We Just Instituted a Ban on Muslims

Through an executive order, President Trump just banned entry to the United States for all refugees, and Muslims from 7 countries. On the one hand, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Trump explicitly campaigned on doing so for all of 2016. However, Republican White Nationalist rhetoric in the post 9/11 era has been mostly bark, with little policy bite. Yes we created the Department of Homeland Security, and yes the US needlessly invaded Iraq, but Republican elites have for the most part built up white nationalist sentiments, without ever following through on that rhetoric.

Not only did the muslim ban poll pretty well back in June (50-46 in favor), better than the ACA does today, but for a large segment of the public Islamophobic sentiments have stewed for quite some time. In polls or focus groups, people will express deplorable sentiments toward Muslims, but often that rhetoric doesn’t have any policy content behind it, just the kind of casual racism that pervades a good chunk of the white public in America. Hell, in a campaign I worked on, I ran into Sarah Palin Republicans and Bill Maher Democrats who had eerily similar things to say about Muslims.

To summarize: A lot of Americans (about half, maybe a bit more) dislike Muslims. ➡️ Republicans have tapped into this sentiment by highlighting “Radical Islamic Terrorism” in order to fundraise and mobilize voters. ➡️ Republicans in office, pass a few resolutions, but mostly try to cut taxes and spending, while paying lip service to national defense and other images strongly associated with white nationalism. ➡️ Rinse and repeat in the next election cycle. This can work for a while, but it’s certainly not a process that can sustain itself.

Republican strategists seemed comfortable operating in his pattern, concluding that they could ride this anti-Muslim sentiment (not to mention racism towards all other non-white groups) to electoral success, but never have to go as far as supporting a Muslim ban, or deporting/rounding up Muslims. The GOP knew what they were doing, but they still felt like they could stay in control of it. The 2016 Presidential Primary proved that theory false. This Mike Pence tweet embodies the idea that they were in control.

I want to make a caveat that this isn’t entirely the fault of Republicans. Americans don’t need a political party to help them come to racist conclusions, people are good enough at doing that on their own. However, Republicans did not do enough to try and stamp out the Islamophobic fervor that has animated their party since 2001, and many GOP leaders stoked it for national prominence. It was certainly going to take a shameless, racist, power-hungry, imbecile to capitalize on this opportunity, but even ignoring Trump, it wasn’t as if Governor Huckabee, Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum weren’t dabbling in the same racist pools as Trump. Republicans helped create this monster, not the Trump monster, I mean the seething white-nationalist masses that are comfortable with deporting/banning people based on race, religion, or national origin. This sentiment was always present, as the paranoid style of American politics always is. But Frankenstein lost control of his monster, and he’s seemingly washing his hands of any responsibility over it. Conspicuously silent Speaker Ryan is seemingly willing to trade tax cuts for people’s lives. I just hope he’s knows that’s what he’s doing.

When Did I Start Hating Bernie Sanders?

At no point prior to September of 2015 did I have anything bad to say about Bernie Sanders. He was an extraordinarily progressive Senator who stood for all of the right things and gave voice to the millions of Americans living at or near poverty. Bernie, a somewhat goofy, well-meaning Senator wasn’t necessarily the ideal standard bearer for Senate Democrats, but a good foot soldier to have in your ranks, and a good spokesperson for the far left (i.e. not Dennis Kucinich). By February of 2016, I hated Bernie Sanders, not because I disagreed with him on policy (I didn’t) but there was something about the way in which he talks and thinks about politics that always rubbed me the wrong way.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for months, because it’s bothered me how many fights I got into with my Bernie supporting friends, I just could not for the life of me figure out why people were drawn to him. I got so mad I honestly just stopped talking to people about Bernie because he enraged me. I understood the policy appeals, I didn’t grasp why people liked HIM. Over the past 12 months I finally realized: I don’t like Bernie because he talks like a Republican.

