Monday, November 20, 2017

As the Virginia House of Delegates Goes, So Goes the Nation?

As presumably everybody knows at this point, the Republicans got crushed in races for the Virginia House of Delegates on November 7, losing at least 15 seats (in a 100 seat body). But that's just Virginia right? It can't possibly mean much for the nationwide elections in 2018.

Or can it? Political scientist Steven Rogers asserts that, in fact, outcomes in Virginia House of Delegates election are actually quite predictive of results in the next midterm elections. Here's the bottom line:
[T]he fortunes of the president’s party in Virginia House elections are related to how the president’s party fared in midterm elections the next year….a clear correlation emerges in U.S. House and state House elections.
A 10-point change in seats in the House of Delegates is associated with a 4-5% seat change in midterm state House and U.S. House elections…. the predicted loss in Republican seats [in 2018]….would be almost as large as Democratic losses in 2010 and exceed Republicans losses after Watergate in 1974.
 Thank you, Virginia.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Impending Demise of Democracy Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

It wasn’t so long ago that democracy was an unusual way to run a political system; today it is quite common. The number of countries with some form of democracy has more than doubled since 1980 and almost quintupled since 1950. And preference for basic democratic rights, including for women, is now almost universal among the world’s population.

And yet....many fear that democracy is now endangered. The rise of populism. Duterte in the Phillipines. Putin in Russia. Maduro in Venezuela. Was democracy just a moment and we're now on the downhill slope?

As always, the way to assess such a question is to look past today's headlines and consult the available data. These data do not support a pessimistic attitude toward the fate of democracy.

For example, some might grant that democracy became more common in the years after World War II and made more gains when the Iron Curtain fell, but argue that the last decade has seen a sharp turn away from democracy. That's a common view but a wrong one. Democracy researcher Melida Jimenez points out that:
Data from the Lexical Index of Electoral Democracy show that in 2016, no less than 68 percent of the world’s countries — home to 62.2 percent of the world population — government power is determined by genuinely contested elections. That’s actually an increase from 62 percent in 2006. What’s more, 56 percent of the democracies established after 1975 have not seen democratic reversals. No country with over 40 years of electoral democracy — with the prominent exception of Venezuela — has slid back into nondemocratic governance. Democracy remains the most widespread and legitimate form of government.
The data reveal that not only has there been an increase in the number of elections being held around the worlds since 1975, but there’s also been higher quality of elections, with lower levels of fraud, manipulation and irregularities…. More and more people around the world live in places where their access to justice, civil liberties, social rights and equality are treated with respect. 
But what of Europe? Surely here it is permissible to hit the panic button. Not so fast. Political scientists Fernando Casal Bértoa and José Rama Caamaño note a number of factors that militate against such a judgement. 
[I]n a significant number of countries, the election with the highest percentage of votes for populist parties took place well before 1995, including Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
In fact, if we were to rank the elections with the highest support for anti-establishment parties in all 20 democracies displayed in the table below, we would observe that most of the elections with a record number of populist votes were in the 1930s, 1990s and 1950s, as well as in the 2010s….
Further, there’s been another change at the same time — and it may be complicating the picture. Not only have anti-establishment parties been getting a larger share of the vote; European countries have seen a parallel rise in the number of parties in the electorate.
That matters. When just one radical party (like the Communists or fascists) obtains a high percentage of votes — as happened during the 1930s — the nation is facing something quite different from when various political parties get those votes. In the first case, the radical party has a great deal of power to pressure or blackmail the government. That’s just not true when those votes are spread among many parties. Consider France, which has at least four anti-establishment political parties: National Front, France Unbowed, French Communist Party and French Arise. While the National Front has gotten the most attention, its power is less than if those anti-establishment votes gone its way.
Looking at all this information, we might ask ourselves if the current rise in support for populist parties is such a big deal. With the exception of Greece — the nation most affected by the 2008 recession — no E.U. country has had a “populist” prime minister. Most European governing coalitions — the exceptions are Norway, Finland and Belgium — do not even include a populist party.
As a result, we question the announcement of a new era of democratic doom. Are we currently facing a period of realignment? Certainly. Has the economic crisis revealed democracy’s shortcomings? No doubt. But we do not believe we are currently witnessing the collapse of European party democracy.
So there you have it. Democracy is most assuredly not on the way out, even if there are real challenges--including populism--for today's democracies to overcome. Those challenges will lead to some setbacks but the historical record and trend data indicate that democracy as a system will not only survive but become more common over time.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Democratic Wave Watch: GOP Doubles Down on Unpopularity

My, my what will those crazy rascals in the GOP think of next? Not content with being beaten soundly about the ears in the 2017 elections and currently running a serial child molester for Senator, the overachievers in the Republican Party and seeking to ram yet another incredibly unpopular piece of legislation through Congress in the spirit of their attempted repeal of Obamacare. John Sides of The Monkey Cage blog notes the following about the GOP's tax reform plan:
….George Washington University political scientist Chris Warshaw compiled public polls capturing support for major legislation dating back almost 30 years....
On average, only about 30 percent of Americans support the tax plan. This is lower than support for almost any of these legislative initiatives. The only thing that was less popular was … the Republican health-care bill that was intended to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Gee, who would have thought that a bill that mostly cuts taxes for corporations and the rich while eventually raising taxes on middle income families would be unpopular? 

