Saturday, June 25, 2016

Trump, Brexit, and the Failure of Mainstream Politics and Economics

The Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump have stunned the world.  Neither should.  They
are both the product of the failures of mainstream politics and economics, especially the overselling of both in terms of how they would benefit the world and more specifically, the middle and working class in the UK, the US, and perhaps around the world.
The roots of the Brexit and Trump begin in what some call the Neo-liberal restructuring of the world that begin in the late 70s and 80s with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan.  Faced with severe economic slowdowns in the UK and the US, the criticism was that the economically liberal policies of the welfare state had created high inflation and unemployment–stagflation.  The solution was to cut taxes, economic regulation, and weaken labor unions.  The theory–part of the supply side economics mantra–was that we needed to free up corporations to invest, to give them more flexibility to innovate, and to remove barriers to invest.
The Conservatives in the UK under Thatcher and then  Major and the US under Reagan and George H.W. Bush cut taxes, government regulations, waged war on the unions, and embraced international policies that took Neo-liberalism globally.  The result was GATT, NAFTA, the WTO, and other international free trade agreements that opened up the borders to capital and to some extent, labor mobility.  Yet Labor under Tony Blair and the Democrats under Bill Clinton similarly  embraced such policies, as did Cameron, George Bush, and even Obama.  All of them accepted as legitimate globalization as we know it, along with policies that embraced tax cuts and deregulation.
Even Obama–whom many Americans think as so liberal–really fell into this trap.  Upon taking office in 2009 he continued the economic policies of his predecessor that bailed out the banks but not the home owners after the 2008 economic crash, he endorsed TPP as a trade agreement, and otherwise  at best only made marginal changes in the Neo-liberal economic agenda.  Even the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank were no more than market-orientated approaches to addressing social-economic problems.  Yes, the Republicans in the US obstructed Obama, but he never did really oppose even in his first two years in office with large Democratic majorities the core trajectory of Neo-liberalism.
This Neo-liberalism was politically solid by politicians and the major parties in Europe and the US as economically a win-win for all.  It was described as producing the greatest economic good for all.  Mainstream economists–sitting from the luxury of their tenured chairs or luxurious offices a top Wall Street, described free trade, globalization, and economic restructuring as economically efficient–both in a Kaldor-Hicks way (the greatest good for the great number) and Pareto (producing the winners without any or significant losers).  The few jobs lost in manufacturing would more than be made of by the benefits of free trade.  Together, orthodox economics and the mainstream parties sold the world, or at least voters in the US and UK, a story of economic prosperity.
Yet it never happened.  Somewhere along the line the economic benefits did not trickle down.  Wages have stagnated over the last 40 years, the gap between the rich and poor exploded, and the loss of manufacturing and other jobs has totaled in the tens of millions. The working class has disproportionally taken the hit, with the costs of Neo-liberalism falling on them while few of the benefits reaching them.
Now combine that with another political failure–the Bush War on Terrorism, He and Blair  launched politically disruptive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have destabilized the Middle East, creating the forces that have nurtured ISIS and the crisis in Syria that has now thrown millions of refugees across Europe. In the US, NAFTA helped destabilize the Mexican economy, creating the impetus for immigrants there to flee to the US for jobs.
The result is economic insecurity for many white working class, major parties largely blind to their fate, and a ready scapegoat of immigrants to blame.  Enter Brexit and Trump.
The Brexit vote is a statement that the status quo is not working.  The vote in the UK to exit was mostly in working class England.  In the US, the core of the Trump support was originally among white working class without college educations.  The same who supported Brexit, those who have lost out in the last generation or two  who perceive it is the immigrants who are taking their jobs.    The British Independence Party, Donald Trump, and others such as LaPen in France are appealing to economic insecurities, fear of immigrants, nationalism, and simply racism and religion.  And their appeals are effective.  Brexit gives credence to claims that trump has tapped into a phenomena that might put him in the White House.  Hillary Clinton, while enjoying many political advantages, seems largely clueless to the Neo-liberal paradigm of which she is a part.
Yes, all of this is disgusting, but given the failures of mainstream politics and economics to address or recognize the world it has created, the reaction here should not be a surprise.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why Orlando Will Not Change the Politics on Gun Control (Okay, Maybe a slight chance)

