“Monday Musings” is a new column looking at the 2016 elections published most Mondays. You can find previous editions here.
2016 Overview – Yesterday, we saw several different countervailing dynamics at work which will do much to shape the Presidential race in the coming weeks. First, the very rough Comey press conference. While it appears now that no legal action will be taken against Secretary Clinton, the findings of the FBI investigation have created new and significant challenges for her campaign. You can find good summaries of these new challenges here and here. Second, we saw President Obama on the stump for the first time, marking another step forward in the Democratic Party’s coming together around their new nominee after a contentious primary process. Third, Donald Trump continues to say and do outrageous and truly crazy things (more praise for murderous dictators!) that will make it very hard for the American people (and it appears many Republicans) to ever vote for him.
The FBI’s report on Clinton’s emails has injected a new dynamic into the race at a consequential time. Over the next three weeks the two candidates will pick their Vice Presidential candidate and hold their conventions. As we enter into this intense period of politics in the US, let’s look at where things stand. Clinton has lost a little ground in our favored polling aggregate, dropping from a 6.8 to 5 point lead. Most of the polls taken in the past week have the race at 4-6 points, with a few showing much wider leads. Possible her post-nomination bump has begun to dissipate, as Trump’s did. To me this is still more noise than signal, and she and the Democrats enter this new period in far better shape than Trump and the Rs in overall image, head to head polling, party unity, fundraising and organization. In my mind it remains a year of opportunity for Democrats.
It is significant that the Clinton campaign choose North Carolina as the first state for a joint event with President Obama. Obama didn’t win North Carolina in 2012, and it isn’t necessary for Clinton in 2016. But it is a sign that Democrats view this year as one where they can expand the map, and not just win the Presidency but make significant gains in Congress to help Sec. Clinton govern next year.
Importantly, for discussions of our politics post-Brexit, there just isn’t a lot of evidence that the American electorate is as rebellious, or as angry at globalization or at Democrats/Obama as some say. We went in depth on some of this data last week, finding broad satisfaction with Obama, Democrats and current economic policies that have brought lower deficits while offering many Americans new jobs, better health insurance and rising incomes. This week we add to that data Pew’s recent look at American attitudes toward trade. Asking simply if trade is a good or bad thing, Americans choose “good” by 51% to 39%. Democrats choose “good” by 60% to 30%, while Rs choose “bad” 52% to 40%. 18-29 year olds were the most pro trade age cohort, choosing “good” 67% to 25%. Hispanics were the most pro trade demographic, with 72% saying trade was “good.” Importantly for the coming debate inside the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders supporters said trade was good by 55% to 38%. This stat, coupled with young people’s significant support of trade, suggest there are limits to the power of Sanders’s anti-globalization/trade argument even among his own supporters; and that it was other issues other than this one that drove people to him in the primaries.
Brexit Raises the Stakes In The US Election – Last week Donald Trump gave an extraordinary speech, one which has no real analog in recent American political history. In his speech Trump essentially called for the break-up of the West as a political idea, suggesting, rather remarkably, that US policies over the past several generations had made America weaker and poorer. During his campaign, Trump has now gone on the record for ripping up the global trade system, praising Brexit, ending the North American project, pulling out of the Paris climate accords, questioning the propriety of NATO, abandoning America’s historic commitment to religious liberty, forcibly removing 11m people from the US and aggressive global censorship of the Internet. Given current trends in Europe, Trump’s election here in the US could signal a radical break from a body of thought that has animated the US and Europe since the end of World War II.
It is important to note that leaders like Trump and the UK’s Nigel Farage are not offering a corrective to the modern West, they are only offering its dissolution with no imagined alternative to replace it. The Isolationist/Nationalist vision advanced by Trump last week had remarkable echoes of language from the 1930s, an era where rising tariffs and reactionary politics brought us a global depression and history’s most horrible war. The current global system criticized by Trump (and far too often by Bernie Sanders) was designed in response to the economic and human wreckage in a time when Trumpian style policies prevailed.
And while not perfect, the Four Freedoms-inspired Post WW II era has brought about perhaps the greatest period of productivity and innovation in all of human history, with rising standards of living across the world; dramatic advancements in life expectancy, literacy, and overall health; far less grievous conflict and far more living under democracies; and of course historic technological advances that altered and improved the human condition in ways unimaginable in the mid 20th century.
Whatever issues Hillary Clinton thought she would debating this fall, it is now clear that the entire Western post WW II project is on the ballot here in the US this year. A win for Trump could deal this project a potentially lethal blow. A win for Clinton will do much to slow nationalism’s progress in the West, and help preserve the global system we have today. History is calling Hillary Clinton now, and has given her a truly vital mission – the preservation of a global system, while not perfect, that has done so much for so many while advancing American interests along the way.
