Monthly Archives: November 2017

Alabama is more than happy to stick Roy Moore up the political establishment’s mud flaps

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

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Roy Moore is going to win the Alabama U.S. Senate race on December 12th.

That is bad news for the national Republican Party.

At a time when Nikki Haley and Paul Ryan should be the images of the party’s future, instead, we get a man that tacitly acknowledges, as a 30-something assistant district attorney, he dated minors (with their mother’s permission).

Jethro Bodine has a more honorable dating history.

But here are the facts on the ground…

As of now, the polling average for the Alabama U.S. Senate race shows former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore (Republican) and Democrat Doug Jones in a close race with less than two weeks to go in the campaign.

To many observers outside of Alabama, it defies explanation that Moore is competitive after The Washington Post published allegations of improper sexual contact between Moore, a 32-year-old assistant district attorney at the time, and a 14-year-old girl.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell views the allegations against Moore as believable and the National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said the Senate should expel Moore, even if elected by Alabama’s voters.

Democratic challenger Doug Jones, a bland politician generally seen as a “sober, competent public servant,” may become the first Democrat to win an Alabama U.S. Senate race since Howell Heflin in 1990. [Heflin was stridently pro-life and pro-gun Democrat — such people roamed the political landscape once.]

However, Jones knows clubbing Moore over the head with The Washington Post‘s sexual misconduct allegations is not a winning strategy for a Democrat in Alabama.

Jones has only tangentially brought up the Moore allegations during the campaign, which should signal to political pundits outside Alabama that the impact of the allegations is still unknown. So unknown that attempting to understand why Alabama might still elect Moore is a fool’s errand…

…but here it goes…

Moore is all too familiar to those of us who grew in America’s Bible Belt (…I grew up in Iowa andyes, Iowa is part of the Bible Belt).

As others with an academic understanding of pedophilia have made clear, Moore cannot be classified as a pedophile based on the accusations of the women who have come forward describing their encounters with Moore when they were still minors.

“Moore is not a pedophile,” Rachel Hope Cleves, a professor of history at the University of Victoria, and Nicholas L. Syrett, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas, write in The Washington Post. “If you believe his accusers, as we do, he is a powerful man who has serially harassed and even assaulted teenage girls.”

However, explaining Moore’s alleged behavior through the prism of “age, class, gender and power” differentials, as Hope Cleves and Syrett do, conflates contextual factors with causal factors. By explicitly linking Moore’s behavior to the #MeToo movement’s addressing sexual harassment and assault within the broader society — particularly in the workplace — Hope Cleves and Syrett are succumbing to a bandwagon mentality instead of an interest in doing solid social analysis.

There are obvious commonalities between Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore. No adult male pursues relationships with young girls or younger adult women without exploiting differences in age, class, gender or power — but those are situational prerequisites, not causal explanations.

Instead, our best (and still disturbing) understanding of Moore is offered by his own defenders within the evangelical community.

Pop psychology doesn’t get much creepier than Pastor Flip Benham, the national leader of North Carolina-based Operation Save America, a pro-life group, attempting to explain why a 32-year-old Roy Moore preferred female minors to women his age.

“All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married, were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere,” Benham told a reporter for The Hill. ”

It gets worse…

“The lady that he’s married to now, Ms. Kayla, is a younger woman.” Benham remarked about the 14-year age gap between Moore and his wife. “He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.”

So there you have it. It was most likely inconceivable to a 32-year-old Roy Moore to propose to a woman with prior sexual experiences — which ruled out most of the single women his age at the time. This scenario is not a justification for improper contact with a minor, but it is an explanation.

Roy Moore, in his mind, is not lying when he says he has never had inappropriate contact with underage girls, and while Moore and his supporters won’t say this outright (except for Pastor Benham), the 32-year-old Moore was probably trolling for a chaste wife when he approached a 14-year-old child. From their biblical-centered perspective, what Moore may have done in the 1970s to find a wife was entirely appropriate.

Laugh (or cry) in disgust if you must, but Jones’ avoidance of the allegations against Moore on the campaign trail signals it is not a laughing matter to Democrats still trying to win elections in the Heart of Dixie.

Liberals gleefully extol their belief in a corrosive connection between the religious right, sexual repression, and the anti-feminist political agenda of the Republican Party. They aren’t entirely wrong — which is why Roy Moore is so dangerous to the future of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party needs to be seen as the party of Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Nikki Haley, and Paul Ryan, not Roy Moore.

Now is not the time for the Republican Party to re-wage its war on the sexual revolution. That war was lost long ago and there are too many issues far more important (size of government, taxes, regulations, Middle East war) to allow dinosaur’s like Roy Moore to tarnish the Republican brand.

The post-1960s sexual revolution changed Alabama just as much as it did other parts of the country. The religious right will not bring back the 1950s.

Instead, they will have to be content with sticking Roy Moore up the ass of Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Senate.

Despite recent polling trends, Roy Moore will win on December 12th.

Moore’s drop in the polls has reached bottom (around 46 percent of likely voters) and a more aggressive Moore has already started to emerge on the campaign stump in the past few days. Republican Lee Busby’s write-in candidacy will as likely take votes from Jones as it will from Moore. This means Moore can win without passing the 50 percent threshold.

Assuming the turnout differential between Democratic and Republican partisans holds fairly close to past elections, Moore will win in a close election. That, in itself, is a miracle of biblical proportions for the Democrats.

Whatever the outcome, expect the Democrats to over-interpret the result as further evidence of the Republicans’ forthcoming demise in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Republicans, for their part, will equally misdiagnose the results as a merely an outlier specific to the unusual factors present in the Moore-Jones race.

Both interpretations will have flaws.

The Democrats are far from certain to take back the U.S. House in 2018 and the Alabama special election, should Moore lose, will offer little insight into the 2018 midterms.

However, if Roy Moore becomes a U.S. Senator, the impact on an already damaged Republican brand could be the tipping point that brings not only the U.S. House but the U.S. Senate back into the Democrats’ hands in 2018.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Far from it. shows a 31 percent chance of the Democrats regaining the Senate in 2018, and a 53 percent chance of taking back the House. If Republicans aren’t scared right now, they should be.

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake gets is exactly right. A Republican Party defined by Donald Trump and Roy Moore is not a winning national brand.

Should Republicans be rooting against Roy Moore on December 12th? Yes. Hell yes.

The economy is booming right now, due in part to the Trump administration’s swift rollback of burdensome regulations that were needlessly hurting U.S. companies and doing little good for the nation-at-large.

In typical times, strong economic growth would keep the incumbent party’s midterm losses to a minimum. These are not typical times.

Trump’s job approval ratings are stalling around 39 percent and do not appear linked to conditions in the U.S. macro-economy. Somebody in the White House that actually knows shit needs to step up and lead an effort to frame the 2018 midterms on the strong economy.

For the Republicans to have any chance of staving off the Democrats onslaught in 2018, the midterm elections need to be less a referendum on Trump and more on the state of the economy. As detailed in a previous post, under current (strong) economic conditions, Trump’s job approval numbers, as measured by Gallup, need to be north of 41 percent for the Republicans to have a chance to keep control of the U.S. House.

