Friday, January 31, 2020

The Turnout Myth, Part 2

Awhile back I wrote a widely-read post on "The Turnout Myth". In light of the Sanders' surge and the case he is making on his electability, which relies heavily on the alleged tsunami of turnout his candidacy would generate, I will revisit and extend some of these arguments.
1. Evidence from 2016: Sanders is currently the preferred candidate of young (18-29) black voters. Therefore, the theory runs, these voters would bail out if Sanders was not the candidate, resulting in black voter underperformace. Data from the States of Change project, however, indicate that black voter turnout in 2016--when Clinton was preferred over Sanders as the party's candidate--declined more among all older age groups than it did among young black voters. This indicates that the black turnout problem in 2016 was concentrated among non-young black voters, precisely where Sanders is weak. Note also that young black voters will, at best, be around 2 and a 1/2 percent of voters.
The same pattern applied to young voters as a whole: they increased their turnout more than all older age groups in 2016. They also slightly increased their margin of support for the Democratic candidate over the 2012 Obama election. What really killed the Democrats in age terms was a sharp falloff in support among voters 45-64.
2. Evidence from 2018: you want high turnout, 2018 had it. Midterm turnout skyrocketed among young, black and Hispanic voters. Just what Sanders claims he can do, right? But, as has been widely noted, Democrats in 2018--especially the successful ones--did not run on particularly radical programs but rather on opposition to Trump and unpopular GOP programs in health care and other areas. Perhaps these groups just didn't --and don't--like Trump and what the Republicans stand for?
It's also worth noting that, despite this stellar turnout performance, the overwhelming majority of the Democrats' improved performance came not from less Presidential dropoff and more midterm surge but rather from voters who voted in both elections and switched their votes from Republican in 2016 to Democratic in 2018. The Democratic big data firm Catalist-- whose data on 2018 are the best available--estimates that 89 percent of the Democrats' improved performance came from persuasion--from vote-switchers--not turnout.
3. Recent evidence: Recent polls do indicate that Sanders tends to do a bit better among the youngest voters than Biden when matched against Trump.....but he more than loses that advantage when the comparison shifts to older age groups, where he uniformly runs behind Biden. Interestingly, in one of the few recent polls of black voters, the Washington Post poll found Biden and Sanders performing identically against Trump among young (under 35) black voters, while Biden considerably outperforms Sanders among all older groups of black voters.
But perhaps Sanders will make up for this net loss by supercharging youth turnout? Maybe but see the arguments above. Also, a recent CNN poll does not indicate much difference between younger and older Democratic-leaning voters on their likelihood of not voting/going third party if their preferred candidate does not get the nomination. Perhaps voters, young and old, just really want to beat Trump.
4. General evidence: As Brendan Nyhan notes:
"When ideologically extreme candidates narrowly defeat moderates for a party nomination, the political scientists Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson find, they perform more poorly in the general election, in part because they inspire the other party’s base more than their own."
This is consistent with general political science research. The turnout equation does not necessarily return positive results for a candidates like Sanders. The reverse is more likely. As I've said before it is magical thinking to believe only your side gets to increase turnout in a polarized situation. The other side gets to vote too--and they just might in even larger numbers.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Biden Electability

The data continue to suggest Biden is a stronger candidate against Trump than Sanders. Below are some data from G. Elliott Morris, who does political data for the Economist, and from Alan Abramowitz.
They clearly show Biden is better overall and in swing states against Trump than Sanders. If the election is not close and favors the Democrats, perhaps either of these candidates could win. But if it's close, Biden's superior appeal could mean the difference between victory for the Democrats and defeat.
Therefore, we come back to the point I made yesterday: the Sanders electability case rests entirely on the assumption that his candidacy will send turnout through the roof, while Biden would leave many voters sitting on their hands. That Sanders' turnout bonus would supposedly make up for any differences in candidate appeal we see in the data right now.
Tomorrow I will examine the plausibility of this assertion in light of data from 2016, 2018 and recent polls.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


