Monday, December 10, 2012

Will GOP remain a far-right reactionary party?

A major question for American politics in the coming years is whether the Republican Party can divest itself of some of its far-right commitments of recent years. The Republican Party has abandoned moderation and consensus-seeking politics in recent years, as its far-right reactionary fringe has effectively captured the party.

Republicans have essentially sought to couple 1920s-era pre-Great Depression, pre-New Deal economic policies with 1950s-style pre-Civil Rights, pre-Women's Rights social policies. They have embraced efforts to monitor and control individual behavior in seemingly every non-economic sphere of life.

Republicans have also enshrined anti-intellectualism as one of their core values, denying scientific evidence and facts while distorting history and espousing crackpot macroeconomic theories without intellectual foundation.  On economic issues, they have opposed nearly all efforts to reverse the thirty-year trend of rising income inequality, with an ever-growing proportion of national income and wealth being absorbed by a small percentage at the top.

Are we seeing the first vestiges of Republican re-thinking as some finally acknowledge that their preferred policy of limiting taxation for the wealthiest citizens lacks public support?  Conservatives are seeking to misguidedly enforce austerity during a fragile economic recovery, a sure bet to plunge the economy into recession, though we now finally see signs of dissent from the preference for austerity.

The turn-back-the-clock approach was rejected in the 2012 election. Some Republicans have awakened to that fact. Yet some evince no understanding that their electoral losses were rooted in unpopular policy positions, not in a mere communication failure. The right-wing message is no longer popular, yet many Republicans cling to it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GOP post-election confusion

Post-election signs of national Republican Party confusion and conflict are rampant.

First came revelations that the Romney campaign and many other Republican pollsters misread the potential demographic composition of the 2012 electorate. That sparked a series of prominent Republicans to embrace the idea of immigration reform, or to speak of their party's need for more aggressive minority outreach. And there even have been Republicans making statements indicating recognition that their party's economic focus might need to change to become more appealing to middle-income Americans. Of course, some of these sentiments have met with resistance and outrage on the far right, but that was to be expected.

The long-term question for Republicans is whether it's possible for them to compete at the Presidential level under normal circumstances while avoiding splintering into two distinct factions, or perhaps even into two different political parties.

While the Republican Party's future ability to compete at the national level is worthy of contemplation and discussion, the current Republican intra-party debate also has consequences for current governance.

Most Republicans seem to be coming to the realization that they have little leverage in the current fiscal negotiations with President Obama. House Speaker John Boehner clearly would like to cut a deal, but he is constrained to some extent by conservatives' domination of House Republican ranks.

While Republicans have admitted revenues have to be part of the solution, there is clear Republican division on whether to acquiesce in raising tax rates on the wealthy by allowing Bush tax rates to expire. Republicans have refused to detail their demands for Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

Polls show the public prefers a deal with taxes on the wealthy increased, no cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and would hold Congressional Republicans most responsible if there is no deal. Atop that, President Obama's Job Approval numbers are rising to their highest levels since 2009.

Weakness of the Republican position is being underscored by elements of the business community emphasizing resolution to the problem rather than specifics. The business community generally wants to avoid sequestration scheduled to occur in January if no long-term deal is reached. And they have been making sounds indicating they might start bringing  pressure on Republicans to make a deal, regardless of political fallout.

Emblematic of that position is Business Roundtable Chairman and former Michigan Republican Governor John Engler's proposal that they agree to a five-year extension of the debt ceiling to break Republican efforts to hold the economy hostage each time the debt limit requires raising.

Republicans are in a rough spot politically, and are likely to lose on the policy front. The question of whether Republicans really want a deal is yet to be answered.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Additional thoughts on the 2012 election:

1. State-based public polls were generally accurate in 2012, while the national polls clearly underestimated the Democratic vote. State polls indicated that Obama would likely finish with a minimum of 281 electoral votes, more likely 303, and possibly 332 if he could pull out a perceived upset in Florida. Florida was a must-win state for Romney that typically leans Republican, and in which Romney had shown clear leads in mid-October. Polling indicated Obama closing in Florida, with the aggregate polling results showing them roughly deadlocked.

While there was a clear disconnect between Republican/Romney campaign pollsters' expectations of the electorate's composition, national public polls also underestimated the minority composition of the electorate.

Most of the national public polls, especially those funded by major television networks and prominent newspapers, assumed a 24-26% non-white portion of the electorate. Yet exit polls indicate the non-white portion of the electorate was 28%, an increase from the 26% non-white share in 2008. While the aggregate of the national polls pointed to an Obama popular vote victory in the 1.0-1.5% range, he now leads by 3.6 points.

2. On the realignment question, demography is certainly against Republicans. Increased multi-culturalism, embodied both by the increased non-white share of the electorate, and younger whites' tolerance of diversity has destroyed Republicans' tight electoral college hold which existed in the 1968-88 era. 1988 was the last time the Republican Presidential candidate achieved 300 electoral votes. Democrats have won 332+ electoral votes in 4 of the last 6 elections, and have won the popular vote in 5 of those 6 elections.

Democrats' Blue Wall, comprising 18 states plus DC which have gone Democratic in all six post-1988 Presidential election, now total 242 electoral votes. That is a huge base with which to begin in Presidential elections. There are three additional states (New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire) totaling 15 EV which have been carried by Democrats in 5 of 6 of those post-1988 elections. That's 257 EV which clearly lean toward Democrats in a typical Presidential election in the current era. A Democrat need only hold those 21 states plus DC, and win Ohio, or any two of Nevada, Colorado or Virginia (all trending Democratic at Presidential level) to clinch electoral victory. This also could be accomplished by winning Florida, though Florida is the most Republican-leaning of these swing states, so my assumption is it will not be the "tipping-point" state. If a Democrat carries Florida, he is probably carrying enough other states by larger margins to ensure victory without Florida. Such was the case in both 2008 and 2012 when Obama carried Florida, but did not need it to win.

