12 September 2016

Reasons To Fear Election Season

* The risk of Trump being elected is much greater than the risk of losing a round of Russian roulette. Nearly 20% of Trump supporters disapprove of President Lincoln's decision to free the slaves. Racial resentment is the best predictor of support for Trump.  There are twenty-three states where Trump is favored to win, although this support is exceptionally weak this year in many of those states.

There mere fact that one candidate is more likely to win than another candidate does matter, because a future with President Trump is a dystopian one.  Another fault - Trump is overeager to use a nuclear weapon in war. 

But, even more frightening is the fact that so many Americans have such awful beliefs and that Trump has liberated them to stridently support those abhorrent beliefs that even conventional Republican politicians had publicly disavowed. Trump has legitimatized racism. Trump has legitimatized xenophobia and anti-Muslim hate. Trump has pushed many Republicans to decide that they don't care about corruption or bigotry. Trump has legitimatized support for torture. Trump has undermined perceived U.S. support for NATO which has made the alliance less effective.

In other words, this election season has undermined the range of issues upon which there is a political consensus. And, this election season had completely undermined the norm of civility in politics, which was a process value that many conservatives in the Republican party had long supported.

* The Presidential election process coincides with the process of renewing the ranks of political party officials, so the Republican party will now have a glut of Trump supporters, which could sustain the transformation of the Republican party towards a white nationalist far right party.

* Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Trump's running mate, is a more conventional politician, but every bit as hateful as Trump himself.  So, should scandal or lack of interest cause Trump to cease serving as President, the alternative will be no better.

* This is an election where the people in the states who know the candidates best don't like them.  As of today, Clinton has only a 7.8% chance of winning Arkansas and that is probably inflated by some poor statistical choices in the model I'm relying upon. Trump has only a 1.7% chance of winning New York (both estimates are per 538).

* Even if Clinton becomes President (as is likely by a large margin) and even if the U.S. Senate shifts to at least a 50-50 partisan split (which is reasonably likely), the Republican party is likely to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, which means more years of deadlock.  And, usually, the party that does not control the Presidency is the one that makes gains in off year elections.  If Republicans hold both the House and the Senate, the deadlock could be even more severe and long lasting.

* The vast majority of seats fill by the public on election day are in state and local government.  And, voters in these elections are overwhelmingly grossly under informed accord to a study by Professor Steve Rogers of Saint Louis University. There is almost no voter imposed quality control at the state and local level.
[V]oters don’t make decisions about whether to reelect their state lawmakers because of their specific policies, campaign promises, voting records, or any of the other things you’d normally expect to be relevant to their position as local lawmakers. That’s because the politics of statehouses turn out not to be local at all. Instead, Rogers finds there’s one major factor in deciding who controls the statehouse: the popularity of the American president. . . .

We have an idea of American democracy that goes something like this: The Constitution gives different politicians oversight over different governmental bodies, which in turn affect citizens at the national, state, and local levels. 
The politicians who control these different governmental bodies are, naturally, different people. So if a state lawmaker is doing a crummy job or passing unpopular legislation, her constituents can punish her individually at the ballot box. 
There’s just one problem: This seems to be not at all what really happens. . . .
[J]ust 1 percent of local news is about statehouse news. The vast majority of local coverage — more than 60 percent — is instead about the presidential election, one study found
Fewer than 20 percent of voters can identify their state legislator, according to a Vanderbilt study published in 2013. An even higher number have no opinion about whether said legislator is doing a good job. . . .
Voters are about 6 percent more likely to vote against their state lawmaker if they disapprove of their state legislature, and they’re about 9 percent more likely to do so if they disapprove of their governor.  . . . . Rogers looked at a big data set of online polling from the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections. He found that voters were more than 40 percent more likely to vote against their state lawmaker if they disapproved of the president. (That controlled for the pull of partisanship, or voting against a lawmaker because he or she is a member of the opposition party, according to Rogers.) Overall, attitudes toward the presidency were more than three times more important for a legislator’s reelection bid than attitudes toward the state legislature itself. . . . 
Even earlier in the process, it turns out that state legislators are much more likely to face a challenge at all if they belong to the party of an unpopular president. (This turns out to be a big deal because only 33 percent of them get challenged at all.) 
This is somehow still true even when the president is not on the ballot. . . .  And it’s not just the Obama administration — Rogers looked at data going back decades. 
"This happens across every president," he says. "The relationship between presidential approval and seat change emerges for pretty much any set of elections since we have been measuring presidential approval." 
Simply being a member of the president’s party increases the odds that state legislators will get a challenger by about 4 percent. By comparison, overseeing 4 percent growth in your state’s economy — a feat in only a tiny handful of states — increases your chances of avoiding a challenger by just 4 percent. . . . "State legislators have relatively little control over their own elections."
Those of us who are familiar with political science and have worked in electoral politics, of course, have long known that this was the case. The myth that local government is closer to the people and is more accountable is completely false.

Perhaps the saving grace of this analysis is that partisanship does matter in partisan races, and for something on the order of two-thirds to four-fifths of voters (the former based upon formal partisan affiliation and the latter including independent voters who are leaners), a candidate's partisan affiliation is highly informative of which candidate the voter would prefer if given full information in a partisan general election race.  Ironically, even most people who are very well informed about politics would make the same decision if they had only a political party cue, because more informed voters also tend to be more partisan voters.

Likewise, the fact that so many races are uncontested in general elections is largely a combination of the fact that partisan affiliation is so salient and that gerrymandering insures that a large share of all partisan electoral districts (including whole states and whole counties) overwhelmingly favor one political party or the other.

In other words, partisan electoral politics are a dull instrument. They allow voters to favor one of two major political parties or the other, but very little else.

It is particularly dull because there is a strong norm among voters who have a say in whether incumbents are renominated to represent the party for another term in an election, to support the incumbent absent the most egregious scandal on the part of the incumbent. So gerrymandering and the incumbency preference of party nomination voters combined, make incumbent partisan politicians almost impossible to remove in the absence of term limits outside the small minority of competitive electoral districts.

Thus, voters have very little practical impact on whether particular state and local elected officials are effective at their jobs, whether state and local governments are well run by legislatures, and very little ability to discern if they are effective.

Now, in non-partisan races, and in competitive partisan races, truly uninformed voters aren't a horrible thing, because so long as they either abstain from voting in races about which they have no informed opinion, or vote in a manner that is effectively random, even a small informed minority, perhaps 10% of the electorate, for example, that had an informed basis upon which to vote would keep us in good leadership.  And, the tradition of well informed newspaper editors (who, after all have read all of the stories related to the candidates and usually having interviewed them as well) make endorsements that are a primary source of information for lots of "informed voters" allows the local media become kingmakers imposing a non-coercive means of quality control in down ballot elections.

But, if otherwise uninformed voters do vote in races they know nothing about and do base their decisions on Presidential popularity, which is not a directly relevant factor, this slightly informed preference can swamp the influence of the minority of better informed voters in an election.

Consolation Prizes

* A first female President would be a landmark and could cement a liberal leaning Supreme Court for the foreseeable future.

* Trump could drag down ticket Republicans down with him, leading to more Republicans in Congress and in state government.

* A landslide Clinton victory could discredit "Trumpism" in the Republican party for a long time and encourage reforms that would make the Republican party a more civilized and decent party.

* Trump may have poisoned a generation of Hispanics, Muslims, and other demographics with significant conservative political views against the Republican party. If the GOP makes a long term lurch to the farther right, it could lose the center it needs to hold power in many key state and in Congress.

See also my 2010 post on Meaningless Elections.

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