Monthly Archives: April 2017

Enough with predictions, live in the present and cultivate your own garden

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, April 18, 2017)

I admire Ruy Teixeira’s optimism.  He is Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss minus the syphilis.  Reality fails to deter him.

The co-author of “The Emerging Democratic Majority” (with John Judis) and the intellectual architect of the Democratic Party’s current electoral strategy to win elections mainly through mobilizing its base (at the expense of voter persuasion efforts) has given the Democrats even more reasons to be confident about their future.

Seven reasons to be exact.  However, towards the end of his article, when he says that “Trump can’t solve people’s problems (but) the left can,” he unwittingly highlights exactly why the Democrats remain disconnected from political reality and will likely fail to capitalize on any future public dissatisfaction with the Trump administration and the Republican Congress.

According to Teixeira, we just need to spend more money in the appropriate areas. Trump’s building a wall, renegotiating trade agreements, and lowering taxes are political bait-n-switches doomed to fail.  It is the Democrats, says Teixeira, that have the”feasible” ideas that will produce sustainable growth.

“The Democratic Party is more or less united around a programmatic approach to the economy that could actually produce such growth,” says Teixeira.  “This includes universal pre-K, free access to two years and some four-year colleges, paid family leave, subsidized child care, higher minimum wages, a commitment to full employment, and robust investments in infrastructure and scientific research, especially around clean energy.”

All defensible policy ideas that — according to my back-of-the-envelope estimate — would add to our nation’s annual budget about 500 billion dollars in new spending, plus an additional $1 trillion spread out over  5 to 10 years to cover just the new infrastructure spending.  Some of this spending could be pushed to the state-level, but apart from states like South and North Dakota, few states have the capacity to take on new spending on that scale.

But think of all that additional economic growth it will create to pay for these programs, you ask?  I’m thinking about it and the only firm conclusion I can muster is that there is no problem the Democrats aren’t willing to spend your money to try and solve.

This is 2017, not 1932.  The United States has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world — fifth out of the 36 OECD countries, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

And, while we are not broke in the near-term (not even close), it does represent a financial ceiling, of sorts, that makes the likelihood of creating more big-ticket government programs very unlikely.

Obamacare is “sticky” and repealing is now unlikely.  But it also stands as a deterrent to passing other broad government programs.  As a nation, we lack the political consensus (much less the money) to add more spending on such a large scale — unless we are talking about defense spending (but that’s for another article on another day).

By suggesting these large policy initiatives represent the Democrats’ advantage over the Republicans in ideas, Teixeira only highlights how the Democrats lack any new ideas and remain deeply out-of-touch with political and economic reality.

Teixeira could have used the opportunity to describe the growing Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and maker-community phenomenon and how this intellectual revolution could be directed towards solving society’s biggest problems in a more cost-effective manner.  Where many government programs lack the ability or funding to create solutions tailored to each program recipient, the DIY ethos of focusing at the individual-level creates a level of efficiency a government program could never approach.

Far from being wishful forecasting on my part, DIY-inspired curricula are already working their way into our schools to where many teenagers have stopped buying pre-built computers, but are instead building their own to meet their often massive computing requirements – at a fraction of the cost. Home security, artificial intelligence-controlled home energy consumption, local food production, among other daily tasks, are already being impacted by DIY solutions.

The DIY ethos is capable of changing the world for the better without relying on public spending for its advance.  Quite the opposite, it could kill off large swaths of what today we assume to  be the exclusive domain of our local, state and federal governments.

But this social revolution hasn’t penetrated the political elite class yet, if Teixeira is any indication. Instead, he just proposes a handful of big, new government programs, as if all we need to do is get an FDR-like Democrat in office, along with a Democratic congressional majority, and away we go…

I give Teixeira credit. Though humbled by the 2016 election, he hasn’t let one titan-class prediction failure stop him from making more predictions. And while doing so, slips in his tragic and flawed ’emerging Democratic majority’ thesis to argue that the Democrats’ likely success in the 2018 midterm elections will begin to validate his original predictions.

Yet, predicting the Democrats will do well in the 2018 midterm elections (and beyond) might be acceptable for Capt. Obvious, Teixeira and other political analysts must esteem to answer the tougher question: To what extent will the Democrats’ likely gains  in 2018 be due to the electorate’s fundamental alignment with the Democrats’ agenda versus a predictable reaction to the real and perceived failings of the Trump administration.

