What the Tightening Polls Tell Us

hero_image_main_2It was inevitable the polls would tighten before November.  What is striking in contrast to 2012 and 2014 is how much variance there is in the polls.  Consider the latest RCP compilation of polls.

In polls conducted since the start of July we have seen Trump leads as high as 7 points (Rasmussen) to Clinton leading by as much as 11 (Reuters).  Most polls have split the difference with Clinton up by 3 or 4 points.  Yet, a CBS/NYT survey found the race tied and most recently a LA Times/YouGov survey found Trump up by a point.

To be sure, the national polls might be tightening but they still show a 2-3 point Clinton lead.  However, it is the state polls where we have seen the biggest movement.  In the swing states of Colorado and Virginia Clinton has vaulted ahead of Trump.  But, in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania (Trump’s trifecta), her lead has shrunk.

Again, taking into account the variance in the surveys most polls are showing it neck and neck in these battlegrounds.  So perhaps we should look at the battleground counties in these crucial states. Enter a polling firm called Axiom Strategies.

I will be the first to admit I have not heard of them (a subsidiary of Remington Research Group which I have) but the data they present runs flat in the face of national polling.

Axiom, on a weekly basis, is polling voters in 7 seven battleground counties in 7 swing states.  They are Hillsborough County, Florida, Jefferson County, Florida, Watauga County. North Carolina, Sandusky County, Ohio, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Loudoun County, Virginia and Washoe County, Nevada.

In every state the winner of these counties has won the state in the last 6 Presidential contests.  Not surprisingly, this means the trending blue counties like Jefferson and Loudoun voted for Obama in 08 and 12 while Watauga went for Romney in 2012.

The latest batch, if it is to be believed, indicates a Trump win.  Trump leads in every county minus Loudoun (highlighting his uphill climb in Virgina).  He narrowly leads in Jefferson (again, not a good sign).  But in the batch of states he must win (Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, North Carolina) and even Nevada, a state he does not need to win, he is leading.  By some surprising margins.

Most surprising of all are Trump’s massive lead in Luzerne and Sandusky counties.  Both are blue-collar counties that have been friendly to Democrats historically.  Wautauga and Washoe counties have historically leaned red but are turning a shade of blue.  Finally, Hillsborough County is a heavily populated county nestled in the suburbs of Tampa.  Trump has a narrow 3 point lead there.

Put simply, Trump is massively outperforming expectations in all these counties relative to 2012 (even the counties he is narrowly leading in or trailing).  It appears the Clinton email scandal is taking its toll on the former Secretary of State.

But as mentioned earlier, these polls fly in the face of what national and many state polls are telling us.  From their 40,000 feet up perspective the race is Clinton’s to lose.  But, from these battleground county surveys, Trump has to mess up to lose.

Reconciling the polls are is not an easy task.  Sampling techniques, weighting, the turnout estimation, all matter.  It is possible the impact of Clinton’s email scandal have yet to be reflected in the polls. But in battleground counties, where staffers and the campaigns are, in turn which means voters are in the know, the damage is being done and felt in a way insulated from larger surveys.

One other possibility does pop up and obviously must be correct by default.  One set of polls are wrong.  Either Trump really is doing well in battleground counties and probably outperforming the polls or these county results are off.  It is hard to think Trump is winning by over 20 points in Luzerne and double-digits in Sandusky but these counties have been hammered by job loss and cultural alienation from the Democratic Party.  It is not inconceivable.

 

Trump Made A Wise Move By Picking Pence

isLast Friday, Donald Trump announced he was choosing former Congressman and the current Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, as his running mate.  Pence was a smart, pragmatic and safe choice.  A choice that smooths Trump’s rough edges and gives him an in with Congress.

Last week, it was clear Trump had 4 choices; Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Pence.  While Sessions and Christie were close friends with Trump they would have added little to his candidacy.

Trump is attempting to expand his appeal to women and minorities.  You don’t do that by nominating an immigration die-hard like Sessions.  Christie has experience and a temperament similar to Trump but he remains dogged by Bridgegate and is yesterday’s conservative star.

So that left Pence and Gingrich.  It was clear Gingrich wanted the job.  He went out of his way to campaign for Trump and sing the presumptive nominee’s praises.  Pence wanted the job too.  He tepidly endorsed Trump during the Indiana primary and began circulating to his staff and family he would gladly accept the VP slot if asked.

Ultimately, Pence had several things Gingrich could not match.  The first was a strong, steady temperament.  Pence had been a steady hand in Congress for Republicans in the Republican Study Conference.  He also has been a strong Governor for his state.  Unemployment is low and the Indiana’s economy is growing.

Secondly, Pence is far more conservative than Gingrich.  Unlike Gingrich, Pence has never done a commercial to advocate for Climate Change with Pelosi on a park bench.  Additionally, Pence has not proposed to build a base on the moon (kinda expensive).  Most importantly for Trump though, Pence has a history of fighting for less spending and government.  He pushed back against his party during the Bush years on No Child Left Behind and on Medicare Part D.  Trump is seen as liberal to many conservatives so this can only help on that front.

