Political Evidence File

Jun19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
In the United States, the fist debates between Democratic presidential candidates raised doubts about their ability to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, especially if the economy remains healthy.
Beyond the open question of which candidates have the mix of toughness, wit, and humor to successfully parry Trump’s inevitably personal attacks during a campaign, the more painful observation was that with only a few exceptions (by thus far minor players), all the candidates sought to outdo each other in reiterating their support for positions that seem well to the left of the American political mainstream (e.g., on immigration, abortion, healthcare, etc.).

As the Financial Times’ Ed Luce subsequently wrote in a column of the same title, “Running Down the Clock on Trump is a Risky Bet” – America’s allies should hope for the best but work far harder to prepare for the worst.
America’s White Saviors

“White liberals are leading a ‘woke’ revolution that is transforming American politics and making Democrats increasingly uneasy with Jewish political power”

by Zach Goldberg in The Tablet
This is the single best analysis I have read of how a relatively small group of affluent, urban, coastal liberals have had such a large impact on campus and elite culture, as well as the positions taken by most Democratic presidential candidates.

As Goldberg notes, “A sea change has taken place in American political life. The force driving this change is the digital era style of moral politics known as “wokeness,” a phenomenon that has become pervasive in recent years and yet remains elusive as even experts struggle to give it a clear definition and accurately measure its impact…

"In reality, “wokeness”—a term that originated in black popular culture—is a broad euphemism for a more narrow phenomenon: the rapidly changing political ideology of white liberals that is remaking American politics…Over the past decade, the baseline attitudes expressed by white liberals on racial and social justice questions have become radically more liberal…”

“As woke ideology has accelerated, a growing faction of white liberals have pulled away from the average opinions held by the rest of the coalition of Democratic voters—including minority groups in the party. The revolution in moral sentiment among this one segment of American voters has led to a cascade of consequences ranging from changes in the norms and attitudes expressed in media and popular culture, to the adoption of new political rhetoric and electoral strategies of the Democratic Party. Nor has this occurred in a vacuum on the left as the initiatives set in motion by white liberals have, in turn, provoked responses and countermeasures from conservatives and Republicans.”
Two other articles highlight growing problems for two other emergent political factions.
In “The Limits of Outrage Politics”, Stephen Paduano notes the “precipitous decline” of France’s Yellow Vest movement, and notes the parallels to the previous collapse of Occupy Wall Street. As he notes, outrage alone is not reliable basis for sustaining a political movement.

Joel Kotkin makes the same point about the emergent populist nationalist right, in his column, “Needed: A Positive Nationalism”.

In a complex and uncertain world best by multiple challenges to the middle class, it is not enough to say what you are against; voters must also understand what you are for, how it will benefit them, and how you propose to implement your plans.

As Kotkin notes, “this requires, among other things, going beyond the right’s blind allegiance to free market ideology, which fails to recognize the trends that lead to both increased inequality and weakening moral structure. What is needed is not ideological homilies but realistic alternatives to polices such as the Green New Deal.”
In the Financial Times, Martin Sandbu makes a number of important observations in his column, “Europe’s Green surge matters more than the rise of the far right” (5Jun)
“Half a century after issue-based movements first began to challenge the politics of mass movements born from industrial society, Green parties have been vaulted to the electoral frontline by one of the biggest issues imaginable: the prospect of devastating climate change…

“Environmental policy lands right in the middle of the faultline between those who support and those who oppose liberal democracy and the rules-based international order. Put very simply, the policies needed to make our economies sustainable are also ones that pile new burdens on the losers from the economic changes of the last 40 years.

“For a greener economy, there is no way round making carbon-intensive products and activities much more expensive, through an outright carbon tax or policies that mimic its effects…”

The Greens are alert to this challenge: the need for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy is at the centre of their campaigns. But what does it mean in practice? There are two broad answers.

“The first is to combine carbon pricing and similar taxes with radical redistribution to favour the vulnerable. The ‘carbon tax and dividend’ model, where levies to discourage pollution are returned in lump sums to the population rather than funding government budgets, is gaining support across Europe… The second is the notion of a “Green New Deal”, which is also energising parts of the US left. The basic idea is to pursue sustainability with massively increased public investment.”
America’s Asylum System is Profoundly Broken” by David Frum in The Atlantic
Frum’s excellent analysis cuts to the heart of the current political conflict over immigration in the United States: the progressive weakening of its rules governing the granting of asylum, which are now essentially without meaning (unlike the rules governing refugees and immigrants applying through normal channels).

Frum concludes that, “the asylum system is profoundly broken, and the only way to make it work is to begin with fundamental questions. If poverty, unemployment, crime, spousal abuse, and other non-state-imposed forms of human suffering justify an asylum claim, then there are at least 2 billion people on earth eligible if they can make it over the border…Until the United States establishes and articulates clear rules, the crisis at the border will continue.”

Of equal if not greater importance is the fact that this article appeared in the Atlantic, which is generally considered a center-left publication.
Two new surveys on either side of the Atlantic provided fresh evidence of growing frustration with the current state of politics and governance.
In “Divided, Pessimistic, Angry: Survey Reveals Bleak Mood Of Pre Brexit”, the Guardian’s Nosheen Iqbal reports that, “Britain is a more polarised and pessimistic nation than it has been for decades, according to a survey that reveals a country torn apart by social class, geography and Brexit.”

“The survey by BritainThinks reveals an astonishing lack of faith in the political system among the British people, with less than 6% believing their politicians understand them. Some 75% say that UK politics is not fit for purpose… Some 83% feel let down by the political establishment and almost three-quarters (73%) believe the country has become an international laughing stock and that British values are in decline… The poll also found an extraordinary gulf in levels of optimism between the generations: while 52% of those aged over 65 said they felt optimistic about the country’s future, this dropped to just 24% of under-34s.”

In the United States, Pew released the findings of its latest poll under the title “Public Highly Critical of State of Political Discourse in the U.S.” They key finding was that, “most Americans say political debate in the U.S. has become more negative, and less respectful, fact-based, and substantive.”
The Perception Gap: How False Impressions are Pulling Americans Apart”, by the organization “More in Common.”
Key findings in this fascinating new report include, (1) “Democrats and Republicans imagine that almost twice as many people on the other side hold extreme views than really do”; (2) “Americans with more partisan views hold more exaggerated views of their opponents”; (3) “Consumption of most forms of media is associated with a wider perception gap”; (4) “Higher education among Democrats, but not Republicans, corresponds to a wider perception gap (higher educated Democrats, but not Republicans, are also more likely to say that ‘almost all’ of their friends share their political views); and (5) “The wider people’s perception gap, the more likely they are to attribute negative personal qualities to their opponents.”

The authors conclude that, “while this research reveals disturbing trends, the overall message is positive: Americans often have more in common than they believe…in reality, the results of this study suggest that Americans imagine themselves to be far more divided than they really are.”
May19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
The past month has seen a number of important political developments around the world that help to bring key trends and dynamics into better focus.

In Australia, the (conservative) Liberal party won a surprise win over the Labor party…
As Tyler Cowen noted, “Sometimes political revolutions occur right before our eyes without us quite realizing it. I think that’s what’s been happening over the last few weeks around the world, and the message is clear: The populist “New Right” isn’t going away anytime soon, and the rise of the “New Left” is exaggerated” (“The New Right is Beating the New Left. Everywhere”, Bloomberg, 20May19).

Writing in Quilette, Claire Lehman observed that, “The swing against Labor was particularly pronounced in the northeastern state of Queensland—which is more rural and socially conservative than the rest of Australia. Many of Queensland’s working-class voters opposed Labor’s greener-than-thou climate-change policies, not a surprise given that the state generates half of all the metallurgical coal burned in the world’s blast furnaces. Queensland’s rejection of Labor carried a particularly painful symbolic sting for [Labor party leader Bill} Shorten, given that this is the part of Australia where his party was founded by 19 century sheep shearers meeting under a ghost gum tree. In 1899, the world’s "first Labor government was sworn into the Queensland parliament.

