"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2016 Archives
February 6, 2014
POLITICS: The Lesson of Chris Christie and Bridgegate: Don't Fall In Love Too Fast
The political fallout of "Bridgegate" may not be entirely clear just yet - but the lesson it holds for Republicans looking for a 2016 presidential candidate should be. Don't fall in love too early. Nobody should be rushing to pick a 2016 presidential nominee two years before the first primaries.
One of the iron laws of politics is that sooner or later, everybody gets a turn inside the pinata. For Chris Christie, who enjoyed an unusually good 2013 while touting a brand of moderate Republicanism that irks both liberals and conservatives, the past month has involved taking a lot of whacks. The party started with the revelation in early January of emails showing that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, conspired with his appointees to the Port Authority, under David Wildstein, to exacerbate Fort Lee, New Jersey's chronic traffic problems by closing a lane leading onto the George Washington Bridge, apparently in retaliation for the Mayor of Fort Lee backing Barbara Buono, Christie's hapless and overmatched 2013 opponent.
Lots of people on the Left and Right have been eager to bury Christie, but as of now, their obituaries still seem premature. Any candidate who comes to the presidential race, especially a candidate with any sort of executive experience, is going to have some dents - some bad appointments and associations, some things that didn't work or didn't happen as promised. And Christie is still a highly charismatic guy and a prolific fundraiser, and few of his potential rivals for the support of moderates in the GOP primaries have given much sign that they intend to run.
If the end result of Bridgegate is that a handful of Christie's appointees misbehaved, it may not be a major obstacle to being a presidential nominee. On the other hand, if credible evidence surfaces (as Wildstein has threatened in a letter laced with lawyerly vagueness and demands for a payoff) tying Christie directly to the decision to create a traffic snarl as a form of petty political vindictiveness during a blowout election campaign, he'll have his hands full just staying in office. The middle ground possibility - that Christie escapes being tied to the scandal personally, but it hamstrings his second term and gets painted as some sort of pattern - is perhaps the worst possibility for people considering backing Christie nationally, as it leaves him wounded but not fatally so.
The scandal is damaging to Christie in a couple of ways. The innocent explanation, that this was an unusual event resulting from a handful of 'bad apples,' still calls into question his management of personnel, a problem for a candidate running mainly on being an honest, competent executive who gets stuff done. And aside from its pure pettiness and how unnecessary the whole thing was (Buono was even more doomed than George McGovern in 1972), the use of government power to punish political enemies is especially problematic in a Republican primary because it's precisely how Obama and the Clintons operate and have for years. And with the general electorate as well: Democrats are supposed to stand for giving particular people and groups stuff they want, so voters tend to forgive them - up to a point - when they hand out goodies to friends and punish foes. Whereas the point of electing Republicans is to stand up for the general interest - such as the interest in limiting runaway government spending and regulation - so voters tend to be harsher towards Republicans who act as if they were hired to give particular people and groups stuff they want.
But even if the Bridge flap proves a minor bump in the road for Christie's national ambitions, it nonetheless reminds us that Christie is not only not the inevitable 2016 Republican nominee, he might not even make it as far as the Iowa Caucuses. And that perception itself can become self-fulfilling: it emboldens other candidates to jump in the race, as they might not if Christie looked like a juggernaut. It was Mitt Romney's money machine that played a major role in discouraging people like Christie and Paul Ryan from mounting bids in 2012, and caused Romney's major rival in the center-right of the party (Tim Pawlenty) to bet too heavily on the Iowa Straw Poll.
However things work out for Christie, a lot can still happen to him as well as to other Republicans between now and the primaries. As we've been seeing, even a guy who has been fairly well-vetted by the hostile New York, Philly and Jersey media still hasn't seen the kind of scrutiny that wilts national candidates. Hopping on the Christie bandwagon, much less trying to clear the field for him (or any other GOP candidate) at this early stage would be madness. Unlike the Democrats, whose bench behind Hillary Clinton is frighteningly sparse (and who can be confident that Hillary has been so drenched in scandal over the years without collapsing that nothing new could come out that would sink her), Republicans right now have a deep stable of talented, plausible presidential contenders; the wise move is to sit back and make them prove their case before putting a ring on it. Personally, my top choices remain Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, but I'm more than happy to see them and other contenders put to the test of making the sale.
That's not just prudence in avoiding a shotgun wedding with a candidate who ends up fatally flawed. It's also important that the party have a real debate on the issues - and a real debate on the issues can only happen if you have more than one plausible candidate. We've grown accustomed, the past two election cycles, to a demolition-derby approach to GOP primaries, in which the candidates compete to paint their opponents as unelectable and/or fatally compromised. That's politics, and we'll see some of the same in 2016, but if we have more than one plausible nominee, it becomes possible to actually get the voters to look at competing policy proposals and competing visions of what the party stands for. That process is how you get, not just a compelling candidate, but a compelling message, the kind of clear rationale for governing that neither Mitt Romney nor John McCain was ever really able to articulate.
