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Biden Kicks Off His Campaign

On Saturday, Joe Biden ended his pre-campaign and started the real thing with a rally in Philadelphia. The location wasn't accidental; Biden even said so. He said he picked Philadelphia because it was the birthplace of American democracy. Actually, more importantly, Pennsylvania was the birthplace of Joe Biden and is a must-win state for him. He was born in Scranton, but Philadelphia is much bigger. Besides, as James Carville once helpfully pointed out, Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.

Biden needs to appeal to two kinds of Democrats: Partisans who hate Donald Trump with a fiery passion matched only by evangelical pastors' attitude toward the Devil, and low-information Democrats whose motto is "Why can't the parties just work together?" He tried to do both in his speech. For the first group he condemned Donald Trump as a "divider." For the second, he said: "Some say Democrats don't want to hear about unity. That they are angry, and the angrier you are, the better. Well, I don't believe it. I really don't. I believe Democrats want to unify this nation." What he didn't explain is how he will unite a country in which something like half the people want to ban abortion and half want to make it available on demand. Also he didn't explain how he would unite the large group that wants to raise taxes on the rich with the somewhat smaller group that is wildly against that. Maybe that will come later. We'll see.

But maybe we won't. Large numbers of Americans don't follow politics. Consider this: In 2016, 138 million people voted, but the combined primetime audience of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN is 5 million viewers. Obviously, those channels aren't the only sources of political information; there are also newspapers, and websites (including this one!). However, even if you add up the readership/viewership of all those various outlets, it adds up to something far short of 138 million people. Many (if not most) of these people somehow think that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) don't get along because they don't like the other one's accent or because one prefers coffee and one prefers tea, and if they just would put aside their petty feelings they could work together. When Biden says he is the "unity candidate," he is pitching to the low-information group, not the high-information group who know that unity is a pipe dream. Of course, Biden, who was a member of the Obama administration that McConnell completely stonewalled, knows very well that unity is never going to happen if he is elected. But he also knows that a large chunk of the Democratic electorate wants to hear about unity and bipartisanship and unicorns gliding over rainbows, so this is what he tells them.

Biden served in the Senate for 30 years, so he knows better than any of the other Democratic candidates how important that chamber is. If he gets the presidential nomination, it will be interesting to see how much time and energy and money he puts into helping Democrats win the Senate. He knows full well that a McConnell-led Senate could refuse to confirm any of his judicial nominations, including Supreme Court justices. Fortunately for him, some of the key Senate races are also in states that are either purple or moving in that direction, including Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, and North Carolina, so he can justify time spent there helping out Democratic Senate candidates. (V)

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Are Not Interchangeable

Polls taken since Joe Biden threw his hat in the ring have been bad news for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and good news for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). That may seem a bit odd at first, since Sanders and Warren support pretty much the same policy proposals and both are running issue-oriented campaigns. Nevertheless, CNN's Harry Enten has an explanation, based on data.

Fundamentally, Sanders and Warren are not fishing in the same pond. Sanders' voters are the mirror image of Trump's voters: Angry men without a college degree. Both sets of voters hate the establishment and want someone to shake things up. Only they have chosen to hitch their wagons to different politicians. Only 13% of white voters with a college degree support Sanders while 23% of white voters without one support the Vermont senator. For Warren, the situation is reversed. Among white college-educated voters, she has 14% support, but among noncollege voters her support drops to 7%. Part of Warren's problem may be that sexism is more prevalent among noncollege voters, but that isn't the whole story.

The profile of Sanders' voters actually matches that of Biden's more closely than it does that of Warren's. Both of them do well with voters who don't like the way Democratic leaders (i.e., the establishment) are handling their jobs. Their supporters are angry and want change. It is easy to imagine Sanders or Biden going to West Virginia and telling unemployed coal miners that the system is rigged against them and being cheered. It is hard to imagine that happening to Warren. She would do best giving a detailed hour-long lecture at Yale or Princeton on her planned antitrust policies. Her strength is with traditional liberals who want different policies but don't want to burn the government down. If Biden keeps picking off Sanders' voters, she may get a few of them, but to grab a larger chunk, she is going to have to figure out how a Harvard Law professor can connect with angry blue-collar workers. It won't be so easy. (V)

How Will the Move to Primaries Affect the Democratic Race?

