Monthly Archives: June 2019

Is there a trend in U.S. tornadoes? I wish I could ask Conrad Johnson

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 28, 2019)

Tornadoes have been a fascination of mine since my childhood. Growing up in Iowa, in ‘Tornado Alley,’ one of my earliest memories is that piercing warning sound our local TV station, WMT-TV (now KGAN), would broadcast when a tornado warning had been issued in the area. Meteorologist Conrad Johnson’s deep voice would boom over a live, black-and-white weather radar image, its round shape like a vintage Tektronics oscilloscope, and something very few local TV stations had available in the late 1960s. Just white blobs on a dark background. White is rain. Black is not rain.

Johnson, a tall, almost father-like figure to anyone growing up in Eastern Iowa in the 60s and 70s, was a national pioneer of broadcast meteorology. When few local TV stations had their own weather radar systems (I have yet to find one earlier than WMT-TVs), Johnson personally re-purposed a military radar system for use by the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based TV station. I was no more than five years old when I first learned how a hook shape in a storm’s radar image could indicate an active tornado. For me, Johnson made tornadoes exciting, even as they were terrifying.

Johnson also led the national effort to build the National Weather Service tornado watch/warning system which has since saved, conservatively, thousands of lives. This YouTube video is a reminder to me that things low-tech by today’s standards didn’t mean we were getting less information. Quite the opposite, Johnson made us all smarter:

WMT-TV’s Meteorologist Conrad Johnson

 

After tornadoes had struck our area, Johnson considered it his job to explain what happened and how we might be able to prepare better for future storms.

“On the synoptic situation that preceded the tornado which struck Cedar Rapids on early Wednesday morning, we go back and reconstruct a little bit,” started Johnson’s on-air class on tornadoes. (I still don’t know what ‘synoptic’ means.)

When I watch TV meteorologists today, Johnson is still my gold standard. He was more scientist than polished media personality. His words carried weight.

I thought this essay was about trends in tornadoes. Why do I reminisce about this now?

The simple answer is, I think today’s meteorologists and climate scientists get a shitty rap from climate change skeptics (a group that I have some sympathies with when they challenge climate change activists for their ‘sky-is-falling’ rhetoric). I hate hyperbole, always have, and Conrad Johnson was everything but hyperbole and he was far more effective at education for that reason.

But today’s social media-driven political dialogues reward the exact opposite behavior. Here is a recent tweet from the Sunrise Movement, a climate change activist organization.

 

It is an eye-catching statement to make. I have no doubt it motivates the true believers. But they are jumping way ahead of the science. And don’t take my word for it. Listen to the one of the scientists most knowledgeable about the issue, Northern Illinois Professor Dr. Victor Gensini:

“No, climate change did not cause the recent rash of US tornadoes. Climate change does not cause any given extreme weather event. It does alter background probabilities of the PDF curve.

Most of the literature has focused on severe convective storms in the aggregate sense due to the lack of a good discriminator among hazards using regional climate models….These studies suggest that severe weather environments and surrogate severe will increase in the spring and become more variable from year to year. This is not (yet) specific to any specific severe convective system.”

That is statistician-speak for: low-probability, extreme events are hard to explain and predict using highly aggregated predictors.

In layman’s speak: you can’t say a baseball player uses steroids because he hit a lot of home runs last week.

It may be decades before scientists can show a statistically-significant link between global warming and tornadoes.

I end this essay with the most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on U.S. tornadoes. Figure 1 shows the frequency counts by year, and Figure 2 shows the average number of tornadoes per daily outbreak.

Figure 1: U.S. Tornado Annual Frequencies from 1954 to 2019*

 

Figure 2: Average Number of EF3 or Higher Tornadoes per Daily Outbreak

Data Source NOAA Storm Prediction Center

 

Figure 1 indicate no discernible trend in annual tornado frequencies (EF1 or higher) since 1954. You can’t even squint a trend from that data series. Figure 2, however, does suggest a small increase in the frequency of large tornado outbreaks (EF3 or higher). But the trend signal is still too hard to distinguish from normal year-to-year noise.

It is too easy to exaggerate the significance of extreme, isolated events in today’s highly politicized media environment. Perhaps my own childhood memories have exaggerated the wisdom of my favorite TV meteorologist, but I believe he’d be cautioning us today about exaggerating the link between tornadoes and climate change.

  • K.R.K.

 

Biden, not Warren, is Sanders’ chief antagonist

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 27, 2019)

The news media generally likes simple narratives. It makes their job easier and makes the news more digestible for consumers.

And while there is no shame in making one’s job less complicated or work product more consumable, it can easily misrepresent reality.

The latest example is from the 2020 Democratic nomination race and the simplified narrative goes something like this: Since offering more practical and concrete progressive policy proposals, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is challenging Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the hearts and minds of progressive Democrats.

The simplifying assumption is that Sanders and Warren are fighting for the same progressive voters. But is that true?

Of course, on a reductive level, this narrative is true by definition. All Democratic candidates are competing for the same voters in the Party’s base. But as documented in an earlier analysis of the December 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), Warren’s core supporters are demographically and attitudinally different from Sanders’ core supporters. Contrary to the media storylines, Warren’s support has always been concentrated among the most elite segments of the Democratic Party. She is slowly rebuilding Hillary Clinton’s 2016 coalition: highly-educated, upwardly mobile, urban/suburban women (and the men that love them).

In the December 2018 ANES, Warren supporters were significantly more likely to be older, upper-middle-class, educated, white females in comparison to Sanders supporters. Likewise, attitudinally, Warren supporters were more centrist in their views. Warren, the candidate, might be progressive on bank reform or student debt forgiveness, but her core supporters were more aligned with the Third Way Clintonians than the Berniecrats.

Further underwriting the Warren versus Sanders narrative is Warren’s recent rise in the polls among likely Democratic primary voters (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:  RealClearPolitics.com Poll Averages for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination Candidates

Source: RealClearPolitics.com

 

Warren’s poll numbers (the brown line) have risen consistently since early May, reaching a high of 13 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics.com poll average, while support for Sanders (the blue line) has remained relatively constant at around 17 percent. Warren most certainly is taking some potential supporters from Sanders, but do they really share the same ‘progressive’ voter base?

Well, it depends.

It is just as likely Warren is gaining support from former supporters of other candidates who have seen their support slacken recently — candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker. Indeed, as we see in the aggregate data, Warren’s rise is coming at the expense of those two candidates and with little relationship to changes in Sanders support.

But the Warren versus Sanders narrative is stronger than ever.

“By running a campaign heavy on both policy and biographical details, she has wrested some high-profile liberal supporters away from Mr. Sanders, and in some polls, has shown signs of ticking upward,” writes New York Timesreporters Astead W. Herndon and Sydney Ember. “But while Ms. Warren has gained ground, she has not yet cast a shadow of her own. Mr. Sanders still holds a large advantage in the polls — a point his advisers eagerly highlight — and his supporters say he remains the clear progressive standard-bearer among the larger electorate.”

“They both have a crusader mentality around correcting what is wrong,” says Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a prominent member of the House Democratic Progressive Caucus. “They understand they are speaking to a similar vision of the country, and obviously they are trying to distinguish themselves from each other.”

