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.
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 exits, voters under 45 went for Clinton 52% to 40%, and those 45 and over went for Trump 53% 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 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).
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.
Each year The Hill newspaper invites some of us to make our predictions. Here is what I just sent to them this morning:
Presidential - Clinton wins 50-45, 334-204 in the Electoral College. Our next President wins all the battleground states except GA, IA and OH.
Senate - Democrats win the Senate, 50-50.
House - Democrats pick up 15 seats in the House.
Short Analysis - W/2016 win, Dems will have won more votes in 6 of past 7 Presidential elections, among strongest showings by US political party in history. Strength, success, achievement of modern Democratic Party underappreciated. Problems with emerging electorate, esp. Hispanics and Millennials, so significant now they represent possible existential threat to GOP. Watch Texas Tuesday night – higher % of Millennials & Hispanics than CA. With Clinton’s convincing win and gridlock fatigue, will be hard for GOP to repeated Obama era level of obstruction. Big conversation needed about Russian intervention in election, ways to prevent in future.
Am honored to be the only two time winner of the Hill contest. With HRC's strong showing, could be a threepeat!
Simon is writing a weekly guest column for US News & World Report through the end of the year. You can find previous versions here and below.
US News & World Report Columns
The West Is On The Ballot, Simon Rosenberg, US News & World Report, 11/4/16. In the column, Simon argues that Trump isn't running just against Clinton, he's also running against what America has become and the world it has built.
Why Democrats Dominate, Simon Rosenberg, US News & World Report, 10/20/16. Perhaps the most important political story of the past generation is transformation of Democratic Party into a successful governing party with popular leaders well regarded by the American people.
Calling all Patriots, Simon Rosenberg, US News & World Report, 10/13/16. While in a reflective mood about the future, their nominee and party, Simon suggests two other activities Republicans should swiftly denounce and distance themselves from.
How America Prospers in a Global Age, Simon Rosenberg, US News & World Report, 10/6/16. In a recent op-ed, Simon make the case that America has prospered in this new age of globalization, but only with the right policies.
US News and World Report has published Simon's fourth column, "The GOP Should Be Worried About Texas," in his weekly Op-Ed series that will every Thursday or Friday through the end of the year.
Be sure to also read his recent column, "Why Democrats Dominate," in which Simon considers what perhaps may be the most important political story of the past generation: the transformation of Democratic Party into a successful governing party with popular leaders well regarded by the American people.
An Excerpt from "The GOP Should Be Worried About Texas"
Responding to a series of recent polls showing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton within striking distance in Texas, Real Clear Politics has moved it from a "lean red" to "toss up" state. In this memorable political year, the apparent move of Texas from red to purple state has to be considered one of the more significant and unexpected developments, particularly since Clinton and the Democratic National Committee have made no effort to put the state in play.
It is hard to overstate the importance of Texas to the national Republican Party. It is the only big state left in the country that Republicans regularly win at the presidential level. It produced the only two Republican presidents since Reagan, and has produced many more important national Republicans, such as Tom DeLay, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and John Cornyn. It exports hundreds of millions of dollars to GOP organizations and candidates across the country. And perhaps most importantly, there are more Republicans in Congress from Texas than any other state, and many of them are in positions of leadership. Losing Texas, or even having it become competitive, would be a significant blow to the national GOP.
They better get ready.
Key to President George W. Bush's narrow victories was his success in heavily Hispanic states. Over the course of two elections he won Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas twice, and New Mexico once. As the Hispanic population has surged throughout the country, and become about two to one Democratic along the way, these states – with the exception of Texas – have drifted away from the GOP.
Today, Clinton leads in the five states other than Texas, and the Trump campaign isn't even competing in Colorado or New Mexico. And we all know the story of California, the first state to go through this demographic transformation. The state which helped birth the modern conservative movement and gave us the two Republican presidents prior to the Bushes – Reagan and Nixon – is on the verge of seeing its Republican Party go out of business.