I certainly don’t mean that he’s conservative, but Bernie talks about policy solutions in simplistic (and I think incorrect) terms. Part of the process for building a political revolution according to the Senator requires “campaign finance reform”, “banking regulations”, and “renegotiating trade deals like NAFTA”. The causes of our political problems are “the 1%”, “financial institutions”, and “the military industrial complex”. My problem with Bernie’s framework is that 1) I don’t believe that these ‘solutions’ will lead to the outcomes he wants and 2) the problems are bigger than interest group influence; Americans hold a lot of conservative issue positions. One of the chief operating assumptions for Bernie is that if we removed money out of politics, we’d have a more liberal political agenda because it would limit the influence of interest groups. What Bernie does not acknowledge is that people hold a lot of horrible conservative issue positions, that have nothing to do with money in politics. This Reuters poll from March showed that 63% of voters said that torture either often (25%) or sometimes (38%) could be justified. And by June of this past year, support for the Muslim Ban reached 50% once it became a part of the Republican Party’s platform. These are not issues where groups are spending tons of money, yet pluralities of Americans believe horrible things. Even in places where campaign money does matter like healthcare, it doesn’t work quite like Bernie thinks. Does healthcare spending influence the kinds of policy solutions members of Congress promote and talk about? Absolutely. However, single payer health insurance is popular so long as it is framed as Medicare for All, using a different frame (or a Republican counter-frame) it’s not nearly as popular. In other words people do want a single payer health insurance system in a vacuum. However once Republicans start messaging on it as “socialized medicine”, support among the general public goes away, and Republicans ‘correctly’ polarize against the issue. I think Bernie’s political framework is wrong. I think his problems are misplaced, and that his solutions won’t solve them. But beyond that, his desire to simplify political rhetoric I think obfuscates the complexity of policy, which I think does the public a disservice. The Republican analogy is their reliance on tax cuts as a policy solution to every problem. I believe it has electoral benefits to simplify the agenda, but it misrepresents the policy process.

Bernie communicates like Republicans in another respect. He seeks a political enemy to frame his agenda against, in his case the 1%. Republicans are made up of three groups: working-middle class white Christians, upper-middle class white Christians, and super-rich white people. Republican enemies are sometimes explicit groups, “terrorists”, “immigrants”, “Godless-liberals”, and sometimes they’re dog-whistled “welfare-queens”, “elitists”, and “thugs”. Democrats tend to not have political enemies in their rhetoric other than Republicans, because their coalition is made up of such a diverse group. The Democratic Party of the last 50 years has been a hodgepodge of unions, African Americans, environmental groups, state employees, college professors and other professionals, women’s rights organizations, and foreign policy doves. Not only do these groups have completely different levels of income and education and vary by age and race, but in the case of unions (particularly manufacturing i.e. UAW) their success was diametrically opposed to the goals of environmental advocates. As such, in order to keep the Democratic coalition together you get a lot of optimistic inclusive messages driving campaigns: “Yes We Can”, “Stronger Together”, “Forward”, “Hope and Change”, “Putting People First”, “Prosperity and Progress” and a “Rainbow Coalition”. There’s no “Law and Order” or “America First” in that bunch.

Bernie in many ways broke the rules on Democratic messaging. He made a directly populist appeal that cut against the traditional rhetoric Democratic candidates have used. Bernie’s rhetoric bypassed coalition building and instead sought to build a voting-bloc around a social-Democratic policy platform. He took a policy agenda a la “limited government” and made it the solution to our economic ills. Bernie ultimately used the welfare-state as the solution to our problems in much the same way more-bourgeois liberals use education as the solution to poverty and crime. Bernie campaigned like a Republican, be the bull in a China shop, ignore the policy details, and draw lines in the sand around support for TPP, single-payer healthcare, and overturning Citizens United. Democrats haven’t drawn lines in the sand like Republicans do under the assumption that a loosely connected coalition cannot survive on a purely ideological agenda. Bernie put that theory to the test.

I’ve spent the past 12 months being furious with @MattBruenig and @ryanlcooper for what I’ve seen as a hijacking of the Democratic Party. It’s Republican parallel is a lot like Newt Gingrich, completely discarding old norms in order to fundamentally shift the party’s tactics and agenda. To take that risk requires you to believe that the Democratic Party is broken, and that it’s worth destroying the coalitions that make-up the Democratic Party in order to recreate it in a new image. I still believe that Democrats and their varied interest groups are made up of good people who are doing everything in their power to win. I believe our problems lie with an ill-informed conservative electorate, more so, than a need for a shift in the party’s messaging. It might ultimately be the correct strategy for reforming the Democratic Party so we can win at the state level and in Congress. I will continue to be skeptical of this path forward. Hopefully I’m wrong.



So, uh, What Happened in Wisconsin?

