What the Canadian Elections Can Tell Us About 2016

canada-electionElection analysts and writers in the US are focused almost solely on the Presidential race which is more than a year away. But there is an election on October 19 that can perhaps tell us something about next year.

Canada, our neighbor to the North, just entered its electoral cycle less than two weeks ago after Prime Minister Stephen Harper requested the formal dissolution of his government.

A few details are necessary to understand the differences between the US and Canada. First, Canada utilizes a parliamentary system of government. This means that the head of government is elected from the majority body in Parliament (Prime Minister) as opposed to the general electorate (President).

Second, while Canada uses a first-past-the-post system like the US for single member district elections, party loyalty is more highly valued. This means, unlike in the US, members of a political party cannot create a unique individual brand like they can here (think formerly conservative, Southern Democrats).

Canadian elections can occur in two ways. The Prime Minister can dissolve his government and inform the Governor General, or the majority party can rule for five years until a new election is automatically called.

Since 2006, Conservatives have controlled the Canadian Parliament. That election, conservatives gained a minority of seats and struggled to garner a majority to enact a fiscally conservative agenda. In 2008 another election was called that resulted in minor gains for the party. In 2011 Conservatives finally won a majority in Parliament for the first time in over two decades. That majority might be coming to an end however.

A wave of populist angst has swept Canada much the same as in the US. Conservatives have struggled to stay at the forefront of this wave. The party most able to exploit this angst is the formerly irrelevant New Democratic Party.

In 2011 the party blew apart the formerly Quebec based Bloc de Quebec and gained a significant foothold in Parliament. The NDP is running on a platform very similar to the Democratic Party. They are calling for quality childcare, capping greenhouse gas emissions, investing billions in infrastructure and transportation, and preserving entitlements (Medicare and national pension system).

Such a platform might not be so appealing to voters if the economy was humming along. But the initial boost the Canadian economy received after the financial crisis of 2008 has faded. While the US economy has hobbled along for half a decade, the phenomenon is relatively new for Canada. And while US voters can vent their disapproval with a Democratic administration, Canadians who can do the same with conservative leadership.

Perhaps forecasting what is to come the NDP took control of the conservative Alberta legislative session for the first time in history. Public opinion polls show the conservatives are likely to lose their majority and may not even retain a plurality in Parliament. Further adding to Conservatives woes is an ongoing scandal which is tarnishing the party’s efficient, transparent governmental model.

It remains to be seen whether the NDP’s early success will last. Just like the Democratic Party here at home, they promise big but cannot come up with specifics on where funding for these ideas will come from.

Further, prior polling in the 2014 US elections–and 2015 British and Israel elections–showed a distinct leftward slant. In all three cases the polling was woefully inaccurate. The Israeli right-wing Likud Party defied expectations and held control of Parliament. In Britain, Conservatives gained a surprising majority of seats in London. And you know what happened last year at home.

In the cases of Israel and Britain, right-wing parties co-opted populist movements to their benefit. The 2014 election here at home was less about populism and more simple electoral dynamics. So Republicans would be foolish to simply assume a populist movement would benefit them. If you want a case-in-point, just look at how appealing Donald Trump’s populist appeal is to the general electorate.

Bernie Sander’s appeal in many ways reflects the support the NDP is getting in Canada. Railing against the political establishment, calling for massive investments with no plan to pay for them, refusing to touch entitlements to make them more sustainable, are similar to the NDP’s appeal in Canada. The only difference is Sanders is essentially railing against seven years of his own party’s rule. The NDP has the benefit of blaming Conservative rule in Canada.

These factors should make analysts and the general public look North for what we could see next year. If Canadians are willing to embrace a populist appeal based on governmental intervention it might indicate that Americans are willing to do the same.

New Poll Offers Good, Bad News For Trump

A new Fox News poll heralds both good and bad news for Donald Trump, mostly bad.  But I will get to that in a second.  First, the good.  The poll finds Trump with a commanding lead in the GOP Presidential primary with 25 percent.  Following in second is Ben Carson with 10 percent while Cruz and Bush are at 10 and 9 percent respectively.  The Trump campaign has to herald this as yet another feather in their cap.  After-all, it seems Trump’s weakness in the first debate was overlooked due to his squabble with Megan Kelly.  His base of supporters, for all intents and purposes, has appeared to have held together.

But here is the bad news.  Trump’s lead is built on a base of support that is anti-establishment and anti-DC.  But expanding his coalition is virtually impossible.  Among Republican primary voters, Trump is only the second choice of 11 percent of the other 75 percent.  Bush is the second choice of 10 percent and Rubio is the second choice of 13 percent.  On a sidenote, this is Rubio’s entire problem summed up in one poll.  People like him as a fallback, but not as their first choice.

The Trump camp has argued it did fine in the debates because of the topline numbers of polls like this.  But the poll finds only 38 percent of Republicans surveyed (keep in mind, a sub-sample of the total number of registered voters) watched the debate.  Among the 38 percent of sampled Republicans who watched the debate 20 percent thought Trump performed the worst.  So, Trump’s numbers not changing could be due to the fact few Republicans actually watched the debate.

Specific to expanding his coalition Trump is the least likable candidate among Republican voters by a lot! A whopping 37 percent say he is the least likable candidate in the field compared to only 16 percent who say he is the most likable.  For comparison, Rand Paul is the next least liked Republican at 11 percent.  It’s heard to expand your coalition with numbers like these.  It’s virtually impossible when 56 percent of all voters and a plurality of Republicans think you are not qualified to be President, the highest number of any .  Every other Republican candidate has far better numbers among partisans and the general electorate.

Among all voters Trump has atrocious ratings and it shows in his match-up with Hillary Clinton.  Despite Clinton being bogged down by ethics issues and the Secretary of State email scandal she still manages to lead Trump 47 percent to 42 percent.  Only Carly Fiorina is worse at 47-40.  But Rubio and Bush lead Clinton, albeit by a narrow two percent margin.

