Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Maybe Trump Will Finally Get Tired of Winning!

The latest CNN poll finds him tanking among white noncollege voters, the very folks who tend to be his staunchest supporters and who--in Trump's theory, if we can dignify his bizarre mix of gut instinct and reality show street smarts by the word "theory"--were supposed to be utterly delighted to have him shut down the government to get the border wall.
It doesn't seem to be working:
"During the longest government shutdown in US history, President Donald Trump has been losing support among those who may be his strongest supporters -- white Americans who don't have college degrees.
Among this group, only 45% said they approved of the job Trump is doing as President, according to a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS. That is the lowest level of support among this subgroup by 1 percentage point in CNN's surveys and a dip from a poll conducted in early December, before the partial shutdown, when 54% of whites without college degrees approved of his job as President and 39% disapproved.
The dip is notable since among whites who hold college degrees, Trump's ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative -- 64% disapprove and 32% approve."
As always, I'd like to see more data on this trend but these are certainly very interesting--and potentially important--findings.
About this website
During the longest government shutdown in US history, President Donald Trump has been losing support among those who may be his strongest supporters -- white Americans who don't have college degrees.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Pinker Vs. Critics Vs. Pinker

Steven Pinker put out a book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, about a year ago that caused a bit of a stir. His data-based case for tremendous progress in the human condition and the relation of that progress to enlightenment values of reason, science, knowledge, universalism and so on is one I'm broadly in sympathy with.
But not everyone is. Pinker received quite a bit of pushback from various quarters and he has taken the opportunity to respond to the most frequent criticisms in a long essay on Quillette. I recommend it. Pinker is a fine polemicist and he does a good job responding in a reasonable, fact-based way to the litany of criticisms.
He also notes at one point that his is not alone in making the case for an improving world. Other folks have looked at the same data and come to the same conclusions including, well, yours truly:
"It’s not just me. In the year since EN went to press, five other books have drawn similar conclusions about the state of the world: Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than It Looks, Bobby Duffy’s The Perils of Perception, Hans and Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund’s Factfulness, Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko’s Clear and Present Safety, and Ruy Teixeira’s The Optimistic Leftist (so much for that conservative/neoliberal/right-wing conspiracy)."
Here are the criticisms he responds to; read the essay for his detailed responses.
* You got the Enlightenment wrong. There were many Enlightenments, not just one. The Enlightenment thinkers were not all scientific humanists: some were men of faith, and some were racists. Wasn’t Rousseau a part of the Enlightenment? Shouldn’t Marx be counted as an Enlightenment thinker?
* The Enlightenment is not worthy of celebration. It gave the world racism, slavery, imperialism, and genocide.
* How can you say that we should stop worrying and that everything will turn out okay? What about plastics in the ocean? What about opioids? What about school shootings? What about incarceration? What about social media? What about Donald Trump?
* All those numbers showing that the world has been getting better must have been cherry-picked.
* Looking at numbers on human well-being is amoral and callous and insensitive. What do you say to those people who are suffering?
* How do you explain Donald Trump? And Brexit? And authoritarian populism? Don’t they spell the end of the Enlightenment and the reversal of progress?
* How do you explain the growing epidemic of despair, depression, loneliness, mental illness, and suicide in the most advanced liberal societies?
* The Enlightenment will be killed off by its own creations, artificial intelligence and social media.
* Why were you so mean to Nietzsche?
You wouldn’t think that a defense of reason, science, and humanism would be particularly controversial in an era in which those ideals would seem to need all the help they can get. But in the words of a colleague, “You’ve made people’s heads explode!” Many people who have written to me abo...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Trump, the Shutdown and 2020

