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PPI Weekly Update: Seizing the Political Center, U.S. LNG Exports, & Policy Choices Facing the FCC

PPI President Will Marshall penned an essay for last Friday’s cover of POLITICO Magazine, “How to Save the Democratic Party From Itself.” In his “moderate manifesto,” Marshall encourages Democrats to avoid following Republicans down the path of polarization and extremism, which will only deepen the political impasse, narrow their appeal to the moderate electorate, and risk future American economic decline. Instead, he argues, the Democratic Party should seize the political center and champion pro-growth policies that promote economic opportunity and reduce barriers to innovation.

“Democrats have been moving steadily to the left, about as fast but not nearly as far as Republicans have shifted rightwards,” Marshall writes. “If Democrats follow the GOP into the fever swamps of ideological purity, the nation’s political crisis will only grow deeper… Only by leading from the pragmatic center can Democrats capitalize on GOP extremism and rally broad public support behind new ideas for breaking the partisan log jam in Washington.”

Yesterday, Marshall wrote a blog post in reaction to the results of Wednesday’s ABC-Washington Post poll, which painted a grim outlook for the Democratic Party. The poll found the president’s job approval rating hovering at 40%, the lowest of his tenure, and the Democratic Party’s popularity at its weakest in 30 years, with more than half of Americans seeing the party unfavorably for the first time. “The poll’s big takeaway is the public’s profound antipathy toward the hyper-partisan and dogmatic approach to politics that has come to characterize what I’ve called the Polarized States of America,” Marshall writes. “The politics of polarization has been good for ideologues, uber-rich activists and narrowly focused pressure groups, but it’s been a colossal bust with the American people.”

This week, PPI released a new policy report, “Exporting U.S. Natural Gas: The Benefits Outweigh the Risks,” authored by Derrick Freeman, Director of PPI’s Energy Innovation Project. The report examines the LNG export debate and concludes with policy recommendations that strike a pragmatic balance between the needs of our economy and legitimate environmental concerns.

PPI Senior Fellow Hal Singer & Economist Diana Carew joined a Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) net neutrality panel on Tuesday entitled, “Title II versus Section 706: Identifying the Regulatory Framework that Furthers the Goals of Broadband Adoption, Competition, and Deployment.” The panel discussed whether a more regulated Internet would foster the type of digital inclusion and engagement of broad communities, especially those that are underserved communities and small businesses. Attendees heard proposals for which regulatory framework is more likely to ensure universal broadband adoption and deployment, while fostering competition and innovation in a broadband-driven economy.

Research performed by PPI Chief Economic Strategist Michael Mandel to measure the ever-growing “App Economy,” both in the United States and abroad, has been highlighted in multiple different sources recently, including The Houston Chronicle, The HILL, The Courier-Mail, and ARN.

On Tuesday, October 28th, PPI will host an event, “Seizing the Mobile Moment: Policy Choices Facing the FCC and Why Consumers Should Pay Attention,” at the National Press Club. Please join us for a keynote and panel discussion on the challenges facing the FCC in the wireless ecosystem. Roger Sherman, Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will keynote the event. A roundtable discussion moderated by PPI Senior Fellow Hal Singer will immediately follow, featuring Michael Mandel of PPI, Peter Rysavy of Rysavy Research and the Wireless Technology Association, Roger Entner of ReconAnalytics, and Mary Brown of Cisco. The discussion will explore a variety of policy options that could affect America’s mobile experience for decades to come.


The Permanent Campaign: Expanding the Electorate

One of the more obscure yet important features of the political “ground game” is coming into focus as we get into peak early voting season: to what extent are the targets of GOTV efforts people who might otherwise fail to vote?  To put it another way, are these efforts truly reaching out to “marginal” voters or even those who have never voted at all?  If so, and particularly if such votes are “banked” early, that’s a very big deal that could even (in some circumstances) defy the polls, or at least those that insist on past voting as a qualification for being a “likely voter” this year.

