Sunday, September 30, 2018

Meanwhile, Over in the UK....

While we suffer through the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, the Brits have something far more edifying to pay attention to: the Labour Party conference! Labour and Jeremy Corbyn are taking the lead these days on a progressive politics with teeth and it's heartening to see that party put its bet down on an aggressive program. The Post's William Booth had a good sum-up, covering Corbyn's electrifying closing speech to the conference (worth listening to if you have the time--he's a great speaker and it's a great speech).
"As Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to strike a deal for Britain to leave the European Union without wreaking havoc on the country’s economy, her Conservative Party faces another looming threat — the popularity of the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
At the close of the annual Labour Party conference Wednesday, Corbyn gave what his critics in the British press called the best speech of his 30-year career, laying out a populist vision for the softer, socialist Britain that Labour plans to offer if May is toppled over her “Tory Brexit.”
“We represent the new common sense of our time,” Corbyn declared as he proposed to “rebuild Britain” with a “green jobs revolution,” with hundreds of thousands of workers paid to erect solar panels and wind turbines to slash greenhouse gas emissions and put the country in the vanguard of the fight against climate change. He promised a United Kingdom where child care is free, railroads and utilities are re-nationalized, employees sit on corporate boards and share profits, and owners of second homes pay $4,000 a year in extra taxes....
After hearing Corbyn’s speech, Tim Montgomerie, a former Tory activist who is now a blogger and columnist, tweeted, “Don’t agree with it but Corbyn has a comprehensive and maybe compelling vision for post-crash future of Britain. May doesn’t and that leaves Tories very vulnerable.”
Why is Labour making such a bold pitch? Stephen Bush, the excellent special correspondent for the New Statesman, explains:
"[Corbyn] pledges a host of new clean energy jobs in areas hit hardest by deindustrialisation, or in other words, low-carbon jobs for Brexit voters.
It's all part of the Labour leadership's plan to do one better at the next election by squarely pitching themselves at people who voted to Leave. That's the golden thread of the party's plans and approach, influencing everything from what the policies are to the way they are sold.
One of the things that they've done well at this conference is amass a set of policies that essentially give off the same impression: taking from the rich to give to essentially everyone else, picking fights with the big banks and the industrial lobbies.
In policy terms, too, there is a step change from the 2017 manifesto, which was essentially a better argued version of Ed Miliband's plus some nationalisation. Labour ends conference in a significantly more radical place than it started.
Labour may not have started the culture war but they certainly benefited from it at the last election. Now they essentially want to bring that to an end, bank their gains among social liberals, graduates and the middle classes and win over voters with an economic offer. The party will hope that the result is a combination of their 2017 voters with the Leavers currently keeping the Conservatives in office."
Sounds like a plan! The left in the United States would do well to consider an analogous approach for 2020 and beyond.
About this website
The leader’s speech at a party conference laid out a populist vision of a socialist country.

