The following article by Democratic Strategist Robert Creamer, author of “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win” is cross-posted from HuffPo:
2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for the Progressive Movement in the United States.
The Right Wing did everything they could dream up to block progressive change in 2013.
The coming year will determine whether progressives allow the obstructionist tactics of extremists and their billionaire allies to stop change that benefits the vast majority of ordinary Americans.
It will determine whether the Affordable Care Act is successful at establishing that health care is a human right.
It may determine whether the discredited Neo-Cons that brought us the Iraq War are allowed to drag us into yet another war in the Middle East.
And most important, it will determine whether the progressive forces in America have the toughness of character necessary to turn on the after burners and once again defeat the forces that would drag America backward.
Here is a list of fourteen 2014 New Year’s resolutions for progressives — and one resolution for every year:
Resolution #1 — We must make 2014 a turning point year in the battle to reverse the gradual demise of the American middle class.
The defining economic fact of the last three decades has been the growing economic polarization of American society between most Americans and the wealthiest among us.
Over the last thirty years most Americans have experienced zero increase in their standard of living. Yet our per capita gross domestic product and productivity per person have both increased by 80 percent.
Virtually all of that increase has gone to the stop 1 percent.
2014 must be the year when increased economic inequality stops being the new normal. We need to insist that every economic proposal — every policy — every political debate must be evaluated by the critical need to reverse the increasing economic polarization of the last 30 years.
Resolution #2 — Our first order of business must be to restore unemployment compensation to the 1.3 million Americans who lost it three days after Christmas.
Right now there are three job seekers for every available job. Worse, a disproportionate share of those job seekers have been unemployed for 6 months or longer.
For decades we have never let unemployment benefits laps for the long term unemployed while more than 1.3 percent of the population in unable to find work for six months or more. Today double that number — 2.6 percent — have been out of work for 6 months or longer and are still unable to find a job.
Yet the Republicans have been unwilling to allow these benefits to continue. Some of them have actually argued that providing people an economic bridge to help carry them until they find a job makes them “dependent”.
Progressives cannot rest until the GOP is shamed into restoring long term unemployment benefits until the number of unemployed Americans drops to a level where it is reasonably likely that someone can find productive employment.
Resolution #3 — Progressives must stand up loudly and forcefully for unions, the right of collective bargaining and — in particular — public employee unions.
The increasing economic polarization of American society will never end if workers cannot demand to share the fruits of increased productivity at the bargaining table.
The last thirty years have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that left to its own devices the laissez-faire labor market will siphon all of those benefits to the top one percent of society. In fact, the stagnation of middle class wages has directly paralleled the reduction in the percentage of private sector workers represented by unions.
The right and America’s economic elite have been particularly keen on attacking the collective bargaining rights of public employees — one sector where union representation has grown.
Unfortunately, in 2013 some public officials who think of themselves as progressives have been complicit in cutting the pensions and pay of middle class public employees at the same time they have continued to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy and the country’s biggest corporations.
And progressive must strongly support labor actions by fast food and other service workers who are demanding a living wage of $15 per hour.
In 2014 we have to make clear that to be a progressive, you have to support the right of collective bargaining. It’s just as fundamental to democracy as the right to vote or the right to free speech.
Resolution #4 — Progressives must insist on a serious increase in the minimum wage. We have stand up strongly for the view that no one should work full time and still live in poverty.
A bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and index it to inflation — including workers who get tips — is supported by the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate and by the President. Progressives need to resolve to mount a no- holds-barred campaign to pass the bill. If Republicans refuse to bring a bill to the floor of the House (where it would pass), we need to hold them accountable in the fall elections.
Resolution #5 — Progressive need to resolve to prevent another war in the Middle East. The same Neo-Cons that brought America the Iraq War are promoting resolutions in Congress that would, in effect, derail negotiations to limit the development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Unfortunately, some Democrats have bought in.
