Category Archives: Opinion

Trump’s Implicit Anti-Semitism

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; April 9, 2019)

President Donald Trump was in prime free-styling mode while speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition last week in Las Vegas:

“I stood with Prime Minister Netanyahu…Benjamin Netanyahu…How’s the race going by the way? How is it? Whose going to win the race? Tell me. I don’t know. Well, its gonna be close. I think its gonna be close. Two good people. Two good people. But I stood with your prime minister (emphasis mine) at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the GOLAN! (emphasis Trump’s) Heights. The Golan Heights is something I’ve been hearing about for a long time…(extended applause)…The Golan Heights. So, I was talking to Ambassador (David) Freidman and — not about this — they’ve been trying to get that approved, as you know, for 52 years ’cause they’ve wanted recognition from…” (Trump’s stream of consciousness continued on for another 30 minutes)

The speech quickly went viral, with Trump’s critics focusing on the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty implied by his saying “your prime minister.”

“Mr. President, words matter,” tweeted Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “As with all elected officials, its critical for you to avoid language that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans.”

Trump knew he was talking to Americans. After all, he was in Las Vegas. How could he not know? The only rational conclusion is that Trump thought his audience’s loyalties to Israel equaled, if not eclipsed, other loyalties.

Rep. Omar’s Controversial Statements on Israel

Even with a generous interpretation, Trump’s slur was patently more offensive than Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s suggestion in a February town hall meetingthat, after she had criticized Israeli policies towards Palestinians, she had been pressured from both sides of the political spectrum to confirm her loyalty to Israel.

“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress,” responded Omar to criticisms of her town hall comments. “I have not said anything about the loyalty of others, but spoke about the loyalty expected of me.”

[Personally, I found Omar’s comment about U.S. support for Israel being all ‘about the Benjamins’ to be more offensive and interpretable as anti-Semitic.]

But for some, Omar’s clarification was insufficient.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said of Rep. Omar: “She is casting Jewish Americans as the other, suggesting a dual loyalty that calls our devotion to America into question.”

But Trump’s use of “your prime minister” is doing exactly that, directly. There is no nuance in Trump’s phrasing. He assumed his Las Vegas audience considered the political leader of another sovereign country to be their leader as well.

That is the definition of the dual loyalty slur. But was the deep-rooted anti-Semitism of Trump’s comment to the Republican Jewish Coalition ever acknowledged as such by the GOP and Israelis?

Of course not. After all, Trump has pretty much given Netanyahu everything he’s asked for, short of a war against Iran — and with two more years left in his term, that could still happen.

Despite Protestations from Party Elites, Israel is Now a Partisan Issue in U.S. Politics

Trump’s oratorical word salads have never been funny and, as president, the misinterpretations they invite only raise the possibility that he could do real damage to our national security and interests. Such solecisms in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has killed 9,876 Palestinians and 1,263Israelis since 2000, over 2,300 being children, are particularly reckless.

Making the situation even more unpredictable is the Israeli policy under Netanyahu’s leadership to aggressively support and reinforce Trump’s leadership in the region.

By any objective measure, Netanyahu and Trump are besties. But to what end for the Israelis? So far, just short-term political gains, such as U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights and the U.S. Embassy’s move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those are purely symbolic outcomes from Israel’s perspective. Before Trump entered office, the U.S. Embassy was already, functionally, working out of Jerusalem and Israel’s control of the Golan Heights has been secure since 1974. Even Palestinian protestations over these U.S. policy moves have been muted and perfunctory.

But with the introduction of partisan politics into the U.S.-Israeli equation in the past 10 years, the Israeli alliance with the Republicans, and now Trump, may be effecting immeasurable damage to Israel’s (and U.S.) long-term interests.

Recent events on the 2020 presidential campaign trail illustrate this potential.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, not exactly a risk taker when it comes to stating concrete policy ideas, said during a campaign stop in Iowa recently that the U.S.-Israeli relationship, to be successful, “must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist, as he warns about Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far-right, racist party in order to maintain his hold on power.”

Holy Moses!

For anyone following the U.S.-Israeli relationship over the years, O’Rourke’s statement was unprecedented for a mainstream politician with presidential hopes. American politicians don’t call Israeli prime ministers racist (not even strong Netanyahu critics such as former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders). But, in the post-Obama world, the U.S.-Israeli relationship has fundamentally changed — even as U.S. foreign policy towards Israel is as supportive as it has ever been.

Should Israel annex large sections of the West Bank, as Netanyahu has promised should he form the next government after the April elections, the Two-State Solution, which is already on life-support, will be OBE (Overtaken-By-Events). There is no viable Palestinian state on the West Bank where Israel controls 60 percent of the land (see Figure 1). Even as most U.S. foreign policy experts still cling to the Two-State-Solution, on the ground, it is as dead as Jussie Smollet’s career.

Figure 1: Israeli Settlements on the West Bank

Source: United Nations OCHA

Trump’s Implicit Anti-Semitism Has Consequences

When Trump implies that American Jews are as loyal to Israel as they are to the U.S., he is not only saying something that is demonstrably untrue, he is reinforcing one of anti-Semitism’s bedrock falsehoods.

Ironically, he is also doing measurable harm to Israel’s support among American Jews.

“A growing number of American Jews look at Israel and see a country that is occupying Palestinian territory and breaking up peaceful Palestinian protests using force,” writes journalist Zack Beauchamp, a Jewish American with familial connections to Israel. “They also see a Jewish state that only recognizes one socially conservative strand of Jewry, Orthodox Judaism, as legitimate — which manifests in things like preventing liberal American Jews from praying in mixed-gender groups at the Western Wall, the holiest prayer site in Judaism.”

Trump’s politicization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also impacted support for Israel across all Americans, and these opinions are dividing along party lines.

In a University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, conducted in September and October of 2018 among a nationally representative sample of 2,352 Americans, a majority of Republicans (57%) indicated they want U.S. policy to lean in favor of Israel over the Palestinians, while a substantial majority of Democrats (82%) want it to lean toward neither side, and 8 percent want it to lean toward the Palestinians.

As Trump said many times on the 2016 campaign trail, “I will do more for Israel than any president in history,” after two years, he believes he has made good on that promise. But he also done great harm, not just to Palestinians who saw a significant increase in fatalities by Israeli forces in 2018, but to Israel itself by overtly linking U.S. policy towards Israel to his political fortunes.

Given Trump’s demonstrable propensity for perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes, that is a political marriage the Israelis may well regret.

  • K.R.K.

Comments can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Don’t stereotype Trump’s conservative base

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This is the fifth essay in a series dedicated to analyzing the U.S. eligible-voter population using the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), an online survey administered in Dec. 2018 by researchers from the Univ. of Michigan & Stanford Univ. 

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; April 5, 2019)

Nothing makes a Democrat happier than describing the ‘average’ conservative Republican:

“The Republican base is now made up of religious and neoconservative ideologues, and the uneducated white underclass with a token person of color or two up front on TV to obscure the all-white, all-reactionary, all-backward, ‘there-is-no-global-warming’ rube reality. Actual conservatives, let alone the educated classes, have long since fled,” says author and filmmaker Frank Schaeffer, a conservative Christian in his youth who became a liberal Democrat as an adult. “…the Republican Party — as it is now — must be utterly destroyed in 2020. The word euthanized comes to mind.”

Sean McElwee, a researcher for dataforprogress.org, offers a more balanced, less provocative description of the GOP’s conservative base:

“While non-college whites do indeed make up a significant portion of (Donald) Trump’s base, they also make up a non-trivial share of (Hillary) Clinton voters…
…If we define the base as a group making up a non-trivial share of the electorate that overwhelmingly prefers one party, it is fair to call white evangelicals Trump’s base. If we define the base purely by the size of the coalition, we might prefer instead white non-college voters or whites over 50, both of whom make up more than half of Trump’s voters.”

And New York Magazine writer Eric Levitz takes a variant approach by summarizing what motivates this conservative base — but the implication about who is being motivated is crystal clear:

“For decades now, the conservative movement has sought to keep its core voters confined to a carefully curated media ecosystem — one where the Democratic Party is a MarxistIslamist organization, America is the world’s most over-taxed nation, illegal immigrants bear sole responsibility for the stagnation of middle-class wages (and/or all violent crime), and there’s never been a better time to buy gold coins.”

Schaeffer and Levitz’ descriptions wouldn’t be funny if they weren’t somewhat accurate.

These are stereotypes about Donald Trump’s conservative base — rooted in reality — but deeply misleading at the same time.

Summarizing 62 million Trump voters is a Sisyphean task even for statisticians and strategic consultants, much less for the average political journalist, which is why stereotyping is so seductive, as it is often based on kernels of truth.

Using the attitudinal segmentation detailed in my previous essays, I computed within each political segment the percentage who were white and did not have a 4-year college degree. As seen in Figure 1, the majority of the conservative base (also referred to as ‘Trump’s conservative base’ in this essay) fit this demographic description (63%). In comparison, only 31 percent of the Democratic progressive base shares those attributes.

On the surface, it appears fine to categorize — or, rather, stereotype — conservatives as less-educated, white people.

Figure 1: Prevalence of Whites without a 4-year College Degree by Political Segment

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics & Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

But this characterization is not precise.

Anytime we use stereotypes as a heuristic device to save analytic time and energy, we risk mischaracterizing the world we’re trying to explain.

That is the case with many who try to describe Trump’s conservative base.

Stereotyping is lazy analytics

Stereotypes are cognitive short-cuts that help simplify our lives. We engage in stereotyping because it often works across a wide of range of daily activities.

When we choose a new restaurant, we judge it by location, cuisine, and price. That is stereotyping.

When we seek partners, we consider diction, education level, religious background, and even someone’s accent. That is stereotyping.

Stereotyping saves us time and effort. Psychologists James Hilton and William von Hippel define stereotypes as “mental representations of real differences between groups. . . allowing easier and more efficient processing of information.”

But stereotyping has a risk. It can mischaracterize the true nature of a group and its relationship to other groups. Trump’s almost monolithic white, less-educated voter base is not a myth, but its not the whole story either. And its certainly not the interesting story.

As we will see below, there is significant attitudinal diversity within the media-maligned conservative base, who could represent the tipping point in a Democrat landslide in 2020, or the foundation of a new, durable GOP electoral majority.

Yes, racism and sexism punctuated the 2016 election, but…

As the U.S. has become more educated and ethnically diverse, Republican voters have become more reflective of an earlier era in America, as they are now predominately white, Christian, and less likely — from even a decade ago — to be college graduates, according to a 2018 Pew Research study. Add in a growing partisan gender gap and it doesn’t take a PhD in demography or political science to realize this is voter base is problematic for the Republicans going forward.

Still, the formula worked for the Republicans in 2016.

Education levels among whites strongly correlated with their 2016 vote choice. The divide in vote preferences between highly-educated and lesser-educated whites grew dramatically during the 2016 campaign, according to a team of researchers led by University of Massachusetts–Amherst political scientist Brian Schaffner, and this gap is not explained by economics.

But this divide was not a reflection of greater economic stress among lesser-educated whites. According to Schaffner’s team, Trump’s vote was driven by sexism and racial denialism, not economics. “Explicit racist and sexist appeals appeared to cost Trump some votes from more educated whites, but it may have won him even more support among whites with less education.”

The UM-Amherst study, however, leaves a dark impression about the average Trump voter; even though, the analytic focus of the study had little to do with describing the average Trump voter. Its concern was in describing relationships between populations through marginal and conditional probabilities — which is not the same as describing a population such as Trump’s conservative base. Those are two different analytic tasks.

There is little doubt that Trump’s explicit appeals to nativism along with his own misogynistic behavior sharpened the sorting process among many voters still available to either Clinton or Trump in the last months of the 2016 election. But those ‘persuadable’ voters are not the same as the conservative base.



At a rally in Minnesota last summer, Donald Trump invited his audience to offer its opinion on the “fake news” media. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Compassion and Acceptance Defines the Largest Conservative Bloc

Don’t let the sounds and images from Trump campaign rallies (or the rambling, ignominious rants of Trump himself) define the entire conservative base. The bloc of voters that most helped elect Trump cannot be summarized with stereotyping labels such as ‘racist,’ ‘sexist,’ ‘homophobic,’ or ‘anti-immigrant.’ I understand the temptation, but resist.

Employing a two-stage attitudinal segmentation of 2018 ANES respondents, in the first stage, using attitudes related to current policy issues (immigration, trade, health care, economic inequality, gun control and climate change) and, in the second stage, using attitudes on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other social organizations, three sub-segments are identified within the GOP’s conservative base (see Figure 2):

Old Guard Conservatives (33% of Conservatives; 9% of all eligible voters).

Lost Hope Conservatives (27% of Conservatives; 7% of all eligible voters).

Compassionate Conservatives (40% of Conservatives; 11% of all eligible voters).

Figure 2: The Sub-Segments within the Conservative and Progressive Political Segments

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics & Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Compassionate Conservatives are the largest sub-segment of conservatives (40%) and distinguish themselves from both the Lost Hope and Old Guard sub-segments with respect to their favorability towards other races, ethnicities, and social groups (i.e., group affinities). On average, Compassionate Conservatives rate whites roughly the same as they do Blacks and Hispanics (in contrast to the other conservative sub-segments who rate whites significantly higher than those groups). Second, Compassionate Conservatives demonstrate greater affinities towards Gay and Lesbian, Transgender, Muslim and immigrant Americans relative to Lost Hope and Old Guard sub-segments. They are, for lack of a better description, more open-minded than other conservatives and represent the largest number of conservatives.

Given the relatively small sample size of conservatives (effective n = 331) and progressives (effective n = 358), most of the demographic differences between the sub-segments are statistically insignificant. However, there are some notable exceptions:

  • Compassionate Conservatives are the wealthiest sub-segment
  • Lost Hope Conservatives are the least wealthy sub-segment
  • Old Guard Conservatives are the oldest and least Female sub-segment

While more detail on the attitudinal and demographic differences between the conservative (and progressive) sub-segments can be found in the Appendix below, the following graphs highlight some of the more prominent attitudinal differences.

Figure 3 maps the conservative and progressive sub-segments based on their average ratings of whites and Blacks. The diagonal line shows where both racial groups are rated the same (equity). Four of the six groups are relatively close to this line (and statistically indistinguishable from it), while Justice Progressives, on average, rate Blacks higher than whites and Lost Hope Conservatives do the opposite.

Figure 3: Ratings of Blacks and Whites (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics & Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

On these racial attitudes, Compassionate Conservatives (the orange circle) have more in common with Establishment Progressives (the dark blue circle)than they do with the two other conservative sub-segments.

On attitudes regarding immigration, Compassionate Conservatives also distinguish themselves among the conservatives. While they generally agree that immigration numbers into the U.S. should decrease (horizontal axis in Figure 4), they depart from their political brethren on whether immigration and diversity hurts American society (vertical axis in Figure 4). Only 20 percent of Compassionate Conservatives believe immigration and diversity hurts society, while 46 percent of Old Guard Conservatives and 57 percent of Lost Hope Conservatives believe it does. That is a significant and dramatic difference within the conservative base.

Figure 4: Attitudes on Immigration and Diversity (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics & Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Figures 5 through 7 summarize the sub-segments (conservative and progressive) on their ratings of Gays and Lesbians, Transgender, and Muslims. As seen in this series of bar charts, the distributions of the identity group ratings by the Compassionate Conservatives resemble the progressive sub-segments far more than the two other conservative segments. In particular, the distributions for the Compassionate Conservatives closely match those for the Paycheck Progressives, a sub-segment of progressives that skews male and less wealthy.

Figure 5: Ratings of Gays and Lesbians (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure 6: Ratings of Transgender (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure 7: Ratings of Muslims (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

If LGBTQ rights and other identity-based issues were major vote drivers for conservatives, 40 percent of the GOP/Trump base might listen to Democratic messages on such topics during the current election cycle. Then again, the GOP might just as logically target Paycheck Progressives with uniquely tailored messages.

If there is one constant in American politics, every national election is potentially competitive. The popular vote difference between the two parties in U.S. House elections has exceeded 10 percentage points just six times since 1946 (out of 37 elections).

Neither the Republicans or Democrats enter an election without hope or possibilities. Whether a party leverages their strategic and tactical strengths enough to fulfill those hopes is another matter.

Are Compassionate Conservatives the GOP’s “Breakaway Province” or their beacon to the future?

A Democratic-aligned pollster once described Reagan Democrats, a working-class, once reliable voting segment of the Democratic Party coalition, as the Democratic Party’s ‘breakaway province.’ The defection of this ‘province’ to the Republicans in 1980 ushered in Ronald Reagan’s charismatic leadership and a conservative ideology that would dominate the American political landscape until the 2008 financial crisis.

Though some political scientists are skeptical that realignments actually happen — David Mayhew once writing, “Electoral politics is to an important degree just one thing after another… and their underlying causes are not usefully sortable into generation-long spans” — some political observers believe the 2016 Trump election may be the commencement of the next great realignment.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius recently opined: “Political systems can be like scientific theories. Sometimes there emerge so many anomalous elements that don’t fit the existing structure that the theory collapses, and a new one arises… We may be entering such a period. The definition of a winning Democrat may be that, in response to Trump’s rambling circus of self-aggrandizement, he or she could create a genuinely coherent new political order.”

One possible target of Ignatius’ new political order could be Compassionate Conservatives whose attitudes resemble many in the Democrats’ progressive base, the presumption being that the three factions in the progressive left will hold together as long as Trump is in office.

The other common assumption rising from observations like Ignatius’ is that a centrist candidate could be very attractive to Republicans and Democrats disillusioned by the ideological extremism of their parties — and that an ideologue from the left (like Bernie Sanders) or right could not build such a coalition as easily as a centrist candidate.

But the political world doesn’t operate under this naive voting model where voters line up their opinions relative to those of political candidates and make their vote choices accordingly. Centrists and non-ideological voters, in particular, are generally unable or disinclined to make decisions this way.