To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous USNews columns here.
Last week US News and World Report published Simon's third column, "Democrats Will Dominate," in his weekly Op-Ed series that will every Thursday or Friday through the end of the year.
Be sure to also read his recent column, "Calling all Patriots," which argues it is time for Republicans to once again find their inner patriot and work with the Democrats to keep the Russians from intervening in our election, and to make it easier for Americans to vote.
An Excerpt from "Democrats Will Dominate"
If the polls are right, and Hillary Clinton wins on Nov. 8, Democrats will have won more votes in six of the past seven presidential elections. This successful run is among the most significant periods of dominance by an American political party in U.S. history. Perhaps the only run that has topped this was Thomas Jefferson's Democrat-Republican Party, which won six consecutive elections beginning in 1800, or FDR and Harry Truman's run in the mid-20th century. But nothing else really compares.
Acknowledging the historic success of the modern Democrats matters, for it unlocks a deeper and perhaps inconvenient truth about our politics often obscured in the daily chatter – there is a vast difference between the two American political parties today. A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday does a good job capturing these differences:
48 percent see the Democratic Party favorably, 47 percent unfavorably. 35 percent see the GOP favorably, 61 percent unfavorably.
45 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, just 38 percent as Republican.
In a recent U.S. News column, I offered an explanation for why the Democrats have been so successful. Since the end of the Cold War, when the world did indeed begin to go through profound change, each party has had control of the White House twice. Both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will have left America better than they found it, leaving behind lower unemployment rates and annual deficits, rising incomes and soaring stock markets. Over their presidencies you can point to many other policy successes too – improvements in our health care system, welfare reform, the expansion of the earned income tax credit, establishment of the modern global trading system, Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy and his progress on tackling climate change, the ending of al-Qaida, and a series of decisions that helped the global internet develop and flourish.
Finding similar successes during the two Bush presidencies is far more difficult. Each left office with the country in recession, leaving higher unemployment rates, soaring annual deficits, declining incomes and the second Bush even a declining stock market. Credit George W. Bush with the establishment of a Medicare prescription drug benefit and his global AIDS initiatives (neither loved by fellow GOPers) and George H.W. Bush with the successful execution of the first Iraq War (yes, debatable). But that's about it.
To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can also find more of Simon's USNews articles here.
Simon has signed up with US News and World Reportto write a column every Thursday or Friday through the end of the year. His first column, "How America Prospers in a Global Age," ran last week. His new column, "Calling all Patriots," argues it is time for Republicans to once again find their inner patriot and work with the Democrats to keep the Russians from intervening in our election, and to make it easier for Americans to vote.
The piece was well received yesterday when it was released. DNC Chair Donna Brazile for example tweeted it to her many followers. You can read the whole piece here, and we include an excerpt below. Check here and at US News each week for new insights from Simon.
In the past week, we've seen Republicans from across the country denounce Donald Trump for his vulgar remarks caught on tape by Access Hollywood. Some, like John McCain, have said the remarks were so disturbing that he was no longer capable of voting for the GOP presidential nominee this fall.
While in a reflective mood about the future, their nominee and party, I would like to suggest two other activities Republicans should swiftly denounce and distance themselves from – the national effort to make it harder for Americans to participate in their democracy, and the attempt by a foreign adversary to intervene in and disrupt our upcoming election.
First, the pernicious effort to make it harder for Americans to vote. In the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic win in 2008, Republicans in dozens of states took steps to make it harder for people to vote. Their efforts ran the gamut – making registration far more difficult, eliminating the use of student IDs for voting even at public universities, cutting early voting windows, radically reducing the number of polling locations in heavily Democratic areas and, of course, successfully gutting the Voting Rights Act. It has been an all-out, national, party-wide effort to make it harder for every day Americans to participate in their democracy, and it has affected tens of millions of people including in big states like North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.
