Saturday, July 10, 2021

Election fever

The Liberal government gives every signal that they intend to call an election in late summer or early autumn with the goal of converting their minority into a majority. One such sign was the announcement of federal money on July 9 for the extension of the Skytrain in BC in Surrey and Langley, which is aimed at shoring up existing Liberal ridings while targeting narrowly held Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) constituencies such as South Surrey-White Rock and Cloverdale-Langley City.   

As soon as a party finds itself in a minority, it immediately begins scheming how to restore its majority. The Liberals appear quite confident that they will be succussful, so we should take the prospect of an early vote seriously. One reason for the early call is to avoid clashing with municipal elections in Quebec.

The published public opinion polls suggest a majority may well be in the offing. While the Liberals and other parties read these surveys with interest, what matters are the private polls that the governing party has no doubt been conducting in marginal constituencies and regions. The Liberals won 157 seats in 2019 and need just 13 more for a bare majority. There are twenty or so that the Liberals lost very narrowly last time, around a third of them in Quebec.

Polling has transformed in the past ten years from standard telephone surveys where when one answers the phone and speaks to a person, to a variety of methods, predominantly surveys conducted online among panels (people who have agreed to answer surveys by email, sometimes for a reward), but also surveys conducted by a computer where you hear a recorded voice and answer the questions by punching the numbers on a the telephone pad. While they work fairly well on the whole, there can be errors. For example, mostly online polling missed the outcome of the 2013 BC election. 

In the 2019 election the regional results in Alberta of the national polls conducted immediately prior to election day generally underestimated the Conservative total in that province by about 10 points. As it turned out the Conservatives were so far ahead in Alberta that it did not matter in terms of seats. There is some evidence from south of the border that some on the political right are reluctant to answer polls and distrust them as a consequence of a more general distrust of institutions. A repeat this time of errors on the Alberta 2019 scale could make a difference. Alberta now has an unpopular conservative provincial government that was newly elected then. If current polling is truly accurate, the CPC stand to lose seats in Calgary and Edmonton to both the Liberals and the NDP. I suspect that polling does under-estimate support on the right in Canada for various reasons including those emerging in the United States. The Conservatives could well do better than polls suggest but they nonetheless have deep problems.

Liberals: On the Cusp of a Majority?

 A recent Nanos poll (available by subscription only) implies (by my method of converting poll results into seats) that the Liberals would win over 200 constituencies, while the most recent Abacus poll would yield a similar, slightly lower, seat count. However, the most recent Leger poll (page 8 on the link) presents a significant contrast; it implies that the Liberals would win just 158 seats, almost the same result as 2019.

Erin O'Toole and the Structural Crisis of Conservatism

Erin O'Toole
The Conservatives have serious issues and are currently being hammered in the polls, but it is not, as is so often suggested, rooted in deficiencies of leader Erin O'Toole; rather it is ideological and structural. To gain more votes especially in large urban and suburban locations in Ontario and BC, they need to at least tiptoe towards the centre on issues like climate change and daycare. But the party represents the regions of the country in Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of BC that depend on the production of fossil fuels - an apparently irreconcilable dilemma. Unpopular Conservative goverments in Manitoba and Alberts are adding to their woes.

Another serious barrier for the CPC is that a part of the political right has become batshit crazy - holding demonstrations against masking and indulging in bizarre conspiracy theories, not to mention supporting unpopular socially conservative ideas on abortion and sexuality, etc. There are now parties able to appeal to these kinds of people, such as the People's Party of Canada (PPC) of Maxime Bernier (he has attended anti-mask rallies), and in Alberta, western independence parties. Their support bleeds from the Conservative Party (we have seen this before with the Reform Party). Recent polling suggests that the CPC is indeed losing votes to the PPC. It will be O'Toole's first national election and while he may be capable of performing well in debates, it is likely not possible to overcome the fracturing and insanity going on among the political right. To take one example, Derek Sloan, the MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington and a social conservative, was ejected from the Conservative caucus by Erin O'Toole. However, he says he will run again as an independent. In the last election, representing the CPC, he only defeated the Liberal candidate by four percentage points. If he really runs as an independent, he will easily hand the seat to the Liberals. 

The political right increasingly also does not appeal to younger voters and women. It is becoming a haven for cranky old men.

The NDP: Prospects for Growth

Jagmeet Singh
If the Conservatives are doing worse in the polls, the NDP is doing much better. Jagmeet Singh has done quite well in the House of Commons, extracting concessions from the governing Liberals. The party has been quite open about supporting the Liberals on issues, pressuring them to support changes, and voting to avoid an election. It is in marked contrast to how the party handled itself in the 1972-74 House of Commons, the last time they enjoyed similar leverage. At that time they worried an early election would hand a majority to the Stanfield Progressive Conservatives and were reluctant to be seen as too close to the Liberals. By comparison, the current NDP has been much bolder and more self-confident.

The party currently has a comparative video ad on their Facebook page extolling their accomplishments. In the polls cited above, the NDP would win as many as 41 seats, up from their current 24. One factor that is likely helping them right now is a comparative advantage over the other parties on the issue of indigenous rights. 

