Sean McElwee

Americans are divided and polarized — but large majorities want to curb corporate influence in government

After the most turbulent election cycle in American history, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by a comfortable margin in both the Electoral College and popular vote. With political polarization at an all-time high, the question of how President-elect Biden plans to unite a deeply divided country is a highly pertinent one. Fortunately for Biden, the Cabinet composition process provides him with an enormous opportunity to maintain the coalition that put him into the White House while expanding his base of support in the process.

But contrary to Beltway wisdom, this will not be achieved by giving alumni of Wall Street and the corporate world positions of influence in his administration. While Americans may be divided on many issues, curbing the political power of corporate actors is something that unifies voters across party lines. Eschewing former corporate lobbyists and executives in favor of qualified civil servants committed to advancing the interests of working people for administrative posts isn't just the right thing for Biden to do. It's good politics, and we have the data to prove it.

Earlier this year, Data for Progress released polling that surveyed voters across party lines to find out what Americans wanted to see in the next administration. Fifty-nine percent of voters surveyed believed that corporate lobbyists wield too much influence in government policy-making. When asked about the influence of billionaires, big banks and Wall Street, respondents overwhelmingly agreed these groups hold too much influence in government affairs, by margins of 62, 56 and 52 percent, respectively. On the other hand, 60 percent of respondents indicated they believed working-class people hold too little influence in government, while just 8 percent said they believed otherwise.

It's no secret that American institutions are facing a crisis of legitimacy. Public trust in government continues to erode, with the revolving door between public office and the private sector serving as a major focal point in Americans' declining confidence in their elected officials. Polling by Data for Progress conducted in October revealed that Americans across party lines are intimately concerned with the impact that the revolving door between high office and industry has on policy-making.

A wide 56 percent of voters across party lines agreed that putting alumni of the corporate world in the Biden administration would keep the revolving door between Washington and K Street open, to the detriment of working families. By contrast, only 23 percent of voters indicated that corporate lobbyists and executives bring invaluable insight to government and should be chosen by the president-elect for roles in his administration. Few would be surprised that 63 percent of Democrats surveyed agreed that Biden should eschew the appointment of alumni of the corporate world to positions in his administration. Of more interest, however, is that 54 percent of Republicans surveyed agreed that Biden should avoid appointing former corporate lobbyists and executives, with only 22 percent indicating otherwise.

It's clear, then, that while Biden will have his work cut out for him if he wants to win the support of Republican voters, working to close the revolving door with his Cabinet picks is far more likely to accomplish this than choosing business magnates for key roles. Data for Progress polling also found that proposals to close the revolving door similarly proved widely popular, with a massive 76 percent of voters across party lines indicating concern about the prospect of an administration official who received a bailout in the private sector being tasked with overseeing that same industry in an official capacity.

Polling conducted by Data for Progress over the past several weeks found that voters across party lines see federal government experience and policy expertise, not backgrounds in the corporate world, as attributes they value in potential appointees. Sixty-seven percent of respondents across party lines indicated that Biden should prioritize policy experts with academic backgrounds when choosing positions in his administration. The prospect of appointing individuals with experience in the federal government advocating for the public good was even more popular, with 71 percent of all respondents — and even 61 percent of Republicans — agreeing such people should be prioritized.

When asked the same about potential nominees with backgrounds as lobbyists for major corporations and industries, though, respondents were firmly opposed. Sixty percent of respondents said they disagreed with the proposition that potential nominees with backgrounds as corporate lobbyists should be prioritized in the new administration. While a large majority of respondents, 67 percent, agreed that backgrounds in nonprofits that advocate for the public good is a plus for potential nominees, only 31 percent said the same about backgrounds in Wall Street.

Democrats are not going to maintain the coalition they built in the 2020 election, let alone expand it, by appointing former corporate lobbyists and executives to key posts. Americans are divided on many things, but on the issue of corporate influence in government public opinion is clear, whatever elites in Washington may say: Biden should look to qualified public servants and experts, not titans of the corporate world, for positions in his administration.

How a Rahm Emanuel appointment would hurt Biden and the Democrats

The skies above Washington D.C. are restricted airspace for low-flying aircraft, with one major exception. The inception of a new presidential administration fills the air with trial balloons, as job seekers and administration officials test the public reaction to possible appointments.

One trial balloon has progressives around the country reaching for balloon-popping pins: that of Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's White House Chief of Staff and the ex-mayor of Chicago. Axios increased the speculation this weekend when it reported that the president-elect is "strongly considering" Emanuel, who has long battled the left on policies that range from health care to policing, for Secretary of Transportation. But our analysis shows that an appointment for the notoriously abrasive Emanuel should be of even more concern to the new administration and the Democratic Party than it is to the left.

Research at Data for Progress, as well as survey data from other sources, places Emanuel on the wrong side of many critical issues that Democratic voters (and, in many cases, the electorate as a whole) care deeply about. It would be a deeply divisive and unpopular choice, with serious implications for the administration's political and policy future.

As a side note, Emanuel is well-known for his harsh language. As White House Chief of Staff, Emanuel told progressives that they were "f**king retards" for mounting primaries against conservative Democrats. That language insults the Democratic base, which holds strong progressive views. We condemn his choice of words. Oh, we don't mean the "f-bombs," although the abuse reflects a politically untenable attitude toward the progressives that make up the party's base. The ableist language reflects a harmful attitude toward the disability community—an attitude that would later be reflected in his actions as mayor of Chicago.

More broadly, our review shows that Emanuel's record stands in stark contrast to the values and opinions of the American electorate.

Policing and Justice

Let's start with the case that represents Emanuel's worst moment in public life: The murder of Lacquan McDonald, a 14-year-old Black child. That video proved that police lied about the killing. When forced to choose between a murdered Black child and the cop who killed him, Rahm directed city attorneys to suppress video evidence. The video was only released after Rahm was safely re-elected mayor. He went on to serve his second term. After its release, the police officer began serving a term, too—a prison term for second-degree murder.

Chicago Police tactics under Emanuel were like Trump's, and were arguably much worse. Under Emanuel, Chicago police also operated a secretive, so-called "black site" that foreshadowed the Trump Administration's tactics against Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

As journalist Spencer Ackerman reported in 2015, practices at a "nondescript warehouse on Chicago's west side" allegedly included beatings, shackling for prolonged periods, denying attorneys access to their clients, detaining arrestees without recording them in official databases. Ackerman reports that at least one man was found unresponsive in an "interview room" there and later died.

Emanuel's record on policing runs strongly against voter opinion. Our polling shows that 73 percent of likely voters, including two-thirds (67 percent) of Republicans, believe that "the public has a right to know which police officers in the community have records of excessive force, sexual assault, racism, or dishonesty."

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of likely voters, including 63 percent of Republicans, also support "allowing people to ... use public records requests to learn whether police officers in the community have records of excessive force, sexual assault, racism, or dishonesty." Emanuel's record on policing clashes sharply with this public consensus on police violence.

