• Saturday Q&A
• Today's Presidential Polls
• Today's Senate Polls
"It ain't over 'til it's over," Yogi Berra once said. Well, when it comes to the Democrats' presidential nomination, it's now over. As final vote totals from Tuesday's primaries roll in, the AP estimates that Biden has 1,995 delegates, or 4 more than needed to clinch. Barring the unexpected—always a possibility when the unexpected seems to happen on a daily basis—the former Veep will be his Party's presidential nominee.
At the moment, Biden appears to be in excellent position to knock off Donald Trump and be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. However, as we might have pointed out before (our staff researchers are looking into it), a week is a long time in politics, and there are many weeks between today and Nov. 3. Team Trump, for their part, apparently sees something of a silver lining in the President's current poll numbers. They wouldn't say this publicly, but privately they have noticed that more than 100,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19, there is mass unrest in the streets, the economy is in recession, and yet Trump's floor is holding. In other words, they believe—with good reason—that there is nothing he can do to drive his share of the vote below 42% or so.
Clearly, there is something to this. Many things that would have destroyed another presidency barely scratched the Donald's armor. That said, we might point out two flies in the ointment. The first is that, as we have noted before, it is to be expected that Trump's support will hold firm...right until it doesn't. That is to say, if and when his base does crumble, a few influencers (e.g., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, Jim Mattis, etc.) will jump ship, giving "permission" to others to do the same, and the house of cards will collapse quickly. After all, Richard Nixon went from an approval rating in the low 60s to one in the mid-20s in a matter of less than three months. This is not to say this will happen, merely that it could happen. And it's probably more likely now than at any time in Trump's presidency, by virtue of how badly things are going now, and also that the supporters who don't really support him are currently thinking long and hard about what four more years of kowtowing to him will look like.
Also, once the House and Senate primaries are safely over, congressional Republicans will be much safer to criticize Trump. After all, what could he do if Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) were to say: "I think the President should resign right now and let Mike Pence take over and he should also give the top spot on our ticket to Mike." Send out a tweet endorsing Sara Gideon for the Senate? No matter how angry he is, there is nothing he can do because he wants Collins to win.
The second fly in the ointment is that while it is true that Trump's support seems incapable of dropping below 42% or so, it is also true that his support seems incapable of rising above 48% or so. Recall that we had a time without a pandemic, or unrest in the streets, or a poor economy. That time was called "2017-19." And after starting his term with his approval rating a bit above water (about 5 points), Trump has invariably been below water since that time. So, even if miracles take place on the COVID-19 front, and the economy continues to bounce back (unemployment is down this week, and the stock market is up), and people somehow forget about the brutal killing of George Floyd, Trump's best-case scenario appears to be about 47-48% support. (Z)
A larger than usual number of questions; there were several groupings that went well together this week.
Q: On Friday, you mentioned the famous Daisy ad used by Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign against Barry Goldwater, so I thought I would look at it again. It still amazes me how powerful that simple ad is, and it prompted me to look at some of the other ads from that election. The ads were technically very simple, and most talked about a single issue. The lack of visual effects and voice-overs actually made me pay attention more, which made them more compelling. I was wondering what you thought about Biden using at least some ads similar to these—single issue, simple speaking as the primary communication? E.H., Stevens Point, WI
A: It also worked for Dwight D. Eisenhower, who inaugurated the era of campaigning via TV commercials with a series of ads in which voters asked a specific question and then Ike answered (see here for a bunch of examples). This was effective despite the fact that Eisenhower was so wooden he could have been mistaken for Pinocchio.
Anyhow, with the caveat that Biden 2020 undoubtedly has all sorts of researchers mounting focus groups and testing various messaging approaches, we think your idea has a lot of merit. Attention spans are short these days. We would also suggest that the ads should start with a quick and effective hook, since many ads are now viewed online, and it's easy for people to click off the page or stop playback very quickly. You have to make them want to watch.
Q: When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was still running, Joe Biden declared in a debate that he would nominate a woman as VP. Did he paint himself into a corner? If he had not done so, he would have a wide range of potential candidates to choose from, and could still have nominated a woman, but now his hand is forced. Was it the right strategy? H.M., Plano, TX
A: Any male candidate, if he got the nod, was a virtual lock to pick a female running mate. First, the Democrats have mounted 49 campaign tickets, and have had a grand total of two women on them (Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Hillary Clinton in 2016). That is barely more than 2%. Penile domination of both parties' tickets has gone on too long. On top of that, the Republican candidate is a pu**y grabber whose support with suburban women is shaky, at best. A woman on the ticket could help pull some of the fence-sitting suburban women into the Democratic tent. There may also be a consideration that is unique to Biden. It's possible he knew that Tara Reade was looking for someone to tell her story to, and he wanted to preemptively blunt the impact of her allegations.
