The Democratic Party's Strong 2023 Electoral Performances Matter - A Lot
Dem Overperformance We Saw in 2022 Has Continued Throughout 2023
Perhaps the central reason Tom Bonier and I (with help from Joe Trippi too) got the 2022 election right when so many got it so incredibly wrong was we looked at data available to us beyond polling. We looked at the strong Democratic performance in 5 House special elections post Dobbs; the big win in the Kansas ballot initiative; huge Democratic candidate fundraising advantages in battleground states and districts; dramatically improved voter reg numbers across the US; and strong, perhaps historically strong, performance in the early vote.
All this data, in the months after Dobbs, pointed in the same direction - heightened Democratic intensity, missing GOP intensity, and a close competitive election and not a red wave. And that is the election we got. In the battleground states we actually improved over Biden’s 2020 performance in AZ, CO, GA, MI, MN, NH and PA. We got to 59% in CO, 57% in PA, 55% in MI, 54% in NH. In places where the elections really mattered Democrats outpeformed our 2020 results, sometimes by an awful lot, again and again. The battleground results looked like the results in those 5 House special elections post Dobbs where Democratic candidates outperformed 2020 by an average of 7 points. This heightened performance in these specials told us a great deal about the election to come.
Members of this community have heard me say that this post-Dobbs intensity we saw in 2022 has carried over to the elections this year. We took away the WI Supreme Court seat, getting to 56% and winning in a blowout. We took away two Republican cities - Colorado Springs and Jacksonville. We got 57% in Ohio last month - an extraordinary achievement. Taken together, this is all very encouraging, and to me, this data matters much more than polls paid for by Rupert Murdoch or what is clearly an outlier (CNN). We are having another very good year.
In the past few days I’ve come across additional data about our 2023 performance I want to share with you. A Harvard grad student Brent Peabody shared this DailyKos table below which finds that in 23 special elections this year Democrats are outperforming 2020 by an average of 8 points.
And then I found this 538 analysis, Democrats Are Overperforming in 2023’s Specials: Is It A Clue for Biden vs Trump?
An analysis from FiveThirtyEight found that in 38 special elections held so far this year, Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean -- or the relative liberal or conservative history -- of the areas where the races were held by an average of 10%, both romping in parts of the country that typically support the party while cutting down on GOP margins in red cities and counties, too.
For instance, the Democratic candidate in a Wisconsin State Assembly special election last month lost by just 7 points in an area where Republicans have a 22-point edge and where Trump beat Biden by almost 17 points in 2020.
In a New Hampshire special election in May for a state House seat, the Democrat won by 43 points, far beyond the party's estimated 23-point edge in the district.
The data from FiveThirtyEight does not include regularly scheduled off-year elections, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court race earlier this year in which the liberal candidate, now-Justice Janet Protasiewicz, won by 11 points -- in a state famous for its wafer-thin election margins.
"I think when you when you look at things like this, one special election doesn't mean much on its own. But when you start to see real consistency, it can certainly become predictive of the next election cycle," said Ben Nuckels, a Wisconsin Democratic strategist who consulted on Protasiewicz's campaign.
For comparison, according to FiveThirtyEight, Democrats outperformed the weighted partisan lean by about 4% in special elections held between the 2018 midterms and the 2020 elections, when Biden won the White House by 4.5%
It goes on…..
similar elections held in 2017 and 2019 did precede Democratic successes in 2018 and 2020.
"I think what we're seeing is that the Dobbs decision [on abortion] has fundamentally rewired our politics, and almost every other measure than actual votes cast has yet to figure out how to bake that in. And so, whether you're talking about traditional approval ratings, whether you're talking about polling, the ground has shifted," said Wisconsin Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.
"Almost all of these elections keep ending up different than what you would have expected -- in the same direction. And so, that, to me, suggests that there's some stickiness to this," he added. "And the only thing that might change it is clarity on this issue, something like a federal codification of [abortion rights]. And you and I both know we're not going to see that between now and next November."
Republican operatives also sounded some alarm, telling ABC News the trend cannot be ignored.
"If you're looking at this plus-22 [pro-GOP] seat and you want to know why this guy won by a lot smaller percentage than what you would have thought ... it's because this issue is still there. Republicans still have to figure out how to address the abortion issue," said Wisconsin GOP strategist Brandon Scholz.
"I think you have to be very concerned."
Here is how Ron Brownstein wrote about what we are seeing here in a recent CNN article:
Simon Rosenberg, the long-time Democratic strategist who was proven right as the most prominent public skeptic of the “red wave” theory in 2022, argues that Trump, in particular, is unlikely to match his 47% of the vote from 2020 if the GOP nominates him again. “We are starting at a place where it is far more likely in my mind that he gets to 45% than he gets to 49%,” Rosenberg said. “And if he gets to 45%, we have the opportunity to get up to 55%. The key for Democrats is we have to imagine growing and expanding our coalition for it to happen.”
