On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson

In my Tuesday On Tap, I noted that of all the leading Democratic presidential candidates, only former Vice President Biden has not come out in favor of the most consequential legislation now pending in any of the 50 state legislatures: California’s Assembly Bill 5, which would require Uber, Lyft, and other companies to reclassify their “independent contractor” drivers as what they really are: employees, and as such, entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, and so on. The bill, which is up for a final vote in the state Senate no later than next week, is backed by all of California labor, and has vast national implications. Uber, Lyft, and a host of other tech companies whose leaders have often donated to Democrats are, of course, opposed. And on this topic, Biden—the self-proclaimed workers’ friend—has remained characteristically mute.

Indeed, in a year when the Democratic presidential field is abuzz with detailed proposals on one controversial issue after another, Biden’s strategy is to avoid many such controversies, and campaign on a kind of nostalgic appeal to return to the calmer, bipartisan times before Donald Trump befouled the landscape. Never mind that the Republicans have viewed bipartisanship as anathema at least since the Gingrich election of 1994, and that American business went to war against its workers at the end of the 1970s and has yet to call a truce.

But if Biden is offering voters a lowest-common-denominator kind of appeal, he appears to be receiving a lowest-common-denominator kind of support. Though he’s still atop the polls, pollsters and reporters have yet to discover any intensity behind his support. In a sense, he’s running as the default candidate, and he’s getting default support—the backing of Democrats who aren’t paying close attention to the race, who back him because they know who he is and have yet to figure out who all those other Democrats are. That’s probably enough to keep him number one in this year’s polls, but it’s probably not enough to place him first in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, where voters seriously contemplate their choices, and intensity of support is at a premium. So long as Democrats don’t actually have to get out and vote, however, Biden should be doing just fine.

Meyerson

As Prospect staff writer Alex Sammon has noted, the most important piece of legislation currently pending in any of the nation’s 50 state legislatures has seen something of a generational divide among Democrats. The bill, AB5, would conform California’s labor law to a ruling of the state’s Supreme Court that required employers to reclassify workers currently mislabeled as independent contractors into their correct classification as employees—thereby requiring those employers to adhere to the legal protections (like minimum wage and overtime pay) afforded to employees. Hundreds of thousands of misclassified California workers—like the truckers at the ports and the drivers for such companies as Uber and Lyft—would be reclassified under the terms of the bill, which has passed the California State Assembly and will shortly be voted on in the State Senate.

Not surprisingly, the bill is the subject of a titanic battle between Uber, Lyft and other app-based driving services on one side, and their drivers, backed by the state’s labor movement, on the other. But it also has split the state’s Democrats. Many Obama-era Democrats, who have been flocking to Silicon Valley sinecures or received the Valley’s campaign contributions throughout the past decade, have lined up on Uber’s side, including Tony West, the company’s general counsel and onetime number-three in Obama’s Justice Department. (Former Senator Barbara Boxer also penned an op-ed favoring Uber, which led one friend of mine to comment, “Who does she think she is? Dianne Feinstein?”) Responding, in part, to the labor-left militancy of today’s Democratic electorate, however, a host of Democratic presidential candidates have backed the bill, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and even Tony West’s sister-in-law, Kamala Harris.

That’s every Democrat who polls in the top seven of the Democratic presidential field—with the single exception of the guy who polls first, Joe Biden. Joe’s modus operandi appears to include ducking every issue that might engender blowback from any wing of the party. For a guy who is campaigning as the workers’ friend, staying silent on this basic question of workers’ rights calls into question the very basis of his candidacy—and his suitability as the party’s standard bearer.

Teixeira

Tom Edsall’s most recent Times column claims, “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is.” The column is based heavily on a paper by political scientists Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm entitled, “Secular Partisan Realignment in the United States: The Socioeconomic Reconfiguration of White Partisan Support since the New Deal Era.”

Edsall’s central takeaway from the paper is:

Kitschelt and Rehm find that the surge of whites into the Republican Party has been led by whites with relatively high incomes—in the top two quintiles of the income distribution—but without college degrees, a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.

Based on the actual data in the paper, there are several problems with this characterization—though, given that the paper authors themselves encourage this sort of interpretation, Edsall can be forgiven for his take.