Trump’s primary and general election numbers are particularly notable because he has almost universal name recognition.  A Fiorina trailing Clinton at this stage might be understandable because she lacks solid name ID but what about Trump?  It says quite a bit about your viability when you trail the Democratic nominee and garner only 42 percent of the vote while keeping this in mind; a solid 58 percent of all voters say Clinton lied about her email server and 54 percent say she endangered national security.  Trump is losing 16 percent and 12 percent of those voters respectively.

Lastly, I’m a believer in analytics and past results allow analytics to be developed.  On 538.com, Harry Enten has a piece that shows since 1980 few candidates who garner less than 33 percent of the primary vote in the summer before the election, go onto win the primary.  Of the losers (Lieberman, Giuliani, Clinton, Cuomo, Hart), Trump shares their major problem; an inability to expand his political support.  Lieberman never had a shot in 2004 due to his support of the Iraq War, ditto Clinton 2008.  Cuomo was too liberal for a political party eager to push a fresh, new image of itself.  Giuliani never was able to get past his support for abortion, gun control and gay marriage.

Some might argue that never has the field been this large so it’s little wonder why Trump leads with less than 30%.  Technically true, but as Enten points out we have had big fields in the past, “The 1988 Democratic field, 2000 Republican field and 2008 Republican field each featured more than 10 candidates, for instance,” and “In 2000’s crowded GOP field, George W. Bush still managed to run up the margin.”  Bush did this because he had strong conservative and establishment credentials.  Honestly, Trump has neither.

Unless Trump can find a way to appeal to new voters he won’t be the GOP nominee.

 

 

Republicans Are Making Inroads Into Democratic Territory

Since 1992 Democrats have enjoyed an Electoral College advantage. Consider that in 1992 Bill Clinton won 37o electoral votes and 379 in 1996. George Bush could only garner 271 in his initial bid and only 286 in 2004. Obama won two victories with 365 and 332 electoral votes.

Average out the average Electoral College vote for Republicans and Democrats since 1992 and Democrats lead 327-211. This massive advantage has been fueled by Democratic-leaning demographic trends, but also because numerous swing states or marginally Republican states have swung in the Democratic direction.

Thus, it is incumbent upon the GOP to put at least a few of these states in play. Ohio and Florida are almost always in play and go towards the winner in Presidential contests. But Republicans have come close and fallen short in electoral rich states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin since 1992. However, if recent polls are to be believed, the GOP is putting these states in play as well as making a comeback in formerly red Colorado and Virginia.

Part of this is fueled by the weakness of the Democratic Presidential field, but it is also fueled by the strength of the GOP field. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is bogged down by scandal. Self-identifying socialist Bernie Sanders has a loyal base of supporters but cannot branch out his support among the general electorate (or among Democrats). Meanwhile, the top GOP contenders (minus Trump) are making a play in Democratic bastions.

The latest evidence comes from a Quinnipiac survey of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. The survey tested Sanders, Clinton, and Joe Biden against several GOP contenders. In Pennsylvania, a state that has voted for the Democratic nominee every time since 1992, Clinton trailed Jeb Bush 43-40, Rubio 47-40, and edged out Trump 45-40. Biden beats Bush 43-42, loses to Rubio 44-41, and crushes Trump. Sanders trails Bush and Rubio in all three states and narrowly leads Trump.

This is a head-turning result for Democrats. Pennsylvania is a state that has formed a Democratic bulwark in the Electoral College. Unlike Florida or Ohio that swing with the national mood, Pennsylvania has backed Democrats since Bill Clinton’s first run. Speaking of Ohio and Florida, both states remain competitive and true to their swing nature.

Clinton narrowly edges out Bush 41-39 percent in Ohio but loses to Rubio 42-40. Biden narrowly beats Bush and Rubio and crushes Trump. In Florida, if the GOP nominates Bush or Rubio, the state looks like a sure thing for the GOP. Bush leads Clinton 49-38 in his home state, and Rubio has an even larger edge at 51-39. Biden, on the other hand, runs much closer with his possible GOP opponents.

To their credit, Democrats do not seem to be worried. Clinton has yet to really engage in any of the three states (it is over a year from the general), and Biden has yet to announce. Besides, Democrats have yet to really unload against the GOP nominee. Still, these results have to be disconcerting.

Most worrisome for the party should be Clinton’s horrid image among voters with just 32 percent finding her honest and trustworthy in Florida and Pennsylvania and 34 percent in Ohio. Even Trump had better numbers on trust among voters.

In terms of net favorability in Florida, Clinton is at -18 points, while Trump is -14 points; in Ohio, Clinton is again under, at -18 points, with Trump at -22 points. In Pennsylvania, Clinton is at -17 points, while Trump is at -21 points. Meanwhile, Bush and Rubio had more voters trust than distrust them in all three states.

The poll numbers reflected a similar theme in July when Quinnipiac found voters in Virginia, Colorado, and Iowa did not trust Clinton. They trusted Bush, Rubio, and Walker more.

These results do not mean a Democratic state like Pennsylvania will fall or that Republicans can reclaim Virginia or Colorado. But it does indicate that the electoral advantage Democrats have built might be eroding. In Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Florida, new registration numbers show more voters are registering as Republicans. These numbers are being buoyed by third party groups working to register right-leaning voters who tend to not vote (taking a page from Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns).

If anything, Republicans can claim victory on one front–they have succeeded in putting needed Democratic states in play. Democrats, who were once optimistic about their chances in demographically changing states like Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, are now virtually assured they will not capture any in 2016.

