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.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trump Still Facing a Tough Road to 270

So let me revisit how tough the road is for Trump - let's say the Hispanic vote materializes for Clinton and throws NV and FL her way. But a decline in Black turnout coupled with White working class voters deliver MI, PA, OH, NH, and NC to Trump - that only get's him 271 electoral votes. And MI and PA haven't gone Republican in years...

Voters Aren't Changing Their Minds, Only Their Enthusiasm

If you've been curious as to why some polls, like ABC news, have shown significant swings while others, like IBD/TIPP, have been steady it's not because "polls suck" or because of voters changing their minds in the final days. Most of the variation comes down to how pollsters determine the universe of likely voters.
Whereas support for one candidate over the other hasn't been shifting, the intensity of support has been changing. As intensity falls for a candidate some voters fall out of the likely voter model. ABC News has a model that is far more sensitive to those changes than is the IBD (and some other) models. After the FBI news, ABC noted a drop in Clinton enthusiasm and a rise in Trump enthusiasm- so their poll closed. Enthusiasm for Clinton is now recovering, so she has regained the lead. IBD has been less sensitive to changes in likely voters so their poll has shown a more steady race.
Now ABC News has Clinton up 5 and IBD has Trump up 1 point. These polls don't disagree. Because polls are just samples they have error margins - usually in the neighborhood of 3.5-5 points. So +5 and -1 are not incompatible. The closer a poll result is to 50/50 the harder it is to determine who is actually ahead. As you move away from 50/50 the probability that the person on the lead is actually in the lead grows. So in a poll where a candidate is ahead by 3 there is a greater probability that the person is actually ahead than with a poll showing a 1 point lead.
So RealClearPolitics shows Clinton with an average lead of 2 points - but Trump is up in only 1 poll and tied in another. And there are polls with Clinton up 3, 4, or 5 points. This means there is a greater probability that Clinton is ahead.
In the final 3 days of the election I'll be looking for any trend shifts. We should see some new polls today and tomorrow. In 2012 the final few polls showed a clear movement toward Obama and he wound up winning by a margin that doubled his poll average - and it pulled the close states like Florida along with him. If this race stays flat at its current level then Clinton wins with a narrow Electoral College victory. If things shift toward her then she likely claims close states like FL, NC and maybe OH and wins with well over 300 electoral votes. If things *shift* to Trump - then it's anyone's guess.

*with apologies to my Mom for missing the "f" in shift in my initial post... 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dear St. Mary's Voters: Please Vote "YES" on Code Home Rule ballot question!

To all folks in St. Mary's county - I urge you to please vote YES on the ballot question regarding the adoption of Code Home Rule as the governing structure for the county. In Maryland, there are three options for counties - Commissioner, Charter, or Code Home Rule. We are currently Commissioner style.

Under this approach, Commissioner authority is limited. The General Assembly has full power to legislate for the County. Commissioners may enact ordinances where authorized by Express Powers enabling legislation, or specific public local laws. So instead of having a local government that can respond to voter concerns or the needs of the county we have a style of government in which our Commissioner are treated like children who must go to their parents to get permission. It's an inefficient form of government and it is outdated. St. Mary's population has been growing at a pace that places it among the fastest growing counties in the state - and yet we still have a system of government that was put in place when the county was a small farming rural county.

Under Code Home Rule, Commissioners can enact, amend, or repeal local laws on a wide array of matters. Most powers granted to Charter counties are also granted to Code counties (they have  broad legislative power). The General Assembly may still enact public local laws covering an entire class of Code counties, but not for one single Code county.

St. Mary's is one of only six counties which still have this very limited form of government. Another six counties have adopted Code Home Rule. The remaining 11 counties and Baltimore City have Charter government. So please, help bring St. Mary's into the 21st Century and vote YES on Code Home Rule!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

With History as a Guide, Clinton is the Clear Favorite in November

If you're interested in any historical comparisons: As of today, Clinton's average lead over Trump is 47.4 to 44.4. On this day in 2012, Obama's lead over Romney was 48.7 to 44.6. On this day in 2004, Bush led Kerry 48.6 to 43.4. In the end, Obama won by 3.9% and Bush by 2.5%. On this day in 2008, Obama led McCain 49.9 to 43.9.
Thus far, this race most closely resembles 2012 and 2004 - with Clinton in the Obama position in 2012 and the Bush position in 2004. The question for Trump is, does he under perform like Romney (Obama got a huge hurricane Sandy bump) or close strong like Kerry (Bush took a hit as faith in the Iraq War faltered). But in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012 the candidate in the lead (regardless of the margin) at this point ultimately won the election.

