Saturday, December 26, 2015

Trumped!

After a too long absence from writing, I think an update is warranted as the race on the GOP side is the world tuned upside down. Six months ago, "JEB!" Bush seemed to have the inside track to the nomination. Now languishing at 3% in the polls, he has the political equivalent of Mt. Everest to climb. Ditto for Chris Christie and John Kasich. Note that all three are either or have been sitting governors and are on the moderate side of the GOP.

The Ascendancy of the Angry Outsider

Both Donald Trump and to a lesser extent Ted Cruz have cultivated and fertilized a vast and underestimated undercurrent of discontent on the GOP electorate. Polling data has consistently shown a disdain morphing into an outright anger of those in the GOP who have been perceived a "part of the Washington Establishment" and as "betrayers" of the voters. As recently as 2012, the "establishment" candidate in Mitt Romney successfully wrested the nomination from the outsider candidates, but Mitt Romney is not running this year (or is he...see primary scenario #3 below).

However, in 2016 there is a palpable anger in the base. From this perspective, the GOP controlled congress has compromised and has not opposed President Obama nearly enough. Polling data also suggests an anger toward candidates who are identified as moderates or RHINOs (Republican in Name Only). The aforementioned Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich  are collectively hovering around 10% in nationwide polls. Yes, nationwide polling does not mean much in late December with the first primary five weeks away, but the consistency of these results suggests that something real is at work here.

In my view, there are three things have driven the GOP electorate in this direction.

  1. Immigration, a huge issue to the GOP base. Trump's wall and keeping Muslim immigrants out has a lot of fans in conservative quarters.
  2. Security and terrorism, post Paris and San Bernadino are making this an election where perceived toughness matters.
  3. Unrelenting opposition to President Obama and to any in the GOP who compromise. Compromising = traitorous behavior.

Now for a look at the angry outsider candidates:

Trump's policy views and rhetoric clearly has played well to this large block of voters. Bombastic rhetoric which normally would disqualify a candidate from the normally staid GOP now seems to increase the support for those who say it. Trump (no hard core conservative by the way except for immigration) can also argue that due to his personal wealth he cannot be corrupted by "special interests" who have other candidates at their beck and call. So far it is working as his national polling numbers are now approaching 40%. I think this support is unstable (but I have been wrong about Trump's longevity throughout, so what do I know...).

Ted Cruz has quietly built his organization and has thoroughly distanced himself from his peers in the Senate to the point of being actively disliked by his colleagues. But in 2016, this is political gold when trying to win primary voters. In addition, as a born-again Christian, Cruz is well positioned in Iowa and states with high Evangelical populations. At this point I see him as the chief rival to Trump.

Although his campaign appears to be fading, Dr. Benjamin Carson (who actually is not that angry, but evangelicals really like him) had a spike of support as he focused on his soft-spoken honesty - even though he has a tenuous grasp on actual policy. For many of these angry voters, policy expertise doesn't matter and in some cases is actually a negative.

Is Rubio the only hope of the Establishment?

Senator Marco Rubio occupied an interesting space in this contest. He is to the right of the more moderate triumvirate mentioned earlier. However, he is not as far right as Cruz and not bombastic like Trump. He could be a candidate who can unite the party and polls well against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. However, he is an apostate on immigration policy and thus far has failed to consolidate his support.

So What Now?

This picture will likely remain muddy for some time. As long as there are many candidates all taking some of the vote it will not be easy for a clear front-runner to emerge in terms of delegate accumulation which is how presidential nominations are won. To win the nomination, a candidate must secure a majority of the delegates at the party convention that will be held in July. The total number of delegates is 2,472 with 1,237 being the magic number for a simple majority

Below are some plausible scenarios...


