Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Great Moving Left Show

I know this will be misinterpreted as me saying everything's great and no one needs to bestir themselves to get rid of Trump and otherwise try to improve the country and the world.
But a clear-eyed look at the historical record does suggest that America has been moving to the left and we're a better country for it (despite Trump, etc etc). It seems to me that confidence in the reality of social improvement should serve as a motivator in these troubled political times. It is not only possible to improve things, we've already done it in many, many ways!
This is the case Lane Kenworthy makes in a couple of articles on the Post's Monkey Cage blog. I am a fan of Kenworthy's meticulous empirical work and I highly recommend his books Social Democratic America and the just-published Social Democratic Capitalism. If you read them, you will become a wiser person.
"The Democratic Party has moved left in recent years. Evidence from 2000, 2004 and 2008 suggests that until then, the party’s positions on a wide range of issues were like those of many center-right parties in other rich democracies. But starting in 2012, the Democrats began shifting left — and by 2016, were more in line with center-left parties elsewhere. In the current Democratic presidential primary, the front-runners’ proposals — including those of centrist former vice president Joe Biden — are to the left of the party’s 2016 positions. That’s consistent with the views of Democratic voters, who have also shifted left.
But Democratic voters are hardly outliers. On cultural issues and government social programs, the United States as a whole has been moving left for decades....
1. Affluent societies shift left on cultural issues
Many observers believe the United States is in an endless culture war, with neither progressives nor conservatives gaining a lasting advantage. That’s not so. Every noteworthy cultural shift over the past half-century — on race, gender roles, families, sexual orientation, gender presentation, drugs and more — has moved the country in the direction of greater personal freedom. Not only Democrats have moved to left; Republicans have, too. While abortion might seem an exception, public opinion on this issue hasn’t shifted to the right, and Americans’ growing access to “medical” abortion via the mifepristone and misoprostol pills — which were used for 39 percent of abortions in 2017, up from 1 percent in 2000 — has helped offset new restrictions on surgical abortions in conservative states...
2. Well-off countries tend to offer more public benefits
Rising affluence also brings more expansive and generous government social programs. The higher someone’s income, the more insurance they are generally willing to buy to minimize potential loss. Governments are the most efficient source of some kinds of insurance. Think of income in old age: Voluntary savings clubs could help people set money aside for retirement, but a public pension program does that more effectively and efficiently. So as countries get richer the welfare state tends to grow.
That includes the United States’ welfare state, which has kept expanding, if slowly — even through the Reagan era and beyond. True, the United States now offers less money to fewer people through its main assistance program for poor families: TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC, or Aid to Families With Dependent Children.
But at the same time, the U.S. government has expanded many other programs. The average Social Security benefit, adjusted for inflation, increased from $11,500 in 1980 to $17,000 in 2017. The Earned Income Tax Credit, a program created in 1975 to boost the income of low-earning households, has been expanded to cover 23 percent of Americans, up from 8 percent in 1980. Its two main disability benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), reach 5 percent of Americans, up from 2 percent in 1980. Medicare and Medicaid now insure about 40 percent of Americans, double the share in 1980.
Aggregate indicators paint a similar picture. Among households in the bottom fifth of incomes, the average amount of government transfers received minus taxes paid, adjusted for inflation, rose from $7,300 in the 1980s to $9,400 in the 2010s. Government expenditures on social programs rose from 13 percent of GDP in 1980 to 19 percent in 2018.
3. The American public dislikes ‘big government’ but likes social programs
Many Americans dislike the idea of big government. Between 55 and 75 percent regularly say they agree that “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful,” according to the Pew Research Center. But once new social programs are enacted, Americans tend to support them....
America hasn’t moved to the left on all issues. But the country’s progressive turn on cultural issues and government social programs is real, long-run, broad-based and unsurprising....
Over the past half-century, Americans’ beliefs and the country’s policies have shifted leftward on an array of cultural issues. The United States has also expanded government social programs, and nearly all such programs are solidly supported by a broad swath of the U.S. population. On top of this, in the past decade, the Democratic Party has been moving left in its policy commitments.
This progressive turn is likely to endure. Once norms and laws favoring tolerance, personal freedom and a big welfare state get institutionalized and don’t have significant adverse side effects, citizens become accustomed to them, making them hard to reverse. Further, getting major policy changes through the U.S. political system is difficult, so once new social programs are enacted, they are hard to dilute or eliminate."

