Thursday, August 16, 2018

Abolishing ICE Is a Pretty Terrible Campaign Slogan

Today Paul Starr published a compelling critique of the slogan on the American Prospect website, while John Judis offered a similarly critical take on the New Republic site. Also of interest is an older op-ed by Justin Gest and Tyler Reny that was in the Los Angeles Times.
The articles have occasioned some blowback, despite acknowledgement of the indisputable fact that this is quite an unpopular policy, including especially among moderate and swing voters. As near as I can make out, those determined to defend the slogan claim one or several of the following:
* the activists promulgating this slogan are well-intentioned so we should be empathetic with their concerns.
* the slogan may alienate moderate and swing voters but there really aren't any anymore so it doesn't matter.
* since candidates running in swing districts generally are disavowing the slogan it will not hurt them.
* the Democrats are on track for a good election so this is just a bit of high spirits that won't matter for the outcome.
* the public is supportive of many Democratic policies on immigration while disliking many of Trump's. One somewhat controversial stand on immigration will not overshadow these views.
To which I say:
* well-intentioned policies can easily be toxic politically and we do have an election coming up.
* there may be fewer swing voters than in the past but there are still quite a few and they will greatly matter to the size of a blue wave in November.
* sure, Democratic candidates may disavow the slogan but (surprise!) GOP opponents will lie anyway and say those candidates support it (this is already happening).
* the Democrats are benefiting greatly in this election cycle from a national mood that sees Trump and the GOP as extreme; why would you want to give the Republicans an opportunity to tar the Democrats with the same brush?
* sure, the public supports Democrats' advocacy for the Dreamers and does not support many of Trump's draconian measures. But they still believe in border security and the median voter will make the equation abolish ICE = no enforcement against illegal immigrants = open borders. This is a good way to turn whatever advantages Democrats currently have on immigration into their opposite.
As Starr puts it in his article:
"The brutal inhumanity of Trump’s child-separation policies, turning away of refugees, and deportations of immigrants who have long been well-regarded members of their community should put Republicans this fall wholly on the defensive on immigration. Republican candidates ought to have a lot of awkward explaining to do, and Democrats ought to have opportunities to win back support. Not all conservatives and independents are hopelessly anti-immigrant; many Republicans have supported bipartisan immigration reform, and many pay heed to religious leaders who have strongly condemned the child separations and other inhumane measures Trump has adopted.
The “Abolish ICE” campaign has three distinct things wrong with it. First, it focuses attention on the bureaucracy carrying out current policies rather than the responsible political leaders and the policies themselves. It sounds a lot like right-wing campaigns to abolish the Department of Education or Department of Energy.
Second, abolishing ICE raises the question of what would replace the agency, and the fact is those demanding its abolition have no clear idea. “Abolish ICE” legislation introduced by Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, calls for a commission to study the issue for a year. That’s not much of a response to skeptical voters. Calling for a study commission is a classic political move to avoid answering tough questions.
Third, Trump and other Republicans have seized on “Abolish ICE” for obvious reasons: The slogan seems to confirm Trump’s accusations that Democrats favor “open borders” and are “weak” on border security. As a result, instead of Republicans having a lot of awkward explaining to do, Democratic candidates all over the country are now being forced to explain where they stand on ICE—always a slippery matter—and nearly all candidates in competitive races are skating away from the idea of abolishing the agency."
In other words, let's not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! This slogan hurts the Democrats at the margin in competitive races and it is at the margins where a lot of these races will be decided. Democrats should be focused like a laser beam on maximizing their chances of victory--and as big a victory as possible--this November. This slogan does not--and will not--help.
About this website
The “Abolish ICE” slogan hands Republicans an opportunity on an issue where they ought to be entirely on the defensive.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Will the White Working Class Save Trump and the GOP in November?