In 2016, 14 states held a caucus rather than a primary. Bernie Sanders won 12 of those (86%) and came within 0.8% of winning another one (Iowa). The only caucus state he lost badly (by 5.3%) is Nevada. Among the 36 states that held a primary, he won only 9 of them (25%). Is this a coincidence? Almost certainly not, as this effect has been seen in previous years as well. An insurgent candidate with a small but extremely loyal base can overwhelm low-attendance caucuses and win them.

Caucuses are fundamentally different from primaries. In a primary, you go in, vote, and go home. In a caucus, you go in early, hang around, try to understand the arcane rules (like the 15% rule) and then argue politics for hours before going home. Not surprisingly, turnout is far lower than for primaries. Also not surprising is that there has been a lot of criticism of the caucus system for years. Some of the complaints are:

  1. Not everyone is available all evening on one specific evening
  2. The disabled are disenfranchised because there are no absentee ballots
  3. Older people may not like driving home very late at night after the caucus
  4. Some people don't like to make their political views public

And so on. For these and other reasons, at least 10 states are switching from a caucus to a primary in 2020. Only Iowa and Nevada are certain to have caucuses again (and Iowa has changed the rules to make it easier for people to participate). Maine and Wyoming are still undecided what they will do. As an aside, a few of the states will have primaries run by the Democratic Party, rather than by the state government, which makes them a bit more caucus-like (e.g., fewer places to vote, hence longer drives to get there).

Will the switch to primaries affect the results? FiveThirtyEight has taken a look and concluded that it could. First of all, turnout is likely to be much higher in a primary as compared to a caucus, so the effect of a small number of very dedicated voters won't be nearly as big as in the past. This is probably going to hurt the more ideological candidates and help the middle-of-the-road candidates who are popular, but not so popular that people would drive 30 miles to get to a school where they can argue with their neighbors for 3 hours.

Second, everyone understands the concept of "there is an election all day Tuesday," but not everyone understands what a caucus is and how to participate. To do well in a caucus, candidates need a serious ground operation to get their supporters to show up. This, in turn, requires money to pull off well, so the switch to primaries may help candidates who do not have a lot of money and a big ground operation.

Third, that pesky 15% rule won't come into play in a lot of states this time. The Democrats have a rule in most places (Iowa being the exception) that after the caucusgoers have taken a first vote, any candidate coming in below 15% is eliminated. In 2016, that didn't matter so much because there were initially only three candidates (no, Martin O'Malley, we haven't forgotten you). If current polls continue to hold into next year, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders might be the only candidates to make it to the second round, so the second choices of everyone else's supporters would be crucial. But with only two to four states (and possibly some territories) holding caucuses, the 15% rule won't play a massive role, although it could in Iowa, which goes first and sets the stage. Still, imagine the effect on the public if the Iowa results are: Sanders x%, Biden 100-x%, everyone else 0%.

In short, because the Democratic field is so large and the rules have changed, the 2020 race may be quite different from previous ones. (V)

Americans Are Not So Keen on Old Candidates

Gallup recently released the results of a poll in which they asked voters which characteristics might keep a voter from casting a ballot for an otherwise-qualified candidate who had that characteristic. Being black isn't a problem anymore, with 96% of voters saying that wasn't a deal breaker. In contrast, more than half the voters wouldn't vote for a socialist. Here are the results:

Gallup poll dealbreakers

While this result is good for black, Catholic, Latino, women, and Jewish candidates, all of which are represented in the Democratic primary field, only 63% of the voters are prepared to vote for a 70+ geezer. This is a surprising result since the three leading candidates now, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders, all had their 70th birthday parties some years ago. If the general election ends up being Trump vs. Biden or Sanders, it is hard to imagine that 37% of the voters will write in some young kid in protest.

