Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Pre-Election Dizzy

About a month before election day, the actual voting begins to occur
as each state with its own rules allows for applications for absentee
voting, gives them out, receives them, and in many cases, permits
early voting itself.  Many states also allow party registration
switches. Most of this is public information, and analysts from each
political party and some individual campaigns can pour over this
data, compare it with the data from previous elections --- and then
try to glean clues, signals and patterns of what will result when the
votes are actually counted.

We are now in this curious and obviously recently created interval,
and already the number-crunching folks are busy at work, feverishly
going over each day’s data. Secretaries of state are ballyhooing their
statistics, especially if they are improving, as evidence of their work
to “get out the vote.”

At the same time, many volunteers are making campaign contact
with large numbers  of voters by phone, internet and in personal
contact

Many pundits rely on ubiquitous polling of varying reliability and
credibility, while others assess the impact of fundraising and
campaign advertising, lawn signs and the ever-increasing revelations
from opposition research.

Conventional election wisdom usually ranks polls, fundraising and
advertising very high --- primarily because they are in full view and
easily quantified. Voter ID and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are
mostly under-the-radar, and thus more difficult to assess, as is the
impact of unpaid publicity and deeper voter psychological reactions
to events, personalities, issues and public anxieties.

In 2016, conventional election wisdom crashed because the traditional
models failed to accurately predict the outcome. Hillary Clinton
consistently led in the polls, raised and spent the most money, and had
most of the media on her side. Her opponent was outpolled, outspent
and broke virtually all of the conventional rules of campaigning and
political discourse. Yet Donald Trump won the election by winning
the electoral college votes in the individual states, not the overall
popular vote that was measured by the polls which conventional
wisdom had made a greater priority. His appeal to voters was also
judged by conventional standards which no longer applied.

In 2018, the congressional Democrats have financially far outraised
their Republican opponents, especially in contested races, and are
spending the most money on advertising. Establishment media polling
has favored them throughout the cycle, including in many of the U.S.
senate races where they are vulnerable. The poll numbers in the latter
are now, it is true, changing at the end of the campaign --- and 
conventional wisdom is finally acknowledging the Republicans' clear
mathematical advantage in this cycle.

But in the U.S. house races, conventional wisdom continues to assert
that the Democrats will take back control by winning more than 23
seats net from the current GOP majority. In fact, most establishment
pundits rate 50-65 GOP incumbent seats variably “vulnerable” and
only 1-3 Democratic seats vulnerable to Republican pick-up.

Indeed, the much-touted “blue wave” could happen --- although since
the controversial Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it would even
appear to conventional thinking that a blue “surge” might be limited
to U.S. house races and governorships.

There will now be an acceleration of speculation in the remaining two
weeks of the campaign. Airwaves, mailboxes, the internet and
billboards will be incredibly crowded with ads, propaganda and
sensational revelations from both sides. Some of it might impact the
now diminishing number of undecided voters. Conventional wisdom
will be tested one more time.

This cycle it might hold. But 2016 unleashed new forces in both
political parties --- and history suggests such forces don’t disappear
overnight.

Surprises invariably happen in these circumstances. Prepare for them.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All right reerved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Unusual Movement In New Polls?

There appears to be, over the past few days, some unusual movement in
the major published polls. It is not entirely uniform, and there are still
almost three weeks until election day. This movement is also too new to
be conclusive, and my readers know that I take most polling with some
skepticism. Nonetheless, something appears to be going on with the
electorate in the final days of the 2018 midterm election cycle --- a time
when a large segment of voters who are undecided or uncertain about
their votes actually make up their minds.

This is a very short post, and deliberately non-specific, but if the current
movement continues and grows, I will report it.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. Al rights reserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Mid-Term Crunch Time

The 2018 mid-term elections are only three weeks away, and as I have
predicted, the polls are tightening and more “safe” seats have become
competitive.

The key to this period is that many voters are only now paying attention
to the individual races, Those who are “undecided” or capable of
changing their minds seem to be a larger percentage this cycle, as
indicated by many polls.

What should we now look for?

First, watch for polls further tightening or changing leaders.
Double-digit leads can dive into lower single digits almost
overnight. When this happens, it’s a race worth watching.

Second, polls this cycle (and the last one) have undermeasured certain
kinds of voters. Conservatives and Republicans often distrust polls
and refuse to answer them, thus distorting the results.  But it is also
true that some polls have undermeasured the kind of voters who share
 Bernie Sanders’ political views. Some recent primary upsets attest to
that. Watch for pollsters to try harder to obtain polls results that will
reflect the final results credibly.

