Sunday, November 22, 2020
There are two questions to address: What happened in Georgia? And what will happen in Georgia?
Neither question is particularly easy to answer. But since predictions are hard, especially about the future, I'll take the first one first.
To repeat something I've said before, the available survey data aren't great and while we have good county-level and now precinct level data, these data are susceptible to the ecological fallacy, when aggregate geographic patterns are used to infer the behavior of voter groups contained with the aggregates.
OK then. Here we go!
Biden won GA by .3 percentage points and a little under 13,000 votes, so every gain he made anywhere was important.
1. Turnout. Data sources agree that turnout was up sharply in GA, including black turnout, but that the increase in turnout among blacks was less than the increase in turnout among non-blacks; therefore the black share of voters actually declined relative to 2016.
2. Black voter margins. An 2016-2020 exit poll comparison and a VoteCast 2020/States of Change (SOC) 2016 comparison disagree. The exit polls indicate that the black Democratic margin in GA dropped from +80 to +77. But the other comparison shows the black Democratic margin rising from +80 to +86.
Precinct-level analysis reported by Nate Cohn (shown below) shows a 2 point margin gain (the two party vote share shifts have to be doubled) in majority black precincts and a 1 point decline in precincts more than 80 percent black. So this is inconclusive.
3. White voter margins. All data sources agree that there was a very sharp movement of white voters overall toward the Democrats. But which white voters?
4. White college voters. Data sources agree there were strong margin gains for Biden among white college voters in GA. The exit polls are particularly gaudy, indicating a 30 point margin gain. That seems too high, but very strong gains are consistent with the county and precinct data.
5. White noncollege voters. Both the exit polls and the VoteCast/SOC comparison suggest significant white noncollege Democratic margin gains--+7 in the former and +10 in the latter. However, the county and precinct data also suggest gains, but more modest gains; note the 2 point pro-Democratic margin shift in the white noncollege areas shown below.
So every little bit helped! Can this coalition stay together to elect two Democratic Senators? The polls say it's possible--though these days we can be forgiven for not knowing what to make of this (though GA Presidential polls were actually pretty decent). Black turnout that outpaced white turnout would certainly help. I guess I'm still a bit skeptical this can really happen but I can think of no better way to make the case that it's a still a strong possibility than reading this piece of Sean Trende, the excellent conservative political analyst.
"Control of the Senate is going to come down to two Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia. Sen. David Perdue came a hair’s breadth from winning his race against Jon Ossoff outright, but ultimately fell just short of 50% plus one. Sen. Kelly Loeffler will face off against the Rev. Raphael Warnock to complete the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson (the reward for the winner is running again in two years for the full term).
Somewhat surprisingly, articles discussing these races have framed the races to claim that Republicans are favored in both. Politico declares that Democrats begin behind the eight ball, while other pieces casually cast Republicans as “likely” or “probable” victors in the Peach State.
I'm not sure that is correct, and would view these races as pure tossups from the start. Here are six reasons why."
They're pretty interesting reasons! Check it out.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
In a recent post, I coined the term "no bullshit progressivism". In the interests of promoting this idea further I offer a number of recent examples that I think qualify. Excerpts below and links below that.
"With few exceptions, the vast field of [Democratic] presidential contenders endorsed single-payer health care and vowed to decriminalize the crossing of the southern border by undocumented immigrants.
There was only one prominent exception to the rule: Joe Biden. Most pundits wrote the septuagenarian off as a walking anachronism, a throwback politician too old to sense the way the wind was blowing. But it turned out that Mr. Biden understood the Democratic electorate much better than his rivals. His vow to improve the lives of working-class Americans through gradual changes proved more appealing—both to his party and ultimately to the country—than Bernie Sanders’s talk of democratic socialism. And his promise to restore the nation’s soul after four years of Donald Trump struck a deeper chord than Elizabeth Warren’s determination to match the president’s fighting spirit.
The results of the election show just how popular Mr. Biden’s emphasis on inclusive economic growth and cultural moderation is among Americans as a whole. Down-ballot races and referendums also suggest that Mr. Biden’s emphasis on policies that will help the working-class without hobbling capitalism is capable of winning majority support in the country. It is striking, for example, that a clear majority of Floridians voted in favor of gradually increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour."
--Yascha Mounk in the Wall Street Journal
“All 14 of California’s majority-Latino counties voted [the initiative to reinstate affirmative action in the state] down,” The Times’s Michael Powell notes. When forced to choose, most Americans evidently think that the policy is unfair and unlikely to benefit them.