In any event, since picking a woman running mate was inevitable (or all-but-inevitable), then yes, Biden was wise to get a little mileage out of that promise.
Q: Biden has committed to picking a woman as his running mate. However, the names being tossed around now will either alienate one constituency or another, or don't have enough experience, or have some other drawback. While I'm sure the campaign will select whomever they feel will give Biden the best chance of winning, are there any male VP picks who check all the other boxes and would have broad appeal? Would any of them lend so much to the campaign, that it would be worth breaking his pledge? L.B., Savannah, GA
A: Vice-presidential candidates are like the managers and head coaches of sports teams: The right one can help a little (and sometimes, a little is all you need), and the wrong one can hurt a lot.
We do not see any male would-be VP who is "perfect" and is without the same sorts of liabilities that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), or Stacey Abrams, or Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) has. Meanwhile, the potential costs of picking a male VP would be too great, compared to the (very modest) potential gain. For the rest of the election season, both Donald Trump and former Bernie Sanders supporters would point out daily that Biden is a liar who does not keep his promises.
The only person who is an exception to all of this is Barack Obama. If he decides he wants to be Biden's #2, and if the questionable legality of that is resolved in the Democrats' favor, then #44 would be a near-perfect VP, and would be an acceptable reason for Biden to change course. But both parts of that—Obama wanting the job, and the courts ruling that he's eligible—are very long longshots.
Q: With all of the potential options for VP picks, one name I haven't seen much is Sen. Tammy
Maybe you did mention her and it flew over my head (I'm short, so that's not hard). What do you think of her as a possibility. I see woman, Asian, strong military background, family military history back to the Revolutionary War, purple heart, Senate background, and her being replaced by a Democrat if she vacates her seat is done and dusted. G.C., South Pasadena, CA
A: One issue is that Duckworth has some skeletons related to her time running the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Various folks have accused her of incompetence, or of being interested in promoting her political career instead of helping vets, or of mismanaging the department's finances. The truth of these allegations is open to discussion, but since when does the 48% or so of the electorate that might vote for Donald Trump care about the truth? Further, you can bet that the Biden vetting team has looked into the matter extensively. They may know one or more things that are not part of the public record.
It is also possible that Duckworth's disability is, well, a liability. It should not be that way, and the Biden campaign would never, ever say it publicly, but they may have polling that suggests it's a net negative with voters. We are thinking here of the most notably disabled president, namely Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who went to great lengths to minimize the visibility of his disability. Maybe the U.S. is a better country in terms of that particular prejudice than it was a century ago, but maybe not.
Q: On many occasions you have said that by picking Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as the vice
presidential nominee will result in a higher number of black men or women voting. Viscerally that makes sense, but it
seems like rather a somewhat shallow assumption based strictly on identity politics.
Is there any evidence that she would actually inspire passionate support among these constituencies? We sure didn't see any swell of black support for her during her Presidential campaign. L.O.R., San Francisco, CA
A: Such data would be difficult to collect, and could only really be collected once people had absorbed the fact of Harris as nominee. In any event, the benefit of Harris, as with any running mate, would be small, as we note above. However, the theory is that her selection would send a message about the priorities of a Biden administration, and that would please the voters who share those priorities.
Q: Why is Kyrsten Sinema not getting a look for VP? I understand that experience would be the big knock but she's from Arizona and beat Martha McSally there in 2018. To me it looks like either Arizona or Wisconsin is the key. P.S., Memphis, TN
A: She has some liabilities (probably too moderate, may not believe in Jesus, etc.) but the thing that stops her from even getting so much as a glance is that it would risk giving up a Senate seat for two years, and maybe more. Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would pick her replacement, and while he is required by state law to pick a Democrat, that requirement is not delimited in the way that it is in North Carolina (where the party submits a list of three acceptable candidates to the governor). If control of the Senate came down to Sinema's seat, then Ducey would either find a Republican and have that person quickly re-register as a Democrat, or he would find a person who is a Democrat in name only (like, say, David Clarke in Wisconsin). That person could switch parties as soon as they reached the Senate, or they could stay a "Democrat" and caucus with the Republicans. Anyone who thinks the GOP would not engage in this kind of chicanery (or the Democrats, for that matter) hasn't been paying attention for the last 10 years. And so, the nominal benefits of picking Sinema are simply not worth risking the loss of a possible Senate majority.
