Friday, January 29, 2016

Legalization of Marijuana on Ballot in Presidential Year

Two presidential candidates have endorsed lifting the federal prohibition on marijuana and several states are considering following Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and D.C. in legalization.

The states, including California, Nevada and Arizona in the west, are likely to have legalization ballot proposals this fall. Research shows that legalization tends to follow and be enhanced by decriminalization of small amounts, legal medical marijuana and the tax revenue that sales can generate.

A host of other states may vote on legalization of sales, either by statute or initiative. All have legalized medical marijuana.

There isn’t much evidence having marijuana on the ballot helps supportive politicians or hurts marijuana opponents, but the likely big 2016 turnout of younger voters should help the passage. Gallup polls strongly point out it is younger voters that are driving legalization, which in their October 2015 poll showed that, while a slight majority (58%) of Americans now supports legalization, a super majority of 71 percent of people under 35 years old were in favor.

Support has increased in all age groups during the last fifteen years, but today, younger Americans and Democrats are much more supportive of legalization than older citizens and Republican identifiers.

Los Angeles Times: How evolving public attitudes on marijuana could affect the 2016 presidential race
USA Today: The next 11 states to legalize marijuana

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Counting Begins

Donald Trump
The Iowa caucus on February 1 is providing suspense for both parties. As of January 27, less than one week from the caucus, RealClearPolitics has Donald Trump six points over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton even with Bernie Sanders.

The Republican frontrunners are on their way to collecting 1,236 delegates and Democrats 2,382 as both parties start their long marches into July conventions. Eight days after Iowa, the New Hampshire primary, which often is highly affected by the results in Iowa, takes place.

Hillary Clinton
After those two events, there will be a rush to the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus – the only other events in February.

Unless Clinton loses control of the nomination due to early losses, the Democratic contest should end in March, which has the bulk of delegate events. Also, she has an early advantage among Democratic committed super delegates.

The Democratic Convention will be held in Philadelphia on July 25-28. Republicans meet in Cleveland on July 18-21.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Democracy is in Trouble

In the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was optimism among democracy advocates that it was destined to not just be the dominant mechanism for governance, but the near universal standard. Today, that optimism has been blunted by the rise of Putinism in Russia and the new nationalism of Shi’s China as powerful alternatives to what they consider weak and inefficient Western democracy.

There has been a recent restoration of some semblance of democratic procedures in Argentina and Venezuela, but democratic values are playing defense in many parts of the world. Most importantly, Americans are beginning to believe their system of elections is failing.

Gallup recently asked if people think the presidential campaign is working the way people believe it should. That number has declined precipitously among adherents of all three parties. Overall, only 37 percent of the public now believe the election process is working appropriately.

The metrics of concern about the country and its fundamental political institution is well known. Most people believe the country is on the wrong track, they have little trust in government and offer almost no job approval of Congress.

Anger with the system is driving presidential politics and at least some parts of the public don’t necessarily consider democracy that essential.
  • Fewer than 30% of Millennials believe it’s essential to live in a democracy (World Value Survey – 2005-2011)
  • More than 25% of Gen X and Millennials believe democracy is a “bad” or “very bad” way to run the U.S.
See Vox: Are Americans losing faith in democracy?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Slouching Toward Socialism

The Democratic Party is having a strange debate initiated by Bernie Sanders’s surprising successful presidential run in the invisible primary. What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat? Most Democratic Party leaders, including national chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Senator and next Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, and presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, have avoided defining a difference because of a fear of alienating a surprisingly high percentage of Democrats who have a supportive view of the word.

Rating of Socialism
  • 56% positive Democratic views of socialism as governing policy
  • 69% positive Sanders’ supporters
  • 52% positive Clinton’s supporters
  • 63% positive Democrats under 30 years old
  • 32% positive all voters
  • 52% negative all voters
         Source: NYT/CBS News, Nov. 2015          
         Format: Ciruli Associates 2016

Needless to say, this debate isn’t academic. Forty-three percent of Iowa Democrats describe themselves as socialist leaning and Clinton is apparently in a very competitive race in Iowa. The Clinton campaign is attempting to claim Sanders’ socialist label is a handicap in the general election. She is running as the experienced candidate who will win and get things done. Clinton’s challenge, of course, is that a substantial percentage of Democrats want to shake up the system more than be pragmatic about electability.

Just as the Republican establishment fears Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Democrats in D.C. see Sanders as a disaster for their chances of winning back the Senate and picking up gubernatorial seats.