Affirmative action’s losing streak is part of a larger issue for Democrats: America is more culturally conservative than progressives wish it were. Many voters — across racial groups — are moderate to conservative on affirmative action, abortion, guns, immigration and policing.
One option for Democrats is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, political costs be damned. Some progressives argue that each of the issues I just listed is a matter of human rights and that compromise is immoral. Ultimately, they say, the liberal position will become popular, as it did on same-sex marriage.
The other option is to assume that not every major political fight is destined to have a left-leaning resolution — and to look for ideas that are both progressive and popular. Such ideas certainly exist, including some that reduce racial inequities.
Typically, these ideas are economically populist and race-neutral on their face while disproportionately helping Black and Latino Americans."
--David Leonhardt in the New York Times
"Florida’s minimum wage increase, meanwhile, should be an enormous blow for racial equity in the state. According to data assembled by University of Massachusetts researchers based on the American Community Survey, slightly below 53 percent of Florida Latinos and slightly above 53 percent of Black Floridians earned less than $15 an hour in the 2013-2017 period....Biden did not run ads highlighting his support for raising the minimum wage, and though he and Trump ended up arguing about it in the second presidential debate, it was not a mainstay of his rhetoric. Certainly during his victory speech Biden did not list a minimum wage increase as among his policy priorities, instead voicing a non-specific commitment to “root out systematic racism.”
But however defined, systemic racism is not something that Congress is going to pass a law against. And the California ballot initiative showed that some in-vogue antiracist concepts continue to have very little appeal among the public. But economic measures designed to lift the low-wage workforce — whether raising the minimum wage or expanding Medicaid — are more popular these days than ever before, and they do an enormous amount in practice to close racial gaps. After a fall election campaign that was both successful and, in key respects, disappointing for Democrats — who continued to lose a large majority of non-college white voters while, this time, also slipping with non-white voters — a renewed focus on the classics could be the best way to win the two outstanding Senate races and rescue Biden’s hopes of being able to really govern the country.
Thinking about this issue reminds reminds me of the odd extent to which contemporary progressives have started doing the politics of race and class backwards.
White people, occupying as we do a privileged position in American life, are on average considerably richer than Black people. Consequently, from the New Deal onward programs designed to help the needy have held a disproportionate appeal to Black voters who disproportionately benefit from them (Eric Shickler’s book Racial Realignment is a great account of how northern African-Americans got incorporated into FDR’s coalition even while he remained terrible on civil rights issues). Then, because most voters are white, conservatives try to associate economic redistribution with racial redistribution to try to get white people to oppose it. Progressives for generations tended to downplay racial angles to maximize the size of the coalition for redistribution, and the traditional debate inside progressives circles was what to say about the fact that race-blind, class-centric measures would never fully close the racial divide.
But in recent years the internal dynamics of progressive spaces have gotten this turned around. These days the perception is that if you want to generate enthusiasm for class politics you should emphasize racial angles.....Because Black people have, on average, less wealth and income than white people, anything that redistributes wealth and income from the haves to the have-nots reduces racial gaps. But the politics of these framings are perverse. It’s particularly perverse because the kinds of people who spend a lot of time thinking about race from a progressive point of view are precisely the people who in other contexts are inclined to emphasize what a big deal racism has historically been in shaping American politics.
That’s why liberals from FDR and LBJ to Obama tried to downplay it when possible — they were trying to win and help people! After all, there’s no special features of unions or Medicaid or the minimum wage that leads them to close racial gaps — all egalitarian economic policy has this effect.
My suspicion is that this is a weird tic of campus politics that has followed graduates into the professional arena where they unconsciously started deploying it in less appropriate contexts. If you’re in a dorm at a fancy college and you can convince an administrator that something is racist, the administrator will probably put a stop to it. At the same time, “this is bad for poor people” just isn’t going to get you far as a campus argument. After all, these schools more or less openly auction off a number of admissions slots to wealthy donors (while, of course, practicing affirmative action to keep things diverse) so they can hardly take a hard line on class politics.
But electoral politics in a democracy isn’t like that. And to the extent that the US political system isn’t democratic, it’s mostly tilted in favor of over-representing white people with no college degree. So if you actually want to close racial gaps by raising the minimum wage, expanding union membership, expanding Medicaid, and reducing student debt, the last thing you want to do is to sell people on the idea that this is really all about race."
--Matt Yglesias on his new Substack site
"Marc Farinella — a frequent adviser to Democratic campaigns for Senate and governor and now the executive director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Survey Methodology — voiced his concerns in an email:
"The party is being pushed too far to the left, thereby jeopardizing Democratic candidates and incumbents in suburban districts. Many Democratic candidates are feeling compelled to give lip-service to — or at least not take issue with — unrealistic and out-of-the-mainstream policy proposals in order to avoid running afoul of the activist minority who dominate primaries and who could make the difference in general elections."