Meanwhile, evidence continues to build that unpopularity (of their President, of the bills they have tried to pass, of the Republican Congress) will hurt the GOP big-time in 2018. Yes, I know some are reluctant to utter these words out loud, fearing that some mysterious Trump ju-ju will save the Republicans in the end. But, as Cook Political Report's Amy Walter pointed out on her Twitter feed, the real lesson of 2016 is "Don't ignore or rationalize away what's right in front of you. A Dem wave is building. And it's big". 

Yup, that's right. What looks like it's happening, in all probability, is really happening. So believe it and act accordingly. 

Science Fiction Saturday: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar

Edgar Rice Burroughs is most famous, of course, for his Tarzan novels. But he also wrote science fiction, albeit of a very pulp and fanciful variety. One of his lesser-known creations is the world of Pellucidar, the world inside our world where Burroughs set a series of six books. Here's the description of this world by Burroughs expert Ryan Harvey:
Beneath our feet lies a realm beyond the most vivid daydreams of the fantastic… Pellucidar. A subterranean world formed along the concave curve inside the earth’s crust, surrounding an eternally stationary sun that eliminates the concept of time. A land of savage humanoids, fierce beasts, and reptilian overlords, Pellucidar is the weird stage for adventurers from the topside layer — including a certain Lord Greystoke. The series consists of six novels, one which crosses over with the Tarzan series, plus a volume of linked novellas, published between 1914 and 1963.
Sounds like fun, right? The novels vary in quality; the best are probably the opener At the Earth's Core and the crossover novel, Tarzan at the Earth's Core, which is jolly fun. So if you're in the mood for some entirely unserious pulp adventure this could be just the ticket. For plots and detailed asssessments of all the novels, follow the links in Harvey's series wrap-up post on the Black Gate website. And then be prepared to meet the Mahars:
...among the best alien creatures to appear in the Burroughs canon and one of his greatest creations, period. Abner Perry [a character in the series] describes the Mahars as resembling an evolution of Rhamphorhynchus into an eight-foot long aerial and aquatic reptile of immense mental capacity. The Mahars communicate through something odder than telepathy; according to Perry, they “project their thoughts into the fourth dimension where they become appreciable to the sixth sense of the listener.” 
Now that's some kind of reptile! Perhaps it's just as well they're down there in Pellucidar.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: Kim Fowley

You gotta listen to this one: "The Trip" by rock n' roll impresario and all-around character Kim Fowley. In his lengthy and rather strange career, perhaps the strangest thing he ever did was this bizarre song put out in 1965 (!) Check out these lyrics:
Summer time’s here kitties
And it's time to take a trip, to take a trip
This world's so bad, you feel so sad
You gotta take a trip, into a world so glad
A world of frogs, and green fountains
And flying dogs, and silver cats, and emerald rats
And purple clouds, and faceless crowds
And walls of glass, that never pass
And pictures hanging upside down
You won't ask, where you are, It's another world
You and your girl, and all your friends,
Whoa! Will all be there
Oh yeah!
Let's take a trip, let's take a trip
T.N.T., S.O.S., H.O.B., T.O.P.
It's top, it's top
Hey here we go now, let's climb some mountains everybody
Get on your walking shoes, let's climb some mountains
Here we go
Let's take a trip, let's take a trip
And start to dream, let's close your eyes
It's groovy now, yeah!
Groovy indeed. Especially those silver cats and emerald rats! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Megatrends to the Rescue!

I would say most discussions of progress on global warming still tend toward the gloomy. But as it's becoming more and more obvious that big, positive trends on energy consumption and production are here to stay, we're starting to get more discussions that dare to be hopeful.