Hillary Clinton Is Just A Bad Candidate

Hillary-Rodham-ClintonDemocrats might as well face the fact that Hillary Clinton is just not a good candidate. She lacks charisma, the ability to empathize with voters, and even the ability to appear clean to voters. This should not be a surprise to the party, yet it seems to be. But the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Consider her first bid for public office–a New York Senate seat. Her opponent Rick Lazio, a no-name Republican, somehow managed to win 43 percent of the vote against the popular first lady. This cannot be explained away by the presidential election. Bush only garnered 33 percent of the vote in the state, meaning Lazio outran his party by a whopping 10 percent. That can largely be chalked up to Clinton running a lackadaisical campaign.

Her 2006 reelection campaign should have been a cakewalk and was. She won with a strong 67 percent, but even this was below expectations. Her 2008 presidential campaign was expected to be a coronation. But then, as now, she struggled to connect with voters via retail politicking, and it cost her Iowa. Her inability to connect with anybody not blue-collar white or Hispanic doomed her candidacy.

This time was supposed to be different. She had a massive lead in the polls (far larger than any she held in 2007), hired the best and brightest young staffers in all the early states, and downplayed her celebrity and past. That past, and her inability to connect with voters, seems to keep catching up with her.

Despite her best efforts to tell her personal story, it has largely fallen flat. Voters are willing to be enticed by a 73-year-old socialist senator from Vermont named Bernie Sanders. Democrats are freaking out over her falling poll numbers, not to mention the ongoing email scandal (drip, drip, drip). To make matters worse, Joe Biden is thinking of running and, yes, even Al Gore’s name has been floated.

Democrats seem to be coming to the conclusion that it is more about the candidate than the campaign. Sure, Obama has weak approval ratings and the economy is struggling, but that should not explain a candidate with almost 100 percent name recognition losing to candidates with barely 50 percent.

This is not just conjecture. Chris Cillizza, over at The Washington Post, spoke with several Democratic operatives, and they echoed a familiar theme: Clinton is just not a good candidate. Said one senior Democrat, “She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump. Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.” Still, he expected her to win the Democratic nomination.

Clinton recently joked at a Des Moines, Iowa even that she liked SnapChat because the messages disappear. It is this kind of tone-deaf rhetoric that makes even allied Democrats cringe.

“The combination of messy facts, messy campaign operation and an awkward candidate reading terrible lines or worse jokes from a prompter is very scary,” admitted one unaligned senior Democratic operative.

Those disappearing messages have already had a serious impact on her campaign. At the start of the campaign, Clinton had a wide lead on voter “trust” in opinion polls. Now poll after poll is showing that voters have lost faith in her. Worse, this is hurting her among being able to understand voters (the issue on which Romney lost the election).

Clinton’s response to the email scandal has not made things better. Since March she insisted she would keep her sever private, but she turned it over to the FBI last week. Since then, Clinton has insisted she never stored or sent classified information from her private server, but evidence has emerged to counter that argument. Now it appears there may be hundreds of emails that contain classified information.

Even if Clinton did nothing wrong, the appearance is terrible. Voters may not know whether she did it deliberately or not, but they also have to wonder whether she is even competent enough to be President. As Cillizza points out, I cannot imagine smart campaign staff thinking this is the way to win a campaign by allowing the story to continue in the news and have their candidate appear indifferent to the issue.

In many ways it is classic Clinton–“I am a Clinton therefore I am above the law and do not have to play by the rules everybody else does.” But in reality she does. The FBI and CIA are not going to simply let this go. Neither are voters. Even if they like Clinton on the issues, the fact they don’t trust her probably ensures she loses in a landslide.

Democrats are stuck. That cannot simply replace their frontrunner. She is strong among women and minorities largely on her identity politics appeal. Even Bernie Sander’s has been unable to shake her core support among the group.

What you are left with is a party lacking any viable alternative to a badly damaged frontrunner. Candidates still do matter in campaigns. Romney struggled to connect to voters and lost. Close elections especially depend on the personality of the candidate (think “I want to have a beer with Bush over Gore and Kerry”).

The good news for the party is Clinton has time to get better (or worse). Sanders might force her to hone her message down to an effective theme. A long and bloody GOP primary might allow her to face a weak GOP opponent. But, if not, then what?

Democrats do not have a lot of options. Clinton has now run for President two of the last three elections and for Senate twice. One would think she would have her message and appeal down. Apparently not.

How Damaged Is Hillary?

It’s hard not to cringe when one hears of Hillary Clinton’s sagging presidential bid. Her handling of classified information during her tenure as Secretary of State and her increasingly likely cover-up is continuing to dog her campaign. The FBI may even open a criminal investigation. Bernie Sanders’ numbers are increasing in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he is attracting massive crowds in progressive bastions like Seattle and Boulder.

Considering these things, it is pertinent that we assess the damage to Hillary Clinton. These need to be examined from two perspectives: the Democratic primary, and the general election. Clinton’s biggest threat in the primary is Sanders, assuming Joe Biden does not jump in; there are many Republicans she needs to worry about in the general.

The Sanders threat in the primary seems to have faded a bit. Yes, Sander’s is gaining in Iowa, and a new poll has him leading in New Hampshire, but national polls have Sanders stuck at no more than 25 percent. Iowa and New Hampshire both have majority-white, progressive electorates favorable to Sanders. But other than those early states, Sanders is struggling because women and minorities are doggedly sticking with Clinton.

Sanders’ problem is that he needs to broaden his appeal. However, his campaign platforms are to the left of many constituencies that support Clinton. He’s not going to win the conservative whites that dominate the Appalachian primaries, and he would struggle among suburban, college-educated Democratic women.

Sanders does appeal to an important and growing segment of the Democratic Party: white progressives. It’s why Sander’s does extremely well in Iowa, New Hampshire, New England, and the West. However, these wins are not the stuff that a viable electoral strategy is built on. If you cannot win delegate-rich Florida, Texas, Michigan, and California, your candidacy is in deep trouble.