Gee Whiz. Look at all those newspaper columns and TV reports in the past week that review the big stories of the year. Not one of them manages to note any of the four most extraordinary facts about the media in 2013:
1. That every one of the major, hysterically hyped conservative “Scandals” of last year – the Benghazi “cover-up,” The IRS “targeting” of only Tea Party groups, the “hopelessly broken beyond repair” Federal Health Care website — scandals that dominated the headlines for weeks and supposedly exposed the essential evil at the core of the Obama administration – have turned out to be fundamentally bogus. (The only genuine scandal, the one regarding NSA surveillance, is the one in which the conservative media is largely on the side of the government agency involved, not the whistleblowers).
2. That not a single major publication or media outlet in the conservative universe has modified, retracted, corrected or in any way publically conceded errors in their original reporting on the above subjects.
3. That with the exception of the New York Times recent report on Benghazi not a single major publication or media outlet in the mainstream media has devoted anything like equal time to producing updated reports that correct the bogus accusations they originally broadcast than they devoted to the original reporting (No, CBS’s suspension of Lara Logan is not a counter-example. CBS just conceded errors in her specific report, not in their overall coverage).
4. That not one of the major year-end “round-ups” in the mainstream media in the last two weeks has pointed out any of the three facts above.
It really makes you wonder exactly what the coverage would have been like if conservatives were right and the media really was slanted to the left. It’s genuinely hard to imagine how an even more conservative media could be much worse or more unfair.
Jonathan Weisman’s “With Health Law Cemented, G.O.P. Debates Next Move” at The New York Times does a good job of showing just how utterly bankrupt and bereft of ideas Republicans are when it comes to health care reform alternatives. As Republicans grudgingly accept that repeal and replace just isn’t going to happen, a few of them have ventured what they consider to be salable ‘reforms’. You will not be shocked to see that most of their ideas center around tax credits:
The bill would allow for insurance to be sold across state lines, push small businesses to pool together to buy insurance for their employees, expand tax-free health savings accounts, cap malpractice lawsuits, and offer tax credits of $2,163 for individuals and $5,799 for families to buy health plans.
…Mr. Ryan’s plan will build on one that he and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, introduced in 2009, according to aides familiar with it. The proposal, called the Patients’ Choice Act, would have eliminated the tax break for employer-provided health care to finance a tax credit of about $5,700 for families and $2,300 for individuals. States would have been asked to create insurance marketplaces like the ones many have created under the Affordable Care Act.
It’s the old ‘throw money at taxpayers’ strategy, which has never delivered quality health care anywhere in human history. Rooted as it is in the cynical assumption that all American voters want is more money, it is likely to be a tough sell, especially to millions of voters who are already benefiting from the ACA, or who have reason to believe they can get better coverage under Obamacare in the near future.
The unavoidable flaw in the GOP’s tax cut/credit panacea is that most American voters will figure out that giving them more money to buy health insurance will probably give the go-ahead to insurance companies to raise their rates — again and again.
Weisman reports that other Republicans are still yammering about repealing the individual mandate. But we can file that one under “not gonna happen,” unless Republicans win the White House and a filibuster-proof majority of the senate in 2016, while holding a strong house majority. That’s asking a lot, especially since only 19 percent of Americans “approve of the way congressional Republicans are handling health care,” as Weisman notes.
Other Republicans are sending up trial balloons, like Rep.Tom Price (GA), who is pushing the ‘Empowering Patients First Act,’ which Weisman reports “would repeal the health care law but keep its prohibition on exclusions for pre-existing conditions in private health insurance.” Again, not gonna happen. More moderate tweaks of the ACA, like Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s proposal to expand health savings accounts and repeal the tax on medical devices may gain increasing currency with her fellow Republicans as they begin to sober up from their tea party hangovers.
Harsh as some of the findings of recent polls are regarding the ACA, the future looks encouraging for Dems, as increasing numbers of Americans enroll and find their coverage has improved — and the GOP has nothing substantial to replace it.
[The rise of inequality as a political issue] has brought about a reaction from center-left types, who insist that the progressives have their priorities wrong. In the process, they mischaracterize the progressive view, and set up a false dichotomy between that and establishment positions….
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Bill Keller recently provided a representative sample:
The left-left sees economic inequality as mainly a problem of distribution — the accumulation of vast wealth that never really trickles down from on high. Their prescription is to tax the 1 percent and close corporate loopholes, using the new revenues to subsidize the needs of the poor and middle class…
The center-left — and that includes President Obama, most of the time — sees the problem and the solutions as more complicated. Yes, you want to provide greater security for those without independent means (see Obamacare), but you also need to create opportunity, which means, first and foremost, jobs. … The center-left … agrees on the menace of inequality, but places equal or greater emphasis on the fact that the economy is not growing the way it did for most of the last century.