Lastly, Pence is not dogged by a complicated ethical history.  Gingrich is the only former Speaker to be censored by the House.  When you are running against “Crooked Hillary” you don’t pick somebody who has a sorta “crooked” history.  Additionally, Pence actually practices what he preaches on family values.  Gingrich is a thrice divorced man who left a women who had cancer.  Pence, well, his history is much more simplistic and ethical.

Finally, Pence has strong relations with Congress.  He served with Ryan and over 70 other current Republicans in the House.  He has ties to the RSC and knows how to build bridges on Capitol Hill.  That is probably his biggest selling point in DC.

Still, he has downsides.  Pence’s conservatism got him in hot water last year over LBGT and religious freedom issues.  Additionally, Pence is relatively unknown to a large majority of the nation.  Further, he is not perfectly in sync with Trump ideologically.  Pence supported the Iraq War and pushed for immigration reform in 05 and 06.

Pence did embrace Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion but with a conservative twist.  He successfully turned the expansion into a conservative reform by making enrollees pay premiums and these same enrollees if they are above the poverty line could be locked out of coverage if they don’t pay premiums.  The state charges up to $25 in co-pays for individuals who visit the doctor inappropriately and the program is exempt from retroactively covering enrollees medical costs up to three months before they applied for coverage.  Additionally, coverage is provided through private insurers and not CMS.

For all these faults and benefits however Sean Trende at RCP made a good point.  Right now, the tightening in polls, at least nationally, is due to Clinton dropping and Trump staying steady.  Voters are not yet sold on Trump as he is attacked non-stop on the airwaves by Clinton for his volatility.  Picking Pence, a steady hand, won’t solve this problem but it can start to help.

Trump’s campaign has been beset by issue after issue.  The way the VP selection was handled is not at all reassuring.  That said, Pence was a smart, solid, and safe choice for Trump to make as VP.  At the Convention and beyond he now has to build on that selection.

The Democratic Party Just Proved How Left They Are

Democratic-National-ConventionThe “moderate” Democratic Party died last week.  The Platform Committee of the Democratic National Committee ratified the most liberal draft policy platform in the history of the party and it looks likely the party will move even further left in the coming years.

This can be summed up due to 3 random factors converging.  The first represents Sanders transformation of the Democratic Party.  Sanders campaign successfully integrated many liberal activist groups and voters over the course of the campaign.  For example, in NY State he courted anti-fracking activists and in Washington State garnered the endorsement of environmental groups.

As the Sanders campaign probably started to sense it could not win the election it began to foment more of a revolution through the party platform.  Sanders and his allies used their leverage (millions of voters strong) to push for a more progressive and ideological agenda.

Secondly, the timing worked out.  In 2009, the Democratic coalition was an unwieldy alliance of progressive and conservative legislators.  But fast-forward to the results of the 2010 and 2014 midterms and many of those conservative to moderate members of Congress and legislators are gone.  There is now less resistance in the party to a more progressive platform.

Lastly, Clinton and Sanders are far more ideologically in sync than many individuals honestly think.  So are their supporters.  Clinton backers might be more upscale and politically savvy but they largely want to achieve the same goals as Sanders supporters.

Of course, there were disagreements within the party.  Labor unions strongly opposed the TPP but not necessarily anti-fracking amendments.  Likewise, environmentalists only opposed TPP because of a lack of environmental safeguards but were fervently opposed to fracking.  As a result, many “unity amendments” that tried to unify various positions were proposed and failed.

Even so, the party platform is the most liberal in history.  The party called for tuition free college (which Clinton backed last week) and extremely strong anti-trust laws, strong support for wind and solar power at the expense of much cheaper and more useful natural gas and a trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

But, by far, the biggest shift was the party’s open adoption of support for a “Public Option”” in “Medicare for all.”  Notably, the platform makes no mention of how to pay for such a massive entitlement (just like free college) but its adoption is a sign that the Democratic Party is becoming more of a European style center-left welfare party.

The party used to defend gun rights (even as it banned assault weapons).  No reference to gun rights is to be found on the draft platform.  On a host of racial and social issues the platform moves left.

The platform calls for the abolition of the death penalty at all levels.  No language is found on how government can work with faith-based institutions to better people’s lives (this was in the 2012 platform).  However, the document does call for overturning decades of Supreme Court decisions regarding campaign finance.

Race is placed front and center in the platform.  The document pledges the Democratic Party to promote racial justice as well as environmental and climate justice.  In addition, the document reads like a manifesto with its call for criminal-justice reform and push for societal transformation to make it clear “black lives matter and there is no place for racism in this country.”

Bernie Sander’s helped pushed the party to the left and it is possible that at the Convention the party could move even further.  But, for right now, it stands ready to adopt the most liberal platform in America’s history.

 

 

 

What Trump Can Teach The GOP

160224112545-trump-nevada-victory-speech-780x439The Republican National Convention is less than 10 days away.  Talk continues to persist of a coup, yes another one, to overthrow Trump at the Convention.  Or at least to stage a public protest.

These actions might appeal to the ideological diehards in the party but in reality the activists and writers fomenting this resistance are in denial.  The insurrection is likely to fizzle and gloss over the issue that Donald Trump has exposed the GOP must fix.