The DSCC is claiming considerable success in Iowa, a heavy early voting state, in reaching people who are Democrats and leaners but who didn’t vote in 2010.  There’s independent verification that something similar seems to be happening with African-American voters in Georgia and North Carolina.  All other things being equal, that could have the effect of changing the shape of the electorate.  For example, most polls are projecting that African-Americans’ share of the electorate in Georgia will actually fall short of the 29% they represented in 2010, despite steady increases in the nonwhite share of the state’s population.  Change that and you could change some outcomes.

But it’s still early–even for “early voting”–and this phenomenon can be “spun” just like every other sparrow that falls to the ground.

 


Marshall: Making America Work Again

As the midterm election draws near, Democrats and Republicans are locked in a race to the bottom of the public’s esteem. A majority of voters (51%) take an unfavorable view of Democrats – the party’s lowest rating since 1984, according to a new ABC News poll. Meanwhile, President Obama’s job approval has fallen to a nadir of 40%.

Republicans are even less popular, but their midterm prospects look better because their voters – older, white and married – seem more motivated to turn out on election day. The poll shows that likely voters give GOP the edge on key issues like the economy, immigration, the deficit and security. Since Republicans have done little to earn such confidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that the voters’ mood is more anti-incumbent – i.e., President Obama — than pro-GOP.

That’s usually the case six years into any President’s tenure, and the media has called the poll bad news for Obama and the Democrats.

No doubt, but what really stands out is growing public revulsion with the nation’s political leadership, regardless of party. Despite an improving economy, 71% of voters say the country is on the wrong track. And a whopping 83% are dissatisfied with the way the U.S. political system is working. Here again the Republicans get an undeserved pass, as likely midterm voters divide about equally when asked which party is more to blame for political deadlock.

In any case, the poll’s big takeaway is the public’s profound antipathy toward the hyper-partisan and dogmatic approach to politics that has come to characterize what I’ve called the Polarized States of America. The politics of polarization has been good for ideologues, uber-rich activists and narrowly focused pressure groups, but it’s been a colossal bust with the American people.

Republicans have led the charge toward ideological purity and extremism, but some Democrats seem anxious to follow suit. They want the party to embrace a polarizing populism centered on top-down redistribution, knee-jerk hostility to the private sector and class grievance. But matching the GOP’s right-wing populism with a left-wing populism is a dead end for Democrats. It would repel the moderate voters Democrats must have to build electoral majorities, and perpetuate the partisan stalemate in Washington.

As I argued recently in an essay for Politico Magazine, what today’s partisan holy warriors don’t understand is that the U.S. political system is biased toward pragmatism. By creating a government of separated and divided powers, the Constitution’s architects made it exceedingly difficult for one faction or party to dominate national politics. Unlike a parliamentary system, where the victorious side wins all the marbles and can enact its agenda, America’s political operating system is geared power-sharing and compromise. Our country is best governed from the pragmatic center, not the polar extremes.

For all their frustration with Washington, Americans ultimately are pragmatists — they want a government that works. The party that can make the most convincing case for restoring our political system’s ability to solve problems will have the upper hand going into 2016. And that’s why progressives should spend the next two years crafting a strategy for breaking the paralyzing grip of polarization and getting America moving forward again.


The Permanent Campaign: Polling Errors

At FiveThirtyEight today, Nate Silver offers some indispensable information on the recent historical record of polling accuracy (an inaccuracy), which among other things establishes that when polls are indeed “skewed” you can’t make any assumptions about which party is benefiting from artificial success.  Polls seriously and inaccurately leaned Republican in 1998 and 2012, and Democratic in 1994 and 2002.

Silver also addresses the relative ability of polls to capture extraordinary turnout efforts.  Given Democratic hopes that this year’s GOTV program could be a game-changer, he notes polls are already showing a significantly narrowed GOP advantage in LV versus RV calculations as compared with the last midterms.