What the poll mostly shows is that you have to take polls with a grain of salt sometimes. If Republicans really didn't like old folks, there would be a groundswell of support for John Kasich or Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD). If Democrats didn't like the geriatic set, why have they made Biden and Sanders their top two choices so far? Our point is that what people may think in the abstract may go by the roadside when actual candidates show up. (V)

Republican Congressman: Trump Has Committed Impeachable Offenses

Many Democrats have called for Donald Trump to be impeached, but until now, no Republican has done so. Not anymore, though. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) sent out this tweet (at the end of several others on the same theme) this weekend:

Amash is not just any old Republican. He is one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus. His change of heart about Trump certainly puts him at odds with the rest of that caucus, which has become decidedly pro-Trump of late.

Amash, along with over 900 former federal prosecutors, believes that Trump has obstructed justice, and absent the DoJ's policy of not indicting a sitting president, should have been indicted based on what Robert Mueller found. Amash also took a potshot at AG William Barr, claiming that Barr seriously misrepresented Mueller's conclusions with respect to obstruction of justice.

Amash's remarks did not go over well with RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, who slammed Amash for "parroting the Democrats' talking points on Russia." She didn't call for a primary challenger to take on Amash, but there is plenty of time for that. Trump also found time to go after Amash, probably not for the last time:

Whether Trump's attack on Amash stops any other Republicans from calling for impeachment is something we don't know yet, but may find out. One thing we do know is that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), never exactly a profile in courage, does not support Amash. Yesterday, he said: "Justin Amash has reached a different conclusion than I have." (V)

Alabama Abortion Law Could Have Consequences

Alabama just passed a law defining a fertilized egg cell as a person and making abortion a crime punishable with up to 99 years in prison for the doctor who performs it. The intent of the law was to give the Supreme Court an opportunity to decide that Roe v. Wade was a mistake and scotch it. But it may have other effects. First, Democrats will spend the next 18 months saying that a vote for any Republican is a vote to ban all abortions, even for victims of rape. The blue team will also take note of the 25 Alabama state senators who voted to make the bill law. Variants of this graphic have been all over TV and the Internet this weekend:

Senators who voted for Alabama abortion bill, all male and white

You may notice that, in addition to being Republicans, they all have something else in common that makes them not the best choice, perhaps, to be deciding what a woman can and cannot do with her body. Anyhow, the extreme nature of the bill, and the demographics of the politicians behind it, could be a potent argument with women, who make up about 52% of the electorate.

Second, the law will become a strong fundraising tool for Democrats up and down the ballot as Democrats talk endlessly about a Supreme Court with a 5-4 or maybe 6-3 or even 7-2 Republican majority, which would probably spell the end of Roe, something many women thought was settled law, but might suddenly discover is not.

Third, the law will divide Republicans. Religious conservatives who fervently believe that as soon as a sperm worms its way into an egg, it sends out some kind of WiFi or Bluetooth signal to God requesting a soul, say that an innocent baby should not be murdered for the deeds of its parents. Of course, the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:9) says: "I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me," so there is some Biblical basis for killing (born or unborn) children to punish the rapist. Other Republicans, including Donald Trump, are willing to accept abortions for rape victims because an absolutist position is not a political winner.

But taken to its logical conclusion, making a fertilized egg a full-blown person in the eyes of the law has many other consequences. For example, every state requires a noncustodial parent (in this case, the father) to provide child support to the custodial parent. Would that apply to the zygote retroactively back to conception?

What about deportation? Does a zygote conceived in America get citizenship along with its soul? If so, it would be impossible to deport an undocumented pregnant woman because American citizens cannot be deported. Also along these lines, a pregnant woman who traveled internationally without getting a passport for her zygote would be guilty of human smuggling, a serious felony.

No person may be imprisoned without due process. Since it is impossible to imprison the mother without also imprisoning the zygote, who has not committed any crimes, would it be legal to incarcerate a pregnant woman? Related to this, the 14th Amendment says that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. That means that a woman who is slated for capital punishment could at least delay it by 9 months by getting pregnant.

Could a zygote get a social security number? That is needed to claim him or her as a dependent for tax and other purposes. There would obviously need to be some way to prove incontrovertibly that the person existed.

Could the mother open a bank account for the zygote and put money in it? Could a zygote own stock under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act?

