Wherein an Iowan writes about leftist politics, philosophy, and maybe baseball.
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Robert Caro’s series The Years of Lyndon Johnson sounds like a bad idea for lots of reasons. At a minimum, LBJ seems rather outré. I mean, a white southerner who rose through the ranks of the racist southern Democratic Party of the 1940s and 1950s? Yes, LBJ ushered through important Civil Rights legislation. And then … Continue reading "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" The post The Years of Lyndon Johnson appeared first on Base and...
Robert Caro’s series The Years of Lyndon Johnson sounds like a bad idea for lots of reasons. At a minimum, LBJ seems rather outré. I mean, a white southerner who rose through the ranks of the racist southern Democratic Party of the 1940s and 1950s? Yes, LBJ ushered through important Civil Rights legislation. And then he followed it up by prosecuting the disastrous Vietnam War. To top it off, the Great Man Theory of history went out of style decades ago. Though leftists and liberals disagree on much, it seems they can at least agree that Great White Men ought not drive history so much.
But, despite these concerns, Caro’s project works. I mean, it works. It works really, really well. Let’s take a look at The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
Robert Caro published the first book in the series – The Path to Power – in 1982. Lord knows when he actually started the project. The fifth – and allegedly final – book will appear at some point in the 2020s. We’re talking about a career-long project (though Caro has done other things, too).
What’s so great about it?
Caro tells LBJ’s story within a deeper history of his surroundings. The Path to Power isn’t just about LBJ’s early years. It’s also about the Texas Hill Country where he grew up. Caro moved there for that phase of the project. Means of Ascent isn’t just about LBJ’s rise from liberal New Dealer to conservative Texas Senator. It’s also about southern Democratic politics and the Texas education system. Master of the Senate tells the story of D.C. political culture as much as it does LBJ’s rise to the top. And The Passage of Power is about the power of the presidency and the lack of power of the vice presidency.
More broadly, Caro’s topic in The Years of Lyndon Johnson is political power. He focuses both on the nature of political power and how it operated in the U.S. from the New Deal to the Great Society. LBJ made a useful object of study for those purposes. Those years bookend his political career, and he played a role in both major events – along with many events in-between. And – perhaps more than anyone other than Richard Nixon – LBJ subordinated every aspect of his life to the pursuit and use of political power.
I think anyone in U.S. politics who has read The Years of Lyndon Johnson loved it. But I’ll address the elephant in the room. Robert Caro is 84 years old. He lives in New York, once the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. And Caro takes a long time to research and write books. Each of the previous books in The Years of Lyndon Johnson took 8-12 years to research and write.
Will Caro finish the series? Will he ever publish on the Great Society and the main events of the Vietnam War? Book Five is supposed to be the longest in the series. Given the pace at which Caro typically writes, I’d expect a book to appear around 2024. Caro will turn 88 years old that year.
I suppose we’ll find out.
After more than 2 years and a couple hundred posts, there’s a lot of content here on Base and Superstructure! Occasionally people ask me where they should begin. They want to know what to read first. I’ve got enough anarchist in my political background that it’s a weird question. I think anywhere works. But that’s … Continue reading "FAQ #4: What Should I Read First?" The post FAQ #4: What Should I Read First? appeared first on Base and...
After more than 2 years and a couple hundred posts, there’s a lot of content here on Base and Superstructure! Occasionally people ask me where they should begin. They want to know what to read first.
I’ve got enough anarchist in my political background that it’s a weird question. I think anywhere works. But that’s pretty unhelpful. Posts here cover related issues, and more recent posts build on earlier ones. Later posts where I use words in novel ways might be a bit disorienting to people who didn’t read the earlier ones.
And so, here’s my best recommendation. I’ve used the ‘categories’ function to sort the posts in this blog. I included a category called ‘Foundations‘ for those background posts I repeatedly build upon. Just click ‘Foundations‘ and then start reading from the beginning. Luckily there aren’t too many posts. I think only 7 or 8 at this point. So, it shouldn’t be all that large a reading load.