Since the Bush years, the GOP has made a business out of putting ideology over meeting the needs of voters.  Sure, calling for tax cuts and fewer regulations sounds good.  But, in reality, some regulations are better than others and not everybody should get a tax cut according to the public (rich people, anybody).

Say what you will about Trump, the trash talking nominee of the party, but he recognized the economic needs and concerns of voters.  He didn’t luck into the nomination.  He defeated 16 rivals, many of them up and coming stars in the party.  He assembled a broad coalition of voters ranging from evangelicals in Mississippi to secular moderates in Massachusetts to retired suburbanites in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s appeal is simple.  He recognizes peoples need to belong.  To have sovereignty and control over their destiny.  Witness his comments after Brexit when he said  “People want to see borders.  They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don’t know who they are and where they come from.”

Thus it is Mr. Trump who is echoing the nationalist themes and worries of many voters not just confined to the US but many Western Democracies.  Yet, many GOP elites and elders continue to be blind to his appeal.  To be fair though, many of these leaders have found success in promising smaller government and less taxes in the Obama years.  Why should they think voters don’t support their agenda (well, ask Mitt Romney)?

Such a theme was common among many GOP Presidential contenders.  Marco Rubio is remembered for his robotic talking point of how Obama is systemically changing the country.  Most Republicans agreed with one addition.  America is already changed.  It is a nation buffeted by globalization and the aftershocks of the Great Recession.

It’s an argument Trump consistently echos.  In Appalachia, Trump talks of how free-trade policies have moved jobs overseas and taken the US’s wealth and factories to Mexico.  He talks about the repercussions of these policies where inner cities continue to lack jobs and the factories continue to remain closed.  In something new for the GOP, Trump talks about how big business and the special interests dominate while the average American struggles.

It’s a message reminiscent of Bernie Sanders and might explain why Sanders has been lukewarm in his support of Hillary.  Bernie may dislike Trump’s bluster and dislike of Latinos but the message Trump echoes is a message Sanders disseminates.

Trump’s appeal is thus bipartisan in nature.  He would not be the first Republican to try such a message.  Eisenhower, a nonpartisan former general until he ran for President, built bridges with House and Senate Democratic majorities which boosted the economy and led to successful Civil Rights legislation being passed.

Eisenhower’s understudy, Richard Nixon did the same.  He crafted an agenda that appealed to the growing bloc of conservatives in the party but also the public with the creation of OSHA and the EPA.  Even Ronald Reagan and HW Bush made concessions to Democrats to craft successful legislation.

But the ghost of Barry Goldwater came back to haunt the party, especially during the time of Bill Clinton.  The party became more ideological and unwilling to try new ideas to solve problems.

Take the case of Marco Rubio in the primary as an example.  To combat poverty the junior Senator suggested tripling the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) for low income families.  Such a plan actually had the support of the President and Hillary Clinton but was pilloried by GOP elites because it increased the deficit and used government to help solve a problem.

This is a cycle Trump’s candidacy could potentially break.  As a result it worries many establishment Republicans.  Trump’s white identity politics narrative is troubling but it is no worse than the kind of identity politics Democrats have fostered.

Democrats let the GOP integrate many former Southern Democrats into their ranks as long as they benefited from the integration of blacks into their ranks.  Likewise, Democrats were silent as whites migrated to the suburbs of Detroit, Milwaukee and elsewhere as long as these cities remained under their control.

The conservative beef against Trump goes beyond the talking points (he doesn’t lay out policies, he insults everybody, he can’t speak in complete sentences).  No, it is that he does not recite conservative boilerplate ideology.  Trump rarely talks about liberty or the Constitution.  He doesn’t specifically say America is exceptional.    This is heresy to many true believers.

As a conservative this is certainly a worry of mine.  But these points do little to address the needs of voters.  Ideological certitude can often mask the cries of what voters really need.  If Republicans had really wanted to understand voters they would have noticed polls that showed Tea Party supporters (for example) supported smaller government but wanted Social Security and Medicare strengthened.

It was inevitable that Trump would be pushed to the right.  But he has also maintained his moderate edge by refusing to promise tax cuts for the wealthy and fighting gay marriage.  Indeed, he has positioned himself as a compromiser which is why even moderates Trent Lott and Bob Dole preferred him over Ted Cruz.

Trump’s primary issue is not convincing his loyal following that he would help them.  He has to broaden his appeal to the middle and upper middle class and convince them his Presidency would also benefit them.  If he can do so and start to bring the party along he could be a formidable foe to his already damaged opponent.

Perhaps the best poster child for a Trump candidacy would be Nixon.  He ran a polarizing, law and order campaign that divided the nation along economic and racial lines.  Yet, he won a landslide reelection in 1972 and guided the nation out of Vietnam, normalized relations with the Soviet Union and opened talks with China.  He appointed Democrat Patrick Moynihan to spearhead his urban policy which showed he was no ideologue.

Trump has shown similar tendencies.  He has refused to pick a true believer conservative for his VP choice.  Most notably, he has avoided taking strong stances on hot button social issues like abortion, gay marriage and transgender bathrooms.