Its on this more germane question that Teixeira’s assertion of the Democrats’ unstoppable ascendancy may come up up short, again.

There is much in Teixeira’s newest argument that is prescient and will work in the Democrats favor going forward.  Most notably, he correctly points out that the Democrats’ policy gains from FDR to Obama will be hard to reverse.  He calls them “sticky” gains and the recent failure of the U.S. Congress to replace and repeal Obamacare gives us vivid evidence of this stickiness.  He also cites Social Security and Medicare, two social safety net programs launched when the Democrats were the ‘party of ideas’ and the dominant governing party.  That those two programs not only remain intact but have grown (a lot!) since their creation is a testament to the power of growing tax revenues and its ability to seduce politicians into increasing the pervasiveness of the government in our everyday lives.

My wife likes to tell me, especially when I’m on a rant about the size of government, that I would miss the government if it went away.  Would I?  I guess we’ll find out because that is a big part of the Trump experiment going on right now. We may soon find out how much we will miss many of our State Department’s functions, or the EPA, or the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Teixeira also highlights the strategic advantage the Democrats possesses on issues like technological change and the growth of “office jobs” (who can’t get excited about that?!), globalization as a force for good (particularly for people that aren’t Americans), and the clean energy revolution.

Right. Right.  And right.  He is probably not wrong on any of these fronts. All are happening as we walk and breathe today and, perhaps, the Democrats have an inherent advantage to capitalize on these social trends.

He could have cited recent polling data from the 2016-17 American National Election Study (ANES) showing a remarkable shift in the American electorate along the “free trade/globalization” vector.  Where once Republican partisans were the dominant free-trade advocates, the Democrats now lead. The passive-aggressive neglect of working-class union voters by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was not an accident.  It was a calculated message to the former bedrock of the Democratic base to ‘find some new friends.’

The Clinton campaign’s hubris was informed and emboldened in large part by Teixeira’s prediction in 2004 of the Democrats’ political dominance by 2016.  But while I could beat the drum all day about why the emerging dominance theory was (and is) wrong, I invite you to read an analysis by Slate’s Yascha Mounk that details why the ’emerging democratic majority’ thesis has been slow to materialize.

With laser-guided precision, Mounk’s truth-bombs porpoise down to their targets to lay waste to one of the biggest flaws in the Teixeira/Judis thesis.  “There is evidence that Latinos and black Americans don’t actually see themselves as particularly liberal,” writes Mounk, who adroitly points out that a few decades ago Irish Americans voted monolithically for Democrats while today they mostly vote Republican.   “Projecting the future voting behavior of Latinos and black Americans is impossible.”


Economists like to share the story about a government economist who was asked why he makes economic predictions for policymakers even when he knows he’s not really good at it:  “I predict the future, not because I can, but because they ask me to.”

I can’t fault Teixeira and Judis for attempting to describe the future — I understand the incentive to do so — but I chafe at how frequently these attempts fail. And the Democrats, in particular, have been harmed by the arrogance that often accompanies these predictions. We all want to believe we are working within a bigger, causal framework that in the end leads us to a better place.

Towards the end of Voltaire’s Candide, the title character reminisces with Dr. Pangloss about their many and often difficult life experiences.  About which Dr. Pangloss concludes, by necessity, all has worked out for the best. Candide, however, dismisses Pangloss’ undeterred optimism and eschews all philosophies, replacing them with the simple, individual task of working on his own garden.

The Democrats will not be the ‘party of ideas’ until they relinquish their own unfounded assumptions about how the world works. This is not 1932. There will be no more big government programs coming out of Washington, D.C. anytime soon.  The political and financial capital they require has been spent (and then some).

But, even as I disagree with Teixeira’s unstoppable contention that the Democrats will be primary benefactor of our nation’s social and demographic changes, I respect his intent. And, to be honest, someday he may well be proven correct.

Rather, if I were a partisan Democrat, I would keep at arm’s length these grand assumptions and their optimistic forecasts about the future and focus, instead, on tending your garden in the here and now.

The author can be reached at:

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.

