Monday, June 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Update 18

Sunday’s national election in Spain brought some relief to
continental Europe, but more bad news to Spanish politics.
The good news was that the populist left party Podemos did
not make predicted gains in the Spanish parliament. Podemos
was not exit-European Union (EU), but strongly opposed EU
austerity measures for Spain. The conservative party, led by
acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, actually gained 14 seats,
but fell short once again of a majority. The socialist party was
predicted to fall into third place (behind Podemos), but held its
own, and a new fourth moderate party lost ground, although
with 32 seats and a few seats from minor parties, this party is
expected again to form a ruling coalition with the conservative
party. Short of a majority, Sr. Rajoy nevertheless declared
victory and the right to govern Spain. As in Great Britain,
constitutional monarch Felipe VI makes the choice of whom to
invite to become prime minister. The results on Sunday were
more or less the same as those in a recent December election
which put Spanish politics in stalemate, but this time there is
much public pressure to end Sr. Rajoy’s temporary status
and put him firmly in charge. The radical populist Podemos
Party had threatened to further destabilize Europe, but their
failure is at least somewhat reassuring to remaining EU
member states and their leaders. On the other hand, there
was little true anti-EU feeling in Spain, as there is in France,
Italy, the Netherlands, and at least two other EU nations
where demands have been made, after Brexit, for their own
referenda on EU membership.

With only days until the opening of the 2016 Olympic games
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there is unprecedented disarray as
the Rio state and the national governments teeter on
economic and political disaster. Not all the Olympic facilities
have been completed, environmental goals have not been
met, and the Zika viral epidemic is scaring away prominent
athletes from participating. Local Olympic authorities are
contending that the games will proceed as planned. Brazil,
which is in a deep recession, has impeached the nation’s
president (who is now awaiting trial for her formal removal),
and the governor of Rio de Janeiro state has declared a state
of emergency. Many nations and international agencies have
warned tourists about going to Rio for the games, primarily
because of the Zika epidemic.

In contrast to her larger hemispheric neighbor Brazil,
Argentina (long the trouble spot of South America) appears
to be growing stronger economically and politically under
new President Mauricio Macri who has brought more
conservative policies to the southernmost nation of the
continent. For almost a century after World War I, the once
prosperous Argentine nation has seen upheaval and decline
under radical and populist Peronista leadership that has
drained its considerable resources.

The small island nation of Iceland has just elected a history
professor (who had not ever run for office before) as its new
president. Gudni Johannesson ran as an anti-establishment
candidate (much as the new woman mayor of Rome, Italy did),
and promised political reform, although the office is largely
ceremonial (but he can veto legislation). He opposes, as do most
Icelanders, his country joining the European Union, and he
cheered the British Brexit vote.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, once an early favorite to win the
Republican nomination for president this year, has changed  his
mind and decided to run for re-election to the senate. His
original pledge was to retire from the senate whether or not he
won the GOP nod, but the looming probability that his party
would lose the seat in November (Republicans have only a
four-seat majority) brought enormous pressure on the rising
conservative star to reconsider. It had been thought that Mr.
Rubio planned to run for Florida governor in 2018. Polls indicate
that Senator Rubio would likely win re-election, even though he
did not carry his home state in the presidential primary. The
man who did win, Donald Trump, had been a bitter foe, but now
as presumptive GOP nominee, Mr. Trump has been warmly urging
Mr. Rubio to run.

The failure of British and Spanish polls, even exit polls, to predict
accurately results in those two very recent elections fits a pattern
of  failure in an earlier British parliamentary election last year,
and in many of the U.S. presidential primary elections this year.
In fact, public polling  has had many failures since the 2012 U.S.
presidential election and the subsequent 2014 national elections.
Perhaps most dramatically, the UKIP leader of the “leave the
EU” faction in the UK election last week, Nigel Farage, told
British television audiences on election day (as the voting
ended) that his side had probably lost the referendum, citing
private polls made by some of his establishment friends just
prior to the voting.  As early as election day, 2004, it might be
remembered, network exit polls predicted a landslide victory
for John Kerry, a victory which did not happen when the votes
were counted. The critical deterioration of public polls in so many
competitive elections on the state and national levels poses a
serious dilemma for many political observers and commentators
who have in recent decades come to depend on poll numbers as
the basis of their analyses.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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