Friday, July 29, 2016

The Coming Clinton Post-Convention Bump and the Election of Fear

The DNC was a far better infomercial than the RNC and the reward should be a Clinton bump that erases the RNC Trump bump.    But hold on–much in the same way that the polls this week after the RNC gave a distorted picture of the race the same will be true next week.    The real election begins about August 8, and it will be an election about fear.

From beginning to end the DNC was a better made-for-TV event than the RNC.  And ratings prove it.  While all the results are not in, the DNC for its first two nights attracted about 4-5 million more viewers than the RNC.  I suspect the same will be for night three that featured Obama, Bill Clinton, and Biden, and also for the last night where millions (especially women) watched a historic night  on television.  Simply having more people watch the DNC than the RNC should translate into a larger potential bump.

But there are other reasons to think the bump might be stronger for Clinton than it was for Trump.  The DNC had better speakers and despite stories of some disgruntled Sanders people, all the Democrats came to the convention whereas many Republicans stayed away from the RNC.  Both the Republicans and Democrats are divided parties, yet by comparison the Republicans were and remain more divided.  Democrats did a better job constructing a positive narrative for America and generally  optimism plays better than pessimism, although they too did use fear–fear of Trump–as a major theme.  They did a great job criticizing Trump, making the case to why he should not be elected (Clinton herself was especially good on this).  Simply put, the Democrats messaged better and that should reap  benefits in terms of a post convention bump.

Purely guessing at this point, Clinton should be able to negate almost all of Trump’s bump, placing the election and polls about where they where prior to the two conventions–a race where Clinton is probably slightly ahead and still favored to win, although it will be close.  She still has the fund raising and organizational advantages she had before, and now perhaps with a slightly more unified party she perhaps is even a little stronger than she was before the conventions.  I will give her a 55-60% chance of winning.

But having said that, there are still reasons to think she can lose and there are opportunities that were missed at the convention.  First, for most Democrats the Wasserman-Schultz DNC email has passed.  But not for many critical Sanders voters and supporters.  Yes I have seen claims that 90% of the Sanders people are with Clinton now but many are young voters and I am still not sure they will actually turnout for her.

Second, indicative of Clinton’s worries about the liberal base turning out was her speech.  It was a speech to unify the party and not one that spoke to the general public and more particularly the swing or undecided voters who switched dramatically to Trump after the RNC.   The battle for the presidency is among the swing voters in the swing states and it is here that Clinton still has core problems.  Third, the speech was powerful in criticizing Trump but thin in offering her narrative about her vision for her presidency.  She offered a few brief micro-narratives about what she wants to do, but like Trump’s speech it too was thin on policy specifics.  It had some policy ideas but not details.  This is course has been the problem with her campaign all along–no grand narrative but a promise of incrementalism that is hard to excite anyone.  Fourth, it is also not clear that selling incrementalism and tinkering with the status quo sells in a year when so many people want change and anti-establishment is the theme of 2016.

Fifth, it is not clear her speech addressed the core trinity of problems with her personally–like-ability,  trustworthiness, and the passion gap.  Her speech seemed more to say I am better trusted to steer the country than Trump, but that of course assumes one likes the status quo and two that criticizing him is enough to move voters behind her.  In effect, Clinton too used fear as a basis of why people should voter for her.  For Trump it is fear of crime and terrorism, for Clinton it is fear of Trump and his finger on the nuclear code.   I am waiting for Clinton to update and rerun the famous 1964 LBJ Daisy  ad that was used so effectively against Goldwater.

My simple points are first that yes the DNC and Clinton had a good week and they will get a bump, but there are still underlying structural issues that Clinton faces that the convention and her speech did not resolve.   Second, whatever the polls say come Monday ignore them for a week and let’s look at what they say around August 8, to give us a real picture of what the race is like.  My sense is that this is an election about fear, with it being used to motivate both Trump and Clinton as reasons to  vote, but in slightly different ways.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trump’s Bump–Why Nate Silver Finally Agrees with Me!

Time now for some shameless self-promotion.

For over a year I have said that Trump has a chance of winning the presidency and have said for at least two months that Clinton has a 55% chance of winning the presidency and Trump a 45% chance.  I also said last week anticipate a possible 3-6% convention bump for Trump after the RNC. It’s great to see that Nate Silver–the guru of data-driven political forecasting–finally agrees with me, and my prediction in the Bump was accurate.

