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Monday, November 28, 2016

Trump and Clinton Risk a Crisis of Legitimacy

There is great cause for concern regarding electoral legitimacy in the US moving forward - and once again Clinton and Trump are revealing themselves to be the awful candidates that they truly were. The Clinton camp has signed onto the ridiculous recount efforts in WI, MI and PA. By doing so, Clinton has set a precedent for any losing candidate to challenge results that are overwhelming - and yes a 10,000 vote margin is overwhelming. And because this recount effort was inspired by a shoddy analysis done by a computer security expert with no political science or elections training, the recount efforts has established that recounts can be demanded based on the most ridiculous evidence.
Then, Trump decides to claim that he actually won the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally - but since he called the recounts a scam I guess none of those illegal votes were cast in WI, MI, or PA. Just as there is no evidence of fraud or hacking in PA, MI, or WI there is no evidence of millions of illegal votes. Trump has once again misquoted a PEW study and a debunked story on illegal voters. But when the winner of an election decides to declare that the vote was illegitimate then the message for future losers is clear - there is no need to ever accept the outcome as legitimate.
From this point forward, whether by Clinton's embrace of bogus recounts or Trump's ludicrous claims of fraud the precedent has been set for future election results to be simply dismissed. If you thought it was bad when folks dismissed Obama or Bush as "not my president" then just consider a future where the losing side simply refuses to accept the legitimacy of the winner. There is a very thin line between that and the arrival of non stop protest and politically motivated violence after an election.
American is not an authoritarian state. Our system of government is not propped up and maintained by the threat of force from the government. America exists solely based on the combined faith of the people in a simple piece of parchment. If that faith is lost there is little holding us together. I am truly worried about that faith and whether it will survive Trump and Clinton and 2016.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trump Won, but Nothing Re-aligned

Donald Trump shocked the political world by winning the 2016 presidential election. There has been much talk of his victories in several Blue states as well as his improved margins among white working class voters. But did Trump really "change the map?" Has he found a new coalition? There is a straightforward way to test this.

Gerald Pomper (1967) first examined continuity and change in presidential elections via linear correlation of state-by-state election results in paired presidential elections.  Pomper was interested in identifying realignments. According to Pomper, realignment would be evident via a “change in the parties’ bases of support… the geographic distribution of each party’s vote would be different from the past: traditional strongholds would fall, while new areas of strength would become evident” (1967, p. 539). Such changes or shifts in support would be evident in statistical analyses of the correlation between sequential elections. In short, a break in continuity, as demonstrated by a low level of correlation with preceding elections, suggests realignment.  Pomper (1967, p. 540) compared the Democratic party’s share of the total vote by state from 1824 to 1964  and identified five “electoral cleavages” in American history, cleavages that correspond to prevailing scholarship on American party systems.  

Like Pomper, I paired successive elections by comparing the Democratic share of the total vote by state to generate correlation coefficients. The state-by-state comparison generates a Pearson correlation coefficient with a low or negative value indicating a disruption or cleavage point and a higher positive value indicating continuity or electoral stability.  Figure 1 presents the results. The changes taking place in the parties' coalitions in the late 1970s and early 1980s are evident as is the rather stable electoral period that emerged in 1996 - a period marked more narrow election victories and the emergence of the familiar Red and Blue states.

Donald Trump pieced together an impressive electoral coalition in the 2016 election, a coalition that included traditionally Democratic states like PA, MI, and WI - yet Figure 1 shows the 2016 election demonstrated a high degree of correlation with the election of 2012 – no fundamental changes took place in 2016. Rather Trump was able to achieve narrow victories in otherwise Democratic states. The results suggest that the present path to 270 electoral votes remains both stable and competitive.


Pomper. 1967. Classification of Presidential Elections. The Journal of Politics.

I Was Far too Dismissive of the Those Telling Me Trump Could Win

"Having eaten a batch of crow, sufficiently humbled, and strongly sorry, I will learn valuable lessons from my errors." Matthew Dowd

A lot of folks are eating crow after the election of Donald Trump. Nearly all of the "experts" got the election so wrong.