First of all, this is a bit rich to hear from the center…I have never met or even heard of someone concerned with inequality who is not also a fervent supporter of immediate monetary and fiscal stimulus to restore full employment as fast as possible…The left has been howling about jobs and growth for five years now, for so long and so loud that our collective tonsils have about come unglued — and who were we arguing against? The centrists, who were a major bloc of support behind the premature turn to austerity back in 2010. Better late than never, I guess. Welcome to the party, guys!
In fact, Cooper is being much too charitable. Keller is worse than just a Johnny-come-lately. What’s basically going on in his Op-Ed is that Keller is creating a straw man called the “left-left” – an imaginary political formation for which he does not offer a single actual think-tank or spokesman as an example – that is invariably wrong — even when it is right. For example, in paragraph twelve of his Op-Ed, Keller says “Almost everyone to the left of John Boehner agrees, for example, that we are overdue for a raise in the minimum wage” (This, Keller omits to note, was a position that was championed by progressive think-tanks like the Economic Policy Institute but until recently ignored or rejected by more conservative groups within the Democratic coalition). But in paragraph six of his same Op-Ed, Keller then cites raising the minimum wage as an example of the flawed “redistributionist” approach of the “left-left” that ignores the more important issue of jobs.
So which is it? Is raising the minimum wage a good policy or a bad policy? After one carefully parses Keller’s Op-Ed, the only possible answer is that it’s a good policy when “the center left” (in which Keller includes absolutely everybody in the Democratic coalition except for the straw man “left-left”) endorses it and bad when the “left-left” straw man endorses it. The issues of jobs and inequality follow a similar but more convoluted “it’s right when I say it but wrong when you say it” pattern.
Democrats should prepare themselves for more of this kind of intellectual three-card-Monte in the coming period. As the center of gravity in the Democratic coalition has shifted toward more progressive economic stances, left-bashing centrists, primarily those in Third Way, and commentators like Keller are going to increasingly claim that they always favored the progressive approaches that have now become widely popular (when in fact they really didn’t) and will also criticize the excesses of imaginary “left” straw man opponents who somehow can never be identified with any actual policy paper or notable spokesman.
Here’s a simple rule of thumb to follow to cut though the nonsense: if a commentator doesn’t point to a single specific position paper or statement by a recognized spokesman as evidence for the significance of some “left” or “left-left” or “left-left-left-left-left” wing faction or position he claims malignly influences the Democratic coalition, it’s because it exists only inside his head.
P.S. By the way, Keller’s titles his Op-Ed “Inequality for Dummies.” The temptation to take advantage of that to say something snarky is absolutely tremendous but I’ll refrain. It’s just too damn easy.
A new CNN/ORC poll conducted 12/16-19 finds that “Negative attitudes extend to both sides of the aisle: 52% believe that the policies of the Democratic leaders in Congress would move the country in the wrong direction; 54% say the same about the policies of congressional Republicans…”
At The Atlantic, Molly Ball addresses “The Battle Within the Democratic Party: A schism between moderates and liberals over economic inequality is the first front in defining a post-Obama platform.” Ball notes that “Stan Greenberg, a longtime Democratic pollster who advised de Blasio’s campaign, insists that most Democrats, including Obama, are on the same page as Warren. In both presidential elections, he noted, “Obama ran on a future for the middle class of restoring prosperity, raising taxes on the wealthy, and an investment agenda. That’s the mainstream of the Democratic Party; it’s the mainstream of the country.”
I’ve always been interested in those comparison charts showing how the U.S. is doing in providing social benefits in comparison to other developed countries, although I’m not sure how effective such comparisons are in selling policy and candidates. If they are, however, Michael Tomasky’s Daily Beast post “America Joins the Developed World, Thanks to Obamacare” is a good one to share.
