Campaigns may have lost their most effective — and annoying — outreach tool

Originally published at Vox.com on July 19, 2022

Text messaging — with their markedly high “open rates” — is an especially potent form of political outreach: Since 2016, texting has become one of the most appealing ways for campaigns to engage voters or supporters, especially as so many have ditched their landlines.

But as part of a broader effort to crack down on the fast-growing problem of spam calls and texts, mobile carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have been rolling out a new policy that affects any business, nonprofit, union, or campaign that intends to send at least 3,000 messages per day.

It means that political campaigns and advocacy groups have fewer rights to text you, if you haven’t affirmatively opted in to receive the messages — and it’s causing distress among those groups ahead of the midterms.

The changes — known as “10DLC” for the 10-digit long codes that high-volume businesses and apps use to text local numbers — will require organizations to register with the Campaign Registry, a subsidiary of the Milan-based communications firm Kaleyra. Carriers will impose higher messaging fees and slower delivery rates for any group that fails to register, and in some cases block them from delivering messages altogether.

Every registered group must also limit their texts only to users who have opted-in to receive them, a massive change from the status quo. Progressive groups warn this new requirement will yield dire democratic consequences — particularly for the most marginalized who are typically ignored by elites and politicians. Others suggest these groups have grown too reliant on unsolicited texting, and that it’s not essential to successful mobilization.

Campaigns had a preview of what the future might look like if they fail to comply with the new 10DLC rules. Last month, a Democratic National Committee texting campaign, meant to notify voters that it was primary day, provide them with information on making a voting plan, and invite them to attend a free virtual training on mobilizing others, was suspended after at least five recipients of the roughly 50,000 registered complaints about the unsolicited blasts.

Recipients of the DNC texts had been invited to opt-out of future messages by texting back “stop,” and the DNC said their records indicated that everyone they texted had expressed interest in receiving the messages either by opting in or having affirmatively engaged with the committee before in other ways. Still, the handful of complaints triggered an audit, and the committee’s ability to send messages from that particular number is still suspended.

“This shutdown … is nothing less than the silencing of core political speech at the hands of a private company pursuant to an ambiguous, unwritten policy,” DNC executive director Sam Cornale wrote in a letter to the CEOs of AT&T and T-Mobile. “As we have explained, in the wake of unprecedented voter disenfranchisement efforts, text messages have become a critical tool in combatting misinformation and attempts to disenfranchise in real time. … The health of our democracy demands you act now to change this harmful policy.”

Scott Goodstein, who led Barack Obama’s pioneering texting program during the 2008 cycle and was the lead digital adviser to Bernie Sander’s 2016 campaign, said the Democratic committees’ defense of unsolicited messages is short-sighted.

“The DNC has no incentive to think about this differently,” he told Vox. “Spamming fundraising donor lists works and helps politicians raise a few extra bucks, but spamming low-turnout voters may not help these politicians communicate with this transient but critical portion of the electorate. What if we went into these communities and held different events to get opt-in? It’s a lot more work but that’s the point. They’re thinking short-term and not long-term.”

10DLC is the mobile carrier solution to spam text messaging

There’s little question anymore that people are being flooded with unsolicited texts: Aside from just being annoying, government agencies say the increased spam is leading to higher rates of fraud. In 2020, criminals stole at least $86 million through frauds originating in spam texts — with examples like targeting seniors on Medicare, claiming to offer extended warranties for cars, or impersonating Covid-19 contact tracers. The median amount customers lost was $800.

In 1991, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to stop robocalls and auto-dialers that contacted individuals without their consent. But organizations that send texts have been able to operate in a legal gray area, by having individuals press “send” on mass-texting tech platforms — thus blurring the line between automated and human outreach.

Mobile carriers say their new 10DLC policy is a response not only to customer dissatisfaction but also to a political climate that’s been urging more serious intervention.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, both Democrats, wrote separate letters to the Federal Communications Commission over the last year urging greater attention and action on the issue of spam calls and texts.

The 10DLC policy was supposed to be rolled out last year but was delayed following requests from members of Congress to wait until after the 2021 elections. The changes took effect in March.

Mike Donoghue, the co-founder and CEO of Subtext, a company that connects media organizations, artists, and other creators with audiences over text, said his company has welcomed 10DLC and thinks it will help build and retain trust with the public.