“The challenge for both candidates is that, since they’re appealing to many of the same voters, any critiques must be handled delicately to avoid alienating possible backers,” writes Washington Post political reporter Sean Sullivan.

These largely data-free conclusions are plausible, but when we look at changes over time in aggregate support for each candidate it is evident that many of these media-driven storylines are more assumption than fact.

Allies and Antagonists

The tactical relationships between the candidates emerge when their support is viewed in the aggregate over time (see Figure 1). Across the major candidates (i.e., polling over 5 percent consistently), some candidates rise and fall together (allies) and some rise at the expense of other candidates (antagonists). And, of course, those relationships can — and do — change over time.

For example, starting in late April, around the time of Biden’s entrance into the race, Biden and Sanders became clear antagonists — as Biden rises, Sanders falls. Some of those Sanders supporters certainly went to Warren, some to Biden, and probably a few went to the other candidates. It is hard to know without individual-level panel data.

But aggregate data has a nice characteristic: it tends to cancel the noise inherent at the individual-level. Yes, we do care about who is going where with their support. If Sanders is losing support among women, his team needs to know that. But, in the aggregate, the inter-candidate dynamics become observable.

Using RealClearPolitics.com’s polling database (containing 69 separate national surveys since October 2018), we can see which candidates move together in aggregate support (allies) and which move in opposite directions (antagonists).

Figure 2 shows the bivariate correlations among the top-tier Democratic candidates over the period from October 2018 to mid-June 2019. The relationship of most interest — Warren and Sanders — indicates no obvious relationship. Sanders support levels do not change in concert with Warren’s over this period.

That is not the case between Biden and Sanders, where, if one goes up, the other goes down. While not a strong statistical relationship, it has grown stronger since Biden’s official announcement.

Conversely, Sanders’ aggregate support moves in tandem with Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Amy Klobuchar — three candidates most often associated with corporate-friendly centrism. Up to this point in the race, at least, growing support for centrist candidates not named Biden helps the Sanders campaign.

Tactically, as a candidate, that is good information to know.

Figure 2:  Correlations of Democratic Candidate Support in the 2020 Democratic Nomination Race

 

Figure 3 simply summarizes the Figure 2 correlations by assigning the antagonist and allies labels to each candidate pair. Such that, Biden and Sanders are antagonists. As one goes up, the other goes down. The same is true for Biden-Beto, Warren-Beto, Warren-Booker, Buttigieg-Beto, and Buttigieg-Booker.

Besides the Sanders allies described previously, the other allied pairs include: Biden-Buttigieg, Warren-Buttigieg, Harris-Klobuchar, and Booker-Klobuchar.

 

Figure 3:  Allies & Antagonists in the 2020 Democratic Nomination Race (Oct. 2018 to June 2019)

 

All of these pairings could change overnight. As of now it appears, Harris, Beto and Klobuchar rise jointly with Sanders. Likewise, Buttigieg’s fortunes seem tied to Warren and Biden.

But as candidates drop out, these dynamics can change instantly. In the end, should it come down to just two candidates — which nomination races normally do — the last two standing will most certainly be an antagonist pair.

Correlation is not Causation

The correlations in Figure 2 are not, of course, evidence of causation. Biden’s rise in the polls does not cause Buttigieg’s support to rise. It may. But we can’t say that from the looking at contemporaneous correlations.

For a little extracurricular exercise, I generated a *very exploratory* vector autoregressive model (VAR) of candidate support using the weekly time-series data for the top four candidates (see Figure 4). Given the small sample size (n = 37 weeks), I cannot draw any strong conclusions; but, it is fun to conjecture when there is a little bit of data behind it — no matter how sketchy.

Figure 4:  A Causal Model of Democratic Candidate Support in the 2020 Democratic Nomination Race

 

With the small sample size caveat in mind, the estimated VAR model shows evidence of a causal system in which a rise in Warren’s support depresses Buttigieg’s support… which helps Sanders…which hurts Biden. In other words, if this causal model is correct, Warren’s rise up to now may be helping Sanders by moderating Buttigieg’s rise, which comes at Sanders’ expense, according to the VAR model. If true, the Sanders campaign may need Warren to stay in the race at least until Buttigieg drops out.

Last thoughts

The biggest mistake we often make is the assumption that voters choose candidates based on the issues. Yes, issues matter. But, often, only indirectly. There are many vote decision paths and, as research as shown, voters often adjust their policy views after they pick a favorite candidate or party.

Warren may be a genuine progressive — closer to Sanders than Biden in her policy views — but her supporters are not necessarily as progressive. Many are the same centrists that lined up in 2016 for Clinton over Sanders.

Over the next year, as candidates drop out of the race, we may see a 2016 redux with Warren and Sanders the last candidates standing, battling for the soul of the Democratic Party.

The lazy conclusion would call that outcome a victory for the Democrats’ progressive wing, but more likely it is merely the reformation of the same 2016 alliances: Centrist (corporatist) Democrats behind Warren versus the Berniecrat progressives.

That is not as exciting an interpretation, perhaps, but probably the more accurate one.

  • K.R.K.

Vector Autoregression Model Output (SAS)

The data source is RealClearPolitics.com’s polling averages for the top four Democratic candidates since October 2018. The data series for each candidate was differenced in order to make it stationary. In total, there were 37 weeks of data. All data and SAS computer code is available upon request (kroeger98@yahoo.com).

Why does the Democratic Party establishment dislike Tulsi Gabbard?

This is a follow-up essay to my previous posting on whether or not the cable news channels are deliberately ignoring Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign.

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 25, 2019)

I’ve noted in the past how two subjects elicit the most hate mail: Climate change and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We can now add a third: Tulsi Gabbard

Two days ago I posted an essay on my analysis of the relationship between candidate support and news coverage. Based on the data, I concluded that Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard does not receive the amount of news coverage she deserves.

After posting the essay, angry replies hit my inbox within hours. The meanest ones I won’t dignify with a response, but one complaint found within more than one email does deserve an response: Why would the news media single out Tulsi Gabbard?

I believe there are three reasons Gabbard is targeted: (1) She challenged the Obama administration’s informal policy not to use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ when talking about the War on Terror, (2) she’s a vocal critic of the military-industrial complex, and (3) she sharply criticized Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at a critical point for Clinton in the 2016 primary season.

Here are some of the specifics behind those three reasons…

The abridged story of Tulsi Gabbard

Defying Obama’s guidance on referring to Middle East terrorism

When Gabbard was first elected to the U.S. House from Hawaii’s 2nd district in 2012, she was a rising star. A combat veteran that served in a medical unit during the Iraq War, she has a polished, even temperament that presents well on television.

At the start of her congressional career, Gabbard was rising within a political party desperately looking for young stars. The Obama years saw the number of elected Democrats dwindle to its lowest levels in decades and to reverse that trend, the party needed new blood.

In her first term, she was assigned to the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, an almost unprecedented honor for a freshman legislator. She also became a vice chair for the Democratic National Committee — again, an unusually fast rise for a legislator that was only 32 when first elected to the House.

However, there were early signs that Gabbard was not (and is not) a lock-step Democrat partisan. In 2015, she openly disagreed with the Obama administration’s reluctance to use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ to describe the War on Terror’s primary adversary.

