On May 28, 2020, just three days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer and the country was erupting with sometimes violent protests, progressive data analyst David Shor issued a warning about the efficacy of riots:
Post-MLK-assasination race riots reduced Democratic vote share in surrounding counties by 2%, which was enough to tip the 1968 election to Nixon. Non-violent protests *increase* Dem vote, mainly by encouraging warm elite discourse and media coverage. https://t.co/S8VZSuaz3G. pic.twitter.com/VRUwnRFuVW
— (((David Shor))) (@davidshor) May 28, 2020
The research wasn’t his own. He was merely acting as a messenger. But at that particular moment in time, Shor became the enemy for a lot of outraged people. He was accused of being a racist. He apologized but the company that had employed him decided to side with the mob calling for his head and fired him.
Today, Ezra Klein published a piece about Shor’s work since then. Getting canceled ultimately worked out really well for him. He gained a reputation as a data analyst who wasn’t willing to soften his message into something the client might want to hear. He founded his own company called Blue Rose Research where he’s been building an electoral simulation designed to predict what is likely to happen over the next decade in American politics. And once again, he has a message for Democrats that they are not going to like.
At the heart of Shor’s frenzied work is the fear that Democrats are sleepwalking into catastrophe. Since 2019, he’s been building something he calls “the power simulator.” It’s a model that predicts every House and Senate and presidential race between now and 2032 to try to map out the likeliest future for American politics. He’s been obsessively running and refining these simulations over the past two years. And they keep telling him the same thing.
We’re screwed in the Senate, he said. Only he didn’t say “screwed.”
In 2022, if Senate Democrats buck history and beat Republicans by four percentage points in the midterms, which would be a startling performance, they have about a 50-50 chance of holding the majority. If they win only 51 percent of the vote, they’ll likely lose a seat — and the Senate.
But it’s 2024 when Shor’s projected Senate Götterdämmerung really strikes. To see how bad the map is for Democrats, think back to 2018, when anti-Trump fury drove record turnout and handed the House gavel back to Nancy Pelosi. Senate Democrats saw the same huge surge of voters. Nationally, they won about 18 million more votes than Senate Republicans — and they still lost two seats. If 2024 is simply a normal year, in which Democrats win 51 percent of the two-party vote, Shor’s model projects a seven-seat loss, compared with where they are now.
Klein goes into an explanation of why this is happening. The very simple version is that Democrats are at a disadvantage because their constituency is increasingly made up of college educated people clustered together in cities while Republicans do much better with people who don’t have a college education and who live in rural areas. Another problem Shor sees is that increased partisanship and nationalized elections means fewer people are ticket splitters.
As recently as 2008, the correlation between how a state voted for president and how it voted in Senate elections was about 71 percent. Close, but plenty of room for candidates to outperform their party. In 2020, it was 95.6 percent…
Put it all together, and the problem Democrats face is this: Educational polarization has made the Senate even more biased against Democrats than it was, and the decline in ticket splitting has made it harder for individual Democratic candidates to run ahead of their party.
Again, the bottom line is that Democrats are probably doomed for the next decade unless…and here is where we get into Shor’s solutions for this problem. His first recommendation is to stop using the term Latinx. Okay, he didn’t literally say that but what he’s recommending fits pretty neatly with some of the earlier analysis that warned Democrats to stop talking to moderate voters as if they were professors on a college campus. It turns out most Hispanic people don’t like the term Latinx and there’s really no reason to use it except that a lot of Democrats feel compelled to show of their woke bona fides. Shor wants them to stop that immediately. As Ezra Klein puts it, “Swing voters in these states are not liberals, are not woke and do not see the world in the way that the people who staff and donate to Democratic campaigns do.”
One phrase that Shor does actually cite as damaging to Democrats is “defund the police.”
“In the summer, following the emergence of ‘defund the police’ as a nationally salient issue, support for Biden among Hispanic voters declined,” Shor said in a March interview with New York magazine. “So I think you can tell this microstory: We raised the salience of an ideologically charged issue that millions of nonwhite voters disagreed with us on. And then, as a result, these conservative Hispanic voters who’d been voting for us despite their ideological inclinations started voting more like conservative whites.”
But there’s a lot of pushback to this argument in particular from other data analysts who believe policy isn’t really that important in campaigns. One argument is that even unpopular policies can generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm that brings people to the polls. Another is that people are more likely to respond to negative messages about the other side (Trump must be stopped) then they are about misfires on their own side like “defund the police.”
Of course, there is a strain of progressives who see any decision to duck hot-button issues like police funding as giving up on important progress that needs to be made. The idea that unpopular ideas should be talked about less is offensive to far left Democrats whose goal is to center exactly those issues in the national debate.
My own take is that Shor is essentially correct but without ever really diving into the reasons why his party is in the shape it is now. The nationalization of elections, the lack of ticket-splitters, the expanding gulf between left and right didn’t just happen. The far left helped drag the Democrats in a direction that a lot of Americans oppose. As Kevin Drum pointed out a few months ago, what Democrats don’t seem to realize is just how far left they have moved in a short time, even compared to how far Republicans have moved to the right. That is the real source of their current problems. The unpopular messages that Shor wishes Democrats would stop talking about are just a symptom of this much deeper problem.