Saturday, October 15, 2016

Why Such a Close Election?

The latest polling at realclearpolitics has Trump down to Clinton by 6.7 points.  If the election were today Trump might win 20 states.

Mondale won 1 state and lost to Reagan by 18 points.  Dukakis lost to Bush by almost 8 points and won 10 states.  Does this make sense?

I don't think it's especially controversial to say that Trump is the worst human being and candidate that has been nominated for President in my lifetime, at least in terms of his moral character and temperament.  I think it's pretty obvious he's incompetent, but some might debate that.  On the issues opinions will differ.  Overall on non-issue related categories he's unbelievably bad.

It truly seems unreal to me.  You have the genital grabbing, the inappropriate talk towards 10 year old girls, saying his accusers aren't attractive enough to be groped, admission of imposing himself on naked teenagers in a dressing room.  Hillary is running against a true monster.  A dangerous abusive sexual predator that should be locked up to protect women.

And yet he's doing better than Mondale, Dukakis, or McGovern.  He's going to win more than one state, which is more than some nominees could say.  How is he doing so well?

I think Democrats should think about this question right now.  If they can't put away a candidate like this, what does that say about them?

In my discussions with Trump supporters and in my own mind I can think of several reasons Trump gets this level of support.

1-Some just feel that strongly about the issues.  Abortion is one.  True, Trump may not be genuinely pro-life.  He probably doesn't even care about the issue.  But he'll nominate a pro-life Supreme Court justice anyway.  At least to please the base.  Hillary of course will not do that.  Some people continue to believe in trickle down economics.  He will cut taxes for corporations and wealthy people and a lot of people continue to believe this is how you improve an economy.  A lot of people think illegal immigration is a serious threat to their life and livelihood.

Progressives should think about it this way.  What if our candidate was the sexual predator?  What if we nominated Bill Clinton and the worst said of Clinton and his treatment of women was true?  But his opponent thought climate change was a liberal conspiracy, wanted to torture the children of terrorists, wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, wanted to strengthen rulings like Citizen United to maintain the corporate control of government?  I'd probably vote for Clinton anyway.  I wouldn't degrade myself as Trump's supporters are doing and make excuses for the behavior (it's just locker room talk, people talk like this all the time, he's telling the truth now even though we have audio of him saying the opposite, he asked for forgiveness so we should let it go).  I would own it and just say the issues are too important.

2-Hillary is this bad of a candidate.  I don't think she's the monster she's portrayed to be.  But she is an insider.  So was Obama.  That doesn't have to mean she's a terrible person.  She might have simply concluded that there's no way to win without the support of billionaires, so you have to do their bidding to some degree or lose forever.  That may be what she and Obama concluded.  On the other hand they may genuinely be insiders that care more for the interests of the wealthy than ordinary people.  Regardless of what they think deep down they actually do the bidding of the wealthy first.  They do not punish bankers.  They do push trade deals the billionaires want.  Their tax increases on the wealthy are half measures.  Not even.  They have sustained for-profit health care, which is killing thousands of Americans every year.  They do it because the owners want it.  They go to war for reasons that have nothing to do with our national security, but really either the security of Israel or for the interests of money.  People are sick of this.  I know a Muslim that intends to vote for Trump and he says "I know Trump hates me and people of my religion, but I'm sick of the corrupt insider government we have here."  That's how tired people are of the cesspool Washington has become.

3-Citizens United.  Some billionaires want their tax cuts and regulation cuts, so they will pump money into elections to help Trump win.  This is part of the reason Hillary can't put Trump away.

4-Some people are really racist and misogynistic.  They don't even mind the revelations.

Personally there is one major issue that causes my support for Hillary to be very tepid.  I think she could provoke a nuclear war.  Russia is taking steps that indicate they fear this outcome.  Hillary is such a committed hawk, such a committed apologist for Israel's aims, that she's risking a nuclear confrontation.  Trump talks about getting along with Putin.  I think he's quite right about that.  We are the ones arming what was Al Qaeda in Syria.  We have played a critical role in provoking the devastation in Syria, which is all the more reason I think Americans have an obligation to help the refugees.  Sexual harassment is terrible.  But nuclear war is worse.  So there are going to be some on the left that might prefer Trump despite his unbelievable behavior towards women.  I'm not saying I'm in that camp.  I think Trump is even more dangerous with nukes at his disposal than Hillary.  But there are reasons Hillary is not trouncing him right now, and some reasons have merit in my view.