If Alabama elects Roy Moore on December 12th, keeping control of the U.S. House will become even more difficult than necessary.


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

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.

A Citizen’s Guide to Partisan Detoxification (Part 2)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, November 27, 2017)

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

[This essay is in two parts: Part 1 examines the effect of today’s hyper-partisanship on Americans; Part 2 details some simple steps to recover from hyper-partisanship]

Hyper-partisanship is hurting the Democrats more than the Republican for one simple reason: the Democrats’ party ideology is predicated on the idea that the government exists to solve problems and facilitate economic growth, and without it working effectively, Americans suffer.

Yet, recent evidence calls the Democratic thesis into question.

Eight years of the Barack Obama presidency produced two major legislative accomplishments: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). And those historic pieces of legislation were passed without any bipartisan support.

Apart from those two accomplishments, Obama’s presidency is best described as eight years of partisan gridlock. And what was the result of that gridlock? Eight years of consistent (though stubbornly slow) economic growth.

Almost one year into the Trump administration and not one piece of significant legislation has passed Congress. And, again, the net result? The fastest economic growth in over two years.

It is not unreasonable to suggest the U.S. economy does not need increased interventions by the U.S. government to flourish. Hyper-partisanship, so far, has not hurt the U.S. economy.

Yet, collectively, there is a growing consensus that hyper-partisanship is hurting our daily lives in very tangible ways. Recently, two researchers found that hyper-partisanship has reduced the amount of time many of us spend with relatives around holidays.

Whether hyper-partisanship is depresses the U.S. economy is debatable; that it is hurting our civic culture is undeniable. Americans are divided on a scale we have not seen in our lifetimes and an increasing number of us are trying to find ways to reduce this dangerous tribalism.

The good news is that hyper-partisanship does not need to be a permanent aspect of our democracy. We can reduce today’s ideological polarization and the political dysfunction it breeds, and we can do it without shutting down Facebook or forcing people to watch broadcast television news again.

Six Steps to Partisan Detoxification

A full recovery program from hyper-partisanship requires a level of self-awareness most of us do not possess by nature. Therefore, we must through training create personal habits that compensate for our biological inclinations.

Thus, the first step is the most critical and complicated. Without it, the subsequent steps are impotent.

Step 1: Know yourself

Commonly in substance abuse recovery programs, patients are asked to first recognize they have a problem. Hyper-partisanship is no different. A person can’t complete a partisan detox program without first acknowledging they are a hyper-partisan.

What is a hyper-partisan and what if I am not one?

If the survey research is to be believed (and I do believe it), most adults in the U.S. are not strong partisans (hyper-partisans are a subset of this group). Pew Research identifies roughly one-third of the 2017 U.S. adult population as being at “consistently” ideological.

Source: Pew Research, 2017

One-third of Americans as strong partisans seems accurate.

Hyper-partisans, a subset of strong partisans, are defined by: (1) long-term, straight ticket voting, (2) policy positions consistently to the left of their party’s opinion distribution (if they are a Democrat/liberal) or to the right (if they are a Republican/conservative), (3) their closest friendships are exclusively with people that conform to their opinions and beliefs, and (4) the vast majority of their information intake comes from sources that conform to their opinions and beliefs.

Hyper-partisans live in the proverbial “bubble.” They actively avoid and reject information contrary to their partisan view of the world.

Given this definition, most people can quickly determine if they are a hyper-partisan. Some people will resist the label, and for those that do, they should have their hyper-partisanship assessed by a third party — a casual friend or colleague — preferably with an opposing political perspective. Like-minded friends and family are often useless for this task. They will tell you what you want to hear.

If the majority of those third party assessments describe the person as hyper-partisan, then that person is probably a hyper-partisan.

Anyone identified in Step 1 as hyper-partisans can therefore move on to Step 2. Anyone not accepting the label are either like the majority of Americans — non-ideologues — or in complete denial of their hyper-partisanship.

For the those uncertain of their ideological leanings, I recommend using Pew Research’s online political typology tool which uses a respondent’s answers to a series of policy questions to assign them to an ideological category. It is not perfect, but the tool is good at differentiating strong partisans from weak ones.

Step 2: Take inventory

Once someone has determined their status as a hyper-partisan, the next step is to identify the positive and negative impacts of hyper-partisanship on their daily life over the past year. This can include family, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, online friends, and strangers.

Ask these questions:

Of the people you talk to on a daily or weekly basis, how many do you feel comfortable talking ‘politics’ or sharing strong personal opinions?

Have you had any conversations in the past year that turned heated or confrontational because of political topics?

Conversely, have you come to a ‘meeting of the minds’ in the past year with someone you previously disagreed with on a sensitive political topic?

There are no right or wrong answers here. This step simply allows someone to refresh their memory about where partisan politics enters their regular routine.

Step 3: Humble yourself and build a bridge

I do not have any generalized empirical data on the percentage of hyper-partisans that have had a confrontational experience with someone in the past year on a political subject. However, my very biased sample of hyper-partisans (family members) finds that every single one has experienced at least one heated and unproductive confrontation with someone in the past year on a political topic — often with someone they know through their social media activities.

The third step, therefore, is straightforward. Hyper-partisans need to reconnect with at least one person they’ve had a recent unproductive political or ideological confrontation.

Just reconnect. There doesn’t need to be a reconciliation on the disputed issue, but there does need to be some acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the opposing view. That’s all. “I heard what you said, and while I still disagree, I understand your point of view.”

Warning: In building bridges, do try to avoid condescension. People have an uncanny ability to know when they are being talked down to by someone else. Remember what we learned earlier: Everyone, including very highly-educated people, believe in some ideas that are just plain wrong. Nobody, regardless of education, is immune from false consciousness. Nobody. That includes YOU.

What if my argument was with a neo-Nazi white supremacist on genetic determinism?

A simple answer: Some bridges aren’t worth building. So, move on to a past confrontation over a more mainstream issue. Those issues can be nearly as contentious (abortion, Middle East conflicts, immigration, etc.) but those are the bridges we, as a society, need to build up again.

Step 4: Cleanse your media palate

My experience is that this step can be the most surprising and rewarding. For at least one week, stop using your typical news and information sources and, instead, rely exclusively on a small number of ostensibly non-partisan media outlets. So, if you are a hyper-partisan Democrat, do not turn off MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and watch “Fox and Friends.” That is too big of a leap at this stage. It runs the risk of increasing your ideological entrenchment.

Rather, choose a comparatively non-partisan news source.

Do they even exist? Even BBC America has a globalist, if not left-leaning bias, after all.

