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Polling Failure in the UK

[ 50 ] May 12, 2015 |

UK_opinion_polling_2010-2015

As the occasional (charitably) LGM Senior British Correspondent, I’m going to weigh in with a series of thoughts on the British General Election last week.  Cards on table: one of several reasons for my extended sabbatical(*) from LGM has been my active involvement, time permitting, in the Labour Party campaign here in Plymouth.

When I walked into the Plymouth Guildhall Thursday night around 10:15 to participate in the counting of the ballots as a count agent for my Constituency Labour Party, following 14 hours on the campaign trail, I was immediately confronted with the exit poll conducted by several pollsters for several media organisations.  The poll was a shock as it was inconsistent with the narrative created by the last year of public polling released by the major houses.  All the major polls, and the five or six seat projection models, suggested a hung parliament. The largest single party in this new parliament would likely be the Conservatives, but they would only have anywhere from five to 15 more seats than Labour, and the maths suggested there was no way the Tories could form a stable minority government, let alone a coalition:

The exit poll will be out very shortly, and then we’ll have a good idea (or a false one). But first, here’s the game. No one is going to win an overall majority, so it’s all about who can cobble together 323 seats – the number needed for a majority – by banding together with other parties.

Second, Labour seem the most likely to win that game. May2015’s Poll of Polls, which has averaged all the latest polls since September, has finally finished adding numbers up. It’s conclusion? The Tories are going to win 33.8 per cent of the vote, and Labour are going to win 33.7.

This was the narrative the pollsters stood by, and the narrative that those of us academics called upon by the media used as the foundation for discussion (with our own various caveats).  Quite obviously this was wrong, and I’m plastered all over the media both in Devon and the Southwest of England as getting it very wrong.

For the 2015 General Election, we had access to considerably more, and richer, data than in elections past. It felt like an embarrassment of riches, and a certain hubris resulted.  In addition to the national level polling, Lord Ashcroft released around 130 constituency level polls of marginal seats.  These, with the expected N of around 1000, for the first time allowed us to understand how the national numbers and trends were being reflected at the constituency level not only occasionally, but systematically. We were in a position where we could finally bury the swingometer based on the mythical uniform national swing.

The interesting academic question from this election is why polling in the UK failed as bad (if not worse) than it did in 1992.  At this early point, we don’t know, and anybody offering a definitive explanation is taking a significant risk.  There are working theories and interesting questions; four can be found here from YouGov, ICM, Populus, and ComRes. Labour’s internal pollster has an observation here, which is intriguing given the methodological insight revealed for the internal polling. Of course, as these data are not in the public domain, any conclusions drawn are not definitive.  Finally, Eric Kaufmann (one n removed from a relation with our own SEK) has this intriguing take here at the LSE blog. I have one potential minor critique of the Kaufmann piece — his methodology is based on 130 of the Lord Ashcroft constituency level polls, and some of these were ancient in political terms.  Speaking for the two constituencies that represent 15 of Plymouth’s 20 electoral wards, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport was polled in August, while Plymouth Moor View was polled in December.  (The third, Southwest Devon, wasn’t touched, as it’s a very safe Conservative seat.)  These polls estimated a 13 and 11 point Labour victory respectively; on May 7th, the Conservatives won both constituencies by 1.1% and 2.4%.

It is likely that no single cause will explain the polling failure of 2015.  I have an additional theory that I’ll discuss soon assuming it passes prima facie.

(*) The other reasons include being elevated to an administrative role in my department (cue up Bunk to McNulty here), and that this election has increased my media calls significantly. I’ve done somewhere north of 60 appearances in the past twelve months. Rob suggested last week that I link these to LGM.  I will in the future when I can, if only that you, too, can laugh along with the audience at home.

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Social Desirability and Response Validity in Current Polling

[ 22 ] September 28, 2012 |

Several days ago in these very pages, discussion ensued regarding the latest conservative attempt to rewrite reality through re-weighting polls to one guy’s liking.  Of course, polling is not an exact science, but it is a science, and the latest wingnut delusion has no grounding in theory or empirical evidence.  Like any science, survey research continuously attempts to improve upon the validity and reliability of its measures and findings.  While I’m not at all concerned about some nefarious (and successful) attempt by the MSM and that paragon of power, the Democratic Party, to turn otherwise professional and reputable polling houses into duplicitous shills.