HispanicPundit said...

Agree. As much as I hate to say it, Trump cannot win this election. He would be a disaster. I can't think of any worse candidate than Trump. I am still in shock that the GOP let it come to this. This election was there to take...even many Democrats don't like Hillary. But in comparison to Trump, even Hillary looks good.

I do have a side question for you. Does the Trump election cause you to rethink your "money in politics" argument? The standard leftist argument is that elections are beholden to the rich, to political contributions, etc...Citizens United, and all that. Of course, economists and political scientists - those who actually study this stuff - have been arguing the opposite: the effect of money, including lobbying, etc, is actually much smaller, even when the financial disparities are large. The book Freakonomics, for example, talked about this at length.

Doesn't this election provide an extra data point that the economic/poliSci argument is more valid? The spending disparity here is HUGE - Clinton side spending multiple times more. Yet despite all that, Trump is polling close to Hillary. Sure, he is likely gonna lose, but few think it is because of the spending differences. When he loses, it will be more because of his personal shortcomings than anything else. Had he cleaned up some, he would have been formidable candidate - despite the spending gap.


Jon said...

When you say economists think the effect of money in politics is small you imply that ALL economists think that, but that's not true. The Freakonomics people are right leaning and they may think it, but people like Dean Baker and Joseph Stiglitz would disagree. I think it stems from what is often called a free market fetish. Free markets are great in the eyes of conservative economists, so they don't see a problem with money in politics. It's a market. But economists that don't share that view would probably disagree.

But I understand where you are coming from looking at this election. How can a guy like Bernie say things like "Wall St doesn't offer me paid speeches" or call them criminals and yet win several states? The establishment was very hostile, more hostile than they were towards Trump. I think the establishment feared him more as they probably thought Hillary could stop Trump.

We are seeing similar things with Trump at this point now that the Hillary has a new opponent. Here's where I will admit I was off. I guess I thought money was more decisive than it is. It is huge, but not everything. So that's encouraging to me.

It could be we're seeing major disruption. I'm not sure if you know but the 2014 midterm elections saw the lowest turnout in 70 years. People feel like politics has nothing to do with them. So they aren't listening to the establishment so much. They're looking for an outsider. Citizens United has exacerbated that problem, and this is the backlash. A polished version of Trump could win next time even without corporate backing.

HispanicPundit said...

I don't think you can ever get 100% consensus on anything. There are still climate change deniers, evolution deniers, and in the economic profession, there are still a few leftists. :-P When I talk about consensus, I am primarily referring to peer reviewed studies and general consensus among economists/Political Science academics...definitely not unanimity. For example, see here, here, here, and here. This is a pretty wide swath of academic consensus.

Jon writes: I guess I thought money was more decisive than it is. It is huge, but not everything.

This still underestimates the evidence. To put things in perspective, Hillary has 40x as much money as Trump...when the election was close, Clinton had 117 MILLION worth of ad airtime booked, Trump had 700k. Also, as a reminder, this is for an election that will decide the next President of the United States, unarguably the most important and powerful position of the United States, second only to maybe the Fed chair. If lobbying and money mattered anywhere, it should matter here. Yet despite all this, Trump's errors and failings have almost nothing to do with money. It's him, personally.

My worldview fits the data easily. In fact, it FURTHER confirms my views. What little doubt I had before is now significantly lessened. Frankly, I'm puzzled how those who hold the leftists view can see this election unfolding and not deeply question their presuppositions of their worldview. How one can see the data and still hold that money is still a 'huge' factor in elections? Kuddos to you for admitting some inconsistency, but I think it is still deeper than you have fully thought out.

Jon said...

