Friday, August 31, 2018

Turnout and the 2018 Election

Patrick Ruffini of the GOP polling/analytics firm, Echelon Insights, has this to say about emerging turnout patterns relevant to the 2018 election. Ruffini is an excellent analyst who sticks close to the data; his views are well-worth paying attention to.
* Turnout among Dems is up. It’s way up amongst whites with a college degree, and up still higher amongst women in that group. With the most energized voters it looks like the midpoint between a midterm and a presidential. GOP turnout looks... exactly like 2014 (when they won).”
* GOP turnout isn’t low. It’s Dem turnout that’s high. And that’s what makes the difference.”
* Usually in midterms there is a turnout drop off with 1) younger voters and 2) non-college educated voters. The dropoff with #1 favored the GOP. The dropoff with #2 didn’t matter, until 2016, and now it could hurt the GOP. The Obama-Trump voter still exists but may not show up.”
* Because of partisan shifts within the electorate, a wider electorate may actually help Republicans and turnout dropoffs hurt them given a super-energized college grad vote.”
* The underlying shift due to persuasion need not be that great for the GOP to get walloped on turnout only. Education dropoff will matter a lot this year, and age dropoff may not matter as much given higher Dem-specific turnout.”
* Moving from a 2018 electorate to a 2020 electorate may help Trump on balance, even with higher younger turnout. Obama-Trump voters more likely to show up. The college educated minority can’t throw its weight around as much.”
* On younger voters: Turnout increases are always disproportionately concentrated among the young because seniors are pretty much perfect midterm & presidential voters. Their scores go way up.”
* Hence the idea that the turnout gap to watch is on college education, not age”
Ruffini adds some additional thoughts given this week’s Florida primary...
* If there’s any state you’d expect to be more immune from a Dem surge it’d be Florida: Seniors, heavily minority, and no significant college white dominated population centers.”
* In past cycles, California was immune to the wave. Could it be Florida this year?”
This is from The Intersection, Echelon Insights' polling/data newsletter, a very useful weekly compendium of links, charts, tables and analysis. You may be interested in subscribing (it's free!) I recommend it.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Yet More House Forecasting Models: Democratic Wins Favored and Big Democratic Wins in Reach

As we approach Labor Day, the forecasts are coming thick and fast. Sabato's Crystal Ball reports two more models, the first merely an update of Alan Abramowitz' model using current data (it predicts a 30 seat Democratic gain) and the second an elaborate 3000 simulation exercise by political scientists Joseph Bafumi, Robert S. Erikson, and Christopher Wlezien combining national polling data with district-level voting patterns (their average prediction is for a 26 seat Democratic gain).
But they also note the following:
"[Democrats] have a 54% chance of regaining the majority. A Republican win is only a little less likely (46%) but notice that there is the possibility of a big Democratic win.
The forecast requires an important note of caution. It assumes in effect that parties apply their normal level of effort across all districts. The reports of Democratic enthusiasm about newly winnable races suggest that this assumption may not be correct. For that reason the forecast here may be best considered a lower bound of Democratic prospects."
The serious possibility that Democrats could win big is stressed by Nathaniel Rakich in his latest piece on 538 about their forecasting model. These additional gains, according to their model, would likely occur in Sunbelt states like Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma (!)
"[T]he model does hint at the possibility that Democrats could make a lot more gains, both generally and in these states specifically. To win the House, Democrats need only capture all the seats where they’re at least moderate favorites, plus some of the ones where it’s close to 50-50. But our forecast has a long “tail,” which means that the model envisions plenty of scenarios in which the midterms result in an extreme outcome — say, a Democratic gain of 60 seats or more. If that happens, our forecast suggests that many of those gains could come in Arizonan, Floridian and Oklahoman districts with little Democratic pedigree. There are eight districts in the three states that the Classic version of our model rates as “lean R” or “likely R” in the average outcome, which means they’d be the first to become toss-ups or Democrat-favored in the event of a Democratic best-case scenario."
Interesting. I shall have more to say about the Democrats' "Sunbelt path" in future posts.
The Bafumi-Erikson-Wlezien team first applied our model in 2006 and were among the first to predict the return of the Democratic majority. That forecast was off by only two seats. Like most others, our model predicted a Republican takeover in 2010, underestimating the GOP swing by about 10 seats. In...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trump's Tax Cut Doesn't Appear To Be Helping the Republicans. Why Is That?