There's no oubt that it's here, as a spate of polls confirm. Not that Sanders is the front-runner overall, as the chart from 538 below shows. But he has definitely improved his position significantly,, even as Warren's has radically declined. This is obviously excellent news for the Sanders campaign on the cusp of the Iowa caucuses with the New Hampshire primary right behind.
So Sanders looks more like a plausible nominee than he ever has before in this campaign. But could he beat Trump?
Of course he could in the weak sense that it's possible, given that Trump is so unpopular and that Democrats seems so motivated. But is it likely?
That's the big question. The Sanders campaign and most of his supporters would naturally answer this in the affirmative. Their theory of the case, as far as I can make it out, is pretty simple. Bernie will so energize potential Democratic voters that any losses he might incur among swing or moderate voters will be drowned under a tsunami of Democratic turnout. Indeed, Sanders generally argues that this is the only way the Democrats can win the election; a more moderate candidate will fail to generate this turnout and will lose.
Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Sanders will, after all, have a lot of liabilities to overcome. They are well-summarized by Jonathan Chait in a blistering polemic on the New York magazine site:
"Sanders has gleefully discarded the party’s conventional wisdom that it has to pick and choose where to push public opinion leftward, adopting a comprehensive left-wing agenda, some of which is popular, and some of which is decidedly not. Positions in the latter category include replacing all private health insurance with a government plan, banning fracking, letting prisoners vote, decriminalizing the border, giving free health care to undocumented immigrants, and eliminating ICE...
Sanders combines unpopular program specifics in the unpopular packaging of “socialism.” The socialist label has grown less unpopular, a trend that has attracted so much media attention that many people have gotten the impression “socialism” is actually popular, which is absolutely not the case.
Compounding those vulnerabilities is a long history of radical associations. Sanders campaigned for the Socialist Workers’ Party and praised communist regimes. Obviously, Republicans call every Democratic nominee a “socialist.” But it’s one thing to have the label thrown at you by the opposition, another for it to be embraced willingly, and yet another thing altogether to have a web of creepy associations that make it child’s play for the opposition to paint your program as radical and dangerous. Viewing these attacks in isolation, and asking whether voters will care about Bernie’s views on the Cold War, misses the way they will be used as a stand-in to discredit his entire worldview. Nobody “cared” how Michael Dukakis looked in a tank, and probably not many voters cared about Mitt Romney’s dismissive remarks about the 47 percent, but both reinforced larger attack narratives. Vintage video of Bernie palling around with Soviet communists will make for an almost insultingly easy way for Republicans to communicate the idea that his plans to expand government are radical."
It's hard to believe that these liabilities won't cost Sanders a significant number of votes from more persuadable voters toward the middle of the political spectrum. So it all comes down to whether Bernie and his brand of politics really can produce the bonanza of votes he promises from an "energized" progressive electorate.
Again, could be, but I have my doubts. I'll detail them with an empirically-based (naturally) analysis in a future post.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Want to Lose the 2020 Election? Advocate a Universal Ban on Fracking

Fracking and the use of natural gas is a contentious policy issue upon which people vigorously disagree. I personally am a dove on the issue, favoring tighter regulation but believe it will serve--is serving--as a bridge away from the dirtiest energy--coal--toward completely clean sources like wind, solar and (yes) nukes. But I get the other side of this and see much room for debate.
What shouldn't be particularly debatable is that the politics of a fracking band would likely be very bad for the Democrats in the 2020 election. This problem is explored in some detail in a NY Times article on Pennsylvania by Lisa Friedman and Shane Goldmacher.
"Though they are both Democrats, John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, and Bill Peduto, this city’s mayor, have their differences on the environment....
But they agree on one thing: a pledge to ban all hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, could jeopardize any presidential candidate’s chances of winning this most critical of battleground states — and thus the presidency itself. So as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren woo young environmental voters with a national fracking ban, these two Democrats are uneasy....
Mr. Peduto said “the Warren-Sanders, ban-all-fracking-right-now” position would “absolutely devastate communities throughout the Rust Belt” and pit environmentalists against workers at a time when Democrats need both.
“If a candidate comes into this state and tries to sell that policy, they’re going to have a hard time winning,” he said....
“It goes to the heart of the debate that we’re seeing within the Democratic Party right now, which is the appetite among progressives and the left for an agenda that remains unpalatable to swing voters in the states that determine the Electoral College,” said Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report.
A November poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Cook Political Report found that only 39 percent of Pennsylvania swing voters saw a fracking ban as a good idea, even as nearly 7 in 10 of those same voters said they supported the idea of a “Green New Deal” for the environment."
Data in the poll also show that the idea is unpopular with the overall electorate in the state: just 22 percent support it and 53 percent are opposed. These figures, according to the poll, are essentially identical in Michigan and Wisconsin.
So a fracking ban, as advocated by Sanders and Warren, is clearly a loser in what are arguably the three most important states for the Democrats in the 2020 election. (Biden, as usual on these kinds of left litmus test issues, has a different and more sensible position: tighter regulations, a ban on new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands, and a transition away from natural gas over time.)
So it may come down to a fracking ban vs. beating Trump. This should be an easy choice to make.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of Social Democracy