According to the most recent CNN poll taken after the RNC Trump received a six point bump in the polls and now leads Clinton in the national population vote.  This poll reveals an even stronger bump than the CBS one released on Sunday.  Where the bump occurred, no surprise, was among swing or independent voters who had not yet made up their minds.   The CNN poll revealed a significant switch in support in swing voters from Clinton to Trump.  Of course there will be a convention bump for Clinton and therefore it makes sense to see where the polls are in the first or second week of August to assess where the race really is.

More significantly Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has changed his election prediction model.  Prior to the RNC he gave Clinton approximately an 80% chance of winning.  Now he says that if the election were held today he would give Trump a 57.5% chance of winning.  More importantly, in terms of predicting the November 8 results, his “‘polls-only’ model shows the former secretary of state winning 53.7 percent to 46.2 percent, and the group's ‘polls-plus’ forecast, which predicts the outcome on Nov. 8 based on the economy, current polling data and historical trends, showed her winning 58.2 percent to 41.7.  All of this is a far cry from Silver and the media once saying Trump had a zero percent chance of winning.

None of this is good news for Clinton.  Yes the CNN poll and Silver prediction was made after the RNC and before the DNC, and certainly thinks can change.  But this poll and prediction also does not reflect the impact that the Wasserman-Schultz DNC-Clinton e-mail story will have.  Some of her supporters will argue that this e-mail story will fade in impotence and importance.  Wrong.  It has a long term corrosive impact on Clinton’s honesty and image much in the same way that the State Department e-mail story did.  It feeds in to the Trump narrative that Clinton is a liar and now a cheater. And with Clinton now asking Wasserman-Schultz to be a co-chair of her campaign it looks like a collusive quid pro quo political arrangement.

Ok so now the self promotion.  As early as July 2015 I suggested Trump could win the nomination.  I was very clear about that in December 2015 at a Minnesota School Board Association talk when I said it would be Trump and Clinton as the nominees.  And while I do not have it in print, for at least two months I have pegged the race as having Clinton with a 55% chance of winning.  I see her as having fund raising and organizational advantages, what I also factor into my predictions is something that Nate Silver and the pure data-driven predictors forget–candidate quality, narratives, and the mood of the country.  Clinton is a weak candidate with huge credibility like-ability issues, she lacks a real narrative for why she wants to be president, and she is the face of the establishment in a year where anti-establishment is the American Weltanschauung for many this year.
Clinton should win but I can see lots of reasons why she will not.  It is thus interesting to see how Nate Silver and the mainstream media and political pundits are finally agreeing with me.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Unconventional and Conventional: Thoughts on the Republican National Convention

It was an unconventional convention.  By all traditional accounts the RNC was a failure .  US Today, Politco, FiveThirtyeight, Roll Call, and other media sources all question whether Trump will get a traditional post-convention bounce.  Of course we need to wait for survey data to answer that question.  But let’s consider the reasons to think why there might not be a bounce.

Since the time conventions were broadcast on television presidential candidates have received bounces.  The bounces are the product of several factors.  The first is simply intense media coverage of the convention where lots of people watch the convention.  Conventions are advertising or education for the public and they get to see the candidate, often times for the first time.  Second, conventions traditionally received significant ratings or viewership, and they presented a  positive, upbeat, and optimistic message that people liked.  Finally, they also were visually appealing with flags, balloons, and pageantry, and all this looks terrific on television.

The size of the bounce generally has fluctuated over time.  Polls suggest that Carter and Clinton received double-digit bounces, Obama and McCain received modest single-digit bounces in 2008 and the same was true for Obama and Romney in 2012.  Possible reasons for this is the declining  audience for political conventions and a hardening of partisanship and the declining percentage of the electorate whom one can describe as swing voters.  Thus, as fewer people watch conventions overall and with fewer voters who are subject to switching their votes conventions may matter less and therefore there is a smaller potential bounce.  Assume all this is correct, perhaps one might guess that Trump and the RNC should have produced perhaps a 3-5 point bounce.