Vanessa Williamson of Brookings has a good piece out on their website about the political effects (or lack thereof) of Trump's tax cut. This is a solid article which, in passing, concisely and fairly summarizes a lot of the political science research relevant to this issue. Recommended, though I guess I'm less sure Democrats could make a big issue of this even if they wanted to. Perhaps they should be satisfied with the fail of the issue for the GOP.
Her general conclusion:
"[T]here are only a few avenues by which the legislation is likely to help Republican chances. It is deeply implausible that voters will behave differently due to the very small changes the TCJA made in their individual take-home pay. The legislation is also poorly situated to mobilize Republican voters, whose support for the legislation was lukewarm. The short-term stimulative effects of the TCJA are also unlikely to matter much, both because the effects are small and because the economy matters less for midterm election results. In the longer term, however, Republicans will likely benefit from the law’s upward redistribution targeted to their donor class."
About this website
The Republicans' biggest legislative success may fall flat with voters in November.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Democratic Prospects in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin

Harry Enten rounds up the data on races in these three states, two of which Trump carried in 2016, while the other one (Minnesota) was uncomfortably close for a state that was supposed to be so reliably Democratic. At the risk of boring you, it's more good news for the Democrats.
"Donald Trump's success in the Upper Midwest -- particularly his victories in Michigan and Wisconsin -- were pivotal to his success in the 2016 presidential election.
His 1.5-point loss in Minnesota was the closest a Republican presidential nominee has come to winning the state since Ronald Reagan lost the state by 0.2 points in 1984.
But with Michigan holding its primary last week and Minnesota and Wisconsin voting on Tuesday, it's become clear that 2018 is a totally different cat. Trump's Upper Midwest triumphs have not carried over for Republicans this cycle.
Polls show Democrats in a good position in the Senate and governor races in all three states. This is yet another indication of that the political environment nationally is on the Democrats side."
About this website
Donald Trump's success in the Upper Midwest -- particularly his victories in Michigan and Wisconsin -- were pivotal to his success in the 2016 presidential election.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Can the Democrats Come Back in Pennsylvania?

With 7 competitive Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania, the state looms large in Democrats' plans to take back the House. The New York Times recently ran a lengthy article about how Democratic hopefuls in the state are running.
Know this about Pennsylvania: it is a white noncollege state. about 56 percent of eligible voters are in this demographic. And it is among this demographic that Hillary Clinton lost the state in 2016, as Trump carried these voters by almost 30 points. Clinton's loss came despite excellent black turnout, which nearly matched black turnout for Obama in 2012 and was actually higher than white turnout in the state.
Reflecting these facts about the state and, of course, the characteristics of the districts they are running in, Democratic candidates are not holding back from courting the white noncollege vote. They are all in, as coverage in the article makes clear.
"[Conor] Lamb speaks of labor rights and economic fairness, in the Democratic tradition, but stakes out more conservative ground on social issues like guns. He begs off questions about national politics, but makes clear that he wants to see Nancy Pelosi replaced as the leader of House Democrats. He observes that “heroin kills both Democrats and Republicans,” the only mention of the D-word on his campaign website’s home page...
In northeastern Pennsylvania, Representative Matt Cartwright, whose district Mr. Trump won by 10 points, is quick to recall Democratic triumphs of generations past, like Franklin D. Roosevelt signing Social Security into law. Like Mr. Lamb, he emphasizes the need to secure affordable health coverage and tend to moldering roads and bridges....
“They voted for the change candidate, and you do that when you are hurting,” he said. “And I try to remind them that it is the Democratic Party that cares about the people who are hurting more than any other party. And I say to myself, I have to redouble my own efforts because these are my people who are hurting.”....
“Two things can be true at the same time: There is xenophobia and nationalism and racist undertones,” said John Fetterman, the longtime mayor of Braddock, outside Pittsburgh, and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “But there’s also people that are reachable.”
Often, success is as much a matter of emphasis as policy. Rick Bloomingdale, the president of the Pennsylvania A.F.L.-C.I.O., said that despite a “great economic plan” from Hillary Clinton in 2016, the piece of her platform that broke through most was “how awful Trump was.”
“People don’t want to hear you tell them how bad Trump is,” Mr. Bloomingdale said. “They either know or they don’t care.”...
[A] Cartwright campaign worker offered his own pitch....The congressman, he noted, does not support “open borders” or abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an idea that some liberal Democrats have embraced. (Last month, both Mr. Lamb and Mr. Cartwright voted for a symbolic resolution supporting I.C.E.)"
If the Democratic party wins big in Pennsylvania this November--which I think is likely--I have no doubt this "big tent" approach will have a lot to do with it.
About this website
With its redrawn congressional map and working class union towns, the state has found itself at the center of Democrats’ plans to win control of the House of Representatives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Democrats Should Be Cautious on the Level of Support They Assume for New Progressive Programs