Start with the basic categories the paper authors use. There are four categories, both overall and for white voters: low education/low income (LE-LI); low education/high income (LE-HI); high education/low income (HE-LI) and high education/high income (HE-HI). Low education is less than a BA; high education is a BA or more; low income is the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution; high income is the top third.

The category the authors focus on the most is low education/high income, with the implication that such voters are not really “working class.” I beg to differ. One does not have to be low income to be working class. A household income of, say, $90,000 should not eject one from the working class—it merely means you’re somewhat better off than your poorer brethren. Not that $90,000 suggests such a fabulous standard of living, especially for older workers supporting a family, who are undoubtedly heavily represented in this group.

Definitional issues aside, the real problem here is that the authors’ data does not really show what they imply. First, look at the difference between the LE-LI and LE-HI groups in terms of occupational mix (Tables D1 and E3 of the paper). LE-LI is 76 percent blue and lower white collar plus mixed service functionaries (basically clerical jobs) plus low service functionaries. LE-HI is 61 percent from the same basket of jobs (and note that there is significant representation here of independent contractor-type construction workers and carpenters who aren’t counted in the 61 percent). So, different, but not that different.

Second, consider the size of these two different groups. The LE-LI is over half (!) of voters, while LE-HI is a mere 16 percent. Given the relative size of these two groups, it would only make sense to say the LE-HI group was “leading” the stampede to the GOP/Trump if there was little change in the much larger LE-LI group and much sharper change in the smaller LE-HI group.

But this is decidedly not the case. It turns out that (Figure 3) the white LE-LI and LE-HI voters had identical pro-Trump voting patterns in 2016. Moreover, since 2008 the figure shows a remarkably precipitous group in Democratic support among LE-LI voters. Hmm. It seems like, given the very large size of this group and this precipitous drop, it is the LE-LI group that is “leading” the move toward Trump, not the more affluent group.

All that said, I would be tempted to recommend that you read this paper because there really is a lot of interesting information in it. However, be forewarned that the paper is larded with enough political science jargon to sink a battleship. I speak the lingo so can slog my way through it without too much difficulty; your experience may be different.

As a final thought, I see the erroneous interpretation of this paper as feeding into the ongoing effort to depict Trump’s supporters as not having any “economic anxiety.” Hey, look they’re doing fine, it must be that they’re just racists! I note that this view is usually promulgated by people whose household incomes are far above those of the even relatively-well-off white working class. “Economic anxiety” can be considerably broader than not being able to pay your bills this month or put food on the table. To understand our fellow Americans, that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Teixeira

The spate of House Republican retirements in Texas—the so-called Texodus—has gotten people thinking again about Texas’s political trajectory. Is a blue Texas really on the horizon?

Certainly recent trends have been very favorable. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke missed unseating Senator Ted Cruz by just 2.3 points. And, although O’Rourke fell short, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the Texas House, two seats in the Texas Senate, and two seats in the U.S. House, and came close in several other statewide races. Underlying these developments, there are well-documented, strong trends toward the Democrats among younger Texans, including whites, and in Texas’s large metropolitan areas (Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio—two-thirds of the Texas vote).

So a blue Texas is not so far-fetched anymore. Indeed, one can start to discern a sort of formula for making that happen.

A formula, you say? There’s a formula for a blue Texas? Well, sort of. I mean this in the sense that a sober quantitative accounting of the challenge Democrats face in Texas provides a useful guide to how the blue Texas goal can actually be attained. More useful I think than enthusiastic accounts of grassroots Democratic organizing in Texas, which, noble as they are, make little effort to explain which groups have to move and by how much to be successful.

So here’s the “formula.” In 2016, Clinton improved over Obama in Texas, reducing his 16-point deficit in the state in 2012 to 9 points. How did she do this? The dataset developed for the “States of Change” project indicates that Clinton improved over Obama among both white non-college-educated and college-educated voters. The Democrats’ deficit among Texas’s white non-college-educated voters fell from 60 points in 2012 to 55 points in 2016. The shift toward Clinton among white college graduates in the state was even larger—from a 30-68 percent deficit in 2012 to 37-57 percent in 2016, a margin improvement of 18 points. The white college-educated improvement cut Clinton’s deficit in the state by about 4.5 points and the white non-college improvement moved things in her direction by about 1.5 points, for a total shift of 6 points toward Clinton from better performance among whites. The rest of Clinton’s gains relative to Obama were accounted for by improvements in Latino turnout and support.