The Democrats thought they’d do really well in 2020. Many expected a blue wave. In the end, they didn’t do too badly. After all, they won the largest prize – the White House. But they fell well short of lofty expectations. They didn’t get anywhere near the vaunted blue wave. What happened? GOP Turnout and … Continue reading "Why Didn’t the Democrats Get a Blue Wave?" The post Why Didn’t the Democrats Get a Blue Wave? appeared first on Base and...
The Democrats thought they’d do really well in 2020. Many expected a blue wave. In the end, they didn’t do too badly. After all, they won the largest prize – the White House. But they fell well short of lofty expectations. They didn’t get anywhere near the vaunted blue wave.
There’s a quick and easy answer, and it’s that far more Republicans voted than pollsters predicted! For whatever reason, the Republicans voted in much larger numbers than they said they would. The more difficult question is what forces drove them to the polls. Perhaps the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court did the trick. Perhaps the fight over COVID-19 lockdowns did it. Or perhaps it was something else entirely.
I’ve written a couple of recent posts digging into voter demographics. But on this topic, the data tell us that white evangelicals, in particular, voted at high rates. And they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. We might also note that white evangelicals also drove the anti-lockdown and pro-‘herd immunity‘ ‘strategy’ for dealing with COVID-19. Consequently, it looks like this group drove a lot of activity on the political right this year.
As for why all this surprised people – much of the surprise came due to a last minute surge in turnout. The exit poll data I cited above shows most late-deciding voters breaking for Trump. Many people interpret this to mean that undecided voters chose Trump. But I suspect that’s wrong. A better read on it: many Trump backers were undecided about whether to vote at all, and then they decided in favor of voting.
We might draw contrasts between 2020 and past elections. In 2018, the Democratic base turned out in larger numbers than the GOP base. And when Democrats vote in heavier numbers than Republicans (e.g., 2006, 2018), Democrats win big. When the GOP base votes more heavily than Democrats (e.g., 2010, 2014), the GOP wins (sometimes big).
That’s not what happened in 2020. Much like 2012, we saw heavy turnout of both bases. When that happens – again, much like 2012 – Democrats win, but they win more narrowly.
Without the late spike in GOP turnout, Joe Biden would’ve won by more like the 8-10 point margin people (including myself) predicted. He’d have won North Carolina and possibly Florida. And Democrats would’ve taken the Senate and built on their House majority.
Some on the left argue Bernie Sanders would’ve done better. Maybe he’d have gotten the blue wave. Insofar as electoral leftists have an argument (many simply assert it), their thought is that a social democratic platform (Sanders is a social democrat) would propel Democrats to victory by turning out non-voters and winning over people fed up with corporate Democrats.
But – at least in the short-term – it’s highly unlikely any of that is true. In cases where Democrats have tried the strategy, it tends to fail. It’s an attractive strategy, and many would support a social democratic platform. But the electoral left needs to start with deeper organizing and education around the platform before using it to ride a blue wave. In our current political environment, I suspect Sanders would’ve done neither better nor worse than Biden.
For the electoral left, the social democratic route offers promise. But it’s a long-term project rather than the shortcut that groups like the DSA and Jacobin seem to think it is. As I’ve pointed out recently, the DSA/Jacobin shortcut strategy is largely ass-backwards. Social democracy is an outcome of movements, not the driver of them. Those looking to use social democracy as the very first step to socialism will remain sorely disappointed.
Longer-term, here’s the left’s main challenge: to build enough power to create social democracy, and then to turn this all into a movement to build socialism (i.e., rather than the typical letdown that has happened in actual social democracies). It’s a tall order.
After the 2016 election, I wrote a post on the status of white women in Trump’s coalition. Trump landed a surprise win over Hillary Clinton, and many people singled out white women as the key driver. In that previous post, I looked at the evidence and concluded that this is false. White women were not … Continue reading "White Women and Trump, Part 2" The post White Women and Trump, Part 2 appeared first on Base and...
After the 2016 election, I wrote a post on the status of white women in Trump’s coalition. Trump landed a surprise win over Hillary Clinton, and many people singled out white women as the key driver. In that previous post, I looked at the evidence and concluded that this is false. White women were not the key driver of Trump’s win.