Let’s start out with a thought experiment. Let’s pretend for a moment that up until 2016, Wisconsin was a US territory that had just been admitted into the union by a bipartisan coalition of legislators. The territory of Wisconsin had elections, but their party system was different than ours, so we only knew about Wisconsin’s demographics, like race, education, income, and religion(s). If we had no prior electoral information about the state, we’d likely think Wisconsin would be competitive with two major cities supporting Democrats (Milwaukee and Madison), a large wealthy white suburb supporting Republicans (Waukesha) and a hodgepodge of support in the rural, predominantly white parts of the state. If we took Milwaukee, Madison, and Waukesha as fixed entities, we’d conclude that if the rural parts of Wisconsin voted more like it’s neighbors Iowa and Minnesota, that the state would lean Democratic, but be competitive with the right Republican candidate (i.e. not Romney). Through this frame it’s understandable how Trump, or the right Republican could win Wisconsin, even if past electoral history biased us against it. A caveat here is that Bush almost won Wisconsin in 2000, he lost by only 5,000 votes out of 2.5 million, 0.22% about the same percentage as Trump’s margin in Michigan. What happened in Wisconsin three weeks ago seemed impossible, but it’s not as crazy as it seems.

By now, you’ve read 25 stories on how working class white voters (loosely defined?, undefined?) broke for Trump in the midwest because of racism, sexism, xenophobia, economic anxiety, the opioid epidemic, desire for change, complete lack of faith in the political system, hatred of banks, etc. I’m not going to attribute any one solely to Trump’s victory, but they all certainly played some role. There’s even a lot of talk about Obama-Trump voters, a proposition that I want to rule out a priori because of how absurd it seems, but that we won’t be able to confirm until after the voterfiles are updated. If there’s a sharp increase in turnout of people who didn’t vote in 2012, and a decrease in turnout among people who did vote in 2012, what looks like Obama-Trump voters, might just be differential turnout. Of course some people voted for Obama and then Trump, but I want to be careful before assuming that’s true and what drove the difference in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee Clinton got 43,000 fewer votes than Obama, but Trump got 26,000 fewer than Romney. There likely wasn’t much vote switching, but depressed turnout explains a lot in Milwaukee, and might explain behavior in other parts of the state.

On paper there’s virtually nothing different about Wisconsin in 2012 than in 2016. Scott Walker is still Governor, the state’s unemployment rate is lower, but still behind the national average, Republicans still control the state legislature, and state GDP growth stayed at it’s 1% level almost the entire time. There certainly weren’t any national or state shocks that should have altered voting in any meaningful way. But one relationship pops up that’s fascinating: The relationship between education and the Republican candidate’s share of the vote.

Below are scatter plots of Romney and Trump’s county level Two Party Vote Share ( Dem Vote / (Dem Vote + Rep V0te)) labeled TPVS by plotted against county-level College Attainment (percent) and Median Individual Income as measured by the Census. Two Party Vote Share is the x axis for all of these plots below.





For those of you that have read Andrew Gelman’s Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State these figures should be familiar. Romney’s vote share and income relationship, matches the relationship we’d expect in a solidly Republican state like Texas or South Carolina, as voters get wealthier they become more Republican. But Trump’s relationship with vote share and income looks like that of a solidly Blue state like Connecticut or California, as income increases, there’s no relationship with partisan voting. Remember, all 4 of these graphs are the same 72 counties in Wisconsin from 2012-2016. And they’re of the same fucking party.

To recap, county-level median income is correlated with Support for Romney, but not for Trump. County-level College attainment is negatively correlated with support for Trump, but not for Romney. An extraordinarily important caveat here is that this is explaining how counties voted, not how individuals behaved. So Trump does worse than Romney in Waukesha, a well-educated affluent suburb, but he still gets a ton of votes from there that gets downplayed when you look at counties instead of individuals. Below is a link to a downloadable map to look at this data for 2016 graphically. You can download it and view it in Chrome.


The simplest interpretation of these data is that in 2012 economic concerns heavily influenced voting behavior in ways that fit the traditional partisan narrative, Republicans are wealthier and Democrats are poorer. 2016 shows that voting behavior was driven most heavily by differences in educational attainment (a proxy for social and cultural issues or cosmopolitanism, rather than literal education), with income being a relatively unimportant determinant of voting behavior, a kind of bizarro 2000.

As a baseline test I thought I’d regress Trump Vote share on county level Education and income, to see what patterns emerged. In the url for the .PDF below are a series of weak, but I think instructive models looking at the relationship between income and education on vote share. The big thing that seems to stand out is that income, as measured at the county level, is not driving support for Trump. I wouldn’t read this as “there’s no economic anxiety, they’re all racists” but the story of economic anxiety should not be considered the sole driver of voting behavior in the midwest, as at least some pundits would like us to believe.