Sanders can shift the gears of his campaign, which has largely been a protest stint until now. To do so, he would need to buck the progressives pushing him to talk only about their issues and instead broaden his message.

Sanders has tried to make inroads into the Clinton coalition by playing up his bonafides on civil rights. His campaign recently released a four plank plan to address racial inequality. But then Sanders runs smack dab into the fact that his campaign is simply to far to the left for many Democrats.

Hillary, on the other hand, seems to be in the middle of the Democratic Party. This leaves Sanders little room to grow. Clinton has the money and endorsements from many of the big-wigs of the party. Lastly, despite Clinton’s email troubles, many Democrats still view her favorably, even progressives. So even the Democrats who support Sanders like Clinton.

Party leaders are not breaking in their support of Clinton, and it’s sucking all the oxygen out of the room for a Biden run or giving a Martin O’Malley room to grow. In other words, Clinton still looks like a lock for the Democratic nomination.

The general election poses much bigger problems for Clinton. President Obama’s approval ratings are in the mid-40s, the economy is limping along, and Clinton’s personal favorability ratings are in the toilet. Some might be tempted to call the race lean Republican, but I call it a true tossup.

To be fair there are different takes on just how damaged Clinton is for the general. Nate Cohn, writing for The New York Times, argues that Clinton’s personal numbers don’t matter as much as core factors: President’s approval ratings, the economy, and partisanship.

However, I think such an analysis misses the mark in a few ways. First, a candidate’s personal appeal still matters in campaigns. It is why Obama was able to caricature Romney as a heartless plutocrat, not nationally, but in the Midwest. Romney, like Jeb Bush, never had strong personal appeal on the stump. Obama had it in spades.

Secondly, partisanship changes. It’s true that most voters will behave in a predictable matter, and that many Independents are closet partisans. However, who people vote for is just as important as if they vote. If many soft Democrats stay home instead of voting for ethic plagued Clinton, and many soft Republicans vote against her, well, you see the problem.

Obviously the economy is a huge issue, but a voter’s views on it can be overcome. Exit polls showed Romney won voters on the economy by four percent, and yet he lost the election by four percent. The economy is not the end all be all.

Clinton’s favorable ratings are particularly notable because they have not just fallen among Republicans and leaners but also because they have fallen among Democrats and Independents. In other words, Clinton is not just struggling to portray a positive image to Republican voters but also left-leaning Independents and Democrats.

A majority would probably come out and vote for her regardless, but how many would not is the key. So I disagree that Clinton is in a more secure position than the general thinking assumes. The economy, incumbent approval ratings, and partisanship matter, but they may not be the determinant.

Clinton is also bogged down by the President. He is alienating her candidacy to Jewish voters with the Iran Deal, Cuban-Americans with normalizing relations with Cuba, and conservative/moderate whites with his climate change plan. None of these efforts are making Clinton stronger with these constituencies. Clinton, due to the scandals, has been forced to move further left and support many of the President’s efforts in this regard.

To be fair, it is quite possible Clinton’s numbers can recover, and I have no doubt they will to a degree. Partisan Democrats and Independents will rally to her candidacy when they have an actual Republican candidate and his/her policies to dislike.

The most recent example to this effect would be the 2012 election. Mitt Romney came out of the 2012 GOP primary damaged and bleeding, but Republican conservatives and leaners gradually found a way to like him. However, not enough of them did.

To many, myself included, the idea that elections always hinge on approval ratings, the economy, and partisanship is far to simplistic. Think about it this way. Ohio Republicans had every reason to come out and vote against the President. The economy was tepid, Romney was not a social issue red-meat candidate, and his economic ideas were moderate at best. But Obama’s early attack ad binge paid off.

On election day, 39 percent of the electorate was Democratic compared to 32 percent Republican. Romney’s margin among Independents could not make up the difference. More importantly, turnout dropped in many rural counties relative to 2004. Either these voters forgot to vote or they saw something in Romney they did not like, and they did not vote as a result.

Of course, as Cohn notes, we only have four presidential elections to look at since the new millennium. Further, only two elections have featured increased turnout among minorities and Democrats.

Clinton and Democrats may be able to fall back on one tried-and-true issue: abortion. Republicans stepped in it in the field’s first debate when several top contenders said they oppose abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest. Democrats succeeded in 2010 and 2012 attacking Republicans on abortion. Such a strategy hit a roadblock in 2014 in Iowa and Colorado. Then again, those GOP candidates largely avoided the issues, whereas the GOP presidential field seems to be taking the issue head on.

Still, as 2012 showed, abortion was a side-issue to the main event. Romney won the economy, but he had worse favorable ratings than Obama, and he overwhelmingly lost among voters who ranked “understands people like me” as their most important criteria for their vote.

If the same pattern holds, Clinton’s favorable ratings will matter a lot more than some analysts and Cohn seem to think.

The Power Of Blue-State Republicans

downloadThe largest bloc of Republican voters do not reside in any of the early voting states (IA, NH, SC, NV). They do not reside in the South. They are not in states Republicans control at almost any level. They are blue-state Republicans, and they handed John McCain and Mitt Romney the nomination in 2008 and 2012 respectively.

Blue-state Republicans explain why a party dominated by conservatives and geographically concentrated in the South and Midwest can nominate relative moderates like McCain and Romney (compared to the rest of the fields). It also explains why Jeb Bush’s base of support has never dipped below 10 percent. These voters tend to gravitate towards establishment, more socially moderate candidates.

It’s easy to understand why this large swath of voters is forgotten. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats. Congress is dominated by officials elected in states and districts that supported Mr. Romney. Even in 2014, these voters had minimal impact as Democrats maintained control in many blue states. Sure, Republicans made gains in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts, but the party netted only one congressional seat in the three states and no new Senate seats.