The list of issues on which it's possible to picture the party going in more than one direction is a long one:
-Whether Obamacare should be replaced with a new comprehensive scheme that keeps some of its elements, or scrapped in favor of a far less ambitious and decentralized approach.
-Whether entitlements require fundamental reform or simply fixes to make them less immediately fiscally insolvent.
-Whether to alter the hybrid federal/state structure of Medicaid.
-Whether America should play a leading role worldwide in promoting democracy, nation-building in failed states, and stopping dictators from abusing their people and their neighbors, or pursue a less ambitious role in the world.
-Whether or not we should increase legal immigration and whether or not, and on what conditions, we should allow illegal aliens to remain legally in the U.S.
-Whether to roll back NSA surveillance on libertarian grounds or preserve it on security grounds.
-Whether to attempt fundamental reform of the tax code or simply tinker with existing rates.
-Whether to take the party in a direction that is more confrontational with big business and finance.
-Whether to use the levers of federal power to impose conservative or neoliberal solutions to education and social issues or let go of federal control.
-Whether to roll back federal laws against marijuana.
-Whether to use executive orders in domestic policy (as Obama has) or simply repeal Obama's and restore the use of such orders to their traditional role.
These are just a few examples, and there are others, on which there is a sufficient constituency within the GOP and the conservative movement to go in more than one direction, make more than one different choice. We can answer those questions, rather than simply defaulting to what our nominee wants, if we make the candidates compete for our votes. And we can do that only if the party hasn't settled on a coronation of one candidate two years before the primaries.
August 6, 2013
POLITICS: 73 Rules For Running For President As A Republican
We do not yet know who the Republican presidential nominee will be in 2016. We do not even know for certain who the candidates will be, although several are visibly positioning themselves to run. We all have our own ideas about who should run and what the substance of their platforms should be. But even leaving those aside, it's possible to draw some lessons from the past few GOP campaign cycles and offer some advice that any prospective candidate should heed, the sooner the better. Some of these rules are in a little tension with each other; nobody said running for President was easy. But most are simply experience and common sense.
1-Run because you think your ideas are right and you believe you would be the best president. Don't stay out because your chances are slim, and don't get in because someone else wants you to. Candidates who don't have a good reason for running or don't want to be there are a fraud on their supporters.
2-Ask yourself what you're willing to sacrifice or compromise on to win. If there's nothing important you'd sacrifice, don't run; you will lose. If there's nothing important you wouldn't, don't run; you deserve to lose.
3- If you don't like Republican voters, don't run.
4-Don't start a campaign if you're not prepared for the possibility that you might become the frontrunner. Stranger things have happened.
5-If you've never won an election before, go win one first. This won't be the first one you win.
6-Winning is what counts. Your primary and general election opponents will go negative, play wedge issues that work for them, and raise money wherever it can be found. If you aren't willing to do all three enthusiastically, you're going to be a high minded loser. Nobody who listens to the campaign-trail scolds wins. In the general election, if you don't convey to voters that you believe in your heart that your opponent is a dangerously misguided choice, you will lose.
7-Pick your battles, or they will be picked for you. You can choose a few unpopular stances on principle, but even the most principled candidates need to spend most of their time holding defensible ground. If you have positions you can't explain or defend without shooting yourself in the foot, drop them.
8-Don't be surprised when people who liked you before you run don't like you anymore. Prepare for it.
9-Be sure before you run that your family is on board with you running. They need to be completely committed, because it will be harder than they can imagine. Related: think of the worst possible thing anyone could say about the woman in your life you care about the most, and understand that it will be said.
10-You will be called a racist, regardless of your actual life history, behavior, beliefs or platform. Any effort to deny that you're a racist will be taken as proof that you are one. Accept it as the price of admission.
11-Have opposition research done on yourself. Have others you trust review the file. Be prepared to answer for anything that comes up in that research. If there's anything that you think will sink you, don't run.
12-Ask yourself if there's anything people will demand to know about you, and get it out there early. If your tax returns or your business partnerships are too important to disclose, don't run. (We might call this the Bain Capital Rule).
13-Realize that your record, and all the favors you've done, will mean nothing if your primary opponent appears better funded.
14-Run as who you are, not who you think the voters want. There's no substitute for authenticity.
15-Each morning, before you read the polls or the newspapers, ask yourself what you want to talk about today. Talk about that.
16-If you never give the media new things to talk about, they'll talk about things you don't like.
17-Never assume the voters are stupid or foolish, but also don't assume they are well-informed. Talk to them the way you'd explain something to your boss for the first time.
18-Handwrite the parts of your platform you want voters to remember on a 3x5 index card. If it doesn't fit, your message is too complicated. If you can't think of what to start with, don't run.