Both parties’ establishments are being challenged by their grassroots – a balance between attracting passionate true believers and avoiding extremes that turn at the middle.

New York Times: Alarmed Clinton supporters begin focusing on Sander’s socialist edge
Time: The Democrats stumble toward 50 shades of socialism

Monday, January 25, 2016

Iran Nuclear Agreement Still Lacks Public Support

As the Iran nuclear deal came to a final Senate vote last fall, the American people back away from it. Multiple polls showed a majority of the public opposed the agreement. Although there was the usual partisan polarization, members of both parties do not trust the Iranians to live up to the bargain and they have a very unfavorable opinion of Iran (84% unfavorable opinion).
  • 49% oppose it (47% support) (CNN poll, Sept. 8, 2015)
  • 60% Iran likely to violate the terms (CNN, Sept. 8, 2015)
  • 49% disapprove (21% approve) (Pew, Sept. 9, 2015
President Obama remains optimistic that he accomplished the goal of keeping Iran from going nuclear and created the possibility of an Iran that becomes a more responsible international player. Both assumptions have doubters, but the President had a good weekend with the certification that Iran had met the initial agreement requirements, allowing lifting of sanctions and the prisoner exchange. Obama touted a “new path” of diplomacy (a contrast with war-like path of Republicans), but diplomacy was proceeded with sanctions and the threat of force, ours or the Israelis was background.

See Washington Post: Obama: Iran nuclear deal, prisoner release show the power of diplomacy

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Obama’s Last State of the Union and Foreign Policy

Last Tuesday, President Obama had what is likely to be his last opportunity to command a national audience with a general policy address. Similar to most presidents, he declared the State of the Union is strong.

Unfortunately, Obama’s speech was delivered into considerable headwind of dissatisfaction. The Republican presidential campaigns are critical of nearly every element of his legacy and the Democrats, while not directly critical, are tending to pick and choose and promising to do better.
  • Two-thirds of the public believes the country is moving in the wrong direction
  • 52% of Americans disapprove of the President’s job performance
  • Only 37% of Americans believe his signature domestic accomplishment will make the health care situation better – 43% believe it will make it worse
And anger at Washington is the dominant theme of the campaigns.

On foreign policy, the President is mostly on the losing end of public opinion.
  • His foreign policy job approval rating is only 37%
  • Global warming, which he argues is the top global issue, has only 37% of Americans believing it’s a serious challenge in their lifetime
  • Although most Americans agree (57%) the U.S. is the number one military power in the world, satisfaction with the nation’s military strength and preparedness has dropped to 59%, the lowest level since 2003 when it was 83%
  • On Obama’s signature diplomatic initiatives, the public is supportive of the Cuban rapprochement, but remain unsupportive of the Iran nuclear agreement
  • On his military initiatives, he received a short-term rally of support at the death of Osama Bin Laden, but has been under frequent and sharp criticism since 2013 with the ignored Red Line, Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine, the collapse of Syria and rise of ISIS
In general, on the question of Obama’s foreign policy, the description repeated often in editorials and commentaries is feckless. One proof of the political potency of the criticism is that from Hillary Clinton through all the top Republican candidates a more assertive policy is the consensus position.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Winnowing has Started

Thankfully CNBC had the grit to stand by their debate criteria and winnow out two candidates who have no chance at winning the Republican nomination. Ms. Fiorina and Mr. Paul will be joined soon by Messrs. Carson, Santorum and Huckabee, which is at least a month overdue.

Jeb Bush’s current trajectory keeps him in the race through New Hampshire, but the main question being asked by his Super Pac contributors is when can I switch candidates?

All of these candidates have purported themselves seriously, and at some moments excelled, but none found a sufficient constituency given the angry voter dynamics of the 2015 warm-up with a dominant Donald Trump sucking up vast gulps of media oxygen and the crowded field of both conservatives and establishment figures.

As the blog “Republican Rush to Iowa and New Hampshire” pointed out, if Trump wins Iowa, he’s likely unstoppable. If Cruz wins, then a battle starts that goes at least through Super Tuesday on March 1 and the remaining March events.

Let the winnowing continue.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Clinton Struggling in Iowa and New Hampshire, But Strong Beyond

Hillary Clinton’s nomination appeared secure after the ten-day run of good news in October from her first debate performance (Oct. 13, Las Vegas), to Joe Biden dropping out (Oct. 21), and the uneventful Benghazi testimony (Oct. 22).