After Representative Giffords was shot they said it would change the politics on gun control in
America.  The same was said after Aurora, Colorado.  Sandy Hook.  Charleston.  And Waco. It’s too unlikely that Orlando will change the politics on gun regulation.  The reason is simple:   The political forces and incentives to change the laws just do not exist as a result of the political geography in the United States.
This year I have already given several dozen talks on the 2016 elections, seeking to make sense of the politics this year.  To do that I have drawn a contrast, examining how American politics  has changed since 1976 compared to today.  My discussion begins with drawing a bell curve.  The curve  represents the distribution of American public opinion in 1976. If one were to look at a series of survey s or polls we would find that the vast majority of public opinion converged toward the center.  Yes there were some far right and left voters, but a large percentage of the public shared a powerful consensus on a range of social, economic, and foreign policy issues.
With the majority of the public sharing similar views, it also made sense for the Republican  and Democratic Parties to nominate centrist candidates.  After all, that it were most voters were and if you want to win nominate candidate centrist candidates.  In many ways, in 1976, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were good examples of that; two candidates who ideologically were not that far apart.
Additionally, we know back in 1976 that both the Democrat and Republican Parties were more coalitional and less ideological than today.  There were liberal Republicans in NY and New England and conservative Democrats in the South.  The two major parties had liberal, moderates, and conservatives among their ranks.  Such ideological diversity made bipartisanship possible and in 1976 the percentage of straight party-line votes was quite small compared to today.  Additionally, in 1976 political scientists estimated that about one-third of the 435 US House of Representative  seats came from swing districts–those where either a Democrat or a Republican could be elected.  It was these swing districts too which helped drive bipartisanship.  Representatives there had an incentive to work across the aisle–become too partisan on one side and you would lose an election to someone on the other side.
But 40 years later politics has changed.  Today the state of public opinion looks more like a camel’s back–a double  hump curve.  The percentage of voters describing themselves as moderate has decreased and the percentage saying they a liberal or conservative has increased (although those who say they are very conservative has increased far more than those who say extremely liberal).   This means that the center of the Republican and Democratic parties is moving apart from one another and that within each party candidates who wish to win their nomination must increasingly appeal to where their shifting bases have moved.
Why the electorate has bifuricated and sorted itself out in such a way that partisanship and ideology overlap is a product of many factors.  These include the embracing of civil rights by the Democrats, social issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, generational shifts, and economics. All this has contributed to a sorting.  But another sorting is occurring–geography.
At the same time that America has become more conservative and liberal it has also become more segregated many ways, including politically.  We now politically sort ourselves out with Democrats choosing to live in the cities and inner-ring suburbs, Republicans in outer-ring suburbs and rural areas.  The Red and Blue states the media describes really are red and blue cities, regions, even streets and blocks.  We wish to live near others who share our political views and avoid those with whom we disagree.
We have created overwhelming Republican and Democratic areas.  Nationally now the best estimates are that barely 20-25 House seats are swing.  Instead 95% are securely one party.  Candidates from these safe seats have no incentive to compromise politically and if they do they will get primaried from the right if a Republican or from the left if a Democrat.  Geography reinforces  and exacerbates partisanship and extremism.
The result is that now there are fewer bipartisan bills and a greater percentage of straight party-line votes than in 1976.  Evidence suggests that the most conservative Democrat now is still more liberal than the most liberal Republican.  Fewer swing districts and more safe seats mean polarization.
One result is that there is a cluster of core issues over which there is manor disagreement.  One example is guns.  There are some regions of the US where there is strong support for gun control and some where there is not.  These are areas where guns are and are not part of its culture.  Representatives from the gun regions in so many ways are actually representing their constituents  interests in the same way were those from the non-gun regions represent their voters.
Simply put, representatives in areas such as the south or rural areas have little political incentive to support gun control.   If they do they face political reprisals from within their party.  On  top of that, the NRA supports these candidates, occupying a powerful interest group role to reinforcing Republican, rural, and outer ring-suburban opposition to gun control.
Those who favor gun control include urban dwellers, people of color, women, and Democrats.  They do not live in the Republican areas or at least in sufficient numbers to matter politically, or they do not vote sufficiently Republican to move Republican voters.
Now consider Orlando.  It is perhaps an issue about LGBT phobia and how someone targeted  a gay night club.  This issue might move some but think about it–how many in the LGBT community  are voting Republican, identify Republican, or even live in Republican areas in sufficient numbers to move Republican Congressional members?  To be blunt: LGBT issues are not the kind that receive support from the Republican community and casting Orlando as such will not change the political debate or vote .  In addition, because the killer was Muslim it implicates another set of wedge issues, terrorism and Islamaphobia, there too is little indication that it will alter the political debate and forces within many pro-gun districts to support ne gun regulations.
Overall, the simple point here is that there is little chance that Orlando will change the debate and politics on gun control.  The one slight chance is that if the LGBT community can unite with other gun regulation forces, creating a powerful bloc of voters to challenge the NRA.  But even them it will require this new bloc to leverage political power in areas where there is little support for LGBT issues and a lot for guns.  Until and unless this happens, do not look to Orlando to change the politics of gun control.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How the Associated Press Crossed the Journalism Ethics Line in Declaring Clinton had enough Delegates to Clinch the Democratic Nomination