19-Voters may be motivated by hope, fear, resentment, greed, altriusm or any number of other emotions, but they want to believe they are voting for something, not against someone. Give them some positive cause to rally around beyond defeating the other guy.
20-Optimism wins. If you are going to be a warrior, be a happy warrior. Anger turns people off, so laugh at yourself and the other side whenever possible, even in a heated argument.
21-Ideas don't run for President; people do. If people don't like you, they won't listen to you.
22-Your biography is the opening act. Your policy proposals and principles are the headliner. Never confuse the two. The voters know the difference.
23-Show, don't tell. Proclaiming your conservatism is meaningless, and it's harder to sell to the unconverted than policy proposals and accomplishments that are based on conservative thinking.
24-Being a consistent conservative will help you more than pandering to nuts on the Right. If you can't tell the difference between the two, don't run.
25-Winning campaigns attract crazy and stupid people as supporters; you can't get a majority without them. This does not mean you should have crazy or stupid people as your advisers or spokespeople.
26-Principles inspire; overly complex, specific plans are a pinata that can get picked to death. If you're tied down defending Point 7 of a 52 point plan that will never survive contact with the Congress anyway you lose. Complex plans need to be able to be boiled down to the principles and incentives they will operate on. The boiling is the key part.
27-Be ready and able to explain how your plans benefit individual voters. Self-interest is a powerful thing in a democracy.
28-If you haven't worked out the necessary details of a policy, don't be rushed into releasing it just because Ezra Klein thinks you don't have a plan. Nobody will care that you didn't have a new tax plan ready 14 months before Election Day.
29-Don't say things that are false just because the CBO thinks they're true.
30-If you don't have a position on an issue, say that you're still studying the issue. Nobody needs an opinion on everything at the drop of a hat, and you'll get in less trouble.
31-When in doubt, go on the attack against the Democratic frontrunner rather than your primary opponents. Never forget that you are auditioning to run the general election against the Democrat, not just trying to be the least-bad Republican.
32-Attacking your opponents from the left, or using left-wing language, is a mistake no matter how tempting the opportunity. It makes Republican voters associate you with people they don't like. This is how both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry ended up fumbling the Bain Capital attack.
33-Be prepared to defend every attack you make, no matter where your campaign made it. Nobody likes a rabbit puncher. Tim Pawlenty's attack on Romneycare dissolved the instant he refused to repeat it to Romney's face, and so did his campaign.
34-If your position has changed, explain why the old one was wrong. People want to know how you learn. If you don't think the old one was wrong, just inconvenient, the voters will figure that out.
35-If a debate or interview question is biased or ridiculous, point that out. Voters want to know you can smell a trap. This worked for Newt Gingrich every single time he did it. It worked when George H.W. Bush did it to Dan Rather. It will work for you.
36-Cultivate sympathetic media, from explicitly conservative outlets to fair-minded local media. But even in the primaries, you need to engage periodically with hostile mainstream media outlets to stay in practice and prove to primary voters that you can hold your ground outside the bubble.
37-Refuse to answer horserace questions, and never refer to "the base." Leave polls to the pollsters and punditry to the pundits. Mitt Romney's 47% remark was a textbook example of why candidates should not play pundit.
38-Hecklers are an opportunity, not a nuisance. If you can't win an exchange with a heckler, how are you going to win one with a presidential candidate? If you're not sure how it's done, go watch some of Chris Christie's YouTube collection.
39-Everywhere you go, assume a Democrat is recording what you say. This is probably the case.
40-Never whine about negative campaigning. If it's false, fight back; if not, just keep telling your own story. Candidates who are complaining about negative campaigning smell like losing.
41-"You did too" and "you started it" get old in a hurry. Use them sparingly.
42-If you find yourself explaining how the Senate works, stop talking. If you find yourself doing this regularly, stop running.
43-Never say "the only poll that matters is on Election Day" because only losers say that, and anyway even Election Day starts a month early now. But never forget that polls can and do change.
44-Voters do not like obviously insincere pandering, but you cannot win an election by refusing on principle to meet the voters where they are. That includes, yes, addressing Hispanic and other identity groups with a plan for sustained outreach and an explanation of how they benefit from your agenda. Build your outreach team, including liaisons and advertising in Spanish-language media, early and stay engaged as if this was the only way to reach the voters. For some voters, it is.
45-Post something as close to daily as possible on YouTube featuring yourself - daily message, clips of your best moments campaigning, vignettes from the trail. You can't visit every voter, but you can visit every voter's computer or phone.
46-Never suggest that anybody would not make a good vice president. Whatever they may say, everyone wants to believe they could be offered the job.
47-If you're not making enemies among liberals, you're doing it wrong.
48- If you don't have a plausible strategy for winning conservative support, you're in the wrong party's primary.
49-The goal is to win the election, not just the primary. Never box yourself in to win a primary in a way that will cause you to lose the election.
50-Don't bother making friends in the primary who won't support you in the general. Good press for being the reasonable Republican will evaporate when the choice is between you and a Democrat.