Yes, I know, many of these ideas poll well when asked in a standard "here's an idea, what do you think of it?" format. But life, politics and people are not so simple. There are many reasons to be cautious that a given program is--or will be--very popular simply from the results of few poll questions. My old comrade-in-arms Andy Levison usefully reminds of this in his new essay for the Democratic Strategist site.
"When Democrats begin to make the case for a new progressive program their commentaries will invariably include a sentence that reads as follows:
"And what's more, as a XYZ recent poll shows, a majority of Americans support this program."
Usually, one poll (or perhaps two or three at most) are treated as entirely sufficient proof that the proposed reform is genuinely popular.
In reality, however, every Democrat knows that interpreting opinion poll data is not really that simple. The major objectives of Obamacare all polled extremely well in early testing and gave advocates a false sense of confidence about the likely support for the proposed legislation.
The challenge Democrats face is even greater today because progressives are now proposing a wide range of new social policies and programs that will face both normal skepticism and also bitter organized conservative resistance. In this environment relying on standard opinion polls is simply inadequate."
Words of wisdom. The essay is well worth reading in its entirety. Levison provides some excellent suggestions on how Democrats can be a bit more rigorous in assessing the potential popularity of proposed new programs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Left Vs. Right Populism

Populisms of both the right and the left have been on the rise in advanced democracies. However, while left populism is not without its successes, right populism has, on balance, clearly been the stronger performer. Why is this?
Two European political scientists, Valerio Bruno and James Downes, recently completed an interesting study of this question. While the study is confined to European countries, there are lessons here, I think, for the left in the United States.
Their basic conclusion:
"What factors can explain the electoral success of radical right parties in the post-economic crisis period? First, the party strategy of the radical right has tended to be simple and clear, with a focus on issues such as immigration and an attempt to link this directly to general discontent and dissatisfaction with the EU. Second, the radical right has a much broader voter base to target with this narrative than radical left parties have. Recent research has shown that radical right parties have the ability to attract traditional working-class voters away from centre left parties, primarily due to their effective use of the immigration issue.
The simplicity and clarity of the radical right message has been a key part of their success. Powerful images of nationhood have combined with fears over issues such as immigration to drive this support. Capitalising on popular fears has been shown by previous research to be a core element of the radical right narrative. And the ‘accessibility’ of this message is arguably one of the most important differences between the approach of the radical right and the radical left.
In contrast, the radical left remains to some extent a platform for abstract intellectual ideas. Such narratives are far more difficult to translate into the slogans and messages which have proven successful in the digital age of politics. The perceived inability of the radical left to form concrete policy responses to the global economic crisis has not helped their cause. The radical left has in many cases failed to weave together a clear and simple narrative on the economy which can rival the message of the radical right, while it has also been less willing to focus on the key issue of immigration which the radical right has used so effectively to attract support."
Populist parties on both the radical right and left of the political spectrum in Europe have made considerable electoral gains over the last decade, but they have done so using notably different ap…

Monday, August 20, 2018

But What About the Senate?

Yesterday I covered the quite favorable outlook for a Democratic takeover of the House, according to various models. (See Jonathan Bernstein on Bloomberg for a similar take.) But what about the Senate? Here the situation is radically different, as forcefully argued by David Wasserman today in the New York Times.
"The proper way to view the 2018 midterms might not be as one event, but as two very different elections playing out at once. It’s almost Mars vs. Venus: The Senate hinges on red, rural states where Democrats are on defense. But the House will be decided by swing, suburban seats where Republicans are highly vulnerable....
This fall, Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats, with Bernie Sanders and Angus King (more than half of their caucus), including five seats that voted for President Trump by 19 points or more. Republicans are defending only nine seats (fewer than a fifth of their caucus); all but one are states Mr. Trump carried....
These are two truly different universes: The median competitive Senate seat gave Mr. Trump 56 percent in 2016, has a population density of 88 people per square mile and falls below the national average in educational attainment and income. But the median competitive House district gave Mr. Trump 49 percent of the vote, has a population density of 375 people per square mile and ranks above the national average in college graduates and income."
Care for a probability estimate? Senate models are a bit thin on the ground, but David Byler at the Weekly Standard has created one that's worth checking out. His verdict: Dems have about a 28 percent chance of taking over the Senate. Sounds about right.
About this website
● The Republicans have a great map -- if the Democrats lose even one competitive race, it becomes very difficult for them to win the chamber.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It's Election Forecasting Time!