“A lot of other players have tried to ignore it or pretend it’s not going to happen but it’s already happened and we’re not going back,” he told Vox.

Goodstein, who now runs a progressive digital marketing agency called Catalyst Campaigns, says he doesn’t actually believe the 10DLC regulations will be effective in controlling political spam texts, in part because the penalties are so weak and there’s little stopping a company from just contacting individuals who complain or opt-out from a different long-code number.

“It’s just whack-a-mole with 10DLC until there’s real pain,” Goodstein said, noting that with CAN-SPAM, a 2003 federal law passed to block unsolicited email, violators faced hefty fines, prosecutions, and even jail time. “Which is why you didn’t get spam from Pizza Hut,” he added.

Advocates warn 10DLC will lead to voter suppression

Progressive advocacy groups and Democratic campaign leaders have been working for over a year to try and convince mobile carriers to exempt them from 10DLC rules. Democratic lawyers have thus far urged federal campaigns to not register, in part to avoid conceding the point that 10DLC should include political groups.

In a letter sent to the CEO of AT&T, Congressional Black Caucus PAC chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks argued that the proposed 10DLC policies “will lead to the disenfranchisement of minority voters across the country” by limiting their ability to do voter education outreach.

And in February, in joint letters to T-Mobile and AT&T’s CEOs sent by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the DNC, the executive directors collectively urged against implementing the opt-in requirement for political texts.

Doing so “would have catastrophic implications for the ability of political parties, candidates, and other political committees to engage with their volunteers to communicate regarding voter education, GOTV messaging, and other essential political speech,” they wrote. “You are proposing to drastically curtail political expression at the core of our democratic system, speech that is at the very heart of First Amendment protections.”

The executive directors pitched what they saw as a compromise plan, where political campaigns and committees would still register with the Campaign Registry, but not be subject to any opt-in requirement so long as they give individuals the option to opt-out. Requiring opt-in “would undermine our democratic process and hinder access to the polls,” they wrote.

Five months later, on July 12, Anthony Russo, vice president of legislative affairs for T-Mobile, wrote back rejecting this idea, saying requiring opt-in is essential to protecting customers. “There is no confusion about this requirement — simply unwillingness to abide by it,” Russo wrote. “While many political, civic-oriented, and other non-profit organizations have the laudable intentions, T-Mobile’s primary concern is for its customers and ensuring they receive only those messages they want to receive.”

Elvin Bruno, the director of mobile fundraising at Grassroots Analytics, a firm that helps Democratic candidates raise money, told Vox the rollout of 10DLC has had a dramatic impact on campaigns so far, especially smaller campaigns on the local and statewide level.
“The regulations have been inconsistent, poorly communicated, and all the deadlines and dates have changed,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how bureaucratic and unclear it has been to navigate, even for folks like us who are working with the largest political operations in the country.”

Republican campaigns haven’t made as much noise against the proposed regulations, though they say 10DLC is part of a larger threat rooted in the power of technology companies to discriminate.

“From Google suppressing Republican GOTV and fundraising emails to mobile carriers censoring and policing political speech, Big Tech is blatantly trampling on First Amendment rights,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “Republicans will continue leading the fight to protect our rights against Big Tech billionaires. For them, it’s all about power and control — if they can silence political candidates, they can silence you.”

Mobile carriers, and their trade association, CTIA, say they’ve continuously engaged with political groups and collected feedback throughout the process, but stand by 10DLC and enforcing industry best practices.

“We believe customers should be able to control which entities send them bulk text messages, which is why we’re requiring bulk message senders to acknowledge they have recipients’ consent before participating in our program as a registered sender,” said Alex Byers, a spokesperson for AT&T. “This approach enables customers to receive messages they want and protects them from unwanted robotexts.”

When asked about the concern about blocking get-out-the-vote text messages ahead of the November election, Byers noted that customer complaints are the primary metric carriers would look at to determine if a message is unwanted or spam. “Our experience is that informational texts like these would be highly unlikely to generate many complaints,” he said.

Donoghue of Subtext thinks the professed concern that 10DLC will inhibit voters from learning things like changes to their polling location are largely smokescreens, and most political groups simply resent the idea that they should get consent before texting.