So why might Trump not even receive this modest bump?  By all accounts the RNC was a disaster.  Conventions have become predicable and boring infomercials over time (which is perhaps why in part viewership has declined) where the goal is to present party unity, an optimistic forward-looking message, and to begin to speak beyond the base and speak to the broader public, especially the swing voters.  The RNC did none of that.  It presented a dark scary view of the world every night, especially with Trump’s speech.  The best conventions over time have been bright and optimistic–1984 Reagan’s “It’s morning in America”; 1992 Clinton’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow’; 2008 Obama’ “Hope and change” and “yes we can.”  All this as absent last week.

The unity was not there either (except to oppose Clinton), and in many ways the party and Trump continued to talk to the base and bring party unity.  Pence was selected as VP to bring party unity, the speeches all seemed directed at appealing to Trump supporters and not to the swing voters.

In terms of choreography and scripting Trump’s speech was a mess.  It was too long and started too late.  The best speeches are ones that begin about 10:05 Eastern time.  They go 40 minutes.  That leaves 15 minutes for flag waving and balloons to drop.  There is then a five minute news wrap up and then the 11 PM news comes on and it is all repeated.  Trump who normally knows how to master the news cycle blew it.  Trump had better ratings that Romney in 2012 but it was lower than McCain in 2008.  I suspect viewership dropped dramatically after 11 PM eastern and the number of people watching the late news also was less than it could have been.  Finally, in terms of messaging, overshadowing Trump was news of his wife’s plagiarized speech and Cruz’s Brutus or Marc Anthony appearance.

Given the above, convention wisdom suggests a modest or perhaps no or even negative post-convention bounce for Trump.  But hold on, there are still reasons to think why longer term Trump may not be hurt by what happened.

First consider the message.  As noted political messages are historically positive not negative. Trump appealed not to our better natures (JFK’s inaugural line “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” or George H.W. Bush’s call for a “kinder and gentler America” seem quaint by comparison) but to base emotions and fear might still work.  The brilliance of his speech was to instill fear in Americans and then propose they only he can address those fears.  It was an appeal to the most basic Maslowian level of needs–address security–or an appeal to the most simple Freudian or Hobbesian concerns about fear and security.  In addition, Trump stole a page out of marketing and advertising–both of which often appeal to our sense of fear, anxiety, or dread.  Trump preyed upon the anxieties of an America (or a slice of it) fearing terrorism, police shootings, immigrants, and who knows what.  Fear and prejudice are powerful forces, and he tapped into them much in the same way Nixon did in 1968.

Don’t count out Trump yet.  Yes Democrats look at the RNC and the polls and are giddy.  Clinton  is a certainty.  Again don’t bet on it.  Clinton’s close up is coming this week.  She is banking on the  conventional to win it for her.  She picked an unexciting Tim Kaine as running mate, signaling both that she is assuming he helps with swing state Virginia and swing voters.  Her selection indicates she will run right to her party and that she assumes that the Sanders wing has no where to go and will vote for her out of fear of Trump.  Her convention will be tightly scripted and boring, following the playbook for conventions for the last generation or two.  Maybe boring and unexciting will win the day.

But Clinton needs to do several things next week.  She still lacks an narrative and explanation for why she should be president.  Her speech needs to articulate that.  She needs to address her honestly, credibility, like-ability, and lack of enthusiasm for her problems.  The e-mail controversy damaged her, and her negatives in the high 50s are a liability.  She needs to provide a reason why voters should show up and vote for her and not simply stay home and not vote for either her or Trump.  Maybe she too will use fear of Trump to motivate voters, and maybe that will be enough, yet Clinton does seem to be counting on the fact that playing conventional politics will triumph over Trump’s  unconventional in a year when the conventional seems under assault.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Convention(al) Wisdom: Why Political Convention Locations Don't Matter

