Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Maybe Democrats Are More United Than People Think

A new survey kid on the block is the Nationscape survey, sponsored by the Democracy Fund (full disclosure: I am involved in the project). This is a survey of 6000 new respondents every week and and will go through the primaries all the way to the general election. Results are starting to be released from the initial waves and one interesting writeup by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck was on the Post's PostEverything blog today.
Sides and Vavreck take the view that the division of the primary field between "progressives" and "moderates" obscures the amount of unity that actually exists among Democrats on key issues.
"Regardless of their candidate preferences, Democrats largely agree on many policies that have emerged as supposed litmus tests for who counts as moderate or progressive. In the past four weeks of our surveys, for example, more than 75 percent of likely Democratic primary voters supported raising taxes on families making more than $600,000, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and having the government provide a job to any American who needs one.
Perhaps predictably, then, supporters of the leading Democratic candidates — Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg — are also not particularly divided on these policies. Take raising taxes on the wealthy. This type of policy is most associated with Warren, and, indeed, 86 percent of her supporters favor it. But so do 78 percent of Biden supporters and 87 percent of Buttigieg supporters. Such numbers hardly suggest a party sharply divided into two warring wings.
It’s mainly Medicare-for-all on which divisions are apparent, but these are less sharp than many people assume. Among all Democrats we surveyed, 68 percent support “providing government-run health insurance to all Americans,” while 65 percent endorse the enactment of Medicare-for-all. Even here, when support wasn’t unanimous, it wasn’t because significant fractions of Democrats opposed these policies outright: Only 17 percent opposed Medicare-for-all. The rest were simply unsure.
So....everyone's for single payer/eliminate private insurance them? No, not even close, which is why you need to very careful interpreting responses to a generic Medicare for All question.
"There’s one framing of Medicare-for-all that leads to division. When we presented it as the outright elimination of private insurance, rather than leaving it to respondents to define it, a sizable split among Democrats emerged. Thirty-nine percent supported “abolishing private health insurance and replace with government run health insurance” while 33 percent opposed it, and the rest were unsure. This policy was more popular among supporters of Sanders or Warren than Biden or Buttigieg, but responses to it were lukewarm across the board: Only 49 percent of Sanders supporters favored it. (Seventy-six percent of Democrats in our sample support a “public option,” however.)"
So, cool, Democrats look pretty united on running on a bold, but popular, program. There may be hope yet!
About this website
A war between “progressives" and “moderates”? Voters don’t see things the way pundits do.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Hey Folks, The New Deal Was Actually Pretty Great!