The Greens:  Prospect of Decline

Annamie Paul
The Greens are having a leadership crisis immediately ahead of the election. Annamie Paul has an impressive resumé, but appears to have no leadership skills whatsoever. Whatever the eventual outcome, whether Anamie Paul keeps her post or is replaced by an interim leader (which would likely be a recycling of Elizabeth May who ought to have given up her seat to Paul in the first instance), the Green Party, already in a weak fourth place position in English Canada (fifth in Quebec), seems destined to decline in the near term. Their longer run potential, which is clearly linked to climate change, may be unaffected. The current crisis, which one suspects would be devastating for another party, has so far had only a limited impact on their position in the polls (their national support has declined from an average of 6.9% in April to 6.2% in June). Part of the Green base consists of ideologically committed environmentalists and they may vote Green come what may. Other Green voters are often lower information alienated voters for whom not being one of the established parties is largely what matters.

Quebec and the fate of the Trudeau Liberals

As noted above, the Trudeau Liberals lost several seats in Quebec in 2019 by narrow margins to the BQ often in the three and four way splits that characterized voting there. They will be looking to get some back. That helps to explain some of their reticence to criticize a popular Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government in Quebec City, which recently made extensive use of the nothwithstanding clause in new language legislation, anathema to the traditional federalist English community in Quebec, and abhorrent to Justin Trudeau's father. We tend to think of Quebec as the province swept by one party and then another. In 2019 four parties won seats and for the first time since 1962 the party that won more seats than any other, the Liberals, who won 35, captured less than a majority of all the constituencies. Quebec is split several ways and that makes it less predictable.

Of course, none of this is really necessary; Canada's fixed election date legislation specifies the date for the next election as October 16, 2023.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Trump voters - where will they go?

Donald Trump lost the November 3, 2020 U.S. election but he gained 11 million more votes over his 2016 total. Trump was the issue on the ballot, and more Americans despised him than liked him, so his Democratic opponent Joe Biden won 15 million more votes than Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump appealed to voters for a number of different reasons, but his economic populism and racism were of greatest importance. While it can't be specifically calculated from from the results, I hypothesize that he had a particularly strong appeal to an unknown number of voters, but numbering in the millions, who saw him as charismatic and who strongly identified with him and his views, however repugnant. This appeal did not necessarily extend to other voters who supported the Republican party or who neatly fit its ideological categories. I suspect that most are deeply racist. These Trump loyalists would have voted the straight Republican ticket, making a critical difference in down ballot races. These voters belonged to Trump and not other Republicans. If he is not on the ballot, a significant percentage are not likely to be interested in voting. Most are likely low information voters. 

Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock

Can we find any evidence of this? The only elections to have taken place since November 3rd were the two Georgia Senate run-off elections held January 5, 2021. Two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, were victorious in the special elections, giving the Democrats control of the Senate. For that reason alone understanding what happened in Georgia matters a great deal going forward. Of the two contests, the Ossoff race had the potential to be more revealing because the Warnock contest was a multi-candidate affair.

Here is a quick summary based on a Washington Post article on the January 5th result by Philip Bump:

  • Counties with larger Black populations shifted more heavily to Ossoff... comparing Ossoff’s percentage of the vote in November with what he earned in January shows how his support jumped more in counties with denser Black populations. 
  • While those shifts in heavily Black counties were important, we should not undervalue the drop in support for (incumbent Senator David) Perdue in less heavily Black counties, too. Perdue’s vote total decreased the most relative to November in more heavily White counties.

Here is Bump's key conclusion:

  • In just counties that are about 30 percent Black or less, he (Perdue) saw a drop of 190,000 votes to Ossoff’s 70,000 votes — more than his margin in November. One likely reason: The lack of Trump on the ballot directly meant that fewer Republicans motivated by Trump came out to vote.

For Democrats increasing turnout in black counties mattered significantly, but so also did the drop in the white vote in less black counties. Political organizing by Democrats, led by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, made a big difference but loss of white Trump voters also mattered.  

A poll conducted a few weeks later by the University of Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper confirmed the transformed political landscape in the formerly safe red state of Georgia. Among the findings: 

  • 57%, say that Trump is responsible for a “great deal” or a “good amount” of blame for stirring up the deadly mob on Jan. 6 that attempted to block certification of Biden’s election victory at the U.S. Capitol. 
  • Fresh from their upset victories, the state’s two new Democratic U.S. senators are on solid footing. About 50% of Georgians have a favorable view of Ossoff, compared with 40% unfavorable. And Warnock, facing a reelection bid next year, has a 54% approval rating, with 37% disapproving of him.
  • Regarding Trump, a solid majority of Georgians disapprove of the former president in the weeks since he left office, with 57% giving him an unfavorable rating, compared with just 40% who approved of his performance in the White House.
The elections and the poll strongly suggest that this formerly red state, now purple, is heading in the direction of becoming blue.

A recent analysis by the same newspaper also found:
Control of the U.S. Senate was on the line, but many Georgia Republicans — at least some deterred by Donald Trump’s loss — stayed home rather than cast ballots in January’s runoffs.

Their absence at the polls helped swing Georgia and the Senate to the Democrats.

Over 752,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the presidential election didn’t show up again for the runoffs just two months later, according to a new analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of recently released voting records.

