Saturday, August 31, 2019

No, It Is Not Normal for Trump To Be So Far Behind

Harry Enten has dug into the data archives to show that Trump is showing unprecedented weakness against his possible opponents. It's common to dismiss Trump's current trail heat performances as not meaning anything or even being normal for incumbents at this point in the cycle. They're not.
"The Quinnipiac poll was the second probability poll that meets CNN standards and was conducted in August which found Trump down by at least 5 points against all his most likely challengers. In both the Fox News poll out earlier this month and Quinnipiac's latest, he trailed his most likely challenger, Biden, by double-digits. In fact, in an average of all the August polls (those that meet CNN standards and not), Biden was up by a 49% to 39% margin.
We're still over a year away from the 2020 general election, so don't take these polls to the bank.
Still, it's worth pointing out the historically bad position Trump is in. No incumbent president has ever polled this poorly against his likely challengers at this point in the campaign.
I went all the way back to World War II era in the Roper Center archive to see how presidents were polling at this point against their eventual challengers. I selected the worst poll for the incumbent if there was more than one poll taken in order to give Trump the most generous comparison. In years in which no polls were taken in August the year before the election (i.e. when the last poll for 2020 was conducted), I chose the poll taken closest to this point.
What's clear is the vast majority of incumbents were ahead at this point in the campaign: nine of the 11 were ahead. And for the average incumbent, they led their eventual challenger by 12 points at this point.
Again, Trump trails Biden by 10 points in the average August poll. Trump has not been ahead of Biden in a single national poll taken this entire cycle.
Only two of 11 incumbents in past years, Jimmy Carter in 1979 and Barack Obama in 2011, were behind at this point. They were down by 4 points and 1 point respectively to their eventual challengers (Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney). Carter went to lose reelection. Obama went on to win with a small reelection margin -- and there were many polls at this point that had him ahead. (Remember, I'm looking at the worst poll for past incumbents.)
Put another way, Trump's worst poll against any of the top five Democrats at this point is 5 points worse than the worst poll for any incumbent since World War II against his eventual challenger. It's 12 points worse against his most likely challenger, Biden."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Speaking of Popularity, Trump Isn't

Axios has a nice chart of Morning Consult data showing, for all potential 2020 battleground states, the comparison between Trump's net approval rating (approval minus disapproval) in January, 2017 and his net approval rating today. Not a pretty picture for the Trump campaign
Note Trump's poor net approval ratings in the Democrats' top four target states, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Note the even worse net approval ratings in the four states the Trump campaign claims it will target to "expand the map"--New Hampshire, Minnesota, New Mexico and Nevada. If that's their plan for playing offence, it does not seem promising.
About this website
He's lost ground in the states that will decide the 2020 election.

Et Tu, White Noncollege Voters?

Say what you will about early polls and trial heats....but this is pretty bad news for Team Trump. Note especially Trump's small advantage among white noncollege voters--just 6 points against Biden. That is a very very bad figure for Trump. The margin in this poll illustrates just how much Trump depends on white noncollege support and how badly off he could be if it comes in soft on election day.
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About this website
Trump trails his potential 2020 opponents by his widest margin yet, and for the first time more Americans say the economy is getting worse than getting better.