June 16, 2015 interview with Tulsi Gabbard and CNN’s Wolf Blizter

 

According to Gabbard, you cannot fight the enemy if you don’t understand their motivation. To ignore the role of radical Islamic theology (Wahhabism) in terrorism is to misunderstand the problem altogether. The Young Turk’s Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian and others in the progressive left cried Islamophobe!, particularly as Gabbard become a more frequent guest on Fox News where producers began to see her as a useful ally in discrediting the Obama administration’s handling of Middle East events. Though hardly Gabbard’s intent, she represented disunity in a party obsessed with unity.

Strike one.

Embarrassing Hillary Clinton in 2016

If that had been the only thing, Gabbard would probably be in good standing with the Democratic Party today. But it wasn’t. Her next apostasy was a big one.

During the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination race she resigned from the DNC and endorsed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. Among one of the first super-delegates to break free from the Clinton orbit, Gabbard again became the poster child for Democratic Party division.

All the same, the endorsement of Sanders isn’t what made her persona non grata at the DNC holiday party. It was how and when she did it.

Tulsi Gabbard on MSNBC’s Meet the Press on February 28, 2016

 

She resigned on February 28, 2016, the day after Clinton had won a convincing victory over Sanders in South Carolina (73% to 26%, respectively), and endorsed Sanders in the process. Appearing on MSNBC, Gabbard declared that the DNC was not an even-handed umpire in the 2016 nomination race, as evidenced by their unwillingness to have more candidate debates between Clinton and Sanders.

In other words, Gabbard said the DNC was rigging the nomination race in favor of Clinton, long before the Russian-hacked DNC emails revealed in greater detail exactly how intertwined the Clinton campaign and DNC had become. Score another one for Gabbard.

Gabbard’s timing could not have been worse for Clinton, as Sanders was under increasing (and understandable) pressure to get out of the race, particularly by the party’s big donors who did not care for Sanders’ unapologetic Democratic socialism.

But with Gabbard’s announcement, the momentum and media narrative immediately turned against Clinton.

Gabbard knee-capped Hillary Clinton when it looked like the nomination race was over. Clinton never fully recovered after Gabbard’s Sanders endorsement. In contrast, Sanders surged, winning 15 out of the next 31 state races, punctuated by a unexpected win in Michigan. From there, Sanders carried his progressive message to the Democratic National Convention in July. I don’t believe that happens without Tulsi’s surprise resignation from the DNC.

Strike two.

Challenging the establishment’s love for regime change wars

Soon after Donald Trump was elected, Gabbard visited Syria on a fact-finding mission and met personally (and unexpectedly) with Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. The party establishment was apoplectic — still in a deep depression over Trump’s victory — and the Syria trip just added to their view that Gabbard wasn’t a team player. Though it would take almost two years, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi removed Gabbard from the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the start of the 116th U.S. Congress.

Rubbing salt into an open wound, Gabbard, along with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, would be one of the few voices to urge the Trump administration to be cautious before launching air attacks on Syria following a chlorine chemical attack in Douma, Syria, allegedly by the Assad regime.

The U.S. attacked anyway and now, over a year later, Gabbard’s skepticism about the origin of the Douma chemical attack has been possibly validated by an engineering report leaked from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons suggesting the Douma attack may have been staged by anti-Assad rebel fighters.

It is unlikely the Douma incident will ever be understood with certainty, but Gabbard has maintained a consistent position on U.S. military and foreign relations issues: No more counterproductive regime change wars.

When the Trump administration began its intimidation campaign against Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, Gabbard called it out as reckless. And even as MSNBC and CNN news celebrities implied (or stated directly in some cases) that Gabbard is friendly towards dictators (just like Trump!), she shook off the criticism and maintained her position — regime wars don’t work.

With this same dynamic going on now with Iran, Gabbard has again led among national Democrats in opposing U.S. aggression towards Iran. While Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have made some relatively good, though ultimately tepid, statements on Iran, they lack the confidence and gravitas Gabbard brings to the issue.

 

To be clear, Gabbard is not a pacifist — she believes when the U.S. is attacked (such as on 9–11), using the military is an appropriate form of reprisal. Gabbard is not anti-war. When the U.S. and its vital interests are attacked, the U.S. must respond, with appropriate force, says Gabbard, who also believes the U.S. must always pursue a dialogue with our adversaries such as North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Syria.

Strike three.

Other possible causes as to why Gabbard is ignored

On other policy fronts, Gabbard was the first presidential candidate to voice support for Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange when he was taken into custody by the British and subsequently charged by the U.S. with aiding and abetting an act of espionage, recognizing that his case was a direct assault on Americans’ First Amendment rights.

When New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the “Green New Deal” — a highly abstract statement on how the U.S. can aggressively address climate change — Gabbard chose not to co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez’ bill. Why? Gabbard had sponsored the 2017 OFFACT bill, a significantly more concrete plan to convert the U.S. energy profile to 100-percent renewable energy.

Gabbard’s willingness to lean forward on controversial domestic and foreign policy issues — and high success rate on being right — has created a small, but vocal fan base among anti-war activists and civil libertarians.

Finally, Gabbard is hard to place on a one-dimensional ideological scale (liberal-conservative). She operates on a different vector, independent of the Left versus Right rubric. At one moment she might defend fellow candidate Joe Biden, and the next criticize the Obama administration’s Middle East policies. Gabbard is the closest person we have to a non-partisan politician.

And when these reasons are viewed as a whole, it is easy to conjecture why establishment Democrats and, in turn, the Democrat-aligned new media, might consider Gabbard a genuine threat to their power status.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com (and, please, no insults).

Are the cable television networks ignoring Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 24, 2019)

One of the thought eddies spiraling around Twitter lately has been a claim offered by supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, Tulsicrats as they are called, that the cable news networks are deliberately ignoring Gabbard’s campaign.

 

Jake Mercier wrote on Medium.com recently about the lack of television news coverage for the Gabbard presidential campaign (and Mike Gravel’s as well), despite her higher polling numbers relative to other more frequently covered campaigns (Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, for example).

One of the charts from his article was drawn from FiveThirtyEight.com’s recurrent analysis of GDELT Project data. According to the project’s website, it is supported by Google Jigsaw and “monitors the world’s broadcast, print, and web news from nearly every corner of every country in over 100 languages and identifies the people, locations, organizations, themes, sources, emotions, counts, quotes, images and events driving our global society every second of every day, creating a free open platform for computing on the entire world.” [If you love data, and lots of it, this is a project you will want to become acquainted with as soon as possible.]

For FiveThirtyEight.com’s analysis, GDELT’s data extract from Vanderbilt University’s TV News Archive is queried for how often the 2020 Democratic candidates are mentioned in cable news since December 30, 2018 across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Figure 1 shows the results for the first two weeks of June. The results are striking. Gabbard received just one mention in the week of June 2nd and just eight in the week of June 9th. Only Mike Gravel’s campaign was mentioned less. The most mentioned candidate was, of course, Joe Biden’s (1,706 and 2,642 mentions, respectively).