It Ain't Easy Being White Working Class

With all the talk about "white privilege" and how white working class voters supported Trump out of racial resentment, the actual material situation of these voters tends to get lost. A useful corrective is supplied by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as part of their Demographics of Wealth series. This essay, The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall: The Decline of the White Working Class, points out:
"The white working class has declined both in size and relative well-being. Uniquely among major socioeconomic groups, the white working class decreased in absolute numbers and population share in recent decades. At the same time, the five measures of well-being we tracked all deteriorated for the white working class relative to the overall population. The shares of all income earned and wealth owned by the white working class fell even faster than their population share.
Neither race nor education is sufficient alone to explain the decline of the white working class. White college graduate families are doing very well, suggesting that factors related to identifying as white are not sufficient to explain the decline. Education and class also don’t provide a full explanation: Hispanic and black working class families made some progress on many measures, while the white working class regressed.
A more plausible explanation for the decline of the white working class is their diminishing set of advantages relative to nonwhite working class families in terms of high school graduation rates, access to relatively high-paying jobs, and freedom from explicit workplace discrimination."
In related news, there has been renewed attention to the mini-recession that occurred in 2016. Neil Irwin had a nice writeup in the New York Times of, as he puts it, "The most important least-noticed economic event of the decade". He observes:
"In 2015 and 2016....[t]here was a sharp slowdown in business investment, caused by an interrelated weakening in emerging markets, a drop in the price of oil and other commodities, and a run-up in the value of the dollar.
The pain was confined mostly to the energy and agricultural sectors and to the portions of the manufacturing economy that supply them with equipment. Overall economic growth slowed but remained in positive territory. The national unemployment rate kept falling. Anyone who didn’t work in energy, agriculture or manufacturing could be forgiven for not noticing it at all....
[T]he mini-recession might well have affected some political attitudes during the 2016 election. While the economy was in pretty good shape for people in large cities on the coasts, 2016 was rough for a lot of people in local economies heavily reliant on drilling, mining, farming or making the machines that support those industries."
It ain't easy being white working class. White professionals on the coasts, who love to blame everything on the white working class' irredeemable racism, would do well to remember this.
The white working class in the U.S. has slipped in income and wealth, population, and several measures of well-being. The latest…

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Governors Check-In

No govenors' forecasting models out there that I can find so we must content ourselves with expert ratings. Here are is Sabato's Crystal ball ratings for governors' races, divided between Republican and Democratic held seats. Note that Republicans have 9 seats rated toss-up or learning D, while Democrats only have 1 seat rated toss-up and none leaning R. This obviously means significant net gains for the Democrats, but your guess is as good as mine as to how many net pick-ups this will work out to in November.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Senate Forecast Update: Democratic Takeover Quite Possible, But Not Likely

Not a lot of constantly-updated Senate models out there but here are the Democratic takeover probabilities for the two I know of:
538 = 32 percent
David Byler/Weekly Standard = 34 percent
A one-in-three chance ain't bad considering the map the Democrats face this cycle.
Here are the Democratic win probabilities (538) for the individual key races:
West Virginia: 87
Montana: 86
Indiana: 76
Arizona: 69
Missouri: 62
Florida: 62
North Dakota: 58
Nevada: 54
Tennessee: 41
Texas: 31
So Democrats are favored in each of the individual races where an incumbent is defending a seat in a red state plus they are favored in two seats held by Republicans. Unfortunately, this doesn't add up better than 50-50 chance of taking the Senate since there are so many ways the Democrats can lose one or two of their red state seats. These after all are just probabilities and the same probabilities that say the Democrats are favored in some of these states also say the Republicans have quite a decent chance of prevailing. Add it all up and Republicans still have the upper hand.
Bonus: Nate Silver explains why the Democrats have a serious chance to win in Texas, despite the conservatism of the state.
About this website
When building a statistical model, you ideally want to find yourself surprised by the data some of the time — just not too often. If you never come up with a r…

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Much Progress Can Democrats Make in State Legislative Races This Fall?

Probably quite a lot.. Charlie Cook points out:
"With three-quarters of the nation’s governorships and four-fifths of the state legislative seats up this year, almost all with four-year terms and last up in the pro-GOP 2010 and 2014 Obama midterm elections, Republicans now have huge exposure. In many states, like in the House, those district boundaries serve as protective walls against Republican losses. Tim Storey, the elections guru at the National Conference of State Legislatures, points out that from 1902 through 2014, the average midterm election outcome was a loss of 412 seats (including the previous odd-year’s elections); since World War II the losses have been a bit lower, 334 seats. Storey estimates that with a generic-congressional-ballot-test advantage of Democrats up by 6 points, that would likely translate into a gain of close to 500 state legislative seats nationwide for Democrats. Like in the U.S. House, the curve is asymmetric, the chances of over 500 are greater than under 400."
Democrats certainly have enough of a lead on the national generic to make a 500 seat gain for the party in state legislatures seem, if anything, like a pretty conservative estimate. Data indicate that there could be as many 1,000 Republican state legislative seats where Trump's approval rating is below 50 percent. That's a lot of targets.
For over six months this column has suggested that this election amounts to a Democratic tidal wave crashing against a Republican seawall—the question is which will be stronger. At Labor Day, the traditional beginning of the general-election-campaign season, that continues to be the case, though h...