I don’t know how we define class in the US, and I’m increasingly unsure what others mean by it when they use it. It’s sort of become this stand-in for education, but there’s a real cultural component to it as well. It’s not just whether or not someone has a college degree, but watching football or CBS sitcoms puts someone in a different class than if they watch Game of Thrones and read Vox. What I’m getting at is there is a growing cultural divide that expressed itself throughout the Midwest this past election. It’s a lot more complicated than “economic anxiety” and it won’t solve itself simply by redistributing wealth, even though we obviously should. There’s a lot left to unpack from this election, but the notion that this is a purely economic phenomenon just does not seem right to me.


Dems in Disarray!

Apologies for the title, but I can never pass up an opportunity to use my favorite phrase in American Politics. In Democratic networks, the circular firing squad has already begun, with the chief dispute surrounding the race v class divide that was relatively dormant until the primaries started last Fall, one that I talked about in a post earlier this year. Hillary Clinton supporters like myself argued ad nauseam that the real divide in American Politics has and always will be about race, with a growing divide along the lines of gender, as the Christian right became fully captured by the Republican Party. It is virtually impossible to think about the construction of American Institutions without race, from slavery, to the end of reconstruction into the Jim Crow era, to voting rights, to red-lining, to housing and workplace discrimination, to the drug war, and the dissolution of the welfare state, these policies were driven either entirely by race, or by the southern Democratic Party’s maintenance of white supremacy.

That’s why for many the rise of Bernie Sanders was such a shock. Here we have this white populist running at the end of a popular two-term Democratic Presidency with a large economic expansion, harping on the rigged economy, and the need for a Social-Democratic Revolution™ in America. By no means was Bernie Sanders the first left-wing white populist in America. In North Carolina in the 1880s, white farmers, struggling from high tariffs and the recession, began arguing for price supports for food, and state aid to survive. The Robert LaFolette populist movement created the Wisconsin idea, the partisan primary, and the roots of the direct election of Senators, the 17th Amendment. But populism in the latter half of the 20th century was found mostly in the Republican Party, expressing itself as nationalism and bordering along jingoism during the first term of George W Bush’s administration. There has not been a tangible left-populist movement in America for quite some time. It’s one of the reasons why I’m willing to forgive the Clinton campaign for not running a populist message. On the one hand, no one’s going to buy Hillary Clinton the populist, she couldn’t be a worse messenger for that movement. But more importantly, at my core I’m very skeptical of an economic populist movement that would incorporate and represent people of color, and create winning electoral coalitions. It’s not that people of color wouldn’t benefit from a European-style welfare state, but that historical expansions of the welfare state intentionally left people of color out of the loop. African-Americans were excluded from the Homestead Act of 1862, The Federal Housing Authority refused to back mortgages sold to African-Americans, and the Social Security Administration excluded jobs traditionally held by African Americans. African Americans did not get to participate in The New Deal writ large. Universal college funding and debt-forgiveness for student loans would have big economic benefits for lots of Americans, but they’d also be a transfer of wealth from working class people to middle class college educated Americans, who in spite of their debt, need less help than their working class counterparts. A white-populist movement on the left has a lot of good ideas, but they’re certainly oriented away from people of color.

I’ll make my biases known. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about an America where the new right movement is driven by nationalists and white supremacists, and the new left animated by populists and social-democrats. I OBVIOUSLY prefer the new left, but it’s not my ideal coalition. I have to admit I liked the multicultural neoliberal movement we had going, but I recognize that it’s a political movement that’s dying in the western world, and may not be rebuilt in America without President Obama at the helm. I certainly don’t think Bernie Sanders is some closet racist who wants a whites only welfare state, but I don’t believe that it is a completely random turn of events that the places where Bernie Sanders has the most support are overwhelmingly white middle and upper-middle class enclaves (Portland, Seattle, Madison, Manchester NH, Minneapolis). My biggest concern with Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee is that for every working class white voter you might pick up in MI, WI, PA, IA (States we lost in the last election) you stand to lose college-educated whites in the suburbs everywhere, who also have higher probabilities of turning out to vote. The college-educated white voters who live in the suburbs, don’t do so randomly either. They flee cities to have quasi-private public schools, that through busing and school-zone districting are effectively racially segregated. Ironically, the social-democratic movement in the US that is being promoted largely by younger well educated white people (i.e. Bernie Bros™), directly appeals for a more advanced welfare-state, that scares-off older suburban whites, because of their latent racial animosity, fear of the “welfare-queen”, and belief in the low-tax fetishism sold to them by the GOP. I know that last sentence sounds ridiculous, but if exit polls are to be believed and Trump won college-educated whites by 6%, there are real concerns about selling any form of economic populism to a larger electorate. Trump doesn’t win working class whites because he promised them new manufacturing jobs he won’t deliver on, or a beautiful wall on the Mexican border he won’t actually build, he wins them because he offered them cultural primacy. He told them Elites were out of touch, and that “the real hardworking good people in America” live in small towns, forgotten by coastal and academic elites (not all that different than Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004). He offered them respect (which by some is read as white supremacy) and that’s something that Democratic elites certainly do not convey (of this I am extremely guilty).

