Nothing certain on the eve of first Trump-era elections
By STEVE PEOPLES
Monday, November 5
WASHINGTON (AP) — The day of reckoning for American politics has nearly arrived.
Voters on Tuesday will decide the $5 billion debate between President Donald Trump’s take-no-prisoner politics and the Democratic Party’s super-charged campaign to end the GOP’s monopoly in Washington and statehouses across the nation.
There are indications that an oft-discussed “blue wave” may help Democrats seize control of at least one chamber of Congress. But two years after an election that proved polls and prognosticators wrong, nothing is certain on the eve of the first nationwide elections of the Trump presidency.
“I don’t think there’s a Democrat in this country that doesn’t have a little angst left over from 2016 deep down,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, which spent more than ever before — nearly $60 million in all — to support Democratic women this campaign season.
“Everything matters and everything’s at stake,” Schriock said.
All 435 seats in the U.S. House are up for re-election. And 35 Senate seats are in play, as are almost 40 governorships and the balance of power in virtually every state legislature.
While he is not on the ballot, Trump himself has acknowledged that the 2018 midterms, above all, represent a referendum on his presidency.
Should Democrats win control of the House, as strategists in both parties suggest is likely, they could derail Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years. Perhaps more importantly, they would also win subpoena power to investigate Trump’s many personal and professional missteps.
Tuesday’s elections will also test the strength of a Trump-era political realignment defined by evolving divisions among voters by race, gender and especially education.
Trump’s Republican coalition is increasingly becoming older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree. Democrats are relying more upon women, people of color, young people and college graduates.
The political realignment, if there is one, could re-shape U.S. politics for a generation.
Just five years ago, the Republican National Committee reported that the GOP’s very survival depended upon attracting more minorities and women. Those voters have increasingly fled Trump’s Republican Party, turned off by his chaotic leadership style and xenophobic rhetoric. Blue-collar men, however, have embraced the unconventional president.
One of the RNC report’s authors, Ari Fleischer, acknowledged that Republican leaders never envisioned expanding their ranks with white, working-class men.
“What it means to be Republican is being rewritten as we speak,” Fleischer said. “Donald Trump has the pen, and his handwriting isn’t always very good.”
A nationwide poll released Sunday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal details the depth of the demographic shifts.
Democrats led with likely African-American voters (84 percent to 8 percent), Latinos (57 percent to 29 percent), voters between the ages of 18-34 (57 percent to 34 percent), women (55 percent to 37 percent) and independents (35 percent to 23 percent).
Among white college-educated women, Democrats enjoy a 28-point advantage: 61 percent to 33 percent.
On the other side, Republicans led with voters between the ages of 50 and 64 (52 percent to 43 percent), men (50 percent to 43 percent) and whites (50 percent to 44 percent). And among white men without college degrees, Republicans led 65 percent to 30 percent.
Democrats hope to elect a record number of women to Congress. They are also poised to make history with the number of LGBT candidates and Muslims up and down the ballot.
Former President Barack Obama seized on the differences between the parties in a final-days scramble to motivate voters across the nation.
“One election won’t eliminate racism, sexism or homophobia,” Obama said during an appearance in Florida. “It’s not going to happen in one election. But it’ll be a start.”
Trump has delivered a very different closing argument, railing against Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
With the walking caravan weeks away, Trump dispatched more than 5,000 troops to the region. The president also said soldiers would use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks, before later reversing himself.
Still, his xenophobic rhetoric has been unprecedented for an American president in the modern era: “Barbed wire used properly can be a beautiful sight,” Trump told voters in Montana.
The hyper-charged environment is expected to drive record turnout in some places, but on the eve of the election, it’s far from certain which side will show up in the greatest numbers.
The outcome is clouded by the dramatically different landscape between the House and Senate.
Democrats are most optimistic about the House, a sprawling battlefield extending from Alaska to Florida. Most top races, however, are set in America’s suburbs where more educated and affluent voters in both parties have soured on Trump’s turbulent presidency, despite the strength of the national economy.
Democrats need to pick up two dozen seats to claim the House majority.
Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who personally invested $110 million to help Democrats this year, largely in the House, has seized on voter education levels in picking target races, according to senior aide Howard Wolfson.
“In this cycle, it seemed as if there was a disproportionately negative reaction among highly educated voters to Trump,” he said.
As a result, Bloomberg’s team poured money into otherwise overlooked suburban districts in states like Georgia, Washington state and Oklahoma because data revealed voters there were better-educated.
Democrats face a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they are almost exclusively on defense in rural states where Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents are up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — states Trump carried by 30 percentage points on average two years ago.