This suggests that the correct formula for a blue Texas is not to rely on demographic change and better mobilization of existing pro-Democratic constituencies, which often appears to be the default strategy. That is not likely to be enough to cut the additional 9 points off of Democrats’ statewide deficit anytime soon. Instead, while demographic change will continue to provide a boost to Democratic prospects (I estimate 1.4 points in the 2020 election) and mobilization efforts should continue, the key question is how to keep the trends evident in 2016 going. Rough calculations indicate that if Democrats can cut their white non-college deficit to 45 points and their white college deficit to 10 points, while continuing positive, if unspectacular, Latino trends (getting Latino turnout of eligibles to around 40 percent, while improving Latino vote margin to around +30D), that should be enough to flip the state or come very close.

Note: I’m not saying this would be easy to do! But I do believe the formula would work and builds plausibly on current trends. Note also that, according to the exit polls, O’Rourke’s deficit in 2018 among white college Texas voters was 11 points and his deficit among white non-college voters was 48 points. These results suggest that the blue Texas formula could come to successful fruition much faster than most observers thought.

Dayen

Caucuses are an exclusionary and inferior option for selecting political preferences. Numerous states, including Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Washington, scrapped their caucus systems for the 2020 cycle, with the DNC encouraging the switch. Only four states will use caucuses on the Democratic side. But two of them—Iowa and Nevada—happen to be the crucial early states candidates have been sitting in for the better part of a year. And now, concerns about hacking have thrown them into question.

Iowa is so wedded to an old-time tradition of voters trudging out in the snow to spend four hours at a rec center that they persisted with a caucus. To fulfill a DNC requirement that caucuses allow for participation of voters who can’t attend, Iowa added a “virtual caucus,” where voters would call in. This was always ridiculous, since the virtual caucus would only have counted toward 10 percent of the total, creating unequal voting weight depending on your location. But now, the DNC is poised to reject the virtual caucus, after determining that there was no way to keep it secure, something much on the minds of DNC members after being hacked in 2016.

Why the DNC would wait until five months before the caucus to invalidate its rules is unclear, and absurd. Because non-caucusing participation is a requirement, the Iowa (and probably Nevada) caucuses are now in doubt. New Hampshire has a law that requires it to be the first primary in the nation. If Iowa shifts to a primary at this late date, New Hampshire will try to flip past them, creating calendar chaos. Iowa has just two weeks to present a new plan for the DNC to approve.

In other words, it’s a mess, and an eminently preventable mess. The DNC’s delay in approving caucuses could mean that two dozen candidates spent millions of dollars wooing Iowa for no reason. Already, campaigns have been incorporating the virtual caucus into their ground game strategy. Too afraid to piss off Iowa and its peculiar traditions, the DNC didn’t just mandate primaries. Too afraid to piss off New Hampshire, the DNC didn’t change the primary structure from allowing states unrepresentative of the nation’s demographic makeup to dominate the process.

I prefer a rotating regional primary, splitting up the nation into (perhaps four) regions and running a lottery three months before the first primary on which region goes first (ending camping out in one state), doing the rest monthly until there’s a winner. Or you could make the state with the closest general election tally or highest prior-election turnout first in the nation, ending the tyranny of tradition. Instead, the DNC’s deferential and delayed decision-making has now created an omnishambles.

 

LINKS TO MY STORIES

A conversation with Demand Justice’s Brian Fallon on his call for the next Democratic president to reject corporate lawyers for judicial nominations.

The death of the Volcker rule opens a large weakness in the financial regulatory structure, which separating commercial and investment banks can close.

Purdue Pharma’s opioid settlement proposal to effectively nationalize the company could offer a solution to the broader prescription drug crisis as well as the overdose epidemic.

 

ALSO AT THE PROSPECT

The best of Kalena Thomhave, our writing fellow covering poverty who ended her fellowship this week.

Reuven Avi-Yonah rebuts critics of Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax plan.

Alex Sammon on David Koch’s biggest tax loophole: the step-up in basis.

Gabrielle Gurley on Trump’s failures in Puerto Rico.

Mike Elk on immigrants and unions working to fight deportation raids.