Q: The Republicans seem hell-bent on holding a full convention (likely in Florida, if I had to bet). Almost certainly there will be some decent sized COVID boomlet from that event. This boomlet will be covered by the news. I think a convention held under COVID protocols will look weak and lackluster at best. What are the odds that the Democrats move to a virtual convention? Seems like the best move to me. J.R., Belfast, ME
A: We think the odds are above 90%, and may be approaching 100%
First of all, the Democratic convention is scheduled for mid-August (Aug. 17-20). If they are going to try to hold it in person, time is running out to lay the groundwork, do the planning, figure out how to deal with COVID-19, etc. And you will notice that while the Republicans (whose convention is a couple of weeks later) have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, you've heard very little of this sort of news from the Democrats. One wonders if a decision hasn't already been made, in fact.
Second, for the vast majority of people (i.e., TV viewers), a virtual convention and an in-person convention aren't all that different. The Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee has 17,341 seats. Democrats could have 1,000 delegates in there at all times, on a rotating basis, with signs and balloons, and have them in masks and spaced well apart. For the roll call ("The great state of Idaho, which grows the best potatoes in the country, proudly casts 11 votes for Joe Biden and 9 votes for Bernie Sanders") could easily happen in person with only the 56 "state" chairs present in the 17,341-seat arena. It could also be good television, while making the point about social distancing. People might tune in specifically because of the novelty.
Third, holding a virtual convention would be a very good way to distinguish Team Biden from Team Trump, and to send a message about Biden's priorities when it comes to the issue of the day, and how they compare to Trump's priorities.
Q: On Thursday you ran an item about how the fight for the House may already be over. If we assume this is true and the Democrats are poised to keep the majority, wouldn't that imply that Democratic votes should be more efficiently distributed in 2020 vs 2016 and thus pull Joe Biden across the finish line in a number of swing states? We all know Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, but little discussed is how the Democrats lost the House by 1.4 million votes. If they win the House popular vote in 2020, surely that would equate to larger presidential popular and Electoral College votes. Given the structural disadvantages Democrats have with winning the House (gerrymandering, voters concentrated in cities), it seems inconceivable to me they could overcome all of those to win a House majority but then lose the Presidency. A.Z., Washington, D.C.
A: It may not be "likely" but it's not inconceivable. A large portion of the Democratic pickups in 2018 came from blue states getting bluer, as Democrats took over Republican-held seats in places like California and New York. It's at least possible that Democrats could expand their popular vote tally (and congressional vote tally) in blue states without necessarily changing their electoral vote tally.
Q: The business of sports books is all about setting odds. If they don't set them accurately, they go out of business. If Donald Trump is down by 10 points nationally, how do you explain that you can bet Joe Biden to win and still get odds? B.M., Utrecht, Netherlands
A: Because sports books are not in the business of predicting what is going to happen. They are in the business of making sure that half the liability is on one side of the wager and half the liability is on the other. That way, they make money no matter what happens. In circumstances where bettors are behaving entirely rationally, the books' odds should be predictive. In circumstances where bettors are acting on instinct/emotion, the odds are not necessarily so.
Further, as we've noted before, a fair bit of the money bet on Trump was bet before there was a Democratic nominee. That is going to slow any adjustment of the odds. Oh, and Biden has now pulled ahead at most books. He's getting 10/11 (52%), more often than not, while Trump is getting 11/10 (48%).
Q: After seeing the latest polls showing Joe Biden well ahead in Wisconsin, I was reminded of
how exciting it was back in the primary races to see him doing well with less-educated white voters in both Missouri
and Michigan—voters who, in 2016, voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, but then
voted for Trump in the general election. Whether for reasons of general mistrust of Clinton or, more likely misogyny,
they simply would not vote for her. But they will vote for Biden.
Might that dynamic also hold in many red states this fall? M.B., Pittsboro, NC
A: Another dimension is that Hillary was seen as "snooty" or "pretentious" by many blue-collar voters. That (and the alleged corruption) may have been a socially acceptable way to justify good, old-fashioned misogyny, but in any case it's not a liability that Biden has.
And yes, we think that dynamic could (and will) hold in red states. Maybe not enough to flip them, but enough to be noticeable.
Q: I grew up the child of American expats in the Middle East and Africa, and now I myself am one in the Philippines. I remember following both the 1996 and 2000 elections from afar, and as I prepare to engage with 2020 in the same way I found myself curious: what sort of polling is done for American expats? Do they tend to break one way or another, or does it just vary from year to year? N.O., Manila, Philippines
A: American expats aren't polled at all because they are impossible to find. There are no records of them. The IRS might be able to come up with a list of expats, since they are subject to U.S. income tax on their worldwide income (and in most cases also taxes in the country where they live), but the IRS certainly isn't going to give out that information. Another complicating factor is that expats vote in their home states in the general election, so a poll of, say, Colorado, would have to locate Colorado expats.