Race, according to Farinella, continues to be problematic terrain for Democrats:
"This year, some major Democratic candidates forcefully pledged to “build wealth for Black families.” Of course, we must do that. But, upon hearing this pledge, I bet many white middle-class families wondered if these candidates were calling for an expensive new social welfare program to help ‘someone else,’ and wondered why government isn’t also helping their families build wealth since many non-Black families are struggling, too."
To remain competitive, Farinella argued,
"Democrats have to focus more on policies that lift all boats and that give everyone — not just targeted groups — a chance for a better life. Fighting to ban exclusion for pre-existing conditions is a step in the right direction. So is protecting Medicare. The reason these policies work so well for Democrats is, at least in part, because they are not perceived as giving special treatment to one group over another."
Farinella stressed that he is
"absolutely not suggesting that Democrats abandon their commitment to fight for disadvantaged or oppressed groups. But I am suggesting that being the champion of each struggling group individually is not a substitute for being the champion of the working class and middle class collectively."
Dane Strother, a Democratic consultant whose firm has represented candidates in states from New Hampshire to Montana, was more outspoken in his view:
"Four years ago, Democrats’ final messaging was “which bathroom one could use.” This year it was Defund the Police. The far left is the Republicans’ finest asset. A.O.C. and the squad are the “cool kids” but their vision in no way represents half of America. And in a representative democracy 50 percent is paramount.".....
Bernard Grofman, a political scientist at the University of California-Irvine, shares Strother’s assessment but is still more assertive in his belief that the far left has inflicted significant damage on Democratic candidates. He wrote by email:
“Defund the police” is the second stupidest campaign slogan any Democrat has uttered in the twenty first century. It is second in stupidity only to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 comment that half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.”
Moreover, Grofman continued,
"the antifa “take back the neighborhood’” in Seattle, where a part of the city became a police no-go zone, with the initial complicity of Democratic office holders, hasn’t helped either, especially after someone was killed within the zone. That allowed the Democrats to be seen as in favor of antifa, and, worse yet, to be portrayed as in favor of violence."
Even more damaging, in Grofman’s view,
"have been the scenes of rock throwing demonstrators and boarded up stores that Republicans have regularly used for campaign fodder and that were a long-running story on Fox News. Every rock thrown, every broken window, is one more Republican vote."
--Tom Edsall in the New York Times
"Liberals need to adjust their political strategy and ideological ambitions to the country and political system we actually have, and make the most of it, rather than cursing that which they cannot change.
There are certainly some profound democratic deficits built into our federal constitution. Even federal systems like Germany, Australia and Canada do not have the same degree of representative inequality that the Electoral College and Senate generate between a citizen living in California versus one living in Wyoming.
There is also next to nothing we can do about it. The same system that generates this pattern of representative inequality also means that — short of violent revolution — the beneficiaries of our federal system will not allow for it to be changed, except at the margins. If Democrats at some point get a chance to get full representation for Washington, D.C., they should take it. But beyond that, there are few if any pathways to changing either the Electoral College or the structure of the Senate. So any near-term strategy for Democrats must accept these structures as fixed.
The initial step in accepting our federal system is for Democrats to commit to organizing everywhere — even places where we are not currently competitive. Led by Stacey Abrams, Democrats have organized and hustled in Georgia over the last couple of years, and the results are hard to argue with. Joe Biden should beg Ms. Abrams (or another proven organizer like Ben Wikler, the head of the party in Wisconsin) to take over the Democratic National Committee, dust off Howard Dean’s planning memos for a “50 state strategy” from the mid-2000s and commit to building the formal apparatus of the Democratic Party everywhere.
This party-building needs to happen across the country, even where the odds seem slim, in order to help Democrats prospect for attractive issues in red states (and red places in purple states), to identify attractive candidates and groom them for higher office and to build networks of citizens who can work together to rebuild the party at the local level.
A necessary corollary of a 50 state strategy is accepting that creating a serious governing majority means putting together a policy agenda that recognizes where voters are, not where they would be if we had a fairer system of representation. That starts with an economics that addresses the radically uneven patterns of economic growth in the country, even if doing so means attending disproportionately to the interests of voters outside of the Democrats’ urban base. That is not a matter of justice, necessarily, but brute electoral arithmetic.