Actually, according to the media bias watchdog,, the BBC is centrist. But there are also other non-ideological new services left in the world. As such, I have found these news services (in no particular order below) to be refreshing in their generally non-partisan, though often bland, presentation of U.S. news:

  • CCTV – the major state television broadcaster in mainland China provides a number of English-service news channels available through local cable and the internet. While I wouldn’t recommend CCTV for news on Chinese politics or U.S.-Chinese trade policy, their coverage of U.S politics and events unrelated to China is remarkably uncontaminated by ideological bias. CCTV is almost annoyingly non-partisan.
  • BBC World Service – the most popular international news service in the U.S. and for good reason — the BBC remains the gold standard for international news. Its news features often have an internationalist (globalist) perspective that could be viewed as biased towards Democrats/liberals, but on most stories covering the U.S., they avoid the overbearing partisan trappings found on mainstream U.S. cable networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News)
  • Al Jazeera – based in Qatar and created by former BBC staff, this may seem like a controversial choice as non-partisan news option, but this news service comes the closest to the BBC standard — and in some ways — surpasses the BBC. Their English-language service covers a wide range of U.S. news events and, with the exception of U.S. policy in the Middle East — mostly avoids anti-Trump and other tiresome, partisan rants.
  • i24news – based in Israel and available in English, French and Arabic, I recently stumbled upon i24news while searching for Middle East news. Though its only been available since February 2017, I was surprised at the quality, breadth and depth of this news services’ U.S coverage. Apart from its coverage of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly as it relates to Israel and the Palestinians, their other U.S. coverage was remarkably blunt and free of partisan politics. For an American hyper-partisan, this news service will not feel like MSNBC or Fox News. They are clearly trying to draw a line somewhere in between.
  • The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) is an international news organization that, in their words, “delivers thoughtful, global coverage via its website, weekly magazine, and daily news broadcasts. As a young journalist in the 1980s, I considered the CSM newspaper and its companion radio news service to be our nation’s closest equivalent of the BBC — much more so than National Public Radio (NPR). Economics have eroded the breadth and quality of CSM news coverage, but as an alternative to today’s mainstream news networks, they are still relatively non-partisan and objective.

Of course, someone is free to find their own non-partisan news services for this fourth step. The point of this step is simply to reacquaint hyper-partisans with what objective news coverage looks, sounds and feels like. After a week of going cold turkey on U.S-based news networks, a few hyper-partisans will even find it hard to go back. For some, this step will feel analogous to going from breathing Los Angeles’ air to breathing the air in Wyoming’s Rocky Mountains. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are polluted with former White House and partisan political operatives. They are not news services, they are partisan propaganda entities.  Hence, it is impossible to discern objective truth from partisan agendas on these networks. Impossible.

Step 5: Be humble, be teachable, and always keep learning

One of my former bosses had a sign above her office door that read: “Be humble, be teachable, and always keep learning.”

That is a good summary for Step 5.

Regardless of age or educational background, find an issue, preferably one that is new or with low visibility on the national policy stage, and do some deep-dive research on the topic, making sure all possible perspectives are considered.

After a week or two of intense study, share the knowledge with a wide range of people — but do not give a policy prescription. Instead, let others give their opinions and policy preferences. Anyone completing this step with an open-mind and heart may be surprised at the people with whom they share the most agreement.

The objective in this step is not to persuade someone to agree with your position on a subject. Quite the opposite, if done earnestly, this step will allow many hyper-partisans to experience what it is like to have their opinion formed or modified by someone else’s opinion.

Presently, persuasion is a lost art. Both political parties in this country openly reject persuasion as a tool of electioneering and governance. That is a sad outcome of our current political system.

This fifth step is based on class exercise I experienced during my first-year as political science graduate student. According to the professor, the exercise was designed to disabuse first-year students, who often come into political science graduate programs with strong partisan views, to understand the potential bias inherent in any objective analysis driven by partisan prejudices.

Partisanship kills objective analysis. If you are a partisan, you are not capable of doing meaningful journalistic or academic research.

Step 6: Share your partisan detoxification experience with others

This final step is the easiest. Having successfully completed the previous steps, now is the time to share that experience with others.

Perhaps it is a new favorite news channel or website you discovered in Step 4. Or share any new ideas or expertise gained from Step 5. Whatever is shared, it should be bring comfort to others knowing that living outside the partisan bubble is not disorienting or destructive to anyone’s self-esteem.

These six steps to partisan detoxification, moreover, are not intended to turn a hyper- or strong partisan into a centrist. That is not only hard to do, it is not the point here. The purpose of partisan detoxification is to expose and minimize, if not eliminate, the arrogance and intolerance that infects today’s political partisans.

Failing to fulfill this purpose on a national scale sentences us to a future defined by political stalemate.

And, no, Donald Trump did not cause the political stalemate we see today in Washington, D.C. Its roots likely go back to the Reagan administration, when Democrats, much like today, were in a constant tizzy over what would happen to this country with an B-movie actor for a president.

We prospered economically and defeated the Soviet Union, for those unacquainted with this period in American history.

Partisan detoxification does not forbid disagreements on policy. It does however admonish those who judge someone’s intelligence, or social background, or motives based merely on their policy views. Once we’ve gone down the hyper-partisanship path, we have entered a battle arena where acts of cooperation, compromise and consensus are signs of weakness and where cunning, inflexibility and conquest are the coins of the realm.

Today’s politics is like watching a badger fight a wolverine. Only one outcome is certain — one of them will die.

Winning and losing will always be apart of American politics. As Barack Obama liked to say, “elections have consequences.” Unfortunately for his administration, that view stunted any chance he had of securing a positive and lasting impact on American society. When your governing principle is, “We won.” The result becomes, “We all lose.”

Regardless of which side started today’s partisan gridlock, the future is not as bright if this political polarization continues.

There will be time when Americans will need both parties working together to solve a major problem in the country. In 2008, George W. Bush and the Republicans made the necessary compromises to ensure this country did not fall into an even deeper recession than necessary. The Obama administration, likewise, worked initially to reinforce the bipartisanship of late 2008.

Unfortunately, this bipartisanship died quickly and has been replaced by today’s toxic partisanship. Finding blame for this tribalism is fruitless. Instead, we need to move on and prepare ourselves and our government for the next existential crisis that may arise where we need both parties working together to solve a serious problem.

We know we can do better than what we see today in Washington, D.C. We just have to starting doing it…soon.


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.

A Citizen’s Guide to Partisan Detoxification (Part 1)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, April 11, 2018)

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

[This essay is in two parts: Part 1 examines the effect of today’s hyper-partisanship on Americans; Part 2 details some simple steps to recover from hyper-partisanship]

Our political system is broken. Not exactly a new observation, but it can’t be repeated often enough.

Our political system is broken.

Nothing gets solved anymore. Problems get pushed down the road, real people suffer, and our media stars make seven-figure salaries stewing about it as they preen before TV cameras.

And while we are all distracted by their self-promoting piety, we fail to notice our country’s debt recently passed the $21 trillion mark. Our national debt as a percentage of the economy now approaches levels only seen during World War II.


We were fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia in 1944. Taking on some debt in the service of defending the world from fascism is understandable. Today, however, we are not fighting two of the biggest military powers in the world. Our typical enemy combatants anymore don’t even have navies or air forces and they number in the thousands, not millions.

You would think our national dialogue right now would be laser-focused on whether we can afford an over $700 billion annual defense budget.

But, alas, according to the cable news networks, we have bigger issues to worry about. Or, rather, two big issues: Stormy Daniels.

Or whatever else is orbiting Planet Trump on a given day.

This isn’t going to end well for any of us, regardless of party or ideological preference. The Trump-Russia obsession is making both political parties look feckless and intellectually sterile (They were long before Donald Trump, by the way). In Noam Chomsky’s words, “Russia hysteria is making the U.S. an international laughing stock.”