“If you randomly sampled 10 text messages from a given campaign, I suspect the vast majority are going to be asking people to do something, like signing a petition or making a donation,” Donoghue said. “But campaigns shouldn’t want to send messages that people find annoying. I think a lot of folks are starting to realize that.”

The FCC has flipped-flopped on the issue, though more federal intervention may be coming

Back in 2012, Goodstein and his firm Revolution Messaging petitioned the FCC to clarify that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act did not distinguish between emails that turned into texts, and regular texts. This was a texting loophole popular at the time, and Goodstein saw his crusade as a consumer protection mission, given that individuals pay for the cost of receiving text messages, unlike receiving political flyers in the mail, or emails. Even if your phone plan includes unlimited texts, senders are not privy to that information ahead of time.

In late October 2012, just before the presidential election, a Virginia marketing firm that had represented Republican candidates began sending out anonymous texts with attacks against Barack Obama. “If re-elected, Obama will use taxpayer money to fund abortion. Don’t let this happen,” read one of the messages. “Medicare goes bankrupt in 4000 days while Obama plays politics with senior health,” read another. By using the email-to-text loophole, the marketing firm was able to bypass the TCPA requirement for opt-in consent. When reporters eventually figured out who was behind the unsolicited texts, the founder of the firm claimed they were exercising their First Amendment rights.

In 2015, then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler finally ruled on the petition, and clarified that “consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls to wireless numbers.” It was a win for Goodstein and those who believed political texts without opt-in consent were TCPA violations and simply unethical.

But in 2018, the P2P Alliance, a coalition of providers and users of peer-to-peer (P2P) text messaging, filed a new petition with the FCC, asking for exemption from TCPA’s rules. In June 2020, the FCC, chaired by Ajit Pai, issued a ruling affirming P2P was distinct from autodialing, a win for campaigns and advocacy groups that wanted assurance they could contact people without opt-in consent.

Goodstein says the FCC must reverse this decision and close the loopholes that allow political spammers to run amok. The new 10DLC rules, he believes, won’t be enough to stop bad actors. The P2P Alliance spent over $130,000 lobbying in 2021, and over $50,000 this year.

Representatives from the Democratic political committees welcome the FCC’s attention in this area, but they say expecting action ahead of the 2022 elections is unrealistic.

Will Wiquist, an FCC spokesperson, pointed to a proposal the agency’s chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, circulated to her colleagues last October. Rosenworcel proposed launching a rule-making process to require mobile wireless providers to block illegal text messaging. If adopted, the rule-making would explore steps like network level blocking and applying caller authentication standards to text messaging.

“The item has yet to be adopted and remains up for a vote by the full Commission,” said Wiquist.

Heading into November, some progressive advocates and Democratic leaders say the 10DLC rules pose an existential threat to a free and fair election. Restrictions on text messages will enable more voter suppression, they warn, and opportunities for misinformation to spread, unchallenged. Goodstein says the opposite is true, that allowing unsolicited political texts to flow freely will annoy people to the point where they just tune out everything.

“Just like sending hundreds of robocalls a few days before elections, some portion of these undecided voters are going to become disenfranchised,” he said. “They’ll be confused on what to believe, and less motivated to engage.”

The Bogus Claim That School Closures Will Doom Democrats

Originally published in The New Republic on January 25, 2022.
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If you’ve read any national news stories over the past few months about the political implications of pandemic-induced school closures, you’ve likely come across Brian Stryker’s name. He’s become the go-to source for reporters and commentators—particularly those at The New York Times. The paper ran a Q&A with him in early December titled, “A Pollster’s Warning to Democrats: ‘We Have a Problem.’” His work has been cited in subsequent op-eds of The New York Times and was featured prominently in a recent Times piece built around the idea that more omicron-induced school closures urged by teachers’ unions could spell disaster for Democrats next fall. On the basis of a survey Stryker’s firm conducted of 500 Virginia voters, the Times stated unequivocally that “polling showed that school disruptions were an important issue for swing voters who broke Republican—particularly suburban white women.”

Stryker, a partner at the Democratic polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research (which announced it’d be changing its name to Impact Research last week), gained this prominence following a widely circulated memo he and his colleague Oren Savir published in mid-November, which analyzed Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election. The memo reported findings from an online focus group of 18 suburban Biden voters in Northern Virginia and the Richmond metro area, and states that while concerns over “critical race theory” were a problem for voters, school closures were a bigger factor. Perhaps most ominously, their memo quoted a Biden voter who cast her ballot for Youngkin as saying her vote “was against the party that closed the schools for so long last year.”