“Shorten’s “wipe-out” in Queensland demonstrates what has become of the party’s brand among working-class people 120 years later…Picture a dinner party where half the guests are university graduates with prestigious white-collar jobs, with the other half consisting of people who are trade workers, barmaids, cleaners and labourers. While one side of the table trades racy jokes and uninhibited banter, the other half tut-tuts this “problematic” discourse.

“These two groups both represent traditional constituencies of mainstream centre-left parties—including the Labour Party in the UK, the Democrats in the United States, and the NDP in Canada. Yet they have increasingly divergent attitudes and interests—even if champagne socialists paper over these differences with airy slogans about allyship and solidarity…

“Progressive politicians like to assume that, on election day at least, blue-collar workers and urban progressives will bridge their differences, and make common cause to support leftist economic policies. This assumption might once have been warranted. But it certainly isn’t now—in large part because the intellectuals, activists and media pundits who present the most visible face of modern leftism are the same people openly attacking the values and cultural tastes of working and middle-class voters.

“And thanks to social media (and the caustic news-media culture that social media has encouraged and normalized), these attacks are no longer confined to dinner-party titterings and university lecture halls…

“What the election actually shows us is that the so-called quiet Australians, whether they are tradies (to use the Australian term) in Penrith, retirees in Bundaberg, or small business owners in Newcastle, are tired of incessant scolding from their purported superiors. Condescension isn’t a good look for a political movement.”
In elections for the European Union parliament, centrist parties lost ground to both extremes
Across many countries, traditional center left (e.g., Social Democrat) and center right (e.g., Conservative and Christian Democrat) parties suffered significant losses, with parties of the right (populist, nationalist) and parties of the left (greens) gaining at their expense. Many commentators took this as a sign of continuing middle class frustration with the leadership of traditional elites, and the lack of appealing policy solutions offered by the centrist parties. For example, see “The Slow Death of Europe’s Traditional Center”, by Yasmeen Serhan in The Atlantic 27May19
Five Issue Positions that Could Blow Up a Democratic Campaign”, by Elaine Kamarck from Brookings
“So far this election cycle five issues have arisen that could blow up a Democratic candidate for president, a Democratic candidate for dog-catcher and everyone in between. The only exceptions are those Democratic candidates who live in Vermont or who live in the 17 congressional districts (approximately 4 percent of the House of Representatives,) that are so solidly Democratic that George Washington reincarnated as a Republican couldn’t win an election: (1) Allowing prisoners to vote; (2) Third trimester abortion; (3) Abolishing private health insurance; (4) Abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE); and (5) Embracing Socialism.
America Adrift: How the U.S. Foreign Policy Debate Misses What Voters Really Want”, by Halpin et al for the Center for American Progress
“Research revealed important gaps in voters’ basic understanding of U.S. foreign policy objectives and widespread confusion about what the nation is trying to achieve in the world…Likewise, traditional language from foreign policy experts about “fighting authoritarianism and dictatorship,” “promoting democracy,” or “working with allies and the international community” uniformly fell flat with voters in our groups…

“The findings in this survey suggest that American voters are not isolationist. Rather, voters are more accurately described as supporting “restrained engagement” in international affairs—a strategy that favors diplomatic, political, and economic actions over military action when advancing U.S. interests in the world.

American voters want their political leaders to make more public investments in the American people in order to compete in the world and to strike the right balance abroad after more than a decade of what they see as military overextension…

“At the most basic level, voters want U.S. foreign policy and national security policies to focus on two concrete goals: protecting the U.S. homeland and its people from external threats—particularly terrorist attacks—and protecting jobs for American workers.

“They also support efforts to protect U.S. democracy from foreign interference, advance common goals with allies, and promote equal rights in other countries. But these are second-order preferences. In the hierarchy of concerns about foreign policy, terrorism and a strong economy are more immediate issues for voters than are efforts to advance democratic values around the world…

“Younger voters are much less committed to traditional international and military engagement than are their elder cohorts, and they are more in favor of global action on issues such as climate change, human rights, and basic living standards for all people. Younger voters are also far less committed than older voters to several “America First” sentiments, particularly those related to trade and immigration.

“At the same time, the survey finds that many Generation Z and Millennial voters hold no strong views whatsoever about any foreign policy or national security issue. Many of these youngest voters are entirely disengaged from foreign policy and national security news and debates and consequently hold few strong opinions on many issues.”
“The Coming Generation War”, by Ferguson and Freymann
“There is a mysterious cycle in human events,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, accepting the Democratic nomination for president in Philadelphia in 1936. “To some generations much is given. Of others much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

“In the 20th century, many sociologists and historians flirted with the idea that generational changes could explain U.S. politics. The historians Arthur Schlesinger Sr. and Jr. wrote about “cycles of American history,” arguing that, as the generations turn, American politics rotates inexorably between liberal and conservative consensus…

“We are skeptical about cyclical theories of history. We are also aware of the slipperiness of generations as categories for political analysis. As Karl Mannheim pointed out more than 90 years ago, a generation is defined not solely by its birth years but also by the principal historical experience its members shared in their youth, whatever that might be.

“Nevertheless, we do believe that a generational division is growing in American politics that could prove more important than the cleavages of race and class, which are the more traditional focuses of political analysis…”The Millennials and Generation Z—that is, Americans aged 18 to 38—are generations to whom little has been given, and of whom much is expected.

“Young Americans are burdened by student loans and credit-card debt. They face stagnant real wages and few opportunities to build a nest egg. Millennials’ early working lives were blighted by the financial crisis and the sluggish growth that followed. In later life, absent major changes in fiscal policy, they seem unlikely to enjoy the same kind of entitlements enjoyed by current retirees.

“Under different circumstances, the under-39s might conceivably have been attracted to the entitlement-cutting ideas of the Republican Tea Party (especially if those ideas had been sincere). Instead, we have witnessed a shift to the political left by young voters on nearly every policy issue, economic and Cultural alike…

“In short, Ocasio-Cortez is neither an aberration nor a radical. She is close to the political center of America’s younger generations.”
How Trump Voters are Giving the Right Qualms About Capitalism” by Park MacDougald
"One of the paradoxes of the American right has always been its full-throated embrace of capitalism. In some respects, of course, this embrace makes perfect sense: Capitalism is a pillar of American national identity; markets (at least in theory) promote conservative virtues such as thrift and responsibility; and the Hayekian critique of government planning, according to which economies are too complex for humans to fully understand, is a form of classical conservative skepticism regarding the limits of rational knowledge. Yet if one thinks of “conservatism” in the broad sense as a preference for continuity over change — for history and tradition over novelty and innovation — it fits uncomfortably with an economic system that tends toward a relentless abolition of the old.

“In Europe, conservatives have tended not only to take a more positive view of the state than Americans do but to regard capitalism as, at best, a necessary evil — something to be defended against left-wing leveling but that has the potential to dissolve the sorts of traditional social bonds that conservatism exists to protect…

But in the United States today, “the market triumphalism that has dominated the American right since Reagan seems, for the first time in a generation, to be on the back foot…”
How France’s cultural revolution is causing new political divides”, by Simon Kuper, Financial Times, 30May19
“The French traditionally didn’t get tattoos, partly because the church frowned on the practice. But there’s been a massive recent shift: a quarter of under-35s have tattoos compared with 1 per cent of over-65s, according to pollsters Ifop. The working-class young are the most decorated.

