Does California Hold the Key to Progressive Success?

I recently wrote a piece with Sean McElwee and Will Jordan for The Nation, exploring California as something of the future of the Democratic Party. California offers an incubator of sorts for Democrats; a breeding ground for (1) for progressive policy, (2) for the next generation of democratic leaders and (3) the next Democratic coalition.

An excerpt of that article is below, and you can read the full piece here

California has a funny habit of anticipating national political trends. Celebrity chief executives with no previous political experience who ride name recognition and controversy to victory? Seen it once or twice before. A spate of deregulatory policy leading to exploitation and corruption, culminating in a crisis? California knows something about that. Immigration and shifting demographics that inspire a “whitelash,” and put anti-immigrant populists in power? Been there, done that.

But right now, after producing three Republican presidents, California is at the forefront of progressive policy. Few states have made the Affordable Care Act work as well as California, and none have done as much to tackle climate change. While East Coast states are reliably Democratic, few have had the sort of durable progressive power that Democrats have amassed on the West Coast. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has made major gains in California, flooding the normally low-turnout party caucus elections, and California boasts progressive supermajorities in both chambers of the State Legislature. Compare that to New York, which has a group of Blue Dog Democrats (the Independent Democratic Caucus) who have entered into a power-sharing agreement with Republicans to give them control of the State Senate.

California does all this while electing very diverse representatives—helping out the US Congress in that regard. Of the 94 people of color in the US House, 21 come from California, including recent breakout star but longtime progressive stalwart Maxine Waters. So California accounts for 12 percent of representatives in the House, but 22 percent of people of color.

While California and other Western states represent a viable model of progressive policy, it is dramatically under-discussed in the media and underrepresented in our national political conversation. There has never been a Democratic presidential nominee from California—or any Western state for that matter. The last time any Western state was credibly represented in a Democratic primary was way back in 1992, when Jerry Brown ran against Bill Clinton.

Most progressives know the names Bill De Blasio and Rahm Emanuel, for better or worse—but what of Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles? And most progressives have strong feelings about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but rarely discuss Jerry Brown, Kate Brown, or Jay Inslee. There is an oft-discussed “East Coast bias” in journalism and sports broadcasting, but frankly, the same holds true in American politics today.

Where do Democrats go from here? Look toward “Political Influencers” — who want them to stand up to Trump

Democrats have a new DNC Chair. So now what? 

Bottom line: Tom Perez and the new DNC team have their work cut out for them. But the strength and the fervor of the resistance is real, and has the potential to grow into a full-fledged movement.

To better understand the possibilities for movement-building and explore its implications, Sean McElwee and I tried to quantify just how influential progressives are feeling today, and what they see as their path forward.

The survey was conducted among 988 respondents identified as “Political Influencers.” In short, Political Influencers are hyperactive partisans who exhibit a high level of activism. They are involved in a number of political activities, from more traditional approaches to influencing (i.e., voting or signing a petition) to more committed activities (i.e., participating in a local community group or taking part in a demonstration). As their name implies, Political Influencers are active and outgoing, and pride themselves on being well-informed and up to date. Enabling their influence, this audience likes talking about politics and current affairs with friends, and doesn’t shy away from expressing opinions.

You can read the full article in Salon, but here are the key takeaways: 

1. There are signs that this effort is engaging people who haven’t been actively engaged in politics in the past.

It appears that resistance efforts are indeed drawing new blood into the “Influencer” circle, engaging progressives who haven’t always been as actively involved. Making sure these new Influencers feel like their voice is being heard will be critical. Equally important, there is a recognition among Political Influencers that for change to happen, it must be fought for at all levels of government, including at the state and local level.

2. Political Influencers play an important role in the strength and direction of the resistance effort moving forward. Right now, there is a crisis of confidence in the national party.

While Political Influencers are overwhelmingly planning to vote for and support Democrats heading into 2018, the party has some significant rebuilding ahead. These folks are motivated and taking action, but they don’t see identification with the party as a key way to ensure their voice is being heard. Moving forward, the party needs to ensure these Influencers feel it is speaking and acting in a way that reflects their own voices. Standing up against Trump is the surest way to do so.

3. Progressives need to avoid the missteps of the Tea Party, and right now, they are. But care must be taken to avoid the trap of ideological purity.

The Tea Party’s legislative success has been and remains muted, in part because of its insistence on ideological purity. While these findings suggest that ideological purity may not provide a similar challenge for the left, it is important to learn from the Tea Party’s mistakes.

4. Democrats need to portray themselves as a party that’s willing to fight, and rely on their state and local counterparts to organize resistance efforts.

Political Influencers are desperately seeking a national Democratic operation that acts as a bullhorn for their own voices to be heard. Right now, these Influencers don’t express confidence that the DNC represents their interests, and even fewer believe the party has strong leadership or is on a path toward victory. Bottom line: The work is cut out for this new team that takes the reins at the DNC. In the meantime, Political Influencers recognize the importance of state and local organizing efforts, and are involving themselves at this level. It’s here, at the grassroots, that the rebuilding effort will reap its greatest rewards.

4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election

After an election, introspection is vitally important — and while still early, already underway — but understanding exactly what led to the loss is foundational to understanding how to move forward. So I wrote a little piece for Vox with Sean McElwee, a policy analyst at Demos, and Will Jordan, former elections analyst at YouGov, to look at the effect Comey had on the election, and what it means for us as Democrats moving forward. 