One thing we do know is that in the Democrats Abroad worldwide primary in 2020, 40,000 Democrats living abroad cast votes for the 13 DA delegates to the Democratic National Convention and Bernie Sanders got 58% of the vote to Joe Biden's 23%. Many American expats live in Europe and have long since discovered that Democratic Socialism is actually a pretty good deal (e.g., universal and affordable health care). Republicans Abroad (RA) exists but is not part of the Republican Party and does not get delegates to the Republican Convention. However, since the RNC does not treat it like a "state," the way the DNC treats DA, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the other U.S. territories, RA can take as much dark money from foreigners as it can get and spend it as it wishes.
As to the political preferences of expats, little is known. Students studying abroad are probably Democrats. Business executives abroad are probably Republicans. Enlisted servicemen and women are probably Democrats and military officers are probably Republicans, but really, there is no way to find out for sure.
Q: Since 1864, the military has largely supported the GOP presidential candidate, with the likely exception of 1944. How does that look this year, given the Pentagon's views on Trump? And what are the implications for a campaign that barely carried the electoral votes of several swing states in 2016? B.S., Springfield, IL
A: Like expats (see above), military personnel can be hard to track down, particularly when stationed abroad. In addition, they are not supposed to verbalize direct political opinions while serving, as that undermines the notion of the military as a nonpartisan institution. However, pretty much everyone has decided that while they should not say whom they plan to vote for, they are allowed to approve or disapprove of the president. So, there is sometimes polling on that question. In the most recent poll we can find, from late last year, 24.3% of the respondents had a very favorable view of Trump, 17.3% had a favorable view, 8.5% were neutral, 4.8% had an unfavorable view, and 45.1% had a very unfavorable view.
These numbers lag most other Republican candidates, and they also lag where Trump was with the military early in his term. It is certainly possible that could be a problem for him, but the lack of more precise polling means we cannot do much more than speculate. This data do add more support, however, for our regularly expressed conviction that a military coup keeping Trump in office is simply not possible.
Q: My awareness of the study of polling starts after the turn of the millennium, so I haven't seen an electoral landslide yet. I know this may seem like an obvious question, but what would things look like, from a polling perspective, if, say, this year's election turned out like 1972 or 1984? P.N., Austin, TX
A: Here are the four biggest blowout elections of the polling era, with national polling averages for June and for October:
|Winner in June
|Loser in June
|Winner in October
|Loser in October
|Roosevelt (D) defeats Willkie (R)
|Johnson (D) defeats Goldwater (R)
|Nixon (R) defeats McGovern (D)
|Reagan (R) defeats Mondale (D)
And, for comparison purposes, here are the four closest elections of the polling era:
|Winner in June
|Loser in June
|Winner in October
|Loser in October
|Truman (D) defeats Dewey (R)
|Kennedy (D) defeats Nixon (R)
|Bush (R) "defeats" Gore (D)
|Trump (R) defeats Clinton (D)
Hard to draw too many broad conclusions based on this data, since these elections followed several different trajectories. However, the one thing that is clear is that frontrunners rarely yield much ground in the popular vote, and sometimes they extend their leads.
Q: As you know, a Monmouth poll has Joe Biden up nationally 52%-41%, which pleases me. But 52 + 41 = 93. So, what can you say about those missing 7 percentage points in the Monmouth survey? O.L., Danville, IL
A: That 7% don't particularly want to vote for either Biden or Trump. Some of that 7% (and probably the majority) are folks who are legitimately deciding which of the two major-party candidates they like less. Others are only open to one of the two, and are deciding between voting for a major-party candidate they don't like or voting third party.
Thursday from Fox News that showed Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump in Arizona and Wisconsin, and Mark Kelly ahead of Sen.
Martha McSally (R-AZ) for the U.S. Senate.
Are they trustworthy? Given how Fox is GOPTV, could they be trying to lull the Democratic voters in those states into a false sense of security so they won't feel a strong need to vote, while simultaneously panicking the Republican base in those states so they'll turn out? S.C., Mountain View, CA
A: If this was the scheme, the time to implement it would be in October, not May/June. And beyond that, it is very hard to fake polls effectively, since the internal numbers won't stand up to scrutiny, and since the results would be an obvious outlier if they radically disagreed with other pollsters. Given Fox News' reputation, they are particularly likely to be scrutinized (and dismissed, if something smells funny).
Anyhow, we've looked closely at Fox and at the (legitimate) pollsters they use, and we are persuaded their numbers are reliable. We reached the opposite conclusion with Rasmussen Reports, among others.