Still, blue-state voters have the delegates and resources to swing the nomination. Consider these facts. In 2012 there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska. In other words, the numbers of these voters swamp those in solidly red Republican states.

Just for clarification, blue states are defined as having voted Democratic in the last six Presidential elections. These states combine for a total of over 200 electoral votes. More importantly for Republican candidates, especially Donald Trump, 59 percent of Romney supporters in the primaries came from blue states. Less than five percent of the GOP Senate delegation comes from these states and yet they account for more than four in ten GOP primary voters.

Romney was largely perceived as the establishment candidate in 2012, and these voters gravitated to him. So what does this portend for the GOP field and Donald Trump? Obviously, it makes it far less likely that the party will nominate a firebrand or a religious right champion. Consider in 2008 that Mike Huckabee, the candidate of the religious right, was shut out of any victories in the Northeast on Super Tuesday and only able to win a few Southern states (Romney won a few as well). This portends badly for not just Huckabee but also Ted Cruz and Rick Perry, if Perry’s campaign makes it to the primaries.

These voters are far less likely to support every party position. According to an analysis of Pew Research and exit-poll data, these voters tend to be more urban, more moderate, less religious, and more affluent. A majority of red-state Republicans are evangelical Christians, believe society should discourage homosexuality, think politicians should do what it takes to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and want politicians to stand up for their positions, even if that means little gets done in Washington.

This benefits a Jeb Bush and John Kasich, who do not agree with the party on climate change and Common Core. Even Kasich’s support of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion might be acceptable to blue-state voters. These voters are extremely sensitive to the idea of nominating a candidate that can win and that spells disaster for Trump. Almost every national poll has shown Trump losing to Clinton, most by double-digits, and while his shifting on positions might make him like a McCain or Romney, it takes his electability card off the table.

Enter the crop of candidates who can appeal to both red-state and blue-state Republicans: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. These candidates hail from blue or purple states and are young and attractive. While it might seem unfair to exclude Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina from this analysis, neither red-state or blue-state Republicans voters have backed similar candidates recently.

Rubio, Walker, and Paul are certainly no moderates. However, they have all strayed from strict party orthodoxy in some form. Walker is probably the closest to his party ideologically, but his support of limiting both legal and illegal immigration is out of step with the party. Paul, has strayed from his party on national defense and warrantless wiretapping. Lastly, Rubio burned many of his bridges with the Tea Party wing of the GOP when he initially supported the Senate’s 2013 immigration reform bill.

Blue-state Republicans can also explain the fundraising disparity between Jeb Bush and everybody else. Republican donors, in general, are more concerned by electability and business issues than religiosity and the culture wars. They also come disproportionately from blue states, which accounted for 62 percent of all Republican primary fund-raising in 2012. Jeb Bush can easily go to these voters and ask for money. Walker, Kasich, and Rubio can do the same. Unfortunately for Paul, because he is not well-known and stereotypes of his candidacy exist due to his father’s prior campaigns, he cannot.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the share of blue-state Republicans is not decreasing. While their numbers in Congress have been thinned due to 2006, 2008, and 2012, their total share of the electorate has not. Consider in 2006, California Republicans composed 31 percent of the state’s electorate. By 2014 that number had moved slightly down to 29 percent and up to 30 percent by 2015.

A conservative candidate to the right of blue-state voters can still win the nomination. It’s credible to argue both McCain and Romney benefited from strong support in blue-states due to weak opposition, not because these states would not support strongly conservative, populist candidates (cue Donald Trump). George Bush was conservative, populist, and evangelical, but also a Harvard M.B.A. and a scion of the establishment. Despite losing many urban areas in California, Virginia, and New York, he managed to carry these states in the 2000 primary. A Scott Walker–an evangelical, but also a populist and fiscal conservative–might have a path to do the same.

Even if we assume the power of red-state Republicans has grown due to the massive SEC primary set to occur in early March, candidates still need blue-state support. While wins in the SEC primary would increase fundraising and campaign hopes, it would not end the need for the candidate(s) to carry more moderate voters in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the Northeast.

This presents a particular issue for Trump. He has risen in the polls due to his take-no-prisoners style and his support of strongly conservative positions on immigration. He also recently backed Planned Parenthood. Combined with his electability, he also faces issues with convincing these voters he should be their choice compared to the rest of the field.

Bush, Rubio, Paul, Walker, and Kasich all have laid out policy positions and are much more polished. They also offer these voters a politically successful resume to peruse. Trump will need these voters if he is going to be the nominee, and that presents a major problem for the Donald.

The Most Interesting Subplot Of 2016

clinton_092614gettyWe’ve all witnessed the major plots of 2016 develop, many still ongoing: the Hillary Clinton email scandal, socialist Bernie Sanders’ populist surge, and the growing chasm in the GOP personified by the enduring strength of Donald Trump.

But there is another subplot, perhaps the most important of the cycle, that has had presidential implications since 1992. Where does the female vote go next year?

Hillary Clinton has made clear her base of support will largely consist of women. Since 1992, Democrats have won the female vote in every presidential election. Among men, however, Democrats have lost the male vote four times out of six. The two times Democrats won the male vote, 1992 (3 percent) and 2008 (1 percent), their margins have been extremely narrow. Not so among women. In the last two presidential elections, Democrats won the female vote by 13 percent and 11 percent.

Of course, where Democratic support comes from among women is important. Democrats don’t win every female constituency, just like Republicans don’t win every male constituency. Consider in 2008 Republicans won the married, white women vote by seven percent and expanded it to 14 percent in 2012. Democrats, by contrast, grew their margins among single women in both elections. Obviously these voters have different priorities, and the Clinton campaign knows this.

