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Apr 28, 2023, 2:06pm EDT
politicsNorth America

Why this Democratic group thinks the party can run against red state bills

Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
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The Scoop

The States Project came out of the midterms with bragging rights. It poured $60 million to help Democrats win legislative races, mostly in swing states where the Trump campaign tried to convince Republicans to overturn the 2020 election. In most of them — Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania — it won. And when legislators got to work, blue and red states sprinted in opposite directions.

Earlier this month, the States Project tried something different, paying Data for Progress to poll 1207 likely voters on the bills moving through their new legislatures. Among the findings, shared first with Semafor Americana: By a 37-point margin, voters wanted states to “prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in housing and other public services.” Sixty-seven percent of voters wanted to write “the right to a safe, legal abortion” into state constitutions. Three-quarters of them wanted a guaranteed right to collective bargaining, and 84% favored paid sick leave laws.

Just 31% favored the right to carry a “concealed gun in public without a permit,” 35% wanted to “restrict discussions and staff training about race and racism” in K-12 schools, and 31% wanted to “ban financial managers from considering environmental and social risks” — a description of “ESG” investing standards, which Republicans oppose. Just 37% of voters favored school library bans on books “that mention or discuss sexual orientation or gender identity,” and less than half as many (16%) favored a similar ban on books about racism and slavery.

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Know More

Numbers like that are already shaping the Biden campaign’s 2024 strategy. What do they mean for the progressive project to win back states? Co-founder Daniel Squadron talked about it.

Americana: Why’d you conduct these polls?

Daniel Squadron: There are new Democratic majorities in Michigan and Minnesota, and they hit the ground running. That’s getting less attention than some of the bad things happening around the country. They’re trying to help people get good jobs, afford to live their lives, and give everyone the same personal rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, in Florida, they’re finding issues that are designed to appeal to a narrow slice of the right wing — policing thought and personal freedoms in an un-American way.

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Americana: The States Project focus in 2022 was winning some power in states where the presidential election might be close. What we’ve seen over the past couple weeks, in Tennessee and Montana, are Republicans with supermajorities using them to punish Democrats — the elections weren’t close in those states last year. Where is it worth investing to take back some ground?

Daniel Squadron: It’s really two different questions. One: Anywhere where governing power is on the line in the next election, we want to help make sure that there’s more power for folks who defend democracy, improve lives, and protect individual freedoms. Two: We would all do a lot better if there was a broader understanding of the need to be investing and building governing power in the states right now. We are still far from investing sufficiently in building state legislative power.

Americana: What’s the plan? Where are you investing? Is that TBD?

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Daniel Squadron: We’re definitely going to be playing in Virginia this fall. There’s a lot on the line there, and we’re going to invest accordingly. And looking forward to 2024, we’re currently in the process of evaluating each of the 99 state legislative chambers to see where our intervention will matter most.

But even if we’re not ready to unveil the full target list quite yet, defending the gains we made in 2022 is likely to be a top priority. The chambers that we helped flip in November — including those trifectas in Michigan and Minnesota — have been incredibly productive in passing good policy that’s going to improve people’s lives. If we lose our governing power in those states in 2024, these crucial steps forward could easily be undone in the next session by a destructive majority.

Americana: What’s the message in this data to someone like Ron DeSantis? This is a national poll — how does what’s happened in Florida affect him, nationally?

Daniel Squadron: A much better way to govern Florida would be to improve lives and protect people’s rights. And Michigan and Minnesota provide a good roadmap. More people are going to support those majorities. It’s good for Democrats to have that difference, and to distinguish what they’re doing.

Americana: So if you’re talking to donors, how has what’s happened in deep red states this year changed the conversation from last year, when the focus was on swing states?

Daniel Squadron: Part of our investment in 2022, our really unprecedented investment, was understanding that a free and fair presidential election might require pro-democracy state legislatures. That’s still true. This is a reminder that their power and impact in people’s lives goes well beyond the presidential election. It’s about profound impact in people’s lives.

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