Hint: it’s not Joe Biden…
Democrats are concerned about electability. Poll after poll shows that Democrats care about one issue above all others: whether their nominee can defeat Donald Trump.
This is a change from the past. Frankly, I think this change is long overdue. For many years, I have believed that Democrats’ have been cavalier about the damage a Republican President can do to America, and now we are paying the price. The decimation of unions and widespread inequality can be laid at the feet of the Democrats and their ability to repeatedly engage in the circular firing squad.
But the horror show that is the Trump presidency has finally convinced most Democrats that winning matters. Hurt feelings and ideological purity must be set aside in the interest of saving America. It’s better to get 90% of the loaf rather than having the entire loaf taken from us and eaten by the top 1%.
The next President is going to have an economic mess to clean up
Trump does deserve credit for the economy… now that it’s starting to go south
The perception of electability, combined with name recognition, is what has driven Joe Biden’s strong polling numbers so far. I have long predicted that Biden’s support would rapidly start deteriorate. He is a historically undisciplined candidate who is unready for this campaign. Yes, he currently has a positive favorability rating, but as recently as the summer of 2014, he had a net negative rating (39–42). At the time, Hillary Clinton had a very strong positive rating (53–42).
The reason Biden didn’t run in 2016 was because Clinton looked unbeatable, and he looked weak. So much for predictions.
Currently, Biden’s numbers are in free fall. A recent poll in Iowa had him coming in third place — behind Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. He led that same poll by 25 points. Indeed, to say his campaign is in free fall is not an exaggeration.
The smart money will start fleeing his campaign, as shown by Harris’s fundraising haul of over $2 million the day after she attacked Biden at the debate. This is especially significant considering the fact that her fundraising had been foundering in the months leading up to the debate. The sinking ship syndrome will only expedite Biden’s free fall.
Bernie Sanders, one of the other early leaders has also seen his campaign founder. In that recent Iowa poll I mentioned above, Sanders was at fourth place, with only 12% support compared to Warren at 20% and Harris at 19%. Remember that in 2016, Sanders nearly won Iowa, proving that he was a credible alternative to Clinton.
Indeed, it is evident that much of Sanders’s 2016 support was based upon the fact that he was not Hillary Clinton. FiveThirtyEight has identified eight of the 23 states he won as states he would have lost without the neverHillary sentiment. Obviously, this year, he no longer has Hillary as a foil.
So just who is electable, then? Right now, the hot candidates seem to be Warren, who has run a near flawless campaign, Harris, who emerged as the clear winner of the first debates, and Buttitieg, who has built an impressive fundraising operation. Any one of them has shown that they have the wherewithal to win the nomination, but any one of the three can be attacked as unelectable.
After all, Warren has been compared to Hillary, and her handling of her DNA test was laughable. Harris has yet to develop a message. And Buttitieg is still the youthful mayor of a small midwestern city.
So let’s set aside the unquantifiable determinants of electability. As Patrick Murray, who runs the well-respected Monmouth University poll said, “electability is in the eye of the beholder.”
To determine who is electable, let’s look at the last Democrat to win the Presidency to learn from his example. Barack Obama won more than 50% of the popular vote and the electoral college in 2008 and 2012, the first Democrat to accomplish that level of success since Franklin Roosevelt. Only Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson have accomplished that goal even once in the last century. As a result, we need to learn from Obama’s election.
To be sure, Obama ran a great campaign, was a great candidate, and did many things right. But so did many other candidates who did not achieve what he did. What made him special? I would argue it was the fact that he was not a white man.
Consider the following. The only election in history where a racial group voted at as high a level of turnout as white people was 2012, when African-Americans turned out at a 66.6% rate. In 2008, black turnout matched white turnout. Clearly, this turnout had a critical impact upon the election results.
Evidence of the importance of turnout was the fact that Romney and his campaign thought they had won in 2012. The reason for this optimism is that they did not believe African-American turnout would be as high as it was in 2008. In fact, it was higher. A change in turnout can make a big difference in how you interpret your polling data, and that is what mislead Romney.
Note that in 2016, black turnout fell by 6 points, with white turnout once again beating that of all other ethnic groups.
The lesson? African-Americans turn out when one of their own is on the ballot. And they turn out in sufficient numbers to make a difference.
Apparently white Democratic voters turn out at a pretty consistent rate in Presidential elections. The difference is made by a surge of an ethnic group backing one of their own.
This is not to say that African-Americans are the only group for whom turnout changes when one of their own tops the ballot. Indeed, other ethnic groups like Asians and Hispanics have a lot more room to grow since their turnout trails far behind that of African-Americans. Similarly, is it possible that the LGBT community would come out in higher numbers if someone like Buttitieg is on the ballot. All we can say for sure, based upon past experience, is that the African-American community does, and women don’t.
What’s the lesson of this. Certainly, it is that the last candidate Democrats should be backing is another white straight male like Biden or Sanders.
Arguably, the ethnic background of Harris, Corey Booker and Wayne Messam should give them an advantage. Of the three, only Harris has emerged as one of the key players in the race, although things can still change.
Similarly, could Julian Castro help turn out Hispanics? Could Andrew Yang drive up Asian turnout? Could Buttitieg help drive up LGBT turnout? On that question, there is less evidence to support the electability argument, and of those candidates, only Buttitieg has emerged in the top tier.
Finally, this is not to say that a white Democrat cannot defeat Trump. Indeed, in the Alabama special election of Doug Jones, we saw that Trump’s negatives can help drive Democratic turnout, even among African-Americans, even if a black person is not on the ballot.
However, given the evidence, a straight white male should not be viewed as more electable just because. In fact, the evidence indicates that it should be a liability in that calculation.
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