I'll offer my own mea culpa, I underestimated Trump and I often dismissed those who believed he would win. I was way too certain of my knowledge of American politics. On more than one occasion I prefaced my comments with "I've written two books on American politics, I think I know what's going on." There was a time when I swore I would never use my resume' as a justification for dismissing another's argument. I'm embarrassed to have done so. Perhaps worse, I ignored a central argument in my first book which suggested that a candidate like Trump - an outsider populist - was a perfect fit for a growing number of voters. I was convinced that a candidate like Trump (I never liked him, and still don't) would never be able to outperform Mitt Romney - a candidate that I considered to have been superior in qualifications, temperament, and appeal. So I could never get his Electoral Vote total above 260. Why? Because I couldn't fathom that he'd be able the flip PA, WI, or MI - how could he do what Bush and Romney could not? I believed that Trump had been nominated by folks who hated Hillary Clinton and that his supporters mistakenly assumed that a majority of voters shared their disdain.

I especially owe an apology to my Dad, Larry Eberly . He saw this end coming. He reminded me of my own words from a few years ago - that we need more plumbers, carpenters, and waitresses in government. Trump certainly isn't one of those folks, but as an outsider he connected with them in a way no establishment candidate could. While I couldn't help but focus on the damning things that Trump said, Dad understood that his supporters were looking past that for nothing could be more damning than being part of the establishment. And though I was raised in a working class family I became too comfortable in my secure middle class life and couldn't see the world through the eyes of folks who wondered what kind of future their children or grandchildren would have as they saw factories shut down, jobs leaving, and wages stagnating.

Dad understood that many folks didn't like Trump or Clinton, but that only Trump was speaking to them. As a self employed home builder and a past president of the PA Builders Association Dad knew how truly weak the recovery was. Simply stated, if housing isn't recovering the economy isn't recovering. As a member of the Builders Association he had also worked with the PA legislature and understood the politics of the state - clearly better than I did.

So while I was focused on polls and my dislike of Trump I dismissed a lot of anecdotal evidence that Trump had broader appeal than I realized. And there were larger and more obvious hints. Trump was far ahead in Iowa, but was supposedly far behind in its demographically similar neighbor Wisconsin. He was clearly ahead in Ohio, but supposedly way behind in neighbor PA - even though Ohio and PA are often indistinguishable west of Philadelphia.

So I apologize to my Dad and to others who tried to tell me that I was wrong. None of this changes my opinion of Trump, only Trump and his future words and actions could do that. But I will change my willingness to listen to folks living in the battleground states. I'll be better about checking my own preferences, ego, and biases regarding a candidate. And, I'll remember that there's a reason why I seek and listen to my Dad's advice on so many other things and expand the list to include politics.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

White Working Class Narrative is Wrong

I have been dissecting exit polls all day and can say pretty confidently that the narrative of Trump winning because of white working class voters is simply wrong. Trump really did no better than Mitt Romney among white voters, but Trump did do better among non-white voters and Obama's Coalition simply did not turn out for Clinton. It was the lack of turnout by the Obama coalition that cost Clinton Wisconsin and Michigan.

Democrats have some serious thinking and self studying to do.

If the Electoral College Didn't Exist, the Current Popular Vote Total Likely Would be Different

Anger over Clinton winning the popular vote are misplaced. There is no way to know who would've won the popular vote in the absence of an Electoral College. You cannot assume the popular vote total would be what it is today.
Consider it like this - Right now there is no reason for a Republican presidential candidate to campaign in CA, IL or NY and little reason for a Democrat to campaign in TX or MT or UT. And, there is little reason for a minority party voter to vote in a state that will go to the other party - because the Electoral College is winner take all in most states minority party voters often consider their vote to be wasted. 
In Maryland, the outcome the electoral vote contest would be the same whether every Republican in the state voted or no Republican voted. Democrats outnumber Republicans and will win the state and the state's electoral votes.
Take away the Electoral College and candidates seek votes everywhere - so the campaign and the vote totals would be different. Do you doubt this? Look at turnout in battleground v. non-battleground states. Voter turnout is higher in contested battlegrounds. So without the Electoral College there is a reason to campaign more broadly and for everyone to vote. So Republicans in MD and CA would be more likely to vote. Democrats in TX and MT would be more likely to vote. In the end, the popular vote would likely look very different.
So why have an Electoral College? Simple - America is a nation of people and a nation of semi-sovereign states. Just as the House of Representatives exists to represent the people and the Senate exists to Represent the states the Electoral College was created based on the same representative compromise - the people and the states have a say.
And, with the Electoral College a candidate has to appeal to a broad geographic coalition of states with different policy interests. Which is better for electing someone with a more diverse perspective and coalition - does that always work? No, but nothing is perfect.
Perhaps more importantly that anything else, however,  a split between the popular vote and the electoral vote serves as an important reminder that Presidents are elected to be chief executives and not representatives of the people. Though a president may be Head of State and Head of Government, he/she is not the peoples representative. He's not a representative at all. This is a reminder that we all need from time to time.