  1. One of the candidates breaks through and secures the nomination by the end of April. In primaries, winning begets winning as funding and media attention can create an inevitability for the candidate in the lead. Plus, after March 15, most of the GOP primaries are "winner take all" in terms of winning delegates. Prior to March 15, delegates are awarded proportionately to how candidates do in the voting within each state. So it is likely the contest will initially be relatively close in terms of pledged delegates, but after March 15 one candidate can quickly build an insurmountable lead. This is how Romney was able to outdistance his opponents in 2012.
  2. It is a war of attrition until the last primaries in June. Two or more candidates keep winning states and delegates and this goes down to the wire. One candidate secure the majority of delegates late in the game, similar to the Obama-Clinton contest of 2008 and the Ford-Reagan battle of 1976.
  3. The dreaded "Brokered Convention". This is the least likely scenario and involves an end game in which no one candidate secures the majority of delegates. In his situation there would be intra-party dealing to come up with a nominee from among the current candidates or possibly one who did not run at all in 2016. Paging Mr. Romney...
I think scenario 1 is most likely at this point. A long and drawn out nominating process will harm the GOP's chances in November, chances that are already likely under 50%. The party hierarchy will try very hard to deny the nomination to Trump as he is almost universally viewed as destructive, unable to win in November, and worse yet -  a drag on GOP candidates in Senate and Gubernatorial races. But if this happens there is the possibility of...

Wildcard - Trump Runs as an independent

So say Trump ends up losing the nomination.He has the motivation, money, and supporters to mount an independent bid for the presidency. Most analysts, including me believe this would make a much easier path for Hillary as it would effectively split the opposition. in 1992, Ross Perot did not elect Bill Clinton, but certainly took a few states away from George Bush This truly would be the GOP nightmare scenario. Could Trump actually win a three way race? I would say very unlikely if not impossible.

As the caucuses and primaries draw near, a clearer picture will emerge. Going to be a fun year for political junkies regardless of what happens.

Onwards!

The Prof

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hillary!

We are now in the midst of the not-so-invisible primary and as the title suggests, this will be a look at likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

But Wait! This is an open seat. There is no sitting incumbent. History shows that there should be a scramble for this nomination, especially among the Democrats...

In a true role reversal, the Democrats are looking to a coronation of the heir apparent; the runner-up in the last contest. In contrast, the GOP is at 19 candidates and counting.

Hillary Clinton announced that she is running for the Democratic nomination in April 2015. This is a good time to look at her strengths and weaknesses and conduct a quick analysis of her candidacy.

Strengths
  1. Perceived Experience. So much of politics and elections is defined by perceptions and the perception that she is ready and able to assume the office of the presidency on Day 1 is compelling. 
  2. Eight years as first lady, during which she was involved in both successful (women's initiatives) and unsuccessful (healthcare) policy goals. 
  3. Election as Senator from NY in 2000, an office to which she was easily reelected.
  4. Ultimately unsuccessful presidential run in 2008, during which she became a household name and gained invaluable experience running and almost winning a national campaign.
  5. Secretary of State posting provides foreign policy experience.
  6. Very weak opposition from the Left in terms of former MD governor O'Malley and Socialist Bernie Sanders. Looks like Elizabeth Warren who could cause more concern is not running. Former Reagan appointee turned Democrat Jim Webb will not be a factor.
  7. Gobs of money! And the ability to raise gobs more...
  8. Fond memories of the Clinton presidency - we can get two for the price of one again (inside joke from 1992 campaign). Bill will be helpful (as long as he behaves).
  9. Her gender and the ability to make history. This is a biggie.
  10. Over the years she has done a lot of favors that she can now call in.
Now for the negatives
  1. She had all the structural advantages of money and organization in 2008 and still managed to blow it.
  2. Does not take nor handle tough questions or unsupervised settings well.
  3. Clinton Foundation questions may blow up her face.
  4. Email scandal may blow up in her face.
  5. Does not have a politician's natural ability - appears to be cold and calculating without much pretense of genuine humanity. Sorry, but this IS the perception...
  6. Benghazi issue, although not seen as important by many in the public, is still around and will be investigated by the GOP-controlled House.
  7. She has made a lot of enemies on both sides of the aisle over the years. Democrats are not overly enthusiastic about her, but there are few alternatives.
  8. She is very polarizing. A Clinton administration would be fraught with more gridlock as the GOP is likely to keep control of Congress, at least initially.
  9. She is tied to President Obama's success or failure over the next 18 months.
  10. Rails against Wall St. but benefits from it - hypocrisy issue.
It is far too early to make any predictions, but I am fairly certain that unless the dynamics change - and change soon, that she will win the Democratic nomination fairly easily. I don't see Sanders be much of a threat - in fact he may help her look moderate as he is so far to the left. 