“Since moving to France in 2002, I’ve watched the country complete a cultural revolution. Catholicism has almost died out (only 6 per cent of French people now habitually attend mass), though not as thoroughly as its longtime rival “church”, communism…

“In many regions, family history looks like this: grandpa François was a farmer, grandma Marie raised the kids, daddy Jean-Claude had a factory job while Mama Nathalie taught part-time. Now young Kevin (English names are replacing French ones) is a hotel receptionist, separated from the mother of his child, Malika.

“A new individualised, globalised, irreligious society requires a new politics…

“Pollster Jerôme Fourquet, explains the splintering of society behind these numbers…French winners now exist in a kind of “autarchy”, rarely mixing with other classes, writes Fourquet. They are optimists in a pessimistic nation. They feel they are rising in the “social elevator”, as the French call it, whereas most working-class people say in polls that they live worse than their parents.”
Apr19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
Many Across the Globe are Dissatisfied with How Democracy is Working”, by Wike et at from Pew Research
“Across 27 countries polled, a median of 51% are dissatisfied with how democracy is working in their country; just 45% are satisfied…Anger at political elites, economic dissatisfaction and anxiety about rapid social changes have fueled political upheaval in regions around the world in recent years…
The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf has written a succinct summary of the six crises confronting the United Kingdom.

To varying degrees, they also apply in many other countries today, especially the United States (“Britain is Once Again the Sick Man of Europe”, FT, 18Apr19)
“The first crisis is economic”, specifically the slow growth of productivity since the shock of 2008.

“The second crisis is over whether national identify has to be exclusive...The third crisis, Brexit, has weaponised identity, turning differences into accusations of treason…”

“The fourth crisis is political. The existing parties, based historically on class divisions, do not fit the current identify divisions”…

“The fifth crisis is constitutional (by which I mean that it relates to the rules of the political game)”…

“The sixth and perhaps most important crisis of all is leadership” – i.e., the quality of the people most likely to become the next UK Prime Minister.
Conservatives Have a Different Definition of Fair”, by Dan Meegan (author of “America the Fair: Using Brain Science to Create a More Just Nation”)
This excellent article reminds us that the aggregate political opinions and behavior we observe emerges from a complex mix of individual and group level factors.

“There is more than one way to decide who is deserving of what. One is by need: Some people have more than they need, and others need more than they have. Even when liberal leaders describe policies that are beneficial to everyone, they make it clear that the most important beneficiaries are those whose needs are most urgent… Still, there are other ways of judging what’s fair…

“Conservatives tend to value equity, or proportionality, and they see unfairness when people are asked to contribute more than they should expect to receive in return, or when people receive more than they contribute…

“This conservative version of fairness is wired deeply in the human brain, and liberals ignore it at their peril. In the laboratory, psychologists study the roots of economic and political attitudes through exercises like the ultimatum game, in which one player (the allocator) makes an offer to another player (the recipient) about how to split a small pot of money put up by the researchers. The recipient can accept the other player’s offer and take the cash—or reject it, in which case neither player gets anything. Not surprisingly, when the allocator offers a 50-50 split, recipients accept it.

“However, very unfair offers, such as a 90-10 split favoring the allocator, are often rejected by recipients, even though 10 percent of the pot is better than no money at all… Why would the brain’s default mode be to reject something in favor of nothing?

“Cognitive scientists have discovered that such seemingly irrational behavior often has an adaptive purpose. Rejection of unfair treatment, for example, has the purpose of enforcing social norms about the allocation of resources Acceptance of an unfair offer now all but guarantees continued mistreatment at the hands of the allocator, whereas rejection sends a clear message: Don’t take advantage of me, and don’t help yourself to more than you deserve…

“One might conclude from this that liberals, in their emphasis on helping the needy, are superior to conservatives because they strive to overcome biological determinism. Yet one could also accuse liberals of neglecting other definitions of fairness and—to their political detriment—of paying too little attention to how many other human beings instinctively think.”
The Unwitting Committee to Re-Elect the President”, by Joel Kotkin
Kotkin succinctly summarizes the increasingly heard argument that the Democratic Party seems intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2020 US Presidential election, potentially handing another four year term to Donald Trump.

“Democrats could succeed easily if they focused on basic middle class issues, such as health care and reforming the tax system, where popular opinion, including among working class whites, is largely on their side. Infrastructure spending, if they can somehow disassociate it from the usual pork-barreling, could also gain support, particularly from construction workers.

“Instead many Democratic candidates appear if they are trying to win the campus and media intersectionality challenge, emphasizing cultural “purity” in ways that worry such craftier politicians as Barack Obama. The views now commonly expressed on gender, race, immigration and the environment may work in the deep blue recesses of our majority cities, but are unlikely to play in Peoria.”
However, there is more to the case for a Trump victory in 2020 than a claim that the Democrats will lose the race.

Donald Trump is still very much the same person we all knew when I lived in New York in the late 70s and early 80s; he hasn’t changed.

What I find far more interesting is how the electorate changed to the point that so many people were willing to vote for him for president in spite of his manifest flaws – and may well vote for him again in 2020 (e.g., see “Voters’ Capacity for Being Appalled by Trump is Waning” by Janan Ganesh, Financial Times 24Apr19)

A number of other recent articles and papers have helped me to better understand how this could come to pass.
In “All the Progressive Plotters”, Victor Davis Hanson provides an extensive list of the ways that Trump supporters will likely argue that his opponents have attempted to both prevent and then overturn his election. These arguments are sure to appear again in the 2020 campaign.

In “Progressivism and the West”, Bo Winegard identifies six aspects of progressivism, in its modern form (certainty not Teddy Roosevelt’s) that are generating increasing opposition: “(1) Misunderstanding human nature, in the form of its selective claims of “blank slatism” when genetic science findings conflict with its ideological principles; (2) Elevating victims and encouraging victimhood; (3) Encouraging censorship of speech and academic/scientific inquiry that doesn’t accord with its ideology; (4) Eroding due process and the presumption of innocence; (5) Encouraging “mobocracy” and disproportionate punishment; and (6) Encouraging contempt for the West and its icons.”

In two other articles, Hanson uses Herbert Stein’s famous dictum (“if something cannot go on forever, it will stop”) to address the likely impact of the near unprecedented level of immigration (both legal and otherwise) on politics in the United States.

In “Are There Any Limits on Immigration?” Hanson notes “there is a general expectation in Mexico and Latin America that American immigration law is unenforced. Or it is so bizarre that simple illegal entry almost always ensures temporary legal residence, pending an asylum hearing.” He goes on to describe, in great detail, how unchecked immigration has changed life in the California central valley town where he has lived for 65 years.

In “Things That Can’t Go on Forever Simply Don’t”, Hanson invokes Stein’s Law and notes that, “For history’s rare multiracial and multiethnic republics, an “e pluribus unum” cohesion is essential. Each particular tribe must owe greater allegiance to the commonwealth than to those who superficially look or worship like them…Yet over the last 20 years, we have deprecated unity and championed diversity…

“But unchecked tribalism historically leads to nihilism. Meritocracy is abandoned as bureaucrats select their own rather than the best-qualified. A Tower of Babel chaos ensues as the common language is replaced by myriad local tongues, in the fashion of fifth century imperial Rome.

“Class differences are subordinated to tribal animosities. Almost every contentious issue is distilled into racial or ethnic victims and victimizers.

“History always offers guidance to the eventual end game when people are unwilling to give up their chauvinism. Vicious tribal war can break out as in contemporary Syria. The nation can fragment into ethnic enclaves as seen in the Balkans. Or factions can stake out regional no-go zones of power as we seen in Iraq and Libya.