51-Some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for you in the general, but not in the primary. Some will threaten to sit out the general. Ignore them. You can't make everyone happy. Run a strong general election campaign and enough of them will come your way.
52-Don't actively work to alienate your base during the primary. Everyone expects you to do it in the general, and you gain nothing for it in the primary.
53-Don't save cash; it's easier to raise money after a win than to win with cash you saved while losing. But make sure your organization can run on fumes now and then during dry spells.
54-If you're not prepared for a debate, don't go. Nobody ever had their campaign sunk by skipping a primary debate. But looking unprepared for a debate can, as Rick Perry learned, create a bad impression that even a decade-long record can't overcome.
55-The Iowa Straw Poll is a trap with no upside. Avoid it. Michele Bachmann won the Straw Poll and still finished last in Iowa.
56-Ballot access rules are important. Devote resources early to learning, complying with them in every state. Mitt Romney didn't have to face Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in Virginia - even though both of them live in Virginia - because they didn't do their homework gathering signatures.
57-If you can't fire, don't hire. In fact, don't run.
58-Hire people who are loyal to your message and agenda, and you won't have to worry about their loyalty to your campaign.
59-Don't put off doing thorough opposition research on your opponents. By the time you know who they are, the voters may have decided they're somebody else.
60-You can afford to effectively skip one early primary. You can't skip more than that. You are running for a nomination that will require you to compete nationally. (Call this the Rudy Giuliani Rule).
61-Use polling properly. Good polling will not tell you what to believe, but will tell you how to sell what you already believe.
62-Data and GOTV are not a secret sauce for victory. But ignoring them is a great way to get blindsided.
63-Don't plan to match the Democrats' operations and technology, because then you're just trying to win the last election. Plan to beat it.
64-Political consultants are like leeches. Small numbers, carefully applied, can be good for you. Large numbers will suck you dry, kill you, and move on to another host without a backward look.
65-Never hire consultants who want to use you to remake the party. They're not Republicans and you're not a laboratory rat.
66-This is the 21st century. If you wouldn't want it in a TV ad, don't put it in a robocall or a mailer. Nothing's under the radar anymore.
67-Always thank your friends when they back you up. Gratitude is currency.
68-Every leak from your campaign should help your campaign. Treat staffers who leak unfavorable things to the press the way you would treat staffers who embezzle your money. Money's easier to replace.
69-Getting distance from your base in the general on ancillary issues won't hurt you; they'll suck it up and independents will like it. Attacking your base on core issues will alienate your most loyal voters and confuse independents.
70-If you are convinced that a particular running mate will save you from losing, resign yourself to losing because you've already lost.
71-Don't pick a VP who has never served in Congress or run for president in his or her own right. Even the best Governors have a learning curve with national politics, and even the best foreign policy minds have a learning curve with electoral politics. And never steal from the future to pay for the present. Your running mate should not be a Republican star in the making who isn't ready for prime time. In retrospect, Sarah Palin's career was irreparably damaged by being elevated too quickly to the national level.
72-Never, ever, ever take anything for granted. Every election, people lose primary or general elections because they were complacent.
73-Make a few rules of your own. Losing campaigns imitate; winning campaigns innovate.
July 17, 2013
POLITICS: Fear of the Missing White Voters
RealClearPolitics election analyst Sean Trende has come under coordinated red-hot rhetorical fire from the Left for his thesis that one of the major causes of Mitt Romney's loss in 2012 was that a disproportionate number of white voters - mostly downscale whites outside the South - stayed home. Much of the criticism of Trende's thesis is based on deliberately misreading his policy prescriptions - but it's also based on a simpler failure to grasp the basic math behind his calculations. Like any exercise in reading exit polls and census data, Trende's assumptions (which he lays out explicitly) can be critiqued by people who are serious about understanding the issue; there are no definitive answers in this area other than final vote counts. But the vehemence directed at Trende's number-crunching suggests a Democratic establishment that fears honest debate intruding in its narrative of an inevitable, permanent Democratic majority built on a permanently racially polarized electorate.
Given the intense and growing racial polarization of the Obama-era electorate, it is sadly necessary to look at the race of voters to make sense of what happened in 2012 and what it says about the two parties' coalitions going forward; on this, analysts on all sides agree. Indeed, those who argue for a long-term Democratic majority do so primarily on the basis of maintenance of current levels of racial division. It is also agreed among all analysts that turnout was down in 2012 from 2008; the raw numbers show that about 2.2 million fewer people voted, while the population grew. The issue is how to measure the rates of turnout among each racial group.