Figure 1: Television news coverage of the Democratic candidates (early June)


Source: 
FiveThirtyEight.com

 

If Gabbard were significantly less popular than Marianne Williamson or John Hickenlooper or Jay Inslee or John Delaney or Seth Moulton, her campaign would have little to complain about in the volume of its network coverage.

But she is even with or ahead of these candidates, according to the RealClearPolitics.com’s most recent rolling poll average (see Figure 2). For certain, Gabbard is in the lower tier of candidates with an RCP poll average at a mere 0.6 percent.

Yet, it is hard to explain how former Colorado John Hickenlooper, who doesn’t break above 0.4 percent in the RCP poll average, should be getting 10 times the cable news mentions as Gabbard. Unless, the news media really is deliberately ignoring Tulsi Gabbard.

Figure 2: RealClearPolitics.com’s Poll Average for the 2020 Democratic candidates (June 6 — June 18)

Source: RealClearPolitics.com

 

Still, Gabbard’s critics and news media apologists will rightfully point out that any candidate with polling that low is not likely to get significant coverage and the observed differences in mentions among the lower-tier candidates is probably noise. They have a seductive argument, but it is a tautological one.

Candidate support, as measured by the polls, is directly influenced by the amount news coverage the candidates receive, according to a study of the 2016 presidential race. And, while there is also a feedback loop where a candidate’s popular support influences how much media coverage they receive, the quantitative research tends to show the strongest direction of influence is from media coverage to candidate/party support.

Which is why Figure 3 (below) is interesting. Using Google Trend’s open data on Google searches and comparing that data to the relative volume of cable TV mentions, we find that the public’s interest in Gabbard (as measured by Google searches) far exceeds her mentions in the cable news media. Since the data in Figure 3 covers the period from May 1 to June 9, 2019, some of the variation is affected by the candidates that announced their candidacy in this period (e.g., New York Mayor Bill de Blasio).

However, for Gabbard, it is apparent that public interest in her campaign is greater than its news media coverage — a four percent gap, to be exact (4.2 percent versus 0.2 percent, respectively), which is among the highest across the Democratic candidates. In fact, only South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg may have a bigger complaint with the news media, where he received 14.3 percent of Google searches from May 1 to June 9, but only 6.3 percent of cable TV news mentions. [I realize, it feels like Buttigieg is mentioned every 10 seconds on MSNBC and CNN; but, in truth, he’s seen a significant drop in relative coverage since his initial burst on to the scene.]

Figure 3: Comparing Google searches on candidates with candidates’ mentions on cable TV news

 

And which candidates should not be complaining right now? Joe Biden (24.7% of Google searches versus 43.4 percent of cable TV news mentions), and to a lesser extent, Elizabeth Warren (7.3% of Google searches versus 10.8 percent of cable TV news mentions).

The cable TV news networks, at least from May to mid-June, were pushing Joe Biden more than any other candidate…by far. Bernie Sanders was second in cable TV news mentions at 13.1 percent. Admittedly, this cross-sectional data cannot prove causation. But it is consistent with more rigorous methodologies (pooled-individual and aggregate time-series studies) that demonstrate how media coverage moves poll numbers.

And why do we care? As pointed out, news coverage can change poll numbers and Figure 4 shows that relationship. And that relationship is strong, explaining 98 percent of the variance in the Figure 4 graph. Also notable is Bernie Sanders’ numbers. He polls higher than his news coverage would suggest he should (i.e., he is located above the polynomial regression line). This could be the result of his being a well-known quantity arising from the 2016 campaign. He may not need the coverage to the extent as a candidate like Gabbard.

Figure 4: Relationship between candidates’ RCP poll averages with their mentions on cable TV news

 

It may have diminishing returns as candidates become more popular, but the cable TV networks are unmistakably in a very powerful position to change the fortunes of any candidate they chose to cover.

Figure 5 shows the number of cable TV news mentions for the top-tier Democratic candidates and Tulsi Gabbard. The average candidates received 186 mentions from May 1 to June 9. Gabbard received 45. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker polls about 4 times higher than Gabbard but received 15 times the news coverage.

Figure 5: Cable news coverage (mentions) for a selection of Democratic presidential candidates

 

If we convert the percent of news coverage (the x-axis in Figure 4) to number of clips, for every 300 mentions over a six-week period, a candidate can expect a lift of about 1 percentage point in their polling average.

At 45 mentions over the six-week period (May 1 to June 9), Gabbard is not going to start rising in the polls any time soon. She simply does not receive the news coverage necessary to move her public support numbers.

Is that the cable news media’s fault?

Based on this cross-sectional data, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

A politician’s dishonesty isn’t restricted by national borders

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 20, 2019)

Another week, another media-generated faux controversy.

When asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos if he’d accept negative information about an opponent from a foreign source, President Donald Trump said, “I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

The American political and media establishment immediately went mad.

Former Republican congressman David Jolly told MSNBC’s Brian Williams that Trump’s comment about potentially accepting from a foreign power political ‘dirt’ on a political opponent is an “impeachable moment.”

Congressional Democrats had their own response.

“I am headed to the Senate floor with (Virginia Senator) Mark Warner to try to pass legislation to make it a campaign’s legal duty to report to the FBI when a foreign power offers assistance,” Schumer tweeted soon after Trump’s comments became public. “There is no good reason for anyone to object.”

“Undemocratic. Unconscionable. Unbelievable,” complained New York Senator Chuck Schumer after the Warner election interference bill was blocked from a floor vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “President Donald Trump is laying out the welcome wagon for Russia to interfere in our elections again.”

Some pundits didn’t need a new law to declare Trump the “traitor-in-chief.” Rachel Maddow…Don Lemon…Joe Scarborough…Jimmy Kimmel…The hosts of The View…In their opinions, Trump was already a law-breaker, but was now — ex post facto — admitting it. And he is prepared to do it again!

However, exactly what law would be broken if the president accepted dirt on an opponent from ‘somebody’ of foreign origin? [Who most likely would not identify themselves as a foreign intelligence agent, if they were one.]

The law most commonly cited is Title 52 U.S. Code § 30121 (Contributions and donations by foreign nationals), a conclusion supported by the current chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Ellen L. Weintraub, who tweeted:

“Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election (emphasis mine). This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about ‘foreign Interference, Intrigue, and Influence.’ They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s. Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation. Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

It all hinges on one question within federal election law: Is information (‘dirt’) a thing of value?

The specific law being cited by Weintraub reads as follows:

 

Other former FEC officials corroborate Weintraub’s conclusion that political ‘dirt’ is a thing of value.

CNN contributor Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (1987–2000), concluded about the 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Trump campaign operatives and a Russian lawyer, “When Donald Trump Jr. replied he loved it to the offer of free Russian opposition research intended to help his father win the election, and then attended a meeting that included Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort to receive that information, he solicited an illegal contribution from a foreign government.”

According to Noble, Mueller didn’t indict anyone on this criminal offense for two reasons: (1) The “government could not prove Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context,” and (2) Mueller “believes the government might encounter difficulty in determining the value of a contribution that took the form of factual derogatory information.”

But Weintraub, a Democrat, and other former FEC officials offer an interpretation of 52 U.S. Code § 30121 that has not been tested by the higher courts, according to Robert Mueller III and his special investigatory team.

