By Ezra Levin, Indivisible Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director
Wow. I got back from parental leave this week and my goodness, have you all been busy. Writing this newsletter last night was the best welcome back I could ask for!
Last night was a stunning, across-the-board win for the forces of democracy. (That’s you). From Ohio to Virginia to Kentucky to Pennsylvania, reproductive freedom, Democrats, and democracy won. And so it’s a real joy that my first task upon returning is to dig into these results and what we can learn from them.
But I also want to pull the lens a little wider than last night, because literally 24 hours before that, I was getting panicked outreach from all corners about our chances for 2024. And I think we can learn from both of these stories.
So for my welcome back Indivisible newsletter I want to cover two things:
- Key takeaways from the two big stories of the week: bad polls and good elections. I believe these combined tell the same story: A winning campaign over the next year will emphasize the MAGA extremism of the other side and the commonsense version of our side.
- Our enemy over the next few months — fatalism — and what we can do about it. We can’t win if people throw in the towel every time there’s a bad poll. To encourage more engagement, we need to be real with people, celebrate wins like yesterday’s, encourage more doing and less doom-scrolling, and focus on our own personally manageable piece of the puzzle.
Key takeaways from the two big political stories of the week
Two things rocked the political commentary class in the last week. First, we got a highly alarming poll from the New York Times (here), showing President Biden trailing Trump in five key swing states. Second, we got actual election results from state and local elections across the country yesterday.
I’m not going to argue that we should ignore the flashing red lights in the Times poll. It was a methodologically sound poll with some bad signs for us — as it stands now a year out. I repeat, as it stands now.
The hitch is, we are headed into what I would say is the most unpredictable national election in modern American history. It’s not just unpredictable because the polls are tight — they are, but that’s been true before. It’s more than that. We have a proto-fascist ex-president, cult leader, and de facto Republican Party leader facing serious prison time. We have a wildly dysfunctional national GOP that can barely name a post office let alone fund the government. We have a Supreme Court poised to write new radical unpopular policy from the bench months before the election. And we have weird third-party candidates and bad actors threatening to sabotage the vote.
Nobody knows what the hell is going to happen over the next 12 months.
You know what’s a better finger on the pulse than polls? Actual election results. Polls are statistical guesses at what reality might be at some point in the future. Election results on the other hand are real honest-to-God reality.
Tuesday’s results were the conclusion of an actual campaign — where voters actually had to decide whether or not to show up, and then once they got in the voting booth which button to press. And push those buttons they did.
- Abortion rights won in Ohio, after Republicans tried and failed to rig the election earlier this year.
- After the Republican governor endorsed an abortion ban in Virginia, Democrats upset expectations by holding the Senate and flipping the House of Delegates.
- A Democratic governor won in Kentucky, a state Trump won in 2020 by more than 25%.
- Predictions of a Red Wave in New Jersey proved even more incorrect than last year’s.
These are great results…which follow on the heels of great results last November. Between last year’s elections and yesterday’s, 7 states have had abortion rights ballot initiatives put to a popular vote (see list here). Every single one of those has been successful — blue, red, purple states alike. Over and over again, Republicans have tried to run on bizarre book bans and vicious attacks against LGBTQ+ kids. Over and over again, they’ve failed. MAGA extremism is an electoral loser.
The lesson from all this is clear: When we run against that extremism and contrast it with our broadly popular agenda, we wipe the floor with MAGA. We’ve got to absorb this lesson because it has been key to every single major electoral win we’ve had since Trump squeaked into the presidency in 2016. It was true of the Blue Wave in 2018, of the massive Virginia victories in 2019, of Trump’s defeat in 2020, of the Georgia senate runoffs in 2021, and of the disappearing Red Wave in 2022. And it was true yesterday. Predictions and polls be damned; we’re going to make it true next year too.
MAGA won’t defeat us but fatalism could
Here’s one prediction I can make with confidence: There will be more bad polls. It’s inevitable. Hell, there was a bad national CNN poll (here) yesterday in the hours leading up to yesterday’s incredible election results. You can count on it.