In several states, courts have invalidated some of the more extreme measures. But what is perhaps most remarkable is how hard current GOP leaders are fighting court mandated changes in their laws. Election officials in Texas and Wisconsin have continued to follow practices declared illegal by courts in this current election. In North Carolina, a federal court recently invalidated their law, writing that it "targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision." Not deterred by being labeled racist, the Republicans of North Carolina, supported by Trump, appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. Gratefully the Supreme Court denied to hear the appeal and this awful law was struck down.
This renewed embrace of time worn voter suppression tactics is particularly worrisome given America's already low rate of voting. As I wrote in U.S. News earlier this year, low rates of voter participation weaken our democracy by limiting the actual amount of consent Americans are giving to their leaders. For a party so powerfully inspired by the Revolutionary call of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," it is hard to understand how they've ended up embracing systemic efforts by politicians making it harder for the American people to exercise their liberties and keep our historic political system vibrant and strong.
To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can also find more of Simon's USNews articles here.
“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.
2016 Overview – As expected, we find early evidence today of a Clinton bounce. CBS has Clinton going from 43/44 to 47/41, CNN from 45/48 to 52/43, Morning Consult from 40/44 to 43/40 and PPP and Ipsos/Reuters each have Clinton with a 5 point lead. The averages are showing gains for Clinton of 2-3 points already, and Obama’s approval rating in Gallup over the past 10 days has gone from 49/48 to 54/42, the best of his entire second term. It is early but Clinton and the Democrats are clearly getting a meaningful bounce.
It is significant that in some of these new polls have Trump hovering in low 40s, signaling that he still having trouble bringing his party together. If he is not in the mid 40s by mid August his campaign will officially be in trouble. Additionally, based on the Real Clear Politics state averages, Clinton should be firmly ahead in every single battleground state including Arizona and North Carolina by week’s end.
But could the economy slow over the next few months, and change the current dynamic that seems to be favoring Clinton? While Friday’s GDP report appeared to signal trouble ahead, as this analysis from the NYTimes’s Neil Irwin explains things are better than many reported on Friday. And for consumers (voters), things were particularly good:
“The wages and salary component of compensation is now up 2.5 percent over the last year; that same reading was only 2 percent in the second quarter. It’s just one number, but it points to this conclusion: Worker pay is not just rising; it’s also starting to rise at a faster pace. And it’s coming in the form of cash compensation, not being eaten up by health insurance and other employer-provided benefits.”
Given this report, it is far more likely for economic sentiment to be an asset for Clinton in these final 100 days of the election than Trump.
A Very Good Week for Democrats – Last week’s DNCC was my 8th Convention, and I think it was the best I’ve attended. The speeches and talks by private citizens were powerful, the production itself just excellent and the tone upbeat and can-do. It was an extraordinary contrast to the angry mess the Republicans stumbled through a week before.
What we saw last week was a mature, successful governing party, one with a deep set of talented, experienced and well-regarded leaders comfortable on the national stage. It was a reminder of just how successful the Democrats have been at the Presidential level – both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies left America better than they found it, and Democrats have won more votes in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. If Hillary Clinton wins this fall, it will be arguably the best stretch for a political party in all of our history.
This confident, mature, successful Democratic Party took a generation to build. When I got into American politics in the last 80s and early 90s, things were reversed – the GOP was ascendant, confident, well led, popular with young people and it was the Democrats who had run out of political and ideological gas. Led by the New Democrats of that time, the Democratic Party began a long period of modernization and reform that has helped produce the governing and political success we’ve had over the past generation.
Critical to that success today is the demographic opening NDN and a handful of other organizations helped identify a decade ago. If they can harness this emergent coalition in this and coming elections, the Democrats have discovered a young, growing and diverse coalition that could sustain them for many elections to come and will eventually also generate majorities in both Congresses. Remarkably, Democrats may be in the middle or even early stages of a very long run (see our 2007 magazine essay laying all this out, The 50 Year Strategy) and not at its end.
“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.