I blame hyper-partisanship, which predates the current presidency. And even though this phenomenon may be a symptom rather than a cause, it is certainly not working towards the public good.

Source: Martin Shovel (

Hyper-partisanship amplifies social problems yet prevents the solutions

Hyper-partisanship gives us the worst-of-all-possible worlds: it amplifies societal problems and then serves as the major impediment to enacting any solutions. The partisan divide in this country has risen to a such degree that it has become toxic to our basic social institutions.

Yet, for all pundit chatter about today’s extreme partisanship, there is no serious social movement attempting to repair this damage to our political culture.

If you think Donald Trump and the Republicans are the cause of our dysfunctional political system, you will be disappointed when the national dialogue doesn’t improve under President Kamala Harris and a Democrat-controlled Congress.

The problem is not politicians. The problem is us.

Hyper-partisanship gnaws at the foundations of collective action.

Empirical evidence is building that excessive partisanship in our daily lives is causing increased levels of stress at work and home. In an opinion poll conducted by the American Psychological Association last year, just over half of Americans (57%) said that the current political climate was a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress in their lives. This level of stress was even higher among Democrats (72%), for obvious reasons.

Self-reported stress measures are correlated with individual-level physiological stress indicators which medical research informs us can shrink our brainslower our IQ (at least temporarily), increase heart disease, and wreck our personal relationships.

Hyper-partisanship may be destroying us physically.

At a societal-level, an increase in political polarization corresponds to a geographic polarization with liberals clustering in urban areas and coastal regions, and conservatives living in rural areas and middle America.

Geographic clustering is consequential as it has led to more ideologically homogeneous congressional districts, making it harder to find electorally competitive districts. Over time, as the electorate has polarized along geographic and ideological lines, the number of competitive U.S. House races has been in decline.

Only 40 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House were considered competitive heading into the 2016 election, according to David Wasserman, an analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington. In contrast, in the 2010 U.S. House elections, over 100 seats were considered competitive just before Election Day.

While the 2018 U.S. House elections are looking more competitive with 50 races being classified as competitive by, when considering the average tenure of U.S. House or Senate members, our current legislators are near record-breaking levels for average length of tenure (see chart below).

The result of this polarization is a political system less responsive to voters. From a policy output perspective, the politicians elected from increasingly ideological polarized districts are less likely to be ideologically “moderate” and less willing to compromise on policy when they enter state and national legislatures.

The loss of “moderates” in the U.S. House has been especially dramatic among Republicans (see chart below), who started their ideological long march from the center just prior to the election of Ronald Reagan’s in 1980.

Link to source:

In terms of actual policy output, the last three congressional sessions witnessed near record lows in the amount of legislation passed each session (Perhaps that is a good thing…don’t we have enough laws already?).

A polarized American electorate is not simply a psychometric phenomenon, but a social one that has led to tangible changes in this country that will be hard to reverse. Our political system is more rigid, unresponsive, and less productive. In good economic times, many could argue we don’t need an activist government passing large numbers of laws. But there will be economic downturns in the future when we will require an engaged, responsive and productive Congress — — the question is: will our political system be ready when it is called upon to do its job.

What are the barriers to partisan detoxification?

If we are to reduce the electorate’s polarization, we will need to understand the many aspects of human psychology that foster hyper-partisanship and become barriers to its reversal.

The biggest barriers may be the hardest to change: our general lack of self-awareness, fragile egos, imperfect ability to empathize with others, and basic physiological need for companionship.

Taken together, our human flaws conspire against our ability to open our lives and minds to new ideas and alternative points of view.

For example, on average, we think we are smarter and better-looking than any objective measure would indicate. Human conceit may be a constant through history, but with the rise of social media these psychological frailties can distend into narcissism and other forms of self-absorption.

Social media is now the primary news source for 60 percent of Americans and its effect on the electorate may be central to understanding recent trends in political polarization. But it may also be leading to other negative outcomes in the electorate.

Dr. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, presented study results at the 2011 annual convention of the American Psychological Association showing how teens who spend more time on Facebook are more likely to show narcissistic tendencies and other behavioral problems (such as low academic performance).

2010 study of Facebook users from ages 18 to 25, conducted at York University (Canada), assessed the subjects on the Narcissism Personality Inventory and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The researchers also measured each subject’s level of ‘self-promotion’ on their Facebook pages, defined as updating their status every five minutes, frequent posting of pictures of themselves, photos of celebrity look-alikes, and quotes and mottos glorifying themselves. The researchers concluded that the people who used Facebook the most for self-promotion tended to have narcissistic or insecure personalities.

Neither of these studies prove that frequent use of social media sites causeincreased levels of narcissism, but they do suggest a strong link between social media use and various personality disorders.

Additionally, studies have shown that social media use can limit the breadth of our information sources and reduce our exposure to other points of view. If true, that is a toxic outcome for a democracy.

Ashik Shafi (Bethany College) and Fred Vultee (Wayne State University), in their analysis of a 2014 survey of students at a large Midwestern university, found that “social media use negatively predicts respondents’ knowledge about political processes, institutions and current events when other possible predictors of political knowledge are controlled.”

While their study does not prove a causal link between social media use and political knowledge, it does suggest social media may negatively impact users’ political knowledge through two mechanisms: (1) information filters — where social media allows users to systematically filter out specific sources of political information, and (2) time replacement — where the time people spend on social media replaces time they would have spent engaging in social activities in the meatsphere (real-life).

This process mirrors Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s ‘bowling alone’ thesis that explained Americans’ declining participation in social activities, such as bowling and political activism, by their increased time watching television.

Through social media, we create personalized echo chambers that reinforce our existing opinions, resulting in increasingly intransigent opinions vis-a-vis other opinions in the world we purposely tune out of our Facebook news feeds and posts.

Social media narrows our knowledge base and filters out evidence of our own fallibility, creating a feedback loop that inflates confidence in our own capacity to comprehend complex social phenomena. This feedback loop limits our exposure to divergent opinions and maximizes inputs from like-minded people, thereby reinforcing our existing partisan biases. The more we personalize our media choices, the more partisan we become.

Social media has turned us all into thinking we are PhD. sociologists and economists and, subsequently, less willing to consider opinions and ideas from actual PhD. sociologists and economists.

Political scientists that study ‘media effects’ refer to the partisan selective exposure among information seekers to explain the potential effects of social media on political partisanship and ideology. In other words, we avoid information that might contradict our existing opinions and seek out information that confirms them. Political scientists W. Lance Bennett and Shanto Iyengar call this ‘individualized reality construction’ — — and it may not be a good thing for sustaining a healthy, constructive political culture.

The rise of social media (and individualized reality construction) has also coincided with a demise of the inadvertent audience.

“During the heyday of network news, when the combined audience for the three evening newscasts exceeded 70 million, many Americans were exposed to the news as a simple byproduct of their loyalty to the sitcom or other entertainment program that immediately followed the news,” according to Bennett and Iyengar. “It is likely that this ‘inadvertent’ audience may have accounted for half the total audience for network news.”

During the peak audience years for broadcast network television, a significant percentage of Americans were exposed to news and political information that they would not have sought out on their own. One result of this large ‘inadvertent audience’ may have been that it helped build a national political culture where people, regardless of political orientation, shared the same information sources.