Public Schools

Voters support public schools and schoolteachers. A February 2020 poll by the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC) found that 73 percent of voters were concerned about inadequate funding and resources for public education and 64 percent thought that funding for public schools should be increased. Only 6 percent thought their funding should be decreased.

Rahm Emanuel's record as mayor runs sharply against public opinion. Chicago shuttered 50 schools during his tenure. When Emanuel closed those schools, the lives of nearly 12,000 schoolchildren—most of whom were Black or Brown—were disrupted. The resulting "school deserts" deprived urban neighborhoods of public institutions that had been part of the community for generations.

Emanuel promised affected communities that they would have a voice in determining how the abandoned buildings would be used. But, as Kalyn Belsha reports,

… four years later, two-thirds of the buildings are still vacant. There are no common standards for community involvement in determining their reuse. And aldermen, who until recently oversaw the process, have not held public meetings to discuss the future of about half of the schools …

In 2017, 28 vacant schools were put on the market for sale. Despite the public's support for public education, some of the buildings were purchased by private schools. Jesse Sharkey, an official with the Chicago Teachers' Union, told the Chicago Reporter that this move undermines public institutions. "I think it's extremely problematic to close public schools and turn buildings over to essentially what are competitors to the public school system," said Sharkey.

Other buildings remained empty, as boarded-up reminders of the Emanuel Administration's indifference to the future of these communities. The question remains: Why were these particular schools targeted? Chicago activist Eve Ewing addresses that question in a Guardian op-ed entitled, "What led Chicago to shutter dozens of majority-black schools? Racism."

Emanuel said the schools were underperforming. But, as Ewing writes, "if the schools were so terrible, why did people (in the Black community) fight for them so adamantly? Why do people care so much about schools that the world has deemed to be 'failing'"?

Racial Justice in Education

Emanuel's school closures are closely linked to the issue of racial injustice in education. Voters understand that the US educational system is plagued by institutional racism. As might be expected, Black voters are especially aware of this problem. The Lowell Center for Public Opinion at the University of Massachusetts conducted a national poll in September 2020 which found that only one-third (34 percent) of Americans said they believe the educational playing field is equal. 81 percent of Black respondents said they see education as unequal.

Black voters are an essential part of the Democratic voting bloc, without whom most Democratic electoral victories would become impossible. Only one Black voter in ten (10 percent) percent said their children have the same opportunity as white children.

Emanuel's educational record will not sit well with voters. As Kalyn Belsha also reports:

A new study released by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago that looked at school closures and turnarounds between 2000 and 2013 found that race, not simply enrollment or academic performance, was a recurring factor. Schools that were predominantly black and located within six miles of the city's center, where there is more redevelopment potential, were more likely to be turned around or closed … Although the school district chose "race-neutral" metrics to justify the restructurings, the report argues that they interacted with "institutionalized racial inequities" and had outcomes that disproportionately affected black students.

The report concluded:

Legacies of racism—from the broader interactive effects between de jure and de facto residential segregation and labor market discrimination to prior CPS plans and practices like the fact that the district often built new schools rather than redraw boundaries that would put black and white students in the same schools—shape contemporary capital investment policies in Chicago.

You don't have to be racist to perpetuate a legacy of segregation. All you need to do is pretend it doesn't exist.

Corporations, Banks, and Real Estate Interests

As the report cited above suggests, Emanuel has frequently given preference to corporate, financial, and real estate interests.

Data for Progress research shows that voters believe the economic order is rigged against them. A majority of those we polled agreed with statements that included:

  • The economic system favors the wealthy and powerful
  • The wealthy take advantage of workers
  • People are poor because the economic system is unfair
  • Business executives use their power to keep wages low

Emanuel's record is closely tied to corporate and financial interests in real estate, banking, and other bulwarks of the current financial system. He was highly successful raising money from these sectors, transforming the Democratic Party in the process.

After serving in the Clinton Administration, Emanuel himself became Managing Director of a Chicago investment bank, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, a banking corporation that specializes in commercial real estate, despite having no previous banking experience. That gig netted him more than $18 million in just two and a half years.

His mayoralty was closely linked to these interests as well. When Emanuel assumed office, he expanded an finalized a pre-existing deal to privatize the city's parking meters. That contract transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in income from the city to private corporations. It also robbed Chicago voters of the ability to control parking law—so much so that the corporations overruled the city and said it could not suspend alternate side of the street parking for a religious holiday.

Rahm claimed the city was "stuck with the contract" when he took office. That wasn't true. His actions locked the deal in place for more than 70 years. He also claimed he "reformed" the parking meter deal—but, again, it wasn't true. He expanded it, giving the corporate world even more of a chance to earn back billions on its $1.2 billion investment—funds that would otherwise have gone to the city and its people.

Money in Politics

These trends reflect a key characteristic of Rahm Emanuel's career: his first and foremost claim to fame has been fundraising. He is an expert at extracting large amounts of money from wealthy and powerful interests—money that has shifted the Democratic Party sharply to the right.

This, too, runs directly against public opinion. As Data for Progress reports,

… recent studies found that more than 75% of Americans want to limit campaign spending, and a majority of Americans of all political stripes support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. That number included 66% of Republican voters.

Climate Change and the Environment

Our polling shows that voters support spending trillions of dollars to address climate change, believe as move to 100 percent clean energy is worth the cost, and support federal aid for communities – such as poor, Black, and Brown communities – that have been disproportionately affected by climate change, pollution, and the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, as Curtis Black explains in The Intercept, Emanuel shut down Chicago's Department of the Environment as an austerity measure. He said every department would prioritize the environment, but the results showed he lied. Writes Black:

Chicago's recycling rate has remained abysmally low. In February, an analysis by the Better Government Association and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University revealed that the city now has half the number of environmental inspectors that it had eight years ago, and the number of annual inspections, not surprisingly, also fell by more than half.

Black quotes researchers BGA and Medill as saying, "Hazardous material inspections fell by more than 90 percent between 2010 and 2018; air quality inspections plunged almost 70 percent; and solid waste inspections dropped by more than 60 percent."

The rate of environmental citations issued during Emanuel's administration fell to less than one-third of what it had been during the previous seven years.

Public Health Care

A recent Reuters poll found that 64% of Americans support Medicare-for-All, with only with only one in four voters (26 percent) opposing. While other polls have resulted in slightly different numbers, voters consistently support an expanded role for government in health care.

Emanuel himself confessed, however, that he "begged" President Obama not to pursue the Affordable Care Act—which, for all its flaws, has aided millions. As mayor, he moved to close mental health clinics in Chicago. Although the City Council headed off many of his planned closings, he was able to push many others through.

This move harmed many members of Chicago's disabled community. The Collaborative for Community Wellness, a local group, later found that Chicago's Southwest Side had 0.17 licensed mental health clinicians per 1,000 residents—a tiny fraction of the 4.45 per 1,000 available in the upper-class Near North Side.


Voters support unions. In September, Gallup reported that public support for organized labor remained at its highest point in nearly two decades, with two-thirds of voters (65 percent) saying they "approved" of unions.

