The 2020 Election in Three Graphs

By Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Paul Jorgensen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Texas-Pan American and Jie Chen, University Statistician, University of Massachusetts. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Recent events make it obvious that the threat of a larger war in the Middle East now hangs like a black cloud over the 2020 election. Not for a moment do we want to distract attention from the potentially world shattering consequences that could grow from that. But the breakdown of the post-war international system is not the only tidal force shaking the American electoral landscape as the first primaries loom. We think three rip tides wholly Made in America are indispensable to understanding what is about to crash over all of us.

The first is the San Andreas Fault-like division that now runs through the Democratic Party. Everyone has heard that Michael Bloomberg is preparing to spend up to $400 million dollars by the time of the “Super Tuesday” Democratic primaries in March. Less widely trumpeted is the evidence that Dark Money now courses through the Democratic Party apparatus on a scale previously identified in the past with Republican donors like the fabled Koch “group.”

But for the first time in living memory there is more than a lone voice in the wilderness not preoccupied with supplicating the 1% in the race for the White House. This year, the split in the Democratic Party between candidates dependent on big money (or hoping to be) and those who aren’t is obvious, generating something like a billionaire’s panic.

Political money is reported with long lags and seriously processing it takes time. But we expect that when the data is all in, 2020 will look like our graph for 2016, except this time two Democratic candidates – not only Bernie Sanders, but Elizabeth Warren – will show like Sanders in our graph of the 2016 race.[1] They will stand apart from all the other candidates and – note this well – the Congressional leadership in both parties.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on FEC and IRS data; adapted from Ferguson, Jorgensen, Chen, “How Money Drives US Congressional Elections: Linear Models of Money and Outcomes,” Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.strueco.2019.09.005

But the Grand Canyon that now yawns within the Democratic ranks is not the only giant force impinging on this year’s election: Among many voters, the Trump presidency has generated a revulsion every bit as fierce as the more extensively discussed reaction among Republicans in favor of the President. This counter-mobilization is not news: the Democratic surge in the 2018 elections (and some others since) made it front page news in the days as the votes came in.

But its colossal dimensions are worth a closer look. Those raise questions about the alacrity with which many commentators are awarding the election to the President as the new year comes in. Our Figure 2 displays a statistic that one almost never sees amid the graphs filling media commentaries: The Democratic share of the total potential vote – that is, including non-voters. The seesaw pattern of voter turnout across elections is well recognized and of long standing. As a consequence, the Democratic share of that vote normally falls off a cliff because turnouts in off year elections run so much lower than in presidential election years. In the off year election of 2018, though, turnout soared – it was almost as high as in 2016. Including voters who switched from GOP to the Democrats, the total swing in favor of the Democrats was so enormous that their total vote glittered even by comparison with many presidential elections. That swing did not come cheap: the Democrats broke all records for their spending in off year elections and actually outraised the Republicans.

Figure 2: In 2018 the Democrats Mobilized a Larger Share of the Total Potential Vote Even by Comparison With Many Presidential Election Years Source: Burnham, 2010 https://www.academicapress.com/node/20 ; United States Elections Project http://www.electproject.org/

This deep current of revulsion may be compared to a potentially immovable obstacle in the way of the President’s chances for a second term. But there is a real question as to whether it really is immovable. Parts could shift or even collapse.

It is way too early to make reliable turnout predictions. In contrast to many analysts in the mainstream press, we doubt that the population as a whole is as much in love with “centrist” Democrats as is often claimed. We think there is a real chance that if one of the billionaire backed candidates prevails turnout could fall just enough to lose.

But our clinical appraisal is that the revulsion against the President President Trump in 2020 will be, as in 2018, gigantic and deeply felt. Indeed, one may wonder if the intensity of the of opposition among the superrich to the prospect of Warren or Sanders as the nominee derives precisely from fear that a vigorous Democratic campaign can readily topple Big Rocket Man, even from left of center.

That is speculation. What is clear is that the White House and the Republican Party see the potential problem. The various vehicles of the President’s campaign are raising money at a break neck pace.

Which brings us to the most telling graph of all for understanding this year’s presidential election. In 2016 Trump was outspent, but not by much – his total spending down the stretch was especially impressive, considering how late his campaign put out the begging bowl.[2]

But as he battles a wave of revulsion, what happened in the last two weeks of the 2016 Senate campaign may be critical to understand. Figure 3 is adapted from an article of ours in the journal Structural Change and Economic Dynamics.