Hillary's strategy is to do enough to make this inevitable and keep any major opponents on the sidelines. But she is also flying under the radar for now to some extent (note very few press questions) so that she can run out the clock on any serious opposition within the party. Thus far it seems to be working. Well over 50% of Democratic primary voters are supporting her in the early polls and her opponents are registering in single digits.

Note that she is taking positions on social issues (immigration) that are to the left of President Obama. This helps her among the left of the party, Hispanics, and among younger voters. I would not be surprised to see her take other leftist positions to appeal to groups she will need in the general. Plus it helps neutralize any thoughts of a "Draft Warren" movement.

If serious opposition does not materialize by mid fall, the primaries and her nomination are a forgone conclusion (absent any major scandal or gaffes). She is already running against the GOP and ignoring her own party's opposition. This is a strategy that may backfire though as the perception of a coronation may not sit well with the general electorate. I would advise her to take on her opponents as it will build her credibility as a candidate who is going to work for the nomination.Avoiding the press is a long-term mistake as well as she cannot avoid them forever.

I place her changes at the nomination of over 90% right now. This is not your father's Democratic party where it was a free for all. Ironically, the Dems are behaving like the GOP where there would be a coronation of the person whose "turn" it was. And the GOP is now having a free for all.

This promises to be a busy year and a half. Next up, the GOP and why there are only four candidates with any chance of getting the nomination and only two who could possibly beat Hillary,

Onwards!

The Prof

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Baker squeaks it out, The Prof Nails Most Races

I must give myself an A- in my predictions for this past election...did quite well!


Prediction                    Actual
Baker          48%            48.5%
Coakley       45%            46.6%
Falchuck        3%              3.3%
McCormack   2%              0.9%
Lively             2%              0.8%


Baker's win was due to multiple factors:
  • Exit polling did show a gender gap with Coakley winning women by 14 points. However, Baker won men by 16 points.
  • Although Coakley won the cities and inner Boston suburbs, her margins were worse than in Patrick's reelection in 2010. For example, Patrick won in the city of Boston by 47 points, but Coakley won by "only" 36 points. Baker also over-performed in many Democratic bastions such as Everett, Sharon, and Newton, won the liberal suburban communities of Wayland and Sudbury, and kept Coakley's margins in Worcester and Lowell to under 15 points.
  • Cambridge and Amherst were both 80-20 for Coakley - no surprises there!
  • Voters never really "liked" Martha Coakley and she failed to drive up Baker's negatives.
  • Baker was able to effectively distance himself from the national GOP. He also ran a very disciplined and largely mistake-free campaign.
  • Voters were most concerned about the economy and this is where Baker was seen to be a better manager than Coakley.
  • Coakley's campaign never really got off the ground and she did not enjoy unity among Democratic voters or politicians. About 20% of registered Democrats voted for Baker and several Democratic mayors and legislators endorsed Baker as well.
  • Third party candidates likely drew support away from both candidates in roughly equal proportions.
  • The death of former Boston Mayor Menino the week before the election effectively "froze" the election during the final weekend and kept a potential Baker gaffe about a New Bedford fisherman out of the headlines.
  • Baker won in the areas where he needed to and ran up large margins in Worcester, Plymouth, Essex, and Norfolk counties. This counteracted Coakley's wins in the Boston area and Western Massachusetts. See the below map for details.