The underlying reality, though, is that there are enough close Senate races in largely Republican territory to create the illusion of a GOP “wave” if Republicans have a slightly better performance than currently expected.  And a slightly better Democratic performance could have big consequences as well, though it will be disguised by the adverse landscape.

 


The Permanent Campaign: Meanwhile, Back in the House

In a year where almost all observers have been obsessed with the control of the Senate, the House has escaped much national attention–at least once talk of a Democratic takeover faded early in 2013.  With Democratic pickups being inhibited by turnout patterns and redistricting, and Republicans finding too few opportunities for anything like their 2010 gains, the general expectation has been small Republican House gains, with GOPers praying for enough wins to rival its post-WW2 peak of 246 seats (they now control 234).

The tilted landscape is illustrated by the Cook Political Report’s House race ratings, which show 25 Democratic-held seats as competitive (toss-ups or leaners), as compared to only 11 Republican-held seats.  The overall number of non-competitive seats is obviously very high.  But the exact outcome is also in question, with nearly half the competitive seats (17 of 36) being rated as tossups.  We’ll have more specific updates on House races as we get closer to election day.

 


The Permanent Campaign: Some Pollsters Less Equal Than Others

There’s a useful post from Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight that should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind as polling data rolls out between now and November 4.  It reminds us that now and then a bunch of polls will drop from a particular polling outfit that seem to show movement in various races, but only until that firm’s “house effect” is taken into consideration.

Yesterday Fox News released Senate polls from Alaska, Arkansas,  Colorado, Kansas and Kentucky that showed each and every Republican candidate with a robust lead. But as Enten explains, Fox News has been showing a pretty strong systemic leaning (as compared to other polls) towards Republicans this cycle (that hasn’t always been so in the past, by the way, so this could be an accident of methodology rather than a thumb on the scales).  Correcting for this “house effect,” the only real news in the batch of polls from Fox was a big improvement in Pat Roberts’ standing; Fox had him down significantly in its last poll of Kansas.

The existence and persistence of “house effects” is why most analysts–or at least most analysts interested in analysis rather than spin–will focus on polling averages over time to get a real sense of how a race is developing.  But it’s hard to resist cheering or screaming when a new batch of data arrives that seems to show big changes.


The Permanent Campaign: Long Night’s Journey Into Months

The big new campaign news today is a SUSA poll adding another state to those which might have an impact on control of the Senate: South Dakota.  Long conceded to Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, the race suddenly looks to be a three-way battle in which Rounds has lost significant ground to former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler, who’s running an independent campaign similar in spirit to Greg Orman’s in Kansas.  SUSA has Rounds at 35%; Pressler at 32%; and Democrat Rick Weiland at 28%.  Follow-up questions suggest either Pressler or Weiland would have a good chance in a two-way race if either withdrew (though there’s no sign of that happening just yet).

This development, if it’s not a mirage (other polls haven’t shown the race this close), adds to the likelihood that we’re not going to know who has Senate control on November 4.  As HuffPost’s Mark Blumenthal and Ariel Edwards-Levy note today, there are multiple obstacles to an early decision on control: a very slow count in Alaska, the probability of December (Louisiana) and January (Georgia) runoffs, and now not one but possibly two indies who say they won’t decide who to caucus with (if the majority is in doubt) until they get to Washington and sort through offers.

If you’re making bets on this election, don’t count for sure on settling them on November 5.

 


The Permanent Campaign: Money Talks

We’re finally getting to the stage of the battle for control of the Senate in which money deployments will tell you more than polls.  Late last week the DSCC made a surprising decision to put more money into ads for Allison Grimes in KY, despite fairly consistent polling showing her trailing Mitch McConnell by a mid-to-high single-digit margin.  Lo and behold the latest public poll to come out of KY (SUSA for KY newspapapers) showed Grimes actually up by two points among likely voters. Yesterday, conversely, the NRSC declined to buy ad time it had reserved in MI to boost Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land.  Today two polls were released (from the Detroit News and from the Marketing Resource Group) giving Gary Peters a lead over Land well outside the MoE. Expect more of these resource deployments in the very near future, shrouded, as they generally are, with disclaimers suggesting the financially abandoned candidates are flush and rolling towards victory and thus not in need of further assistance.