We don't know when the government shutdown over Trump's border wall will end. But one thing we do know: unless the political dynamic around the shutdown changes dramatically, Trump is probably hurting his bid for re-election.
Consider the facts, as laid out in two recent pieces by Nate Cohn for the New York Times and by Ron Brownstein for the Atlantic.
"There has been little polling since the government shutdown began last month, but what there is indicates that voters oppose a border wall, blame the president for the shutdown, believe the shutdown will have adverse consequences and don’t believe the government should be shut down over the wall.
The wall has consistently been unpopular, with voters opposed by around a 20-point margin over months of national surveys. That makes it even less popular than the president himself....
It’s hard to see how the issue can be used to help him win re-election. Midterm exit poll data, election results, voter file data and pre-election polls indicate that the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent in states worth at least 317 electoral votes (270 are needed to win)....
Data from the Fox News Voter Analysis of the midterms, a new competitor to the traditional exit polls, indicated that a majority of voters opposed the wall in states worth nearly 400 electoral votes, including in several states where the president’s approval rating was above water in the poll, like Ohio and Florida....[T]he wall [also] isn’t popular in Michigan..Pennsylvania [or Wisconsin], important battleground states...
Tying the [wall] to an unpopular shutdown seems particularly unlikely to help and, historically, voters tend to drift against the policy preferences of the president’s party.... [T]here is not much reason to think that the base, alone, is enough for the president to win re-election in a one-on-one race against a viable Democratic candidate. This could change. It has before. But with the midterms over, this is now the central political challenge facing the president. By that measure, it’s hard to see where a shutdown over the wall fits in."
Brownstein finds it equally difficult to see anything but a negative payoff for Trump in the wall-shutdown dynamic. He notes particularly the way in which this dynamic tends to push wall opponents, a significant number of whom actually Trump in 2016, away from the GOP or third party voting and towards the Democrats.
"After two years of arguing for the wall as president, Trump has shown no ability to expand its popularity. In 10 national polls conducted during his presidency, Quinnipiac University has never found support for the wall higher than 43 percent....
]T]here’s evidence that the voters hostile to the wall, and to many other aspects of Trump’s tenure, are less willing to give him the benefit of the doubt now than they were in 2016....Trump’s position among wall opponents has eroded dramatically....
In the [2016] exit poll, 18 percent of the college-educated whites who opposed the wall voted for Trump anyway, according to figures provided by Edison Research. But now, far fewer express support for Trump in general. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, just 3 percent of these voters approved of Trump’s job performance, according to data provided by Quinnipiac. Ninety-two percent disapproved.
Likewise, just over one-fourth of non-college-educated whites who opposed the wall still voted for Trump in 2016. But in the latest Quinnipiac survey, only 9 percent of these whites approved of Trump’s performance, while 83 percent disapproved. In all, fully 88 percent of Americans who oppose the wall say they disapprove of Trump’s performance as president.
Approval ratings correlate closely with the reelection vote for incumbent presidents....Trump’s relentless effort to cement the loyalty and stoke the outrage of his strongest supporters, compounded by his volatile behavior in office, is building a wall between him and the ambivalent voters who provided him critical support in 2016 (or at least withheld it from Clinton by splintering to third-party candidates).....
Trump’s monomania on the border wall shows that he remains fixated on the priorities and resentments of his core coalition. But even a 30-foot barrier probably wouldn’t protect him in 2020 if he allows the waves of discontent to continue rising among the majority of Americans who don’t consider themselves part of that ardent club."
If you like, go back and overlay these data on the Cook electoral college ratings I posted about yesterday. It's not a pretty picture for Mr. Trump. Getting to 270 in 2020 was never going to be easy for him. He's now making it even harder.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Early Electoral College Ratings

