.   Bernie has made it all about us, the future, the country.   As a Clinton 1992 guy I remember, deeply, about how we made our entire campaign about his argument, about the future, about the US.  Perhaps it is time for Clinton to invert her campaign, and make her pitch about us and her compelling agenda for the future, and not so much about her and her complicated family.

Note 2/3- In the original version of this memo, I mistakenly attributed the difference between Sanders and Clinton in the Iowa Caucus to coin tosses in six precincts.  While there were coin tosses, I misunderstood what type of delegate they were awarding.  As this good piece from Media Matters explains, those six delegates awarded by the coin tosses due to the arcane system used in Iowa would have not have been enough to wipe away Hillary Clinton's 3.77 delegate lead as of yesterday afternoon.  So I stand corrected, and have removed the incorrect passage from the current draft of the memo.  

This column takes the place of my regular "Monday Musings" column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure: I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary, and given the maximum contribution to her campaign.  

NDN Analysis Featured in Greg Sargent's Washington Post Column

A very smart Greg Sargent piece today in the Washington Post about lessons Democrats need to learn from Bernie Sander's remarkable campaign contains this passage: 

"Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has suggested that Clinton, who has rolled out robust campaign finance and voting reform proposals, needs to get back to highlighting that agenda while linking it to an argument that only someone with her deep knowledge of the system can reform it in fundamental and profound ways from the inside."

You can read the piece Greg is refering to here.  The key graph: 

Clinton and Political Reform – One of the more puzzling elements of the 2016 campaign is why Hillary Clinton hasn’t run more aggressively on her very ambitious and thoughtful political reform agenda. I think there is an obvious way to turn her experience and understanding of the dark side of politics into a broader argument that it takes an insider to fix the system from the inside. She can not only run on her articulated plans, but could commit to suspending the foundation if she were to become the nominee and closing it if elected, leading a government wide effort to modernize the treatment of data and email in a new cyber age, tying Congressional pay to getting budgets done on time (no budget no pay), creating a minimum number of days Congress must be in session each cycle, etc. The reforms she could offer to change the system have to be biting, real, and bring about real change. While I think she is smart to hug Obama and offer continuity as a matter of core strategy, this is one area she should offer a sharper break with him. Trump, Sanders and Cruz all are offering some version of a radical overhaul of the system. She needs to join this chorus in her own way, recognizing that part of her argument – first women President – is unlikely to be sufficient.

Monday Musings: Trump Rising, Dems Battle, Thoughts on Political Reform/Dem Bench

The trend lines we discussed last week continued into this one: Trump appears to be in the process of besting Cruz in Iowa and everywhere else; and the Democratic race remained too close to call in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some observations:

Humility About What Comes Next – Given the poll mistakes/errors of recent years, the challenges with getting an accurate likely voter screen rate, lots of political volatility, rapidly changing demographics, voters having far more access to political information than before, it is important that all of us have a bit of humility about predicting outcomes this election season. I’ve tried to stick with poll aggregates and trends, which while not predictive, are instructive. Doing a deep dive on the numbers this morning it sure seems as if Trump is in a very strong position to win the GOP nomination, while the Democratic race is too close to call. If Sanders wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, I have far less faith in the Clinton “fire wall” than others. Wins in those early states along with a very strong grassroots money machine and organization could make Sanders a significant threat to Clinton as the map gets bigger. But if Hillary wins Iowa she will re-assert a degree of control over the race she doesn’t have right now.

Likewise, I am not convinced at this point that Trump ends up being a disaster for the Rs in the general. Possible, but so is a long transformation into a more conventional figure enhanced by extraordinary Trumpian media instincts and skills. Folks have been underestimating him from the get go, and it would be unwise to write him off in the fall.