However, I have been somewhat interested (note, not concerned) if there might be something else going on that causes the polls to over estimate support for Obama.  Social desirability bias is something I’ve published on in the past (direct link to the paper here).  While that article suggests a contextual effect that causes variance in social desirability across countries (regarding accurately reported turnout in survey research), relevant here is what is colloquially known as the Bradley Effect.  It’s possible (though I consider it unlikely in the specific context of the 2012 Presidential election) that this helps explain Obama’s consistent polling advantage in an election where many if not most structural conditions suggest an incumbent defeat.

It’s difficult with the data I have available to examine this hypothesis to any satisfaction, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.

To begin with, we have the current state of the polls.

Obama Romney Advantage
RCP 28 Sep. 48.6 44.6 4.0
538 28 Sep. 52.2 46.5 5.7
538 6 Nov. 51.5 47.4 4.1

 

RCP’s running average has Obama up 4 points, Nate Silver’s “nowcast” model up 5.7, and his current prediction for election day 4.1 points.

If social desirability is at work here, a poll respondent will state that she or he supports the President because internally, our not entirely sincere respondent is seeking the socially desirable response, and not supporting the black guy might be racist.  However, this is done knowing that they will ultimately support the white guy.  Practically, this would mean that Obama’s support in these polls is inflated.

I’m approaching this from several directions.  First, I’ve averaged the final month of polls for Presidential elections going back to 1976 (an arbitrary cut off) to examine how accurate the polls were in predicting the final outcome between two white men, with 2008 to serve as a benchmark for 2012.  Shift represents how wide of the mark the final polls were, to the benefit or detriment of the incumbent party.

Poll Result Shift
2008 D 7.6 D 7.3 0.3
2004 R 1.5 R 2.4 0.9
2000 R 3.0 D 0.5 3.5
1996 D 11.0 D 8.0 -3.0
1992 D 12.0 D 6.0 -6.0
1988 R 12.0 R 7.0 -5.0
1984 R 18.5 R 18.0 -0.5
1980 R 4.0 R +10.0 -6.0
1976 D 2.0 D 2.0 0.0

 

Social desirability response bias in an election can take on many forms, not just race.  To wit, the 1992 general election in the United Kingdom is a good case study (one I lectured on here at Plymouth about six or seven years ago, shame I have no clue where those lecture notes now reside) as the polls largely predicted a narrow Labour outright victory or a hung parliament with Labour having the plurality of seats, yet the Conservatives under John Major easily won by 7.5%.  This is called the Shy Tory Factor on this island, which is simply another manifestation of social desirability.  But in 2012, I’m primarily considering race, and comparing 2008 to past elections does not support the hypothesis that this might be a problem for Obama’s numbers in 2012.

I also considered several of the primary elections in January, 2008.  This was the beginning of a primary where Obama was a somewhat unknown junior senator only four years into his Congressional career, going up against the assumed nominee.  For these data, I average all polls from the last week of the campaign in the given state (there were 20 in New Hampshire alone).

Poll Result Shift
NH Obama 35 37 2
NH Clinton 30 39 9
NV Obama 33.25 45 11.75
NV Clinton 37 51 14
SC Obama 41 55 14
SC Clinton 26 27 1

 

This evidence is more ambiguous than the examination of previous general elections.  Both Clinton and Obama received shifts in their favor, which isn’t surprising considering the undecideds presumably made a decision of some sort once voting.  However, in both New Hampshire and Nevada, the shift was stronger towards Clinton than Obama: a 7 and 2.25 point advantage respectively.  Both are dwarfed by Obama’s advantage in South Carolina.

These are the wrong data to be analysing this with, of course; ideally we’d have individual level data.  While not individual level data, the following figure, by Greenwald and Albertson, offers a more holistic view of the 2008 primaries.