Who The Missing Voters Were
Trende's original thesis was based on the initial exit polls released immediately after the election as compared to Census Bureau population estimates, and developed in a four part series beginning last month. Naturally, given the nature of the data sets involved, his numbers changed as more precise sources of data became available. He conducted a simple five-step exercise:
1. Look at voter turnout - total and by race - in the 2008 election;
2. Look at Census data to determine the growth of eligible voters in each racial category;
3. Project what the 2012 electorate would have looked like if each category turned out at the same rates as in 2008, but adjusted for the 2012 population;
4. Look at voter turnout - total and by race - in the 2012 election;
5. Compare Step 3 to Step 4 to determine how each group's rates of turnout changed from 2008 to 2012.
This is not a controversial methodology; total population growth and total election turnout are hard data, and the only real issues are which of various Census reports you use to compute population growth by racial category, and which of various election sources you use to compute turnout by racial group. With a little cutting and pasting to combine his two charts, here is what Trende's June analysis concluded:
In other words, compared to 2008 levels of turnout, white voter turnout was down far more than non-white voter turnout (6.2% vs 3.8% for black voters and 1.6% for Hispanic voters), and there were approximately 6 million "missing white voters," as compared to about 871,000 black and Hispanic voters. Trende also finds about 1.3 million missing "other" voters ("other" being mainly mixed-race voters, as well as Native American, South Asian, and other groups - not necessarily a bloc as heavily Democratic as black or Hispanic voters). The "other" group is a statistically significant part of the analysis, but, as Trende's later analysis shows, that last figure may be an anomaly due largely to mathematical rounding issues, without which the number of "missing" non-white voters in total drops in half when you use later, more accurate data - more on that below.
There is one error in Trende's computation, which brings his total short of the 129.2 million votes cast in 2012, and that's Asian voters (who have broken heavily Democratic in recent elections after being a GOP voting bloc in the Reagan-HW Bush years). Trende finds about 70,000 Asian voters missing, when in fact Asian turnout was up enough that he should be showing about 575,000 extra Asian voters (I contacted Trende and he confirmed this). Asian voters are an oft-overlooked and growing piece of the puzzle, and they still turn out in very, very low numbers compared to their (still-small) share of the US population, but reaching out to them is an important consideration going forward. In any event, when you adjust for the proper counting of Asian voters, you find that it actually strengthens Trende's thesis that white voter turnout was down relative to turnout of the major non-white voting blocs.
Where The Missing Voters Were
Trende also produced a map showing where the missing voters were most likely to be found, although the map can't break them out by race; the areas in blue on the map represent the biggest drops in turnout, red represents growth in turnout compared to population growth.
As you can see from the map, a good number of the "missing" voters were in uncontested states like New York and Oklahoma where they would not have made a difference. And the big chunks of deep blue in New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota (as well as the heavy dropoff in turnout in Alaska, not shown on the map) are consistent with a dramatic decline in Native American voter turnout.
But a significant number of others were in Pennsylvania (Obama by 309,840 votes out of 5.75 million cast), Ohio (Obama by 166,272 votes out of 5.59 million cast), Michigan (Obama by 449,313 votes out of 4.74 million cast), and Minnesota (Obama by 225,942 votes out of 2.94 million cast). This is consistent with Trende's conclusion that - while these voters were not, in and of themselves, the cause of Romney's loss - they were a contributing factor large enough to consider, and one that may loom even larger in a closer future contest between a better Republican candidate and a Democrat who has less visceral appeal to non-white voters. (The lower turnout throughout the Northeast also surely reflects the influence of Hurricane Sandy).
The White-Voter Path To GOP Victory
Later in his series, Trende moved on to a second thesis: that it's possible - not likely, but possible - that depending how turnout develops (eg, if African-American turnout and voting patterns revert to pre-Obama levels), that the GOP could start winning national elections on the basis of winning a growing share of the white vote without eroding the Democrats' hold on non-white voters. As Trende notes, while this scenario requires some leaps from where we stand today, white voters have been trending gradually more Republican:
Democrats liked to mock the GOP as the "Party of White People" after the 2012 elections. But from a purely electoral perspective, that's not a terrible thing to be. Even with present population projections, there are likely to be a lot of non-Hispanic whites in this country for a very long time. Relatively slight changes among their voting habits can forestall massive changes among the non-white population for a very long while. The very white baby boom generation is just hitting retirement age, and younger whites, while unsurprisingly more Democratic than the baby boomers (who, you may recall, supported George McGovern), still voted for Romney overall.
Nowhere does Trende argue for the GOP to turn up its nose at Hispanic outreach, or counsel a harder line on immigration; rather, he argues simply that there are enough different variables that it's unwise to write off the GOP just yet on the basis of mathematical and demographic determinism, even if the GOP does defeat the current iteration of "comprehensive immigration reform." There is more than one way to build a winning electoral coalition.