2016 Overview - This will be a short column this week as so much news will be made in next few weeks any big analysis will just have to wait till after the Dems gather in Philadelphia.
That said, our trusty Huffington Post poll aggregate has the race at 43.4 Clinton to 39.8 Trump. My quick summary of the many national and state polls that have tumbled out in recent days is that Clinton still holds a meaningful lead nationally and in the battleground states. The main issue for US politics in the next two weeks is whether Trump can do anything to change that central dynamic. As I've written many times, I remain doubtful. Why?
First, Trump. I just don't see how his high negatives, ongoing nastiness, terrible campaign, no real solutions to things that matter and warring Party can help him make the gains he needs to make in the coming months. As others have written he is still hovering around 40%. My guess is that he should be up at 44-45% by mid August, but does he have the ability to rise above that level? Am super skeptical.
Second, Clinton. Friends despite the obvious challenges the Clinton effort has been a well run, confident enterprise, not likely to make a major mistake that could alter the trajectory of the race. With Sanders endorsing, a VP pick this week and what will be a strong Convention with a slew of well-regarded and popular politicians, she should match any bump Trump gets. We won't really know where the race stands until about two weeks after Philadelphia, but my expectation at that point is that Clinton will lead by 4-6 points nationally and in the battlegrounds, putting her in a very good position to win this fall.
On Trump and Chaos - One of the more remarkable things about this memorable election is the Trump's campaign comfort in comparing their effort to Richard Nixon's in 1968. First, why anyone would knowingly compare oneself to Richard Nixon is hard enough to understand. Second, the embrace of the son of Southern stategy "law and order" theme and its very direct indictment of the Obama era is something Democrats will have to rebut head on. I offered some thoughts on this debate in last week's column, "America is Better Off and Safer Today." The order/disorder theme, which was so central to the GOP's late victories in 2014, will be just about all we hear about in Cleveland this week. Will Democrats be ready? That is the big question now.
“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.
2016 Overview – The Huffington Post poll tracker now has the race at 4.8 points for Clinton, a slight drop from her high two weeks ago. While there are some polls showing movement in the last few days away from Clinton, others show large leads. Expect a period of very volatile polls over the next month or so until they settle down a bit in August.
With Sanders coming on board the Clinton campaign today, a central contrast of the 2016 campaign will begin to emerge more clearly – united party/strong team/proven track record/thoughtful agenda vs. isolated Trump/unpopular leaders/failed Presidencies/no forward looking solutions to emerging challenges. This emerging contrast, an inevitable outcome of the next few weeks, will make it far more likely that Clinton and the Democrats make gains and lead heading into the home stretch of this historic campaign.
Part of that contrast has been developed in the deeply respectful and civilized way the Democrats worked through their platform over the past few weeks. While the primary was contentious, and there were meaningful platform fights/disagreement, this process was well within the bounds of our how our politics is supposed to work. The capacity to resolve disagreements is the cornerstone of a properly working democracy. Which is why this contrast with Trump, who remains at war with his own party just days before his own convention, is so important. Trump is missing perhaps the single most critical trait for a leader of a democracy – the ability to work through and solve problems with people you disagree with. His take his ball and go home sensibility, isolationist in the extreme, is one that almost guarantees the failure of a Trump Presidency. Democrats would be wise to make more of how he has conducted himself during this campaign with his own fellow Republicans as a clear signal of his inability to manage the complexities of the Presidency itself.
Are We Better Off?