One such discussion was recently in the UK Guardian, enumerating "seven fast-growing global megatrends" that are shifting the energy picture. Here's the introduction to the article, but I recommend reading the whole thing:
Everybody gets paralysed by bad news because they feel helpless,” says Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who delivered the landmark Paris climate change agreement. “It is so in our personal lives, in our national lives and in our planetary life.”
But it is becoming increasingly clear that it does not need to be all bad news: a series of fast-moving global megatrends, spurred by trillion-dollar investments, indicates that humanity might be able to avert the worst impacts of global warming. From trends already at full steam, including renewable energy, to those just now hitting the big time, such as mass-market electric cars, to those just emerging, such as plant-based alternatives to meat, these trends show that greenhouse gas emissions can be halted.
“If we were seeing linear progress, I would say good, but we’re not going to make it in time,” says Figueres, now the convener of the Mission 2020 initiative, which warns that the world has only three years to get carbon emissions on a downward curve and on the way to beating global warming. “But the fact is we are seeing progress that is growing exponentially, and that is what gives me the most reason for hope.”
Exponential progress. That sounds pretty good. And in the era of Trump no less.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Martov-Mania Spreads!

Celebrate the centenary of the October Revolution the right way by catching the wave of Martov-Mania that is sweeping the world. Harold Meyerson makes a worthy contribution to Martov-Mania in The American Prospect, where he does an excellent job of recounting how the October Revolution actually went down. Here's where the noble Julius Martov got squeezed out:
Inevitably, all these differences came to a head at the Soviet Congress meeting 100 years ago. Martov made a motion that the new Soviet government be multi-tendency and contain members from all the socialist parties (a “united democratic government,” as he termed it). He encouraged the new government to reach out to other groups and social forces. Otherwise, he warned that a civil war of great violence, and a reign of repression to keep the Bolsheviks in power, would inevitably follow. Delegates from all tendencies applauded his motion, but then the Right-Mensheviks and Right-SRs walked out, to Martov’s dismay. Trotsky, speaking for himself and Lenin, countered that it was the Bolsheviks who’d taken power and Bolsheviks who’d govern. Turning on Martov, who’d been his mentor and friend, Trotsky delivered this famous malediction:
Now we are told: renounce your victory, make concessions, compromise. With whom? I ask: with whom ought we to compromise? With those wretched groups who have left us or who are making this proposal? But after all we’ve had a full view of them. No one in Russia is with them any longer. A compromise is supposed to be made, as between two equal sides, by the millions of workers and peasants represented in this congress, whom they are ready, not for the first time or the last, to barter away as the bourgeoisie sees fit. No, here no compromise is possible. To those who have left and to those who tell us to do this we must say: you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out; go where you ought to be: into the dustbin of history!
Upon which, Martov stormed out of the room. But into history’s dustbin? Or, I’d contend, into its pantheon of democrats and social prophets?
The pantheon, Harold, definitely the pantheon. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Top Five Takeaways from the 2017 Elections

The 2017 elections were quite a revelation. Pretty much everywhere where the Republicans could have lost, they lost. The marquee race, the contest for governor of Virginia—which was supposed to be close—was won easily (54-45) by Democrat Ralph Northan over Republican Ed Gillespie, who had attempted to emulate Trump by running an anti-immigrant scare campaign. And downballot in the Virginia House of Delegates—the lower house of the Virginia legislature—the Democrats flipped at least 15 seats—going from a lopsided 66-34 disadvantage to, at worst, almost tied (51-49). The newly-elected included a transgender woman (who defeated an ultra-conservative Republican, self-described as “Virginia’s chief homophobe”) and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (who defeated the GOP House majority whip). These shifts were not expected by the even the most optimistic Democratic observer.

All over the country, unusual and significant results obtained. Maine over-rode their conservative governor and voted by initiative to implement the Obamacare-funded expansion of Medicaid. A special election victory in Washington state gave Democrats control of the Senate and, thereby, unified control of government in that state (Governor, Senate, House). Democrats flipped three open seats in the Georgia state legislature. A black Liberian immigrant was elected mayor of Helena, the capital of Montana. A Sikh was elected mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey (a state where Democrats easily won the governor’s race as well). A black woman was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. And so it went, as a blue wave swept the country.

One must be cautious in reading too much into any one election, especially a non-federal one where electoral contests were irregularly scattered around the country. But there are some important takeaways that can be discerned from the pattern of results. Here are my top five.

5. Trump and the GOP have not repealed the laws of politics. Normally, one would expect that a very unpopular incumbent president, pursuing very unpopular policies and showing essentially no legislative accomplishments, would hurt the incumbent party at the ballot box. But people were very cautious in assuming this would be so for Trump and the GOP, given his unexpected victory in the 2016 election, which seemed to defy normal political expectations.

As it turns out, Trump has not rewritten the rule books. He is historically unpopular for a US President at this stage of his term (37-38 percent approval/56-57 percent disapproval), has made innumerable inflammatory statements that most voters dislike and has pushed, with his party, a health care plan that was detested by the public and died in Congress. This should have hurt the Republicans and it did, consistent with historical patterns and standard political science research.