Of course, Trump could give us the self-destructive Presidency of we’ve witnessed with the Trump Institute and Trump University.  One would hope the people he appoints would be able to head this off however.

Many conservatives in the halls of academia and political power spitting out the same old talking points and views have contributed to the rise of Trump.  If not for demographic factors Trump might be the favorite this November.  These individuals are loathe to admit it though.  George Will (who I like) has said he is leaving the GOP to become an Independent.  In reality, Will’s vision of what and who the GOP should represent is vastly different than most Republicans (few of us live in the DC bubble).

Win or lose, Trump’s candidacy will have a lasting impact on the GOP.  Future Republican contests might feature more centrist conservatives vs. the Ted Cruzes of the party.  It is possible this could broaden the GOP and start to shift, even if slightly, the continued polarization of the US electorate where 90 percent of liberals vote Democrat and 80 percent of conservatives vote Republican.  Mr. Trump probably summed it up best in May when he said, “This is the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.”  Trump certainly is leading this transformation of the GOP.

 

 

 

 

The Curious Case of California’s Senate Race

kamala-lorettaCalifornia’s unusual Senate contest in November dates back to 2010.  That year, voters passed Proposition 14 which mandated that all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same primary ballot.  In addition, the top 2 vote-getters, again regardless of party, would advance to the general election (prior efforts had been ruled unconstitutional in 2000 and failed to pass in 2004).

In 2012, the result of the Proposition was minimal in many contests.  The one exception was Republicans being able to exploit a Democratic split in the heavily Democratic majority-minority District 31 and have 2 Republicans be the top 2 vote-getters and thus the only candidates to advance to November.  But, a single House contest is far different than a statewide race.  In both 2012 and 2014 every statewide contest pitted a Republican against a Democrat (not that Republicans stood much of a chance).

This cycle, that has changed.  Republicans, unable to unite behind a single candidate for Senator Barbara Boxer’s open Senate seat, saw all of their candidates fail to get into the top 2.  Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris and Congresswomen Loretta Sanchez did.

This is the first time that Proposition 14 has aided Democratic dominance of the state in a statewide contest.  But, while Sanchez and Harris may both be Democrats, their ideological leanings are vastly different.

Harris hails from the traditionally liberal, ruling Democratic stronghold of San Francisco.  It’s where current Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer got their start in politics and it is also where Governor Jerry Brown made his first marks on the state in the 70s.  Unsurprisingly, Harris has garnered the majority of the state party’s support.

Sanchez cut her teeth in a very different political arena.  She grew up in Republican Orange County and first registered as a Republican.  She first ran for office as a Republican in 1994 (Anaheim City Council).  Soon after, in 1996, she was elected to Congress as a moderate Democrat.

Ideologically, Harris and Sanchez are worlds apart.  Whereas Harris is a firmly liberal on affirmative action, business regulations, climate change, taxes and social issues, Harris is far more moderate.  She has opposed environmental regulations in the past and has even stood up for religious freedoms from time to time.

In a way, the ideological gap between Harris and Sanchez is indicative of the split between the party’s demographic wings.  Hispanics in the state now outnumber whites and blacks and yet their political power remains unrealized.  While dominant in Southern California they hold very few statewide offices.  Unlike their Northern California Democratic brothers and sisters they are also far less liberal.

Sanchez finished the primary contest far behind Harris.  Perceived as being more moderate and lacking cash, Harris has little choice but to rally Hispanics to her side and rally Republicans.  That will not be an easy task in the year of Donald Trump.

Still, Sanchez may be aided by the fact that Hispanics are continuing to grow as a voting bloc and many feel marginalized in the halls of power in Sacramento.  In addition, Republicans have no candidate this cycle and could be drawn to a Democrat they feel is the lesser of 2 evils.

In a Field poll taken a week before the primary Republicans were split between Harris and Sanchez.  A even more recent survey of Independents shows they favor Harris but that a third are undecided and many are soft supporters of Harris.

Building a coalition of Hispanics, Independents and Republicans will not be easy for Sanchez but her campaign has telegraphed they intend to attack Harris on her liberal record as an attorney.  Such a strategy has the potential to unite various groups but also alienate Sanchez to blacks and liberal whites.

It’s clear according to the latest poll  that Sanchez has her work cut out for her.  A solid 15 percent of likely voters, mostly strong conservatives and Republicans, say they are likely to sit out the Senate contest.  Sanchez has to find a way to pull these voters back into the contest.

Geographically, the contest is sure to divide the state.  Hispanics dominate the state’s Southern region and make up a majority of residents of LA.  They also are growing in populous and more conservative Riverside and Orange Counties.  Sanchez should do well in both but she will need big margins.  This poses a challenge for her.  Hispanics generally turn out less than their voting power suggests.  Perhaps having a Latina Senate candidate will change that.

Regardless, Proposition 14, passed in 2010, has come full circle.  With Republicans continuing to be irrelevant in statewide contests and shrinking as a share of the state’s electorate the real battle is now being fought in the Democratic Party.  The Senate contest in November offers America a preview of what is to come.  If Hispanics can finally exert their power as a voting bloc they can start to wrest control of the legislature from increasingly liberal 1960’s policies.  Or they may have to wait until future elections.

