Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Two Big Strengths, One Big Weakness

Ronald Brownstein's new piece on the CNN site has a very good rundown of the very good and not so good signs for the Democrats moving into the 2018 election.
The two big strengths (very interesting data here; note the stuff on white college men and, especially, white noncollege women):
"1. The white-collar suburban discontent with Trump is real and widespread.
The shift away from the GOP among white voters holding at least a four-year college degree is most intense among women, but also apparent among men. And those voters are retreating from the GOP not only along the East Coast (across Republican-held suburban seats in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia) and the West Coast (in a concentration of five GOP-held seats around Los Angeles and another near Seattle) but importantly also through the center of the country. There, Democrats are poised to capture suburban seats outside Minneapolis, Kansas City, Denver, Detroit, Chicago and Tucson; have toss up chances in other seats near Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Detroit and Chicago; and have solid, though more challenging opportunities in Houston and Dallas. (More on that below.)
When the Washington Post/Schar School poll recently surveyed voters in 69 of the most competitive House districts they found that Democrats led among college-educated whites in them by fully 13 percentage points; by comparison, House Republicans carried those voters by nearly 20 point margins in both the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, according to exit polls. Republicans respectively won control of the House and Senate in those midterms.
2. Democratic Senate and governor candidates in the Midwest are showing renewed competitiveness among blue-collar white voters who keyed Trump's victories in the states that propelled him into the White House.
Democratic Senate incumbents in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- all states won by Trump -- now appear solid favorites for re-election. The party is favored for the governorships in Michigan and Pennsylvania and locked in close races in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa -- the fifth Midwestern state key to Trump's 2016 victory. And it could pick up as many as four House seats combined in Iowa and Michigan.
In each case, that's at least partly because the Democratic nominees are posting much better numbers than Hillary Clinton among working-class white voters. Some of that may reflect what political professionals call "differential turnout" -- meaning that the non-college whites who dislike Trump are more likely to show up than the working-class whites who surged to the polls for him in 2016, but aren't as enthusiastic about conventional Republican candidates.
But Trump also appears to have suffered genuine erosion among working-class white women, largely because of his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and a sense among many that the improved national economy hasn't provided them appreciably more security. If that crack in Trump's armor persists to 2020, it would arguably provide the single most important advance for Democrats in the midterm election."
And the big weakness:
"1. Trump 's provocations alone show few signs of improving the subpar turnout patterns among Latinos and millennials, two core Democratic constituencies.
In polls, both groups express preponderant opposition to Trump's posture on cultural and racial issues. But most polls suggest that their turnout next month will plummet compared to 2016, just as it typically has in midterm elections. Compounding the problem, when Latino turnout sags, what's left in the voter pool tends to be older and more Republican.
Democrats received encouraging news from Sunday's ABC/Washington Post poll, which found much higher levels of youth engagement than almost any other recent survey. But that result looks like an outlier compared to most other polls. And even if young people participate in somewhat higher numbers, their share of the vote could fall if they don't keep pace with the greater-than-usual midterm interest evident among other voter groups. By 2020, millennials will significantly exceed baby boomers as a share of eligible voters, but based on their turnout trajectory they will continue to lag them among actual voters. That would be a huge opportunity cost for Democrats given Trump's consistently low marks with the generation (apart from younger non-college whites)."
A caveat on the youth turnout observation. Geoffrey Skelley on 538 has an interesting piece where he makes the case that youth turnout, based on some other indicators, might actually be pretty good this year. He says:
"Looking at the historical trends, there’s no question that youth voter turnout is consistently low in midterms, but exit poll data from competitive statewide elections in 2017 suggests that 2018 could set a record high for young voter participation....Polling from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics also gives us reason to believe we may see high turnout from young voters. The institute conducts a long-running, large-sample poll of young Americans...[I]n the IOP’s spring 2018 poll, 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds answered they would “definitely” vote, which was a new record high."
I don't know if this is right or not, since the data he cites are hardly definitive. But it's definitely interesting and suggests Democrats should not give up hope for decent youth turnout this cycle.
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CNN.COM
For two years Democrats have raged over Donald Trump's presidency, quarreled among themselves over the best strategy for responding to it, and above all, counted the days until next month's midterm election.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

So, What Could Go Wrong?