Sen. Rand Paul’s argument that “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy” elicited this response from Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein: “This is a correlation/causation error of staggering size — and, because it’s coming from a sitting U.S. senator whose vote will help decide whether millions of unemployed families lose the paltry checks that are helping them buy food and shelter and fuel, of staggering consequence.”
Sen. Paul’s callous comments notwithstanding, Dems should make sure that the entire GOP owns it, and this video clip is a good start.
The Plum Line’s George Zornick explains what’s good about the video: “It’s a tough spot, and it relies on language that was popular through the 2012 election that paints the GOP as dedicated protectors of the powerful and wealthy at the expense of struggling Americans…What is particularly useful about this approach is that there’s no pressure coming from the other side — unlike, say, the debate over “Obamacare,” there are no well-funded conservative groups out there pressing for an end to the emergency unemployment program. Based on the polls showing bipartisan support for an extension, the conservative grass roots don’t appear to be fired up about the issue. The passion and activism over jobless benefits is essentially just running in one direction, which is a promising sign.”
Robert Kuttner has a part II HuffPo post, “More About a new Freedom Summer,” fleshing out his idea for a nationwide campaign to provide photo i.d.’s to voters in states where new suppression laws jeopardize their voting rights, backed up by an energetic voter registration mobilization. Kuttner adds, “…the same Roberts Court that overturned key sections of the Voting Rights Act also invalidated limits on political contributions. Donors friendly to Democrats could pour unlimited sums into non-partisan voter registration campaigns, whose net effect would be to help elect Democrats.”
At the Campaign for America’s Future website, Lori Wallach has an informative post, “Get Ready for the 2014 Trade Tsunami” on the fair trade battle that lies ahead. Wallach notes, “The fiery international debates over NAFTA and WTO gave birth to a new fair trade movement in our country. The devastating outcomes triggered by the trade pacts unified ordinary Americans against them. Polls show a majority of Americans – Republicans, Democrats and independents -think these sorts of pacts are bad not only for themselves and their families but for the nation.”
There is a downside to Gov. Christie’s blustering persona, which is apparently also reflected in some of his actions, as Kate Zernike reports in her New York Times article “Stories Add Up as Bully Image Trails Christie.”
Today’s New York Times offers one of David Brooks’ periodic communiqués from the alternate – and far, far more pleasant – universe in which he lives.
What is most charming and attractive about the alternate America in which Brooks resides is that there are no extremist Republicans in it. None. Not one. Things that happen here in our America because of conscious and deliberate GOP attacks, in Brooksland happen spontaneously and without malevolent intention. Consider his description of why people resist the individual mandate in his alternate universe:
Already, it’s very clear that millions of Americans — and not just Tea Party types — do not accept the legitimacy of the government to overrule individual decisions, even on something like health insurance. This is not the America of 1932 or of 1964. This is an America steeped in distrust of government. It’s an America that is, on both left and right, steeped in the ethos of individual choice….
…In the age of the Internet, people are used to decentralized systems and maximum personal choice. The mandated elements of Obamacare may look good on paper and they may be necessary to get the plan to work, but they probably can’t survive the public sense they are illegitimate….
…Governing in an age of distrust is different than governing in an age of trust. Government now lacks the legitimacy to impose costs…People like Social Security, but I bet you that Congress could not pass a Social Security law today. If people were unfamiliar with the concept, you couldn’t pass a bill that said: Government is going to confiscate money from each paycheck and spend it on other things, but don’t worry because you’ll get it back decades from now when you retire.
There you have it, an explanation for the resistance to Obamacare in which the most ferocious, coordinated right-wing attack on a social program in modern history doesn’t play any role at all. If people are unhappy with the individual mandate and would even reject Social Security it’s because they are “steeped in the ethos of individual choice”, “used to decentralized systems and maximum personal choice” and, most of all “steeped in distrust of government.”
And gosh, that distrust of government just kind of popped up right out of nowhere, didn’t it? It certainly couldn’t be that the GOP and conservative media played a major role in creating that distrust by systematically misrepresenting facts about a program they originally conceived and once championed, or by creating imaginary threats and dangers (e.g. death panels) to spread opposition and even by throwing a fundamental conservative principle like insisting on an individual responsibility to plan ahead for medical expenses out the window in order to sabotage a plan that might make people trust government a bit more.