There is little doubt the questions of are we better off and safer today after 8 years of the Obama Presidency will become central to the coming campaign. To me, this is not even a close call. Let’s review some data and bust some myths along the way:
- Millions More Have Jobs, and Incomes Have Been Rising Since at Least 2013 (link)
- Tens of Millions Have Gained Health Insurance, and the Uninsured Rate Has Dipped to Historically Low Levels (Link)
- Annual Deficits Are One Fourth % of GDP That They Were Under Last Year of Bush Presidency (Link)
- The Stock Market Has Been Hovering at All Time Highes, and Is More Than Twice What It Was When Obama Came to Office (Link)
- High School Graduation Rates Are at An All Time High (Link)
- Crime Across the US Has Plummeted, and the Nation is Much Safer Today (Link)
- There Have Been No Foreign Fighter Attacks on US Soil in 15 Years (Link)
- There Are Fewer Undocumented Immigrants in the US Today than At End of Bush Administration - The Flow Has Dramatically Slowed (Link)
- Far Fewer Americans Have Died in This Decade Due to Terrorists Attacks or Died in Military Actions Overseas (Link, Link)
- The US Could Be Energy Independent By 2020 (Link)
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions Declined in 2015 (Link)
If you look at recent polling data, it is hard to conclude that Americans are angry or giving up hope. They may be anxious, and want more from their country and their leaders, but you can find in the data that people understand that things are improving in America. Here is a good example.
I am not being Pollyannaish here. There are lots of challenges facing our country, and the world today. Yes, we have much work to do. But finding a data stream to counter what I just put up there is no easy thing to do. Should we be satisfied with where we are? Of course not. But are we better off today? Clearly.
Look forward to discussing this in the months to come.
2016 Overview – Despite recent turmoil, Secretary Clinton and the Democrats remain in a very strong electoral position. If anything, things may have improved for the Democrats in recent weeks, in part driven by the continued erratic performance by Donald Trump and the slow consolidation of Democrats by Hillary Clinton after winning her nomination a few weeks ago.
Clinton/Trump – Clinton’s lead is now 7 points, the highest of the year - 45.8 to 39. Importantly, Trump remains under 40, a place few general election candidates have found themselves at this point in the past several decades of polling. While Clinton’s negatives are higher than she wants at 42/54, Trump’s are twice hers, 36/60 (24 points net negative compared to 12). Polls over the past week have Clinton’s leads at 2, 4, 5 (3), 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12. The trend line continues to favor Clinton, and more gains are possible in the coming weeks.'
Obama/National Environment/Party – Obama’s job approval is 50/46, personal approval 50/45. On the economy he is 47/47, health care 42/48 and foreign policy 42/46. The approval rating of the Democratic Party stands at 45/46, while in perhaps one of the more important pieces of data of the election, the Rs are at 30/61. The GOP brand was only 53% negative and net 20 negative in the fall.
The bottom line is that these numbers do not find an electorate unhappy with the status quo, and ready to throw the bums out. While there are some weaknesses for the Democrats here, the wildly negative ratings of both the GOP and Trump suggest it will be very difficult for them to exploit them this fall. If these numbers hold, expect Democrats to make substantial gains in both the Senate and House, and perhaps even putting the House into play.
Obviously the new big unknown at this point is whether Brexit will bring an economic slowdown to the US in coming months, something that could impact the overall environment.
2016 and A Post Brexit Politics – With Brexit in the air, it is important to understand what is similar here in the US to the circumstances in the UK and throughout Europe, and what is different. First, economic conditions are better here. Our recovery from the 2007-8 financial collapse has been far better than Europe’s by virtually every measure. Importantly, as Rob Shapiro has been writing for months now, wages and incomes for most Americans have been rising since 2013 as our recovery gained steam (see Robert Samuelson for another cut on this “rising wages” theme today). The strength of the Democratic Party we see in the numbers above is to a great degree a reflection of voter’s perceptions that things are better, and continuing to improve.
The success of the Democratic Party in the US is the second biggest difference. Throughout Europe, traditional social democratic and socialist parties (the center-left) are in collapse. The most striking example of this is in the UK of course, where the Labour Party suffered an historic defeat in the last general election. Europe and the UK are losing their ideological alternatives to center right and far right politics, leaving the playing field more open for nationalists. This is not true in the US. The Democratic Party not only has high marks from the public, it has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections, leads in this coming election, and has left America better than it found it in both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies. The success of a liberal and open Democratic Party in the US has given our country a far more effective break on rising nationalist sentiment than the UK/Europe (and we will leave the investment vs austerity debate for another day).
