Tag Archives: polls

Facing Reality

At this moment, it looks as if Joe Biden will win. But no matter who is President when the smoke clears and the votes are all counted–if they are– we learned some things on Tuesday. And the lessons weren’t pleasant.

The most obvious–and ultimately least consequential–is that polling is not nearly as “scientific” as the pollsters think. The effort to figure out what went so wrong will undoubtedly occupy pundits and nerds for a long time.

The far more painful lesson concerns the nature of our fellow-Americans.

I read about the thuggery leading up to the election–the “good old boys” in pickups ramming Biden’s bus, the desecration of a Jewish graveyard in Michigan with “MAGA” and “Trump” spray paint, the consistent, nation-wide efforts to suppress urban and minority voters–but until election night, I’d convinced myself that those responsible represented a very small segment of the population.

I think what I am feeling now is what Germany’s Jews must have felt when they realized the extent of Hitler’s support.

I am not engaging in hyperbole: the research in the wake of 2016 is unambiguous. Trump supporters are overwhelmingly motivated by racial and religious animus and grievance. White nationalist fervor has swept both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, but it has taken firmer hold here. The QAnon conspiracy has clear roots in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and America’s racism–our original sin–has provided fertile ground for the alt-right sympathizers who defend tearing brown children from their parents, treating both immigrants and citizens of color as disposable, and keeping women in “our place.”

Trump didn’t invent these people, but he has activated them. Indeed, he is one of them.

I thought it was tragic when Trump’s approval ratings forced me to recognize that more than a third of America fell into that category. I find it inconceivable–but inarguable and infinitely depressing–that the actual number is close to half.

Evidently, the America I thought I inhabited never really existed. I’m in mourning for the country I believed was mine.

Omens…

Our ancestors looked for omens in animal entrails. My nerves–already stressed to the breaking point as we approach Tuesday’s election–sent me on a somewhat more modern search, which may or may not be more accurate.

The polls, of course, are comforting–except when they aren’t. I compulsively visit FiveThirtyEight.com. daily, where the odds, at least, strongly favor Biden. But then I remember how strongly they favored Hillary…

I look at the unprecedented number of Republican defectors: not just the Lincoln Project and Republicans for Biden, and the other groups out there doing television ads, but the 20  Republican  former U.S. Attorneys who warned last week that Trump endangers the rule of law, the 600 prominent Republicans (including numerous former office-holders) who’ve endorsed Biden, the 700+ Intelligence and national security officers who signed the letter I posted last week, warning that Trump is a threat to America’s security and place in the world…and numerous others.

Then there are those “never before” newspaper endorsements.

The conventional wisdom is that newspaper endorsements have little to no effect on voters in big national races, but Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has racked up a string of first-ever endorsements from a wide array of publications, including Nature, Scientific American, The New England Journal of Medicine, the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día, and Surfer. On Tuesday, Biden got another one, from USA Today, one of the largest U.S. newspapers by circulation.

USA Today (or “McPaper” as we detractors call it) has an ideologically diverse editorial board, but the board has unanimously endorsed Biden.

“If this were a choice between two capable major party nominees who happened to have opposing ideas, we wouldn’t choose sides,” USA Today’s editorial board said. “But this is not a normal election, and these are not normal times. This year, character, competence, and credibility are on the ballot. Given Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, so, too, is the future of America’s democracy.”

As of last week, at least 119 daily and weekly newspaper editorial boards had formally backed Biden. Probably the most surprising was The New Hampshire Union Leader, which hadn’t backed a Democrat in over a century.

Culture change is harder to quantify, but public opinion seems to favor progressive positions. Seventy percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage while only 28 percent oppose it, according to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. That’s the highest level of support the institute has ever recorded for same-sex marriage. The percentage of Americans who support a woman’s right to control her own reproduction is up, too (Pew says it’s 61%), as is the percentage supporting Black Lives Matter.

The fact that nearly 80 million people have already cast a ballot is an even harder sign to decipher–yet I look at the long lines, many if not all clearly representative of American diversity, and the unprecedented number of young voters, and I have trouble believing that they demonstrate an outpouring of support for Trump. I look, too, at the  GOP’s rush to confirm a rigidly ideological judge before the election as evidence of their desperation and their own clear belief that they’re losing…..

All of this should comfort me. It doesn’t. 

For one thing, there are columns like this one.

And even if Biden wins, who knows what this lunatic and his corrupt and thuggish enablers will do if the results aren’t overwhelmingly clear on Tuesday? What additional harm can he do between the election and January 21st, even if he accepts a loss? We’ve seen the brutishness, brazen criminality and irrational behavior of his supporters, egged on and encouraged by this embodiment of their rage and grievance. Will they take to the streets?

