Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Neutering of the Democrats’ Sanders-wing has Begun

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: or}

The Washington Post’s Ed Rogers just declared that “the Democratic candidates appear to be coalescing around a core set of issues that constitute a dangerous lurch to the left.”


According to Rogers, “Any Democrat who wants to be taken seriously must support a single payer health care system, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, affirmative support for sanctuary cities along with minimal immigration controls and, finally, a contender must completely embrace Black Lives Matter.”

While the surface evidence supporting Rogers’ argument is strong, the exact opposite process may be underway within the Democratic Party.

Democrats may someday look back at the last week of August 2017 as the start of their party’s neutering of its Bernie Sanders-wing.

OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but there were two recent events that hint at some complex strategic thinking occurring within the Democratic Party’s leadership. After months of being little more than the “anti-Trump”-party, the Democrats recognize that the far left elements of their party must be exorcised now or risk losing an opportunity in 2018 and 2020 to take back the U.S. House and presidency, respectively.

The first strategic move was a simple and obvious one to take.

On August 29th, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement condemning  Antifa , a radical leftist, loosely organized political movement  that tolerates violence (if necessary) against “fascist” opponents they target.

“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts,” read her statement. “The violent actions of people calling themselves Antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”

While the condemnation came a little late for some, the statement was evidence that the Democratic Party’s leadership finally understands the blow back risk posed by Antifa’s violent actions at protest rallies across the nation.

When President Trump made his now infamous “many sides” comment regarding the violence at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march, the justifiable effort of Democratic leaders to stake out the high ground would have been much easier had Antifa counter-protesters not  bashed in the heads of a few neo-nazis and white supremacists, thereby making it easier for the conservative media to suggest the propensities for violence were equivalent on both sides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., accompanied by, from left, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y. speaks in a park in Berryville, Va., Monday, July 24, 2017, where they unveiled the Democrats new agenda. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Speaking to the Denver Posts’ editorial board, Pelosi said, “You’re not talking about the far left of the Democratic Party — they’re not even Democrats. A lot of them are socialists or anarchists or whatever.”

As political tactics go, Pelosi’s harsh statements regarding Antifa carry little risk. Nonetheless, as one of the party’s most senior leaders, her rebuke carries significant weight among other Democratic elites.

Time will tell if the Democratic leadership can effectively separate themselves from the violent elements in their ranks that have been energized by the often over-heated, hyperbolic rhetoric coming from congressional Democrats such as Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi herself.

Will Single Payer Health Care Finally See Its Day in the U.S.?

The more significant and complex strategic move by the establishment Democrats occurred in Oakland, California later in the week.

During a town hall meeting on August 30th, California Senator Kamala Harris endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to expand the federal Medicare program to all Americans. Sanders intends to introduce the single payer health care bill (often called “Medicare for All”) sometime in September.

“I intend to co-sponsor the ‘Medicare for All’ bill because it’s just the right thing to do,” Harris said during the town hall. “It’s not just about what is morally and ethically right, it also makes sense just from a fiscal standpoint.”

The last sentence is a textbook Clintonian tactical move. Blunt criticism from your left flank by endorsing their holy grail issue — universal health care — but leaving the door open to ultimately reject any specific plan to convert the American health care to a “Medicare-for-All” (MFA) or other type of universal heath care system.

That’s a pretty cynical interpretation of what sounded like a genuine endorsement of the MFA idea by Harris, isn’t it?

Yes, it is — but not without cause.

First, congressional observers do not expect the bill to become law — at least not anytime soon — which makes any support for it now a relatively empty gesture. Three years is an eternity in politics and policy stands taken today can easily be shifted (and even reversed) should events warrant, particularly for a candidate relatively new in the public eye.

Hillary Clinton was too well-known in 2008 and 2016 to be allowed the policy latitude required of a successful presidential candidate. Harris will not have that problem.

Second, while Harris has spoken favorably about MFA in the past, it was always in very general terms and she was never a leader in California’s own effort to implement MFA at the state-level.

This underscores what has been one of the key features of Harris’ young political career, first as a district attorney and later as the state’s Attorney-General: She is a pragmatist more inclined to negotiate deals with vested interests and stakeholders surrounding an issue than to take a strong ideological stand.

The best example of this Harris characteristic is found in how she addressed foreclosure fraud in California at the beginning of this decade. As she likes to reminds us, Harris took California out of the nationwide mortgage settlement talks in 2011 on the grounds that they were too generous to the banks. Instead, she had California negotiate its own deal — partly in response to her biggest political competitor, lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, calling for such a move.

When the left speaks, Harris listens. That’s not a criticism. It’s often a smart move.

In the end, however, while getting banks to pay over $20 billion in debt relief and financial assistance, the California deal was still criticized by advocacy groups that noted banks themselves would pay only around $5 billion which amounted to between $1,500 and $2,000 of direct debt relief to individual homeowners.

In other words, banks felt little pain from the California deal even as the Democratic Party’s establishment immediately promoted Harris as someone tough on banks and a champion of hard-working families.

“Harris’s actions on the issue in many ways serve as a microcosm of her broader political agenda,” wrote Branko Marcetic for Jacobin Magazine. ” The foreclosure deal, while an impressive and landmark settlement, was also a half-measure that delivered far less to the public than it seems at first glance, ultimately failing to properly take the banks to task for their criminality.

The third reason we should be skeptical of Harris’ endorsement of MFA is also her most distinctive feature since emerging on the national stage. She is the Democratic Party’s best fundraiser not named Bernie. Moreover, she has received formal introductions to and received substantial donations from the crown jewels of the Obama and (Bill and Hillary) Clinton donor base.

Harris’ headliner appearance in the Hamptons for a July 2017 fundraiser hosted by Michael Kempner, a top donor and bundler in the past for Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party,  proved to be a hit among some of the Democratic Party’s most important kingmakers. Kempner called her a “star” and Kendall Glazer, granddaughter of billionaire Malcolm Glazer, the late owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team and the Manchester United soccer team, offered equally effusive praise for the junior California senator.

Why should her ability to raise money among the Democratic Party’s wealthiest donors prove she won’t be faithful in her endorsement of Sander’s universal coverage bill?

It doesn’t — but recent experience suggests healthcare and insurance money matters a lot. When a quarter of this nation’s most prominent healthcare executives, such as Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty, threw their support behind Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016, it surprised few political observers when Hillary declared at a 2016 Iowa caucus event that a single payer system “will never, ever come to pass.”

In fairness, Hillary was more about defending Obamacare at the time than disparaging the single payer concept, but it nonetheless suggested her corer belief — and that of the Democratic establishment — was that the vested interests arrayed against a single payer system were too strong.

An MFA, single payer system will, for all practical purposes, put the private health insurance industry, with over $480 billion dollars in 2015 revenues , out of business. If you think the 859 health insurance companies in the U.S. will let that happen without a major fight, you would be wrong. Furthermore, i don’t see any indication in Harris’ history that she has the inclination or stomach to take on that industry.

In the “Not News” Category: The Democratic Party Remains Deeply Divided

The health care debate within the Democratic Party is driven by its two major leadership factions — the “establishment wing” and the “progressive wing.”

Now, almost a year removed from the 2016 election, these two factions are still not getting along, despite a common belief between them that — at some level — the two sides must reach a truce of some sort. A divided Democratic Party puts at risk the party’s likely gains in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

A Short History of the Democratic Party since 1985

The Democratic Party’s establishment wing, still dominated by associates of the Clintons and Obama, traces its modern origins to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), founded in the wake of Walter Mondale’s landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1984. The DLC and its affiliated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), mapped an electoral strategy in the mid-1980s that would lead to the election of two two-term Democratic presidents.

The DLC and PPI’s central premise was that, since the 1960s, the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left and had become viewed by average Americans as anti-business and out-of-touch with average American’s economic concerns. Recognizing the joint interests of average Americans, the public sector and corporate America was, in part, the DLC’s co-opting of the Republican brand that Reagan had employed so successfully (less government, deregulation, free markets). By moving corporate interests back into the Democratic Party mainstream, the major issue differentiator between the two parties would become social and identify issues.

Lee Drutman, from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, provides a nice graphical visualization of how the DLC project still defines how American voters divided themselves up in the 2016 election.

The Clintonian-vision of free markets and liberal social ideals had been the Democrats’ whyfor through the Obama administration.

And then came Bernie Sanders — the progressive left’s cranky uncle that has never been welcomed in the Democratic family (by his own choosing) but around whom a large, frustrated and disenfranchised segment of the Democratic rank-and-file quickly embraced.

The Clinton project and its Obama modification (which shed the post-911 neocon foreign policy creep increasingly exhibited by the party’s professorate class) brought prosperity for one-quarter of Americans, left half treading water, and the rest as a persistent underclass. That this underclass, over-represented by racial and ethnic minorities, would always be a reliable Democratic voter bloc was assumed.