Rahm Emanuel is not one of those voters. During negotiations over the auto bailout, Rahm had this to say: "F**k the UAW!" He was talking about the United Auto Workers. As mayor of Chicago, Emanuel unilaterally cancelled a negotiated raise for the city's teachers, triggering its first strike in 25 years. He didn't even pick up the phone and call the union president before making his move.

The result was Chicago's first teachers' strike in a quarter century.

Deficit Spending

Data for Progress studied the electorate's views on deficit spending. In that research, likely voters were given pro- and anti-deficit messaging. The anti-deficit-spending message compared the government's finances to a household's need to balance its books. This was the pro-deficit-spending message:

To put our financial house in order, we need to invest money in the American people. In the short term, this may mean increasing the debt but in the long term these investments will pay for themselves by growing the economy and creating jobs.

We found that, among all likely voters, 54 percent were persuaded by the pro-deficit messaging (only 35 percent agreed with the anti-deficit austerity message saying the government should balance its books). Two-thirds of self-identified Democrats preferred the pro-deficit message. A plurality (49 percent) of likely voters that self-identify as Republicans also preferred the pro-deficit message, while only 45 percent of self-identified Republicans supported the austerity message).

Emanuel's record as an austerity-minded "budget hawk" isn't limited to his tenure as mayor. His federal record also shows a predictable chumminess toward the wholesale budget-slashing advocated by billionaires like the late Peter G. Peterson. One example: In 2010, at the height of an economic crisis that was harming tens of millions of Americans, people urgently needed the federal government's help to survive the recession—a recession caused by Wall Street.

Instead of stepping up services to beleaguered working people—or providing the kinds of bailouts his Wall Street allies received—Emanuel ordered federal agencies to enact 5 percent budget cuts across the board. Voters will not be happy with that record, either.


This, then, is the career of Rahm Emanuel. His life and work stand against the values most voters embrace. He must not serve in the new administration. We say that, not as members of the left (although we are), but as analysts who see a record that is likely to do serious political harm to the Biden administration. More importantly, the policies he's likely to promote would also do serious harm to the nation itself.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is Senior Advisor for Health and Economic Justice at Social Security Works and the host of The Zero Hour with RJ Eskow on Free Speech TV. Follow him on Twitter: @rjeskow

Sean McElwee is a co-founder of Data for Progress. Follow him on Twitter: @SeanMcElwee

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The right sees its political opposition as #triggered snowflakes who need a “safe space.” In the words of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, “They’re either a victim of race. They’re victim of their sexual preference. They’re a victim of gender. All about victimhood and the United States is the great oppressor, not the great liberator.”

While Donald Trump and his ilk claim that victimhood is exclusive to the coastal, “politically correct” elite, I find that feelings of victimhood are central to Trump’s appeal. Trump supporters believe that whites and Christians face discrimination while people of color reap the benefits of government largess. Far from being concerned about “facts, not feelings,” Trump supporters and the conservative movement have created a false narrative of victimhood that motivates their supporters.

I examined “feeling thermometer” scores in the 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) pilot survey (which asks respondents to rank politicians and groups from 0, meaning coldest feelings, to 100, meaning warmest feelings) to explore how they measured feelings for Trump among white respondents, based on their views of discrimination against whites and Christians.

Among whites who believe that white people face no discrimination, the mean feeling thermometer score for Trump was 25 (cold), compared to 64 (warm) among those who believe whites face a “great deal” of discrimination. Among whites who believe Christians face no discrimination, the average feeling thermometer score for Trump was 24, compared with 67 among those who believe Christians face “a great deal” of discrimination (see chart).

Another question asked respondents whether the federal government treats white people or black people better. Among whites who believe the federal government treats whites “much better,” the mean feeling thermometer score for Trump was 19, compared to a mean score of 65 for those who believe the federal government treats black people “much better.”


Among independents and Republicans, those with strong feelings that whites and Christians faced discrimination were more supportive of Trump in the Republican primaries (the ANES survey was completed in January). Among white Republicans and independents who believe whites face no discrimination, 69 percent supported a Republican candidate other than Trump. Among those who believe whites face a “great deal” of discrimination, only 34 percent did. Among those who believe the government treats whites much better, 72 percent chose a candidate other than Trump, whereas among those who feel the government treats black people much better, 49 percent did.

Among Republicans, but particularly among Trump supporters, feelings of white discrimination and loss were profound. Among white Democrats, 74 percent said whites face “little or no” discrimination, compared to 51 percent of white Republicans. While 75 percent of white Democrats said Christians face “little or no” discrimination, only 30 percent of white Republicans did. As the chart below shows, there are deep partisan divides in perceptions on whether the federal government favors white people or black people (or treats both equally).


To paraphrase a popular idiom, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like discrimination. These data suggest that this feeling of loss and victimization, and the need for racial solidarity to protect what remains, is core to understanding Trump’s appeal. As I’ve noted before, beliefs in the importance of white racial solidarity are powerful predictors of Trump support. Whites who believe their race is “very important” to their identity had warmer feelings toward Trump. Trump’s rhetoric reflects this reality: He has described a world in which his white supporters are the victims of bad trade deals, elites and rampant crime. They feel they are living through rapid demographic change that will leave them as a minority of the population — and they know how minorities have been treated for so long in American populations.

As John Paul Brammer notes, Trump’s slogan, “‘Make America Great Again,’ speaks to that victimhood. We were great once. We aren’t anymore, because of those people.” In his book “The Reactionary Mind,” political theorist Corey Robin writes,

Far from being an invention of the politically correct, victimhood has been a talking point of the right ever since Burke decried the mob’s treatment of Marie Antoinette. The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose.

Trumpism is a movement built around the loss of privilege and perceived social status and a desire to re-create social hierarchy. It is one that requires its adherents to live in a state of constant fear and victimization. This mythology requires extensive ideological work and media filtering to remain true. Conservatives must create an ideological bubble in which crime is out of control (instead of hovering near historic lows), the rate of abortion is rising (instead of falling), refugees are committing terrorist attacks en masse (they aren’t at all) and immigrants are taking jobs (it’s the capitalists), all while the government is funneling money to undeserving black people (black people receive government support in accordance with their share of the population, despite making up a disproportionately large share of the poor). Conservatives, and many in the general public, believe that Muslims and immigrants (both legal and unauthorized) make up a dramatically larger share of the population than they actually do.

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To an extent that is rarely true of an opposition party, Democrats can claim a mandate of resistance. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by a large margin, he’s incredibly unpopular and the Republicans have broken norms around using any tools available to gum up the opposition party’s agenda. In a welcome development, Democrats have largely avoided their classic debate about whether they should throw women or people of color under the bus in order to remain electorally competitive (though some pieces in this genre have slipped through).

But while “resistance” is a welcome posture for Democrats, it’s one that very few have clearly defined. Most autopsies have focused on Hillary Clinton’s campaign failures and messaging, but these are ancillary to the more structural failures of the Democratic Party over the last few years and offer only limited help to understand what’s coming next. Next week, I’ll discuss some principles for Democrats going into the future. But before Democrats can go forward, it’s worth understanding what’s been going wrong.