The Mueller Report (p. 195) addresses the issue directly, and it hardly supports the D.C. establishment take on the legality of obtaining pertinent campaign information from foreign sources:

…no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law.

Such an interpretation could have implications beyond the foreign-source ban, see 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a) (imposing monetary limits on campaign contributions), and raise First Amendment questions (emphasis mine). Those questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts (again, emphasis mine). It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.

The second paragraph is remarkable as it is Mueller telling us that using foreign-sourced information in the context of a presidential campaign is most likely legal, as long as it is factually accurate or does not abridge a presidential campaign’s free speech rights.

Yes, presidential campaigns have free speech rights. In fact, the area where higher courts have been most consistent in interpreting the First Amendment is regarding political speech; in contrast to other legal questions surrounding speech and press freedoms.

“After a century of academic debate…the meanings of speech and press freedoms at the Founding remain remarkably hazy,” writes Jud Campbell, an assistant professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “Most scholars view these freedoms as equivalent, together enshrining a freedom of expression. But others assert that the freedom of speech, unlike press freedom, emerged from the legislative privilege of speech and debate, thus providing more robust protection for political speech (emphasis mine).”

Where most scholars and courts agree, however, is that deliberate efforts to mislead the public does deserve punishment and it is here where the Trump campaign could have gone south of the law very fast. But in the 2016 election, Mueller found no evidence that the campaign distributed false information obtained from foreign actors. [Since when does Donald Trump need help from others to make stuff up?]

Mueller’s reluctance to indict Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort pivoted, not on whether the foreign-sourced information they sought was a ‘thing of value’ and therefore in violation of 52 U.S. Code § 30121 as Noble asserts, but on whether there was a reasonable expectation that the Russian lawyer in the Trump Tower meeting had factual information concerning Hillary Clinton.

If a presidential candidate breaks the law or engages in unethical behavior outside U.S. borders (which is exactly what much of the Steele dossier asserts about Trump), it serves the public interest to include this information in the public debate, regardless of its source. A presidential campaign can’t steal such information, or aid and abet in the theft, but receiving it is most likely not a violation of any U.S. federal law — which is why Senator Warner’s bill would make it a criminal act if an attempted exchange of information from a foreign actor is not reported to the FBI.

Ironically, none other than Hillary Clinton offers support for the legality of using foreign-sourced information as part of a campaign’s opposition research activities.

“It happens in a campaign where you get information that may or may not be useful, and you try to make sure anything you put out in the public arena is accurate,” Hillary Clinton told The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah in November 2017. “So, this (Steele dossier) didn’t come out until after the election and its still being evaluated. When Trump got the nomination for the Republican Party, the people (compiling the Steele dossier) came to my campaign lawyer and said, ‘Would you like us to continue it?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ He’s an experienced lawyer. He knows what the law is. He knows what opposition research is.”

The Clinton campaign lawyer’s interpretation of federal election law isn’t a legal sleight of hand or exploiting a loophole in the rules guiding political campaigns. Americans have the right to know if their political candidates have engaged in illegal or unethical behavior.

We already have a reason for journalists and the 2020 Trump campaign to send investigators to Ukraine and China in pursuit of a story that so far has received little attention from the mainstream media. In a June 3 editorial for The HillJohn Solomon reported that Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, was paid upwards of $166,000 per month to sit on the board of Burisma, an energy company, from spring 2014 through fall 2015. This happened to be at the same time Vice President Joe Biden allegedly directed $1.8 billion in aid money to Ukraine on the condition that the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was investigating Burisma at the time. Hunter Biden also procured similarly lucrative deals with the government for China while his dad was vice president.

This may have all been legal and the U.S. Justice Department has not opened a new investigation into this matter. But that should not rule out the American people gaining a full understanding of the Biden family’s financial connections to the Ukraine and China. We are owed that information. Our democracy is stronger by learning as much as possible regarding Biden’s ethical standards.

There was a time when journalists actively investigated the ethics of presidential candidates and other political elites — even going abroad if necessary. Those days, however, seem to be vanishing (if not completely gone).

Still, political campaigns, journalists, and all U.S. citizens have the constitutionally protected right to legally engage in information-seeking in the their exercise of free speech.

Who most opposes the right of Americans to seek and publicize such ‘dirt’ on politicians? Politicians, of course! And working hardest to tear down these rights, at least for now, are the Democrats.

I care little about the day-to-day partisan squabbling that defines the our current American political system. I do care about whether we live in a free country and rolling back our constitutional freedoms in the cause of undermining the Trump presidency is not worth it.

It is unfortunate that the Democrats can’t see the bigger picture at the moment.

  • K.R.K.

For comments and questions, you can contact me at: kroeger98@yahoo.com

The numbers say the War in Yemen is slowing down — are they lying?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 14, 2019)

Has the Yemen Civil War entered into its final stages or is it about to get worse?

The long-term decline in Saudi-UAE air attacks in Yemen suggest the former, but recent Houthi rebel missile attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport and the subsequent promise by the Saudi-UAE coalition to retaliate would indicate otherwise.

As I write, the Saudi’s are claiming this morning (June 14) to have shot down five Houthi-fired unmanned drones near the same airport.

Shadowing this conflict are the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, who backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen, punctuated in the past few days by mine attacks on Persian Gulf oil tankers, which the U.S. blames on Iran.

Until this week, the trend in Yemen was looking positive

These regional setbacks notwithstanding, the long-term trends in Saudi-UAE coalition air raids on Houthi-held areas of western Yemen have been showing a distinct downward trend (see Figures 1 and 2). In April and May, the coalition launched its fewest air raids since May 2016, a period in which a cease fire was in place. Similarly, the number of civilian deaths caused by the coalition air raids and the lethality of these raids are near three-year lows.

Figure 1: Saudi-UAE Coalition Air Raids on Yemen (March 2015 to May 2019)

Source: Yemen Data Project

 

Figure 2: Deaths caused by Saudi-UAE Coalition Air Raids on Yemen (March 2015 to May 2019)

Source: Yemen Data Project

 

Given the Houthis have relinquished little of the territory they seized at the start of the civil war in 2015, any resolution to the conflict, with the status on-the-ground as it is, will most likely favor the rebels.

Writing in Foreign Affairs last month in support of continued U.S. cooperation with the Saudi-UAE coalition, Michael Knights, Kenneth Pollack, and Barbara Walter acknowledged that the “the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side — most likely the Houthis — have won.”

Last December, the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-UAE coalition agreed to a limited ceasefire and withdrawal of forces from Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, a Red Sea port city where most humanitarian aid enters Yemen.

Still, the Saudi-UAE forces (with U.S. assistance) continue to attack civilian, non-military targets (see Figure 3). Since the war began, around one-quarter of all coalition air raids have targeted civilians. This level has been relatively constant, though it surged past 40 percent in the Summer of 2018 when coalition forces started a large offensive to retake Hudaydah. The coalition failed and, in the process, committed one of its worst atrocities yet when an air strike hit a bus in Dahyan, in Yemen’s Saada province, killing over 50 people, including dozens of children.

