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Wason Center Assistant Director Rachel Bitecofer: Key to 2019 Virginia Elections Is Getting Out Dem Voters; Best Way to Motivate Them Is Tapping Into “Trump Angst”

Also crucial: Dems should make a strong, positive "case for liberalism NOT as an embarrassed Democrat"


For those not familiar with  Rachel Bitecofer, I definitely recommend checking out her work. Bitecofer is “assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis” and “conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns.” Recently, Bitecofer forecastusing “the same prediction model  that accurately predicted Democratic gains in the House four months before the 2018 midterm elections” – that Democrats would re-take the White House in November.

There’s a profile piece on Bitecofer in Salon right now, and I definitely recommend reading it. A few key points jumped out at me:

  • “She’s barely beginning to get the recognition she deserves, and more troubling for the country, the outdated assumptions her model dispensed with continue to cloud the thinking of pundits and Democratic Party leadership alike.”
  • “…the mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by gaining Republican support (aka winning back ‘Trump voters’) fuels an illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground that could actually demobilize the Democratic leaners and voters who actually drove last year’s blue wave.”
  • “Today’s polarized hyper-partisan environment is the product of long-term historical processes that can’t simply be wished away, Bitecofer argues…The good news is that so long as Trump is in office, negative partisanship gives Democrats an edge, as electoral realignment continues.”
  • The “main predictor” of Bitecofer’s model is “partisanship, the party competition of the state or the district,” followed by “the percentage of college-educated residents residing in the state or in the district.”
  • According to Bitecofer, it’s futile for Democrats to run “Blue Dog”-type candidates who try not to “[rile] up Trump voters,” as “not only did Democrats not get the benefit of not stirring up the Trump base — the Trump base was stirred up and showed up in huge numbers — but by not tapping into anti-Trump sentiment in their own campaign strategy, by not intentionally activating that Trump angst, they paid a price in terms of their own base turnout.”

I agree with all of that, including that here in Virginia in this “odd-off” election year, the key is motivating Democratic “presidential-only,” “federal” and/or “gubernatorial year” voters to show up at the polls on November 5. And what better to motivate them than tapping into their “Trump angst?”

I had a Twitter exchange (see screen shots, below) with Bitecofer this morning, which I thought was worth sharing. In summary, Bitecofer argues that the key to Democrats winning while Trump is in the White House are: 1) tapping into anti-Trump sentiment; 2) “run[ning] as a Democrat & mak[ing] a + case for liberalism NOT as an embarrassed Democrat bc voters hate weakness…[and because] you WILL be depressing your own turnout”; 3) nationalize the Virginia General Assembly races by making Trump a key part of Dems’ 2019 strategy, in “a cycle that is wholly determined by turnout” and “with control of both chambers of the Assembly at stake.”

Now, to me, this seems like a super-obvious “no brainer.” But, according to Bitecofer, she actually had “a campaign manager in a competitive race” tell her that “Ds are thinking about not making Trump a part of their 2019 strategy in VA.” I hope that’s not the case, because by far and away the biggest motivator for Democrats – to volunteer, to donate, to vote – right now is fear and anger about Trump. Which, in turn, means that the key to getting Democrats out to the polls in big numbers on November 5 is making sure that they believe, in their minds and in their guts, that voting Democratic for Virginia General Assembly (and local offices) on November 5 is a way to fight back against Trump/Trumpism and the disaster Trump Republicans are inflicting on our country.

Yes, to an extent Democrats don’t have to push that, because it’s already “baked in,” but my bet – and Bitecofer’s, clearly – is that there are many, many Democratic voters who need motivation to show up and vote on November 5. And for Democrats right now, given their utter loathing of Trump, it’s hard to comprehend why Democratic campaigns wouldn’t make that one of their central messaging pieces (along with other crucial issues, like climate, health care, gun violence, etc.).

P.S. By the way, Bitecofer also tweeted that her analysis/forecast for the November 5 elections will be coming out on September 5. Bitecofer says that “control of BOTH chambers of the state’s General Assembly hang on just 2 seats in each chamber.” Should be interesting!


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