The above shows that among 32 states where data were available, the “Bradley effect” was only evident in three states, yet 12 states demonstrated what has been termed (erroneously, in my opinion) the “reverse Bradley effect”: states where Obama’s support in the primaries was under, not over, estimated (see South Carolina above).  I consider this an erroneous classification because where the theoretical explanation for the Bradley effect hinges on social desirability, the reverse has been hypothesized as a function of systematic sample bias, through either the under-representation of African Americans in polling samples, or the cell-phone effect.  However, some have hypothesized that “black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama”, and the link above does discuss that

After the Super Tuesday elections of February 5, 2008, political science researchers from the University of Washington found trends suggesting the possibility that with regard to Obama, the effect’s presence or absence may be dependent on the percentage of the electorate that is black. The researchers noted that to that point in the election season, opinion polls taken just prior to an election tended to overestimate Obama in states with a black population below eight percent, to track him within the polls’ margins of error in states with a black population between ten and twenty percent, and to underestimate him in states with a black population exceeding twenty-five percent. The first finding suggested the possibility of the Bradley effect, while the last finding suggested the possibility of a “reverse” Bradley effect in which black voters might have been reluctant to declare to pollsters their support for Obama or are under polled.

There are numerous possible explanations for the “reverse” effect, including faulty likely voter models, under sampling of blacks, sampling bias due to cell phones, to name a few.  There might be some sort of contextual effect at work here, but to ascribe it to behavioural motivations (rather than factors exogenous to the individual, such as sampling bias) such as blacks being shy to state their support for Obama fails the face validity test to me.

Ultimately, given the wide array of mediocre data presented here, I am not concerned about social desirability biasing the estimates of support for Obama in any significant, substantive manner.  However, much as I’d like to, I wouldn’t say that the Republican conspiracy is more likely, if only because that is so creatively ludicrous I initially thought it was an Onion piece.

Push Polling!

[ 0 ] March 20, 2010 |

Ten minutes ago, the wife received a call Family Research Council. The first question: “Do you have a favorable opinion of President Obama’s government run health care proposal?”

After she answered “Yes,” there were no further questions. I suspect that there would have been more than a few additional queries if the answer had been “No.”

UPDATE: IPE@UNC marshaled the mighty power of empirical science to determine the truth of my last statement:

They called the wife’s phone about 10 minutes later and she let me answer. This time when asked if I supported the Marxist take over of everything great about America I said “No”. Were there follow-ups? Why….. yes! Of course there were. The next question was some variant of “Do you support abortion?” I said “No” and then the robot lit into a 30 second rant about how Obama pledged to Planned Parenthood during the campaign that he’d do everything in his power to eliminate all restrictions on abortion (which I think is untrue, but maybe not) and strongly implied, without directly saying so, that passage of the health care bill would lead to just that outcome. Then the robot asked if I’d be willing to contact my congressman about this issue and I said “Yes”. The robot then helpfully gave me my representatives’ information.

More on British Polling and Margins of Error

[ 0 ] March 2, 2010 |

I promise that this will not be a daily habit of mine, but the Tory +2% lead poll did generate the predictable breathless excitement on these islands.

YouGov’s daily tracker indeed moved back towards +6, as anticipated, at Conservative +7. Additionally, a ComRes poll was released yesterday for The Independent which places the Tory lead at +5 (37/32/19). I want to emphasize that the +2 poll released on Sunday, while at the fringes assuming a true value of +6, is still within the margin of error. It was not an outlier in a pedantic understanding of the word, which is a case three standard deviations removed from the mean.
In other words, the findings reported in the Sunday poll were not “wrong”. 95% of samples will yield the true value within the error band of +/- 3%, as this was. This is why we have margins of error in the first place.

What we should focus on is not the point estimate itself, but the trend — and the consistent trend is clearly away from the Tories and towards Labour.

Speaking of which, the +5% Tory lead reflected in The Independent’s poll still yields a distribution of seats as Labour 287, Conservative 272, Liberal Democrat 59 — assuming a uniform national swing.

UPDATE ( 3/3/10): Again as expected, Wednesday’s YouGov tracker is rather consistent, at Conservative +5 (C 38 L 33 LD 16). Given the last seven to ten days of polling, this suggests a true value of support around + 6%, and if not precisely 6 (and it isn’t) it’s slightly below 6%.