Waves of Inequality

I recently flagged the forthcoming Binyamin Appelbaum book, The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets and the Fracture of Society. But that's hardly the only interesting book coming out on the rise of inequality. I recommend this review essay by Liaquat Ahamed in the New Yorker which discusses not only the Appelbaum book but also Branko Milanovic's forthcoming Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World. Ahamed does a good job of weaving together the themes of the Appelbaum and Milanovic book with past trends in inequality and future challenges.
I am especially looking forward to the Mianovic book.
"In [his previous book] “Global Inequality,” Milanovic traced the fluctuations of inequality back to the Middle Ages in Holland, Spain, and Italy, and showed that inequality has been going up and down in long and unpredictable waves ever since, responding to various contending forces.....
In “Capitalism, Alone,” Milanovic turns from the past to the future. With the rise of the emerging economies of Asia, he says, we now have two alternative forms of capitalism operating side by side. One is the “liberal meritocratic” version found in the West, and championed by the United States. The other is “political capitalism,” the less democratic and more authoritarian variant, which has taken shape, most notably, in China. Like all schematics, this one elides a lot of details, but it provides a useful conceptual frame.
In the “liberal meritocratic” world, inequality arises from the way capital is accumulated. The rich are able to save more than the poor, and thus come to own a disproportionate share of the capital and the wealth in the economy. Since the return on capital, a major source of income for the rich, tends to be higher than the growth of wages, the rich become richer. Almost as potent is the way the benefits of education are distributed: rich people tend to be more highly trained, and can earn higher salaries; they are also able to earn higher returns on their capital, since their wealth gives them greater tolerance for illiquidity and risk. In addition, they tend to marry other rich, educated people and are able to pass on more capital to their children, thereby perpetuating inequalities from one generation to the next.
The “political capitalism” of China has its own inequality-generating dynamics. Although China has become capitalist to the core—almost eighty per cent of the country’s industrial output is produced in the private sector—the commercial classes are under the thumb of a highly disciplined, autocratic bureaucracy. The rule of law is attenuated, decision-making can be arbitrary, property rights are not fully secure, and corruption is endemic. China is essentially going through a hugely accelerated version of the industrial revolution and the Gilded Age rolled into one. Add in the insidious impact of cronyism, and a very unequal society results. Income distribution in China, it turns out, is even more skewed than in the United States, approaching the sort of levels one finds in the plutocratic republics of Latin America....
Milanovic...belongs to a new generation of data-driven economists who have helped track what has happened to income distribution in recent years. They happen to include an unusually large band of French economists, among them François Bourguignon, Thomas Philippon, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman—it’s not for nothing that they come from the land of égalité and fraternité.
The cohort of European economists, including Milanovic and the French brigade, are following in the footsteps of Tocqueville. They have been able to hold up a mirror so that we Americans can better see ourselves. They’ve also succeeded in focussing public attention on the issue of inequality. They consciously moved away from quantifying inequality with opaque statistics such as the Gini coefficient, and instead popularized more readily understandable measures, like the share of income going to the very, very rich. The phrases “the top one per cent” and its obverse, “the ninety-nine per cent,” became potent political rallying cries during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, and concern for the problem hasn’t dissipated. Inequality is a major political issue in the lead-up to the 2020 Presidential election; Democratic candidates are airing proposals for wealth taxes, steeper income taxes, more biting inheritance taxes, and a better social safety net. That’s another heartening reminder of the power of ideas to shape the course of history."
Get your pre-order in now! Pub date, October 15.
About this website
Inequality comes in waves. The question is when this one will break.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Political Scientists and the 2016 Election