Democrats have plenty of reasons to fret about the upcoming midterm elections. While Joe Biden won by over seven million votes nationally in 2020, Democrats were devastated down the ballot. The party failed to flip any of the dozen state legislative chambers it had targeted and lost 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Election analysts attribute Biden’s victory in large part to suburban women who loathed Donald Trump, but Trump won’t be on the ballot in November, plus midterms have historically been bad for the party of first-term presidents. Voters are concerned about inflation, and Joe Biden’s approval rating hovers, roughly, at a troublingly low 40 percent.

Yet one much weaker midterm theory, curiously, has gained traction among the political elite, especially following the rise of the omicron variant. The slow pace of school reopenings in the 2020–21 school year, we’re told, still represents a significant political liability for Democrats, one that could grow even worse as some school districts close temporarily this month due to Covid-19. Blaming teachers’ unions and Democrats who ally with those unions is also part of this cautionary tale. Alexander Nazaryan, a Yahoo News reporter, went so far as to call Chicago’s teacher strike this month a “Reagan vs. air traffic controllers moment.” If Biden doesn’t “stand up to” teachers’ unions on school closures, Nazaryan warned, “he loses credibility at a critical time in his presidency.”

Perhaps because many of the people who lead these conversations are frustrated parents themselves, the idea that school closures will come to haunt Democrats is something that to many of them feels true or, at the very least, highly plausible. Life remains logistically and emotionally challenging for parents in countless ways, especially those with kids under 5, and so there’s a sense that surely something’s got to give.

Throughout the first six months of the pandemic, many of those same voices also warned that Democrats would pay a steep political cost. That didn’t bear out in the 2020 election. The loudest critics have insisted that Democrats will push for a full return to remote learning—despite the truth that most politicians and union leaders have suggested only temporary accommodations as the country weathers the quickly rising and quickly falling omicron wave of infections.

Instead of a practical debate, online discourse creates an artificial dichotomy, in which one can only belong to one of two camps: an adherence to complete lockdown until we achieve “Covid-zero” or a complete return to pre-pandemic normalcy. But outside Twitter and op-ed pages, many surveys and studies have shown that actual parents and voters hold much more nuanced views. They can hate the harms of distance learning while determining when the pandemic has altered how they want to live and school their children. They can express frustration with their circumstances but maintain that not all problems have immediate resolutions and clear villains.

The latest eruption of the school-closure debate has been defined by a bout of amnesia, one that has erased the bountiful evidence of public sentiment from the 2020–21 school year.

Throughout the pandemic, including during the first few months of 2021, poll after poll showed that most parents and most voters—including the majority of Democrats and independents—were not in favor of sending kids back to K-12 schools full-time, at least until teachers and seniors were vaccinated.

In mid-February last year, 74 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents told Politico/Morning Consult that states should wait to reopen until teachers had received the coronavirus vaccine. A separate Quinnipiac poll from the same time period found just 27 percent of adults thought schools were reopening too slowly, with 47 percent of adults saying they felt reopenings were taking place at the right pace, and 18 percent reporting schools were reopening too quickly. Another February 2021 poll from YouGov/HuffPost found just 27 percent of adults thought schools should be completely reopened, with 29 percent backing partial reopening and 30 percent supporting virtual learning.



The findings were consistent when pollsters talked to just K-12 parents. The University of Southern California asked a nationally representative sample of parents in late January 2021 how their child was learning—in person, remotely, or hybrid—and then asked what they would want for their child if they could choose any option. USC found that 75 percent of parents said their child was receiving the type of instruction they wanted. A separate poll, released by the National Parents Union, found that in mid-January, about two-thirds of public school parents were getting the kind of schooling they preferred for their kids, with about 20 percent wanting more in-person instruction and 10 percent wanting less. EdChoice, a national school choice group, polled U.S. parents monthly, beginning in May 2020, about their comfort level sending their child back to school. Parental comfort levels didn’t break 60 percent until April 2021.

