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Clinton Extends Her Lead; Brexit, Rising Wages, Immigration and the American Election
2016 Overview – Despite recent turmoil, Secretary Clinton and the Democrats remain in a very strong electoral position. If anything, things may have improved for the Democrats in recent weeks, in part driven by the continued erratic performance by Donald Trump and the slow consolidation of Democrats by Hillary Clinton after winning her nomination a few weeks ago.
Let’s look at the numbers (using Huffington Post Pollster site as our guide):
Clinton/Trump – Clinton’s lead is now 7 points, the highest of the year - 45.8 to 39. Importantly, Trump remains under 40, a place few general election candidates have found themselves at this point in the past several decades of polling. While Clinton’s negatives are higher than she wants at 42/54, Trump’s are twice hers, 36/60 (24 points net negative compared to 12). Polls over the past week have Clinton’s leads at 2, 4, 5 (3), 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12. The trend line continues to favor Clinton, and more gains are possible in the coming weeks.'
Obama/National Environment/Party – Obama’s job approval is 50/46, personal approval 50/45. On the economy he is 47/47, health care 42/48 and foreign policy 42/46. The approval rating of the Democratic Party stands at 45/46, while in perhaps one of the more important pieces of data of the election, the Rs are at 30/61. The GOP brand was only 53% negative and net 20 negative in the fall.
The bottom line is that these numbers do not find an electorate unhappy with the status quo, and ready to throw the bums out. While there are some weaknesses for the Democrats here, the wildly negative ratings of both the GOP and Trump suggest it will be very difficult for them to exploit them this fall. If these numbers hold, expect Democrats to make substantial gains in both the Senate and House, and perhaps even putting the House into play.
Obviously the new big unknown at this point is whether Brexit will bring an economic slowdown to the US in coming months, something that could impact the overall environment.
2016 and A Post Brexit Politics – With Brexit in the air, it is important to understand what is similar here in the US to the circumstances in the UK and throughout Europe, and what is different. First, economic conditions are better here. Our recovery from the 2007-8 financial collapse has been far better than Europe’s by virtually every measure. Importantly, as Rob Shapiro has been writing for months now, wages and incomes for most Americans have been rising since 2013 as our recovery gained steam (see Robert Samuelson for another cut on this “rising wages” theme today). The strength of the Democratic Party we see in the numbers above is to a great degree a reflection of voter’s perceptions that things are better, and continuing to improve.
The success of the Democratic Party in the US is the second biggest difference. Throughout Europe, traditional social democratic and socialist parties (the center-left) are in collapse. The most striking example of this is in the UK of course, where the Labour Party suffered an historic defeat in the last general election. Europe and the UK are losing their ideological alternatives to center right and far right politics, leaving the playing field more open for nationalists. This is not true in the US. The Democratic Party not only has high marks from the public, it has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections, leads in this coming election, and has left America better than it found it in both the Clinton and Obama Presidencies. The success of a liberal and open Democratic Party in the US has given our country a far more effective break on rising nationalist sentiment than the UK/Europe (and we will leave the investment vs austerity debate for another day).
There is a fair bit of anecdotal evidence and real data that the inability to control migrant flows is driving more of what is happening in the UK and Europe today than even economic discontent. These tensions, long simmering, have been heightened by recent terror attacks on the Continent and the truly challenging Syrian refugee crisis. A collapsing Middle East and North Africa could present Europe with a terror/migrant challenge for many years to come, and is a legitimate and serious concern for everyday UK/European citizens.
I would argue, perhaps controversially, that this area is perhaps more similar to our domestic debate than many here in the US understand. While yes we have a larger immigrant population, and one that is overwhelmingly from non-jihadi parts of the world, what has been clear in the polling data in recent years – and frankly this is just common sense – the American people want an orderly immigration system, with the government not migrants in control. The Trumpian argument is that Democrats are advocating for “open borders,” out of control migration driven by the migrants themselves. And of course the Supreme Court failed to rule in favor of the Administration last week on its signature immigration reform effort of the 2nd term, leaving these matters more unsettled than is desirable at this point (here is my statement on the US vs Texas non decision decision).
While I don’t think Trump is winning this argument with the public, it is important that in the months ahead Democrats do define their immigration position and make it clear what we are for. Vague references to comprehensive immigration reform (which has failed to pass for 11 years now) and our proud immigrant tradition are insufficient given the current political breezes blowing through the West.
And the good news is that Democrats have a very strong story to tell. During the Obama Administration, due to new and far better enforcement strategies, crime along the border region is down and the two largest cities on the border are two of America’s least violent and safest; after 15 years of huge flows of undocumented immigrants into the US, the flow is way down and with net migration of undocumented immigrants into the US is at zero for the entire Obama Presidency; our smarter enforcement strategies have prioritized deportation of criminals (something opposed regularly by the GOP), and created a significant deterrent at the border that has helped drive down flows to historically low levels. It should also be noted that there has been no domestic US terror attack conducted by a foreign fighter since 9/11 - a rather remarkable achievement.
While doing all this, the Administration has also essentially stopped deporting long settled law abiding families from the interior of the US who used to have to fear deportation every day; shown that a program like DACA (for DREAMers) could be successfully implemented without creating new flows; and seen trade with Mexico during this period more than double. Today Mexico is our 2nd largest export market for American goods in the world, buying more from us than Japan, Germany and the UK combined.
I have argued, and still believe, that the smart and effective management of the US border remains one of Barack Obama’s most unheralded policy successes. Despite rancorous politics and the defeat of his two major reforms of the system itself, Obama has shown that we can indeed manage the border and the US immigration system while expanding trade flows all at the same time. Coupled with our strong and spirited advocacy for broader immigration reform, this is a record Democrats should be embracing and running on in 2016 (akin to a more aggressive defense of our economic progress over two consectutive Democratic Presidencies).
What may, of course, upset this narrative this year is what has been known as the Central American migrant crisis, something that looks a bit like the Syrian crisis in Europe. There can be little doubt that the politicization of this ongoing challenge in 2014 contributed to a late GOP surge that helped Rs win a significant number of seats in Congress despite the Administration eventually getting their arms around the crisis. Flows from Central America have begun to tick up again this year. Anticipating that things could become more unsettled here, it would be wise for Democrats to prepare for Trump and his allies, emboldened by Brexit, to rachet up their attacks on Obama's management of the immigration system and the border itself. Democrats need to keep it front of mind that the desire for an orderly immigration system is a reasonable and every day concern for Americans of every backgroud while challenging the Republicans to join us in solving these challenges rather than just playing politics with them every electon year.
………I will have more on our post Brexit politics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, read Rob Shapiro’s smart take on it, and check out my quotes in a major Washington Post piece on it from the Washington Post this weekend. For my previous weekly columns on the 2016 election, visit here.