Things like that could not possibly have been consciously orchestrated by the GOP and conservatives in Brooks alternate universe because otherwise he surely would have mentioned it, wouldn’t he? In our America, of course, it’s just too big a factor for any serious person to ignore.
The following article by Democratic strategist Robert Creamer, author of “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win,” is cross-posted from HuffPo:
Three days after Christmas, unemployment benefits end for 1.3 million people who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits, but still can’t find a job.
To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you have to be actively looking for a job. Virtually all of these people would rather work, but can’t find a job in today’s economy where there are three applicants for every job available.
But when the budget deal was negotiated in Congress over the last several weeks, Republican negotiators refused to agree to continue those unemployment benefits. And at the same time, they demanded the continuation of tax breaks for big oil companies and loopholes for Wall Street billionaires who get their income from hedge funds.
Merry Christmas from the GOP.
Of course this kind of Christmas cheer comes from the same gang that routinely drags out the well-worn charge that progressives and Democrats are engaging in a “war on Christmas”. Maybe someone should force Republican Members of Congress to sit through a showing of “A Christmas Carol” and then explain why they think Ebenezer Scrooge is the hero.
Over the last decade the far right, that now dominates the GOP, has conducted a real war on the values that we celebrate at Christmas.
In case they missed it, Christmas is about giving, and sharing and loving your neighbor. It’s about family. Christmas has nothing to do with greed or selfishness or paying people poverty level wages so you can maximize your bottom line.
The Christmas spirit is not about cutting off an economic lifeline for over a million people so the wealthiest in the land can continue to prosper beyond imagining. And remember many of those same wealthy people who are doing so well are personally responsible for the recklessness that caused the Great Recession and cost the jobs of those whose unemployment benefits they now believe we can “no longer afford”.
You hear a lot from the right wing about having to make “tough choices” because some things “we just can’t afford”. Ironically those “things we cannot afford” never include the things that benefit the very wealthy.
In fact, as surprising as it may seem to many Americans, there is more bounty in the land this Christmas, than at any time in our nation’s history. Our income per capita – and our productivity per person – has increased by 80% over the last 30 years. But over those same 30 years, average incomes for most Americans were stagnant – and virtually all of that increased income and wealth went to the top 1%.
That is bad enough. But then to insist that our country “can’t afford” to continue paying unemployment benefits to people who can’t find a job – and by the way – cut off their benefits three days after Christmas – that is an outrage.
Many on the right are so out of touch with ordinary Americans that they argue that providing unemployment benefits makes people “dependent”. This of course completely ignores the fact that to qualify you have to have been working and lost your job for no fault of your own; you have to be actively looking for work; and the maximum benefits in many states are very low.
Ask the Koch brothers to support a family on the $258 per week maximum benefit in Louisiana, or the $275 per week maximum benefit in Florida – or even the $524 per week maximum benefit in Ohio.
People don’t want to stay on unemployment benefits. They want to find a job that provides them with income and benefits that allow them to give a better life to their families and their kids. They want to make a contribution and feel that they do worthwhile work. Most Americans want to be proud of what they do for a living – they don’t want to be “dependent” on anyone.
You have to be from another planet to believe that most people will become “dependent” on a total income of $275 per week.
Unemployment benefits provide workers and their families with an economic shot in the arm to get them through being laid off in an economy when jobs are still hard to come by.
And let’s be real clear why jobs are so hard to come by. Jobs are still hard to come by because of the policies of those very same right wing politicians who refused to reign in the orgy of reckless speculation on Wall Street that resulted in a ruinous financial collapse from which the economy is still recovering.
Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP did not do everything it could to block President Obama’s American’s Jobs Act that would create millions of jobs in both the public and private sectors by investing in teachers, and infrastructure.
Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP were not fixated on cutting government investment at a time when virtually all economists – including the Federal Reserve Chairman – believe we need more fiscal stimulus and that the policy’s of the Republicans in Congress continue to be a major drag on economic growth.
In fact the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that failing to continue federal unemployment benefits will cost the economy 240,000 jobs and slow the growth of the overall economy by .2%.
Those who receive unemployment benefits spend virtually every dime on the goods and services they need to live. That spending provides jobs to thousands of other Americans. So cutting federal unemployment benefits will actually create a quarter million more people who are unemployed. Great work GOP.