Trump's Victory was Decades in the Making and the Signs Were There for Years

A few years ago I published my first book - American Government and Popular Discontent with Steven Schier. In it, we attempted to explain what factors led to a collapse in confidence in government and recurrent populist uprisings in America. Though neither Steve nor I predicted that Donald Trump would win the presidential election neither of us were surprised by his victory or by the populist uprisings that took place in both party primaries. Trump's victory was decades in the making and the sign's of a victory like his were there for years. We write in the book that whenever national difficulties mount, popular anger focuses on professional governing elites. Contrary to accepted opinion with regard to the current era, these populist uprisings are in fact an established aspect of the current American political system. A system not marked by unpredictability, but rather by an era of stability in which the elections of 1974, 1980, 1994, 2006 and 2010 – in which popular discontent led to major electoral shifts -- are recurrent features of a larger electoral pattern. Popular resentments seem to have burgeoned in recent years. After six years of Republican rule in Washington, the voters swept the GOP from congressional control in 2006. The 2008 election produced a change in party control in the White House. The Tea Party movement of 2009, begun in response to the expansive spending and regulatory policies of the Obama administration, brought the GOP back into control of the House of Representatives. The Occupy Wall Street movement emerged in late 2011 and quickly spread to major cities throughout the United States. Declining voter turnout accompanied President Obama’s narrow 2012 election victory. High unemployment and low economic growth contributed to low public esteem of government in recent years. Popular distrust and discontent had risen to new and possibly dangerous highs. The size and scope of what happened yesterday points to a systemic reaction by the electorate. It was the manifestation of years, in fact decades, of rising levels of discontent by a growing number of disaffected voters.

So why did Trump win? Just look to the exit polls. Fully 69% of voters were either dissatisfied with or angry at government - Trump won 58% of them. A plurality, 48%, wanted the next president to be more conservative, Trump won 83% of them. A clear plurality, 39% said the quality that mattered most in a president that he/she can bring change. Trump won 83% of them. And 50% said government already does too much. Trump won 73% of them.

Preferring "conservative" government or believing that "government does too much" are clear signs of a collapse in trust in government.

Clinton essentially ran as the third term of Obama. She was the establishment. She surrounded herself with the establishment - in a year when most voter did not want the establishment.

Right down the line on questions of honesty and likability it is clear that neither candidate was liked and neither and most people were not happy with the choice. And 60% of voters said Trump was not qualified to be president. He still managed to win 20% of those folks. This was an election based on discontent and frustration - little else mattered.
It is our guess that the present system will persist and will have to be the source of solutions for America’s fiscal and economic problems. The solutions will either come from endogenous leadership “from within” or will be imposed by exogenous crises “from without.” Internal leadership occurs only with a new president and a supportive Congress – think Reagan in 1981 or Obama in 2009 – but those circumstances are fleeting. If the crisis comes from without, we can only guess at its timing and scale. Will Americans ever come to trust this thick national political system dominated by professionals? Ultimately, it depends on the system’s results. If the nation’s fiscal and economic problems produce broad rethinking and the use of experimental evidence as the basis for policy, better results are likely to ensue. Better policy results may boost popular trust. And, if trust re-surges, a new American political system will again be born. That's a pretty big "if."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Myth of the Presidential Mandate

As another Presidential election comes to a close it is worth offering a pre-emptive rebuttal to any attempts to claim that the results convey some type of mandate on the victor. Below, drawn heavily from Prof. Robert Dahl's "Myth of the Presidential Mandate," I'll explain why.

Dahl writes, “As a means of popular control over government, elections are a blunt instrument: powerful but not very articulate. The ballot gives voters the chance to select candidates, but not explain why they made those choices. The weakness of election results is that they are specific on one point only: who won and who lost. On other points, especially why one candidate won and the other lost, the message is vague and open to interpretation.”