“In sum, the present identity-politics divisiveness is not a sustainable model for a multiracial nation, and it will soon reach its natural limits one way or another. On a number of fronts, if Americans do not address these growing crises, history will. And it won’t be pretty.”
Both very insightful and equally worrying are various research papers by Professor Lilliana Mason, author of the book “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity
Mason’s argument begins with the observation that, “Social cooperation seems to require that we think of an “us” and a “not us.” These types of social categories help us to make sense of a complicated world. She notes that, “civilization more broadly seems to require that we identify with groups, and that we privilege our own groups over others. This doesn’t necessarily mean hating other groups. It simply means liking our own group the most, and doing the most work to help our group.”

In recent years, however, a number of interacting social sorting mechanisms have caused a much greater alignment of preferences and outcomes on different dimensions (e.g., race, religion, geography, education, income, social views, etc.) with political party identifications, which have become what Mason calls “meta-identities.” As she notes, “partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity.”

Mason concludes that this has had negative consequences whose impact is not widely recognized.

“Because a highly aligned set of social identities increases an individual's perceived differences between groups, the emotions that result from group conflict are likely to be heightened among well-sorted partisans.” Put differently, “Individuals who feel fewer cross pressures from their multiple identities become more intolerant of perceived ‘out-groups’.” In contrast, in societies with less aligned identities, “cooler heads are more likely to prevail.”

Even more important, when a range of different social identities are all aligned with allegiance to a particular political party, when that party changes its policy positions it is much less likely to lose voters that would have been the case in the past, because today party identification has a larger impact than a party’s position on a given issue.

In sum, because social sorting and has increased the alignment of multiple identities, party allegiance has become much more durable, and intraparty conflict much more heated and antagonistic. That is a critical change from the past, and one that I believe will likely take a near existential external threat to the nation to overcome.
Mar19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
The Geography of Partisan Prejudice” by Ripley et al
This is another piece of excellent and insightful county level analysis. Ripley and her coauthors find that “the most politically intolerant Americans, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves. This finding aligns in some ways with previous research by the University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz, who has found that white, highly educated people are relatively isolated from political diversity. They don’t routinely talk with people who disagree with them; this isolation makes it easier for them to caricature their ideological opponents.”
Europeans Credit EU With Promoting Peace and Prosperity, but Say Brussels Is Out of Touch With Its Citizens”, by Pew Research
“Across 10 European nations recently surveyed by Pew Research Center, a median of 74% say the EU promotes peace, and most also think it promotes democratic values and prosperity.”

“However, Europeans also tend to describe Brussels as inefficient and intrusive, and in particular they believe the EU is out of touch – a median of 62% say it does not understand the needs of its citizens.”

“Many are also worried about the economic future. Across these 10 nations, a median of 58% believe that when children in their country grow up, they will be worse off financially than their parents; only 30% think they will be better off.”

“There are also strong concerns about immigration in some countries. Majorities or pluralities in most nations want fewer immigrants allowed into their country. Many believe that immigrants tend to remain distinct from the broader culture and that immigration increases the risk of terrorism.”
Two recent articles provided very interesting and useful insights into the painful political realignments that are likely underway in the US and UK
In “The End of the New Deal Era – and the Coming Realignment”, Frank DiStefano succinctly presents the history of the five previous political realignments in the United States. He notes that, “American parties are temporary coalitions forged as tools to govern our republic at specific moments of crisis. They bind fractious collections of people who disagree about many things but agree on how to solve the biggest problems of their age…Once formed, these new parties wage a great national debate over the problems facing the country. That debate goes on for decades, until Americans almost forget those parties and their ideologies weren’t always there…When the issues America designed those parties to debate were finally resolved or faded away, the parties turned into weak institutions coasting on old ideas. Eventually, they crumbled in what scholars call a realignment…”

“This is why American politics seems so troubled. This is why there’s increasing disorder and chaos. This is why the political world we’ve always known seems to be decaying before our eyes...Our parties are dying because one great debate [between New Deal Liberalism and modern conservatism] that emerged out of the Depression and World War 2] is passing away, and another is being born…the country now faces an onslaught of new problems our parties were never designed to address [as] we stand at the cusp of a global social and economic transformation – from and industrial to a global information economy – as significant as the transformation from the agricultural world to the industrial…”

“Through everything that has happened over the many decades since 1932, the Democrats have continued to be the party of populists and progressives [in the 1920s sense of the latter term] dedicated to the ideology of New Deal Liberalism. The Republicans have remained a party dedicated to protecting liberty and virtue according the ideology of modern conservatism…

“The Democratic and Republican parties have nothing important to say about the next set of problems facing America…all of which come back in some way to one issue: the perceived decline of the American Dream… [The parties] lack even the language to think about them…America is facing a realignment whether we want one or not.”

I don’t quite agree with that last statement, as there are a few people – admittedly who are not mainstream in their respective parties, who have directly addressed restoring the American Dream. An excellent example of this is Oren Cass, and his outstanding essay, “The Working Hypothesis”, which is well worth a read.

In “Welcome to the Hard Centre – and the Future of British Politics”, Paul Collier concludes that the Conservative party has to move beyond Brexit, ideally in the direction “healing capitalism.”

He notes that, “Capitalism is the only system that is capable of delivering mass prosperity, but it cannot be left on autopilot. Once every few decades it veers off track and requires active public policy…Yet there has been little serious rethinking in either party. Labour became so intellectually lost that it got hijacked by Marxists. Meanwhile, the Conservatives flirted with good ideals, like David Cameron’s Big Society, but none became dominant.”

Pithily, he observes that in the face of the increasingly obvious and socially damaging problems of financialized capitalism, both parties retreated “into their equally unviable intellectual comfort zones: the Conservatives wanted a nation without the state, and Labour the state without a nation…”

“Meanwhile, ordinary people facing new anxieties seized their opportunities to mutiny. In Scotland, they voted for the SNP; in England for Ukip, Brexit and Corbyn. Given the travails of Labour, [Collier argues that] recovery of the intellectual confidence of the Tory party has become essential for the country...”

“So what are the options facing the Tories? The American right was lured by libertarianism: ‘neither state nor nation’. This is manifestly ridiculous: I tell my libertarian friends that they do not need to wait in America pining for nirvana. They can breathe the air of freedom from government right now by moving to Somalia…Turning the Conservative party into the Libertarian party would be the royal road to political suicide…”

“The remaining choice is state-and-nation. For Conservatives, it implies taking seriously Cameron’s lone voice speaking up for society… Labour’s roots in society are the cooperative movement; the equivalent for the Conservative party is one nation made manifest by the firm with social purpose. It is Cadbury and John Lewis…”

“Embracing state-and-nation means restoring the ethics of the firm, enhancing the skills of the less-educated and recognising the importance of belonging to place. Each requires tough changes in policies that will outrage vested interests: welcome to the hard centre…”

“Conservatives are quite right to recognise that the left-driven agenda of redistributing consumption (aka ‘equality’) misses the point. People need the dignity of being sufficiently productive to earn a decent living but to be productive, people need massive investment in training, and a cluster of skill-intensive firms in their city. The ideology of leave-it-to-the-market encounters its nemesis in training and in the revival of broken cities: market forces drive firms in the opposite direction…”

“New anxieties need to be addressed by new solutions, not old ideologies. This is the intellectual rebirth that the Conservative party needs. Labour will at some stage go through an equivalent rebirth. The party that gets there first will dominate the next two decades.”
The Six Wings of the Democratic Party” and “The Five Wings of the Republican Party” by FiveThirtyEight.com
These two guides to the subdivisions within the Democratic and Republic parties make for an interesting read in light of the two articles noted just above. In particular, two points stand out. The first is that, as DiStefano and Collier note, no party today has a compelling answer to the social and political challenges posed by the powerful forces of financialized capitalism, rapid improvement in multiple technologies, aging, and climate change.