Friday, November 29, 2019

White Voters, The Rustbelt Blue Wall States and 2020

It's fair to say that the three Blue Wall states Donald Trump carried in the Rustbelt--Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin--plus Minnesota, which he almost carried, will be the central to the outcome in 2020. It's also fair to say that the behavior of the white electorates in these states--80-85 percent of eligible voters--will be central to individual outcomes in these states.
So: here are some facts to keep in mind when thinking about the Democratic nominee and Democratic strategy in these states.
1. In 2018, Democratic victories in these states were overwhelmingly driven by shifts among white voters away from 2016 support of Trump. There were pro-Democratic shifts of 15 points in 2018 Senate elections, 13 points in 2018 gubernatorial elections and 9 points in 2018 House elections.
2. These shifts were a great deal larger than shifts toward the Democrats among nonwhite voters which tended to be in the low single digits.
3. Pro-Democratic shifts were substantial among white noncollege voters, 13 points in 2018 Senate elections, 11 points in 2018 gubernatorial elections and 5 points in 2018 House elections. Shifts were even larger among white college voters, though they were a smaller proportion of white voters (around a third).
4. Most nonvoters in these states are white--around three-quarters--and, of these white nonvoters, around three-quarters are noncollege. So the white noncollege demographic figures very heavily in the nonvoter, as well as the voter, pool.
5. Pro-Democratic 2018 Shifts among white voters in these states were largest in suburban and rural areas, with shifts in rural areas actually slightly larger.
6. Trump's approval rating among noncollege white women stands at just 42% in Michigan, 43% in Wisconsin and 46% in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Why Trump Loves Rallies in Florida (and Why There Will Be Many More!)

It's pretty simple: his political life depends on winning the state.
“There is no way he wins reelection without it,” said Michael Steel, who advised former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The question is whether he can expand beyond his base and reach out to groups like the Puerto Rican community, which was vital for Senator Scott.”
One of many worries for Trump:
"Florida’s population of nonwhite young adults continues to surge and outpaces the growth of older white residents. The trends create even more uncertainty in a state already known for close elections, especially in fast-growing areas."
Getting them to vote is another matter of course, but States of Change data indicate that Florida Hispanic 18-29 year olds in 2016 were +44 for Clinton--far, far, more Democratic than other age groups of Florida Hispanics. And even white 18-29 year olds were +5 for Clinton which, trust me on this, was dramatically better than older whites, particularly those over 45.
It'll be a close one. But remember: he probably can't win without it, so he's playing defense. Time to go on offense.
About this website
The event in Sunrise near Miami reflects the president’s push to galvanize core voters ahead of next year’s election and comes after he formally switched residency to the state.

See, You Were All Worried for Nothing!

That Emerson Poll that showed Trump ahead of Biden by 2 points nationally got a lot of play, partly because it was so different from other results and partly because there were no other national horse race results released for awhile. And maybe partly because people are prone to panic.
But now there are! SurveyUSA just released national trial heat results and they have Biden ahead by 13 points! And in case folks think that maybe this is a "bad" poll and Emerson was a "good" poll, SurveyUSA is rated A and Emerson is rated A-. So, as always, watch out for outliers and focus on the running average (now Biden +10).

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

OK, I'm Calling It: The Democratic Nominee Will Run on Medicare for All Who Want It

Unless it's Bernie and that's just not going to happen. Check out the Quinnipiac Poll results below. Notice any difference between voter reaction to single payer Medicare for All and public option Medicare for All Who Want It? Yup, pretty drastic including absolutely massive swings among both white college and white noncollege between the two questions.
I just don't think any nominee, including Warren who's already backtracking, can ignore these data and associated political trends.
The Times has run two useful articles in the last few days highlighting these political trends. The first was on how the public option is drawing in voters who aren't sure about Medicare for All/single payer.
"Polls suggest that some voters have become unnerved by the price tags of the Warren and Sanders’ “Medicare for all” plans and the fact that they would abolish private health insurance. Support for such an approach has narrowed in recent months, as people have begun to understand what it would involve. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll of voters in four battleground states — Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — found that 62 percent of those who are undecided or are still persuadable believe that “a national Medicare-for-all plan that would eliminate private health insurance” is a bad idea....
If Ms. Warren was hoping for a second look from Democrats alarmed by her single-payer plan, she found one in Betsy Loughran, 79, of Tamworth, N.H. Ms. Loughran, who used to run a nonprofit social services agency, said she found Ms. Warren’s proposal for an interim public option “much more palatable, frankly” — so much so that she would now consider donating to her campaign.
“It would be no slam dunk even to get a public option through Congress,” said Ms. Loughran, adding that Ms. Warren’s full-throated support of “Medicare for all” had made her more interested in centrist candidates like Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar. “But if Elizabeth backs off and has a transition plan that would allow people to keep their private health insurance, that makes much more sense.”
The other Times article covered the many Democratic politicians and leaders who are running hard toward the public option and see Medicare for All/single payer as politically unviable in the 2020 election.
"Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has said it would be a “terrible mistake” for the party nominee to support Medicare for all, is urging Democrats to embrace a more unified message against Mr. Trump. That feels unlikely in the midst of a heated primary campaign where health care has emerged as a significant difference between the candidates.
“Democrats need to start talking about the contrast with Trump on this,” said Mr. Brown, who has not endorsed a candidate in the primary race. “The conversation should not be Democrats fighting over the path to universal coverage.”
Congressional candidates are frequently asked whether they agree with the policy; candidates in all 10 of the most competitive Senate races have said they do not support it, preferring to keep their health care message focused on expanding Medicaid, protecting the Affordable Care Act and slamming repeal efforts by Republicans."
When Sherrod Brown talks, I listen! Anyway, I think the wind is blowing pretty hard toward Medicare for All Who Want It. I expect it to carry the day.

