SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2020
Again with the latest headcounts: For today, we'll recommend a new colloquy between New York magazine's Eric Levitz and Democratic number-cruncher David Shor.
Levitz offers a brief introduction to the lengthy discussion. Once again, we're prepared to explain the highlighted observation:
LEVITZ (11/13/20): Barring an unlikely triumph in Georgia’s Senate runoffs in January, the 2020 election will go down as a down-ballot disaster for the Democratic Party. Even as Biden won the popular vote by as much as five points, Democrats saw their House majority shrink, most of their top Senate challengers fall flat, and their attempts to flip state legislatures come up empty. What’s worse, these losses appear attributable to trends that raise ominous questions about the party’s electoral prospects going forward: The most xenophobic Republican president in modern memory made large gains with Latino voters, while white rural America continued its steady rightward march. Most Democrats weren’t prepared for these disappointments.
Once again, the question arises. If Biden won the popular vote by as much as five points, why did Democrats see their House majority shrink?
As we noted at the start of the week, this doesn't seem like much of a mystery. Here's the breakdown of the electorate in 2018—the electorate which gave Dems 235 House seats:
Total votes, nationwide, 2018 House elections:
Democrats: 60,572,245 (53.4%)Republicans: 50,861,970 (44.8%)
Biden may end up defeating Trump by as much as five points. But the 2018 electorate favored Dems by almost nine points—by roughly 8.6!
(In a president's initial off-year election, it's typical for the opposition party to turn out more heavily than the president's party.)
In short, the Dems had a larger turnout advantage last time around. We don't know why it should be surprising to see that this year's electorate gave Democrats fewer House seats.
Dems keep winning the popular vote in national elections. That said, a lot of the Democratic vote is "wasted" in super-majority California and in overwhelmingly Democratic House districts.
Meanwhile, our cockeyed system of "Senate math" vastly favors the GOP. Also, we have the basic fact Kevin Drum recently cited:
There are a lot of conservatives out there! Whatever such fuzzy terms might mean, self-identified conservatives tend to outnumber self-identified liberals by a substantial margin.
You go to the polls with the electorate you have. It's also true that Democrats face several significant structural disadvantages. These basic facts can't be wished away, not even by giants like us.
Shor identifies as a socialist, but he has also looked at the numbers (and looked and looked and looked). Here's the final Q-and-A, vastly edited down:
LEVITZ: [A]ssuming you still identify as a socialist—what does that identification mean to you? And do you think that your empirical analysis of how politics works today is compatible with a belief in the possibility of socialism’s realization at some distant future date?
SHOR: I still identify as a socialist. I think there’s a lot of academic arguments that we can have. But like I said, when you look at all the popular things that are out there, there’s a lot we can do. And it’s true that not being able to pass large middle-class tax increases is a big constraint. It means we can’t re-create Sweden, definitely can’t re-create things past Sweden. But I think that pretending that these very real political constraints don’t exist does not accomplish anything.
...And you can’t just switch off cultural conservatism or pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Shor identifies as a socialist, but he says we can't pretend that The Others don't exist! Where does he get these ideas?
People with conservative views have every right to hold them. Our tribe is strongly inclined to "otherize" these people, in ways which can get ugly and dumb.
Politically, this probably isn't especially helpful. But our species has always been like this, and we don't seem inclined to move beyond our basic wiring.
Concerning the brilliance we tend to ascribe to ourselves:
A five-point advantage is less than nine. This seems like an obvious point, but we can't seem to puzzle it out!