What about the census? It calls for an enumeration of persons. If you think the question about citizenship is controversial, just wait until you see the reaction to the new question: "Are you pregnant?" And if so, by any chance are you expecting twins or triplets?

It is unlikely that the Alabama state legislators have worked all this out yet, but no doubt they (and the courts) will soon be given the opportunity. (V)

Report: Deutsche Bank Employees Saw Suspicious Trump and Kushner Activity

The New York Times is reporting that anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank wanted to make a report to the federal government regarding suspicious transactions carried out in 2016 and 2017 by entities controlled by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. However, senior executives at Deutsche Bank overruled their own staff and did not make the reports. Banks are required by law to report certain transactions that might be money laundering. Failure to make required reports could land the bank in even more hot water than it already is.

One of the employees in question, Tammy McFadden, was fired for raising concerns about Trump and Kushner. She has filed a complaint with the SEC. It would not be surprising if House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) asks McFadden to show up and give some testimony to her committee.

The bank has denied everything. A spokeswoman said: "At no time was an investigator prevented from escalating activity identified as potentially suspicious. Furthermore, the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns relating to any client is categorically false." Given Detusche Bank's casual relationship with the truth, and its willingness to fall on a grenade for its best customers, take that denial with a fistful of salt. (V)

National Republicans Are Mobilizing to Stop Kris Kobach from Becoming a Senator

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) is not running for reelection in 2020. Since no Democrat has been elected to the Senate from Kansas for over 80 years, you wouldn't think the national GOP would be too worried about losing the seat. But it is. The problem is that firebrand Kris Kobach is thinking of running for Roberts' seat and could do to the Senate seat what he did to the governorship in 2018: Elect a Democrat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee normally does not intervene in Senate primaries, but is planning to do so if Kobach runs. It would not favor one of the other Republicans over the others, it would just run ads attacking Kobach. For a national committee to actively try to defeat a member of its own party is pretty much unprecedented, but there is clearly a serious concern that Kobach is so radioactive—even in Kansas—that he needs to be stopped before it is too late. Also not helping things is that he's extremely gaffe-prone; his "efforts" to identify voter fraud as part of Donald Trump's blue-ribbon panel were such a comedy of errors that it put Antipholus and Dromio (both pairs of them) to shame.

So far, only Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner has formally announced a run, but at least half a dozen other Republicans are considering it. The problem is that Kobach is so far to the right that with the mainstream Republican vote split half a dozen ways, Kobach might actually win the primary with only the extreme right-wing vote. If he were to be the nominee, the Democrats might actually have a shot at picking up the seat, just as they won the governor's mansion in 2018 against Kobach. (V)

A Surprise Down Under

It's not just the United States where national politics have grown notably more tense in the past few years. Also in that category is the land down under, where women glow and men plunder. The decline and fall of Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull last year allowed Scott Morrison to ascend to the premiership. Both are from the Liberal Party, which is Australia's mainstream conservative party. The Aussies have been on a "throw the bums out" kick for over a decade, such that no PM has served a full term since 2007. That fact, plus extensive polling, had politics-watchers in Australia confident that Morrison would be booted out of power during this weekend's election. Surprise! Morrison's governing coalition (the Liberal-National Coalition) not only came out ahead of the Labor Party, it actually gained seats.

There are two reasons this story is getting international attention. The first is that it is yet another case of a Western democracy veering in a conservative direction. Clearly, the right wing is having a moment right now (although the right wing in Australia is still pretty far to the left of American right wingers). This sometimes happens; there were worldwide waves of liberalism in the 1780s and 1900s, among other decades, while there were conservative backlashes in the 1800s and 1920s. The exact cause is something that will take historians generations to figure out, but it surely has something to do with globalization, and the accompanying social and economic changes.

The other angle, from an international perspective, is the polling fail. There was near-universal agreement that Labor's Bill Shorten would be Australia's next PM, with confidence levels roughly equal to those of folks in 2016 (including us) who thought Hillary Clinton would be the next president. So, is polling broken, in this age of cell phones? Maybe, maybe not. More on that below. (Z)

Monday Q&A

We're getting a lot of polling questions recently, which is good, because that's kinda supposed to be our specialty.