Political scientists realized long ago that using spatial models of voter attitudes to predict vote choice aren’t terribly informative. To the contrary, two realities describe American voting behavior: (1) Vote choice often drives voters’ opinions (not the other way around), and (2) there is little electoral penalty for political extremism.

The result is that idealistic and folksy conceptions of our pluralistic democracy as one where voters ‘throw the bums out’ when their policies fail is dangerously wrong.

Political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, in their book, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, conclude that “abandoning the folk theory of democracy is a prerequisite to both greater intellectual clarity and real political change. Too many democratic reformers have squandered their energy on misguided or quixotic ideas.”

In explaining why Bernie Sanders can attract voters that don’t necessarily agree with his policies, Achen and Bartels write:

“Decades of social-scientific evidence show that voting behavior is primarily a product of inherited partisan loyalties, social identities and symbolic attachments. Over time, engaged citizens may construct policy preferences and ideologies that rationalize their choices, but those issues are seldom fundamental. That is one key reason contemporary American politics is so polarized: The electoral penalty for candidates taking extreme positions is quite modest because voters in the political center do not reliably support the candidates closest to them on the issues.”

The point is simply that we cannot assume a candidate’s views are a direct reflection of his/her supporters’ views. And we see that phenomenon in the 2018 ANES data where Centrists are often low-information voters who support candidates not always close to their own personal opinions.

One reason I don’t show the Centrist political segments when mapping opinions and attitudes (such as in this essay) is that their political behavior is either too unpredictable or non-existent (i.e., non-voters). The more ideologically cohesive political segments are far more interesting.

Which is why Compassionate Conservatives (on the right) and Paycheck Progressives (on the left) are so intriguing and potentially more impactful in the 2020 election and for the futures of their respective parties.

Contrary to media narratives, the potent political division within the Democratic Party is not between Centrists and Progressives but between Establishment Progressives (think Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke) and Justice Progressives (think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren). But even those two political segments agree far more than they disagree. On health care reform, for example, the distance between Sanders’ Medicare-for-Allplan (a single public option for all) and the Democratic establishment’s Medicare-for-America (offering a public option to go with the current private health care system) is small when compared to what the Republicans offer on health care reform — which is mostly nothing.

As for the GOP’s conservative base, the media narrative on its composition is not much more than stereotyping and it is generally wrong. Representing two-fifths of conservatives, Compassionate Conservatives mirror the Democrats more than other conservatives on racial, gender, and cultural attitudes. And not only are they the largest conservative segment, they are wealthier and younger than the party’s Old Guard, promising that the power of Compassionate Conservatives within the GOP is more likely to grow than shrink proceeding into the future.

The battle for the soul of the Republican Party will be fought between the three sub-segments of conservatives described in this essay. The older, more politically active Old Guard against two relatively young sub-segments, themselves divided by education, economic status, and levels of open-mindedness.

The conservative base is not a white, uneducated monolith of racists, sexists, and homophobes (…don’t get me wrong, these conservatives do exist). But, attitudinally, the conservative base is remarkably diverse. If it weren’t, the GOP would be dead in the water heading into 2020.

  • K.R.K.

For datasets and statistical codes, send requests to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

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APPENDIX: A METHODOLOGICAL SIDEBAR

A Two-Stage Segmentation Based on Policy Attitudes and Identity Politics

This essay uses an two-stage attitudinal segmentation of U.S. eligible voters as its data source to identify the GOP’s conservative base (measured in Dec. 2018).

In the segmentation’s first step, all 2,500 ANES respondents were clustered based on a series of attitudinal questions related specific social and political policies (e.g., trade, immigration, gun control, climate change, etc.) in order to create relatively homogeneous political segments. In other words, the people within each segment possess relatively similar attitudes on policy issues [More detail on these segments can be found in the previous essays, starting here.]

A five-cluster solution was selected based on fit characteristics and interpretability (Figure A.1). Progressives are the largest political segment today, accounting for 30 percent of the eligible voter population, followed by Conservatives (27%) and Independents (19%).

Figure A.1: The Political Segments in the U.S. eligible voter population

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

This essay is focused on the Conservatives, who were additionally segmented based on their racial attitudes and group affinities (i.e., orientation towards identity politics).

The second-stage segmentation identified three sub-segments within the Conservative political segment: Old GuardLost Hope, and Compassionate Conservatives. [My fourth essay discusses in detail the three Progressive sub-segments within the Democratic Party’s base.]

Compassionate Conservatives are the largest of the three Conservative sub-segments (40 percent of the Conservative segment and 11 percent of the total population) and, as we will see below, counter many of the stereotypes presented in the national media about the Trump base (Figure A.2).

Figure A.2: The Sub-Segments within the Conservative and Progressive Political Segments

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Figure A.3 shows the average affinity scores (rating on a 0 to 100 scale) for each Conservative sub-segment. Where all three sub-segments agree is no surprise: They like Donald Trump, whites, rural Americans, and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; and they dislike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the #MeToo movement, socialists, journalists, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller (though on the latter, opinions have probably changed in the last few days).

Figure A.3: Racial Attitudes and Group Affinity Questions Used for 2nd-Stage Segmentation

Data source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Segmentation by Kent Kroeger (NuQum.com); Color shading is determined within the column (i.e., political sub-segment)

However, significant differences in racial attitudes and group affinities also delineate the three sub-segments. Most axiomatic are the highly negative views Lost Hope Conservatives hold towards Blacks, Hispanics and immigrants. Lost Hope Conservatives, representing only 27 percent of the Conservative political segment, are consistent with mainstream stereotypes of the Trump base: They are anti-immigrant and racially-biased (and probably sexist too).

In counterpose, Compassionate Conservatives distinguish themselves in two ways from both the Lost Hope and Old Guard sub-segments. First, on average, they rate whites roughly the same as they do Blacks and Hispanics (in contrast to the other sub-segments who rate whites significantly higher than the other races and ethnicities). Second, Compassionate Conservativesdemonstrate greater affinities towards gays and lesbians, transgender people, Muslims and immigrants relative to Lost Hope and Old Guard sub-segments. They are, for lack of a better description, more compassionate and open to the world and its inherent differences.

Though not quite a majority of the Conservative base, Compassionate Conservatives probably represent a better conspectus of the “typical” Trump-voting conservative than either the Old Guard or Lost Hope sub-segments.

Demographics and Behaviors

Figure A.4 details the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the sub-segments. In this table, the color shading is determined by each row. For example, in the first row, Establishment Progressives have the highest incidence of females (60%) and the Old Guard Conservatives have the lowest (37%).

Figure A.4: Demographic and Behavioral Characteristics (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

The starkest differences between conservatives and progressives are in the incidence of Blacks, Hispanics, a college education, Trump voters (no surprise), and non-religiousness.

Within the conservative segment, Compassionate Conservatives stand out asbeing very white and having high incomes, while the Old Guard are very male, religious, and old. The Old Guard were also the most supportive of Trump in 2016 and had the highest vote turnout percentage of the six sub-segments. Lost Hope Conservatives stand out from other conservatives with the highest percentage of females (47%) and the lowest average incomes.

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Additional Graphics

Figure A.5: Demographic and Behavioral Characteristics (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger
Figure A.6: Ratings of the #MeToo Movement and the Transgender (Conservative and Progressive Sub-Segments)

Data Source: 2018 National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Progressive Democrats are as divided as their party

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This is the fourth essay in a series dedicated to analyzing the U.S. eligible-voter population using the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), an online survey administered in Dec. 2018 by researchers from the Univ. of Michigan & Stanford Univ. 

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; March 19, 2019

According to an analysis of the 2018 ANES, Progressive Democrats represent roughly one-third of the American eligible-voter population and two-thirds of all Democrats; and, by some accounts, are the ‘center of gravity’ in American politics today.

But the progressives have a problem. A big problem, if they want to win back the presidency in 2020.

Progressive Democrats are deeply divided. That is does not sound like a breaking news story to anyone that has followed politics in the last two years.

But the usual media narrative goes something like this: Establishment Democrats, centrist and pragmatic in nature, are being pulled (presumably against their better judgment) to the far left by their progressive counterparts in the party.

This narrative often gets confounded with the notion of a progressive versus centrist divide where the party establishment is generally linked to the centristfaction. However, as discussed in a previous essay, when we look at the attitudes of actual voters, the Democratic Party’s establishment wing — often represented among politicians by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, etc. — is a much better match with the progressive voters in the party, not the centrists. Democrat-leaning centrists are decidedly more conservative than their progressive counterparts on abortion and LGBTQ rights, climate change, immigration policy and a whole host of other core issues that tend to define the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

When we talk to flesh and blood human beings, not politicians, the mainstream Democratic Party voter is progressive, not centrist — and the party’s establishment, on most issues, stands squarely with the progressive mainstream.

But this is where it gets tricky and where the political media often gets it wrong when they discuss progressive Democrats.

Labeling someone a ‘progressive Democrat’ is not analytically useful unless you are identifying a specific type of ‘progressive Democrat.’ But the progressive types are not related to variation in policy attitudes (as we might assume). The Progressive Democrats (identified in my earlier segmentation analysis of the 2018 ANES) share, by construction, similar views on: abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, health care policy, gender equality, immigration, social spending, climate change, and racial discrimination (see Figure A.1 in the Appendix).

In my subsequent drill-down into Progressive Democrats (using a K-means clustering algorithm) I find three distinct subgroups based on respondents’ personal orientations and emotional attachments to common elements found in the political world (i.e., groups, identities, individuals, etc.). And further analysis finds these differences to be associated with substantive variation on candidate preferences.

The Three Progressive Segments

Formed from the relative differences respondents’ group affinities, three distinct segments emerge within Progressive Democrats (see Figures 1 through 5 for attitudinal differences between the segments):

Establishment Progressives (45% of all progressive Democrats): Relative to the other two segments, these are progressives with strong affinities towards racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQ community, the police, capitalists, Hillary Clinton, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the FBI.

Paycheck Progressives (32% of all progressive Democrats): Again, relative to the other segments, these are progressives with lower affinities towards racial and ethnic groups, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Hillary Clinton and the #MeToo movement.

Justice Progressives (23% of all progressive Democrats): And, finally, these progressives show strong relative affinities towards racial and ethnic groups (except whites), the LGBTQ community, the #MeToo movement, immigrants, socialists, but low affinities towards whites, capitalists, rural Americans, journalists, the police, the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Figure 1: Group Affinities by Progressive Democrats Segment (0 to 100 thermometer scale, where high values indicate strong positive feelings)

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure 2: Group Affinities towards Economic Philosophies

 

Figure 3: Group Affinities towards the LGBTQ community

 

Figure 4: Group Affinities towards the #MeToo Movement and Immigrants

 

Figure 5: Group Affinities towards Racial Groups

Data Source for Figures 2 through 5: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Naming the Segments

By construction, the three segments differ in their orientation towards various people and social groups, but they also differ in terms of demographics and behavior.

The most apparent difference is age (see Figure 6). Justice Progressives are the youngest segment (mean age = 38), followed by Paycheck Progressives(mean age = 46), and the Establishment Progressives (mean age = 54).

Figure 6: Age Distributions 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Another factor separating the progressive segments is self-reported ideology. Justice Progressives are most likely to call themselves ‘‘very liberal’ (59%), while Paycheck Progressives and Establishment Progressives are most likely to call themselves ‘somewhat liberal’ or ‘moderate’ (71% and 70%, respectively).

In a multinomial logistic regression analysis, age and self-reported ideology proved to be the most significant predictors of membership in the three progressive segments. Those relationships are evident in Figure 7, particularly in how those factors distinguish Justice Progressives from the other two segments.

Figure 7: Progressive segments by Age and Self-Reported Ideology

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Gender, age, education, life-stage, and group affinities were central to the naming of the three progressive segments (Figures 8 and 9 show how gender, education, and religious affiliation differentiate the segments). Notably, differences in racial and ethnic characteristics are not statistically significant across the three segments (though, directionally, the Justice Progressives do appear to be more racially and ethnically diverse).

Segment Descriptions

Establishment Progressives tend to be female, older, wealthier, pro-capitalism, and very tuned in to the Robert Mueller investigation. Paycheck Progressives tend to be male, middle-aged, married (with children) and at a point in their life when they are more likely to be concerned about a mortgage payment than identity politics or the Mueller investigation. Finally, Justice Progressives are the prototypical image of progressives offered by the media: female, young, highly-educated, non-religious, anti-capitalist, and more concerned about ‘white privilege’ and identity politics than the Mueller investigation.

If it helps to put faces on the segments, Establishment Progressives might be represented by Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, Paycheck Progressives by Joe Biden and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (admittedly, rough fits here), and Justice Progressives by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and California Representative Ro Khanna.

Figure 8: Progressive segments by Gender and Education

 

Figure 9: Progressive segments by Religious Affiliation

Data Source for Figures 8 and 9: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Behavioral Differences

Having established the demographic differences, there are also behavioral factors that distinguish the progressive segments — in fact, its these factors that make the segments relevant to the Democratic Party’s strategy going into the 2020 election.

The suspected culprits behind Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump in 2016 are many, not the least of which are the Berniecrats who some have claimed disproportionately either voted for Trump, voted for a third party candidate, or did not vote. That dispute won’t be settled here, but the progressive segments give us some clues.

In an earlier essay, I determined that 81 percent of Democratic Progressives, the most liberal voter segment, voted for Hillary Clinton (14 percent did not vote, 4 percent voted for a third party candidate, and 1 percent voted for Trump). When we breakout the Clinton vote by the three progressive segments in Figure 10, we have a likely suspect for the bulk of defections from Clinton: Paycheck Progressives (of whom only 75 percent voted for Clinton, 17 percent did not vote, 4 percent voted for a third party candidate, and 4 percent voted for Trump).

If I am hearing cries of ‘sexist pigs,’ it is understandable given that Paycheck Progressives skew male — but, given the small sample size (115 respondents), there is no statistically significant difference in the 2016 voting behavior of male Paycheck Progressives and female Paycheck Progressives.

But if we are going to call out the Paycheck Progressives, we must also throw a stink-eye gaze at the Justice Progressives, who also voted for Clinton at a lower rate than Establishment Progressives (75% versus 87%, respectively). If the two segments had voted for Clinton at the same rate as the Establishment Progressives, in all likelihood, Clinton wins Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and the presidency.

Figure 10: The Paycheck and Justice Progressives may have let Hillary down

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Finally, the 2018 ANES also asked likely 2020 Democratic Party primary voters which candidate they currently prefer (see Figure 11). When this preference is crossed with the progressive segments, we get some validation of the segmentation categories — 30 percent of Justice Progressives prefer Bernie Sanders, while over 30 percent of both Paycheck Progressives and Establishment Progressives prefer former Vice President Joe Biden.

The progressive segments mate nicely with 2020 vote preferences, keeping in mind that most of the now declared Democratic candidates for president were not well known in December 2018 when the survey was conducted. In fact, only three candidates exceed 10 percent support among Democrats in the survey (Biden, Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke).

Figure 11: Preferences for the 2020 Democratic Party Nominee

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Still, this segmentation should cause some worry among Sanders supporters, as the two largest progressive segments, representing three-quarters of progressives, are not (currently) fertile territory for finding Sanders support.

Keep in mind, this analysis does not look at the other Democratic Party-aligned voter segment — Centrist Democrats — which is a group, surprisingly, where Sanders does relatively well, according to the 2018 ANES.

Democratic Progressives however exceed their Centrist allies in market share by 2 to 1 and it is hard to envisage the Democratic Party’s ‘center of gravity’ being anywhere but with the progressives in 2020. Yet, within the progressives, existing divisions — which at least marginally impacted the 2016 election outcome — could easily do so again.

Still, Establishment Progressives are the largest force within the party’s progressive wing, and by extension, the most dominant force in the Democratic Party.

Unless something dramatic happens, that is bad news for Berniecrats.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments and online gift cards to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

APPENDIX: Additional Charts, Tables and Graphics

Figure A.1: Policy Attitudes by Progressive Segment 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure A.2: Feelings about Capitalism by Age (among Progressive Democrats) 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure A.3: Feelings about the Police by Age (among Progressive Democrats) 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure A.4: 2016 Vote Choice by Progressive Democrat Segments 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Figure A.5: 2016 Vote Choice by Party Factions 

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

How Americans Cluster on Identity Politics

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This is the third essay in a series dedicated to analyzing the U.S. eligible voter population using the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), an online survey administered in December 2018 by researchers from the University of Michigan and Stanford University.

__________________________________________________________________________

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

Republican pundits are loving the post-2016 emphasis Democrats place on identity politics, while some Democratic pundits are wringing their hands.

“Embrace of Identity Politics Is Killing Democratic Party

“Democrats Need to Drop Identity Politics — Now”

“Identity Politics, and the Divisible Nation for Which It Stands”

“Democratic Playbook’s Only Page: Division”

It is a term we cannot escape. But what does it actually mean? And what can the 2018 ANES offer in understanding its importance in today’s political environment.

While I want to keep the pretensions here light, a short discussion of definitions might be helpful.

Stanford philosophy professor Laura Maguire defines identity politics as “when people of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, or religion form alliances and organize politically to defend their group’s interests.” The best known examples would be the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements.

But that is a rather narrow, sectarian definition, as people can be engaged in identity politics outside their own identity group. You don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. And there was a White Panther Party aligned with the Black Panther’s in the late-1960s. Our personal identities don’t limit our potential for engaging across the multidimensional space of identity politics.

Furthermore, identity politics is not as utilitarian as Maguire’s definition. Identity politics can be a private and passive activity as well. A person opposed to — or even ambivalent towards — the interests of other identity groups is participating in identity politics. Of a more consequential nature, making vote choices based on group identities is identity politics. That is a consequential act that requires no more than a private thought and a valid voter registration.