Although Baker won, it was very close and was a margin only by two points (40,000 votes out of over two million cast). He succeeded in threading the needle for a Republican in Massachusetts to prevail.
  • Minimal campaign mistakes
  • Distance from national GOP, non-partisan approach
  • Liberal or agnostic on social issues
  • Willing to work with Democrats, angry Tea Party candidates simply cannot win here
  • Weak Democratic candidate juxtaposed with an attractive Republican candidate
In all other major statewide races, Massachusetts remained solidly blue and elected Democrats to all other constitutional offices by wide margins. Senator Markey won reelection against a largely unknown challenger, 62-38. Republicans did pick up 2 seats in the State Senate and 6 in the House...still in a tiny minority, but some progress.

I nailed most of my other prediction as well, missing only one call.
  • Question 1 did pass narrowly where I thought it would not. My predictions on Questions 2,3, and 4 were all correct along with the predicted lopsided margins.
  • Seth Moulton defeated Richard Tsei in the 6h Congressional district. While I thought Moulton would win a narrow race, he won by 15 points. In this case, I think that Moulton's status as a newcomer and military veteran contrasted sharply with Tsei being on the ballot for the past three cycles and his being in state government since 1984. Being a fresh-faced outsider helped!
  • Scott Brown may now consider moving to another state for Senate after losing by 3 points to Shaheen in NH. I think that a Vermont seat is open in 2016...
 Good Night for Republicans Nationwide

Republicans won the Senate in a major wave, flipping 8 seats (possibly 9, after the Louisiana runoff in December). The GOP will enjoy a nearly 50 seat majority in the House. They also won a number of Governorships in Democratic states (IL, MA, and MD) and expanded their nationwide lead in state legislatures. 

Looking at exit polls, the GOP benefited from higher turnout among white voters, low turnout among minorities (typical for a midterm election cycle), and the continuing unpopularity of the President. I do not necessarily see this as a mandate for the Republicans, but more a rejection of the status quo.

Now, can they govern and how does this affect the last two years of President Obama's term? Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell have alternated between conciliatory and fighting words - as has President Obama.

I think, based on early observations, that there will be continued confrontation on Capital Hill. If the president issues any sort of amnesty decree via executive order, there will be little, if any, cooperation going forward. Additionally, 2016 presidential politics will affect both legislation and the dynamics in Washington. I will write more on this and what it means in the near future.

Onwards!

The Prof

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014 Election Final Predictions

Here we are, T minus 2 days to Election 2014. Now at the end of a most tumultuous campaign season it is prediction time for The Prof. Let's see how much crow I will be eating on Wednesday morning!

Massachusetts Governor

Baker          48%
Coakley       45%
Falchuck        3%
McCormack   2%
Lively             2%

Charlie Baker will win the governorship in a close race. Contrary to my earlier thinking, I see Martha Coakley blowing her second big election in a row. She has run a relatively poor campaign and has not sealed the deal, even with a a sizable portion of Democrats. Baker also needs to be credited with running a disciplined and largely mistake-free campaign.

Baker's narrative about needing a counterweight to the Democratic majorities on Beacon Hill has indeed resonated and was a smart play for Baker. On policy, he has inoculated himself from the very toxic tea party wing of the GOP (note on social issues, he is running well left of center) and Coakley has not been able to tie him effectively to the national GOP. This is not for lack of trying (nearly every ad refers to REPUBLICAN Charlie Baker), but the ads have not been moving the needle enough to redefine Baker.

On fiscal issues, Baker is likely more in step with voters and the polling suggests that voters see Coakley as more apt to raise taxes. On the hot button issue of drivers licenses for illegals, Baker probably is with the majority of voters. Coakley has many policy views more in step with the public (expanding paid sick leave for example), but they simply are not resonating this year. Baker's overall negatives are still fairly low and this demonstrates that attack ads did not have their intended effects. Ironically, Baker's attack ads on Coakley may have had their desired effect as her negative and positive ratings are about even.