So here is the bottom line. It turns out that a society that reflects the spirit of Christmas – one where we have each other’s back – where we care about each other and not just ourselves – a society like that is better for everyone.
In fact, it turns out that the “moral” thing to do – the “right” thing to do – is also the “smart” thing to do.
It turns out that progressive values like loving your neighbor as your self – are the most precious possessions of humanity because they are the values that will allow us and our children to prosper and survive.
And that’s why the spirit of Christmas doesn’t just belong to Christians – or Catholics or Baptists or Episcopalians – or anyone. The Christmas spirit belongs to everyone on our small fragile planet. And that spirit embodies exactly the set of values that we must use to chart our course not just on Christmas Day but 365 days each year – including December 28th when over a million families will lose the economic lifeline that provides them a bridge to a better life.
Michael Tomasky has some good advice for Dems, along the lines of, ditch the crappy Obamacare ads and have the President get out there with a straightforward idealistic pitch: “He ought to give a speech or a few speeches on campuses aimed specifically at young people and say, “I know a lot of you were excited about me in 2008, and the polls tell me you think I’ve been disappointing, and that’s how things go in Washington. It’s a brutal place. But this is your generation’s chance to help your country become the last advanced democratic country in the world to make sure that all of its citizens have the peace of mind of health care.” It’s their Peace Corps and Vista.”
A.P.’s Steve Peoples reports that “Democrats Work to Raise Number of Female Governors,” pointing out that Republicans have four women governors, compared to the Democrats’ one (Maggie Hassan of NH). Clearly, Dems need to do better, although Peoples could have noted, as did J.P. Green that “10 percent of Republican House and Senate members are women, compared to 25 percent of all Democratic members of both houses, according to the congressional record. In 2012, “Of the more than 1700 women serving in state legislatures, roughly 60 percent are members of the Democratic Party,” reports the Center for American Women and Politics.”
A Media Matters for America Rob Savillo has a bit of good news about the top newspapers’ coverage of Obamacare — they are now reporting more about the benefits of Obamacare, as well as enrollment problems associated with the website rollout.
Mary C. Curtis’s “Holder Determined to Challenge Voter-Suppression Laws” at The Root provides an informative update, which describes the situation in N.C.: “North Carolina went from being the model of a voter-friendly state to the poster child for voting restrictions, in one session of a Republican-dominated state legislature…The North Carolina rules cover much more than the requirement for a photo ID, set to go into effect in 2016. If the law stands, other provisions of the law, set to take effect Jan. 1, would shorten early voting by a week, end preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, eliminate same-day voter registration, Sunday voting and straight-ticket voting, increase the number of poll watchers who can challenge a voter’s eligibility, prohibit the counting of provisional ballots of eligible voters who mistakenly go to the wrong precinct and more.”
At TPM Muckraker, Eric Lach’s “Researchers Find Factors Tied To Voting Restriction Bills Are ‘Basically All Racial” notes, “In the paper, the researchers placed the recent restriction efforts in context, as part of a history of measures “trumpeted as protecting electoral legitimacy while intended to exclude the marginalized for a particular political party’s advantage.” They argue that the Republican Party has engaged in “strategic demobilization efforts in response to changing demographics, shifting electoral fortunes, and an internal rightward ideological drift among the party faithful.”
At Daily Kos, Ian Reifowitz has a worthy read, “A Democratic contract with America: How to retake the House and combat economic inequality.”
Now that Dems have successfully pulled off the trifecta in VA, party strategists are looking southward to another state that is rapidly turning purple. For a good update on Dem prospects in the Peach State, read Karen Tumulty’s “Michelle Nunn, Jason Carter hope to rechart the course of Georgia politics.”
Ezra Klein’s “Full employment gives people jobs. But it also gives them power” has a rave review of an important book you can get for free, “Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People,” by Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein.” As Klein notes in his conclusion, “Inequality can be attacked in ways that do very little for average workers. By contrast, full employment gives average workers the power to demand a better deal from their employers and thus reduces inequality by giving the working class an overdue raise. Baker and Bernstein’s book is that rarest of things: A read that could make next year much better.”