Lots! As noted here, the House forecasts are uniformly very good for the Democrats, with average seat gains estimated in the 31-39 range and probability of House takeover estimates in between 70 and 84 percent. At this point, 538 is on the high end of these ranges.
But there are some problems to keep in mind. The first is more accurately thought of as not a problem, but intrinsic to the enterprise. If, say, there's a forecasted 4 in 5 chance the Dems will take the House, this directly implies there's a 1 in 5 chance they won't. So things could go "wrong" in that sense.
Second, there could be a systematic bias in the inputs to these forecasts--something that's not being captured or captured incorrectly. The most likely candidate for that "something" is a mobilization surge in red areas that is currently being underestimated. We've already seen some deterioration in Democrats prospects in red state Senate races; it is possible that in the redder congresssional districts Democrats are contesting that the same dynamic may hold down their gains in such districts.
This is really the point of Nate Cohn's article in the Times today. Note that Cohn still appears to think it's likely the Democrats will take enough seats to capture the House, but he does see the possibility--and some signs--that this mobilization dynamic will hold down the magnitude of Democratic gains. I would not say that polling analysts universally see the signs that Cohn does, or interpret them in quite the same way, but I do believe his caution should be taken seriously.
About this website
NYTIMES.COM
Energized voters on the right dim prospects for big Democratic gains in red districts and states.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Something Is Happening Here But You Don't Know What It Is--Do You, Mr. Trump?

The news from the Rustbelt continues to be very poor for the GOP--yet this is the region that sent Donald Trump to the White House. What's going on?
Here's a snippet from Thomas Edsall's Times' column on the Rustbelt:
"Nate Silver, the founder of the political website 538, tweeted:
'By far the Democrats’ strongest region in Senate + Gov + House polling has been the Midwest, and I don’t think you’d really gather that from the tonality of the reporting, which tends to fixate on demographic change and therefore finds races in the South & the West a lot sexier.'
According to both Democratic and Republican operatives, Republican difficulties in the region stem in part from the trend among many Obama 2012-to-Trump-2016 voters to switch back to the Democrats.
Nick Gourevitch, whose Democratic firm, Global Strategy Group, is polling in the Midwest, wrote in an email: “In general, we are seeing Obama-Trump districts returning to the fold as competitive seats.” He went on:
"Our postelection research on Obama-Trump voters showed that many of them were conflicted voters who had mixed feelings about supporting the president and that not all of them were the die-hard Trump supporters some in the media like to report them to be."
Huh. So maybe all those Obama-Trump voters aren't hopeless racists the Democrats are better off ignoring.
Martin Longman adds on the Washington Monthly blog:
"Trump’s victory came about because he surprisingly won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin which were all considered part of an impenetrable blue wall for the Democrats, but the Democrats look extremely strong in both the senate and governor’s races in all three of those states.
This can’t be explained by demographic change and it isn’t based solely on turnout models and assumptions. A lot of Democrats who voted for Trump in the industrial Midwest just have no intention of voting for a Republican in the upcoming midterms.....
It’s the formerly blue element that distinguishes the Midwest from other Trump strongholds. Many midwestern lifelong Democrats were attracted to Trump precisely because he was taking a battle-ax to the Republican establishment and so it’s unsurprising that these voters won’t transfer their loyalty from Trump to down-ticket conservatives. Because of union membership and socioeconomic status and tradition, these voters having been voting against Republicans all their lives. They made an exception for Trump and many still support him. Some will even vote for candidates that promise to help the president or that Trump has explicitly endorsed. But the snapback comes from the fact that most longtime Democrats supported Trump but not the party he leads."
And a new Politico/AARP poll of Pennsylvania finds:
"Pennsylvania was the linchpin of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, but it could be ground zero of Democrats’ 2018 comeback. Not only are the incumbent Democratic senator and governor prohibitive favorites to win reelection, but Democrats could also pick up as many as a half-dozen congressional seats — roughly a quarter of the seats the party needs nationwide to win back the House.
Fewer than two years after Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Pennsylvania since 1988, a new POLITICO/AARP poll shows both Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf with double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. And Democrats have a slight edge on the generic congressional ballot — which, combined with a new, court-imposed congressional-district map unwinding GOP gerrymandering, portends major gains in next month‘s elections."
This is a trend to keep an eye on. Not only will it be key to Democrats' results in 2018 but sustaining it will be central to defeating Trump in 2020. In fact, you could reasonably say if the Democrats can sustain this momentum in the Midwest/Rustbelt through 2020 their chances of defeating Trump will be very good indeed. Of course, Trump will pull out all the stops to reach voters in this area of the country in the next two years and he will by no means be easy to defeat. But developments this year could make for a very promising beginning for Project Trump One Term President.
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POLITICO.COM
Health care is powering a blue comeback.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Defense of Optimism II