One of the weirder developments in contemporary political discourse on the left is the vogue for denouncing pretty much every significant piece of progressive legislation of the last 100 years because of the continuing existence of racial disparities. The New Deal, shockingly, has been no exception to this trend.
But Adolph Reed Jr to the rescue! Here's his trenchant riposte to this meme, backed up with plenty of data.
"In recent decades, “racial disparity” has become the central framework for discussing inequities affecting African Americans in the United States. In this usage, disparity refers to the disproportionate statistical representation of some categorically defined populations on average in the distribution of undesirable things—unemployment, low wages, infant mortality, poor education, incarceration, etc. And by corollary logic, such social groupings are also found to be statistically underrepresented in desirable things—wealth, income, educational attainment, etc.
The most common categorical markers here have to do, not surprisingly, with race and gender—though they aren’t the only domains of disparity; but even so, these foundational discriminations often form the template for it. Identifying and parsing disparities have become the default setting of the language of social justice in the United States....
People who embrace anti-racist politics now regularly denounce the New Deal as a model for universalist social and economic reform on the grounds that many of its signature programs discriminated against African Americans. Some of these detractors simply dismiss the New Deal as racist and have gone further to argue that all universal programs—i.e., initiatives that are officially designed to benefit everyone—are racist and will not help black Americans. They argue instead that only government and market interventions targeted solely to African Americans should count as benefits for black people.
It is certainly true that black Americans received less than whites on the average from many New Deal programs, but it’s not true that they didn’t receive benefits. Often, critics who dismiss the New Deal as racist focus on racial disparity—the fact that in many programs, smaller overall percentages of African Americans benefited than the percentages of whites, or that African Americans received lower benefits on average—and ignore the degree to which African Americans actually did benefit....
The Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the most important New Deal programs for working people, provided jobs for millions of Americans doing socially useful work between 1935 and 1939, when its operations were transferred to the Federal Works Agency. In 1935, the WPA employed roughly 350,000 African Americans a year—a figure that represented about 15 percent of the agency’s total workforce. Even though blacks made up a still greater percentage of those in need of work, black participation in WPA programs was nonetheless 50 percent greater than the African American percentage of the total U.S. population."
Reed goes on to document the relevant data for other New Deal programs, including the establishment of Social Security, frequent target of those keen to denounce the New Deal as racist.
"[W]hites were 74 percent of all the domestic and agricultural workers excluded from Social Security at its outset. That is, three white workers were excluded for every nonwhite worker—a distribution suggesting that the point of the exclusions was not simply to suppress African Americans. Several categories of workers that were very predominantly white—for example, seamen in the merchant marine, self-employed individuals, workers in the nonprofit sector, professionals—also were excluded from coverage. Altogether, three-fourths of the 20 million American workers who were excluded from early Social Security coverage were white.
Different groups of workers were excluded from coverage under the old-age social insurance provision in the 1935 Social Security Act for different reasons, in some cases simply because of the administrative difficulties anticipated in collecting payroll taxes. Race certainly could have been one factor that influenced decisions about coverage, but it was not the definitive basis for exclusion or inclusion. That is to say, African Americans who worked in job categories included in coverage were covered; whites who worked in categories that were not covered were excluded. Thus, while nearly two-thirds of African American workers were in excluded categories, nearly a third were covered. In 1940, the first year of old-age payouts, around two million African Americans were eligible for, and received, benefits.
This more complex view of the New Deal’s significance for African Americans helps us to understand why black people supported both it and the Roosevelt administration so enthusiastically. It also is crucial to understanding the roots of the post-World War II black political insurgency in both North and South. And, as I shall demonstrate in subsequent columns, which will examine the racial disparities in housing and labor markets, the New Deal’s legacy can shine an invaluable light on the intellectual and political limitations of a perspective that reduces African American concerns to a simple binary axis of racism and anti-racism as the most consequential categories of analysis."
Great stuff. I look forward to his future columns.
About this website
How today’s focus on “racial disparity” can distort our understanding of structural inequality

Monday, December 2, 2019

Populists' Success Has Nothing To Do with Increasing Racism or It's All About the Salience

I've made this point a number of times but I still feel it's poorly understood. The excellent Sheri Berman has a terrific article up on the Post's Monkey Cage blog where she makes this argument about as lucidly as it can be made.
"Many people blame increasing racism and anti-immigrant sentiment for the rise of radical populism. Given populists’ racist and xenophobic pronouncements, this view is not surprising. However, it rests on shaky empirical foundations and a flawed understanding of the relationship between political preferences and political outcomes.
To better understand the sources of populism, it’s helpful to remember that people have views about countless political topics — but only some are directly relevant to their voting. To make this clear, political scientists differentiate between preferences and salience. Preferences refer to a person’s view on an issue, while salience refers to the intensity or importance attached to that view. Individuals have many political preferences, but only those that are salient decisively influence political behavior.
The story of populism’s current successes is not a story about how people are becoming more racist, or more anti-immigrant. Instead, it is a story about how some people’s preexisting racial or social anxieties have become more salient, because of right-wing and left-wing politicians....
Scholars consistently find a strong connection between populist success and the salience of race, immigration and national identity. This is not primarily because focusing on them changes voters’ views, but rather because it causes voters already predisposed to be anxious about these issues to vote on the basis of these anxieties. As Larry Bartels notes: “There is no clear relationship between levels of populist sentiment and actual support for right-wing populist parties … Where populist entrepreneurs have succeeded, they have done so by tapping a reservoir of populist sentiment that existed all along.”
This is why populist right-wing politicians in Europe focus on these issues, demonizing immigrants and minorities, and blaming them for rising crime rates, eroding national values and so on....
However, it isn’t only populists who have made immigration and national identity more salient. As Maria Snegovaya and I argue in a recent article, the left has played a role as well. During the postwar period, political competition, particularly in Europe, pivoted primarily around economic policy differences. But by the late 20th century, economic differences between left and right diminished as the former accepted much of the neoliberal agenda. In Europe, as the left and the right converged economically, politicians tended to focus more on sociocultural issues “so as to be able to display meaningful programmatic differences.” With fewer economic differences between left and right, voters had reason to pay more attention to noneconomic factors as well. In the United States, Sides, Tesler and Vavreck found that along with Donald Trump’s pivot, Hillary Clinton focused more on race and immigration than Barack Obama. The 2016 campaign was thus particularly focused on these issues and the candidates particularly divided on them, raising their salience and thus their effect at the ballot box."
The point about the how the left's approach has played into the populist moment is key. Berman concludes that the left, with a different playbook, actually has a reasonable chance of turning things around. I agree.
"The increasing salience of immigration and national identity, rather than growing racist and anti-immigrant sentiment, is crucial in explaining populism’s success. That changes in salience have mattered more than changes in preferences means that populists’ political success may be less enduring than it seems at first. This is most obviously true because racism and xenophobia have declined over time. It may also be true because while predispositions toward racism and xenophobia can be deep-seated and hard to change, the salience of racial, status and other anxieties can be influenced by political actors. This suggests that populists’ political opponents may enjoy greater success in the future, if they sideline the issues on which populism thrives."
About this website
Populists thrive when the mainstream left and right focus on identity politics.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The State and Wealth Creation