Third, it’s difficult to measure, but the so-called “Kavanaugh effect”
appears to be a late-breaking factor in 2018 --- with Republicans being
roused to vote, especially in red states, but Democrats in blue states
also being motivated more to vote. Conventional media assumptions
have been that women, in particular, were upset by the Kavanaugh
confirmation,and will vote  Democratic as a result. There is evidence,
however, that many women found the Democrats’ tactics objectionable.
Only the final results will tells us which is true.

Fourth, President Trump has appeared to “nationalize” much of the
election --- with his opponents and critics determined to give him a
defeat, but also his supporters roused to turn out to give him a victory.
His rallies on behalf of GOP gubernatorial, U.S. senate and house
candidates have drawn enormous and enthusiastic crowds, and the
candidates whom he supports have generally seen their poll numbers
rise after a rally. Democrats have some political celebrities on their side,
including former President Obama, and they clearly help their
candidates, especially in heavily blue state races, but most of the
competitive races this cycle are in red states.

Fifth, President Trump has the “bully pulpit” and particularly is
skillful in commanding media attention. Does he have an October
“surprise” or two ahead?

Sixth, opposition research is now a common factor in U.S. politics,
and late-breaking revelations can change a race quickly if credible.
This strategy was taken to the extreme by the opponents of Justice
Kavanaugh --- and they failed --- but some revelations can be
devastating  to a campaign. Opposition research strategies often
appear near the end of the contest.

Seventh, a great deal of money has been raised this cycle by candidates
and PACs in both parties. Campaign radio, TV, billboard, mail and
social media ads are already flooding everywhere. They will peak in the
next three weeks. How effective they will be is unclear, as many voters
are turned off by their sheer noise and clutter.

Eighth, and most important in my view, the key figure in any election,
and no less so this year, is the individual voter. Candidates, campaign
operatives and advisors, pundits and the media in general, like to
second-guess them. That’s what happened most notoriously in 1948
and 2016, but it seems to be true that only the voting results on election
day will tell us what really happened.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: International News Clips

BRAZIL GOES TO THE RIGHT
The largest nation in South America, long known for its rich culture,
also has a history of political and economic instability. The latter trait
recurs with some regularity in Brazil, the Portuguese-speaking nation
with a population of 210 million, 3.2 million square miles of territory,
and so many natural resources. Settled in 1500 by the Portuguese,
Brazil separated from Portugal in 1822, and began a long history of its
own emperors, corrupt republics, military and civilian dictatorships.
Recent governments held out hope for economic stability and more
democracy, but after a series of scandals, the impeachment and
imprisonment of the president, crime waves, and widespread citizen
protests, a charismatic figure from the right, Jair Bolsonaro has
emerged as the likely new president. A Brazilian legislator for 28
years, Bolsonaro promises Brazilians a stable economy and a
crackdown on crime and corruption. In the first round of the
national elections, he received 46% of the vote, and will now face off
against the leading leftist candidate on October 29. A former army
captain, Bolsonaro has expressed praise for earlier military rule of
the country, which has been criticized by his opponents, but Brazilian
voters seem responding more to his calls to end corruption.

MACRON POPULARITY DIPS IN FRANCE
President Emmanuel Macron won as upset victory in 2017, routing all
the established political parties on the right and the left. Not only was
it a personal victory, the new centrist party he created won a majority
of seats in the French parliament. But his efforts to reform French
policies have run into snags as the nation’s economic growth lags
behind the rest of Europe, and chronic unemployment remains in
spite of his programs to create more jobs. This year so far, M. Macron’s
popularity has fallen from 50% to 29%. Asserting that his “cultural
revolution” will take time, his opposition has only stepped up their
attacks on his administration --- although with parliamentary control,
he remains in charge for now.

