Tuesday, December 20, 2016

PAPOR – The 2016 Election: What Happened and What’s Next?

PAPOR, the Pacific Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, organized a panel at its recent annual conference on the 2016 election and what’s next for public opinion polling.

As the chair of the panel, I took on the trend of populism in Western democracies and the specific impacts of it on the 2016 election.

Also joining the panel was Jill Darling, the lead researcher in the controversial experimental poll conducted by the LA Times and USC, which consistently said Donald Trump would win the overall vote, and Sarah Cho, representing SurveyMonkey, which published dozens of polls with NBC and on its own during the election based on their massive database and non-probability methodology. Their last survey had Hillary Clinton winning by 6 points.

Both of these talks focused on the why of the election results, but also on the usefulness of the data they collected.

Finally, David Kordus, a researcher with the state’s best-known research think tank, the Public Policy Institute of California, pointed out that although Clinton swept the state, there were still 4.5 million Trump voters and that data from their numerous statewide polls provide an in-depth database on the Trump phenomena in some places outside the rust belt.

Links to their presentations will be available on the PAPOR website. I will be publishing blogs and articles on the election and polling challenges and practices.

“Tell the Truth”

“Tell the Truth” was the chant at Donald Trump’s October rallies as spirited and sometimes hostile crowds shouted at the press pool. He often encouraged it with his own brand of attacks on the media – “they are terrible liars…” These statements usually corresponded to some current criticism of his politically incorrect statements or behavior, but were often just expressions of general resentment.

The aspect of the media in 2016 that was ubiquitous and profoundly influential (and ultimately misleading) was the polls. Trump, in fact, lived by the polls during the 2015 fall and winter run-up to the primaries as they made up for his glaring lack of policy knowledge and experience, his frequent falsehoods and highly charged politically incorrect statements.

Now that the president-elect has had six weeks to operate, the polls are back and they will continue to influence the perception of his presidency and tee-up his first tough political test – the 2018 midterm election, which can often be a political disaster for a new president as experienced by Ronald Reagan in 1982, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010.
The level of presidential approval has been an important metric in predicting midterm losses, but Trump may be renorming the question. He won the election with a historically low favorability rating, and it will be surprising if in the currently divided climate and considering his conservative cabinet picks if there is the usual honeymoon.

President Obama started in the upper 60 percent range after Inauguration Day in 2009. It is hard to imagine Trump getting the same early boost.

Obama Begins Last Month With High Approval, But a Mixed Record and Endangered Legacy

RealClearPolitics records President Obama’s aggregated approval rating at 54 percent, a high for his second term. Pew Research records it a 58 percent and competitive with Bill Clinton’s final approval of 61 percent and Ronald Reagan’s 63 percent.

But Obama must contend with having led a party that lost the presidential race; hence, being unable to stop the alteration and cancellation of much of his legacy and a party at the nadir of its power in the modern era. Since 2009, Democrats have lost 64 House seats and their majority in 2010, 12 Senate seats and their majority in 2014, and are now down to 16 governors.

Because of the Democrats’ political losses, Obama’s domestic legacy after 2014 was built on executive and administrative authority, making it much more vulnerable to Trump’s wrecking crew. Obama’s foreign policy legacy is both subject to Trump’s alternative view, but also has been under assault by the reality of the rise of authoritarianism and expansionism in Russia, China and Iran and the collapse of the Western alliances’ trade and defense policies.

As Obama begins to focus on his Chicago library and think tank, his personal approval rating may be comforting, and is a reflection of the public’s general appreciation of his temperament and professional performance, but it is not much help in the challenges to come. America is about to move on and Obama is unlikely to be able to make much of a difference.

Trump Wins, But No Landslide

The Electoral College has voted with Donald Trump, giving him more than 270 votes needed to be sworn in January 20, 2017. He will likely receive 304 electors with only a couple of Texas members defecting. The Democratic Party and Clinton campaign strategy for recounts and attacks on the Electoral College look as poorly conceived and executed as the last days of the campaign. It might be time for some party leaders to start to think about 2018, not November 2016.