 

 

Assessing Rubio’s Reelection Chances

gettyimages-5379317681A week or two ago I promised to assess Rubio’s reelection chances and I am keeping that promise.  Marco Rubio’s decision to announce he was running for reelection days before the filing deadline shocked the political world.  It also made Republicans breathe a huge sigh of relief.  They now have a better shot at holding the seat.

But, a couple things stand in Rubio’s way.  First, he has to get past a difficult primary with a Trump-esque opponent, with personal money to burn, and then square off in the general election against a likely tough challenger.

Rubio only faces one challenger in the primary, Carlos Beruff, and polls show him well ahead.  But the danger for Rubio is that Beruff outflanks him on the right and pulls off what Rubio did in 2010 to then Republican Governor Charlie Crist.

Rubio is bolstered by his strong support in heavily Cuban-American South Florida.  In fact, this is primarily why Republicans wanted him to run.  They worried no other candidate could appeal to the community the way Rubio does.  Odds are good the strategists were right.

Still, Rubio needs to run up the score there as Beruff will focus most of his attention on Northern and Central Florida (Trump country).  Rubio can match Beruff on ads if need be but Rubio’s camp would probably prefer to save their money for the general which promises to be tough.

Democrats will have a Congressman face Rubio in November.  The only question is which one?  Liberal firebrand Alan Grayson is running as is moderate Congressman Patrick Murphy.  In the Democrats case it is a case of heart vs. brains.  Odds are good that Murphy wins by a healthy margin despite his emerging issues (see below).

This means Rubio will be running against his strongest opponent.  With Trump at the top of the ticket this would spell disaster for any other candidate, but again, we are talking about a candidate (Rubio) with unique appeal to a critical and growing bloc of swing voters.

Depending on the particular poll you look at Rubio starts the race dead even or with no worse than a 50-50 shot of winning.  If you look back at his 2010 run Rubio won a three-way contest with 49 percent of the vote.  Rubio’s strongest counties were actually the moderate to liberal swing counties in Central Florida.  Winning these counties will be crucial to his reelection.

He will also have to outperform his weak margins in Southern Florida.  In the 3 populous South Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach he garnered 31, 44 and 40 percent.  Admittedly, he probably lost some percentages due to Crist running as an Independent so he has room to grow.

Most of the public polling of the race indicates a tight contest between Rubio and Murphy but a recent Quinnipiac survey indicates Rubio’s path to victory along racial and gender lines.  The poll found Rubio ahead of Murphy by 7 percent but more importantly he led among whites by a 56-33 percent margin and he was holding 30 percent of the non-white vote.  Even if turnout is less white than 2012 that indicates good news for Rubio.  Romney did not carry whites by 20 plus percent in 2012 and neither did Rubio in 2010.

The quality of the opponent matters as well.  On paper, Grayson is a flawed candidate and Murphy a picture perfect one.  Grayson has a long history of colorful statements and extremely liberal positions while Murphy is well-spoken, a moderate and appears to be a up and coming star in the party.

One problem, even if Democrats get Murphy he is far from a strong candidate.  An in-depth report by the local Miami CBS news station details just how little Murphy has accomplished in his 33 years.  It details how his dad basically bought him a seat in Congress in 2012, leveraged his authority in the party through donations and let his son run shell businesses.  The Murphy campaign has refuted the charges point for point but the allegations are so detailed it is hard to see Murphy not being heavily damaged from the attacks.

Indeed, this report is devastating because it undermines Murphy’s credibility not just among the party faithful but also that he is the change agent in the race.  Rather, it appears Murphy is now wide open to attacks on cronyism, lacking any business experience and being far to young to handle the duties of a Senator.  Say what you will about Rubio but at least he was late 30’s when elected.  Murphy would be 33 if elected in November.

It also gives Grayson an opening to attack Murphy on trustworthiness.  If Grayson somehow uses this to defeat Murphy in the primary it is possible Democrats do not even invest heavily in the Senate race and instead focus down-ballot on the newly redistricted Congressional map.  Even if Clinton were to win the state by a healthy margin, Rubio could run so far ahead of Trump against an opponent like Grayson it might not matter.

 

 

Brexit Is A Sign That Culture Is Replacing Ideology As The Key Political Divide

brexit-beckons-as-97-of-britons-think-david-cameron-cant-get-a-better-eu-deal1Barely a week ago the voters of the United Kingdom narrowly approved a referendum to leave the EU.  The result underscored how economic pressures and demographic change is shifting the political paradigm in much of the industrialized, Western world.

Initial speculation on the result of the referendum somewhat favored how it benefited Trump.  In reality though, while Trump mimics many of the anti-globalization and nationalistic trade tendencies of the “Leave” campaign it underscores just how much tougher a road Trump has to travel to succeed with the same theme in the US.

Brexit did crystallize the deepening political fault lines in UK politics though.  It also highlighted some of the factors driving the Trump-Clinton contest.  More importantly, it foreshadowed a likely long-term realignment of the electoral base of both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps a reshuffling of critical swing states.