Monday, September 24, 2018

Are White Noncollege Women Bailing Out on the GOP?

Some interesting internals in this writeup of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll by John Harwood. The data on white noncollege women are stunning. As I've noted before, serious defection from the GOP among this group would make a severe dent in their coalition.
"Among white college graduates, a group Republicans carried by nine points in 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans now trail by 15 points. Among white women without college degrees, a group Republicans carried by 10 points in 2014, Republicans now trail by five points."
About this website
The new NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey shows Democrats leading Republicans by 52 percent to 40 percent for control of Congress.

Why So Much Populism for So Long?

That's the question asked by European economists Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, and Christoph Trebesch (FST). FST are the authors of terrific earlier study relating right wing populism to financial crises. Here's their description of their earlier study:
"In 2015, we published a study that compiled data on nearly 100 financial crises and more than 800 national elections in 20 democracies since 1870. We found that far-right parties are the biggest beneficiaries of financial crashes. After a crisis, the share of the vote going to right-wing parties increases by more than 30 percent. We also found that government majorities tend to shrink and governing becomes difficult as more parties and antiestablishment groups get into legislatures. These effects turn up in the wake of financial crises but, crucially, not in normal economic downturns.
Why are financial crises so disruptive? To start with, they are manmade disasters. People blame elites for failing to prevent them. It’s often not hard to find policy failures and cronyism among the rich and powerful, so trust in the political system erodes. This opens the door to political entrepreneurs who try to set “the people” against the "ruling class.”
The tendency to blame elites after financial crises might suggest that far-left parties would benefit as much as far-right ones. But that doesn’t happen. Our research shows that the far left’s vote share stays about the same in the aftermath of a crisis. It seems that when social groups fear decline and a loss of wealth, they turn to right-wing parties that promise stability and law and order. In the 1930s, for example, it was the German petite-bourgeoisie that enabled Hitler’s rise to power. Similarly, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump was decided by the middle and working classes.
Right-wing populists are much more willing to exploit cultural cleavages and blame economic problems on foreigners and those who supposedly put the interests of a global elite above those of their fellow citizens. As British Prime Minister Theresa May put it last year, “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” The left, by contrast, has traditionally taken an internationalist outlook and usually avoids crude rhetoric against foreigners and minorities. People want to attribute blame, and the right is willing to present scapegoats: immigrants, China, or the European Union. The names change but the playbook remains the same."
So far, so plausible. But FST are puzzled by the following:
"Our historical data show that most political upheavals after financial crises have been temporary. After five years, voting patterns usually return to their pre-crisis status quo, fractionalization within parliaments decreases, and the far right loses its momentum.
This time is different. Ten years on, fractionalization, polarization, and far-right voting are all alive and well. The established political system continues to stumble from one shock to another. Even countries that until recently had been immune to far-right politics have started to succumb."
After citing various possible explanations, FST conclude:
"The most important reason for populists’ lasting success, however, is likely structural. The financial crisis of 2008 was a major shock, with more long-lasting effects than the average financial crisis. And the crash was just one of a series of disruptions over the past ten years. Politicians have seized on terrorist attacks and surging refugee flows to widen cultural splits. China and Russia now offer an authoritarian alternative to the Western model of open societies and free markets. Median incomes in the Western world are stagnant and inequality is rising. Lackluster economic performance in many countries has meant that the political trust the financial crisis destroyed has not recovered.
It’s hard to say how long the current political instability will last, in part because we don’t yet know enough about how populists perform in office, why they are often reelected, and what makes countries immune to populism."
Those are indeed the questions. Guess we're all involved in a real-world research project that few saw coming and none of us wanted.
About this website
Financial crises empower right-wing populists. The crash of 2008 was worse than usual.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Are We Missing the Real Significance of the 2018 Campaign?