That does not mean being moderate, in the sense of incremental and toothless. From the financialization of our economy to our constrictive intellectual property laws to our unjust tax competition between states for firms, the economic deck really is stacked for the concentration of economic power on the coasts. Democrats in the places where the party is less competitive should be far more populist on these and other related issues, even if it puts them in tension with the party’s megadonors.
We also need to recognize that the cultural values and rituals of Democrats in cosmopolitan cities and liberal institutional bastions like universities do not seem to travel well. Slogans like “defund the police” and “abolish ICE” may be mobilizing in places where three-quarters of voters pull the lever for Democrats. But it is madness to imagine that they could be the platform of a competitive party nationwide."
--Steven Teles in the New York Times
“The fact that we do badly among people without a college degree is very bad — not for any moral reason, but because people without a college degree live outside of cities, and rural areas are strongly overrepresented at every level of government,” [David] Shor told The Hill.
He added: “The reality is, whether you are talking about single-member districts, the Electoral College or the Senate — one way or another, all those things over-weigh rural states. So our current electoral coalition is not consistent with wielding legislative power.”...
Some progressives have argued that the party needs to do more to energize its grassroots supporters, an idea summed up in the slogan “embrace the base.”
But others, like Shor, are not so convinced.
Democrats, he argued, “have a real tendency to focus on controversial, almost sexy, things, and as a party we need to become more bland and less controversial if we want to get cultural conservatives to vote for us,” he said."
--Niall Stanage in The Hill
This may not be the kind of politics some people want. But it is the kind of politics that will actually work.
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
A common thread in a lot of stories about the 2020 election is that Trump solidified his appeal to men but bled votes among women, both overall and within racial groups. Is this right?
It's strange that this has taken hold since the exit polls mostly contradict this story and that is the data source most stories tend to use. Or rather tend to use when it suits their the pre-existing narrative.
The national exit poll shows:
1. Men shifted Democratic (by margin) slightly more than women, thereby narrowing the gender gap.
2. White men shifted sharply toward Biden (8 points!), while women shifted slightly toward Trump, thereby significantly compressing this gender gap.
3. Black men and women both shifted significantly toward Trump but by equal amounts so this gender gap did not change.
4. Hispanic men and women both shifted significantly toward Trump but men (8 points) more than women (5 points) so this gender gap did, in fact, increase.
5. White noncollege men shifted 6 points toward Biden while white noncollege women did not shift at all so this gender gap was compressed.
6. White college men shifted dramatically toward Biden (11 points!) but white college women by only 2 points, strongly compressing this gender gap.
So how much do you hear about these shifts? Not much, since it doesn't seem to fit with much of what media analysts want to say. That's bad but on the other hand is the story told by the exit polls really true. I've got my doubts.
Consider these data from AP/NORC VoteCast, the best available source for data on 2020 and States of Change, the best available data source for 2016. This comparison yields the following.
1. Men did not shift and women shifted slightly toward Biden therefore slightly widening the gender gap.
2. White men and women both shifted toward Trump by roughly equal amounts thereby keeping the gender gap stable.
3. Black men and women both shifted slightly toward Biden and by roughly equal amounts thereby keeping this gender gap stable.
4. Hispanic men and women both shifted sharply toward Trump but women (12 points) more than men (7 points) so this gender gap decreased significantly.
5. White noncollege men and women both shifted 7 points toward Biden so this gender gap stayed the same.
6. White college men shifted 2 points toward Trump, while white college women shifted 7 points toward Biden, thereby substantiall increasing this gender gap.
So, what to make of all this? Neither data comparison shows much of a change in the overall gender gap--a slight decrease in the exits, a slight increase in the VoteCast/States of Change (SOC) comparison. The VoteCast/SOC results cast doubt on exit poll findings suggesting big gender gap compressions among whites overall and among college and noncollege whites. Similarly, the exit poll finding of an increase in the gender gap among Hispanics is contradicted by the VoteCast/SOC results.
Interestingly, neither comparison suggests an increase in the gender gap among black voters, which directly contradicts a common story in postelection coverage.
In several months, we will have better data on all this and will be able to adjudicate, for example, whether the exit polls are right that the gender gap decreased among white college voters or whether the gap increased among these voters (which I suspect is probably the case, as suggested by the VoteCast/SOC comparison). But for now I would be suspicious of any stories that pronounce with any degree of certainty about gender gap trends in this election.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
This is being debated vigorously in the polling and data analytics communities and that debate should and will continue for quite awhile. The New York Times has had some useful material about this, including a long article with historical background on polling by David Leonhardt, which I recommend. There are other pieces by the Nates (Cohn and Silver) and a good interview of David Shor by Dylan Matthews on Vox. But if you're going to read just one thing--and really, how many do you really want to read--I would suggest this short, crisp article by Scott Keeter, Courtney Kennedy and Claudia Deane on the Pew site. I declare it fair and balanced!
