Learning from Loss: The Democrats, 2016-2020

This ongoing research examines how the Democratic Party is interpreting the 2016 election and preparing for 2020. It seeks to catch a party, broadly defined, in the act of answering three key questions: 1) What went wrong in the last election? 2) How can that be prevented in the next election? 3) Whom should be nominated for president?

This project is under contract with Cambridge University Press and scheduled for release in September, 2020. Here is an interview in which I describe some of this research. Below are descriptions of some chapters in progress.

Activists Interpret 2016

This chapter is the product of interviews with Democratic activists in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, looking at how these individuals interpret just why Republicans won the White House in 2016. The evidence shows important variations based on respondents’ primary choices, their length of experience in the party, their race, and their gender.

"Identity Politics" and the Power of Narrative

This chapter reports on a survey experiment in which a group of Democrats is offered an “identity politics” interpretation of the 2016 election while another group is given no such message. Those in the identity politics condition tend to have a lower opinion of female presidential candidates and are more desirous of the Democratic Party moving rightward. The suggestion is that how we interpret the last election has an important effect on how we prepare for the next one.

Fixing the Party

This chapter examines the national Democratic Party’s efforts to reform its presidential nomination system in the run-up to 2020. Its evidence includes deliberations among the Democratic Unity Committee in 2017 as well as interviews with national party leaders. It examines the potential consequences of such reforms in terms of racial representation within the party.

The Persistence of Faction

The four early primary/caucus states all had gubernatorial elections with contested Democratic nominations in 2018. This chapter looks at how the party factionalism from 2016 persisted into 2018, examining patterns in endorsements and donations in all four states.