Yes, Fred — We are a Center-Right country and that ain’t sh*t from a Neptune-sized dog

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, April 17, 2017)

The mainstream opinion factories continue to kick out articles about how the 2016 elections failed to represent the true nature of public opinion in the U.S.

“We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position,”  according to filmmaker Michael Moore.  “We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen.”

Given that the man pretty much called this last presidential election long before anybody else ever did, its hard not to take his opinion seriously.

And Moore isn’t alone in this opinion.  After cherry-picking issues and statistics,  Wired’s Issie Lapowsky and The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, also concluded this country has been transforming into a Center-Left country for a long time now because we increasingly support gender pay equity, marriage equality, abortion rights, and stronger gun control legislation.  All true, by the way.

But none of these astigmatic expositions come close to the hyper-partisan rage of the Daily Kos‘ Fred Bur and his February 18th article, “The “center-right country” myth and smoldering dog sh*t.”

After dismissing the distinguished career of pollster Douglas Schoen because he hadn’t heard of him before, Bur went on to list why anyone that thinks this is a Center-Right country is peddling “smoldering shit from the dog the size of Neptune.”  A great line. Unfortunately, it was buried in its own pile of pooh posing as a serious argument meant to convince readers that we, in fact, live in a Center-Left country.

Here is a short summary of his argument:  Those people that say we are a Center-Right country are selecting biased polling data that fits their narrative; now here is  my biased selection of polling and election data that proves we are a Center-Left country.

Bur left me unconvinced. I require a more structured, systematic look at the data.  And, luckily, the 2016 American National Election Study fielded jointly by Stanford University and the University of Michigan provides that.

You can get more detail about the ANES methodology  here.  The most important thing to know about this study is that it has been fielded for every election cycle since 1948, had a sample size around 3,600 people in 2016, and is representative of vote-eligible Americans. In other words, they don’t interview children, prisoners and illegal aliens.  Everyone else was potentially on their contact list.

And what does the 2016 ANES tell us?  It tells us how the Democratic Party could nominate the most qualified presidential nominee in modern U.S. electoral history, face the most unprepared opponent imaginable, at a time when the U.S. economy was growing, and still lose the presidency, the U.S. House, and most state legislative and gubernatorial races.

More broadly, the 2016 ANES reveals the most lucent feature of America’s vote-eligible population:  Most Americans are neither Left or Right in terms of their issue positions — though, on average, they lean slightly to the Right on the issues that matter most at election time.

On his point that the Democrats are more than competitive in U.S. elections, Bur is correct. It will not require a monumental sea change in public opinion for the Democrats to win most elections once again.

But, right now, when looking over a broad selection of issues, the Democrats are not in alignment with the majority of Americans, particularly those issues that drive election outcomes.  The Democrats are a Center-Left party in Center-Right country.

Remember, the Democrats didn’t just lose the presidency.  They lost every level of elected government we have in this country. Is that not the best indication of our nation’s right-of-center partisan bias? It our nation’s factory-setting.

Even if we allow that Clinton was more popular than Trump as measured by the popular vote (though we didn’t hold a popular vote presidential election in 2016), we have U.S. congressional and thousands of state-level races to explain.

And the 2016 ANES does that.

Using a simple statistical technique, I clustered the 3,649 ANES respondents as either Left, Middle or Center based on their responses to a wide range of issues (the data and computer algorithms can be provided upon email request to:  It should be noted that the 2016 ANES was conducted in two pre- and post-election waves.  Most of the issues cited below were asked in the post-election wave.

Overall, I categorize 51 percent of Americans as in the Middle of the ideological spectrum, while only 22 percent are on the Left and 27 percent on the Right.  Politicians and opinion journalists may be polarized.  The people that spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter promoting the #MAGA or #ImStillWithHer hashtags may be polarized.  But not average Americans.

This is good news if you want future U.S. elections to be competitive between the two major parties.  Its bad news if you think Donald Trump’s victory was a stolen one and will be rectified over the next two election cycles.

When viewing U.S. public opinion over many decades, the 2016 ANES results are unsurprising.  The American Voter, authored in 1960 by Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes, found a similar American electorate.  In their study, most Americans were in the ideological center, often holding contradictory opinions when compared to more ideologically consistent partisans.  The American Voter’s oft-cited finding that politics is just not that important to Americans still holds up today and helps explain why ideological purity matters more to political partisans and journalists than it does to average Americans.

