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Friday, July 24, 2020

A very perceptive view of US politics

David Shor is an electoral data analyst who used to work for a firm called Civic Analytics.  In late May, during the George Floyd protests, he retweeted  a study indicating that historically, nonviolent protests have had a better impact on the electorate than violent ones.  A few days later he was fired.  This week a friend of mine sent me a long interview he did with New York magazine.  He refused to discuss his firing at all, but he said a great many things that have kept me thinking ever since. I will try to summarize.

One thing I took from the piece, even though Shor didn't put it exactly this way, is that the political elite of both parties is dominated by people who are much more ideological than the electorate at large.  People become Republican operatives because they care a gret deal  about deregulation or low taxes or  stopping abortions; they become Democratic operatives because they care about their own demographic's rights, or perhaps about  economic issues.  The country has become better educated and the media more ideological, and thus, such causes might now command the support of about 30% of the electorate (or more than half of one party.)  But many voters in the middle--of which more later--may not care about the same issues that the elite does, or may differ from them.  And the elite operatives, Shor says, want to believe that the public cares about their issues. Hillary Clinton, he says, stressed social issues in 2016 partly because her campaign's polling techniques didn't reach enough working class voters who would have responded more to economic issues.  This year, of course, the Democratic activists are obsessed with racial issues--including ones like cutting back police funding--and we don't know how potential swing voters will respond to them.  A lot,Shor seems to think, will depend on how much violence occurs surrounding those issues, and exactly how they are presented.

More specifically, Shor says, education is becoming the single biggest marker for political allegiance.  Educated people are more and more likely to vote Democratic; those without college are more likely to vote Republican--and that includes less educated  Hispanics and black people.   More of them, of course, still vote for Democrats, but they have trended slightly Republican in each of the last two elections.  This is a sad commentary on how far the educated elite has moved away from the rest of the country on social issues.  Ironically, as he points out, in mid-century America the educated elite was much smaller and it dominated both major parties.  It did not hold distinct, differing views on social issues and it maintained a relatively calm tone in our politics.  Now most of the edcuated elite is Democratic and convinced of the rightness of its views, while the Republican part of iot panders shamelessly to popular prejudice.  

The educated elite and party activists also hold pretty coherent sets of views.  Others do not.  Moderate voters, Shor says, are not middle of the roaders.  Instead, they straddle the views of the two parties, depending on the issue. Many pro-lifers favor higher taxes, for instance; many people worry about health care and immigration at the same time.  The latter group, he says, was more likely to vote Democratic in 2012 when health care was a major campaign issue, and less likely to do so in 2016 when immigration took up much more space. 

On another point, Shor is very pessimistic.  He thinks that racial resentment was more important than economics in turning significant numbers of Obama voters to Trump in 2016.  Since those voters had voted for a black man at least once, I have always found this hard to believe (I would be more inclined to thinks sexism played a role), but he has good evidence for it.

Shor's analysis suggests to me that Joe Biden has already made one mistake by committing to a female running mate.  This is something that many Democratic activists do care very much about--especially if the candidate is also black--but which is unlikely to have much resonance with voters in the middle, who might have been more impressed with Andrew Cuomo's handling of COVID-19, for instance.  Shor thinks Biden should focus on things like the minimum wage and health care.  If the recession keeps worsening, some kind of jobs program might work as well.  

It also suggests, sadly, that the Trump campaign is thinking about some similar issues.  The Administration, I think, is sending federal agents to Portland and Seattle, at least, to try to provoke more violence, and there's plenty of reason to believe that they will succeed.  And that could help them.  Shor does think, however, that scenes of police treating demonstrators roughly tend to arouse sympathy for demonstrators, too.  We can't tell how this will play out.

This election, in a rational world, would inevitably end in a landslide. Donald Trump has proven again and again that he is incompetent, corrupt, and divisive.  No American who takes government seriously (admittedly a shrinking number) should vote for him.  He is well behind in polls as I write.  But I still wonder if Biden will be able to persuade key voters that there lives will change significantly for the better if they elect him.


Unknown said...

Although the elites complained of in this piece complain much about Biden's gaffes, etc., he seems to have a much better touch with swing voters than HRC especially. He consistently refuses to be pushed too far left on wedge issues like defunding police, abolishing ICE, and reparations. This gives me some hope he will not self-destruct and that he can lead a broad coalition to pass major legislation.

Bozon said...

Very interesting post and article. Thanks for posting this.

I boiled interesting counterintuitive aspects of his findings down re swing voters and race.
Maybe this was the true stuff that got him summarily fired!
Not to publish, don't want to make any publisher mad, but for your eyes only let us say, unless you are feeling brave.
All the best

...the Clinton campaign tricked themselves into the idea that they didn’t have to placate the social views of racist white people....working-class white people have an enormous amount of political power and they’re trending towards the Republican Party....the reason these voters turned against us is because Democrats failed to embrace economic populism.....education ceases to be the relevant variable: Non-college-educated white people with low levels of racial resentment trended towards us in 2016, and college-educated white people with high levels of racial resentments turned against us....when you look at Trump’s support, it correlated pretty highly with, uh … racially charged … Google search words....anti-immigrant and anti–political correctness platform... won the votes of a large group of swing voters, and vote switching was highly correlated with various individual level measures of racial resentment...At some point, you have to be like, oh, actually, these people were motivated by racism. It’s just an important fact of the world.

Bozon said...

Great day for a comment a propos Shor and the issue of his firing and whether nonviolent or violent, protests work, or don't work, or one works better or doesn't.

The militia in Louisville is clearly not about King love.

What does a militant but nonviolent protest, the kind King had advocated, look like now?

Isn't it Louisville? I think so.

My own view is that confronting a weak liberal system like ours, out of power minorities have found that either, but preferably both, work real well up to a point, whether with the assistance of foreign suberversive money or manpower or not. The problem then is that liberalism may then come to an end somehow without the protest and insurrection having achieved its goals.

On a separate topic, how about the Nunes chat on Fox. I almost never even watch it, but happened on it today. The Steele Dossier..., The Brooking Institute, 'socialist' organization! Who knows, maybe it is, ostensibly behind Clinton. But if they think Clinton is a socialist, she's one for the top 20%, and I would want to see them spot a real one some day.

All the best