The 2016 Election Marks the End of the Clintonian Dominance of the Democratic Party — or is it?

As the 2016 general election drew to a close, many political observers were sounding the alarm that the Democratic Party was repelling white, working-class voters in droves. It didn’t help that the most influential book behind the Obama 2008, 2012 and Clinton 2016 campaign strategies, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s, The Emerging Democratic Majority, all but concluded that the white, working-class Philistines still hanging around the party’s electoral margins would not be necessary to elect Democrats in the not-so-far future.

A perfectly fine strategy if the Democrats have no interest in winning elections between the Cascade and Appalachian mountains. Winning back control of the U.S. House with mostly coastal congressional seats leaves the Democratic Party with little margin of error. Electoral competitiveness in middle America gives the Democrats some breathing room but requires their winning a healthy share of white, working-class voters.

Yet, even after the Clinton 2016 debacle, many on the intellectual left continue their call for the permanent excommunication of white, working-class whites from the Democratic coalition. Instead, they return to the emerging Democratic majority thesis and say the Democrat’s growing demographic advantage requires only that the party turns out its core voters to win elections.

“Turnout isn’t everything; it is the only thing.” exhorts essayist Dan McGee. “If every Democrat who votes will vote Democrat, then the easy way for Democrats to win is to ensure that many Democrats vote.”

Before putting on her eye creme, Kellyanne Conway prays each night that the Democrats continue to follow McGee’s advice.

Will Public Opinion Determine if Single Payer Actually Happens?

In an August 2017 Quinnipiac Poll of 1,125 registered voters, 51 percent of respondents supported replacing the current health care system with a single payer system in which Medicare covers every American citizen. Only 38 percent opposed such a change.

That is a big gap, but big enough to warrant mainstream Democrats embracing a single payer system?

While encouraging for single payer supporters, public opinion-level support for universal health care is not sufficient to judge the wisdom of Harris’ decision to support Sanders’ single payer plan.

This country has never fought a presidential election with universal health care as its central issue. As political scientists will tell you, elections shape public opinion as much as their results are driven by public opinion.

The relationship between public opinion and election outcomes is non-recursive — causation flows in both directions. For example, elections shape public opinion when they educate voters about the parties’ relative issue stances and help voters align their own stances with their preferred party or candidate. That is why using survey results from the 2016 election to make strategic decisions about the 2018 and 2020 elections can be misleading. New candidates and issues can fundamentally change the electoral dynamics in the next election.

However, sometimes shit happens and exogenous shocks to the system (e.g., 2008 financial crisis, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, Comey letters, etc.) force politicians to react to real changes in public opinion and mood.

As of today, we don’t know if health care will be a prominent issue in 2020 — and, if it is, in what context does it attain this importance?

The Republicans are Prepared to Fight a Single Payer System

The health sector accounts for 18 percent of the American economy, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Before Congress hands it over to the public sector, here are just a few of the arguments we can expect to hear from the Republicans:

  • It will lead to health care rationing (of course, the Democratic reply is that we already have health care rationing)
  • It will empower an already bloated federal government
  • It will restrict patients’ freedom of choice
  • It will deliver inferior health care services
  • The burden of financing a single payer system will fall on the middle class
  • And, ultimately, will cost more than the current system

Whether there are strong counter arguments to the Republicans is not the only consideration for Democrats. The Republican 40-year project of cultivating the federal government as oppressive and incompetent-narrative has never been effectively countered by the Democrats. At least not on a consistent basis.

Bill Clinton tacitly accepted the Reagan argument as he deregulated the economy and turned the federal government into an enabler of the private sector’s best and worst instincts. Still, the federal government never shrank in real terms as much as it did during the Clinton presidency (thanks largely to the post-Soviet peace dividend).

Elected on the heals of the country’s worst economic recession since the Great Depression, Obama tried to re-energize the concept of government-centered problem solving, but ultimately failed under a well-coordinated barrage of Republican propaganda and a wall of congressional intransigence.

It doesn’t help Democrats’ government-centered proposals that much of the public’s real-life contacts with the government tend to end up as negative experiences (DMV, IRS, etc.). Yes, the military generally gets high marks from the public, but the Republicans have always been shrewd in keeping the military separate from their criticisms of the federal government.

So, if this country is going to move to a single payer health care system, the barriers will be enormous. Hillary was cynical but right about Bernie’s single payer proposal. Under current conditions, it will never pass even a Republican-controlled Congress.

A universal health care system in the U.S. is, at a minimum, 5 to 10 years away.’s analysis of universal health care systems in seven other advanced economies shows that there is a potential cost in delaying the adoption of a universal health care system (see chart below) — perhaps as much as a $15 billion-a-year additional increase in health care expenditures for every year the U.S. delays in adopting a universal health care system.

The earliest adopters of a universal health care system — United Kingdom and Japan — have the lowest health expenditures per capita. In contrast, late-adopters like Germany and Switzerland have higher per capita expenditures.

This relationship could be the result of late-adopting countries having inherently more expensive health care systems, thereby making the conversion to a universal health care system more difficult (Germany and Switzerland both have federal political systems — as does the U.S., of course). On the other hand, the higher per capita costs for late-adopters could be a function of vested interests (insurance companies, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) having had more time to solidify their power over the country’s health care system.

Either way, if the U.S. is to join the above chart, it will start in the upper-right-hand corner (late adopter / high per capita expenditures) as the most costly health care system in the world ($8,713 per capita health care expenditures in 2013 dollars). Sadly, the high cost of the U.S. health care system translates into only average health care outcomes and lifespans for its citizens.

You would think that fact alone would inspire our politicians to seriously consider a single payer / universal health care system, and perhaps it is this fact that explains Harris’ conversion to the idea. But, I believe otherwise.

Harris’ Endorsement of Medicare-for-All More Likely a Tactical Chess Move

Harris’ endorsement of the Sanders health care plan is most likely a shrewd move to blunt the threat of a Sanders candidacy in 2020 (or the candidacy of a similar Democratic progressive).

Three years removed from the 2020 elections, now is the time for the Democratic establishment to dampen the progressive wing’s energy sources. They don’t need to sap all of its energy, just enough to avoid the party division seen in 2016. Harris needs to win the 2020 Iowa Caucus by 5 percentage points, not Clinton’s 2016 margin of 0.1 percentage points.

Expect over the next few months more and more establishment Democrats endorsing, conceptually, ideas such as free public college tuition, a minimum wage hike, student debt forgiveness, support for sanctuary cities, amnesty, and Medicare-for-All.

There is little cost in taking these positions now, particularly among Democratic candidates that are relatively new on the scene (Harris, Gillibrand. Opinion shifts are more likely to be forgiven coming from Harris than a more established politician such as Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden.

As Harris said when endorsing Sanders’ plan, MFA makes sense from a “fiscal standpoint.” But when the details of the Sanders plan become apparent, so will the associated costs. That event will offer Harris (and the Democratic establishment) the cover to say, “We didn’t sign up for that — and neither will the American people.”

Politics is a strategic game with many players and many possible moves. In Harris announcing her support for the Sanders health care plan, we are seeing just the first moves in a very long and complicated political game leading up the 2020 election.


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 also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. 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.

Predictions of GOP demise may be greatly exaggerated

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, August 28, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: or}

An economist, when asked why he makes economic forecasts even though his predictions are often inaccurate, replied, “I make forecasts, not because I can, but because they ask me to.”

Forecasters with real-world experience over a long period of time usually show the psychological scars. Like great athletes, they tend to remember the failures and missed opportunities more than the victories.

Even the best get clocked on the jaw every now and then. Any pretense that Nate Silver owns the secret formula for election predictions evaporated on November 8, 2016.

The election forecasting community understandably is still feeling the pain from the 2016 presidential election debacle; though, to be fair, many of their predictions, particularly those forecasters using econometric and aggregate polling data, came close to predicting Hillary Clinton’s 2.1 percentage-point advantage in the two-party popular vote.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the statistics that failed, it was the analysts. But there were some forecasters that were on target and worth noting.

Political scientists Michael Lewis-Beck and Charles Tien, using in their model only GNP growth in the first two quarters of the election year and presidential job approval in July of the election year, missed the final popular vote outcome by just 0.1 percent. Furthermore, out-of-sampling testing of their model shows it is accurate 83 percent of the time, missing only the 1960, 1968 and 1976 elections.

Jim Campbell’s “Convention Bump” model also proved accurate, missing the 2016 popular vote by just 0.3 percentage-points.

As for two of the popularly reported aggregate-poll forecasts, and fivethirtyeight,com’s popular vote forecasts were not that bad (1.1 and 1.7 percentage-point errors, respectively).

Nonetheless, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.


Like a scene from The Walking Dead, forecasters once again are slumping out of the forest to predict the 2018 midterm elections, with specific emphasis on the U.S. House races where the Democrats have a decent chance of regaining control.