The editors off the Democratic Strategist have just issued a memo that urges us not to miss the potentially profound significance of this election season--significance that could go way beyond the tally of election wins and losses we'll see on November 6. We may be witnessing the reinvention of the Democratic Party in a very positive way that will have effects for years to come. As the memo argues, these changes are not fundamentally about ideology and definitely don't fit into a "Democratic civil war" framework.
Here's how the memo puts it.
"[T]o grasp the genuinely extraordinary scope of the advances that Democrats have made in just two years, it is only necessary to look at the situation today.
First, literally hundreds of new, young Democratic candidates have flooded the political system. In every state and at every level of politics—from congress and governors to state legislators and county officials—new candidates are actively challenging GOP politicians, many of whom have not faced a Democratic challenger in years. These new candidates are impressively diverse in race and gender and share a unique idealism and commitment to breaking with “politics as usual.” As a result, it is now the GOP that looks increasingly old, stagnant and out of touch.
Second, a massive and sophisticated network of Democratic grass-roots organizing has emerged across the country. These initiatives are both “bottom-up”—developing out of the local campaigns of Democratic candidates—and “top-down,” supported by a wide range of both new and established progressive organizations. A year ago there were already over twenty significant national initiatives that provided first time Democratic candidates with candidate training, political campaign management and support for door to door canvassing, phone-bank operations and digital outreach and still more have emerged since that time. A similar array of internet based initiatives has also emerged that connect small Democratic donors with political campaigns across the country. The combination has made it possible for new progressive candidates to run for office without needing big money donors or expensive political campaign management firms.
This massive Democratic mobilization is testament to the profound evil that Trump represents but—equally important—to the massive and thrilling political awakening that is occurring this year. The advances have been so dramatic that in political science textbooks of the future, 2018 may very well be cited as the critical first year of a long-term Democratic resurgence.
This is, of course, not the dominant storyline today. Many commentators—with their invincible penchant for choosing the most clich├ęd and simplistic approach—tend to frame the rise of the new candidates and campaigns as reflecting a Democratic “civil war” between left and center and describe it with florid metaphors borrowed from military campaigns and boxing matches. But what the new Democratic resurgence actually reflects is something very different—the emergence of two very positive underlying trends that are not based on political ideology.
The first trend is demographic—the new generations of voters who are under 40 are increasingly diverse in race and gender and have grown up attending schools and living in places that makes them comfortable with diversity. To inspire and mobilize them to vote, they need to see candidates that they can recognize as their own and identify with—not simply because of race or gender but because they reflect these younger voters very distinct perspective, life experience and aspirations.
This generational transition necessarily disrupts existing hierarchies and ways of doing business in the Democratic Party and can be uncomfortable for many members of the traditional order. But in order to achieve a broad nationwide Democratic revitalization, winning the support of these voters is not optional but mandatory.
The second trend is political. The new generations of voters who are under 40 have seen nothing but procedural sabotage, cynical dishonesty and bitter extremism from the GOP for their entire adult lives. They have correctly concluded that the older generations’ memories of having once been able to achieve “compromise” or “cooperation” with Republicans are today nothing more than a political mirage. As a consequence they are drawn to candidates who reflect this same perspective.
Both of these trends cut across the distinction between moderates and progressives and have little to do with ideology—candidates like Colin Lamb and Amy McGrath are as disgusted with GOP dishonesty and sabotage as are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ben Jealous. If they are all elected, these candidates will have sharp and vigorous (but ultimately productive) debates among themselves about the best design of social programs but at the same time they will also work together in close and cordial collaboration as part of a broad Democratic congressional coalition.
So what we are seeing is not a “civil war among Democrats” or “Dems in disarray” but rather the natural and healthy reflection of the process of growth and renewal that must occur for a genuine Democratic renaissance to occur.
In fact, there are two quite distinct ways that this process is taking place in the different kinds of districts that exist across the country:
In heavily Democratic districts the entrance of the new generation of candidates and voters into the electorate has led the more adept Democratic politicians to adopt more progressive positions in order to keep in touch with their changing districts and constituents. Other Democratic politicians who thought they could ignore the change have been sharply challenged and in a significant number of cases replaced.
In heavily Republican districts, on the other hand, a different dynamic has developed and a new kind of eclectic and “moderate” but still very clearly democratic candidate has emerged. In college educated suburbs, these candidates are appealing to formerly Republican middle class professionals who are recoiling from Trumps extremism. In rural and white working class areas, where support for Trump and the GOP remains most firm, these new candidates are combining moderate but recognizably democratic social and economic policies with a willingness to respect and support many enduring elements of cultural traditionalism that exist among their constituents.
In their distinct ways, these two trends represent not a civil war among Democrats, but a process of renewed outreach and revitalization of the party—one that has the potential to build a solid and enduring Democratic majority."
Is this overstated? Maybe, but I think my friends at The Democratic Strategist may be onto something. And they are very right to urge us to look at this election in the long view and just reduce it to a series of wins and losses, however important those may be.