The second is the risk of another deeply unsatisfying US election in 2020. While a number of Democratic policy proposals (e.g., around healthcare and more progressive taxation) have wide popular appeal, many aspects of their social agenda poll in the 20s, if that. For Republicans, the opposite often holds true. As more than one commentator has noted, neither major party seems willing or able to seize what appears to the most attractive high ground in American politics today – more aggressive and effective government action on healthcare, progressive taxation, competition, data privacy and other issues, combined with a less strident and intolerant social agenda.

This positioning is the opposite of the neoliberal approach (relatively conservative on economic issues, and progressive on social issues) that was a winning strategy for both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. The lack of enthusiasm for it today is well summarized in Uri Harris’ article in Quillette on Howard Schultz’ campaign for president, “The Sudden Unpopularity of Neoliberal Centrists.”
The ever-readable Joel Kotkin published an insightful article that argues, “Understanding Democratic Socialism is the Key to Defeating It
“Conservatives, in or out of the White House, underestimate the intrinsic appeal of the resurgence of neo-Marxism at their own peril…[Moreover], the rise of ‘woke progressivism’ represents a threat both to the right as well as the super-affluent gentry left.”

“Socialism’s appeal stemmed [in the past] as it does today, from the failures of capitalism…What many conservatives deemed ‘socialism’ in the fifties – social security, the GI Bill, the New Deal infrastructure program – was seen by the working class as helping them become middle class…”

“Generally, today’s socialists pitch European welfare states as their model, with much higher taxes and greater regulation of private businesses…With rampant inequality and a shrinking middle class, the case for socialism should be stronger than any time since the Depression…”

“Today socialism’s leading messengers, reared in the ideological hot houses of elite universities, also constitute the wealthiest and whitest of America’s political tribes. Not surprisingly, these neo-socialists carry attitudes ill-suited to capitalizing, as did Donald Trump, on the mass middle and working class disaffection…”

“But those on the right, with all their fulsome defense of capitalism, also need to be reminded that free markets need to create increased opportunity as well as better living conditions. Our increasingly hierarchical and feudal capitalism all too often fails this test.”
Feb19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
Stability of Democracies: A Complex Systems Perspective”, by Wiesner et al
A fascinating paper that very much reflects our own thinking and forecasting approach.

“The idea that democracy is under threat, after being largely dormant for at least 40 years, is looming increasingly large in public discourse. Complex systems theory offers a range of powerful new tools to analyse the stability of social institutions in general, and democracy in particular.

“What makes a democracy stable? And which processes potentially lead to instability of a democratic system? This paper offers a complex systems perspective on this question, informed by areas of the mathematical, natural, and social sciences…

“Scholars of democracy need to move away from arguments based on static equilibrium to more dynamic frameworks which are better suited to understanding how stable the equilibria are to perturbations. Some perturbations may cause temporary instability. Others may set in train self-reinforcing changes that may have long-term consequences, up to and including the transition from democracy to non-democracy...

“Many mechanisms can result in institutional instability, ranging from social inequality and financial shocks to disconnected information flow on modern social media…Many of these mechanisms are interconnected, meaning that their temporal and/or spatial dynamics are not separable but influence each other to a significant degree [through positive feedback].”
Millennial Socialism”, The Economist 14Feb19
“Socialism is storming back because it has formed an incisive critique of what has gone wrong in Western societies. Whereas politicians on the right have all too often given up the battle of ideas and retreated towards chauvinism and nostalgia, the left has focused on inequality, the environment, and how to vest power in citizens rather than elites. Yet, although the reborn left gets some things right, its pessimism about the modern world goes too far. Its policies suffer from naivety about budgets, bureaucracies and businesses… Millennial socialism has a refreshing willingness to challenge the status quo. But like the socialism of old, it suffers from a faith in the incorruptibility of collective action and an unwarranted suspicion of individual vim. Liberals should oppose it
The “Green New Deal” (GND) marks another step towards a split in the US Democratic Party, and highlights dynamics similar to those roiling the Labor Party in the UK
As you have no doubt read, the GND seeks to “eliminate all fossil fuel energy production, as well as nuclear energy…eliminate air travel and 99% of cars…provide free education for life and a guaranteed income” – and get rid of all those farting cows.

As David Brooks noted in his New York Times column on 11Feb19, “From Bill Clinton through Barack Obama, Democrats respected market forces but tried to use tax credits and regulations to steer them in more humane ways…That Democratic Party is ending. Today, Democrats are much more likely to want government to take direct control. This is the true importance of the Green New Deal, which is becoming the litmus test of progressive seriousness.”
Understanding shifts in Democratic Party Ideology” by Gallup
“Between 2001/06 and 2013/18, the percent of Democrats identifying as liberal increased from 32% to 46%, while moderates declined from 42% to 35% and conservatives from 23% to 17%...

54% of White Democrats identified themselves as liberals, compared to 33% of Blacks and 38% of Hispanics…

69% of moderate Democrats did not graduate from college, as did 86% of conservative Democrats. In contrast, only 53% of liberals did not graduate from college. While 55% of liberals believe abortion should be legal under any circumstance, only 35% of moderates and 23% of conservatives agreed with this position.”
Democrats Favor More Moderate Party; GOP More Conservative” by Gallup
54% of Democrats want their party to be more moderate; 41%, more liberal

57% of Republicans want their party to be more conservative; 37%, more moderate
Democrats in New York and Virginia have introduced legislation legalizing third trimester abortions. This will likely be a powerful issue to whomever ends up as the Republican presidential candidate in 2020
Gallup’s polling makes clear why this is the case. 35% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the first trimester of pregnancy, 65% in the second trimester, and 80% in the third trimester.
Donald Trump has begun to attack Democratic politicians as socialists
There appears to be a good reason for this. According to a memo from Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, while 77% of Democrats agree with the statement that “the country would be better off if our political and economic systems were more socialist”, only 37% of Independents and 14% of Republicans agreed.
Man Bites Blue Dog: Are Moderates Really More Electable than Ideologues?” by Stephen Utych
“Are ideologically moderate candidates more electable than ideologically extreme candidates? Historically, both research in political science and conventional wisdom answer yes to this question. However, given the rise of ideologues on both the right and the left in recent years, it is important to consider whether this assumption is still accurate.

The author finds that, “while moderates have historically enjoyed an advantage over ideologically extreme candidates in Congressional elections, this gap has disappeared in recent years, where moderates and ideologically extreme candidates are equally likely to be elected. This change persists for both Democratic and Republican candidates.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and the Financial Times’ Wolfgang Munchau are not columnists whose views are usually contrasted. In this case, however, that approach is insightful, and helps to refine our model of political changes that affect financial market behavior, valuation, and returns.
In “The Future Belongs to the Left, Not the Right” (FT 24Feb19), Munchau notes that, “Liberal democracy is in decline for a reason. Liberal regimes have proved incapable of solving problems that arose directly from liberal policies like tax cuts, fiscal consolidation and deregulation: persistent financial instability and its economic consequences; a rise in insecurity among lower income earners, aggravated by technological change and open immigration policies; and policy co-ordination failures, for example in the crackdown on global tax avoidance.” He “expects the pushback against liberalism to come in stages. We are in stage one — the Trumpian anti-immigration phase. Immigration carries net economic benefits, especially over the long term. But there are losers from it, too, both actual and imagined… For now, the right is thriving on the anti-immigration backlash…

I suspect that immigration will soon be superseded by other issues — such as the impact of artificial intelligence on middle-class livelihoods; rising levels of poverty; and economic dislocation stemming from climate change… This is a political environment that favours the radical left over the radical right. The right is not interested in poverty and its parties are full of climate-change deniers..

The killer policy of the left will be the 70 per cent tax rate proposed by freshman US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It is not the number that matters, but the determination to reverse a 30-year trend towards lower taxation of very high incomes and profits. There would be collateral damage from such a policy for sure. But from the perspective of the radical left, collateral damage is a promise, not a threat.”