Monday, November 25, 2019

We Already Know the Forces Moving For and Against Trump for 2020, We Just Don't Know the Net!

Ron Brownstein does a nice job laying out the forces and counterforces that will determine the outcome of the 2020 election. They are:
"The three biggest challenges looming in 2020 for Trump, many analysts agree, are:
* The recoil from his definition of the Republican Party in white-collar suburbs, including many that previously leaned toward the GOP.
* A feedback loop in which his efforts to mobilize turnout among his core supporters are producing an offsetting turnout surge among key Democratic groups, particularly African Americans.
* An unremittingly confrontational personal style that appears to be alienating a broad swath of female voters, including some of the non-college white women who helped drive his 2016 victory. That behavior was exemplified by Trump's tweet last week attacking former US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in bitterly personal terms.
Trump's principal political assets on the other side of the ledger are his success at consolidating and energizing the Republican base and deepening the GOP's dominance among white voters who live outside of major population centers, identify as evangelical Christians or lack college degrees, especially the men in each of those groups."
If I had to pick a demographic that I think will determine the 2020 result in the last instance, I would be tempted to pick white noncollege women. If his evident softness among this group translates into a lack of vote support next November, I think it'll be very hard for him to win.
"In Wisconsin polling by the Marquette University law school, Trump's approval rating among non-college white women averages just 42% through his presidency; the latest Muhlenberg College survey in Pennsylvania found that he led Democratic Joe Biden among them by just 5 percentage points (after beating Hillary Clinton by 20 points with them there in 2016, according to the exit polls). Recent state surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report likewise put Trump's approval among non-college white women at just 42% in Michigan, 43% in Wisconsin and 46% in Pennsylvania. Nationally, an average of the weekly polls conducted since July by the Nationscape project, launched by the Democracy Fund and UCLA political scientists, found that Trump's approval among non-college white women who are not evangelical Christians -- who account for most non-college white women in the Rust Belt -- stood at just 41%."
But it's still way early. Keep your eye on the trends mentioned by Brownstein but remember: it's not just the trends; it's how they net out. That's the big and, at this point, unanswerable question.
About this website
The tumultuous impeachment hearings and the string of GOP election losses this fall underline the electoral risks Republicans are courting as they allow President Donald Trump to refashion the party in his combative image.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Don't Believe the Hype: The Eurozone Is Still a Train Wreck

Ashoka Mody, author of EuroTragedy, the definitive study of Eurozone as an economic project (haven't read it--you should!), has an excellent article on the British site Spiked pointing out just how bad things still are in the Eurozone. This gives the lie to the fawning adulation of European leaders as Mario Draghi ends his 8 year term as ECB President. Draghi did not solve the European crisis; he merely enabled the crisis to limp along to its next moment of truth.
"European leaders showered glowing accolades on Draghi as he departed from his eight-year term as ECB president. The leaders paid him tribute for sticking to the mythology of the euro; namely, that it spread economic prosperity and brought member nations together in a closer political embrace. But with perhaps the exception of his celebrated ‘whatever-it-takes’ statement in July 2012, in which he pledged to save the euro – a statement that appeared to work magic only because of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s unwavering support – the rest of Draghi’s term was a continuation of the eurozone’s intrinsic economic slide, amid increasingly aggravated political tensions....
At Maastricht in 1991, as Italy’s chief representative during the negotiations for the single currency’s design and membership, Draghi pushed for Italian entry into what came to be called the eurozone. The single currency, Draghi argued, would be Italy’s vincolo esterno, an external constraint that would force wayward Italian politicians on to a narrow path of policy discipline. Nearly three decades later, the brew of political and economic dysfunction in Italy continues to churn. The anemic Italian economy has been at near stand-still for the past seven quarters. The government’s already high debt ratio is creeping up. Social stresses are bearing down on people as the unemployment rate remains stuck around 10 per cent, and most jobs on offer are on precarious, short-term contracts.
Draghi may have left on a high note, but the Italian financial crisis will be the test of his legacy. Will the ECB then have the political backing to trigger ‘unlimited’ bond purchases under OMTs? Or will the tortuous process of triggering that bazooka scare investors, adding to the panic and magnifying the financial havoc that will then run through global financial systems."
Fun, fun, fun. And Germany just narrowly avoided falling into recession. The mix looks pretty combustible and there's no solution in sight.
The EU’s European ‘dream’ is divisive, technocratic and economically disastrous.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A Socialist Revival?