Q: All of us who are part of the 60% continue to be baffled at the loyal 40% of Americans who support Trump no matter what he does. But don't you think that the key enabling factor behind the loyalty of Trump's base is the right-wing media? So instead of asking ourselves, "What could Trump possibly do that would finally turn some of his base against him," isn't the real question, "What could happen that would finally cause the right-wing media to turn against Trump because he's no longer useful for their business model?" There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma there, but don't you think the right-wing media would have to be the part of that feedback loop to break? D.E., Baltimore, MD
A: You're exactly right. And we can see three possibilites for what might break the cycle. The first, and more likely, is that the mostly old, mostly white, mostly evangelical demographic Fox and other right-wing outlets cater to shrinks to the point that it cannot support the business anymore (particularly the fat salaries paid to folks like Sean Hannity). The second is that embracing GOP talking points and/or propaganda exposes them to legitimate legal liability. There was already a little of this with COVID-19 misinformation, and one could see it happening with things like vaccination or global warming denial. The third is that the current generation of right-wing media stars fades away (due to death, retirement, scandal, etc.) and their places in the landscape remain vacant, or else are filled by a different type of media star.
And now, a potential parallel that may seem completely out of left field: Western movies, which once dominated the big screen and the small screen (in 1959-60, for example, 17 of the top 20 TV shows were Westerns). There was never any legal liability in making Westerns, but their politics and their ideas of American history were pretty conservative, and did appeal to a demographic that was overwhelmingly aged by the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, in the 1970s, the great figures of the genre largely died (Howard Hawks, John Ford, John Wayne), retired (Jimmy Stewart), or moved on to different things (Clint Eastwood, Burt Lancaster). And so, the Westerns largely disappeared.
Q: When Donald Trump finally leaves office, do you think the GOP will go back to choosing standard-issue presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), or do you think they'll try to keep the cult-like vibe going with another outrageous firebrand like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Mike Pompeo, or Sean Hannity? If Trump loses in November, is there any reason to think that he won't run again in 2024, thus spending the next 4 years in constant campaign mode? J.F., Fort Worth, TX
A: There is just so much that is not known that...well, the crystal ball is murky.
Let's start with two things we are fairly confident in asserting. The first is that if Trump loses in 2020, he will not be the Republican nominee in 2024. We think of Sarah Palin here, whose Trump-like act had started to wear thin even while she was part of the national conversation, and which completely ran out of gas thereafter, such that even most of her fanbase jumped ship. The Trump presidential reality show is already in its fifth season, and we don't think he can keep it up for another four more, any more than he did with "The Apprentice" (which was running on fumes by the end). On top of that, he'll be four years older, with all that means for his already tenuous physical and mental health. Oh, and there is also a nonzero chance he'll be in prison.
The second thing we are confident about is that the math of the Trump coalition will not add up for much longer. The Republicans are squeezing the small-state bias for everything it's worth, and as old, white, conservative evangelical types die off, while at the same time the number of younger people of color grows, there just won't be the number of votes needed to win national elections. Republican pooh-bahs, outside of Trump, know this. Why do you think they are so desperate to ram so many judges through right now?
Anyhow it may have been the case in the past that party insiders could steer the nomination to the "right" candidate (i.e., the party decides). It's pretty clearly not the case anymore, or Trump would not have been the Republican nominee in the first place. So, who knows what Republican primary voters might do in 2024? It is at least possible that there will be an inversion of the 2016 dynamic. In that election, the GOP had a gaggle of standard-issue Republicans and one Trump-like Republican, allowing the Trump-like Republican to conquer the field since he had his lane to himself. Maybe in 2024 there will be a gaggle of would-be Trumps, and only one or two standard-issue Republicans, and the tables will be turned.
Q: Things are moving fast these days. With the strength and support of current Black Lives Matter protests and botched responses, the administration's failure to adequately address the COVID-19 pandemic, the high-profile dissents from prominent Republicans, and maybe most importantly the polls suggesting Trump to be a liability for Republicans, what do you think are the chances that Trump is removed from office by his cabinet in the near future, in their attempt to salvage the Senate races, and mitigate/prevent an impending collapse of their party? D.R., Rockville, MD
A: Barring some sort of major new development, like Trump suffering a debilitating stroke, there is zero chance of this happening.
Politicians are, by nature, risk-averse. The odds that a dozen or so of them would be willing to risk civil war within the party are very tiny. Making them even tinier is that folks who have no future political aspirations, and who appear to have some courage of their convictions (e.g., Jim Mattis) have largely been pushed out of the cabinet.