Against All Odds: Daily Price of Contract on Republican Senate Victory 2016 Shaded Fan Shows Forecast Values as of October 25 Bottom. Blue Line – Contract Price of a Republican Victory. Red Vertical Line – October 25th Source: See Text

This graph takes off from a fact now widely acknowledged – that if you are looking for evidence about the state of expectations on average, published gambling odds from sources like the Iowa Electronic Markets are very useful indicators. Here we can set aside the lengthy scholarly arguments about whether they are better than polls for predictions – we are skeptical about both, actually, for reasons that 2016 illustrated vividly. For now, the point is simply that the published odds provide some independent, outside evidence about expectations.

Our figure repeats what the handful of news stories that followed events closely at the time were also saying: Republican chances of holding onto the Senate had been dropping fairly steadily since Labor Day. On Oct. 25th: $7.10 would buy contracts worth a $100 if, somehow a miracle happened in barely two weeks.[3]

With both polls and contract prices suggesting that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was doomed, McConnell and Republican donors knew they needed a miracle to save the Senate.

Amid brave talk about going down with guns blazing (Isenstadt, 2016); (Troyan & Schouten, 2016), “panicking GOP” Senate leaders embarked on a “last-ditch attempt to stop Donald Trump from dragging the entire GOP down with him” (Isenstadt, 2016). The response was overwhelming: many of the GOP’s most celebrated donors, including Blackstone’s Stephen Schwartzman (who contributed $2,200,000 on October the 25th, after donating $370,000 a week earlier; Sheldon and Miriam Adelson (listed as contributing $7,500,000 each on the 24th; Paul Singer ($2,000,000 on the 26th), numerous members of the DeVos family, and various oil companies and executives all pitched in. In the end, the GOP floated to victory on a massive wave of late money.

Thus the title of our essay. The surging indignation that cost the Republicans so many seats in 2018 is still running, “strong” economy or no (that is a topic for another day). But the President and his advisors have plainly taken to heart the lesson of 2016. His campaign is raising funds at a prodigious rate.

So what happens when the munificently funded tide of public dismay that dominated 2018 collides with the record setting stream of political money that Trump will conjure up this year?

This will be the central question of this year’s election – unless one of the candidates who represent true popular movements of citizens who are not from the 1% — Sanders or Warren – gains the nomination. At that point, just as in the recent British election, where many well-heeled UK business people decided that Boris Johnson, whose policies on the European Union they abominated, was the lesser evil, we may witness yet another dramatic natural experiment in the power of political money.

The views expressed here are the authors’ own and not those of any institution with which they are affiliated.

[1] As of the early fall of 2019, both of these candidates had raised very large sums, with more than sixty percent of their hoards coming in the form of donations too low to require individual reporting.

[2] We showed long ago that stories that he did not spend his own money were simply false – Trump spent considerably more than, for example, Mitt Romney did in 2012. https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/how-money-won-trump-the-white-house

[3] The contract is technically for a Republican sweep of both the House and the Senate. But virtually no one expected the Republicans to lose the House; the action was on the Senate. For this and other details, see Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.strueco.2019.09.005

The figure uses a standard issue forecast model to project the range of outcomes that donors could reasonably hope for based on the campaign’s course thus far on October 25. We include it because we are tired of hearing that most big money follows polls or the odds, instead of preeminently shaping these as our investment approach maintains.

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43 comments

  1. Brooklin Bridge

    Not mentioned are the potential for bent electronic voting counts, the effects of skewed polls and expectations set by the MSM. Perhaps because our wealthy, as reflected by the pathologically sycophantic DNC, never play dirty?

    On the subject of polls, I’ve met, or know, many centrists, especially from the the elderly (because I’m one of them – the elderly, not the elderly centrists) but never have I met a single Biden voter – ever. Who lets them out to roam unattended and who then distributes vanishing cream that actually works? Where is this titanic force?