CATALAN SEPARATISM AGAIN RISING
The long-festering separatist movement  in the northeastern Spanish
region of Catalunya, previously suppressed by the Spanish government
in Madrid, has re-emerged as a divisive force in the modern democratic
Spanish nation. Torn by a civil war in 1936-39 that turned out to be a
rehearsal for World War II, Spain was ruled by a dictator, Francisco
Franco, until 1975. Spain then reverted to a constitutional monarchy
under King Juan Carlos, although political power was in the hands of
a prime minister and his government --- and the parliament (Cortes)
which was democratically elected. Just prior to the civil war, in 1930,
the royal government under Juan Carlos’ grandfather and his powerful
dictatorial prime minister General Primo de Rivera was overthrown by
a coup which soon led to the creation of a brief and weakly constructed
republic. Although Spain had been a European power in its “Golden
Age” and for centuries, and had numerous colonies in North and
South America, Africa and Asia, the country itself was divided into
very distinct regions, including Galicia in the northwest, the Basque
Country in the north central, Andalusia in the southwest, and
Catalunya. Each of these regions has a distinct history and their own
language, but had been united by the Castilian kings in Toledo and
later in Madrid. Regional independence movements were
suppressed under Franco, but reappeared, especially in the Basque
Country. A much more civil movement  existed in Catalunya
and its capital Barcelona ---where much of the nation’s industry was
located. Catalan separatists argued that Madrid took much more
taxes from the region that it returned, and that they wanted to restore
an independent Catalan nation  When the conservative government
was replaced by a socialist government earlier this year, separatist
leaders renewed their call for a Catalan plebiscite on independence
--- which has been ruled illegal by the Spanish courts.

U.S. U.N. AMBASSADOR RESIGNS

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has submitted
her resignation to President Trump. Ambassador Haley has been an
outspoken and eloquent spokesman for the Trump administration,
and enjoyed notable popularity among many Republicans. A former
governor of South Carolina, she gained national prominence as a
leading woman conservative before being named to the cabinet
(and high profile) position by the president. At  the U.N., she was a
powerful and unflinching voice for U.S. foreign policy

CONSERVATIVES GAIN IN CANADA
Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suffered significant
losses in recent Canadian provincial elections, including Ontario,
New Brunswick, and most surprising of all, Quebec. This shift to the
right and the Progressive Conservative Party marks the first time in
many years that voters have rejected so many candidates of Trudeau’s
Liberal Party in these provinces.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Threshold

The political trauma of the confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh’s
elevation to the U.S. supreme court tested not only the nominee, but
some very basic American principles as well as the character of several
men and women who now hold high office.

Some commentators are now discussing the winners and losers
resulting from this battleground, and there are no doubt some
political winners and losers in this matter.

I suggest, however, the greatest good to come from this event was a
reaffirmation of an essential American value --- the rule of  law that
asserts a person is innocent until proven guilty.

The senate confirmation process was not designed to be a legal  trial,
but in recent years, this constitutional function of “advice and consent”
has often been cast as a judicial proceeding --- and increasingly with
fewer and fewer of the rules and protections that our system
provides to every citizen. This is part of a general phenomenon that
in some quarters has arisen to question the very assumptions of our
representative democracy itself. Such self-questioning is cited in
our Declaration of Independence as a healthy process, but only when
it represents the considerations of all citizens --- especially in the task
that sometimes occurs in many nations, namely the overthrow of
tyranny.

After separating us from a despotic English king, the founders of the
new republic established an evolutionary and correctable written
constitution grounded with basic unalterable principles. Perhaps
paradoxically, many of our rules of law were inherited from English
law. Over time and through a tragic civil war the U.S. has repaired
many of its initial flaws that reflected not only public opinion in the
18th century, but also certain compromises our founders made to unite
thirteen disparate North American colonies into a functioning nation.

The constitutional creation of a supreme court did not enumerate
fully its powers, especially to overrule acts of the executive and
legislative branches. As the nation matured, the supreme court did
become the ultimate arbiter of constitutional government while
usually restraining itself from intervening on clearly expressed
powers granted to the other branches.

Over time, many circumstances and conditions change, and even
an institution such as the supreme court evolves in its public role.
In recent years, there arose a national controversy over the “activist”
supreme court (and lower courts) which has assumed its right to
“revise” certain founding  ideas. This latest debate was
begun in the 1930s and has continued to the present day.

The current supreme court reflects a narrow majority of justices
who hold more “originalist” views than do the previous and
long-standing majority of activist justices. With the retirement of
Justice Anthony Kennedy,  a conservative who on some social issues
sided with liberal colleagues, the stage was set for a full new
majority.

This was the context of the confirmation hearings  of President
Donald Trump’s second nominee for the supreme court. That most
liberals and Democrats strongly oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s
legal philosophy, however, was not the question before the senate.
The decision about the ideological orientation of the judiciary is
decided in the presidential election. Only the president can nominate
a federal judge. The function of the senate “consent” to a nomination
is as a safeguard against a president failing to choose a judge of high
caliber.