Democratic Primary Turnout and the November Election

Dante Chinni and Susan Bronson have a very interesting article up on the NBC News site, going over the final turnout numbers for this year's primaries. Here's the basic story:
"Democrats have been turning out in record numbers this year, and midterm history suggests that could have real significance in November.
In the most basic sense, the numbers show the difference in enthusiasm between 2018 and the last midterm election in 2014. There have been increases in turnout for both of the major political parties in this year’s House primaries, but the number for Democrats has skyrocketed.....
In 2010, when the Republicans rode a massive wave election to gain 63 seats in the House — as well as six Senate seats and numerous governorships — the party had an enormous 4.9-million vote edge in House primaries. And in 2014, the GOP had a smaller 2.2-million vote advantage in the House primary vote and gained 13 seats in the chamber.
So how big is the Democratic turnout edge this year? It’s pretty big. About 4.3 million more Democrats than Republicans voted in the House primaries of 2018....
That number compares favorably with others from recent elections. In raw terms, that’s a larger advantage than Democrats held in 2006 and close to the GOP number from 2010....
[T]he size of the difference between Democratic and Republican House primary vote offers some real, data-based evidence of the 2018 enthusiasm gap. And if past elections are any guide, the numbers here suggest Democrats have good reason to be hopeful about November."
No guarantees of course. But data this strong has to count as a very good sign.
About this website
Democrats have been turning out in record numbers this year and midterm history suggests that could have real significance in November.

House Forecasting Check-In

A little more than six weeks 'til election day. Time for a little check-in on the various House forecasting models (note: this is just the real-time updated models, not the various academic models--see Sabato's Crystal Ball for those).
probability Democrats take House: 80 percent
predicted Democratic seat gain: 37
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 8.5
probability Democrats take House: 71 percent
predicted Democratic seat gain: 29
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 8.6
Crosstab/G. Elliot Morris:
probability Democrats take House: 78 percent
predicted Democratic seat gain: 38
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 9.2
CBS Battleground:
probability Democrats take House: no estimate
predicted Democratic seat gain: 29
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: no prediction
Standard disclaimer: (a) None of this means the Democrats are certain to take the House. They aren't. (b) None of this means the Democrats can relax and not worry about voter mobilization and persuasion. They can't.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Robots Won't Cause Mass Unemployment and Manufacturing Won't Save Us: Meeting the Real Jobs Challenge