Sheri Berman, one of our leading scholars of the history of the left, has a thought-provoking article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, "Can Social Democrats Save the World (Again)?" The first part of the article is a well-considered, crisp summary of the history of the left in the 20th century. She differentiates between social democracy, democratic socialism and communism in the process of explaining how the postwar social democratic moment came about and why it was so productive.
She argues that social democracy once again must come to the rescue. Missing from the the article is any consideration of how the actually-existing left today might possibly be reconfigured or mobilized o achieve this goal.. Admittedly that's a hard one--especially since those parties still sporting the label "social democratic" seem to be a bit of a mess. And Berman summarily dismisses today's democratic socialists as being too fixated on replacing capitalism, rather than reforming and reshaping it to work better for ordinary people. This seems too sharp a judgement to me, just like her distinction between democratic socialists and social democrats historically seems overstated.
At any rate, food for thought.
"The decline of the social democratic order brought a return of precisely the problems it had been designed to address: Economic inequality and insecurity increased, social divisions and conflicts grew, faith in democracy declined, and extremism spread. As these problems returned, so too did a backlash against the system viewed as responsible for them. Given that communism had been discredited by its violence, authoritarianism, and inefficiency, the contemporary backlash against capitalism has returned to the themes and arguments of democratic socialism instead.
Today, as in the past, democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently unjust, unstable, and unable to be reconciled with democracy. As the German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, perhaps the most forceful of capitalism’s contemporary critics, put it, “disequilibrium and instability” are the “rule rather than the exception” in capitalist societies. There is a “basic underlying tension” between capitalism and democracy—and it is “utopian” to assume they can be reconciled.
Given capitalism’s inherently destabilizing effects, democratic socialists deny the feasibility of fundamentally reforming it, calling instead for its abolition. As in the past, democratic socialists’ goal, as prominent advocates like Bhaskar Sunkara proclaim, is socialism, not social democracy or a new New Deal, since in their view it is only once capitalism is transcended that healthy societies and democracies are possible.....
Today, as in the past, democratic socialists see only capitalism’s flaws and are once again calling for its abolition, while many on the right see only capitalism’s benefits and are once again supporting policies that have led these benefits to be distributed narrowly and unjustly and have undermined social and political stability.
It took the tragedies of the interwar years and World War II to get an earlier generation of European and American politicians and citizens to appreciate the dangers of capitalism, the fragility of democracy, and the need to compromise to ensure the compatibility and sustainability of both. This social democratic compromise undergirded the West’s greatest period of success. Some of the policies associated with this order ran out of steam during the late 20th century, but its basic goal—promoting capitalism’s upsides while protecting citizens from its downsides—remains as crucial as ever.
The world is nowhere near the situation it faced in the 1930s and 1940s, but the warning signs are clear. One can only hope it will not take another tragedy to make people across the political spectrum recognize the advantages of a social democratic solution to our contemporary crisis."
Communism and democratic socialism won’t heal today’s political divisions. But social democracy—which helped ward off extremism following World War II—could.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Admit It, You Love Nancy Pelosi!

