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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The November danger

The November US elections will result in something, that much both sides of the USA’s political chasm, even hardcore partisans, can agree on. What, precisely, will happen is still mere speculation, but—at the moment—the trends suggest that neither side will be entirely happy.

There are a number of factors that make the 2018 elections look promising for Republicans who may be able to squeak through with control of the US House as well as retain control of the US Senate. Obviously, the performance of the current occupant of the White House could influence that: Whether he has public policy disasters, international failures, or even just an unhinged Twitter tantrum, along with other factors, might possibly influence the election. However, there’s very little to indicate that dislike of the current occupant of the White House is likely to have any influence on the election, except, maybe, a positive one for him.

The latest Gallup poll, released today, has the current occupant’s approval rating dropping back to 41%, which is roughly in line with his average rating of 39%. Gallup speculates that his poll bump in the previous week’s poll was probably because of his June 12 meeting with the dictator of North Korea. This week’s numbers, then, were returning to his usual levels, perhaps pushed faster by the fallout from his policy to take children away from immigrant parents who crossed the US border, mostly illegally. However, despite widespread disapproval of that policy, it nevertheless didn’t affect his approval ratings very much at all.

Republicans’ support for the current occupant dropped from 90% back to 87%, which it had been the previous two weeks. Not surprisingly, only 5% of Democrats approve of the current occupant, as do only 38% of Independents. What this really shows is the extreme width of the political chasm in the USA.

How this will translate into votes will depend entirely on who turns out to vote. That’s true in many elections, but this year it’s absolutely critical.

Overall, Gallup said a few days ago that a mere 56% of Americans said they were “absolutely certain” to vote in the November elections, which is low according to polls going back to 1954, and is even lower than 2014’s 58%, an election that had the lowest turnout since 1942.

It’s important to point out that Gallup is comparing polling more than four months out from the election to final polls in previous years. While we would normally expect the percentage of “absolutely certain” voters to rise when the election is just around the corner, there’s nothing “normal” about US politics anymore, so the number may actually go down, depending on what’s going on at the time. Still, in 2006, an election that was very good for Democrats, and 2010, which was very good for Republicans, the percentage of “absolutely certain” voters was 68%. Moreover, there’s this:
Gallup has not routinely asked the question this soon in a midterm year, but in years for which early measures are available (1982, 1998, 2002 and 2010), adults' intention to vote changed little over the course of the campaign.
All of which means that Democrats should be VERY worried. The current polls show little difference between “absolutely certain” voters who are Republicans (65%) and Democrats (64%). Independents have 45% who are “absolutely certain” voters, a fairly typical result. Moreover, the poll showed that among these “absolutely certain” voters, around 20% wanted to use their vote to send a message of support to the current occupant, while a mere 23% to oppose him. A majority—53%—didn’t plan on sending any message at all.

So, voters aren’t particularly motivated to vote at the moment, and the current occupant of the White House is not, at the moment, motivating voters to “send a message” to him, however, among those who do want to send a message, the number who want to support him and oppose him are fairly evenly matched.

At the moment, Democrats have a slight advantage over Republicans in generic ballot polling, that is, where voters are asked if they want a Democrat or Republican to win their district or control of Congress. The average of that polling (as of today—clicking on any other day may yield different results), according to FiveThirtyEight, is 46.5% Democratic, 40.5% Republican. Tracking actual seat numbers, RealClearPolitics says 197 seats in the US House are Likely/Lean Democratic, 204 are Likely/Lean Republican, and 34 are toss-up (218 seats are needed to control the House). Democrats need to win 18 of those 34 seats (plus their likely and lean seats) to win control of the House. Republicans only need to win 14. In Midterm Elections, the party that doesn't control the White House usually picks up seats, and Democrats probably will this time. The questions isn't will they pick up seats, it's will they pick up enough seats?

For the US Senate, the picture is a little more complicated since only a third of the chamber faces an election this year. Again according to RealClearPolitics, Democrats have 36 Senate seats that are safe for Democrats or have no election this year. In addition, there are seven seats are that are likely Democratic wins, plus one that leans Democratic, giving them a total of 44 seats (51 are needed for a majority).

Republicans, meanwhile, have the advantage: 46 seats that are safe or not up for election—more than the total for Democrats’ seats that are safe, likely, lean, and not up for election, combined. In addition, Republicans have one likely Republican and one leans Republican, for a grand total of 48.

Control of the Senate will likely come down to the 8 seats currently labelled as “toss up”, but here’s the problem for Democrats: IF they win all eight, their total would be 52 seats, enough to control the chamber, but without the 60 votes needed for some votes. If Republicans win all 8, they’d have 56 seats and be in the same situation—short of the magic number of 60. But Democrats MUST win at least seven of the tossup states to take control, Republicans only need to win three. Three of the toss-ups seats (Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee) were Republican seats going into this election, and they have a reasonable chance of retaining those seats, and so, control of the Senate. If they lose one or more of those seats, there are still five Democratic seats that are currently toss-ups.