Married, white female voters tend to value security and economic opportunity. They are more likely to be pro-life–it’s hard to imagine having an abortion if you have a child–and they tend to live in more exurban, rural areas of the country. By contrast, Clinton’s diverse base of women is single, minority-majority, pro-choice, and lives in suburban and urban areas. Maintaining a large edge with these voters is crucial for the Clinton camp. Uncertainty with the turnout levels of minorities post-Obama has made this a certainty.

Recent polls highlight Clinton’s struggle even with elements of her own base. In 2012 college-educated women favored Obama by double-digits. Among college educated white women Romney squeaked out a 52 percent margin.

One of Clinton’s claims to fame is her ability to improve among white women, college-educated or not. However, recent polls do not support this idea. The NBC/WSJ survey conducted June 14-18 found an interesting distinction between white women who are college-educated and those who are not. Clinton had a 13 point net-positive rating among white women who have attended college (51 percent positive and 38 percent negative) but an eight point net-negative rating among white women who haven’t (47 percent negative, 39 percent positive). Consistent with these findings, suburban women had a 51-36 percent favorable rating of the former First Lady.

A recent July Quinnipiac survey of Iowa, Virginia, and Colorado backed up NBC’s findings. Clinton trailed Bush, Walker, and Rubio in all three states and was underwater with all women. She still managed to garner edges with the voting bloc. The problem is that her standing with male voters is atrocious. Clinton has single-digit leads with women, but her Republican contenders have double-digit edges among men.

Clinton’s campaign is aware of this problem.  In the NBC/WSJ survey, Clinton had an overall 44-43 percent favorable spread with white women. Among white men she had a horrid 31 percent favorable rating compared to 53 unfavorable rating. This is a whopping 23 percent gender gap. Admittedly, the overall gender gap in 2012 was just as wide, but another advantage the Clinton camp touts is their ability to bring blue-collar workers, particularly men, back into the Democratic fold.

It is getting harder and harder to see how she will accomplish such a task, since recent events have not been kind to her. The Secretary of State email scandal has forced her to seek refuge among the progressive wing of her party, offering policies far to the left of many male voters. The Planned Parenthood scandal has forced her to come out in favor of the organization, emphasizing her pro-choice credentials while a solid majority of white men are pro-life.

Worse, the 2014 midterms showed both socially moderate and conservative men are willing to vote for a male Republican who does not come out full-force on social issues. For example, Cory Gardner in Colorado’s US Senate race walked back support for former personhood amendments. It did not weaken his standing among pro-life men, and he largely won the election on the strength of his massive margins with men.

Unlike Democrats, who seem unaware of their problems with men (they performed stronger among every female racial group than racial male groups), particularly white men, Republicans know they have a problem with women. It is why the party is debating what to do with Planned Parenthood, how hard to fight on the issue, and even how to fight. It’s why Republicans cheered Fiorina’s strong debate performance last week as it will help elevate her stature in the presidential nomination contest.

The gender gap is but one of many plots at play in 2016 but it could be the most important.

Trump Mania Illustrates Growing GOP Divide

Donald-TrumpIn the past I’ve written about Democrats turnout struggles, but they can take solace in the fact the GOP is facing its own turnout struggles. Unlike Democratic issues, the GOP’s struggles are related to class and ideology.

Democrats fret about how not having Obama on the top of the ticket could impact turnout. Under Obama, Democratic friendly groups have turned out in greater numbers than at any other time in history. Meanwhile, GOP turnout has fallen in presidential elections and roughly stayed the same in the midterms.

Yet, where GOP turnout has fallen are the areas where Donald Trump runs the strongest–rural, downscale, majority white counties. Bush ran strongly with these voters in 2004, but GOP turnout dropped in 2008 and 2012.

The characteristics of these counties are indicative of the political transformation shaping national and Republican politics. Blue collar workers without a college education used to be the bedrock of the Democratic Party. But as the party shifted left on social and fiscal issues, these voters have increasingly filled GOP ranks.

These are the kind of voters Bush appealed to in 2004 and Trump does today. They feel forgotten by DC, ignored and used by the GOP, and sick of the “political establishment.” Combined with the GOP’s strong hold on suburban, college-educated whites, these voters should form the backbone of the GOP’s electoral majority.

One problem. They don’t always vote. Turnout dropped in many rural, strong GOP counties in 2008, and 2012 cannot solely be laid at the feet of the political winds. Sure, the economy took a downturn in 2008, and we were recovering in 2012, but that didn’t equal more votes for Democrats. It equaled fewer votes in general from these counties.

Part of the equation is the growing class divide in the GOP exemplified by Trump. Trump wins non-college-educated Republicans in many national and state polls but is far behind college-educated Republicans. The college-educated base of the party has long been its mainstay and has a different set of issues to care about than blue collar workers.

For example, on the issue of immigration, Trump speaks to the beliefs of many non-college-educated Republicans on the issue. “Build a bigger fence,” “speak English,” and “they take our jobs” are all inferences buried into Trump’s language. On the other hand, most of the other GOP Presidential contenders speak to the nuances of the issue: “border security but skilled labor,” “enforce the law but remain a place people want to come,” etc.

The strongest Republican candidates in recent contests have hailed from these kinds of areas. Corey Gardner in Colorado hailed from rural, east Colorado. Joni Ernst represented a rural, eastern Iowa state senate district before her 2014 win. Notably, these candidates did not just win rural counties but also did well in suburban Denver and Des Moines, illustrating their electoral appeal. It further illustrates that suburban voters are willing to back candidates with a rural socioeconomic history.

This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney. The former Governor of Massachusetts was widely believed to be the party’s best nominee. But, while Romney ran as strong as Bush in suburban counties in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Florida, his margins dropped precipitously in rural counties. Rural Republican-leaning voters did not embrace his wealth or his recent conversion to everything conservative.