PPI’s Hal Singer Joins FCC Open Internet Roundtable; Argues For Case-by-Case Adjudication

WASHINGTON—Progressive Policy Institute Senior Fellow and Economist Hal Singer today served as a panelist for an Open Internet roundtable discussion hosted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The roundtable, titled “Economics of Broadband: Market Successes and Market Failures,” first considered incentives to provide high quality open Internet access service and the relevance of market power. It then turned to policies to address market power, consumer protection, and shared benefits of the Internet.

Singer has long called for the FCC to eschew the heavy-handed approach of Title II regulation, and lean instead on its Section 706 authority to regulate potential abuses by ISPs on a case-by-case basis. Investment across both edge and content providers, he argues, will be greater compared to Title II, and the FCC can avoid any unintended consequences, such as creeping regulation, that encompasses content providers or other ISP services. Even an imperfect case-by-case approach to Internet discrimination is better and less costly than blanket prohibition, according to Singer.

“I would like to make five simple points in favor of a case-by-case approach to adjudicating discrimination complaints on the Internet,” Singer said in his remarks. “First, economists and engineers who have studied the issue of priority service unanimously believe that a market for priority could be a good thing for all parties to the transaction, including broadband customers. Second, not only do all parties to the priority transaction benefit, no third party is worse off with priority.

“Third, the leading proponent of strong net neutrality acknowledged in last week’s FCC Roundtable that priority could be a good thing so long as it is user-directed and users pick up the tab. Fourth, even if the FCC wanted to ban priority outright, there is no guarantee that Title II is up for the task. Fifth, the critiques of case-by-case should not persuade the Commission to embrace a blanket prohibition on priority.”

Download Singer’s prepared remarks.

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The Permanent Campaign: Governors In Peril

The most under-reported national political story of the 2014 is probably the exceptional turnover we could see in governorships, not necessarily benefiting one party.  Up to 15 gubernatorial positions could change party hands this November.  And the vulnerable candidates aren’t just blue-state Republicans elected in the landslide of 2010, though they are well represented in the potential carnage (Tom Corbett of PA is very likely to lose, and Rick Scott of FL, Paul LePage of ME, Rick Snyder of MI and Scott Walker of WI are all in very close races).

More surprising are the number of blue-state Democrats and red-state Republican governors–or their intended successors–who are struggling.  Among the former, Pat Quinn of IL and Dan Malloy of CT have long had mixed-at-best job approval ratings.  John Hickenlooper of CO is much more popular, but could be running for election in a year when his purple state turns temporarily red.  In MA, where Deval Patrick is leaving office, Democrats are terrified that Martha Coakley (the shocking loser in a 2010 special Senate election that greatly affected the Affordable Care Act) could again lose as she’s running even with Charlie Baker in most recent polls. And in Hawaii, embattled incumbent Democrat Neil Abercrombie was defeated in a primary, but the problem for Democrats is the independent candidacy of former Honolulu mayor (and Democrat) Mufi Hanneman, which has made Republican Duke Aiona viable against Democrat David Ige.

Republicans are struggling in some red states as well.  Most famously, Sam Brownback is in a nail-biter in Kansas against Democrat Paul Davis, who’s been endorsed by a significant number of moderate Republicans.  Least famously, up in Alaska, Republican incumbent Sean Parnell is trailing independent Bill Walker in the latest polls; as in the KS Senate race, Democrats in Alaska withdrew their candidate (who actually became Walker’s running mate) to give the indie a shot. In GA, incumbent Nathan Deal is running neck-and-neck with Democrat Jason Carter, though Deal’s ace-in-the-hole might be a majority vote requirement that could produce a low-turnout December runoff that Republicans would be favored to dominate.

So a variety of outcomes are possible, and state as well as national issues, trends and money will be a factor.