With just a 24-seat gain required for the Democrats to re-take control of the House (which is well  within historical averages), the GOP should be very concerned about 2018.

But how concerned?

Before looking at some of the more elaborate model predictions, these simple statistics should be enough to keep House Republicans glued to their donor list:

  • In the past 20 U.S. House midterm elections, the president’s party has lost seats in 18 of those elections by an average of 33 seats in each of those 18 elections.
  • Since Gallup began collecting presidential job approval data in 1946, a job approval rating above 50 percent translates into an average loss of 14 seats for the president’s party; however, when the POTUS is underwater (below 50 percent), they lose 36 seats.

Categorizing each House race as either “safe,” “leaning,” or “toss-up,” while fun and even enlightening, isn’t required to make a simple back-of-the-envelope prediction: The Republicans are going to lose seats in 2018, perhaps enough to give House control back to the Democrats.

Here are just two of the latest predictions for the 2018 U. S. House midterm elections:

While not a specific prediction, Charlie Cook (of the Cook Political Report) says, “Analysts who have watched congressional elections for a long time are seeing signs that 2018 could be a wave election that flips control of the House to Democrats.”

Nate Silver similarly predicted in mid-April that the 2018 House elections looked “cloudy, with a chance of a landslide (in favor of the Democrats).”

Lifezette’s Kathryn Blackhurst couldn’t help but note the irony — the same people who predicted Clinton’s historic victory last year were already spreading bad vibes about the GOP’s 2018 election prospects.

The Republicans can’t be blamed if they are a bit blase and not taking these newest predictions seriously. They can also take solace in the knowledge that many forecasters still think the Democrats  are a statistical long-shot for taking back the House.

Here are a few of the more GOP-friendly forecasts:

One key attribute of these forecasts, whether they predict a Democratic landslide or the GOP keeping House control, is that they are as perdurable as sand castles. All of the major variables in these models are going to change between now and Election Day 2018.

Ergo, nobody should be making bets on where Trump’s job approval will be in November of next year. Trump still hasn’t reached Nixon, Carter or George W. Bush job approval lows (24, 28 and 25 percent, respectively) but we know he’s capable of sinking lower; and, while there are reasons to conclude his upside isn’t likely to break 50 percent job approval in the next year (though a bump from a new war or major terrorist attack is always a possibility), the Democrats have yet to prove they can capitalize on the softness of Trump’s support base.

Furthermore, the structural disadvantages against the Democrats regaining control are substantial.

“Gerrymandering, campaign spending and incumbency advantage play a role,” says FairVote‘s Theodore Landsman in explaining why FairVote‘s prediction model shows the GOP keeping control of the U.S., even if the Democrats should win the majority of votes nationally. “But the biggest cause is well understood: Republicans are distributed in a more geographically advantageous way than Democrats for single-winner geographic districts.”

Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee aren’t asking for our advice, but here is some anyway: Either move a few million loyal Democrats from the coasts into America’s heartland, or, find a way to appeal to more of the voters already living there. Sorry, Democrats, but your problem in U.S. House races isn’t a turnout problem — its a problem of having a narrow geographic appeal. Your dominance in California and New York is doing nothing for you in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin.


Here at, we don’t just criticize, we also submit our own predictions for target practice. Unlike most other prediction models, our model directly predicts the net gain/loss for the incumbent party for midterm elections since 1950 (the first midterm election with consistent polling data on presidential job approval). That gives us just 17 cases to analyze — not a lot, but enough for the biggest drivers (independent variables) to emerge significant. In the age of big data, we are one of the few analytic shops that refuses to apologize for small sample studies.

The data for our midterm election model comes from the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project (see table below) and The Federal Reserve of St. Louis’ FRED database.

Our model variables were:

  • Dependent variable: House seats net gain/loss for president’s party
  • Independent variables:
    • Gallup’s presidential job approval average from August to October in the election year,
    • real disposable personal income growth (average for 1st two quarters of the election year, seasonally-adjusted),
    • an indicator variable for post-Watergate Republican administrations, and
    • the incumbent party’s net gain/loss from the previous midterm election.

The last two independent variables are notable in that they are proxies for two phenomena we believe play crucial roles in U.S. House aggregate election outcomes, particularly during midterm elections when a presidential race doesn’t play a role.

The prior midterm election net gain or loss captures the ‘Yo-Yo’ dynamic at play between midterm elections, independent of the effects of a presidential campaign (which is why we don’t use the prior net gain or loss from the previous presidential election). The ‘Yo-Yo’ dynamic describes the tendency of voters (and we believe also the media), particularly in the age of stagnant wages and incomes, to punish any political party that does well in recent prior elections.

The indicator for post-Watergate Republican administrations measures what we believe to be one of the effects of the Republican Party’s strong, post-Watergate brand equity. While presidential elections are susceptible to the idiosyncratic features of the two major party candidates, U.S. House races are much more dependent on party “branding.” In a country where only 37 percent of adults can name their U.S. House representative, the value of a party’s brand cannot be over-estimated.


Using the parameter estimates from our linear regression model, the following GOP gain/loss forecasts were derived for a reasonable range of presidential job approval values (34 to 49 percent) and five levels of real disposable personal income growth (1st two quarters of the election year, seasonally-adjusted) — see chart below. We used the most recent Federal Reserve estimates for real disposable personal income growth (3.2 percent) to compute the gain/less forecast for 2018.

Our resulting prediction of a net loss of 27 GOP House seats under current conditions has a margin of error of ±20.3 seats (95% confidence level). That is a large confidence band (one of the downsides of small samples), but it does tell us something important. As of now, the GOP is probably not looking at a 2010 election-scale meltdown (where the Democrats lost 63 seats). However, at current job approval and economic levels, the GOP is going to lose some House seats. The question is, “How many?”

The good news for the GOP  is that they can keep their loss small enough to avoid a Democratic takeover of the House if Trump can rediscover job approval numbers north of 41 percent (assuming the economy stays relatively strong as well).

That’s a narrow path for Trump and the GOP to keep control of the House, but given what happened last November, its hard to bet against them.


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 also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. 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.





Democrats and Their Inattentional Blindness

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, August 23, 2017)

{ Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: or}

We often fail to see what we don’t expect to see. This is one of experimental psychology’s most durable research findings and the phenomenon has been given a name: inattentional blindness.

It is one reason patients should always get more than one physician to read their x-ray results. It is hard to find something you aren’t looking for.

This bias is displayed in a recent political essay by Eric Levitz for New York Magazine who concludes, after citing a wide range of political science research, that the “Democrats can abandon the center — because the center doesn’t exist.”

It’s a bold statement — and not without some merit — but it has one serious problem:  It is not supported by any empirical data, including the data he references.


Relying heavily on Dr. Lee Drutman’s analysis of the The Voter Study Group‘s recent 2016 post-election survey (fielded by, Levitz concludes it would be a strategic mistake for the Democrats’ party to move to the center in an attempt to regain the white, working-class voters (“populists”) purportedly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

Levitz’ conclusion receives apparent visual support from one of Drutman’s graphs showing how 2016 voters spatially clustered along two dimensions: economics and social/identity issues:

Graphic Source: Lee Drutman (

In this graph, Clinton voters (in blue) are clumped almost exclusively in the bottom left quadrant (economic and social/identity liberals), while Republicans are divided between economic and social/identity conservatives and populists (economic liberals and social/identify conservatives).

Drutman’s interpretation of the above scatterplot is that the percentage of voters holding “centrist” views — right-of-center views on economic matters and left-of center views on “identity” issues — amounts to only 3.8 percent of the electorate. “Populists” — defined by their left-of-center views on economic matters and right-of-center opinions on “identity” issues — account for about 29 percent of the electorate, according to Drutman.

Though I strongly disagree with Drutman’s two-dimensional method for defining the political ideological groups, even his atheoretical, blunt force categorizations show one-third of the American electorate (in presidential elections, at least) are inadequately represented by the ideological purists from both parties. This hardly supports Levitz’ argument about a non-existent center.

Given his skepticism about the political center, Levitz says the Democrats can afford the risks associated with moving leftward. His prima facia support for this advice derives in part from Drutman’s finding that  45 percent of the electorate are “liberals” (compared to only 23 percent that are “conservatives”). If “liberals’ are both ideologically homogeneous and numerous, by extension, says Levitz, there is little electoral value in appealing to a small (possibly fictional) number of “moderate” swing voters. The Democrats simply need to get their supporters out to vote to win elections, according to Levitz. Furthermore argues Levitz, citing research by political scientists such as Gabriel Lenz, voters are so poorly-informed and inconsistent on policy issues that making intellectual appeals to them based on “centrist” policies will likely fall on deaf ears.