But a series of recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire makes it appear she is struggling against Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian socialist, while still dominating national polls. The most frequent explanation offered is that Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the national Democratic Party due to their mostly white liberal, and in New Hampshire independent, voters.

But should Clinton lose the two events, it will provide Sanders a significant windfall of publicity and reignite the discussion of Clinton’s flaws: her poor campaign style, the residual untrustworthiness, and her close identification with the DC and Wall Street establishments. But most importantly, like 2008 when she was beat by a 47-year-old first term senator with a message and passionate following, she is now in trouble with a 74-year-old who is motivating the same young voters and liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

In the debate, Hillary Clinton embraced Barack Obama to shore up her troubled campaign. Two weeks out from the Iowa caucus, it is clear that she lacks the loyalty of much of Obama’s younger voters and strong liberals. As a Clinton, she still holds and is reinforcing the remaining loyalty of older voters and minority Democrats, but nowhere does there appear to be passion.

Note: Two recent national polls have Clinton’s lead either collapsing or widening (NBC News/WSJ and NYT/CBS News). But watching the Clinton campaign go into aggressive, overdrive makes a tight race scenario more believable.

Washington Post: Can Clinton find the spark to fend off the challenge from Sanders?
New York Times: Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders slipping in new poll
Wall Street Journal: Hillary Clinton’s lead over Bernie Sanders widens

Monday, January 18, 2016

Carrying Baggage

Poor John Podesta. After a storied career as a top-level Washington operative in the tradition of a Harriman, Clifford and Strauss, he must still deal with the baggage of his most famous and least disciplined clients, Bill Clinton. Podesta was Clinton’s last Chief of Staff and was with him during the Lewinski affair. Now, as Chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, he has responsibility for defending the former president’s reputation against attacks from rivals.

Most recently, he warned Bernie Sanders to lay off the “personal attacks” and declared Bill Clinton “remains an asset for us.”

Of course, Podesta knows well Bill Clinton’s resilience in the face of political attacks. And chairing the likely Democratic nominee campaign makes him the most powerful Democrat operative in the country.

See Politico: Podesta warns Sanders on Clinton sex scandals: “I hope he’s not going there”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

International Public Opinion Influence on Foreign Policy

The World Affairs Council meeting January 19, 2016 at the Mount Vernon Country Club will hear Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at DU, on the impact of public opinion on nations’ foreign policy. A series of case studies, including recent U.S. policy initiatives in Cuba, Iran and against ISIL, will be discussed, along with a review of the foreign policy challenges facing a number of world leaders.

See Mount Vernon Country Club speaker event here

Other recent presentations:
American Global Strategy in a Changing World
Pollsters Present “Year of the Outsider”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Global Elections in 2015: Stress for EU and Change in Direction in Latin America

European elections in 2015 signaled more stress in a governing system that has allowed two pro-EU parties – center-right and center-left – to dominate politics. Many of the surging fringe parties are strongly anti-EU.

The Greek parliamentary election of Alexis Tsipras as prime minister in January was reaffirmed in September with a second vote, putting the anti-EU leftwing Syriza Party strongly in charge.

On the Iberian Peninsula, in both Portugal’s and Spain’s parliamentary elections, the center-right ruling parties lost their majorities. The countries are struggling to find a new governing majority, and in both, a competitive left coalition has strong anti-EU and anti-austerity elements. Separatists won a narrow plurality in Catalonia, but the path of success is strewn with political and legal obstacles.

In Turkey, the autocratic President Erdo─čan restored a parliamentary majority after losing it earlier in the year, but his rule and his country are racked with Kurdish separatists, ISIS terrorism, waves of refugees, and hostile secularists. Turkey is a NATO member and wants to join the EU.

But in Latin America, democracy and liberal capitalism won a presidency in Argentina and a parliamentary election in Venezuela. But in both countries, the new direction is being resisted with all the force of the reactionary left.

After a decade of dour conservative rule, Canada opted for a Gen X moderate liberal who seems most determined to legalize marijuana as a starting initiative.