Coming off the Social Security kerfuffle in the Democratic campaign, Paul Krugman reminds us of what went down in the GOP drive to privatize Social Security under George W. Bush and the bizarre elite consensus that facilitated this lunacy.
"Back in 2004-2005 the Bush administration tried to use the supposed crisis in Social Security to privatize the system, converting it into 401(k)-type accounts. This never made any sense: What did privatization have to do with a potential revenue shortfall?
A few years later it somehow became Beltway orthodoxy that it was urgent to lock in gradual benefit cuts. Why? It’s true that if the Social Security trust fund is eventually exhausted, it will be necessary either to raise taxes or to cut benefits. And, the argument went, to guard against the possibility of future benefit cuts, it was urgent that we act now to… cut future benefits. If this doesn’t sound to you as if it makes sense, that’s because it doesn’t. But all the Very Serious People believed it."
And what did Nancy Pelosi say?
Asked when she would present an alternative to the Bush plan, she replied, “Never. Is never good enough for you?”
You tell 'em, Nancy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

No, "Racial Resentment" Didn't Elect Donald Trump

I don't suppose I've succeeded in getting many of you to actually read the Grimmer and Marble paper I linked to the other day. That's too bad because it really is a very important paper. The paper is basically an accounting exercise--and I love accounting exercises!--which establishes very cleanly and clearly, using straightforward mathematics that is not really arguable, that "racial resentment" (itself a vexed term--see the famous Ryan Enos/Riley Carney paper) and similar attitudes simply cannot explain where Trump got the votes to be elected. And if that theory--to this day, the dominant theory in political science and general discourse--cannot explain where Trump got the votes, then what good is it since it doesn't, you know, explain anything.
But if I can't get you to read the Grimmer and Marble paper, admittedly a bit of an academic political science slog, perhaps I can get you to read Policy Tensor's crisp summary and explanation of the findings. And, yes, I do think the findings have political implications--important ones.
"An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial prejudice. But the paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory,” does much more than that. It explains why the vast bulk of the literature that has emerged got it so very wrong. And it does so by mathematically demonstrating the limitations and biases of previous analyses in a straightforward manner that is a model of simplicity and elegance. This is easily the most significant work to appear on the question. In many ways, it is as much a theoretical intervention as an argument over 2016; one that has all the hallmarks of a seminal work — that creates a before and after. And it has the potential to irrevocably change the conversation in both academic political science and sophisticated political consulting. So what have Grimmer and Marble shown?
They begin by noting that, in order to understand 2016, or any other election, it is not enough to show that voters with such and such attribute (denoted by x, eg racial resentment) voted for this candidate at higher rates. This is so because the effect may be swamped by compositional effects (ie, the share of people with that attitude in the population may have fallen) and turnout rates (ie, the people with that attitude may have turned out at lower rates). In order to understand how a candidate won, we must pay careful attention to all three factors at once: composition, turnout, and vote choice.
The number of votes that Trump received from voting bloc (ie, whatever attribute) x is given by the product of (1) the share of the electorate in voting bloc x, (2) the turnout rate conditional on voting bloc x, and (3) the rate at which they voted for Trump conditional on turnout and bloc. This a mathematical fact, there is no arguing with it:
The problem with the vast bulk of the literature is that it pays no attention to these confounding effects and pays near-exclusive attention to the vote choice of various blocs (“authoritarians” &c). In a survey of 83 papers analyzing 2016, they found a mere 5 that had paid attention to all three. The vast majority of reported results, 94 percent, are suspect because they fail to take into account these mathematical facts. This includes the entirety of the vast literature supporting the racial resentment thesis.
Once you start adding up the correct way, the racial resentment thesis turns out to be flat out wrong."
Read the Policy Tensor piece for charts from the paper and clear explanations of what they mean.
An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial p…

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Today's Left: The Good News and the Bad News