 

SHARING THE WEALTH

Dianne Feinstein is emblematic of Democrats’ fear of governing and approval of nice polite Republicans. (NY Mag)

Private equity firm Blackstone behind the deforestation of the Amazon. (The Intercept)

Speaking of which, here’s Adam Levitin on why private equity’s limited liability should be stripped. (Credit Slips)

Bernie Sanders’s op-ed for restoring journalism in America. (Columbia Journalism Review)

Big Sin getting bigger as Altria and Philip Morris discuss merging again; Altria was spun off from Philip Morris in 2008. (Reuters)

Amazon kept a “burn book” of criticisms from lawmakers about its HQ2 project. (Wall Street Journal)

Establishment meddling for John Hickenlooper in the Colorado Senate primary is roiling the party. (Denver Post)

Political scientists keep getting 2016 wrong, writes Ryan Cooper. (The Nation)

Indonesia moving its capital city because of climate disruption. (CNN)

I’m so old I remember when protesting eminent domain was a conservative rallying cry. Now Donald Trump says “take the land” for the border wall. (Washington Post)

Democrats held firm with labor on NAFTA 2.0. (Financial Times)

Meyerson

Donald Trump has come up with a two-fer: His administration has promulgated a new policy that both takes nativism to new heights and attacks John McCain, all in one.

According to an article in today’s New York Times:

Children born abroad to certain United States service members and other federal employees will no longer be granted automatic citizenship under a Trump administration policy set to take effect in October. Parents of those children, including those born on military bases, will have to apply for citizenship on the children’s behalf before they turn 18. … The policy appeared to be aimed at military families who have not lived in the United States for years.

The Pentagon, the Times reports, is predictably furious at this latest diktat from the Department of Homeland Security. Defense Department officials are trying to figure out who exactly would fall under the new strictures and who’d skate by.

Well, I know one prominent American who might not have made Trump’s latest cut: the late John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father had been stationed, when the Canal Zone was a U.S. territory. When McCain ran for president in both 2000 and 2008, a number of his critics questioned whether he met the constitutional requirements for the presidency, which mandate that presidents be born in the USA.

Could Trump have had McCain in mind when he and Stephen Miller were cooking up their latest brainstorm? Could Trump be so deranged that he still is determined to attack McCain? He already has—repeatedly. Seven months after McCain shuffled off this mortal coil, Trump, unprompted, took out after him, calling him “horrible” on Fox News, and he has periodically continued his tirades.

So if this new burst of nativism strikes you as inexplicable, there’s a likely explanation: the inexhaustible Wrath of Trump, which death itself cannot quell.

Teixeira

People are asking this question—or flat out claiming third parties did sink her—because they are worried about how such parties might affect the Democrats’ chances of defeating Trump in 2020. As one example, Josh Marshall recently stated:

[I]t’s really the unusually high 5.7% of the vote going to three third party candidates—Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Evan McMullin—that made it possible for Trump to win as a minority candidate.

Thinking about the 2020 election, there are certainly scenarios where third parties, depending on their type and the distribution of their vote, could hurt the Democrats.

But to set the record straight, 2016 does not appear to have been one of those times. In a “States of Change” report, we performed the exercise of re-allocating the “extra” third-party vote to see how the election outcome might have been affected if those third-party voters had voted for the Democrats or Republicans. As we explained in the report:

One of the unique features of the 2016 election was the relatively high third-party vote. Nationally, third-party candidates in 2016 collectively garnered about 4 points more than they did in 2012—5.7 percent versus 1.7 percent. While it is possible that similarly high levels of support will appear in future elections, the historical trend would suggest that a decline is more likely after a spike. Given that trend, the authors developed a separate 2016 baseline where third-party vote share is returned to its lower 2012 levels and the rest of the third-party vote share is reallocated based on underlying partisan preferences.

The result: Trump still wins the electoral vote, only by a larger margin, 309–229. This is because he still carries the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, while also carrying New Hampshire by a narrow margin. This makes sense when one considers the actual distribution of the third-party vote in these states: Michigan, Johnson 3.6 percent/Stein 1.1 percent; New Hampshire, Johnson 4.9/Stein .9; Pennsylvania, Johnson 2.4/Stein .8; Wisconsin, Johnson 3.6/Stein 1.

So the third-party effect is not necessarily anti-Democratic. And Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 election because of it. As for 2020, we should wait until we have more information before we make a judgment on who it will help and who it will hurt.