The last year has been a humbling experience for me. Up until the very end, I thought Hillary would win handily, and I certainly was duped by the “Demographics is Destiny” line of thinking in the party. I will no longer speak with the certainty and arrogance I did over the past year, but I’m not going to stop writing either. I’m still skeptical that Keith Ellison will be able to pull off the multiracial populist coalition at the DNC that he’s successfully built in Minnesota, but I’m eager for him to lead the DNC and I think he’s a good spokesperson for the party. Hopefully, I’m wrong and we’ll be able to move left on economic policy, and win back governor’s seats in 2018, and the presidency in 2020. Let’s just say I’m not convinced as of yet.


Presidential Predictions

At a later date I’ll explain my 6 month absence from the blog, but I wanted to post my electoral college predictions for tomorrow. I want Hillary Clinton to win with every fiber of my being, but I think it’s going to be a nail biter. I see a 278-260 win for Hillary Clinton. Trump is going to gain Iowa, Ohio, Florida, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District from Obama’s 2012 map.

My map is below. Leave your predictions in the comment section. Enjoy election day tomorrow!

Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Trump’s Coalition

For all of the time we spend looking at electoral maps to predict presidential elections, we hold a lot of conflicting ideas about how regional variations in demographics affect voting behavior. In the Jim Crow South, V.O. Key (who had pretty good maps for 1949) notes the relationship between the percent of the black population and support for conservative Democrats in the south (African Americans could not vote in the south). Southern Republicans at this time tended to live in Appalachia, some of the poorest and whitest parts of the south. Eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Arkansas, and parts of Northern Alabama served as the stronghold for the more liberal Southern Republican Party at this time. The regional variation in racial composition (which also correlates with arable land) was a strong predictor of voting behavior. In much of the South still today, whites, in counties with large black populations are typically the most conservative voters, and those most loyal to the Republican Party. This has always been thought of as a purely southern phenomenon but I wanted to see if there was any evidence of this in the much whiter midwest where Trump fared much worse than he did in the South or Northeast.

One of my goals at the end of the primary process is to create Republican and Democratic maps of all of the primary and caucus results to highlight the regional patterns from this election. Real questions about the role of class and race on political attitudes have correctly renewed attention to regional variation in the United States. Since V.O. Key we’ve know the role that region plays on voting behavior, and this primary season likely offers a lot of insight into those same questions. Below I’ve made an interactive map of the Midwest, excluding the caucuses of Minnesota and Iowa, which tend to be unrepresentative. If you want to fight me over my definition of the midwest, go ahead, but the map below shows the core, indisputable states of the Midwest. As you’ll note from the map below, there isn’t much of a relationship here.

Midwest Interactive Map: 

Indiana is an outlier because in someways it is a southern state trapped in Midwest. The only reliable GOP state in the midwest, it’s also the birthplace of the KKK. Trump does better than you’d expect in Indiana, but it seems like by the time we got to Indiana, Republican voters had already coalesced around him.

However, there are regional models of voting behavior that instead focus on class instead of race. In Andrew Gelman’s Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, he notes that in America, there’s a good relationship between income and vote choice. Higher income Americans vote more Republican, lower income Americans more Democratic. However, when you divide states up into Red and Blue states, the relationship changes. In rich states, which tend to be blue, social issues predict voting behavior, and income has a weak relationship to vote choice. In poor states, which tend to be red, income explains voting behavior much more strongly, with rich voters in poor states being very conservative and Republican, much more like the national pattern. Thus Gelman asks, “What’s the Matter with Connecticut?”