Election forecasting season is heating up with the release of 538's spiffy new House forecasting model. For those who have not yet seen it, their standard model (they have two alternate versions) gives the Democrats a 3 in 4 chance (75.3 percent) of taking the House. The average Democratic gain is projected to be 35 seats. As a nice bonus you can look up the chances that Democrats will take any particular seat both through maps and lists.
While the 538 forecast is the new and shiny, there are several other credible models that get much the same results with less complicated methodologies. The Economist model, which has been running since late spring, gives the Democrats a 70 percent chance of taking the House. They project an average Democratic gain of 29 seats.
G. Elliott Morris' Crosstab site has also been running a model for quite awhile. He gives Democrats a 76 percent chance of taking the House (no specific seat gain projected).
So everybody seems to singing from the same hymnal which is reassuring. It hardly needs emphasizing that these models generate probabilities not certainties and that the improbable sometimes does happen. But the agreement among models and the fairly high probabilities assigned to Democratic takeover simply reflect the fact that almost all of the data we have right now is telling a story favorable to the Democrats.
Just how favorable the story is was emphasized in some interesting remarks by Cook Political Report's David Wasserman--as astute and careful an analyst of House elections as you can find--in an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios:
"Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's House analyst, says the most under-covered aspect of 2018 is that "a blue wave is obscuring a red exodus." Republican House members are retiring at a startling clip — a trend that senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told me earlier this year was worrying her more than any other trend affecting the midterms.
There are 43 Republican seats now without an incumbent on the ballot. That's more than one out of every six Republicans in the House — a record in at least a century, Wasserman says.
Just in the past eight months, the number of vulnerable Republican seats has almost doubled, according to Wasserman. Democrats need to win 23 seats to claim control of the House. Today, the Cook Political Report rates 37 Republican-held seats as toss-ups or worse. At the beginning of the year, it was only 20.
Wasserman says the most important sign that 2018 will be a "wave" year — with Democrats winning control of the House — is the intensity gap between the two parties. In polls, Democrats consistently rate their interest in voting as significantly higher than Republicans. And Democrats have voted in extraordinary numbers in the special elections held the past year, despite Republicans holding on to win almost all of these races.
"There's a bit of over-caution, perhaps, on the part of the punditocracy, after what happened in 2016," Wasserman told Axios. "But if anything most media could be under-rating Democrats' potential to gain a lot of seats. They could be caught being cautious in the wrong direction."
So it looks pretty good. But it ain't over 'til it's over.
About this website
FiveThirtyEight's predictions for the 2018 House elections

Friday, August 17, 2018

Does Trumpism = fascism?

Certainly the antifa folks would have us believe so. But a careful consideration of what fascism has historically meant and what Trumpism is today reveals that Trumpism is more usefully thought of as right populism. The fascist label confuses more than it clarifies. Indeed, it can lead the left into unproductive adventurism and a failure to look deeply at the left's own failings in the current political context.
All this is explained quite lucidly in Sheri Berman's recent essay on Vox. She concludes her article:
"Will traditional parties of the left — the Democratic Party in the US, Social Democratic and Labor parties in Europe — be able to reform their organizational infrastructures and appeals so as to be able to recapture the working- and middle-class voters they lost to the populist right? In the US, those worrying signs that a significant number of Republicans will not band together to check Trump leaves the Democratic Party as the most important watchdog or conservator of democracy. Successfully carrying out that role will require a degree of efficacy and cohesion the party has hitherto not exhibited.
In order to be able to check Trump, the Democrats will need to overcome or reconcile their internal divisions over both cultural and economic issues; only then can they hope to build the type of broad, cross-class coalition that would enable them to win elections at the national, state, and local levels and prevent Trump and his Republican enablers from playing different groups of Americans against one another, as they did so successfully in our most recent election as well as in many of the ones proceeding it.
Populism, in short, should not be blithely equated to fascism, nor does 2016 look like 1933. But in politics, as in much of the rest of life, nothing lasts forever, and for democracy to not just survive but thrive, democrats — including Democrats — will need to start doing better."
About this website
A leading expert on 1930s-era politics explains that Trump is a right-wing populist, not a fascist — and the distinction matters.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Abolishing ICE Is a Pretty Terrible Campaign Slogan

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