Using history as a guide - and barring some "October Surprise" - Clinton continues to be the clear favorite going into November. That being said, I'm just offering an historical comparison. I am not making a prediction. There is a very angry electorate out there. Trust in government is the lowest ever recorded, and no small number of people are openly angry at government. Trump is the perfect vessel for their anger and frustration. And, given that Clinton is doing better than usual in some red states it is very possible that she could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unprepared Trump gave little to move undecided his way

The most watched debate in 2008 wasn’t between John McCain and Barack Obama. It was the vice presidential showdown between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin that attracted all of the attention.
By the time of that debate, Palin’s qualification and preparedness for office had been pilloried by the press and late night comics and people tuned into the debate expecting to see a disaster of epic proportions. Instead, Palin surprised her critics and even her proponents by delivering a competent performance against the more experienced Biden.
How did Palin pull it off? Simple — weeks of intense preparation and mock debates.
The folks who tuned into the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finally got to see the Palin v. Biden debate they had been expecting in 2008.
From the very first question, it was clear that Trump had done little to no preparation for this debate. And yet, it was the first 20 minutes or so where Trump did best.
In a clear pitch to working class voters, Trump hammered away at trade agreements and the exodus of American manufacturing to other countries. He hung the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) around Clinton’s next.
But even in the midst of his strongest performance he was weak. He couldn’t explain how he would keep jobs from leaving the U.S. He couldn’t explain just how he would punish companies that left. And, he had no answer to Clinton’s correct observation that what Trump was proposing was nothing short of a trade war — which threatens the global economy.
After those initial exchanges, Trump’s lack of preparedness became ever more clear. In response to Clinton’s criticism that Trump’s tax plan would add $5.3 trillion to the debt, Trump’s response was “Your regulations are a disaster, and you’re going to increase regulations all over the place.” Perhaps an example would’ve helped?
Easily goaded by Clinton
On exchange after exchange, Trump could muster little more than broad generalities in response to Clinton. Perhaps worse for Trump is how easily he was goaded by Clinton. Merely a mention of his tax returns and the possibility that he wasn’t as wealthy as he claimed sent Trump on an unnecessary and unhelpful tangent about the combined values of his buildings and total value of his outstanding loans.
Whereas Clinton was able to goad Trump with her responses, Trump was typically unable to muster much more than “it’s a disaster” when he responded to Clinton’s comments.
Perhaps the most damaging segment of the debate was when Clinton made reference to the many small businesses who claim that Trump refused to pay them for services or that Trump used his power to force them to accept greatly reduced payments. The best defense Trump could muster was “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work…”
Trump’s biggest supporters are white, working class voters — many of whom live paycheck to paycheck — and I think he needed a better response. It apparently did not occur to say that in his business he has created thousands of jobs. It didn’t occur to him, because he never prepared for the debate.
By the final 30 minutes, Trump was clearly tired and frustrated and mostly unfocused. Clinton’s performance was far from perfect, but her mistakes were overshadowed by Trump’s.
Late in the 2008 election cycle, a question was raised regarding Barack Obama’s experience and qualifications to be president. One of Obama’s proponents responded that Obama’s successful campaign for the nomination was evidence of his qualifications.
Monday night, on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump proved that a successful campaign for a party’s nomination is not sufficient proof of experience or qualifications. Many Republicans office holders have justified their support for Trump by arguing that he would be a better president than Clinton. Last night’s debate revealed that to be a hollow argument.
How will the debate impact the race? It’s hard to say. They entered the race in a virtual tie and it will take about a week to truly see any debate impact.
It is unlikely that the debate will have any effect on the folks who already support Trump, but unlike more recent elections there are many more undecided voters this year. By the time the debates came around in 2012, only 5-7% of the electorate were still up for grabs. Today, roughly 15% of voters are undecided. Trump gave them little reason to choose him.

Friday, September 2, 2016

In Response to Hogan, Senator Ferguson Gets it Right

In response to Governor Hogan's executive order mandating a post Labor Day start for the school year, state Senator Bill Ferguson penned a must read response for MarylandReporter

Ferguson writes "if we are to have a conversation about adjusting our calendar, let it not be about starting the school year later, let it be about making the year longer, richer, and more purposeful... In an era of global competitiveness we need to be talking about a longer school year, not a shorter one." 