On The Weeds podcast last week, Yglesias and Klein do a great job breaking down Trump’s rise, particularly his overt and covert attacks on multiculturalism and the changing economic forces in America. Yglesias speaks at length about how in 2008, he thought the common theme that kept the GOP coalition together was its militarism toward the Middle East and it’s growing xenophobia/homophobia. Trump reanimates this ideological force, and his support for Social Security and Medicare falls right in line with many of these voters. Barack Obama’s presidency has brought multiculturalism to the forefront of the Democratic Party, pushing class issues toward the backburner, much to Sanders’ supporters demise. Cultural changes, even those that have nothing to do with race like the internet, have people on edge. There are ironically enough viral FB videos about our use of phones that you could watch a new one everyday for the rest of your life. Trump has staked his claim to “Making America 1985 Again!” while allowing different groups of working and middle class Americans, who don’t see bright futures for themselves, to come into the fold. His support of the existing welfare state, instead of turning the safety net into torn hammock like his Republican rivals has helped him with a certain kind of independent, those who would most likely be Republicans, but who don’t often vote and have weak non-ideological allegiances.

One of the ways you can tell that Trump’s appeal is not ideological is that he does well everywhere, but each for different reasons. Trump does well in the South despite a documented record of not caring at all about social issues, or Christianity in general. His xenophobia, misogyny and racism, plays well in the South, but it does not explain his dominance of the northeast. In the Northeast it seems that Trump’s focus on manufacturing and aggression on ISIS has helped with rural and working-class suburban whites. Trump winning Arizona, or South Carolina makes perfect sense to me. But New York, Florida, Michigan, and West Virginia are much harder to understand until you realize that Trump’s campaign is based upon opposition to the changing forces of economic and social life in America, not ideological positions, or party orthodoxy. Republican elites, co-opted by a libertarian approach to government in recent years do not offer anything to huge swaths of the public whose quality of life is declining in an international marketplace. Trump is running a reactionary campaign that longs for things to be like they once were. It’s not 1985 anymore, and that’s a good thing, but a lot of Americans (not even a plurality), wish it were.

Off Topic: The Intersection of Reading and Data

I’ve been fortunate enough recently to be able to take an extended leave of absence that’s allowed me to pour over electoral data, as well as actually keep up with my extended reading list. It’s the closest thing to a sabbatical I’ll likely experience and it’s been mostly great. Having the opportunity to actually sit and watch the news cycle in real time I’m increasingly convinced that much of Twitter is repetitive noise, with a few good articles waiting to be mined. I don’t have any interest in blasting journalists, but an intransigent Congress has made most reporting speculation about electoral tactics and messaging. Coverage is almost entirely process, because there’s no substance to cover, not because journalists are evil. Twitter just amplifies this coverage that I think makes it seem like political coverage is worse than it is.

I’ve always held that reading whether academic work, traditional journalism, or blogs like this one, is both necessary to be a useful member of society, and to also grow as a person. I don’t think that people become conservative over time as a function of the aging process. Rather, the fact that people stop encountering new ideas and stop having their beliefs challenged, makes them closed off from political movements and social undercurrents, they’d otherwise have seen. With the exception of Transparent, the overwhelming majority of support for Trans rights has come from academic circles publishing in Slate, Tumblr, and progressive publications like The American Prospect, or Mother Jones. It’s a movement that outside of parades and protests in major cities, likely goes unnoticed in suburban America. If you’re not actively keeping up with one of several publications you’re missing a trove of information about the evolution of social norms. As a devout Clinton supporter, there’s quite a lot that could be improved in her rhetoric and policy prescriptions if a top Clinton aid were skimming through Jacobin, a smart quarterly, with their fingers on the pulse of young ‘middle class’ America. I’ll freely admit that other than David Frum’s Twitter account and the occasional post from Daniel Larson at The American Conservative, I’m out of step with what’s left of the intellectual conservative movement.