One surprise is that the gender gap does not appear to be swamping Baker (my earlier blogging about the power of the sisterhood may be turned on its head in this case). Indeed, polling is showing that Coakley is suffering her own gender gap and seems to be losing the male vote by nearly 10 points while winning the female vote by only seven points
 

I maintain that Coakley has run a relatively poor campaign throughout (snatching defeat from the jaws of victory given the state party demographics) and this reinforces a perception that she will not be a strong performer in the corner office. She is losing nearly a quarter of registered Democrats - unforgivable in a partisan atmosphere (lukewarm endorsements from her defeated rivals have not helped). She is responsible for this, although the media certainly amplifies and reinforces these perceptions.


Keys to Election Night
  • Watch the margins in urban areas. If Coakley is winning cities such as Boston and Lynn by less than 20 points, she is in trouble. Baker has worked hard to expand his outreach in inner cities and minority communities. He does not aim win these areas, merely to lessen the losses. In 2012, Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown by over 40 points in large cities. Coakley needs to come close to that margin.
  • Central Massachusetts and the South Shore - long two of the GOP's key regions, Baker needs to run up big wins here to mitigate an expected large loss in Middlesex County, especially along the Route 2 corridor.
  • Bell-weather communities that tend to mirror the state such as Waltham and Gardner may set early indications for how the evening will turn out. (update bellweather polls in Waltham and Gloucester give Baker a minute lead....this will be a CLOSE race)
  • Turnout - does the Democratic machine get its voters out? If so, this may erase the current polling lead that Baker seems to be enjoying.

Other Statewide Races
  • Seth Moulton beats Richard Tsei in a close race (less than five points) in the 6th district. If Tsei was running against Tierney, it would have been a certain GOP pickup, but the Massachusetts Republicans will retain their dubious 0-9 record in Congress-bound races...
  • Ditto on the other statewide races. Incumbent senator Ed Markey easily defeats Brian Herr for US Senate and all of the Democrats running for statewide constitutional offices win by at least ten points each. Up and coming Attorney General To Be Maura Healy may win by close to 40 points.
  • One bright spot for the GOP is that they will improve their anemic membership in the state legislature, as they are currently outnumbered by the Democrats who have 85% of state legislative seats.

    Ballot Questions
  1. Question 1 on ending the indexing of the gas tax to inflation loses due to its poor wording.If it was worded in a more understandable manner, polling shows that it would bass easily.
  2. Question 2 on expanding the bottle law will lose by a wide margin, probably 60-40.
  3. Question 3 which would ban casinos will lose as well, but the margin will be less than ten points.
  4. Question 4 on expanding sick leave passes 60-40 or more. 

National Races

The Republicans probably will take the Senate with  a host of pickups in red states. The GOP is fortunate as many of the Senate races happen to be in states that President Obama lost in 2012. They are also fortunate to generally have strong candidates and will not be throwing away victories due to poor quality candidates similar to what occurred in 2010 and 2012. However, as Louisiana and Georgia have runoffs if no one candidate attains 50% on Tuesday, we may not know for sure until those runoffs which would be held in December. President Obama's toxic ratings (he is even under 50% favorability in true blue Massachusetts) will help the GOP takes several Democratic seats, notably in Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia, and Iowa.

I will go out on a limb and predict that Scott Brown beats Jeane Shaheen in New Hampshire in a race decided by about 1% of the vote. But I wouldn't bet more than a nickle either way on this. (update - Bellweather poll in Manchester and Epping shows Shaheen with a lead in these key communities - I retract the Brown prediction...if this is true...)

Post election wrap-up later in the week. Oh, now less than 60 days until 2015 and the presidential invisible primary will be well underway. Yes, I am smiling at the prospect!

Onwards!

The Prof