Well, since Democratic Presidential candidates are declaring right and left, it's time to thinking about how the 2020 electoral college might shape up. Cook Political Report is out with their first state by state ratings and they're quite interesting.
They put five states into their toss up column, the "Rustbelt three" of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin plus Arizona and Florida.
There are 21 states with a total of 232 EVs in lean to solid Democratic categories.They put four states into lean Democratic, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada. And two states are put into the bluer column of likely Democratic: Colorado and Virginia.
It's worth dwelling on the designation for Virginia. It really has been a rapid shift for the state from reliably Republican to its ever-deepening shade of blue. Along these lines, Catalist's analysis of Virginia's 2018 Senate contest and comparison to other recent elections is worth looking at. They find:
"Kaine’s reelection to the US Senate in this still-purple state was never really close, with estimates from pollsters and pundits eventually converging on a predicted outcome of “Safe D” early in the election cycle. Kaine made good on that prediction, beating Republican challenger Corey Stewart by a margin of 16 points. Beyond statewide success in 2018, down-ballot Democrats flipped 3-out-of-4 targeted Red to Blue congressional districts (VA-02, VA-07, and VA-10, with VA-05 being the only near miss).
Kaine’s reelection, combined with additional Democratic victories across the state in 2018, illustrate three important dynamics about the current state of play in Virginia:
* Demographics have been moving the state from purple to blue
* Improvements in support among suburban voters have accelerated this movement — statewide and at the congressional level
* And the potential to establish progressive inroads with historically challenging groups such as rural voters and whites without a college degree."
More on the Rustbelt three soon.
Here it is. Our first pass at the 2020 Electoral College ratings. These ratings take into consideration the 2016 and 2018 results as well as what we’ve learned about the political coalitions that currently make-up the Trump and Democratic bases. Obviously, what we don’t know — the political an...

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Crisis of Globalization

A very interesting interview on Social Europe with Mark Blyth, author of the terrific book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (which if you haven't read, you should!)
I don't agree by any stretch with everything Blyth has to say, but he is provocative in a good way and well worth reading through to the end of the interview. I was particularly tickled with his pronouncements on the German SPD, which he pronounces dead. Passed on! No more! Ceased to be! Expired and gone to meet their maker! Stiff! Bereft of life! Rest in peace!
"Well, the first thing that [social democrats] should do, to quote—I think it was Planck, the physicist, that said this—‘Society evolves one funeral at a time.’ Let them die. I think you’ve got to start from scratch. When I had to give a speech at the SPD [Stiftung] in 2016 I said: ‘You are two electoral cycles from extinction.’ And I think I was exactly right. You might get three. But they’re dead. So there’s no point in trying to renovate something that’s dead.
What you can do is you can do what Corbyn did, although he’s not doing much with it, which is to take the dead husk of the Labour Party, in a kind of free-leveraged buy-out—take it over, build a whole new membership and then run it from the inside out. Until you assemble [in Germany] some kind of red-red-green coalition, you’re not going to stand in the way of the nationalists [in Alternative für Deutschland].....
I think that [reform of the neoliberal system] can be done if there’s activism to try and do it—if basically remnants of the progressive forces actually realise that unless they hang together they will definitely hang apart. And we’re really at that moment. Germany is the classic example for this again. If you had done red-red-green six or seven years ago we could have been in a completely different space now, but it wasn’t done. If you can reconfigure that now you can offer an effective opposition to AfD, but if you can’t then you won’t, because the SPD is dead. And that’s a choice that’s facing lots of countries.
This is not a counsel of despair. I have zero faith in the incumbents. They’ve had 10 years to fix it. They resuscitated the system with a massive liquidity injection. Didn’t change anything. And it turns out the world has changed and those structures don’t fit anymore.
Humans are incredibly adaptive, and when we’re faced with crises, as we are—environmental and inequality—there can be various responses. Just now what we see is the exclusionary nationalist response but that doesn’t have to be the only one. We are totally masters of our destiny here.
My point is this: if you’re waiting for a bunch of superannuated, septuagenarian social democrats to save your arse start looking elsewhere."
Whoa. Tell us what you really think Mark! But you know what--he's probably right. Those folks are not in fact going to save our arse. It's up to (gulp) us instead.
How the neoliberalisation of capitalism has wrought populism, Brexit and other disasters waiting to happen