In this campaign, Democrats, as current stewards of the American political party who imagined and built this global system, have to raise their sights a bit higher than they have them today. We need to far more purposefully take on the responsibility of preserving the post WW II project for future generations. The construction of this global system over the past 70 years has arguably been the Democratic Party’s greatest achievement in its proud history. But history is calling us too, and we need to take the steps here at home and abroad that prevents the extraordinary work of previous generations to crumble on our watch.
I will talk a bit more about what Democrats should be doing to modernize and reform our global system, and companion steps we should be taking at home to bring the American people along in coming columns. But I end with a link to the very first paper this organization published back in the spring of 2005, “Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century: Crafting A Better CAFTA,” which argued then that after years of no wage and income growth in the US policy makers should only expect continued support for globalization among the American people if their own personal economic conditions improved. The core of our work over these past 11 years has been an extended effort to both preserve the openness characteristic of the West today, while advancing policies that would make sure more Americans prospered in a new and different economic age. While things are undeniable better for the American people than they were eight years ago, we still have a lot of work to do.
Update: In a new, very strong piece, Frank Foer offers his take Putin and Trump and the end of the West.
As the debate on the President's trade agenda in Washington continues with discussions over TPP, we wanted to have one place to share all background resources for those who wish to learn more. We hope you find these reports and pieces to be helpful. (Updated on Friday 7/1/16)
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.
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.
Like many, we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s Decision today. But as we move forward, a few things to keep in mind:
Hispanics Are Upbeat About Their Future – Despite rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and insufficient progress on immigration reform, Hispanic Americans are optimistic about their future and have made substantial economic gains in recent years. 81% of Hispanic families believe their family’s economic situation will improve this year. Millions of Hispanics have jobs who didn’t a few years ago; millions have health insurance who didn’t a few years ago; and millions of Hispanics have seen their wages rise in recent years. These last few years have been good ones for Hispanic families in America, and it is testament to the work ethic and grit of this community that they continue to make such valuable contributions to our country when the political climate has grown so hostile.
The 5m Who Would Have Been Covered Should Not Fear Deportation w/Democratic Presidents – Since changes made in our in enforcement strategy in 2011, the United States government has prioritized the deportation of two classes of undocumented immigrants – recent border crossers and those with criminal records. Since 2011 the number of undocumented immigrants who have been deported outside those classes has been very small. To be clear – it has been the policy of the United States government for five years now to not deport long settled immigrants without criminal records who would have been covered in the new Obama Administration rules blocked by the Supreme Court today. Advocates and the media need to work a little harder to get this part of the story right.
It is very unlikely that a President Hillary Clinton would change these new far smarter enforcement priorities. However, if Donald Trump becomes President, those 5m, and another 6m not covered by the new Obama rules, should fear immediate efforts to remove them from the country. For these families and their relatives in the United States, this has now become a very consequential election.
For more on Obama’s reforms of our immigration enforcement system, see this recent memo.
Republicans Continue to Block Democratic Efforts to Reform the Immigration System – In the 11 years since John McCain and Ted Kennedy introduced what is known as Comprehensive Immigration Reform, GOP hard liners have repeated blocked legislative efforts to reform the immigration system. GOP-led Houses refused to take up bi-partisan Senate passed bills in 2006 and 2013; Senate hard liners tanked efforts in the Senate in 2007 and 2010; Republican elected officials led the lawsuit that blocked the President’s reform today; and of course Republicans passed a bill to deport all 11m undocumented immigrants through the House in 2005, and in 2012 and now again 2016 the GOP Presidential nominee has called for all 11m undocumented immigrants to leave.
For 11 years, one party has tried to reform and modernize our immigration system in America; the other has unfortunately lost its own internal battle to hard liners who have ended up repeatedly, and successfully, blocking the efforts of reformers in both parties.
2016 Overview – The last few weeks have been remarkably bad ones for Donald Trump. His erratic performance has pushed his poll numbers down. Voices of dissent in his own party have grown louder, and stories about a renewed effort to replace him at the Convention have resumed with vigor. His campaign organization and fundraising are in a shambles, and so behind at this point it is not clear he can mount a traditional campaign at all this cycle. Even a domestic terrorist attack did nothing to aid his standing or wound the Democrats. And while all this is happening, the Clinton campaign has become confident and sure footed, her public performances as good as they’ve been all cycle, and her capable campaign team is executing a long awaited game plan with intensity and purpose. Republicans are right to be panicking about the fall.