Mistake 1: Focusing on Perception, Not Power

Throughout Barack Obama’s time in office, Democrats have proved incapable of fighting back against Republican subterfuge because of their commitment to “respectability politics.” For example, James O’Keefe released a selectively edited video which he claimed showed that ACORN (a nonprofit organization that organized, mobilized and advocated for low-income communities) had advised him on how to buy a house and use it as a brothel. Rather than rallying in defense of ACORN, “an overwhelming majority of Democrats” voted with Republicans to cut off funding for an organization that had been “instrumental” in campaigns for living-wage ordinances, increasing the minimum wage and ending predatory lending.

Though the Obama administration was aware of the CIA’s assessment that Russia was trying to influence the 2016 election, it stepped cautiously around the issue, hoping to avoid the impression of using his presidency for partisan leverage. The FBI did not show the same restraint, and instead James Comey wrote his famous letter to the House Judiciary Committee that likely cost Clinton the election. Ironically, it was Obama’s commitment to keeping Republicans around in high-level positions (Comey is a Republican) that cost his party’s nominee the presidency. It is a nod at bipartisanship that will not be reciprocated by his successor.

When Republicans assume office, their first actions are to restrict democracy by limiting voting access, crush Democratic organizing with right-to-work laws and reward their donors with massive tax cuts. Yet when Democrats gain power they prefer to do the opposite, governing as pragmatic centrists. They rarely embrace a policy agenda that could build long-term power. Further, they have consistently believed that concessions to conservatives in policy design (markets) and frameworks (deficit neutrality) would reap benefits that never materialized. Democrats have been slow to defend their own interests because of their commitment to respectability politics. Finally, they have consistently overestimated the importance of norms and Republicans’ desire to respect them. Democrats have consistently invested political capital in protecting liberal norms, while Republicans have not, creating inequities in power.

Mistake 2: Unrequited Bipartisanship

Obama began his career singing the praises of bipartisanship. During his 2004 Democratic convention speech Obama famously declared:

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.

The failure of Democrats to realize how deep the Republican commitment to opposing their agenda runs has led to strategic errors. Take the earliest battles of Obama’s presidency, when he extended a hand to House Speaker John Boehner, only to have Boehner leave the table at the last minute. Or granting concessions (more than $1 trillion in spending cuts, with no tax increases) to the Republicans during the high-stakes debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, which only emboldened Republicans to pursue the tactic again in 2013. As the Onion perfectly satirized, “Obama: Debt Ceiling Deal Required Tough Concessions by Both Democrats and Democrats Alike.”In a Health Affairs article, Helen Halpin (who advised the Obama administration on the development of the Affordable Care Act) and Peter Harbage note that Sen. Max Baucus spent “months” trying to forge a bipartisan bill, sapping precious time that Democrats simply didn’t have.

This flows from the Democratic desire for bipartisan policy, but also from a technocratic disposition. Many liberal commentators are holding up Trump’s support among beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act to claim that the idea that policies would become entrenched is fundamentally wrong. In fact, it’s right — the problem is that ACA was not properly designed to mobilize political support for it. The administration failed to use the exchanges to register voters (as they were required to by the National Voter Registration Act). Where the Medicaid expansion passed, it did indeed mobilize turnout.

Research is further establishing the feedback loop between progressive policy and Democratic vote share, not debunking it. The fallacy lies in believing that programs will simply mobilize people by dint of their existence. In reality, of course, most Americans aren’t schooled in policy. Institutions like unions and community organizations (like ACORN) traditionally mobilize these beneficiaries. Social Security privatization didn’t work because groups like the AARP have cropped up to defend these benefits.

Mistake 3: Exclusive Focus on Presidential Power

It is widely understood that the party controlling the presidency will lose ground elsewhere. However, there is ample evidence that Democrats suffered more losses than were inevitable. For instance, in 2010, even the most pessimistic models dramatically underestimated the magnitude of Democratic losses in the midterm elections. Right now, Republicans control 23 seats in “split-ticket” congressional districts (that is, districts where voters supported one party’s presidential candidate, but elected a House member from the other party), compared with 12 for Democrats. Democrats control more split-ticket seats in the Senate, but that’s because Senate terms are six years long. In the 2016 election, there were no split-ticket votes and nearly all of the GOP’s Senate candidates performed better than Trump. The Democratic Party has let itself atrophy down-ballot at a stunning rate. Kathleen Ronaye reports:

Under [former party chair Howard] Dean, the national party installed and paid several staff members in each state. But that program ended after Obama’s election. State parties began to receive monthly payments of anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, an amount that varies depending on the year. At some point, the parties have received no money at all.

That, in turn, has hampered the party’s ability to run viable candidates. In The SurgeRhodes Cook writes:

In Alabama, for the first time in the party’s history, Democrats did not run a Senate candidate at all in 2014. In Tennessee, Democratic voters nominated a political unknown for governor who benefitted from a famous cartoon name (Charlie Brown) and a top line on the primary ballot … In Idaho, William Bryk drew 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote for Senate, even though he lived in New York. And in Nevada, the field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates was apparently so weak that a plurality of the party’s primary voters cast their ballots for a line labeled “None of these candidates.”

It’s not just one cycle. There was the trucker with no political experience who ran for governor of Mississippi in 2015, or the unemployed army vet facing obscenity charges for showing pornography to a college student who ran against Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. In 2016 Jeff Stein documented some of the more egregious Democratic recruiting failures in potentially competitive House seats. Candidates included Frederick Lavergne, whose website was “filled with amazingly bizarre rants in Latin” and “a little-known county commissioner who has barely raised any money” (with a broken website). In one Texas district that Hillary Clinton carried, Democrats failed to even put forward a candidate. In a Virginia district that went narrowly for Trump, Democrats didn’t have a primary because only one candidate filed, a woman who “has run for the Newport News City Council four times and has lost each time; most recently in 2010 when she finished in fourth place, out of four candidates.”

As Roll Call reported last year, “More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.” Democrats may claim these races are “unwinnable,” but Republicans have recently won gubernatorial elections in deep blue states like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Ironically, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, a state Hillary Clinton won by 26 points, is now considered by some Democrats to be “unbeatable.”

As the table below shows, Republicans have been far more successful at winning governorships in blue territory than Democrats have been at winning seats in red territory. (Partisan Voting Index, or PVI, is a measure of how much a state leans toward the Republican or Democratic Party.)

This is only for the federal House and Senate, along with gubernatorial elections. We’re not even talking about state legislature races. Given these failures, it may make sense for Democrats to spend more time recruiting candidates and less time encouraging qualified candidates not to run in order to“clear the field” for the establishment favorite.

In a recent piece, Andrew Prokop noted that the current Democratic situation looks much like the one Republicans faced in 2008. Yet on second consideration, this is deeply troubling. For one, Republicans were coming off a historically unpopular president (Bush had a 24 percent approval rating) while Obama has an approval rating of 58 percent. In addition, Republicans had just presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, while Democrats are running on an economy with sturdy income growth and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. Finally, while Republicans were looking at a favorable electoral map in the 2010 midterms, Democrats are looking at an abysmal map in 2018. Their best chance to pick up Senate seats was squandered in 2016, when they were hoping to gain six to eight seats and instead picked up only two.