This broadly defined, everyone engages in identity politics, consciously and unconsciously. And with this expansive view of identity politics, I undertook the task of clustering Americans according to how they engage in identity politics.

The Data

The 2018 ANES asked 2,500 respondents a series of attitudinal measures regarding their affinity towards specific identity groups, individuals, social movements, and organizations (see Figure 1). These questions were inputs into a K-means clustering algorithm implemented in the SPSS statistical package.

Figure 1: 2018 ANES Questions Used for Identity Politics Clustering

The K-means clustering algorithm partitions respondents into clusters in which each respondent belongs to the cluster with the nearest mean. To the best extent possible, the aim is to make the clusters as homogeneous as possible while maximizing the differences across clusters.

The most enjoyable task in conducting a cluster analysis is naming the clusters. Ideally, the names are indicative of the “prototypical” member in that cluster. However, in most cluster analyses, particularly those representing large populations, individual clusters can be heterogeneous and the naming process becomes more art than science. That is when it really gets fun.

The Results

With that caveat, I identified five identity politics clusters (IPCs) in the U.S. eligible voter population. Within each of these IPCs, additional sub-clusters were identified and will be discussed in a future essay.

For now, I will describe the five macro-clusters represented in Figure 2 by their relative population size.

Figure 2: The Identity Politics Cluster Sizes (U.S. eligible voter population)

Data source: 2018 American National Election Study; Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

The two largest IPCs are Hannity’s Americans (29%), a cluster containing mostly Republicans, and its counterpoise, Maddow’s Minions (29%), a cluster composed almost entirely of Democrats.

The next largest cluster is the Mehs (21%) — distinguished by their general ambivalence or lack of affinity for any specific person or group. The Care Bears (14%), in contrast, like everybody (except President Trump). And, finally, the Angry Young Men (7%), the smallest cluster and notable for their dislike of pretty much everybody (except President Trump and white people).

The IPCs distinguish themselves by their average ratings of the various identity groups, individuals and organizations (see Figure 3). For example, among the five clusters, Hannity’s Americans rate Donald Trump the highest (mean rating = 89.5). Not surprisingly, Maddow’s Minions can only muster an average rating of 2.3 for the current president. I don’t think he’s a fan of Rachel Maddow any way.

On the other end of the scale, Hannity’s Americans rate Hillary Clinton a 4.6 and Barack Obama only slightly better at 12.1.

Figure 3: The Identity Politics Cluster Sizes (U.S. eligible voter population)

Among the racial and ethnicity-defined identity groups, Hannity’s Americans and Maddow’s Minions are roughly similar in their ratings for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians when viewed as a deviation from the cluster’s group mean (i.e., the color-coding in Figure 3). However, where Maddow’s Minions rate whites lower than Blacks, Hispanics or Asians, Hannity’s Americans rate whites higher than those groups.

However, on other identity groups, the differences are stark. Hannity’s Americans, on average, rate the #MeToo movement a 19.3, compared to 83.6 for Maddow’s Minions. Hannity’s Americans rate socialists a 9.5, on average; while Maddow’s Minions give them a 65.4 rating.

The two biggest clusters are predictable considering their strong partisan composition and 30 years of a growing partisanship divide within the American public. By now, anyone that is a strong partisan should know the ‘in’ groups from the ‘out’ groups. Hannity’s Americans like capitalists, rural America, and the police; Maddow’s minions like immigrants, transgender persons and journalists. We didn’t need a survey to tell us that.

Not as obvious are the three ‘middle’ clusters. They represent 40 percent of the eligible voter population, a potentially relevant force in any election (though all three clusters have much lower voter turnout rates than the two partisan clusters; see Figure 4).

The Mehs are the least interesting in terms of variation across their identity group ratings. Their average rating ranges between 40 and 55 — with two exceptions: They like Obama (66.3%) and dislike Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (26.0 and 29.4, respectively). Spoiler alert: In Figure 4 you will notice Mehs skew female.

The Care Bears skew even more female than Mehs but have a greater affinity for the various identity groups. They like almost everybody (except, again, Trump — I think he might have a problem with the ladies).

In contradistinction are the Young Angry Men who dislike everybody, except Trump, whites, and rural Americans — but, frankly, this cluster isn’t thrilled with them either as all fail to break the rating scale’s midpoint (50).

Figure 3: The Identity Politics Cluster Sizes (U.S. eligible voter population)

How can find these cluster members?

If a political party or campaign were to target any of these five clusters, Figure 4 would be a good place to start that process.

I won’t cover here every demographic and behavioral detail for the IPCs. Hopefully, Figure 4 makes those characteristics clear. A simple summary must suffice for now:

Hannity’s Americans are largely white, Christian, older Republicans that voted for Trump and are interested in politics.

Maddow’s Minions are largely white, educated, female Democrats (no children) that did not vote for Trump and are interested in politics.

Mehs are largely young, racially diverse and less likely to be religious.

Care Bears are largely in the middle on most attributes, but have a high percentage of Catholics and a low percentage of agnostics.

And, lastly, Angry Young Men are…well…young men. But a sizable number have children in their household, are racially diverse, are political independents, and live on either the East or West Coasts. The quality they do not possess is an interest in politics which explains why most of them did not vote in 2016. For political mobilizing and vote harvesting purposes, this group would be a slog for even the Republicans.

Figure 4: The Identity Politics Cluster Sizes (U.S. eligible voter population)

Implications

After running these clusters past a former colleague, now a Democrat-aligned pollster, a question arose: How do the two major factions within the Democratic Party (Progressives and Centrists) relate to the identity politics clusters?

Figure 5 cross tabulates the IPCs by the party factions identified in a previous segmentation analysis (using the 2018 ANES data). The association between the two segmentations — one formed using only policy-related questions and one formed using the identity group affinity questions — is strong.

Figure 5: The Identity Politics Cluster Sizes by Party Factions

Data source: 2018 American National Election Study; Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Most of Maddow’s Minions (81%) are also Democrat Progressives. Similarly, most of Hannity’s Americans (85%) are also GOP Conservatives.

As to where Democrat Centrists are categorized among the IPCs, it is more complicated. Over 70 percent of them split between the Mehs and Care Bears. Only 20 percent of them belong to Maddow’s Minions. Likewise, GOP Centrists mostly divide themselves between the Mehs and Care Bears.

This is a key strategic finding. GOP and Democrat Centrists share considerable common ground with respect to identity politics and actually divide in a similar fashion — roughly one-third are disconnected or ambivalent towards identity politics (Mehs), one-third demonstrate caring across a broad range of identity groups (Care Bears), and most of the rest are fully engaged in identity politics. If identity politics is an important focal point for the Democrats in the 2020 presidential election, their Gettysburg may come down to the battle for the vast majority of Care Bears — a population segment that is predominately female and votes. If the Democrats don’t win this group — by a lot — they don’t win the presidential election.

A superficial read of recent stump speeches by the Democratic presidential candidates — FiveThirtyEight’s Adam Kelsey posts summaries and links to these speeches here — highlights the prominent role identity politics is already playing in the 2020 campaign.

Oppression. Privilege. Reparations. Dignity. Reproductive rights. Gay rights. Racial justice. Justice. Justice. Justice.

All words and phrases peppered throughout the candidate speeches. Even those candidates centered on material, economic issues — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren — explicitly link those issues to identity politics.

Its not simply about fighting climate change anymore, say Democrats, its now about repairing racial injustices and income inequities bred by our carbon-based energy consumption. Slow wage growth and growing income equality can’t merely be addressed through economic policy, we must now tear down institutions that protect privilege and create new, more equitable ones that correct for the damage caused by a long history of race and gender-based oppression.

These are the mainstream arguments being made now by the leading Democratic presidential candidates. And why shouldn’t they? Two-thirds of their party is composed of progressives who hold strong affinities towards groups found at the medial point of today’s identity politics.

But if the Democratic Party nominee continues with this strategy in the general election, will it work with centrist and independent voters, a good share of whom will be needed if the Democrats are to regain the White House?

A deeper drilling down into the identity politics clusters would help answer that question, but even these clusters viewed at the 30,000-foot-level, as done in this essay, lead me to believe YES is the answer.

The two election front line groups — Mehs and Care Bears — skew female and Democrat. The numbers are simply in the Democrats’ favor.

Sorry my GOP friends. But based on what I am seeing, the Democrats are not imploding under the weight of identity politics — they are on message with the majority of Americans.

  • K.R.K.

Data and SPSS computer codes available upon request to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

Americans don’t hide their racism — and that is admirable

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This is the second essay in a series dedicated to analyzing the U.S. eligible-voter population using the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), an online survey administered in Dec. 2018 by researchers from the Univ. of Michigan and Stanford Univ.. 

__________________________________________________________________

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; March 12, 2019)

How best to measure racism has long been debated in the political science, psychology and sociology research communities where the measures that have been developed inevitably meet with significant criticism.

The direct, self-reported method, in which researchers ask respondents directly whether they prefer their own race over others, is the most commonly used measure of individual racial bias. Using direct measures, research shows that individual racist beliefs have been in decline since the 1970s, according to longitudinal data from the General Social Survey.

Disputing this conclusion, some social scientists argue that social desirability bias —where respondents give answers based on what they believe to be ‘socially acceptable’ answers as opposed to how they actually feel — invalidate direct racism measures. However, recent research by University of Virginia psychologist Jordan R. Axt compared direct and indirect measures of racism and found that “the best method to measure individuals’ explicit racial attitudes is to ask about them directly.” People are generally honest when they answer survey questions on racial attitudes.

The direct versus indirect racism measures controversy will not be resolved here, however, and I do not out-of-hand dismiss the criticism that direct measures under count actual levels of individual racism.

With that caveat, this article— the second where I analyze 2018 American National Election Study (ANES) data — focuses on a series of direct racial attitude questions asking about respondents’ on a 0-to-100 scale their favorability ratings towards other races and ethnicities versus their own (White, Black, and Hispanic).

In addition, I focus exclusively on white respondents in the 2018 ANES. People of other races and ethnicities can, of course, be racist too. But for the sake of clarity, I target the segment in society most populous and historically most privileged.

Defining Racism in the 2018 ANES

How I define a ‘racist’ in this study is also straightforward. If the white respondent rated their race higher than another race or ethnicity (Black, Hispanic) by more than 10 scale points, they are coded as ‘racist.’ Some will argue that this definition is too harsh; while others might argue even a 1-point difference indicates something racist. That is a debate for another day.

Using my definition, there is one striking conclusion in the 2018 ANES data: Ethnocentric and racist attitudes are common among Americans — and no political party or ideology is immune from its presence.

Among vote eligible white Americans, 34 percent favor their race over Blacks or Hispanics, or both (see the third table in Figure 1). Using the political faction segmentation from my previous essay, the highest presence of racial favoritism is among Democrat Centrists (50%), GOP Centrists (49%), and GOP Conservatives (46%). The lowest presence is among Democrat Progressives(10%) and Independents (31%).

Figure 1: Prevalence of racial favoritism among vote eligible white Americans

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

This racial bias can also be observed in Figures 2 and 3 which plot each respondent based on their favorability rating for white, Blacks and Hispanics. Figure 2 shows white and Black favorability scores and individual cases of racial bias are represented by dots below the diagonal line (i.e., white favorability is higher than black favorability). While most cases plot near the line, we see the obvious correlation between party factions and racial favorability. GOP Conservatives and Centrists are below the line and a high percentage are well below (10 points+) the line. Conversely, Democrat Progressives are mostly well above the line; while a sizable percentage Democrat Centrists appear on both sides.

Figure 2: Racial favorability ratings towards Blacks among vote eligible white Americans


Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

A very similar pattern emerges when comparing favorability ratings for whites and Hispanics (see Figure 3). Republicans are generally below the diagonal line, while Democrats are above the line.

Figure 3: Racial favorability ratings towards Hispanics among vote eligible white Americans



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

Before Democrat Progressives start crowing about these findings, keep in mind that racial bias is only one noxious bias present in our society. There are many other types of biases: economic class, gender, sexual orientation, religious, geographic, age, education, political ideology and others. Rest assured, Democrat Progressives possess their fair share of socially corrosive biases. But that, as well, is a debate for another day.

Having established that racism, as defined here, is not uncommon among whites and that there is a political relationship to this bias, how might it relate to our current president, Donald Trump? Probably the least suspenseful question ever asked. But here we go…

First, let us establish that feelings about President Trump are strongly related to political attitudes (and party factions). Figure 4 illuminates that relationship. Plotting political attitudes for all respondents in the 2018 ANES — based on a series of policy-related questions — against how respondents rate Donald Trump, we see a strong relationship.

Figure 4: Political attitudes and favorability towards Donald Trump (All 2018 ANES respondents)



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

 

The bluish dots (Democrats) tend to rate Donald Trump low and are to the right along the political attitudes index (i.e., possess liberal political attitudes).

In contrast, the reddish dots tend towards the upper left-hand quadrant of the chart (i.e., rate Trump highly and have conservative political attitudes).

Interestingly, GOP and Democrat Centrists and Independents are sprinkled throughout the chart in Figure 4. There are a lot of them and their views on Trump don’t relate to partisan policy attitudes. I would call that a tactical opportunity for both parties heading into the 2020 election. But that is a topic for another essay.

Racist Attitudes and Feelings Towards Trump

Based on this essay’s definition of a racist attitude, there is a clear (but not deterministic) relationship between racist attitudes and feelings regarding Trump and political attitudes (see Figure 5 below). Most, but not all, of the black and yellow dots (racists) are in the upper left-hand quadrant of the chart.

However, it is not an air tight relationship. The Kendall tau-b statistic of association for racist attitudes and feelings towards Trump is 0.21 (significant at the 0.01 level, two-tailed test), and with political attitudes it is only -0.19 (also statistically significant).

By comparison, feelings regarding Trump and party faction membership (DEM Progressive, DEM Centrist, Independent, GOP Centrist, GOP Conservative) generate a Kendall tau-b statistic of 0.70, indicating a much stronger relationship. Likewise, political attitudes and feelings towards Trump achieve a Kendall tau-b statistic of -0.65.

Figure 5: Political attitudes and favorability towards Donald Trump by racist attitudes



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

In a multiple regression model with controls for party identification, age, gender, and political attitudes, the racism index is a significant, independent predictor of feelings towards Trump. However, relative to political attitudes and party identification, the racism index is a minor contributor in explaining feelings towards Trump (see Appendix for the linear regression model summary output).

Implications

It is oddly refreshing that Americans appear willing to express their racial biases on a national opinion survey (even if it still may be an under representation of actual racial bias levels in the total population).

If our goal is to reduce all types of racism in this country — assume we can never eliminate it — a good start is creating an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable talking about their own racial attitudes without fear of shaming and retribution.

German Lopez’ excellent article on Vox.com is a good place to start the process of generating ideas and strategies for reducing racism. As Lopez points out, there are ways to reduce racial bias, but “calling people racist isn’t one of them.” And that is pretty much the level of dialogue we are treated to on a daily basis on cable news channels and social media. Whatever the motives and intentions of these media lords, they aren’t working to reduce racial bias.

In his 1993 book, Race Matters, Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West argues we must first “understand that racism and race are woven in American history and can never be eradicated without understanding that race matters in everything we consider American.”

Knowing this, it is encouraging that Americans from all perspectives seem willing to share their attitudes and beliefs on race with survey researchers. Its a good start in the long process of creating a healthy environment conducive to racial understanding and acceptance.

  • K.R.K.

Data and SPSS computer codes available upon request to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

APPENDIX

Linear regression model for explaining ‘Feelings towards Trump’.

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analysis and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger (results use weighted data to account for sampling design and response rate differentials)

Why much of what we think about the Democratic Party is wrong

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This is the first essay in a series dedicated to analyzing the U.S. eligible-voter population using the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), an online survey administered in Dec. 2018 by researchers from the Univ. of Michigan and Stanford Univ. 

__________________________________________________________________

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; March 8, 2019)

Most everything we know about the Democratic Party and its supporters may be wrong or distorted.

As an example, while New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be the fastest rising star in the party’s progressive wing, she is not representative of the typical progressive, at least not demographically.

Democratic Party progressives are more likely to be white, educated, wealthy and older, according to the 2018 American National Election Study (ANES).

Democrat centrists, in contrast, are more likely to be African-American or Hispanic, and are less educated, less wealthy and younger. In other words, on average, they look more like Ocasio-Cortez than Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

This common disconnect, frequently found in media narratives on the Democratic Party’s ideological divisions, stems from the news media’s bias towards covering elites, as opposed to actual voters. This essay will hopefully fill in some of the knowledge gaps arising from this pervasive bias.

Using data from the 2018 ANES, a survey administered by The University of Michigan and Stanford University in December 2018 to a nationally representative sample of eligible U.S. voters, the following analysis investigates the country’s major political fault lines and their potential impact on the 2020 election.

The eligible voter segments in the U.S.

Here is the biggest assumption circulating among political operatives and pundits today: The Democratic Party is deeply divided between a centrist, more free market-oriented faction, often associated with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and a younger, more idealistic faction, represented by politicians such as Ocasio-Cortez, California Rep. Ro Khanna and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

This description of Democrat partisans may work in describing divisions within Democratic elites, but says little about what is going on at the voter level.

Lets start with the issues that best defined the eligible voter segments…

A segmentation of U.S. eligible voters created from the issue-related questions in the 2018 ANES (see Appendix below for the question list) identified five population segments: Democrat Progressives (30% of eligible voters), Democrat Centrists (16%), Independents (19%), GOP Centrists (8%), and the GOP Base (27%). This segmentation clustered eligible voters based strictly on their opinions regarding a wide range of political, social and economic issues, including immigration, health care policy, income inequality, taxation, global warming, gun control, trade policy, and the opioid crisis.

Two policy issues in particular distinguished Democrat Progressives from the GOP Base: attitudes on health care and immigration. More than any other eligible voter segment, Democrat Progressives support the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) and oppose Donald Trump’s border wall (see Figure 1 below). In stark opposition is the GOP Base, which stands alone in its support for the wall and opposition to the 2010 ACA. And in the middle are partisan Centrists and Independents, collectively representing 43 percent of eligible voters.