Levitz writes: “If swing voters aren’t actually ideological moderates, but relatively uninformed citizens who switch allegiances on the basis of identity appeals, economic conditions, and/or candidate charisma — while partisans take their policy positions from party leaders — then there’s little reason to believe that Democrats would inevitably lose votes by endorsing Medicare for All instead of the Affordable Care Act; free public college instead of tuition subsidies; or a federal job guarantee instead of infrastructure spending.”

The arrogance displayed in Levitz’ quote helps explain why Democrats continue to lose most elections in this country. When you view half of the voting population as essentially morons, needless to say, you tend not to get their support on election day. Mitt Romney’s writing off of ’47 percent’ of voters in 2012 didn’t work well; it won’t work any better for the Democrats.

Romney’s ’47 percent’ gaffe notwithstanding, Republicans tend to portray partisan Democrats as “hopeless idealists,” “elitists,” or, more recently, “globalists.” Those are attributes some people wear with pride. However, calling voters “uninformed”  (which Democrats use euphemistically for “moron,” idiot,” “inbreed,” or “probably a neo-Nazi racist”) does not make Democrats’ outreach to swing voters any easier.

To Levitz’ credit, he draws in a broad range of political science research to support — and sometimes even challenge — his primary thesis. An example of the latter is his acknowledgement that many voters can be mobilized to vote against candidates they perceive as ideologically extreme. Political writer Dan McGee lists this phenomena as the fifth commandment for elections in the age of hyper-partisanship.

At a minimum, adopting policy stances attractive to the Democratic Party’s activists, such as endorsing Medicare for All, free public college, and federal job guarantees, invites the GOP to frame the election as one between fiscally-conservative Americans versus Democratic extremists. At worst, it can lead to an electoral meltdown for the ‘extremist’ side (think 1964 — LBJ-Goldwater).

Levitz’ confidence that the majority of Americans support the progressive agenda — and that is questionable — assumes the GOP has no degrees of freedom left to respond to the Democrats’ move leftward. If the Drutman scatterplot tell us anything it is that the Republicans attract voters across a broader range of opinions, beliefs and attitudes.

Elections are a complex balancing act, particularly at the presidential level. Ideologically distinctive politicians risk being labeled an ‘extremist” or “out-of-touch” or a “pawn of special interests.” Take your pick. Yet, diving to the center on the important issues is not a proven strategy either. Recent European voter research by Stanford researcher Toni Rodon  shows that the “political middle is less likely to vote when parties do not distinguish themselves ideologically.” Ronald Reagan and his pollster, Richard Wirthlin, realized this relationship in the mid-70s when Reagan gave his famous “bold colors, no pale pastels” speech.

The Democrats can’t build market share by watering down its ideas or mission. Reagan and Wirthlin knew that party-building is akin to brand-building. Distinctive brands that differentiate themselves from the competition on the important dimensions can become strong, growing brands. But the Democrats can’t build a strong brand through excessive narrowcasting either. It may promote loyalty among its strongest partisans, but always risks alienating its marginal supporters. And, contrary to Levitz’ interpretation of the data, there are plenty of marginal Democratic voters.

From a strategic branding point-of-view, the conclusion from Drutman’s work should have been that there is more attitudinal diversity within Republican voters than within Democratic voters. F.H. Buckley has a much better perspective than Levitz on how to read Drutman’s analysis of the Voter Study Group survey.

“Most (Trump) voters, they’re not right-wing crazies…they’re middle of the road types. but solidly patriotic Americans…and that’s the sort of thing that the liberal Democrats simply haven’t gotten,”  Buckley said in a recent interview with the editors of American Greatness. “Unless you sign onto all of their (Democratic) issues, their social agenda, you’re going to be excluded.”

If that is true (and our the 2016 American National Election Study [ANES] analysis supports that conclusion as well), without a major brand re-imaging effort, its the Democrats that may be approaching maximum market share, not the Republicans.


The basic insight from game theory’s Nash Equilibrium is that, in a multi-player game, one single player cannot predict a game’s outcome without taking into account the decision-making calculus of every other player in the game., who must also take into account every other player’s decision calculus.

This game theory result may sound like common sense, but most political analysts (including Levitz and Drutman) don’t seem to understand how to incorporate this maxim into practice. In concrete terms, it means any strategic analysis about what the Democrats should do in 2018 (and beyond) must also consider how the Republicans must move forward and how that decision could, in turn, impact the Democrats’ strategy. The Nash Equilibrium reminds us that strategy-building is iterative (but not endless). At some point, every player can estimate his or her optimal strategy — until some exogenous event (e.g., the economy) changes the conditions of the game.

The rigor Levitz and Drutman apply to determining the best policy strategy for the Democrats moving forward should have also been applied to the question, “If Democrats move farther to the Left, what do the Republicans need to do in response?” That answer most likely changes the Democrats’ original strategy decision.

Any claims of knowing the definitive answer as to what one political player should do to win elections is fanciful dream weaving unless it includes the same attention to the other political player’s strategy. If American electoral history tells us anything, its that one party will never be far outside the reach of the other.

Which makes the Democrats’ current nadir in representation within our nation’s political institutions even more puzzling. What is causing this secular decline?

Is it the (arguably) increasing polarization of American voters? If so, how does moving even farther to left change things in the Democrats’ favor? Increasing polarization could just as easily form the strategic basis for a “move-back-to-the-center” movement (see Pew Research graphic below).

As the Pew Research data shows, even in a polarized electorate (2014), there are plenty of Republicans in the left-tail of its voter distribution (and likewise for the Democrats in the right-tail of their distribution). A minor shift in support from voters in those two tails changes electoral outcomes.

(In the context of corporate brand-building, I highly recommend Jan Hofmeyr and Butch Rice’s book, Commitment-Led Marketing, which combines chaos theory with religious conversion research to help companies build effective branding strategies for market share and customer loyalty growth).

The increasing structural disadvantages the Democrats face must also be considered when building strategy. Incumbency advantages, geographic clustering of Democratic voters, gerrymandering, and voter suppression laws all work against the Democrats from winning elections.

An Associated Press analysis estimates that the Republicans benefit from an efficiency gap of nearly 3 percent in U.S. House races, “allowing them to win three more seats than they would have expected to win given their share of statewide votes.” Its not a large advantage considering currently estimates the GOP will lose around 30 U.S. House seats in 2018 given current Trump approval levels and state of the economy — more than enough for the Democrats to re-take control of the U.S. House.

Structural disadvantages, while real, don’t seem large enough however to fully account for why the number of elected Republicans is at or near historical highs. At some point, Democrats need to consider their ‘brand’ as part of the problem. And not just so we can hear the ‘we need to sell ourselves better’ trope.

It’s not just how Democrats are selling the brand, its what the brand stands for that may inhibiting the party’s success.

To argue that we live in a left-leaning country and progressive policy ideas are better anyway, as Levitz does, fails to address why only about a quarter of Americans are willing to call themselves ‘liberal.’ Even if self-reported ideology is a not a powerful variable in vote prediction models, it does reflect an ongoing reality in this country that the word ‘liberal’ remains a dirty word.

Forgive me, but suggesting the Democrats can address that problem by becoming even more liberal fails the smell test.

Which brings us back to this essay’s original question. Are analytic partisans like Levitz and Drutman deceiving themselves into thinking the political center is a fiction and therefore is of little target value?

The answer, I believe, is an emphatic, yes, and I lay the blame on analyses like Drutman’s on the YouGov-administered survey for the Voter Study Group.

This is not a criticism of YouGov‘s methods*, survey research in general, quasi-experimental designs, cross-sectional samples or of statistical techniques such as principal component analysis. This problem is much deeper, more pervasive, and infinitely harder to address than any of those methodological issues. The problem is rooted in an institutional legacy of bias among researchers (e.g.,  confirmation bias, inattentional blindness, etc.) that has driven the social science research agenda since the 1960s. I would even suggest that Democrats and liberals have a psychological need to believe the world thinks like they do and is therefore safe.

(* A brief discussion at the end of this essay covers some of YouGov’s methodological issues)

That is why research like Drutman’s is so comforting to the Left. It confirms their view of the world. Unfortunately, Drutman’s analysis of  The Voter Study Group (YouGov) survey confuses the statistical artifacts of his analytic choices for the real world. And while it may confirm the progressive Left’s worldview, it encourages biased conclusions and actually trammels their long-term electoral prospects.

It is therefore worth a brief discussion of the serious flaws in Drutman’s work.


(1) Post-election surveys make better mirrors than crystal balls

Post-election surveys typically ask respondents about the issues prevalent in the previous election. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, when this research finds that American voters are well-differentiated when collectively summarizing their survey responses. Levitz, himself, mentions the research explaining how elections serve as cues to help voters align their party and candidate preferences with their issues stances.

“Most voters develop a preference for one of the major parties — typically, on the basis of the historic allegiances of their family, region, economic class, racial group, or religious community — and then take their ideological cues from their party’s leaders (when they don’t ignore the details of policy altogether), writes Levitz.