4. The Democrats are looking very good for 2018. The stakes in 2018 will be far higher than in 2017, with all US House members up for election, plus 33 US Senators, 36 state governors and 6,066 state legislators (82 percent of the country’s total). Prospects for the Democrats now look very positive indeed for this election.

The Democrats currently have a wide lead on the generic Congressional ballot (which party’s Congressional candidate would you vote for if the election were held today?), about 9 points which predicts a Democratic gain sufficiently large (they need to pick up 23 seats) to take back the US House of Representatives. Moreover, the general pattern is for the incumbent party’s generic ballot disadvantage to widen, not contract, as we get closer to the election, so the Democrats appear well-positioned to make the necessary gains; at this point, they should be considered favorites to accomplish this goal.

Other factors on their side besides Trump’s dreadful approval ratings include a wave of Republican retirements from disillusioned legislators, creating more open seats; tremendous Democratic success in recruiting candidates for Congress and lower offices; strong Democratic performance in various “special” elections (elections held off-cycle to fill a suddenly vacant seat) held since Trump assumed office; and the general historical pattern that the opposition party gains ground in midterm elections. In short, the pieces are in place for another wave election in 2018, where the results will have far more weight than the elections just held.

3. White college graduates are looking more and more like a Democratic constituency. It is remarkable how wide the education divide now is among white voters, with white college graduates and non-graduates steadily diverging in their political behavior. New estimates we have developed at the Center for American Progress indicate that both Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2016 carried white college graduates nationwide, with Clinton achieving a solid 7 point lead among this demographic. Our estimates also show that Clinton carried white college graduates in most swing states, sometimes by wide margins.

Statistical and anecdotal evidence indicate that this trend only intensified in the 2017 elections. My estimate, based on trends revealed by the exit polls and our own work on voting patterns among this demographic, is that Democrats carried white college graduates by double digits in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

2. Keep your eye on the Millennial generation. In the 2016 election, Democrats carried the 18-29 year old vote by 27 points, according to our estimates. Moreover, Clinton carried young voters by wide margins in all swing states, including in ones she lost. And very significantly, in most of these swing states she also carried white Millennials, indicating just how profound this generational shift is.

This pattern carried over to 2017 where Democrats carried the youth vote by 39 and 48 points, respectively, in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.

1. The white working class vote is still the Democrats’ critical weakness. Not all was roses however. In Virginia, Northam still lost the white noncollege vote by around 40 points, very little improved over Clinton’s performance in the state in 2016. This is especially worrisome because white noncollege voters, despite a secular decline in voter share, remain a larger group than white college voters in almost all states, and far larger in the Rustbelt states that gave the Democrats so much trouble in the 2016 election.

There are positive signs however in trends among white noncollege voters, particularly from the Millennial generation according to our analysis of 2016 election data. To build on these trends and make some inroads generally among these voters, Democrats will probably have to offer something besides vigorous denunciations of Trump, who is more popular—though slipping--with these voters than with the rest of country. If Wall Street financier Robert Rubin, the Democrats’ quintessential 1990’s neoliberal economic figure, is now advocating for a massive public jobs program, perhaps it’s time to make that offer to these voters and to the rest of the electorate. The political winds are shifting and fortune belongs to the bold.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: New Paul McAuley Novel!

I continue to beat the drums for Paul McAuley, the best science fiction writer you've never heard of. I am happy to report that McAuley has a new novel out--Austral--and it looks like a good one. Here's the description:
The great geoengineering projects have failed.The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth's newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice.Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She's been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century. But before she can collect the ransom and make a new life elsewhere, she must find a place of safety amongst the peninsula's forests and icy plateaus, and evade a criminal gang that has its own plans for the teenage girl she's taken hostage.Blending the story of Austral's flight with the fractured history of her family and its role in the colonisation of Antarctica, Austral is a vivid portrayal of a treacherous new world created by climate change, and shaped by the betrayals and mistakes of the past.
The novel is set in the same future as McAuley's excellent story, "Elves of Antarctica" which was in Jonathan Strahan's cli-fi anthology from last year, Drowned Worlds (also recommended). Austral is not yet out in the States but can easily be ordered from Amazon anyway. Go for it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: The Tune Wranglers

In my ongoing campaign to hip people to western swing bands besides Bob Wills, I highlight here an obscure (that's the way we like 'em!) band called The Tune Wranglers that worked all over the southwest in the 1930's. They've definitely got the "swing" part of western swing down and in my view they were one of the best in the genre. The video here is "Red's Tight Like That", full of so many double, triple and quadruple entendres you might want to keep the youngsters away from this one!