Some numbers: the basic structure of the race hasn’t changed in the last few weeks, despite Orlando. As I wrote two weeks back, the underlying dynamics of this cycle would have suggested Clinton to be up 6-8 points at this point. Today, the Huffington Post aggregate has her up 45.3 to 37.7, 7.6 points net. This is up from a 2 point average in Mid May. As you can see from the graph below, the change in the race is coming not only from Clinton gaining ground and consolidating Democrats after clinching the nomination, but also because Trump has been dropping. What is important is that all this movement has come before Bernie Sanders has officially endorsed (which will come), suggesting that Clinton has even more room to grow in the coming weeks.
Yesterday, Trump said he would not officially begin his general election campaign until after the Convention. In political Nerdistan this was a bit of a bombshell. For it means that at a moment where the race is starting to slip away from him, Trump is going to allow the Democrats a full five weeks on the air in the battleground states without a response. Traditional campaign tactics would suggest that Trump go up on the air now with a very substantial buy to blunt Clinton’s significant momentum. By not responding at all until late in the summer when vacationing voters will be harder to reach, Trump is possibly in the process of losing the general election right now.
At the core of his campaign’s historic levels of dysfunction is a big and consequential lie – that he was wealthy enough to self-fund his candidacy. You could say that this impression was an essential building block of his brand/persona – couldn’t be bought, successful businessman, no politics as usual. It was perhaps the most important part of the early Trumpian brand, but it also had the practical effect of preventing his campaign from setting up a real fundraising operation (why do it if you are a self funder?). What we are learning now is the myth of his wealth – and at this point it looks to be more myth than reality – will have prevented him from establishing even a modest campaign to take on a Democratic Presidential apparatus that has won more votes in 5 of the last 6 elections. It is just too late at this point for Trump to build even a modest campaign, and every day GOPers on the ground in the battleground states don’t see ads up on the air the greater the panic and dissent will be.
The realization that Trump’s enormous whopper about his wealth prevented him from mounting a real campaign could have an extraordinary impact with GOP insiders – those who vote at the Convention. Unless Trump dumps $100m or more into his campaign in the next week or so, I think there is a very real chance he will be replaced at the Convention. Replacing his campaign manager won't be enough.
After Orlando/Not Just Trump – While the Democratic effort to close the “terror gap” and other common sense gun safety measures after the Orlando shooting is smart politics and the right thing to do, it would be wise to couple that with a challenge to the Rs to join them in giving the President the legal authority to fight ISIS in the Middle East. As the President said last week, it is not an either/or, but a both/and. The authority the President is using to fight ISIS abroad was explicitly written to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001. If words matter – as many Rs say – then let’s name our current adversary properly – the Islamic State – and give the President the authority he needs to fight them in the months ahead. The Congressional GOP’s refusal to give the President the authority he needs, along with the explicit political support, is one of the great abdications of responsibility we’ve seen in the past generation of American politics. They should be called on it.
This refusal to take responsibility for the world as it is today (something I wrote about extensively recently) has become a hallmark of the modern GOP. Consider Paul Ryan’s House right now – no budget, no Zika funding, no TPP, no immigration reform, no response to ISIS/home grown threats. And of course the Senate has for the first time in American history refused to act upon a Supreme Court vacancy. Today’s GOP is simply ideologically incapable of governing in a time of enormous global change that its leaders are struggling to understand.
Previous Columns – Previous editions of this weekly column can be found here.
A new study by the Pew Hispanic Center released this week has a rather dramatic finding – 81% of Hispanics in the US believe their family’s financial situation will improve this year (up from 67% in 2008). 40% say their personal finances are in “excellent” or “good,” up from 23% in 2008. The rising and deep economic optimism found in the Hispanic community today can be explained by recent economic data which suggests the last few years have been particularly good ones for Hispanics in the US. Let’s look:
Unemployment Rate Plummeting – The Hispanic unemployment rate has dropped dramatically from its recession high of 13% to just 5.6% today (a net drop of 7.4 percentage points). This is only slightly above the national average of 4.7%. The Hispanic unemployment rate at the beginning of the first Obama term, January of 2009, was 10.1%. Millions of Hispanics are working today who weren’t a few years ago.
Wages Gains Accelerating – According to a new study by Dr. Rob Shapiro, in the 2013 and 2014, Hispanics saw average household income gains of over 3% in each year. These gains were higher than their African-American and white counterparts, and twice what this community experienced in the early years of the economic recovery. Millions of Hispanics are making more money today than they were a few years ago.
Uninsured Rate Dropping – In the last few years the Hispanic uninsured rate has fallen by more than 25%, from 41.8% to 30.5%. This translates into about 4 million Hispanics having gained coverage since the implementation of the ACA, or 7% of the entire Hispanic population in the US. Millions of Hispanics have health insurance that didn’t a few years ago. Millions more would have insurance if two of the states with the largest Hispanic populations, Florida and Texas, had taken advantage of the Medicaid expansion resources available under the ACA.