The only thing I’m sure of is that I am too old and way too tired for this. Maybe I should look for some animal entrails…

 

 

 

Encouraging Signs

As we count down to Election Day, I am looking for signs of sanity. One of those signs is the number of Republicans coming out publicly against Trump.

It isn’t just  the Lincoln Group or Vote Vets or Republicans Against Trump. It goes way beyond Cindy McCain, or the letter signed by 500+ former national security officials whose number included numerous Republicans.

Political science research tells us that some people affiliate with a political party because  they agree with the party’s basic approach to the issues, but others join because they identify with the people in that party. To an extent, that’s understandable; humans are hard-wired to be tribal, to prefer to associate with those they see as their “own kind” rather than those who register as “other.”

When you think about it, America’s entire history–our struggle for civic equality– might be characterized as an effort to develop a more inclusive understanding of who we are talking about when we use the word “we”–an effort to enlarge our definition of who qualifies as a member of the “tribe” we call American.

Admittedly, we have a long way to go.

Our current political tribalism, abetted by media bubbles and geographic sorting, is extreme. Political scientist Lilliana Mason argues that “A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preferences as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood and favorite grocery store.” Democrat and Republican have become our new mega-identities.

Because American tribalism is so pronounced, this election presents the remaining thoughtful members of the Republican “tribe” with a wrenching dilemma: do they ignore the multiple dangers posed by a lawless and corrupt President of their own party, and elevate partisan loyalty over all else, or do they place the good of the country above partisan advantage?

In last week’s Indianapolis Business Journal (behind a paywall) two notable local Republicans–John Mutz and Scott Newman—opted for country over party, endorsing Joe Biden and arguing that Trump should be defeated.

Mutz and Newman joined an unprecedented number of “defectors” nationally–including Indiana’s Dan Coats, who served as Director of National Intelligence and has been quoted as saying he believes Putin “has something” on Trump. (Wikipedia has an impressively long entry titled List of Republicans Who Oppose Trump). For people who have been lifetime Republicans—who have campaigned as Republicans, held office as Republicans, and embraced what used to be Republican ideals—people whose friends and families remain devoted to the Republican “tribe,” a decision to publicly endorse Joe Biden has to be incredibly difficult.

The behaviors that have prompted all of these defections are too numerous to list. I have previously characterized the Trump administration as a combination of the Mafia and the Keystone Kops—the degree of self-dealing and shamelessly criminal behavior has been matched only by the daily displays of incompetence. (One of my favorite FB memes is “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA”)

Most of the Republicans who have publicly “defected” are pundits or previous office-holders whose partisan allegiance was rooted in political ideology: preference for free markets, fiscal restraint, limited but effective governance. That today’s GOP no longer embraces any of those principles became too obvious to ignore this year, when the party didn’t even bother to produce a platform.

The Republican Party I belonged to for 35 years no longer exists, and a chilling White Nationalism too obvious to ignore characterizes what remains.

If the survey research and polling are correct, a majority of Americans agree with Mutz and Newman and strongly disapprove of Trump. Assuming a free and fair election—something we cannot, unfortunately, take for granted—the task for Republican defectors will be to rebuild their party into an adult, sane, non-racist GOP. America desperately needs two responsible, thoughtful parties with contending, evidence-based ideas about what constitutes workable public policy.

What we don’t need are tribes fighting for the dominance of male “Christian” Americans with white skin.

Indulging My Confirmation Bias….

Oh come on–we all do it. Call it “cherry picking” or “confirmation bias” or just closed-mindedness, most of us scan information sources for items that tell us what we want to hear.

As the Trump Administration continues its daily assault on reason, ethics and democracy, and as evidence continues to emerge confirming its rampant criminality, the lack of movement in the polls becomes more and more worrisome. At 538.com, the average of polls measuring Presidential approval has shown virtually no change for months; some 54% disapprove and around 40% still approve.

I know that even the most sophisticated pollsters encounter all kinds of problems–and that too much reliance on their results is misleading. Figuring out which voters have cell phones or landlines, the dramatic decline in response rates, difficulty in determining the identity of likely voters (especially in atypical times), and other methodological challenges make polling a fraught exercise.

That said, the thought that four out of ten Americans actually approve of Trump’s performance is terrifying.( I know that level of approval is considered abysmally low historically, but this is not a “normal” horrible President.)

So when I saw this headline on a post at 538.com.--Trump May be Even More Unpopular Than His Approval Ratings Show–  I immediately clicked on it.

Polls have consistently shown that President Trump is pretty unpopular, with only about 42 percent of the American public approving of the job he is doing as president. These numbers are much lower than what one might expect given the bustling economy.

But does the standard presidential approval question actually capture what voters think of Trump’s job performance? There are several reasons it might not tell the full story. For one, in this hyper-partisan era, presidential approval numbers have become increasingly polarized and don’t move around all that much, so they may now say more about which “side” people are on (pro-Trump or anti-Trump, Republican or Democrat) than voters’ actual evaluation of how the president is doing.