They march through various possibilities, clearly describing the possible problem and its possible remedies. They start with what I take to be the evolving consensus on the most important problem: partisan nonresponse:
"* The suggested problem
According to this theory, Democratic voters were more easily reachable and/or just more willing than Republican voters to respond to surveys, and routine statistical adjustments fell short in correcting for the problem. A variant of this: The overall share of Republicans in survey samples was roughly correct, but the samples underrepresented the most hard-core Trump supporters in the party. One possible corollary of this theory is that Republicans’ widespread lack of trust in institutions like the news media – which sponsors a great deal of polling – led some people to not want to participate in polls.
* Is this mainly an election polling problem, or would this be of wider concern to issue pollsters as well?
Sadly, the latter. If polls are systematically underrepresenting some types of conservatives or Republicans, it has ramifications for surveys that measure all kinds of behaviors and issues, from views on the coronavirus pandemic to attitudes toward climate change. Issue polling doesn’t require the kind of 51%-49% precision of modern presidential election polling, of course, but no pollster wants a systematic skew to their data, even if it’s “only” 5 percentage points.
* What could we do to fix it?
A straightforward fix to the problem of underrepresenting Trump supporters would be to increase efforts to recruit conservatives and Republicans to polls; increase the statistical weight of those already in the survey to match their share of the population (a process known as “weighting”); or both. Many polls this year weighted on party registration, 2016 vote or self-identified partisanship, but still underestimated GOP support.
The challenge here is twofold. The first is in estimating the correct share of conservatives and Republicans in the population, since, unlike age, gender and other demographic characteristics, there are no timely, authoritative benchmarks on political orientation. Second, just getting the overall share of Republicans in the poll correct may be insufficient if those who are willing to be interviewed are bad proxies for those who are not willing (e.g., more strongly conservative) – in which case a weighting adjustment within partisan groups may be needed."
If this doesn't sound like an easy problem to solve, that's because it isn't!
Monday, November 16, 2020
The possibility must be faced squarely, because otherwise it cannot be avoided. Dani Rodrik correctly poses the issue on Project Syndicate, properly situating as part of the overall crisis of the center-left.
"As Joe Biden eked out a victory in the US presidential election after a few suspenseful days, observers of American democracy were left scratching their heads. Buoyed by polls, many expected a landslide for the Democrats, with the party capturing not only the White House but also the Senate. How did Donald Trump manage to retain the support of so many Americans – receiving an even larger number of votes than four years ago – despite his blatant lies, evident corruption, and disastrous handling of the pandemic?
The importance of this question goes beyond American politics. Center-left parties everywhere are trying to revive their electoral fortunes against right-wing populists. Even though Biden is temperamentally a centrist, the Democratic party platform has moved considerably to the left – at least by American standards. A decisive Democratic victory would have been a significant boost to the moderate left’s spirits: perhaps all it takes to win is to combine progressive economic policies with attachment to democratic values and basic human decency....
In sum, it is clear that the election does not resolve the perennial debate about how the Democratic Party and other center-left parties should position themselves on cultural and economic issues to maximize their electoral appeal. But neither does it fundamentally alter the challenge these parties face. Political leaders on the left need to fashion both a less elitist identity and a more credible economic policy.
As Thomas Piketty, among others, has noted, parties of the left have increasingly become the parties of educated, metropolitan elites. As their traditional working-class base has eroded, the influence of globalized professionals, the financial industry, and corporate interests has risen. The problem is not just that these elites often favor economic policies that leave middle and lower-middle classes and lagging regions behind. It is also that their cultural, social, and spatial isolation renders them incapable of understanding and empathizing with the worldviews of the less fortunate. A telling symptom is how easily the cultural elite dismiss the 70-plus million Americans who backed Trump in this election by portraying them as benighted people who vote against their own interests.
On economics, the left still lacks a good answer to the burning question of our time: Where will good jobs come from? More progressive taxation, investments in education and infrastructure, and (in the United States) universal health insurance are critical. But they are not sufficient. Good, middle-class jobs are becoming scarce, owing to secular trends in technology and globalization. And COVID-19 has deepened the polarization of labor markets. We need a more proactive government strategy directly targeting an increase in the supply of good jobs."
This is the center-left's challenge here and everywhere. It's time it was faced up to rather than simply deploring the behavior of those who have rejected the center-left. That will solve nothing.