John Judis' article on the potential of and dangers to today's left will be in next Sunday's Washington Post Magazine but it is already available online. I strongly recommend it.
The good news:
"One important advantage the contemporary left has over the ’60s left is that it was created by conditions that are not going away. The Vietnam War was the main issue uniting the diverse parts of the ’60s left, and it brought hundreds of thousands of new sympathizers into the movement. And so, when the Nixon administration ended the draft and then signed a peace agreement with North Vietnam, what we called “the movement” rapidly dissipated. The women’s, civil rights and environmental movements — to name three of the biggest groups — continued, but they were no longer part of a larger whole. Meanwhile, those groups that had espoused revolution were displaced by reformist, staff-driven organizations that worked out of Washington or New York offices.
Today’s left is different. Of the factors driving it, only the Trump presidency will expire, and that might not happen for five years. Climate change will continue to menace shorelines, create extreme weather, and imperil agriculture and fishing — and this is, unfortunately, going to happen even if a Democrat wins the presidency this year and rejoins the Paris agreement. As the politics around climate change inevitably become more pressing, the case for a large-scale subordination of private capital to public priorities — a demand that is at the heart of the political left — will only strengthen.
Most important, though, the underlying economic conditions that led to the creation of today’s left are going to continue to shape the labor force of American capitalism. Under the impact of artificial intelligence, many jobs will alter overnight or disappear, creating continuing insecurity among the young, fueling dissatisfaction with capitalism and providing an incentive to organize. The economy itself may not soon endure a recurrence of the Great Recession, but an increasingly fractious world trading order and overcapacity in manufacturing will continue to threaten growth. The predominance of finance and the winner-take-all structure of the high-tech industry mean that disparities of wealth and power will only grow.
During the ’60s, proletarianization was in its early stage. In 1960, only 8 percent of Americans had a college degree or above. Today, the ranks of college-educated people — those most susceptible to the appeal of the contemporary left — appear to be growing. Thirty-nine percent of Americans 25 and older have a bachelor’s or an advanced degree, a figure that is expected to increase over the next 10 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional occupations, which require at least a college degree, made up 20.9 percent of the labor force in 2018 and will make up 21.5 percent by 2028. Allied occupations such health-care support are also expected to grow, from 2.7 to 3 percent. During the same period, the ranks of sales personnel, office and administrative support occupations, and production workers — who do not fit the profile of today’s left — are expected to shrink. By the end of the 2020s, college-educated workers facing persistent insecurity about their future, and concern about the value of their work, should account for somewhere between 22 and 25 percent of the labor force.
Perhaps because these underlying economic trends are continuing, the youngest American voters are no less susceptible than millennials to radical appeals. In fact, they may be more susceptible. A January 2019 Harris Poll found that 61 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds — Generation Z — have a positive reaction to the word “socialism.” By comparison, 51 percent of millennials do. Taken together, these two generations could well pose a formidable challenge not only to conservatives but to establishment liberals."
The bad news:
"Today’s left has not embraced the separatism or the revolutionary fantasies of the last days of the ’60s left, but, as someone who was there, I find disturbing echoes in the present. I’ll list three. First, many on the left — and many more-moderate liberals as well — attribute Trump’s victory in 2016 and white working-class reluctance to support Democrats entirely or primarily to “white supremacy” or “white privilege.” They dismiss flyover Americans who voted for Trump as irredeemable — even though there is evidence that many supporters of Barack Obama backed Trump in 2016, and that many Trump voters cast ballots for Democrats in 2018. It is an echo of the ’60s left’s Manichaean view of Americans.