I've long been a fan of Marina Mazzucato's work, so I was pleased to see a profile of her in Sunday's New York Times business section. She has important and interesting ideas on economic growth that everyone should be familiar with--particularly, I might add, on the left where the issue of growth tends to get short shrift.
"Dr. Mazzucato, an economist based at University College London, is trying to change something fundamental: the way society thinks about economic value. While many of her colleagues have been scolding capitalism lately, she has been reimagining its basic premises. Where does growth come from? What is the source of innovation? How can the state and private sector work together to create the dynamic economies we want? She asks questions about capitalism we long ago stopped asking. Her answers might rise to the most difficult challenges of our time.
In two books of modern political economic theory — “The Entrepreneurial State” (2013) and “The Value of Everything” (2018) — Dr. Mazzucato argues against the long-accepted binary of an agile private sector and a lumbering, inefficient state. Citing markets and technologies like the internet, the iPhone and clean energy — all of which were funded at crucial stages by public dollars — she says the state has been an underappreciated driver of growth and innovation. “Personally, I think the left is losing around the world,” she said in an interview, “because they focus too much on redistribution and not enough on the creation of wealth.
Her message has appealed to an array of American politicians. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts and a presidential contender, has incorporated Dr. Mazzucato’s thinking into several policy rollouts, including one that would use “federal R & D to create domestic jobs and sustainable investments in the future” and another that would authorize the government to receive a return on its investments in the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Mazzucato has also consulted with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and her team on the ways a more active industrial policy might catalyze a Green New Deal."
To provide a bit more detail on Mazzucato's analysis:
Mazzucato argues that the role of the state is not just to supply public goods the private sector ignores but needs (though this is very important) but also to be an entrepreneurial agent investing in areas that are far off the private sector’s radar screen because of extreme uncertainty in economic returns. This is particularly the case with fundamental knowledge generation and very early investments in new technological sectors. Current theories of economic growth assign such innovation a key role in economic growth and it is the “entrepreneurial state” in Mazzucato’s phrase who can afford—and is willing--to bear the inherently immeasurable risks of such innovation.
This has been the case in the United States where pretty much all research underlying the internet and modern computing was funded and initially capitalized by the US state. For example, the immensely profitable Apple corporation’s signature products, like the iphone and ipad, rest on fundamental innovations developed by government funding . This includes everything from the internet to GPS to touch screens to Siri voice recognition. In other words, no entrepreneurial state, no Apple.
More generally, a Brookings Institution study found that 18 of the 25 most important breakthroughs in computer technology in the seminal 1946-65 period were underwritten by the federal government . And it’s not just information technology where the role of the state has been critical: between 1971 and 2006, 77 out of the 88 most important innovations outside of computing/communications , as rated by R&D Magazine, were heavily dependent on government support, especially in their earliest developmental stages.
The role of the entrepreneurial state has been critical to growth in the past and there is no reason to think it will not be critical in the future. Progress in such emerging fields as biotechnology, nanotechnology and, of paramount importance, green technology will continue to depend on the entrepreneurial state being willing to provide support in areas where the private sector sees only unknowable risks. And without such progress economic growth will fall well short of potential.
About this website
Mariana Mazzucato wants liberals to talk less about the redistribution of wealth and more about its creation. Politicians around the world are listening.