Conventional wisdom pervades presidential politics, even in 2016.  Among widely held  tales by politicians and pundits is that a political party's placement of a national convention in swing states such as Ohio for the Republicans or Pennsylvania for the  Democrats this year  can affect presidential voting, flipping it to its presidential candidate or ensuring that it will be held by them. Second, that the selection of a vice-presidential candidate from a specific state as a favorite son (or daughter) will deliver its electoral votes to a presidential ticket.   Both beliefs are wrong.
As Republicans and Democrats selected a convention site for the 2016 presidential election, each certainly considered location as a major factor, as demonstrated by the selection of Philadelphia by the Democrats and Cleveland by the Republicans.  In 2012 during the general election, Pennsylvania was seen as a battleground state, one of the few states that at least one of the presidential candidates visited after the general election.  Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, is a state Democrats want to hold in 2016, thereby endorsing the wisdom of holding their national convention, the DNC, there.
Ohio is the critical swing state to the electoral success of presidential candidates.  Obama won it in 2008 and 2012, Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Clinton in 1992 and 1996.  If the convention location thesis is correct, then locating the Republican National Convention in Cleveland makes sense.
If convention location matters, the perfect example is the placement of the 2008 DNC in Colorado.  Democrats went from losing the state in 2004 by 4.7 percent of the popular vote to winning it with Barack Obama in 2008 by a margin of 8.95 percent– a pickup of 13.65 percent.  Yet Obama’s 2008 victory in Colorado seems to be the exception.  For the most part, there is no location benefit.  Look to the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Republicans, including Minnesota’s then-governor Tim Pawlenty, thought Minnesota was a purple state and that holding the convention there might turn it red.  It did just the opposite.  In 2004 Kerry won Minnesota by 3.5 percent, Obama then won it by 10.24 percent.  The Republicans did 6.75 percent worse in Minnesota by holding a convention there.
Since 1948, there have been 17 presidential elections with 34 national conventions for the Democrats and the Republicans.  Of those 34, there was no change in who won the state compared to the previous election in 23, or about two thirds, of the situations. There are only five instances of apparent lifts producing a flip.  In 1976 and 2008 the Democrats held conventions in New York and Colorado, both of which flipped from the previous election cycle when they had gone GOP. In 1948, 1952, and 1968 Republicans held conventions in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida, which flipped from the previous election cycle when they had voted for the Democratic candidate.
Conversely, there were six times when convention locations seemingly hurt a party’s prospects in the state.  In 1948, 1952, 1980, and 2012, Democrats held conventions in North Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York and North Carolina but lost those states even though they had won them the previous election cycle. In 1960 and 1964, Republicans held conventions in Illinois and California and lost them even though they had won the last time. Five states flipped, six states counter-flipped, and 23 states saw no change..  If anything, there is a slightly better chance of a party losing the state by hosting presidential convention than by not doing so.
A second myth is that Clinton or Trump should select as their vice-president someone from a critical swing state such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia, or Colorado, believing that such a candidate will help them deliver their home state for the presidential ticket. There is potential evidence suggesting vice-presidential candidates might help this way.  Bill Clinton did win Tennessee in 1992 and 1996 with Gore on the ticket after Bush won the state in 1988.  However, Paul Ryan did not deliver Wisconsin for Romney in 2012. Since 1948, the party of the vice-president won 24 or 70.5% of the home state contests and lost 10.   Yet look at the flip factor--did the party of the vice-president change the results from the previous election--then there are only six examples of flips (17.6%).  These are in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1976, 1980, and 1992 where the presence of favorite sons appeared to flip the state's popular vote from the previous election. There was also one counterflip, in 1960 where the presence of Henry Cabot Lodge's appearance as the Republican vice-presidential nominee for Richard Nixon did not produce a Massachusetts win.   Six examples of flips and one counterflip provide flimsy evidence of a favorite son factor.
Perhaps winning a state does not tell the whole story.  One needs to consider the selection of the vice-presidents or convention locations  as making the state more competitive, forcing the opposing party to devote more  resources there to hold it.  The evidence does not support that support this claim.
Convention locations and favorite son or daughter vice-presidential candidates do not matter. Shouldn't advisors and pundits stop making political decisions based on myths and start making them on what matters -- the amenities of the host city and the qualifications of the running mate to serve as vice-president, and, if disaster strikes, as president of the United States?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Legal and Financial Reasons Why Police Stop and Shoot People like Philando Castile

