The Rainbow Wave Arrived In 2018, And It Will Change Our Politics

I reflect with BuzzFeed on the record number of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who were elected in the 2018 midterms, despite Republican efforts to turn back the clock.

This year, more openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were elected to office than in any previous election, showing continued progress even as Donald Trump and his administration work to curtail rights for LGBTQ Americans.

In an LGBTQ in America survey that my team at Whitman Insight Strategies conducted in 2018 in partnership with BuzzFeed News, we found LGBTQ Americans were especially energized this year, motivated by animus toward Donald Trump’s anti-equality agenda. A full 79% of LGBTQ Americans said the country was headed in the wrong direction, and 72% said the Trump administration was bad on LGBTQ issues. The survey found respondents were not just energized to vote but were donating to campaigns and political organizations, and even running for office themselves.

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

These results, and the findings from the LGBTQ in America survey, suggest that Republicans continue to ignore LGBTQ voters at their own peril. Republicans are not reaching LGBTQ voters or speaking to issues that are important to them. In fact, their efforts at the state and federal levels to push anti-equality legislation have only further alienated this important (and engaged) community of voters. With growing ranks of LGBTQ leadership across America, Democrats are well-positioned to not only win strongly among LGBTQ voters moving forward but continue to mobilize this already engaged voter segment into action.

The Cause the Resistance Cares Most About Is Ending Voter Suppression

A new piece with Sean McElwee for Vice analyzes a recent poll we conducted of more than 400 “political influencers,” showing what the Democratic base is passionate about.

Over the last year, we have conducted a series of surveys in an effort to understand the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs behind the movement-building we have seen among progressives since Trump’s inauguration. The goal initially was to try to quantify just how influential progressives behind this increased engagement are feeling today, and what they see as their path forward.

In our survey, we asked the political influencers we surveyed which three of nearly a dozen issues they would choose as their top priorities. Two of the three top priorities among political influencers were related to restoring and strengthening voting rights.

Expanded voting rights are essential to building trust in democracy, holding politicians accountable, and correcting the racist exclusion that has so long plagued American democracy. But Democrats have another reason to fight for voter rights—it is the single most popular issue among their active base. 

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

The Republican Party has seen the writing on the wall. Its ability to implement a regressive political agenda is significantly curtailed when voters have fair and free access to voting. In response, it has spent millions in a decades-long attempt to make the US less democratic, rather than their policies more popular. It’s up to progressives to take the mantle of voting rights, and aggressively fight for an expansive vision of voting.

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.