These mistakes are more obvious in retrospect and many choices, at the time, seemed reasonable. The party in power often struggles down-ballot, and Democrats typically perform worse in low-turnout non-presidential elections. Furthermore, it’s difficult to recruit strong candidates when they don’t think they can win. But these defeats were not inevitable, and Democrats have shown only some signs they understand the depths of their plight.

Democrats will not inevitably bounce back. Republicans have used their power to suppress votes, crush unions, redraw favorable districts, open the floodgates of money and deter organizing. The Republican advantage in statehouses will feed high-quality candidates into competitive races. They are better funded, and though Democrats won’t happily admit it, better organized. The goal of understanding these failures is not simply to relitigate old battles, but to understand how politics have evolved. The old paradigms that have driven Democratic politics for decades matter less than they once did.

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Race Remains the Great Divider: Even Rich People of Color Are Unlikely to Support Republicans

Imagine a rich person. For most Americans, the image that comes to mind is a wealthy white man. While white men certainly make up a disproportionate share of the wealthy, there is growing diversity among the wealthiest members of society. Given the increasing political salience of racial justice and gender equity, this diversity could have impacts on policy. I find that there are indeed large differences between rich men and rich women (defining that group as those earning more than $150,000 a year), as well as between rich white people and rich people of color. High-income women of color are far more progressive than white men.

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Yep, Race Really Did Trump Economics: A Data Dive on His Supporters Reveals Deep Racial Animosity

Donald Trump is the president-elect. As with any event of such historical implications, it is impossible to trace it to a single factor. Counterfactual scenarios abound: Would different delegate allocation rules and fewer candidates have enabled an establishment Republican to beat back Trump in the primaries? Would Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren have been able to speak to working-class whites in a way Hillary Clinton couldn’t? Would the election have turned out differently without FBI Director James Comey’s foray into the last days of the election? What if Clinton had campaigned more vigorously in the Rust Belt?

Similarly, explanations for the motivation of Trump supporters abound. The votes of more than 59 million people defy simple explanation. Is it a rural/urban divide, the result of economic malaise, racial resentment, xenophobia, misogyny or anti-elite sentiment?

The American National Elections Study (ANES) pilot survey offers a unique opportunity to study Trump voters, since it was completed in January 2016, long before Trump had definitively won the Republican nomination. For this analysis, I examined a single question: “How likely is it that many whites are unable to find a job because employers are hiring minorities instead?” Respondents could answer, “extremely likely,” “very likely,” “moderately likely,” “a little likely” and “not at all likely.” The question was only asked of whites, and is suggestive of the way that economic anxiety and racism are deeply intertwined. To determine Trump support, I used a “feeling thermometer,” which asks respondents to place their feelings about Donald Trump on a scale from 0 (coldest) to 100 (warmest).

The question has an incredible amount of predictive power. The variable was statistically significant in a model that controlled for party, ideology, education, age, gender, income, views on economic performance, racial resentment and views on trade. (This is also true using a question that asked people whom they supported among all Republican candidates, rather than a feeling thermometer.) The chart below shows predicted feeling-thermometer scores for Trump using a model that controls for age, ideology, gender, income, party support, education and views on economic performance and trade. The predicted score for a white person who thinks it is “extremely likely” people of color are taking white jobs is 64. (In other words, that person is warmly disposed towards Trump.) For those who think it is “not at all likely” the mean score is 23. (That person likes Trump a lot less.)

Compare this to another issue commonly claimed to be central to Trump support. Among whites who “favor trade a great deal” the predicted Trump feeling thermometer score is 42 points. Among those who “oppose trade a great deal” the predicted score was 53 points.

Could Racism Explain Clinton’s Loss?

To determine whether racism could have caused Clinton’s defeat, I needed a method to compare support for the two candidates. Because it was performed in January, ANES 2016 asked different head-to-head questions to different respondents, so the sample is smaller than ideal for analysis. Instead, I subtracted the Clinton feeling thermometer from the Trump feeling thermometer. People with negative scores were coded as Trump supporters and those with positive scores were coded as Clinton supporters (33 respondents rated the two candidates the same, and I excluded them from the analysis). Fifty-eight percent of white respondents favored Trump over Clinton (and 51 percent favored Trump over Sanders).

Among whites without a college degree, 59 percent favored Trump over Clinton, and among whites with a college degree, 57 percent favored Trump. Fifty-four percent of white women favored Trump, compared with 63 percent of white men. These numbers, despite being drawn from surveys conducted 10 months ago, are strikingly similar to exit polls conducted after the Nov. 8 election, suggesting that these attitudes are highly stable.

The question about white jobs is powerfully linked to support for Trump over Clinton. Eighty-four percent of whites who believe it is “extremely likely” that whites can’t find a job because employers are hiring people of color instead support Trump, compared with 23 percent of those who think it is “not at all” likely. Among white Democrats, 58 percent who believe people of color are taking jobs support Trump over Clinton, compared with less than 1 percent of those who believe it is not at all likely. Eighty-one percent of white women who think it is “extremely likely” people of color are taking jobs supported Trump, compared with 26 percent who don’t think that.

As I’ve shown with sociologist Philip Cohen and political scientist Jason McDaniel, stereotyping and resentment strongly predict support for Trump. Take for instance, racist stereotypes toward Muslims and African-Americans. Among whites who believe the word “violent” describes black people “extremely well,” 78 percent support Trump, compared with 34 percent of whites who say “not at all well.” Among whites who say “violent” describes Muslims well, 84 percent support Trump, compared to 30 percent who believe the word doesn’t describe Muslims at all.

This is not to say that misogyny did not play a role in the election as well. Far from it, as political scientist Brian Schaffner has persuasively shown. There is more evidence to be parsed, and fuller datasets with larger samples and more questions won’t be publicly available for some time. But it is increasingly clear that white racial solidarity is one of the most powerful forces in American politics; any explanation of Trump’s success, and any movement aimed at opposing him, must take it seriously.

What Next?

In an essay about the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens wrote that “‘financial capitalism survived the 2008 global crash. Liberal democracy has not fared so well. There is a connection … Capitalism needed saving, but in bailing out the financial institutions with taxpayers’ money, governments transferred the stresses from markets to politics.” These dynamics have driven Trumpism and other right-wing movements across the world. Indeed, a recent study suggests that financial crises tend to precipitate extremist politics. This is not to pretend that racism is not driving Trump support. Indeed, I remain convinced it is the single most powerful force behind Trumpism, and the racism Trump has unleashed is likely to get worse. Political scientists Spencer Piston and Ashley Jardina recently found that more than half of Trump supporters dehumanize black people (describing black people as less evolved than white people).

The Democratic Party is in crisis. A quarter of the population has voted to elect a white nationalist to the most powerful office in the land, overriding the will of the majority of voters. Forces we thought were long dormant have returned with a vengeance. Democrats control nothing. Republicans hold nearly all state legislatures, governorships, majorities in the House and Senate, the presidency and with it, the Supreme Court. On the opposite side, Democrats control the federal judiciary, many large cities and a few states (though they are populous).