Figure 1: Attitudes on health care and immigration divide partisans



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Along with the isolation of the two party bases, the other noticeable feature from Figure 1 is the large political center — a proportion of the total population (43%) more than capable of tilting the advantage in one party’s favor during any given election. Any suggestion otherwise is rubbish. The center still matters. And, yes, they do vote — though not at the same rate as the strong political partisans.

As Figure 2 shows, the party bases are highly divided on climate change as well. Almost every Democrat Progressive in the 2018 ANES said the U.S. should be doing more on climate change (99%), while only 13 percent of the GOP Base held the same view. In contrast, opinions on free trade agreements do not divide the party bases, where both generally support free trade (though they may have different approaches for getting there). It is the political center demonstrating the most skepticism on free trade agreements — which may be indicative of the center’s relative youth and economic vulnerability.

Figure 2: Attitudes on free trade and climate change



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Demographic differences across the eligible voter segments

In some cases, the demographic variation in the eligible voter segments may elicit some surprise. But not when it comes to describing the GOP Base, whichstands alone as predominately white and male (see Figure 3). Every other segment is majority female, including GOP Centrists, where nearly 60 percent are female, a higher percentage than any other segment. In fact, GOP Centristsare predominately young, white females and represent, arguably, the party’s greatest strategic weakness heading into the 2020 campaign.

The most ethnically diverse segments are Democrat Centrists (30 percent African American, 22 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian) and Independents (13 percent African American, 23 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian).

After the GOP BaseDemocrat Progressives and GOP Centrists are the least ethnically diverse.

Figure 3: Sex and race differences across the eligible voter segments



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Indeed, a simplified description of Democrat Progressives might be to call them rich, middle-aged, educated, white people (see Figures 4 and 5). They are the second oldest and wealthiest segment, after the GOP Base, and the most  educated.

Centrists and Independents are equally distinctive in the other direction: poorer, younger and less educated.

Figure 4: Income and education differences across the eligible voter segments



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger
Figure 5: Income and age differences across the eligible voter segments



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

That Centrists and Independents share these features should not be surprising, as younger and less educated voters tend to possess weaker partisan ties (which will increase as they age and become more educated and prosperous).

Of course, there are young activists who are highly partisan and they tend to be visible. But that is precisely why the bias persists in the media about millennials being ardent progressives. The average millennial, however, is not. Only 26 percent of millennials (30 years-old or younger) are Democrat Progressives. The majority are Centrists (29%) or Independents (24%).

Now for the big surprise…

Is Bernie Sanders’ viability driven by the Democratic Party’s far left?

The overwhelming assumption among political pundits is that Bernie Sanders remains competitive in the Democratic presidential nomination race because he is sustained by the Democratic Party’s far left.

This is not true. Not even a little bit true.

First, it is important to remind ourselves that a candidate’s policy positions does not necessarily reflect the opinions of a majority of their supporters.

And before you reply with — “Of course they do” — consider this:

As many Bernie Sanders supporters are…wait for it…Centrists and Independents (55% combined) as they are Democrat Progressives (44%)!

This is not news. If anything, he over-performs among Centrists and Independents. This has been known since the 2016 election. In part, this is driven by name recognition, particularly among Centrists, who tend not be as politically active or informed as Democratic Progressives.

Within Democrat Progressives, Sanders polled third (17%), behind Joe Biden (30%) and Beto O’Rourke (21%) in the Dec. 2018 survey (see Figure 6). Among Democrat Centrists (see Figure 7), Sanders attracted 30 percent support (a statistically significant difference from his support among Democrat Progressives). Sanders, in fact, is tied with Biden among Independents intending to vote in a Democratic primary in 2020 (see Figure 8).

Figure 6: Preferred Democratic presidential nominee among Democrat Progressives 



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger
Figure 7: Preferred Democratic presidential nominee among Democrat Centrists



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger
Figure 8: Preferred Democratic presidential nominee among Independents



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Is it possible Bernie Sanders will pull Centrists and Independents towards the left as many continue to support him in 2020? An interesting question for a panel design study to investigate. Unfortunately, we can’t say that is true based on the cross-sectional data from the 2018 ANES.

However, we do see stark differences across the five segments in how they rate specific identity groups, movements and economic ideologies (see Figures 9 through 11). This patterns lends some credibility to the argument that Sanders’ attraction to Centrists and Independents up to now has been driven in part by his lower emphasis on identity group politics.

But this may be changing for the 2020 campaign based on Sanders’ recent candidacy announcement speech. If his stump speech emphasis does change, it will be interesting to see if Sanders-supporting Centrists and Independents align their views of various identity groups and movements with the party’s progressive wing. It seems odd to say this, but Sanders may lose his moderate base in the Democratic Party if he moves too far to the social issue left in the 2020 campaign.

As of December 2018, Centrists and Independents have very different group affinities when compared to Democrat Progressives. For example, where, on average, Democrat Progressives rate the #MeToo movement as an 80 (on a 0 to 100 scale), Democrat Centrists rate it a 58 and Independents a 47 (see Figure 9). All statistically significant differences.

Figure 9: How factions rate the #MeToo movement and the Transgender



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

A similar pattern exists for how the segments rate transgender Americans, the alt-Right movement, and antifa (see Figures 9 and 10).

Figure 10: How factions rate the alt-Right movement and antifa



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Finally, one of the more interesting relationships in the 2018 ANES data is how the segments rate socialists and capitalists (see Figure 11). All segments — less the GOP Base — rate capitalists below 50, on average. Whereas, ratings of socialists follow the more typical pattern, with Centrists and Independents coming somewhere near the midpoint between the GOP Base and Democrat Progressives. However, only the Democrat Progressives, on average, rate socialists above 50. Even Sanders’ Democrat Centrist supporters rate socialists below 50, on average.

Figure 11: How factions rate Socialists and Capitalists



Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics and Segmentation by Kent R. Kroeger

Final thoughts

If all we did was consume cable network news and mainstream print media for our political coverage, a biased picture of the American electorate might form. The news media sees a highly polarized American voting population — half still fuming over the 2016 election outcome — that has abandoned the political center for the more organized (and entertaining) partisan camps.

Politics has become even more tribal — or so we are told.

Unfortunately, this narrative falsely characterizes Americans’ political lives. The political center, while smaller than in the past, is alive and well and very relevant to electoral outcomes in this country. The 2018 ANES data finds at least 40 percent of eligible voters somewhere in the political middle.

Still, this faulty chronicle laid out daily for Americans is not borne from a news media wanting to misrepresent reality, but from the market’s demand for engaging, consistent narratives — often lazy and inaccurate in practice — repeated over time in pursuit of larger audiences. And larger audiences increase ad revenues which increase the probability of higher profits.

Its not a crime. Its all good capitalism.

Nowhere is this bias more apparent than how the news media covers the Democratic Party. The narrative goes something like this: The young, progressive left — represented by Ocasio-Cortez’ youthful arrogance and Sanders’ relatable (but dreamy) brand of socialism — versus the sober party centrists like Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer, who put an emphasis on ‘getting things done.’

Progressives equate to dynamic and creative. Centrists equate to steady and pragmatic. The narrative is not completely wrong — but it is dangerously misleading given what we know about voters and how well they align with this narrative.

Most progressives in the Democratic Party don’t look like Ocasio-Cortez. They are white, middle-aged, (over) educated, and relatively wealthy. And, as for Sanders’ ongoing quixotic quest for the presidency, if it is to succeed, it will be built as much around the Democratic Party’s centrist wing as it will around its progressive wing.

That is not the story we are generally hearing in the news media. And don’t expect to hear it anytime soon.

  • K.R.K.

Data and SPSS computer codes are available upon request to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

APPENDIX:

In developing the segmentation of eligible voters in the 2018 ANES, I used SPSS’ proprietary TwoStep clustering algorithm.

The SPSS TwoStep clustering procedure can handle both continuous and categorical variables by extending the model-based distance measure used by Banfield and Raftery (1993) and utilizes a two-step clustering approach similar to BIRCH (Zhang et al. 1996).

Below is the list of 2018 ANES questions used to create the eligible voter segmentation:

All variables were treated as continuous variables and standardized within the two-step clustering procedure.

Jeffrey Sachs May Have Exposed the Green New Deal’s Biggest Deception

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

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, thought he was supporting the Green New Deal with his February 22nd editorial published on CNN.com.

And he was.

But he may have also exposed the Green New Deal’s greatest deception: the belief among its advocates — New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being the most prominent — that addressing climate change will require significant federal budget line item expenditures.

Decarbonizing the U.S. economy is this generation’s ‘moon shot’, says Ocasio-Cortez.

But what exactly will the federal government spend money on to decarbonize the country?

Our decarbonization efforts so far have not relied heavily on government programs. Why should this be different in the future?

In an essay designed to remove the myths surrounding the Green New Deal’s likely budgetary requirements, Sachs proceeds to answer that question…and the answer may or may not be what climate activists want to hear.

Writes Sachs:

“Decarbonization is already underway in the US, just not yet with the pace and scale required. US utilities are no longer building coal-fired power plants; many are now scrapping plans for gas-fired plants in favor of renewable energy. Investors and in-house lawyers are warning companies not to invest in fossil fuels, as these investments would be stranded in future years. Automobile companies are rapidly shifting to electric vehicles. New buildings are going electric, with tough efficiency codes. These transformations are being driven mainly by environmental regulations, integrated resource planning by utilities, and market forces, not by federal outlays.”

The significance of Sachs’ last sentence cannot be exaggerated. Regulations, building codes, resource planning, and market forces are transforming the U.S. from a carbon-based to a clean energy-based economy.

And this conversion is moving extraordinarily fast without any significant federal programs or massive investments up to now. Furthermore, as per kilowatt costs for renewable energy continue to decline, this conversion will accelerate as old coal plants are shut down and renewable generation plants are put online.

There is no future for coal in the electricity business, and the prospects for gasoline-powered combustion engines aren’t any brighter, according to Bloomberg NEF, a leading provider of primary research on clean energy.

Bloomberg NEF forecasts that, by 2040, 55 percent of all new car sales worldwide and 33 percent of the global fleet will be electric vehicles (EVs). Pushing the momentum in favor of EVs is the fact that “the upfront cost of EVs will become competitive on an unsubsidized basis starting in 2024; by 2029, almost all segments reach parity as battery prices continue to fall,” according to Bloomberg NEF.

The bulk of this progress on clean energy did not require trillions of dollars in federal outlays. To the contrary, Barack Obama’s administration failed to pass any carbon tax legislation and was forced to rely on the executive branch’s regulatory and rule-making authorities in order to achieve its green energy goals.

In ending coal’s long term relevance, the Obama administration was surprisingly successful in addressing climate change considering it had little support from the legislative branch. Even with the Trump administration’s pro-coal stance, which has led to the relaxing of Obama-era environmental regulations and has encouraged more domestic oil and natural gas production, there is no concerted effort to build new coal plants.

Not Even Donald Trump Can Stop the Green Energy Revolution

While climate change activists are dismayed at the significant increase in U.S. oil and natural gas production in the past 10 years, powering this surge has been a realization within the oil industry that the days of oil and gas will end someday. Extract the oil and gas now while there is still a market for it.

British Petroleum’s chief economist, Spencer Dale, admitted last year that the “speed of the transition underway” now in the energy industry has been a surprise. In particular, India and China have developed solar power at much faster pace than BP expected.

“The continuing rapid growth of renewables is leading to the most diversified fuel mix ever seen,” says BP group chief executive Bob Dudley. That is oil industry speak for, “Yeah, we’re concerned.”

The green energy revolution is unstoppable according to many energy analysts and forecasters. “The evidence certainly suggests that renewables have won and a low-carbon future is all but inevitable,” says Kevin Haley of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance.

So why the panic by Ocasio-Cortez and other climate change activists?

Two reasons.

First, the Trump administration’s hostility towards addressing climate change has spurred activists into action to a degree a sympathetic administration might not have inspired. Add to that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s warned that the planet had until 2030 to transition to clean energy to avoid global warming’s worst consequences, the activist community found the perfect storm for generating a massive call to action.

Second, and more importantly, climate change is a highly partisan issue where the Democrats have a clear majority on their side (see Figure 1). The political center is with the Democrats.

According to the American National Election Study (December 2018), 85 percent of Democrats believe the federal government should be doing more on climate change. This represents 39 percent of the total voter eligible population (VEP). But even among ‘independents’ — that do not lean ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ — 54 percent want the government to do more on climate change. That’s another 9 percent of the VEP, combined with Democrats, the percent of the population open to more government action on climate change comes in at 55 percent. If climate change is an important issue to voters when they enter the voting booth in 2020, the Democrats will be in great shape.

Figure 1: Opinions on the Federal Government’s Action on Climate Change (by Party Identification)

Source: American National Election Study (December 2018)

Addressing Climate Change Is Nothing Like the Apollo Moon Program in the 1960s

When Ocasio-Cortez compared the Green New Deal to the U.S. moon program of the 1960s, it was a tremendous disservice to the climate change movement as it leaves the public with a flawed understanding of what will be involved in fighting climate change. The moon landing required a government-centric approach as there was no commercial, private sector motive to go there. Combating climate change, in contrast, will be led by the private sector given phenomenon’s potentially radical impact on the world economy. That is the basic implication of Sachs’ article.

While not zero, the federal government’s role is going to be comparatively small.

Mandates to install heat pumps into new buildings and retro-fitting them into existing buildings is a cost borne largely by the private sector. Ditto for the shuttering of coal plants and replacing them with renewable and clean energy alternatives. Market forces offer the incentives to retool auto plants to manufacture EVs and to build out a national charging station infrastructure that will phase out gasoline combustion engines by around 2050. If we believe the forecasts being generated by Wall Street and automotive industry analysts, it is in the short-term where the government can be most impactful.

“EVs still suffer from a high-cost barrier…and cutting costs will take time,” according to automotive analyst Joshua Gordon. “Therefore as a stop gap, the government can help encourage EV adoption through a selection of incentive programs.”

But that is a transitory federal budget line item.

Other areas where the federal budget will be impacted is in disaster management, research funding, and the updating of the nation’s power grid infrastructure.

And even those expenses can be defrayed through a modest carbon tax, if such a tax could ever be passed in today’s political environment.

On that suggestion, I offer an apology to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) devotees for my thinking new spending must have an equivalent funding mechanism. Old habits die hard. But even if MMT becomes the accepted economic paradigm and we stop judging government spending by its impact on the deficit, the theory is still not a license to piss federal budget money down a rabbit hole.

The argument for government spending must always be rooted in its social and economic sense, and so it will be for addressing climate change.

Economists and investors generally agree that countries that are the ‘first movers’ on climate change will benefit the most economically in the long-term.

“Global leadership in many new technologies is still up for grabs, and early movers can establish footholds in strongly growing markets,” contend Jens Burchardt, Philipp Gerbert, Stefan Schönberger, Patrick Herhold, and Christophe Brognaux from the BCG Henderson Institute, a business strategy consultancy firm based in Boston, MA. “Given these benefits, policymakers should develop economically optimized (greenhouse gas) mitigation agendas and implement thoughtful policies that incentivize companies (and individuals) to act and help them overcome the investment hurdle.”

Such is mainstream investor thinking on how companies and governments should address climate change, which is in contrast to Ocasio-Cortez’ “maybe we should rethink having children” musings on the topic.

Chicken Little-caliber analyses of the risks associated with climate change are counterproductive. As long as the private sector continues to do what is has been doing on greenhouse gas mitigation and the government remains supportive, the sky won’t be falling. Rather, opportunity will be rising.

That is the tenor of Sachs’ CNN article — even if he wouldn’t quite summarize it that way.

Therefore, the best thing the federal government can do to address climate change is to continue to let market forces lead the transformation to a clean energy economy and to offer assistance when gaps need to be filled.

  • K.R.K.

Data available by request to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Joe Biden’s Pledge is a Terrible Idea

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; February 26, 2019)

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s idea that presidential candidates sign a pledge not to ‘aid and abet’ foreign meddling in the 2020 election will do nothing to solve that problem and will, instead, further politicize U.S. intelligence agencies.

While speaking at the Munich Security Conference in February, Biden told the audience that U.S. politicians should not use to their advantage any false information derived from a foreign nation’s influence operation. If they do, they are ‘aiding and abetting’ that nation’s attack on the U.S.

Never known for subtlety, Biden was clearly directing his comments towards the President Donald Trump and his campaign’s actions in 2016.

The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity Pledge

As the co-chair of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI), a nongovernmental panel established last year to help member countries protect their elections from foreign influence, Biden understandably views what happened in the 2016 election as unacceptable. A fair sentiment, even if self-serving given his own possible presidential candidacy in 2020.

However, Biden’s suggestion that all 2020 presidential candidates sign a TCEI pledge to not spread foreign disinformation is not a solution.

In fact, the TCEI pledge, packaged as simple common sense, is a misguided reaction to the 2016 election that will not stop foreign interference and could actually do substantive harm to our electoral process by putting our intelligence agencies in the position of selectively damaging American political candidates and parties.

The pledge itself asks candidates to “refrain from wittingly or unwittingly helping foreign actors undermine Western democracy” by agreeing to the following:

(1) Candidates should not use or spread materials that were falsified or stolen for disinformation or propaganda purposes.

(2) They should avoid spreading doctored audio or video of other candidates, including “deep fake” videos.

(3) They should avoid using bot networks to attack opponents via third parties.

(4) They should maintain high cybersecurity for their campaigns.

(5) And, they should commit to transparency in campaign financing.