Returning to the Democrats, it is also important to remember that the last three Democrats to get to the White House ran against the “establishment” and beat the conventional wisdom of their time. Democrats are just not in the coronation business. Along these lines be sure to review Greg Sargent’s recent piece which explains why the Sanders challenge is important for Clinton. What happens now with the Democrats? All comes down to strategy and execution. A great window into this final week is the new Sanders and Clinton “closing” ads. And be sure to watch the CNN “town hall” tonight at 9pm - will matter!

Clinton and Political Reform – One of the more puzzling elements of the 2016 campaign is why Hillary Clinton hasn’t run more aggressively on her very ambitious and thoughtful political reform agenda. I think there is an obvious way to turn her experience and understanding of the dark side of politics into a broader argument that it takes an insider to fix the system from the inside. She can not only run on her articulated plans, but could commit to suspending the foundation if she were to become the nominee and closing it if elected, leading a government wide effort to modernize the treatment of data and email in a new cyber age, tying Congressional pay to getting budgets done on time (no budget no pay), creating a minimum number of days Congress must be in session each cycle, etc. The reforms she could offer to change the system have to be biting, real, and bring about real change. While I think she is smart to hug Obama and offer continuity as a matter of core strategy, this is one area she should offer a sharper break with him. Trump, Sanders and Cruz all are offering some version of a radical overhaul of the system. She needs to join this chorus in her own way, recognizing that part of her argument – first women President – is unlikely to be sufficient.

Reflections on the Democratic Bench – The strong reviews Senator Cory Booker received this weekend while stumping for Hillary Clinton brought to mind the ongoing debate about the strength of the Democratic bench. My own take on this debate is that the high end of the next generation of Democrats is very strong, and can match the Ryan, Rubio, Cruz cohort – Booker, Newsom, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Patrick Murphy, Castro, Cuomo, Kaine, O’Malley. If Democrats didn’t have such an usual election this time we may have seen many of these candidates take a run and audition on the national stage the way the Rs have done this time. Part of what is holding back this next generation of Democrats is the success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and their larger than life allies – Gore, Hillary, Kerry, Biden, Reid, Pelosi – who occupy a space that has no equivalent on the Republican side. There is only so much space in the political universe, and the Democrats have a highly successful aging boomer cohort that is just not leaving a lot of room for the next generation. The next gen Rs – a group I call the “children of Reagan” – have no successful set of Presidents and allies to crowd their progress. So the “lack of a Democratic bench” insight is actually the result of a good problem to have, one the Rs don’t have – the presence of two living successful Democratic Presidents and Administrations (filling the Cabinet over 16 years also took many potential Senators and Governors out of electoral play). 

While this upper end of next gen Democrats can hold its own with the upper end of the Rs, the problem for the Democrats is what comes underneath this talented tier. This is where the enormous GOP advantage in the state legislatures and governor’s mansions will, over time, become an enormous structural problem for the national Democratic Party. The pipeline the Rs have now will allow them to produce far more higher and medium tier politicians capable of winning elections and exercising power. Add to this the exposure a more open party is giving to Ryan, Rubio, Cruz, Christie etc and you can imagine the Rs being able to maintain a degree of political power in Washington and in the states for a decade or more, even as the nation as a whole moves closer to the Democrats. My analogy is the Democrats have a better product but the Rs have a better management team right now. No Democrat should be optimistic about how this competition is likely to play out in the short and medium term.

Tuesday morning update - The Dem Town Hall.  I thought all three candidates performed well, continuing to show growth and improvement on the trail (why you have these things on TV).  Sanders was probably seen by the most people by going first, and did well, adding more information to people still wanting to learn more about him.   Hillary was unusually animated and effective last night too, showing her experience and facility on a wide range of issues.   I don't know if the Town Hall was seen be enough people to be a difference maker, and was hard to see how last night could have swayed people one way or the other (and Clinton did get dinged up a bit).  But Clinton and her campaign have clearly begun to rise to the serious Sanders challenge now, and are throwing everything they got into this final week in Iowa.  