Well, if they're going to do so, they'll have to do show a lot better for Team Red than they're currently doing in the polls. Two just-released polls from Quinnipiac and CNN report predictable advantages for the Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot among minority voters and white college graduates but just 13 and 10 point advantages, respectively, among white noncollege voters for the Republicans. That is far below levels of support the GOP likely needs from their base voter group to stave off the Democrats in November.
By comparison, the exit polls indicated a 30 point advantage for the Republicans among white noncollege voters in 2014 and well over 30 points in 2016 (other estimates more reliable than the exit polls also had the GOP white noncollege advantage over 30 points).
So, yes this is national data and the races are not national this year. But this is a very bad sign for the Trumpified GOP. Could the bloom be off the rose, so to speak among the white working class? Keep your eye on this one in November.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

All the Cool Kids Are Reading Ashoka Mody's EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts!

That's right. Don't miss out. As Arthur Goldhammer has noted, Mody's book is "the best single book not only on the euro crisis but on the euro project tout court". I agree! If you want to really, really understand how the Eurozone came to be and how it went awry, this is the book for you.
To further whet your appetite, here's is a snippet from Christopher Caldwell's excellent review of the book in The Weekly Standard (yes, The Weekly Standard--don't be close-minded!).
"There is a profound mystery about the euro, according to the Princeton economist Ashoka Mody. “Why,” he asks in EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts, his authoritative new history of the currency, “did Europeans attempt such a venture that carried no obvious benefits but came with huge risks?” There is an answer to this: Often what economists call risks politicians see as opportunities.
Germany has been the main actor in this story since the euro was conceived a half-century ago. Back then, the country’s neighbors, above all France, resented the strong German currency, the deutsche mark, and the devaluations into which Germany’s more productive and disciplined economy so often forced them. But Germany, too, had an interest in unifying Europe economically. The resolution of the Second World War had deprived it of many of the attributes of national sovereignty—and this gave it an interest in weakening the sovereignty of its neighbors. It’s funny: “European unity” was a project that advanced because a lot of parochial politicians hoped to pull a fast one on their rivals in other countries.
Mody parts ways with David Marsh’s 2009 book The Euro, which up till now has been the standard reference. Marsh, a British journalist who for many years covered Germany’s Bundesbank, defends the euro and the Germans. He paints the early political champions of the common currency, German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, as macroeconomic sophisticates who bequeathed a seaworthy vessel to their less money-minded successors, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. In particular, Schmidt was attuned to the threat of American macroeconomic irresponsibility, recalling how Lyndon Johnson’s attempts to simultaneously build out a welfare state and rescue Vietnam inflicted inflation on European economies. In Marsh’s telling, the euro was almost an act of transatlantic self-defense.
For Mody, who represented the IMF in its program to rescue the Irish financial system a decade ago, the euro was an “economic absurdity” from the start. Germany is the villain, although of a strange kind—the villain of something it had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing. Words in a German’s mouth mean different things than they do in the mouths of others. When most Europeans talk of “banking union,” they mean the Europe-wide pooling of liability in order to lower risk. When a German says “banking union,” he means having German accountants lay down the law to banks in Greece. “We as Germans do not want to pay into a big pot,” says Germany’s former finance minister Peer Steinbrück, as if it were an aesthetic matter."
Great stuff. Read the whole review. And then get the book!
About this article
Christopher Caldwell on the euro and the damage it wrought.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Social Democracy vs. Democratic Socialism