Figure 3: Target Mixture of Saudi-UAE Coalition Air Raids on Yemen (March 2015 to May 2019)

Source: Yemen Data Project

Can an escalation in the Yemen War be avoided?

With the probability of a hot war between the U.S. and Iran rising substantially since the U.S. exited the Iran nuclear deal and imposed new sanctions against Tehran, the prospects for a peaceful resolution in Yemen seem remote.

But there is cause for optimism. For one, the harsh economic realities now facing Iran will significantly constrain its ability to increase its military assistance to the Houthis. This week’s Houthi attacks on the Saudi airport may have been about sending a message to the Saudi-UAE coalition: With or without Iran’s help, the Houthis are not going away.

At the same time, the reality of a weaker Iran may push the Houthis to negotiate a resolution to the War in Yemen. The Houthis, who are Shia Muslims, represent the majority in northwestern Yemen, which is also where the capital, Sanaa, is located. [Approximately 45 percent of Yemen’s population is Shia, the remaining mostly Sunni Muslims]

When the Houthi rebels removed Saudi-aligned President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from power in Yemen in 2015, ostensibly over Hadi’s decision to raise fuel subsidies, the rebellion was more about Houthi resentment over the undemocratic means by which Hadi, a Sunni, was placed into power by the Saudis.

The 2011 Arab Spring led to a revolution in Yemen in which the people forced their long-time leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, generally considered allied with the West, from power. Hadi’s subsequent rise with Saudi support, however, only heightened tensions.

But the ability of the Houthis to unify Yemen is no more credible than Hadi’s attempt. At some point, all sides will need to negotiate a new political consensus if Yemen is to become a unified nation again, according to one of Yemen’s most prominent activists. Speaking at forum in Doha, Qatar last November, Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was optimistic about ending the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but it will require an international effort, starting with the ending of arms shipments to Yemen by the Saudi-UAE coalition and Iran.

She described the 2011 Yemen revolution as dedicated to the rule of law, freedom and peaceful coexistence and that it was external forces (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, etc.) that overturned the revolution’s initial positive results.

In contrast to most Western observers, Karman blames both the Saudi-UAE coalition and the Iranians for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen today. The United Nations estimates around 10 million people in Yemen suffer from malnutrition and inadequate access to clean water. Since the war started, an estimated 85,000 Yemeni children under the age of five have died, according to the aid organization Save the Children. Left unaddressed, the UN estimates the world’s worst humanitarian disaster today could witness over 14 million Yemenis at risk of starvation.

“Children are falling like the leaves of autumn under the bombardments of the Saudi-led coalition,” Karman told the Doha audience.

To stop this ongoing tragedy, Karman believes the Yemeni constitution drafted during the 2011 revolution is the place to start. In it, regional autonomy for groups like the Houthis would be established while still maintaining a national structure for preventing any dominate sectarian interest from subjugating other groups.

But for that process to have a chance, the weapons have to stop pouring into Yemen, according to Karman.

 

The events in the Persian Gulf this week do not inspire confidence that a reduction in arms entering Yemen is going to happen soon. More likely, the Houthis and Saudi-UAE coalition will become even more entrenched.

However, with the Trump administration incautiously blowing up the regional status quo, the futility of the Yemen War may become apparent to both sides. The Houthis are going to lose significant materiel support from the Iranians, while the Saudi-led Gulf States are going to be increasingly distracted by a potentially larger conflict with Iran.

Now may be the best time for both sides to come to the negotiating table and start the slow process of re-building the democratic institutions started in Yemen after the 2011 revolution.

We can hope.

  • K.R.K.

The New ‘Deplorables’: Centrists

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 10, 2019)

The hashtag #NoMiddleGround regularly trends on Twitter these days, as Democratic Party progressives continue to react to candidate Joe Biden’s unapologetic embrace of centrist policy ideas — when he’s not flip-flopping.

As one Bernie Sanders supporter put it: “The common threads between almost all #centrists are self righteousness and a complete lack of moral integrity.”

“They are the Democrats’ version of deplorables,” another added.

That is rather harsh. And, unfortunately, a dangerous misunderstanding of how electoral politics work in this country and is a large reason why the Democrats often find ways to lose elections they should otherwise win.

Centrists are not necessarily moderates

Some definitional clarity will help before we move forward. Centrists are not necessarily Moderates. The center is a relative concept. By definition, there is always a center point in a one- or multidimensional distribution. There may not be a lot of voters in the center, but there is still a center. On the other hand, being a ‘moderate’ is a self-description of where people put themselves on an ideological scale. In this essay, for the most part, I use the term ‘center’ or ‘centrist’ to indicate the relative positions of voters within an ideological distribution of all voters.

As an example, Hillary Clinton won among self-described moderates in 2016 — but she did not appeal to the nation’s center-of-gravity, which in that election was significantly to the right of where the country’s voters stand today.

With that distinction in mind, there are three rules that generally apply in presidential politics:

(1) You can’t win if you don’t excite the party’s ideological base.

(2) Centrist voters are important to winning most presidential elections.

(3) Ideological voters don’t necessarily prefer ideological candidates and centrist voters do not necessarily prefer centrist candidates.

That last rule is the tricky one. And therein lies the challenge facing presidential candidates, regardless of their placement on the ideological* spectrum. *(Ideology is not the same as partisanship)

Starting with Obama’s 2008 campaign, the Democratic Party’s research brain trust has mostly rejected the ‘centrist’ strategy in favor of a ‘turnout’ strategy that emphasizes “Get-Out-The-Vote” (GOTV) efforts focused on loyal and ideological Democrats (Rule #1). Still, to address Rule #2, they picked a centrist presidential candidate.

But they stumbled on Rule #3, as there is no certain way to approach it. Rule #3 is often why charisma is considered crucial to any presidential candidate. But what is that? For all the talk and effort trying to define charisma, it is not easily quantified or identifiable.

Rule #3 is the sticky wicket and why presidential campaigns tend to focus on the first two rules, often to their downfall.

Centrists are the new ‘deplorables’

It is a sentence that will follow Hillary Clinton to the grave: “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’”

With those words, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton augured her own defeat in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Though more than a few pundits and social scientists pointed out she wasn’t entirely wrong, as a political strategy it was an arrogant failure.

She didn’t just write off over 20 percent of the electorate, she gave ‘undeplorable’ centrists and #NeverTrumpers the political cover to hold their noses and vote for Donald Trump. Clinton — known for her discipline — committed an unforced error from which there was no easy recovery.

Perhaps she was over-confident? Barack Obama said basically the same thing with his 2008 comment about conservatives clinging to ‘their guns and religion’ and he won twice. But Obama was a generationally transcendent candidate. He had some margin of error to work with in 2008 and 2012. Hillary did not.

Though their words on the campaign trail were ill-considered, Obama and Clinton were merely bringing relatable imagery to the Democrats’ dominate campaign strategy over the past twenty years: Win the turnout battle and Democrats win the election.

It is John B. Judis’ and Ruy Teixeira’s Emerging Democratic Majority thesis, which says Democrats have such a growing and increasingly dominate demographic advantage over the Republicans, all they need to do to win elections is to get their voters to the polls.

In practice, it becomes…Damn the deplorables and religious gun clingersWe don’t need them. And that is true. They don’t.