More than half of the no-shows were white, and many lived in rural areas, constituencies that lean toward Republican candidates...

Meanwhile, 228,000 new voters cast ballots in the runoffs who hadn’t voted in the Nov. 3 election. They were more racially diverse and younger voters who tend to back Democrats.
As Georgia goes....

Critical to the success or failure of the Biden administration will be the outcome of the midterm elections to House of Representatives and the Senate in 2022. For Democrats, while the map for the Senate is relatively positive, it has generally been true that midterm elections don't produce positive results for incumbent parties. 

However, when you look closely, one finds that there have been specific reasons for each midterm result.  One must also remember that the current era is highly polarized. In earlier periods successful presidents often had long coatails that brought victory for numerous representatives and senators along with them in the presidential election. This is no longer the case. It was often the marginal victors in a presidential year who were most likely to lose a midterm contest. As political analyst Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report asks: Is the midterm a referendum on Biden or on Trump?  

I am not sure she is right (Trump may actually focus more on making money and staying out of jail) but it is possible Trump will seek a significant political role going forward. Amy Walter clearly thinks so:

Unlike previous presidents — especially those who lost re-election, he isn't interested in retreating from public view. He — and those who support his brand of politics — are going to play a much more significant role than we've seen in modern times. Whether it is Trump stepping into competitive primaries to exact revenge on those who voted to impeach him, or a state party voting to censure one of its most promising Senate candidates — the infighting among the GOP will be a factor in determining the kinds of candidates who will be on the ballot in 2022.

It's also unclear at this point what role the attacks on the Capitol on January 6th will have on the opinions of Trump and GOP members of Congress.

As my colleague Charlie Cook has noted, "unreleased survey research—both quantitative polls and qualitative focus groups—since the January 6th attack on the Capitol suggests that between 25 and 30 percent of Trump voters now have very mixed feelings about having backed him. They are less likely to believe that the election was stolen, and they were alarmed by the attack in Washington. They care more about the coronavirus pandemic and the direction of the economy.

These voters aren't necessarily open to voting for Democrats, but they may be less willing to come out and vote for a GOP candidate who identifies him/herself so closely with Trump or the more Trumpian factions in Congress. Given that these Trump-conflicted voters are more likely to be living in a congressional district or county that is more purple than dark-red, their absence could be critical in determining control of the House and Senate. 

The most likely factors to be decisive in 2022 are dealing with the pandemic, which the Biden administration seems likely to handle adroitly, and the economy, which will have to be recovering well. However, there are going to be voters who only wish to vote if Trump is actually on the ballot, as appears to have happened in the Georgia Senate elections. In addition, I suspect that January 6th is a point of departure for Trump and not in a good way.

 The Hill an online newspaper covering Capitol Hill argued that the split in GOP ranks could portend disaster:

The Republican Party is riven by internal tensions, and moderate voices fear it is headed for disaster at the hands of the far right.

The centrists’ worry is that the party is branding itself as the party of insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists. This spells catastrophe for the GOP’s ability to appeal beyond a hardcore base, they say.

As an example, in Colorado in the six days following the January 6 insurrection, 4600 Republicans changed their party registration. There is a vast amount of video of the riot that will be shown repeatedly on air during the impeachment trial. Given what we know so far about the reaction, it is clear this will not be good for Trump's political future.  A similar phenomenon happened in Arizona.

A Canadian Precedent

What can happen when a populist figure is no longer on the political scene has an antecedent in Canada. John Diefenbaker was Prime Minister of Canada from 1957 to 1963. While not at all like Trump some of his appeal to voters was as a populist figure. He pulled voters to the polls in 1958 when he won a landslide for his Progressive Conservative Party. But they were gone by the time he sought re-election in 1962.  Although his popularity declined in much of the country he did hang on to considerable support in his political home in Saskatchewan all the way through to his last campaign in 1965 when he won all the seats in the province that year. However, by the next campaign in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau was winning his first majority government, in Saskatchewan the disappearance of Diefenbaker led to the loss of  20 percent of the PC vote, which in turn led to a revival of NDP fortunes in the province. The NDP had won only one seat in 1958 and had been shut out ever since. Even Tommy Douglas lost his bid for a seat in 1962. In 1968 post-Diefenbaker the NDP won 6 seats.  

A Republican Party without Trump is not the same party and would not have the same appeal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Polls, the Election Results and Trump

The most notable outcome of the 2020 U.S. election was that, as expected, Trump lost both the popular vote and the electoral college. However, the polls experienced significant errors, the nature of which is still being debated. Overall, it appears that polling understated support for Trump and the Republicans by about three or four points. It is also clear that there was a Republican anti-Trump vote (a group of Republican voters who were small 'c' conservatives that opposed Trump, but also supported Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives). There was also increased turnout from a pro-Trump constituency, many likely middle aged or older and voting for the first time. The results disappointed Democrats who expected more. However, the party seems to trail the Republicans when it comes to innovative campaign techniques and it made other mistakes in its congressional campaigning.