The Australian federal election has returned a conservative government, and I'm completely gutted. There wasn't a single poll in the last 6 months that put the government ahead. This included internal polling of both parties, and Sportsbet even paid out on the outcome before the polls closed. It wasn't a matter of who would win, just the margin. I've been a keen follower of elections and polling since I was about 11 and I've never seen the polling (in Australia) so decoupled from reality. So, my question is: In light of what appears to be systemic problems of pollster accuracy around the world, is technology making accurate polling impossible? M.C., Canberra, Australia

It would be easy to write many thousands of words here, but we need to keep it manageable, so we will point out a half-dozen things:

  • Perception: FiveThirtyEight did an analysis of this question about a year ago, and their conclusion is that polls have not gotten considerably less accurate in recent years. Instead, they think that the main thing is that people do not properly grasp the notion of "margin of error," and do not appreciate that even someone given only a 10%-20% chance of winning (which describes both Donald Trump and Scott Morrison) are still going to win a fair percentage of the time.

    In other words, voters are more certain of outcomes than they should be (something that the media and the pollsters tend to encourage). And, on those occasions where partisans are disappointed or shocked by an outcome, they remember the "polling fail," which takes on an outsized importance. Let us imagine 10 elections, in which Hillary Clinton won 7 and Donald Trump won 3. Clinton's wins would be unremarkable, since she was supposed to win, but Trump's would stick out like sore thumbs. And if those three "fails" came in close order to one another, it could create the perception that something is wrong with the polls, despite the fact that everything was within the margin of error. Obviously, there have not been 10 Clinton-Trump elections, but it would not be too hard to put together a list of elections from the last five years that had three or four surprises (Brexit, U.S. 2016, Australia 2019) but also half a dozen elections where the polls were basically right (Israel 2019, Mexico 2018 and the U.S. 2018, France and Japan 2017, Canada 2015).

  • Late Breaks: With that said, we do think there are some issues that have presented themselves in the last few years. Polls tend to be paid for by traditional media outlets, and traditional media outlets have much tighter budgets these days, meaning they have to be judicious about their polling. And so, once an outcome is allegedly locked in, they reduce their polling, or else stop it entirely. That makes it very possible for late shifts in the electorate to be overlooked. Most obviously, the supposed "blue wall" states of the upper Midwest went basically unpolled after James Comey's e-mail announcement, just weeks before the election. That was unwise, since there was every chance his announcement might push a few people away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald Trump. Absent that error, 2016 wouldn't have been such a surprise. In the case of Australia, the votes are still being counted, so it's hard to draw any firm conclusions yet, but it appears that pollsters made the same error by underpolling Queensland, which is the region that really propelled the Morrison coalition to victory.

  • Liberal Skew: The evidence is not crystal clear at this point, but it certainly looks like recent polls have been slightly understating right-wing sentiment. We will give you three possible explanations for this; there are surely others we are missing. The first is that, in an effort to correct for the problem of young people who don't answer their phones, pollsters may have been overcorrecting. The second is that, at least in the United States, polls have been denigrated as "fake news" for so long (at least as far back as 2008), that it may actually be conservatives who are refusing to respond. And the third is that there may still be a "shy Tory"/"Bradley" effect, where people are embarrassed to admit to their support for right-wing candidates/positions.

  • Nonresponse Bias: Building on the last point, pollsters have reported that they now must make 10 calls to get one valid response. People often don't answer their phones or don't want to talk to pollsters or whatever, but the result is affected by nonresponse bias. Imagine what happens when a pollster calls a young Democratic mother with two kids at 7 p.m. on a weekday. Now imagine what happens when the pollster calls a lonely elderly Republican widow Sunday afternoon. In other words, a bias can be introduced by who is willing to take the survey and who is not. Pollsters try very hard to correct for this by weighting their sample to conform to their model of the electorate. But that model could be wrong for so many reasons (remember that the pollster needs a model of the people who actually decide to vote, not a model of the population). Just one reason could be the weather. If there is a major storm on election day, marginal voters might decide not to go out, but there are many others.