Good info, but let me just at least plays devils advocate and challenge this to some degree. I don't think your sources are making the case as strongly as you are or repudiating the case I would hold directly.

The first source actually has statements from those that feel differently about it, though all do downplay it at a minimum. So that would suggest to me that this issue doesn't belong in the category of climate change denial. You could be right, but you can't be so confident. Remember, this isn't science.

Your second source says that campaign contributions are not simply the buying of votes. I don't think that's really what's being claimed. It's more like media. Advertisers very rarely will tell media personalities what to say (it has happened, but is atypical). They give money so the person that succeeds is the kind of person who's preferences reflect theirs. There is no need to tell them what to say as they have internalized it. It's not that Hillary has to be told to support free trade policies that reflect the preferences of investors. She believes it's for the best. If she didn't she would have a hard time succeeding in politics. People typically aren't total cynics, they are true believers and have to rationalize in their mind that what they are doing is right.

Your third source has Tyler Cowen saying money is not as influential as people think. OK, but how influential do people think it is? Maybe people think it's as blunt as telling people how to vote. That's not my view.

Your final source really doesn't support your thesis. It says the effect of lobbying is gridlock. Successful stalemating of proposals. It's the best outcome for the two sides lobbying, but people that aren't lobbying (that is, people who are not corporations or super rich) are not getting what is best for them. We're all getting an outcome that in total is better for the two opposing lobbying sides. It's like Republicans vs Democrats. Both want war in certain forms. Republicans often don't get exactly what they want (maybe total devastation), Democrats don't get what they want (maybe they'd prefer their wars are a little less bloody), so you get some mix. Meanwhile the American people don't want war at all, but that's not even in the cards. You gotta be in the game throwing money around to get close to what you want, but you won't get exactly what you want. Those that aren't throwing money around get nothing.

But your overall point is good. Now that the corporate world has turned on Trump I might have expected him to struggle more. But there is another dynamic at play here. You probably don't read much from Chris Hedges. I think he's very informative. But he talks a lot about kind of a creeping fascism. He argues that people are getting more and more disillusioned. More and more they understand that they do not have control of their political process (the rich control it.) In the past this is the kind of thing that has produced a lash out response, an extreme overreaction that can take very ugly forms. He's been talking like this for years, long before Trump was on the scene. So there could be a sea change in effect. And it could get even nastier next time. I think there's trouble ahead if Clinton wins. Trouble if Trump wins also, but with Clinton you get more of the feeling among people that the system doesn't care about us. She's an insider, she takes care of her own.

I have a glimmer of hope that in the culmination of her career she'll be a little like Obama and do some good things. Things like releasing a lot of non-violent offenders, taking some positive steps on the environment. But who knows.

Jon said...

One thing to think about with Trump though. The media hasn't always been so against him. We Bernie people were furious at the end of 2015 as Bernie would draw crowds just as big, even bigger in most cases if I remember, and he actually got almost no coverage. His coverage compared to Trump was often discussed. Bill Kristol in this clip sarcastically mocks Mika and Joe Scarborough for their "really tough" treatment of Trump in December 2015 time frame. He's getting ganged up on here, but I think he's right, as do the commenters after if you watch.

I mean, where is the research on him? Where is the Billy Bush stuff, the Howard Stern stuff? We learned that Bernie wrote a piece of fiction that involved a woman being raped. A big controversy. His wife apparently did questionable things financially as president of a college. His interviews are intense. People demand details. "What exactly is your health care plan, how do you pay for it, why don't voters have a right to see your medical report." In the mean time Hillary doesn't have details, doesn't have health records released. He was excoriated for not knowing the precise steps required to break up banks. He said the Treasury has the authority to start the process, but also that there are legal questions about it. I think he was right on that, others claimed it means he's stupid and doesn't know what he's talking about. Meanwhile Trump is just phoning in interviews, no details, his history is being glossed over.

Maybe a question I have is how do these peer reviewed studies consider the change in corporate media treatment throughout the process? The corporate world wants Hillary, they always have. When Trump is seen as a buffoon that can't win and can provide Hillary an easy path to the White House it seems he's given pretty light treatment. They turn on him here at the end, but there is some momentum. To look at that process and say "See, money in politics isn't an issue because he's doing relatively well" I think that's a simplification.