For those who want more, there is a terrific collection put out by reissue house Doxy Records, available on all the streaming services.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Is European Social Democracy Dead or Merely Resting?

Times are tough for European social democracy. This once-proud movement--the progenitor of the modern welfare state, the default representative of the European working classes--crashed to historic lows in many countries in the first decade of this century. Followed by, well, more historic lows since then.

In recent elections, the Netherlands Labor Party polled under 6 percent, its worst showing since World War II and just barely ahead of the mighty Party for the Animals. In France, the once-massive Socialist Party polled a pathetic 7 percent, also a postwar low. In Germany, the historically powerful Social Democrats have slumped to a little over 20 percent support, a postwar low as well. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party, also polled a little over 20 percent in its last election, its worst showing since democracy returned to Spain. The Greek social democrats, PASOK, have pretty much disappeared. The Italian Democrats, what passes for a social democratic party in Italy, are polling behind the populist 5 Star Movement (and in the very recent elections in Sicily, far behind).

Other examples abound of social democratic underperformance but you get the idea. Is this a movement that has outlasted its time--headed for the ash heap of history, so to speak? Without in any way minimizing the challenges European social democrats currently face, I don't think it's time to administer the last rites.

First, not all social democratic parties have been losing ground recently. The Swedish social democrats did well in their last election and are in government. The UK Labor Party confounded expectations in the recent snap election and made significant gains, pulling 40 percent of the vote. The Portuguese Socialist Party is in government, supported by two farther-left parties, the Left Bloc and the Communist-led Democratic Unity Coalition, and is currently polling very strongly.

Second, even where social democratic parties have lost ground--which, admittedly, is more the rule than the exception--they remain parties with significant historical and political weight in their countries. The disappearing act pulled by PASOK still seems pretty far away for most of these parties.

Finally, and most importantly, they will be forced to change and, in fact, are in the process of doing so. To put it as simply as possible, social democratic parties need allies on the left to succeed electorally and, at the same time, these parties need to directly confront, and seek to change, the current poorly-performing model of postindustrial capitalism. Nothing else will arrest their downward slide.

These truths are dawning across the European left. The German social democrats have rejected another "Grand Coalition" and have gone into opposition with a new left wing leader and a professed openness to working with other parties to their left. The Spanish social democrats rejected their own establishment and elected a new left-leaning leader whose professed model is the anti-austerity left alliance strategy of the Portuguese Socialist Party. As for the Portuguese Socialists and the UK Labor Party, they are forging ahead with their new strategies and finding considerable success. Paul Mason of the UK Guardian puts these developments, and what they mean for European social democracy, in their proper context.
Until the centre-left learns to break with the logic of neoliberalism, and to construct an economic model that subordinates market forces to human needs, it will continue failing. The task is not to remedy or tweak the neoliberal economic model but replace it – just as fundamentally as Thatcher, Reagan and Berlusconi did in the economic counter-revolutions of the 80s and 90s.
The starting point is to stop characterising the small but vibrant leftist parties as “populist”, or “just as bad as the right”. Instead, social democrats need to learn from the radical left, and engage with them both ideologically and tactically. The Portuguese governing coalition – of the socialists and the Left Bloc – has revived the welfare state with an injection of cash, unfreezing pensions, raising benefits for families and disabled people, and boosting youth employment. Syriza in Greece has eclipsed the traditional socialist party, Pasok, not just through its moment of heroic defiance of the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund in 2015 – but by displaying competence in government and relative immunity to the deep corruption that pervades the rest of politics. In Ireland, Sinn Féin, together with six TDs (MPs) from a far-left coalition, has become a way more powerful voice for social justice than the pallid Labour party.
Only one traditional party of European social democracy has begun the necessary transformation, and that is Labour in the UK. This year’s party conference has turned the narrow streets of Brighton into a continuous milling discussion club about the politics and economics of modern socialism. Pubs, street corners, cafes, the endless queues for fringe meetings and, of course, the beach have become overcrowded with enthusiastic, educated young Labour people preparing for the radical transformation of Britain. Some of them have the labour movement in their DNA – many others would, in Germany, be just as happy inside Die Linke or the Green party; or in Italy inside the Five Star Movement. Almost none of them would be seen dead inside Greece’s Pasok.
Mason's point about a new economic model is key. As I have noted before, capitalism is in a long transition from an industrial to a postindustrial, services-based model of society and so far the transition has not gone well. As this transition unfolded in the last two or three decades of the 20th century, Western capitalist societies saw a distinct slowdown in economic growth, twinned with a startling rise in inequality. The early 21st century continued these trends with the global financial crisis of 2007-08 dealing a grievous blow to advanced economies, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Many countries have recovered from this damage only recently and some have not yet done so.