Unsurprisingly, UK politics tends to correlate with American elections.  That’s why the Brexit election day surveys mimicked the results of a US election.  The Leave campaign carried over 60 percent of those without college degrees, a majority of seniors and whites overall.  The Leave campaign was strongest in rural areas outside of major cities.  The Remain camp won a majority of college graduates, the young, ethnic minorities and urban voters.  Short of Northern Ireland and Scotland, the only other region to vote to Remain was London with almost 60 percent support.

This voting pattern replicates many American elections.  Republicans are increasingly becoming the party of older, non-college educated whites, men and the religiously devout.  The Democratic Coalition is growing among single women, the urban, the young and minorities.  Obama won in 2012 by amassing a 5 million vote advantage in the country’s most urban areas.

British voters pessimistic abut the economy and next generation’s chances, hostile to unchecked immigration and multiculturalism as well as changing cultural norms were most likely to support Leave.  A full 80 percent of Leave voters said immigration negatively impacted the UK.  That closely mimics the number of Trump supporters in a new survey.

Brexit showed the power of anti-immigration, anti-globalization, older whites who are rural and non-college educated.  The problem for Trump in replicating Brexit is that these voters are less of the American electorate.  In the UK, about 90 percent of referendum ballots cast were from whites.  In November, most experts predict whites will cast just over 70 percent of ballots.  In the UK, 53 percent of whites voted to leave.  Due to racial and ethnic cleavages in US politics Trump will likely need 60 percent or more of whites support to win.

Resistance to the Leave campaign came strongly from college-educated and urban UK whites.  It is hard not to see a similar dynamic playing out in the US.  The loss of the GOP’s managerial wing is not a new phenomenon.  Since 2000, Democrats have carried more college educated voters than non-college educated.  But, historically, Democrats have struggled to hold a majority of college-educated whites in Presidential elections.

There is evidence this election could see that change.  Numerous national surveys have shown Clinton leading among these voters.  However, Trump leads among white men and Clinton among white women and with fewer men attending college it is likely this is benefiting Clinton.

The Trump-Clinton contest is certain to accelerate the party’s long term resorting and shift it from a primarily geographical and demographical shift to a cultural one as well.  Democrats will increasingly become the party of urban cosmopolitanists comfortable with cultural and economic changes while the GOP coalition will become more traditionalist and resistant to change.  We could see this immediately in the 2016 contest’s swing states.

Historically, Democrats have run extremely well in the older, more white Rust Belt.  This has occurred even as the heavily white South has shifted firmly to the GOP.  Since 1992, Republicans have only carried Rustbelt states 3 times out of 30 chances.  Contrast this with the GOP carrying Sunbelt States 17 times out of 30 chances.

However, these results do not tell the whole story.  Since 2000, GOP vote totals have increased in the majority of Rust Belt states while Democrats were able to carry many Sun Belt states in 2008 and 2012 including GOP bastions such as North Carolina and Virginia.  This has occurred as globalization has benefited many Sun Belt states and caused many Rust Belt voters to feel globalization has left them behind.

Party and ideological loyalties were scrambled during the Brexit vote.  A full third of Labour voters (far more than initially thought) voted to Leave.  A majority of Conservatives voted to leave but the breakdown of their votes was interesting.  Labour dominated London overwhelmingly voted to stay but rural, labor strongholds voted to leave.  Likewise, Conservative suburban and urban enclaves voted to remain but were overwhelmed by Conservative votes to Leave.

Much as Labour has done since the 90’s to pivot to a more urban, inclusive, demographically welcoming party Democrats have done the same.  The result has been domination in the US’s urban enclaves.  But, in doing so, they have ceded their ancestral base to the GOP.  To incorporate these voters the GOP may be sacrificing many of its college educated supporters.

Brexit points towards a reshaped UK political order that revolves more around cultural affinities and values-particularly immigration and globalization-than economic class.  Trump’s campaign has mimicked this shift and doubled down on it.  As a result, the Clinton-Trump race could usher in a new, defining divide in American politics.

 

 

 

Post Scalia Supreme Court Drifts Left

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SE.JPGConservative hopes this session were high.  After-all, the cases on the docket ranged from abortion to unions to immigration reform.  With a 5-4 majority on the Court it seemed conservatives could shift the legal landscape of this country sharply to the right.

What a difference six months makes.  In February, conservative lion Antonin Scalia died and left the court with a 4-4 split. Or more accurately, a 3-4-1 split. Suddenly, the dreams of conservatives upending decades of liberal precedence were up in the air.

Still, there was hope.  In the form of swing vote Anthony Kennedy and probably the most conservative liberal member on the Court, Stephen Bryer.  Also, the Roberts Court had been known for its caution in crafting sweeping rulings and this limited any damage that could occur to conservative causes if things went south.

With the term over it is clear just how much the death of Scalia has turned the court to the left.  The 4-4 deadlock on union dues allowed the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling on dues to continue unabated.  This was the first major debate for conservatives of the term but it would not be the last.

In a 4-3 decision, with Kennedy siding with the court’s liberals, the affirmative action policies of the University of Texas-Austin were upheld.  But, by far, the biggest defeat was the 5-3 decision in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt.  The ruling, penned by Bryer, shot down TX and 2 other states restrictions on abortion.  Kennedy, known for his moderate positions on the issue, had again, created a liberal majority.  Worse, Kennedy again sided with the court’s 4 liberals to deny an appeal from a group of Washington state based pharmacists who objected to being forced to provide emergency contraception more recently.