Some Trump partisans in the new post-truth environment have called the electoral vote a landslide. In fact, it is a very modest margin. A few recent presidents and the electoral total are:

Trump’s modest 304 electoral votes are hardly anything his campaign operatives should be touting a landslide. His mere 36-vote margin is miles from the Reagan, Clinton and Obama wins and more like the close wins by Kennedy in 1960 (303), Nixon in 1968 (301) and Carter in 1976 (297). Both of the George W. Bush races produced narrow electoral victories. The near dead even 2000 race he won with 271 electoral votes (Florida provided the winning margin) and he received 286 in 2004 (Ohio).

Trump’s victory is better than some, but hardly a landslide and, of course, he lost the popular vote by 2 points, or 2.9 million votes.

Read CNN: Electoral College set to make Trump’s win official

Monday, December 19, 2016

PAPOR: Marijuana and Public Opinion Change

The Pacific Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (PAPOR), the nation’s primary association of the polling and survey research industry, including universities, media, government and campaign organizations and professionals, held its annual conference on December 15 and 16.

In one of the programs, public opinion related to marijuana was deconstruction in light of 57 percent of Californians voting to legalize recreational marijuana after defeating a similar proposal in 2010 by 46 percent, a 10-point shift in 6 years.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, took the lead on describing California Proposition 64.

I described recreational marijuana issues on the Colorado 2016 ballot, along with some new public opinion data, which points out legalization, which is popular, is different than expansion, which is increasingly controversial.

See PPIC blog: California’s marijuana majority

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Obama Legacy is Gone

There was likely more shock on Election Night at the White House than the newsroom of CNN and probably as much horror as in the Clinton Peninsula Hotel room.

Much of the Obama legacy will shortly be gone. He thought his unprecedented campaigning for Hillary Clinton would ensure its survival, but having the most votes wasn’t enough, having the most policy papers and solutions was irrelevant, and being the “party of the ascendant” was a mirage. A sufficient number of people wanted to just burn it down to give Donald Trump a 100,000-vote victory in the only three states that mattered in 2016: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

A quick review of the Cabinet picks and the policy agenda shows how dramatically Obama’s policy legacy joins his Democratic Party legacy. The party is at lows that predate the 1930s and the Roosevelt era. The party can hope to recover, but it is unlikely to save Obama’s agenda. Recall the administration’s shift to using federal agencies (power plant EPA standards, waters of the U.S. rule), foreign policy (China global warming agreement) and executive discretion (Keystone Pipeline, deportations) was implemented to circumvent a resistant Congress and to fulfill Obama’s unrealized second term agenda and create a legacy. That fragile legacy built on executive authority and defended by a weak party will soon be gone.

Downtown LA is Coming Alive

When I first entered Los Angeles in 1965, it was through downtown. What a depressing place – dingy, dirty and in decline. Today, every visit is a new adventure. High rise buildings with lots of Chinese money, first-class sports complex, extraordinary Catholic Cathedral, Grand Central Market, ethnic areas of revival, art districts, and world-class art venues: the Disney Concert Hall, the Contemporary, and newest and most impressive, The Broad.

The Broad is LA’s new contemporary art museum and most accessible. Not only is it free, but the art hits the highlight best-known post war artists, blended with the newest and provocative. The collection has Koons, Johns, Ruscha, Warhol, Baldessari, Lichtenstein, Basquiat and Cindy Sherman.

The Grand Avenue museum also has some amazing installations, such as Yayoi Kusama’s enclosed room of mirrors and lights, Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.

And, it has Richard Prince’s “I eat politics, I sleep politics, But I never drink politics.”

Richard Prince’s background:

Richard Prince emerged in the late 1970s among a group of artists using conceptual photographic strategies, including Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, and others. In Prince’s technique, he rephotographs advertisements or magazine images and presents them as art. For this reason, he is aligned with the theories and concerns of appropriation and specifically with the critical debate over artistic authorship.

Alongside the photographs of pre-existing images, Prince developed the Monochromatic Jokes series of paintings, an example of which is Eat, Sleep and Drink, 1989. Jokes can be seen as masks for something else, masking harsh critiques under cool, detached irony. The line is from a well-known New Yorker cartoon showing two men and a bartender discussing when not to discuss politics. A very good thought for today.