Data analytics cannot make a movement. Democrats have tried to replace the organizing power of unions and community organizations like ACORN with algorithms. Progressives need permanent organizing and mobilization, not simply a get-out-the-vote operation that’s turned on once every four years. This grassroots mobilization will mean that policy cannot be top-down, wonkish prescriptions. Take large minimum-wage hikes, a policy proposal scoffed at by many center-left economists. Such proposals have won everywhere they were on the ballot in 2014 and 2016, including Arizona, Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota. All of these states went for Trump, but even as voters in Arizona supported Trump, 60 percent of them also supported a ballot initiative that would boost the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and guarantee paid sick leave for employees.Democrats have become very good at policy, but policy is not necessarily politics.

This is not to say abandon the wonks. But as Washington state discovered with its failed carbon-tax proposal, progressive policy designed by and for wonks will struggle to succeed, even in deep blue America. We need empirically based policy, but we also need policies that mobilize Americans, and treat people as citizens with real government buy-in. Consider the way that the stimulus plan silently bolstered American checkbooks, rather than delivering the money all at once — a wonkish solution, but one that gave Americans no specific reason to vote for Democrats. Or how much of the Affordable Care Act favored a clunkocracy over the direct provision of services, whereas the Medicaid expansion, in contrast, actually increased political participation. Or the way Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is now delivered invisibly through block grants to states, limiting its mobilizing power.

Racism is a very real driver of Trump’s success. As the ANES data shows, economic and social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus. Where to go from here? More research will certainly come, but it seems clear to me that Democrats need to begin organizing and mobilizing. Democrats need to vigorously fight voter suppression techniques and take seriously their ability to reduce turnout, particularly among young people, low-income people and people of color. Turnout in the presidential election was dampened by new voting restrictions and closed polling places. But turnout in midterms and off-cycle elections is even lower. In these elections, turnout is even more stratified by race and class. The people who are prevented from voting by registration barriers tend to lean progressive, so policies like automatic voter registration are crucial.

Democrats need a get-out-the-vote operation that exists permanently, rather than being constructed anew each cycle. The old institutions for working-class mobilization and solidarity, such as ACORN and the labor unions, have either disappeared or are incredibly diminished. Policies that sparked workers to mobilize have disappeared in favor of clunky programs, that, while often effective, struggle to create defined political constituencies to support them (a phenomenon known as the submerged state). Policy must be written not merely from the top down but also from the bottom up.

Democrats must create a narrative that weaves economic, racial and gender justice together. A multiracial coalition is the path to sustained political power and reductions in economic, racial and gender inequality. As I’ve shown with political scientist Jason McDaniel, racism often diminishes support for progressive policies. The solution is not to abandon either the white working class or the diverse and rising American electorate that still stands poised to transform the nation.

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White Privilege Has Enormous Implications for Policy - But Whites Don’t Think It Exists

Barack Obama’s presidency has been defined by a new understanding by Americans that the country has yet to truly confront racism. His nomination was greeted with optimism which quickly turned sour, with 69 percent of Americans saying race relations are generally bad, levels equal to those following the Rodney King acquittal. Police violence and structural inequities have led to the Black Lives Matter movement, while on the right, racism propelled Trump to the GOP nomination. It’s clear that solving America’s many problems, from rampant levels of inequality to unemployment to lagging education systems to rising health care costs, will require us to understand how racism and privilege plays out in our society.

Whites Don’t Believe They Have Privilege

How do Americans understand concepts like “white privilege” in our society? The American National Election Study (ANES), a 1,200-person survey performed this past January, is an ideal source of data because it asks questions about privilege that aren’t often included in academic surveys. We analyzed the dataset to explore how views of privilege relate to other views on race and ideology. The question we examine asks respondents, “How many advantages do white people have that minorities do not have in this society?” Respondents can answer, “A great many,” “A lot,” “A moderate number,” “A few” and “None.” We collapsed these answers into three categories.

We find, perhaps unsurprisingly, whites are less likely to accept white privilege (although there is evidence that younger whites are more likely to say they have privilege). Only 25 percent of whites say white people have a great deal of or many advantages, compared with 66 percent of people of color.


There were partisan gaps as well, with white Democrats more likely to say white people have privilege than white Republicans.


White Privilege and Other Views

We also find evidence that a major barrier towards social progress is that people disagree about whether or not white privilege exists in society, and views on white privilege are strongly associated with racial resentment. As the chart below shows, whites who deny privilege also score higher on the battery of questions known as racial resentment (see chart). This relationship remains true even after controlling for party, ideology, gender, age, education and racial stereotypes. Racial stereotypes (the belief that people of color are violent or lazy) among whites aren’t linked to views on white privilege.

Resentment is measured by the following four questions, which were turned into a scale from 0 to 1 (political scientist Jason McDaniel generated the code for the scale):

  • Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Black people should do the same without any special favors.
  • It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if black people would only try harder, they could be just as well-off as whites.
  • Over the past few years, black people have gotten less than they deserve.
  • Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for black people to work their way out of the lower class.

Views of white privilege have a lot to do with attitudes of resentment against racial minorities. People who acknowledge white privilege are much less likely to blame blacks’ work effort for racial disparities, for example. The chart below shows that whites who deny white privilege also score higher on the resentment scale. Racial resentment measures how sympathetic whites are to the continued existence of structural inequities. Our analysis suggests these views are connected. Whites who believe they have advantages are more likely to accept more structural views of the persistence of racial inequalities.


Those who acknowledge white privilege are also much more likely to recognize that blacks are stopped disproportionately often by police for no good reason:


Why Talking About Privilege Matters

Acknowledging white privilege could present an opportunity for making progress on racial justice. But the problem is that when most pundits talk about race in America, they don’t focus on the complicity of whites in creating racial inequality or the equal stake of whites in eliminating it. They focus instead on nonwhites, so that race gets portrayed as a “people of color” issue instead of as everyone’s shared issue. Race gets pushed to the side as if it’s a specific identity group problem, when in actuality, it is relevant to white and nonwhite alike, because whites are implicated in producing racial inequality and also equally suffer from its existence in society. Spoken word poets, DarkMatter, have aptly captured the flaw in this logic: “Trans problems are not trans people’s problems at all. They’re straight people’s problems with trans people.” Similarly, race problems aren’t people of colors’ problems; they are white people’s problems with people of color, and they are the negative effects of this on everyone through racism and inequality in society.

Our discourse of focusing on people of color instead of on the dominant culture that marginalizes them places the burden of improving race relations on the marginalized themselves, as Toni Morrison has explained. If whites are not explicitly implicated in creating and perpetuating racial inequality — through systemic racist practices likewhite flight and political elites concentrating resources in white neighborhoods and away from nonwhite neighborhoods, resulting in disasters like Flint, Michigan — then they will not feel equal responsibility in combating it. This will necessarily stall progress, because people of color cannot end the discrimination against themselves; whites will have to join the fight to make progress. And this data suggests that encouraging people to acknowledge white privilege is one way to do it.