Biden’s Bad Idea for Candidates to Sign the TCEI Pledge

On initial glance, the TCEI pledge conditions seem benign and a reasonable person might think they would improve (certainly not do harm to) the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

They would be wrong and here are some reasons:

First, how can a candidate stop doing something they are unwittingly doing? They can’t. And that reveals one of the pledge’s worst unintended consequences. Since candidates won’t always know if they are being manipulated by foreign influence operations, the Biden-TCEI pledge promotes the idea that it is up to the U.S. government to let them know.

How could that go wrong?

Well, here’s why it could.

The Biden-TCEI pledge encourages the politicization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) by placing it in a situation where, with direct access to information regarding foreign influence operations, the IC could impact a U.S. election through its selective release of information on election interference.

Again, in principal, that sounds fairly innocuous.

However, in 2016, imagine if the IC (with presidential approval, as required by Executive Order 13526) had told both the Hillary Clinton and Trump campaigns that the Russians were actively pushing pro-Trump messages onto social media platforms and, knowing that, the Trump campaign was expected to stop using these messages in their campaign communications.

Logical questions from the Trump and Clinton camps might be: What exact campaign-related messages are under suspicion? Could there be other campaign messages being pushed out by foreign sources? How certain can you be that these are linked to Russia? Are there other foreign influence operations possibly active? At what level of certainty does the IC decide to inform the campaigns about foreign influence operations?

If the IC fails to identify every foreign-sourced campaign message — which is likely — it effectively taints all campaign messages for the candidate preferred by a foreign influence operation.

The process would be a nightmare and Biden’s pledge does nothing, perhaps even increases the likelihood of the same disaster in 2020.

And imagine if it is more than just the Russians meddling in a U.S. election. We know from experience, not just the Russians, but the Chinese, Iranians, and our ally Israel are capable of running sophisticated influence operations against the U.S.

[For for an interesting article on Israeli influence operations against U.S. elections, check out this excellent story by The New Yorker’s Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow. Spoiler alert: The Israelis are far more sophisticated than the Russians at election meddling.]

The American public is best served when they know the true source of election information. There is no doubt about that.

But under the encouragement of the Biden-TCEI pledge, the public will be ill-served when sourcing information comes from senior- or mid-level intelligence officers, either through leaks to Washington bureau journalists or through its direct release by the executive branch (now headed by Donald Trump, by the way).

U.S. intelligence information will become a political football and subsequently discounted by large segments of the American public (regardless of its accuracy).

Joe Biden’s pledge idea does nothing to solve this problem and might make things worse.

The second concern with the Biden-TCEI pledge is how it implicitly discredits legitimate news and information sources. Democrats, not just Biden, have called out Wikileaks specifically for its ‘laundering’ of Russian-hacked emails in the 2016 election — as if what Wikileaks does is fundamentally different than any other news organization.

But by the Democrats’ standard, we should not trust the New York Times or the Washington Post either as they have in the past taken possession of stolen or leaked emails/documents and published them once they were deemed newsworthy (Pentagon PapersPanama Papers, Podesta emails, etc.). This is constitutionally protected speech, including the right to also pass this illegally obtained information to others once it is has been released in the media.

By defaming legitimate news organizations for doing their jobs legally and under the protection of the U.S. Constitution, Biden’s pledge increases the likelihood that important whistle blower information in the future will be suppressed because it might be hacker-sourced.

The third concern is that the Biden pledge is asking Americans to ‘voluntarily’ suppress their free speech rights which will narrow the range of information, ideas and opinions existing within our public discourse during elections. Worse yet, it will do so without significantly stopping Russian, Chinese, Iranian or Israeli election interference.

To the contrary, bad actors could use the Biden pledge to implicate the campaign of their choosing as being the “preferred choice” of the Kremlin (or some other enemy of the U.S.).

A candidate, journalist, media outlet or a government official can merely suggest the Russians are helping a specific candidate in order to taint that candidate.

Doesn’t that happen anyway?

Yes, but again, the Biden pledge does nothing to stop and probably encourages such skulduggery.

And, finally, Biden’s pledge will have a chilling effect on the quality of our policy debates as it will effectively prevent any candidate from expressing an opinion that might be aligned with the opinion of a foreign adversary.

We see this dynamic already in the 2020 campaign where a candidate has suggested U.S. interests are better served if the U.S. leaves Syria as soon as possible. This legitimate policy position was met with claims that this candidate is ‘wittingly or unwittingly’ representing the Russians and Syria’s dictator Bashar al Assad.

Biden’s seemingly innocent pledge will, in fact, narrow the range of topics and opinions allowed in U.S. political discourse — which is the opposite of what we need from our electoral system.

So, should we just let the Russians meddle in our next election?

Of course not. We should always protect our information systems from foreign exploitation and hold those countries accountable when the evidence finds them culpable. And it is in the IC’s job description to identify foreign influence operations targeting the U.S. and to minimize their damage to the best extent possible.

At the same time, let us not kill the patient in order to kill the disease.

What can we do?

In an open society like ours, the probability of foreign actors interfering in a U.S. election will always be non-zero. The American people therefore should not be coddled into thinking their government, political and media elites are capable of protecting them from all nefarious actors that might try to interfere in our elections. Furthermore, with this responsibility now, these elites have proven they will abuse their power for often partisan reasons when left unconstrained.

Let the free and educated American people be the best line of defense from foreign interference; even if, on occasion, bad information will enter the political bloodstream.

That is one cost of our freedom — the potential exposure to bad information.

This cost is far outweighed by the benefits of our First Amendment that allows us to seek information from a multitude of sources, including foreign, should we choose to do so.

Personally, I seek alternative points of view (propaganda, if you want to call it that) on American policy, even those of our adversaries. Why do I do this? Because sometimes our government and news media lie and news sources not controlled by American corporate interests are sometimes the only source for good information. For skeptics of this claim, I recommend the book, The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, which details — in an entertaining and digestible way — how “politicians lie to journalists and then believe those lies when they see them in print.”

As informed voters, we need to know to know what the Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, and Syrians are thinking, even if it is weighted towards government-produced propaganda. We are not children. We can handle discordant information. We really can.

And if I want to watch RT’s Redacted Tonight with Lee Camp or The Jimmy Dore Show on You Tube every night, well, why is that your concern or the government’s? [I am obligated however by conscience and logical consistency to inform you that RT is partially funded by the Russian government.]

They spread lies!

All the media outlets spread f**king lies at one time or another. The trick is learning to know when.

The blessing of being a U.S. citizen is that we have access to varieties of information and can access it without fear of retribution from our government (though that same government is allowed — through the bipartisan supported Patriot Act —to track everything any of us watch and read on the internet if they choose to do so — yes, that is a true statement, not Russian propaganda.).

The Biden-TCEI pledge is part of a nanny-state culture where elites, themselves held together by a common set of behavioral norms and motives, coordinate to ‘protect’ the American people from evil doers, both domestic and foreign.

But Americans don’t need Joe Biden, the U.S. intelligence community, the news media or the 2020 presidential candidates deciding what information Americans should read and hear in the next election. It is not their job and, besides, they are not good at it.

But the Biden-TCEI pledge wants you to believe they are good at it.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

Trump and the GOP have a market share problem

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

Donald Trump, the candidate, has a market share problem. His support has very little upside and — as of now — has a maximum potential market (vote) share of just 45 percent among eligible voters.

That will not win the next election. He needs a new strategy and he needs one fast.

To demonstrate the problem, Figure 1 offers a simple volumetric analysis of eligible U.S. voters using data from the December 2018 American National Election Study (ANES).

Figure 1: How Eligible Voters Rate Donald Trump (Dec. 2018)

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

First, assume voters that currently rate Trump 57 or higher on a 0–100 thermometer scale potentially will vote for him if the election were held today. Likewise, I estimate 60 percent of those rating him between 43 to 56 are potential votes for him today (the 60 percent estimate is based on percentages derived from the 2016 election). Finally, since we are seeking a maximum in vote share potential, assume any voter that voted for Trump in 2016 potentially will vote for him again (even if their rating of him is below 43).

This adds up to 45 percent of all eligible voters. Of course, many people won’t vote at all, but if non-voting is randomly distributed across levels of Trump support, the highest vote share Trump can expect (under the current status quo) is only 45 percent.

This is a gut-punching number if you work for the Trump White House or Republican National Committee (RNC).

That potential vote share is noticeably similar to Trump’s maximum job approval rating over the first two years of his presidency — 46 percent (occurring at the start of his term in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Average Trump Approval Rating (RealClearPolitics.com)

Source: RealClearPolitics

This is not a coincidence. Trump has a hard ceiling when it comes to support and unless something shocks the system (e.g., a nuclear disarmament deal with DPRK or some national security emergency of the real kind), it is hard to see where Trump can go prospecting for new supporters.

White Republicans stand almost alone in the American electorate

The independent voters (and ‘weak’ partisans) Trump needs to win reelection are too far removed in their attitudes from the GOP’s core voters to become probable Trump voters in 2020. The distance between independents and the Republican Party can be seen in two charts from the 2018 ANES.

The first chart (Figure 3) plots eligible voters by their partisan and racial/ethnic identification. The bubble size indicates the relative size of that voter segment — the biggest being white Republicans (31%), followed by white Democrats (27%), white independents (10%), Black Democrats (9%), Hispanic Democrats (8%), Hispanic independents (4%), Asian Democrats (3%), Hispanic Republicans (3%), Black independents (2%), Asian Republicans (2%), Asian independents (1%), and Black Republicans (1%).

In Figure 3, the horizontal axis is defined by an index score formed by illegal immigration questions from the 2018 ANES focused on crime and security. The vertical axis is defined by an index score formed by illegal immigration questions from the 2018 ANES focused on the economy and society (all data and SPSS coding syntax available upon request to: kroeger98@yahoo.com).

The relative distance between white Republicans and the other voter segments (except Asian Republicans) is substantively significant. White Republicans are much more likely to view illegal immigration has harmful to both the national economy and crime. In contrast, Hispanic Republicans view illegal immigration has impactful on crime and security, but no so much on the economy. This finding is consistent with other research on the immigration attitudes of Hispanic Republicans (herehere and here).

Figure 3: Voter Segments by Attitudes Regarding Illegal Immigration

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

 

Problematic for Republicans in Figure 3 is the gap between white Republicans and white independents, who generally fall in the middle on both immigration indexes. While white independents have a slightly negative view of illegal immigration’s impact on the economy, their attitudes are not as extreme as white and Asian Republicans. However, white independents are almost equidistant between white Democrats and white Republicans, suggesting that the Republicans could still bring them into the voting fold with improved messaging and less extremism on the issue. In contrast, Hispanic, Asian and Black independents appear lost causes for supporting the Republicans on illegal immigration.

A similar analysis in Figure 4 focuses on partisan policy attitudes and national pride. And, again, white Republicans stand virtually alone relative to the bulk of the American electorate.

In Figure 4, the horizontal axis is defined by an index score formed by questions on the 2018 ANES related to national pride. The vertical axis is defined by an index score formed by a series of policy-related questions from the 2018 ANES shown to be highly correlated with respondents’ partisanship strength.

Figure 4: Voter Segments by Attitudes Regarding Partisan Issues and Pride in Country

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

White Republicans are strikingly more patriotic and conservative in their policy views than the other voter segments. Only Hispanic Republicans are more patriotic and, on policy issues, only Asian Republicans are similarly conservative.

While legitimate methodological and theoretical criticisms can be made regarding the use of spatial distances to explain voting behavior, in the 2018 ANES data at least, the association (no claim of causation) between voter spatial distances and aggregate voting behavior was significant.

It feels safe to conclude that white Republicans have become so isolated from the American mainstream, without an immediate strategy adjustment by the GOP, it is difficult to see how Trump can achieve anything near the 46 percent of the popular vote he garnered in 2016. Without a major third party candidate cutting disproportionately into the Democrat’s voter base, the only question about 2020 is what will be the depth of Trump’s defeat and how will it impact down-ballot Republicans.

Trump cannot expect the same perfect storm that worked for him in 2016

If 2016 taught anything, never say never in American presidential elections. Still, the factors that played major roles in Trump’s 2016 upset victory over Hillary Clinton will not be in Trump’s favor the next time around.

First, the overwhelming advantage in ‘free, unfiltered media’ gifted to Trump by the cable news networks in 2016 will not repeat itself in 2020. To the contrary, according to Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, the first 100 days of the Trump presidency experienced the most negative presidential media coverage of any president they’ve measured (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Tone of President’s News Cover in First 100 Days

Sources: Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Mediated President (2006), p. 37 for Clinton and Bush; Center for Media & Public Affairs for Obama; Media Tenor for Trump. Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone, which accounted for about a third of the reports.

No evidence exists to suggest the tone of Trump’s news coverage has improved since the first 100 days. In fact, if we accept recent research from the partisan media watchdog, Media Research Center, over 90 percent of Trump’s news coverage has been negative in the first two years of his presidency.

Second, in 2016, Trump’s opponent made a whole host of significant strategic mistakes, along with coming into the race with high negative ratings across a large swath of the American public and news media.

Arguably, Clinton’s biggest error, however, was not personally campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan in the final months of the campaign; and perhaps more critically, Clinton essentially took the month of August and a good part of September off from the campaign trail, only occasionally emerging at fundraisers. In that period, Trump was doing multiple campaign rallies a dayand saw his polling deficit to Clinton shrink from nearly eight points in early August to just one point in mid-September 2016, according to the RealClearPolitics poll averages.

There is no gentle way of saying this: Hillary Clinton was too inactive for too many long stretches in the campaign. But that will not be the case with the next Democratic nominee Trump faces.

Lastly, and most importantly, the U.S. has become a center-left country since the 2016 election and, with every day, a little bit bluer as Republicans disproportionately are dying off while identity groups associated with the Democrats are slowly growing in size.

The Democrats’ emerging majority through demographics thesis has been over-predicted by many social scientists and political pundits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in the long run.

Even if there is no deterministic relationship between vote choice and a person’s demographic characteristics, demographic trends are still in the Democrats’ favor.

Republicans can take some comfort in knowing political parties and people’s attitudes do change over time in predictable ways and only rarely has either major party been noncompetitive for long stretches of time. Political parties are strategic actors skilled at adjusting to changing electoral environments in order to remain relevant. It is a survival instinct.

Nonetheless, the following figures from Pew Research and the U.S. Census Bureau should keep RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale restless at night:

(1) “The Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) is the only generational group that has more GOP leaners and identifying voters than Democratic-oriented voters,” according to a 2017 study by Pew Research. “Democrats enjoy a 27-percentage-point advantage among Millennial voters (59% are Democrats or lean Democratic, 32% are Republican or lean Republican).”

Millennials account for 30 percent of the U.S. voting age population and is larger than the once dominant Baby Boomer generation.

If the GOP doesn’t become more competitive for Millennial support, the GOP will become the minority party at all levels of elected government in the next 10 years.

(2) Similarly, racial and ethnic divisions increasingly differentiate Republicans from Democrats, according to the Pew study, and the trends in this area favor the Democrats. “By more than two-to-one (63% to 28%), Hispanic voters are more likely to affiliate with or lean toward the Democratic Party than the GOP.” Trump made minor improvements among Hispanic voters when compared to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, but hardly enough to suggest a trend favoring the GOP.

The Democratic advantage among Hispanics has been relatively stable. However, as a percentage of all Americans, Hispanic power is growing steadily and will be potentially decisive in every election hereafter. In 2014, Hispanics represented 17 percent of the U.S. population — in 2060, that number will be 29 percent, only 15 percentage points behind the non-Hispanic white population (44 percent).

In the future, it is hard imagine a successful Republican Party that hasn’t expanded its base to include more Hispanics and Millennials.

In the near-term, the Republicans are faced with a (likely) presidential candidate already skating on the thinnest of margins who must now navigate an even narrower path to victory.

The normal benefits of incumbency (money, agenda-setting powers, free media, policy victories) are muted by a unvaryingly hostile national news media (even Ann Coulter is calling Trump an ‘idiot’ these days). Where once a strong economy would make a president a sure bet for reelection, today, it has done little more for Trump than to prevent the bottom from dropping out of his approval ratings. Even a slight weakening in the economy could portend an election bloodbath against Trump on a scale similar to Reagan-Mondale.

Is Trump destined to lose in 2020? Not if the Democrats have anything to say about it…

The expectation here is that I will say something about how, if the Democrats move too far to the left, they risk what should be an easy victory in 2020.

That conclusion is not supported by the data.

Look again at Figure 4.

If anything, most of the voter segments are clustered in the ‘Democrat’ corner of the partisan attitudes index. It is not the Democrats most at risk of being ‘too extreme,’ it is the Republicans that are risking being relatively too extreme.

Independents are closer to Democratic positions than they are to Republican positions. Sure, that could change. I could imagine the Democrats pushing too hard on an issue where the American center is undecided (e.g., continuation of the current American wars in Syria and Afghanistan) and Trump using that issue to pull independents and ‘weak’ partisans back towards the GOP.

Voters, including independents and centrists, do not generally like vagueness coming out of the mouths of their politicians. That is why voters with otherwise moderate views will nonetheless prefer a candidate with strong partisan policy positions over a “centrist” candidate with views closer to their own. The research confirms this dynamic is not uncommon between voters and candidates. Distinctive candidates (and parties) attract voters.

And every election finds new issues (potentially important to voters) where candidates and parties can re-position themselves to become more distinctive and attractive. It is on these issues where the two parties subsequently skirmish to find the high ground position; and it is this strategic positioning that keeps the two parties competitive from one election to the next.

Figure 6: Partisan Attitudes by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

So while on most issues voters have sorted themselves out along partisan lines (see Figure 6 where positive values indicate ‘Democratic’ positions and negative values indicate ‘Republican’ positions), there are still many important issues where Americans have not yet picked sides. And these issues represent fertile battle spaces for strategic positioning by the parties looking for that next big electoral advantage.

Here are just two examples: Free trade (Figure 7) and Gun control (Figure 8).

