Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Can the Democrats Win Kansas By Moving Left?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an inspiring politician whose success has catapulted her to the front pages and sparked a conversation about how the Democratic Party should frame its agenda. In particular, some have suggested that the Democrats should openly embrace socialism in all of their races, while others have expressed skepticism that Ocasio-Cortez's messaging would work in districts that are further to the right than the (very safely Democratic) 14th congressional district of New York.

Ocasio-Cortez has weighed in on this debate with a beguiling argument.:

What is intriguing about this is the suggestion that if Sanders won the Democratic primary in a state, it means that the state is ripe for a Democratic general election victory, so long as the Democratic candidate openly embraces a left-wing economic message. And the logic seems pretty bulletproof. If a state isn't ready to embrace socialism in its general election, then how could a socialist candidate win its Democratic primary? That would seem to be a contradiction in terms, as absurd as the prospect of a conservative candidate winning the Republican nomination in a reliably Democratic state.

And it's hard to overstate how startling the 2016 Democratic primary map is when you look at it in this light. You can see a map of the 2016 primary results here. If Ocasio-Cortez is correct, Democrats could pick up essentially the entire northwest quadrant of the country by embracing socialism. Assuming they keep their losses elsewhere to a minimum, Democrats could run up a truly stunning margin in the Electoral College. (Also, Clinton won the primaries in Missouri and Kentucky by razor-thin margins. If you add those states to the Democratic tally, we're talking about an epic landslide in November.)

I only see one slight problem with the argument: I'm not 100% sure that it's true that a Sanders win in a Democratic primary necessarily implies that a socialist would win the general election. To cite one example, in West Virginia Sanders trounced Clinton, which according to our theory would indicate a strong taste for socialism in West Virginia. But according to NBC (link via Wikipedia), 39% of the Democrats pulling the lever for Sanders would vote for Trump in a Trump vs. Sanders general election. This might indicate that there is some missing nuance in argument implicit in Ocasio-Cortez's tweet. (In this case, part of the nuance is that a lot of conservative voters in West Virginia are registered Democrats for vestigial reasons, and they seem to have voted for Sanders out of antipathy toward Clinton, not out of support for socialism.)

The other point I would make, and I'm a little surprised Ocasio-Cortez didn't notice this, is that in many states the Democratic primary is not a surefire indicator of general election success for the simple reason that Republicans greatly outnumber Democrats. To put it another way, there will always be a Democratic primary winner in every state, even though there are states where Democrats stand no chance in the general election. The victory of the further-left candidate in those primaries might not constitute good evidence for the party's prospects in the general election.

To take an example cited by Ocasio-Cortez, in the Kansas Democratic caucuses, Bernie Sanders won 26,637 votes to Clinton's 12,593. Even if this indicates that Kansas contains 26,637 voters who will gladly pull the lever for socialism, that may not be quite enough to win a general election—in the 2016 general election, Trump got about 671,000 votes and Clinton got about 427,0000. Given those numbers, the ability of a self-avowed socialist to attract 26,637 votes in a partisan caucus may not indicate a path to victory.

So as much as I like Ocasio-Cortez, I feel she may have made an elementary mathematical error when she published the tweet I've embedded above. I look forward to the left wing of the party dropping this argument as its flaws become apparent.


Anonymous Arnold Facepalmer said...


7:21 PM  

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