Without Scalia on the court it has inevitably drifted left.  But, it has only drifted as far left as Kennedy has wanted it to go.  A full-bore liberal Kennedy is not.  Remember, he sided with conservatives in Citizens United, tried to overturn Obamacare, he issued an emergency stay on the White House’s Clean Air Plan and has sided with conservatives on every campaign finance case.  So calling Kennedy a liberal is a stretch.

It is more accurate to say he is a libertarian/moderate on social issues and a conservative on the scope of governmental power.  For example, in the rulings regarding affirmative action and abortion, the rulings were tailored specifically to the cases.  This means that while liberals may be hailing the rulings as giving them precedent to continue such policies or limit restrictions on abortions that is all they do.  They simply stake a line in the ground saying that their are limits to religious freedom, abortion restrictions and the like.  Indeed, Kennedy joined with the court’s then 4 conservative justices in 2013 to uphold Michigan’s 2012 vote banning affirmative action policies.

Of course, this is not what conservatives envisioned with majorities in Congress.  Arguably, the 2016 election could have the biggest impact on the court.  If Clinton is elected it is very likely she could replace Ginsburg as well as Kennedy or a conservative justice.  The line staked in the ground via recent rulings would not be viewed as precedent for how far states can go to limit abortions or preserve affirmative action, but rather as a starting point to expand them exponentially.

Trump, if for no other reason he lacks ideological underpinnings of any type, could probably be swayed into appointing conservative justices.  They probably would not be pure on every issue but more in line with the mold of Roberts vs. Alito or Thomas.  Conservatives could probably live with that trade-off.

 

 

 

House Dems Gun Sit-in Probably Cost Them the House: Trump Or No Trump

isThe Democratic base is excited that Congressional Democrats staged their sit-in last week in the House Chambers.  The rest of America, not so much.  But there is another group that should be not just not excited, but annoyed.  These are the Democrats running in red to purple swing districts nationwide.

The Congressional map facing Democrats this cycle is daunting.  Anti-Trump wave or not, Democrats have to net 30 seats to take back the House.  They have low hanging fruit in Nevada, Illinois, Iowa and NY State.  But even if they took every single competitive race in those 4 states they would only net 10 seats.  This daunting map has always ensured that Democrats would have to take purple to red Congressional districts to regain the majority.

Now, Democrats have benefited from court ordered redistricting plans in Virginia and Florida.  They will get a new majority-minority district in Virginia and they are set to gain 1-2 seats in Florida.  That still leaves them with over 15 seats to take the majority.

This path to the majority runs through the Rust-belt, the West and the South in suburban and rural districts.  These districts are unique and distinctive but they tend to be culturally and fiscally conservative making Democrats path to taking these seats with Clinton atop the ticket tricky.

Initially, Democrats were banking on the anti-Trump wave carrying many of their candidates to victory.  These candidates would be free to distance themselves from the liberal national party.  But, that has gotten harder as Clinton has doubled down on driving out her base for the general election.  In other words, instead of pivoting, the Clinton campaign has become increasingly liberal in its policy positions.

Obviously looking to benefit from recent events the party quickly turned the Orlando terrorist attack into a debate over guns (Democrats lose in national security and terrorism debates).  Looking forward to November, even liberal stalwarts such as Pelosi and Hoyer dropped fighting for an assault weapons ban and instead endorsed the more popular ideas of expanding background checks and denying people on the No Fly List from purchasing a firearm (due process be damned).

The electoral motivations mattered little to the party’s Congregational ideologues and led by Representative John Lewis, a number of House Democrats staged a sit-in of Congress last week.  When Republicans tried to regain control of the Chamber they were shouted down.  Don’t expect Republicans to forget this. Or their constituents.

There is just one problem with Democrats move.  It destroyed the chances of the party regaining the House Chamber this cycle.  It made the base happy and brought in donations to the Clinton campaign and DNC but it seriously hampered the chances of Democratic candidates running in the kinds of districts Democrats need to capture.

Now, endangered Republican incumbents in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin can run ads tying their opponents to Democratic leadership and the ideologues that want to take not just your guns but rights away.  This is a particularly damaging argument for Democrats running in the Rust-Belt.

The region is culturally conservative by nature but has a predilection to vote Democratic at the Presidential level.  While many voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota tend to be pro-gun, they still vote Democratic suggesting they are either fiscally liberal or struggle to fit into the GOP’s modern fiscal/socially conservative coalition.

Well, Republicans have just been given a gift.  The Democrat’s most ideological members indicating they want their party to shift hard left on firearms and ban not just assault weapons but the very popular AR-15 as well.  Not surprisingly, the move is unlikely to sit well with many of the region’s swing voters.

Further complicating the Democrats path to the majority is the about face of the Obama administration on firearms.  Contrary to the claims of many conservatives and Republicans, the Obama administration has preferred to work with gun manufacturers to develop gun legislation.  That has changed.