Kuttner

The British prime minister has just pulled off a constitutional coup. He requested the queen to suspend Parliament for about six weeks ahead of the October 31 deadline for a Brexit deal or a no-deal exit from the EU; and since the queen’s consent is a mere formality, Her Majesty complied.

This ploy will drastically narrow the window for debate on the terms of Brexit. Johnson is gambling that weakening debate in the House of Commons increases the chances that he will have the votes to lead the U.K. out of the EU, deal or no deal.

But Johnson may have miscalculated, and may have strengthened the hand of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Until Johnson’s latest move, Corbyn, whose own party is divided on Brexit, had decided to delay the strategy of trying to force a vote of no confidence on the prime minister and force new elections because Corbyn wasn’t sure he could muster the votes.

Now, however, Johnson has managed to unify the several fractious opposition parties in common outrage against himself. Under the suspension order, the House of Commons goes out of session as early as September 9. This gives Parliament just over a week to muster a vote of no confidence—and muster the reckless Johnson out of office.

His latest move has just increased the odds of his own ouster.

Teixeira

So much data, so little time! Probably the single thing you should be sure to look at is the RealClearPolitics rolling average of candidate preference. Right now, Biden’s still ahead, of course, with almost twice the support of Sanders and Warren, who are now quite close in the polling average. Harris is a fairly distant fourth.

But also worth paying attention to are several media outlets that are starting to release data from their polls in graphical, cumulated form with interesting internal demographic trends. Politico, for example, has some nice material up from the Morning Consult poll. These data have Sanders still leading Warren by a significant amount, though they do have Warren gaining ground, as pretty much every other poll does.

Some noteworthy internals here are that Sanders and Biden are neck and neck among Hispanics, while Biden has roughly twice the level of support of Sanders among blacks. And, as the polling feature notes, “Warren leads among the educated and rich, Sanders among the uneducated and poor.” There is also an interesting chart showing how incredibly white Buttigieg’s support is.

The Economist has even better visuals using YouGov data. For whatever reason, Warren seems to run particularly strong in these polls, nosing ahead of Sanders in recent data. The internals give Biden a slight lead among Hispanics by nearly four times the level of Sanders’s support among blacks. Biden runs ahead of Sanders and Warren among those with high school or less or some college, while Warren is the leader among both four-year-college graduates and those with postgraduate education.

Finally, Warren is the leader among those being at least considered by voters, regardless of who their first choice is. Among those whose first choice is specifically Biden, Sanders, or Harris, Warren gets the most “consider” designations.

Meyerson

Today’s Washington Post features a fascinating and revelatory story by James McAuley that illuminates the growing relationship between the Hasidic sect Chabad and the operationally anti-Semitic regime of Hungary’s Victor Orban. (“Operationally” because it’s not apparent that Orban is personally anti-Semitic, but abundantly apparent that he has resurrected a host of anti-Semitic tropes—most particularly, in his ongoing attacks on George Soros—in order to consolidate his support among the largely rural Hungarians who make up his electoral base.) A passing reference in the article also points to Chabad’s hitherto unheralded support for shareholder capitalism—file under “Who knew?”

At issue is Orban’s desire to construct a Hungarian Holocaust museum that largely omits Hungary’s long history of anti-Semitism in recounting the murder of roughly 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944, when the Nazis took more direct control of the nation from their wartime ally, Hungary’s anti-Semitic ruler Miklos Horthy, whose reputation Orban has sought to rehabilitate. After first entrusting the museum project to Maria Schmidt, who resolutely downplayed Hungarian anti-Semitism, Orban was compelled to let her go. Now, he’s restarted the project under Chabad Rabbi Slomo Koves, a staunch Orban supporter who repeatedly has turned a blind eye to Orban’s anti-Semitic electoral appeals. Koves points out that Orban has aggressively supported the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hungary’s largely secular Jewish population has long accused Orban of cozying up to Chabad as a way of mitigating his ongoing invocation of anti-Semitic themes.

Part of Orban’s cozying up was his selection of Chabad to take over a small, failing Budapest college, which Chabad then renamed Milton Friedman University. How the father of shareholder capitalism became a Hasidic icon is a good question—probably, Chabad was groping to find a Hungarian-descended Jew with beliefs in accord with Eastern Europe’s New Right. Or could it be that Chabad believed some biblical passage actually disparages workers and the environment, and pronounces the share buyback to be a devotional rite?

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