AP ethically blew it on Monday.  It did that when after 5 PM and just hours before the critical California primary it declared that Hillary Clinton now had enough delegates to clinch the
Democratic nomination.  AP’s decision to run this story, along with the mainstream too repeating it, especially Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the Washington Post, was an enormous breach of journalistic ethics in a year where traditional norms of media impartiality and objectivity seem already gone.
Factually it is simple.  AP on Monday night June 5,  filed a story declaring that Hillary Clinton now had enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination even before the remaining primaries, including that in California, would be held on Tuesday, June 6.  That estimate was based on its calculation of earned delegates plus super-delegates.  So what is the problem with that story?  There are several.
First, technically the super-delegates do not vote until the convention.  However they may say they are pledged, they can change their minds on how they will decide up until they actually vote at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July.  While they may be pledging for Clinton, nothing says that events between now and the DNC could not lead them to change their mind.  While potentially unlikely, big wins by Sanders in California and other states, along with polling data suggesting him to be a stronger candidate, might be fodder for him arguing that he and not Clinton  should get the support of the super-delegates.  AP’s story is thus based upon their interpretation and the counting  of the stated intentions of super-delegates and not upon real earned delegates.  Thus, factually depending on how one cuts it, the AP story may not be true.
But the bigger problem is the timing.  The story ran simply hours before the last big primaries when there will be little if no ability by Sanders to counteract the report.  Sanders’ campaign was given effectively to opportunity to comment or to offer rebuttal that can reach voters and supporters in a way to challenge this AP declaration of the state of the campaign.  AP has not so much reported the news as it did create a story that potentially creates a self-fulfilling prophecy  that favors Clinton.
News reporting can produce what is known as the bandwagon effect.  Political scientists and  behavioral psychologists have described the bandwagon effect as a situation where when journalists declare a candidate to be a winner–based on polls–it impacts voting in several ways.  First, it depresses voter turnout for those who might have considered voting for the loser.  Second, it may convince independent voters to go with the winner and not necessarily with their choice whom they have heard as having been declared the winner.
There is empirical data supporting the bandwagon effect.  It supports political theories by the like of Alexis DeTocqueville, James Bryce, David Riesman, and Elizabeth  Noelle-Neumann, all great political scientists or sociologists, who described the powerful role that public opinion plays in swaying voters or individuals.  Why should I go with my preference when the majority says otherwise?  No one wants to go with a loser, we all want to support winners.  The best application of the bandwagon effect is how it is used with advertising.  The famous “three out of five doctors recommend” or polls describing customer preferences are more than efforts to describe factual situations, they are meant to sway opinions and get people to buy your product.  Another variation of this is called the Hawthorne effect where psychologists have noted how that when human subjects are being told they are being observed they change their behavior.
AP’s report on Clinton’s clinching of the nomination hits directly at the bandwagon effect.  It runs the risk of altering election turnout and results in several states and thereby crossing the line from reporting news to effecting the news.  It is like a journalism Hawthorne effect.  This type of reporting is unethical and crosses the line from impartiality and objectivity to being a newsmaker,  potentially favoring one candidate over another.
But this would not be the first time AP blew it.  Back in the 1980s William Brandon Shanley put together a documentary entitled “The Made for TV Election,” narrated by Martin Sheen.  It described overall how the mainstream television media reported the 1980 presidential election and slanted coverage to maintain ratings and market share.  But central to the documentary was how on election night AP called the race early for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter on election night while  polls were still open on the west coast, including in California.  As a result, evidence suggested that when voter heard of the AP call as reported on television, voters walked away from polls or in some cases changed their voting preferences.  This documentary was a major indictment of the television  news media–and no mainstream television station or news service has ever chosen to show it or discuss it results.
What AP decided to do in 1980 was to say that not every vote counts.  It did the same with  its Monday story and the mainstream media echoed that message.  It declared the race over hours before a new round of voting would occur.  The AP could have waited 24 hours to issue the story but it choose–ethically wrong–to run the story for the purposes of getting a headline.  The rest of the media ran the story too for headlines and audience.  But this story is not the first instance of journalism ethics taking a backseat to profits.  Repeatedly this year one has seen the media slant headlines or hype stories to enhance ratings or readers which means to maximize profits. This is not reporting the news, it is marketing or selling it and that is not what journalism is supposed to be.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Words matter--Or Why Clinton May be too Smart for her Own Good