Sheri Berman had a very interesting article in the Sunday Outlook section of the Washington Post comparing social democracy with democratic socialism. I think Berman is a little hard on today's democratic socialists, most of whom are really just left-ish social democrats, rather than true blue democratic socialists committed to replacing capitalism with a different economic system. In this sense, I think she errs in comparing today's democratic socialists with the genuinely revolutionary socialists who stayed out of the Third (Communist) International and briefly formed their own international (sometimes referred to as the "two and a half international"). The democratic socialists of today don't match up very well, either ideologically or in terms of social base, with those socialists of yesteryear.
Most democratic socialists today are really mostly concerned--here and in Europe--with pushing the left into a more confrontational attitude toward neoliberalism and toward the adoption of larger-scale reforms. That's pretty far from the revolutionary replacement of capitalism with socialism. Still, Berman does raise some important questions for those democratic socialists who are explicitly committed to replacing, rather than reforming, capitalism. .She asks:
"What does the DSA’s goal of socialism actually mean? If abolishing capitalism is its goal, as its adherents say, how are the growth, efficiency and innovation that are the prerequisites for redistribution to be achieved? And if reforms can’t create a better world (“Today’s democratic socialists don’t see positive policy reforms as something we’ll stack up until one day, voilà!, we have socialism,” as one democratic socialist wrote in Vox), then how is socialism to be achieved? Is democracy, even when flawed, a means or an end? Will democratic socialists prioritize democracy if the votes for a “socialist future” do not materialize? Will they eschew the compromises and alliances necessary to protect democracy? The unwillingness of Jean-Luc Mélenchon to support President Emanuel Macron in the French presidential elections, and the refusal by some American leftists to support Hillary Clinton, come to mind, as does the willingness of some democratic socialists to consider running outside the Democratic Party. And will democratic socialists accept the trade-offs and bridge-building necessary to win elections? Or is compromise, as [one democratic socialist] put it, antithetical to truly fighting “for the working class and marginalized”?"
Good questions all! Or, put another way, was this guy the main man or a shameless capitulator to the bourgeousie? Every generation must answer this all-important question!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Realignment of College-Educated Whites

Buried in the latest Pew report was an extraordinary finding from their study of validated voters in the 2016 election. As you may recall, the exit polls had Trump carrying college-educated whites by 3 points. This was puzzling to many of us since polls prior to the election had been regularly showing Clinton carrying this group by 15-20 points.
Subsequent analysis from the States of Change project strongly indicated that Clinton carried white college voters in the 2016 election, not Trump. Our estimate was around 7 points. Now we have this Pew study based on verified voters that puts Clinton's margin over Trump among this group at 17 points. 17 points! That's impressive and indicates that the pre-election polls were in the right ballpark on the white college grad vote and that this group may have crossed over from being a swing group to a solid Democratic one. I might add that this is entirely consistent with the polling and other data we are seeing in the run-up to the 2018 election.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Myth of Trump's Unshakable Support Base