This was all true despite millions of parents and voters expressing deep dissatisfaction with virtual learning, concerned about its toll on academic progress and children’s emotional and social well-being. Seventy-two percent of voters told RMG Research last February that they saw in-person learning as better than virtual instruction, and 57 percent of parents told Yahoo!/YouGov last January they thought their child had fallen behind academically. Sixty-four percent of parents whose children were learning remotely in October 2020 told Pew they were concerned about their child maintaining friendships and social connections, compared to just 49 percent of parents whose kids were attending school in person.

But it doesn’t require any great intellectual leap to bridge these two divides. One could easily favor in-person learning in the abstract, hold real worries about the implications of virtual school, and yet still determine that remote learning is the right call at that time given the risks of the pandemic. Individual families inevitably have different risk thresholds based on resources and other factors. Low-income, Black, and Latino families were more likely last year to prefer remote learning even as studies showed those children suffered greater learning losses in subjects like math and reading from virtual school compared to their white peers.

David Houston, an education policy professor at George Mason University and the survey director for the annual EdNext survey, told me that was indeed consistent with public opinion research. “We asked parents in spring 2020, fall 2020, and spring 2021, ‘Do you think your kid is learning more or less or about the same?’ Folks aren’t fools, they certainly don’t think their kids were doing as well as they would have under normal conditions,” he said. “But simultaneously we asked a question about satisfaction with the instruction and activities provided by their child’s school, and the rates were really pretty darn high.”

When kids returned from summer break in the fall of 2021, life looked quite different in most parts of the country. Things were far from the “normal” of what classrooms of 2019 looked like—delta was circulating, kids were often wearing masks, and individual classes would shut down for a period after a string of positive tests—but the vast majority of children were back learning in school buildings full-time.

Parental attitudes also lifted. Reputable polling has shown broad satisfaction among parents with having their kids back inside schools and no increase in negative views toward teachers’ unions. Surveys have also shown that voters—particularly Democrats and independents—are not holding Democrats responsible for last year’s school closures.

The University of Southern California’s Understanding America Survey surveyed parents four times during the pandemic: October 2020, when 29 percent had fully in-person school; April-May 2021, when 50 percent were in person; June 2021, when 79 percent were on summer break; and October 2021, when 93 percent were in person. The researchers found that parents’ concerns about their child’s learning had gone down significantly last fall. When asked about their school’s efforts to meet their children’s needs—including academically, socially, and mentally—82 percent to 91 percent of parents were satisfied in each area. “This level of positivity was consistent across subgroups,” they reported, “including by race/ethnicity, household income, parental education level, region of the country, urbanicity, partisanship, and grade levels.”

Likewise, in a nationwide poll conducted in early December by Global Strategy Group and GBAO, researchers found just 13 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents described Democrats closing schools as a “very concerning” school-related issue to them, compared to 60 percent of Republicans. More Democrats and independents—17 and 39 percent, respectively—said they were very concerned that Democrats were promoting critical race theory in schools.

In a national survey of public school parents registered to vote conducted last month by Hart Research Associates and Lake Research Partners, pollsters found 78 percent of parents expressed satisfaction with their school’s overall handling of the pandemic, and 83 percent reported satisfaction with their school’s efforts to keep students and staff safe. Moreover, just 22 percent of parents said they felt their school waited too long to resume in-person instruction, while three-fourths felt their school struck a good balance between safety and learning (48 percent) or actually moved too quickly to reopen (26 percent).

Although repeated efforts to pit parents against teachers were never successful, the national conversation shifted back to the artificial construct once journalists and talking heads began analyzing how Republicans retook Virginia’s governorship and gave New Jersey’s Democratic Governor Phil Murphy a much more competitive reelection than anyone anticipated. 
The ALG survey and focus group provide useful insights. Focus groups, like the best journalism, can be particularly valuable for drawing out further hypotheses to test. But treating that research as dispositive is a mistake, particularly when other high-quality surveys have found evidence that conflicts with or complicates ALG’s findings.

Geoff Garin, a longtime Democratic pollster and president of Hart Research Associates, did some polling for Terry McAuliffe during the election, followed by an in-depth postelection survey of more than 2,400 Virginia voters after the election on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association. “It’s very clear that education was a dominant factor in driving the outcome of the race, but there’s really no evidence that the question of school closures was an important part of that,” he told me. Garin’s research found that 9 percent of Biden voters switched to Glenn Youngkin in 2021 and that education was indeed a top-cited issue for this pivotal subset.