Preliminary Colorado exit polling data

[ 0 ] November 4, 2008 |

This is weighted by affiliation but doesn’t attempt to incorporate early voting:

Obama 52

McCain 47

Senate Polling

[ 0 ] October 31, 2006 |

Some new CNN data. It still looks like 50-49-1 to me, with Tennessee looking like a write-off. The one ray of hope is Virginia–the polls are still even, and given the D.C. suburbs I can see Virginia going Democratic in a toss up race the way I can’t see Tennessee. On the other hand, MO is also still a toss-up, although I’m inclined to think the Dems will take it.

Polling Data

[ 0 ] September 17, 2004 |

Via Kos, John Zogby makes a compelling argument that telephone polling, as we know it, is obsolete:

Zogby points out that you don’t know in which area code the cell phone user lives. Nor do you know what they do. Beyond that, you miss younger people who live on cell phones. If you do a political poll on land-line phones, you miss those from 18 to 25, and there are figures all over the place that show there are 40 million between the ages of 18 and 29, one in five eligible voters.

This is pretty interesting, and does not admit an obvious solution. Zogby had moved to internet polling, which may or may not give a more accurate account. We’ll have to wait for November to clear some of this up. In any case, the huge spread of current polls is probably due to something more than the difference in likely voter methodology.

I’m not current with the legalities of polling via cell phone, although I have noted that I tend to receive very few unsolicited calls on my cell (very few solicited ones, either; I’m one hell of a loser). Myself and my roommate have gone the cellular/cable modem route, and no longer have a landline at all, meaning that we are apparently politically invisible. How will the invisibile people sort themselves out in November? Well, we’re young, which may help the Dems, and we’re probably a touch more affluent than normal (correcting for the fact that we’re young) which favors the Republicans.

How worried should we be about Donald Trump becoming president?

[ 358 ] May 12, 2016 |

apocalypse now

This is not the same question as “what are the odds that he’s going to win?”

The reason is because it makes sense to be quite concerned about a potential catastrophe, even if the odds are low that it will happen.

My view is that a Trump presidency would be a genuine catastrophe, at a completely different level than anything the country has ever seen before in terms of presidential politics. Besides being almost unbelievably ignorant about pretty much every topic relevant to the office, Trump appears to be a mentally unstable person who shouldn’t be in command of a set of steak knives, let alone a set of nuclear launch codes.

So, in my view, a ten percent chance of Trump becoming president is in itself a sort of ongoing disaster, as in Apocalypse x .1 = Omigod This Can’t Be Happening. Which brings us to Thomas Edsall:

There is also strong evidence that most traditional public opinion surveys inadvertently hide a segment of Trump’s supporters. Many voters are reluctant to admit to a live interviewer that they back a candidate who has adopted such divisive positions.

In matchups between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump does much better in polls conducted online, in which respondents click their answers on a computer screen, rather than in person-to-person landline and cellphone surveys.

An aggregation by RealClearPolitics of 10 recent telephone polls gives Clinton a nine-point lead over Trump. In contrast, the combined results for the YouGov and Morning Consult polls, which rely on online surveys, place Clinton’s lead at four points.

Why is this important? Because an online survey, whatever other flaws it might have, resembles an anonymous voting booth far more than what you tell a pollster does.

In a May 2015 report, Pew Research analyzed the differences between results derived from telephone polling and those from online Internet polling. Pew determined that the biggest differences in answers elicited via these two survey modes were on questions on which social desirability bias — that is, “the desire of respondents to avoid embarrassment and project a favorable image to others” — played a role.

In a detailed analysis of phone versus online polling in Republican primaries, Kyle A. Dropp, the executive director of polling and data science at Morning Consult, writes:

Trump’s advantage in online polls compared with live telephone polling is eight or nine percentage points among likely voters.

This difference, Dropp notes, is driven largely by more educated voters — those who would be most concerned with “social desirability.”