In order to get what they described as a “more nuanced” result, the pollsters asked respondents to rank their feelings for Trump relative to other notable Republicans, rather than asking people whether they approve or disapprove of the president. The other Republicans they chose were former President George W. Bush, the late Sen. John McCain, McCain’s former running mate Sarah Palin, Vice President Mike Pence, and former President Ronald Reagan.

The results were comforting.

This is now our second survey where we’ve measured Trump’s favorability among likely voters, and in both surveys, we found that the standard presidential approval question may be overestimating Trump’s popularity. Our first survey was conducted before the 2018 midterm elections (July 3 to July 12) and our second survey was conducted soon after the Dec. 18 House vote that formally impeached the president (Dec. 20 to Dec. 22), but in both instances, likely voters rated Trump toward the bottom of our list of Republicans.

Before the midterms, Trump’s favorability rating was statistically indistinguishable from Pence’s, and only Palin was rated less favorably. Following impeachment, Trump was even lower relative to the other Republicans we asked about. Not only is he the least popular president to run for reelection since Gerald Ford according to polls asking the standard presidential approval question, but in our measure, he is now also rated less favorably than his vice president. He’s also essentially tied with Palin for the least favorable Republican on our list.

There was, as expected, a significant partisan split. But among independents thought to be potential swing voters, Trump ranked at the bottom of the list — statistically tied with both Palin and Pence. As the pollsters concluded:

The bottom line is that the president appears even more unpopular than previously thought, and more disliked than the standard presidential approval question is able to reveal. Although the electoral implications of Trump’s unpopularity and impeachment remain to be seen, the data we do have isn’t promising for Trump.

The survey confirms my strong belief that November will be all about turnout. If Democrats  get enough people to the polls to overcome predictable vote suppression efforts and other dirty tricks, we will rid America of the criminal cabal that is currently enriching itself while it trashes the environment, democracy, and the rule of law.

 

The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question

Older readers may recall a quiz show that built to a finale in which the prize was $64,000. During the time the show was popular, when a difficult question would come up in conversation, someone was likely to say “Well, that’s the 64,000 dollar question!”

I thought of that when I read the results of several recent polls showing a majority of Americans disapproving of Donald Trump–with 46% disapproving strongly. (Obama’s “strong disapproval” never approached that number.)

Pew, of course, is the gold standard of polling. Daily Kos recently reproduced Pew’s poll, and its demographic breakout of approvals/disapprovals;  the breakout prompts me to ask that $64,000 question:

Now it’s clear that there’s a dramatic racial divide in our nation’s politics, but there’s a dramatic difference among whites based on whether they have a college degree or not:

                                        APPROVE      DISAPPROVE
WHITE                                51              48
BLACK                                12              80
HISPANIC                          25              72
WHITE, COLLEGE           38              61
WHITE, NO-COLLEGE    57             41

And that white, non-college-educated cohort is Trump’s firewall. He’ll bleed support among all those other groups, but there’s relatively not much room to drop. So if he’s going to end up in the low 30s or even high 20s, very possibly within six months, it’ll be because non-college whites start abandoning him. And if Trump loses those guys, there’s nothing else propping up the GOP. And 2018 will be a political bloodbath.

The question is obvious: What will it take to erode Trump’s support among the non-college-educated whites who still support him? What is it that they see that appeals to them? The easy answer–which may or may not be the correct answer–is that he has given them someone to blame for their discontents, “others” who can be held responsible for whatever economic or social injustices they experience. African-Americans, Mexicans, Jews, immigrants, elitists….

If that is, in fact, the basis of their approval, we may wait a long time for them to realize that his policies will deepen, rather than ameliorate, their distress. If there is one thing Trump is good at, it is blaming others for his own missteps and deficits; if the economic condition of those voters declines (as it is likely to do, given the policies that he and his cabinet choices embrace–policies that will benefit the well-off at the expense of the working poor), he will blame Congress for failing to pay billions for his wall, or the courts for failing to keep “those people” out, or the media for actually reporting what he says and does.

There’s an old saying to the effect that people cannot reason themselves out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. There was no coherent, logical, reality-based argument for supporting Trump, and overwhelming evidence that he was monumentally unfit for the Oval Office. What will it take to weaken Trump’s support among those who voted for him because they hated Hillary,or would never vote for a woman, or because they thought wealth implied competence, or because they resented having had a black President, or because they always voted for the Republican?

How long will they continue to shrug off the mounting evidence of corruption and dangerous ineptitude as “fake news”? Will they convince themselves that the Russians are really nice guys, and Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin is no big deal? How embarrassing will his behavior have to get in order for them to recognize his mental instability?

What, exactly, will it take?