But rather than school closures, Garin said, these people talked exclusively about Terry McAuliffe’s comments surrounding parent involvement in school. In a late-September gubernatorial debate, McAuliffe declared, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions,” adding, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Youngkin’s campaign made those deeply unpopular remarks a centerpiece of his campaign in the closing weeks of the race, running ads and circulating petitions and fliers stressing that “Parents Matter.” Under the umbrella of parental involvement, Youngkin’s campaign also leaned on other issues agitating parents like mask and vaccine mandates, transgender rights, and racial equity initiatives.

In the ALG memo, Stryker and Savir argue that, yes, McAuliffe’s gaffe resonated, but it really hit home because it played into existing frustrations parents had over school closures and feeling “that Democrats didn’t listen to parents when they kept the schools closed past any point of reason.”

Garin says his research showed no such thing. “It was completely clear in the surveys from the last few weeks of the election and postelection that voters were reacting to McAuliffe’s comments,” Garin told me. “Youngkin put that quotation front and center with an enormous amount of advertising; he and his campaign never related it to school closures.” Among the Biden-Youngkin voters, Garin’s research found 54 percent said McAuliffe’s position on the role of parents in schools influenced their vote, and 41 percent said his position on the teaching of critical race theory influenced their vote.

These aren’t entirely separate matters. As opposition to CRT becomes heavily associated with Republicans, liberals and moderates who also feel racial and social justice causes have “gone too far” are more likely to glom onto another slogan that allows them to express the same idea without feeling it’s so conservative. Christopher Rufo, the Manhattan Institute activist who got Trump to take notice of CRT in the fall of 2020, has embraced calling their legislative crusade against diversity, equity, and inclusion a “parent’s movement” and describes their efforts as a push for “parental transparency” on curriculum.

Mario Brossard, a senior research vice president at the Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group, who conducted polling in October on CRT, told me, “It is clear that the discussion or the talking points around having parents have more input into the curriculum” is being used as a euphemism for CRT. “The folks who are anti-CRT are fairly well entrenched, and they hold those sentiments quite strongly,” he said.  “What Christopher Rufo is trying to do is make it more palatable to a broader cross section of voters, parents, and Americans generally by talking about parental input into the curriculum.”

In the ALG focus group memo being widely cited as evidence that CRT is just not as big an issue, the researchers did say that participants, even as they conceded critical race theory wasn’t formally taught in schools, talked about feeling “like racial and social justice issues were overtaking math, history, and other things” and “worried that racial and cultural issues are taking over the state’s curricula.”

Fox News Voter Analysis survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, which polled over 2,500 Virginia voters after the election, found a stunning 72 percent of respondents said the debate over teaching CRT in schools was “an important” factor to them, with a quarter calling it “the single most important” factor.

This doesn’t fully discount the school-closure explanation. The Fox survey also found 27 percent of voters ranked “the debate over handling Covid-19 in schools” as their single-most important issue. But of that cohort, two-thirds cast their ballot for Terry McAuliffe. Given that the aforementioned Covid-19 debate could encompass masks, vaccine requirements, and virtual schooling, it’s hard to parse out exactly what’s going on. But the fact that voters who said it was the most salient for them broke heavily for McAuliffe goes against the conventional narrative.

Michael Hartney, a political scientist at Boston College, did a postelection analysis for Chalkbeat, where he found Youngkin made slightly larger gains in regions where schools took longer to fully reopen, controlling for the share of Trump voters and white voters in a given area.

He also found that Youngkin did no better in places that had a school district staff member dedicated to diversity, or that mentioned equity in its mission, proxies he designed for CRT. 

“The analysis was by no means perfect, but I do think it showed that there is little systematic evidence that Youngkin ran up vote share (relative to Trump) in districts which have more heavily emphasized diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” Hartney told me via email, stressing he was doing “merely an exploratory analysis.” Hartney added that he’s waiting on getting some postelection micro-survey data to analyze and tease out some of these patterns more carefully.

Brian Stryker, the ALG pollster, told me he doesn’t know why school closures didn’t come up in Geoff Garin’s postelection survey but maintained they were a big deal in his research. He stressed the importance of candidates and elected officials showing more empathy for the hardship families have faced and continue to face around schools.

