Predictions in political elections may remain big business overseas, but the bets have cooled from my political prognosticators who got the outcome of the 2016 presidential election so wrong. Undaunted, Democratic pollster and political strategist Stanley Greenberg is ready to put his money on blue in 2020.
Hosted by the USC Center for the Political Future, Greenberg came to USC Tuesday in support of new book RIP GOP: How the New America is Dooming the Republican Party (Thomas Dunne Books), published September 2019. In a conversation at USC Ground Zero Cafe with Bob Shrum, co-director of the Center for the Political Future, Greenberg laid out how the changing demographics and values of Americans, along with the growing extremism amongst Republicans, will lead to the temporary demise of the Grand Old Party.
Schrum began by asking Greenberg why he was so certain the Republican downfall is imminent. He boils it down to high levels of engagement, organization and enthusiasm among Democrats combined with the election of Donald Trump, which he called “the last gasp of the Tea Party movement”.
The Tea Party is a fiscally conservative group that is involved in conservative activism around issues such as immigration, abortion and limited foreign intervention. Its creation was funded in part by the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity in response to the election of Barack Obama.
Greenberg said that the Tea Party made up roughly 50% of the Republican base when Trump was elected, and now it accounts for 75%. That is causing moderate Republican lawmakers to be pushed out as the party becomes increasingly extreme, particularly on immigration. Actual members of the Tea Party may have shrunk since the 2010 election, but Greenberg argues that their alignment with other conservative and anti-establishment movements, like Evangelical Christians opened a path for Trump’s election win. And to keep those groups happy, Republicans are increasingly extreme in their policy and rhetoric.
One of the areas of extremism is the Republican stance on immigration, said Greenberg. The political strategist made the point that Trump won key voters on immigration policy and issues around white identity; however, Greenberg has seen a jump in support of immigrants with American voters through his research. That support combined with an electorate that is increasingly foreign-born, racially diverse and younger, is “rebelling against what Trump is doing by using their consciousness and public engagement,” he said.
Through intensive polling and focus groups, Greenberg has discovered that levels of enthusiasm and the number of informed voters have stayed high since the 2018 midterm election, which usually produces a downturn on the political engagement until a presidential election.
High levels of engagement, combined with increasing extremism amongst Republicans, will continue to drive suburban and even urban voters out of the party, he said. Greenberg is confident that this will pave the way for a Democrat to win the presidential election in 2020, though the candidate will determine how deeply the win is and whether Democrats can take back the senate. The future of both parties will be in flux for years though, as neither will have the polarizing figure of Trump to rally around or against.
Milo Hammer, a USC senior majoring political science, asked what type of messaging Democrats could use around immigration to peel off voters that still see immigration as an issue. Greenberg thinks that Democrats have to be more clear about managing their immigration policies and not lose the context of actual problems in the immigration system.
Greenberg failed to predict Trump’s victory in 2016. As for the critics of early 2020 predictions, Greenberg says that he and other pollsters have learned a lot from 2016 through conferences, symposiums, and by discussing what the Clinton campaign did wrong in their polling, which they ended in swing states six weeks before the election.
Greenberg believes his methods of focus groups with working-class voters, a lot more listening, and his respect for the changing attitudes of voters give him confidence.