John Anzalone was one of the primary pollsters for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection. He’s also helped shepherd dozens of Democratic candidates at all levels into office. But Anzalone isn’t your typical Democratic consultant. He’s long been based in Alabama and has taken to Twitter – and other forms of media – of late to make the case that the idea that the Democratic Party base is super liberal and badly wants President Donald Trump impeached is simply wrong.
I reached out to Anzalone, who has done work for former Vice President Joe Biden in the past, to chat with him about his thoughts on the party and where it’s going. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: You recently told The New York Times this: “There is this narrative about Democratic primary voters that they’re all about anger and the fight, or principles. But real voters know one thing: If anything is going to get done to help them, it’ll have to be done across party lines.” What leads you to that conclusion? Data?
Anzalone: There is evidence in polling everywhere. In a CNN April poll of Democratic primary voters, 77% said that being “willing to work with Republicans to get things done” was important to them personally in deciding who to vote for. And we have seen it in focus groups for years. Democratic voters know that if you are going to get impactful things done for the middle class you have to work across party lines.
They live in reality and not utopia and they distill issues that way as well. They know what is doable and what is just rainbows and unicorns. That’s why a big majority of primary voters pick improving and protecting the Affordable Care Act over trying to pass “Medicare for All.” They know what can get done and what can’t.
Cillizza: There’s been a very active debate about what the Democratic base looks like in 2020. How would you answer that question?
Anzalone: It should not really be a debate because we know.
What has been active in the media and opinion elites is the myth that Democratic primary voters are ultra-liberal and young. In fact if you look at voter history Democratic primaries voters identify themselves equally as moderate/conservative and liberal. In a Pew poll, 53% of Democratic primary voters said the Democratic Party should become moderate than liberal. According to a CNN analysis of polling and Catalist voter file data, 61% of the Democratic electorate is over 50, 54% have no college degree, and roughly 54% identify as moderate or conservative. This will not change drastically in 2020.
There is also a myth on how liberal and young people will vote. In reality, Biden leads with “somewhat liberal” voters and voters under 50 years of age. There was also a recent poll of college students that showed Biden had strength with them as well.
Cillizza: You’ve noted on Twitter that Democratic voters care much more about health care than impeachment. And yet, there’s still an active debate in Congress about whether to seek to impeach Trump. Why?
Anzalone: My main point is that Americans are very divided on impeachment and it has become a political football that gets in the way of a strong Democratic message on health care, economic opportunity and the environment where we win elections.
I feel Democrats in Congress are playing into Trump’s hands here. Trump’s oxygen is keeping this controversy going and we are taking the bait. I think we should be holding hearings on restoring what has been taken away from ACA and improving it, which could help people today. I think we should make just as much noise in Congress on health care and economic opportunity issues (minimum wage, skills training, education grants, etc) as we do on Trump/Barr/Mueller/Impeachment.
My problem is the proportionality of it all. We are drowning out our own core strengths and strengthening Trump’s political hand and exciting his base on an issue that Americans don’t have any stomach for.
Cillizza: Are leading Twitter Democrats representative of the broader base or not? And has Twitter been a good, bad or neutral thing for your party?
Anzalone: We know from polling and analysis that Twitter does not represent the real world. And that is OK. Just don’t mistake the echo chamber for reality. According to a YouGov poll, nearly three-quarters of Democratic primary voters (73%) do not post on Twitter, and those that do post are far whiter, more liberal and more likely to have a college degree than those who don’t. I enjoy Twitter, but I know that it is a circular firing squad and we should not mistake it for the real voting electorate. Don’t make strategic decision in a campaign based on what you see on Twitter. And don’t get your feelings hurt when your daughter tells you, “Dad, they are roasting you on Twitter today.”