Wednesday, February 21, 2018

New Content Has MIgrated Over to My Facebook Page

I will continue to keep The Optimistic Leftist site updated with links to new articles and reports. But my thoughts on current political and other developments will now be exclusively on my Facebook page. I urge you to visit!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Yes Trump's Approval Rating Is Up, No That Doesn't Mean the Democrats Won't Succeed in November

Trump's approval rating has clearly gone up in the last month, from a little under 40 percent to a little under 42 percent, according to the 538 composite. That's not nothing and, all else equal, good for the Republicans. But it doesn't change much about expectations for the upcoming election, which are still quite poor for the GOP.

Models, of course, disagree on how grim the forecast is for the Republicans, so any given model should not be taken as the last word. But Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction cites a midterm model that illustrates how difficult the situation is for them. The model is a simple one that relies on just Presidential approval and growth in real per capita disposable income (RDI). What it says is this:
[The model] predicts Democrats will pick up 45 to 50 House seats this fall, and take over 15 to 20 state legislative chambers. A loss of just 24 House seats would flip House control to the Democrats….
Most years, this model works fairly well. It predicted Democrats losing 46 House seats in 2010 (they lost 63), and it predicted Republicans losing 40 House seats in 2006 (they lost 31).
You can see in the chart above how this works, with Trump's approval running a little over 40 percent and RDI growth around 1 percent in the last year. It's apparent that moving Trump's approval rating around a little bit at a given level of economic growth does not change the forecast much. Plus Trump's approval rating have been bouncing around between 37 and 42 percent since early last April  so it's hard to see the kind of mega-spike that might really change things. 

A huge increase in RDI growth seems unlikely also though, of course, anything is possible. But as Masket observes: 
Even if RDI growth jumped to 3 percent…the model would still predict Republicans to lose 37 House seats, more than enough to lose control of the chamber, and 14 state legislative chambers.
So the fundamentals don't look good for Team Red. But it's just one model so should be treated with caution. After all, there are lots of other factors like the various structural advantages Republicans take into an election like this. But even those have been declining as Nate Cohn has pointed out, knocking a couple of points off of the GOP's "thumb on the scales". This includes the effects of anti-gerrymandering court decisions, Democratic fundraising and candidate recruitment and Republican retirements.

It's a long time 'til election day. But the basic story continues to be a positive one for Democrats, as these data and the results of recent special elections suggest.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Immigration Paradox

Here are three things we know about the American public and immigration.

1. The American public is becoming more favorable, not less favorable, toward immigration. In fact,  the public is not only more favorable but it is now at historically high levels of favorability toward immigration and immigrants. From a recent article by Derek Thompson:
·         The share of Americans calling for lower levels of immigration has fallen from a high of 65 percent in the mid-1990s to just 35 percent, near its record low.
·         A 2017 Gallup poll found that fears that immigrants bring crime, take jobs from native-born families, or damage the budget and overall economy are all at all-time lows.
·         In the same poll, the percentage of Americans saying immigrants “mostly help” the economy reached its highest point since Gallup began asking the question in 1993.
·         A Pew Research poll asking if immigrants “strengthen [the] country with their hard work and talents” similarly found affirmative responses at an all-time high.
Pretty much all relevant polling data say the same thing. Here are a couple charts from the two leading academic surveys, the General Social Survey and the American National Election Study:

Moreover, as the polling data also show very consistently, the public is very supportive of the DREAMers and opposed to building a wall on the border with Mexico.

2. The places with the most immigration tend to be the ones least supportive of Trump and a hard line on immigration. Conversely, of course, if the exposure to immigrants is limited, that tends to correlate with high support for Trump and being hostile to immigration. This chart from Ron Brownstein sums up the situation well:

And yet...despite a public that's trending favorable toward immigrants, especially in areas where they are common, we have the third thing we know about the public and immigration:

3. Anti-immigrant feelings now have more political salience than they have had a very long time and that is hurting the Democrats. It is clearly the case that for an important minority of--primarily white noncollege--voters, they feel intensely enough about this issue to respond positively to anti-immigrant messages and candidates. Trump would not be President if this were not true. And the GOP hopes they can continue to use this issue to keep these voters away from the Democratic party, a strategy that has worked to perfection in Rustbelt and other declining areas of the country.

