100 Days Out

Clearly the stage is set for a Blue Wave, but the environment can change, and there is much work to do to bring it to the highest crest and sweep away conservatives at every level.

This Sunday, July 29, will mark 100 days until perhaps the most consequential midterm in our nation’s history. Control of Congress hangs in the balance, and state-level elections will be critical to reversing conservatives’ decade of dominance in the final midterm before redistricting. Recent events — from the Trump administration’s inhumane policies to the nomination of another extreme conservative to the Supreme Court– have only made clearer the enormous stakes for the future of American democracy.

The Story So Far…

History regularly favors the insurgent party out of the White House in midterms, and President Trump’s approval ratings are very low. Trump’s support has stayed stubbornly in the low 40s, bolstered only by near-universal GOP approval while the majority of Americans consistently and intensely disapprove of his performance. Trump’s disapproval has stayed above 50 percent since his second month in office, an unprecedented level of disapproval for a first term president.

When voters have gone to the polls throughout the Trump era, the results have been near uniformly encouraging for progressives. Through nearly 120 legislative and congressional special elections in red, blue and purple districts across every region, Democratic candidates have over-performed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run by an average of 11 points. A total of 46 state and federal seats have flipped from red to blue thus far.

Democrats’ turnout advantage has continued throughout this year’s primaries. At least 123 congressional districts have seen an increase in Democratic vote share over the previous midterm in 2014, compared to a Republican increase in only 19 seats, another indicator of lagging enthusiasm on the GOP side.

Clearly the stage is set for a Blue Wave, but the environment can change, and there is much work to do to bring it to the highest crest and sweep away conservatives at every level. Progressive campaigns must focus on the following priorities over the next 100 days to deliver the resounding victories needed at every level to change the course of states and of the country:

Women = Wavemakers

Continued intensity of women voters’ opposition to President Trump, and their high levels of turnout and support for progressive candidates, is perhaps the most important factor in building a 2018 wave. Women are driving the resistance to Trump across racial, socio-economic and party lines.

Nonincumbent women candidates across the board are making a splash in 2018 congressional primaries, with 48 percent of them either winning their primaries outright or advancing to runoffs as of June 1. Eighty percent of these women are Democrats. Only 23 percent of nonincumbent male candidates have done the same.

Women — especially women of color — have propelled progressive candidates to victory throughout the Trump era. In last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race, for instance, women voted overwhelming Democratic — and black women in particular voted Democratic at a rate of more than nine to one. It’s clear that women both on the ballot and at the polls will have the power to change the course of this year’s elections and will be a crucial factor toward building a wave.

Enthusiasm: Ours & Theirs

Maintaining the enthusiasm gap seen consistently over the past year is also crucial to building the wave. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has consistently tracked enthusiasm over multiple elections, and their June and July polls found a stark 16-point gap in “high level of interest” between Democratic and GOP voters — 63–47 percent in June; 65–49 percent in July.

Further, a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll found 58 percent of Democrats say it is “extremely” important to vote in 2018, compared to just 38 percent of Republicans, although the gap between Democratic and GOP voter intensity was narrower (59 to 46 percent) in battleground districts.

As the final march towards Election Day unfolds, progressive campaigns must focus on how they can maintain this enthusiasm and boost the election engagement of the critical youth and Latinx communities (see below). The parties’ intensity gap was an indicator of waves in the last three midterm elections and should be closely monitored into November.

Engaging and Mobilizing Latinx and Youth Voters

Well-resourced turnout efforts through the community-based organizations most credible in engaging under-represented communities on their stake in voting are absolutely critical to reshaping the midterm electorate over the next 100 days.

An area for concern and high priority is engagement of Latinx and youth voters. While analyses of 2017 elections and current polling show higher turnout and enthusiasm among women and African-American voters, similar boosts are not seen so far among Latinx and youth. The June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Hispanic and young voter enthusiasm lowest among all subgroups, at 43 and 30 percent, respectively. And a voter file analysis of Virginia’s 2017 election found that only 10 percent of the electorate was age 18–29, far below the 14 percent erroneously reported in exit polls.

According to the Center for American Progress, in the 2016 election, fewer than one in three Latinx voters had any election-related contact ahead of Election Day, compared to nearly half of white voters. Young Americans are Trump’s staunchest generational opposition, but he won’t be held accountable if they opt-out of the midterm. in 2014, youth turnout fell to historic lows of 20 percent, while nearly 60 percent of those above age 60 voted.

To build the wave in 2018 and sustain change into the next decade, we simply must do better to engage these communities in a meaningful conversation about their stake in voting and grow the electorate to be more reflective of America going forward.

Balancing Act: Huge Priorities from Congress to States

With such high stakes and so many opportunities in November, an imperative for progressive campaigns, organizations and funders is to balance programs and investments in winning power in Congress with winning power from conservatives at the state level in the final midterm prior to redistricting.

These are all huge priorities… and so is the 2018 map, which spans Senate Democrats running for re-election in some very red states to mega-states like California, Illinois, New York and Texas where control of the U.S. House will be heavily determined. At the state level, many of the top priorities for post-2020 redistricting control are in heavily gerrymandered battleground states like Ohio and Wisconsin that will likely have fewer top-tier congressional races.

Republicans now control every single lever of power. Progressives’ measure of success in 2018 must be how much of that power is won back, at every level, on November 6.

Progressives will need to be strategic in balancing the near-term imperative of winning at least one chamber of Congress with long-term imperative of winning power in the states prior to redistricting. One effective strategy will be emphasizing “layered targeting” of congressional districts overlapping key legislative districts for control of state chambers, such as Florida-26, Michigan-11 and Pennsylvania-7.

Additionally, several states will have critical ballot measures for voting rights and democracy this fall, including enacting proactive voting and redistricting reform measures in states like Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Nevada, and defeating several suppressive measures referred by North Carolina Republicans seeking to rig democracy in their state.

After 2008, Democrats controlled every lever of American power — from the White House to Congress to a majority of governors, legislatures and every state constitutional office. The 2010 midterm swept most of that power away, and the GOP has sustained and grown power through 2016. Republicans now control every single lever of power. Progressives’ measure of success in 2018 must be how much of that power is won back, at every level, on November 6.