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You can find previous columns here

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Mondays Musings: With Two Weeks To Go Till Iowa, A Close Race

What a political week. 2 debates, a State of the Union, dramatic events in/with Iran. Where do things stand?

The Democrats – Polls suggest that Sanders and Clinton head into the all important February window with Iowa a tossup and Sanders slightly ahead in New Hampshire. If Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he will then be able to mount a very serious challenge to Secretary Clinton as he has the resources and organization to compete even as the map gets bigger.  I am not sold, like many, that the “Clinton firewall” survives losses in Iowa and New Hampshire so what happens in Iowa in two weeks is shaping up to be very consequential.

My take on the Sunday night debate was all three candidates did well, and there was no “winner.” Sanders held his own in what was a very tough debate for him. O’Malley impressed, again. But Clinton may have had the best night, strategically, as she opened up an attack on Sanders (his distance from Obama) that I think over time will be very troublesome for the Vermont Senator. Yesterday the President hit 51% approval in the Gallup daily track, his best showing since early 2013 and a very respectable number this late in his Administration. It has long been my contention that Democrats must defend the Obama Presidency in 2016, for if we cannot convince the public our team can do a good job when in the White House why elect more of us? So I think this argument will be central to both the primary and the general, and it was artfully argued by Secretary Clinton on Sunday night.

And of course hats off to the President for a terrific SOTU speech, and for what will be increasingly seen as a successful two terms in the White House.

The Republicans – They also face the prospect of an outsider candidate winning both Iowa and New Hampshire – Trump in this case. Two weeks out Iowa appears to be a tossup between him and Cruz, with Trump holding big leads everywhere else. If Trump wins Iowa sure feels it will be hard to stop him from winning the nomination at that point. There is evidence that the various attacks on Cruz – Goldman loan, eligibility, Ethanol opposition – are beginning to take their toll on him. How much so? We will find out in two weeks. Unlike the Ds, the Rs have another debate before Iowa/NH, coming on Jan 28th. This one will really matter.

Debate viewership tally so far: 6 GOP debates, 102m viewers (17m per debate), 4 Dem debates, 43m viewers, (10.75m per debate). At this rate the 12 GOP debates will be seen by about 204m viewers, the 6 Democratic debates 64m 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 (updated 1/18/16).

Over the next 10 weeks the Republicans will have 6 more debates, the Democrats 2. Of those 2 Democratic debates one will be in Spanish. Despite the prospect of the Democratic race going into the late spring, the last English language debate the DNC has scheduled is on Feb 11th.

In 2008, the 17 Democratic debates which had ratings were seen by at least 75m viewers. So even though the Democratic debates this cycle have received more viewers per debate, the total viewership of the 6 debates will come in about 10m less than what the Democratic debates achieved in 2008, and only a third 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. 

See here for more on the "debate debate."   

"Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.  And yes this one came out on a Tuesday. 

Full disclosure - I will vote for Hillary Clinton in the DC Democratic primary.

Monday Musings: Can Anyone Stop Trump? Dems Wake Up To A Competitive Race

New WSJ/NBC/Marist Polls – New polls released yesterday give us a fresh look at where things stand three weeks before Iowa.

The GOP - For the GOP, there is really only one question now – can anyone stop Trump? Trump has big leads in all the early states except Iowa, so the cold reality is if Trump wins Iowa it is really hard to see how he doesn’t run away with the election regardless of who finishes third or fourth in New Hampshire. And on that front, the two big attacks on Cruz now – questions about his eligibility to be President, and a very sustained campaign against him in Iowa by Ethanol backers (as a Texan and oil/gas man he has taken an aggressive anti-Ethanol stance in Congress) – appear to be making a difference in Iowa. The NBC poll mirrors other recent polls, finding the race tightening up, with Cruz 28 Trump 24. Again, if someone does not beat Trump in Iowa, just hard to see how he doesn’t run away with the nomination given where things stand today.