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      Curious but true. My admittedly anecdotal observation is the same as yours, and across a wider age range. (My neigbhourhood runs the gamut; decrepit oldsters, [Phyl-ambrit household,] to fifty-something professionals, [not one but two single female RNs,] to three thirty-something nuclear families, plus the odd divorcee and college students [living in a house Mom and Pop bought for them to live in while going to school {X2!}] Absolutely none of them would admit to backing Biden. (I bought the subject up in “casual” conversation; “Oh. Who do you want for President?”)
      As for “bent” electronic voting machines; the local youngers I talk to all seem to have an uncritical ‘buy in’ to electronic machinery as part of everyday life. (Actual quote from a few days ago from a smart young man I see regularly in my perambulations; “I really don’t know how I’d get through my day without my smart phone. I’m amazed you can get away with not carrying a phone.”)
      So, as to the front runner status of Biden; could it be an example in the wild of a massive Big Lie campaign?
      As for the wealthy “not playing dirty,” I leave you with the (in)famous scene from Terry Southern’s “The Magic Christian.”
      See (NSFW): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xg2v_T2XH8

      Reply
      1. Brooklin Bridge

        “Absolutely none of them would admit to backing Biden [e.m.]”

        Good point. Indeed a number of good points – though I think e-voting is on much thinner ground than smart phones, even on being self justifying. The negatives are too obvious and it is not a status symbol though granted the pact with the devil on anything techie seems to give it an (OMG, we can’t go back to haaaaand counting) pass it would lack utterly on the merits.

        Great scene from The Magic Christian :-) on the dirt,

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          I got bogged down reading the wiki on the film version of “The Magic Christian,” and noticed that Graham Chapman and John Cleese were in it in small bits. The explication of that mentioned that the two had done their own script for Southern’s book, but their appearances were all that remained of it. Now that, a Monty Python version of “The Magic Christian,” is something I would dearly love to see.

          Reply
    2. Pasathea

      Being of a “certain age” I live in a retirement community. the Biden voters here are numerous and unaffected by any arguments for any other candidate. The one flaw they do notice – somewhat surprisingly – is that realize that Uncle Joe is too old for the rigors of the job and I doubt that Biden support will carry through to November. A couple more incidents of brain freeze and Biden is toast. Bernie has zero support. For some reason that mystifies everyone Amy Klobuchar also has some real pockets of support. I actually saw a “Amy for president” bumper sticker the other day.

      I am resigned to four more years of the Donald.

      Reply
      1. Matthew

        It doesn’t surprise me that Bernie has zero support among your cohort. My mother is of that certain age as well, and she takes it as read that a leftist can’t win, because of what happened to McGovern in ’72. I imagine there’s a lot of similar remembered trauma from those years. I know the party leadership governs scared.

        (And then there’s the fact that the main thing Bernie is promising is something they already have….)

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether

          > then there’s the fact that the main thing Bernie is promising is something they already have

          Only if they’re paying extra and get dental, vision, and hearing. And they like deductibles and co-pays.

          The Sanders campaign really ought to be hammering that; I would think it would be especially attractive to fixed income voters!

          Reply
          1. Prairie Bear

            The thing is though, they have just enough of that something to make them nervous about any attempts to change or expand it, let alone taking the risk of bringing in millions of others. There was a Facebook thread involving a grad-school friend of mine from 30 years ago. She is on disability, and regarding her subpar insurance, she noted something about “the devil you know” and expressed extreme skepticism about any M4All plan. I didn’t say much, tried to push back a little but these days it just seems so hard to get through to people at all and I don’t want to get into fights with the few friends I have. At the time, she was also feeling that Biden was the “safest” choice to beat Trump.

            I was disappointed and baffled a little about her attitude; she had always been a fairly radical sort of feminist and left on social and economic issues. The penny dropped a while later when I was listening to some discussion vid or other, maybe Jimmy Dore and some guest, and they talked about Obamacare. The blue wave that brought Obama to office in 2008 was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something. Instead, he slam-dunked the whole Hope and Change movement and passed Romneycare. Fool me once … Or maybe, once bitten, twice shy or whatever. People like my friend feel that betrayal even if they can’t admit it to themselves or identify the source of the betrayal. They are all, oh Obama was a wonderful President, the greatest EVAR!

            Reply
            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              I am beginning to think that discussion of “M4A” should take into account and take on head-on this deep sense of betrayal and treachery.

              Many people currently DO have health-care plans, until they lose those plans. But for now, those plans are better than the “crappy Obama Bronze care plans” which Michael Moore referrenced in a talk he gave. While the plans that a hundred or so million Americans currently do have . . . for the moment . . . are not Gold or Silver, they are at least Iron or Nickel. In other words, they are better, for the moment, than Bronze.