  • Cell Phones: We're not sure if this holds in Oz, but in the U.S. pollsters may not use computers to call cell phones, so they often resort to poorly understood alternatives, such as online polls, where the question of how representative of the population they are looms large. It is well known that young white men are overrepresented online and, say, old black women are underrepresented. The misrepresentation also holds for many other groups, making online polling far less representative than random-digit dialing of phone numbers.

  • Macro, Not Micro: Recent polls, even the supposed screw-ups, have actually done pretty well on a macro level. For example, polls of the 2016 U.S. election pretty accurately predicted the national popular vote. Where the polls are coming up short is in terms of more fine-grained predictions, the micro level. In other words, while they're ok on the national level, they get more inaccurate on the state level (or, in Australia, the state/territorial level). The problem gets even worse at the level of congressional districts/parliamentary constituencies. This makes sense, given that—when you talk to cell phone users—you can figure out what country they represent, but you might not have a great sense of what locality they really speak for. Anyhow, this being the case, we can see why we might end up with inaccurate projections of how many electoral votes or MPs a party might get, given that those are decided on a local/state basis, not a national basis, and thus an inaccurate general election prediction.

Anyhow, that's our best assessment, given that we're working with incomplete evidence right now.

This may be outside your purview, but I wanted to clarify your answer to a previous question: "It is not illegal for pollsters to call cell phones... What violates federal law is having a computer dial the number." Does this law apply only for political polling? Because I receive multiple automated calls every day for other reasons to the point I never answer my phone anymore. In addition, wouldn't this be an issue a politician could advocate for? Passing a law banning all automated calls to cell phones. If ever there was an issue that could unite the entire country that would be it!! G.S., New York, New York

This is governed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The initial goal was to protect people from being bombarded by advertisements/pleas for money from political campaigns. However, it was decreed that polls constituted "political calls" as well, which makes sense since many polls are conducted by (or for) political campaigns. So, pollsters were subjected to the same laws that campaigns are. You can read the details on the FCC's website.

It is already possible to opt out of non-political robocalls to cell phones, by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. That said, the registry does not apply to companies who have received permission from you to robocall you. For example, if you sign up for a credit card, you sign documents that grant them that permission. You can also withdraw permission in these cases, and tell them they may not robocall you, but most folks don't know that is possible. And, of course, many of the calls you receive may be illegal. The caller may know very well that robocalls to cell phones are illegal, but may do it anyway, figuring the chance of getting caught is low enough to make the calls worthwhile.

What do you think of the recent upward trend in Donald Trump's approval ratings and the slow decline of his disapproval numbers? It doesn't seem to matter what Trump does, as the country keeps supporting him. We are near a constitutional crisis and latest polls seem to show that public support for further Democratic investigations is falling. Being in L.A. county, perhaps I have a skewed view of public opinion, but what in the world is going on? Can Trump really literally shoot someone and nothing would happen? A.G., Santa Clarita, CA

It is clear that Trump can do pretty much anything and, no matter how venal or harmful it is, a certain percentage of people will still support him. There was an anecdote making its way around the Internet this weekend about a man in Puerto Rico who is an avowed Trump supporter, and who got into an angry telephone argument with family members on the mainland over their criticism of the President. Due to the electrical grid being unrepaired, he was sitting in his house in the dark as he argued. Rarely does a metaphor present itself so clearly.

It is equally obvious, incidentally, that Trump can do pretty much anything and, no matter how righteous or helpful it is, a certain percentage of people will still loathe him. Put another way, his favorable/unfavorable numbers are as baked in as any president in recent memory. 35% love him no matter what, 55% hate him no matter what, and only about 10% are "free agents" (and even that might be high). If the economy tanks, it might change the math, but we can't know until it happens.

And that leads us to Trump's approval numbers. We don't think the movement in them is particularly meaningful at this point. He has a very low ceiling (45% or so), and a pretty high floor (35% or so), and he moves within those two boundaries. Whenever his numbers go up or down, it reflects movement among the small percentage of the population that is open to shifting back and forth and, probably more significantly, the margin of error of the polls. Here are his Gallup numbers:

Trump's Gallup numbers

As you can see, there just isn't that much variance. And the shifts just aren't large enough to be meaningful.