I often hear laments that, despite all the other things going wrong for the GOP, Trump himself has an unshakable base of support that will ultimately save him and his party.
This is a myth. Yes, Trump has a strong base of support, but it is not extraordinary and is subject to attrition among voters who have questions about him, his behavior and/or his policies. Trump has not invented an new form of politics where he is invulnerable to voter defection.
First point, his approval rating among Republicans. This is high but hardly unprecedented by historical standards. According to Politifact:
"The most recent publicly available data from Gallup’s weekly tracking poll at the time of Trump’s tweet showed him with 85 percent approval from Republicans.
So how does that 85 percent rating compare with his Republican predecessors? We looked at Gallup historical data for Republican presidents going back to Eisenhower. We looked for the closest polling data for July 29 of their second year in office (the day of Trump’s claim). We used the equivalent period after the inauguration of Gerald Ford, who unlike the others was not sworn in on Jan. 20.
So...not only did George W. Bush have a higher approval rating among Republicans, but so did Dwight Eisenhower and, arguably, George H.W. Bush.
Two other points of comparison make Trump’s achievement less impressive.
One is to compare Trump’s highest approval rating of his tenure so far — 90 percent as recently as mid-July — to the record-high rating for his predecessors through July 29 of their second year in office.
By this measure, Trump actually ties for the second-worst of any post-World War II Republican president, surpassing only Ford.
Another approach is to compare each president on the highest approval rating of their tenure. (Trump has only been in office for a year and a half, but he opened the door to this analysis by claiming the "highest poll numbers in the history of the Republican Party.")
Once again, by this measure, Trump fares the second worst of any post-war Republican president, only surpassing Ford.
By historical standards, Trump has had "solid, but not extraordinary in-party approval," said Kathleen Joyce Weldon, director of data operations and communications at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University."
Second point: Support for Trump is relatively weak among large and important groups of Republicans. According to a study by political scientists Peter K. Enns, Jonathon P. Schuldt and Adrienne Scott:
"During the first two weeks of July, we fielded a nationally representative survey of 1,379 likely voters. Conducted online and on the phone by the National Opinion Research Center, we included only respondents who reported a high likelihood of voting in this year’s midterms. The survey was funded by Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality.
In our survey, Trump’s approval rating was 85 percent among Republicans. That’s consistent with other polls. On the surface, the president’s support among his fellow Republicans is overwhelming.
But the key to our analysis was to divide Republicans into three groups: those who say they identify strongly with the Republican Party; those who identify as Republicans but not strongly; and those who call themselves independents but say they lean toward the Republican Party. These distinctions, often obscured in media coverage, are important because research shows that the strength of a voter’s partisan identity has an important effect on their political attitudes.
Among strong Republicans, Trump’s overall approval rating is 93 percent, with 78 percent “strongly” approving of the president. The problem for Trump, however, is that these voters make up less than half of the Republican electorate — and 18 percent of likely voters.
Among the larger number of Republicans who identify less strongly with their party, Trump is much less popular. For example, Trump’s overall approval rating among not-so-strong Republicans is 72 percent, with 38 percent saying they strongly approve. Thirty-four percent say they only “somewhat” approve of Trump. Those numbers are similar among independent-leaning Republicans."
Third point: Not everyone who voted for Trump is very happy with him. That matters. Nate Cohn on newly-released Pew data:
"There has been little change in President Trump’s approval rating in the last 18 months, and so it’s often assumed that nothing can erode his base of support. The Pew data suggests it’s not so simple.
Yes, nearly half of Mr. Trump’s voters have exceptionally warm views toward him: 45 percent rated their feeling toward him as a 90 or higher out of 100, a figure that is virtually unchanged since his election. But a meaningful number of his voters had reservations about him in November 2016, and even more Trump voters held a neutral or negative view of him in March.
Over all, 18 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters gave him a rating of 50 or less, on a scale of 0 (coldest) to 100 (warmest), up from 13 percent in November 2016.
It is worth noting that the November 2016 Pew survey was taken after Mr. Trump won the presidency, at the height of his post-election honeymoon. But even when you consider the slightly lower ratings voters gave him in the months before the election, the big picture is the same: A modest number of Mr. Trump’s voters didn’t like him that much then, and don’t like him much now.
Women, and especially college-educated women, are the likeliest Trump voters to have serious reservations about him in 2018: A striking 14 percent of the college-educated women who voted for him hold a very cold impression of him, up from just 1 percent in November 2016."
So don't believe the hype. Trump's support is plenty shakable. And it's being shaken.
About this article
Data offers a more nuanced look at this group and how their feelings about the president might have shifted since the election.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the White Working Class But Were Afraid to Ask