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Immigration and the Left

Sheri Berman, writing on the Social Europe site, has a challenging article about immigration and the left. She argues that:
"The main challenges facing the left and Western democracies more generally fall into two core categories: economic and social. In recent years a general consensus emerged regarding the former that the left had moved too far in a neoliberal direction and needed to shift course, directly attacking rising inequality, and declining social mobility and strengthening the welfare state. Yet there has been no similar reassessment of the left’s position on social issues, particularly immigration and national identity. Indeed, even suggesting that reassessment is necessary often provokes a backlash."
This seems right to me and she goes on to note the backlash to Hilary Clinton's comments on the issue, which should have been uncontroversial to anyone reasonably closely tethered to political reality. Clinton said "Europe [needs] to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame" of right wing populism and that obviously not everyone who wants to immigrate to the West can be allowed to. But it was not uncontroversial and she was pilloried for giving aid and comfort to the far right.
Berman says "[s]uch responses hinder rather than help the left deal with the threat from the right because they dismiss rather than address voters’ concerns." I think she is right. As she notes, voters have a wide range of both economic and social concerns; the left will gain nothing from airily dismissing them all as the ravings of unreconstructed racist reactionaries. As she puts it:
"Addressing these concerns is not equivalent to adopting or “normalising” the xenophobia or racism of the populist right. There is a distinction between shunning populist parties and dismissing the grievances they exploit. It is the job of parties of the left, and democracy more generally, to provide explanations of and solutions to societal problems and dissatisfaction. In the past, the tendency to ignore or denigrate concerns about immigration and national identity has done little to halt populism’s growth; indeed, it may have facilitated it by allowing populists to exploit these issues even further.
Fortunately, a “backlash against the backlash” against engaging in these issues is developing. Alongside the interventions by Blair, Clinton, Renzi and Nagle, John Judis, Francis Fukuyama, William Galston, Michael Bröning and others have recently written thoughtful books and articles on immigration and national identity. The left needs to engage the ideas and policy suggestions raised by these and other authors and the fears and concerns of their voters and citizens more generally, rather than dismissing them. A distinguishing feature of populist voters is a conviction that politicians, parties and governments are not responsive to them. To counter this conviction in general and fears of immigration and threats to national identities in particular, the left needs to develop distinctive, positive and viable responses to immigration to counter the dystopian ones offered by the right. If it does not, it simply allowing the right to define and drive the debate."
We shall see how far the backlash against the backlash gets. But it seems undeniable to me that fresh thinking is called for in this area. As the last few years demonstrate, the issue will continue to provide fodder for the right until the left has better answers for people's concerns than they have today.
Sheri Berman contends that the the left needs to develop distinct and feasible responses to immigration to counter the populists' dystopian visions.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

How Did Jon Tester Get Re-Elected?

As you may recall, Jon Tester's re-election in Montana did not exactly seem like a sure thing. This was a state that Hillary Clinton lost by 20 points in 2016.
In the end, Tester pulled out his re-election by 3.5 points over Republican Matt Rosendale. How'd he do it?
Catalist recently dropped a detailed synthetic analysis of the 2018 Montana Senate election--one of their invaluable series they are posting on Medium--along with comparable time series data going back to 2008. These data make clear the basis of Tester's victory.
As summarized in the Medium piece, Tester triumphed by:
* "In an environment of lagging Republican enthusiasm, converting a significant share of the Republicans who did vote, along with many Independent voters, to support him
* Maximizing his support among more traditional elements of the Democratic coalition, including young voters, single voters, and those in urban areas
* Mitigating historical deficits among more challenging audiences, including voters without a college degree and voters in rural communities"
Repeating a pattern we've seen in a number of other states, Tester actually got a bigger pro-Democratic swing (relative to 2016) among white noncollege voters than among white college voters and a bigger swing among rural than among non-rural voters. Given the demographic composition of Montana, where rural and especially white noncollege voters dominate, that's pretty darn important!
These data can be fruitfully perused along with Andy Levison's essay on the three notions Democrats must discard to be successful in 2020 (previous posted).
About this website
Note: This post is the second in a series of posts analyzing the 2018 election using the Catalist voter registration database, survey data…

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Dani Rodrik to the Left: Go Big or Go Home!