The lesson here is simple. The GOP is becomingly increasingly split along class issues more than ideology. While standard GOP rhetoric on government, taxes, and over-regulation wins over some voters, it does not all. If Republicans don’t speak to how government can help they are in danger of becoming a permanent minority as more voters become disenfranchised from a government and process that doesn’t work.

Fortunately, some Republicans have. Marco Rubio has propsed a tripling of the EITC to help struggling parents find work. Rand Paul wants to streamline the tax code. Even Walker is touting the benefits of right-to-work and streamlining teaching credentials.

Republicans have to find a way to bring these voters back into the fold. An appealing candidate is a start (not a Romney), but the other part is bridging the party’s class divide through minimal governmental action to better people’s lives.

Trump has captured these voters hearts on rhetoric but not on substance. The right Republican could do the same and recapture the White House for the GOP.

Is It Joe Biden’s Time?

joe-biden-COAHillary Clinton was supposed to be the future after Barack Obama left office. The thinking among Democrats was simple, smart, and safe. Clinton, an experienced political figure, would be able to win in an election where the President has middling approval ratings. Her tenure and ability to distance herself from Obama would allow her to pull in the moderates and Independents the party needs to win even as she stuck with the President on his core issues.

Clinton’s recent turn towards turning out the base, doubling down on the President’s liberal initiatives (immigration reform, opening relations with Cuba, taxing Wall-Street, fomenting racial tensions), was likely planned by her advisers to be countered by the historic sheen of her being the first female President. Then the State Department email scandal hit and, unlike what many Democrats predicted, it did not go away. Most recently, two Inspector Generals recommended to the Department of Justice a criminal investigation be opened.

Democratic hand-wringing over Hillary has not been felt in the White House. To a degree the Obama Presidency has tried to avoid Democratic infighting over policy and party nomination contests. It’s why the President has heaped praise on Hillary for work while staying quiet on his top lieutenant, Joe Biden. Assuming Biden did run, he would probably face more demographic challenges than Hillary. As a white male, he would struggle to appeal to minorities, and his gender would probably not help him with support among women.

Even considering Biden’s issues, he is starting to look more and more attractive to Democrats. He is not dragged down by scandals, has a history of making big deals in both a partisan and bipartisan manner, and could help the party appeal to blue-collar voters.

Look at the recent polls coming out on Hillary.  A recent Quinnipiac survey in Colorado, Virginia, and Iowa finds her losing to Walker, Bush, and Rubio in every case. Her favorability ratings in all three states are atrocious, and few voters trust her to be an honest leader. Even Bush has better trust ratings in all three states.

The recent NBC/Marist survey, which found Trump surging in the GOP primary, shows similarly dismal numbers for Clinton’s campaign in both states. Her national numbers remain upside down at 45/48 in a CNN/ORC survey, and Gallup pegs them at 43/46.

Clinton has also faced a political uprising from the party’s white, progressive base.  As a result she has tacked even further to the left in order to halt the march of Bernie Sanders. This was not what her campaign wanted. In a weak field Clinton was supposed to tower over the opposition and appear moderate heading into the election as the ultimate GOP primary winner comes out of the process bruised, battered, and far to the right of the electorate.

Instead, she has had to embrace policies loved by the base that may cost her in key general election contests, believing in the predictions of political advisors that demographic change makes a Democratic win inevitable.

Enter Joe Biden. If the party and its leaders believe all the party has to do is become progressives champion and micro-target their base, Joe Biden is the perfect choice. Biden pushed the President to embrace gay marriage in his 2012 reelection before his advisers did. He embraced gun control efforts after Sandy Hook, is leading the effort on wooing Congress to support the Iran deal, and pitched wary Democrats on Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.

He also has a history of working across the aisle. For example, he helped Congress avert the fiscal cliff in 2012 by making a deal with then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Bush tax cuts.

Joe Biden came to office in 1972 by being an authentic progressive, willing to say what was unpopular, and appealing to blue-collar voters. His defeat of an incumbent GOP Senator rocked the political world at a time when Republicans were riding high after Nixon’s landslide reelection.

Since then, Biden’s political authenticity has not changed. He campaigns and lobbies as a happy warrior and does not go for talking points. On the one hand he can ham it up at a union rally, at the next make a deal with Senate Republicans, and right after blast them for their opposition to key Presidential priorities. Voters seem tired of the typical politician and Biden is not the typical politician despite his long, long tenure.

However, it’s not all positive for Biden. His drawbacks are clear. He is not getting any younger and appears unprepared to handle a national campaign. He has donors willing to support him, but his financial network pales in comparison to Clinton’s. While he wins in Senate contests, he has an 0-2 record running for President.

Lastly, while his proponents believe he could win back blue-collar workers, he is saddled with the President’s unpopularity among the group. By standing with the President on his most progressive causes and carrying Obama’s baggage when he was weakest, Biden has ensured the voting bloc will view his candidacy as a continuation of the President’s.

This has not been enough to silence the media buzz and encouragement for a Biden run. The Fiscal Times pondered how a Biden presidency could occur if the GOP primary turns into a bloodbath and Hillary implodes. Polls show that Biden’s support in polls is coming from Hillary; if she were to drop out, Biden would be the next logical choice for these voters. Sanders, for all his appeal to the party base, is widely viewed as unelectable in the general election.

Clinton’s squandering of so many opportunities has led to the Draft Biden siren song. Viewed positively at the start of the campaign, she has been dragged down to the most solid reality of the political world: when wounded, seek shelter in the embrace of your party.

Presidential policies Clinton once felt she could embrace with one hand and distance herself on the other, she has now fully embraced. In Nevada she embraced comprehensive immigration reform. She supported the President’s policies on Syria after criticizing him for embracing them last year. She has become a supporter of the President’s Iran deal, defended the President on his ISIS strategy, and embraced opening relations with Cuba. The independent route her campaign once thought they could take has turned into one of hard math: there are more of us than them.