Sheri Berman has an excellent article up on the Social Europe website (a very useful site incidentally for coverage of trends and debates within European left politics). In the article she explains how important optimism has been--and should be--to the left.
"The rise of right-wing populism is probably the most pressing problem facing Europe today. Many analysts, including myself, have linked the rise of populism to the decline of the social democratic or centre left. Many traditional social democratic voters now vote populist; social democracy’s embrace of a “kinder, gentler” neoliberalism opened a policy “space” populists filled with welfare-state chauvinism; and social democracy’s fading electoral fortunes have rendered majority left government and, in many European countries, any stable majority government impossible, making it more difficult to solve problems, increasing dissatisfaction with democracy and support for populism further.
But beyond these connections lies a more fundamental one: the loss of a sense of the possible social democracy injected into post-war liberal democracy.
Social democracy was the most idealistic, optimistic ideology of the modern era. In contrast to liberals who believed “rule by the masses” would lead to the end of private property, tyranny of the majority and other horrors and thus favored limiting the reach of democratic politics, and communists who argued a better world could only emerge with the destruction of capitalism and “bourgeois” democracy, social democrats insisted on democracy’s immense transformative and progressive power: it could maximize capitalism’s upsides, minimize its downsides and create more prosperous and just societies....
Populism peddles a politics of fear—of crime, terrorism, unemployment, economic decline, the loss of national values and tradition—and asserts that other parties are leading their countries to disaster. Surveys make clear that populist voters are extremely pessimistic: they believe the past was better than the present and are extremely anxious about the future. But pessimism has infected Western societies more generally. A recent Pew survey for example revealed that even though growing percentages of European citizens view their country’s economic situation as dramatically better than a decade ago, this has not translated into greater optimism about the future. Indeed, in many European countries the “experience-expectation” differential has grown: in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, for example, approximately 80 percent or more say the economy is doing well, but less than 40 percent believe the next generation will be better off than their parents. These views reflect a troubling reality: particularly in times of change and uncertainty, people’s views are shaped more by emotions than rationality. Recognizing this, Roosevelt, the SAP [Swedish social democratic party] and earlier social democrats understood that for the center-left and democracy more generally to thrive, what was needed was not merely practical solutions to contemporary problems, but also an optimistic vision to counter the dystopian one offered by populists.
During the postwar decades social democracy provided just this. Against communism and liberalism they argued that people working together could use the democratic state to make the world a better place. The problems of the 21st century are different in form, but they are not different in kind. What is needed is a combination of pragmatic policies that can address challenges like economic inequality, slow growth and disconcerting social and cultural change as well as an ability to convince citizens that liberal democracy provides the most promising path to a better future. The rise of politicians as different as Trump, Corbyn and Macron makes clear how desperate many citizens are for leaders who insist that politics matters—that change is possible if the will is there."
In other words, Berman is saying that an optimistic vision isn't just an option for the left--it's a necessity if the left is to thrive. I could not agree more strongly. In fact, I wrote a whole book based on this idea: The Optimistic Leftist. Please consult it if want to see this argument developed at greater length.
About this website
SOCIALEUROPE.EU
The rise of right-wing populism is probably the most pressing problem facing Europe today.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Yet More Forecasts!

CNN has a new one up (which they modestly refer to as "The Forecast"), coordinated by Harry Enten, formerly of 538. This new forecast predicts a gain in the House for the Democrats of 34 seats, putting the Democrats comfortably over the line for taking the House (though their forecast does not attach a specific probability to that event as 538 and others do). They also have a Senate forecast, and there they predict the Democrats will lose a seat on net.
This forecast is very, very similar to what we're seeing from 538 and other forecasts. That should inspire confidence but I'm sure some Democrats, remembering 2016, will just get even more nervous. Can't say I blame 'em. It ain't over 'til it's over!
About this website
CNN.COM
Get the House and Senate forecast for every district from CNN’s Harry Enten.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