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." H. L. Mencken 


Words Matter.  The words people chose to use tell us a lot about them.  The same is true with politicians and in the case of  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton one finds a fascinating contrast in language.  With the help of my research assistant I did a rhetorical analysis of three speeches of Trump and Clinton.    Our conclusion is that Clinton may be too smart for her own good.
For Clinton we examined her March 9, 2016, presidential debate comments, her April 19, 2016 New York State primary victory speech, and her recent and most talked about June 1, 2016 foreign policy speech.  For Trump it was his March 10, 2016 presidential debate comments, his April 19, 2016 New York State primary victory speech, and his April 27, 2016 foreign policy speech.  The comments or speeches selected gave us a wide range of speech types but also they shared patterns in terms of time or potential content.  What did we find?
First in their March debates in terms of content  Trump displays language with more emotive or feeling types of meaning.  Clinton is more likely to use language that evokes logic.  The choice of words seems to confirm stereotypes about the two candidates in terms of him appealing to heart, her to the brain.  For linguistics, Trump’s rhetoric is more characteristic of the language of feeling that women use, Clinton’s a logical structure stereotypical of male language. Trump spoke at a 7th-8th grade level, using few words with more than two or three syllables.  Clinton spoke at an 11th-12 grade level, rich with polysyllabic words.  By way of comparison, the average adult in America reads at a 9th-grade level and the average newspaper is written at an 11th-grade level according to Impact Plain Language Services, although some are at lower or higher readability levels.
In their respective April 19, New York State primary victory speeches Trump used 1,022 words and spoke at a 9th-10th grade level, while Clinton used 1,516 words at an 11th-12th grade level.  There was no noticeable difference in one using more logical or emotive language.  If anything, an examination of their two speeches displayed more parallels in word choices than during the debates.
Finally, compare their foreign policy speeches.  Clinton again spoke at an 11-12th-grade level and 36.4% of her words were monosyllabic.  For Trump he too spoke at an 11-12th-grade level–uncharacteristic of his normal speaking patterns–but 60.8% of his words were monosyllabic.
For Clinton her ten most used words were:
America 26
world 25
country 24
Donald 23
Trump 23
president 17
nuclear 16
need 16
more 15
it’s 15

For Trump his ten most words were:
president 25
world 25
foreign 24
policy 22
again 21
America 19
look 16
we’re 16
allies 15
one 15

