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Biden’s pollster on the recipe for how to ‘not get our a—- kicked’ in the midterms

In the coming weeks and months, the Playbook team will be out covering the key districts and states that will decide the outcome of the midterm elections. This week, co-author Ryan Lizza was in Las Vegas to interview John Anzalone, who is best known as President Joe Biden’s pollster, but who is also a top adviser to Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is up for reelection this year. In Nevada, two of the Democrats’ biggest political challenges collide: Democrats’ Hispanic voter problem is their working-class voter problem.

Mentioned in the show:

Ruy Teixeira’s Substack post on why Democratic struggles in Nevada can be found here.

If you want to understand the recent defeats that Democrats have faced in Virginia, check out this research memo from Anzalone’s colleague Brian Stryker.

Transcribed excerpts from that conversation are below, edited for length and readability.

Ryan Lizza: Let’s just start off with how bad are things for Democrats this year and what can they do about it?

John Anzalone: I think what we’re missing right now is that voters are very much in “What have you done for me lately?” They always are. And they don’t feel Democrats can get their shit together and get things done.

So if we’re able to do something — a skinny BBB or whatever — on health insurance costs, prescription drug costs, elderly care, childcare, that’s a big deal because it will give Democrats a competitive advantage on what they’re doing for working families. And it’ll cut through the inflation narrative, the Ukraine narrative, the Afghan narrative, the border narrative, et cetera. Right now, we don’t see that and we don’t have that.

No one’s going to sit there as a Democratic consultant and try to bullshit you that this is anything but a really sour environment for Democrats. So we better look at the strategic ways that we can compete, right? Just compete to not get our asses kicked.

Most Americans are pissed at the fact that they pay their fair share in taxes as middle-class people. They work hard. They want to see the benefits of the economy. They’re getting raises.

Yes, inflation’s eating it up, but I’ll tell you what they’re pissed about: … They see these big companies not paying any taxes. And Biden’s proposal of making those making over $400,000 pay a little bit more taxes and big corporations pay a little bit more taxes so they pay their fair share to make investments in healthcare and education and childcare is really important.

Lizza: Would you dial up nationally with the populism?

Anzalone: I would so dial up.

Lizza: Just from a messaging point of view?

Anzalone: Yes. We’re scared of our own shadow on taxes and it … makes no sense. … Listen, people do not begrudge people making a lot of money and getting wealthy. People have a problem and are pissed off about them not paying any taxes. Why, as a party, we don’t elevate that in our messaging and contrast messaging is beyond me.

This is not a Biden problem, by the way: Joe Biden has been doing this for three years. This is a congressional Democrat problem — [people] who shy away from this because they think that they’re going to get hit on taxes. Guess fucking what? You’re going to get hit on taxes anyway … so control the narrative. …

Lizza: All right. So we’re sitting here in Nevada. You’re working on the governor’s re-election campaign. Ruy Teixeira, who you probably know, is a Democratic data analyst. He co-authored that book back in the day, The Emerging Democratic Majority. He wrote something about Nevada that I thought was really interesting recently: He said it’s the place where the Democrats’ white working-class problem and Hispanic problem is colliding to cause a very, very difficult environment. You’ve been probably polling the hell out of this state, working here. I’m curious what you think of that theory. Then just give us your breakdown of what Nevada tells us right now about Democrats nationally.

Anzalone: I think that it’s always easy to say, “Oh, a state is unique.” Nevada is unique because it’s based on one economy: It’s tourism, it’s casinos. Covid beat the shit out of it. And it’s chock full of white, non-[college-educated] voters, as well as Latinos. … And so why that’s different, for example, my experience in Michigan is that there’s a whole lot of non —

Lizza: You’re working on [the campaign of Michigan Gov. Gretchen] Whitmer. Give us the kind of Michigan versus Nevada.

Anzalone: In Michigan, you have plenty of non-college-educated voters, white and black. Macomb County is a perfect example. But guess what? You also have a pretty decent union base, right? And even if you aren’t a part of a union, you’re in a union culture, so you’re not so anti-union, right? And you have a bunch of white seniors who were union. So the seniors act differently in Michigan because a lot of them were in unions. We can compete with seniors there better than we can compete with white, non-college-educated [voters].

Lizza: Does that mean they have more of a connection to the Democratic Party or networks that are easier to tap into?

Anzalone: No doubt about it. Grew up in that culture where unions weren’t evil, and the organizational aspect of it, as well. You have unions here that are really important, clearly. Also, a little bit more transient of people coming in and out — it’s just a difficult culture. I mean, just the service industry here in the casinos, et cetera, is just a different culture than it is in a place like Michigan. So you’re going to see that universe bounce around. I would say the Latino portion of it is no different than what we’re seeing nationally in terms of it.

Lizza: Take us through that. I think there was a lot of denial about this in 2018 and 2020 when some of the data started to show softening, Hispanic support for Democrats …

Anzalone: We were raising red flags.

Lizza: You were?

Anzalone: Oh, yeah. And the Biden campaign took it very seriously. I think they probably spent more money on Latino paid media early on. Our message was always: Treat Latinos like persuadable voters. Communicate with them from the very beginning. The Biden campaign did very specific Latino media, very specific African American media, as well as everyone else, I think as early as July.

So we were treating all voters like persuadable voters, or just understanding that you can’t come in six weeks before an election with African Americans and Latinos on GOTV and expect that that’s going to be enough. You have to give them the argument of Biden’s vision. We have to do that again in 2022. What is the Democratic vision and agenda? How are we helping you more than the Republicans?

Lizza: Are we seeing racial groups that have a history of voting strongly for Democrats starting to polarize along education lines the same way that white voters have been? And that working-class Latinos, African Americans are?

Anzalone: In our data, it doesn’t matter where we are. It really has more to do with male and female. There’s a huge divide where Latinos are voting or say they’re going to vote, whether you’re a male Latino or a you’re a female Latino.

Lizza: So the Democratic problem was with male Latinos specifically?

Anzalone: Yes. You’re right. And any of our bleed is younger male African Americans. We saw that in 2020 as well. So whether you’re looking at white voters or Latino voters or black voters, quite frankly, you’re seeing a gender difference. And then you’ll see, of course, a college-educated difference, as well. I mean, we do better with college-educated men than non-college-educated men in any of that group. But the male-female split within Latinos is pretty significant.

Lizza: When you do focus groups and really sort of get under the hood of that issue, what are you learning?

Anzalone: I think the myth that always needs to be broken among Latinos and African Americans, is that I think that a lot of time, there’s this narrative in D.C. among Democrats that you only talk to Latinos about immigration. Like, immigration is the 12th issue that they’re concerned about. It’s always about the economy or inflation or healthcare or schools. Without a doubt, things like housing and crime tend to be higher among African Americans and Latinos, as well.

So there are specific issues that you want to do. But again, in turn you’ve got to understand whatever each voter is going through in their personal lives. Their attention tends to be on those things that white voters put a priority on as well.

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