We shouldn’t ignore methodologically sound polls like these, but we shouldn’t give them more power than they deserve. The problem with a bad poll is that it’s a real indicator of where things stand today. The good thing about a bad poll right now is that there are 365 days between now and election day 2024. Right up until that time, we do indeed have the power to change the outcome.
Every political campaign I’ve worked on, we’ve always run like we were 5 points behind. It’s a healthy mentality to bring to the campaign. If you’re running like you’re 5 points behind, the mentality is: This is within reach, but we’ve really got to work for it.
That’s how I think of where we are right now. Look, it’s true we may lose next year. It is quite possible Trump will not just win, but take the House and Senate with him. We could be staring down the barrel of a Trump-led Republican trifecta with an ambitious Christian nationalist Speaker of the House in a year.
On the flip side, a new Democratic trifecta is also well within the realm of possibility. Our two most vulnerable senators are Jon Tester in Montana and Sherrod Brown in Ohio. Both are quite popular in their states and have won tough reelection fights before. In the House, we have 18 Republicans in Biden-won districts who are quite likely to lose if the national vote goes our way. And as for Biden, we have ample evidence from 2022 that he successfully led a coordinated messaging campaign against MAGA extremism that produced the best midterm margins in modern American history.
But all that is just political prognostication. The point isn’t that either of the above analyses are definitely right, but rather that both are plausible — we might ultimately lose or win. And that gives real power to everyone who decides to stop fretting and start doing something about it.
The reason I’m proud to be part of the Indivisible movement is that we’re a movement of doers. In Ohio, hundreds of Indivisibles reached out to thousands of voters through our Neighbor2Neighbor canvassing tool. In Pennsylvania, Indivisible got out the vote for the successful democratic state Supreme Court candidate. In Arizona, Indivisibles are right now at this very moment collecting signatures to get a reproductive rights amendment on the ballot for 2024.
If you let a bad poll drive you into despair and fatalism, you’re less likely to show up to do the work. I recommend we flip that on its head. The poll doesn’t show us that we’re doomed. It shows us that we have work to do.
Friends don’t let friends get fatalistic. And here’s my three-point pitch for friends who are teetering on the edge right now:
- Celebrate the wins. By God, did we wipe the floor with those extremists yesterday! You think we’re losing? Look at Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, Kentucky — across the country. If this is what losing tastes like, I’ll have another helping.
- More doing, less doom scrolling. We should all strive to stay informed, but at some point social media, cable news, and podcasts stop informing us and start paralyzing us. Attend a local Indivisible meeting, write an op-ed, register a voter, have a conversation with a neighbor. Don’t just consume politics — do politics.
- Bite off what you can chew. No single one of us is going to save democracy. But together we are going to save democracy. Because time and money and energy are limited, choose one or two districts or a state, and focus your efforts there. Make it your mission to elect Ruben Gallego in Arizona or protect Sherrod Brown in Ohio or defeat a nearby MAGA representative. If you do your part and we do our part, we win.
Let’s get singing together again
As I mentioned at the top, I just got back this week from a couple months of parental leave. My kids are delightful and demanding enough to require a real break — I significantly scaled back my public engagements during this time. Saul Alinsky wrote that breaks are essential for any effective political organizer — “Without such opportunities, he goes from tactic and one action to another…he never has a chance to think through an overall analysis; and he burns himself out.” I’ll never forget a line that I heard from an Indivisible leader back in 2017 about this: “The choir keeps singing even when one of us takes a breath.”
I love that line because I think it captures something deeply important about what we’re building together. And there’s nothing quite like taking an extended leave to make you feel like you’re part of something much bigger than yourself — that you may have stepped back, but the choir keeps singing.
Coming back, I’m filled not only with energy, but with gratitude to be part of that bigger choir.
I get to march and sing — literally and figuratively — with some of the most strategic, impactful, and committed pro-democracy fighters in the country at a critical and historic time. We get to do this work together; I get to do this work with you. I know I say this a lot, but after yesterday it feels as true as ever: together, we will win.