Sen Chuck Schumer makes the case why Dems should be ready to rumble on the minimum wage hike, job-creation and unemployment insurance, as Dems’ best issues for 2014, reports Evan McMorris-Santoro at Buzzfeed.
I read an awful lot of stuff about polls, and know just enough about polling to know (most of the time) when I’m being spun. Having seen one clear example, I decided to slice and dice it at New York.
Polling averages like those published by RealClearPolitics and the highly masticated poll-based analysisat FiveThirtyEight are a good corrective to the tendency to see only the results that confirm the reader’s biases, hopes, and dreams. But the announcement of polls is often accompanied by the blare of partisan trumpets, and the results laundered by a partisan spin cycle. This is very evident with respect to a piece at CNBC today. Here’s the lede:
“With economic optimism soaring in the country, will Democrats be able to sweep to power in either house of Congress or will buoyant sentiment help Republicans keep hold of their Congressional majorities?
“The latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey offers mixed signals, but leans against a wave Democratic election like that those that swept Republicans to power in 2010 and 2014.
“The poll of 800 Americans across the country, with a margin of error of 3.5 percent, found a six-point Democratic lead on the question of who voters will choose in the November congressional elections. The 42 percent to 36 percent margin is not far from what pollsters would expect given the greater percentage of Democratic registered voters.
“‘A six point differential is not something that’s going to cause a big electoral wave,’ said Micah Roberts, the Republican pollster on the CNBC poll, a partner Public Opinion Strategies. ‘Economic confidence that people have among a lot of groups is providing a buffer’ for Republicans.”
1) So the findings “lean against a wave election like those that swept Republicans to power in 2010 and 2014.” It’s hard to understand exactly what this means. Republicans picked up 63 net House seats in 2010; nobody’s predicting Democrats will do that well, and they need just 23 seats to win control of the House. Republicans netted 13 House seats in 2014. That isn’t “like” 2010. If this is supposed to be a reference to the Republican conquest of the Senate in 2014, we’re really mixing apples and oranges since a national poll of partisan preferences has little or nothing to do with a Senate landscape that exists in one-third of the states.
2) This is a poll of 800 adults — not registered voters, much less likely voters. That’s a very imprecise sample. And the Margin of Error of 3.5 percent could be pretty significant when it comes to a generic ballot difference — the key statistic in the poll — of 6 percent.
3) The suggestion that the Democrats’ margin in party preferences (the so-called generic congressional ballot) is meaningless because it’s “not far from what pollsters would expect given the greater percentage of Democratic registered voters” is very misleading. The generic ballot includes Democrats, Republicans, and independents; if the plurality of Democratic registration determined it, Democrats would always have an advantage, which they don’t.
4) All the economic data in this poll is interesting, but isn’t terribly predictive when it comes to midterm elections, which are pretty highly correlated to overall presidential approval ratings (which have been underwater almost the entirety of the Trump presidency) and to the generic congressional ballot. Economic perceptions can help explain why voters feel the way they do, but if “economic optimism is soaring,” that will show up in the more predictive poll findings.
5) At varying points CNBC suggests the poll shows there probably won’t be a “wave Democratic election” or a “big electoral wave” or a “massive wave election.” Nowhere is there any definition of the phantom phenomenon the data are supposed to rebut. Presumably a Democratic takeover of the House would be considered a “wave,” if not a “massive wave,” whatever that means. CNN’s Harry Enten thinks a Democratic generic ballot advantage of six to eight points will be sufficient to accomplish that; Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz thinks four points could be enough. Others think it will require a bigger margin. But this particular poll doesn’t provide any decisive guidance on the subject.
At the moment, the RealClearPolitics polling average on the generic ballotquestion gives Democrats a 7.2 percent advantage. FiveThirtyEight’s gives Democrats an 8.6 percent lead. Both these averages include the CNBC poll, though not very high in their listings, because it was conducted from October 4–7, which not exactly super-fresh in the world of public opinion.
I went through the analysis above not because this particular poll used a questionable methodology (it didn’t) or is somehow useless (it’s not). But it’s important to know when the presenter of polling data is selling you a bill of goods for her or his own reasons. There will be a lot more of that as November 6 approaches.