This is a barrier to progress on the left and the right, in different ways. The right suffers from not outwardly acknowledging that racism prevents us from achieving a free and equal democracy and instead attempts to treat everyone “the same,” as if race does not exist. Major GOP leaders like Paul Ryan, for example, have criticized Trump for his racist comments about Judge Curiel, while also recently stating that America has a “real culture problem” of inner city men “not working,” which is an indirect yet very racially charged comment.  (Trump, of course, is the anomaly in his more blatant racism.)

The left suffers because, while it acknowledges that inequalities exist due to race, it still fails to acknowledge that whites are complicit in producing racial inequality. Many progressives will say without hesitation that black lives matter and understand the racism behind the phrase “all lives matter.” They acknowledge that blacks suffer disproportionately from violence in America. But progressives rarely push this further to explain why: because of the culture of white privilege and supremacy that marginalizes people of color to low-resource neighborhoods. This lens of implicating whiteness in the problem of racial injustice is critical for converting our politicians’ racial rhetoric into real progress on equality.

Until we start talking about race issues as being equally white people’s issues as people of color’s issues, we will fail to enlist whites actively against racism. However, the bright side that this analysis suggests is that if the left and right can successfully switch their racial discourse to acknowledge the role of whites and white privilege instead of solely focusing on people of color, we could see huge progress on racial equality.

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The Medical Debt Crisis: The Prognosis Is Still Dire for Americans Struggling to Stave Off Massive Health Care Bills

Recent evidence suggests that the Affordable Care Act is helping to reduce the burden of medical debt for American consumers. Yet, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid, millions of Americans still lack insurance and many plans offer thin coverage. The result is that in 2014, 64 million people were struggling with medical debt, the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. In my latest Demos report, “Enough to Make You Sick: The Burden of Medical Debt,” I explore how medical debt affects household finances and why we need more aggressive policies to reduce medical debt.

My report details the results of two surveys (in 2008 and 2012) Demos commissioned to explore the finances of lower to middle-income households carrying credit card debt. I find that households carrying medical debt on their credit card are more likely to take extreme measures to pay off their debts and forgo care. Medical debt has significant negative impacts on household finances, even when people are insured. A public option could help reduce the chances of people taking on medical debt, and that more rigorous consumer protection could mitigate the consequences.

The Good News

I compare the 2008 and 2012 surveys to find trends in credit card debt. Among those with medical debt on their credit card (the “medically indebted” for the purposes of my report), average total credit card debt fell from $11,019 in 2008 to $8,762 in 2012, a 20 percent decline. Medical debt alone fell from $2,055 in 2008 to $1,679 in 2012, an 18 percent decline. One likely source of these declines is the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD Act). Studies show that the CARD Act dramatically reduced fees for credit card users. Research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests the CARD act reduced hidden credit card fees, saving consumers billions of dollars. Households are also carrying less credit card debt due to out-of-pocket medical expenses and medical debt that is not on credit cards. It’s possible the Affordable Care Act played a role, but many of its key provisions hadn’t been in effect for long enough to conclude that they played a major part in the decline. However, these declines could also be explained by the improving economy. While the situation has become rosier across the board, my research suggests large negative impacts for households that are carrying medical debt.


The Bad News

Costly medical procedures can quickly lead to spiraling medical debt, even forhouseholds with insurance. Out-of-pocket costs are frequent contributors to credit card debt. In our survey, dental expenses were the most frequently cited as a contributor to credit card debt; of those respondents who report they experienced  a dental expense, a large share said that the expense contributed to their credit card debt. This is likely due to the fact that many basic insurance plans don’t include dental coverage. Emergency room visits, though rare, frequently contributed to debt; more than half of those who reported the expense said it contributed to credit card debt. More than half of respondents reported purchasing prescription medication, and of those nearly half said that prescriptions contributed to credit card debt. Though hospital stays and emergency room visits were not frequently cited as contributing to medical debt (12 percent and 13 percent respectively), that is because few people reported experiencing them (22 percent for both). Among those who had a hospital stay or emergency room visit, 56 percent and 57 percent respectively reported that these visits contributed to medical debt.


Medically-indebted households also struggle with more credit card debt overall. On average, medically indebted households had $8,762 in credit card debt, compared with $5,154 for households with credit card debt that did not stem from medical expenditures. In addition, households with medical debt on their credit cards were dramatically more likely to report using their credit card to pay for basic expenses, such as rent or groceries, because they didn’t have enough money in their checking or savings accounts (52 percent versus 29 percent).

Households with medical debt on their credit cards were far more likely to report forgoing health care to reduce medical expenses. In total, 63 percent of those with medical debt on their credit cards reported either postponing or not filling a prescription, not visiting a doctor, or skipping tests, treatments or follow-ups. Among those not carrying medical debt on their credit card, 36 percent reported these behaviors. The most commonly cited expense that was skipped was visiting a doctor or clinic, a behavior reported by 47 percent of those with medical debt on their credit cards and 28 percent of households without medical debt on their credit cards. A cross-national study finds that Americans are more likely than residents of other high-income nations to skip necessary healthcare to save costs.


How to Fix the Problem

There are several possible legislative options to reduce the impacts of medical debt. For instance, the CFPB could create protections and a process for consumers to challenge medical debts improperly added to a credit report, or require thatindividuals be given notice before a debt is added to their credit report.

There are also legislative options. The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act, proposed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would help families dealing with medical debt keep their homes by providing them with bankruptcy protection, and would forgive student debt. It also waives the unnecessary and offensive requirement that individuals who file for debt relief receive credit counseling, if the debt is medical-related. The Medical Debt Responsibility Act, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), would require that fully paid medical debt be removed from credit reports within 45 days.

These smaller reforms would have big impacts on many households, but there are also bigger potential reforms. Although the Affordable Care Act is an important piece of legislation, it still leaves many Americans uninsured. A public option, by acting as an insurer of last resort, could close that gap. In addition, a public option would be in a strong position to negotiate with healthcare providers, driving down costs. Research finds an estimated “reduction in collection balances of around $600 to $1,000 among those who gain Medicaid coverage due to the ACA.” This suggests that if more states expanded Medicaid, it would also alleviate medical debt. Although insurance doesn’t prevent medical debt from ruining lives, there is evidence that it reduces the incidence of medical debt. In a recent op-ed, President Obama argued for a public option. A medical crisis can strike a household at any time — it shouldn’t drive them into bankruptcy or poverty. In other wealthy countries, it rarely does. Another painful example of American exceptionalism.