Y Para Siempre (And Forever)
National Assembly employees remove photos
of late President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Jan. 6, 2016
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Monday, January 11, 2016

Obama Losing Public Confidence to Fight Terrorism

The War on Terror has been a difficult policy for President Obama. Along with banning the term, the administration’s goal has been to shift American resources and attention to other foreign policy arenas and policy topics. But the Middle East and Islamic terrorists have repeatedly pushed themselves into the agenda.
Photo: Getty Images

In September last year, public opinion turned back to the Middle East and demanded a response to ISIS’s beheadings of Americans and others and their claiming large swaths of Iraqis and Syrians their new caliphate. The Wall Street Journal poll published on September 9, 2014 showed 61 percent supported military action and the President’s foreign policy approval was only 32 percent. In a reluctant response, the President had to reverse direction and start a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

In a repeat performance, the administration had to launch another defensive public relations action this December. Polling, flowing in after the Paris massacre (Nov. 13) and the San Bernardino attack (Dec. 2), showed that terrorism had become the top issue and the public was again unimpressed by the administration’s attention to the issue or its strategy.
  • Wall Street Journal/NBC News, 12-15-15. Terrorism now should be top priority for government (40%). 70% say nation on wrong track. 57% disapprove Obama’s handling of foreign policy.
  • Gallup, 12-14-15. Americans now likely to name “terrorism” number one problem – 16%, up from 3% in early November, highest number in decade and above economy. 51% worry about being a victim, and 67% believe terrorist act likely in next two weeks. Confidence in government’s ability to protect citizens drops to 55% from 70% in early 2013.
  • New York Times/CBS News, 12-10-15. 57% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of terrorism and 70% say the fight is going badly.
  • Pew Research Center, 12-15-15. Americans’ belief in their government’s ability to prevent terrorism dropped to below 50% for first time since 9/11 (46%), down from 72% in late 2014. Obama’s rating of handling terrorism drops across the partisan spectrum (11% Republican, 33% unaffiliated, 64% Democrat).
  • CNN, 12-21-15. Only 25% of public satisfied with how U.S. War on Terror is going. 40% believe terrorists are winning and 18% U.S. and allies.
In the face of the onslaught of bad news on the performance of the national security team, a major public relations offensive was mounted from the December 6 Oval Office speech up until the President left for holiday December 17 (see The Buzz: War on Terror is Back).

The administration’s action provided stark evidence of the influence of published opinion polls to influence public officials and public policy or at least public relations. To a large extent, Obama’s strategy is now much more subject to domestic events and news from the battlefield than another round of speeches, press conferences and publicity shots.

See The Buzz blogs:
Panic in the White House – Foreign Policy
ISIS and the Midterm Election – 9KUSA
The Obama Policy of Restraint – What’s Next in American Foreign Policy?

Also see Defense News: Obama to visit Pentagon Monday for Islamic State group briefing

Friday, January 8, 2016

War on Terror is Back

Before the end of November, terrorism had become the number one issue for Americans, replacing the economy. And, the shock of the Paris massacre (Nov. 13) and the San Bernardino attack (Dec. 2) was so profound that a number of political metrics in the U.S. began shifting rapidly.
  • Dr. Ben Carson, already seen as weak on national security and foreign policy, begins a rapid collapse from second place in the Republican field to a weak fourth by New Year’s Day.
  • National security dominates the December 15 Republican debate with many candidates scoring points, with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio receiving the most attention. But it was Donald Trump who again dominated before and after coverage with his no Islamic immigrant position in early December.
  • Possibly most dramatic was President Obama’s scrambling to assert a stronger national security position, even if mostly rhetorical. It started with an unusual speech from the Oval Office, and included a visit to the Pentagon, Homeland Security and several press conferences all dedicated to his views on having patience, tolerance and staying-the-course with his plan.
The President’s public relations team wanted to counter the onslaught of bad news and polls related to terrorism before at the end of the year. With little new to announce, they were still hoping to create a visual background of strength and attention to the issue.

The peril of entering the 2016 campaign season looking weak on national security was not lost on Hillary Clinton, who scheduled her own speech on “how we defend our country” on December 15, the third she’s given in the last 30 days.

Polling shows Obama and Democrats are weaker on national security than on domestic issues and Democratic constituencies are less interest in it. For Obama and Clinton, 2016 will be a challenging year handling the issue.