A few things to note about this data:
- The real economic gains of Hispanics in the US in recent years, and the rising optimism found in the Pew data, comes at the same time we’ve experienced a rise in anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic rhetoric in the US. -
- The data includes the 8m-9m undocumented immigrants in the US who are Hispanic (total Hispanic population is about 55m today).
In sum, despite the lack of legalization and rising anti-immigrant/Hispanic rhetoric in the US, Hispanic families in the US have made very significant economic gains in recent years. Depending on how one weights the data, it may be the case that Hispanics made more significant economic gains than any other demographic group in the 2nd Obama term.
Faced with a challenging political climate in the US, the Hispanic community has stood strong, worked hard and grown even more optimistic about their future. It is hard to imagine a more powerful repudiation of Donald Trump than the economic success and rising optimism of Hispanics across the US today.
2016 Overview – The core dynamic of the race that we discussed last Monday hasn't changed this week – Hillary Clinton and the Democrats maintain a modest but meaningful advantage heading into the next phase of the campaign. Trump’s recent bump in the polls made the race a bit closer, but has receded now, leaving Clinton the clear front runner today.
As for the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will clinch the nomination on Tuesday night. Bringing Sanders and his many supporters (he is still over 40% in the Democratic Primary and at 49% in national polls against Trump) into the fold will be one of many important tests for Secretary Clinton over the next few months as she makes the transition from candidate to nominee. Last week saw a very important moment in that transition, as Clinton, in San Diego, delivered what may have been her most powerful speech – and inspiring public performance - of the campaign. It felt very much like her formal pivot to the general election, and a very effective effort to begin to seize control of an election she has a very good chance of winning.
Trump, on the other hand, has struggled mightily in the post-nomination phase of his campaign. His now infamous interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed Trump at his very worst – petty, mean-spirited, conspiratorial, shockingly comfortable with racist slurs against well regarded federal officials. Just as Clinton has started to feel “bigger,” and more of the national leader she aspires to be, Trump appeared much “smaller” over the past week, overwhelmed by the enormity of the job he is so clearly unsuited for. It was not an encouraging week for the Republican Party.
The Democrats and Post Cold War America – What is very much in the air these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a discussion about whether the system the West built after WWII is failing. Our friends in Britain are debating Brexit, and throughout Europe the established political order is struggling to stay relevant. At home Donald Trump has intimated at a very different kind of global order, one with America playing a far less significant role. And of course we have a candidate associated with socialism, itself a different set of arrangements, still leading in the national polls. We are, whether we understand it or not, in the midst of a great – and perhaps welcome and needed – debate about our path forward as modern, liberal democracies in a time of enormous global change.
Last week, in two muscular speeches (here and here), President Obama made his case for why the Western project, at least here in the United States, is both working and has left America in a far better position that many Americans understand. In his Air Force Academy speech he argued:
We are blessed to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous era in human history. Now, that sounds controversial until you survey the history of the world. It’s hard to see, with all the violence and suffering in the world, and what’s reported on the news every day. But if you step back for a moment -- think about last week, when I was in Hiroshima to remember all who were lost in a World War that killed some 60 million people -- not 60,000, 60 million.
For decades, there have been no wars between major powers. Wars between nations are increasingly rare. More people live in democracies. More than 1 billion people have been lifted from extreme poverty. From the Americas to Africa to Southeast Asia, there’s a new generation of young people, connected by technology and ready to make their mark. I’ve met them. They look up to America. They aspire to be our partner. That’s the progress and the hope that we have to build on.
And as for America itself he said:
And here’s a fact: The United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth and a force for good. (Applause.) We have big challenges in our country -- in our politics, our economy, our society. Those are challenges we have to address. But look around. We have the world’s strongest economy. Our scientists, our researchers, our entrepreneurs are global leaders in innovation. Our colleges and universities attract the best talent from around the world. Our values -- freedom, equality, opportunity -- those values inspire people everywhere, including immigrants who come here, ready to work, and integrate and help renew our country.
Our standing in the world is higher. I see it in my travels from Havana to Berlin to Ho Chi Minh City -- where huge crowds of Vietnamese lined the streets, some waving American flags.So make no mistake, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any other nation.
One of the great questions of this big debate about the Western project is whether the system is failing, or are the defenders of liberalism and the system failing it? Domestically, I will point to one aspect of this debate, and the question of who will be better for the American economy in coming years, the Democrats or the Republicans. In two recent polls which asked the question, Donald Trump led Hillary Clinton by double digits. In each poll the economy is seen as the most important issue for the next President to tackle. So this is no small thing.