This form of writing has yet to really engage with the growing empiricism and ‘data science’ you see at FiveThirtyEight, or the really great collection of sports analytics writing like Chris B Brown, Kirk Goldsberry, and Chase Stuart. Nate Cohn in my view has easily been the best at contextualizing electoral data from the primaries to really explain the dynamics of the 2016 race. Harry Enten has really done a remarkable job tracking polls and helping you see through the smokescreen of erratic pollsters like ARG that have massively biased polling averages. Writers like Jamelle Bouie are great at using social science literature and empirical data to map out the electorate particularly the Democratic coalition that isn’t fraying, but is certainly starting to diverge. As the Democratic Party seeks to capture the American center, its leftwing is firmly standing its ground. There’s an enormous amount of political writing, and a lot of it is actually really good, but it’s only getting to people with an unrealistic and unsustainable drive to sift through the noise.

If you’re not willing to engage with academic literature (a sentiment with which I’m very sympathetic), to grasp American politics requires both a passion for American democracy and a statistical expertise that likely has to be taught in school, but that undergraduate courses largely fail to support. I’m currently spending countless hours everyday following the news, and I feel that the majority of what I encounter doesn’t add anything to what was written the day before. The more time I spend reading the news, the less satiated I am by it.

Part of my frustration though is that it is extraordinarily difficult to both write well while still presenting and describing even simple empirical data. To be politically literate requires you to understand both, while very few people have the capacity to do it. We need more academics who can actually write to broader audiences, but the kind of person who writes a 400 page dissertation is not likely the best at condensing information into a digestible format. We’re a long way from sorting this out.

Racial Homogeneity and Social Welfare

It is well documented in the comparative politics literature that the racial homogeneity of a population correlates with greater social welfare expenditure. The logic is that people are more willing to accept taxation for redistribution when they believe that the money is going to help people like them. This is one of the reasons why people like David Frum fear immigration so much, in that increased welfare expenditures on immigrants very well might decrease support for redistribution in general. Zizek himself has similar thoughts as well. The two figures below, though old, show this relationship pretty clearly.




However, I’m not interested in this relationship abstractly. I’m particularly curious how it pertains to Bernie Sanders voters and future support for social welfare in America. I need to break down this argument carefully, so I’ll start with a macro-level approach to American elections first.

Since the 1960s it has seemingly been the case that younger voters, particularly college students hold more liberal views on social life and economic policy than the rest of the country. But what happens to those students’ political views when they leave college campuses? Political science can tell us almost nothing about the way political attitudes change over time, because we do not have panel data that tracks political issues over more than a 2-4 year period. We have reason to believe that people get slightly more conservative over time, but how that happens and why remains unclear. For a candidate like Bernie Sanders to win in the future, they will need Bernie’s current supporters to stay as economically liberal as they age while building a larger coalition of liberal activists. An assumption here is that a Bernie-style candidate will continue to consolidate support with the groups they already do well with and expand its base. This is an end of history argument that you see a lot when writers only have to produce copy for next week, with almost no consequence if it ends up being totally wrong. Assuming that this coalition will stick together past 2018 is hard for me to believe.

This is the story told by really smart writers like Greg Sargent and Matt Yglesias who I respect and read regularly. But I’m still skeptical that the future of the Democratic Party is with a socialist candidate. This is not meant to be an exercise in hippie-punching, but a sincere concern that social democracy will not spread outside of the largely white, liberal enclaves of the Pacific Northwest and New England. Much like Hillary’s wins in the deep South, Bernie’s wins in the Non-Colorado Rockies and plains-states are important for the nomination, but not the future electoral stakes of the party. If in fact social welfare support is dependent on racial segregation or at the very least highly correlated with it, it is increasingly unlikely that there is a winning electoral map for that style candidate in the future.

One of the more fascinating electoral changes under President Obama has been the polarization of the white vote. In 2012 Obama got 39% of the white vote, which is much worse than the losing efforts of Gore and Kerry. In the 2016 Primaries Alabama serves as a great proxy for this change. In 2008, white voters made up 44% of Democratic primary voters, and black voters 51%. In 2016, black voters made up 54% of Democratic Primary voters and white voters only 40%. The pattern was even more extreme in South Carolina. In 2008 white voters made up 43% of voters in South Carolina, but only 35% in 2016. Black voters increased their share from 55%-61%. As the black share of the electorate increases, the white share of the Democratic party declines.