I would suggest that one reason that you are likely receiving comments about being "left leaning" is in the unnecessary political commentary in the introductions to your pieces. To wit, in the item "Trump Clips Hawks' Wings," (Z) leads with the following introduction: "Ronald Reagan sent troops to Lebanon. George H.W. Bush invaded Iraq. George W. Bush not only invaded Iraq, he started a war there that lingered beyond his presidency. Perhaps you notice a theme for what seems to happen these days whenever a Republican president is elected." While you mention Reagan and the Bushes, you neglect to mention Bill Clinton's intervention in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and the Balkans 1999, along with Obama's drone strike programs in multiple countries around the world, and his interventions in Libya and Yemen. (Z) presented a one sided argument and it shows his bias. M.A., Denver, CO

Before we answer let us note that this comment is excerpted from a much longer message, and that the overall message was not so critical as this particular excerpt.

Anyhow, we hope readers appreciate two things. The first is that, as we have noted, we try our very best to be fair and not to operate in bad faith. The second is that, as both of us are highly-trained academics, we are very unlikely to make an argument full of holes big enough that you could drive a truck through them. There is zero chance we are unaware of the military aggressions of the Clinton and Obama administrations, and zero chance we would think readers would be unaware of that information.

And so, we would suggest that this is not an example of bias, but an example of less-than-artful writing. The point was not to suggest that Republicans are warmongers, but instead that violence against Middle Eastern countries has become fairly standard GOP procedure, with Muslims having replaced Communists as the Party's main bugaboo since the fall of the Soviet Union. This transition is hardly surprising, since it is easy to (falsely) present both Communists and Muslims as a big, scary, non-Christian monolith that is out to get the United States.

Trump, interestingly, agrees with the ends of the GOP hawks, but not with their preferred means. Where this will ultimately lead, in terms of his relationship with NSA John Bolton/Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, and what it will mean for the future direction of the Republican Party, are interesting questions.

As the country sinks deeper into partisan camps, where conservative and progressive are increasingly divided on every issue (abortion, marriage, guns, etc) and increasingly seem to live in different worlds. I wonder how long this house can stand, divided against itself. I am intrigued by the notion of a slow, peaceful, and gradual dissolution of the union. I see a possibility where the federal government has become so distrusted by both sides that the states just start ignoring it—nullifying federal laws, ignoring Supreme Court decisions, etc., and eventually even blocking federal agents from operating in their territory (such as ICE). In other words, a return to an Articles of Confederation model where the Federal government withers to near irrelevance and the States start going their own way. I realize the divisions cut more between urban and rural rather than by state, but clearly there are significant and controlling majorities of one party or the other in each of the states. Do you see any plausible way that the states could gradually and peacefully divorce, and what might that look like? M.N., Ithaca, NY

The rather grim outcome you propose is still somewhat unlikely, we think. However, if the GOP engages in overt shenanigans to keep Donald Trump in the White House—we're talking changing the way in which EVs are awarded, so as to "give" him Ohio or Wisconsin—then the scenario you describe is certainly possible. At that point, the Republican Party would have bent and twisted the Constitution to give themselves control of two of the three branches of the federal government, while using parliamentary tricks to gum up the works of the third.

Interestingly, the situation during the Civil War was similar...and yet opposite. For many years, the smaller faction (the South) managed to keep substantial control of the White House, either by getting Southerners elected, or else Northerners with strongly Southern sympathies (known as doughfaces). All but three of America's first 18 elections were won by presidents in one of these two categories (with John Adams in 1800, John Quincy Adams in 1824, and Martin Van Buren in 1836 the exceptions). Meanwhile, all those Southern and Southern-friendly presidents appointed a bunch of Southern and Southern-friendly Supreme Court justices, including the two Southern chief justices (John Marshall and Roger Taney) who, between them, led the Court from 1801 to 1864. Meanwhile, the South managed to gum up the legislature pretty effectively, primarily by taking advantage of the rules of the Senate.