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Donald's Achilles' Heel: Trump's Racism Could Lose Him Moderate White Support, Data Shows

Over the past few weeks, there has been been renewed discussion about Donald Trump’s past racism and the racism that has persisted throughout his campaign. Trump and his father were sued twice by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent apartments to black people. He has said, in private, that he believes, “Laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that.” He also publicly called for the execution of the Central Park Five, all of whom were later declared innocent (afterwards, he said they were “no angels.” During his campaign, Trump has regularly engaged in racist rhetoric. He engaged in a racist attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge overseeing the lawsuit against Trump University. Trump has retweeted racists and accounts connected to the “white genocide” hashtag (a white supremacist hashtag). He has frequently referred to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”

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The Myth of the Democratic Rift: Despite Media Hot Air, the Data Show Sanders Supporters Will Embrace Clinton

Bernie Sanders has bowed out of the Democratic primary race and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Yet, some questions remain about whether Sanders supporters will embrace Clinton (some pundits, including Paul Krugman, suggested that Sanders would not support Clinton).  Incidents like Susan Sarandon’s ambiguous comments about possibly supporting Trump (or not voting at all) raised many eyebrows.

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Language Matters: Concerns About 'Political Correctness' Are Deeply Intertwined with Race

As American society has become more diverse and inclusive, there have been efforts to make language reflect that inclusivity. For decades, women, LGBTQIA people, disability advocates, and people of color have demanded a more inclusive language. In key respects, their effort has been successful. Powerful men (and women) increasingly face scrutiny for using racial slurs or discriminatory language, as Mel Gibson, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling have discovered. Moreover, the public tends not to sympathize with these powerful people who stray far beyond the realm of “political correctness.” While these efforts are widely accepted among some portions of society, especially young people, they have met a backlash among many other segments, namely older, white men and women.

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Rahm Emanuel’s Political Machine Is Overwhelmingly White: Here’s Why It Matters - Even Beyond Chicago

The 2016 election cycle has led to heated discussion about the issues of money in politics and racial justice. However, these debates have rarely crossed: the dominance of the affluent and racial justice are treated as separate issues. My latest Demos report suggests that these debates are actually intertwined: the donor class is dominated by whites, which could  hamper progress towards to racial justice.

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The GOP’s Lottery-Ticket Philosophy: How Extreme Wealth is Deranging American Politics

It’s a long-running debate: Are rich people more conservative, and particularly more likely to be Republican? The answer is yes, and a large literature establishes this, but the debate still rages on, driven partially by the cognitive biases of elite commentators. In a recent study, Erik Peterson shed some light on the debate using a random event that could shift an individual’s political preferences: winning the lottery.

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The Myth Destroying America: Why Social Mobility Is Beyond Ordinary People’s Control

In America, there is a strongly held conviction that with hard work, anyone can make it into the middle class. Pew recently found that Americans are far more likely than people in other countries to believe that work determines success, as opposed to other factors beyond an individual’s control. But this positivity comes with a negative side — a tendency to pathologize those living in poverty. Indeed, 60 percent of Americans (compared with 26 percent of Europeans) say that the poor are lazy, and only 29 percent say those living in poverty are trapped in poverty by factors beyond their control (compared with 60 percent of Europeans).

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Why We Can't Let the GOP Pretend to Be the Party of the Middle Class

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Republicans are trying to position themselves as the party of the middle-class. In a recent essay, Thomas Edsall writes, “The Republican appropriation of leftist populist rhetoric (and even policies) poses a significant threat to liberal prospects in 2016.” It may well work, but not because Republicans are in fact reformist, but rather because voters and pundits eschew data and instead focus on rhetoric. When it comes to actual empirical evidence, the answer is indisputable: Democrats preside over far more income growth for the middle class than Republicans.

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The True Cost of Citizens United: The Roberts Court’s Darkest Hour Revisited

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, which allowed unlimited corporate money into the political system and increased the domination of democracy by the wealthy elite. Money has indeed overwhelmed the system since 2008. This rise of big money in politics has endangered democracy and emboldened those who want to put democracy up for sale to aggressively attack the modest campaign spending regulations that still remain.

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America Has a White Millennial Problem

Nearly any time Democrats lose an election, there is a pervasive narrative that, just around the bend, there will be an “emerging Democratic majority.” Originally projected to occur between 2004 and 2008, it now appears further away than ever after last month’s midterm blowout. Republicans have a stranglehold on the House, where they control their largest number of seats since 1948. That lead will be incredibly tough to chip away at. Democratic chances of regaining the Senate in 2016, once considered a near certainty, are looking iffy. Republicans control 31 governorships, as well as 68 of 98 state legislative chambers. Democrats still have a strong chance of winning the presidency, but given the importance of the states for shaping income distribution and policy, even that victory will ring hollow.

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How Walmart and Home Depot Are Spending Millions Buying Politicians

The notion that all citizens have a voice in our country’s governance is at the center of the American ideal of democracy. Yet the role of corporate and private money in our political system means that the voices of the majority are often drowned out by those with the most money. Campaign and committee donations help wealthy interests determine who runs for office and who wins elections. This effect, combined with millions of dollars in lobbying, allows the biggest spenders to shape the country’s political agenda and gives them disproportionate influence over the policymaking process.

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The Republican Party’s Electoral Philosophy: Cheating Wins

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a law that could disenfranchise 600,000 Texans. But the effects of the law won’t fall equally: African-Americans and Latinos are 305 percent and 195 percent less likely (respectively) to have the necessary forms of identification than whites. The Republican party is increasingly unpopular, and relies almost exclusively on white voters. The charts below show the 2008 if only white men voted and if only people of color voted (source).

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This Is Your Brain on Money: Why America’s Rich Think Differently Than the Rest of Us

The Internet is replete with apologias for the rich. They are thinly sourced and even less well thought. The goal is simple: to justify the unjustifiable chasm between the rich and poor, globally and within our nation. But the irony is that, rather than being better than the rest of us, in many ways the rich are worse.

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Why the Right Is So Freaked Out about the Inconvenient Truths of Actual U.S. History

Conservative hero Ben Carson is worried about American teenagers joining ISIS. But it’s not because of “radical Islam.” It’s because of new high school history standards.

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The New and Rapidly-Spreading Scheme to Rip Off American Workers

One of the most unnoticed labor trends in the past few decades has been the rise of "just-in-time scheduling," the practice of scheduling workers' shifts with little advance notice that are subject to cancelation hours before they are due to begin. Such scheduling practices mean that already low-wage workers often have fluctuating pay checks, leading them to rely on shady lenders or credit cards to make ends meet. Such consequences especially affect women and workers of color, who disproportionately fill these jobs.

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Conspiracy of the Plutocrats: Secrets of the Wealth-Inequality Explosion Revealed

The growing wealth gap in developed countries is an incredibly disturbing development. New research suggests that inequality might be growing even faster than we thought. Worryingly, this concentration of wealth has coincided with a concentration of debt at the bottom, as families struggle to maintain their standards of living with stagnating incomes. But even this data understates wealth inequality, argues Gabriel Zucman in “The Hidden Wealth of Nations,” because official statistics fail to capture offshore wealth holdings.

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The Ultimate Guide to Shutting Down Conservative Anti-Piketty Hysteria

Thomas Piketty’s wildly popular new book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” has been subject to more think pieces than the final episode of “Breaking Bad.” Progressives are celebrating the book — and its unexpected popularity — as an important turning point in the fight against global wealth inequality. This, of course, means that conservatives have gone completely ballistic.

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