For their respective foreign policy speeches one finds some overlap in words yet an overall reading of the two speeches found both of them appealing to emotions, but again this was more characteristic of Trump’s rhetoric than Clinton’s.
What we see is that Trump overall speaks at a more simplistic level and more emotive than does Clinton whose choice of words display more complex word structures and appeals to logic.  Of course many will conclude that this proves that Clinton is smarter than Trump or that she is speaking to smarter audiences than he.  That may or may not be true.  But a different conclusion is that Trump more often speaks to the heart, Clinton to the brain.  Clinton seeks to persuade with logic, Trump with emotion.  For those who know anything about persuasion, appeals to facts and logic often are less successful than appeals to emotion.  .  Advertisers know this and that is why they are successful in getting us to by their products.  Trump as a salesman too knows this.  In addition, he is speaking a language closer to what more people can understand.
What all this suggestions is a rhetorical style for Trump that is potentially more effective in moving people–one way or another–than Clinton’s language.  Clinton’s language may suggest she is too smart for her own good if she wants to win the presidency.  Clinton's rhetorical style may suggest she is assuming American's are smarter than they are or that Trump is proving that Mencken may be correct after all.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

All Things Political: Presidential and in Minnesota

Two topics this week: Clinton’s presidential campaign the awful end of the Minnesota legislative session and why politics favors not calling a special session

Clinton's Problems

Hillary Clinton has a problem and it is not Bernie Sanders. There are lots of reasons to think that her presidential campaign is confronting major problems that could linger beyond he DNC should she secure the party nomination.  This are problems mostly rooted in her candidacy, and less in what others are doing or not.

Consider the polls first.  In the last ten days national polls suggest Donald Trump has pulled even with her.  There are indications that Trump is consolidating support among Republicans and that they are uniting behind him mostly in terms of an Anti-Hillary campaign.    With Trump having clinched the nomination he is free to begin going after Clinton while Clinton has to worry about  still nailing down the Democratic nomination while campaigning against Sanders.  Yes, national polls mean little, especially now as a rule, but given how well known Trump and Clinton are perhaps the polls do tell us something. But second, even if the national polls are not relevant because the race for the presidency is a 50 state contest (due to the Electoral College) that is really only about ten states, Clinton and Trump seem to be tied in critical swing states such as Ohio and Florida.

But this week the polls tightened in California revealing essentially a tied race in that state between Sanders and Clinton.  Clinton supporters dismiss the poll as a fluke or say that California does not matter because with the New Jersey primary coming soon she will secure enough delegates to win the nomination even if she loses California.  Perhaps yes this is true, but she will only have enough delegates to win the nomination if one counts the superdelgates and she has a big lead here over them.  It is not a lead with the superdelegates in a way these delegates are supposed to operate, though.  The idea of the superdelegates is that these individuals are supposed to make to the decision on whom to support after all the primaries and caucuses are done, using their judgment to decide  who is the most electable.  If that were how they were actually rewarded the superdelegates should not have committed to Clinton before the primary season even began.  No, they are not operating in the way they should.

This is important because if the superdelegates work the way they should Sanders would have a good case to get them to support him for the Democratic nomination were he to win California.  If he wins the largest state that matters, and there are reasons he could.  California allows independents to vote in primaries, and it is in these states were Sanders does well.  There are also indications that there has been a significant number of new registrations in California, again potentially favoring Sanders.  Finally, with the GOP nomination wrapped up, independents who might have voted for Trump might vote for Sanders.  The simple point is do not discount a Sanders victory, especially in light of how Clinton’s poll numbers and actually votes are often different, with Michigan, Oregon, and Indiana  as good examples.

Since Super Tuesday Sanders has won more delegates that Clinton.  He has won more states.  He is doing better in the polls against Trump than Clinton.  (Yes, Clinton people argue that Sanders has not been fully vetted by the media and that is why he is doing well but as FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting pointed out, CNN, the NY Times, and the Washington Post among other major media have been largely negative against Sanders and attacked him as a socialist, thereby questioning the idea that he has not been vetted).  All of these are good reasons he should be able to convince superdelegates to support him, if the superdelegates worked the way they are supposed to.  Remember back in 2008 Clinton tried this strategy against Obama, contending she was a stronger candidate.  She eventually gave up but the point is that it is perfectly legitimate for Sanders to fight on and to make a case that he is a better candidate.

