From New York:
David Shor on Why Trump Was Good for the GOP and How Dems Can Win in 2022
By Eric Levitz @EricLevitz
… Intelligencer turned to our favorite socialist proponent of ruthlessly poll-driven campaigning, David Shor. A veteran of the 2012 Obama campaign, Shor is currently head of data science at OpenLabs, a progressive nonprofit. We spoke with him last week about how his analysis of the 2020 election has changed since November, what Democrats need to do to keep Congress after 2022, and why he thinks the Trump era was great for the Republican Party (in strictly electoral terms).
Q. What are the most important things you’ve learned about the 2020 election between the last time we spoke and today?
… It really seems like the electorate was slightly more Democratic than it had been in 2016, largely due to demographic change (because there’s such a large partisan gap between younger and older voters, every four years the electorate gets something like 0.4 percent more Democratic just through generational churn). So Trump didn’t exceed expectations by inspiring higher-than-anticipated Republican turnout. He exceeded them mostly through persuasion. A lot of voters changed their minds between 2016 and 2020.
At the subgroup level, Democrats gained somewhere between half a percent to one percent among non-college whites and roughly 7 percent among white college graduates (which is kind of crazy).
Our [Democratic] support among African Americans declined by something like one to 2 percent.
Is Shor talking about a 1 or 2% decline or 1 or 2 percentage points?
And then Hispanic support dropped by 8 to 9 percent.
Trump went from getting killed in blue collar Mexican Van Nuys, CA in 2016 to merely getting trounced there in 2020.
The jury is still out on Asian Americans. We’re waiting on data from California before we say anything. But there’s evidence that there was something like a 5 percent decline in Asian American support for Democrats, likely with a lot of variance among subgroups. There were really big declines in Vietnamese areas, for example.
Looking at the map I posted below of 2016 to 2020 changes in Southern California, it looks like Biden did better than Hillary in Chinese areas. The Vietnamese have hated the Chinese for a couple of thousand years, so Trump’s policy of resistance toward China probably hurt him in Chinese-heavy Arcadia, CA and helped him in Vietnamese-heavy Westminster and Garden Grove. On the other hand, Trump did better in Monterey Park, which is more the new Chinese immigrant’s gateway to the San Gabriel Valley.
Anyway, one implication of these shifts is that education polarization went up and racial polarization went down.
Q. In other words, a voter’s level of educational attainment — whether they had a college degree — became more predictive of which party they voted for in 2020 than it had been in 2016, while a voter’s racial identity became less predictive?
A. Yeah. White voters as a whole trended toward the Democratic Party, and nonwhite voters trended away from us. So we’re now somewhere between 2004 and 2008 in terms of racial polarization. Which is interesting. I don’t think a lot of people expected Donald Trump’s GOP to have a much more diverse support base than Mitt Romney’s did in 2012. But that’s what happened.
Q. Does the available data give us any insight into why? Do you have any sense what was behind the large rightward shift among Hispanic voters?
One important thing to know about the decline in Hispanic support for Democrats is that it was pretty broad. …
But it was notably larger in some places than others. … The Colombian and Venezuelan shifts were huge.
… So I think one natural inference is that the increased salience of socialism in 2020 — with the rise of AOC and the prominence of anti-socialist messaging from the GOP — had something to do with the shift among those groups.
… But white voters are polarized on ideology, while nonwhite voters haven’t been. Something like 80 percent of white conservatives vote for Republicans. But historically, Democrats have won nonwhite conservatives, often by very large margins. What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives.
And so this leads to a question of why. Why did nonwhite voters start sorting more by ideology? And that’s a hard thing to know. But my organization, and our partner organizations, have done extensive post-election surveys of 2020 voters. And we looked specifically at those voters who switched from supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 to Donald Trump in 2020 to see whether anything distinguishes this subgroup in terms of their policy opinions. What we found is that Clinton voters with conservative views on crime, policing, and public safety were far more likely to switch to Trump than voters with less conservative views on those issues. And having conservative views on those issues was more predictive of switching from Clinton to Trump than having conservative views on any other issue-set was.
