Let’s posit three rules of political analysis. First, data is better than presuppositions. Second, actual votes cast can tell us more than the polls. Third, even when we carefully examine the facts, we’re all vulnerable to seeking confirmation of what we believed in the first place.
On the basis of these rules, some widely accepted assumptions about our political moment can be seen as, at best, incomplete.
Democrats, it’s often said, are so obsessed with President Trump and the Russia scandal that they talk of nothing else. But anyone who spent Tuesday listening to a regiment of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates present their case at the liberal Center for American Progress’s Ideas Conference can testify that this is simply untrue.
Attacks on Trump were far less prominent than promises related to economic justice and warnings about the ways in which the United States is falling behind other parts of the world. When Trump did come under fire, it was usually on health care, his lopsided tax cut for corporations, or administration corruption outside the context of the Russia inquiry.
If you want to argue that the Holy Grail of “a persuasive and unified Democratic message” has yet to be discovered, well, sure. Still, you could hear behind many of Tuesday’s speeches echoes of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 slogan, “Let’s get America moving again.” The idea was that Trump and the GOP are ignoring the problems most voters care about, or are making them worse.
And as The Post’s liberal blogger Greg Sargent has insisted, anyone who explores what Democratic candidates on the ground are campaigning on will notice how much they’re emphasizing bread-and-butter concerns.
Candidates — on the whole, anyway — aren’t stupid. They look at surveys such as the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll last week, which reported that the top three issues on voters’ minds in battleground states and districts are gun policy (23 percent), the economy and jobs (20 percent) and health care (also 20 percent). Politicians who want to win act accordingly.
And Democrats recognize that the relentless focus of the news media on the Russia scandal (and Trump’s own Twitter feed) will do a lot of the work of rousing their base in outrage.
Which leads to the need to qualify another popular assertion: that there has been an uptick in Trump’s popularity. There