Democratic Playbook for 2020

Progressive economic policies--good idea!
Standard-issue progressive rhetoric--not so good idea!
Evidence continues to pile up that most of the Democrats' progressive economic ideas sell well with the American public.
The question, however, is how do you talk about them so you win over the maximum number of voters. That's not so obvious.
Robb Willer and Jan Voelkel described their intriguing research on just this question in the New York Times on Sunday. The results are food for thought. The authors take off from the Christopher Ellis/James Stimson research on how Americans tend to be operational liberals at the same time as they are symbolic conservatives (research I have frequently cited here).
Here's what they did:
"An influential analysis of national polling data by Professors Ellis and Stimson suggests that the most effective candidate in a national election would combine the most popular feature of the Democratic Party, progressive economic policies, with the most popular feature of the Republican Party: the invocation of conservative ideology and values like patriotism, family and the “American dream.”
But are candidates free to mix and match their policies with their symbolic politics? If a Democratic candidate pursued such a mixed strategy, would it work? Or would it make him or her seem hypocritical or incoherent?
To investigate these questions we conducted two experiments, one using a nationally representative sample of Americans, in which we looked at Americans’ support for “Scott Miller,” a hypothetical 2020 Democratic nominee. The participants in our studies were presented with excerpts from Scott Miller’s speeches — but we systematically varied the content of the speeches to analyze the effects of policy platform and symbolic politics.
We found that the most effective Democratic candidate would speak in terms of conservative values while proposing progressive economic policies — with some of our evidence suggesting that endorsing highly progressive policies would be best....
What mattered [the most] was how Scott Miller talked about those [progressive] policies. We found that when he spoke of his platform in terms of conservative values like patriotism, family and the American dream, he consistently drew more support than did the Scott Miller who couched those same policies in more liberal values like economic justice and compassion.
Interestingly, most of the increase in support for the Scott Miller with conservative values came from participants who identified as moderate as well as those who identified as conservative. Notably, liberals were inclined to support the candidate regardless of which rhetorical approach he took.
These results suggest that the most effective Democratic challenger to President Trump in 2020 would invoke conservative values while offering progressive economic policies....
Some progressives may bristle at the prospect of a Democratic candidate who employs rhetoric associated with conservatism. But there are reasons that even stalwart progressives might soften on this point. For one thing, Democrats typically tack to the center after winning the nomination, often compromising or abandoning their most progressive policies. Wouldn’t it be preferable to stick to those popular progressive policies, making the case for them using language that would appeal to more Americans?
But the issue is not just rhetorical. There is nothing that inherently binds valuing family, security and the American dream to conservative economic policies. Perhaps these values are served just as well — or even better — by progressive economic policies. If so, Democrats should do more to stress that fact, emphasizing more strongly how their policies can address the concerns of a wider range of Americans."
Granted, this kind of an experimental study is not definitive proof of how things might work in the real world. But it's certainly considering.
About this website
Research suggests they would gain moderate and conservative support — without losing ground among their base.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Great Moving Left Show