Can the Democrats resolve this immigration paradox so they do not suffer politically for being pro-immigrant in country that is increasingly pro-immigrant? We shall see. But it would appear they need to think carefully about how to reach voters outside of blue America who do not start with the presumption that immigration is beneficial. Otherwise,the immigration paradox is likely to continue, and continue to hurt the Democrats.

Game-Changer in Germany?

Guest post by Judith Meyer

Last night, Angela Merkel said in an interview that she'd be ready to lead a minority government in Germany if the SPD base rejects the coalition agreement. So far, she and the CDU always said that they would call for new elections. This is big:

The threat of calling new elections was their main deterrent 
- for SPD MPs & related workers who are afraid of losing their seats (because the SPD poll results are currently much worse than the last election results)
- for SPD base members who don't want to witness the ignominy of their party losing its status as Germany's second biggest party
- for people who are afraid of AfD getting more seats in a new election, or 
- for people who think it's irresponsible and undemocratic to send the voters back to the polls. 

Removing this threat now presumably means that a lot more SPD members will feel free to vote against the Grand Coalition. This is borne out on Twitter, many people are posting things like "I was undecided but now I know how to vote", and of course the young socialists already started hammering this message (that a No is not a catastrophe, despite previous scaremongering from the SPD leadership) on all channels. They will have more opportunities to do so during their city tour over the next weeks.

Why would Merkel remove this threat?

Possible explanation 1: She loves to commission secret polls, so maybe she is reacting to one of the survey companies coming back with the message that the SPD base is likely to reject the coalition agreement. German news have created an expectation, helped by her previous words, that the end of the Grand Coalition would also be the end of her chancellorship. Usurpers are already lining up; she is getting urged to name the next generation. So this way she can lay claim to another period in office no matter whether the SPD rejects the coalition or not. If she wants to keep working with the SPD this would also work out: the SPD leaders could honour the letter of the results by not entering a Grand Coalition, while breaching the spirit of the results by voting with a CDU minority government on most of the issues covered in the coalition treaty. The SPD leadership had previously (was it December or November?) thought along those lines, inventing a kind of coalition that is less than a Grand Coalition but more than a minority government, with a treaty outlining how to vote on only the most important items and allowing the parties to diverge on other issues. 

Possible explanation 2: She is actively sabotaging the Grand Coalition now because the resistance in the CDU to the agreement has been so strong. Some CDU people said that it's just as well a CDU party assembly has to approve the treaty (they may reject it, but tend to be a docile lot), because it would not be certain to pass if there was an all-member vote among CDU members as there is among SPD members. She might have even given the SPD so many important ministries (controlling well more than half of the government's budget), and nothing in terms of policy, in order to provoke in-fighting and intentionally letting the Grand Coalition agreement be downvoted. Though this last bit is probably a bit far-fetched, her actively wishing to sabotage the Grand Coalition at this point, with all the backlash that happened in both parties, and with the ministry assignment being back up in the air, is thinkable.  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Science Fiction Saturday: A Darkling Sea