As a result, today’s left has become fond of a political strategy that discounts the importance altogether of winning over the white working class. Such a strategy assumes Democrats can gain majorities simply by winning over people of color (a term that groups people of wildly varying backgrounds, incomes and worldviews), single women and the young. One recent article in the left-wing Nation declared: “Since the 1980s, Democratic candidates have proven that they can win elections while losing whites without a college degree by a significant margin.” It’s a questionable strategy for Democrats — in a presidential election, it could cede many of the Midwestern swing states to a Republican — but it is even more questionable as a strategy for the left, which has historically been committed to achieving equality by building a movement of the bottom and middle of society against the very wealthy and powerful at the top.
Second, the left is again dividing into identity groups, each of which feels justified in elevating its concerns above others. In Philadelphia this summer at Netroots Nation — a gathering of left and liberal groups — Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told aspiring officeholders, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.”
While activists focused on identity politics have, like their predecessors from the ’60s, made perfectly reasonable demands — for instance, an end to police brutality, or equal wages for men and women — they have also made extreme demands that display an indifference to building a political majority. Some have backed reparations for slavery — an idea rejected by broad majorities of the electorate, most of whom are descended from immigrants who came to America after the Civil War. Other groups have demanded “open borders,” defying a majority of Americans who think the country should be able to decide who to admit as citizens and who will be able to enjoy the rights and benefits of being an American.
Third, many of these demands and strategies are accompanied by a quasi-religious adherence to special language and gestures that echo the experience of the ’60s. Again, at the level of morality, these aspects of the left may be persuasive, but at the level of political-majority-building, they are problematic. For instance, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lists “LGBTQIA+ Rights” among her priorities, but how many Americans outside the bluest Zip codes know what “LBGTQIA+” stands for? According to a recent poll, 98 percent of Latinos are uncomfortable with the left-wing term “Latinx.” At the Democratic Socialists of America convention I attended over the summer in Atlanta, delegates identified themselves on their name tags, and when they spoke, by their preferred pronoun (“he,” “she” or “they”) and signaled their approval by twirling their hands. Someone who used the colloquial “guys” to refer to the audience was sternly rebuked. There were charges of “ableism” and of “triggering” due to loud talking. These kinds of moral stances are fine for a church congregation, but not for a political organization that wants to win a majority of voters. The reality is that 80 percent or more of Americans who wandered into such a gathering would think they were on another planet.
And the trouble spots I’ve identified here are only being exacerbated by the importance of social media to contemporary politics. During the ’60s, the left’s cultural insularity was reinforced by its geography. Today, the insularity of the left is magnified by the Internet, which tends to draw us toward people who think alike while screening out unfriendly opinions.
As some of the stances of today’s left have seeped into Democratic presidential politics, it’s become clear that there could be real electoral consequences to these missteps. Warren and Sanders have both promised to offer free Medicare for undocumented immigrants — something that even Canada does not provide — and to decriminalize border crossings. Warren promised a 9-year-old transgender boy that he could have veto rights over her appointment of a secretary of education. Sanders has promised voting rights for imprisoned felons. As sophisticated politicians, Warren and Sanders must know that if they win the nomination, these kind of stands will make it difficult for them to gain votes outside of heavily blue metro areas — and therefore difficult to put together an electoral college majority."
He concludes, rightly I think:
"For the foreseeable future...if the left wants to create the political majority that Tom Hayden dreamed of in 1969, it will have to frame its positions in a vernacular that most Americans can understand. It will also have to draw a sharp distinction between the positions it deems essential for “big, structural change” and those that can be delegated to communities to calibrate and debate. The new left of the ’60s failed in this mission. We didn’t just dream big; we ascended into the realm of fantasy and visible sainthood. Today’s left will need to learn from our mistakes."
Or, as Winston Churchill said, paraphrasing George Santayana:
"Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
The underlying conditions for a left-wing ascendance are actually very promising. But young progressives are falling into old traps.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