In her 14Feb19 column, “Republicans Need to Save Capitalism”, Noonan agrees with many of Munchau’s observations.

“The American establishment had to come to look very, very bad. Two long unwon wars destroyed the GOP’s reputation for sobriety in foreign affairs, and the 2008 crash cratered its reputation for economic probity. Both disasters gave those inclined to turn from the status quo inspiration and arguments. Culturally, 2008 was especially resonant: The government bailed out its buddies and threw no one in jail, and the capitalists failed to defend the system that made them rich. They dummied up, hunkered down and waited for it to pass…

“Americans have long sort of accepted a kind of deal regarding leadership by various elites and establishments. The agreement was that if the elites more or less play by the rules, protect the integrity of the system, and care about the people, they can have their mansions. But when you begin to perceive that the great and mighty are not necessarily on your side, when they show no particular sense of responsibility to their fellow citizens, all bets are off. The compact is broken…

Republicans in Washington stumble around trying to figure what to stand for beyond capitalizing on whatever zany thing some socialist said today.
But isn’t their historical purpose clear? Their job—now and in the coming decade—is, in a supple, clever and concerted way, to save the free-market system from those who would dismantle it."
Dancing with Donald”, by Cuchro et al
Despite the title, this paper is actually an excellent review of how the use of different voting systems would have affected the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.
Jan19: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
In the United States, the announced Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 election are taking positions well to the left of traditional Democratic party positions on a range of policy issues. In some ways, this mirrors the way Green parties in Europe are winning voters from traditional left of center socialist parties.
While polling data shows that a majority of US voters are concerned about increasing taxes on “the rich”, and healthcare (as economic disruption increases employment uncertainty, and makes the link between employment and health insurance less and less tenable), other progressive positions, and the tendency of many left-wing Democrats to impose litmus tests to ensure candidates’ ideological purity, seem likely to cost candidates’ support in the vital center of the electorate. This will be of particular importance if wither (a) Donald Trump is removed from office or (b) he is defeated in the Republican primary, resulting in nomination of a more centrist Republican candidate.
Two analyses, from 2016 and 1981, put the leftward shift of the Democratic party into perspective, and frame that strategic challenge facing presidential candidates in 2020.
In “Political Divisions in 2016 and Beyond”, Lee Drutman replicated Lilie and Maddox’ classic 1981 paper, “An Alternative Analysis of Mass Belief Systems: Liberal, Conservative, Populist, and Libertarian.”

Both papers located sampled voters in a 2x2 matrix, defined by their positions on economic and social issues. Liberals and Conservatives take consistent views on both sets of issues. Libertarians are socially liberal and economically conservative; Populists are socially conservative and economically liberal.

When comparing the two papers, the first striking finding is the change over 35 years in the percent of voters that the respective authors find in the different categories (note that this is an approximation, as the methodologies weren’t exactly the same). The size of the conservative bloc was essentially unchanged; it was estimated to be 25% of the electorate in 1981 (disregarding Lilie and Maddox fifth category of “inconsistents”), and 23% in 2016. Populists were also roughly the same, at 33% and 29%. Liberals, however, had grown from 23% to 45%, while Libertarians had shrunk from 19% to 4%.

Drutman finds that in 2016, most Clinton voters were Liberals, while Trump voters were a combination of Conservatives and Populists (Libertarians split their votes about equally).

In 2020, the essential question is whether a progressive Democratic candidate’s liberal positions on economic issues (e.g., single payer healthcare) will be able to attract a significant number of Populist voters, in spite of the Democratic candidate’s Liberal position on hot button social issues like identify politics and freedom of speech.
Fake News on Twitter During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”, by Grinberg et al
“The spread of fake news on social media became a public concern in the United States after the 2016 presidential election. We examined exposure to and sharing of fake news by registered voters on Twitter and found that engagement with fake news sources was extremely concentrated. Only 1% of individuals accounted for 80% of fake news source exposures, and 0.1% accounted for nearly 80% of fake news sources shared. Individuals most likely to engage with fake news sources were conservative leaning, older, and highly engaged with political news.”
Bureaucracy versus Democracy” by Philip Howard in The American Interest
Howard has written an insightful article that analyzes another underlying source of voter frustration with political institutions, noting that, “diagnoses of voter alienation converge at one point: a sense of disempowerment by Americans, at every level of responsibility, to make practical and moral choices. Almost without our noticing when it happened, bureaucratic structures have crowded out human agency.”

In the face of the many problems facing not just the United States, but other nations as well, too often bureaucracies have been unable to design and/or implement effective policies.
The World Economic Forum meeting at Davos produced multiple stories talking about the “grim” or “dark” mood among attendees.
For example, as Fareed Zakaria wrote in the Washington Post (“Davos is a Microcosm of the World, and the Outlook is Grim”), “The atmosphere at the 2019 World Economic Forum reflects the global picture perhaps more genuinely than in years past, and the painting is not very pretty. The mood here is subdued, cautious and apprehensive. There’s not much talk of a global slowdown, but no one is confident about a growth story, either. There is no great global political crisis, yet people speak in worried tones about the state of democracy, open societies and the international order.”

Here is the FT’s Gideon Rachman: “Everybody needs heroes — even Davos plutocrats. But the “global elite” is currently out of enthusiasm and ideas. In the corridors of the World Economic Forum last week, Kenneth Rogoff, the Harvard economist, summed it up: “This is the flattest Davos I can remember. Normally, there is a star country or a star industry that everybody is talking about. But this year, there is nothing” (“Davos 2019: No More Heroes for the Global Elite”).
Dec18: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
The month began with the death and funeral of George H.W. Bush.
As with the funeral of John McCain, only more so, Bush 41’s funeral was a painful reminder for many people of how much the United States has changed.

An article in the Atlantic Monthly (“What the Tributes to George H. W. Bush Are Missing,” by Peter Beinart) raised this surprising point: “In the contemporary United States, presidential legitimacy stems from three sources. The first source is democracy. Although America’s system of choosing presidents has many undemocratic features, many Americans associate presidential legitimacy with winning a majority of the vote.

The second source is background. Throughout American history, America’s presidents have generally looked a certain way. They’ve been white, male, (mostly) Protestant, and often associated with legitimating institutions such as the military, elite universities, or previous high office. Americans are more likely to question the legitimacy of presidents who deviate from those traditions.

The third source is behavioral. Presidents can lose legitimacy if they violate established norms of personal or professional conduct. George H. W. Bush was the last president who could not be impugned on any of these fronts. He was elected with a clear majority of the popular vote. He was racially and culturally familiar: A WASP man who had served in World War II, attended Yale, and held a variety of top government jobs. And he behaved the way Americans expect their presidents to behave.

Since then, every president has faced some sort of crisis of legitimacy.”
December also saw the resignations of Marine Corps Generals John Kelly and James Mattis from the Trump administration, and the latter’s resignation letter, following Trump’s impulsive decision to withdraw American troops from Syria.

As The Economist noted, Mattis is the first American Secretary of Defense who has ever resigned in an act of protest. More so than any other administration departure, the loss of Mattis will almost certainly be a source of grave concern for many of the president’s Republican supporters.

If Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report eventually provides evidence of collusion with Russia, the Mattis resignation could be the straw that convinces enough Republican Senators to convict if the Democrat controlled House of Representatives passes a bill of impeachment (a 2/3 vote is needed to convict).
The US Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports by independent organizations “detailing the tactics used by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) in their attempts to influence US political discourse.” (The Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency and The IRA and Political Polarization in the United States, 2015-2017).
These reports provide very detailed information about the extent to which social media (and social network analysis methods) have made large populations and elections more vulnerable to manipulation.
They have also created a base of evidence for impeaching Donald Trump if Robert Mueller’s report connects his campaign to these Russian initiatives.
The Divide Between Silicon Valley and Washington is a National Security Threat” by Zegard and Childs in the Atlantic Monthly
“A silent divide is weakening America’s national security, and it has nothing to do with President Donald Trump or party polarization. It’s the growing gulf between the tech community in Silicon Valley and the policymaking community in Washington.