The treatment Bernie got varied. They initially hated him because he was the threat to Hillary and of course he's not a corporate stooge. When he was getting close they were more vicious. When the media became comfortable with the idea he couldn't win then he got decent treatment again. In the end money is going to get what it wants in this election. But the people seem sick of it.

HispanicPundit said...

I think it's much simpler. The media - shoot even me - didn't really see Trump as a serious candidate. They just let him do his thing, thinking he was going to crash and burn anyway...and then, when he started crushing GOP candidates, it was a kind of giving him passes in the shock that he is actually winning. Of course, as the election came near he eventually got the full rath of the media, rightly so.

Bernie, on the other hand, was a candidate who many people widely believed had no real chance in a general election. The United States has generally been a right-of-center country. Bernie may do well in Europe, but less likely in the USA (think Tea party movement in the USA while the rest of the world is going the other direction). So having him knock off Hillary, the strongest candidate, is to essentially take the Democrats out of the debate...and given most media personalities are Democrats, this is not something they took favorly.

Does this mean "the media is in the pockets of special interests" model is right? I still don't think so. In this simplistic view of the process, Trump should have been enemy #1. As someone in the pockets of establishment economists, I truly feel that Trump is the bigger threat to the status quo. Bernie atleast had a few economists backing him...Trump had ZERO. Trump is a staunch anti-globalists and openly discusses breaking up free-trade agreements. Trump hates BOTH forms of free markets: free trade AND free labor (immigration). The guy is an overall disaster on economic terms.

But this didn't happen. Why? Because the media responds to personal biases, not special interests...personality biases mentioned in my first paragraph.

Jon said...

Something to keep in mind though, HP. Trump hasn't won yet. The rich and powerful haven't been deprived of their preference yet. Would the rich even allow Trump to win? Remember the question at the debate that everyone was so outraged about. Will you accept that the result isn't fraudulent? Trump says he'll have to let you know. This was regarded as an outrageous answer. He's expected to accept the result before the vote has happened. I guess the Carter Center declines to monitor the integrity of elections in the US because it says there is no way to audit. Some states don't require paper ballots that can be cross checked with the computer output.

Question for you. Electric utilities have spent millions to thwart solar power in Florida. Is it your opinion that these millions have no effect as the influence of money in politics is negligible?

Also, just something to think about. When you advocate a position think about what opinion the rich would prefer that we hold. If money did play a major role in politics the rich would prefer we imagine that it doesn't. It would allow them to influence politics without fear of that setup ending. Compare the opinion you hold and the opinion peddled by the peer reviewers with the preference of the rich as a kind of sanity check. Do you see any correlation?

Jon said...

Not that the rich are always wrong. I think even the rich are starting to get a bit concerned about the environment and global warming. I guess I'm with them. My point is though the rich want Hillary over Trump. The rich don't always win in politics, but they usually do.

HispanicPundit said...

I believe that lobbying has an affect...just not that much. And this election showed me that that affect is even less than I had thought, previously. We all gotta be data driven, and like I argued above, I don't see how one could be part of this election cycle and still think lobbying is a 'huge' force in elections.

Compare the opinion you hold and the opinion peddled by the peer reviewers with the preference of the rich as a kind of sanity check. Do you see any correlation?

Still misses the point. Yes, the rich desperately want Hillary to win. Massively so. She gets almost ALL of the funding, lobbying, commercials, etc and she will probably win....but guess what, Trump almost won anyway! He almost won DESPITE all of this. And his failings - I would argue and believe you would agree with - have nothing to do with the lobbying/rich power delta. It has almost everything to do with Trump, himself. In other words, DESPITE the massive lobbying delta, Trump could have won the Presidency had it not been for his personal failings. That is HUGE. And that is completely opposite of what one would predict with the "lobbying model" promoted by the left.