The main salvo against Trende can be found in a belligerent ThinkProgress blog post by Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz entitled, "No, Republicans, 'Missing' White Voters Won't Save You." Stripping away the rhetorical overkill ("GOP phone home! Your missing white voters have been found, and it turns out they weren't really missing"), the main point of contention is that Teixeira and Abramowitz simply reject the notion that turnout was down at differential rates:
Trende was using an estimate of around 2.7 million additional eligible whites between 2008 and 2012. That's wrong: Census data show an increase of only 1.5 million white eligibles....[U]sing Census data on eligible voters plus exit poll data on shares of votes by race, we calculate that turnout went down by about equal amounts among white and minority voters (3.4 and 3.2 percentage points, respectively).
This attack on Trende was predictably amplified by Paul Krugman, who doesn't seem to have even read Trende's essays, calling them a "Whiter Shade of Fail"; Krugman concludes on the basis of reading the ThinkProgress blog post that "the missing-white-voter story is a myth." (Josh Marshall takes a similar line).
But careful reading is your friend. And a careful reading shows why Teixeira and Abramowitz are long on vitriol - because they are short on trustworthy data.
The immediate problem here is that Teixeira and Abramowitz don't show their work to explain how they come up with these percentages, so a certain amount of deductive detective work is required to figure out what they did (not making your computations transparent is generally not a sign of confidence in your data). From the links in their post, it appears that the main issue is that they and Trende are using different Census Bureau reports for their data. Also, critically, Teixeira and Abramowitz don't break out turnout among the component elements of "non-white" voters, who they treat as a monolithic mass.
The CPS Bait and Switch
As Trende observes, Teixeira and Abramowitz "look at a different data set -- the CPS [Current Population Survey] data," a monthly survey in which people self-report employment data and (after the election) self-reported voting participation. Trende, by contrast, used Census Bureau population estimates derived from the actual 2010 Census.
If you take it at face value, however, the CPS survey has a serious flaw that should be obvious even to a Nobel Prize winner:
[T]he CPS data conclude that there were 1.4 million more Hispanics who voted in 2012 than in 2008, 547,000 more Asians, 1.7 million more blacks, and 2 million fewer whites. That works out to a total of 1.8 million more votes cast in 2012 than 2008, according to the CPS survey.
In short: the CPS turnout figures cannot possibly be correct. It's like a preseason baseball prediction where the whole league is over .500. It's mathematically impossible. Now, it's certainly possible that CPS is wrong proportionally - that is, that it overreported the turnout of all groups equally. It's also certainly possible that it's not proportionate. But there's no way from looking at CPS alone to know, so relying on it as an authoritative source without caveat or explanation is a very questionable choice.
Teixeira and Abramowitz stake their whole argument on the CPS - but then they use it selectively. As noted above, the actual turnout figures produced by CPS support the idea that white turnout was down in absolute terms, while black, Hispanic and Asian turnout was up. If they broke these groups out individually, as they appear in the CPS data itself, that would destroy their entire argument that turnout was down equally across all groups. So they do two things to cover their tracks. One is to clump these groups together with "other" non-whites; but as Trende notes, "the large mass of missing 'other' voters is probably a rounding issue. This isn't a minor point; those voters represent 60 percent of all the non-whites that Teixeira and Abramowitz are discussing."
Second, as Trende demonstrates, Teixeira and Abramowitz are only able to use the CPS data to their advantage by mixing and matching it with other sources (specifically, exit polls) - if you use only the CPS, "the CPS data actually show a larger decline in the white vote than do the exit polls." (Trende, because he's using non-election-related Census data, has to use the exit polls for his turnout figures - but if Teixeira and Abramowitz think CPS is the more reliable source, why do they avoid using it to compute turnout?)
There is no perfect answer to these questions. The Census is the best possible population figure, but the interstitial estimates involve some inherent guesswork. Exit polls may be biased in who answers them, and the CPS is obviously biased to over-report voting and may be biased in who over-reports; we can't know. (One difference being that exit poll respondents don't know who won the election when they respond; CPS respondents do, so there may be a possible bias towards overreporting by non-voting supporters of the winner. But that's speculation.) What we do know is that Trende has put his methodological choices on the table and they are reasonable ones; Teixeira and Abramowitz have not, nor offered any defense for their methods, nor explained how they can square their theory of perfectly proportional decline in turnout across groups with the fact that the very source they use shows the opposite. Under those circumstances, it's not hard to decide who to trust.
The Wider Universe of Missing Voters
For all the heat over Trende's computations, it should not be forgotten that the "missing white voters" are only the difference in turnout patterns between 2008 and 2012 - both elections in which uninspiring and poorly-organized GOP campaigns faced off against Barack Obama (a uniquely inspiring figure to non-white voters due to his status as the first non-white President), and the first of which - the baseline - already involved a uniquely bad political environment for Republicans. In fact, voter turnout is a volatile variable that changes from one election to another; while it can be useful to perform an exercise like Trende's, it requires a serious failure of imagination to regard the 2008 and 2012 turnout environments as the outer boundaries of potential voter turnout.