It's Still Important to Understand Where Trump Support Came From

And many liberal Democrats still don't--though they think they do. Political scientists Justin Grimmer and Will Marble look at the facts in a new paper, "Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory"
"A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012. This fact is surprising given studies that emphasize “activation” of racial conservatism in 2016—the increased relationship between vote choice and racial attitudes among voters. But this relationship provides almost no information about how many votes candidates
receive from individuals with particular attitudes. To understand how many votes a voting bloc contributes to a candidate’s total, we must also consider a bloc’s size and its turnout rate. Taking these into account, we find that Trump’s most significant gains
came from whites with moderate attitudes about race and immigration. Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates. Our analysis demonstrates that focusing only on vote choice is insufficient to explain sources of candidate support in the electorate."

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Case Against the Case Against the Democrats

The case against the Democratic nominee in 2020, whomever he or she may be, is simple. Trump is the incumbent! The economy's good! This recipe for re-election can't be beat, so he can't be beat. So have concluded a number of allegedly savvy pundits whose sad duty it is to deliver this bad news to the Democrats.
But perhaps they're not as smart as they think they are. Alan Abramowitz has the case against the case on Sabato's Crystal Ball.
"Since the end of World War II, three incumbent presidents have lost their bids for reelection — Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Carter and Bush suffered from approval ratings that were well under water and Ford, while personally popular, was damaged by his association with his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon. All eight successful incumbents had net approval ratings that were either positive or, in the cases of Harry Truman (-4) and George W. Bush (-1), only slightly negative, in the months preceding their elections. In contrast, Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained mired in negative territory from the beginning of his presidency. As of Wednesday, his net approval rating stood at -10.8% (approval 42.2%, disapproval 53.0%), according to the FiveThirtyEight weighted average of recent polls. Moreover, polls measuring the intensity of these opinions have consistently found that those strongly disapproving of Trump’s performance outnumber those strongly approving by a fairly wide margin. In a Jan. 7-9 YouGov poll, for example, 45% of Americans strongly disapproved of Trump’s job performance compared with 26% who strongly approved....
According to recent research on congressional elections, the advantage of incumbency has declined sharply in recent years as a result of growing partisan polarization. Gary Jacobson of the University of California, San Diego has shown that voters have become increasingly reluctant to cross party lines to support incumbents based on their voting records or constituency service. The same logic may well apply at the presidential level, especially with an incumbent like Trump whose electoral strategy is based on reinforcing partisan divisions among the public. Indeed, Trump’s presidency has produced the sharpest partisan divisions in job approval ratings in the history of public opinion polling. In a December Quinnipiac poll, for example, 91% of Republican identifiers approved of Trump’s performance with 79% strongly approving. In contrast, 94% of Democratic identifiers disapproved of Trump’s performance with 89% strongly disapproving.
Rather than trying to expand his electoral coalition by appealing to Democrats and independents, Trump’s strategy for 2020 appears to be based almost entirely on energizing and mobilizing the Republican base. The problem with this approach, however, is that efforts to energize and mobilize the Republican base also energize and mobilize the Democratic base. Thus, the 2018 election produced the highest turnout for any midterm election in over a century and big gains for Democrats, and recent polls have found that voter interest in the 2020 election is very high among Democrats as well as Republicans....
Despite the solid economic numbers, however, there are good reasons to believe that the economy may not be as big an advantage for Trump as some analysts, and the president himself, believe. For one thing, the rate of economic growth under Trump has actually been fairly modest and consistent with that under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Economic forecasts generally have the U.S. economy expanding a rate of about 2% during the first half of 2020. The average growth rate of GDP for incumbent presidents since World War II is 3.9%. And while unemployment is near record low levels, gains from the growing economy have been concentrated heavily among the wealthiest Americans.
Another reason why the president may not receive much political benefit from a growing economy is partisan polarization. John Sides of George Washington University has recently shown that public opinion about the state of the U.S. economy is now far more divided along party lines than in the past. Republicans generally have very favorable opinions about economic conditions and credit the president for producing those results. Democrats, on the other hand, are far less sanguine about the economy and give the president far less credit for any positive results. As a result, Sides argues, Trump may receive less benefit from positive economic trends than earlier presidents who presided over growing economies.....
Based on his current net approval rating of approximately -10 and the expected growth rate of real GDP during the second quarter of 2020, Trump would be expected to win approximately 237 electoral votes — well short of the 270 needed to win. Given the fairly large standard error of this estimate, a reflection of the small number of elections it is based on, the prediction of a Trump defeat is far from certain — he would still have about a 30% chance of winning. But these results suggest that Trump begins 2020 as a clear underdog.
Abramowitz concludes on a cautionary note that Democrats would do well to heed:
"The biggest unknown about the upcoming election is the identity of President Trump’s Democratic opponent. While a presidential election with a running incumbent is largely a referendum on the incumbent’s performance, the political appeal and campaign ability of the challenger also matters. The more the campaign and the election revolve around the president’s record and performance, the better the chance that he will be defeated. And while Trump and his allies will undoubtedly try to portray any Democratic challenger as a radical socialist whose extreme policies would destroy the economy and embolden America’s adversaries, some potential Democratic candidates might make that task easier than others."