Democrats need to win two seats to claim the Senate majority, although most political operatives in both parties expect Republicans to add to their majority.
While Trump is prepared to claim victory if his party retains Senate control, at least one prominent ally fears that losing even one chamber of Congress could be disastrous.
“If they take back the House, he essentially will become a lame-duck president, and he won’t win re-election,” said Amy Kremer, a tea party activist who leads the group Women for Trump.
“They’ll do anything and everything they can to impeach him,” she said.
Indeed, powerful Democratic forces are already pushing for Trump’s impeachment, even if Democratic leaders aren’t ready to go that far.
Liberal activist Tom Steyer spent roughly $120 million this midterm season. Much of that has gone to boost turnout among younger voters, although he has produced a nationwide advertising campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment.
Steyer insisted most Democrats agree.
“We’re not some fringe element of the Democratic Party. We are the Democratic Party,” he said.
By Election Day, both sides are expected to have spent more than $5 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The flood of campaign cash, a midterm record, has been overwhelmingly fueled by energy on the left.
Money aside, Steyer said he and concerned voters everywhere have invested their hearts and souls into the fight to punish Trump’s party.
“That’s what’s at stake: my heart and soul, along with everybody else’s,” he said.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics
You can trust the polls in 2018, if you read them carefully
September 26, 2018
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan
Research Professor at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan
Michael Traugott receives funding from National Science Foundation, University of Michigan.
Josh Pasek does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
On the morning of Nov. 8, 2016, many Americans went to bed confident that Hillary Clinton would be elected the nation’s first female president.
Their confidence was driven, in no small part, by a pervasive message that Clinton was ahead in the polls and forecasts leading up to the election. Polling aggregation sites, such as Huffington Post’s Pollster and The New York Times Upshot blog, reported that Clinton was virtually certain to win. It soon became clear that these models were off the mark.
Since then, forecasters and media prognosticators have dissected what went wrong. The finger-pointing almost inevitably landed on public opinion polling, especially at the state level. The polls, critics argued, led modelers and the public to vastly overestimate the likelihood of a Clinton win.
With the 2018 elections coming up, many in the public have expressed their skepticism that public opinion polls can be trusted this time around. Indeed, in an era where a majority of American adults no longer even have landline telephones, where many people answer only when calls originate from a known number, and where pollsters’ calls are sometimes flagged as likely spam, there are lots of reasons to worry.
But polling firms seem to be going about their business as usual, and those of us who do research on the quality of public opinion research are not particularly alarmed about what’s going on.
One might be tempted to think that those of us in the polling community are simply out to lunch. But the data from 2016 tell a distinctly different story.
The national polls were fairly accurate both in their national estimate of the popular vote in 2016 and in historical perspective. In the average preelection national poll, Clinton was ahead of Donald Trump by 3.3 percentage points. She proceeded to win the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points. Pollsters missed the mark by a mere 1.2 percentage points on average.
The polls in the Upper Midwest states missed by larger margins. These polls were conducted in ways that pollsters widely know to be suboptimal. They relied heavily on robocalls; on surveys of people who volunteer to take surveys on the internet; and on samples of respondents from voter files with incomplete information.
What went wrong
So why was the 2016 election so shocking? The big reason wasn’t the polls, it was our expectations.
In the last few years, members of the public have come to expect that a series of highly confident models can tell us exactly what is going to happen in the future. But in the runup to the 2016 election, these models made a few big, problematic assumptions.
For one, they largely assumed that the different errors that different polls had were independent of one another. But the challenges that face contemporary polling, such as the difficulty of reaching potential respondents, can induce small but consistent errors across almost all polls.
When modelers treat errors as independent of one another, they make conclusions that are far more precise than they should be. The average poll is indeed the best guess at the outcome of an election, but national polling averages are often off by around 2 percentage points. State polls can be off by even more at times.
In addition, polling aggregators and public polling information have been flooded by a deluge of lower-quality surveys based on suboptimal methods. These methods can sometimes produce accurate estimates, but the processes by which they do so is not well-understood on theoretical grounds. There are lots of reasons to think that these methods may not produce consistently accurate results in the future. Unfortunately, there will likely continue to be lots of low-quality polls, because they are so much less expensive to conduct.
Research out of our lab suggests yet another reason that the polls were shocking to so many: When ordinary people look at the evidence from polling, just as with other sources of information, they tend to see the results they desire.