Dani Rodrk has some stern words for today's left who, he believes, are being outplayed by the right and--at least until recently--haven't seemed like much of an alternative. I agree. It's time to put a real alternative in play, rather than simply try to soften the edges of today's under-performing, highly unequal economic model.
Rodrik explains:
"The main political beneficiaries of the social and economic fractures wrought by globalization and technological change, it is fair to say, have so far been right-wing populists....
The left and progressive groups have been largely missing in action. The left’s relative weakness partly reflects the decline of unions and organized labor groups, which have historically formed the backbone of leftist and socialist movements. But ideological abdication has also played an important role. As parties of the left became more dependent on educated elites instead of the working class, their policy ideas aligned more closely with financial and corporate interests.
The remedies on offer from mainstream leftist parties remained correspondingly limited: more spending on education, improved social-welfare policies, a bit more progressivity in taxation, and little else. The left’s program was more about sugarcoating the prevailing system than addressing the fundamental sources of economic, social, and political inequities.
There is now growing recognition that tax-and-transfer policies can go only so far. While there is much room for improving social insurance and tax regimes, especially in the US, deeper reforms are needed to help level playing fields in favor of ordinary workers and families across a broad range of domains. That means focusing on product, labor, and financial markets, on technology policies, and on the rules of the political game.
Inclusive prosperity cannot be achieved by simply redistributing income from the rich to the poor, or from the most productive parts of the economy to less productive sectors. It requires less-skilled workers, smaller firms, and lagging regions to be more fully integrated with the most advanced parts of the economy."
After describing what a more robust left approach might consist of, he concludes:
"The Democratic Party will face a critical test in the next US presidential election, less than two years away. In the meantime, it has a choice to make. Will it remain the party of merely adding sweeteners to an unjust economic system? Or does it have the courage to address unfair inequality by attacking it at its roots?"
We shall see. Stay tuned for 2020!
In the face of resurgent right-wing populism, the left’s relative weakness partly reflects the decline of unions and organized labor groups, which have historically formed the backbone of leftist and socialist movements. But four decades of ideological abdication has also played an important role.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Getting Serious about Strategy

The 2020 election could be a very good one for the Democrats. The 2018 election exposed the vulnerabilities of Trump and the Trumpified GOP and Democrats made significant gains both inside and outside their core constituencies.
It's a good setup but it's a long way to the actual election. A lot could happen, not least strategic errors that could derail all the promise.
Let's not do that. As my old friend Andy Levison argues, it's time to get serious about strategy. To that end, he offers an excellent new essay, "Democrats: we need to get serious about political strategy for 2020--and that means putting aside the simplistic debates that now dominate the discussion". Long title but he delivers a lot of great content in this compact, empirically-informed piece.
Levison argues:
"There are three simplistic notions that Democrats should put aside in order to begin serious strategic planning for 2020.
That elections are in essence contests between "good guys" (i.e. progressive demographic groups) and "bad guys" (i.e. conservative demographic groups).
* That increasing turnout is a "magic bullet" for winning elections.
* That campaigns should always heavily prioritize investing money and resources in "the Democratic base"--not only because those groups "deserve" it but also because they produce the most votes for the money.
* Democratic candidates and grass-roots activists need to forcefully resist the temptation to think in this way because it profoundly distorts the important, genuinely strategic kind of planning that candidates and campaigns urgently need to do in order to build effective organizations in specific states and congressional districts for 2020.
Let's face it, in the popular journalistic metaphor that describes some political strategies as either "playing checkers" or "playing chess," these three notions must be seen as falling in the first category rather than the second."
I agree with Levison. These three notions have got to go! For more detail on how and why these notions are so very, very wrong, I urge you to read the whole essay.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Green New Deal and Economic Growth