Beyond all the acrimonious headlines, Democrats and Republicans share a growing alarm over the return of great-power conflict. China and Russia are challenging American interests, alliances, and values—through territorial aggression; strong-arm tactics and unfair practices in global trade; cyber theft and information warfare; and massive military buildups in new weapons systems … In Washington, alarm bells are ringing. Here in Silicon Valley, not so much…

In the past year, Google executives, citing ethical concerns, have canceled an artificial-intelligence project with the Pentagon and refused to even bid on the Defense Department’s Project JEDI, a desperately needed $10 billion IT improvement program. While stiff-arming Washington, Google has been embracing Beijing, helping the Chinese government develop a more effective censored search engine despite outcries from human-rights groups, American politicians, and, more recently, its own employees.”
The Center Can Hold: Public Policy for an Age of Extremes” by Lindsey et al.
A thoughtful analysis that attempts to chart a course between the two extremes that now seem to dominate American politics, even if they don’t reflect what polls say are the views of the majority of voters.
Newly elected US Senator Mitt Romney wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post newspaper that was highly critical of Donald Trump. Meanwhile, former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has rapidly gained a large twitter following.

Either or both of these center/right politicians could challenge Donald Trump in a 2020 Republican primary election, and make painfully clear the party’s widening divisions.
The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and other progressives to the US House of Representatives, as well as progressive US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s declaration of her presidential candidacy signal that the long simmering battle between traditional and progressive Democrats is finally coming out into the open.

This has already led to the introduction of and support for policy initiatives (like single payer healthcare and much higher top marginal tax rates) that in the past either would not have been introduced or which would have been immediately dismissed. That is clearly no longer the case.
Understanding the Customer Experience with Government”, by D’Emidio and Wagner from McKinsey & Company
An often heard observation is that these days governments seem to be filled with more people who studied public policy, and fewer who studied public administration – how to implement those policies and deliver results. Moreover, as business has become much better at understanding customer needs and wants and efficiently delivering value propositions that satisfy them, the public’s perception of government’s performance has inevitably declined (with some notable exceptions like the military), which has no doubt further increased public frustration and anger.

This new McKinsey report will do little to dispel that view. As it succinctly states, “Understanding precisely what matters to the customers you serve is essential to improving their experience. Yet McKinsey research has found that most agencies don’t.”
Nov18: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
What Happens if Americans Stop Trusting the System?” by Andrew Sullivan, in New York Magazine, 19Nov18
Back in 2010, The Index Investor first began to write about what we called “Increasing Threats to Political Legitimacy” (e.g., see the May and September issues). Unfortunately, the trends we identified have continued unabated, and indeed have accelerated. Today, lots of smart people are writing about this issue.

One of those is Andrew Sullivan, whose writing we have admired for years. We therefore paid a lot of attention to what he wrote this month.

“It’s been quite a while now that the phrase “cold civil war” has been bandied about. And it’s useful, so far as it goes. Polarization has now become tribalism, and tribe is now so powerful a force it is beginning to eclipse national loyalty. The two nations, to borrow Benjamin Disraeli’s description of 19th-century Britain, stand facing each other, without blinking, faces flush, equally matched, on trigger alert for offense or another set battle.”

“What we don’t quite know is if this tenuous, balanced equilibrium is sustainable indefinitely, the system careening from one party’s bitterly contested rule to gridlock and back again, until our tribal tensions are somehow exhausted. Or whether the cold civil war could at some point get a little warmer, or even, shall we say, hot…What we don’t know, in other words, is when the legitimacy of the entire political system could come into doubt, across the ideological spectrum, in a way that might sanction undemocratic responses.”

Sullivan has expressed his concerns before, for example in his May, 2016 column: “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny”, which is well worth a read, even if you don’t agree with its conclusions.

We have also seen many other writers searching for historical analogies to the present political situation in the United States. Ones we’ve found thought-provoking include “The Suffocation of Democracy” by Christopher Browning (which compares current circumstances in the US to Weimar Germany), “Lurching to a New Weimar”, by Joel Kotkin, and “The Suffocation of History” by Richard Landes (which criticizes the Weimar analogy).

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain reminds us that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” It is one that we are well-advised to keep in mind.
The Republican Party Has Changed Dramatically Since George H.W. Bush Ran It” by Perry Bacon
Written just after Bush’s death, this column makes extensive use of data to drive home how much politics and the composition of the Democratic and Republican parties in the US have changed over the past 30 years. We all know this is true, but this evidence-rich analysis still comes as a bit of a shock to those of us with long memories.
Is the Left Going Too Far?” by Peter Beinart
An excellent article summarizing the history of two periods of the left’s ascendancy in modern American politics – the 30s and the 60s – which Beinart uses to assess the latest one, whose beginnings he dates to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and the rise of Bernie Sanders. Beinart reminds us that in both these previous situations, the left overreached and triggered a strong electoral counter-reaction, but not before achieving some policy wins.
The Central Challenge of the Age” by David Brooks, in the New York Times, 5Nov18
Following on Beinart’s conclusions, David Brooks highlights some of the challenges facing America’s resurgent progressive left politicians.

“National identity is the most powerful force in world politics today…The Republicans have flocked to Trump’s cramped nationalism and abandoned their creedal story. That has left the Democrats with a remarkable opportunity. They could seize the traditional American national story, or expand it to gather in the unheard voices, while providing a coherent, unifying vehicle to celebrate the American dream. And yet what have we heard from the Democrats? Crickets.”

“What is the Democratic national story? A void…In the past, Democrats tended to see immigration as an economic issue. Most mainstream Democrats have always been pro-immigrant, but they also favored border enforcement as a way to protect working-class wages. Barack Obama deported more unauthorized immigrants in his first two years in office than Trump has so far. Bernie Sanders used to dismiss open borders as a “Koch brothers proposal.” But now, especially in the wake of Trumpian nativism, immigration is seen as a racial justice issue. Calls for law and order on the border are taken as code for racism…”

“Democrats have a very strong story to tell about what we owe the victims of racism and oppression. They do not have a strong story to tell about what we owe to other Americans, how we define our national borders and what binds us as Americans.”

“Here’s the central challenge of our age: Over the next few decades, America will become a majority-minority country. It is hard to think of other major nations, down through history, that have managed such a transition and still held together…If the Democrats are going to lead this transition, they’ll need not just a mind‑set that celebrates diversity, but also a mindset that creates unity. They’ll need policies that integrate different groups into a coherent nation, with shared projects, a common language and culture and clear borders.”

“If you don’t offer people a positive, uplifting nationalism, they will grab the nasty one. History and recent events have shown us that.”
Oct18: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape” by Hawkins et al for More in Common

“This report lays out the findings of a large-scale national survey of Americans about the current state of civic life in the United States. It provides substantial evidence of deep polarization and growing tribalism. It shows that this polarization is rooted in something deeper than political opinions and disagreements over policy. But it also provides some evidence for optimism, showing that 77 percent of Americans believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.”

At the root of America’s polarization are divergent sets of values and worldviews, or “core beliefs.” These core beliefs shape the ways that individuals interpret the world around them at the most fundamental level. Our study shows how political opinions stem from these deeply held core beliefs. This study examines five dimensions of individuals’ core beliefs…[and[ finds that this hidden architecture of beliefs, worldview and group attachments can predict an individual’s views on social and political issues with greater accuracy than demographic factors like race, gender, or income.”

“The [population] segments have distinctive sets of characteristics; here listed in order from left to right on the ideological spectrum:

Progressive Activists
(8%): younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    Traditional Liberals (11%): older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.