              And many people fear that the current Power Elites will take “M4A” and turn it into a bait-and-switch scam where ” M4A” becomes ” Crappy Obama Bronze Care M4A”. Maybe the proponents of M4A should decide what “metal grade” of M4A they have in mind. If they have Bronze M4A in mind, they will get zero support. If they have Zinc or Sulfur M4A in mind, they might get a little support. If they have Silver M4A in mind, they may get some support. If they have Gold or Platinum M4A in mind, they could get a LOT of support.

              But maybe they should be very specific about what metal-grade-level of M4A it is that they have in mind. To allay fears of bait-and-switch deceit, treachery and the old Obama double-cross.

              Reply
              1. inode_buddha

                Maybe the proponents of M4A should decide what “metal grade” of M4A they have in mind. If they have Bronze M4A in mind, they will get zero support. If they have Zinc or Sulfur M4A in mind, they might get a little support. If they have Silver M4A in mind, they may get some support. If they have Gold or Platinum M4A in mind, they could get a LOT of support.

                But maybe they should be very specific about what metal-grade-level of M4A it is that they have in mind. To allay fears of bait-and-switch deceit, treachery and the old Obama double-cross.

                AMEN that is an excellent idea — Medicare Platinum should be the standard. Having been on public assistance years ago, I can say factually that government programs are capable of doing that, and doing it well.

                Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        My mother is 92, a Republican and has given to Bernie. But her best friend is a feminist (a PhD mathematician whose best career option was teaching in Catholic middle and high schools) in a bad way politically, supported Hillary because woman President and is all in for Warren for the same reason.

        Reply
      3. katiebird

        Do any of the residents of your retirement community get nursing and other longterm care services? In the months before my mom died last May, she spent $2,000 on the care provided by the nursing staff. And that was in addition to the Hospice care she got as part of her Medicare coverage (I don’t know if that is covered by her supplemental plan or part A or B)

        So if Sanders is elected and he successfully gets his Medicare For All plan passed. She would have saved thousands and thousands a month (including charges for Medicare and her Supplemental policy)

        This would cover a lot of rent in a retirement community. And take a lot of stress off the residents.

        All retirement community residents should know about this. AND the hearing aid, dental and other expansions of Medicare as proposed in the Senate and House Bills.

        PS My parents before their deaths (at ages 97 & 94) supported and donated to Sanders. My dad’s favorite coffee mug was his Bernie Mug.

        Reply
        1. Pasathea

          So if Sanders is elected and he successfully gets his Medicare For All plan passed.

          A lot of “ifs” in one small sentence. Again, I don’t see a bunch of seniors giving up what they have for a promise of “something better, maybe, later on”. They won’t vote for it… and I really can’t blame them.

          She would have saved thousands and thousands a month (including charges for Medicare and her Supplemental policy)

          Even Bernie admits it ain’t going to be free so who pays for it? If you are surviving in the current framework why would you take a chance on throwing away a system that “works” (or at least you can navigate) for some unknown thing that won’t get passed by a Congress that is owned by corporate America.

          Reply
          1. katiebird

            It was two ifs and I could hardly write the sentence without them. Campaigns are all about the ifs. And The Sanders campaign is the only one proposing options that I believe will help everyone.

            I think you probably understand that Sanders’s plan will be paid for (not that it needs to be) by a combination of savings and taxes. Maybe I made a mistake not laying out the details of my mom’s income situation. But from what I have read, at her income she would have saved thousands a month under Sander’s plan.

            As would many other seniors. And many others could afford services under Bernie’s plan that they couldn’t touch otherwise.

            About passing the bill, I know a Sanders presidency is our only chance.

            Reply
          2. drumlin woodchuckles

            We need a word for just how taxing premiums really are to the people who have to pay them. I suggest the word “privataxes” because they are a tax that private-insurance-holders pay to the private health insurance company. Whereas the taxes we would all pay out of our income for M4A would be govertaxes, because we would pay them to government to turn around and pay for all our coverage with.

            If M4A replaced privasurance, the money not-spent-anymore on privataxes to the privasurance companies which wouldn’t exist any more . . . would be spent on govertaxes going to the Single GoverPayer handling M4A.