Given this, Democrats should be asking themselves some tough questions. Given the performance of the economy over the past generation, how can Trump be leading? President Clintons and Obama have brought jobs, growth, soaring stock markets, and far lower annual deficits. The two Bush Presidencies brought recession, job loss, higher structural deficits, a domestic housing and financial collapse and declining wages and incomes. As Dr. Rob Shapiro has been pointing out, even on wages, it now appears that the pernicious dynamic we began to see early in the 2nd Bush era has come to an end. Since 2013 wages have been rising for most Americans. Lots of new data indicate that Americans understand things are getting better; and President Obama this past week hit the highest approval rating of his 2nd term. So, the American people sense that indeed things are improving, are better – and of course they are.
Perhaps it is the newest and most inconvenient truth in American politics today, but what is just incontrovertible fact is that over the past generation when Democrats have been in power things have gotten better, and when Republicans have been in power, things have gotten worse. The system here in America isn’t failing. One of the two political parties has understood the great changes the Cold War’s end brought to the world, and has governed effectively against these opportunities and challenges. The other political party, however, has struggled to understand the new forces of the 21st century, and has failed when in power. And there is perhaps no greater manifestation of this party wide failure to understand the modern world and plan against it than the current GOP nominee, Donald Trump (see my long form magazine article from a few years back on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess).
To me the reason that this inconvenient truth is not better understood is that Democrats as a whole have not adequately understood, or owned, the success of their two recent Presidents. One got the feeling last week, in Obama’s two speeches and in Clinton’s too, that the Clintons and the Obamas are about to do everything they can to change this. The Presidential wing of the Democratic Party, which has been far more successful than its Congressional counterpart over the past generation, is going to have its say this summer and fall. And it is long past time for their Congressional allies to join them in making the case for the success of liberal governance to the American people. The fate of the election, and perhaps even the Western project itself, may depend upon it.
Update - Another sign of the GOP's failure to wrap its arms around modernity is what is about to happen in the California Senate race. In their open primary system, every candidate runs against everyone else, with the top two vote getters regardless of party moving on to the fall election. According to the latest poll, the two Democrats are at 37 and 19, and the three Rs are at 8, 5 and 5. Putting the results together, Ds are at 56 and the Rs are at 18 - this in the state that produced the GOP's most successful politicians of the past 60 years, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. There is no state in America which has embraced the modern world with as much gusto as California, and there is perhaps no state in America where the Republican Party is closer to losing major party status.
Not since the Vietnam War and the presidential primary campaigns of 1968 and 1972, has America seen as wide a gap in voting behavior between older and younger voters within a political party as the Democrats are experiencing this year. Healing that rift becomes the primary challenge for Hillary Clinton whose general election victory could very well depend on winning over millennials (born 1982-2003) to her side.
The youngest adult millennials, those between 18 and 29 years of age, have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in Democratic primaries in states across the country by margins of 3 or 4 to1, a level of support that matches or exceeds the size of the margins President Obama enjoyed among millennials in his two campaigns. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics’ most recent poll, by a narrow 30 percent to 26 percent margin, women in this segment of the generation are even more likely to believe that Bernie Sanders would do a better job than Hillary Clinton in “improving women’s lives in the U.S.” But Clinton is much more competitive among millennials 30 to 35 old as they settle down and begin to form families. And among voters over 45, Secretary Clinton has been able to roll up margins over Sanders at levels comparable, if slightly lower, than her opponent’s advantage among young people.
There’s little doubt that Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, and his campaign are well aware of this generational split within the Democratic Party and would like to exploit it by making their own appeal to millennials. But, Clinton and the Democrats should have the edge in any battle for the support of America’s youngest voters. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republican by a margin of about 1.5 to 1 and a majority of them have favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party and negative impressions of the GOP. So how can Hillary Clinton begin to close the generation gap within her own party in time for the general election? The best way for her to undertake that task is not to try and speak directly to millennials while the primary campaign is still under way, but to talk to her own core supporters, those over 45 years of age, about the need to forge a permanent inter-generational alliance that could cement Democratic national political dominance for decades to come.
Her dialogue with her supporters must begin by talking about what is right about millennials. Older voters, millennials’ parents and grandparents, have shaped the most tolerant generation in America’s history. The votes of millennials enabled the country to elect its first African-American president in 2008—and then to re-elect President Obama in 2012. The millennial generation’s determination to eliminate discrimination in any form not only led to Barack Obama’s election, it has provided the momentum for our country’s new attitudes toward members of the LBGT community, immigrants, and women’s rights—all causes Secretary Clinton supports.
Millennials are also the most connected generation in America, an attribute that Hillary Clinton can speak to from her own experience as Secretary of State. During her tenure in that office she added social media to America’s arsenal of soft power in Latin America and the Middle East. She could talk to her peers about how she envisions millennials using these new tools to establish relationships around the world that can lead to a more peaceful and inclusive future.