All of which is why the Weekly Standard (today) has the Republicans with a better than two-to-one chance of retaining control of the US Senate: Republicans have a 70% chance of retaining the Senate, Democrats have a 30% chance of taking control, they said.

Put all this together, and—at the moment—it’s unlikely that Democrats can regain control of Congress; though control of the US House is possible, they almost certainly won’t win the US Senate. This is true precisely because Democrats and Independents aren’t currently motivated to commit to voting, so there’s no sign of a “Blue Wave” for Democrats in November, the anecdotal evidence of certain special elections notwithstanding.

The fact that the current occupant has such overwhelming support among his party’s members, and because the continued opposition to the current regime is hardening support for the current occupant, the “enthusiasm gap” is likely to be one of the biggest factors in this election. Historically, Republicans are often more likely to vote, and with turnout in Midterm Elections always low, that will be important.

As of June 1-13, Republicans and Democrats are pretty evenly split: 29% of Americans consider themselves Democrats, 27% Republicans, and Independents make up the biggest group, 43%. These numbers have been fairly consistent over time. So, if Independents are less likely to vote, but some of them have hardened in support for the current occupant of the White House, along with firmly committed Republican voters, Democrats have enormous hurdles to overcome to win the US House.

Of course, anything is possible. A major event of some sort could suddenly shift the results one way or the other. Democrats might be aided by a major new scandal facing the current occupant, a major policy blunder, or a whole bunch more indictments from the Mueller investigation. Republicans could be helped by Democratic supporters reacting all out of proportion to something the current occupant does or says or Tweets, firing up his supporters. There could also be an October Surprise, ranging from the announcement of a very popular policy through to a manufactured incident designed to help Republicans. We can’t predict any of these things, though some are more likely than others.

Clearly, Democrats don’t know how to campaign in this election. The party has dictated that impeachment is off the table out of fear of inciting a backlash from supporters of the current occupant of the White House, making them determined to vote. This seems to be a reasonable fear, considering those hardening attitudes. It’s also evident that there’s absolutely nothing the current occupant can say or do that will cost him more than a few percentage points of support, and almost none lost from his base.

Meanwhile, the normal internecine fight between establishment Democrats and self-described Progressives threatens to suppress Democratic votes among people who are identify with one faction or the other, but especially among ordinary voters who see the fighting and conclude that Democrats couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, so they can’t possibly win, so why bother voting?

What the evidence suggests is that for Democrats to take control of the US House, and to have even a remote hope of gaining control of the US Senate, a few things must happen. First, and most importantly, ALL Democrats must pledge they will vote for their Democratic Congressional candidates in November, no matter what, and even if that means holding their nose to do so (Joe Manchin, for example). There is absolutely NO way to defeat Republicans without voting for Democrats—NONE. This is why staying home is exactly the same thing as voting for Republicans.

Second, Democratic candidates must present an alternative vision for America, and NOT just run against the current occupant of the White House. By presenting the policies that voters actually want—Democratic polices—they can win over voters who are not solid supporters of the current occupant precisely because Americans want those policies.

Finally, and hardest of all, supporters of Democratic candidates will need to suck it up and not always respond to everything the current occupant says, does, or Tweets. I get how high emotions are on the Centre and Left—I share them—but passions are just as high on the Right, and they have the enthusiasm that the Centre and Left lack. Riling up the Right will do nothing to elect Democrats, but it would help elect Republicans.

Yes, this is unfair. Yes, this is frustrating as hell. And, yes, the current regime DOES have to understand that there’s opposition to their agenda. But the past eight years have proven that there are different rules for the Left and for the Right, and everything our side does or says will be blown out of proportion and used as ammunition by the Right. We must not give them any ammunition—or their agenda any oxygen—by responding to the regime’s lies and distortions and latest outrages. Besides, there will be more of all those any minute now, and we need our energy for campaigning.

I know that this last point is unpopular in the Pollyannaish world of some on the Left, those who believe that all you have to do is advance principles and stand up to the Right and voters will flock to our side. It just doesn’t work like that. In the current climate, people often react against something as much as for it, and nowhere is that truer than among the passionate Right.

This election is vital, maybe even pivotal as to whether the United States can even continue to exist. Our side claims to value the Constitution and the Rule of Law, but this election may be our very last chance to preserve, protect, and defend them. If Republicans win, and with their strongman in the White House, a guy who in their eyes can do no wrong, there will be no path left to stop them.

Can the republic be saved? Yes. Will it be? If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, then no. Democrats and sensible Independents need to put aside everything else and commit to voting Democratic in November, no matter what, and also to getting everyone they know to do the same.

The stakes are WAY TOO HIGH to do otherwise.

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