October 13, 2019 📊 Elizabeth Warren is a coalition-builder

Plus, tax rates for the wealthy hit new lows; Independents don't like Democrats running to the left; and Texas: is it purple?

Welcome! I’m G. Elliott Morris, data journalist for The Economist and blogger of polls, elections, and political science. Happy Sunday! This is my weekly email where I write about politics using data and share links to what I’ve been reading and writing. Thoughts? Drop me a line (or just respond to this email). 


Dear Reader,

I am back from a trip to Texas and slight work overload and boy oh boy have I missed the Substack CMS. Let’s talk 2020 in this week’s extra-long email newsletter.

This week’s main read: Elizabeth Warren has taken a marginal lead in 2020 Democratic primary polling. But once you take a look under the hood, this development is not as surprising as some would make it seem. Democrats do not think that Warren is the fringe lefty that some have painted her to be.

Plus, some links: billionaires are paying the lowest tax rate ever; an experiment shows how Independents might react to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift (operative word: “might”); and Texas is not the crimson-red state it once was, but it’s probably still magenta.

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—Elliott


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This Week's Main Read

Elizabeth Warren is a coalition candidate

Democrats do not think the senator from Massachusetts is the fringe lefty some say she is

Image: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images; BuzzFeed News

Elizabeth Warren now “leads” Joe Biden in The Economist’s aggregate of 2020 Democratic primary polls (I put “leads” in scare quotes because they’re still within the margin of error with each other), the first time this cycle that the vice-president has been dethroned:

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.31.01 PM.png

How has Ms Warren taken the lead in the race? The senator’s prolonged and steady rise in the polls looks due to her ability to appeal to a variety of groups in the Democratic Party, despite what other analysts have said about her having little appeal outside of the far-left. (Maybe this is yet another reminder that the primary is in flux and you shouldn’t make strong argument based on temporally-dependent data?)

I have three main pieces of evidence to back up my argument. First, Warren is popular among a variety of demographic groups. While it is true that her support is focused among college-educated whites (see below), it is by no means limited to them. Whites without a college degree have recently come to embrace the senator over other candidates, as seen in the following graphic from The Economist’s 2020 interactive. She has also made gains among black and Hispanic voters without college degrees.

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.38.08 PM.png

Warren is also popular among voters both in cities and in rural areas:

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.39.20 PM.png

And those from richer and poorer income brackets:

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.39.25 PM.png

While Warren’s support is certainly driven by liberals, it is not limited to them. Warren does second-best among self-identified “moderate” Democrats, though she does struggle with conservatives:

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.40.48 PM.png

Warren’s status as a coalition builder is also evident in her support among Democrats who voted both for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. That she is popular with both groups—her combined support among them is higher than any other candidates’s—means her appeal is not limited to some section of the party:

Though the data can’t say for sure, this is all perhaps because voters view her as a center-left candidate, not a radically-leftish one. In a September Los Angeles Times poll, voters said was Warren was just barely further from the median Democrat than Joe Biden was:

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 1.47.33 PM.png

Maybe voters see Warren as more of a technocratic reformer than someone who will upend the current economic system. Since she has openly embraced capitalism and disavowed democratic socialism, this makes sense. But I’m only speculating here.

Once you take this all into account—the (1) broad appeal across demographic groups, (2) lack of 2016 primary cutting lines and (3) aura of centrism—it makes sense why Elizabeth Warren is currently favored to win the Democratic nomination. Though she may not be the front-runner forever, it’s clear that she is not the fringe lefty that some people have said she is. (Or, technically, maybe she is—but either way, Democrats don’t seem to think so.)

Where do we go from here? Consider that Elizabeth Warren is the most popular option among voters who are considering all the other leading candidates. Given this, I bet that Warren will consider her rise:


And now, some of the stuff that I read (and wrote) over the last week.


Posts for subscribers:


Political Data

From me for The Economist:Texas won’t go blue: Why the second-most-populous state is unlikely to turn Democratic in 2020”

Texas was 13 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in the 2018 House mid-terms. That is a lot to overcome, especially with Republican voters returning to the polls in 2020.

We reckon a Democratic presidential candidate would have to perform nine percentage points better in Texas than Mrs Clinton did in 2016 in order to win. According to data from Civiqs, a pollster, the president’s net approval rating is still positive in the state. It will take a lot of votes to close the gap. Drew Galloway, move Texas’s executive director, predicts that Democrats would need to register 500,000 new voters to make the state a true toss-up. Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, says that only 160,000 new Democrats voted in 2018 compared with 2016.

Alexander Agadjanian (The Upshot): “What Democrats Could Lose With Their Left Turn”

When deciding between Mr. Trump and the Democratic nominee, voters in the middle — the independents who could ultimately tilt things in Mr. Trump’s favor — became six percentage points less likely to vote Democratic after reading about the leftward turn compared with the independents who had read the innocuous content. [….]

At the same time, playing to the Democratic base seems to have its limits, with no evidence suggestive of mobilization potential. Democrats who read about the leftward positionsdid not indicate they were more motivated to vote and campaign for the eventual nominee than those who hadn’t read about them. 

Mark Blumenthal (FiveThirtyEight): “How A Big Enough News Story — Like Impeachment — Could Warp The Polls”

During the 2016 campaign, YouGov found Trump’s supporters were less likely than Hillary Clinton supporters to participate in panel reinterviews conducted just after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Finally, during the 2018 midterms, following the nationally televised congressional hearing in which Christine Blasey Ford leveled accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, who was then a Supreme Court nominee, we saw something similar in the polling I helped conduct at SurveyMonkey.

The survey completion rate jumped 3 percentage points among those who expressed approval of Trump while remaining essentially flat among those who expressed disapproval. The changes in completion rate among Trump approvers vs. disapprovers increased the share of self-identified Republicans and conservatives, non-college-educated women and respondents in rural ZIP codes in our unweighted data.


Other Data and Cool Stuff

Christopher Ingraham (The Washington Post): “For the first time in history, U.S. billionaires paid a lower tax rate than the working class last year”

A new book-length study on the tax burden of the ultrarich begins with a startling finding: In 2018, for the first time in history, America’s richest billionaires paid a lower effective tax rate than the working class.

“The Triumph of Injustice,” by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley, presents a first-of-its kind analysis of Americans’ effective tax rates since the 1960s. It finds that in 2018, the average effective tax rate paid by the richest 400 families in the country was 23 percent, a full percentage point lower than the 24.2 percent rate paid by the bottom half of American households.

In 1980, by contrast, the 400 richest had an effective tax rate of 47 percent. In 1960, that rate was as high as 56 percent. The effective tax rate paid by the bottom 50 percent, by contrast, has changed little over time.


Political Science, Survey Research, and Other Nerdy Things

Sean Westwood, Erik Peterson and Yphatch Lelkes: “Are there still limits on partisan prejudice?

The authors say: maybe.

Related: A new Pew Research Center study finds much stronger evidence of an increase in “partisan antipathy” over the past few years:

Aaron Weinschenk on Twitter: “My research labs is studying the nationalization of state Supreme Court elections. We are starting to get the dataset together! Some preliminary results from NC.”


What I'm Reading and Working On

Georgetown Law Visiting Professor Josh Chafetz was kind enough to give me a copy of his book, “Congress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers”, so I’ve been pouring over it this weekend. I love the Constitution and want us to make Congress great again, so the text has been both personally rewarding and very instructive.


Something Fun

Two fun things this week:

  • This video of a baby elephant wanting cuddles from its human.

  • This piece by Vox’s Dylan Matthews on moral philosophy and “The Good Place”


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