            Now . . . if some significant percent of the privatax money going to Big Insura is taken off the top to pay a lot of multi-million dollar executives and dividends and share-price-support tactics and armies of claims-processors and claims-deniers and medically-illiterate over-the-doctor’s-shoulder care-kibbitzers and care-second-guessers . . . and all that money would not be spent on such people if paid in govertaxes to Single GoverPayer M4A . . . how much more care could be bought with that money?

            I don’t know. But the question deserves to be asked. And answered.

            Reply
          3. inode_buddha

            I’ve been bankrupted by insurance premiums. Is that somehow better than being bankrupted by medical bills?

            My cochlear implant is hovering around $100K right now. I would *love* to pay 2x more medicare taxes if it would eliminate the private insurance premiums. That would put thousands of dollars in my pockets, that I need for humble working class living expenses.

            Don’t tell me to “shop around”, I did. all plans are within $20 a month of each other by the time you compare them straight across.

            Obamacare? Not eligible if you make more than about $13 an hour. Its called a donut hole. The insurance premiums basically knocked my income down by 2 tax brackets, and I don’t get to claim anything.

            Run that reality past your elderly friends. Tell them the insurance companies got greedy, the hospitals got greedy, the drug companies got greedy.

            Reply
    3. Tomonthebeach

      We still see articles pointing out huge flaws in paperless election machinery. Trumpies are fine with that, so Congress is barely winking at a problem that could enable stealing the election by spewing bogus vote numbers. We still see states like S. Carolina where Republicans are trying to suppress voting by people of limited means and/or time to ensure they remain registered to vote.

      We need to keep in mind that Trump is a crook – a demonstrated, heartless and ruthless thief. He not only lies, cheats, and steals, but embraces others who do likewise – the exact opposite of the military officer honor code. Stealing an election? He very likely stole the last one, so why not in 2020?

      Reply
      1. T

        Fairly obvious that the D and R establishments are happy with voting as it is and not all concerned about that interference boogieman. Otherwise, they would call for election monitors and paper ballots, hand counted in public.

        Reply
        1. inode_buddha

          Just wait until it looks like Sanders may win. Then all you will hear about from the mainstream is how we need fair elections, with hand marked ballots, hand counted in public.

          Reply
        1. Prairie Bear

          No surprise, not anymore. The only difference is, Republicans commit most of their fraud in the general elections, while the Democrats focus on their own primary voters.

          Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Why should I believe Trump stole the last election?

        And why should I believe Clinton won the last nomination?

        Reply
    4. Susan the other

      Biden is a synthetic politician. No question. One way we could get around all this bullshit is to go with the specific issues. So that an election is a poll to determine which candidate addresses the problems we want solved. Biden would be the zero he actually is. Bernie would be on top. How do we construe an election that addresses the actual issues. It is a feature, not a bug, that our elections are designed to ignore the issues.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Well, Sanders would do his part whenever he got near a hot mike. He would talk real issues until the Media Moderators successfully shut him down. And he might well know how to make it obvious to the viewers at home that the Media Moderators SHUT him down . . . while getting some real issues discussed in the meantime.

        Reply
  2. Lupemax

    Here are links to two important hours from DemocracyNow on how Cambridge Analytica elected candidates, including Trump; and still does?
    https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/10/defense_contractors_are_using_a_new
    https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/10/2020_election_digital_manipulation_cambridge_analytica
    I also watched the documentary discussed in the above two hours on netflix – The Great Hack, and was disappointed. I found the two DemocracyNow hours much more informative and much more coherent. I’m curious to see what others think of the documentary?

    Reply
    1. GF

      Yes. We watched both episodes and were blown away by what is going on right now. Nothing has changed since 2016. Especially impressed by propaganda researcher Emma Briant. The links include transcripts and closed captioning is available for the video. Well worth a close watch. The episodes should be required prior to voting.

      Reply
    2. Susan the other

      I watched them as well, Amy was in high gear. The information is interesting because those Cambridge Analytica operatives are not very sophisticated. A frumpy looking Bannon becoming a jet setter to give his “nationalist” speeches which are actually globalist inspired… and there in France on the front row is Marine LePen clapping like a debutante with beaming admiration – she should realize she is twice the nationalist that Bannon is. He’s more like the great imposter with way to much money at his disposal. But then he did flame out. So did C.A. It might be that you can’t keep a big propaganda plot like this glued together because there are so many points of failure. Commonly known as lies. It just sort of all dematerializes. This sort of hubris could happen anywhere some shithead gets a too-clever-by-half idea about how to brainwash the world.