A real problem for a candidate like Bernie Sanders is that demographically similar white voters in Washington state to those in Ohio or Florida respond very differently to Bernie’s rhetoric, much to his dismay. The biggest impediment for Bernie Sanders is that the states that really matter for winning the presidency are Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado. These are states where the white voters who make up both the Democratic Party and the ‘winnable’ moderates are the people who Sanders has not made strong enough inroads with, and who he may not ever be able to reach because of latent racial animosity of whites. Working class whites and liberals in the largely white communities of Madison Wisconsin, Seattle Washington, and Manchester New Hampshire will continue to support candidates like Senator Sanders. How do you get whites in Raleigh North Carolina, Cleveland Ohio, and Chicago Illinois to follow suit? What I want to make clear here is yes, Bernie wins about half of white Democrats in these places, but whites in racially diverse places are much more conservative than their incomes would predict, meaning there are just fewer whites here for Bernie to potentially win. As the country becomes more racially diverse I worry that white voters will become increasingly conservative and support for his style of social democracy will fade with it.

This raises a question about what it is that’s driving people to Bernie Sanders. If you read Jacobin, it’s largely a class based appeal that Bernie Sanders is going to fight income inequality, and no longer accept the influence of the financial industry in positions of government or in fundraising events. Younger voters, saddled with student loan debt, poor job prospects, and the fact that having a child will be increasingly difficult has helped him  solidify this message with a supportive base. But Bernie has both an economic and an identity politics appeal that American elites, even those in the Democratic Party, are both greedy and corrupt that can no longer be allowed to ignore the interests of the American people. Though I disagree with Bernie’s diagnosis that reforming campaign finance would allow liberal initiatives to flourish in Congress, his working-class focus against elites is one I can imagine being successful given progressive traditions in american politics. That “the economy is rigged against working people” is an appeal that will work as income inequality grows, which it likely will even with large tax transfers, and one that will likely appeal to African Americans as its focus extends beyond the economy to more explicitly focus on racial and gender inequality.

If class is the dividing line for the American electorate, then we’re not far removed from a Bernie Sanders-style presidency. But if race is the dividing line, the future of the country and the Democratic Party is not so clear.



Quasi-Super Tuesday Dem Predictions

The Midwestern Democratic races are going to be extremely close, with Hillary holding narrow leads in Ohio and Illinois. The campaigns are tied in Missouri, though with only two polls so far it’s hard to make heads or tails of it. I have a feeling that much like last week, Hillary and Bernie will win about the same number of states, while Hillary expands her delegate lead.

Click her for an expanded view of the figure below. SuperTuesdaydem15


In fact I expect Bernie to win all three of the midwestern states, while Hillary increases her delegate total. Bernie will fundraise massively off his wins, the story will surround Bernie’s surge, but there just doesn’t seem to be a way forward for Senator Sanders to win a majority of delegates with the remaining states. Hillary is leading every poll in Ohio and some operatives have expressed optimism for her there but I think the momentum is with Sanders. If Hillary were to win either Illinois or Ohio I think it would seriously quiet Bernie’s surge. Winning 3 or more states and a lot of delegates would probably end the viability of the Sanders campaign.


Super Tuesday March 15 GOP Polls

Below are the GOP polls for tomorrow’s contests. Florida and North Carolina look like locks for Trump, and given his dominance of the South excluding Cruz’s win in Texas these states will likely follow suit. I’m less confident in Ohio, where Trump is losing and Illinois and Missouri, where there’s less polling and is the part of the country where Cruz has had more success, given his wins in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Cruz has a real operation in these states, and it wouldn’t shock me if he took both Missouri and Illinois, though I’d wager Trump wins at least one of them.

Click this link for the expanded view of the figure below. SuperTuesday15


I think there are only two public polls in Missouri, and I could only track down one of them. Trump is winning, but this poll only had 208 respondents. I think Missouri is competitive, and I think Cruz is more likely to win Missouri than Illinois.


In terms of Delegate math Trump should take all 99 of Florida’s delegates and about half of North Carolina’s 72. Kasich should win Ohio’s 66 since Ohio like Florida is winner take all. Illinois is winner take most, I think Trump is the favorite so we should expect him to take about 75% of the delegates there, though if he loses to Cruz, he’ll only bring in about 20% of Missouri’s 52 delegates. Cruz will likely win the Northern Marianas Islands given his caucus success, netting him ~5 of the 9 delegates. By this back of the envelope math Trump should win around 160 delegates. With Cruz falling in the 60 delegate range unless he steals Illinois. Kasich, even with an Ohio win will likely only get about 70 delegates which helps him play spoiler but keeps him in 4th place. If Cruz steal Illinois and Missouri and Kasich takes Ohio, it becomes much more challenging for Trump to get to 1237, though he’ll still have a large delegate lead heading into the convention. Chaos awaits.