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Guest: Paul Maslin, a leading polling specialist and campaign strategist

In the US midterm elections, the Democrats lost the House of Representatives – as expected.  But the predicted red wave never came – definitely not expected. What does this mean for American democracy, domestic issues and foreign policy?

There was a lot at stake in America’s midterm elections. The loss of the House will impact Biden’s ability to accomplish his agenda in the remaining two years of his presidential term. But Republicans did not win nearly as big as expected. The red wave was a fizzle. Democrats held on in important races and even maintained control of the Senate. Some unexpected upsets led to doubts about Trump’s capacity to endorse candidates. What are the elections’ key takeaways? Our guest Paul Maslin, a leading polling expert and campaign strategist, joins us to unpack what we know so far about the results of the American election cycle.  

At this point, most of the results are in. So, we asked our guest, what are some of the initial takeaways? Maslin responded, “One, that nothing really got resolved here. This turned out to be much more of a steady state election than we anticipated. [… Second,] Donald Trump will never be elected president of the United States. […] My third takeaway is a little more nuanced, but I’ve come to the theory that both parties have actually been forced or fated to develop the strategies they have. And they each have their own weakness and strength. From the democratic standpoint, obviously, that has leaned very heavily on cultural and identity politics for a number of years now. And of the three key elements of that, which I would argue would be suburban women, millennials, and minority groups.”

What about the messaging on each side? Where is the messaging falling short? Maslin said, “Nobody has an economic message that can persist and succeed for more than a short term. That’s probably a product of globalization more than anything else. But Democrats haven’t solved our economic problems. And even if the Republicans have control of the house, that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re going to somehow turn around people’s economic fortunes.”

This was an expensive electoral cycle. The unlimited money from PAC and ‘outside’ groups – thanks to the Citizen United decision – was largely funneled towards negative advertising against candidates of both parties. We asked if this was going to be a trend from now on. Maslin said, “Welcome to my world. Nothing will stop it. The stakes are too high. The available resources are too great. Because neither side has a compelling positive message, it is always the default position of any particular campaign to run negative advertising.”

We asked Paul why the Red Wave never happened.  The predictions of a Republican rout had come fast and furious on Fox News and other right-leaning media. What happened?  “[The Republicans] manipulated polls and tried to push polls into the public space- particularly these last two or three weeks- for purely tactical reasons. I don’t think most of those polls had a leg to stand on in terms of their methodology or their accuracy,” said Paul Maslin.

It seems to keep coming down to the same heavily contested states: Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada to name a few. We asked, “why is it the same bunch of people every cycle that makes the rest of the countries go bananas?” Maslin said, “Only a few places are left that are truly, truly competitive and Georgia happens to be one of them. And Nevada and Arizona happen to be two others. And there are a few other states. Pennsylvania obviously is one. Wisconsin where I’ve lived is another. But there’s just a handful of states that are truly competitive in any given election.”

In her youth and social justice-focused segment, Téa Ivanovic talked about the Hispanic vote in America. Young immigrants and second-generation immigrants from Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua are holding onto Latin American socialist hatred. Are Democrats not “tough enough” on these socialist regimes? Maslin responds, “The more interesting fight is happening frankly, among Mexican-Americans where I think some of the Republican inroads – they did make some in Texas – but I’m going to be really interested to see as we analyze what happened in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, California, et cetera.”

The midterms mark the unofficial beginning of the 2024 Presidential election. Peter Schechter asked about the coming cannibalistic fight with the two Tyrannosaurus Rexes in the Republican party. Altamar Peter Schechter wanted to know our guest’s thoughts on a Machiavellian conspiracy theory that high-level Republicans were going to kill Herschel Walker’s campaign in Georgia to hurt Trump’s status. Maslin said, “I just think it’s a very curious dance that’s going to happen with obviously potential legal risk looming that might affect what Trump decides to do or not do. I’ll simply say this, I can’t predict whether and how [the Republicans] disengage from him.”

Altamar’s Muni Jensen moved us from politics to policy. She asks, “with a narrowly divided government, what do you think in domestic policy is most at risk?” Maslin answered, “I would think that there is more potential common ground [with economic issues]. […] The culture stuff and the huge divisions on those issues don’t change, and that’s where Republicans have to feed their beast. So, I presume that they’re going to do a bunch of things that they know Biden will veto, but they have to do it.”

We all feared the death of the independent voter. But this cycle, there was a surprising trend of split tickets. Is there a resurgence of people looking at the people versus getting carried by an ideological freight train? Maslin said, “I agree, [but this] positive development comes from a negative source, which is these independent voters look at both sides and see utter total failure, chaos and dysfunction. And so that’s making them a little bit more of a free agent.”

We ended by asking about the health of American democracy. Is our guest as worried as we are? Where is our democracy going in the next 5-10 years? Maslin explained, “Before Tuesday, I would say that we were headed to deep into the emergency room of the hospital on this subject. Now we’ve been moved slightly away from that, but we’re still in some kind of semi-intensive care unit. […] I’m still very worried about the health of our democracy and will be, I think, for some time to come. We got a bit of a reprieve on Tuesday that may all be all that it was.”  

Is American democracy a little safer after this election? Or was this just a temporary reprieve? Find out more by listening to the latest Altamar episode, available wherever you get your podcasts. You can download the episode here.

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Episode 139