All of this makes the next two GOP debates – on 1/14 and 1/28 – very consequential.

The Democrats – The NBC polls found what many believed had taken place over the past few weeks – Iowa has tightened up. The NBC polls found Iowa at Clinton 48 and Sanders 45, New Hampshire Sanders 50 Clinton 46. At this point anything is possible in these states, including Sanders winning both. For Clinton Iowa really becomes a must win now, as – and it must be said – Sanders, with ample resources and a surprisingly capable campaign, has become a real threat to win the nomination. The Democrats only have one more debate before Iowa and New Hampshire. It is this Sunday night on NBC News, and will be an important one too.

So, remarkably, with three weeks to go before Iowa, three staunchly anti-establishment candidates – Trump, Sanders and Cruz – seemed poised to make a serious run at winning their nominations. Remarkable indeed.

Yes We Can! Obama's Final State of the Union Address - Barack Obama will address the nation as President for perhaps the last time tomorrow night in what will be an important scene setting speech for the coming 2016 debate. Early press reports indicate he will focus on the progress made by the nation over his Presidency, an idea we explored in our recent end of year message. One thing I will be looking for is how much a clear articulation of what a well run government can do, and the positive changes it can manifestly make in the lives of our people, will be able to be used by other Democrats to challenge the all government is bad argument of the post Reagan GOP this cycle. 

The GOP’s descent into a reactionary mess – What exactly is going on inside the GOP? I return to a long form magazine article I wrote a few years ago which anticipated the rise of a reactionary candidate like Donald Trump. An excerpt:

.....There can be little doubt that despite the remarkable progress made over the past generation across the globe, there are significant challenges remaining: tackling climate change, improving the way we provide skills to our workers and students in a more competitive global economy; state capitalism as seen in China and Russia and other nations; and a still unstable Middle East and Islamic world just to name a view.

But while significant challenges remain, there can be little doubt that humankind is going through perhaps it’s most remarkable and productive period in all of our history. More people can do, contribute, and participate meaningfully in the life of their communities and nations than ever before. What lies before us may be indeed a dark time, but my own sense is that we also may be entering – if we get things right – an unprecedented age of possibility for the people of the world.

While this age holds great promise it has proven to be profoundly unsettling to the great architect of this age, the United States. In the past decade and a half we have seen a President impeached; a contested Presidential election settled along partisan lines; high levels of electoral volatility; twelve years of no wage and income growth for American workers; dangerous levels of inequality; reckless foreign engagements which cost the nation extraordinary sums of money, global prestige and human capital; a Great Recession; a financial collapse; a burst housing bubble and one of the most devastating attacks ever on American soil. It is hard to argue that America’s response to this first decade or so of this new century has been successful abroad or at home.

Additionally, these great global changes have manifested themselves in very particular ways in American society, which has magnified the sense of rapid and even unsettling change which is so much a condition of modern life across the world. As perhaps the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, the transformation of our economy from industrial to digital has been perhaps more profound here than just about anywhere else. One very direct impact of this has been the incredible speed in which remnants of the industrial age – companies, skills and schools, well known consumer brands, broadcast media – have been rendered obsolete and not yet fully replaced by their digital analogs.

But perhaps most profound of these uniquely American changes is the way our people have changed. Our demographic and racial history – the triumph of Europeans over Native Americans, and the subjugation of African slaves – is well known. It produced a society dramatically unequal, where an overwhelming majority oppressed powerless minorities. Any student of American history knows how significant the struggle over equality and racial integration has been, and by the early 1960s American had become a nation ninety percent of white European descent and about ten percent black and everything else. But this demographic and racial trajectory set on a very different course in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s finally ended institutional segregation in America. And one of the most important piece of legislation ever passed in America that no one has ever heard of – the immigration act of 1965 – had the effect of changing America’s immigration targets from white Europeans to Asians and Latin Americans.

The net impact of both these changes is the most profound demographic and racial transformation of the people living on this land called America since the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th century. In the past 47 years, fueled by high levels of non-white immigration, America has gone from a 90 percent white/10 percent minority nation to one 65 percent white and 35 percent people of color. Current estimates have the nation becoming majority non-white in 2040. Of course the central driver of this change is an historic wave of immigration from Mexico and Latin America into the US. In 1965 there were 3 million Latinos in the US. Today there are 45 million Latinos 15 percent of the US population, a group is they were their own country would be the second largest Latin country in the Americas (if we exempt Iberian Brazil). There are now more Latinos in the US than African Americans, and people of Mexican descent make up a full ten percent – one out of ten – of the people who live in the US today. This figure is expected to double by that magic crossover point in 2040, with Latinos making up fully 30 percent of the US population, or almost a third.

Additionally, the great baby boom generation, for so long the dominant driver of American culture, is aging, and yielding to a new generation, made up largely of their children, the Millennials. This generation is the largest generation in US history and is beginning to enter the American electorate in very large numbers. Its members have grown up in the world I have described – more global, more connected, more competitive more diverse and have had very direct experience the inadequate response offered by American leaders in the past decade. America has in essence its own “youth bulge” and how this generation swings politically might just determine which party reigns for the next 30-40 years and much else about American culture. By any measure – our own youth bulge and this historic transition to a non-white America - is an extraordinary level of demographic and socio-economic change, one which should be expected to roil the traditional politics of a nation.

It is the premise of this essay that American politics in 2012 can be best understood by examining the reaction of political parties, ideological movements and elected leaders to the vast changes – demographic, economic, geopolitical – roiling the world today......

Read on.  It all still rings very true a few years deeper into these profound changes. 

Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.

Monday Musings: The Sprint to Iowa and New Hampshire Begins

Real voters head to the polls less than a month from now. Where do things stand? A few things we know:

4 candidates lead in the early states – Cruz and Clinton lead in Iowa, Trump and Sanders in New Hampshire, Clinton and Trump lead in the less polled Nevada and South Carolina. Only these four candidates can claim leads in the early states and top tier status as 2016 begins. All four have plenty of money and will be able to compete as the map gets big when over half the country will vote in just the first 15 days of March. These four all clearly have a shot at this point. The path for every other candidate in both parties is far harder to see.

So much weakness on the GOP side – Consider these Real Clear Politics national averages now:

Christie 4.8, O’Malley 4.6, Bush 4.3, Paul 2.8, Fiorina 2.5, Huckabee 2.0, Kasich 1.8

After months of significant exposure to the public and tens of millions of dollars of television ads, the four GOP candidates who have gotten a huge amount of press and free media coverage – Christie, Bush, Fiorina and Kasich – stand at 13% combined, less than Ted Cruz, far less than Bernie Sanders, and any one of them now is only running even with or trailing Martin O’Malley, who has been totally ignored by the national media. Republican voters have had a good long look at these candidates and just don’t seem to be buying. Hard to see how any one of them breaks out in the weeks ahead and challenges the top tier, Trump and Cruz, and Rubio who is still hanging in their but continues to struggle to find his place.

Will the debates change anything? The GOP field is far more likely to be affected by the debates, as they hold three before New Hampshire – Jan 14, 28 and Feb 6 - while the Dems only hold one, on Sunday night Jan 17. Expect the ratings for all these debates to be very high as voters all across the country will be paying much more attention now (see here for our collection of materials on the debate strategy of the two parties so far).

So, what is going to happen? Who knows….but as 2016 begins, four candidates – Trump, Cruz, Clinton and Sanders – have a real shot.  For the rest, including Rubio, the path to the nomination is hard to see.  But of course we know things will change, and could change quickly.  Stay tuned!

Monday Musings" is a new column looking at the national political landscape published most Mondays here on the NDN site.  You find previous columns here.

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