I have a new article out with economist Steve Rose in Democracy journal. It contains a very detailed discussion of how jobs in the US have evolved over time and how they are likely to evolve in the future. I think you'll find it provocative, since it challenges much of the received wisdom on the left and has some very important political implications.
Here is the introduction to the article:
"What are we to make of the rise of the new service economy that is radically changing how Americans make their living? Interestingly, commentators on both the left and the right advance a common—and very gloomy—narrative about what’s happening to American jobs. They see an economy out of balance, with low-skill, low-pay, dead-end service jobs replacing the good, high-paying manufacturing jobs of the past. They wonder where the middle-class jobs of the future will come from—or indeed, if there will be any such jobs at all.
For the Trumpian Republicans, this is the “American carnage” that is destroying the middle class and everything it holds dear. Meanwhile, many on the left are scarcely more optimistic: Jeff Faux, the former president of the Economic Policy Institute, writes in The Servant Economy that our failure to protect manufacturing jobs in the 1980s doomed the middle class, and predicts that by the end of the 2020s there will be a 20 percent drop in the real wages of the average American, including a large contraction in professional jobs due to continued outsourcing.
This view is mistaken: It confuses current problems like high-income inequality and stagnant wages, which have many causes, with structural economic shifts that have profoundly and irreversibly transformed how everything in our economy is produced. Where we work, how we work, what we consume, and how we consume it have all been radically altered by the relentless march of technological change and educational upgrading. These shifts reflect our ability to produce more commodities with fewer but more highly skilled workers and to produce a wider range of goods that more consumers can purchase. This is both inevitable and, on balance, a good thing."
And here are the political implications of our analysis:
"First, the common tendency among progressives to lionize manufacturing jobs and disparage service-sector jobs is profoundly counterproductive. Worst of all, such an attitude is at odds with the way the economy is actually evolving. The dominant and growing segment of the economy today is in high-end services; again, we are not exchanging manufacturing jobs for low-skill, low-pay “McJobs.” The central question therefore is not how we can get more manufacturing jobs but rather how we can build on the growth of high-end services by upgrading our workforce and creating an environment where these jobs can flourish, deliver high wages, and generate more rapid increases in our standard of living. This will be a challenge—and it won’t be met by a quixotic quest to reinvent America’s economic past.
Second, it is time for the left to stop worrying about an overproduction of college graduates. It is not the case that the economy is rife with overqualified college graduates filling low-skill jobs. This staple of news stories is yet another myth based on flawed studies that have almost half of all college grads overqualified for their jobs; in contrast, a 2017 study by Rose found that only one-quarter of college graduates were “mismatched” with their level of education at the current time, a figure that has been stable over time. In reality, given the high bachelor’s premium, we are actually under-producing college graduates; we need more than we have now or are projected to have in the future to meet the demands of our postindustrial service economy. Therefore, a central focus of the left should be on dramatically expanding the number of college-educated workers in our workforce.....
[W]ithout in any way making light of the economy’s current problems, or the very real struggles many families have faced in past decades, the left would be well advised to adopt a more positive attitude toward today’s postindustrial service economy. This economy is, by and large, the natural outcome of technological advances and ongoing productivity growth; it represents progress, not decline, for the country and its economic potential. When a society moves from rotary-dial phones to the amazing devices we all carry around now that put a world of information at our fingertips; when it advances from a society of high-school graduates and dropouts to one where most have attended college; when the proportion of consumer spending devoted to food and clothing drops from almost half to less than a fifth; when homes have doubled in size and foreign travel is commonplace, that’s progress.
Thus, the left should optimistically seek to further this economic transition and adapt it better to the needs of the country, not pine nostalgically for the decades immediately after World War II. American jobs will continue to evolve toward higher skills over time; most assuredly, they will not disappear. The left’s challenge is to make sure those jobs pay as well as possible and provide solid economic security for the workers the left aspires to represent. That, in and of itself, is hard enough without chasing the chimera of the manufacturing jobs of a different time."
I do hope you'll read the whole article. Even if you disagree with our conclusions, I think you'll find much to ponder and some very interesting data.
No, robots won’t cause mass unemployment. But our failure to prepare people for the high-end service economy could be a real disaster.