      Reply
    3. curlydan

      I still think a larger point needs to be made that wasn’t explicitly on Democracy Now. In the interview, Kaiser said, ““swing voters.” In brand advertising, they’re called “switchers,” because it’s easy to persuade someone to try something new or to change their mind. So, identifying persuadables is what everybody does in data science for political modeling. Every political consultant in the books is trying to do this, identify the people whose minds can be changed.”

      Brand switching and vote persuading are the same thing. Trying to suppress a vote or change a voter’s mind uses the exact same technology as trying to make you buy a product or click on a “the cameras just kept rolling” pop-up ad. So if there’s so much indignation about possible Facebook voter manipulation, the same indignation needs to be levelled at the larger system of influence.

      As I cruise around the internet, it seems like I’m floating in some arcade of t-tests (or A/B tests). Whatever is nefarious about Cambridge Analytica is the same threat in the whole freaking system. So Kaiser’s solution of having influence regulation (for everyone) actually makes a lot of sense.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether

        > Brand switching and vote persuading are the same thing

        Only if you think votes are commodities. Granted, the logic of neoliberalism, as well as practice in other Third World countries, would suggest that they are.

        However, I haven’t seen academic, political science-type studies saying consumer behavior is the same as voter behavior, and I have asked.

        Adding, to be clear, I’m not saying the elections can’t be bought — Bloomberg’s air war, for example, seems to be giving him a pop. But I am saying that the mechanism, if that is the word, is not well understood. Behavior in the voting booth is mysterious.

        Reply
    4. Lambert Strether

      > Here are links to two important hours from DemocracyNow on how Cambridge Analytica elected candidates

      “Elected candidates” is a strong claim. Frankly, I’m soured on it because the RussiaGate moral panic conspicuously failed to show actual voting shifts by actual voters (and since this is such a key part of the story, one would expect reporting or studies to have been done on it by our famously free press, especially since it is in their interest to do so). Was this shown in the Democracy Now! material?

      Reply
      1. allan

        “conspicuously failed to show actual voting shifts by actual voters”

        According to Christopher Wylie’s book Mindf*ck (highly recommended) one of the main
        goals of the C.A. operations was to suppress Democratic turnout by alienating voters from Clinton,
        minority voters in particular, using highly targeted ads.
        At least in WI, black turnout was down substantially.
        How much one can attribute to C.A., how much to old fashioned voter suppression
        by the GOP, and how much to an uninspiring candidate at the top of the ticket?

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether

          > At least in WI, black turnout was down substantially.

          Yes, because Obama sucked (foreclosures; employment). New York Times, “Many in Milwaukee Neighborhood Didn’t Vote — and Don’t Regret It“:

          Four barbers and a firefighter were pondering their future under a Trump presidency at the Upper Cutz barbershop last week.

          “We got to figure this out,” said Cedric Fleming, one of the barbers. “We got a gangster in the chair now,” he said, referring to President-elect Donald J. Trump.

          They admitted that they could not complain too much: Only two of them had voted. But there were no regrets.

          “I don’t feel bad,” Mr. Fleming said, trimming a mustache. “Milwaukee is tired. Both of them were terrible. They never do anything for us anyway.”

          As Democrats pick through the wreckage of the campaign, one lesson is clear: The election was notable as much for the people who did not show up, as for those who did. Nationally, about half of eligible voters did not cast ballots.

          Wisconsin, a state that Hillary Clinton had assumed she would win, historically boasts one of the nation’s highest rates of voter participation; this year’s 68.3 percent turnout was the fifth best among the 50 states. But by local standards, it was a disappointment, the lowest turnout in 16 years. And those no-shows were important. Mr. Trump won the state by just 27,000 voters.

          Milwaukee’s lowest-income neighborhoods offer one explanation for the turnout figures. Of the city’s 15 council districts, the decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 in the five poorest was consistently much greater than the drop seen in more prosperous areas — accounting for half of the overall decline in turnout citywide.