President Obama speaks during news conference in White House briefing room
Dec. 18, 2015
Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP
The D Brief, Dec. 15, 2015
Politico: Gen. Obama tries to seize the messaging war
Hawaii News Now: Before heading to Hawaii for vacation, Obama aims to defend terror-fighting strategy
CNN: Clinton makes general election pitch with focus on terrorism
New York Times: Under fire from GOP, Obama defends response to terror attacks

Thursday, January 7, 2016

President Makes Gun Control Campaign Issue – KOA Radio Interview

An emotional President Obama announced some modest steps increasing gun control and gun safety. Because it featured executive action on changing the definition of gun sellers, which expanded federal requirements for background checks, the action will be strongly resisted by the Republican presidential field and become part of the campaign.
Photo: The Independent

Will Colorado’s federal races be affected? In a KOA Radio interview with Mike Rice and Susan Witkin, the question was discussed related to the 6th Congressional District given the Democratic candidate, Morgan Carroll, was highly identified with the issue when she was part of the Democratic State Senate majority in 2013 that passed new gun control restrictions.

Democrats suffered immediate blowback from gun rights supporters and saw two of their members recalled, including the Senate President. It’s not clear how the issue will play, but it is polarizing and will motivate the base of both parties in the district. It could help Carroll with urban white-collar voters, especially women, but hurt her among blue-collar suburban voters. Incumbent Mike Coffman is a gun rights advocate.

Gun control has not been a Michael Bennet issue, but as the Democratic senator, he will no doubt support the President’s actions while bemoaning senate inaction. But Bennet is well-known for hedging highly controversial issues and more gun control or executive action does not play well in much of Colorado.

But, as pointed out in the December 23 blog, “All in for Gun Control,” led by their presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, Democrats have overcome any caution they had on the issue and have given it a top position in the presidential race.

Public opinion strongly likes background checks, but is very divided on more gun control as a generic question.
In general, the public would like guns out of the hands of the wrong people, but they are skeptical that new restrictions will work and they are worried that the desire among some to ban guns overall will produce even stricter and less popular restrictions.

National Journal: How Obama’s gun-control move reflects major cultural shift among voters
FiveThirtyEight: Most Americans agree with Obama that more gun buyers should be get background checks

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Republican Rush to Iowa and New Hampshire

Donald Trump
If Donald Trump wins Iowa, two questions are quickly answered and Trump is very likely the Republican nominee.

First, an Iowa win shows Trump can translate polling support into votes on the ground. The Iowa caucus is a notoriously difficult process to dominate with just charisma or ideological fervor. It usually takes organizational skills.

Second, an Iowa win will show Trump can come from behind, in this case, from behind Ted Cruz, with campaigning and advertising to add support in the face of strong competition.

Along with uncertainty of Republican caucus goers actually standing up for Trump in the February 1st meetings, there has been doubt that Trump can grow his support. If he does win the public religious boost will be enormous. Only Cruz can stop him as of today.

See The Buzz:
Republican Contest has Two Tiers, But No Resolution
Republican Establishment Begins to Enter Crisis Mode

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stock Market Ends Down, Pause or Pullback?

Dow Jones Industrial heads for first annual drop since the 2008 market crash after a three-year run-up of 46 percent. A collapse in commodity prices, especially the continued weakness in oil and the slower growth in China and a host of countries dependent on it, weighted down the Dow (down 2.2%, down 34% in 2008) and the S&P 500 (off 0.7%). Also suppressing an end-of-year rally was tighter corporate profit reports and the December 15 interest rate increase.

Bumpy End of Year for Stocks
  • Decline in oil and other commodity prices
  • China and slower global growth
  • Tighter corporate profit margins
  • Strong U.S. dollar
The tech heavy NASDAQ ends the year up (up 5.7%) as Netflix, Amazon and Google showed continued life.

The historic drop on the first day of trading in 2016 got people’s attention. Add to investor anxiety, even more conflict in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Oil has had two incredible years of decline, dropping in 2014 from more than $100 to about $50 a barrel, and then a 35 percent plunge in 2015 to end in December at $37.04 U.S. Shale oil and fracking technology changed the supply equation and has led the U.S. to start exporting oil. But politics and efforts to protect shares and gain revenue, even from reduced prices from countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, have kept the supply high and the price low. The expectation is for continued excess supply in 2016.

European markets, which have been much slower to recover post the 2008 Great Recession, had a good year due to European Central Bank stimulus and a more competitive euro. The STOXX Europe 600 was up 7.3 percent. Japan also benefited from central bank stimulus – was up 9.1 percent whereas emerging markets were down 7 percent due to the China slowdown and the commodity meltdown.

Does the down market indicate an end of the long bull market or just a pause? Does it presage a slowdown in the U.S. economy? Does it become a heightened issue in the U.S. presidential election?