This is a social experiment that we will probably never see, or be repeated at this magnitude in our lifetimes, so it is important that the lessons are fully thought through: Trump would have been a TOTAL DISASTER for the rich (...and poor), yes. Huge. The lobbying delta was ENORMOUS, yes, probably never be such a one sided lobbying/rich power delta again. And guess what? Trump almost won...and would likely have won had he toned down just a few of his mistakes. That is the outcome that needs to be fully digested. Fully thought through. It's huge.

And this, for the most powerful political position in the most richest country in the world. What does that tell you? It tells me that lobbying isn't all that powerful. It isn't all that deterministic.

The fact that Clinton is gonna win AND that rich people want her to win does not change the above narrative. The reason Clinton is gonna win is not because of her lobbying...she is going to win, not because people like her, but primarily because they like her atleast slightly better than Trump - and not some Trump that is formed by watching lobbying commercials, no, by a Trump that was presented by the man himself! In other words, the public, again despite the massive lobbying delta, got to see Trump for who he is...and it terrifies them. This is why Hillary will win tomorrow. The fact that the rich also support this outcome just tells me that the rich are reasonable people too (which, btw, should NOT be surprising!).

Jon said...

Still misses the point.

I'm just asking a separate question. You took three long paragraphs restating your point as if I don't understand it, but you didn't answer my question. Do you notice any correlation between the opinions you advocate and the positions the rich would prefer? When I see you post I know it's coming. Here comes the preferred opinion of the top .01%, or at least prominent elements within that income group (they aren't a monolith). Do you notice that?

I don't think margin of victory matters much to the rich. Just victory. A couple of elements actually line up to show the power of the rich in this cycle. The Wikileaks revelations show that Hillary wanted either Trump, Carsen, or Cruz. That was her easiest path to victory. She got media support on that with regards to Trump. He could do interviews from his bed on his cell phone. As Bernie would deliver a speech after winning a caucus CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News wouldn't even carry it but instead would be "standing by for Trump" looking at a blank podium. Les Moonves said that Trump was great for CBS even if he was bad for America. They built him up as Michael Moore pointed out. Because they are behind Hillary totally and they would prefer to elevate this bufoon so they can install this candidate who must be the most establishment candidate the US has seen in it's history. With record breaking unfavorable ratings. How to get someone like that installed? Make sure her opponent is even worse. This is really playing out perfectly for the rich.

She won't win by a mile, but that's fine. They don't need her to win by a mile. This is how it went with Obama Care, which was a bill written by the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies (they only have negligible influence but they wrote the legislation?). Remember, Obama had both houses of Congress when he took office. Why not get a public option in health care? Democrats who you might think support that kind of thing just kind of fall apart and we just barely don't get it. Bummer.

The public is a beast though. People are so sick of establishment politics and cronyism that they are prepared to vote for this monster. I'm not claiming money is decisive. The person that spends a dollar more wins. It's just huge, and looks to be huge even here. It's getting Hillary elected. We can't stand her. Almost nobody even puts a sign in their yard. They still get her elected. Pretty incredible.

HispanicPundit said...

If this whole thing was their plan, they are a very risky group. As Trump could have won...had he personally not been such a personally bad candidate. I mean, as long as you fit that into your model - that someone so threatening, despite MASSIVE lobbying deltas can actually win elections, then we are on the same page. If not, then I dont know what data could change your mind. This election has been a perfect experiment in that, probably never see one so one sided again.

Regarding the rich and my views, generally the rich hate competition. They want to stay in power. So of course they love regulations. They hate true free markets. I support the latter.

HispanicPundit said...

You were saying???

Jon said...

Money lost, but I don't buy the idea that money's influence is negligible.

But I have to say I am surprised that money and power let this happen, I thought they would rig it to prevent this outcome. I didn't trust really that the voters would elect Clinton, I thought the powerful would have to be called in to get it done. The system seems to have been honest.

Jon said...

Regarding the rich and my views, generally the rich hate competition. They want to stay in power. So of course they love regulations. They hate true free markets. I support the latter.

BTW, I didn't deny that some of your opinions would generally conflict with the opinions of the rich.

Jon said...

Greenwald offers some interesting commentary on media treatment of Donald Trump if you are interested.