There are many reasons why police stop and shoot people like Philando Castile.  And it is not so much about good cop versus bad cop or individual racism.  One can point to individual, institutional, or societal racism.  There is racial and urban discrimination and poverty that was forcefully described back in 1968 by the Kerner Commission and which as a country we have done little to address nearly 50 years later.  There is the flooding of guns onto the streets of America (thanks to the NRA and a weak-spine Congress which is afraid of them) which puts police on alert whenever they stop someone with conceal and carry.  There is a 50 year legacy of politicians exploiting fear of crime and race including Nixon running on law and order, Reagan’s war on drugs, and Clinton’s 100,000 cops.  There was the criminology theory of broken windows which said that the way to combat serious crime was to go after the small stuff first (such as broken tail lights) before it escalates. And then 9-11 gave new legitimacy to racial profiling. They were all part of a massive push to get tough on crime.
But there are two other factors relevant to understanding why police stop and shoot people such as Philando Castle.  The first is that the Supreme Court has empowered this behavior.  Second, it is the rise of for-profit policing.
Begin first with the Supreme Court.  There are two lines of Supreme Court precedent that empower the police to stop and shoot people.  The first line goes back to Terry v. Ohio.  In that  1968 case the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional a police officer who stopped and frisked several Black men whom he observed walking back and forth in front on a store.  He had a hunch they were casing the place.  He stopped and frisked them.  The Court said that such a stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment and it did not require the police to have probable cause to search.  Instead, all the officer needed was reasonable suspicion based on “"specific and articulable facts"  to stop and do a quick search for weapons.
Terry gave broad discretion to police to stop individuals, with articulable suspicion often times being no more than violation of minor driving offenses.  Broken tail lights became the pretext to stop or search someone a police officer wanted to stop but otherwise lacked real probable cause to detain and search.  Terry was further expanded in other cases where in Whren v United States (1996) the Supreme Court said that any traffic violation by a police officer was a legitimate basis to stop someone.  And earlier in 1977 in Pennsylvania v. Mimms the Court said that there was no constitutional violation when police stop someone in a car for a routine traffic violation and to require them to submit to a pat down.    These three cased among others give police broad discretion and ability to stop individuals and search them.  Critics have correctly argued that these cases legitimize racial profiling by making it easy for police to justify any stop.
A second line of cases goes back to the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner decision which gave significant authority to the police to use deadly force. In Tennessee v. Garner the Supreme Court ruled that the use of deadly force is a Fourth Amendment violation, that is, a kind of illegal search and seizure. To determine police liability, one must balance the citizen’s interest versus the government’s. The citizen’s interest is substantial, of course: not to die. To overcome that interest, police must show that the officer believed that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.  In Graham v. Connor the Supreme Court created an even softer standard for the use of non-deadly force, based on whether the use of force would be justified from the perspective of a reasonable officer with 20/20 hindsight.  To show that the police used excessive force one thus had to show that police officers in a particular cases were incorrect in their reasonable belief that a person posed an immediate physical threat.
Excessive use of force cases are hard to win. The law simply favors the police here and with other criminal and state tort liability issues for the misuse of force. Moreover, public fears of crime complicate matters.  So does racism, especially in situations with mostly white officers – and often mostly white prosecutors, judges and juries – and people of color as victims. But another reason why these cases are hard to win is that the law determines excessive force from the perspective of the police officer, not the victim. Few juries are willing or able to second-guess a cop.
The point is that the law on use of force–including deadly force–has arguably so tipped in favor of the police that it is almost impossible to win a case against them, as can be seen in the recent Baltimore trials against officers accused of killing Freddie Gray.
If the law were not enough in terms of empowering the police to stop and shoot then the rise of for-profit policing had given an economic incentive to do that.  Specifically, again over the last 25 or more years the courts have sanctioned civil forfeiture laws which allow the police to confiscate and sell assets of those convicted of crimes.  In addition, many cities, such as in Ferguson, Missouri as we learned last year, heavily depend on the revenue generated by routine traffic stops and fines to pay for cities services, including police salaries.  In Minnesota, traffic fines are a part of general  revenue that the state and many cities often depend upon as sources of revenue.  Simply put, the more people whom you stop and ticket the more money you generate for a state or local government.
So why do police stop and shoot people like Philando Castile?  The law allows them to do both, and there are economic incentives that also encourage this behavior. Yes this behavior is symptomatic of broader racial and class issues that must be addressed.  But a good public policy start could begin with taking the financial incentive out of this.  In addition, while it was Supreme Court doctrine that gave the legal justification to these stop and search policies, nothing prevents state and local governments or police agencies from implementing more restrictive laws or procedures regarding  stops, searches, and uses of force, including adopting better rules regarding police criminal and civil liability.

Note: For six years at Hamline I taught classes in its Criminal Justice program, including a course that covered police criminal and civil liability.