Q: You've written various articles on both cognitive dissonance and various polls regarding the 42ish percent base of Donald Trump. Has there ever been an American president or politician who had such a zealous base of support? If so, what became of it after that president's term? S.B., New Castle, DE
A: The closest thing is surely Andrew Jackson. To illustrate the sort of response he generated, we are going to excerpt Margaret Bayard Smith's classic account of the reception/party he had at the White House on the day of his first inauguration:
But what a scene did we witness! The Majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob, of boys, negros [sic], women, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity! No arrangements had been made, no police officers placed on duty and the whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob. We came too late.
The President, after having been literally nearly pressed to death and almost suffocated and torn to pieces by the people in their eagerness to shake hands with Old Hickory, had retreated through the back way or south front and had escaped to his lodgings at Gadsby's.
Cut glass and china to the amount of several thousand dollars had been broken in the struggle to get the refreshments, punch and other articles had been carried out in tubs and buckets, but had it been in hogsheads it would have been insufficient, ice-creams, and cake and lemonade, for 20,000 people, for it is said that number were there, tho' I think the number exaggerated.
Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe; those who got in could not get out by the door again, but had to scramble out of windows. At one time, the President who had retreated and retreated until he was pressed against the wall, could only be secured by a number of gentleman forming around him and making a kind of barrier of their own bodies, and the pressure was so great that Col. Bomford who was one said that at one time he was afraid they should have been pushed down, or on the President. It was then the windows were thrown open, and the torrent found an outlet, which otherwise might have proved fatal.
This concourse had not been anticipated and therefore not provided against. Ladies and gentlemen, only had been expected at this Levee, not the people en masse. But it was the People's day, and the People's President and the People would rule.
Reportedly, the smell from the 2,000-pound block of cheese that was served at that party (much of which ended up ground into the carpet by the mass of boots and heels) was detectable more than six months after.
In any event, Jackson built the foundation of the modern Democratic Party, which won most of the presidential elections for the next 30 years. And every Democrat who ran in that time emphasized their "connection" to Old Hickory, regardless of how tenuous the connection was. To wit:
- Martin Van Buren, in 1836 and 1840, was Jackson's VP and right-hand man
- James Polk, in 1844, was from Tennessee—just like Jackson!
- Lewis Cass, in 1848, was Jackson's Secretary of War
- Franklin Pierce, in 1852, was "Young Hickory"
- James Buchanan, in 1856, served as Jackson's Minister to Russia (though Jackson hated him)
- Stephen Douglas, in 1860, had campaigned for the Jackson-Van Buren ticket in 1832
This precedent suggests that we might see a generation of candidates who claim to be the next Trump. On the other hand, it does not suggest that the Trumpublican Party is about to enter into an era of dominance of national politics. Jackson harnessed demographics that, in his time, were growing. Trump, as noted above, has harnessed demographics that are shrinking.
Q: You agreed in your May 31 mailbag that the "political spectrum" is more of a circle, and that the far left and far right have much more in common than either of them would prefer to admit. Could you elaborate on that? Besides their shared hostility to the status quo (and the behavior flowing from that), it seems to me that they have almost nothing in common. P.S., Woodbury, MN
A: Well, "the behavior flowing from that" covers an awful lot of ground. In any event, here are some similarities:
- A belief that the system, as is, cannot be saved and must be demolished
- A tendency to coalesce around charismatic figures
- A belief that "the end justifies the means"
- A tendency to see those who disagree as a monolith, and as "the enemy"
- Rejection of information that runs contrary to their beliefs
- Anger as a dominant, and often the predominant, emotion
Q: How do you classify Theodore Roosevelt to the left of Franklin Roosevelt? M.M., Plano, TX
A: The reasoning is that Theodore was much more willing to challenge the establishment, in various ways, and often moved aggressively, reasoning that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission. Franklin, by contrast, tended to work within the establishment to build consensus when possible, and also tended to proceed cautiously.
It is true that Theodore was a racist, or even a white supremacist, by the standards of our day. However, it should be noted that much of that, and in particular the imperialism that flowed from that, came from a "progressive" place. That is to say, he saw people of color and impoverished people in the same way, as folks who had been dealt a bad hand and needed assistance to "overcome" their circumstances.
Q: You've talked a bit about how Virginia has progressed from purple to blue, how North Carolina
has become more purple, and now we're seeing Georgia enter the purple category as well. However, South Carolina seems
very far away, even though it sits geographically between North Carolina and Georgia. And the rest of the South also
shows no real signs of going purple any time soon.
Could you please comment on what is driving this? J.R., Tucson, AZ
A: We will give you a Civil War historian's answer. Here are the 11 Confederate states by percentage of population that was enslaved at the start of the Civil War:
You will note that the ruby reddest states are way at the top of the list. That is strongly related to the legacy of slavery, because a high percentage of people in bondage implies: (1) a deeper commitment to conservative politics, and (2) a lack of urbanization. Both of these things remain true today, to a large extent, with the former keeping Republicans in positions of power, and the latter keeping would-be Democratic voters from relocating to the state, as has happened in places like Virginia and North Carolina.