There is a fair bit of anecdotal evidence and real data that the inability to control migrant flows is driving more of what is happening in the UK and Europe today than even economic discontent. These tensions, long simmering, have been heightened by recent terror attacks on the Continent and the truly challenging Syrian refugee crisis. A collapsing Middle East and North Africa could present Europe with a terror/migrant challenge for many years to come, and is a legitimate and serious concern for everyday UK/European citizens.
I would argue, perhaps controversially, that this area is perhaps more similar to our domestic debate than many here in the US understand. While yes we have a larger immigrant population, and one that is overwhelmingly from non-jihadi parts of the world, what has been clear in the polling data in recent years – and frankly this is just common sense – the American people want an orderly immigration system, with the government not migrants in control. The Trumpian argument is that Democrats are advocating for “open borders,” out of control migration driven by the migrants themselves. And of course the Supreme Court failed to rule in favor of the Administration last week on its signature immigration reform effort of the 2nd term, leaving these matters more unsettled than is desirable at this point (here is my statement on the US vs Texas non decision decision).
While I don’t think Trump is winning this argument with the public, it is important that in the months ahead Democrats do define their immigration position and make it clear what we are for. Vague references to comprehensive immigration reform (which has failed to pass for 11 years now) and our proud immigrant tradition are insufficient given the current political breezes blowing through the West.
And the good news is that Democrats have a very strong story to tell. During the Obama Administration, due to new and far better enforcement strategies, crime along the border region is down and the two largest cities on the border are two of America’s least violent and safest; after 15 years of huge flows of undocumented immigrants into the US, the flow is way down and with net migration of undocumented immigrants into the US is at zero for the entire Obama Presidency; our smarter enforcement strategies have prioritized deportation of criminals (something opposed regularly by the GOP), and created a significant deterrent at the border that has helped drive down flows to historically low levels. It should also be noted that there has been no domestic US terror attack conducted by a foreign fighter since 9/11 - a rather remarkable achievement.
While doing all this, the Administration has also essentially stopped deporting long settled law abiding families from the interior of the US who used to have to fear deportation every day; shown that a program like DACA (for DREAMers) could be successfully implemented without creating new flows; and seen trade with Mexico during this period more than double. Today Mexico is our 2nd largest export market for American goods in the world, buying more from us than Japan, Germany and the UK combined.
I have argued, and still believe, that the smart and effective management of the US border remains one of Barack Obama’s most unheralded policy successes. Despite rancorous politics and the defeat of his two major reforms of the system itself, Obama has shown that we can indeed manage the border and the US immigration system while expanding trade flows all at the same time. Coupled with our strong and spirited advocacy for broader immigration reform, this is a record Democrats should be embracing and running on in 2016 (akin to a more aggressive defense of our economic progress over two consectutive Democratic Presidencies).
What may, of course, upset this narrative this year is what has been known as the Central American migrant crisis, something that looks a bit like the Syrian crisis in Europe. There can be little doubt that the politicization of this ongoing challenge in 2014 contributed to a late GOP surge that helped Rs win a significant number of seats in Congress despite the Administration eventually getting their arms around the crisis. Flows from Central America have begun to tick up again this year. Anticipating that things could become more unsettled here, it would be wise for Democrats to prepare for Trump and his allies, emboldened by Brexit, to rachet up their attacks on Obama's management of the immigration system and the border itself. Democrats need to keep it front of mind that the desire for an orderly immigration system is a reasonable and every day concern for Americans of every backgroud while challenging the Republicans to join us in solving these challenges rather than just playing politics with them every electon year.
………I will have more on our post Brexit politics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, read Rob Shapiro’s smart take on it, and check out my quotes in a major Washington Post piece on it from the Washington Post this weekend. For my previous weekly columns on the 2016 election, visit here.