And yet they still lose. Why? The answer may lie in the bad rhetorical habits that develop when candidates (and political parties) assume a third of the voter population is irredeemable, coupled with selecting a centrist candidate that may work against the GOTV strategy.

The perfect candidate for the Democrats (and Republicans) is an ideologically-distinctive candidate that also appeals to the center. Easier said than done.

The ‘anti-deplorable’ strategy fostered during Clinton’s 2016 campaign went too far in its over-interpretation of Judis and Teixeira’s research and compromised the candidate’s appeal to the center.

Winning national elections requires broad appeal.

The Democrats have learned nothing from 2016

Clinton’s ‘anti-deplorable’ rally cry has morphed into an even worse ‘anti-centrist’ approach within the Democrats’ most progressive wing. New Yorkmagazine’s Eric Levitz wrote soon after the 2016 election that the Democrats don’t need to appeal to the center because “the center no longer exists.”

Oddly, Levitz supported his argument by presenting a Dr. Lee Drutman (YouGov.com) generated graph showing a significant and decisive percentage of the 2016 electorate holding centrist opinions on economics and social issues. The graph makes one clear point: If Clinton had won a majority of their affections, the cable news networks would probably be talking about impeaching President Clinton right now.

Instead, progressive Democrats are deciding if even centrists are acceptable. To the far-left, centrists are the neo-deplorables and spend even a little time on social media and you will see how corrosive this debate has become and how it is splitting the party.

“Centrists are actually SQWs: status quo warriors,” says progressive activist Sally Hunt (@sallybhunt). “Their energy, passion, and motivation always lies in trying to shut down and invalidate every single important discussion about oppression, abuse, injustice, power imbalances, and exploitation in society.”

Courtesy of Sally Hunt (@sallybhunt)

 

In response, the centrist-aligned media implores Democrats to believe Trump’s base is not impregnable and that the ‘right candidate’ can win them over to the Democrats in 2020.

“The number one thing I would say is winning elections isn’t just about mobilization,” Yair Ghitza, chief scientist at Democratic voter-targeting firm Catalist, said in an interview with CNN. “I do think that’s something some people argue, and it’s gained a bit of traction. What I try to point out here is that mobilization is incredibly important. But the idea that there are literally no swing voters left, is, I think, a misreading of a lot of the data that’s out there.”

That fact that Ghitza needs to address whether there are any swing voters left tells us how disconnected from reality many in the Democratic Party have become over the past two years.

In this dispute, the Democratic Party establishment has only themselves to blame for the internecine warfare. By using the Russiagate investigation and other apocalyptic tropes to confront Trump, they have goaded the far-left elements in their party to accept nothing less than the removal of Trump from office — which isn’t going to happen until, at the earliest, Election Day. Until then, the establishment will be holding a pit viper by the back of the head and unable to let go.

Is mobilizing progressives enough?

A recent article by GQ’s Alex Kotch offers a nice counterpose to Ghitza’s research and the centrist strategy. Using YouGov.com survey data, Kotch argues the Democrats would have won in 2016 had they just convinced more of their progressive base to vote.

“When Democrats mobilize their base, they win,” writes Kotch. “Mobilizing the Democratic party base means standing up for progressive values, principles, and policies — and reaching out to the people it claims to represent. In the Data for Progress and YouGov Blue “What The Hell Happened” survey, we found overwhelming support among 2018 voters for policies like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and free college.”

To support his case, Kotch offered this chart (Figure 1) from the Data for Progress survey showing how, had progressive voters in 2012 not sat out in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won in four battleground states. She would have won the election.

In Florida, slightly more than 300,000 progressive voters that voted in 2012 did not vote in 2016. Given the 100,000 vote gap between Trump and Clinton, that is compelling evidence to support the base mobilization strategy. These ‘defectors’ made up two percent of the all registered voters in Florida, and a similar percentage in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It is not a huge proportion of the population, but large enough to target cost-effectively with GOTV campaigns.

Figure 1: Progressive Turnout in 2016 from Four Key States

 

Attention to Kotch’s article blossomed after New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quickly tweeted back with this comment:

 

“This is why I say that expanding the electorate is a more effective strategy than burning (dollars) to win over a tiny slice of the people,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez. ‘It’s entitled to demand ‘vote Blue not matter who’ — no matter how ‘right’ that is. You HAVE to deliver a real platform that improves people’s lives.”

Soon after her first tweet, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted again emphasizing her belief that focusing on swing voters is a mistake: “& I mean improve ALL people’s lives, not only “swing voters” lives.”

Kotch and Ocasio-Cortez have good reason to lament how Clinton failed to energize progressive voters. She did not mobilize her party’s base and she paid a price for it. But mobilizing the base is only part of the story (recall the Three Rules from above). The Democrats need a more holistic view of the electorate. And, yes, that means paying attention to centrists and the dreaded “swing voters.”

Using survey data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES), I categorized eligible voters along three factors: (1) Their self-described political ideology, (2) their 2012 presidential vote decision, and (3) their 2016 presidential vote decision.

[Note: Data for Progress constructed an index using policy-based survey items in order to identify ‘progressive’ voters. For the purposes of this essay, ANES’ self-described ideology survey item is sufficient to identify ‘progressive’ voters. For the ideological extremes, there is a strong correlation between constructed policy-based ideology indexes and self-reported survey items (e.g., ‘Progressives’ are far more likely to call themselves ‘very liberal’ or ‘liberal’ compared to other respondents — my own research documenting this can be found here).]

From the perspective of the Democratic Party, there are only three things an eligible voter can do: (1) Vote for the Democrat, (2) Vote for the Republican, or (3) Not vote (including voting for a third party candidate — which is equivalent to not voting from a major party perspective). Over two election cycles, that leaves nine possible categories (see Figure 2).

Klotch and Data for Progress focused on the ‘progressive’ defectors. In my analysis I identified an equivalent group — ‘liberal’ defectors — who accounted for two percent of all eligible voters in 2016, according to the ANES data. This proportion is consistent with the Data for Progress/Klotch numbers. As a comparison, the Republicans had their own defector group in 2016: Conservative Romney Republicans who voted for Clinton (or did not vote) in 2016. They were similar in size to the ‘liberal’ defectors.

Figure 2: Summary of ANES Respondents’ Presidential Vote Decisions in 2012 and 2016.

 

But there was another important group of eligible voters in 2016 that should not be ignored in 2020 by the Democrats: Centrist defectors to the GOP. These were ‘slightly liberal’ or ‘moderate’ voters that had voted for Obama in 2012 but did not support Clinton in 2016. This group made up five percent of eligible voters — at least twice the size of the ‘liberal’ defectors. Is that a group the Democrats think they can ignore in the next election because they voted for Trump and its a waste of money and energy to give them a reason to come back to the Democratic Party?

Ocasio-Cortez is correct about this: It is much more time consuming and expensive to canvass centrists and moderates than it is to target the party’s base in GOTV efforts. That is how a business thinks. That is how an economist thinks. But that is not how a presidential campaign should think.

The goal is to win an election, not have the biggest campaign bank account on election day. Does Democratic Party nominee want to say the day after the election, “We lost, but we did have the most cost-effective campaign in history!”?

