A different (better?) way to think about what Democrats really have a chance

Really enjoyed this piece in Pacific Standard from Seth Masket.  In political science classes, we often talk about “strategic politicians” and help explain political actors and actions by examining the rational context of decision-making, e.g., highly-qualified politicians don’t want to run in a district where they have no chance or run in an electoral environment that’s strongly against their party.  But it’s not just politicians that are strategic– activists, political staff (and sometimes even ordinary voters) are too.  If you are a qualified political pro, do you really want to go work for a presidential campaign that’s almost sure to lose?  Hell no.  Thus, it can be quite instructive to look at what the current highly-qualified political pros– i.e., those that worked for Obama or HRC, are now doing.  Smotus:

But what about campaign staff? To examine this, I drew on political scientist Eric Appleman’s Democracy in Action data collection. Appleman has put together lists of top staff for all the presidential candidates and provided brief résumés for each. Using this information, I could see how many staffers each candidate has employed who worked in the Barack Obama White House (but not necessarily on his campaigns), as well as how many worked for the Democratic Party’s most recent presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. I don’t presume that this data set is exhaustive or up-to-date as of this very minute, but it should provide enough information to give us an idea of where this aspect of the party is leaning. (Thanks to David Bernstein and Josh Putnam for pointing me to this valuable resource.)

The chart below shows each Democratic presidential candidate ranked by the number of staffers they have who worked in the Obama White House (blue lines). I also indicate the number of staffers each candidate has who worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign (orange lines). Judging by Obama staff, Biden is in the lead, although not by very much; he essentially has the same number of Obama staffers in his employment as do Booker, Harris, Representative Beto O’Rourke, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. These candidates also have the highest numbers of former Clinton staffers, with the exception of Biden, who has only one (Deputy Communications Director for Strategic Planning Meghan Hays).

Screen Shot 2019-06-30 at 10.00.48 PM

(Chart: Seth Masket/Eric Appleman)

For the most part, this is, again, the same set of candidates who shows up at the top of other measures of support, although the presence of O’Rourke on this elite list is somewhat surprising. A second tier of candidates—South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro; Representative Seth Moulton; former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; and Sanders—each have five or six Obama administration staffers. (Sanders unsurprisingly has none from the Clinton campaign.)

Also, even though, as you know, I’m know Joe Biden supporter, two of my former NC State PS students are part of his campaign organization.

And, a nice conclusion from Masket:

There’s a twofold lesson that can be derived from these staffing patterns at this point. First, there is no clear party signal about a single nominee. Experienced campaign personnel as a whole seem pretty comfortable with Biden, Warren, Harris, Booker, O’Rourke, and a few others as the potential nominee. Second, it is clear from this data and from endorsements, activist support, and other indicators who the party is not interested in: the 15 to 20 other people running.

The nomination is not as chaotic as observers might think. The party, broadly defined, really isn’t seriously picking between two dozen candidates. It’s examining five to 10 conventionally qualified members of Congress, governors, and vice presidents, much as it always has. And within that group, it’s anyone’s game.

I strongly suspect Beto is not going to be able to maintain a position in the top tier of candidates, quality staff aside, but this is a pretty good way for thinking about who’s really got a chance for the nomination.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to A different (better?) way to think about what Democrats really have a chance

  1. itchy says:

    Caveat: The chart looks to be sorted by Obama staffers and ignores Clinton staffers. If you take the total, Beto drops a few places and candidates like Klobuchar jump a few.

    Aside, she jumps Sanders, which puts him at 11, which is the vibe I get: He’s “last election.”

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