It’s almost as if the Democrats encouraging
blacks (excuse me, Blacks) to riot didn’t play well with Latinos (excuse me, Latinx).
This lines up pretty well with trends we saw during the campaign. In the summer, following the emergence of “defund the police” as a nationally salient issue, support for Biden among Hispanic voters declined. So I think you can tell this microstory: We raised the salience of an ideologically charged issue that millions of nonwhite voters disagreed with us on. And then, as a result, these conservative Hispanic voters who’d been voting for us despite their ideological inclinations started voting more like conservative whites.
… The decline that we saw was very large. Nine percent or so nationwide, up to 14 or 15 percent in Florida. Roughly one in ten Hispanic voters switched their vote from Clinton to Trump. That is beyond the margin of what can plausibly be changed by investing more in Spanish media. And I don’t think a shift that large can be plausibly attributed to what was said in WhatsApp groups or not buying enough in YouTube ads. I think the problem is more fundamental.
Over the last four years, white liberals have become a larger and larger share of the Democratic Party. There’s a narrative on the left that the Democrats’ growing reliance on college-educated whites is pulling the party to the right (Matt Karp had an essay on this recently). But I think that’s wrong. Highly educated people tend to have more ideologically coherent and extreme views than working-class ones. We see this in issue polling and ideological self-identification. College-educated voters are way less likely to identify as moderate. So as Democrats have traded non-college-educated voters for college-educated ones, white liberals’ share of voice and clout in the Democratic Party has gone up. And since white voters are sorting on ideology more than nonwhite voters, we’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of “racial resentment.” So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.
… White liberals do give more progressive responses across a wide battery of traditional racial resentment questions like, “Do you believe that the reason why African Americans can’t get ahead is due to discrimination or due to other factors?” …
But I think the split on those abstract questions captures something real. In liberal circles, racism has been defined in highly ideological terms. And this theoretical perspective on what racism means and the nature of racial inequality have become a big part of the group identity of college-educated Democrats, white and nonwhite. But it’s not necessarily how most nonwhite, working-class people understand racism.
Q. How do they differ?
A. I don’t think I can answer that comprehensively. But if you look at the concrete questions, white liberals are to the left of Hispanic Democrats, but also of Black Democrats, on defunding the police and those ideological questions about the source of racial inequity.
Regardless, even if a majority of nonwhite people agreed with liberals on all of these issues, the fundamental problem is that Democrats have been relying on the support of roughly 90 percent of Black voters and 70 percent of Hispanic voters. So if Democrats elevate issues or theories that a large minority of nonwhite voters reject, it’s going to be hard to keep those margins. Because these issues are strongly correlated with ideology. And Black conservatives and Hispanic conservatives don’t actually buy into a lot of these intellectual theories of racism. They often have a very different conception of how to help the Black or Hispanic community than liberals do. And I don’t think we can buy our way out of this trade-off. Most voters are not liberals. If we polarize the electorate on ideology — or if nationally prominent Democrats raise the salience of issues that polarize the electorate on ideology — we’re going to lose a lot of votes.
Q. Don’t these ideological self-descriptions carry similar definitional problems as “racial resentment”? Most voters may not identify as liberals. But judging from opinion polls, most voters do reject the lion’s share of the conservative movement’s governing priorities. In Congress, a “conservative” is typically a lawmaker who supports tax cuts for the rich and funding cuts for Medicaid, while opposing a higher minimum wage and another round of stimulus checks. Those are all extremely unpopular positions.
… But there is still a large universe of policy questions — mostly economic but not exclusively — where a large majority of the public agrees with us. A $15 minimum wage polls above 60 percent; that couldn’t happen without a lot of “moderates” and “conservatives” supporting the policy.
… In test after test that we’ve done with Hispanic voters, talking about immigration commonly sparks backlash: Asking voters whether they lean toward Biden and Trump, and then emphasizing the Democratic position on immigration, often caused Biden’s share of support among Latino respondents to decline. Meanwhile, Democratic messaging about investing in schools and jobs tended to move Latino voters away from Trump.