3. To sustain a realignment, Democrats will need to move beyond winning Presidential elections and gain and sustain full governing authority. This requires taking control of the House so divided government does not disrupt policy shifts needed to cement Democrats' majority over the longer term.

The clear  obstacle here is that Presidential electorates do not resemble mid-term electorates demographically. Those voters who have become regular Presidential year voters but who fail to show up for mid-term elections disproportionately tend to vote Democratic. Republicans' success in 2010 was not merely a product of a struggling economy. The electoral result was also rendered by an electorate much whiter and older than the Presidential-year electorates of 2008 and 2012. Democrats' primary electoral challenge is to ensure that the younger voters and minorities adopt more habitual voting patterns including voting in the mid-term years and not only in Presidential years.

4. We have also reached a point where the Republican Party's policy choices and rhetorical emphases are not particularly popular outside corporate boardrooms, where the opposition to government regulation and taxes plays, and among white Southerners, where church, guns and antipathy to non-whites rules. This is an odd and tenuous coalition, at times frayed by tensions between non-Southern corporate types' aversion to cultural issue extremism, and Southern whites' attachment to cultural issues.

Southern whites (including those in Border South states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and recently West Virginia) vote differently than whites outside the south. Democrats, particularly Obama, have performed quite well among non-Southern whites, but run extremely poorly with Southern whites, particularly outside the South Atlantic states.

We seem to have reached a point where Southern whites, generally, have policy preferences which are out of step with the rest of the nation.

Romney represented, and was aligned with, corporate interests perhaps more clearly than any Republican nominee since Herbert Hoover. Turnout was down in rural areas, particularly in parts of the South. This had no effect on the electoral college outcome, but could have hurt Romney in the national popular vote.  How long can the coalition of largely small-town and rural Southern whites and the corporate establishment be sustained?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is the South out of touch?

Republicans continue to win big in the South in Presidential elections, but struggle to compete in most of the rest of the nation. In short, the South appears out of touch with the rest of the country. The South exerts a reactionary pull on the Republican Party, leading to it endorsing many issue positions which are losers nationwide. Whether this difference between Southern Republicans and the remainder of the nation is primarily racially-based, or religiously-based is unresolved.

It is clear that Southern whites are decidedly more conservative than the national electorate on a wide range of issues. While Republicans win an overwhelming proportion of the vote among white southerners, the white vote splits much more evenly in other parts of the country.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Persistence of the "New" Electorate

While Republicans face the possibility that changing demographics might have relegated them to an underdog position in Presidential elections for a generation, the 2012 election brings the Democrats' primary electoral challenge into stark relief.

The overriding challenge for Democrats is to bridge the apparent structural gap between Presidential-year electorates and mid-term electorates. Democrats need to ensure that the voters who have fueled their 2008 and 2012 Obama victories, especially those who cast their first votes in 2008 or 2012, become habitual voters who show up at the polls in mid-term elections. The demography of 2010's electorate (much older and whiter) differed dramatically from the 2008 and 2012 electorates. Democrats need to change that.

If Democrats fail to ensure the persistence of the new electorate from Presidential elections to mid-term elections, they will continually face the prospect of losing Senate and House seats in mid-term elections.

The Presidential electorate continues to grow more ethnically diverse,with the non-white portion of the electorate now up to 28%, the highest in history. The non-white sector of the electorate is only going to continue to grow moving forward. Latinos comprised 10% of the electorate, African-Americans held steady at 13%, while Asians and other ethnic groups combined for 5%. The Republican challenge is to become more competitive within this diversifying electorate, while Democrats' challenge is to turn out this electorate in non-Presidential elections. 

Additional Election Observations

Democratic Presidential candidates have now carried 18 states (the "Blue Wall")  plus DC in six consecutive Presidential elections (1992-2012).  These states include 10 East Coast states stretching from DC northward to Maine excluding New Hampshire; the four Great Lakes states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin; and the three West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, plus Hawaii. These states now account for 242 Electoral Votes, providing a huge Democratic base. 

There are three additional states (Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico) currently totaling 15 electoral votes which Democrats have carried in five of the past six elections. Iowa and New Mexico went Republican in 2004, while New Hampshire went Republican in 2000. If these three states are added to the "Blue Wall," the Democratic Electoral College advantage becomes even more stark. It is challenging for Republicans to win so long as states possessing 257 Electoral Votes clearly tilt Democratic.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

2012 Elections data and observations

Several notable facts from 2012 elections:

1. With votes still being counted, President Obama's popular vote lead continues to widen. His national margin is now up to 3.25 million votes, boosting his portion of the vote to 50.6%, and a 2.7 point lead over Republican Romney. This is apparently going to wind up being a 51-48 election, instead of a 50-49 election as it seemed to be through much of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

2. With Florida being called for Obama, he finishes with 332 Electoral Votes, losing only two states (North Carolina and Indiana) which he carried in 2008. He did not win any states he lost in 2008.

3. Obama becomes the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win 50%+ of the popular vote in two elections.

4. He becomes the first President since FDR to be reelected with a smaller share of the popular vote and electoral college than in his previous election. This happened to Roosevelt in his 1940 and 1944 elections. And he becomes the first since Andrew Jackson to win a smaller share of both the popular vote and electoral college in his second election.

5.Democrats won the national popular vote in the House of Representatives, but appear likely to be limited to 200 seats in the 113th Congress. Combination of redistricting providing Republicans a distinct advantage and Democratic votes being heavily concentrated in urban areas will give Republicans sizable edge in the House.