“Going to remote learning is deeply unpopular, it just feels like that’s in the ether, it’s the thing that you hear from parents all the time,” he said. (Stryker lives in Chicago, where schools closed earlier this month.) “That’s not a very scientific thing to say,” he added, “but the focus groups and surveys are backed up by every parent that I talk to in my life, and they’re all furious about the closing and all worried their school is going to be next.”

On Twitter earlier this month, Stryker shared a Suffolk/USA Today poll showing 66 percent of the country and 52 percent of Democrats oppose shifting schools to remote learning to contain the spread of omicron. “Hard data to back up what we’re all feeling—closing schools, on top of being an educational disaster, is a political disaster for Democrats too,” Stryker tweeted.

But when I brought up that polls showed most voters, including parents, were not in favor of fully reopening schools before vaccines came out, he agreed that “minds changed around the vaccine, once teachers were getting vaccinated, once grandparents were getting vaccinated.”

Has he found any evidence that leads him to conclude voters will hold Democrats responsible in November for schools that close during the omicron wave?

“I think 10 months is a long time, and I think parents are pretty understanding of the fact that people are very sick right now; nobody wants teachers to go to school with the coronavirus,” he said. “Should there be another wave that looks like omicron, we may have to reassess, but in 10 months, if this isn’t still happening, I don’t think it will be a huge voting issue.” 

Minimum Wage Measures Pass Easily in Four Red States

Originally published in The American Prospect on November 5, 2014.
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A
s devastating as Tuesday night’s election was for Democrats—Republicans took control of the Senate and won a number of key governor racesit was actually an encouraging night for the progressive economic agenda. In four red states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota—minimum wage ballot initiatives all passed easily. In San Francisco, voters overwhelmingly passed a $15 minimum wage—with notably little opposition from the business community. And in Illinois, voters sent a clear message through a non-binding advisory initiative that they want lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, and fast.

Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 has been a major economic priority for President Barack Obama, part of his effort to curb the nation’s rising levels of inequality. (Under Obama’s plan, year-round, full-time minimum-wage workers would go from making $15,080 per year to $21,008.) Yet ever since April, when congressional Republicans mobilized to block wage-hike legislation, progress on the federal level has gone nowhere.

In light of this, it’s interesting to see a state like South Dakota—a state that hasn’t supported a Democrat for president in decades—vote to raise the wage by a 53 percent margin. The initiative will result in 62,000 South Dakotans taking home higher paychecks. In an email to The American Prospect, Zach Crago, executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said, “It’s about rewarding hard work with an honest wage. That message resonates with South Dakotans. Republican candidates oppose it at their own peril.”

Minimum wage initiatives were so popular among voters leading up to the election that even Republican candidates like Alaska gubernatorial candidate Dan Sullivan had to say they’d vote for a minimum wage increase. Sullivan did just that, despite his having opposed it before the primary. Alaska’s minimum wage initiative passed with nearly 69 percent of the vote. Ed Flanagan, a leader of the Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage campaign, told The American Prospect that while the campaign faced no real organized opposition, the conservative state legislature could still try and repeal the law in two years—a move they pulled on Alaskan voters back in 2002. But given the high percentage of Alaskans who voted to raise the wage, Flanagan hopes state lawmakers “will think twice about messing with the will of the people.”

In Arkansas, Republican U.S. Representative Tom Cotton, during his campaign for U.S. Senate, stayed mum for months on a potential minimum wage increase until it became so popular with Arkansas voters that he finally felt compelled to come out in September to back it. Cotton won his Senate race last night, but so did the minimum wage—with 65% of Arkansas voters supporting the ballot initiative.

Exit polls for states where minimum wage initiatives weren’t on the ballot also showed high levels of support for future increases. In Wisconsin, although Scott Walker was re-elected, and has consistently opposed increasing the minimum wage, a solid majority of Wisconsin voters said they’d like to see it raised higher than $7.25.

Undoubtedly, it was a damning night for the Democratic Party, but the picture isn’t entirely bleak for progressives. Exit polls reveal that 63 percent of voters believe the U.S. economic system favors the rich; this highlights a much larger national frustration for politicians to organize around. Arun Ivatury, a senior strategist with the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, told The American Prospect that, going forward, politicians who embrace economic populism “will run away from the pack in 2016, when the electorate looks much more like America. Those who don’t will be bypassed. It’s our job to make sure people know who is who.”