In the ongoing debate about rise of Trump and the nature of Trump voting, one common position is that Trumpism is about race and racism pure and simple; economic factors played no role. In this regard, the work of political scientists--the dominant strand at any rate--has been key in promoting this interpretation.
Probably the best summary and extension of this work is the book Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America by John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck. The book provides a very careful sifting indeed of all the available individual-level survey data. This is useful but it is not without some problems.
This is because, by and large, individual level survey data tend to turn up the strongest relationships between Trump/populist voting and various immigration/racial attitudes, not economic concerns. This of course is the data the authors use.
However, aggregate, geographical data tend to show strong relationships between various economic/demographic indicators of economic stress/negative economic change and Trump/populist voting. So two types of data, two quite different findings and implications. The book does not really resolve this analytical tension.
Ryan Cooper has a lengthy and insightful review of Identity Crisis on the Nation site, where he raises this point and others. It is well worth a read.
"[D]irect pocketbook effects are not the only route by which someone’s politics might be changed as a result of shifting economic conditions. For one thing, even if an individual is doing fine, that person’s friends or family might not be. More broadly, general economic malaise can make communities seem troubled and thus change a person’s political views, even if his or her paychecks keep coming. Likewise, an economic crisis on the scale of the 2008 financial meltdown might discredit traditional politicians and policies and raise the stature of outsiders peddling unorthodox solutions. It might also drive people toward cultural prejudice, including a politics of tribalism and racism, in its wake.....
Suppose we grant, for the sake of argument, that Trump’s support stems primarily from racial animus. Does this rule out the possibility that the racial animus itself may be fueled by economic problems? On the individual level, when times are hard, people can resort—and often have—to bigotry and racial prejudice. In such circumstances, demagogic politicians may emerge to heighten and exploit those feelings, scapegoating minorities for economic troubles and stoking the underlying racism. ....
The authors of Identity Crisis bring up this angle briefly, noting that “when economic concerns are politically potent, the prism of identity is often present.” But this potentially fruitful line of inquiry goes almost completely unexplored. In their analysis, racism seemingly exists outside the social and economic forces that might give it strength and never plays its own role in bolstering a political or economic system.
There is also the internal dialectic of Republican Party politics. The GOP has long coupled its racist politics with a laissez-faire economic program calling for low taxes, free trade, and deregulation. The 2008 financial crisis hugely dented the credibility of such a policy, even among the right’s voting base, and so as the GOP’s economic policies have lost popularity, the party has, consciously or unconsciously, ramped up its racism and culture-war bigotry in order to compensate.
A similar pattern has been seen in much of the North Atlantic. A 2015 paper coauthored by Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick, and Christoph Trebesch that examined 140 years of political history in 20 advanced countries (including more than 800 elections) found that financial crises are associated with a 30 percent rise, on average, in the vote share of extreme-right parties. It’s impossible, of course, to establish a perfect causal explanation for such a huge data set, but are we really to believe that every single one of those countries had a purely coincidental postcrisis outbreak of racism and extremism? The study’s authors certainly think otherwise, writing that these crises likely fueled racist scapegoating: “Voters seem to be particularly attracted to the political rhetoric of the extreme right, which often attributes blame to minorities or foreigners.”....
t remains a bit of a mystery why the authors of Identity Crisis are so fixated on trying to prove that there were not multiple factors that led to Trump’s election. No one is denying the roles that racism and the media played, but why can’t growing economic inequality and the difficult circumstances produced by the 2008 financial crisis have played a significant role as well? One reason may be that the broad liberal professional class—including much of academia—was heavily invested in Clinton’s candidacy and felt profoundly humiliated when she lost. Arguing that Trump won because of media malpractice and an embittered white America alleviates them of the need to do any other soul-searching. They do not have to ask whether the Democratic Party chose the wrong candidate or ran a poor campaign; they do not have to wonder if, by abandoning working-class Americans—white, black, and brown—over the last several decades, the Democrats have managed to turn voters away. Another reason may be the development of an anti-populist ideology within political science...which argues that policy of any kind is almost totally irrelevant to electoral outcomes because voters are too ignorant and tribalist to understand how programs might benefit them personally....
Whatever the sources of the recent myopia among political scientists, it is very important for the Democratic coalition not to lose sight of the political value of progressive economic policy or the political danger of failing to deliver it in times of economic crisis. If we consider the outbreak of extreme-right politics around the world over the last decade—from Brazil and the United States to the European Union, Turkey, and beyond—it simply beggars belief to conclude that the worst financial crisis in 80 years and the badly botched response to it that followed were not somehow involved. There is a good book to be written about the complicated links between financial crises, bigotry, and racism. Identity Crisis is not it."
About this website
While their evidence about the racism of many American voters is indisputable, their attempt to discount the role economics plays in this racism and in voting behavior in general is unconvincing.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

It's the Economists, Stupid!

I found this article blasting mainstream economists of interest. Not so much because it told me anything new; I am quite familiar with the critiques Benyamin Appelbaum levels in this essay, which is adapted from his forthcoming book, The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets and the Fracture of Society. But it's interesting that Appelbaum is a member of the New York Times editorial board and felt moved to write an entire book pillorying economists for giving policymakers bad advice for decades. This is a trend that should be encouraged! There are few things more important to future progress than breaking out of the economic straightjacket of the last 40 years.
"As the quarter century of growth that followed World War II sputtered to a close, economists moved into the halls of power, instructing policymakers that growth could be revived by minimizing government’s role in managing the economy. They also warned that a society that sought to limit inequality would pay a price in the form of less growth. In the words of a British acolyte of this new economics, the world needed “more millionaires and more bankrupts.”
In the four decades between 1969 and 2008, economists played a leading role in slashing taxation of the wealthy and in curbing public investment. They supervised the deregulation of major sectors, including transportation and communications. They lionized big business, defending the concentration of corporate power, even as they demonized trade unions and opposed worker protections like minimum wage laws. Economists even persuaded policymakers to assign a dollar value to human life — around $10 million in 2019 — to assess whether regulations were worthwhile.
The revolution, like so many revolutions, went too far. Growth slowed and inequality soared, with devastating consequences. Perhaps the starkest measure of the failure of our economic policies is that the average American’s life expectancy is in decline, as inequalities of wealth have become inequalities of health. Life expectancy rose for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans between 1980 and 2010. Over the same three decades, life expectancy declined for the poorest 20 percent of Americans. Shockingly, the difference in average life expectancy between poor and wealthy women widened from 3.9 years to 13.6 years.
Rising inequality also is straining the health of liberal democracy. The idea of “we the people” is fading because, in this era of yawning inequality, there is less we share in common. As a result, it is harder to build support for the kinds of policies necessary to deliver broad-based prosperity in the long term, like public investment in education and infrastructure."
About this website
Why did America listen to the people who thought we needed “more millionaires and more bankrupts?”