Given Trump’s populist takeover of the GOP, it should not surprise anyone that Republicans and Democrats are both divided on this issue — though that may change over time if Trump’s populism remains preeminent in the GOP. For now, free trade remains an issue where one party could still strategically position itself to attract a significant number of new or swing voters.

Figure 7: Attitudes about Free Trade by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

As for gun control, anyone that has lived in the Midwest knows Democrats own guns too and who doesn’t know a few Republicans that are staunch supporters of more restrictive gun control legislation.

Gun control remains a competitive theater of operations for Democrats and Republicans to prospect for new voters.

Figure 8: Attitudes about Gun Control by 2016 Vote Choice

Data Source: 2018 American National Election Study (Pilot); Analytics by Kent R. Kroeger

The point here is that the American political system, while too rigid in many ways such as the advantages afforded incumbents and the power of special interests to influence public policy, it is still a competitive, two-party system. It is presumptuous to claim either party has a permanent (or even growing) advantage in the voting booth. We are always just one or two elections away from power shifting in the U.S. House or presidency and there is nothing in the data to suggest that will change.

As for Trump, my original thesis that he has a market share problem still stands, but with one caveat. A clever politician (or party) faced with such a problem will look for ways to redefine the competitive space — to change the status quo in such a way that old partisan loyalties may become less relevant in the light of newer contingencies and considerations.

The de-nuclearization of North Korea? A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians? Brokering a summit and peace treaty between Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia? A new era of Chinese-American economic cooperation built on a more equitable trade agreement? I don’t assume anything is impossible when it comes to Trump — no Democrat should.

That said, I’m not saying Trump is capable of being that creative either. He has shown no nimbleness in that regard as he continues to behave as if his biggest challenge is keeping his base supportive. Should someone close to him demonstrate the real problem — a lack of voters available to him in the political center — he might come up with a few surprises just in time for the 2020 election.

  • K.R.K.

Please send cards and comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Gabbard Agonistes

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; February 12, 2019)

Midway through Frank Capra’s film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the corrupt power brokers, scheming to enrich themselves through a federal dam project, realize the ‘stooge’ they hand-picked to be a U.S. Senator, Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart), wasn’t just honest, but willing to expose their illegal plan.

How do the power brokers plan to stop Senator Smith?

After Senator Joseph Paine and Governor “Happy” Hopper, both from Smith’s home state, along with party boss and media magnate Jim Taylor, conspire to frame Smith in a similar land-sale enrichment scheme, Smith is forced to defend himself on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

In one of the most iconic scenes in Stewart’s film career full of iconic scenes, Smith filibusters for close to 24 hours on the Senate floor, in the hope that the media’s coverage will generate support for his defense.

Of course, the power brokers aren’t going to let that happen. Boss Taylor tells Senator Paine: “I’ll blacken this punk…You leave public opinion to me.”

Using his control of the media, newspapers, and radio in Smith’s home state, Boss Taylor does just that — “SEND SMITH TO JAIL WHERE HE BELONGS,” implores a radio announcer — and, in the final scene, basket loads of anti-Smith telegrams and letters are poured onto the Senator floor. As Smith starts reading the letters, he collapses in despair, ending his day-long filibuster.

Claude Rains (L) and Jimmy Stewart (R) in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

 

If I had written the movie, it would have ended right there. But this is a Capra movie and as Smith is lifted out of the chamber, a guilt-stricken Senator Paine confesses to his colleagues (and the nation) his own guilt and Smith’s innocence.

If only the real world always worked out that way.

Today, the Senator Paines are on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News offering live commentary from the Capitol’s rotunda as Senator Smith is carried away.

The modern world of politics isn’t as oafish and thinly-veiled in its deceit as a Capra movie and Jimmy Stewart doesn’t win — not often at least.

We are watching in real-time today a similar dynamic, with even greater (negative) consequences, should the mainstream media succeed in its brazen and surprisingly uncloaked attempt to smear and impugn the character of Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

There is no other presidential candidate running today, besides Bernie Sanders and possibly Elizabeth Warren, with as clear a message as Gabbard’s: End our counterproductive regime change wars.

I don’t know what policies or ideas Kamala Harris really supports. Or Beto O’Rourke? And Howard Schultz? He says he wants a centrist Democrat nominated, whatever that means. Who are these people and why should anyone be excited about their candidacies?

But, for some reason, the mere mention of Gabbard’s name can turn a gaggle of temperate Democrats into an seething, tweet-raging mob.

I know the fundamental reason for the rage. Gabbard betrayed Hillary Clinton at a moment in the 2016 Democratic nomination race when the momentum had finally shifted away from Sanders and back towards Clinton.

In late February 2016, Gabbard went on national TV to announce her resignation from a Democratic National Committee leadership position on the grounds that the nomination race was rigged against Sanders and that she could not support the leading candidate, Clinton, due to her long, well-documented history of poor judgment, particularly with respect to the use of U.S. military and diplomatic power (2003 Iraq War, destabilizing Libya, destabilizing Syria, etc.).

That is why NBC, MSNBC, CNN, Vox.com, Politico, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Vanity Fair, The Nation, and many more news outlets, smear Gabbard. They think she’s a traitor.

It has hurt Gabbard’s effectiveness in the U.S. House and eliminates any possibility (as remote as it already was) that she will win the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Still, I pray she can find a way to stay in the race as long as possible.

This country needs to hear what she has to say.

Even if she only makes it to the first major debate in June, Americans will hear a thoughtful argument on why, according to Gabbard, U.S. regime change wars in the Middle East and elsewhere have done harm to our nation’s broader security interests — not to mention the immense harm done to innocent civilians living in these countries.

Good intentions, including some genuinely good deeds we’ve done in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are not sufficient reasons for imposing America’s will on foreign countries where U.S. strategic interests are not at stake, says Gabbard.

That is not a radical argument, by any definition. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul makes it pretty much every day to anyone willing to listen.

But — and I regret saying this — the Republican Party has a higher tolerance for dissent among its ranks than do the Democrats. Yes, Rand Paul has been marginalized within the U.S. Senate on matters related to national security. But when they need Paul’s support on other matters, there is no hesitation to welcome him back into the GOP-fold.

That is not how the Democratic establishment is dealing with Gabbard. They are openly using a three-stage strategy to end her national ambitions: (1) smear, (2) isolate, and (3) and ignore.

Smear

When Gabbard, without permission from the House leadership, visited Syria (and met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad) during a congressional break, on her return the Democratic establishment trotted out their attack Chihuahua, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to accuse Gabbard of being sympathetic to dictators and the use of chemical gas attacks on innocent civilians. That Gabbard has consistently labelled Assad a “ruthless dictator” has been ignored by her critics. That she believed any punishment of the Assad regime for gas attacks should not have happened until international observers, such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, had independently determined culpability is also ignored. Gabbard has never denied that the Assad regime has employed gas attacks on its own citizens, but you wouldn’t know that if you watched CNN or MSNBC.

The national news media routinely gaslights Gabbard…because they can…with impunity.

Their most recent smear of Gabbard was perhaps the most dishonest. In a poorly-sourced story relying entirely on a Democratic Party-aligned communications firm, NBC news suggested Russian intelligence agents — presumably the same crew that interfered in our 2016 election — have decided to back Gabbard in 2020. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald gives a detailed autopsy on how this deplorable NBC story came to life. Suffice it to say, nothing in the NBC story was reliable or trustworthy. It was simply a partisan hit job propagated by a Democratic Party-friendly news network.

Gabbard responded forcefully to the NBC story:

“Today, our freedoms and democracy are being threatened by media giants ruled by corporate interests who are in the pocket of the establishment war machine. When journalism is deployed as a weapon against those who call for peace, it threatens our democracy as it seeks to silence debate and dissent, creates an atmosphere of fear and paranoia…This danger is not new — we saw it take hold of our nation during the last Cold War, as McCarthyite hysteria.

Russia-baiting propaganda is being deployed against our campaign along with anyone else, on the left or the right, who speaks out against regime change war or the new Cold War. The corporate media is doing everything they can to stop our campaign before it gets started — including using fraudulent journalism and discredited sources to launch their biased attacks.”

Stories like NBC’s against Gabbard are the perfect smear. No American journalist is going to invest the time — much less have access to — the Russian sources behind this story. The fact the smear comes from known Democratic hacks gives the appearance that it is a non-partisan attack. Gabbard, after all, is a Democrat. It all stays in the family.

Furthermore, Trump, Russiagate, and our military adventures are profit centers for the national news media. Why would they let someone like Gabbard piss on their money parade?

When Gabbard recently appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to talk about Syria and other regime change wars, they gooey condescension coming from Joe Scarbrough, Mike Brezinksi, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and easily MSBNC’s worst show host, Kasie Hunt, was palpable.

When Hunt tried to confront Gabbard on Syria, she exposed herself as ill-informed.

Apparently, many Americans like Hunt are unaware that, today, the U.S. is not fighting Assad’s Syrian forces. We are in Syria fighting ISIS, controlling Syria’s most lucrative natural gas fields, and trying to keep the Kurds, Turks, and Assad’s forces from fighting each other.

But, Hunt, having been embarrassed by Gabbard before a national audience, resorted to what any good MSNBC on-air personality does when outed as being nothing more than a corporate tool— she re-tweeted the NBC news story smearing Gabbard for allegedly being a Russian tool.

Source: MSNBC

 

I don’t believe in a vengeful God, but sometimes I pray I’m wrong and there is an especially dark place in Hell for MSNBC’s current on-air talent pool.

As for David Ignatius, has he ever been on the right side of foreign policy debate? From Iraq WMDs, the Iraq War, Libya, Honduras, Yemen, Syria, Russia, Iran, and soon, Venezuela, he has always been wrong, very wrong, and inconceivably stupid wrong. You have to work hard to so consistently make that many bad calls. Even Tom Friedman laughs at David Ignatius’ track record.

The NBC/MSNBC smear campaign against Gabbard is particularly insidious because it dovetails nicely into the current Russiagate zeitgeist that continues to consume and paralyze the Democratic Party — that part of the Democratic Party, at least, not associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and concerned about addressing problems such as climate change, health care, and income inequality.

Isolate

When Gabbard was first elected to Congress in 2013, she was a rising star. In an almost unprecedented opportunity for a new House member, she was placed on the prestigious House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees and had a important role within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) heading into the 2016 election.

And then…as mentioned previously…

Unwilling, without a fight, to let a warmonger with a history of bad judgment become the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Gabbard resigned from the DNC and declared her support for Bernie Sanders.

Even more than her opposition to the military-industrial complex’s love for regime change wars, opposing Hillary Clinton was Gabbard’s most unforgivable betrayal for many Democrats.

She became the party’s “Sal” Tessio.

But Gabbard put principles ahead of career and that decision’s consequences include what we are seeing today. The Democratic Party establishment wants her isolated and marginalized and are using their propaganda division— the national news media — to do it.

In fairness, the party elites’ trust in Gabbard was always on a provisional basis.

Gabbard, a Hindu, was raised in a socially conservative, pro-life family in Hawaii. Her father, Mike Gabbard, born in America Samoa, was (and still is) a conservative Democrat that in the early 2000s, along with Tulsi, openly opposed marriage equality (as did Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton at the time).

And, similar to those prominent Democrats, Tulsi Gabbard’s position on marriage equality (and abortion rights as well) evolved in a progressive direction over time. As a House member, Gabbard has had one of the party’s most progressive voting records on LGBTQ and abortion rights issues.

Her critics still insist, unlike those other Democrats, Gabbard’s evolution is not genuine. Their evidence? Nada. [Never mind also that Gabbard came to support marriage equality before Clinton, Biden or Obama.]

Gabbard’s attitude shift — as she tells the story — centers on her experience as a military officer during the Iraq War.

Source: CNN

 

In my career, having conducted research for the U.S. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on soldiers’ attitudes during their service careers, what Gabbard talks about in her transformation sounds familiar. Serving in the military and exposed to a broader cross-section of Americans than from where they are often raised, soldiers frequently develop more progressive views on race, ethnicity and gender issues. It is the nature and demands of military service that prompts this attitudinal change. It is human nature.

In other words, it is wholly believable Gabbard’s views on LGBTQ issues changed during her time in the military.

But, apparently, among brie-and-wine progressives at Jacobin magazineVox.com, and Vanity Fair, Gabbard’s evolution is untrustworthy and most likely the cover story of a party saboteur. Hillary Clinton’s conversion on marriage equality — on the other hand — totally credible.

Besides being placed on Nancy Pelosi’s naughty list, Gabbard has been substantively isolated within her own party through her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the current Congress.

That may be the single worst thing that has happened to Gabbard since 2016.

When the country needed to hear Gabbard’s voice during the House Foreign Affairs hearings on Venezuela this past week, we watched the committee largely roll over for Trump’s regime change adviser Elliot Abrams. A while I admire the sharped-edged, earnest grit of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s questioning of Abrams, Gabbard’s confident, polished demeanor was absent.

Frankly, Gabbard didn’t help her relationship with Pelosi or her standing in the party when she voted against the new House rules in January that included the PAYGO requirement. [Gabbard, Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were the only Democrats to vote against the new House rules.] But, by that point, Gabbard’s outsider status was already hard-coded into the Democratic Party establishment’s lizard brains.

If you need evidence of how far the Democrats will go to isolate Gabbard, you need only have watched Trump’s last State of the Union address. As the Democratic Women in White took their seats near the front of the House chamber, Gabbard was so far in the back she was one row away from being in Pittsburgh.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (seated-left) and GOP Rep. Markwayne Mullin (standing)

AOC, in contrast, earned front row status in the stink-eye brigade.

House Democrats at the 2019 State of the Union Address

 

And I understand why AOC was willing to join this oddly high schoolish-level display. Its good for her congressional career. I’m good with that. But, AOC should know this: Push for substantive legislation on health care and the Green New Deal and they will drop you as if they caught you cheating with their boyfriends.

Ignore

As for Gabbard, now that the party has effectively smeared and isolated her, the last step is to ignore her and hope she goes away.

Pretend she doesn’t exist so her donors dry up and she is forced to drop out of the presidential race — maybe even become a Republican.

As The Jimmy Dore Show pointed out recently, MSBNC’s Steve Kornacki didn’t even mention Gabbard when talking about the early polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Granted, Gabbard’s poll numbers are in single digits; that is, when the pollster actually lists her among the candidates.

CNN and the Emerson Poll didn’t even bother to list her name for respondents in their December 2016 polls, even though it was known she was planning to run for president. And when Gabbard was listed by the Emerson Poll in late January, her two percent support was similar to two far better known candidates, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (1%) and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (1%).

FiveThirtyEight.com’s first video on the 2020 Democratic nomination somehow couldn’t find room for a picture of Gabbard on its title screen, but somehow Oprah and The Rock deserved spots and at least six other faces that I don’t know who the hell they are. Michael Avenatti?!

Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

Iowa may fit a presidential candidate that surfs

But don’t feel sorry Gabbard quite yet. Iowa could be the antidote for a negligent and biased national media.

Among the first states to revolt against the railroad barons at the turn of the 20th-century and home to progressive, Henry Wallace, FDR’s prvice president from 1941 to 1945, Iowa has a strong populist, anti-interventionist streak. And based on her first visit to the Hawkeye State, Gabbard’s anti-regime change message resonates. Her first scheduled event in Fairfield drew an auditorium-filling crowd of at least 200 people and her foreign policy-focused stump speech had solid applause lines.

Gabbard also connected with an Iowa audience when she talked about the religious bigotry seemingly growing again among some Americans.

“Our country was established on the basis of freedom of religion, and the Constitution states there would never be any religious test for any public office,” says Gabbard. “It is a freedom enshrined in our Constitution, and that every member of Congress takes an oath to protect — a freedom that many heroes have given their lives to defend.”

Her concern about religious bigotry is a crotch-kick at some in her own party’s leadership that now openly questions whether practicing Catholics are qualified to sit on a federal bench.

An exaggeration? Think again.

The ‘religious test’ inference was impossible to ignore when Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein told judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing, “The dogma lives loudly within you. Dogma and law are two different things. I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different.”

Even the neoliberals at Bloomberg winced at Feinstein’s implication.

Her interrogation of Coney Barrett is the modern form of the same anti-Catholicism that kept Al Smith from becoming president and easily could have ended John F. Kennedy’s presidential ambitions. Thank God we’ve advanced as a nation…except, that we haven’t.

Iowa Democrats will be open to Gabbard’s message on religious tolerance as they tend to be both progressive and religious. They aren’t San Francisco liberals.

Iowans are also unpredictable and sometimes even ornery — polar vortices will do that to people — but they will listen and have been known to lift previously unknown candidates into national prominence (e.g., Jimmy Carter) and knock down front runners just as readily (e.g., Howard Dean).

More importantly, Gabbard’s Navy officer training and discipline helped her connect extremely well in the smaller group settings while in Iowa.

As a citizen on the outside looking in, it is obvious the mainstream media and Democratic Party elites do not want Gabbard in this race.

To the Democratic Party establishment, Gabbard is the most dangerous candidate possible. She is at odds with her party that has spent the last 30 years trying to make up for its failure to get credit for the fall of the Soviet Union — the greatest U.S. foreign policy achievement since World War II.

Carter started the arms buildup, but Reagan received the credit. The Democratic neolib/neocons will never let that happen again.

Gabbard rejects the standing assumption within the political-military establishment that regime change wars are a legitimate and morally righteous use of American military superiority, regardless of the damage it inflicts on civilian populations.

Iraq, Libya, and Syria are a living testament to this policy’s deep flaws.

And when Gabbard stands on that stage for the first debate in June, she will be the only candidate confidently standing against these counterproductive wars. Senator Elizabeth Warren, the only other Democratic to make definitive statements against U.S interference in Venezuela, is simply not as dedicated as Gabbard on this issue.