Scratch the surface of voters’ increasingly polarized issue positions, such as changing how an issue is framed, and you find their views are far from immutable. Levitz provides excellent examples of how issue framing  can dramatically change apparent policy preferences.

When voters respond to survey’s like The Voter Study Group’s, they are partly reflecting back on how issues and candidates were framed in the most recent election. A new election with new candidates and issues and you may get different responses.

There is no better example of this process than how attitudes on American trade agreements shifted between the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections. In 2009, 57 percent of Republicans thought free trade agreements were a “good thing.” After the 2016 election, only 32 percent had the same opinion. While this is not a direct measure individual-level opinion change, that magnitude of change is too large to be solely the function of different Republican voting populations.

That is not to say voters don’t genuinely hold those beliefs. It is saying those survey-reported attitudes and beliefs are endogenous to the system itself and cannot be understood solely as independent factors in election outcomes. Change the election, candidates, issues, and frames and you can get different attitudes and beliefs.

(2) Political ideology is a multi-dimensional construct

Political scientists eschew respondents’ self-reported political ideology and instead  recommend measuring it based on respondents’ views on specific issues within two dimensions: social and economic. Social issues typically concern attitudes on such things as LGBTQ rights, abortion and the role of government in relieving social problems. The second dimension, economic issues, concerns such things as taxes, economic regulation and the distribution of income and wealth.

The problem with viewing political ideology as a two-dimensional construct, as Drutman’s analysis of the Voter Study Group/ YouGov data does, is that political ideology is a multi-dimensional construct. Drutman himself recognizes this fact.

“We should view politics across multiple issue dimensions,” writes Drutman. “Rather than simply describing political alignments in terms of “left” and “right,” I argue that we should understand that voters are not ideologically coherent (in that they endorse the party line across most issues), but instead have different mixes of left and right views across different issues.”

So why then does Drutman present something that is  multidimensional as a two-dimensional phenomenon? Like most data analysts (myself included), analytic choices are often driven by a need to simplify the graphical presentation of complicated data relationships.

Take a closer look at Drutman’s scatterplot of 2016 voters. It is a two-dimensional plot — which if we added a third dimension (national security issues, perhaps?) the dots would need to move off the page, some more than others. In other words, it is likely that the apparent clumping of Clinton voters in the lower left-hand quadrant might be exaggerated by the two-dimensional plot.

It most certainly is exaggerated.

There is significant opinion diversity within Clinton voters.’s own analysis of the 2016 vote using data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) shows Clinton’s support base draws from three major ideological clusters (Liberals, Center-Left, and Centrists).

A strategic Republican Party, if it still exists, will exploit this opinion diversity within the Democrats. While the emerging, near-permanent Democratic-majority-thesis was always an inappropriate interpretation of the political impact of U.S. demographic trends, it does demonstrate how difficult it will be for the Republicans to win elections with their 2016 electoral coalition. The demographic numbers don’t work for the GOP. Trump’s 2016 coalition will not be enough in 2020. {The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein offers an excellent summary of the demographic trends for both parties)

The Republicans will need to expand their base into identify groups they don’t currently perform well in. Upward economic mobility will help (particularly among Hispanics), but if I were a Republican, I would be very, VERY nervous about 2018 and 2020.

But this essay is about helping the Republicans. Its about the Democrats who, I fear, have chanted themselves into a collective stupor that assumes Trump will be forced from office, they will re-take the U.S. House in 2018, and a Democrat (probably Kamala Harris) will be elected president in 2020. The first prediction won’t happen…the second prediction has a better than even chance…and we just don’t have enough information to say anything meaningful about 2020.

Essays like Levitz’s relying heavily on research like Drutman’s don’t help the Democrats. It keeps them over-confident and arrogant.

(3) Absolute versus Relative Measures — You Don’t Have to Choose

There are many ways to transform and manipulate data so that it can be effectively analyzed. Drutman made some important decisions in analyzing the Voter Study Group survey.

“The measures here are’absolute’ measures as opposed to ‘relative,” writes Drutman. “I took the responses to the VOTER Survey questions as given, rather than rescaling the indexes to set the median score at zero.”

Drutman’s “absolutist” choice has clear advantages. For one, It makes his results easier to interpret. When “-1″ means support for a liberal policy and ‘1” means support for a conservative approach (and zero, of course, is neutral or unsure), that is easy for readers to digest. Secondly, it simplifies comparing public opinion over time on specific issues (or issue dimensions) over time.

Unfortunately, his decision also as serious ramifications, as acknowledged by Drutman himself when he states, “While (the relativist) transformation would have made for a more symmetrical presentation, it ignores the fact that Americans may hold left-of-center views on some issues and right-of-center views on other issues.”

Well, actually, he is wrong on that last point. The “relativist” approach doesn’t ignore that Americans can hold both left-of-center and right-of-center opinions. It does the opposite. It forces all issues onto a left-right continuum.

Look one more time at Drutman’s scatterplot above that uses the “absolutist” approach. Without needing Drutman’s original data, it is possible to imagine how the “relativist” approach would have changed this scatterplot. It would have simply centered the dots in the chart.

The “relativist” approach is answering a slightly different question than the “absolutist” approach. Where the “absolutist” asks where American voters fit along a pre-determined scale, the “relativist” asks where American voters fit relative to each other.

In my opinion, the “relativist’ approach is more appropriate for strategy-building because it allows every item to be assessed on a level playing field.

From Drutman’s summary of the Voter Study Group survey, the chart below shows the mean values among Clinton and Trump voters for each of the derived issues dimensions within the survey. Two of the dimensions (“Perception that people like me are in decline” and “Pride in America”) are particularly interesting in that the group means are all above zero — implying both Clinton and Trump voters hold traditionally conservative opinions on these two dimensions.

Graphic Source: Lee Drutman (

Drutman’s interpretation of this data feature is especially telling about his own ideological predispositions:

“Trump supporters tend to have more pride in America than Clinton supporters do, and they are more likely to think that their group is in decline. However, these divides are not as significant as many media narratives portrayed them to be.”

Really? Does Drutman actually demonstrate — statistically — that the “Pride in America” gap is more or less significant than the gaps for the other issue dimensions? It may be true, but you can’t judge Drutman’s assertion based solely on the “absolute” scale values for the two voter groups. It is entirely possible small “absolute” differences can have large effect sizes compared to other items with larger “absolute” differences.

Indeed, it has been well established within the social sciences that effect sizes are not necessarily determined by “absolute” scale differences. They may be correlated — but it is not a deterministic relationship.Sometimes small absolute differences  on survey scales can have dramatic effect sizes on dependent variables (i.e., presidential vote choice).

Drutman’s “Pride in America” dimension is a good example. It is stunning (to me) that almost half of Clinton’s voters are closer to the neutral response than the far right-end of the response scale on items such as: “I would rather be a citizen of America than any other country in the world.” Predictably, Trump voters are more likely to be close to the extreme right position. That is potentially a Pacific Ocean amount of difference between Clinton and Trump voters — even if, on an absolute scale, this difference is much less than the absolute differences on other issue dimensions.

It is very likely that a heavy dose of the social desirability bias is contaminating the “Pride in America” questions, such that, Democrats/Liberals are systematically pulled to the right-end of the survey item scale, irrespective of their true beliefs. That, of course, is merely an assertion on my part; but, my experience on surevy issues like this give me confidence that this survey’s ‘patriotism’ questions are soaked in response bias.

If Drutman’s goal is simply to describe differences in opinions within the 2016 presidential election, “absolute” differences are fine — even preferred — as they are more interpretable for readers. But others, such as Levitz, use this descriptive-level information for strategic assessments and Drutman simply doesn’t provide the kind of evidence needed to make those sorts of judgments.

Drutman’s blanket decision to use the “absolutist” approach  should have been based on the empirical evidence on an issue-by-issue basis. On some issues, the ‘relativist” approach provides no new information and the simpler “absolutist” scale might be preferable. On other issues, such as ‘patriotism,’ it is probably a mistake to use an “absolutist” approach. It potentially buries the true ideological nature of voters’ opinions on such issues.

That is why I often use both ‘relativist’ and ‘absolutist’ approaches when analyzing survey data and make the specific choices (such as in respondent clustering or regression modeling) based on the analytic intent and empirical evidence.

By choosing one exclusively over the other, Drutman has tuned a blind eye to significant ideological diversity within 2016 American presidential voters.

So, with these major reservations about the Levitz and Drutman analyses on the record, what next? If Levitz has, in fact, misinterpreted the Drutman analysis, what should the Democrats do to prepare for the elections in 2018 and 2020? Move to the center? Move to the Left? Don’t move at all? Play it by ear? Make it up as you go along?

We invite you to peruse our analyses of the 2016 ANES data (here, here, and here) which include strategic recommendations for the Democrats. In the meantime, here are two broad stroke ideas the Democrats might want to consider.