In a press conference held last week by Attorney General Loretta Lynch she made clear the White House was willing to go to bat over the issue.  Probably because the Clinton camp had shown they were going to make it a major campaign issue and the White House needed to be on the same page.

Still, it is unlikely Clinton would do well in many of these districts.  Trump’s appeal is strong in many of these areas and Clinton is toxic.  Democratic candidates would have to emphasize their independence and conservative bonafides to voters to outrun her.  They could do this because they could vow to return to their Congressional Caucus and fight for gun owners.  It is harder to convince voters of that when your opponent is reminding voters that you are likely to be one of a lonely few in the ranks of an anti-gun party.

 

 

Heidi Heitkamp’s and Jon Tester’s Blueprint For Victory For GOP Senators In 2016

46659277.cachedHeidi Heitkamp is the junior Senator from North Dakota and Jon Tester the senior Senator from Montana.  Heitkamp first squeaked out a victory in 2012 when he state was solidly voting for Mitt Romney while Jon Tester bested a well-known House member to retain his seat.

Both Montana and North Dakota are solidly red at the Presidential level.  When Tester won his race with 49 percent Obama was only carrying 42 percent to the vote.  Heitkamp arguably had a steeper hill to climb.  While she won with 50.02 percent of the vote the President walked away with barely 39 percent.  Apparently split ticket voting is not completely dead in our era of hyper-polarization.

But, context is important.  Both Heitkamp and Tester have a long history in their states.  Tester served in the Montana State Senate from 1997-2007 before being elected in 2006.  Heitkamp served as Attorney General for 8 years before running unsuccessfully for Governor in 2000.  Before that she served as the state Tax Commissioner.  After her loss, she served as Director of the Dakota Gasification Company’s Great Plains Synfuels Plant.

Both Tester and Heitkamp are down to earth and speak to the sensibilities of their states and voters.  Heitkamp and Tester both cultivated an image of being down-home and folksy and were excellent in one-on-one interactions with their constituents.

Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Illinois should take note.  As bad as the Senate map looks for the GOP many of these Senators have a leg up on Tester and Heitkamp.  They are running in light blue to blue states as opposed to a deeply red Montana or North Dakota.

Who challenged Heitkamp and Tester was important.  In North Dakota, then Congressman Rick Berg ran against Heitkamp.  Berg, who co-founded successful real estate firm Goldmark Property Management, served in the legislature for 2 decades before defeating Democratic Congressman Earl Pomeroy in 2010.  That race was incredibly bitter and Berg entered his freshman year with low likability scores.

In Montana, Tester matched up against 5 term Congressman Denny Rehburg. Rehburg had served as the state’s Lt. Governor from 1991-1997 and lost a close Senate race in 1996 to Max Baucus.  When Rehburg gave up his safe House seat to run against Tester it was seen as a major coup.  But Rehburg, embroiled in a scandal of his own making, was hardly a strong candidate.

In Montana Tester ran against the President and his party on energy and the environment and successfully sidestepped the Obamacare debate.  In North Dakota, Heitkamp distanced herself from the President on energy, taxes and the Keystone Pipeline.

In both cases tactics mattered.  Berg aired ads in February and March to burnish his image but went dark due to cash issues until June.  Meanwhile Heitkamp aired ads between March and June which helped innoculate her from later attacks.  Democrats successfully attacked Berg for his management of his real estate firm, Goldmark, which had numerous complaints and allegations of violations from its tenants.

In Montana, the story was largely the same.  While Rehburg never went dark during the campaign his team struggled to craft an effective message.  Meanwhile, Tester’s spots were positive and painted a populist tone even conservatives could get behind.  More importantly, he drove up Rehburg’s negatives and thus drove a large majority of the 6 percent of the vote to the Libertarian candidate in the race.

Republicans assumed it would be easy to tie Heitkamp and Tester to Obama.  But they little ammo on either and were stuck with flawed candidates.  The assumption undecided voters would go their way in the end was flawed.  This was probably because Democrats painted Rehburg and Berg as unethical and uncaring.

Now, it should be mentioned, North Dakota and Montana are small states.  This made it easier for the individual strength of both candidates to become manifest and the weaknesses of their opponents to shine through.  Tester was a relatively young Senator and Heitkamp did not have a voting record to attack.

For blue-state Republicans this cycle, they may be as young in their tenures as Tester was, but their states are much larger.  One-one-one contact is thus much harder to obtain.

Fortunately, these Republicans are facing opponents of with extensive voting records.  Additionally, none of these blue-state Republicans had easy races in 2010 meaning they know how to run good campaigns.

Even better, almost every candidate has an issue to differentiate themselves from their party on.  In Illinois, it is abortion and gay marriage.  In Wisconsin, it is national security.  In Pennsylvania it is guns and in New Hampshire it is on limiting carbon emissions.  These stances allow Republicans to show their independence from the party to some degree.

The one thing these Republican Senators cannot control is how well Donald Trump does at the top of the ticket.  The worse he does the harder their job becomes.  But, the better he does the more likely they are to survive.

Elections can be won and lost at the margins so anything Republicans glean from Heitkamp and Tester will help.  The question is whether it will be enough?