During the 2016 election campaign, we asked Americans to compare two preelection polls – one where Clinton was leading and one where Trump was ahead. Across the board, Clinton supporters told us that the Clinton-leading poll was more accurate than the Trump-leading poll. Trump supporters reported exactly the opposite perceptions. In other studies, we saw the same phenomenon when people were exposed to poll results showing majorities in favor of or opposed to their own views on policy issues such as gun control or abortion.
What polls really say
So, what does this all mean for someone reading the polls in 2018?
You don’t have to ignore the results – just recognize that all polling has some error. While even the experts may not know quite which way that error is going to point, we do have a sense of the size of that error. Error is likely to be smaller when considering a polling average instead of an individual poll.
It’s also a good bet that the actual result will be within 3 percentage points for an averaging of high-quality national polls. For similarly high-quality state polls, it will likely be within more like 5 percentage points, because these polls usually have smaller sample sizes.
What makes a high-quality poll? It will either use live interviewers with both landlines and cellphones or recruit respondents using offline methods to take surveys online. Look for polls conducted around the same time to see whether they got the same result. If not, see whether they sampled the same kind of people, used the same interviewing technique or used a similar question wording. This is often the explanation for reported differences.
The good news is that news consumers can easily find out about a poll’s quality. This information is regularly included in news stories and is shown by many poll aggregators. What’s more, pollsters are increasingly transparent about the methods they use.
Polls that don’t use these methods should be taken with a big grain of salt. We simply don’t know enough about when they will succeed and when they will fail.
Money in elections doesn’t mean what you think it does
Updated October 31, 2018
Assistant Professor of political science, University of Florida
Suzanne Robbins does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Money is indispensable in American electoral campaigns. Without it, candidates cannot amplify their message to reach voters and it’s harder to motivate people to take interest and vote.
Nevertheless, a May 2018 Pew survey revealed a bipartisan 70 percent of respondents said individual and group spending in elections should be limited.
But does the American public understand the actual role played by campaign spending?
I’m a political scientist who studies American politics. Here are the answers to fundamental questions that voters should ask about the role of money in elections.
How much do elections cost?
Running for federal office is expensive. According the Campaign Finance Institute, the cost of winning a U.S. House seat in 2016 was over US$1.5 million. All told, approximately $816 million was spent by 723 major party candidates for the U.S. House.
The average amount a House candidate spent in 2016 was $1.2 million. However, there’s a lot of variation depending on what type of candidate you are.
Republicans and incumbents, for example, spent more on average than challengers and those running in open-seat contests in 2016. In fact, the average challenger spent less than half a million dollars, or about one-fourth the amount an incumbent spent.
Those figures don’t include money spent by parties and outside entities to influence the election. Federal law dictates that groups, parties and individuals – including the groups known as super PACs – can make what are called “independent expenditures” for or against a candidate, so long as they do not coordinate with the candidate.
Spending from the major parties and super PACs in House and Senate races more than tripled between 1998 to 2016, growing from $267 million to $978.6 million.
Can money buy an election?
Money is necessary for a candidate to be competitive, but it doesn’t ensure success.
A lack of money can eliminate less capable candidates, but having money does not guarantee that a particular candidate’s message will resonate with the voters. As Campaign Finance Institute researchers Michael Malbin and Brendan Glavin write, “If voters do not like what they are hearing, telling them more of the same will not change their opinion.”
So how does money matter?
Money can affect which candidates run. Specifically, early money – or money raised before the primary – matters especially in this regard.
Candidates can prove their viability by raising significant sums before the first advertisements air. Landing some big donors before the first advertisements or primary allows candidates time to build campaign infrastructure. Insiders refer to this as the “invisible primary.” Media stories on the invisible primary for the 2020 presidential election are well underway.
Money matters more for challengers than it does for incumbents. Decades of political science research demonstrates that the more a challenger spends, the more likely he or she is to win.
That’s because incumbents have many advantages, not the least of which is name recognition and free media. So, challengers must spend more to overcome the obstacles they face, from name recognition to formidable incumbent war chests meant to scare off a challenger. Unfortunately for challengers, those barriers are high enough that they rarely raise enough money to compete.
Yet money does not guarantee a victory. Simply looking at the average amount spent by winners and losers obscures the fact that many races have no real competition.
In 2016, winning incumbents far outspent their challengers, but the winners in open seat contests spent nearly the same amount as their opponents, while those incumbents who lost outspent their winning opponents half of the time.
In short, incumbents who spend more than their opponent in contested races are more likely to be the candidates who are vulnerable and lose.
Does money buy influence?
Money matters in the most competitive races, open seat races that have no incumbent and those with high profile candidates. More money will be spent by the candidates in these races, but also by those who would like to influence the outcome.