          The biggest drop was here in District 15, a stretch of fading wooden homes, sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants that is 84 percent black. In this district, voter turnout declined by 19.5 percent from 2012 figures, according to Neil Albrecht, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. It is home to some of Milwaukee’s poorest residents and, according to a 2016 documentary, “Milwaukee 53206,” has one of the nation’s highest per-capita incarceration rates.

          At Upper Cutz, a bustling barbershop in a green-trimmed wooden house, talk of politics inevitably comes back to one man: Barack Obama. Mr. Obama’s elections infused many here with a feeling of connection to national politics they had never before experienced. But their lives have not gotten appreciably better, and sourness has set in.

          Tt’s not a matter of “May causes, who can say?” The idea that there was a 19.5% drop in Milwaukee turnout because of Facebook advertising is just ludicrous, and only entertained because the political class is pushing, both to evade responsibility for the 2016 debacle and to win contracts in 2020. What Wylie does is reproduce CA’s sales pitch; he’s talking his book. CA indeed wanted to shift votes; I have yet to see evidence that votes were shifted. This evidence should be very easy to produce, since so many interested parties would like it to be produced. The fact that they haven’t even been able to gin up a fake study is quite telling.

          Reply
          1. allan

            “This evidence should be very easy to produce”

            Thanks for the link.

            But how would somebody go about proving why people chose not to vote?
            Will people admit to being influenced by ads? Or even know they were?
            Or even be aware that they were swayed by other people who influenced by ads?

            The fact that all it might have taken is a small delta is on the Dems
            but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
            Nor does it mean that active voter suppression
            by state and local government wasn’t a contributing factor.
            Surely if one could prove that voter suppression was a myth,
            the GOP would have run those studies by now, no?

            Reply
  3. Tony Wright

    I am not sure that the comparison with the UK election holds up well. The utterly inept handling of the Brexit issue by the Tories between 2016 and 2019 should have handed Labour the keys to Downing St. On a velvet cushion. However as a long term Eurosceptic Corbyn provided no clear alternative to Johnson’s simple Brexit advocacy. Some of his more radical domestic policies scared a few horses too.
    By contrast, Sanders and Warren (and even Biden and Bloomberg to some extent) provide clearer alternatives to Trump . However, the big If appears to be whether or not the Democrats can come together behind whoever wins the primaries.
    Another factor appears to be demographic. Not to put too finer point on it, some of the “Angry Old White Men” at the heart of the MAGA 2016 support are or will be dead by November 2020. I have read survey results in financial newsletters to the effect that an unprecedented number of US Millenials support more socialist and climate friendly policies than ever before.
    Can the Democrats harness this change in sentiment by coming together behind a progressive candidate and inspiring younger voters as Obama did in 2008? Albeit that Obama subsequently caved on some issues, notably effective regulation of the financial sector.
    Another big factor will be whether or not Trump, Mnuchen and Powell & Co. can continue to keep all the financial bubbles inflated until November 2020. If the next and overdue recession arrives before then Trump is rooted .
    At least that is how it appears from within our Climate Change generated conflagration on the other side of the world.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether

      > I am not sure that the comparison with the UK election holds up well.

      I am sure it holds up well enough for consultants and strategists to sell similar tactics, aided by puffery in the trade press (Politico, etc.).

      Reply
  4. Lambert Strether

    > our clinical appraisal is that the revulsion against the President President Trump in 2020 will be, as in 2018, gigantic and deeply felt.

    Even if leveraged by centrists and CIA Democrats. Sadly.

    Reply
    1. Parathea

      our clinical appraisal is that the revulsion against the President President Trump in 2020 will be, as in 2018, gigantic and deeply felt.

      It depends. If Joe Biden is the D Party nominee, I could see a huge number of people not bothering to vote – for either one. Why bother? Same policies; different obnoxious spawn using their contacts to game the system. If it comes down to Hunter vs Ivanka in November, the candidates themselves are the biggest voter suppression tactic of all.

      Reply
  5. Lambert Strether

    Doing a little lateral thinking on this powerful post–

    It is true that, given that we live in an oligarchy, that money will have a powerful, even dominating, effect on the electoral process (even if Clinton did manage to flush $1.4 billion down the toilet).

    However, we should also not conflate money with value, in the sense that money is only as effective as the capabilities it can purchase. When the political order is stable, then the translation from money to value is also stable, all other things being equal, in that known services from known political shops and party efforts create more or less known results. (Al Gore speaks of watching the effects of political advertising in his campaign memoir; it was like watching a thermometer rise.)