These findings suggest that Trump will head into the general election with support from voters who are reluctant to admit their preferences to a live person in a phone survey, but who may well be inclined to cast a ballot for Trump on Election Day.

This is a kind of variation on the so-called Bradley effect, the continued existence of which is controversial. Will there be a Trump effect, and if so will it be strong enough to overcome the many excellent reasons to think that Trump will be an exceptionally weak candidate?

Other reasons to worry include:

The argument that Hillary Clinton is herself an exceptionally weak candidate.

This argument is usually based on some combination of the claims that she’s a bad campaigner, that she’s going to have to deal with serious legal complications because of the email thing or whatever other “scandal” the GOP cooks up, and that she’s a prototypically establishment figure at a time when the zeitgeist is going very much in an anti-establishment direction. I think the first two claims are seriously overstated, while the third is a genuine cause for concern.

The argument that Trump is a unique candidate, and that existing precedents for analyzing his strengths and weaknesses are of relatively little value.

Trump certainly is a unique candidate, but his uniqueness seems to be manifested in ways that are unambiguously bad for his election chances (there’s never been a major party candidate with anything like both his negatives, and his extra-political fame. In other words everybody knows him and most people hate him because they know him, which seems like an exceptionally unpromising combination). So the argument that you can’t really assess his chances seems like bare assertion at best.

The argument that something could happen that could change the present political landscape in a radical way: a big terrorist attack, an HRC health crisis, or who knows what else.

Again, this seems to add up to the claim that while things look bad for Trump now, they could look different five months from now, which is true by definition, and therefore trivial.

The argument that Trump will get massive media coverage, even beyond that given to a typical presidential nominee, because he’s great for ratings, and that this coverage will normalize him, because of the reflexive structure of political coverage in this country (“both sides do it, the truth lies somewhere in the middle,” etc.)

I think this is probably the single best reason to worry that Trump’s chances are better than conventional analysis would suggest.

In any case, there’s going to be a lot of gin in my freezer between now and November.

Common Core Problems

[ 81 ] May 7, 2016 |

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Because it is so despised by right-wingers, there’s a temptation to defend Common Core education standards. But as with so much of the education reformers’ agenda, in practice it is deeply problematic, although not usually for the reasons wingnuts have. One of the major problems is the combined issue of testing and privatization. Unfortunately, and I think this might be about to change to some extent, education this century has become about an endless cycle of testing and test-prep, to the detriment of independent thinking, real education, and fun. But who is going to grade all of these tests. Often this is contracted out to private education companies like Pearson. But do you think a corporation wants to employ a bunch of humans to do this grading? Of course not. So how are they grading writing? Through computer program. But computers are a terrible way to evaluate writing.

Here, Pearson appears to be suggesting that the robust marketplace in data-mining computer apps supplied with artificial intelligence will lead to a proliferation of jobs for ed tech entrepreneurs and computer coders, to make up for the proportional loss of jobs for teachers. This seems to be further evidence that their ultimate goal — as well of that of their allies in the foundation and corporate worlds — is to maximize the mechanization of education and minimize the personal interaction between teachers and students, as well as students with each other, in classrooms throughout the United States and abroad.

Well, the ultimate goal is profit, both personal and corporate. This is just a means to that end. But while a computer program can count big words or key words or whatever, it can’t evaluate for meaning, subtlety, originality, argument, or much of anything that actually makes up good writing. Terrible idea.

Another problem with Common Core is that it undermines good education programs that already existed in the country. Take for example Common Core and Massachusetts literature standards.

Until recently, classic literature and poetry saturated the commonwealth’s K-12 English standards. Between 2005 and 2013, Massachusetts bested every other state on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nation’s report card.” Great fiction and poetry contributed to Massachusetts’ success on virtually every K-12 reading test known to the English-speaking world.

But in 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration succumbed to the temptation of $250 million in one-time federal grant money, killing off our edifying English standards in favor of inferior nationalized benchmarks known as Common Core. These national standards – an educational gooney bird – cut enduring fiction and poetry by 60 percent and replaced it with “informational texts.”