The 2018 Governor’s Race Starts

Candidates are lining up in both parties for the 2018 governor’s race in Colorado. Democrats haven’t had a competitive race for more than a decade. Bill Ritter ran unopposed in 2006 after both Ken Salazar (who opted for U.S. Senate) and John Hickenlooper (stayed Denver mayor) dropped out. In 2010, Hickenlooper was more or less appointed to the nomination after Ritter declined to run for a second term.

But already, in anticipation of 2018, at least a half dozen Democrats are floating their names, including State Senator Mike Johnson, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Congressperson Ed Perlmutter, and back from Washington D.C., Ken Salazar. Several legislators are also being mentioned.

Republicans have had tough primaries. In 2010, chaos ruled when the establishment frontrunner, Scott McInnis, was defeated in a primary by an unknown Tea Party advocate. Tom Tancredo, former congressman, jumped in the race and won more votes than the Republican nominee Dan Maes. Bob Beauprez was the nominee in 2006. Although he made it without a primary, a well-funded opponent who failed to make the ballot did him much damage. In 2014, he got through a five-person primary, but lost to Hickenlooper by 5 points.

Beauprez is not on the 2018 list, but early names mentioned are District Attorney George Brauchler, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, businessman Kent Thiry, and a variety of legislators and state party officers.

Although Democrats have had a good run in Colorado, holding the office since 1974 except for the eight Bill Owens years (1998-2006), the Barack Obama presidency has been hard on the Democratic Party. They are down to only 18 governors and will be anxious to hold onto Colorado.

Also read The Buzz: Can Democrats hold the Colorado governorship?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Year of the Outsider

In a Denver Post guest editorial last January, I asked:
“Are Western democracies facing an existential crisis? Around the globe, anger and frustration are fueling what may be another historic challenge to political and party establishments.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign trail, where political outsiders are riding a wave of voter discontent. These candidates, with little or no political experience, are often discounted as “unelectable.” But in this election cycle, voters seem more interested in an opportunity to vent than the traditional calculus of electability.”
The crises for the EU and the Western Alliance appear life-threatening and the struggle of survival is not going well for the advocates of the liberal Democratic ideal.

David Cameron is gone; Matteo Renzi just defeated; Francois Hollande dropped out; and Barack Obama’s term is up and legacy, including globalism, is slipping away. Only Angela Merkel is left to defend the alliance, and her hold has been weakened.

If 2016 was the year of the outsider, 2017 is the year of revolt. And populism is now the dominant theme.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Trump Surge Builds on Obama’s Recovery

After the boom market in 2007 when 1000 points was added to a 14000-point DOW in 49 days, it was four years before a similar 1000-point rise in May of 2013. The DOW went up 257 points on Wednesday after the election (Election Day the DOW was 18332). The DOW crossed 19000 on November 22. It took more than a year to get there, from 18000 registered back in December 2014. A very slow slog, at least partially related to oil prices, which now seem to be headed above $50 a barrel. Barack Obama can take some credit for the economy from 2009. The DOW today is 19191. If the rally continues, 20000 is definitely in sight by January.

The stock market was neither anticipating a Donald Trump win nor was encouraged by the possibility. The market declined after the first Comey email announcement on October 28(273 points in the following week) and rebounded nearly 400 points on the Monday prior to Election Day after the Sunday news that there was no legal issue to pursue.

Pundits and investors were both wrong in their prediction of the election result and wrong about the market reaction.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Can Democrats Hold the Colorado Governorship?

Hillary Clinton’s defeat has changed a host of political careers. John Hickenlooper was going to Washington. Now, it appears he will serve out his term and possibly be active in the first truly open and contested gubernatorial election in more than a decade. He could, of course, get a tempting offer to run something interesting in D.C., New York or elsewhere.

Both parties approach the 2016 prospects optimistically. In the 2014 off-year election, Republicans won all the statewide constitutional elections except governor. And their best vote getters, such as Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman, won in spite of the state’s slight shift to the left in recent years. In the 2016 presidential election, along with Coffman, Republicans won a contested statewide CU Regent race and held onto State Senate control while Clinton won the state by 136,000 votes.

Democrats’ optimism begins with history. They have controlled the governorship, with the exception of Bill Owens’s eight years, continuously since Dick Lamm’s first term beginning in 1974 (Lamm, Romer, Owens, Ritter, Hickenlooper).