James Cambias' A Darkling Sea is an outstanding hard SF novel that does very, very well what is very, very hard to to: convincingly portray an utterly alien species. It was a challenging idea, creating an intelligent species that lives underwater around hydrothermal vents. But he pulls it off. Here's the basic setup of the book:
We begin on a remote scientific outpost stationed on Ilmatar, a watery moon very much like the moon Europa in our solar system — and it's in orbit around a gas giant very much like Jupiter. Protected from cosmic radiation by kilometers of thick ice, a vast civilization has evolved in the deep oceans of the moon, its cities rising around deep sea vents that provide warmth and nutrients. It's a fascinating idea, based on what we already know about extremophile creatures that inhabit these volcanic vents on Earth. Just as they do on our planet, vents on Ilmatar release nutrients that support many plants and animals. 
Our human explorers know very little about the moon's intelligent Ilmatarans, crustacean-like creatures with a kind of early Victorian culture where science is still fairly crude and there's a rigid class hierarchy ruled by landowners. We get a lot of crunchy, hard sci-fi details about the scientists' underwater facility, and their nanotech diving equipment that converts the local seawater to breathable gas. Cambias also lavishes incredible detail on the million-year-old Ilmataran culture, treating us to images of their ancient vent cities, showing us how they write books by tying knots in string the way the Inca did, and even exploring how, blind in their dark undersea world, they "see" only by sonar.

 We meet Broadtail, a young Ilmataran scientist who studies his culture's own ancient history — and, later, human culture too. His human counterpart is Rob, a tech expert on the human expedition to observe the Ilmataran culture and environment. Rob is involved in an unfortunate incident that brings the two alien cultures face to face: He's filming one of the human scientists, a kind of Jacques Cousteau-style celebrity, when things go wrong. The celebrity swims too close to Broadtail and his colleagues, who perceive him with their sonar senses for the first time — and collect him as a scientific specimen so they can dissect him in their lab.
This proves to be a grave diplomatic mistake. Not only are the Ilmatarans now aware of the humans, but the humans are in violation of a non-interference treaty they've agreed to with the scientifically-advanced but isolationist aliens known as the Sholen. The bulk of the novel deals with how the Sholen and humans feud over their different approaches to making contact (or not) with newly-discovered intelligent creatures. 
This is a good one! Highly recommended. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Obscure Music Friday: Bela Lugosi's Dead

Bela Lugosi songs are deplorably thin on the ground, but I did happen upon this 1982 gem by the English post-punk band Bauhaus. Bela is dead and gone but I'm sure you are still looking, as I am,  for "A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world!"

Thursday, February 8, 2018

White Working Class Women to the Rescue!

As any fair reading of the data reveals, the white working-class vote is still Democrats’ critical weakness. This is especially worrisome because white non-college voters remain a larger group than white college voters in almost all states — and are far larger in the Rust Belt states that gave the Democrats so much trouble in 2016: Iowa is 62 percent white non-college versus 31 percent white college; Michigan is 54 percent white non-college versus 28 percent white college; Ohio splits 55 percent to 29 percent; Pennsylvania 51 percent to 31 percent; and Wisconsin 58 percent to 32 percent.

Can the Democrats improve on their recent dreadful performance among this demographic in 2018? If so, they could build on what appears to be a significant shift in their favor among college-educated whites to power a true wave election in November that reaches beyond obvious targets in upscale suburban districts. 

Disaggregated Gallup approval data provided to Ronald Brownstein indicates that there is a real opening among white noncollege women voters for big Democratic gains. These are voters who played a huge role in delivering Trump's gains in 2016, particularly in the Rustbelt. But many of these women have soured on Trump since the election. Brownstein's data are quite compelling here:
In the Rustbelt states that decided 2016, Trump has slipped into a much more precarious position with these women: Gallup put his 2017 approval with them at 45 percent in Pennsylvania, 42 percent in Michigan, and 39 percent or less in Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Compared to his 2016 vote, his 2017 approval among blue-collar white women in the Rustbelt represented some of his largest declines anywhere—18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota. That erosion, which intensified during Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, creates the opening for Democrats to contest blue-collar and non-urban House seats this fall through the Midwest and Northeast.
Will the Democrats capitalize on this opening? We shall see whether the Democrats can craft an approach that goes beyond their current Congressional agenda to reach hearts and minds among these voters. If they can, the 2018 payoff could be enormous.