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the Senate Filibuster's Got to Go!

Kind of catchy huh? But more importantly, absolutely true. Ron Brownstein does the best job I've seen of making the case Democrats have no choice but to get rid of the filibuster--well, if they want to get anything done that is.
In this context, it's interesting to note that Warren has probably been the most forceful in advocating the elimination of the filibuster while Biden has been perhaps least enthusiastic (he called it "very dangerous" recently). So if it comes down to Biden vs. Warren, we could, based on current data, have a candidate who is most likely to get elected but couldn't govern vs. a candidate less likely to get elected but who could actually govern. Interesting tradeoff.
"Even if Democrats regain unified control of the White House and Congress in 2020, the fate of their ambitious legislative agenda will still likely hinge on a fundamental question: Do they try to end the Senate filibuster?
If the party chooses to keep the filibuster, it faces a daunting prospect: Democrats elected primarily by voters in states at the forefront of the country’s demographic, cultural, and economic changes will likely have their agenda blocked by Republican senators largely representing the smaller, rural states least touched by all of those changes. In fact, since the Senate gives each state two seats, the filibuster allows Republican senators from states representing only about one-fifth of the country’s population to be in a position to stymie Democratic legislation....
If Democrats take back the Senate, preserving the filibuster amounts to providing the places most resistant to America’s changes a veto over the agenda of the Democratic coalition based in the places that are most welcoming to them. In a Senate controlled by Democrats, the filibuster would effectively empower what America has been over what it is becoming."
About this website
Even if the party sweeps Congress and the White House in 2020, the Senate rule would let a faction of the reddest, whitest states stymie its agenda.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Impeach Him? Nope.

Much as some Democrats want to do this, the public is not very enthusiastic. In fact, they flat out don't want to do it.
In the latest Monmouth poll (rated A+ by 538), just 35 percent want to impeach Trump and remove him from office, compared to 59 percent who are opposed. And this is not a particularly pro-Trump poll. His approval rating in the poll is just 40 percent and his re-elect number is only 39 percent.
But voters just aren't behind the impeachment idea. Consider the crosstabs from the poll. Noncollege whites are opposed by 67-27--but so are white college graduates, 67-26. Independents are opposed 64-20, residents of swing counties by 65-26 and moderates by 55-36. Even nonwhites are only narrowly in favor, 51-44.
So, face the facts: impeachment is just not popular. Thank heavens for Nancy Pelosi who is holding the line on this issue.
About this website
Democrats want inquiry despite little likelihood of ousting Trump

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Are Democratic Candidates Coming to Their Senses?

Well, maybe (except for Bernie). Chelsea Janes and Michael Scherer report in the Post:
"The idea of Medicare-for-all — a unified government health program that would take over the basic function of private insurance — became a liberal litmus test at the outset of the presidential campaign, distinguishing Democratic contenders who cast themselves as bold visionaries from more moderate pragmatists.
But in recent months, amid polling that shows concern among voters about ending private insurance, several of the Democratic hopefuls have shifted their positions or their tone, moderating full-throated endorsement of Medicare-for-all and adopting ideas for allowing private insurance in some form.....
This unmistakable, if sometimes subtle, shift in tone stems in part from Democrats’ fear of giving away a newfound advantage over Republicans on health care."
Sensible! This gets the coveted Common Sense Democrat seal of approval. It's not like the data on this has exactly been a state secret, as detailed in the article.
"A Washington Post-ABC News poll in July found that 52 percent of Americans overall, and 77 percent of Democrats, prefer a universal health program to the current system. But support dropped to 43 percent and 66 percent, respectively, when respondents were told that it would mean eliminating private insurance.
Other surveys have found less support. About 8 in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in a Pew poll in July said the federal government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage, but less than half said it should be through a single government plan.
And in a July poll of Iowa voters by CBS News/YouGov, two-thirds of Democrats said they preferred a government health program that competed with private insurance, compared with 34 percent who favored one that replaced private insurance entirely."
I encourage the candidates to keep on paying attention to the actually-existing views of the actually-existing American people. It works wonders.
About this website
Kamala Harris’s switch on health care highlights a broader move by Democrats to soften their initial enthusiasm for a sweeping government health plan.