White women have been moving toward the GOP for decades. They even moved slightly away from the GOP in 2016. And so, white women were not the decisive factor in Trump’s victory. It was white men who led Trump to victory. Insofar as, e.g., racial justice movements, singled out white women, it was likely because white women made a more attractive target than white men for moral appeals. Not because white women were key to Trump’s base.
With that as our starting point, let’s return to the issue of white women and Trump. How did 2020 go? Did white women vote for Trump again? Did movement in the votes of white women propel Biden to victory?
Let’s take a look at the data (via exit polls). First, here’s how white women voted from 2004 to 2020.
From the column on the right, you can see white women leaned Republican in each of the last five presidential elections. They always do. For a closer look, let’s see how white women compare to the national popular vote.
Here we find something more interesting. The column on the right shows how much more Republican white women lean than the national average. White women became increasingly Republican from 2004 to 2012. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, cut into that margin. She overperformed with white women. Biden, on the other hand, regressed back to previous trends. He did worse than Clinton, performing somewhere between Obama in 2008 and Obama in 2012.
How did Biden regress? Why did white women move away from the GOP in 2016 and then back toward the GOP in 2020?
The answer to these questions depends on why white women moved toward Hillary Clinton in the first place. In my previous post, I offered three possibilities: (a) white women identified with Hillary Clinton as the first woman President and this identification cut across ideological and partisan divisions; (b) Hillary Clinton heavily targeted (college-educated) white women as a part of her campaign; and/or (c) (college-educated) white women wanted to distance themselves from racist and misogynistic Trump supporters.
To make a modest claim, Trump supporters haven’t become less racist and misogynistic in the last four years. So, we can pretty safely rule out (c). (B) also seems unlikely. Biden also targeted white women. If anything, Democrats moved even more toward targeting white women since 2016, particularly college-educated, suburban white woman. And since Biden’s campaign was overall more successful than Clinton’s, it seems unlikely he’d have floundered with this group.
That leaves us with (a). Many white women – especially older, college-educated white women – saw a bit of themselves in Hillary Clinton. They wanted to see the U.S. elect her as the first woman president, and they voted for her to make it happen. Once another old white dude replaced Clinton on the ballot, they reverted to previous voting patterns.
What does all this mean? The next time Democrats try to elect the first woman president, they might land a surge of votes among white women. At least as long as their candidate is white. If they nominate, say, Kamala Harris, I have no idea whether they’ll win those votes.
But this shift in votes won’t last beyond a single election. Without the opportunity to elect the first woman president, white women still look like a Republican-leaning group. Possibly even a heavily Republican-leaning group. Their votes for Clinton didn’t seem to be tied to any particular partisan or ideological commitment. If the GOP nominates, say, Nikki Haley or Kim Reynolds in 2024, Haley or Reynolds might win those same votes.
After an election, people get right down to the business of trying to influence the new administration (or they don’t). One way to do that is to claim to represent some group of voters who ‘delivered’ the election to the winner. And Joe Biden will be no exception to this trend. Indeed, the think pieces … Continue reading "Which Voters Won the Election for Biden?" The post Which Voters Won the Election for Biden? appeared first on Base and...
After an election, people get right down to the business of trying to influence the new administration (or they don’t). One way to do that is to claim to represent some group of voters who ‘delivered’ the election to the winner. And Joe Biden will be no exception to this trend.
Indeed, the think pieces started rolling in as soon as the networks called it for Biden. Bernie Sanders claimed progressives delivered the win, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreed, arguing further that moderate Democrats largely failed. Moderates in turn blamed progressives for their own failures. Many commentators argued Democrats should ‘thank a black woman,’ while some praised Stacey Abrams in particular. And so on.
What should we make of all this? Which voters won the election for Biden?
Here’s how I’m going to answer those questions. I’ll compare the 2020 election results to results from prior elections, especially 2016. And then I’ll look at which groups of voters moved from Republican to Democratic. Good data here should show who proved decisive for Biden’s win, i.e., whose votes changed the outcome from 2016 to 2020.
To get at those votes, I’ll look at exit polls and actual returns. For most of the data, I’ll use numbers from the New York Times (see the caveat at the bottom of the post for notes on the ultimate source for 2020 information). I’ll also use data from CNN where I find the NYT data inadequate or incomplete.