Beyond the personal doubts about Trump among voters outside the GOP coalition, Democrats such as Rosenberg and Anzalone see several other factors that give Biden a chance to widen his winning margin from the last election. Perhaps the most important of those are the slowdown in inflation, continued strength of the job market, and signs of accelerating recovery in the stock market – all of which are already stirring some gains in consumer confidence. Democrats are encouraged as well by recent declines in the number of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the Southern border and the crime rate in big cities – two issues on which polls show substantial disappointment in Biden’s performance.
Another change since 2020 is the broad public backlash, especially in Democratic-leaning and swing states, against the 2022 Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to abortion, which Trump has directly claimed credit for engineering through his nominations to the court. Finally, compared to 2020, the electorate in 2024 will likely include significantly more young people in Generation Z, a group that is preponderantly supporting Democrats, and fewer Whites without a college degree, now the GOP’s best group.
All of these factors, Rosenberg said, create “an opportunity” for Democrats to amass a bigger majority next year than most consider possible. But to get there, he argues, the party will need to think bigger, particularly in its efforts to mobilize younger voters aging into the electorate. “It’s a man on the moon kind of mindset,” Rosenberg said. “We have to want to go there to get there. We have to build a strategy to take away political real estate from the Republicans because they are giving us the opportunity to take it away from them.”
Many Republican strategists privately agree that the combined effect of the January 6 insurrection and the court’s abortion decision will make it difficult for Trump to expand his support from 2020 if the GOP nominates him again.
So we are outperforming 2020 and partisan lean by high single digits in race after race across the US this year. The data is consistent, and all pointing in the same direction. In 2020 these kind of results came pretty close to predicting the final outcome of the Presidential election. In 2022 these post Dobb special results, and Kansas, strongly indicated it was Democrats who had intensity, not Republicans. We are seeing similar results throughout the US this year - 10 points above partisan lean in 38 specials! It’s very very encouraging.
To get to “the red wave was coming” last year you had to believe that voters who had just voted heavily against MAGA in 2018 and 2020 were running back into Republican arms despite the efforts of the GOP to end American democracy and Dobbs/abortion extremism. It was never a likely outcome. And what we learned was that despite high inflation and low Biden approval there was a force in the electorate that was more powerful than either of these concerns - fear of and opposition to MAGA. This issue drove 2018 and 2020, drove the outcome of 2022, and is almost certainly going to drive the outcome in 2024 as MAGA is far more dangerous and radical than it was in 2020 and 2022. While the national media doesn’t adequately acknowledge what has happened to the GOP, and what a threat it has become, voters understand, and keep voting accordingly. As they should, by the way, for the threat of MAGA is the most important issue in American politics today.
Since the 2020 Presidential election which they lost by 4.5 points the Republican Party has done two historically terrible things, each of which could keep the party out of power for years/decades - a party wide effort to overturn and election and end American democracy and the ending of Roe/abortion extremism. Either one of these things could be fatal to the GOP’s chances next year, and they have done both. It’s a big fucking problem for them, as the GOP consultants echo in both the 538 and Brownstein stories above.
Meanwhile Joe Biden has been a good President. The country is better off. We have made historic investments which will create American prosperity for a generation. Restored America’s global leadership on climate change. Re-energized the West, bloodied Putin, seen Xi begin to stumble. We have a powerful story to tell. They have Trump, insurrection, ongoing betrayals of the country and Dobbs.
Can we get to 55 next year, win the election by high single digits as we’ve been doing across the US this year, and make this election a clear repudiation of MAGA? I think we can. I’m increasingly of the belief that what happens next year is really up to us, and having spent so much time with all of you - proud patriots who love your country and are not letting your democracy slip away - I have faith, Hopium even, that we can make this next election the election we all want it to be. But only if we put our heads down and keep doing the work.
Keep working hard all - Simon
The Election Data I Am Focused On
Democrats have averaged 51% of the vote over the last 4 Presidential elections, our best showing over 4 Presidential elections since FDR’s Presidency.
Democrats have won more votes in 7 of the last 8 Presidential elections, the best popular vote run of any political party in US history.
In a “red wave” year, 2022, Democrats gained ground from 2020 in 7 key battlegrounds: AZ, CO, GA, MI, MN, NH, PA. We also picked up 4 state legislative chambers, 2 governorships, and 1 US Senate seat. As we’ve written 2022 was not a single nationalized election, but really two elections - a bluer election in the battleground where we gained, and a redder election outside where we did not. We’ve seen this strong Dem performance continue into 2023 with impressive wins in CO, FL, OH, PA and WI. A recent 538 analysis finds Dems outperforming the partisan lean in districts this year by an average of 10 points in 38 special elections across the US - this is a big deal, and similar to what we saw post Dobbs in 2022.
Democrats are having their best run in the Southwest since the 1940s and 50s. In 2004 Bush won AZ, CO, NM, NV, Rs controlled 5 of their 8 Senate seats, 14 of their 21 House seats. In 2020 Biden was the first Democratic President to win all 4 of these states in a single election since FDR. Today Rs control none of those 8 Senate seats and we control 14 of 24 House seats there.
Can we get to 55% nationally in 2024? I think so.