But Clinton also faces other problems that could feed into a Sanders’ argument for his nomination.  There are issues regarding whether Clinton can win over young voters and independents, both critical  to her campaign.  But this week the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of State issued its report–Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements–regarding Clinton’s handling of her e-mails. The report centrally and critically disputes Clinton’s claims.  Specifically the report notes that while previous SOS had used private emails, by the time Clinton tool office the Federal Records Act, the Foreign Affairs Handbook, the Foreign Affairs Manual, and other federal laws and regulations made it clear that she was not supposed to do so and that she had no permission to setup a private server at her NY home.  The report documents attempts to hack her server, missing e-mails, and a host of other problems.  Two quotes from report are worth noting:

As previously discussed, however, sending emails from a personal account to other employees at their Department accounts is not an appropriate method of preserving any such emails that would constitute a Federal record. Therefore, Secretary Clinton should have preserved any Federal records she created and received on her personal account by printing and filing those records with the related files in the Office of the Secretary.98 At a minimum, Secretary Clinton should have surrendered all emails dealing with Department business before leaving government service and, because she did not do so, she did not comply with the Department’s policies that were implemented in accordance with the Federal Records Act.  (23)

Secretary Clinton used mobile devices to conduct official business using the personal email account on her private server extensively, as illustrated by the 55,000 pages of material making up the approximately 30,000 emails she provided to the Department in December 2014. Throughout Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM stated that normal day-to-day operations  should be conducted on an authorized AIS,147 yet OIG found no evidence that the Secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval (36-37)

The Report goes a long way in describing how Clinton broke the law although it does not use those words.  But the real problem here is how the Report means her e-mail controversy will not go away, and it leads to continuing veracity and credibility issues for Clinton.

Overall, Clinton faces many problems as her candidacy continues to evolve and it will be interesting  to see what happens in the next few weeks.


You Could See it Coming

No surprise that the Minnesota State Legislature adjourned without getting its work done. Back in January I argued that the 2016 session would be trapped by the politics of the 2016 elections and that it would not be a surprise if it deadlocked.  Well it did.

Three reasons for the gridlock.  The first is the partisan divide between the two parties over a range of issues that really makes it hard for Democrats and Republicans to work together.  The politics of Washington have come to St Paul.  Second, there is a leadership crisis–not just with Dayton but with  Baak in the Senate and Daudt in the House.  The three seem unable to lead their parties and the three also just do not seem like they get along.

Third, there are continuing structural problems for the deadlock.  The problems stem from the way  the budgets are made, from the timing of sessions and the fiscal forecast, and simply from issues of political incentives discouraging cooperation and working in a timely fashion to do things that need to be done.

So will there be a special session?  I am not sure there will be.  There may be good reasons, especially for Dayton, not to call a special session and use the gridlock as a political issues this November.  Right now the political incentives favor not reaching agreement on issues and therefore  not having a special session.  For now, the DFL, or at least Dayton, is in a better position not to call  a special session, but we shall see.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Close Clinton-Trump Race? Sometimes the polls are correct