As always, we are delighted to hear from anyone who may have additional insight, particularly about South Carolina.
Q: Aside from presiding over impeachment trials in the Senate, what are the other duties/powers of the chief justice? Would it be worth it for Joe Biden to replace John Roberts as chief justice with one of the liberal justices? And is the president even allowed to do that? J.L., Los Angeles, CA
A: Let's start with the latter question. The president has no authority to promote or demote justices. Congress probably doesn't have that power either, at least right now, although there are some legal scholars, like the University of Chicago's Aziz Huq, who argue that if Congress confirms a justice to a lower-ranking position, the new confirmation supersedes the old one, thus resulting in a de facto demotion. So, for example, if Biden "nominated" Roberts as an associate justice, and Congress approved that, then in theory Roberts would not be chief justice anymore. Sounds tenuous to us, though it would really be something to see how that played out when the matter (inevitably) reached the Supreme Court to decide.
That said, most of the Chief's power is soft power; most obviously, he gets to decide who writes which opinions when he is in the majority. His vote, as one among nine, is far more impactful than any other function. And so, demoting him in favor of, say, Sonia Sotomayor, would make very little substantive difference.
Q: I am wondering how familiar you are with
of Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut, whose socio-science model of "cliodynamics" in 2012 predicted that
there would be some kind of civil unrest in this country in 2020.
Given that Turchin could not possibly have foreseen the George Floyd episode, nor could he have directly known that there would be such widespread protests about it, even elsewhere in the world, how much credence do you give his theories about the predictability of such things from "the mathematical modeling of historical processes"? In other words, is "cliodynamics" for real, or is it a pseudoscience that got lucky one time? J.R., Dallas, TX
A: Before answering, we will tell you two things. The first is that, in every academic discipline, there are lots of ideas and approaches that some folks swear by and that others think are pure hogwash. That is particularly true in the social sciences and the humanities, but the dynamic exists in the sciences, too.
The second is that when (Z) was in his first year of grad school, he had a professor who was a Marxist. In class, (Z) expressed his still-held view that Marxist history helpfully directs our attention to the economic underpinnings of historical developments, but that Marxist works tend to shoehorn their analysis so as to fit the model, like casting a play. "Playing the role of the bourgeoisie will be...," "playing the role of the proletariat will be..." That professor loathed (Z) forever after, and tried (unsuccessfully, obviously) to get him thrown out of grad school.
And that brings us to your actual question. Yes, there are scholars who believe in cliodynamics, or other "broad patterns of human history" schools of thought, but they are in the minority and they are generally looked at askance by their colleagues. (Z) is definitely in the majority on this one; viewing cliodynamics (and other such schools) in much the same way as he does Marxism: an idea where scholars bend the facts in order to keep the model viable. In Turchin's case, the model is so vague that it's not too hard to find "evidence" to support its predictions. It's true that George Floyd was not specifically predictable, but the odds that 2020 would see some sort of civil unrest or violence were very high. And when the model clearly fails (for example, it predicts that 1820 should be a year of violence, but that was one of the calmest in U.S. history), Turchin has all sorts of explanations for why it is an exception to the rule.
To draw an analogy, cliodynamics reminds (Z) a lot of the "prophecies" of Nostradmus. They can be made to seem very insightful, but only with a lot of massaging, and their "predictions" only become clear post facto, which is kind of like predicting who will win the 2025 Super Bowl on January 1, 2026.
Q: My daughter, who is 23, sent me
from a magazine called The Baffler. It argues, in effect, that voting for Biden is a waste of time. It's a
familiar argument, that the Democrats are too moderate when the times call for more radical action.
While I am deeply troubled by the state of our country and sympathetic to the protesters in the streets, I am alarmed by what seems to be a growing sentiment of disengagement among some voters. I told my daughter that revolutions almost never work out as intended, that incremental change is actually far more lasting, and to not give up on America just yet.
But my knowledge of history is woefully incomplete. I'm wondering if I spoke accurately. D.M., Highland Park, IL
A: We would say you spoke accurately.
First of all, if there is an example of a president who ran as a radical, was elected, and completely reinvented the American system of government, we are unaware of who that person might be. Similarly, the two true rebellions in U.S. history, namely the revolution and the secession of the Confederacy, were the work of wealthy and powerful men who were primarily interested in protecting the status quo (as they saw it) from government overreach (again, as they saw it).