I think it’s a good method, but it’s not perfect. Some groups of voters – particularly young progressives, lower income voters, black voters, et al. – lean Democratic in every election. And so, they remained a large part of Biden’s coalition, even if they didn’t provide the decisive votes. (Of course, they still may have provided the decisive votes anyway. We’ll look at the evidence and find out.)
So, let’s take a look at the evidence. There are lots of groups to work through, so I’ll divide each into a section.
We’ll start with gender and race. Here’s a comparison on gender between 2016 and 2020.
And one on race.
And, finally, the combination of gender and race.
I’ll note here that in each table above, readers should look most closely at the column on the right. That column shows the difference between 2016 and 2020, i.e., the vote that shifted toward (or away from) Democrats. Higher positive numbers here represent the voters who delivered for Biden.
The upshot? Biden did a bit better than Clinton with men. But he especially did better with white men. Why? That’s the question. People who claim misogyny explains why Clinton was so unpopular in 2016 probably see vindication in these numbers.
On the other hand, Biden did worse than Clinton with everyone except white men. These data clearly count against explanations citing black women as the key demographic delivering for Biden. But the same data point to increased turnout of young voters – especially women – in Georgia. And so, the ‘Stacey Abrams’ thesis fares better than the more general ‘thank black women’ thesis. But not too much better. Even in Georgia, Biden bested Clinton primarily among white men. Abrams likely impacted turnout far more than voter choice.
Let’s move on to age. Here’s the same comparison.
Biden greatly improved on Clinton’s performance with young voters, despite the fact that Democrats almost always win the group. This lends some support to Bernie Sanders and AOC. But Biden also improved with voters age 45-64 (and, to a lesser extent, 65+), a more difficult demographic for Democrats. This in turn lends some support to moderate Democrats like Conor Lamb. The debate between moderates and progressives, then, might be a wash.
The data on income are potentially more interesting than what we find on age. In particular, we find much larger differences between 2016 and 2020. Let’s take a look at two tables. The first divides voters into three income bands, while the second divides voters into five. I’ve added some handy exclamation points to show the largest differences.
Two things stand out here. First, Biden greatly improved over Clinton with voters making $50,000-100,000 per year. He also improved a fair bit with voters making between $30,000 and $50,000. On the best definitions we have available, these are working-class voters.
Second, Biden did much worse than Clinton with voters making $100,000 or more per year, but especially voters making between $100,000 and $200,000. (Voters who make more than $200,000 appear to mostly not care who wins elections.) While we can speculate in various ways, it’s likely many of the voters in the 100-200k camp benefited from Trump’s tax cuts.
Based on a comparison between the 2020 exit polls to prior exit polls, the key groups who delivered the election to Biden are: men, specifically white men, specifically ones age 45-70, specifically ones who haven’t graduated from college. In addition to white men, working-class voters and young progressives played a noticeable role. These are the voters who delivered the election to Biden.
In case it’s not clear by now, I think all the perspectives I outlined at the beginning of this article are based on self-serving, motivated reasoning. The people I cited aren’t looking carefully at the evidence and answering the question in the heading of this post honestly. Conveniently, all of them attribute Biden’s win to some group of voters they (purport to) represent or value.
That’s not such a great way to answer the question. When we set the self-serving claims aside, we can draw some reasonably clear inferences.
Of course, everything I’ve written here assumes the exit polls are (reasonably) accurate. As far as I can tell, they are. But – for anyone living on Mars – we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Polling companies struggled mightily with exit polling this year, given the large number of people who voted by mail or otherwise voted early.
In fact, there were two exit polls in 2020. One by Edison Research and another by the AP. I’ve chosen to use the Edison numbers for 2020 because the AP numbers appear to have obvious flaws. But even Edison’s numbers leave me with less confidence than exit polling from 2016 and previous election cycles.
And so, the things I’ve written here are only as good as the numbers they’re based on. But anyone going against the numbers needs to provide evidence or broader reasoning. And that evidence or reasoning needs to move beyond the anecdotal.
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