Lacking any credible grounds to oppose  Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s     
standing and ability in the law, his opponents decided to attack him
on his character and personal life. In order to pursue this strategy,
his opponents needed to promote a public relations atmosphere in
which Judge Kavanaugh would appear to be on  trial in the senate
with allegations that presumed he was guilty --- a complete reversal
of a fundamental American principle.

The leaders of the senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley rose to the occasion.
They began their confirmation work as partisans, but  because of
their opponents’ strategy, they ended the confirmation process as
constitutional champions as well. There were a number of high and
low moments as the process went on, but it was a speech by Maine
Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, which best expressed
the  largest and most critical issues. In fact, it was such a tour de force
that it is likely to be the one utterance in this matter which will be
read and quoted long after the present controversies are forgotten. It
was a moment of rare true political eloquence that ensures her place
in the history of the notable members of the U.S. senate.

In the wake of the confirmation vote, some commentators are arguing
the U.S. supreme court is now “politicized.”  One wonders where
these commentators have lived for the past 40 years! The supreme
court has already been a political issue for most of that time. The
Kavanaugh confirmation was only latest chapter in this saga. Both
parties have responsible for "politicizing" the federal courts.

Beyond the political, however, this confirmation was the test of a key
threshold American principles --- the principles of the rule of law and
fairness.

Considering the techniques now employed to bypass that threshold,
however, all of us --- liberals and conservative --- will need to
perform “sleepless vigilance” (Lincoln’s timeless phrase) to protect
our most essential principles from wherever threats to them might
yet come.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Either/Or?

Each mid-term election has its own character, its own set of political
demographics and circumstances, its own hot-button issues, and mostly
its own center-stage personalities. At the same time, certain historical
patterns can often be found in the results after the votes are tallied ---
but rarely before election day. Historical similarities do often occur, and
there are characteristic patterns which appear in one mid-term,
disappear in the next, and then reappear in another.

One of the recurring patterns, in addition to the often cited one in which
the party in power loses seats in the U.S. house and senate, is the
circumstance of when the mid-term is a provisional report card on the
current president and his administration’s policies. Recent presidents
of both parties --- Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ---
each had problematic first two years in their first term, and did not do
well in their first mid-term elections. But each of them recovered, and
won a second term. Only Jimmy Carter failed to recover from his first
two years, and was defeated for re-election.

But not all mid-terms are so nationalized. Both Presidents Bush had
first mid-terms in either economic boom or, in the case of George W.
Bush, the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001..

We also need to remember that second-term mid-term elections are
different from those which occur two years after a new president is
elected. Those mid-terms also often result in the party out of power
making gains, but in 1998 during a booming economy Republicans
(who controlled the house and senate, but not the White House) lost
seats in the house and made no gains in the senate. After the election,
in December, 1998, the house impeached President Bill Clinton, but
failed to convict him in February, 1999. The two issues in 1998 were
the economy and the impending impeachment. Voters approved the
former and opposed the latter.

What about 2018?

The economy is booming. Democrats are so far delaying the
confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. supreme
court. Many Democrats are saying that if they recapture control
of the U.S. house, they will attempt to impeach Mr. Trump. The
president’s popularity is under 50%. The Trump administration has
just completed a successful renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement.
Mr. Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico has not been built.
The president has nominated a large number of conservative federal
judges --- most of them replacements for retiring liberal judges. The
Democrats have no central theme to the mid-term elections, running
a variety of establishment liberal and much more radical candidates
across the nation. Donald Trump is the single most significant factor
in both Democratic turnout (against him) and Republican turnout (for
him).

i think we can safely conclude, therefore, that the 2018 mid-term
elections have been nationalized. Of course, these same elections are
state-by-state and district-by-district, and local conditions and
individual candidate personalities are always important, but in the
final weeks of this cycle, the overriding questions appear to be about
President Trump, his nominee for the U.S. supreme court, and the
impact of the economy.

The reader can come to his or her own conclusion about which party
a nationalized mid-term election will most benefit. The national
popular vote remains divided, as it was in 2016, with Democrats
having an edge. But 2018 is not a national popular vote election --- it is
a state-by-state and district-by-district election. National polls thus
mean relatively little, even if they are accurate --- something very much
in doubt so far.