In Defense of Optimism

Interestingly, the IPCC dropped its latest global warming analysis around the same time as this year's Nobel prizes in economics were awarded. One of the Nobel honorees was Paul Romer, who strikes a note of optimism about our ability to combat global warming. The IPCC report, of course, sounded a warning of fairly serious consequences if we fail to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees (previous analyses have focused on a 2 degree target).
It's not really a surprise that a 2 degree rise would have more serious consequences than a 1.5 degree rise. And if you were already pessimistic that we could hit the 2 degree target, presumably focusing on a 1.5 degree target just makes you more pessimistic. Paul Romer is not so sure this is a useful approach.
In a very interesting post on his blog, Romer, who is famous for his theory of endogenous technological progress (look it up!), has this to say:
"[T]here are two very different types of optimism. Complacent optimism is the feeling of a child waiting for presents. Conditional optimism is the feeling of a child who is thinking about building a treehouse. “If I get some wood and nails and persuade some other kids to help do the work, we can end up with something really cool.”
What the theory of endogenous technological progress supports is conditional optimism, not complacent optimism. Instead of suggesting that we can relax because policy choices don’t matter, it suggests to the contrary that policy choices are even more important than traditional theory suggests....
By emitting carbon dioxide when we burn carbon-based fuel (and by emitting other greenhouse gases too), humans are changing our natural environment in ways that could be very harmful. Faced with such risks, I also agree that complacency is dangerous. But there is no logical connection between optimism and complacency.
The conclusion from endogenous growth theory is that progress is not free. We make progress because of things that people do. This is what it means for technological progress to be endogenous. The models and evidence suggest that the benefits we get when people do the things that produce progress are so large, and the resources that it takes to produce the progress we’ve enjoyed are so small, that the progress seems to be free. This means that we should encourage people to do a lot more of whatever it is that they are doing to generate progress. Instead of encouraging us to be complacent, the theory encourages us to be even more active....
The textbook analysis of externalities and pollution suggests that the solution is to get a once-and-done increase in the price of fossil fuel by imposing a steep tax. [But] the main reason to put a tax on greenhouse gases is not the one from the textbook. This is a tax that we want to people to avoid. We want innovators to discover all kinds of clever new ways to let people have the things that they want without paying this tax.
This changes how we think about the timing of the tax. We want innovators to know that the tax is coming and to take steps now to make sure that when it bites, it will be little more than a nuisance. Eventually, we want the tax to be so high that no one ever pays it, yet no one cares because it is irrelevant.
One way to achieve this would be to start with a very low tax on greenhouse gases right away and commit that the tax (in dollars per unit of greenhouse gas emitted) will increase gradually but inexorably. Innovators will start investing now in ways to for people to get what they want without paying the tax. They will stop investing in ways to extract more fossil fuels that will be subject to the tax.
After all the fear and hand-wringing, once we commit to this kind of tax, progress will continue but in a slightly different and much better direction. It will still seem to be free.
Our intuition tells us that solving this problem cannot be so easy. But intuition has also been telling us for two centuries that the price of natural resources has to climb as the rate of resource extraction increases. So what are you going to believe? Your intuition or the logic and the evidence?...
The lesson from resource prices (and from almost every other domain where we’ve looked carefully) is that small incentives can generate lots of innovation. This means that small changes in incentives will encourage more discoveries that are truly beneficial, such as ones that give people what they want without emitting greenhouse gases. These small changes will also discourage the socially harmful discoveries that keep the price of fossil fuels too low. So, there is no basis for complacent optimism and tolerance of bad status quo policies and lots of logical and empirical justification for conditional optimism."
Romer concludes by discussing environmental advocates' historic tendency to embrace:
"...an implicit model of political action in which optimism encourages complacency and pessimism spurs action. There is a grain of truth to this model; optimistic complacency can take root all too easily. But if we had emphasized the conditional optimism that is consistent with the scientific results....we would probably have found that it is a better way to encourage...policy action.
Pessimism is more likely to foster denial, procrastination, apathy, anger, and recrimination. It is conditional optimism that brings out the best in us."
This was a big point I was trying to get over in my book, The Optimistic Leftist. Unfortunately, all many people heard was what Romer refers to as "complacent optimism". But. with Romer, what I always believed--and still believe--is that conditional optimism is what we need.
PAULROMER.NET
Conditional Optimism about Progress and Climate Last Friday at the NBER Summer Institute, Martin Stuermer presented a thought provoking paper (written jointly with Gregor Schwerhoff.) It takes an important and puzzling fact seriously, then uses some credible theory to work out the implications of th...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Senate Forecast Check-In: The Outlook Is Poor

From the heady heights of a 1 in 3 chance of taking the Senate, the odds, as calculated by 538's forecast model, are now down to about 1 in 5 (David Byler's model over at The Weekly Standard has the Democrats' chances at comparatively bullish 1 in 4).
What happened? As cogently summarized by Nate Silver in his recent piece:
"In general, Democrats’ position has gotten worse in red states but has been steady-to-improving in purple and blue states. There are a couple of exceptions to this pattern (Joe Manchin has continued to poll well in West Virginia) but not many.
On top of that, Democrats have had particular problems in North Dakota, where Heitkamp has seen her numbers go especially south."
The Heitkamp collapse is vividly illustrated by the graphic below from Silver's article.
Meanwhile, in House-land things continue to look good. Nathaniel Rakich notes, also on 538:
"The situation is...dire for the GOP in the House, where Democrats have a 7 in 9 chance (78 percent) of taking control. They are so dire in some GOP-held districts, in fact, that national Republicans have begun pulling their resources or never invested them in the first place — effectively ceding those seats to Democrats, presumably so that the GOP can bolster more winnable districts."
The probability of a split outcome between House and Senate appears to be getting higher and higher.