There are other aspects of the millennial generation that Hillary Clinton could use the bully pulpit of a presidential campaign to highlight. Millennials are the biggest generation in American history. They are simultaneously very demographically diverse and attitudinally unified. Forty percent of them are non-white and one out of five have an immigrant parent. Their numbers mean that they will shape American society and its politics for decades to come and many of their beliefs provide fertile ground for coalition building both within the Democratic party and, in some surprising ways, across party lines.
In Pew’s latest study of generational differences on issues of public policy, it is members of the millennial generation, in both political parties, that consistently take the more liberal position on such issues as immigration, gay rights, civil rights and economic inequality in comparison to all older generations. Their personal experience of growing up in an increasingly diverse America has caused them to look for consensus through cooperation and collaboration rather than engage in the type of confrontational behavior so many older politicians now seem to favor.
Millennials are “pragmatic idealists.” They believe deeply in causes, just as baby boomers did when that older generation was growing up—ideals that still fuel the enthusiasm of female boomers for electing a woman as President of the United States. But millennials also bring a determination to “get things done” as President Obama is fond of saying. They look for results not rhetoric. Reflecting the generation’s preference for fixing problems at the local level and not in some remote bureaucracy, millennial Democrats, according to Pew’s analysis are the generation among Democratic identifiers who are most likely to agree that “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.”
At the same time, millennials in both political parties are most likely to believe in collective action to address the nation’s challenges and in using an activist government to find “win-win” not “we win, you lose” outcomes in both domestic and foreign policy. They are the least likely to agreewith the idea that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” or that “government today can't afford to do much more to help the needy.” Similarly, millennials are the generation most likely to be skeptical of achieving peace through military strength.
Of course, for the generation’s commitment to community and consensus to ensure that our political behavior lives up to America’s highest ideals, millennials also have to make their presence felt in the coming elections. In November, the generation will comprise about 30 percent of the electorate, a greater percentage than baby boomers will likely contribute. If she has any hope of motivating them to turn out and vote for her in November, Clinton must also pay particular attention to the deliberations of the convention’s platform committee to ensure it addresses the generation’s primary concern, the cost of a college education.
She has already spoken out forcefully on the need to lift the burden of student debt from this generation so they can afford to start their own families and get on with their lives the way older generations were able to do when they graduated from school. She has endorsed, and the Democratic Party platform should underline, the importance of allowing millennials to refinance their student debt to lower the amount of their monthly payments, just as older generations have been able to do with their home mortgage. And for those whose debts were incurred because of unscrupulous lenders or schools, the platform ought to commit to providing them a way to have those debts forgiven entirely.
Even more important, the Democratic platform will need to advocate for programs that will end this generational scourge forever. Older generations didn’t have to borrow money to go to high school and millennials and the generations that come after them should be able to get their higher education debt free, because that’s the level of education they—and America—will need to be successful both in today’s economy and in the years ahead.
There is a direct economic connection between these millennial specific policy positions and the concerns of Clinton’s older supporters. The earnings of millennials are the best guarantee that Social Security and Medicare benefits will not have to be cut for boomers and Gen-X’ers in the future. In addition, the desire of millennials to find work with both a social purpose and a living wage should lead to equal pay for equal work; paid child care leave for fathers as well as mothers; and companies committed to their country and communities, not just the bottom line. The entire country will benefit from the kinder, fairer economy millennials will create.
In addition to making it clear to older Americans that they have common cause with the millennial generation, Clinton’s leadership skills can be demonstrated by taking the lead in holding out the hands of her generation in friendship and support across the generational divide. Combined with her own generation’s wisdom borne from experience, such an alliance would ensure not only a Democratic victory in November but America’s continued greatness in the 21st Century.
Even if we accept that the 2016 campaign is a fact-free zone, what precisely are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders talking about when they rant about incomes cratering for most Americans? It’s true, as I’ve documented, that a majority of Americans saw their incomes stagnate or decline throughout the Bush expansion (2002-2007), and the financial crisis and ensuing recession aggravated those losses. But that dynamic ended more than three years ago. Since 2013, the household incomes of most Americans have risen steadily and substantially.
The only candidate who seems to get this is Hillary Clinton, judging by her pledge to preserve and extend the economic gains achieved under President Obama. But Trump and Sander’s appeal should tell us that politically, those gains are not enough, and that a wining economic platform for this year’s election has to address the whole picture of the last 15 years. Yes, voters want measures to ensure that their recent progress will continue, a challenge Clinton has met better than her Democratic rival or Republican opponent. They also want a credible pledge that they will never have to endure another housing collapse or muddle through an expansion that leaves them on the sidelines.