He is absolutely correct. In fact, the legislative task force that in 2014 endorsed a post Labor Day start noted that many of those who attended the various task force meetings expressed support for year round schooling - and for good reason. But unlike other calls for a year round school year that simply takes the same 180 day count and just spreads it more evenly across 365 days, Ferguson calls for more days of schooling. And for good reason. Research has shown that a simple year-round approach, that relies on the same number of days, doesn't improve the education outcomes for anyone. What's need are more days of instruction. At present, the American education calendar imposes a tremendous burden on low income and working class families and especially on minority communities. Imagine the benefits of a 240 day school year - children with access to nutritious meals, no retention gap from the long summer, more time for personalized instruction, less stress on families as parents commit less of their limited disposable income on childcare. These are but a few of the benefits of a longer school year. 

I've longed believed that such a policy would go nowhere in Maryland - perhaps I was wrong (perhaps not). It would be wonderful if Governor Hogan's executive order spurs a real conversation about meaningful education reform, instead of just hand wringing and attempts at recrimination.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Labor Day Showdown in the Free State

This week, Governor Hogan issued an executive order mandating that the Maryland school year begin after Labor Day and end no later than June 15th. The motivation for the post Labor Day start being the desire to generate a little additional revenue from family vacations to Ocean City prior to the start of the school year. Estimates are that the revised start date could generate up to $74 million in economic activity. This is not a new issue in Maryland and multitude of other states have grappled with the Labor Day question as well. The MD General Assembly created a task force back in 2013 to study the issue and that task force recommended adopting the post Labor Day start date, but their recommendation had no authority. 

The task force report noted:
"All 24 local school system superintendents, the State Superintendent, union representatives, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland are opposed to a post-Labor Day start date."
The task force was not moved by that universal opposition, noting instead that "there was no compelling evidence that showed there was any impact on education starting post-Labor Day..." and "there was no quantifiable evidence that a post-Labor Day start is harmful to local schools systems."  

The post Labor Day start has been a favorite of Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot and was endorsed by former Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley. But given opposition by local school systems and the Maryland State Education Association, the Maryland General Assembly was not willing to impose the mandated start date.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Death of the Grand Old Party

Obituary: That Grand Old Party died today in an apparent suicide. All vestiges of the party's small and limited government beliefs were washed away in a ritualistic roll call that culminated with the now deceased party jumping off of a cliff (Reminiscent of the national Democratic party's suicide in 1972). In its place, a new party arose. A party committed to an authoritarian presidency devoid of reason or direction. In a rather confusing development, the new party will also use the name Republican even though it has little connection to that party. Though the new party will be called Republican, it dare not attempt to use GOP as a synonym as there is nothing Grand about this new endeavor. So good bye GOP and hello to the New Coke edition of the Republican Party. May it die a quick and painful death (likely from self-inflicted wounds).

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Kasich Offers GOP's Best Chance of Beating Clinton

If only one poll showed Trump losing to Clinton, perhaps you could dismiss as a bad poll. But when 50 out of 56 polls show Trump losing, often in spectacular fashion, you can't dismiss the results as inaccurate. Trump would be a disaster for the GOP - perhaps costing them the House and definitely the Senate. The reason Trump is behind and the reason he will lose is simple - only 35% of voters have a favorable opinion of him. Fully 63% do not like him - that's a deficit of 28 percentage points. Clinton is unpopular as well, but her unfavorable number is 55% and her favorable is 41% - so her deficit is 14 percentage points, exactly half the size of Trump's.
Folks need to remember that primary voters and general election voters are very different. So far, Trump has carried about 40% in the primaries, primaries in which about 17% of Republicans have voted. That translates to 7% of all Republicans. Only about 30% of registered voters are in the GOP. They key to winning is winning over non-GOP voters. And Clinton's unavailability is driven large by exceptionally high unfavorable ratings from registered Republicans - voters she was never going to win. Trump, however, has high unfavorable numbers from Democrats as well as Independent AND Republican voters. 
Republicans seem to think that a majority of voters dislike Clinton as much as they do. They think there is no way voters would choose Clinton. This belief is driven by the echo chamber effect - the anti-Clinton folks talk with other anti-Clinton folks so they only hear about disapproval. They also think everyone hates Obama, but Obama's approval rating has rebounded and is back over 50% - it's actually 53%. One clear indicator of whether the party in power will win an election is the approval rating of the president - if it's above 50% the party in the White House usually wins.
If Trump is the nominee, I think a lot of Republicans are going to be completely dumbfounded on election night as they watch Clinton win, Democrats retake the Senate, and possibly the House. At this point, the GOP's best hope for defeating Clinton is a contested convention that picks a nominee other the Trump (or Cruz who loses to Clinton in 44 out of 56 polls and has an unavailability deficit of 20 percentage points.)
So who beats Clinton? John Kasich. He leads in 11 out of 16 polls and in 10 of 10 of the most recent polls. What's Kasich's favorability deficit? He doesn't have one. He actually has a favorability surplus of 7 percentage points - interestingly, his average lead over Clinton is just about 7%. Kasich may not winning among the 7% of Republicans who have voted in primaries, but he's clearly the preferred choice among those folks who will vote on Election Day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Of Course People Are Offended By the Confederate Flag: It Was Literally the Symbol of Segregation