One concern that is often expressed is that winners answer to their donors and those organizations who support them.
Since 2010, the role of outside money, or money from super PACs and political nonprofits, has raised alarms in the media and from reform groups.
Some assert that self-financed candidates or those candidates who can demonstrate widespread support from small donors can allay concerns about the potential influence of donors on candidates and elected officials.
The Center for Responsive Politics notes that outside organizations alone have outspent more than two dozen candidates in the last three electoral cycles and are poised to outspend 27 so far in 2018.
However, it’s not always clear how useful that spending is: The 2012 election provides many examples.
Billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson backed a super PAC supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after Gingrich was no longer a viable presidential contender. It extended the Republican presidential primary at a time when Mitt Romney could have been raising money and consolidating support for the general election.
The libertarian, conservative PAC Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers, often ran ads at odds with the Republican message. Other outside groups poured money into races that simply were not winnable.
By 2016, it appears that super PACs were spending for more calculated effect, focusing on competitive races. In addition, much of that “outside money” comes from the super PACs associated with the two main parties.
For example, in California’s 7th congressional district, outside groups spent approximately $9.1 million, in roughly equal amounts between the incumbent, Democrat Ami Bera, and challenger, Republican Scott Jones. The vast majority (85.7 percent) of the outside spending came from party organizations – the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressional Leadership Fund and House Majority PAC – not from interest groups. Bera won re-election with 51.2 percent of the vote.
Some candidates use their own money for their campaigns to avoid appearing indebted to donors.
For example, wealthy Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has given his current U.S. Senate campaign $38.9 million dollars – 71.3 percent of all funds raised.
But self-funding does not resolve the democratic dilemma of responsiveness.
First, Daily Kos found that most self-financed candidates lose – and the more they spend, the more likely they are to lose the election. Generally, the only exceptions are candidates like Rick Scott, who already hold elective office.
Second, this way of improving responsiveness is limited because it effectively precludes anyone but the wealthy from holding office.
Small donors seem like a democratic solution to wealthy donors dominating election giving. Several recent campaigns – Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump – have created effective small-donor fundraising machines.
More small donors means more widespread support, at least in theory, but that theory has limitations.
Small donors are not yet giving enough to counter big money. In fact, the share small donors contribute relative to big money is declining.
Moreover, political science doesn’t yet know enough about who small donors are – whether they are economically representative of the U.S. as a whole or even if they are more ideologically motivated to give, contributing to polarization in politics.
What’s so good about money?
Yes, incumbents can amass huge war chests to scare off opponents, and money can be most effective in competitive races. All that extra spending translates into additional advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
In the end, what does that mean?
It means more information about the candidates and issues for voters, increased interest in the campaign and increased voter turnout.
That’s good for democracy.
Focusing on the putative evils of money diminishes the importance of other things that may help or hinder a candidate. Other major elements that can influence the outcome of a campaign: candidates who face national political and economic tides and local political concerns; candidates who choose to challenge formidable incumbents; and many candidates who simply aren’t viable.
It’s easy to see a correlation between winning and fundraising because money flows to likely winners and competitive races.
But, as scholars like to say, correlation is not causation. In the world of politics and campaigns, money is meaningful. It just may not mean what, and as much as, most people think it means.
Scott Jeffrey, logged in via Facebook
This article ignores some important facts.
Donations grant access. While this is not direct influence, it is something “We the people” do not have
2, 50-70% of representatives’ time is spent fund raising rather than doing “the peoples’ business”
Lobbyists write the bills and members do not read them.
Your article rightly raises the question of money being spent on elections for making a government. I have a very simple solution to this problem. The government in the country is not run by the so called elected politicians. The government is actually run by the civil services officers. The civil services officers make the plans regarding their relevant departments or ministries. These officers not only chalk out the plans, they guide the relevant ministers and seek their signatures for approval. The police carry out their policing duties and so do the judiciary all within the constitutional limits. The constitution is well written down. None can go beyond the constitution. So, why are the politicians required to make the government? What role do they play? Nothing except making money for themselves, their kiths and kins etc etc. If the government is really run by civil services officers as it is, why do we require the ministers? Why do we waste so much money and time on elections to elect the politicians who have nothing to do with the administration that is actually run by the civil services officers with the police and the judiciary people doing their own duties as desired. Therefore, it will be very much desirable to say no to politicians and instead make a government to be run by a said number of the senior civil service officers. The government is in effect already being run by these civil service officers. Why then have politicians in between the people and the civil services officers ? Save tax payers money and time,