Social media may be eroding mass media’s function as a cultural bonding agent and replaced it with an information environment that now divides us more than unite us. We can delude ourselves into thinking our 1,000+Facebook friends actually measures something good about us, but it may indicate something much more privative.

Along with our new social media-driven echo chambers, there are two other flaws in our neuro-cognitive biochemistry that deserve mentioning and that may stunt any attempt to open our minds to new opinions and ideas.

We are often bad at making predictions

If we are honest with ourselves, we realize most of our personal predictions never come true. In fact, psychological research on generalized anxiety disorder has found that more than 80 percent of our negative predictions never materialize. And even when these predictions do occur, the consequences are often far less serious than we had previously imagined. Nonetheless, the anticipation of negative events cause levels of stress that can drive us deeper into the dark dynamics of individualized reality construction.

Most of what we believe as fact is, in truth, wrong

In addition to our attraction to negative predictions is our tendency to believe things that are just plain wrong. We may think we know how the economy works, or why some kids grow up to commit crimes and other don’t, or how human activities affect the global climate, but in most cases, we don’t. Most of what we believe is superficial and often not true on some important, fundamental level.

Ask a well-educated, partisan Republican about the likely effects of lowering federal taxes for the economy-at-large, and you will get a simple, coherent answer: “Lower taxes will grow the economy.” But that opinion is just wrong.

Does lowering taxes increase economic growth? The economic research does not provide pithy answers to that question.

Two economists at the left-leaning Brookings Institute, William G. Gale and Andrew A. Samwick, concluded in their 2014 study that “if the tax cuts are not financed by immediate spending cuts they will likely also result in an increased federal budget deficit, which in the long-term will reduce national saving and raise interest rates.” Even if there is a short-term boost to economic growth from a tax cut, the long-term net result may be small or even negative, according to Gale and Samwick.

Even the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has concluded that simple statements such as “lower taxes lead to economic growth” do not reflect reality enough to inform budget and tax policies.

The Tax Foundation’s William McBride writes: “The economy is sufficiently complex that virtually any theory can find some support in the data.”

Yet, the Republican Party has achieved 40 years of political dominance partially around the much over-simplified belief that lower taxes lead to more growth.

But its not just the GOP. You can’t go to a Democratic Party rally without someone calling for an increase in the minimum wage, on the belief that such a policy move would increase the economic security of millions of working Americans.

Would it?

The economic research is mixed, at best, at the effectiveness of minimum wage increases at increasing the standard of living for low-skilled labor. Some research suggests raising the minimum wage actually reduces employment opportunities for low-skilled labor. The very people that need these minimum-wage jobs the most may be most harmed by increasing the minimum wage.

Yet, Democratic Party leaders are not held accountable for the empirical weaknesses in their policy proposals. Sure, Fox News and the Republican Party will hold them accountable, but today’s partisan voters are so well-trained to avoid contradictory information that they may never hear substantive counter-arguments to raising the minimum wage. In Walter Cronkite’s 1968, the average voter had a good chance of inadvertently coming into contact with information that might challenge the voter’s view of the world, but not today.

Are we doomed to hyper-partisanship forever?

You know partisanship has gotten out of control when a U.S. Senate candidate, asked whether he dated teenage girls when he was in his 30s, replies, “Not generally, no…” and he only loses the election by one and a half percentage points. Granted, it was Alabama, but still…

But now for the good news…hyper-partisanship is not necessarily a permanent aspect of our modern democracy. We can reduce today’s ideological polarization and the political dysfunction it breeds. And we can do it without over-regulating Facebook or forcing people to watch broadcast television news again.

In a follow-up to this essay, I will share how I re-trained myself to stop passing new information through a partisan or ideological lens and to instead do something few of us are good at any more.

It is called listening. And it turns out to be much harder to do than it sounds.

Part 2 of this essay provides some simple steps to recover from today’s hyper-partisanship epidemic.


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.


Is Virginia pointing the Democrats to the Left?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, November 8, 2017)

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

Rush Limbaugh tried hard on Wednesday morning to rationalize the Republican defeat in Virginia as something unrelated to President Donald Trump — but, after an hour, his enthusiasm for the project waned.

“I don’t do phony optimism and I don’t try to cheer people up when it isn’t warranted…I’m the mayor of Realville,” said Limbaugh.

For those of you not sure, Realville is not an actual place — which was symbolic of Rush’s plea to his faithful listeners. His rationalization of the Virginia elections was going nowhere.

[Fact Checker’s Note: There is, in fact, a Réalville. But it is in southern France and we verified that Rush Limbaugh is not their mayor.]

There is no positive spin Republicans can assign to the Democrats’ victories in Virginia (and elsewhere). The GOP didn’t just lose in Virginia, they weren’t even competitive. More distressing to them should be the turnover of Virginia’s lower house to the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s victory on Tuesday was deep in northern Virginia, and may foretell the ‘Thus Always to Tyrants‘ state finally becoming reliably blue for Democrats.

Hillary Clinton won Virginia in 2016 by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin, with 6 percent of the vote going to third party candidates. Ralph Northam beat Ed Gillespie by a 54 percent to 45 percent margin, with only one percent going to Cliff Hyra, the Libertarian candidate.

Without an intensive look at individual-level vote data (such as The Washington Post’s exit poll data), it is difficult to make strong conclusions about the 2017 Virginia elections; however, Tuesday’s election results are consistent with Berniecrats’ claims that a large majority of the third party presidential vote in 2016 would have gone to the Democratic candidate had the nominee been anyone other than Hillary Clinton.

Yet, the shift of 2016 third party voters to Northam in the Virginia gubernatorial race is not the takeaway from Tuesday’s elections. The story was the vulnerability of incumbent Virginia legislature Republicans in what had been strong Republican districts.

Democrats won Virginia districts in places they had no business being competitive.

A 73-year-old Republican incumbent, Bob Marshall, an aggressively anti-LGBTQ state house legislator, lost to Danica Roem, the first openly transgender candidate in U.S. history. Their northern Virginia district is an historically conservative district along Highway 28 with a resident population that is prosperous with strong ties to the Washington, D.C. and federal government economy.

That Virginia state house race saw Roem pursue a clear, but understated, millennial-centered social justice agenda versus a Republican incumbent clinging desperately to a worldview that fit well in 1957, not 2017.

The Republicans should hope that race does not reflect nationwide trends. However, it probably does.

However, let’s step back from the this week’s GOP shellacking and think more strategically about the lessons both parties should have learned from the Virginia results. The early conclusions from mainstream pundits, unsurprisingly, are punctuated with hyperbole and unsupported speculation.

This was a referendum election, not an ideological one. Virginia independents, representing about 28 percent of the voter population, went slightly for Gillespie over Northan (50% to 47%, respectively), according to the Washington Post’s exit poll analysis. Gillespie did slightly better than Trump among independents.

Still, beyond the importance of partisanship and turnout, there are other significant lessons both parties can take away from Tuesdays results.

First, the Republicans:

Lesson 1:

The American political system is venting Republicans like Bob Marshall. Their worldview is not relevant or sustainable in our country’s globalized, intercultural social landscape.