“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” scholars Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky said in 2012. “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”

By 2015, the commonwealth tied for second in the country on the eighth-grade NAEP reading test, and SAT scores were down 20 points, especially in the writing portion. Students don’t learn to write well by reading Common Core’s soul-deadening “informational texts.”

This is an irresponsible descent from established academic excellence.

“For much of the 20th century, British literature held the center of high school English and … college courses in composition, English, history, (and) linguistics …,” Bauerlein and Stotsky continue. “We find no explanation for Common Core dispensing with it.”

But again, the pushback is on the way:

For Massachusetts students, the Patrick administration and Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s legacy of shooting down better English standards in favor of Common Core has been an albatross around everyone’s necks.

Recent WBZ News-UMass polling finds that Bay State voters, by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent, support a statewide ballot initiative to restore our previous, higher-quality K-12 academic standards.

Nationally, Common Core backer and failed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the standards “poisonous,” while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently said Common Core’s implementation has been “disastrous.”

As Common Core has seeped into America’s classrooms, Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless observed last month, “The dominance of fiction is waning. … Teachers in 2015 were less likely to embrace the superiority of fiction in reading instruction than in the past, and the change is evident in both fourth and eighth grades after 2011.”

I suppose the argument is that all states aren’t Massachusetts and so the Bay State can sacrifice some while the standards helps Alabama students achieve more. But the standards are largely terrible, corporate, and designed not for students but to serve an ideological and financial agenda. Unfortunately, politicians of both parties, especially Barack Obama, are really susceptible to this line of thinking. As I’ve said many times, the single worst part of Obama’s legacy is his awful education policy.

Donald Trump is a Terrible Presidential Candidate

[ 252 ] May 6, 2016 |

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runners

I am generally not inclined to be an optimist. But I think the 2016 presidential election is, in fact, a case where optimism is entirely justified:

The fundamental problem for the Republicans is that they’re already at a structural disadvantage in the Electoral College. The last six presidential elections have resulted in four very comfortable Democratic victories, a virtual tie resolved by the Supreme Court, and a narrow win by a wartime Republican incumbent in a decent economy—and George W. Bush was still less than 200,000 votes in Ohio away from a loss. The higher turnouts of presidential elections work against the GOP, and changing demographics are only making the problem worse. Barring economic catastrophe, a poor candidate for the Republicans is like handing an anvil to a mountain climber; they can’t really afford even a modest negative impact.

[…]

Let’s start with one state: Florida. It is enormously difficult to see any path for Republican victory that doesn’t include the Sunshine State. But it is very difficult to see Trump, who is likely to both mobilize a higher-than-usual minority turnout and fare even worse among such voters than Mitt Romney, winning a state that was roughly 40 percent African-American and Hispanic as of the 2010 Census—a percentage that is almost certainly higher in 2016. For what it’s worth, the early polling shows Clinton clobbering Trump in Florida.

Trump’s weakness with minority voters and educated professionals will also mean that he’s nearly drawing dead in increasingly blue Virginia, and he may well be an underdog in North Carolina as well. Losing all three states would essentially foreclose a Republican win.

Even assuming that Clinton merely holds Florida and Virginia, it’s not clear how Trump can win. He would have to have unusual success in the upper Midwest, but this is probably Republican wishful thinking.

If Trump loses Florida and Virginia, even winning Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania wouldn’t put him over the top. Adding Michigan would do it, but contrary to some assumptions, Michigan is not a swing state. Obama won it in 2012 by nearly 10 points against a quasi-native son Republican candidate, and that was in much worse economic circumstances and before Governor Rick Snyder drowned his party’s brand in the Flint River. Trump is not going to carry it. You would also have to be an extremely optimistic Republican to think Trump could capture the relatively diverse and urban state of Pennsylvania for the GOP for the first time since a much more moderate Republican carried it by less than two points in a landslide election in 1988.

After 2012, many Republicans were aware that the country’s demographics were tilting against them in presidential elections. Nominating Donald Trump perversely exacerbates these problems rather than alleviating them. This doesn’t guarantee a win for Hillary Clinton, but it does make it overwhelmingly likely.