Long-time White House correspondent Sarah McClendon, who covered Washington politics from Truman to Clinton, was once asked why she thought Republicans were more difficult than Democrats to interview. Her answer then, in 1996, rings even truer today: “They have an inferiority complex.”

She believed Republicans, by doctrine, put less value on government which, in turn, makes them less knowledgeable and defensive when confronted on its complexities. But others have suggested something much deeper in the Republican’s permanent siege mentality that prompts them to believe their party is in a continuous uphill battle to win the hearts and minds of American voters.

“Democrats remain relatively unexposed to (media) messages that encourage ideological self-identification or describe political conflict as reflecting the clash of two incompatible value systems (think Fox News),” political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dave Hopkins write. “Instead, the information environment in which they reside claims to prize objectivity, empiricism, and policy expertise.”

While their chronic insecurity does not work well for them when they are the governing majority (as they are now), it makes Republicans a more formidable foe during elections. Iowa State Senator Jeff Danielson, a centrist Democrat representing a Republican-leaning district, once told me the secret to being a successful political candidate is to always believe you are behind.

In the case of the Democratic collective, it shouldn’t be hard to convince them that they too are behind. But it seems to be. So let me re-share one of our findings from the 2016 ANES. Only 14 percent of the American electorate is consistently “liberal” (“Left” is our label preference) in their policy attitudes. A similar percentage are traditional “conservatives” (or the “Right” as we call them). Overall, the U.S. voting population is evenly split between left-leaning and right-leaning voters.

Graphic Source:

There is nothing in the Drutman/YouGov data that contradicts our findings from the 2016 ANES. In fact, we think our results match up nicely, even though we opted for the “relativist” approach in clustering voters and building the issue dimensions. If our results did differ substantively from Drutman’s, we would be the first to question our analytic decisions.


While on the subject of data analysis, the Democrats need to fully assess what went wrong with their 2016 analytics. Democrats, don’t tell us the analytics weren’t part of the problem when your own presidential candidate called them out (Here is a video of Hillary Clinton lashing out at the Democratic National Committee’s data program).

In the information age, data goes hand-in-hand with campaign strategy, operations, and tactics. Though collecting data-for-strategy is hard, the rules guiding such collection are simple. Data-for-strategy need to be reliable, accurate, and systematically related to organizational outcomes.

Effective strategy-building especially requires comprehensive, theory-based data collection. I will forgive anyone who rolls their eyes at the sound of “Balanced Scorecard” or “Lean Six Sigma.” Those are the Harvard MBA-bastardizations of the theoretically well-grounded work of W. Edwards Deming and others. But Democrats need to take Deming’s core lessons to heart. Measure what theory and experiences tells you to measure. Measure it often. Measure it well and in different ways. Determine what you can and cannot control. Act on what you learn. And then repeat the whole process.

It is not surprising, given data-for-strategy‘s business origins, that initially it was the Republicans, under the guidance of Reagan’s pollster Richard Wirthlin, that best exploited data for electoral purposes.

However, since the Bill Clinton presidency, the Democrats are arguably the dominant party in the employment of data analytics. The George W Bush 2004 presidential campaign may have pioneered the use of big data operations, but it was the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns that took it to its highest practical levels.

The problem for the Democrats has been that the Trump campaign (through Jared Kushner’s efforts) matched the Democrats in the utilization of big data but didn’t disregard other old school data collection efforts (surveys, focus groups, etc.). Hillary Clinton did (thanks largely to her big data apostle, Robbie Mook) and it contributed significantly to her defeats in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Mook let the expense of a few five-digit-dollar-cost surveys compromise the success of a one-and-half billion dollar campaign.

Another problem with big data analytics (for both parties) is that it relies on kitchen-sink predictive models at the neglect of theory-based model-building. Such models, that include nearly every variable available (web usage and online purchasing databases are flush with variables — not necessarily useful ones, however), are prone to modeling random error and are susceptible to large predictive errors, especially when making predictions over long time horizons.

Good data is critical to strategy-building and diversity in its collection is critical. There are no shortcuts and big data without theory is little better than instinct. It may even be worse. Ask Robbie Mook.

More importantly, analytics like Drutman’s are too blunt and time-specific to provide information close to what is needed for effective strategy-building. It may be that the Democrats can afford to move more decisively in the progressive direction in 2018 and 2020. Levitz’ discussion on the economic rationale of Medicare-for-All, free public college tuition and guaranteed employment is far more useful in that effort than his interpretations of Drutman’s and others’ survey results.

Drutman’s conclusions (and by extension, Levitz’) describe well the 2016 election. Unfortunately, they provide little pertinent information to build the Democrats’ strategic plan for the 2018 or 2020 election.


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 also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. 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.



YouGov’s “The View of the Electorate (VOTER) Survey” is an internet-administered survey of 8,000 adults (age 18+) completed between November 29 and December 29, 2016. YouGov uses a non-probability sample frame for drawing samples and excludes U.S. adults without reliable internet access. According to Pew Research, 13 percent of U.S. adults lack internet access as of late 2016.  It was also found that U.S. adults lacking internet access are more likely to be older, less educated and living in rural areas compared to other U.S. adults. It is a fair assumption that they are more likely to be Republican and/or politically conservative.

To mitigate any sampling and nonresponse bias, YouGov employs an elaborate sampling and weighting methodology. A more complete description of the YouGov panel methodology is available here. It should also be noted that the YouGov internet panel has been deemed by Pew Research as more accurate and reliable than other internet-based surveys and last year gave the YouGov presidential polls a grade of ‘B,’ noting that its polls tended to have a mean-inverted bias of 1.6 percent in favor of Democrats. That is a relatively small bias.

Why do establishment Democrats fear Tulsi Gabbard so much? (And what is her future in the party?)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, July 31, 2017)

With the Trump administration’s July 18th announcement that it was ending the CIA program to arm anti-Assad Syrian rebels, an on-going battle within the Democratic Party emerged once again.

In a normal presidency, the Democrats might trumpet the fact that one of their own, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, was the leading advocate to shut down the CIA program just cancelled by the Trump administration.

These aren’t normal times.

Let us step back a few months for some background on how disoriented the Democratic Party has become since the November 2016 election.

Even in the savage world of D.C. politics, it is unusual for a national party leader to call for the defeat of a fellow party member who is not only popular in her home district but also votes with her party leadership most of the time.

Yet, that is exactly what former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean did last April on MSNBC when he issued a Democratic Party fatwa against congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). His kooky tirade (which comedian Jimmy Dore beautifully dissects here) was a response to her supposition that the Trump administration’s attack on Syria was based on incomplete evidence (Her discussion of the U.S. retaliation with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is here).

What was her thought crime that launched the former Vermont governor into a whirling dervish of righteous disgust? In criticizing the Trump administration’s retaliatory strike against Syria for its then alleged use of chemical weapons on April 4, 2017 against civilians in Khan Shaykhun, Gabbard suggested the U.S. should have waited for the United Nations to complete its investigation into the chemical weapons attack before launching its own attack on April 7th.

Princeton political scientist Stephen Cohen points out that prior U.S. military actions — like the one on April 7th — typically followed a U.N. or international community investigation. Without it, the U.S. risked an even more dangerous confrontation with Russia.

“I think this is the most dangerous moment in American-Russian relations, at least since the Cuban missile crisis,” said Cohen during an interview with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman. “And arguably, it’s more dangerous.”

Try to understand how upside down this all is:  Uber-Democrat, Howard Dean, sided with Donald Trump over Tulsi Gabbard over a U.S. cruise missile attack against a Syrian airbase that, even by U.S. military accounts, did only superficial damage and was effective mainly as a message to Assad to stop using chemical weapons against his own people.

Let that ferment in your mind in for a moment. A Democrat attacked a Democrat for criticizing a Republican president — despised my most Democrats — for a potentially unwarranted and possibly illegal military strike against another country.

Never mind that some of the U.S. intelligence community’s (USIC) past assessments on Assad’s use of chemical weapons have not always been entirely accurate, and certainly not in the short number of days they had between the April 4th attack and the U.S. response on April 7th.

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter provides a concise summary of the fluid nature of the USIC’s 2013 assessments of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons:

“A review of what is known about the June (2013) assessment and the alleged Sarin attacks shows that it was a major intelligence failure on the order of the Iraq WMD error,” writes Porter. “It failed to reflect accurately the evidence the administration said supported the overall conclusion. Finally, the evidence of responsibility for the alleged Sarin attacks did not confirm the accusation that they were carried out by the Syrian government.”

At a minimum, knowing the complex nature of the region and the cross-cutting motivations among its actors more than justified Gabbard’s skepticism about the USIC’s assessment in the days immediately after the Khan Shaykhun.

Furthermore, while Dean was calling Gabbard “disgusting” at her suggestion that the USIC’s April 2017 assessment had not sufficiently ruled out a ‘false flag’ operation, past history in the Syrian conflict demands such caution. Consider also that the majority of physical evidence available to the USIC before the U.S. retaliatory attack came from anti-Assad forces connected to al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra which controlled  Khan Shaykhun at the time.