Polling Error

There appears to have been a general problem with the polling.  As the highly respected Pew Research Center noted

...the election was much closer than polls suggested in several battleground states (e.g., Wisconsin) and more decisive for Trump elsewhere (e.g., Ohio). ... it’s clear that national and many state estimates were not just off, but off in the same direction: They favored the Democratic candidate...Looking across the 12 battleground states from the upper Midwest (where many polls missed the mark) to the Sun Belt and Southwest (where many were stronger), polls overestimated the Democratic advantage by an average of about 4 percentage points. When looking at national polls, the Democratic overstatement will end up being similar, about 4 points...The fact that the polling errors were not random, and that they almost uniformly involved underestimates of Republican rather than Democratic performance, points to a systematic cause or set of causes. 

Although Nate Silver of the blog FiveThirtyEight called the miss "pretty normal by historical standards", he links those words to a blog post from Vox whose sub-headline is "The kind of people who answer polls are really weird, and it’s ruining polling" - hardly illustrative of the point he was trying to make.  The author of that post quotes a Democratic polling expert named David Shor who says of 2020, "the kind of people who answer polls are systematically different from the kind of people who refuse to answer polls — and that this has recently begun biasing the polls in a systematic way."

My view is that there was a systematic problem. It likely had more than one cause.  One possibility might be that the pandemic had a unique impact. Pew says

The once-in-a-generation coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered how people intended to vote, with Democrats disproportionately concerned about the virus and using early voting (either by mail or in person) and Republicans more likely to vote in person on Election Day itself. In such an unusual year – with so many people voting early for the first time and some states changing their procedures – it’s possible that some Democrats who thought they had, or would, cast a ballot did not successfully do so. A related point is that Trump and the Republican Party conducted a more traditional get-out-the-vote effort in the campaign’s final weeks, with large rallies and door-to-door canvassing. These may have further confounded likely voter models.

While this argument does have merit Pew also suggests another explanation that makes sense to me:

The overall share of Republicans in survey samples was roughly correct, but the samples underrepresented the most hard-core Trump supporters in the party. One possible corollary of this theory is that Republicans’ widespread lack of trust in institutions like the news media – which sponsors a great deal of polling – led some people to not want to participate in polls.

The pronounced alienation of some parts of the population from institutions may be a broader phenomenon than we have appreciated. I had noted to myself that in Canada the Conservatives were sometimes underestimated in Canadian polls, especially in Alberta. I double checked for this post, and confirmed that an average of the closing polls in Alberta in the 2019 federal election underestimated the party's actual vote share in the election by about ten points, well outside any margin of error.  There have also been other collective poll misses, particularly in the BC election in 2013, where again it was the political right that was under-estimated. The Alberta miss was in the most small 'c' conservative province in Canada, one with a history of rural right of centre populism.  It is possible that normal polling is undercounting rural conservatives. 

Rural Resentment

American political scientist Kathy Cramer investigated rural resentment in Wisconsin before the Trump era, producing a book aimed at explaining support for a conservative Trump-like Republican Governor named Scott Walker.  She did so by travelling all over the state joining coffee klatches, talking and listening to the participants, a different way of measuring public opinion.  Her analysis is important to understanding attitudes to Trump and indirectly what happened in this year's election.  Here is an edited version of what she found, as summarized by an observer to a lecture she gave:

Rural consciousness is identifying as a rural person... and a strong perception of distributive injustice that disfavors you and your identity. Cramer notes that this ... comprises resentment toward: cities and city people, elites (government, financial, cultural), people of color, and partisan polarization. "(This) ...makes rural consciousness a fertile ground for populism. Cramer defines populism here as essentially, “people are good and government is bad.”

Rural folks explain, “Our hard-earned taxpayer dollars are going to people who do not deserve them.” They thoroughly believe that others don’t work as hard as they do. And by hard work they mean, “when you have to shower after work, not before it.” And when Cramer followed up with the groups after the book came out, they agreed that they were resentful.

There is also a sense of loss. That these people’s communities and their standard of living have been taken away—that their status is threatened.  

... (T)here is a belief that government is urban and distant. Even if workers are local, the decisions they follow are from the city to the rural area. They believe the government is not really working for them.... 

Cramer is still reflecting on how Donald Trump’s campaign activated rural consciousness. In contrast to Scott Walker’s assault on public employees, Donald Trump pointed to immigrants, Muslims, and women as undeserving groups. ... 

Importantly, when she asks these rural folks what they hope will change with the new administration, they say they don’t expect anything to change. They set a very low bar. And it’s clear to her, that their criteria for Trump’s success is not anything like liberals criteria. They don’t believe he is going to solve their problems.... 

This latter point is important.  It explains why, despite Trump's manifest incompetence and failure to improve the lives of his supporters, what ends up mattering to them are the symbolic steps he takes, as they don't actually believe he can accomplish anything meaningful for them.


Democrats voted by mail in large numbers because of fear of the pandemic, but precisely because they feared the pandemic, I suspect it is likely a significant number of Democratic voters did not show up in person to vote on election day. Given that turnout was up significantly it is extremely difficult to calculate the exact dimensions of this, although we may see efforts to do so in the months ahead. I want to emphasize that there could both be a large increase in turnout overall of Democratic votes because of intense anti-Trump feelings, while simultaneously there could have been a lower than anticipated turnout of in person Democratic votes on election day, because of pandemic fears. Republicans did not share fear of the virus nearly as much as Democrats, because of the absurd, but widely believed propaganda, peddled by the right. For example, watch this CNN interview with a nurse from a small town in South Dakota who treated patients who clearly thought the virus was a hoax, and desperately wanted to believe their COVID-19 was some other illness.