A good share of these Republicans will survive in a smattering of Southern and Midwest states, but the Bob Marshalls are done. Being a bigot isn’t just a bad way to go through life, in politics it produces socially radioactive fallout whose blowback is hard to predict and control. The Republicans don’t need that uncertainty right now. And they definitely don’t need it

The Republicans of the future are going to be more like United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley or U.S. House Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington’s 5th congressional district). If the 2017 Virginia results teach the Republicans anything, it is that the GOP old guard needs to retire — which they are…in droves.

To paraphrase Gothmog, lieutenant of Morgul in The Lord of the Rings, “The age of old white men is over, the time of multi-ethnic women has come.”

Nikki Haley, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, Tammy Duckworth, Jaime Herrera Beutler…..

To be fair, not all white men need to retire.

Bernie Sanders thrives because he speaks with credibility and passion on the issues and concerns of millennials and young, working-class Americans. The Bob Marshalls (and Chuck Schumers) do not.

Just as many of us prepare for winter by sorting through our firewood supply and throwing out the wet and rotted logs — usually the older logs on the bottom of the pile — that is what the Republicans are doing in preparation for 2018 and 2020.

In this way, the 2017 Virginia state house results did the GOP a favor.

Lesson 2:

The Virginia 2017 election results were a referendum on Donald Trump, not on conservatism.

As far as we can tell from the aggregate voting data on Tuesday, the results were not rooted in an ideological re-alignment of voters, but rather resulted from a partisan turnout differential caused by an unpopular president. In northern Virginia, populated by a high percentage of federal government workers and contractors, the voter turnout was decisively in favor of the Democrats.

The Washington Post’s election analysis describes well the dynamic in Virginia. The vote was highly partisan — very little voting across party lines. In addition, Democrats were far more energized than the Republicans. That is the definition of a ‘referendum’ vote. Democrats are angry and frustrated and they took it out on Virginia Republicans.

There is no indication, as yet, that weak Republican partisans or Republican-leaning independents made a wholesale shift towards the Democrats. If that did happen, then the Republicans would really be in trouble going into 2018 and 2020.

For now, they have a much more tractable enthusiasm problem.

Lesson 3:

Donald Trump doesn’t really care about Republicans or conservatism, or anything requiring significant amounts of intellectual investment. It took him about 10 minutes to throw his own party under the bus after learning about the Virginia results.

That was a predictable prick move on the part of President Trump. We’ve come to expect this from him. [Is anyone in a near-orbit to Trump telling him that the strong economy is not translating into support for his presidency?]

Electoral success at all levels of government requires a coherent and coordinated team effort and it hurts a party on the down-ballot races when their own president shows no propensity for teamwork. [Obama and the Clintons weren’t much better in this regard — ‘cult of personality’ candidacies never end well for the respective party]

He still inspires a significant percentage of disgruntled Americans — perhaps as high as 40 percent and as low as 30 percent of Americans. He does not, however, appear capable of inspiring another 10 to 15 percent of Americans required to form a durable electoral majority at all levels of government.

That is a problem Republicans need to address ASAP.

Now, for the Democrats:

Lesson 1:

There is no evidence Tuesday’s results were ideological. It was a referendum on Donald Trump. This is hardly news, but its strategic ramifications are still too often over-looked.

The vote outcomes in Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia and Washington state were turnout-driven partisan body counts. Democrats (and Democrat-leaning independents) came out to vote and they voted for the Democrats. In contrast, the now infamous Trump working-class Democrats did not show up in high numbers. Republican incumbents, never previously considered vulnerable, went down all over Virginia and Georgia.

The ‘not Donald Trump’ message will probably work just as well in 2018 (though one year is a long time in politics). The past failures of the Democrats’ mobilization-centric strategy — where money and time is spent on getting partisans to the polls and little spent on voter persuasion — will most likely work well in 2018.

But, the Democrats cannot pretend that the 2017 results are more than this simple fact: a large majority of Americans in shock about the behavior of their current president and are going to take it out on the party that enables him.

The Virginia vote does not portend a larger movement in support of the national Democratic platform. Danica Roem talked more about road building and infrastructure than social justice issues.

Had we seen traditional Republican voters turning out to vote for Democrats, then an ideological shift could be conjectured. As far as we know now, that did not happen.

Lesson 2:

Democrats can be competitive in districts presently viewed as ‘safe Republican’ districts. If the conditions behind the 2017 results hold, the Republicans will lose the U.S. House and it won’t even be close. It could be on a scale similar to the meltdown the Democrats experienced in the 2010 midterms.

A good example of this new competitiveness is found in Virginia’s 10th House of Delegates district, which covers much of the U.S. Highway 50 corridor west of metropolitan Washington, D.C. The Republican incumbent Randall Minchew received more votes in the 2017 election (14,014) than in any previous election, and still lost to Wendy Gooditis by over 1,000 votes.

That is what a partisan edge in voter turnout will do for the Democrats. But the important lesson to Democrats is that they should never be slaves to data analytics and simply ignore districts the “models” deem unwinnable. The models have been wrong in many important races, and they will be wrong again.

Lesson 3:

The Democrats need to hedge their bets and move to the political center.

The enthusiasm may not always be on the side of the Democrats. To assume so, and thereby continue their mobilization-focused strategy in 2018 and beyond, risks the momentum the Democrats currently possess.

It is not a crime against the political gods to hedge one’s bets going into the 2018 midterms. As underwater as Donald Trump’s approval numbers are right now, nobody knows where his approval numbers will be in November 2018.

One substantial international confrontation could overnight put him over 50 percent. And it won’t require a 35-point approval jump George W. Bush saw after 9-11. President Kennedy saw his highest popularity ratings just AFTER the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. President Ford’s approval ratings jumped sharply after the May, 1975, rescue of the Mayaguez ship crew — where 41 U.S. troops were killed! It is hard to predict how Americans will react to the next international crisis, but don’t assume Democrats and independents, especially those with family members in the military, won’t rally around the Trump presidency during a crisis.

More likely, the American economy will remain strong and at some point that will pay real dividends to the Trump presidency. It hasn’t happened yet, but many Americans still attribute the current economic strength to the Obama administration. That will change as time passes.

In that event, the Democrats need to reacquaint themselves with the political center.

But didn’t I read recently that there is no political center in the U.S. anymore? We are a ‘Center-Left’ country after all.

Many political analysts are saying the growing partisan divide in this country has left the political center empty. Go here and here for recent examples. And many Democratic-leaning pundits have argued the U.S. is a fundamentally Center-Left country (here and here).

All of these conclusions have serious analytic problems.

They are over-reliant on survey-based data, confuse statistical artifacts as findings, misinterpret existing research, and are just blind to the countervailing evidence. Even using the same data and research the ‘go left’ advocates cite, not only is the political center obvious, it is large and still determines close elections in the U.S.

Pew Research’s portrayal of the ideological structure of the American voting public shows a significant political center.

Source: Pew Research, 2017

Yes, America is more politically polarized than ever. That does not, in itself, negate the political value of moving to the center. As you can see in the above chart, half of American voters are still between the mean ideological positions of the two parties, but that doesn’t alone justify moving to the center. For example, research is consistently finding that even moderate voters prefer candidates that take distinct policy positions. In corporate marketing, they call it brand differentiation. But taking a distinct policy position is not the same as taking a strong ideological position.