Writing three weeks after the April 4th attack, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and executive director of the Council for the National Interest, tells the story behind the Ghouta “false flag” attack in 2013. Not only did it almost succeed with aid from Turkish intelligence, says Giraldi, but it was “stopped only when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper paid a surprise visit to President Obama in the Oval Office to tell him that the case against Damascus was not a slam dunk.”

It cannot be ignored that the April 2017 attack occurred when anti-Assad forces were in retreat against Syrian government forces (with Russian support) and were making significant territorial gains throughout country. The anti-Assad forces had the motive and opportunity to launch a false-flag attack on April 4th, leaving only the question about whether they had the means to do so.

Gabbard made her statement questioning the Trump administration action on April 7th, three days after the Khan Shaykhun attack. As good as our intelligence agencies are at real-time analysis, ruling out a false-flag attack would require more time than that. By April 7th, U.S. intelligence officials admitted they had not even analyzed much of the signals intelligence (SIGINT) — cell phone conversations, emails, etc. — even as they issued their initial finding that Assad’s forces were the culprit.

I served in the U.S. intelligence community at the same time Gabbard was in her second combat deployment to Iraq. We probably saw the same strategic intelligence regarding Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and Gabbard most likely had access to even more detailed tactical intelligence. I am not naive regarding the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. But it would have been irresponsible to accept carte blanche the USIC’s near-term assessment of the Khan Shaykhun attack. To rule out the possibility that anti-Assad forces mimicked a Syrian government air-based chemical attack required time — measured in weeks and months, not days.

I concede the open-source evidence available soon after the attack makes it hard NOT to conclude the Assad regime was responsible (go here for one of the best open sources of intelligence on the Syrian attacks).

In her CNN interview, Gabbard never dismissed the possibility that the intelligence would ultimately pin responsibility on the Assad regime; but her military experience and familiarity with the reliability of intelligence on such events demanded a prudent level of skepticism.

Assad was winning the civil war on April 3rd. To risk those gains with a chemical attack on April 4th begs the question: Why would he risk those gains with a chemical attack that would likely bring some form of retaliation by the U.S.? That is what Tulsi Gabbard was saying on April 7th.

So when Howard Dean, who isn’t always powered by reason and rational thought anyway, went on  Chris Mathew’s MSNBC  show for his virulent attack on Gabbard’s Syria statement, he seemed to be acting on a much broader and organized effort to discredit and ultimately neutralize the Hawaii ;congresswoman. It’s just a hunch, but I’m feeling pretty confident about it.

So why would he do that?

Why Does the Democratic Party Leadership Loathe Tulsi Gabbard?

The lazy answer is her support for Bernie Sanders (over Hillary Clinton) and resignation from the DNC in February 2016 over her belief the DNC colluded with the Clinton campaign to ensure her nomination.

However, a simple search shows Democratic elites were attacking Gabbard long before February 2016.  To explain the establishment’s anger with her it is necessary to look prior to the 2016 campaign. Here are the leading explanations

1. “She’s Extremely Ambitious with Flexible Principles”

Howard Dean will tell anyone willing to listen that Tulsi Gabbard is “extremely ambitious with flexible principles.” The irony of that criticism is breath taking. He could have easily been talking about about Hillary Clinton or, frankly, every major politician on the planet earth…including himself.

The most hollow criticism one can make towards a politician is calling them “too political” or “too flexible” in their beliefs. Its like calling a dentist too focused on people’s teeth.

Even worse, with respect to Gabbard, the flexible principles charge often includes references to her familial roots. In particular, her father Mike Gabbard, a well-known Hawaii Democrat who has served as a state senator since 2006.  What is the problem with that? Nothing…had he not been an active Republican from 2000 to 2007. But, even that isn’t the problem. The problem is that Tulsi’s father was an active opponent of gay marriage — and Tulsi, early in her political life, supported that position as well.

There you go, folks. That must be why Tulsi Gabbard is persona non grata with a wide swath of Democratic Party elites to this day.

But wait a second. Didn’t Hillary Clinton stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2004 and declare: “I believe marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman”?

She did and most establishment Democrats didn’t blink an eye in 2004 when she said it, and didn’t blink again in 2013 when she had a “change of mind.”

Therein lies a deeper truth. For establishment Democrats, there is a kind of ‘wink wink’ game played among themselves. When Hillary stood on the floor of the U.S Senate to oppose marriage equality, more than a few pundits suggested she was masking her true beliefs in order to further her own political ambitions at the time. There is no mystery here. She wanted to be the next POTUS and she may have determined opposition to gay marriage was the right stance for her in 2004.

At the time of her U.S. Senate speech, 55 percent of U.S. adults opposed gay marriage.

That is not a criticism of Clinton. That is politics. Good politicians change their issue stances when necessary.

So, unless Gabbard’s critics have the power to read her mind, Gabbard’s “change of mind” on marriage equality  cannot be interpreted any differently than Hillary’s reversal.

There must be another other reason for the Democratic leadership’s fear and loathing of Gabbard…and there is…

2. “She is not a loyal Democrat”

The party disloyalty criticism of Gabbard is complex. On the one hand, according to Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), she voted with the party line 80 percent of the time on key U.S. House votes in 2015. While not the highest percentage among House Democrats, it puts her somewhere in the middle. Hardly grounds for suggesting she needs to be expelled from the party, but does reveal an independence that can annoy party leaders.

Nonetheless, on the Democrats’ core issues — abortion, marriage equality, climate change, Obamacare, voting rights — Gabbard’s public positions can only be seen as left-of-center. On health care, Gabbard is particularly well-informed and cogent on the strengths and weaknesses of Obamacare. And her description of a single-payer system, including its considerable costs, suggests she is open to the idea while still cautious over its financing (Here is one of her recent town hall discussions on health care).

Despite the party elders, Gabbard is one of the party’s rising stars. In fact, few have her polished presentation skills. She reminds me of Bill Clinton when I first heard him speak in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the 1992 general election. He could go ex cathedra on a wide range of issues and good deep when necessary. No pregnant pauses.

She is that good. She has the presence of a military officer with a strong attention to policy detail, and — oh yes — just happens to be very telegenic. When Gabbard appears on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson show, the easy-on-the-eyes meter increases to weapon-grade plutonium levels.

Which brings us to another reason Gabbard’s critics question her loyalty to the Democratic cause: She is a frequent guest on Fox News. And unlike Democrats such as former Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, who often appears on Fox News as the predictable and non-threatening foil to a reliably conservative Fox News host, Gabbard is treated on Fox News with the type of respect reserved for mainstream Republicans like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, John Kasich…or Donald Trump, for that matter.

Of course,  critics cannot forget Gabbard’s visit to Trump Tower on November 21, 2016 to discuss ending the U.S. program to train and equip Syria’s “moderate” rebel forces. To Dean and other establishment Democrats, the Trump Tower visit was a betrayal on two levels. She visited the man that arguably stole the presidential election, and if that were not enough, discussed reversing a U.S. policy championed by Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and President Obama, among many other prominent Democrats.

Even the recent cancellation of the misguided CIA program to arm “moderates” in Syria, confirming much of what Gabbard had been saying about the program, failed to assuage resentments against her.

Yet, in my opinion, there is an even bigger reason fueling the Never-Gabbarders.

3. “She’s a threat to the exiting order”

Similar to Donald Trump’s ascendancy, Gabbard’s appeal operates outside the traditional left-right ideological rubric. She casts an ideological image that reminds me of the late U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who took a hard line against the Soviet Union, but also supported the liberal social agenda of the time.

Gabbard occupies a piece of the political realm that is almost devoid of competition from other politicians. Senator Rand Paul shares some of the space (non-interventionist, anti-neocon). Her support of an active government role in the organization of the economy, particularly with respect to income inequality, aligns her with Sen. Sanders.

But, Gabbard separates from progressive Democrats in her straight talk on the realities of today’s world conflicts. She is not a strict non-interventionist (as with Rand) even as she shares Rand’s distaste for executive-centered actions that lead to unilateral, open-ended military engagements abroad.

Like most Americans, she simply doesn’t fit well into a simplistic left-right continuum. According to Lee Drutman’s analysis of a 2016 voter survey, “Voters are not ideologically coherent, but instead have different mixes of left and right views across different issues.”

Some have used the mixed ideological nature of the American voter argues for the Democrats’ need to “move to the center” in order to maximize their vote; still others, like Drutman and The New Yorker’s Eric Levitz, contend that the “center” doesn’t exist and that the Democrats needs a clear, progressive (read: Left) agenda.

Both arguments contain important truths but misinterpret their data and come up with the wrong strategic advice for the Democrats.