Recent events at St. Mary's College have garnered some unfortunate news coverageLast week, as part of an Easter tradition, students hid decorated beer cans all around campus. Unfortunately, some of the beer cans were adorned with Confederate flags and with racist, sexist, and homophobic statements. There can be no defense of the statements that were written on the cans, but many folks have a hard time understanding the offense that people take with the Confederate flag. This is understandable - because most people don't know the actual history of the flag or how it came to be part of American culture. Once that history is made clear, people tend to understand why displaying the flag is not something that anyone should ever do proudly. 

Many will tell you that the "confederate flag" is simply a symbol of Southern Pride, or that it represents the ideals of limited governments and "state's rights." But such claims are not supported by the flag's actual history. In reality, the confederate battle flag pretty much disappeared from view and memory after the war. The flag truly became a symbol of the south during the late 1940s and the 1950s - and racial prejudice played the key role in its reemergence. In 1948, Southern Democrats split from the Democratic party over the issue of civil rights. Strom Thurmond ran under the banner of the States Rights Democratic Party, or the Dixiecrats. They adopted the battle flag as their symbol and their party platform declared "We stand for the segregation of the races..." "States rights" and segregation were understood to be synonymous. Thurmond won in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In fact, he topped 70% in AL, MS, and SC.

In 1956, Georgia incorporated the confederate flag into its state flag. Why did GA make the change? To protest the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling which outlawed school segregation. Then, in 1962, George Wallace, governor of Alabama and proud segregationist, raised the battle flag over the State house. Why? To link the south's battle against integration to the "glorious Civil War." Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate in 1968 and segregation was a central theme of his campaign. He carried 5 southern states and came in a close 2nd in 4 more. So the reemergence of the confederate battle flag was driven by opposition to integration and civil rights. The flag was then and is now a symbol of segregation and oppression.

Why do so few people know the real history of the flag? Because of what they learned in school.  Text books up through the 1960s and into the 1970s provided a very distorted picture of the Civil War and the Jim Crow south. Text book companies knew they could not sell books in Southern markets if they told the whole truth. And they were not going to produce Northern versions and Southern versions of their books. So generations grew up thinking that the Civil War was over "states right" and that slavery was a marginal issue. They also learned that Southern politicians opposed integration simply because they believed in a limited federal government. That the Dixiecrats were simply defending states' rights. Now, all of those folks are hearing things that don't fit with what they learned and many are claiming that people are just trying to rewrite history. In reality, people are actually trying to right history.

Now, I don't think that every person who displays the flag is a racist who endorses the flag's history. Rather I think they are unaware of its true history and have accepted the popular myth that the flag simply symbolizes southern culture or heritage. It may be that many of the folks who display the Confederate flag today do so with no racial motivation. They may believe that it represents limited government or state's rights. But their intentions and motivations cannot undo the flag's true history and purpose. Nothing can separate the symbol from its past. Those who proclaim that the flag is about "heritage and not hate" should know that the history of the flag makes clear that it represents heritage AND hate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

GOP Convention Delegates Should Look to Governors for Nominee

Dear GOP Delegates,

When you get to Cleveland this summer and no one wins the nomination on the first ballot you will have a very important decision to make. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will be the clear leaders in the delegate race, but neither man can be nominated. Cruz has become the face of the anti-Trump movement and Trump heads the anti-establishment movement. So Cruz and Trump represent the deep divide within the GOP. To nominate either would be to perpetuate the divide and make it nearly impossible for the party to unify. So you must pick someone entirely different. I have some suggestions.

It would be great to see a successful governor like John Kasich nominated, but I don't think the party can look to any of the declared candidates from this cycle (a move that would require a change to current party rules - a change that is being considered). Speaker Paul Ryan would make an excellent choice. He is the intellectual leader of the GOP. But in the end, I think you need to look to a governor. Hillary Clinton is beatable and a Republican with a good reputation and executive experience is an obvious choice to challenge her.

There are three obvious candidates to consider: Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Larry Hogan of Maryland.