Nevertheless, 2018 is an either/or election --- a voter statement about
whether they are overall pleased or displeased with their national and
state governments.

There are still apparently a lot of undecided or wavering voters in key
competitive races, but election day is now approaching rapidly.

Place your bets.

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Are Democrats Shutting Windows To Winds Of Victory?

The political precedent is well-known that frequently in the
first mid-term election of a new president his party suffers
significant losses in he U.S. house and senate, especially if
they are in the majority. These losses cam be amplified when
the new president is controversial and/or unpopular.

In the 2018 mid-term election cycle, new GOP President
Donald Trump is undeniably controversial, and his poll
numbers are under 50%. His party controls both houses of
Congress. These circumstances fit the historical precedent
conditions for major Republican mid-term losses.

On the other hand, the economy is very strong, the stock
market at or near historic highs, unemployment is sharply
down.

Although the GOP controls both houses of Congress, the
Democrats’ prospects for big gains or even taking back
control of the U.S. house is only visibly strong in the latter.
In the U.S. senate races, liberal incumbent seats outnumber
conservative ones by almost three-to-one. Reducing the GOP
51-49 lead is technically, even anecdotally, possible, but
mathematically improbable. In he U.S. house races and in
state governorships, however, the Democrats have the
numbers and precedent on their side.

Liberal pundits, pollsters and media outlets have, since the
outset of the 2018 cycle, been drumming up a blue wave
election narrative, even including an unlikely one in the
senate races. Turnout in the primaries and the closeness (but
not victory) in most special house elections were interpreted
as clear evidence of the imminent blue winds of Democratic
gains and overall victory in November.

These victories could indeed still happen a few weeks from
now in November, but two unexpected developments have
arisen whereby Democrats might, by their own hands, shut
their windows to the strong political breezes seemingly
heading their way.

The first development appeared relatively late in the primary
season. Initially, liberal strategists seemed to have determined
to recruit more moderate candidates to take on GOP
incumbents in swing districts or in districts where the
boundaries had recently been redrawn (often by the courts).
This made sense as a winning strategy. It appeared to be
working in some special house elections. As the primary
elections took place, however, a more radical left voter
movement, inspired by 2016 unsuccessful Democratic
presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
(a self-described independent socialist), began to win a
number of races in U.S. house races, governorships, and in
at least one prominent down-ballot state attorney general
race in Minnesota. Most establishment liberal incumbents
won their primaries, but a few prominent ones were upset by
candidates to their left --- candidates advocating single payer
healthcare, Medicare for All, abolition of I.C.E. border
control, unlimited immigration into the U.S., free college
tuition, and sanctuary cities. In effect, the Democrats are
now running an opportunistic mid-term campaign without
unifying themes.

The second development also appeared late when a member
of the U.S. supreme court retired, and President Trump
nominated a more conservative figure as his replacement.
In spite of the fact that several Democratic senators up for
re-election this year are from states carried by big margins by
Donald Trump in 2016, the Senate Democratic leadership not
only decided to oppose the nomination, but to seek out and
encourage a campaign of personal attacks against the nominee
that has been unprecedented in recent memory. (To be fair,
the confirmation process has deteriorated on both sides in
recent decades). Allegations against the nominee were aired in
non-judicial hearings where the fundamental American
principle of law that a person is innocent until PROVEN guilty
was turned on its head. Partisans for and against the nominee
became incensed, but a growing public perception of unfairness
and political desperation might backfire as the controversy
continues almost until election day. The Republicans and
President Trump, while denouncing the attacks on the nominee
as politically-motivated, have allowed the Democrats to pursue
a strategy of delaying the nomination (presumably not only
to defeat the confirmation, but also to enable vulnerable
Democratic incumbent senators to avoid voting on the
nomination at all before election day).  This political
melodrama is still playing itself out with another delay, but the
risk is growing that it could provoke a voter backlash against
those attempting to scuttle the confirmation process.

In a variation of the common phrase --- the non-jury is out!

The best motivator for Democratic turnout this cycle is liberal
opposition and antipathy (much of it visceral) to Donald Trump.
But the best motivator for Republican turnout this cycle is
conservative enthusiasm for President Trump!

President Barack Obama stood at the “bully pulpit” in 2010,
but he couldn’t prevent a wave election against him and his
party. President Donald Trump stands at the same pulpit now.
To this point, he has disrupted precedents and expectations.

Can he do it again, or has his string of upsets run out?

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Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.