    Passive Liberals (15%): unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.

    Politically Disengaged (26%): young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial.

    Moderates (15%): engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
      Traditional Conservatives (19%): religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
        Devoted Conservatives (6%): white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising, patriotic.

        Traditional Liberals, Passive Liberals, Politically Disengaged, and Moderates constitute the “Exhausted Majority” that together comprise 67% of the electorate.

        Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”
        Yes, It Can Happen Here” by Andrew Michta, in The American Interest, 30Oct18
        This article is another indicator of the how close we may be to a critical threshold related to societies’ capacity for taking collective action to successfully address the most dangerous threats they face.

        After decades of multicultural deconstruction of its nation-states, the Western democracies are internally fracturing, and their societal and national bonds are dissolving. Today, thinking about national security in the West means taking stock of the effects not only of the dwindling sense of mutuality of obligation among the citizenry but also of levels of ethnic, racial, and political polarization not seen since the late 1960s. The current fashion for identity politics has advanced to the point that the progressive decomposition of Western nation-states is now a near-term possibility.”

        “While civilizational collapse may still be a long way off, Western democracies face an erosion of the consensus of what constitutes the larger national community, and hence why its members should rally to defend it in an emergency…since the coming of age of the ’60s generation, the overarching concept of Western cultural affinity as the foundation of national identity in a democracy—one in which an overarching shared heritage can be filled by multiple ethnic narratives but ultimately remains the key trope defining the values at the center of idea of citizenship—has been progressively displaced.”

        “In a world where national solidarity is increasingly deconstructed by the narratives that have begun to leak into broader society from their wellsprings in the academy and media, tribalism will ultimately render the nation unable to function not just in the area of public policy, but most critically when it comes to national security and defense. If Western culture is nothing but a mechanism of oppression, what is the meaning of Transatlantic solidarity in a crisis? If our nations are little more than shared legacies of shame and systemic injustice, why risk blood and treasure to defend them?”
        America’s Resilient Center and the Road to 2020” by the Progressive Policy Institute

        (Note that PPI, whose motto is “radically pragmatic”, dates from the 1980s; when it was created as a policy development think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, which was created to move the Democratic Party back towards the middle of the political spectrum after George McGovern’s presidential defeat.)

        This analysis provides a very thought provoking look at the size of key segments and policy views of US voters at the time of the 2018 midterm election. Democrats (39%) and Democratic leaners among Independents (9%) comprise 48% of the electorate. Republicans and leaners (31 + 8) account for 39%, and true Independents for 13%.

        On a different, but important dimension, 32% identify as conservative in their views; 44% as moderate; and 24% as liberal (note that 62% of Independents plus Democratic and Republic leaners identify as moderates).

        “Despite a strong economy, Americans are anxious: 66% worry about keeping healthcare coverage; 64% about paying healthcare bills, 63% about saving for retirement; 77% believe today’s children will be worse off than parents.”

        PPI also found “unexpectedly strong support for nationalized health care”, which 75% of Independents favor.

        Another surprise was that 85% of voters are worried about the size of the national debt – “a possible sleeper issue” in 2020.

        PPI’s Conclusion: “Two requirements for a Democratic win in the 2020 presidential election are a big tent and a pragmatic, solutions-oriented agenda.”
        November 2018 US Election Results
        Two interesting indicators. (1) The swing towards the Democrats among suburban women. In some cases, (e.g., Connecticut), the emotional vote against Donald Trump appeared more powerful than economic self-interest. (2) Yet while the Democrats now control the House of Representatives, the Republicans will pick up one and possibly two seats in the Senate to further strengthen their existing majority.

        This will make any attempt to impeach President Trump much more difficult, as while the Democrat controlled House may pass a bill of impeachment, the Senate must vote to convict. While that is not impossible, it appears unlikely given the currently evidence that would be used to support the impeachment bill.

        That this election provided a conclusive victory for neither side guarantees that political conflict and overall uncertainty will continue unabated, and will likely worsen, between now and the 2020 presidential election.
        Following her party’s poor election performance, Angela Merkel resigns as head of CDU and announces she won’t serve as Chancellor beyond 2021. Macron’s popularity continues to fall as his reforms bite.
        Another indicator of the extent of the collapse the political center across multiple democracies, due to its inability to adequately respond to increasing economic uncertainty, and popular concerns about immigration and terrorism. As it other nations, it is the parties on either extreme that are gaining at the center parties’ expense. In Germany, it is AfD and Greens who are gaining while CDU/CSU and Social Democrats are losing support.

        As the Financial Times Martin Wolf wrote this month, “Populist forces are on the rise across the transatlantic world…The common thread of all these movements is rejection of the contemporary western elite and the synthesis of liberal democracy, technocratic governance and global capitalism that it promoted. It is a revolution against the establishment.” (“The Price of Populism”, 24Oct18)

        See also, “How Social Democracy Lost Its Way: A Report from Germany” by Tobias Buck in the Financial Times, 17Oct18
        Sep18: New Political Information: Indicators and Surprises
        Why Is This Information Valuable?
        Nostalgic reminders of a different and more unified United States – or at least a different political landscape – at Senator John McCain’s funeral at the beginning of September provided a stark contrast to the shocking polarization and extremism on display during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings at the end of the month.
        I experienced firsthand the euphoria in Europe that was triggered by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which contributed to the enormous psychological shock produced only a few years later by the savage civil wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. I often think that the European psyche has never recovered from this whipsaw.

        While not as powerful, September’s bookend events in US politics cannot help but have produced a similar shock to the US psyche. How it plays out is uncertain at this point; suffice to say that I believe it has widened the scope of what some will see as acceptable political ends and means to pursue.
        Are We on the Verge of Civil War? Some Words of Reassurance” by Morris Fiorina
        Fiorina’s quantitative analyses of the American electorate are always first rate. In this article, he uses a range of data to argue that we are further away from major political change than many media storylines would have us believe. It is a good antidote to what seems to be the conventional wisdom, at least for the surprisingly small minority of highly politically active citizens. That said, he also notes the importance of the ideological sorting of America’s two main parties (i.e., the disappearance of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans), and the increased uncertainty this creates about political dynamics in the United States.
        America is Moving Towards Oligarchical Socialism” by Joel Kotkin

        While most political speculation has been focused on the potential implications of rising populist/nationalist movements in the United States, Kotkin provides a provocative alternative view that expands our mental models of the current political situation, and the range of outcomes that could result from progressive dynamics.
        “Before they can seize power from the president and his now subservient party, the Democrats need to agree on what will replace Trumpism.

        Conventional wisdom implies an endless battle between pragmatic, corporate Clintonites on one side, and Democratic socialists of the Bernie brand. Yet this conflict could resolve itself in a new, innovative approach that could be best described as oligarchical socialism.

        Oligarchal socialism allows for the current, ever-growing concentration of wealth and power in a few hands — notably tech and financial moguls — while seeking ways to ameliorate the reality of growing poverty, slowing social mobility and indebtedness. This will be achieved not by breaking up or targeting the oligarchs, which they would fight to the bitter end, but through a massive increase in state taxpayer support.”
        The Science Behind the Brexit Vote” by Michele Gelfand in The Guardian
        “When people feel threatened, they want tighter social norms.” This fits with other research that finds people to have a stronger preference for conformity when uncertainty is high. This is the appeal of populist authoritarian leaders explained at the level of individual cognitive neuroscience.
        The Problem with Populism” by JP Morgan Research.
        Like Bridgewater’s report on the increasing attractiveness of populism, and Francis Fukuyama’s recent essays on the same subject (as well as others by Andrew Sullivan, Michael Lind, and Yascha Mounk), this report analyzes the root causes of various forms of populism’s rising appeal, and speculates on the possible consequences if these views grow in political popularity.