It is possible to be a distinct politician without being a highly ideological.

Here are the three realities that should drive Democrats (and Republicans too) to consider the need for a move to the center:

  • When looking at Americans’ opinions on a wide range of topics, particularly outside of a political context, they are predominately non-ideological.
  • Americans have a very unfavorable view of both parties (and it is not because they want the parties to become more extreme!)
  • Objective policy results still matter in American politics — believe it or not.
Americans are politically ‘Center-Right,’ even if they may be socially ‘Center-Left’

Democratic pundits suggesting we are a ‘Center-Left’ nation put too much weight on survey data alone. Yes, public opinion surveys provide insight into voters’ minds. But these measurement instruments are mirrors, not crystal balls. Change the survey context or the questions themselves and you can get dramatically different results.

Furthermore, the term ‘Center-Left’ is relative. ‘Center-Left’ to what? And is it possible that Americans could be socially liberal, but not politically liberal (Author’s note: That has been my position on this topic in the past).

There are many analytic comparisons a researcher can employ to make this judgment:

  • Compare Americans within one election or period of time (cross-sectional)
  • Compare Americans over time (longitudinal)
  • Compare Americans to other countries (cross-national)
  • Compare actual policy outcomes to ideological divisions (Outcome approach)
  • Compare Americans using a relativist measure of ideology (Relativist approach)
  • Compare Americans to an objective measure of ideology (Objectivist approach)

I won’t go through all these approaches, but would like to highlight the last one.

The Voter Study Group’s lead analyst, Dr. Lee Drutman, takes the objectivist approach in which the center position in a survey question represents the dividing line between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ The researcher determines objectively what defines a ‘liberal’ from a ‘conservative’ and looks to see how the American public matches up to the researcher’s definitions.

There is a significant danger of bias in such an approach. It is prone — scratch that — it invites the results to conform to the researcher’s view of the political world. It fulfills what conservative pundit Ben Shapiro describes as the left’s pathological need to believe most Americans agree with them. This approach imposes a cognitive structure on respondents that doesn’t necessarily mirror how respondents actually think.

Furthermore, the objectivist approach ignores the ability of political parties to strategically redefine ideology within the dynamics of electoral politics.

The objectivist approach becomes obsolete as soon as one party redefines what it means to be ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’

Oh, when has that ever happened?!

Most recently, the dramatic ideological shift on trade policy is one example of when assumptions on what is the ‘left’ versus ‘right’ position has proven to be fluid relative to time and space.

But the most dramatic example is the Republican Party in the mid-1970s.

The Republican Party in the mid-1970s was a smoldering wreckage following Watergate and the Vietnam War. The dominant question within the Republican Party in 1975 was “what do we stand for?”

“Moderate” Republicans such as President Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller were not popular with the Republican base.

Enter Ronald Reagan who redefined ‘American conservatism’ in a way that persists to this day.

And, subsequently, in reaction to the Reagan revolution, Bill Clinton redefined liberalism, not just to re-center the Democrats on economic policy (which he did), but to define a new form of ‘liberal’ that embraced free markets and the progressive Democratic social agendas (minus LGBTQ issues that would need to wait until the Obama administration to see significant positive action).

Ideological plasticity is where strategic-thinking parties and politicians excel  in order to win elections.

So, Democrats, there will always be a ‘conservative’ America out there, regardless of how you define ‘conservative.’ And, over time, they will win half of all elections.

Using the opinion survey method to map ideology includes other qualifiers. If you ask the right set of questions framed in a specific context, Americans can look as leftist (or rightist) as you want them to look. That doesn’t mean the objectivist approach is fruitless, but it does mean a skeptical person should look for additional information before concluding we are a ‘Center-Left’ nation.

So here is a brief look at another ideological data source…

University of North Carolina political scientist James Stimson has been tracking the political mood of Americans for most of his academic career. Unlike Pew Research or the Voter Study Group, Stimson’s measure of public mood (which is analogous to ideology) looks out over 60 years of survey data using multiple survey vendors and questions (an in depth methodology description of Stimson’s public mood measure can be found here). Pew Research and The Polling Company (the survey vendor for The Voter Study Group) do good survey research. But I prefer a survey-based opinion measure that aggregates multiple survey vendors and questions over time and looks at more than just voters, but the entire U.S. adult population.

Stimson’s most recent update on public mood shows America (as of 2016) is still centrist, compared to other times in American history since 1952.

Source: Dr. James Stimson (

The mean value in public mood is 63, almost exactly where American public mood stood in 2016. As I’ve said, it is very likely this country has become significantly more liberal since the 2016 elections. That is the common ideological reaction to a new president. Notice that prior to 1980, America’s mood was the most conservative it had ever been since 1952. Hence, Ronald Reagan wins in landslide over Jimmy Carter. Immediately after the 1980 election, we witness the American mood becoming more liberal.

[Author’s note: Many of us still remember how the American mainstream media outlets ‘freaked out’ at Reagan’s victory in 1980, in much the same way they are reacting to President Trump today.]

In 2016, heading into the November elections, Americans were about as liberal as they were in 1984, right before Ronald Reagan won the biggest presidential landslide since FDR in 1936.

However, the real power of Stimson’s public mood measure is its visualization of the significant year-to-year elasticity in public mood. Real changes in public mood materialize in relatively short periods of time. This is why we shouldn’t be too surprised when opinion data in 2017 is more ‘liberal’ than it was prior to the 2016 elections. It also means analysts, researchers, and pundits should confess more humility before making declarations about how this country is ‘Center-Left’ or ‘Center-Right.’ [Author’s note: I would benefit from some of that humility too.]

To declare that Americans are more liberal today than on November 7, 2016, that’s fine. It doesn’t change the fact that we were a centrist country going into that election and any ideological moves since then can be quickly reversed or accelerated.

Maybe the real conclusion should be that declaring the the U.S. as “Center-Left” or “Center-Right” is analytically unproductive. Any such judgment is as permanent as a child’s sand castle. Perhaps the real effort from analysts and party strategists should instead be focused on the forces that build (and destroy) those ideological castles.

Yes, there is a political center and it deserves our attention

There need not be a large number of voters at the political center for the strategy of moving to the center to be effective. Voter behavior is not as spatially-driven or as simplistic as often assumed by the “go left” Democrat crowd. Gabriel Lenz’ research shows that many voters move their attitudes towards their preferred party and candidates’ positions, not the other way around. So parties or politicians aiming for the thick part of the ideological distribution are not necessarily the most successful. Thus, the ideological distribution of Americans today is not, ipso facto, an argument for where the party should go in the future.

Here is the actual secret sauce to durable and sustainable electoral success in the U.S. political system….

…enact good public policies (which, sometimes, means ‘do nothing’) and voters will reward the party and politicians in power. Good policies attract voters.

Is that why incumbents win over 90 percent of the time?

No, not entirely. But it would be inaccurate to suggest this country has made a lot of bad public policy decisions. This country is as strong economically as it as ever been. For the  most part, our political leaders make good policy and are thus rewarded for this.