Meanwhile, the two most transformative presidents in American history were surely Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both ran as moderates, inspired little enthusiasm among wide swaths of the voting public, and governed cautiously, only pursuing more aggressive policies once they were certain the Overton Window had moved. It took 18 months for Lincoln, 2 years for FDR. Biden is not likely to become this kind of president, because few do. But that is still far more likely than some sort of transformative revolution.
Q: I'm a liberal in a ruby red state. Is there any point in voting in the general election, apart from down-ballot races? S.S.L., Norman, OK
A: Yes, there is a point. We will give you three reasons to vote, in fact, besides the downballot races:
- You never know what's going to happen
- There is much to be said for participating in the most important civic ritual in America
- If a red state is considerably closer than it should have been, even if it is a loss, the Democratic Party takes note of that and it can and will affect future behavior. They've been planning their takeover of Arizona for 20 years, for example.
Q: I'm curious if there are any legal or practical limits on the creation of new states, particularly carving up existing states. It appears that, as long as the new state, existing state legislature, and Congress agree, a new state can be added. Given this, if the Democrats take Congress and the presidency, wouldn't it be a good strategy to eliminate the filibuster then create the new states of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx? How about the new state of Lower Eastside Manhattan? New York City alone could be carved into 14 heavily gerrymandered, Wyoming-sized new states, ensuring 28 new Democratic senators. It seems like the first party to do this could control the Senate indefinitely. It would probably be easier for the Democrats since they tend to dominate higher density areas. However, it also seems like a McConnellian thing to do. M.R., Eden Prairie, MN
A: There are very few legal limits. The Northwest Ordinance requires a population of 50,000 people, but obviously New York City can clear that many times over. Congress has to pass an ordinance of statehood, the president has to sign it, and the state legislature has to approve, but these are all covered by your hypothetical.
On the other hand, there are enormous practical limits. First of all, this kind of stunt would be very McConnellian, and would further tear at the already badly damaged fabric of the American democracy. Further, residents of a city or state (particularly New Yorkers) tend to place much value in their shared identity, and will not be pleased to give that up. Third, most of the boroughs of New York used to be their own cities, and they unified because it was easier and cheaper to have one city government, one police force, and so forth. In other words, turning one city (or one state) into multiple states comes with a vast amount of overhead that citizens may not be happy to bear the costs of.
What probably is feasible is making D.C. a state and possibly also Puerto Rico. If any state were to be divided into pieces, the most likely one is California because both North California and South California would be geographically large and have large populations. Also, culturally, the Bay Area and Southern California are further apart than Brooklyn and Queens.
Q: I am curious; can you explain why you (sometimes) call Dr. Anthony Fauci by the moniker "St. Anthony"? Or where the appellation originated? I have done web searches looking to uncover the origin of that nickname, and have been unable to find any results (aside from some humorous votive candles with his image on them). P.M., Currituck, NC
A: There are a number of St. Anthonys, but the most prominent one, Anthony the Great of Egypt, is the patron saint of combating infectious diseases. You can see how the name is rather on point.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, St. Donald (of Ogilvy) is believed to have gambled his parents away in a card game, inspired the formation of many cults in the Middle Ages, and is now the patron saint of people named Donald. That one may be on point, too.
Q: Have the two of you ever given thought to live-streaming on election night (on YouTube, Facebook or Twitch)? Usually on election night, I will flip between the Big Three networks as well as CNN, MSNBC and Fox. If the two of you were live-streaming, I would forsake all others and watch your stream (especially if the chat were open for viewer comments; it would be like an E-V party). You two have been doing this blog day-in, day-out and year-in, year-out for ages. I would really love to hear your analysis as the election unfolds. Plus, the real-time snark would be priceless! Please consider it. J.M.P., Asheville, NC
A: Well, live-streaming is not our forte, and that's before you consider possible technical issues. What if our servers couldn't handle the necessary bandwidth?
That said, we did liveblog the 2016 election; some of our thoughts that night were rather prescient, others not so much. We will certainly do so again this year. That means you can have electoral-vote and watch your news outlet of choice. This time around, we will definitely incorporate questions from readers.
Four of the last five polls of Texas have had it even, or within one point of being so. We have been reluctant to put the Lone Star State "in play," but too many more results like that and we won't have much choice.
Meanwhile, there have been four polls of Iowa this year. Three of them had the race within 2 points. The fourth gave Donald Trump a 10-point lead. The latter was the only one of the four done by Ann Selzer, so maybe we should pay attention to it. On the other hand, it was conducted before COVID-19 hit, so maybe we shouldn't. What we're really saying is that we are very interested to see what Selzer's next poll, which is surely imminent, will say. (Z)
The first poll since Theresa Greenfield locked up the nomination, and she's slightly leading. That's a very nice starting point. Again, we look forward to learning what Ann Selzer thinks. (Z)
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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