… I mean, Hispanic voters are more liberal on immigration than white voters. But I think that, for one thing, the extent to which Hispanic voters have liberal views on immigration is exaggerated. If you look at, for example, decriminalizing border crossings, that’s not something that a majority of Hispanic voters support. … So I think liberals really essentialize Hispanic voters and project views about immigration onto them that the data just doesn’t support.
Q. We talked a lot about the rightward drift of Hispanic voters in 2020. But the other big change was a leftward shift among college-educated whites. Understanding the cause of that shift seems pretty important. If these college-educated voters were primarily rejecting Donald Trump, Democrats might not be able to count on their support in 2022 and beyond.
A. … In 2016, non-college-educated whites swung roughly 10 percent against the Democratic Party. And then, in 2018, roughly 30 percent of those Obama-Trump voters ended up supporting Democrats down ballot. In 2020, only 10 percent of Obama-Trump voters came home for Biden.
So I think what this shows: There is a long-term trend of increasing education polarization here and in every other country in the West. But the fact that education polarization declined significantly in 2018 — when Trump wasn’t on the ballot — and picked up again in 2020 suggests that Trump is personally responsible for a significant portion of America’s education polarization. I think that there’s a really strong case that this transition was specifically about Donald Trump.
A lot of people theorized that we first alienated Obama-Trump voters during the fight over comprehensive immigration reform and that their rightward movement was already apparent in 2014. But if you actually look at panel data, it seems really clear that these people didn’t start identifying as Republicans until Trump won the GOP nomination. I think there’s a very strong empirical argument that Donald Trump was the main driver of the polarization we’ve seen since 2016. He just personally embodies this large cultural divide between cosmopolitan college-educated voters and a large portion of non-college-educated voters. Those divides take a lot of different forms: attitudes toward race, attitudes toward gender, opinions on what kinds of things you’re allowed to say, or how you should conduct yourself. And you know, as Trump became the nominee, and as the media made politics the Donald Trump Show for the last four years, that led to increasing political polarization on attitudes toward Donald Trump specifically. I think the reason why we saw less education-based voting in 2018 is that Trump was a smaller part of the media environment than he had been in 2016 or would be in 2020.
… And yet, while Trump remained historically unpopular in office, he also helped the GOP increase its structural advantages at every level of government. So I’ve long wondered: Was Donald Trump’s unpopularity with the general public more detrimental to the Republican Party than his gift for deepening education polarization was valuable?
… So Donald Trump is unpopular. And he does pay a penalty for that relative to a generic Republican. But the voters he’s popular with happen to be extremely efficiently distributed in political-geography terms.
I suggested back on November 28, 2000 and again on November 12, 2012 that working class whites in the Great Lakes region happened to be the key swing constituency in the Electoral College. The Republican Establishment (Karl Rove in 2001 and the Autopsy / Gang of Eight in 2013) insisted that the key constituency was pro-immigration Hispanics.
So I think the Trump era has been very good for the Republican Party, even if they now, momentarily, have to accept this very, very, very thin Democratic trifecta. Because if these coalition changes are durable, the GOP has very rosy long-term prospects for dominating America’s federal institutions.
Or maybe the Latinos liked Trump personally more than they will like other Republicans?
The question is: Can they get all of the good parts of Trumpism without the bad parts? And I don’t know the answer to that question. But when I look at the 2020 election, I see that we ran against the most unpopular Republican ever to run for president — and we ran literally the most popular figure in our party whose last name is not Obama — and we only narrowly won the Electoral College. If Biden had done 0.3 percent worse, then Donald Trump would have won reelection with just 48 percent of the two-party vote. We can’t control what Trump or Republicans do. But we can add states, we can ban partisan redistricting, and we can elevate issues that appeal to both college-educated liberals and a lot of working-class “conservatives.” If we don’t, things could get very bleak, very fast.