What do presidential polls today tell us about the race in the fall and the final results come November 8?  This is a matter of academic and of course media debate, especially with the latter spending incessant time parsing the latest polls.  The simple answer is that there is a lot of confusion surrounding polling but that when done correctly they do give us some insights into the fall race. Having said that, a probable Trump-Clinton contest looks closer than many think.
First, it is true that surveys or polls are merely snapshots in time.  Depending on the wording they tell us what a sample thinks about some issue (such as their presidential preference) at a point in time and they are not always predictive of the future, especially in the future is distant and when we can assume that voters are undecided or are uninformed now and are likely to gather new information and change their minds more in the future.
At one time one could assume that presidential voting preferences were like a funnel.  By that, the further out from an election the more undecided voters there were and as they became more informed there were fewer and fewer undecided.  Thus the funnel shape.  Such a model also assumed voters were less well informed about candidates the further the election was away, that candidates were not as well known to voters the further an election was away, and that partisan preferences were not as fixed or that there were many undecided voters who could actually swing in their preferences.
So many of these assumption many no longer be true.  Political science literature points to the reality that partisan preferences have hardened and that there are fewer and fewer swing voters, if in fact many really do swing at all (besides swinging in or out from voting).  In 2016 it also appears that the penetration of the social media may be changing the knowledge that voters have about candidates such that they are better informed or at least now more about the candidates than may have been true in the past.  Finally, assuming a Clinton-Trump race, these are two candidates who are perhaps better known than any other two candidates in recent American presidential politics.
The point is that a lot of polling regarding these two candidates may be more accurate than we think.  Most if not all voters know who these two candidates are and they have already arrived at their views regarding what they think about them.  The only issue may be among a small handful of voters–perhaps no more than 10% of the electorate in a few states–is how they view Trump versus Clinton and who is the lesser of two evils given that both have high disapprovals.  Clinton’s collapse in polls vis-a-vis Sanders, conversely, may actually represent somewhat a more traditional model where her poll numbers have changed as voters acquire information about the relatively unknown candidate Sanders, or that the polls simply miss likely Sanders’ voters because they are not among the traditional group of people likely to vote in primaries or attend caucuses.
What this all suggests is that current polls that test Clinton against Trump may have more accuracy than one thinks and that they might be good predictors or what might happen in November. What does that mean?  More clarification of the polls is in order.
First, most national polls suggest Clinton has a really large lead over Trump in aggregate  public opinion polls and therefore Democrats are salivating over the prospects of a Clinton rout.  Think again.  Remember that presidents are not elected by direct public opinion or national popular vote but by the Electoral College.  Remember Gore winning the popular vote to Bush in 2000 but losing the electoral vote.  Clinton probably does have a huge popular vote advantage, no doubt reflected by larger Democratic majorities in places such as New York, California, and other states where she will do well.  But remember that the presidential election is fought in 50 separate states (plus the District of Columbia) and in many ways it is down to about a dozen or so swing states where the battle will be won.  Here the recent Quinnipiac poll suggesting closer races in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are important.  Clinton and Trump are essentially tied here.  Other polls suggest some non-swing states may be close, perhaps suggesting good news for Clinton.  That may be the case but the point is that one should ignore national aggregate polls and look instead to state by state polling for something more accurate.
The one issue where the polls are perhaps not accurate at this point is in terms of party support for Trump and Clinton.   The conventions have not occurred and neither of the candidates have firmly consolidated support among their party bases.  We hear more about that with Trump and the GOP but Clinton faces a similar problem.  But there are signs this week that Trump is beginning to consolidate support.  Contrary to news reports, Republicans may still prefer Trump to Clinton and will vote against her or for him.  The same may be true for Clinton and Democrats.  The upshot is that it is still possible for this election to turn into one where Trump and Clinton consolidate partisan base support and fight over a few swing voters in a few swing states.  Yes, this is a unique election in many respects but it is still more than two months before the convention and there are many reasons to think that many political trends will stabilize such that the current polling in the swing states will represent an accurate picture of what might happen this fall.
The moral of the story is that there are many reasons to think that the closeness of state polling in critical swing states might actually portend a very close election where turnout is key and wooing the few swing voters in those states is determinative of who wins.

Final Note: Since last November 2015 I have given several talks arguing that the winning presidential candidate this year will need to raise $1.5 billion.  This week the NY Times ran a piece were Trump estimated that he needed to raise $1.5 billion for his campaign.