I know this will be misinterpreted as me saying everything's great and no one needs to bestir themselves to get rid of Trump and otherwise try to improve the country and the world.
But a clear-eyed look at the historical record does suggest that America has been moving to the left and we're a better country for it (despite Trump, etc etc). It seems to me that confidence in the reality of social improvement should serve as a motivator in these troubled political times. It is not only possible to improve things, we've already done it in many, many ways!
This is the case Lane Kenworthy makes in a couple of articles on the Post's Monkey Cage blog. I am a fan of Kenworthy's meticulous empirical work and I highly recommend his books Social Democratic America and the just-published Social Democratic Capitalism. If you read them, you will become a wiser person.
"The Democratic Party has moved left in recent years. Evidence from 2000, 2004 and 2008 suggests that until then, the party’s positions on a wide range of issues were like those of many center-right parties in other rich democracies. But starting in 2012, the Democrats began shifting left — and by 2016, were more in line with center-left parties elsewhere. In the current Democratic presidential primary, the front-runners’ proposals — including those of centrist former vice president Joe Biden — are to the left of the party’s 2016 positions. That’s consistent with the views of Democratic voters, who have also shifted left.
But Democratic voters are hardly outliers. On cultural issues and government social programs, the United States as a whole has been moving left for decades....
1. Affluent societies shift left on cultural issues
Many observers believe the United States is in an endless culture war, with neither progressives nor conservatives gaining a lasting advantage. That’s not so. Every noteworthy cultural shift over the past half-century — on race, gender roles, families, sexual orientation, gender presentation, drugs and more — has moved the country in the direction of greater personal freedom. Not only Democrats have moved to left; Republicans have, too. While abortion might seem an exception, public opinion on this issue hasn’t shifted to the right, and Americans’ growing access to “medical” abortion via the mifepristone and misoprostol pills — which were used for 39 percent of abortions in 2017, up from 1 percent in 2000 — has helped offset new restrictions on surgical abortions in conservative states...
2. Well-off countries tend to offer more public benefits
Rising affluence also brings more expansive and generous government social programs. The higher someone’s income, the more insurance they are generally willing to buy to minimize potential loss. Governments are the most efficient source of some kinds of insurance. Think of income in old age: Voluntary savings clubs could help people set money aside for retirement, but a public pension program does that more effectively and efficiently. So as countries get richer the welfare state tends to grow.
That includes the United States’ welfare state, which has kept expanding, if slowly — even through the Reagan era and beyond. True, the United States now offers less money to fewer people through its main assistance program for poor families: TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC, or Aid to Families With Dependent Children.
But at the same time, the U.S. government has expanded many other programs. The average Social Security benefit, adjusted for inflation, increased from $11,500 in 1980 to $17,000 in 2017. The Earned Income Tax Credit, a program created in 1975 to boost the income of low-earning households, has been expanded to cover 23 percent of Americans, up from 8 percent in 1980. Its two main disability benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), reach 5 percent of Americans, up from 2 percent in 1980. Medicare and Medicaid now insure about 40 percent of Americans, double the share in 1980.
Aggregate indicators paint a similar picture. Among households in the bottom fifth of incomes, the average amount of government transfers received minus taxes paid, adjusted for inflation, rose from $7,300 in the 1980s to $9,400 in the 2010s. Government expenditures on social programs rose from 13 percent of GDP in 1980 to 19 percent in 2018.
3. The American public dislikes ‘big government’ but likes social programs
Many Americans dislike the idea of big government. Between 55 and 75 percent regularly say they agree that “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful,” according to the Pew Research Center. But once new social programs are enacted, Americans tend to support them....
America hasn’t moved to the left on all issues. But the country’s progressive turn on cultural issues and government social programs is real, long-run, broad-based and unsurprising....
Over the past half-century, Americans’ beliefs and the country’s policies have shifted leftward on an array of cultural issues. The United States has also expanded government social programs, and nearly all such programs are solidly supported by a broad swath of the U.S. population. On top of this, in the past decade, the Democratic Party has been moving left in its policy commitments.
This progressive turn is likely to endure. Once norms and laws favoring tolerance, personal freedom and a big welfare state get institutionalized and don’t have significant adverse side effects, citizens become accustomed to them, making them hard to reverse. Further, getting major policy changes through the U.S. political system is difficult, so once new social programs are enacted, they are hard to dilute or eliminate."

Friday, November 29, 2019

White Voters, The Rustbelt Blue Wall States and 2020

It's fair to say that the three Blue Wall states Donald Trump carried in the Rustbelt--Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin--plus Minnesota, which he almost carried, will be the central to the outcome in 2020. It's also fair to say that the behavior of the white electorates in these states--80-85 percent of eligible voters--will be central to individual outcomes in these states.
So: here are some facts to keep in mind when thinking about the Democratic nominee and Democratic strategy in these states.
1. In 2018, Democratic victories in these states were overwhelmingly driven by shifts among white voters away from 2016 support of Trump. There were pro-Democratic shifts of 15 points in 2018 Senate elections, 13 points in 2018 gubernatorial elections and 9 points in 2018 House elections.
2. These shifts were a great deal larger than shifts toward the Democrats among nonwhite voters which tended to be in the low single digits.
3. Pro-Democratic shifts were substantial among white noncollege voters, 13 points in 2018 Senate elections, 11 points in 2018 gubernatorial elections and 5 points in 2018 House elections. Shifts were even larger among white college voters, though they were a smaller proportion of white voters (around a third).
4. Most nonvoters in these states are white--around three-quarters--and, of these white nonvoters, around three-quarters are noncollege. So the white noncollege demographic figures very heavily in the nonvoter, as well as the voter, pool.
5. Pro-Democratic 2018 Shifts among white voters in these states were largest in suburban and rural areas, with shifts in rural areas actually slightly larger.
6. Trump's approval rating among noncollege white women stands at just 42% in Michigan, 43% in Wisconsin and 46% in Pennsylvania.