I have a book recommendation for you. If you want to understand the white working class in an ideology-free, objective way, I recommend the data-packed, but lucid, new book by Justin Gest, The White Working Class, from Oxford University Press. He asks, and answers, all the basic questions you may have about this group's size, politics and attitudes--and why this group's politics and attitudes are currently the way they are. I don't always entirely agree with Gest's takes on these questions but his views are always solid, well-reasoned and factually-based. I can ask for no more.
While you're at it, you should navigate over to The Washington Monthly website and read my old friend Andy Levison's excellent new article on "What Democrats Still Don't Get about Winning Back the White Working Class". It's a long article but very much worth reading. Here are some key parts:
"Essentially, a decades-long campaign by conservatives has succeeded in creating among the broad majority of white working class and small town/red state Americans a deeply embedded view of Democrats as the party of the educated urban elite who impose their liberal agenda through a cynical alliance with minorities.
Democrats are aware of this perception, of course, and routinely complain about the conservative “information bubble” that is created by Fox News and other media. But many continue to base their campaigns on the hope that if they can only somehow figure out how to craft exactly the right package of proposals and programs—either progressive or moderate—they will somehow break through and convince these voters to support Democrats once again.
But it is now necessary to seriously consider the opposite possibility: that class resentment is so powerful and deeply entrenched that Democratic plans and proposals never get seriously considered by white working-class and small-town/red-state voters in the first place. They are, instead, dismissed at the outset because they come from a party that is perceived to represent groups and interests that are deeply alien and antagonistic. The Affordable Care Act, for example, was never seriously examined by white working-class Republican voters. Its provisions were wildly caricatured (“Death Panels”) and the measure described as quite literally a sinister socialist conspiracy simply because Obama and the Democrats had proposed it.
It is, therefore, now necessary to accept that Democrats have to develop a completely different mental model of how these voters actually do make their political choices—a model that will suggest alternate strategies for how Democrats can break through the wall that now separates them from many white working-class and small-town/red-state Americans...."
Levison notes that the white working class, despite its current insulation from, and resistance to, Democratic appeals actually embodies quite a bit of ideological diversity:
"[T]there is actually a wide and nuanced range of social opinions and perspectives. Among devout Christians, for example, there is a deep divide between two interpretations of the message of Jesus Christ. The first is intolerant and absolutist and leads to the belief that Christians should impose their beliefs on society as a whole. The second is rooted in the compassionate elements in Christian teachings and faith and, as a result, is more tolerant and accepting of diversity. Equally, racial attitudes among white working people span a wide range, from overt racist bigotry to a more relaxed “live-and-let-live” acceptance, the difference based more on individual psychology and personality characteristics than commitments to any specific social or political doctrine.
These divisions are clearly visible in daily white working-class life. Popular country music now includes a number of artists who express acceptance of gay men and women and condemn misogyny in a way that is dramatically different from two or three decades ago. In evangelical churches, even before the recent wave of family separations, there was an ongoing debate about what a true Christian’s response to immigrants ought to be. During the Obama years, many evangelical churches were making active efforts to invite African-Americans to their services until the 2016 election poisoned the atmosphere. More generally, transcripts of focus groups and ethnographic interviews repeatedly reveal the degree to which the realities of modern life have changed former patterns and attitudes. Many white working Americans now have some non-white or interracial couples living in their neighborhood and personally know gay men and women. The attitudes of a significant number are consequently more open-minded than they were years ago. But these debates and divisions are largely invisible to many urban and educated Democrats because they occur inside the three-level ideological cocoon.
It is vital to recognize that these divisions exist because they are the key to developing more successful Democratic strategies. Many Democrats have recoiled against all Trump voters because the bitter racism and crypto-fascism that is on display at Trump’s rallies seem like clear proof that anyone who supported Trump in 2016 must be equally racist and anti-democratic. The reaction is understandable but based more on emotion than analysis. After all, about one in ten African-Americans and about one in four Latinos voted for Trump in 2016, and unless one is prepared to seriously argue that they are also genuine racists, it is necessary to recognize that a range of other factors—from low information to class resentment to an inchoate desire to “shake things up”—also played a role in his election. The reality is that Trump’s white working-class supporters are divided between a deeply racist, intolerant sector that is beyond any realistic hope of persuasion and a distinctly more tolerant sector that is potentially open to Democratic appeals and can be reached with messages that are specifically crafted to appeal to their very distinct social outlook and political views."
So: how to reach the reachable? Levison's basic take, explained in much more detail in the article, is:
"Given the reality that simply proposing programs and policies that are objectively in white workers’ interests is insufficient to win their support, Democratic candidates must instead visualize the method of appealing to these voters as a two-stage process.
First, they must develop a specific communication and persuasion strategy designed to break through the conservative “bubble” and become accepted as a legitimate part of the political discussion that goes on between the different sectors of the white working-class community. Second, once this is accomplished, they can begin to debate and challenge their Republican opponents regarding specific social and economic policies and programs."
Easier to say than do I suppose. But I think Levison has accurately characterized the white working class challenge and how to meet it. I hope his article gets the wide attention it deserves.
The debate over moderate versus progressive policies is irrelevant unless Democratic candidates can first establish a basic level of trust with these voters.