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.