The “Centrist” argument is wrong, not because this country has a predisposition for liberal positions (they don’t), but because “Centrist” candidates run a strong risk of appearing bland and lacking clarity in their stated issue positions.  Their tendency to parse language so as to incorporate elements from all perspectives makes them unattractive to many if not most voters. Hillary Clinton is a textbook example of this problem.

As recent research on European voting by political scientist Toni Rodon  shows, “centrist” voters (his term) are not inclined to vote for centrist candidates. They are more attracted to candidates that are ideologically distinct, that is, have a strong opinion on issues important to that voter. That is not actually a new observation. Far from it. Ronald Reagan’s senior strategist, Richard Wirthlin, observed this phenomenon in the 1970s as he helped shaped Reagan’s message going into the 1980 presidential election.

Reagan’s “No Pale Pastels” speech, which was informed by Wirthlin’s research, called for the GOP to avoid trying to broaden its base by appealing to moderates and to instead make its policy stances clear (and conservative).

So wouldn’t Reagan’s example support the Drutman and Levitz advice to the Democrats to take strong, progressive positions? Unfortunately, no.

While Drutman analyzes public opinion on dozens of issues and shows their frequent alignment with liberal positions, he undercuts his own “America is Liberal” thesis when he also concludes that most voters are not ideologically coherent. He can’t have it both ways.’s recent analysis of the over 3,642 voters in the 2016 presidential (summarized in the chart below) finds that the vote was driven by party identification and opinions on social spending (primarily health care), ‘conservative groups,’ immigration and defense spending. The Democrats have a strong advantage on social spending (health care) and a slight advantage on party identification. The other significant issues broke in favor of Trump.

The failure of Hillary Clinton’s lackluster “Centrist” strategy in the 2008 nomination race and in the 2016 campaign would seem to argue against the strategy’s utility in 2018 or 2020. But many would say Clinton didn’t run a “Centrist” campaign in 2016 (or 2008, for that matter) as much as she ran a “I’m Not Him” campaign.

More certain is that the 2020 Democratic nomination is going to be fought again along the establishment versus anti-establishment divide within the Democratic Party (Drutman has a nice illustration of this in the 2016 election).

‘The main divide within the Democratic Party electorate is about attitudes toward the establishment and the existing order than it is about specific issue positions (with the exception of trade policy),” Drutman concludes.

If so, Gabbard is clearly on the ‘anti-establishment’ side, but does not come at it from the Left (or Right).

Gabbard does not work in “pale pastels”

She’s a hybrid politician with echoes of Pat Buchanan’s strategic realism combined with the economic populism of Sanders. Moreover, she also stands out from establishment Democrats (and even from Sanders) in her ability to re-direct conversations from hot-button culture war battles back to more inclusive, economic topics.

I recommend you listen to how she answers a question about her support of the LGBTQ community (Listen at the 1:06:20 point in the video).

She’s a woman of mixed heritage that refuses to grind on identity politics to gain support. That’s a good formula for not being embraced by the Democratic Party leadership.

After listening to dozens of Gabbard’s political speeches and TV appearances, if someone didn’t know her party identification, they might think they she’s a moderate Republican circa 1976, along the lines of my home state’s (Iowa) former governor Robert Ray or U.S. congressman Jim Leach. A type of Republican that no longer exists at the national level.

Take the example of Gabbard’s use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” While considered a heretical act within the Democratic Party, Gabbard refuses to play semantic games when they detract from our basic understanding of the the terrorist threat.

“It is important that you identify your enemy,” Gabbard told Wolf Blitzer. “You need to understand the ideology that is driving them.” This is not a controversial issue with most Americans. Only within the cocoon of the Democrat’s leadership class does it elicit gasps and outrage.

Perhaps its her military training? I don’t know. What I do know is her use of the term isn’t accidental and it casts her farther outside Democratic Party norms.

Where is the Democratic Party going in 2018 and 2020?

Even as the Democratic Party keeps its establishment leaders intact (Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, Hillary Clinton) and is promoting its new (or old?) Better Deal economic message, it continues to move leftward. The Democrats’ much maligned identity politics strategy also seems to be alive and well — and with Trump’s new transgender ban in the military (which will likely never become policy) the Democrats have taken the bait and ensure the culture war will be part of the 2018 elections, despite the party’s stated intention to focus on the economy.

As Bill Scher wrote in POLITICO, “In all likelihood, Democrats will have to figure out how to sell the Better Deal while simultaneously defending their commitment to multiculturalism.” The fear among some Democrats is that this approach will once again win the battle (defeat the transgender ban) but still lose the war (2018 midterms).

In attempting to stem the party’s reflexive lurch to the left, Gabbard stands almost alone — both figuratively and literally (see the photo below). There are other congressional Democrats trying to pull the party back into the elusive mainstream — Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, for one — but their numbers remain insufficient to change the direction of the congressional party as of now.

For her part, Gabbard continues to promote a message of economic progressivism balanced by our nation’s fiscal realities, eschewing the Republican-laid culture war traps, all while she confronts our national security establishment’s “addiction to regime change.”

In my opinion, that is a winning platform for any Democrat almost anywhere in this country.

Gabbard is the most credible and persuasive Democratic voice in the fight to stem the escalation of war in Syria. And while the next Democratic establishment-approved star, California Senator Kamala Harris, prefers to focus on U.S. policy regarding Syrian refugees, demonstrated by her visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan this past April, she shows no inclination or aptitude in critiquing the nation’s military strategy in the region.

Ironically, it is Gabbard, not Harris, trying to pull off the political balancing act that Hillary Clinton tried to master: Being a pragmatist that still appeals to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party without alienating the many disenchanted Republicans and Independents who can no longer live with the GOP’s hate-tolerant center-of-gravity.

Clinton’s failure to pull it off was in part a function of voters’ perceptions that she was a creature of the Washington establishment (…well, she was such a creature, which didn’t help her cause). Obama didn’t have that problem in 2008. After all, he earned his outsider credentials when he beat the Washington establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Harris’ barrier to the White House will be similar to Hillary’s — if she runs in 2020, she will immediately be labeled the ‘establishment candidate,’ and for good reason — she is the establishment’s preferred candidate right now. Being the star attraction at multi-million dollar fundraisers in the Hamptons will give you that reputation.

Forget the current lists of Democrats likely to run. All contain some or most of these names: Warren, Booker, Kaine, Biden, Cuomo, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand. All are good Democrats with absolutely no chance of being the next President of the United States.

Along with Hillary Clinton and Sanders, Harris is the only other Democrat producing any meaningful buzz among the activists. Lets take Clinton at her word that she isn’t planning to run again and assume that, at 75-years-old, Sanders just won’t be capable of doing it with the energy he had in 2016.

That leaves Harris.

History, however, should give sober Democrats some pause before jumping on the Harris bandwagon. The last three Democrats to win the presidency ran their first presidential races as outsiders to the political establishment (Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama).

Drutman’s analysis of 2016 voter survey cited earlier also shows that, within the Democratic Party in particular, the establishment label was the primary driver of support between Sanders and Clinton supporters.

Even if the Trump administration melts down into a holy mess of indicted human slop, the exigency of the ‘outsider’ characteristic is not likely to go away in future presidential elections.

As of today, the Democrats have three nationally known members that fit that description: Bernie Sanders, Tim Ryan and Tulsi Gabbard.

Can the Democratic Establishment and Gabbard Come Together?

For me, the photo below neatly summarizes the Democratic Party’s feelings about Gabbard. In a tribute to the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century, and in a quiet protest of the Trump presidency, many congressional Democratic women decided to wear white to Trump’s first state of the union address.

It is probably not a coincidence that Gabbard is at the farthest end of the group photo. Combine this with her uncharacteristic driver’s licence smile and you get a strong sense she is not really part of THAT club. Even her lavender white jacket suggests Gabbard herself may be OK with that fact (…I guess I was wrong about her avoid pale pastels).

Besides being outside the Democratic establishment, if Gabbard intends to be a significant national political figure, she has some other barriers.

She is still a young U.S. House member (36 years old). If she has presidential ambitions, she will only be 38 years old at the start of the 2020 campaign. However, there does not appear to be a short-term path for her into the Hawaii governorship or one of the two U.S. Senate seats. All three of the current occupants are relatively young and unlikely to retire before their next re-election campaign.

That leaves few options for Gabbard in the next 10 years other than at the presidential level. However, we all know that no modern elected president came directly from a U.S. House seat. And while Trump proves that there are no unbreakable rules in presidential politics, I don’t believe any young congresswoman from either party can win the presidency. That is a bridge too far.

But here is my final brainstorm idea on Gabbard’s political future.

A Harris/Gabbard ticket. It brings the establishment together with the anti-establishment. Two women. Two mixed heritage candidates. If only one of them were gay we’d have the major Democratic identity groups covered.

A crazy idea? It will never work, you say?

Take a look at what is going on in the current White House. Crazy ideas are in.


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 also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. 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.