This newfound strategy has forced her campaign into some awful contusions. She refuses to take a position on the Keystone XL Pipeline despite the State Department review she began under her tenure green-lighting the project. Until recently she avoided taking a position on Fast Track until progressives pushed her campaign to oppose the measure.

All this makes the case for Biden that much stronger. Unlike Clinton, a politically calculating machine that will say and do anything to get elected and stay in power, Biden is an authentic progressive. He would be an unequivocal champion of progressive values in a more electable package than Bernie Sanders. He would not play word games and, as an unapologetic cheerleader of Obama, could find his way to the White House. It’s not an impossible task, as the President’s approval rating has sat around 46 percent for most of the year.
Still, the White House, Democratic establishment and party’s financial class remain all-in for Hillary. The Clinton scandal would likely need to increase ten-fold to get the White House involved in recruiting Biden or another Democrat. Glenn Thrush reported the White House has openly tried to block a Biden run by preventing an expansion of his political operation.
Plus, Biden may decide a national campaign is to much for him and his family. If so, Democrats will have miscalculated going all-in on Hillary. Instead of a Clinton candidacy ushering in another eight years of progressive governance, it could give the GOP total control of government and end up repealing Obama’s legacy. Progressives and Democrats would continue to find themselves searching for an identity in the post-Obama era rather than having them in the Clinton one.
On a personal note I would like to express my condolences to the Biden family over the passing of their son, Beau Biden. Beau, a National Guard officer and loving father is survived by his children and wife.

Hillary’s Problems Are Getting Worse

Hilldog_by_SycraIt just keeps getting worse for Clinton. Her self-made email scandal won’t go away, the Draft Biden movement is picking up steam and Democratic anxieties over her candidacy are continuing to grow. Now, there are signs her electoral coalition, once originally thought to be massive, is fracturing. Not only is she losing swing voters but elements of her base are souring on her candidacy.

The latest Fox News poll finds that the Democratic primary is becoming less and less of a Clinton coronation. Nationally, Clinton leads the field with 51% followed by Sanders at 22%. Biden sits at 13%. This is Clinton’s lowest showing in any national poll and is indicative of just how far she has fallen if she is barely maintaining a majority of Democratic support. Also indicative of the GOP’s competitive primary a whopping 74% of Republicans say they are very interested in the 2016 election compared to 56% of Democrats.

A Monmouth poll of the Democratic primary backs up Fox’s findings. Only 52% of primary voters back her candidacy compared to 16% for Sanders and 13% for Joe Biden. But, if Clinton is not the nominee, a majority of Democratic voters are fine with Bernie. In other words, Hillary’s commanding lead in the polls is not due to her being better than her opponents but simply being better known.

If Clinton’s primary support has fallen her general election prospects are tanking. The coalition she needs to win is starting to fall apart. According to a new NBC/WSJ poll, “In June, 44% of white women had a favorable view of Mrs. Clinton, compared to 43% who didn’t. In July, those numbers moved in the wrong direction for Mrs. Clinton: Only 34% of white women saw her in a positive light, compared to 53% who had a negative impression of her.”

One of Clinton’s big selling points is her ability to bring white women back into the Democratic fold, especially suburban and college educated white women who favored Obama in 2012. But in this poll Clinton has seen these voters perceptions of her dip. Suburban women have an unfavorable view of Clinton as well as college educated white women. Both results indicate a steep drop from a month ago.

Even among the staunchest element of the party’s base, blacks, her image has been marred. In June, 81% African-Americans had a positive view of Clinton compared to 3% who did not. In July, those numbers had dropped to 66% favorable and 15% unfavorable. Further, blacks professed to having less enthusiasm to vote in 2016 relative to 2012. If Clinton cannot get women to swing to her she will need increased turnout among the party’s core constituencies.

Even if women come back to her there is a worrying sign a massive and important group of voters will not, Independents. Only 27% had a favorable view of Clinton compared to 52% who did not. These low water mark indicates just how much Clinton’s playing to the base on key issues (inequality, immigration, police brutality) has hurt her among these key swing voters.

Suburban and college educated women were crucial to Obama’s victories in Colorado, Virginia and Iowa in both 2008 and 2012. Incidentally, this is where polls have shown Clinton trailing Rubio, Walker and Bush. But these voters are also key for Democrats to maintain their edge in Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as holding Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. If these numbers do not improve the GOP could improve enough in the Cincinnati or Philly suburbs to turn the older, more blue-collar states. Democrats in Florida have no margin for error whatsoever if fewer blacks turnout than in 2008.

Gallup finds much the same. Nationally, only 44% of all voters view Hillary favorably. This marks her lowest point ever and a drop of 22% from her high in 2012. Among Republicans, Independents and Democrats her numbers have tanked. In 2012, Hillary was viewed favorably by 41% of Republicans. Today it is 12%. In 2012 she was viewed favorably by 65% of Independents and 91% of Democrats. Today only 42% of Independents and 79% of Democrats view her favorably.

There is still time for the Clinton camp to turn around their fortunes. It is early in the contest. The Clinton camp just released their first ads of the cycle in New Hampshire and Iowa aimed at humanizing and reintroducing the candidate to voters. Unfortunately, these two states voters know Clinton well and probably have more hardened opinions of the former First Lady than voters in other states. Worse, a new Granite State/UNH poll finds Clinton narrowly leading Bernie Sanders 42%-36% in the first in the nation primary state.

There remains the possibility Republicans could help her out by nominating a fiery social conservative or Donald Trump. Even so, that takes Clinton’s political fortunes out of her own hands and into those of Lady Luck. Not a good position to be in for any candidate.