I wrote about a Green New Deal (GND) a few days ago and ended my comments by noting that the GND makes some progress toward bringing economic and climate change issues together, which is important. However, the GND's approach to economics seems mostly focused on linking the GND to job creation and full employment.
This is laudable but it does leave aside the question of economic growth. I think that's a mistake. The GND can and should be sold as a growth program because an effective approach to the clean energy transition (full employment, massive public investment) both needs and should facilitate strong growth.
It is odd that the left does not stress this connection more than it does. This may have something to do with prevalence of anti-growth sentiments in some of the greener parts of the left. These sentiments could not be more misguided.
The basis for these views has been well-summarized by technologist Ramez Naam, author of the book, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet:
"The world is facing incredibly serious natural resource and environmental challenges: Climate change, fresh water depletion, ocean over-fishing, deforestation, air and water pollution, the struggle to feed a planet of billions.
All of these challenges are exacerbated by ever rising demand -– over the next 40 years estimates are that demand for fresh water will rise 50%, demand for food will rise 70%, and demand for energy will nearly double –- all in the same period that we need to tackle climate change, depletion of rivers and aquifers, and deforestation."
All of these problems are tied in one way or another to economic growth. So, logically, if we want to stop the problems shouldn’t we just stop or even reverse economic growth? Naam rejects this logic despite fully embracing the scale of the problems we face. His first reason is that stopping growth would not work morally or practically.
It would not work morally, Naam argues, because most of future growth will benefit people whose living standards are far below those in the developed world. To tell these people to forego the benefits of economic growth, when those in the developed world have already received those benefits, is grossly unfair. As Naam points out :
"Roughly one billion people alive today on the planet have access to automobiles, air conditioners, and central heat. The other six billion do not. Two billion lack access to a toilet. One billion lack access to electricity. The bulk of the growth to come over the next few decades – in global GDP, in energy consumption, in CO2 emissions, in food consumption, in water use – will all come from the developing world. That growth isn’t trivial. It isn’t about building McMansions or driving SUVs. It is, by and large, growth that reflects the aspirations of billions of people around the world to rise to a level of comfort that nearly everyone in the rich world – even those we consider poor – enjoy. A path forward that doesn’t allow room for billions to rise out of poverty and to at least this modicum of comfort is not a very appealing one."
And stopping growth would definitely not work practically. Even if we could stop growth in the developed world, how are we to stop those in the developing world who want to consume more from doing so? Short of enforcing austerity in the developing world, we can’t do that.
Naam’s second reason is that stopping growth is not necessary. The resources—water, food, energy, etc.–available to humanity greatly outstrip the potential needs of our population, not only today but in the future. The problem lies in accessing those resources in an economically feasible and environmentally sustainable way. That in turn depends on innovation, both technological and economic.
Take energy and, by extension, climate change. The price of solar energy is coming down fast; a watt of solar power today costs only 5 percent of what it cost in 1980. But it’s still too expensive to out-compete fossil fuels, even setting aside, for the moment, the storage problem. The solution: massive investment in clean energy R&D (the US currently invests only $5 billion a year in this, actually less than it invested in the 1980’s) and a carbon tax to encourage clean energy use and accelerate innovation. As Naam puts it :
"The fundamental driver here is economics. Consumers, businesses, and industry want energy. They need energy. That’s true everywhere in the world. And they will buy whatever sort of energy is cheapest. Indeed, if a new source of energy is sufficiently cheaper than the old, consumers will switch their energy consumption from the old to the new.
If we want to win the race against climate change, one thing matters more than all others: make renewable energy (including storage) cheap. Dirt cheap. And do it fast."
Naam makes similar arguments about challenges in the areas of water and food: the solution is not to stop growth but to innovate and to do it fast. In this, he joins such “green growth” advocates as Ralf Fücks, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and a leading member of the German Green Party, whose book Green Growth, Smart Growth lays out a number of ideas similar to Naam’s. This is indicative of a new attitude toward economic growth among some sectors of the green left in Europe.
Will that happen here? We shall see. Meanwhile, instead of arguments for growth, we are more likely to hear arguments for "degrowth" from green activists, on the belief that, on our current trajectory, we cannot possibly continue to grow and hit reasonable climate targets. On this view, a growing economy has not and will not produce needed technological and policy changes fast enough. Therefore, we simply must put the machine in reverse.
This is misguided on many levels, not least of which is its utter political impracticality. But it also underestimates the degree to which desired changes are, in fact, possible within our current system and with economic growth. This "conditional optimist" argument is well-made by energy economist Michael Grubb in a paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET). As Grubb puts it: [R]adical decarbonization will...not be possible without increasing the size of the economy, fueled and funded by a new industrial revolution in energy and its efficient use."
The paper is a bit technical but well worth reading in its entirety. There is a also a good article on Vox by David Roberts summarizing his and other conditional optimist arguments.
A response to economists who doubt our capacity to decarbonize while maintaining robust growth