So we are now talking about many decades of poor economic performance, particularly as it has affected those with low or modest skills whose livelihoods were connected to the old industrial economy. Elites on both the right and the left have appeared powerless to either accelerate this transition so it arrives at someplace good for most people or push it back to a better place. 

This is the essence of the problem. European social democrats to many, many European voters appear precisely to be elites that are powerless to shape--or, worse, uninterested in shaping--this transition into a workable economic model that delivers a substantially better life for these voters. The vexed relationship of most European social democrats to the austerity dictates of the EU and Eurozone authorities has, of course, only intensified these perceptions.

But the clouds are lifting. European social democrats are coming out of their fog and realizing that voters are simply not interested in what they have been offering. There really is no choice other than re-embracing the historic role of social democracy in reforming capitalism and taking whatever allies they can get in doing so. The time for rest has come to an end.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What Do the Exit Polls Really Tell Us about Virginia?

To understand what the 2017 exit polls are telling us in Virginia, it is first necessary to understand what they got wrong in 2016. Estimates we have done for our Voter Trends in 2016 project indicate that Virginia's voters in 2016 were 38 percent white noncollege and 32 percent white college. White noncollege voters supported Trump by 67-27 and white college voters supported Clinton 51-42.  

Compare this to the 2016 exits in Virginia. The exits claimed that Virginia voters were 38 percent white college and just 29 percent white noncollege. They pegged the white noncollege vote at 71-24 Trump but actually had Clinton losing the white college vote 45-49. 

So, 2016 exit polls in VA practically reversed the correct proportions of white college and noncollege voters. In 2016, there were still more white noncollege than white college voters. Also, the 2016 exits overestimated the white noncollege Republican advantage and didn't catch that white college voters likely supported Clinton by a solid margin in the state.

OK, now to 2017. The 2017 Virginia exits claim that white college educated voters vastly outnumbered white noncollege voters by 41-26. They further claim that Northam carried the white college vote by a narrow 51-48 margin, while losing white noncollege voters by 26-72.

Extrapolating from the 2016 comparison above between exits and our data, I'd say better estimates for VA in 2017 are as follows:

  • White noncollege and white college were likely close to equal as shares of voters (perhaps around 35 percent each), not heavily weighted toward white college as the exit polls claim.
  • The white noncollege margin for Gillespie was likely closer to 40 points than 46 points.
  • Impressively and significantly, white college graduates, judging from the shifts in the exits between the two years and using our 2016 figures as a baseline, may have given Northam a mid-teens advantage not the narrow 3 point margin shown in the 2017 exits. That could be quite important going forward.
  • As for black voters, I am OK with the 2017 exits' estimate on margin (around 75 points) since our estimates and the exits agree on this data point for 2016. Possibly black voter share is a bit overestimated by the 2017 exits, judging from previous patterns. I suspect, however, that the slight decline in black voter share relative to 2016 registered by the exits is probably real. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What Democrats Have Learned in the Year Since Losing to Donald Trump

According to John Cassidy of The New Yorker, it's all in our new report!

The Democrats, the White Working Class and Virginia

Could this man pull it off? Well, if he does, you can be sure he will owe his victory to white working class voters. That's Michael Tomasky's thesis in his Daily Beast column that draws heavily on the new Griffin/Halpin/Teixeira CAP report on "Voter Trends in 2016". 
The experts say Northam should win. But if you want something to worry about today, I implore you to read this report issued last week by Ruy Teixeira, John Halpin, and Rob Griffin of the Center for American Progress. The three authors set about to check the accuracy of last fall’s exit polls.
They looked at “a multitude of publicly available data sources” to try to find out whether last year’s exit polls told the story of the election accurately. They found that in a few respects, the exit polls were right. But boy did they miss some stuff, and one fact in particular.
The exit polls, they found, dramatically understated the percent of the total vote cast by non-college whites—that is, the category that best correlates to the famous white working class. Exit polls had non-college whites casting 34 percent of all 2016 ballots, and college-educated whites casting 37 percent. The actual numbers, according to the new study? College-educated whites were in fact just 29 percent of the total vote, and non-college whites were a whopping 45 percent of the vote.
I know what you’re thinking: There was a massive Trumpian white working class surge that the exit polls missed. But even that isn’t really right. Because they studied the 2012 results too, and found that almost exactly the same thing happened then. The 2012 exit polls had both groups of white voters at about 36 percent. But Teixeira, Halpin, and Griffin found that college-educated whites accounted for 28 percent of the 2012 vote, and non-college whites 45 percent. So apparently, exit polls just consistently undercount the white working class.
The way in which one can speak of a Trumpian surge is that of course these white working-class voters gave Donald Trump a bigger share of their vote in 2016 than they gave to Mitt Romney four years before. The authors note, in fact, that if Clinton had equaled Obama’s 2012 levels of support among non-college whites, “she would have carried, with more robust margins, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa (and just missed carrying Ohio). In fact, if she could merely have reduced the shift toward Trump among these voters by one quarter, she would have won the election.”
So there’s your explanation as to why we were all so shocked last election night. A heavily Republican demographic was dramatically undercounted.
Let's hope we're not shocked again. The Democrats appear to be running a solid margin among white college grads and a very strong one among black voters. But the white working class is a very different story and it is there the election could be lost. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What's Happening in Virginia?