There were some outcomes in particular areas that surprised the campaigns. For example, in Florida in Miami-Dade county the Democrats strongly underperformed among Hispanics, something that also showed up elsewhere such as Orange County in California. Trump made some small gains among blacks. There are likely some straightforward explanations for this. Trump campaigned on "reopening the economy" in the face of the growing coronavirus.  Some of the working class, which is heavily black and Hispanic and suffering from unemployment because of the pandemic, may have been susceptible to such an appeal. In addition, the Republicans were willing to do door to door campaigning, which Democrats, worried about the virus, avoided. Republicans have also been adopting innovative digital campaign techniques unmatched by the Democrats. 

Digital Campaigning

The Republicans effectively used targeted digital voting via social media, such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook to persuade certain voters to support them. It helps explain what happened in places such as Miami-Dade and Texas. Read the comments of political scientist Rachel Bitecofer delivered on a post-election panel discussion sponsored by Oxford University: (I have edited these remarks but you can hear the original on Youtube at about the 56:30 mark)
"I started talking about ... their micro-target efforts and like what they were doing with Latino voters way way way back in 2018 about how the um you know Republicans. It was going to be heavily reliant on digital targeting through Youtube, Facebook, targeting voters of color, young men Latino and black young men with these micro-targeted ads. It relies on the assumption that these people don't know anything about politics, they know nothing, they're a clean slate, and so therefore it doesn't matter in if in reality Donald Trump is a racist, the GOP platform is the most racially hostile it's been ever, these things don't matter if you have a voter that knows nothing and you come in and you start talking to them about the 1994 crime bill [Biden supported it and it has been deemed to have targeted blacks] and you make that the salient issue. You'll suddenly start hearing talking points coming out of the communities of color and that is that Democrats take black voters for granted.... You could hear this on MSNBC, they were interviewing some black voters in Atlanta, what is the main thing they are considering... 'I still haven't come in all the way in for Biden because I'm really upset about that crime bill'... She is thinking about the crime bill... They're not thinking about Donald Trump's contemporaneous record on race."
On the same panel. Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project commented (around 1;02:30):  "We had guys trawling through the thousands and thousands of ad variants they ran on Facebook to pick out these different things and you could have seen people living next door to each other, and in one house they were getting the message that scary brown people are coming to kill you, and the house next door would be Joe Biden puts brown people in jail and that that, that, that ability of Facebook to profoundly manipulate voter behavior is the most unappreciated aspect of the last 10 years of our campaigns."
The Democrats appear to be no match for the Republicans when it comes to these internet based campaign techniques. 

While it is clear from 2020 that the polls have serious problems, particularly from what is called partisan non-reponse (i.e. conservative Republicans aren't picking up the phone), but there are still some pollsters who did well in the 2020 election. Ann Selzer is an Iowa based pollster who has an established reputation for accuracy.  Her poll of Iowa released just before the 2020 election was bang on accurate, despite drawing criticism from others who believed in a Democratic blue wave at the time. 

I noted earlier the increased turnout of pro-Trump voters, many likely voting for the first time. It is hard to gauge the size of this group, but in aggregate Trump did win over eleven million more votes than in 2016.  For them Trump is a visionary, charismatic (and deeply racist) leader. They would have mostly voted the straight Republican ticket meaning some of the Republican down ballot strength is attributable to this factor. We don't know if they will be there in future elections.

I suspect both the pandemic and the Trump factor may make 2020 unique. Vaccines are being produced and Trump, despite his current rhetoric, may not be a factor in future U.S. elections. For now, although Trump is gone, the Democrats have weak support in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the country remains polarized.  This means the United States likely still faces a difficult future.

Ballot Measures

One final note: There were some progressive measures adopted in state referendums. In Florida, while supporting Trump, the state also voted for a $15 per hour minimum wage. In the ruby red state of Oklahoma, which just voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, a referendum held last summer, voted narrowly to approve an expansion of Medicaid, "a public health insurance program for the poor, with states splitting the cost with the federal government." 

Sunday, November 01, 2020

U.S. Election - TC's Final Call

 Three Possible Outcomes

The U.S. election is imminent. This post represents my final assessment.

Recently anti-Trump Republican Bill Kristol laid out three election scenarios as alternate Wednesday, November 4th headlines:

1. “Trump loses presidency as Midwest flips; GOP holds Senate.”

2. “Trump defeated by big margin; election called early as Florida and North Carolina go to Biden; Democrats win Senate.”

3. “Biden wins by double digits in popular vote; rout extends to victory in Texas; Democrats control Senate easily.”

My own gut reaction is that the most likely scenario is number two with the distinct possibility the scenario will be number three. The first scenario seems the least likely as a Democratic takeover of the Senate seems highly likely; indeed a big blue wave could happen.  Trump can only win by coming from behind in the polls in a large number of states where he now trails. The only scenario for a Trump victory appears to be that he holds most of the states he won last time. Among the three midwestern states that he won for the Republicans for the first time in many years in 2016, he can afford to lose Wisconsin and Michigan where he trails significantly, but not Pennsylvania, where he is behind but by a smaller margin.  