Be aware of the McCarthyesque techniques being used against Gabbard and others opposed to regime change wars

There are legitimate arguments against Gabbard’s views on U.S. regime change wars. If someone believes 4,000 American troops in eastern Syria is going to save Syrian and Kurdish lives and lead to the final defeat of radical Islamic terrorism (or, at least, the land-holding ISIS variety), they are entitled to that opinion. And they should feel free to debate Gabbard and others that share her views — but they should do so on the merits of their arguments.

I hope this country gets to hear Gabbard’s thoughtful message over the course of the 2020 campaign and I hope her critics are equally prepared to respond in a constructive way.

To instead smear her as a Russian stooge, or worse, as a simpatico agent of murderous dictators, is not just inaccurate, it is immoral.

This is the type of lazy journalism that is now standard operating procedure at the major cable news networks.

But, to be well-informed citizens, we need to hold these news organizations — and I use the word ‘news’ lightly here— to a higher standard.

There is real dissent on how best to use American military, economic and diplomatic power in a world still populated with far too many despots and evil-doers. But this dissent does not come from the radical fringe of American society or from a secret Russian plot to neuter American power (which is what the Russians openly do anyway because that’s kind of their job!). Anti-war dissent comes from an American mainstream that is not adequately covered by our corporate news media because they are, in fact, suppressed.

Anti-war advocates don’t make money for media companies as do Trump and war.

Noam Chomsky described this state of affairs 30 years ago:

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda,” wrote Chomsky in his book, Manufactured Consent. “Dissent and inconvenient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda.”

That is the media system we live with today.

I don’t know when corporate interests completely absorbed our journalists and news organizations. It may be impossible to know when it happened. Or maybe it has always been that way and we are only now realizing it.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that American news organizations are not just bad, they are dangerously bad. And if the news media is allowed to kill off the Gabbard presidential campaign before she has an opportunity to share her views with voters, this country will be lesser for it.

Let us not allow party bosses like Capra’s fictional Jim Taylor shut down another honest politician.

  • K.R.K.

Please send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Could Hispanic voters form a viable third party in the U.S.?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; February 12, 2019)

Political scientists have long accepted that the formation of a viable third party in the U.S. is inhibited by its winner-take-all (simple-majority, single ballot) electoral system.

At the presidential-level, the electoral college doesn’t help either.

Yet, most voters, at some point disenchanted with the nominees of the two major parties, have probably dabbled with the thought of voting for a third-party candidate.

Actually voting for a third-party candidate rarely ever happens.

In his 1963 cross-national study of electoral systems, Political Parties, French sociologist Maurice Duverger concluded:

The simple-majority single-ballot system favours the two-party system…this approaches the most nearly perhaps to a true sociological law.

Until recently, Durverger’s Law had been one of political science’s few durable laws. In recent years, however, research by Patrick Dunleavy and Rekha Diwakar argues that the dominance of the two-party system in the U.S. cannot be explained by Durverger’s Law or its later derivatives. The U.S. two-party system is unique from a cross-national perspective.

Regardless of how we explain the entrenchment of the U.S. two-party system, the electoral evidence says third parties do not perform well in the U.S., particularly at the presidential level where local- and state-level party organizations are critical to a party’s national success.

Across all U.S. presidential elections, Figure 1 illustrates the general failure of third party candidates (the orange bars and one purple bar) to even come close to winning a majority of the popular vote.

Figure 1: Presidential votes by party

Source: Wikipedia

 

Instead, where third party candidates such as Teddy Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party, 1912) and Ross Perot (1992) arguably have been successful, is in splintering a majority party enough to allow a minority party candidate to win. Roosevelt pulled in 25 percent of the popular vote in 1912, effectively preventing President William Howard Taft, the Republican incumbent, from winning re-election. Likewise, Ross Perot’s maverick candidacy in 1992 garnered 19 percent of the popular vote and may have done the same to President George H. W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Voter disenchantment with an incumbent administration and an unacceptable alternative from the other major party seems to drive the emergence of meaningful third-party challenges.

Will we see a significant third-party challenger in the 2020 presidential election?

The current presidential election season is already inspiring predictable calls for a new third-party alternative to challenge Donald Trump and whomever the Democrats nominate. So far, the two most common scenarios are:

(1) Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (or, perhaps, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg) running as an independent candidate in contradistinction to a Democratic Party he views as becoming too leftist.

(2) Should their preferred candidate not win the Democratic Party nomination, progressive Democrats could leverage Sanders’ expansive national infrastructure to run a third party candidate, not only for the presidency, but for congressional, state, and local elections as well.

The latter would be far more disruptive to the two-party system as a Schultz candidacy would inevitably fail and leave no residual organizational structure to build a viable third party for the future.

Sanders, on the other hand, has a national organizational structure independent of the Democratic Party and could be a credible electoral force at all governing levels.

But even a Sanders third-party run might face considerable resistance from some of his own supporters and end up, in the end, getting Donald Trump re-elected. Not a result most Sanders supporters or establishment Democrats want to see.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver recently detailed the limitations of a Sanders candidacy in building a majority coalition for the Democratic nomination.

In Silver’s model, there are five constituencies within the Democratic Party (Loyalists, the Left, Millennials, Blacks, and Hispanic/Asian) and a candidate must win three of the five to win the nomination. According to Silver, Sanders’ appeal is strictly limited the ‘the Left’ and ‘Millennials,’ whereas, California Senator Kamala Harris and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have strong appeal within at least three of the five groups. [I can’t resist pointing out that Sanders has for the last three years consistently out-polled Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head contest.]

Given the current political culture, a third party would most likely form around an identity characteristic such as race or ethnicity

The previously mentioned third-party scenarios are predicated on a partisan-ideological split between the third-party candidate and the Democratic Party. In the case of Schultz, his candidacy would aim to capture the ‘silent’ majority in the ideological center of American politics; while, in Sanders’ case, his candidacy would be the jettisoning of the Democratic Party’s centrist, corporate elements.

But both of these scenarios assume most American voters are ideologically driven when they walk into the voting booth.

They are not. They are partisan. They are tribal. Their are full of social group antagonisms. But they are not ideological.

In their 2017 book of American public opinion, Neither Liberal nor Conservative, political scientists Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe conclude that “the ideological battles between American political elites show up as scattered skirmishes in the general public, if they show up at all.”

According to Kinder and Kalmoe, partisan preferences and attitudes arise “less from ideological differences than from the attachments and antagonisms of group life.” And this summary of ideology in America has been consistent since political scientist Philip Converse’s study of American public opinion in the 1950s.

When Brigham Young political scientists Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope looked at Trump voters they found that the claim of party loyalists as being conservative was suspect and that “group loyalty is the stronger motivator of opinion than are any ideological principles.”

The findings of Kinder, Kalmoe, Barber and Pope reinforce the work of Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels who detailed in their 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, that most voters make decisions on the basis of their social identity and partisan loyalties rather than any coherent ideology. When a favored party changes course, like driftwood, American voters do as well. The opinions of an ideologue, in contrast, is not supposed to be so pliable.

Instead, Americans are more partisan than ever as they continue to sort themselves out between Republicans and Democrats. And while more Americans than ever are calling themselves “independents” according to the Gallup Poll, it turns out these non-aligned partisans are often as partisan, if not more so, than committed partisans.

This growing partisanship is particularly evident in Americans’ issue priorities.

“Republicans and Democrats have long held differing views about policy solutions, but throughout most of the recent past there was rough partisan agreement about the set of issues that were the top priorities for the nation,” according to Pew Research’s Bradley Jones. “However, that is less and less the case. Republicans and Democrats have been moving further apart not just in their political values and approaches to addressing the issues facing the country, but also on the issues they identify as top priorities for the president and Congress to address.”

 

As recently as 2014, Democrats and Republicans generally put the same issues on the top of their agendas (i.e., the economy, health care, and national security). Today, not so much.

A viable third party will need to built on something other than ideology — most likely, race and ethnicity

Party ideologies can change from election to another. Remember when Republicans were the free trade party?

What doesn’t change is racial and ethnic identity.

If a sustainable third party is ever to form in the U.S., it will most likely be built upon a construct like race and ethnicity that doesn’t change so easily.

The 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), a December 2018 online survey of 2,500 eligible voters in the U.S., offers evidence that Hispanic Americans do not map onto the current two-party system as well as other Americans and could potentially support a durable third party in the near future.

Figure 2 indicates that Hispanics predominately identify as a Democrat (54%) or as an independent (31%).

Perhaps working against the idea of an Hispanic-based party is that Hispanics only account for about 13 percent of eligible voters (see Figure 2) and are the majority in only 30 U.S. congressional districts (of which 23 are represented by a Democrat).

Figure 2: Eligible Voter Segments in December 2018

 

Favoring the idea of an Hispanic-based party is the population growth trend which, according to the U.S. Census, will find Hispanics accounting for close to 30 percent of the total U.S. population by 2060.

But for a such a party to form, it must fulfill an unmet need. After all, if the Democratic Party substantively serves the interests of Hispanic Americans, what would be the point in carving out a new party?

Figure 3 gives some indication that Hispanic Americans do not self-identify the same way as white Americans do along the ideological spectrum. Hispanic Democrats see themselves as less liberal than white Democrats and Hispanic Republicans see themselves as less conservative than white Republicans.

This is more true for Black Americans, but as writer and scholar Theodore Johnson aptly notes from his own quantitative research, “The social conservatism of blacks does not affect voting behavior in presidential elections, even though religiosity is strongly correlated with partisanship.”

Figure 3: Average Ideological Position of Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)

 

In a previous essay on NuQum.com, using 2016 ANES data, I detailed how Hispanic Americans are more centrist in their attitudes than liberals on issues ranging from transgender bathroom laws, marriage equality, and abortion rights.

This pattern is also revealed in the 2018 ANES data (see Figure 4). Hispanic Democrats are more likely than Black or white Democrats to approve of Trump’s handling of his job and the economy

Figure 4: Presidential Approval by Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)

 

When comparing the ability of Democrats versus Republicans to handle a broad range of issues from the economy to natural disasters, Hispanic Democrats uniformly are less inclined than white, Black or Asian Democrats to think the Democrats are better (see Figure 5, where higher values indicate a stronger belief Republicans are better at handling a specific issue). An analogous pattern does not exist between Hispanic Republicans and other Republicans.

Figure 5: How the Eligible Voter Segments Rate the Two Parties by Issue (Dec. 2018)

 

Our final graph (Figure 6) plots the attitudes of 2018 ANES respondents on a series of questions related to illegal immigration. The list of questions can be found here. To simplify the analysis, I employed a principal components analysis to identify the two most significant factors in describing attitudes on illegal immigration. The two factors were: (1) illegal immigration’s impact on the economy and society, and (2) its impact on crime and security. The two factors account for almost 70 percent of all variance in attitudes related to illegal immigration.

Hispanic Republicans are plainly unique in their attitudes regarding illegal immigration. While they are similar in attitudes with their Republican brethren on the negative impact of illegal immigration on crime and security, Hispanic Republicans differ substantially on attitudes related to the economic and social impact of illegal immigration.

Figure 6: Immigration Attitudes and Opinions across Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)

 

I suspect one reason the Trump administration is emphasizing the ‘crime’ aspect of illegal immigration (i.e., drugs and gangs) over the economic impact is based on the relationships observed in the 2018 ANES. For Hispanic Republicans, illegal immigration is about crime, not the economy.

As for Hispanic Democrats, they differ slightly from white Democrats on the impact of illegal immigration on crime, while both groups see illegal immigration as a more positive factor on the economy and society.

Are these attitudinal differences enough to inspire an Hispanic third party?

Hispanic Democrats are more socially conservative and family-oriented than the average Democrat. Hispanic Republicans differ significantly from other Republicans on illegal immigration’s impact on its economic and social benefits.

Are these differences enough to inspire Hispanic Americans to jettison the current two-party system and build a third party that better represents their attitudes and opinions?

The safe and unimaginative answer is NO.

From data’s dispassionate perspective, however, it is hard to see how Hispanics believe their interests are sufficiently served under the current two-party system.

According to the opinion data, Hispanics are more socially-conservative and family-oriented than Democrats and more accepting of illegal immigration for economic and social reasons than the Republicans.

A third party dedicated to the interests of social conservatism and a more rational immigration policy might very well attract a large enough fraction of American voters to be the deciding factor in future presidential elections and a meaningful number of congressional and state-level races.

We can at least conjecture.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

A simple plan to help a hopelessly divided Democratic Party to beat Trump

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; February 2, 2019)

Within less than 24 hours of her well-orchestrated announcement that she was running for president, California Senator Kamala Harris officially became the 2020 election’s version of Hillary Clinton and offered more proof that the Democratic Party is deeply divided going into the 2020 election.

There is a simple solution, but first it is useful to dissect Harris’ campaign recent hiccup regrading Medicare-for-all for what it tells us about how deeply divided the Democratic Party remains.

Medicare-for-all: The Progressive Litmus Test

The day after her launch announcement, CNN generously televised Harris’ hour-long town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, and it didn’t take long for an audience member to ask Harris about Medicare-for-all, a health care reform bill she has already co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate, along with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

[As I wrote at the time, Harris co-sponsoring a bill that had no chance of passage was virtually costless to her and did not necessarily represent what she truly believed. I wish I had been wrong.]

After appearing to give her full support behind the idea, CNN’s Jake Tapper, host of the town hall, pressed Harris on the topic:

Tapper: So just to follow up — so just to follow up on that, and correct me if I’m wrong, to reiterate, you support the Medicare-for-all bill, I think …

Harris: Correct.

Tapper: … initially co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders. You’re also a co-sponsor onto it. I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?

Harris: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.

Harris couldn’t have described the problem with our current private insurance system any better. While watching her response, I believed that she believed Medicare-for-all is not only doable, but the best direction for this country’s deeply-flawed health care system. She had me at “Let’s eliminate all of that.”

But it didn’t take long for Harris to betray her own words. Within hours of her town hall comments on private insurance, some centrist Democrats squawked.

“You can’t just pull the rug out from underneath everybody’s feet,” said Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. Possible independent candidate for president, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, said Harris’ health care stance is exactly why a candidacy like his is needed.

Harris’ campaign went into damage control as one of her advisers suggested the candidate was also considering health reform plans which would preserve the private insurance industry.

CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski subsequently put out a tweet saying Harris was “ also open to bills that preserve private health care,” only to pull the tweet hours later after the Harris campaign complained that his first tweet was not exactly right either. [Another sad and illustrative moment in the ongoing death of independent journalism in the U.S.]

As Kaczynski went back and polished his Harris campaign public relations release, Harris national press secretary Ian Sams told other reporters at CNN that her consideration of alternate paths to a single payer system did not indicate a lack of commitment to the single payer goal.

Hillary Clinton circa 2020.

Centrist Democrats and critics of Medicare-for-all don’t need to look hard to find the potential problems with health care reform that comprehensive:

  • Will health care utilization rates increase dramatically under Medicare-for-all as the previously uninsured gain access? If so, what will that do to the program’s costs?
  • Will employers lift salaries and wages once their contribution to employees’ health insurance coverage goes away?
  • Can we expect doctors and hospitals to take substantial pay cuts and not change the quality or availability of health care?
  • How do you shut down the private insurance industry? And when you deliberately shrink the economy in such a way, what are the short- and long-term effects on employment and output?

Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the progressives have yet to adequately answer those questions. And they will have to be answered before Medicare-for-all becomes a reality. And I still believe it will. The economic case for Medicare-for-all is just too strong.

“At the end of the day, it is undeniable that the United States can afford the same guarantee of health care enjoyed by people in other wealthy countries,” according to Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The question is whether we have the political commitment to bring it about.”

But for Harris to go wobbly right out of the gate on the elimination of private insurance, the central cost-saving element of the Medicare-for-all reform, is a non-starter with many in the progressive wing of Democratic Party.

Huffington Post contributor, Dr. Victoria Dooley, a nationally prominent Medicare-for-all advocate and Sanders supporter, wasted no time on Twitter responding to Harris’ backtracking on private insurance:

 

Progressives were already suspicious of Harris, given her tenures as a San Francisco district attorney and the Attorney General of California, as well as her unapologetic advocacy for tougher enforcement and sentencing laws. Still, some progressives held out hope that she would at least stand by her public support for Sanders’ health care reform bill.

Unfortunately, at a minimum, her equivocation on the private insurance question demonstrates her unsteadiness in defending the Sanders Medicare-for-all plan. To uncompromising progressives, Harris’ performance reveals her disingenuous support for Medicare-for-all in the first place.

In fairness to Harris, there are single payer proposals that aim to preserve a role for private insurers. Furthermore, critics of Medicare-for-all willfully misrepresent what the Sanders bill would actually do with respect to private insurance.

While Section 107 of Sanders’ bill expressly states — “It shall be unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act” — private insurance companies would still be allowed to offer supplemental coverage, as occurs under Medicare now.

If it were just Harris, a progressive could hope she’s an aberration. After all, 81 percent of Democrats support the “idea” of Medicare-for-all, according to a January 2019 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Democrat aspiring to win the party’s nomination for president would be crazy to oppose Medicare-for-all, right?

If other Democratic candidates’ reactions to Harris’ predicament are an indication, however, Medicare-for-all may not be on sound footing with the party’s other leading presidential hopefuls.

In the shadow of Harris’ Medicare-for-all quandary, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal asked Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren if she wanted to eliminate private insurance. Warren’s answer was anything but clear:

Right now, it means fighting the Republicans who are trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. We’ve got this lawsuit going on down in Texas where the Republicans are trying to do what they couldn’t do with the vote, and that is trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to make it OK to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, to cut off access to health care for millions of Americans. So job number one is to defend the affordable care act…

…Job number two is to make changes where we need to make them right now. Changes to hold insurance companies accountable when they’re trying to cheat people, when they’re trying to scam people. Changes right now, and what’s happening with drugs, prescription drugs. We need to lower the cost of prescription drugs…

…And the third, how do we get universal coverage. Medicare for all. Lots of paths for how to do that. But we know where we are aiming. And that is, every American has health care at a price they can afford. And that the overall costs in the system are held as low as possible.