My good friend and co-author John Judis has an excellent review essay in the new American Affairs where he addresses this question in the process of reviewing two newish books, Erik Olin Wright's How To Be An Anti-Capitalist and Bhaksar Sunkara's The Socialist Manifesto. The essay has a very useful discussion of what on earth do we really mean when we use the word "socialism" and what is or should be the relationship between socialism and Marxism.
"Today’s young socialists, many of whom were born after 1989, no longer think of Soviet Communism as socialism. But at the same time, many don’t share a clear alternative conception of what a socialist politics should consist in, or what socialism itself might look like. In explaining his democratic socialism, Sanders invokes Franklin Roose­velt’s New Deal and Scandinavian social democracy. Kuhnert and the DSA socialists embrace a neo-Marxist socialism that would abolish the capitalist class. That raises the question: is socialism, as currently conceived, a stark alternative to capitalism or merely a symbolic rebuke to the prevailing values and practices of capitalism—or is it something in between?
There is at present no correct answer to this question. The answer will have to come out of movements, campaigns, and candidates. It will also come from attempts by theorists to articulate and propose what a socialist politics and socialism itself should look like in the twenty-first century. Here I want to look at two recent efforts to imagine a twenty-first-century socialism: a sophisticated analytical ac­count from the late American political sociologist Erik Olin Wright, and a more engaged offering from Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin and a leading light in the DSA."
He concludes:
"Today American socialism is not a fixed idea but an expression of deep dissatisfaction with what are seen as capitalism’s values and practices. It is hard to imagine, as Marx and Engels did in the Com­munist Manifesto, a clear path from capitalism today to a socialist future. But it is helpful to understand, as Wright has contended, that the seeds of an alternative America can be—and, to some extent, may already have been—sown within American capi­talism."
Fair enough, though what Wright is essentially advocating is an advanced mixed economy with socialist characteristics. But I'm OK with that.
For extra credit, you could take a look at Alec Nove's classic The Economics of Feasible Socialism. This will help you think--really think--about what socialism has been and what it could reasonably ever be.
For extra, extra credit, you could also look at Mario Nuti's enormously long but extremely informative The Rise and Fall of Socialism that includes an exhaustive typology of different forms of socialism that we have seen over the years. Nuti, incidentally was a collaborator of Nove's.
As the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, so too, it seemed, did the dream of socialism. The German sociologist Rolf Dahrendorf declared, “The point has to be made unequivocally that socialism is dead and that none of its variants can be revived for a world awakening from the double nightmare...

Friday, November 22, 2019

No, Nominating the Most Progressive Candidate Possible Will Not Necessarily Give the Democrats a Big Turnout Advantage

G.. Elliott Morris has a good reminder of this reality in a short article in the Economist. Sorry folks, there is not a magic left wing bullet that will defeat the other side.
"A theory of elections in America has taken root among pundits, especially on the left. It holds that partisan polarisation has pushed voters so far to their ideological sides that swing voters play little role in elections. In this view, winning is all about turning out the base. The New Republic, a left-leaning publication, has gone so far as to advise Democrats to nominate more progressive candidates that can stoke turnout among the progressives in their party. Such advice is wrong-headed. Public polling and political science provide ample evidence that moderates fare better than ideologues in American elections.
For much of the past century, scholars and politicians alike have believed that courting swing voters is the quickest path to electoral victory. Under this “median-voter theory”, posited in the American context by Anthony Downs in “An Economic Theory of Democracy” in 1957, voters cast ballots for whichever candidate best matches their ideology....
{But now that partisanship is up and swing voters down], some analysts argue...elections must be primarily about catering to the parties’ ideologically extreme bases. In such a world, politicians win simply by turning out as many voters from their side as possible. But while the median-voter theory has its problems, this new hypothesis is unfounded. So-called “mobilisation theory” posits that an extremist nominee could increase turnout among its party’s voters. It fails to account for the effects that political extremity has on turnout in the other party.
According to research from Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson of Stanford, extremist candidates for the House of Representatives between 2006 and 2014 did increase turnout in their own party, but they galvanised the other party’s voters even more. The authors suggest that nominating an extremist candidate increases turnout for the opposing party by between 4 and 10 percentage points more than turnout for their own party. Such candidates pay a tax on their extremity at the ballot box, because they drive opposition voters to the polling booth."
Got it? The other side gets to vote too and it is quite possible our hypothetical most progressive candidate will get more of them to the polls than folks from our side. Serious political strategy has to take these dynamic effects into account.
About this website
What’s wrong with the idea that ideologically extreme candidates can pep up turnout