What led to the Civil War, to a great extent, was that this maneuvering stopped working on all three fronts. The Supreme Court overreached in Dred Scott, and people started ignoring them. Control of the Senate was lost, largely due to the Compromise of 1850. And when the White House was also lost, with the election of Abraham Lincoln (who was technically a Southerner, but was no doughface), the South decided to take their ball (and their slaves) and go home.

By contrast, the current issue is not that the minority faction's trickery is about to stop working, but instead that it may be at risk of working too well. And so, instead of having a situation where the smaller and weaker faction secedes and the larger and stronger faction makes them return, we could see a situation where it is the larger and stronger faction that, de facto, secedes.

What happens next, should this come to pass, is anyone's guess. Would the federal government attempt to use armed force to try to compel obedience on the part of California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, etc.? Would that even be viable? If the blue states and red states do end up going their separate ways, what would happen with the various properties owned by the federal government—roadways, land, military bases, and so forth? What about the national debt? During the Civil War, the national debt was fairly small, and was not intertwined with the economy of the entire world. Now, the debt is huge, and the world's economy is balanced upon it. What about the Social Security trust fund? The U.S Postal Service? NAFTA? How would the geographical problem of the blue states being coastal, and not connected to one another (sorry, Illinois), be solved?

To the extent that there is any useful guide for what might happen, it's probably the plan for Scotland, if they had split from the United Kingdom. And the lesson there: It would be a mess. Her Majesty's Government and the Scots had not even worked out the most obvious big-picture issues, like what would happen with the nuclear missiles that are housed in Scotland. They definitely hadn't worked out the thousands of other details. And that's with a population of 5.4 million going their own way, not a population of, say, 220 million. The only thing we can say with any confidence is that blue states pay vastly more in taxes than they get back, and that red states collect more than they put in. California, by itself, has an economy larger than all but six nations of the world. So, if there was a split, it is likely that the blue states would come out ok on the other side. The red states, maybe not so much.

Many are questioning the logic of so many Democrats throwing their hat in the ring. I was wondering if having so many candidates might eventually strengthen the ultimate winner. My theory is that due to the widespread geographical distribution of the candidates (Hawaii, California, Montana, Indiana, Texas Ohio, New York, etc.) and each of them establishing a regional campaign network, as individual candidates drop out, their staff will migrate to the frontrunner. This will eventually benefit the frontrunner without them having to staff out and spend money in these regions. You thoughts? B.W., Rensselaer, NY

You are probably right that there are upsides to having such a large field, including the one you describe, and that those upsides (though less noticeable) cancel out much of the downside. Another benefit, from where we sit, is that the "DNC screwed Bernie" dynamic of 2016 is unlikely to have an analogue in 2020. Whoever emerges as the Democratic candidate, it will be hard to argue that they personally stopped the other 22 candidates from getting a fair shake.

Why is there so little coverage of cannabis on your site? I understand that many of these policy changes are mere murmurings or unrelated to electoral politics, but at the same time, medical and adult use laws both seem to affect elections when they are on the ballot. In the past 6 years the US went from 0 legal states to 10, with more dominoes falling. Legislators are increasingly reading the writing on the wall (as are other news outlets) and federal prohibition may soon fall. I would love to know your take as the issue develops. N.Z., Detroit, MI

To the extent that any issue does or does not get coverage from us, it's primarily a product of two things: (1) There's only so much time and space, and (2) There isn't much value (or fun) in writing the same piece, over and over. Once we've written something that talks about, for example, how marijuana legalization bills might serve to get younger voters to the polls to vote Democratic, there isn't much value in writing the same item again.

That said, the subject comes up more often than you seem to suggest. From just the last year (and this is not an exhaustive list), here is a piece about how a 1950s view on marijuana could hurt the GOP, here is one on pot as a wedge issue, here is one on Donald Trump's views on weed, here is one about Sen. Cory Gardner's embrace of legal pot, here is a similar piece on Beto O'Rourke, and here is one about how Joe Biden is out of step with his base on the issue. (Z) was able to use the latter item as an opportunity to squeeze approximately half a dozen marijuana references into a single sentence.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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