    However, if and when we are in the midst of a legitimacy crisis, as some might argue that we are, the same value propositions may no longer apply. Matt Taibbi’s Hate, Inc., while not Manufacturing Consent for the 2020s, gives a compendium of tactics used in the press, while pointing to the open hatred of the press successfully fomented by Trump as new. (While it is true that hatred of the press has been a right-wing trope for years, the degree seems to have changed.) Taibbi also gives a superb disquisition on Trump’s use of kayfabe, which is new. From the perspective of campaign dollars, Trump’s personal capital out there in the biomass from the world of wrestling would a rounding error; it’s very high value, very low cost. (The same would be true of Sanders’ “consistency,” achieved over forty years*, but nowhere visible in campaign accounts.) But for both, the value proposition (of “earned media”) changed in the context of a legitimacy crisis, and not before, and no doubt not after whatever is to come works itself out into a newly stable system.)

    NOTE * And also his greatest strength, hence predictably the focus of coming Rovian attacks.)

    Reply
  6. Lambert Strether

    > the revulsion against the President President Trump

    When considering this revulsion, we should also factor in the (guilt-driven?) hatred felt by so many liberal Democrats for the working class, with Trump voters taken as a proxy for the entire multiracial working class. See Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal!, as well as Stoller’s “On Mocking Dying Working Class White People.” Hating Trump, being licensed, would then be useful as a sort of displacement of the (inadmissible) class hatreds involved.

    Reply
  7. makedonamend

    I had occasion to watch Senator Sanders on twitch from Europe last week when my niece alerted me. So I got to watch one of his Town Hall meetings for a while. He really didn’t say anything I haven’t heard him say before, but he did go into a bit more detail. My bad, but I wasn’t able to get too excited because I had heard the exact same messages before.

    But then reading a comment posted on Friday on NC and a referenced article, they argued that it’s Sander’s consistency of message and his ability to by-pass the I.D. political quagmire by continually referencing “working American’s” that allows his campaign to keep plowing ahead. The campaign might be plowing the same furrows, but they are indeed plowing forward and not wandering in random directions.

    I also think Senator Sanders comes across as authentic in his beliefs, a trait shared by President Trump imo. When Sanders speaks, his message is both consistent and authentic. You really get a sense that he believes in Democratic Republican* ideals in his message, and doesn’t necessarily need to get bogged down in endless justifications on particulars. I also have to believe that he knows, no matter how beneficial his policies might be for working American, that many working people in the US are not going to be voting for him; but he also knows that he doesn’t need to antagonise them either.

    In a way, he is doing what liberaltarians have been doing since they became prominent in the 1980s. Focused like a laser. (If elected, he has to be just a ruthless in getting his agenda enacted.)

    I suppose he’ll need to add a bit of razzmatazz if he gets to run against President Trump, but that’s part of the political game he can handle.

    What’s kind of worrisome from my own perspective is that I kind of wanted to be entertained, and I was able to downplay real bread & butter messages that should be firing my soul. Weird.

    *Democracy = the messy dealing with the voice of the people
    Republican – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness or, if you like, Liberty, Equality & Fraternity.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, I think its his continuous repetition of themes that is so very effective. Its the sort of things all politicians are taught to do, but few do it as effectively as he does it – partly of course because his themes are not just some focus group derived buzzwords. I’ve also noticed that he gets live crowds much more excited than he does on screen, which I think is an indicator of genuine political charisma, just of a type thats hard to define.

      Reply
      1. makedonamend

        Yeah, I hadn’t thought about the two-dimension aspect of watching him on a monitor. Might partially explain my initial reaction of wanting to ‘consume’ and be entertained. Really, really disconcerting on reflection.

        I dearly like to see and hear him in fleshy 3D.

        Reply
      2. paintedjaguar

        I’ve been saying for a while that it isn’t Bernie himself or even his themes that create the excitement. It’s the physical evidence of the crowds that there are thousands of others out there who feel the same as you about the what is going on. The media’s attempts to gaslight and suppress, which are right out in the open now, are much less effective when one is not isolated. I’m quite sure that Bernie was more surprised than anyone to find himself leading a parade. In fact, in a number of ways he’s been slow to catch up to his supporters.

        Reply

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