In summation, the historic intervention into the election by James Comey means three major things:

  1. Use caution when drawing lessons from 2016: Academic research will eventually yield important findings, but there is the potential for Democrats to overcorrect following this historic presidential loss. Introspection is important — and while still early, it’s already underway — but understanding exactly what led to the loss is foundational to understanding how to move forward. Lessons should draw from a broader pool of data than the results of the extraordinary 2016 election.
  2. Democrats cannot rely exclusively on the presidency: Democrats must focus down-ballot where the problems are more acute (for instance, failing to run candidates in winnable elections). Because presidential elections are so variable and are so strongly dependent on outside forces, the low-hanging fruit for the Democrats is focusing on organization and mobilization down-ballot.
  3. Something disturbing happened in 2016: Along with the Russian-linked theft and publication of emails from the Clinton campaign and the DNC, the Comey effect is of a different category than the usual investigative reporting or opposition research that campaigns have to contend with. Comey broke a decades-long norm of not intervening in presidential elections. The fact that his interference alone almost certainly swayed an election is indicative of a broader and disturbing breakdown of political norms.

You can read the full analysis here.

Closing out the Democratic primaries

A few weeks about I threw together some thoughts on the "fundamentals" of this Democratic primary election: primarily, demographics. I wrote, in part:

Sanders deserves credit for being able to build a campaign that allowed him to reach his maximum feasible support in the Democratic primary. But fundamentals are that for a reason: you either harness a winning demographic coalition or you find a way to change the demographic makeup of the electorate.

Sanders was not able to do either and that, more than anything to do with the much-hawked “process,” is the reason he is not the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Last night, Hillary Clinton managed dominating wins in New Jersey and California, and with them secured the Democratic nomination.

The biggest delegate prize last night was California. Polls showed the state tightening over recent weeks, and the most recent set of polls all showed Clinton’s lead over Sanders closing to a roughly 2-point margin (It’s a different story all-together, but there’s certainly some evidence to suggest the polling failure in CA was a result of poll herding, defined here.).

Meanwhile, the demographic model I’ve been using this cycle to assess the viability of Bernie Sanders always showed him at a significant demographic disadvantage in the state. In fact, it was predicting an outcome similar to that of the New York primary, which makes sense – it’s a very large, very diverse state (New York, unlike California though, was a closed primary). And indeed, the demographic model was correct – Sanders only managed to get 43% in California, after camping out in the state for the last two weeks.

Sanders Vote Model (final states highlighted in red)

Now that the primary is wrapped up (minus the contest in Washington, DC next week), I wanted to use this as an opportunity to look back at the outcome of the demographic-based model. As a refresher, the model was pretty straight-forward, with state-based predictors including percentages of white men, white women, African Americans, self-identified Democrats, self-identified Liberals, and non-college white voters in the electorate.

In the end, the model incorrectly predicted 4 states: Arkansas, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Missouri. Notably, all four are states that Sanders was modeled to win. On the flip side, there were no states that Clinton was modeled to win that she lost. The average error across all states was -2.65% (which includes Arkansas, where a -22% underperformance by Sanders skews the overall average, and West Virginia, where Sanders vote margin was impacted by protest vote for lower-tier candidates).

What’s notable, as I wrote about last week, is that – relative to the demographic model – Sanders performed the same in later primaries as he did in the earlier primaries. Fundamentally, Sanders maintained his core base of younger, white voters throughout the primary, but was unable to remedy his substantial disadvantages among non-white voters. That’s the lesson on this campaign. 

Hillary Clinton is about to secure the Democratic nomination – and that’s a big fucking deal

Tuesday night, sometime around 9 PM EDT, Hillary Clinton will stand before a crowd at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City and claim the Democratic presidential nomination, prevailing over Senator Bernie Sanders. She will stand victorious in every measurable way – winning a majority of the popular vote, a majority of pledged delegates, and having secured the 2,383 overall delegates needed to be nominated at the convention. In fact, she will stand on the stage and claim the nomination exactly eight years to the day in which she conceded the 2008 Democratic nomination to then Senator Barack Obama.

It was during the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama often uttered a belief that many of us hold dear, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The arc will bend evermore towards justice after Tuesday night.

Hillary Clinton will become the first female major-party nominee for the presidency – and that’s a big fucking deal. It’s a victory that should be embraced not just by Hillary Clinton and her millions of supporters, but by every American out there fighting for a better, fairer, most just society.

Like the nomination of Barack Obama in 2008, this is a historic moment for our country. It’s important that we take a moment to reflect on the monumental fight it took to get here and how much work still left to be done. The nomination of the first female major-party nominee, like the nomination of the first African American major-party nominee eight years ago, is one more step towards ensuring that every American – regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or sexual identity – has the chance to run for and win the highest office in the land. I think too often we tend to pigeonhole or underappreciate the importance of moments like this, when in reality it’s seminal for those still hard at work ensuring the equality of all of our brothers and sisters.

Speaking personally as a gay man, the continued bending of this arc is of no small significance. For me, the progress of the last decade is foundational for our country’s vision of the presidency as more than just a heterosexual white male. I am more confident than ever that in the next few decades we’ll have an LGBT American as a majority-party nominee, and that reality will be made possible in no small part thanks to the ground-breaking nominations of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It’s hard sometimes in the middle of an arguably contentious primary contest to stop and appreciate the importance of a single moment. As this primary comes to a close, unity in the Democratic party won’t happen overnight – nor should it. But we should be proud in this historic moment of the progress we continue to make and in our ability to nominate a woman who will help carry forth the mantle of justice.