That was the abridged version of Warren’s answer.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was perhaps clearer, but hardly unequivocal in support of Medicare-for-all’s elimination of private insurers.

“If you did that you would create so much competition, I don’t think the private insurers would be able to compete because they’re far too concerned about their profits,” Gillibrand said when asked by Fox News about Medicare-for-all and private insurers. “That competition alone will displace them, it will disrupt that industry. That is how you get to single-payer.”

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s answer to the question, at least, was clear: “Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so no.”

Germany is an example of such a country. While 86 percent of Germany’s population receive health coverage through a public option, 14 percent use private health insurance.

Booker, with his deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and Gillibrand, with her deep bench of Wall Street donors, have never been favorites among progressives, but Warren is different. She is expected to the primary competitor with Sanders for the Democrats’ progressive voters— who may account for half of likely Democratic voters today. The winner in that battle will probably be among the final two candidates vying for the party’s nomination.

Warren’s answer to the private insurer question will generate more than a little disappointment among progressives. Incrementalism, no matter how earnest, will not cut it with progressives. Listen to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. They talk about a “complete transformation” and “re-engineering” of not just the American health care system but the entire economy.

Progressives are trying to change the system, not tweek it.

What can bridge Democratic progressives and centrists?

If you dangled centrist Democrats from New York’s George Washington Bridge and forced them to choose between the economic policies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and those of Donald Trump, they would choose Trump’s without pause.

Trump’s economic policies better serve their interests and the interests of their donors. It is not complicated. It is politicized self-interest. That is how pluralist democracies work.

With that in mind, the Democratic establishment cannot assume their two ideological flanks will stay loyal in a Harris-Trump or Sanders-Trump race. They are both heading down a path that could easily get Trump re-elected.

Something has to change the current dynamic within the party.

But what?

The formation of governments in other countries frequently depend on political coalitions to achieve a governing majority. It is an essential element in the art of governing.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel needed the support of the Kulanu, Shas and The Jewish Home parties to form their current government.

Giuseppe Conte’s government in Italy needed a six-party agreement — Five Star Movement, League, Forza Italia, Democratic Party, Brothers of Italy, and Free & Equal — to form a governing coalition in 2018.

In every case, the smaller parties in the coalition gained something concrete by joining the government — typically a cabinet position, but sometimes a binding agreement on a favored policy initiative (as was the case for the Kulanu and The Jewish Home parties in Israel).

That is how governing is accomplished in divided, polarized political environments.

Granted, the U.S. does not have a parliamentary system, but we do we have the deep political divisions. Our two-party system merely papers over and suppresses many of these differences. They still exist.

That is why the Democratic Party’s two factions must agree now, whichever faction wins the nomination (and it still looks like this is Harris’ nomination to lose), the other faction deserves — or, rather, should demand — the vice presidential slot. Had Hillary Clinton made this deal with Sanders in 2016, she’d be gearing up for her re-election campaign right now.

As it stands, for those who believe issues like climate change and income inequality represent immediate and existential threats to this country, the Democrats cannot afford to lose the presidency in 2020. And to avoid that outcome, the Democrats need to see themselves as they are — an estranged, unstable coalition of two distinct and often opposed political doctrines.

To fail to embrace that reality is to risk re-electing Donald Trump.

  • K.R.K.

Random-selection is a great equalizer

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 31, 2019)

In early January, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chided CBS News for failing to have even one African-American journalist among its newly selected 2020 election team.

“This (White House) admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet, @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a ‘single’ black journalist to cover the 2020 election,” tweeted Ocasio-Cortez soon after CBS released its new election reporting team.

 

“CBS, your 2020 election team is disgraceful,” was the headline at one Virginia newspaper.

“CBS News’ decision to not include Black reporters on their 2020 Election news team further proves the voting power and voices of Black America continue to be undervalued,” said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in a press release.

Whether CBS News’ human resource decisions are within Ocasio-Cortez’ lane of responsibility is questionable, but not the concern in this essay. Nor are we concerned with whether CBS News should feel defensive about their hiring decisions. That is a political debate.

The topic for this essay is how CBS News could have easily avoided this controversy.

Best talent and diversity are complementary but independent hiring goals

American business schools are filled with theories, graduate seminars and practicums on the best hiring practices for businesses and organizations to attract the best talent and achieve diversity. Those are complementary goals, but achieving one is no guarantee in achieving the other.

But as revealed in the CBS News case, many organizations still don’t meet both goals in tandem. Surprisingly, the solution is well-known and quite easy — yet, for many reasons, organizations resist this solution.

The solution is to introduce random-selection at critical points in the hiring process as a way to ameliorate the common biases introduced by human judgment.

Humans are inherently and hopelessly biased when it comes to making hiring decisions.

In the age of identity politics and demands to rectify historical injustices based on ascribed characteristics such as race, ethnicity or sex, a variant of random selection —stratified random-selection — offers the most defensible and equitable method for addressing the twin hiring goals.

Stratified random-selection (or sampling) divides a population into smaller, homogeneous groups (called strata) where the members of each group share similar characteristics. A predetermined number of members are then randomly selected from each stratum.

This idea is not new and has been suggested, for example, as one way to make the acceptance process at universities and colleges more representative and fair.

The Atlantic’s Alia Wong wrote an excellent article last year on the proposals to adopt the random-selection process to fix the admissions problems at elite U.S. universities. Though she concluded it is unlikely any Ivy League school is soon going to adopt such a process, her reporting did identify schools in Europe where random-selection has been used with some success (e.g., England’s Leeds Metropolitan University and Huddersfield University; and many universities in the Netherlands).

The Washington Post also recently published an opinion piece supporting the idea of a random-based selection process for the college admissions.

Some HR academics and theorists are suggesting Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be used to eliminate human biases in the hiring process, but recent research has shown AI algorithms also bring race and gender biases into the equation. AI algorithms, after all, are written by humans whose biases end up encoded into the algorithms.

UK computer scientist Joanna Bryson (University of Bath), co-author of the AI hiring algorithm research, warns that AI’s problems in making hiring decisions is a double-whammy: Not only can AI be prejudiced (because of human programmers), but unlike humans, AI is not equipped to consciously counteract learned biases. Or, at least, it is still difficult to program such types of morality into AI algorithms.

Until the time that becomes possible, the easier solution is to incorporate a smidgen of randomness into the process.

A hypothetical example of a random-enhanced hiring process

In the context of a hiring situation, such as the one faced by CBS News, the randomized selection process might go as follows:

(1) A news organization needs to hire 12 people for an anticipated event. The organization wants the new hires to reflect the racial-ethnic diversity of the country (i.e., hiring target percentages). [For the sake simplicity in describing the random-selection process, let us assume an equal number of men and women applicants are processed within each strata.]

According to the U.S. Census (column A in the table below), the following represents the racial-ethnic percentages of the U.S. population: Whites (61%), Blacks, (13%), Hispanic (non-white) (18%), Asian (6%), Mixed-race or Other (3%). From the table, we see how the 12 new hires should breakout for each racial-ethnic strata (column B). Since Mixed-race is such a small category, the organization may combine the strata with the next smallest group (Asian):

Population Data from U.S. Census Bureau (2018 estimates)

(2) The organization recruits, receives and processes 100 ‘credible’ applicants where the applicants meet some predetermined minimum requirements for the new positions. Note: This step has the potential to introduce significant bias into the hiring process, as the applicant pool may not reflect general population characteristics.

(3) Those applicants are separated into homogeneous groups (strata) and a determination is made whether each applicant qualifies for a follow-up interview(s). At this step, that selection could be determined through random selection — depending on the thoroughness of the screening process in Step 2 — or human judgement.

(4) From the follow-up interview(s), a final set of substantively and highly qualified candidates are identified. If one strata does not have any (or enough) applicants determined to be substantively qualified, the organization would need to go back and re-recruit for that strata and repeat Steps 1 through 3.

(5) The final hiring selection would be determined through random-selection — not human judgement. The number selected from each strata would be determined by the target percentages in Step 1 (column B in the table).

The stratified element in this hypothetical hiring process is not absolutely necessary. The stratification merely removes the random component from the race-ethnicity breakout of the final hires. If an organization is confident that its applicant pool is drawn from a broad range of society, it would be defensible to utilize simple random sampling and forgo the stratification of applicants into the race-ethnicity strata.

There will be resistance to random-selection

A commonly heard complaint about using random-selection in the college admissions process is that it goes against the America’s historical ethic of individualism and merit-based advancement. If advancement is random, it must therefore throw individual merit out the window, right?

Forbes’ Willard Dix writes:

“Calling the process a “crapshoot” works as a metaphor for the applicant and it’s handy for general conversation, but it’s not truly as random as it seems from the outside. Yes, at some point in the process candidates can look very similar and choosing among them can be a matter of time of day, mood of the admission officer or the overabundance of oboe players. But human foibles and flaws as well as accomplishments and distinguishing features are integral parts of the process and an expression of our belief in being the master of one’s own fate, no matter how misguided that may be.”

Dix’ criticism is well-received but misunderstands the random-selection concept. It is not a “crapshoot” or even random. While the final selection step possesses a random-selection component, every step up to that point reflects the same merit-based ideals Dix assigns to the current college admissions system.

Random-selection hiring processes (or college admissions) will not result in unqualified people filling work positions or college admissions lots.

It will result in the people filling these positions as being more representative of the population from which they are drawn.

The above hiring process is not complicated nor dramatically different from what already occurs in most organizations. The novel addition to the process is Step 5.

If the final set of applicants (Step 4) are highly qualified — and, yes, decisions in Steps 1 through 4 will still include human bias — using random-selection at the last step offers an organization a final line of defense against bad hiring outcomes like that one at CBS News.

Instead of allowing human judgement to bias the entire hiring process, random chance is the final, unbiased judge.

Had CBS News used the random-selection process suggested here, they wouldn’t have faced the criticisms they did from Ocasio-Cortez, et al.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

What really moves Trump’s job approval?

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

President Donald Trump’s approval rating has entered some dangerous territory if his intention is to get re-elected in 2020.

Since mid-December, near the start of the government shutdown over border wall funding, to today, his average approval rating has witnessed its worst four-week period of decline since the start of his presidency.

Trump’s disapproval number has jumped over four percentage points in just over four weeks (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Trump presidential job approval

Source: RealClearPolitics.com

In isolation, this decline would be surmountable. Presidents in the past have experienced similar declines and still won re-election, but what makes Trump’s fall problematic is the low variance in job approval he’s experienced since taking office. In a previous article, I demonstrated the relationship between our country’s growing hyper-partisanship and decreasing variance in presidential job approval. Figure 2 is a graph of this relationship from that article:

Figure 2: Trust in Media and the Variance in Presidential Job Approval

Source: Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

As I wrote then: “As Americans become more partisan and increasingly distrustful of the news media, their opinions become more inflexible regarding the president’s job performance. Why? In the current partisan media environment, Americans are less likely to be exposed to information contradicting their own partisan bias. Without information contradicting their existing view of the president’s job performance, Americans are less likely to change their opinion regarding the president.”

This dynamic poses a significant problem for Trump. If he is to rebuild a winning electoral coalition in 2020, he’ll need a significant percentage of independents and weak partisans to return to the MAGA fold. In the era of hyper-partisan media, however, the evidence says this will be hard to accomplish.

The rule-of-thumb is that an incumbent president’s job approval must be near 50 percent to have a chance at re-election. It’s not a perfect rule, but its seems to work.

Figure 3 (from FiveThirtyEight.com) shows presidential job approval for all U.S. presidents from JFK to now. Both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were well under 50 percent approval just prior to losing their re-election bids. In contrast, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and LBJ were near or above 50 percent prior to winning re-election. George H.W. Bush is the exception to the rule.

Figure 3: Presidential Job Approval

Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

If the 50-percent-rule holds today, it is difficult — but not impossible — to see how Trump can get re-elected given the erosion of his approval rating since December. He has never experienced an average approval rating over 47 percent, probably the bare minimum needed for re-election, and the path to get there would require a level of sustained approval growth he has yet to achieve.

Through the first two years of the Trump presidency, his longest sustained approval growth occurred between December 2017 and June 2018 when his approval number rose an average of one percentage-point per month. That may represent Trump’s speed limit for any future approval growth. With 21 months until the general election, Trump has more than enough time to regain the public’s support.

However, getting there won’t be easy.

Figure 4 plots the weighted 4-week moving average of Trump’s average spread in job approval (Data from RealClearPolitics.com). This diagnostic plot aims to highlight substantive momentum over noisier short-term changes while still showing the major shocks (‘events’) affecting job approval. The chart’s baseline (zero) is an important threshold as it represents the point above which a president is successfully gaining public approval. Also notable in Figure 4, the color-coded lines represent periods of positive momentum (green), indeterminate periods (yellow) and negative momentum (red).

Figure 4: What moves Trump’s Approval? Momentum and Perturbations

Source: Kent R. Kroeger and RealClearPolitics.com

The Trump presidency started in the hole. From the size-of-the-inauguration-crowd controversy, to the worldwide Women’s March, and the administration’s clumsy attempt at implementing a travel ban, Trump was underwater for all but one week during his first three months. In fact, he did not experience three consecutive weeks above the zero-threshold until the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests in August 2017. And his most sustained period of net approval growth occurred during the period leading up to the North Korea summit in June 2018 and the aftermath of the Kavanaugh hearings in the fall of 2018.

The Charlottesville and Kavanaugh periods are interesting because the events themselves were highly partisan and contentious and the media’s coverage was uncommonly negative towards Trump (when isn’t it?).

Both events moved Trump’s approval in a positive and consistent way. But why? The popular assumption is that these events rallied and galvanized Trump’s marginal supporters but did little to help him among independents. The evidence tentatively supports this conclusion.

Among the nine percent of Americans that considered alt-right, neo-Nazi views as acceptable immediately following the Charlottesville protests (according to a Washington Post ABC poll), they were already Trump supporters. The shift in support towards Trump had to come from weak supporters and/or independents.

Likewise, before and after the Kavanaugh hearings, the movement in Kavanaugh’s approval came from shifts among partisans, not so much from independents.

Figure 5: Public approval of Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation

Source: Gallup Poll

The reaction of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, once an ardent Never-Trump Republican, may be indicative of the dynamic behind Trump’s approval rise during the Kavanaugh hearings:

“For the first time since Donald Trump entered the political fray, I find myself grateful that he’s in it… I’m grateful because Trump has not backed down in the face of the slipperiness, hypocrisy and dangerous standard-setting deployed by opponents of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. I’m grateful because ferocious and even crass obstinacy has its uses in life, and never more so than in the face of sly moral bullying. I’m grateful because he’s a big fat hammer fending off a razor-sharp dagger.

In other words, the potential for Democrats to come across to Americans as bigger a**holes than Donald Trump is Trump’s Hail Mary-path to re-election.

Assuming the White House is tracking these same movements in public approval, is it surprising that Trump continues to focus most of his policy and public actions around conservative red-meat issues such as illegal immigration? Along with the prospect of peace with North Korea, these are the only issues that move needle in his favor.

Unfortunately, by continuously appealing to his base, Trump is doing little to expand beyond them.

It is a strategy doomed to fail.

Yet, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, his 2016 digital campaign guru, continues to publicly claim his candidate is doing well according to their priority metrics going into the 2020 election.

Parscale tweeted in early January 2019:

“Just received my newest voter score tracking from my team. @realDonaldTrump has reached his highest national approval rating since I started tracking,” Parscale said. “The @TheDemocrats have really made a mistake going with their gut over data.”

Color me skeptical.

Parscale insists the public polls favoring Hillary Clinton over Trump prior to the 2016 election have proven their unreliability, as opposed to his internal data, which he claims has been near perfect.

“Our data actually predicted 2016 results within one electoral (vote). In 2018 we predicted the results within a couple house seats and Senate seats perfectly. @realDonaldTrump outperformed in 2018 and we predicted that as well,” Parscale tweeted.

But he is wrong about the inaccuracy of the 2016 national polls. Those polls, just before Election Day, showed that Clinton would win the popular vote by about 2 to 3 percent — which is exactly what happened.

It was the lack of timely state-level polling that deceived the pundits.

As for the 2018 midterms, as demonstrated by my own predictive modelwhich also predicted the House results within one or two seats, Trump DID NOT outperform expectations. The GOP performed as expected. [And, if I may add, my 2018 House prediction was made six months PRIOR to the actual election.]

Despite Parscale’s public optimism, Trump is in very bad shape 21 months out from the 2020 election.

Trump’s long-term trend line in net approval slipped below zero a month before the 2018 midterms and has not since recovered. Indeed, the government shutdown has accelerated this ominous decline.

Can the president recover? If his one percentage-point per month speed limit is accurate, yes, he has a puncher’s chance. But breaking through his 47-percent approval ceiling is more problematic and the early signs are not good.

Nate Silver’s analysis of the 2018 midterms reinforces this point:

The lesson of the midterms, in my view, was fairly clear: Trump’s base isn’t enough. The 2018 midterms weren’t unique in the scale of Republican losses: losing 40 or 41 House seats is bad, but the president’s party usually does poorly at the midterms. Rather, it’s that these losses came on exceptionally high turnout of about 119 million voters, which is considerably closer to 2016’s presidential year turnout (139 million) than to the previous midterm in 2014 (83 million). Republicans did turn out in huge numbers for the midterms, but the Democratic base — which is larger than the Republican one — turned out also, and independent voters strongly backed Democratic candidates for the House.

The GOP base is not enough for Trump’s re-election; certainly inadequate if the Democrats maintain their high motivation levels. Short of nominating Hillary Clinton again, almost any fresh-faced Democratic nominee will go into 2020 with higher favorability levels than Trump (I’m not sold on Joe Biden’s apparent reservoir of good feelings among Americans. The reality of a presidential campaign will bring him down substantially).

And unless Trump can once again pull in a winning percentage of weak partisans and independents, he will lose in 2020…bigly.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com