Also, if the 2018 election holds true to form, it can be difficult for the presidential party. Ronald Reagan in 1982, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010 all lost significant numbers of House seats. George W. Bush was an exception in 2002 due to 9-11, which strengthened the position of most incumbents. Does Donald Trump overreach? Does the economy not surge? Does a crisis of his making erupt overseas? Or conversely, is his first year seen as a success and opponents perceived as divided and ineffectual? The answers to these questions will largely shape Colorado’s race.

Presidential popularity is the key factor as presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent suffered major losses. Will Trump be popular in 2018 or will he and his era produce some new metrics to observe?

Read Politico: Democrats look to 2018 governors races for rebuild

Democratic Party’s Risk in Moving to Left

From the new head of the Democratic National Committee to the Democratic leadership in Congress, Democrats may shift to the left as they absorb the loss of the presidency and continued minority status in the House and Senate. Democratic Party state chairs are meeting in Denver today. They are, no doubt, thinking most closely about what will help in their 2017 and 2018 elections.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Senator Elizabeth Warren made it clear she intends on opposing the new Trump administration as representing Wall Street, K Street, banks and corporations. She is the primary champion of the pro regulation, anti-tax cut approach. Is moving to the left on regulation and taxes a good 2018 midterm or 2020 strategy?

It is too early to determine the level of support for the left-liberal position. Much will depend on Donald Trump’s success the first year, but history would suggest caution. Democrats have a host of Senate seats to hold in 2018, many in pro Trump or competitive states. Also, the effort to rebuild their gubernatorial ranks after the losses during the Obama years will require candidates who are less ideological and more common sense. Defaming Wall Street and corporations or promoting federal regulation may not be especially in favor during the next election cycle. Also, it seldom works in competitive states that require appealing to centrist voters.

The Democratic Party’s move to the left after 1968 produced few gains in House or Senate in the 1970 midterm and a historic presidential level loss in 1972 with George McGovern. He carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Warren’s Wall Street Journal interview was particularly hostile to business and pro-regulation. She sounds so “2016”:
Class Warfare
The clearest point that comes out of this election is that the American people do not want Wall Street to run their government. They do not want corporate executives to be the ones who are calling the shots in Washington.
Whether people were voting for Hillary Clinton or whether they were voting for Donald Trump, they weren’t voting for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s deregulatory mix—let guys do whatever they want to do, let giant corporations do whatever they want to do.
Massachusetts politicians have a poor record of leading the Democratic Party to the White House – Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and John Kerry. Ms. Warren’s resume of tenured Harvard law professor is not a currently popular job description.

Colorado Policy Priorities

Colorado voters, when asked to prioritize a series of public project and program improvements in Colorado, including considering that public funding may be required, put K-12 education at the top of their list. The University of Denver/Crossley Center pre-election survey offered five program areas and K-12 education led the list with 66 percent of voters rating it a top priority. In second place, ten points back was “improving the health care system (56% top priority).

Leading the second tier of improvements was the state’s water system, which had nearly half the voters (48%) rating it a top priority. Higher education was in fourth place with only 42 percent rating it a top priority. And the state’s transportation system, which generates considerable commentary and criticism from elected and appointed officials, came in last place with only 39 percent of voters ranking it a top priority.

Examining the geographic pattern of opinion shows that improving K-12 education is the priority of the metro area whereas it ties with health care on the Western Slope. Water is the issue of highest priority on the Eastern Plains.

The University of Denver/Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research survey was conducted by live interview telephone calls with 550 likely Colorado voters. The Crossley Center is a part of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The survey was in field from October 29-31, 2016 by Floyd Ciruli, Director of the Crossley Center. The sample was selected by random probability design from a list of registered voters from the Colorado Secretary of State and included 258 landlines and 286 cell phone respondents. The data was weighted based on likely voter statistics for age and ethnicity. Overall, the survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The margin of error for subgroups is larger.

"The Russian Bear is Getting Bolder"

The Washington Post joins national editorial pages and foreign policy experts to warn of the Russian bear.

Read the article: Beware: The Russian bear is getting bolder

See also my blog: "Sergeant, I hope you like vodka"