Nevertheless, there's no doubt that most Americans are doing much better than they did four or eight years ago. Last month, the Federal Reserve’s “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015” found that nearly 70 percent of Americans say they’re “doing okay” or “living comfortably,” versus 18.5 percent who say they’re “worse off.” Behind those positive views, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Americans’ real personal income grew 1.9 percent from February to December 2013, followed by 3.0 percent gains in 2014 and another 4.0 percent gains in 2015.
To be sure, aggregate economic data does not always capture most people’s real experience. To track people’s actual experience, I sorted and collated the Census Bureau data on household incomes from 2009 to 2014. I focused on the incomes of American households headed by people who in 2009 were 25-to-29 years old (millennials), 35-to-39 year sold (Generation X), and 45-to-49 years old (late baby boomers). I tracked their incomes as they aged from 2009 to 2014, and analyzed the results by gender, race or ethnicity, and education.
The results show that most Americans saw their incomes continue to stagnate or decline from 2009 to 2012, with the exception of millennials. For economic and statistical reasons, young households always make greater progress than older households, and millennial households were the only age group whose income rose from 2009 to 2012. Moreover, as I’ve also documented, household incomes have risen significantly since 2013 for Generation X and Baby Boomers as well as millennials.
Average Annual Household Income Gains
2009 - 2012 2013 - 2014
Millennials 3.2% 4.3%
Generation X - 0.4% 2.3%
Late Baby Boomers -1.1% 0.5%
The results also show that gender and race matter. While the income dynamics of the last decade didn’t create today’s partisan divisions based on gender and race, they probably reinforce them. For example, while households headed by men generally fared better than those headed by women in the leans years from 2009 to 2012, women turned the tables in 2013 and have made more progress than their male counterparts since the turnaround.
Average Annual Household Income Gains By Gender
2009 - 2012 2013 - 2014
Men Women Men Women
Millennials 3.5% 2.5% 2.7% 3.0%
Generation X - 0.2% - 0.6% 0.9% 2.8%
Late Boomers - 0.5% -1.1% 0.2% 0.2%
The results based on race and ethnicity also may help explain Hillary Clinton’s strength among minorities, as compared to Trump and Sander’s connections to angry white voters. In particular, under Obama’s policies, including Obamacare cash subsidies, the incomes of Hispanic and African-American households across all three age groups have grown faster than their white counterparts since 2013.
Average Annual Household Income Gains, By Race and Ethnicity
2009 - 2012 2013 - 2014
White Black Hispanic White Black Hispanic
Millennials 3.7% 0.0% 1.8% 2.9% 3.0% 3.2%
Generation X 0.1% 1.7% - 1.5% 1.6% 2.0% 5.0%
Late Boomers - 0.9% - 4.9% 1.8% - 0.1% 2.0% 2.8%
The results also show that after the tough times from 2009 to 2012, when Generation X and baby boomer households at every educational level lost ground, every age and educational group but high-school educated baby-boomers have made significant income progress since 2013. These gains even include households headed by high-school dropouts, lifted by the very strong job growth since 2013 and the Obamacare cash subsidies.
Average Annual Household Income Gains, By Education
2009 - 2012 2013 - 2014
No Diploma HS College No Diploma HS College
Millennials -0.6% 1.1% 4.2% 4.4% 3.0% 5.1%
Generation X -2.2% -1.3% -0.1% 6.2% 4.0% 1.5%
Late Boomers -4.8% -1.7% -0.6% 9.5% 0.0% 0.4%
Incomes do not explain everything. The incomes of white millennials have risen rather strongly throughout this entire period. Yet, they’ve responded to Trump and Sander’s cases that political and economic elites have denied them their hard-earned gains. Maybe they’re angry that their parents lost much of their home equity, or maybe they’re turned off rather than reassured by Clinton’s dispassionate demeanor. To win them over, she will have offer a credible path to both maintain everyone’s recent income progress and preclude another housing collapse and joyless expansion.
This post was originally published on Dr. Shapiro's blog.
Trump's Mo' Appears to Have Stalled – Two weeks ago we found movement in the weekly tracking polls for Trump that soon became an official “Trump bump.” The race closed from an 8-10 point Clinton lead to something smaller, somewhere in the 2-4 point range. The tracks this week suggest that this Trumpian surge has ended, however, with no track showing gains for Trump in the past week. And one, the GOP pollster Rasmussen, found a significant shift towards Clinton. The Huffington Post rolling average has Clinton up 4.3 points today. This is bad news for Donald Trump.