Both presidential candidates and parties will have a campaign chest north of $2 billion in the general election. Without doubt, the Democrats can set aside significant money to communicate with working class centrists/moderates in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who defected to the Republicans in 2016. And if the Democrats don’t, the Republicans most certainly will.

If the Klotch/Ocasio-Cortez argument were merely an argument about emphasis and not a call to disregard working class Democrats that voted for Trump, I’d would not be alarmed. The Democrats cannot afford to have anyone in their progressive to stay home in 2020.

But they also cannot allow the Republicans to once again pick their pocket and walk away with five percent of eligible voters that should vote Democrat, all else equal. Ocasio-Cortez can call them a “tiny slice of the people,” but that tiny slice likely outnumbered progressive base defectors by 2-to-1.

Add to this equation the roughly six percent of eligible voters that defected to the Democrats in 2016 (conservative and centrist Republican voters in 2012). Even if they call themselves #NeverTrumpers, ignoring their interests and issue preferences does not feel like a sound strategy for the Democrats.

Centrists don’t necessarily prefer centrist candidates

Suggesting the Democrats are less likely to win in 2020 without support from centrist and moderate voters may sound like a sellout to the Democrats’ corporatist wing, but it is more like a bland truism.

The real dilemma facing the Democratic party (both parties, really) is picking a candidate that inspires the base and attracts moderates and centrists. That is not a contradiction. Quite the opposite, it is a template for victory repeated over and over in American presidential elections: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W.Bush, and Barack Obama.

This electoral challenge has been known for years and was perfectly summarized recently by Salon.com’s Amanda Marcotte:

“…voters aren’t really inspired by playing it safe or moving to the center. Instead, candidates do better by convincing voters that this election is a historic moment and they don’t want to be left on the sidelines. There are a number of 2020 candidates who have that juice for different reasons: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris all seem to be generating excitement at their rallies. It could be catastrophic if Democratic voters, laboring under the panicky delusion that only a “centrist” can win, blow their chance to beat Trump by nominating exactly the wrong kind of candidate.”

While I disagree with some on her list of candidates with ‘juice,’ her point captures the disconnect that continues within the mainstream media when the topic becomes ‘Can Bernie or Biden unite the party’?

What Marcotte gets wrong — as do most political pundits — is that inspiring, historically relevant candidates don’t tend to be those that peddle empty platitudes. They must have a purpose for being a candidate. They must have some concrete reason for being president besides saying, ‘Trump is unfit to be president and I can beat him.’

Bernie Sanders leads on this front. I’ve interviewed hundreds of voters since 2016 and the issue that invariably gets mentioned as the most important is health care. Rich or poor, health care consumes their attention. And Sanders has a plan.

Tulsi Gabbard wants to end counterproductive regime change wars and is the least partisan-driven candidate I’ve ever met. Elizabeth Warren nails it on why the big social media companies need to be broken up and knows more about banking and finance than any other candidate since Bill Clinton. Jay Inslee has tangible ideas on addressing climate change. Andrew Yang wants universal basic income. As for the other candidates, their raison d’être is a mystery. Why are they running for president? They have answers to that question, but do you remember them?

Assuming a centrist candidate will broaden the party’s electoral coalition, or that a progressive candidate will shrink it, is not rooted in reality. Likewise, thinking a focus on turning out the progressive base will guarantee an electoral victory is not demonstrably better.

That is why attempts to tag ‘centrists’ as being unfit for the Democratic Party coalition serves no purpose. It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates most voters. Centrist voters are Democratic voters in good Democratic years. So why would they be the enemy in any other year?

We saw firsthand in 2016 that labeling any voter a ‘deplorable’ serves no tangible strategic purpose except to allow undecided voters to sympathize with them and either vote for the opposing party candidate or not vote at all. Broadening that category to include ‘centrist’ voters is political suicide. It won’t work and, quite possibly, will splinter the Democratic Party.

Progressive Democrats don’t need to compromise on their policy ideas, but they do need to open their minds on who they think are open to their ideas.

  • K.R.K.

Reports of Bernie’s troubles are exaggerated

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; June 1, 2019)

If I didn’t know better, I’d think the mainstream media is trying to undercut the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

“Polls show Sanders losing support, as others such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris gain ground,” argues CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson.

The Morning Consult headlined in its recent Democratic nomination poll summary: “Sanders on the decline with 18–29 year-olds. Throughout March, Bernie Sanders had 45 percent of the first choice vote share among America’s youngest voters. That support has steadily declined and currently sits at 33 percent.”

“He can’t grow, and if he can’t hold his most important supporters? His path to the nomination, already near-zero, becomes effectively zero,” concludes The DailyKos.com.

‘Bernie is so 2016′ echoes around dinner conversations from Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side. The liberal establishment can hardly contain their collective grin.

“He (Bernie Sanders) evokes an ersatz George McGovern: a candidate who inspires great passion among a slice of the electorate just large enough to win his party’s nomination, before losing to an incumbent president steeped in criminality. In more ways than one, America cannot afford him,” writes Richard North Patterson. “Sanders is a political tooth fairy, asking voters to chase a fantasy down a rabbit hole to nowhere. But magical thinking won’t beat Trump. The reckoning of 2020 demands a candidate with the discipline, talent, realism and resolve to make our collective reality better. Whoever that might be, it isn’t Bernie Sanders.”

But are these stories of Bernie’s demise true?

Similar to the Trump-Russia collusion myth, the ‘Bernie is fading’ narrative is based more on wishful thinking than reality.

The truth is….

According to RealClearPolitics’ polling averages, Sanders was pulling just under 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters when consistent polling on the nomination started late last year (see Figure 1). Apart from a period around his candidacy announcement, when his support grew into the mid-20s, Sanders’ polling has hovered within 5 percentage points of 20 percent.

In fact, the top four candidates — Joe Biden, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — have seen few substantive changes in their support levels since last year, though Biden’s support has grown somewhat (about 10 percentage points since the beginning of 2019). And contrary Nia-Malika Henderson’s claim about Harris and Warren’s surge, neither has seen any support growth.

Figure 1: Weekly Polling Averages for 2020 Democratic Nomination Race

Data Source: RealClearPolitics.com

 

However, Sanders’ critics are correct about one thing: 20 percent is not enough to win the Democratic nomination. He must grow his support beyond his current base (which consists of much more than just millennials and left-wing progressives, when you dig deeper into the data). And with over 20 candidates in the race, building upon his base is not going to be easy in the near-term.

But this is still early June and the Democrats have not even held a debate yet. To argue Sanders’ chance for the nomination is ‘effectively zero’ isn’t just wrong, it is unfair. Deliberately so, I would add.

“The Democratic nomination will be about who can most likely beat Trump,” said one Democratic pundit during a recent roundtable discussion on the nomination race. And Bernie Sanders can’t beat Trump was the implication.

Substance and policy be damned, the Democratic Party is saying to its core voters, ignoring that fact that the 2020 Democrat nominee employed the same policy-free strategy — and lost to the Orange Mephistopheles.

This is the message the Democratic Party establishment wants every Democrat to internalize between now and the February 2020 caucus in Iowa.

But will it work this time?

  • K.R.K.