The Progressive Fix

The Permanent Campaign: Turnaround in GA

While the basics of the midterm battle for the Senate haven’t much changed over the course of the year, with Republicans maintaining a narrow but steady advantage, the specifics have changed a lot.  No one mid-summer would have guessed that Democratic hopes might depend heavily on Kansas and Georgia, with Kentucky and South Dakota possibly in serious play as well. The latest surprise is Michelle Nunn’s apparent lead in GA (she’s now up a point in the RealClearPolitics polling average) over a GOP nominee originally thought to be the least vulnerable candidate available.  But business executive David Perdue’s self-inflicted wound in all but boasting in a deposition (before he decided to run for office, of course) that he had specialized in outsourcing–compounded by saying he was “proud” of it when asked about it most recently–has given Nunn ready ammunition, particularly in view of Perdue having nothing other than his business record to recommend him. Nunn’s biggest problem could be Georgia’s majority-vote requirement, which means that even if she wins a plurality on November 4 she might be knocked into a January 6 runoff where low and Republican-leaning turnout patterns would normally be expected. In the end Georgia–and also the Senate race in NC, where incumbent Kay Hagan is universally regarded as having run the better campaign–may be a test of whether this is a year when candidate and campaign quality matter more than the “fundamentals” of partisan strength and national environment.

The Permanent Campaign: A No-Lesson, No-Mandate Election

As we get closer to Election Day, and the inevitable over-interpretations (not to mention spinning) of Election Night, it’s a good time to get some perspective on the predictive value and “mandate” quality of what may happen on November 4.

In terms of the predictive value, it cannot be overestimated the extent to which differences in midterm and presidential turnout patterns make the assumption that victory in one means victory in another at least temporarily perilous. Here’s how Ron Brownstein summed up the unusual nature of this particular election at The Atlantic:

[T]he racial and generational difference in participation between presidential-year and midterm elections is long-standing; it’s the more recent divergence in preferences that has resulted in the GOP’s midterm advantage. Other factors, of course, also shape the results in these off-year contests. More often than not, the party that won the previous presidential election loses seats in the subsequent midterm. When the incumbent president is unpopular (as Obama is now), his party’s losses are typically greater. And Senate results are always heavily shaped by the map of states on a given year’s docket. But distinct from all these cyclical factors, the electorate’s composition now stands as a structural advantage for the GOP in off-year elections. And in a year like this, when the midterm electorate’s customary whiter and grayer complexion converges with low approval ratings for a Democratic president and a Senate battlefield centered on red states, Democrats understandably feel as if they are caught between colliding storm systems.

In 2016, a different electorate, a different battleground landscape, and different candidate dynamics could all create a very different kind of outcome.

It’s also questionable to derive any sort of policy mandate from the likely outcomes (whether it’s narrow Democratic preservation of Senate control, a relative GOP “sweep”, or a suspended decision awaiting runoffs) of November 4, as I extensively discuss in a column at TPMCafe today.  At the federal level, at least, continued gridlock is almost certain, and the “mandate,” if any, is for more of the same.






The Permanent Campaign: Stretch Run

So Election Day is two weeks away, with about 2.7 million early votes already counted, and the latest turn of the pendulum on Senate control indicating renewed Republican optimism.  National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar now thinks Republicans are poised for a “sweep” due to a “nationalized” election, but the only tangible news is a fresh poll from Arkansas showing Tom Cotton opening up his biggest lead of the cycle over Sen. Mark Pryor.  Cory Gardner also seems to be maintaining a steady if small lead in Colorado, and GOP insiders all say Thom Tillis is closing the gap with Kay Hagan in NC.

Meanwhile, with respect to the under-discussed House elections, Nate Cohn of The Upshot is out with an analysis indicating that Republicans would likely hold onto control of the chamber even if they didn’t win a single Hispanic vote anywhere in the country this year.  It’s less a testament to gerrymandering than to the concentration of Hispanic (and for that matter, African-American) voters in districts already being carried by Democrats.

It’s important to remember that “control” isn’t the only issue with respect to either chamber; margin matters a lot as well.  That’s particularly true with the Senate where Republicans face a 2016 landscape even more daunting than that for Democrats this year.


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.