The finale of the Virginia governor's race is upon us. Two things are clear: (1) Northam is running a narrow lead over Gillespie; and (2) voting cleavages by demographic group look very similar to those in 2016. The latter is actually quite an interesting development.

In 2016, according to the synthetic data analysis we conducted for our recent voter trends report, there was a very significant margin swing toward Democrats among white college graduates in Virginia, from losing this group by 5 points in 2012 to carrying it by 9 points in 2016. That's the main reason why Clinton carried Virginia by a greater margin than Obama--an unusual pattern for the 2016 election. 

That trend is evident in the just-released Upshot//Sienna poll of Virginia voters. Northam leads Gillespie among white college grads by an identical 9 point margin. 

As for white noncollege voters, Clinton lost them by 40 points in 2016 and Gillespie leads Northam by an identical 40 points in the Upshot poll. 

Black voters in the Upshot poll give Northam a 75 point margin over Gillespie, similar to Clinton's relatively poor showing in 2016 (a 79 point margin vs. 88 points for Obama in 2012). 

Perhaps it will all come down to turnout. In 2016, our estimates indicate that Virginia black turnout was down 3 points while white noncollege turnout was up 2 points. If the discrepancy in black and white noncollege turnout trends persists this Tuesday, the Democrats' newfound ability to dominate the white college vote might not be enough to carry the state.

Which Way for the Democrats?

Dan Balz has a good piece in the Washington Post that leans heavily on the recent Griffin/Halpin/Teixeira CAP report in posing this question:
At a minimum, the unfolding [Brazile] controversy among Democrats is a distraction they don’t need right now. But it could reflect deeper differences inside a party that can’t shake off 2016 and is still searching for a comeback strategy that goes beyond being anti-Trump.
That question hinges in part on which voters are seen as most important to the party’s coalition: African Americans and other minorities or the white working class. A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, offers fresh analysis of 2016 that tries to answer that question. The authors, Rob Griffin, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, plumbed available resources to produce the analysis, one that they say provides a more accurate portrait of the electorate than did the exit polls. The study does not attempt to evaluate the impact of Russian hacking on the campaign.
Among the conclusions is the electorate on Election Day 2016 included a higher percentage of white voters than the exit polls said at the time.
More significant, the composition of those white voters was strikingly at odds with the exit poll estimates.
“Briefly put, the exit polls radically overestimated the share of white college-educated voters and radically underestimated the share of white non-college-educated voters,” the authors write.
Exit polls said white college-educated voters made up 37 percent of the electorate, while white non-college-educated voters constituted 34 percent.
The CAP analysis says whites with college educations accounted for 29 percent of the electorate while whites without college educations made up 45 percent. A post-election online poll by SurveyMonkey reached a similar conclusion.
The report looks at the national electorate as well as those in some of the key states that decided the election, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the three Rust Belt states that sealed Trump’s victory.
After assessing how shifts in support and levels of turnout affected the most crucial states, the authors made other calculations and argue that Clinton would have won the election if either of two things had occurred. She would have won if black turnout and support levels had been identical to those of 2012 or if white non-college-educated voters’ support had been similar to that of 2012.
Neither course was as easy as it might have seemed, however.
The authors note that any Democrat would have had difficulty re-creating black turnout and support levels of 2012, given the election involved the first African American elected to the White House.
Anyone following would have struggled to generate both the turnout and support levels of those campaigns.
Nor do the authors underestimate the difficulty of retaining the 2012 levels of support among white non-college-educated voters, given shifting allegiances among that group that have been ongoing.
But the authors argue that even a modest improvement in her performance in 2016 would have allowed Clinton to win the three Rust Belt states.
Trump will be vulnerable in 2020, but Democrats still must better learn the lessons from Clinton’s defeat. To appeal to the full range of voters they need to win, the authors argue, Democrats must “go beyond the ‘identity politics’ versus ‘economic populism’ debate to create a genuine cross-racial, cross-class coalition.” Is there a leading Democrat out there who has cracked that code yet?
That about sums it up, right? 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter is a prolific British hard SF author who has written some of the most mind-blowing SF of the last several decades. The universe is his playground! His best work is contained within the awesome Xeelee sequence, one of the premier future history series ever produced, going from the primordial universe to the singularity at timelike infinity. Here's a description of the sequence:
Baxter's "Future History” mode is based on research into hard science. It encompasses the monumental Xeelee Sequence, which as of September 2015 is composed of seven novels (including the Destiny's Children trilogy), plus three volumes collecting the 52 short pieces (short stories and novellas) in the series, all of which fit into a single timeline stretching from the Big Bang singularity of the past to his Timelike Infinity singularity of the future. These stories begin in the present day and end when the Milky Way galaxy collides with Andromeda five billion years in the future. The central narrative is that of Humanity rising and evolving to become the second most powerful race in the universe, next to the god-like Xeelee. Character development tends to take second place to the depiction of advanced theories and ideas, such as the true nature of the Great Attractornaked singularities and the great battle between Baryonic and Dark Matter lifeforms. 
Great stuff. Other good books by Baxter include the Manifold trilogy (Fermi Paradox fans, take note!) and the singleton, Evolution. I don't care too much for his various alternate history works and some of his other stuff is hit or mess. And don't expect elegant writing; he's no Paul McAuley. But that old "sense of wonder" hits on all cylinders with Baxter.