However, the poll averages reported on the websites Fivethirtyeight and Real Clear Politics, as well as the New York Times, suggest that, in addition to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump is behind (sometimes narrowly) in the following jurisdictions he won in 2016: Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Nebraska 2nd Congressional District, and the Maine 2nd Congressional District. Overall, the polls would have to be more wrong than in 2016 for Trump to win. There is a narrow path where Trump overcomes his deficits in the southern states plus the one in Pennsylvania. On the other side of the ledger he holds only quite narrow leads in three states he won in 2016: Iowa, Ohio and Texas. He must win them all to have a chance.

Most analysts are skeptical of a 'shy' or 'hidden' Trump Voter effect. Here is political scientist Rachel Bitecofer;

"... I am skeptical of the “hidden Trump voter” thesis. Of course, one can find hidden Trump voters just as surely you can find secret Biden voters running around ruby red America. But as with “disaffected” Republicans defecting to vote for Biden, like the ones who have joined groups like Biden Republicans and who are donating money to The Lincoln Project, what we’re primarily concerned with is quantitative evidence of them at the mass level.

One way to test for hidden Trump voters is to compare Trump’s support between live interview polls and anonymous polls like those done by YouGov, which are anonymous and online - where no one can judge you. People have no need to hide from online or automated polls. But like in 2016, there is no difference in Trump’s level of support via these two data collection methods and often, Trump overperforms on live telephone interviews, which really undercuts the “hidden voter” hypothesis."

After the polling misses of 2016, primarily state polls as the national polls were close, pollsters examined what went wrong. Mainly, they concluded, they under-estimated non-college educated white voters, in part because they were either under-sampled or underweighted. They have made corrections to avoid that this time and are highly conscious of the earlier miss. However, perhaps they are now missing in the other direction, under-estimating the Biden vote. 

After considering all the polling data plus my impressions this is the electoral map I expect (the grades of blue and red indicate how close the results should be):

Click the map to create your own at

You can see other scenarios at the 270 to win website including which states are considered toss-ups.  The consensus forecast, which includes a number of states considered toss-ups, has Biden winning at least 290 electoral votes, enough to win the election.

On election night if Biden wins Florida, which counts early, the prospects of a Biden victory become so high that the fact that some states won't be finished their count the same night will likely not prevent the networks from making a call, particularly if another state such as Arizona or North Carolina goes for Biden. The advance and mail-in vote may be counted slowly in a number of states including the crucial three in the midwest. Several of recent elections have not been called before midnight on election day but this one may.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Tale of Two Provincial Elections: Saskatchewan and BC

Saskatchewan: A Long Term Shift to the Right?

There will be provincial elections held imminently in two western provinces, British Columbia on Saturday October 24, followed by Saskatchewan on Monday October 26. Historically, the two jurisdictions have been of great importance to the New Democratic Party. Saskatchewan was home to the breakthrough election of 1944 that brought Tommy Douglas to office and would eventually produce Canada's first public health care plans. 

Map of 1944 Saskatchewan Election

The CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) and NDP have held office for 47 of the 76 years since that win in 1944, while three parties with different names but all representing the political right have held office for just 29 of those years. However, over the past several elections support for the NDP has been steadily declining while the conservative Saskatchewan party has won overwhelming majorities of the constituencies in the Saskatchwan legislature. 

The polls in the current campaign so far suggest that while the NDP can expect some improvement in vote share, and could pick up some seats, the Saskatchewan Party remains headed for an a big victory. Originally the CCF represented agrarian socialism (as the map suggests) but the party soon shifted to the cities. 

A new Saskatchewan Party win would mean that Saskatchewan would be headed for 17 consecutive years of small 'c' conservative governance, far exceeding the length of previous right-wing regimes. It has been a complicated multi factor process but in part it reflects the consolidation of the conservative support in almost all of rural agricultural Saskatchewan except the far north, and Saskatchewan's shift to becoming an oil province (probably a sunset industry later in this century) and conscious of its status as such - it is among the provinces vigourously challenging the federal carbon tax. Conservative parties also hold sway in rural parts of Canada elsewhere.

Results of federal elections in Saskatchewan have paralleled the provincial results, with the Conservatives under the prevous Saskatchewan-based leader Andrew Scheer winning a share of votes and seats similar to Alberta in last year's federal election. 

The NDP may well turn a corner upward in this election but, given that all governments accumulate grievances, that is to be expected. However, the Saskatchewan of Dream No Little Dreams (a book I highly recommend) seems in the distant past. Indeed it seems more likely at the moment that we will see a new NDP government in Alberta before we see one in Saskatchewan.

British Columbia: Becoming a Canadian California?

About fifty years ago a book chapter on British Columbia was sub-titled The Politics of Class Conflict. BC's history is of an economy based on natural resources such as mining and fisheries that has been characterized by strong class-based conflicts between strong unions and antagonistic employers. The unions have supported political parties on the left expressing their interests. 