Martinez is a successful and popular governor of a swing state. As a former Democrat she'd appeal to moderate and independent voters. As a woman, she would cancel out Clinton's cynical attempt to make gender a qualifying factor in the election. As a Latina, her nomination would do much to undo the tremendous damage done to the party image by Trump. But she also rescinded sanctuary status for illegal immigrants who commit crimes in her state which would appeal to Cruz and Trump supporters. Her Achilles heal is the weak job growth during her tenure. That would likely relegate her to the VP spot with Baker or Hogan.

Baker and Hogan offer similar appeal. Both were successful businessmen (which should appeal to Trump supporters) and both won election in very blue states. Perhaps most surprising, given the political make up of their respective states, they are the two most popular governors in the country. Baker and Hogan are fiscal conservatives. Baker is a social liberal, which may anger evangelicals - but I think they'd accept anyone over Clinton. Hogan has deftly avoided discussing social policies, but he could find success employing the same strategy he used to win in Maryland. On issues like same sex marriage Hogan simply acknowledged that it was settled law and he wasn't interested in relitigating the past. The Supreme Court has determined that same sex marriage is a constitutional right - it is settled.

Hogan ran on a promise to bring better management skills and a more responsible budget to a state with chronic structural deficits. Hogan tackled the structural deficit and is now battling state Democrats over mandatory spending formulas that threaten the return of deficits. Hogan is leading a discussion in Maryland that must be held at the national level as well. He's provided record funding for education (which should win over moderates and independents), has avoided any hint of scandal, and the Maryland economy is doing quite well.

Baker and Hogan are both in their first terms and Hogan has not held elective office before - but the success of Trump and Cruz makes clear that experience in elective office is no virtue this cycle. Neither men is part of the Washington establishment - which is a virtue this cycle.

So there you have it - three solid options to consider in Cleveland. A ticket the included Martinez and either Hogan or Baker would make for a strong challenge to Clinton. Much stronger than any ticket that included Trump or Cruz.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Trump, the Frankenstein's Monster of Conservative Talk Radio

Donald Trump spent part of his day today talking with a conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin. It was a contentious conversation because the host was a #neverTrump person. Amusingly, Trump had no idea until the host finally told him so 15 minutes into the conversation. It turns out that much of conservative talk radio is in the #neverTrump camp. I find it to be rather ironic that conservative radio hosts don't like Trump because they made him inevitable. These hosts have spent the Obama years railing against the establishment, convincing listeners that establishment Republicans were sell outs, that they refused to fight Obama (nevermind that Obama's domestic agenda effectively ended in January 2011 when the HOP tookover the House). They've spent years railing against illegal immigrants, hyping every rare instance of an illegal immigrant committing a heinous crime. Telling listeners that illegal immigrants are simultaneously taking our jobs and mooching on our supposedly generous welfare benefits. They've spent years selling anti-Islamic nonsense, convincing listeners that sharia is coming to America, that Muslim refugees are really just terrorists exploiting the system and that we're all unsafe (nevermind that more people die in the US from mass shootings at schools and movie theaters than from Islamc terror attacks).

So of course when Trump came along embracing every bit of this nonsense a group of voters that had been primed for the message embraced him. And of course, all of the credible candidates, who recognized that talk radio hosts were really just selling a load of bull to generate ratings (hate and fear are good for generating ratings and votes), were deemed to be "establishment" candidates and therefor unacceptable. And one by one, all of the candidates capable of winning in November were passed over and driven out of the race.

And so, Trump won over 40% the 17% of Republicans who voted in the primaries and now that 7%  of the party has made him the front runner. In so doing, they have done tremendous damage to the Republican Party image. They have made it nearly impossible for the party to gain any traction with the growing number of minority voters. They have attracted the overt support of white nationalists. They have turned the incredibly flawed Hillary Clinton into a solid front runner. They have put the GOP House majority at risk. They have created an opening for the GOP to lose all the ground it has gained in the last 40 years and again become a minority party.

And through it all, these folks have managed to convince themselves that Trump is a strong candidate and that a majority of Americans agree with them (nevermind that polling clearly shows Trump losing to Clinton and that Clinton's lead is growing). They excuse all of the nonsense that comes out of Trump's mouth and they even accept him attacking the spouses of his opponents. They accept his constant whining about unfair rules and his frequent threats of lawsuits. And they do this, at least in part, because folks like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and other broadcast blowhards have primed them for Trump's message. Now those broadcasters hate Trump. Probably because Trump has now become the leader of their movement - he's taken it away from them and with it their influence over their listeners. So I am amused by their embrace of #neverTrump - he is after all very much their creation.