Why? For when Clinton clinches the nomination next week she is likely to get a “bump” of 2-4 points, as Trump did. This would put her ahead by 6-8 points, a formidable lead in a Presidential race (see this MSNBC piece for what the race looks like w/o Sanders). So while Trump has made the race far closer in recent weeks, his gains were not sufficient to fundamentally change the nature of the race, or to suggest he is truly competitive at this point. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the 2016 playing field leans towards the Democrats. To review the top lines:
- President Obama hit a 2nd term high in job approval last week, coming in at 53 approve/43 disapprove in the Gallup daily track. This suggests that there are very practical political limits to the “discontent” much discussed this cycle.
- In the Huffington Post aggregate, the Democratic Party holds a huge advantage in favorability, coming in at 46/46 approval while the GOP is 29/60, a net negative of an astonishing 31 points (Trump is only 20 points net negative this week). Both Trump and Clinton, as unpopular as they are, are far more popular than Reince Priebus’s GOP as a whole.
- The Democrats have a very powerful and popular set of surrogates they can unleash in the fall – the Obamas, Sanders, the Bidens – to support Secretary Clinton and her VP. The contrast between a popular set of Democrats barnstorming the country, together, touting the success of two consecutive Democratic Administrations, versus the isolated and angry Trump advocating for an agenda of national decline will become a powerful and material development this fall.
- The economy continues to perform well, and there is even a growing body of evidence that after more than a decade of stagnation or decline, wages have begun to rise (here and here).
- An unusual electoral map this year means that the Senate and House results will be disproportionately influenced by the outcome of the contested Presidential states. Clinton could have unusually long and powerful coattails this year.
- Democrats are least a generation ahead in campaign organization and technology, and are far ahead in developing their brass tacks campaign this cycle.
So, in what is an important development in the race, Trump’s momentum has slowed, and the race appears to be settling down as many analysts expected – with Clinton holding a small but consequential lead.
A Summer of Opportunity and Challenge for the Clinton Campaign – For the Democrats, one gets the sense the election will be won or lost between now and the Convention. It is shaping up to be an extraordinary next eight weeks – the wrapping up of the nomination battle, the coming together of the party, the picking of the VP, managing a successful Convention and the running of the gauntlet of the various investigations going on into Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. These next eight weeks may be the most important of Hillary Clinton’s career, representing an enormous test of leadership for the experienced and talented candidate.
If Clinton can leave Philadelphia will these eight weeks having been successful, she should be in very strong shape for the fall election. She will have been heavily tested, and triumphed, offering the public a window into how she would indeed handle similar challenges in the White House. While our Presidential races are long and grueling, they are perhaps appropriate in scale and difficulty to the job itself, the hardest in the world today. It is this through this grueling process and the tests it provides that one can be transformed from candidate to President.
The State Department’s IG Report - Put me in the camp that I think the investigations going on into Secretary Clinton are serious, and require a far more direct response from the candidate and her campaign than we have seen to date. Given the timing of the various investigations and court cases, it is likely that total exoneration of the Secretary prior to the November election is not on the table. Questions and doubts will linger, and be a material part of the fall conversation. There are many things the Clinton camp can do to begin to address these concerns head on – commit to establishing an independent commission to recommend far better management of US government records in this new digital age of governing; join Bernie Sanders in a true partnership to improve our politics though an aggressive effort throughout her Presidency to reform our electoral system, make structural changes in the day to day ways of Washington and modernize the Democratic Party itself; suspend fundraising for the Clinton Foundation; forgo speaking fees for all Clinton family members during her Presidency – the list goes on. Whatever the comprehensive response is, it needs to be far more aggressive than what we’ve seen from the campaign to date.
To me one antidote to all this toxicity in our system today would be for Hillary Clinton to not just position herself as one who can make this unwieldy system in Washington work better for everyday people, but to authentically commit, as one who has seen the ugliness of our system up close, to leave behind a far better and more representative politics for coming generations of Americans. She has the opportunity in the coming together with Bernie, with his help and guidance, to move these issues from the margins of her candidacy as they are now, to its core. Doing the nation, and her candidacy, a lot of good along the way.
More on the 2016 Election – Be sure to review our deep dive on the 2016 map and the opportunities it offers Democrats; our tally of the Presidential primary debates audiences which finds the GOP far outperforming the Dems; the Democratic bench is stronger than it appears; Clinton should become a champion of political and electoral reform; thoughts on the "children of Reagan;" my in-depth interview with conservative author Matt Lewis on what the GOP can learn from a generation of reform and success on the center-left; my long form magazine piece on the descent of the GOP into a reactionary mess, anticipating the rise of Trump; Rob Shapiro on Trump's economic plan and the crackup of the GOP.
"Monday Musings" is a new column which looks at the national political landscape and is published most Mondays here on the NDN site. You can find previous columns here. It also appears each week on the London-based progressive site, Left Foot Forward.
Full disclosure: I am supporting Hillary Clinton for President, and have given the maximum contribution to her campaign.I am not, however, a consultant to, or paid by, any campaign or party committee.