Friday, May 6, 2016

How Trump may shock the world again and why Clinton is running as a Republican

Six months ago few predicted that Donald Trump would be a serous presidential candidate let alone win the Republican Party nomination.  But with a win in Indiana Donald Trump has effectively secured the GOP nomination.  Now party operatives and pundits say he cannot win the presidency.  How wrong they may be.  Like Jesse Ventura in Minnesota in 1998, Trump may soon shock the world by defeating Hillary Clinton were she to become the Democratic nominee.
In many ways Trump and Ventura are similar candidates.  Brash, outspoken perhaps even to some obnoxious personalities who successfully used their media pop culture personas to help succeed politically.  They are both politainers-politicians and entertainers–who understand the powerful convergence of the media, pop culture, and politics and manipulated that to their advantage while their opponents looked stiff and wooden.  Both Ventura and Trump speak to voters who felt that the two major parties left them behind.  For Ventura the route to success was through third party politics, for Trump it was the take over of the Republican Party and the killing off of any remaining legacy that the Reagan brand still held over it.  Ventura and Trump looked fresh in the face of stale old party politics and candidates.  Ventura went on to be elected Minnesota’s governor by defeating two tired looking establishment candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties.  Trump might well do the same if Clinton is the nominee.
Polls right now suggest that Clinton has a ten or more point lead over Trump in aggregate nation surveys and newspapers such as the New York Times declare that it is an uphill battle for the latter. Just like they said he could not win the GOP nomination they are making the same claim about Trump winning the presidency.  How wrong again they may be, failing to see trends that suggest that he can win, or at least the Clinton could lose.
First ignore the polls.  How many times has Clinton had insurmountable poll leads over Sanders only to see them collapse.  Indiana is only the most recent example of a state that Clinton  supposedly was going to win and nail down the nomination but failed to do so.  It seems every time she has a lead in the polls, even in 2008, Clinton gets complacent and loses it.  While the Democratic primary has made Clinton a stronger candidate in some ways, it has also exposed powerful weaknesses that will be exploited by Trump in the general election.
Moreover, national polls mean nothing.  Presidential elections are fought in a 50 state Electoral College battle and the real issue is how Trump and Clinton do among the 10% of the swing votes in the ten swing states that include Ohio, Florida, and Virginia.  Here polling suggests a tighter race.  Even more, given the weaknesses that Sanders exposed in Clinton regarding free trade agreements and globalization, normally safe Democratic states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania will be contested, forcing her to devote resources to races normally not defended.
Trump and Clinton have enormous negatives, the highest among any recent presidential candidates.  This too creates a variable that complicates a Clinton victory.  Yes more than half the country dislikes Trump but the same can be said about Clinton where the cadre of Hillary haters is long and deep among both Republican and many independent voters who may come out in droves against her.  How that affects swing voters and voter turnout could also be critical.  With that, Clinton needs the Sanders’ youth vote and so far there is no indication that she can win it and it is not clear that even if Sanders supports her that his voters will flock to her.  Part of the problem is her uninspiring political narrative and campaign, both in comparison to Sanders and even to Trump.  Trump has a message–good or bad–that resonants and inspires voters who are passionate about him.  The same cannot be said about Clinton.
Finally, this is an anti-establishment year.  Clinton is the face of the Washington establishment, Trump is not.  In a race where running as an outsider is an advantage Clinton just does not have it.
But yes Clinton does have something else going for her–effectively running as a Republican.  With the Republican Party panicking over a Trump candidacy and how it may impact their control of Congress, prominent Republicans are considering supporting Clinton. In fact, the New York Times reports that Hillary is now seeking support or endorsements from them.  This suggests three points.  First, so much for Republicans labeling her a liberal–she was and is not.  Second, for many who have argued that Clinton is really an old-fashioned Republican in disguise, this lends credence to that assertion.  Finally, it appears that Clinton his preparing to give up on the Sanders’s supporters and the liberals in the Democratic Party and instead embracing Republicans.  This might mean that these  individuals stay home on election day.  Moreover, if Clinton does do this it suggests creation of a new Democratic center-right party that brings down the Republican and Democratic parties as we know them now.  Perhaps this is good short term politics but Clinton but not necessarily in terms of party building for the future with Millennials. This is a fascinating strategy but one that counts on Republicans detesting Trump more than Clinton.
Overall, for those of us from Minnesota who once saw  another brash outsider named Jesse Ventura shock the world and became our governor, it would not be a surprise to see Donald Trump do the same by defeating Hillary Clinton.