In 2014, writing in response to a Pew Research Center report on the polarization of the American electorate, Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina concluded, “The country as a whole is no more polarized than it was a generation ago.”  Citing the General Social Survey among other data sources, Fiorina argued that, “with occasional small exceptions, moderate remains the modal category today just as it was in the days of Jimmy Carter.”

Fiorina’s conclusion shouldn’t change given the 2016 ANES results.

To avoid analytical cherry-picking, Figure 1 below shows a large selection of issues used to cluster the 2016 ANES respondents.  For comparability across the ideological groups, all responses are normalized where a negative value indicates the group’s average response is below the mean (Disagree/Oppose) and a positive value indicates the group’s average response is above the mean (Agree/Favor).

(Source:  2016 American National Election Survey)


On most issues, centrist Americans are equidistant from the two ideological extremes.  For example, take the question of whether the federal government should be doing “more, not less” (the 6th item from the top in Figure 1).  Right-leaning Americans are almost one standard deviation below the average response.  In other words, they disagree by a lot (!) that the federal government should be doing more.  Conversely, Left-leaning Americans are much more likely to agree with that statement and “Middle-of-the-Road” Americans, as their label suggests, are at the average.  Not surprising.

Partisans, by definition, are polarized on most issues.  Lacking any creativity, I call these issues — “polarizing issues” — as they are the topics that also tend to dominate our news media’s conflict-focused discourse:  the role of government, Syrian refugees, Black Lives Matter, border walls, immigration, climate change.

Conversely, we also see those issues where the ideological extremes don’t distinguish themselves.  Examples include free trade agreements, Social Security spending, limits on campaign spending, and gender pay equity.

But Figure 1 really gains its value when it identifies those issues where the Middle is not equidistant from the Left or the Right.  These are the tactical issues the parties should emphasize in their effort to win elections.

In Figure 1, we see the issues where, at present, each party possesses a tactical advantage over the other party.  For the Democrats (Left), they are aligned with most Americans (Middle) when they:

  • Advocate for higher taxes on millionaires (and, more generally, aim to reduce economic inequality)
  • Promise to protect Social Security
  • Acknowledge that global warming is real
  • Promote policies to protect the environment

For the Republicans (Right), they are with most Americans when they:

  • Defend the interests of the private sector
  • Promote policies that support law enforcement and reduce crime
  • Defend the federal government’s anti-terrorism efforts (such as domestic wiretapping)
  • Advocate for the defense of traditional values
  • Work to protect American jobs from illegal immigration
  • Express concern over perceived declines in American culture

The implications of the 2016 ANES data are not subtle.  Going forward, it is to the Democrats’ electoral advantage to convince the Middle that issues, such as the environment, are among the most important issues facing Americans.  Conversely, the Republicans are in a superior position electorally when the Middle perceives the promotion of free enterprise, security, and traditional values as the most important issues facing this country.

Unfortunately, the 2016 ANES has yet to release the data on what issues were most important to Americans in 2016.  However, we have other sources, such as Pew Research and the Gallup Organization, that found issues such as jobs, the economy, terrorism, national security, crime, and immigration were among the most important issues to Americans going into the 2016 elections.  Concerns about the environment simply did not drive most voters’ choices last November.

In general, the Republicans have the tactical advantage on the most important electoral issues – the economy and national security.  However, despite recent losses, there is reason for optimism among Democrats, and not because of any expectation that the FBI will prove collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or that this country will slide into chaos during the current administration.  Those expectations rest more on hope than the facts, as of now.

No, the better source of buoyancy for Democrats’ hopes is that the post-materialist issues, such as the environment, social justice and civil rights, may someday attain a level of importance with voters that issues like the economy and national security do today.  Which is not to say the Democrats can’t also be competitive on the materialist issues.  But the Democrats’ wheelhouse remains civil rights and social justice issues.  And that’s not going to change any time soon.  Just as it is unlikely the Republicans can quickly pivot into a neo-Green party.

How ironic would it be if, over the next four years, the American economy prospered and the ISIS threat diminished so much that Americans turned their political attention more to the environment, economic equality and social justice.  Ask Winston Churchill about such irony.  He led the British through the darkest days of World War II to an impending victory only to be rewarded with an electoral defeat in 1945 to Clement Attlee’s Labour Party.