How many voters are "missing" depends very much what your baseline is - a baseline that never stops moving. It's debatable exactly how many eligible voters there are at any given time (different sources use different measurements) but consider that Michael McDonald of George Mason University (on whom Teixeira and Abramowitz rely) figures a "voting eligible population" of 221,925,820 in 2012 - which means that compared to the entire universe of eligible voters, there weren't six or eight million missing voters, there were 92.7 million missing voters, 40% more than the total that voted for Obama. On the other hand, McDonald calculates that, while 58.2% of eligible voters voted in 2012, only 51.7% voted in 1996 when Bill Clinton ran for re-election. If you take McDonald's figures and use 1996, the last election with an incumbent Democrat on the ballot two years after a GOP rout in the Congressional midterms, as your baseline, suddenly you're not talking about missing voters at all - you're asking where 8.4 million extra voters came from.
I do not, of course, mean to suggest that there were 92 million voters that either campaign could reasonably have expected to turn out. My point is, the dropoff of some 6 million eligible white voters and 1.6 million eligible non-white voters as compared to the 2008 baseline is just one segment of a much broader universe of eligible non-voters, some of whom will doubtless be turned out by the winning presidential campaign in 2016 or 2020, just as some of the folks who turned out for Obama, Romney or McCain will surely drop out of the process in the next two elections even if they remain eligible voters. Turnout as a whole can be volatile over time, as McDonald's estimates show:
Turnout rates dropped as more previously ineligible voters entered the system, particularly after the voting age was reduced; it spiked in 1992 when Ross Perot's campaign offered an outlet to voters unhappy with both parties, and again in 2004 and 2008 as the Bush and Obama campaigns found distinctly different paths to bring previously disaffected voters to the polls. The increasing volatility of turnout rates in recent years suggests that improvements in technology, combined with changes in voting practices (e.g., early voting) may be improving campaigns' ability to locate new voters. And there's a second, equally important piece of the puzzle that I frequently stress: the two parties' bases, turnout methods and reasons for appealing to voters are asymmetrical. Look at this chart of the vote totals of the Democratic and Republican tickets in presidential races between 1976 and 2012:
The Democrat vote grew steadily year to year throughout this period, consistent with the view (implicit in all of Teixeira's analyses and those who follow a similar demographics-are-everything approach) that the Democrats are mainly a collection of interest groups that grow with the populations they represent. The Republican vote, by contrast, was much more volatile (and susceptible to being drawn off by dissenters like Perot), reflecting the fact that Republicans are a more ideological party and therefore more dependent on the issue environment (particularly the presence of national security as a major issue) and the quality of the party's candidate and platform to draw votes. Candidates and campaigns still matter, and matter more to Republicans. It's entirely plausible to think the GOP will run better candidates and better campaigns in the future - that the McCain and Romney campaigns were not the best of all possible Republican campaigns.
Specifically, we are not so far removed from George W. Bush and his Karl Rove-led political operation figuring out how to increase the GOP vote from 39 million voters in 1992 and 1996 to 50 million in 2000 and 62 million in 2004, a feat that astounded liberal observers at the time and upended conventional wisdom that the GOP could only succeed in a low-turnout environment. The 2004 election came after Ruy Teixeira and John Judis had published their "Emerging Democratic Majority" book in 2002, and Teixeira spent the 2004 election arguing so vociferously that the polls were overestimating Republican turnout that Mickey Kaus acidly remarked the day after the election "Bush 51, Kerry 48: Pollster Ruy Teixeira demands that these raw numbers be weighted to reflect party I.D.!"
Teixeira wasn't the first or last election analyst to assume that dramatic changes in the turnout environment were implausible; many observers on the right, myself and Trende included, spent a good deal of 2012 questioning how Obama could recreate the dramatic shift away from 2004's turnout that we saw in 2008. The point here is the danger of assuming that present trends will continue unabated forever.
In short, we're discussing the current margins - of the 92.7 million eligible voters who passed on the Obama-Romney contest, around 9% of those would have shown up at 2008 levels of turnout; of the 129.2 million who did vote, around 6% of those would have stayed home at 1996 levels of turnout. But until we run the next election, we don't know how far each side can push those margins, or with which populations of eligible but not certain voters. The history of American politics suggests that we have not seen the last new development that will surprise observers of the political scene.
Ruy Teixeira's Methods Seem Familiar
Reading through Texiera's flailing assault on Trende, I felt a strange sense of deja vu - because I had read this before, in Teixeira's review of Jonathan Last's excellent book What to Expect When No One's Expecting. And as with his dismissal of Trende, Teixeira's review was greeted by the usual head-nodders on the Left as an excuse not to deal with Last's arguments but rather dismiss them out of hand.