The old CCF never won office in BC - it was not until 1972 that the NDP won office for a single term. However, the political right was sufficiently terrified of the electoral prospects of the left to have formed a coalition government of the Liberals and Conservatives in the 1940s to keep them from winning. The Social Credit governments that followed were that same coalition reconstituted along slightly different lines. The most recent expression of the same coalition can be found in the B.C. Liberal Party governments that followed the defeat of the first two term NDP government, albeit winning elections under two different leaders (Mike Harcourt in 1991 and Glen Clark in 1996). Notably, although Glen Clark lead the NDP to victory in 1996, the party actually won a smaller share of the popular vote than the BC Liberals.

While the NDP has had limited success in BC compared to Saskatchewan, the 21st century is providing brighter prospects for the party. In part the older class-based politics has given way to a politics that reflects the multiple and overlapping strains of modern political culture, marrying traditional concerns about social and economic inequality to emerging issues like climate change and the demands for recognition and respect for the range of peoples that compose our increasingly diverse society. While these social trends matter enormously, one can never underestimate the importance of leadership.

John Horgan
The NDP in BC is poised to win the election and form a second consecutive government under the same leader for the first time on Saturday night. A key reason for this is that the BC NDP has one of the most talented political leaders on this continent in the person of John Horgan. I am increasingly of view that when it comes to politics experience matters most when it comes to picking leaders (we have just had a demonstration in the New Brunswick election of what happens when a party chooses a politically inexperienced neophyte as leader). Horgan brought to the job not just years of direct political experience dating from his first election in 2005, but also deep experience working as both a political advisor and public servant in the BC NDP governments of the 1990s. The people I know in B.C. who have had dealings with him have the utmost respect for him.

The BC NDP continue to lead the opposition Liberals and the Green Party in opinion polls: based on the latest numbers I have them winning at least 52 seats in the 87 seat legislature. Beyond Saturday's result we can see that BC has a coastal politics similar to the US states of Washington, Oregon and California, a politics that trends to the left. I wrote about this in 2017 when I said:
The blue state-red state trend in the U.S. is of relatively recent vintage (until the mid-nineties Republicans were strong in California), but the trend to more left of centre views (and growing green consciousness) is clearly characteristic of the coasts in both places. Can it be too many more years before the trends evident south of the border become typical of B.C.?

In contrast, the politics of the plains province of Saskatchewan are beginng to appear similar to American states directly to its south. The last election in BC produced a close overall result between the BC Liberals and the NDP but the Greens produced a stronger showing than before. There was a dramatic increase in the combined NDP-Green vote from the prior election in 2013. The Green Party do have roots in both left wing and more conservative politics, but in BC overall they lean much more left. That jump in the combined vote from 2013 to 2017 and continuing in 2020 is something we should expect to be a theme of politics in the 21st century. As for Saskatchewan, while the analogy is far from perfect, their US neighbour North Dakota, now a highly conservative Trump voting state, was once ruled by the Non-Partisan League, a left of centre radical agrarian politcal formation that captured the state's Republican Party.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

On this blog I normally write about politics but today is Canada Day

On July 1, 1945 - 75 years ago today - an event took place in Ottawa that was of critical importance to my family. Both my mother and father moved to Ottawa in the spring of 1945, unbeknownst to each other.

Clarence Barber
Barbara Patchet
That spring my mother graduated from the University of Toronto at a ceremony where, as she puts it, "At our June graduation George Drew, the Conservative premier of Ontario spoke and all our class booed. We felt so superior."

Almost right away she headed for Ottawa expecting a job to be waiting for her. Many of the details that follow come from the life writing stories my mother wrote in during her retirement. She completed some 250 of them between ages of 79 and 89. She was born in Toronto in 1923 and named Barbara Patchet at birth. She picks up the story:
"In June, l945 having just graduated in sociology from the University of Toronto I headed to Ottawa by train having been recommended by my professor for a job in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (DBS). I traveled with a university acquaintance named Betty who was going to work in the new National Incomes Branch.
I headed down to DBS, found my prospective employer out of town, and ended up as a clerical assistant to a Civil Service Commissioner. While I cannot remember precisely what my duties were as assistant to the Civil Service Commissioner I do remember being very impressed with the curriculum vitae of the man who was to be my future husband.  He had all A’s and such extravagant praise.
Canoeing 1946
Then I met him briefly in the hallway of DBS when I went to visit Betty. A few days later on July 1st, a national holiday, I went for lunch in a restaurant near my room (Bank and Fifth). It was quite empty but there in a corner I spotted Clarence and had no hesitation in saying, “ Do you mind if I eat with you? I hate to eat alone”
After lunch we decided to go canoeing out at Hog’s Back on the Ottawa River.  He too lived in a room and we ended up eating our dinners together. At our wedding two years later he ended up in responding to the toast to the bride that he did not have to eat alone anymore. 
Because Clarence and I both lived in rooms, we fell into the habit of eating dinner together. We went bicycling or walking and to celebrate in any way we went to a better restaurant, a movie or dancing at the Chateau grill. I loved Ottawa because it was small, picturesque and there was a French joie de vivre compared to Toronto. Moreover, I was in love.