Voters are funny that way.


Where we sit today, we do not have a polarized electorate – even if our elected leaders are more polarized than ever.  The Left and Right are both competitive and the Middle still determines electoral outcomes.

But to acknowledge that most Americans are centrists does not mean there aren’t polarizing issues in this country.  There are and Figures 2 through 6 below show most of them, as well as issues where Americans have reached a social consensus and the issues where people are still sorting themselves out.

This key shows how we defined these issue categories and how we assigned each issue to them:

Figures 2 through 6, show the percentage of vote-eligible Americans in each agreement category for a selection of issue-items in the 2016 ANES.  For example, 77 percent of vote-eligible Americans agree that it is important to reduce government deficits; only 7 percent disagree with that statement and 19 percent are unsure.  This issue, therefore, is a prime example of a “consensus” issue.



One of the more interesting findings from the 2016 ANES is that on many issues Americans have achieved an apparent consensus:  reducing deficits, favoring higher taxes on the top income brackets, increasing investments in crime prevention, support for marriage equality, support for the 2nd Amendment, equal pay for men and women. the reality of global warming and the belief that we can protect the environment without jeopardizing jobs.

Abortion, while not a consensus issue, it is close to being one with 45 percent of Americans supporting few if any restrictions on abortions and 41 percent supporting abortion rights but with strict restrictions.  Only 14 percent of Americans are against it under all circumstances.

While all these consensus issues were visible in the 2016 presidential election, none of them could be considered the dominate issues in that race.


Polarizing issues are a different matter altogether.  Few should be surprised that whether to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border divides Americans.  Thirty-three percent of Americans support it, 46 percent do not, and 21 percent are still unsure.  But it is not the most polarizing issue in America.

According to our analysis, gun control, as in “making it more difficult to buy a gun in this country” is the most polarizing issue we face.  Fifty-four percent of Americans think it should be more difficult, but 40 percent oppose such restrictions.  Only 6 percent of Americans are still unsure.

Other divisive issues in this country are the transgender (bathroom bill) controversy, and whether to move towards a government-based health care system.

Notice that the polarizing issues were all prominent in the 2016 presidential election.


Finally, the 2016 ANES shows us the many issues we, as a country, are still sorting through.  These are issues where most Americans’ preferences remain undecided or tentative.  These issues include whether government wiretapping has gone too far in the name of security, whether American businesses should face more regulation, whether the U.S. should pursue more free trade agreements, whether recent global warming is mostly anthropogenic in nature, and whether fracking is an acceptable way to extract natural gas for our nation’s energy needs.

The strong partisans portray these issues as settled.  Among Americans, they are not.  Subsequently, these issues will be ripe for exploitation by either party depending on which direction American public opinion ultimately breaks.


The empirical evidence says, despite the many contentious, undecided issues we face, we are not a divided nation.  In general, Americans are moderates with an ideological hue towards the right of center, particularly on the issues that matter most at election time – namely, the support of free enterprise, limited government, a strong national defense posture, controlled immigration, and the defense of traditional family values.  These are not winning issues for the Democrats.

That is why Clinton lost to Donald Trump.

Unless the Democrats move to the right or convince the American people that civil rights, expanding the social safety net, reversing climate change, and economic equity are the most important issues facing this country, they will continue to face a strong headwind on election day.  To become a durable governing majority, the Democrats must acknowledge their current weakness is not just a process or organizational problem.  The Democrats are losing to the Republicans on the level of ideas.

Until the Democrats come to grips with that problem, the Republicans will continue to disproportionately benefit from the distribution of opinions currently observed within the American public.

But, Democrats, do not despair.  There is a stubborn level of unanimity in the U.S. and that all but guarantees, in the long-run, both parties can go from widespread electoral defeats in one election to convincing victories in the next election.

Yes, our political and media elites are more divided than ever, but it is overlaying a polity that does not mirror this division and, by many indications, would prefer to see it end and be replaced with a political system capable of solving today’s biggest problems in a civil and productive manner without all the drama.

In that opinion, I hope we can all agree.

About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistician with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion.  He presently manages a public opinion polling firm, The Olson Kroeger Company, with offices in Des Moines, Iowa and Ewing, New Jersey. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).

He can be contacted at: