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A New Generation Of Democrats Will Have To Rise
As background, NDN produced a post-election memo in 2014, “A Wake Up Call For Democrats” which covers some of the ground in the memo below. The original version of this memo was published on the Wednesday after the election, and has been updated. You can also find our thoughts in a series of post-election articles in Time, TNR, the Washington Post and others sources, and in this new US News op-ed, "Rediscovering the Democrats' North Star."
Clinton wins more votes, Dems gain in Senate and House – Yes, a bit spinny given the outcome, but true. Trump has won the Presidency, getting fewer votes than Clinton and winning his big 4 states - FL, MI, PA, WI - by less than 1.5%. What is remarkable is that Democrats have now won more votes in 6 of past 7 Presidential elections, one of the best runs for a political party in US history and yet have very little to show for it. In the exits last night Democrats had meaningful advantages in Party ID and favorability, and Barack Obama had a 53/45 approval rating. A plurality of voters even said they were better off than they were four years ago.
The GOP, a party that has won more votes in a national election only once since 1988, amazingly has more power today in Washington than any time since 1928. That our system could produce this outcome is one of the things that makes America exceptional.
The exits confirm that last night was not a repudiation of the Democratic Party’s agenda, or a significant affirmation of the direction Trump wants to take the country:
-48% said Obamacare was just right or didn’t go far enough, 47% said too far
-70% said illegal immigrants should stay, 25% said deport
-41% approve of building the wall, 54% say no
-48% said criminal justice system treats blacks unfairly, 43% fairly
-31% say they are better off today, 27% worse off, 49% same
Even on the issue of global trade, 42% said trade takes away jobs, 38% said creates jobs.
So what this means in practical terms is that it is hard for Trump and the Republicans to claim a clear mandate. They have only won one more votes in a national election once since 1988, and will have to work hard in the coming months to build majority support for their agenda.
Dems Need A Big Discussion About Turnout, Our Coalition – Democrats need to have a robust debate about why we’ve had such a hard time replicating Obama’s success with the majority coalition he built in 2010, 2014 and again in 2016. No doubt that the Trump campaign impressively outperformed expectations in most national polls. But an early and quick read on the data suggests that once again the Democrats did not meet their targets with their own voters – and in this race resources were not an issue. More on this issue in future memos.
Younger Americans Are Much More Democratic – Using the national exit polls, voters under 45 went for Clinton 53% to 39%, and those 45 and over went for Trump 52% to 44%. 56% of the electorate was 45 and over, 44% under 45. Maximizing the under 45 vote – people who came of age after Reagan’s Presidency – remains one of the highest demographic priorities for Democrats. Not sure what it means yet, but the 4 states that cost Clinton the election last night – FL, MI, PA, WI – have very low %s of Millennials compared to other states.
For more on Millennials and the youth vote, see our new report on Millennials, this excellent post-election report from Tufts/Tisch/CIRCLE, and Democracy Corp's election night survey showing the Millennial share of the electorate grew from 19% in 2012 to a remarkable 29% in 2016.
Huge Mistakes By Clinton Campaign - It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton campaign both badly misread the election in the final months, and made terrible decisions about the allocation of its campaign resources and candidate time. This new article by Sam Stein in the Huffington Post captures the failures in Michigan and Wisconsin. But it goes deeper than just those two states. Discussions have to be had about huge overinvestments in IA, NC and OH, and whether AZ should have been a prime target general election target from June on. As of 11/20, Clinton's margin in AZ is only 3.6%, better than the Democratic performance in IA, NC and OH (see our new memo on AZ, and the strong showing for Dems in CA and TX too). Politico just published a new report on how the Clinton campaign blew Michigan - and it is tough reading. And then there is the question of Trump's far more aggressive general election campaign schedule, something that no doubt made a difference in a very close race.
Given the financial advantages and unified party behind the campaign, the team running Clintonworld will have to explain to the rest of us about what appears to be fatal misjudgements in the general election.
Thanks Comey! – According to the exits, of the 26% of people who made up their minds in the last month, Trump won them 49%-39% (yes during the period of the debates, the Access Hollywood video). Of the 73% who made up their minds before the last month, Clinton won 51%-46%. Very hard to not conclude from this data that the Comey intervention in the election was consequential.
Not sure all of us have yet processed the unprecedented intervention of a foreign government and the FBI in this election. With Rs in charge of Congress and the White House, will be hard to have this conversation next year but it is a conversation that needs having.
Political Reform – Given the obvious concerns about a “rigged” system that no longer works for everyday people, why Hillary Clinton never developed a serious conversation around reforming our politics remains one of the great mysteries of the 2016 election. See my piece from December, 2012 about why political reform had to become central to the politics of the center-left in the years ahead.
A New Generation of Democrats Will Have to Lead Now – The Obama Presidency and the 24 years of leadership provided by Bill and Hillary Clinton will now yield to a new era for the Democratic Party. Surveying the landscape – Schumer, Kaine, Booker, Sanders, Warren, Becerra, Michael Bennett, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Joe Kennedy, the Castros, Tulsi Gabbard, etc – Democrats have a very promising set of leaders capable of carrying the Party forward.
Democrats will also have to become far more purposeful about preparing for the generational handoff from Boomer generation politicians to younger ones. The Democratic Party is a young, diverse and growing party. Its future success will depend on advancing leaders who can connect with and excite these voters.
Big questions now about what the Obamas do, and the role they play in what comes next.
Folks Should Be Careful About Calling This A Change Election – While there is clear evidence “change” was something people sought, the country is neither as angry or disquieted as some have been suggesting. Let’s go through some data here. Incomes have been going up for four years. 2015 saw the largest income gains for American workers in the recorded economic history of the United States. The unemployment rate is under 5%. Violent crime, the killings of Americans by terrorists and the killing of police are all at rates far lower than during the Bush Administration. The uninsured rate is at historic lows. Heath inflation, the biggest driver of the deficit, has been lower this decade than in a generation. Energy prices are low, America has become a net energy exporter, and the growth of renewables is exploding. The net flow of unauthorized immigrants into the US has gone from 400,000 a year under Bush to zero today, while trade with Mexico has more than doubled.
And public opinion confirms this. In a recent Gallup poll 62% of Americans said things are getting better. 53% of Americans report that things are good in a recent CNN poll. President Obama’s approval rating is in the mid to high 50s, the highest mark of his second term and higher than President Reagan at the end of his Presidency. A recent Bloomberg poll found only 28% of Americans saying that since Obama’s election they are worse off, with 21% saying things are the same and 49% better. While the exits last night found fewer people saying better off, the number saying worse off was about the same – 27%. And in the exits, 37% said the next generation will be better off, 34% said worse. This simply isn't rebellion level numbers folks.
The exits also asked a direct question – which candidate quality mattered most? 39% said “can bring change,” and they went 83% to 14% for Trump. This is a plurality, not a majority.
This is not to say that we don’t have challenges, or that that there isn’t disquiet in the American electorate. But it is not a majority sentiment of the public at large, and was not even close to being a majority sentiment of those who voted last night. But it is a majority sentiment of Republican voters as this party break out of recent CNN data suggests:
Source: CNN/ORC poll data from September 1-4, 2016. According to this CNN/ORC poll, 53 percent of Americans believe economic conditions in the US are good. The question asked in the survey was: “How would you rate the economic conditions in the country today -- as very good, somewhat good, somewhat poor, or very poor?” See our recent report, “America Is Better Off And Safer Today” for citations for the data in this section.