Rideau Street Ottawa in the 40s

Our backgrounds were very different. My father was a business man, secretary treasurer of Saturday Night magazine. Clarence came from a Saskatchewan farm, growing up during the depression, worked on the farm following high school, while taking his first university year extramurally. After a B.A. from the University of Saskatchean, scholarships took him to American universities for his M.A. and PhD (in economics). In l943 he returned to Canada to join the RCAF." (I wrote a longer description of my father's biography in 2017 here:

He received an early release from the military having been recruited to work for DBS as part of a team developing Canada's national income accounts. That was why he found himself in Ottawa that spring renting a room and eating many of his meals in simple cafeteria style restaurants, quite common in the era. While he was happy to work at DBS in postwar Ottawa, his career aspirations were to teach economics at a university.

My parents enjoyed their three years in Ottawa - taking time out to get married in Toronto in May 1947 - as the photos below illustrate, taking advantage of what it had to offer including the nearby lakes and hills of Quebec.

Babs & Clarence 1946
Babs at Lac Blue Sea, Quebec

Babs & Clarence Winter 1945-46
My mother picks up the story again:
When Clarence turned down an offer to teach at the University of Pittsburgh in l946,  I asked him what he wanted to do and his answer amazed me “I think I have an original contribution to make to Canadian economics” This confidence in self was staggering to me.

After a small wedding in Toronto we spent our savings on a honeymoon, a week in Boston, a week in Cape Cod, and ended up in Quebec City. There, we saw some of our colleagues who were attending the Learned Societies . 
After a seemingly idyllic three years, they moved to Hamilton, shortly after my birth, where my father taught economics for a year. In 1949 they moved on to Winnipeg.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

As Yogi said it ain't over 'til its over but...

For four years Donald Trump has maintained a level of support that, beyond being greater than someone so incompetent deserves, actually had left him competitive for re-election despite trailing. However, the last few months featuring COVID-19, the economic collapse and Black Lives Matter protests have now so reduced his support in both national and state polls such that his re-election prospects are, for the moment, dead.

He is not just behind, he is way behind. As recently as mid-May Trump was just over 4 points behind in the Real Clear Politics National Average. Now he is 8.5 points back. If I project the results of a four point victory compared to eight and a half points using the model that I normally only deploy to analyze Canadian politics, it is the difference between Biden winning with about 308 electoral votes including several close states (it takes 270 to win), and 356 electoral college votes, a landslide, where the swing states from 2016 vote decisively Democratic. This estimate is matched by the other key politics and polling website: the FiveThirtyEight blog of Nate Silver, which has Biden ahead of Trump by nine points and he says Biden is ahead in states worth 368 electoral college votes.

There is a weekly podcast featuring key Obama advisor David Axelrod and Republican consultant Mike Murphy (he ran Jeb Bush's campaign). In their podcast released on June 17 Murphy commented on the current polls (about the 23 minute mark):
Trump was in trouble in the swing states before coronavirus. I thought he was heading toward losing, but he was in the race. Then the wrong track when people say in polling 'things have gone to hell' has skyrocketed, and the economic argument has evaporated at least right now, so now he's in trouble in the states he ought to get pretty much for free like Iowa. Now my guess is that in the end he'll be able to crawl to a victory or two but it's (Iowa) in play no doubt about it. Over at campaign headquarters right now - memo to staff -  'we put this guy in ads with the current message and it gets worse'.... so this is the total nightmare.
Here is approximately what I think an 8.5 or 9 point Biden victory would look like:

Click the map to create your own at

Anyone know what this thing is?
In addition to the factors cited above Trump's own efforts have backfired. The Bible waving photo op that involved forcibly clearing out protestors has significantly harmed him. I thought it looked both foolish and seriously weird. It suggested just by the way he held the book up that he didn't take the Bible seriously at all. The public noticed. In Michigan it caused a "sharp dive in the polls". Trump went from a 12 point deficit to a 16 point deficit in a state that was crucial to his victory in 2016 precisely because of this authoritarian but ham-fisted manoeuvre.

To recover would require a combination of both strong economic growth plus a decreasing incidence of the coronavirus. Trump's reputation as a good economic manager, which he doesn't deserve, has held up  relatively strongly. However, for the economy to recover the U.S. has to get the virus under control. If the economy doesn't recover strongly there will come a time when his reputation suffers. The situation is better than it was but as the New York Times puts it:
As states move to partly reopen their economies, thousands of new cases are still being identified each day and true normalcy remains a distant vision.
If true normalcy is a distant vision both economically and in terms of the nation's and the world's health, it is extremely difficult to see what might help Trump stage a comeback. The protests led by Black Lives Matter might have been thought to allow Trump to make a law and order appeal as Nixon did in 1968 but it hasn't worked out that way. As Robert Gibbs (at one time Obama's press secretary) put it on another podcast (12:32 mark), "I think its important for that 1968 analogy, he's (Trump) not playing the Nixon character in 1968, he is playing very clearly George Wallace and quite frankly Nixon had the ability to do what he needed to do in that election by playing off of both candidates - at this point David Axerod jumps in - Yeah he triangulated. Wallace did the heavy lifting and scare mongering and Nixon was able to present Wallace as another face of disorder."

This time the candidate who offers a vision of renewed stability, calm and order is Joe Biden. Yes, it is true that a week is a long time, perhaps an eternity, in politics. However, sometimes the outcome of an election becomes a certainty well ahead of the actual date. It certainly looks like that is the way we are headed now.