There’s also the question of money and organization. Trump isn’t going into his own kick to fund a presidential general election campaign, and while I don’t think #NeverTrump is going to be much of a thing and that most Republicans will fall in line, if more GOP money men than usual decide not to give to Trump this matters more than usual.

Never say never again, but Clinton — despite not being a particularly good general election candidate — is a yoooooooge favorite.

Quality Reviewing

[ 12 ] May 4, 2016 |

GHC-1199-low-res

The best book reviews are as much about the review author as the book being reviewed while at the same time being fair to the book. That’s what I strive for when I review, although probably with mixed success. Anyway, I thought of this when reading Rich Yeselson’s review of the new Tamara Draut book Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America.

The ironic truth is that when labor is strong, it doesn’t need the state to intervene so much on its behalf. That’s why labor leaders in the 1950s, like Steelworkers legal counsel and later Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg believed, naïvely if understandably, that labor did best when the courts and legislatures left it alone to resolve differences with management. But when labor is weak, as it is now, it lacks the political and economic juice required to win its own battles, much less to pass remedial legislation on its own behalf.

EFCA was worth a try, but there was never a chance that unions were going to persuade pro-business Democratic senators in low-union-density states like Louisiana, Virginia, Nebraska, let alone Arkansas, to vote against the pathological hatred of their business donors for unions, and support a law that would have made it easier to organize. A more promising avenue to assist passage of such a bill, when political conditions allow it, would be to continue to pressure Democrats to abolish the super-majority filibuster.

Throughout the book, Draut returns to what is her greatest fear—that despite the encouraging signs that this new working class is on the move, she is not certain “whether the racial, ethnic, and gender divides that have impeded solidarity can finally be dismantled.” She notes that polling shows that the less financially secure are the most worried about the economic impact of immigration. She accuses Republicans of having “deliberately used race to pursue their broader objectives of shrinking government and deregulating the economy.”

She is right to be worried. And she wrote this book before the rise of Donald Trump. We understand now, if we didn’t before, how significant it is that the social democracies of Western Europe were constructed when their populations were almost entirely homogeneous. Today, right-wing parties in several countries, with much stronger labor movements than that of the U.S., wish to maintain nativist social welfare states and reject a broader social solidarity. In the United States, we know from the rage so many white working-class people have toward Obamacare—even some who have benefited from it!—that the historical weight of racial and ethno-nationalism is a great burden. Donald Trump’s campaign for president is an effect, not a cause, of this widespread ethno-nationalism of white workers who, justifiably, think they’ve been screwed, but see people of color not as colleagues and collaborators but as the cause of their distress. Draut reminds us time and again that a solidarity is painstakingly being built, but from a movement of the new working class that is “primarily, but not entirely, of people of color and immigrants.” It has the support of what I have called the new “laborism” of mostly white, college-educated union staffers and other urban, professional leftists, but less so of the white working class itself.

One of the biggest problems in writing on the left is what we might call the “predictive hope fallacy,” where writers so want a future (or sometimes a past) to be better than the present that sometimes the rational analysis goes out the window to write some sort of inspiring conclusion that will supposedly show how everything is going to work out. I actively tried to avoid this in Out of Sight by grounding my ideas in the proven (if limited) effectiveness of regulatory and export law and creating citizen access to already existing institutions like the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts. One can question whether my ideas are also too optimistic, but that was the goal anyway. I’m certainly not saying that Draut does that, despite the grandiose title, because I haven’t read the book yet. But Yeselson definitely doesn’t go down that road, which is why some of the left dislike him. Both Draut and Yeselson are right to think about the real limitations to working-class solidarity, when the white working class has so supported the xenophobic fascism of Trump.

In any case, a lot of chew on in the review and likely the Draut book.

Why #NeverTrump Was Never Going to Work

[ 203 ] May 3, 2016 |

The party is coalescing around the nominee:

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International Man of Principle Bill Kristol is getting the message:

“I mean, I guess never say never. On the one hand, I’ll say #NeverTrump, and on the other hand, I’ll say never say never.”

Watching the #NeverTrump crowd move into the Trump camp as his nomination becomes ever less evitable is going to be highly entertaining.

…when he’s right, he’s right:

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