So dig into the Xeelee sequence if you haven't already. Meanwhile, watch out for those photino birds! And don't get me started on the dreaded Qax...

Friday, November 3, 2017

Obscure Music Friday: The Jim Carroll Band

Jim Carroll, a writer probably best know for his terrific memoir, The Basketball Diaries, was also a rock musician on and off. "People Who Died", the song linked to here, is remarkable and the best thing he ever did as a musician. In my view, it is a classic. It never fails to send a chill down my spine.

The video here is from his first--and best--album, "Catholic Boy". I debated whether to use that video, which has the crisp album version, or this messier live version with Lou Reed. Both are great.

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others,
This song is for you my brother

Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died


Thursday, November 2, 2017

2016: The Real Story Revealed!

It's out--the definitive take on the 2016 election! And it's pretty different than what the exit polls told you. My colleagues and I at CAP have synthesized all the available public data and harmonized these data with actual election returns down to county level. The result is a set of internally consistent estimates of turnout and support by group in both the 2012 and 2016 elections, what changed between 2012 and 2016 and how important each of these changes were to the outcome in 2016. In short, the real story.

Here's what we found:
  • There were far more white noncollege voters in the 2016 election than shown by the exit polls. Our estimates indicate that 2016 voters were 45 percent white noncollege and just 29 percent white college-educated. The exit polls claimed there were more white college voters (37 percent) than white noncollege voters (34 percent). This is not just wrong, but massively wrong, especially in the context of Rustbelt swing states.
  • White college-educated voters voted Democratic in both the 2012 and 2016 elections. In fact, Clinton carried white college voters by a solid 7 points in 2016. The exit polls said both Obama and Clinton lost the white college vote. Again, wrong. The new data indicate that white college graduates are edging toward being a Democratic demographic.
  • There was a smaller margin shift among white noncollege voters toward the GOP in 2016 than people suppose. Our data indicate that Trump had a 31 point margin among white noncollege voters, representing a 6 point shift in his favor, not the 37 point advantage and 11 points shift the exit polls showed. This 6 point shift was actually smaller than Trump's margin gain among black voters (8 points). 
  • The decline in black support margin was just as important to Clinton's fate as the decline in black turnout. She would have carried Pennsylvania, even with a decline in black turnout, if she had held Obama's black support from 2012. She would have carried Wisconsin, even with a decline in black support, if she had held Obama's 2012 black turnout (2016 black turnout was down an astonishing 19 points in the state).
  • Our simulations show that Clinton would have won the 2016 election if she had held black support and turnout from 2012. She would have carried, albeit narrowly, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.
  • Our simulations also indicate that she would have won the 2016 election if she had held Obama's modest support among white noncollege voters from 2012. She would have carried, with more robust margins, the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Iowa (and just missed carrying Ohio). In fact, if she could  merely have reduced the shift toward Trump among these voters by one quarter, she would have won the election.
  • In Arizona, Georgia and Texas, where Clinton improved over Obama's performance in 2012, she did better among both white college and white noncollege voters. The key factor in all three states was relatively large shifts in her favor among white college graduates.
There is more--much more--in the report. I urge you to take a look at it