Why did Barack Obama beat John McCain or Mitt Romney?
Why did George Bush beat John Kerrey?
Why did Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole?

In 2004 70% indicated that their vote was in support of their candidate, 25% said it was in opposition to the other candidate.

In 2016, roughly half of all voters indicate that they are voting against a candidate.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson killed the national bank of the United States by claiming to be acting on the authority of the American people who elected him. 
"...the president is the direct representative of the American People" he said, having received 55% of the popular vote.


In 1848 James Polk declared that “the people command the President to execute their will – The President represents the whole people of the United States – the president is responsible to the whole nation, members of congress to states and districts." Polk had received 49.6% of the popular vote.

In 1932 FDR declared "the American people have registered a mandate for vigorous action.. the have made me the instrument of their wishes." He won 58% to 40%.

In 1980 VP George Bush declared that the election result represented “a mandate for change, a mandate for opportunity, a mandate for leadership.” Ronald Reagan had won 51% to 42%.


In 2004 Bush declared "I've earned capital in this election -- and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on." He won by 51% to 48%.

The Framers intended that Congress be the representative of the People. The change over to popular election of Electors in the 19th Century challenged this design. Suddenly a President was the only person elected by the whole of the Nation. Jackson first established the concept of Elections endorsing a President’s policies and Polk firmly established the concept of a mandate and a President as equal to Congress in representativeness.

Woodrow Wilson cemented the modern concept of the mandate – holding that only the president was selected by the nation as a whole and therefore represented the nation as a whole. Wilson argues that no one else represents the nation as a whole and the President in this regard is superior to Congress. As such, a Presidential election represents unified national will. 

But the notion of a Presidential mandate can be found nowhere in the framers' intent and is in fact counter to their design.

But do election results translate into mandates? Are all results a mandate? What constitutes a Mandate?

Is it based on margin of victory? Must a candidate exceed 50% or 55%. What if a candidate wins big, but loses seats in the House and Senate? What if a popular vote victory is narrow, but the Electoral margin is significant?

Dahl tells us that none of that really maters. For a mandate to exist we must accept the following four interpretations of any election:
    1. The results confer constitutional and legal authority upon the winner
    2. It reveals the first choice for president of a plurality of voters
    3. A clear majority of voters preferred the winner because they preferred  his/her policies and wish that they be pursued
    4. Since the policies reflected the wishes of the majority, his/her policies should prevail in any conflict with congress.
The first two seem clear and non-controversial, the third seems suspect and if false, so is the fourth and the whole concept of a mandate. 

Does an election show that a plurality or majority of voters prefer the policies of the winner?Survey’s consistently show that people vote for candidates even if they cannot detail their proposals. People frequently vote for candidates when they disagree with their proposals.

Elections are blunt and uninformative in many ways - elections tell us who won and who lost, but not why. And if we can't truly answer the "why" then any claim to a mandate is hollow. The pluralistic concept of a diverse populace represented by a body elected from that diversity (Congress) is also supplanted by the notion that a single representative (the President) of a majority or plurality speaks for the interests and beliefs of the populace. 

And by portraying the President as the only true voice and the Congress as the segmented voice of narrow and regional interests the President is elevated to an exalted position not intended by the Constitution and at the expense not only of Congress, but of the judiciary, the states and the people themselves. Claims of a mandate confer advantages on those whose interests are broader or more national than those who interests are more reflected in Congressional or regional majorities - and this is not necessarily in the best interests of a diverse nation. 

So if an election does not confer a Mandate then what does it do? It's simple really, an election victory confers the legitimate authority, right, and opportunity on a President to try and gain adoption of the policies that he/she supports. Just as any member of Congress is conferred with the right and opportunity to try and gain adoption of the policies that he/she supports by nature of his or her victory. Being President doesn't mean getting an extra or primary right to pursue your agenda. You have no more claim to the right to pursue your agenda than does any other elected official. 

Whatever policy or agenda is ultimately adopted may not represent the desires or interest of any majority – but perhaps no elected representative is qualified to say just what the desire of the public truly is.

So we may hear the claim of a "mandate" come Tuesday night. But, whether it's uttered by Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, it will be an empty claim.