Last's book develops his argument that birth rates in the United States and around the world are falling to a point that threatens a declining population, that many changes in society, economics and government can flow from such a demographic shift, and that a lot of these could be very, very bad. Last's book notes that Hispanics (particularly recent arrivals to the U.S.) have been the only major group having enough children to keep the United States from falling below "replacement level" birthrates, but that trends among Hispanics suggest that they may also fall back towards the rest of the U.S. population over time. Finally, he argues that, while immigration has helped the U.S. stave off the more dire declines in population faced by countries like Japan, Russia and Southern Europe, there are downsides to relying too heavily on new immigrants to replace the native-born population, and reasons (especially given Mexican birthrates) to suspect that a steady supply of immigrants may dry up down the road.
Teixeira applies the same rhetorical sledgehammer to Last's carefully-researched, copiously footnoted and even-handedly argued book that he deployed against Trende: "If Last's claims sound hysterical and overwrought, that is because they are....If Last's claims about the impending population crash are fanciful, his claim that fertility decline will lead to economic collapse is completely ridiculous." But as with his attack on Trende, Teixeira's assertions don't stand up well under scrutiny.
To begin with, Teixeira's review of the book is astoundingly parochial: something like half of the book and scores of its examples (both anecdote and country-level data) look at birthrates around the world and in history, and a good deal of Last's argument addresses how the U.S. will be impacted by demographic changes in other countries, some of them very dramatically underway. But aside from one hand-waving reference to UN projections (more on which below) and a reference (which Teixeira refuses to engage) to Last's reliance on slowing Mexican population growth, Teixeira completely ignores everything happening outside the United States and all the book's discussion of history as an example.
Teixeira accuses Last of being "truly the man with a hammer who sees nails everywhere," yet the entirety of his critique of Last's solutions is to ask, "why not support immigration reform, as well as generally higher immigration levels?" and accuse him of being an immigration restrictionist who "just isn't very interested in seeing more immigrants in the country." It seems Teixeira is the one who only has a hammer, given that the argument for more immigration and growing political power for Democratic-leaning Hispanics is also the entirety of his attack on Trende, his attack on the 2004 polls and the 2002 book that made his name. As Last noted in response, if you actually read the book, you'd see that Last is not arguing against more immigration, just explaining why it's not the whole answer to every problem.
As for number-crunching, Teixeira didn't even bother to grapple with Last's marshalling and sifting of the demographic data; he just appeals to authority:
The Census Bureau does project that the fertility rate will diminish, but only by a modest .09 over the next 50 years. And while the fertility rate is likely to remain below the replacement rate for the next 50 years, the Census Bureau expects us to add another 100 million people by 2060 due to immigration and "demographic momentum." (Despite sub-replacement fertility rates, a relatively large proportion of the population will be in prime reproductive years for decades to come.) So much for population collapse.
At least this time, Teixeira looked at what the Census Bureau had to say. But he offers no reason why we would expect declining fertility rates to reverse themselves down the road, and while Last explains the implausibility of the UN's 2010 projection (which represented an abrupt and not credibly explained about-face from its prior stance), Teixeira incuriously accepts it at face value and then asserts these inherently speculative projections as fact. Last himself admits that many of the future projections involve uncertainty - but the past and current trends are hard facts. As Last notes, this is far from the only area in which Teixiera just hand-waves whole detailed sections of the book - unlike Teixeira, Last actually considers the experiences of other countries to see what works and what does not, rather than just blithely assuming that demographic trends will reverse themselves of their own accord.
Liberal pundits and Democratic activists - and the line between the two can be hard to locate - have increasingly overinvested in two excuses for insulating themselves in a bubble: that no data can possibly support any arguments by analysts on the Right, who can be dismissed with an ad hominem, a quick hand-wave and a lot of nodding, and that demographics alone will deliver them a permanent electoral majority without the need for their side to actually win any more arguments. These are hazardous trends, and the imbalance between Teixeira's rhetoric in dealing with pundits like Trende and Last and the actual substance of his critiques is an illustration of the dangers of the need to sustain this illusion at all costs to a writer's own credibility.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:30 PM | Politics 2012 | Politics 2013 | Politics 2016 | Comments (2)
March 21, 2013
POLITICS: Ahead of His Time
Those of us who supported Rick Perry over Mitt Romney in 2012 can take a small measure of vindication in this look at how Perry was ahead of the curve on immigration, education, entitlements and other issues in terms of anticipating where the GOP would be headed next. That's without even mentioning Perry's tax plan or his stances on Turkey and Syria.
If Perry had been the nominee in 2012, it's hard to see what states he loses that Romney won; the worst that happens is that he ends up more or less with the same electoral results as Romney and possibly a worse popular vote margin. But how the race's dynamics unfold? That's unknowable. On the upside, we're finally done with Romney, and can have a Romney-less contested primary for the first time since 2000.
Perry has an outstanding record and resume, but my sense is that he's best off playing Goldwater to the next nominee's Reagan rather than trying to run again himself. There's plenty of younger talent ready to go, and he'd have an uphill battle to unmake his first impression.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:39 PM | Politics 2012 | Politics 2013 | Politics 2016 | Comments (5)