Are you out of your f**king mind?! Have you heard of G. W. Bush’s Iraq War? The Defense of Marriage Act? The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988?

Yes, there are really bad U.S. public policy decisions in the history books. In most cases, the incumbent party was punished for them.

We can’t allow an aggregate statistic such as incumbent re-election rates to blind us to the real political changes that occur during bad economic times or counter-productive military adventures.

Americans reward good policy and punish bad policy.

And knowing that should shape how the Democrats move forward.

If Democratic leaders believe raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour, or providing free tuition to public universities for qualified students, or raising taxes on high-income households, or imposing a carbon tax on energy users and producers, or creating a single-payer health care system, or creating government-funded child care are good public policies, then, absolutely, the Democrats need to move left.

If you are skeptical that these policies can be implemented in a cost-effective manner (or would even work if implemented) and that there is a limit to the long-term debt our economy can carry, then, as a Democrat, you must pump the party’s brakes on these leftist economic policy ideas.

That leaves the social justice issues as the only other area where the Democrats can move left. But here is the problem with that move….the Democrats are already on the extreme left on many of these issues. There is no place farther left position than your last presidential nominee’s position of ‘unrestricted access to abortion.’  Allowing people to choose their bathroom based on their self-determined gender identity, independent of their birth sex assignment, is ex vi termini the ‘extreme left’ position. Where is there left, pardon the pun, for the Democrats to go?

The ‘go left’ Democrats are still fighting the war against Hillary Clinton — a unapologetic centrist that put corporate interests ahead of all other considerations. But, Hillary’s problem wasn’t her squishy centrist positions. The problem was her. She was too unlikable to overcome her bland ideas. As we saw in Virginia when the Democratic base in energized, the Democrats win. In 2016, the Democratic base was’t energized, but it wasn’t because of Hillary’s tendency for centrism.

Had Hillary Clinton been even a little more honest, a little more transparent, a little more charismatic, and not deny attention to working-class America, I wouldn’t have been forced to wake up to this picture today:


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.

The Media’s Shameless Politicization of the Death Toll in Puerto Rico

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, November 1, 2017)

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

How many people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria? It is an important question that needs a serious, non-partisan answer.

An answer we will not get from CNN or any of the major news outlets covering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Why? Because they are not really in the news business. They are in the Trump-bashing business. News stories are not pursued on their merit, they are selected based upon how well they serve the current popular narrative — and that narrative since November 2016 is: “Trump-is-a-liar-and-an-incompetent-Russia-colluding-stooge.”

Why focus on the narrative over objective facts? Because strong narratives build audiences, much like presidential candidates with the strongest narrative attract the most voters. Humans prefer narratives over hard, cold facts. The research supporting this conclusion is long, varied, and convincing.

The major news outlets’ coverage of the Hurricane Maria aftermath in Puerto Rico is an exemplar of this ‘feed-the-narrative’ journalism and its hurting their credibility and the people of Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, but by all objective accounts, the immediate death toll was relatively small

The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria stands today at 54. These are deaths directly related to the storm — mostly caused by drowning, blunt force objects, and stress-caused physical traumas, such as strokes and heart attacks. This official number includes deaths in the more remote sections of Puerto Rico, according to the Puerto Rican governor’s office.

It is not a perfect number and probably an under-count, given the realities of Puerto Rico’s terrain and socio-economic conditions.

But the news media have decided to manipulate the suffering of Puerto Ricans for a political purpose. They have discovered local and state Puerto Rican officials willing to suggest over 900 people in Puerto Rico died due to Hurricane Maria.

Here is just a sampling of recent headlines suggesting this death toll:

ABC News: 900-plus cremations since Maria, but hurricane death toll still 51

Newsweek: Puerto Rico says more than 900 people were cremated after Hurricane Maria

The Hill: Puerto Rico says over 900 people died of ‘natural causes’ after hurricane: report

Is The Hill‘s convenient use of quotations around ‘natural causes‘ meant to suggest someone is doctoring the death toll? Perhaps Donald Trump is doing it himself between 3 a.m. tweets? As if Donald Trump or anyone in his administration would be connected or knowledgeable enough to manipulate a death toll count generated by Puerto Rico’s state bureaucracy. [See, even I am willing to hitch a brief ride on the ‘Trump-is-incompetent’ narrative]

How did the news media get to this 900+ number? Its a bit murky and unsystematic, but, generally, it is coming from body and cremation counts from local morgues and funeral homes across Puerto Rico.

On a superficial level, that approach may make sense to a journalist or the general public; but, in practice, it yields an inaccurate and biased number.

CNN reporter John Sutter’s approach to covering the death toll has been particularly creepy and dishonest. It is revealed in the first personal story he offers in his Oct. 27th article on titled: Puerto Rico’s uncounted hurricane deaths — CNN visits every funeral home in one town to test the government’s count.

He writes: “Isabel Rivera González was 80. She loved to dance, and was known in this hilly enclave of Puerto Rico for her Saturday-night merengue moves…On October 15, three weeks after the storm, Rivera died awaiting a procedure at a hospital that had lost power in the hurricane and whose backup generator failed, according to several of her family members.”

Rivera was 80 and in poor health (prior to the hurricane). This is a sad death and possibly an indirect (not direct) result of Hurricane Maria. The direct versus indirect distinction may seem hardhearted, but it is an important distinction to those who study natural disasters and help prepare local, state and national governments for the next natural disaster.

Indeed, Sutter could have saved himself a lot of effort trolling Puerto Rico’s funeral homes had he first talked to an epidemiologist or public policy expert specializing in natural disasters. His methodology, which he painfully details in his Oct. 27th article, is not appropriate for measuring direct or indirect fatalities related to Hurricane Maria.

Here is why: people die in Puerto Rico every day. They were dying long before Hurricane Maria and they will die in Puerto Rico long after the visible effects of Maria have vanished. In fact, prior to Maria, around 80 Puerto Ricans were dying every day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This is why epidemiologists and policy experts establish mortality rates prior to an event (e.g., hurricane) and re-measure that rate during a post-event period of time when assessing the impact of natural disasters.

Establishing a baseline mortality rate is a normative benchmark that can be compared to the post-Maria mortality rate. This methodology in its simplest form is called a Pre-Post measurement design.

The following research study on the measurement of indirect deaths related to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan is an excellent example of a high-quality scientific study measuring natural disaster-related mortality rates. A more basic analytic approach was employed here to measure the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the mortality rate in the Greater New Orleans area in Louisiana.

Yet, even a quick, back-of-the-envelope attempt at understanding the deaths related to Maria reveals the inherent flaw in the news media’s unscientific assertion that 900 people died in its aftermath.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20th. The 900+ death toll estimate being promoted by the media emerged around October 26th. Lets assume those estimates were derived in the week prior to the news stories, that puts us around October 20th. Rounding, that is 30 days between landfall and the 900+ death count.

Based on U.S. Census Bureau data, in just a normal 30-day period Puerto Rico would have seen around 2,400 deaths. That is the number of deaths without a hurricane at the start of the period. This makes the 900+ fatalities number a little suspect, I would say. At a minimum, it demands more information before we can take it seriously.

In fact, I wonder if Puerto Ricans didn’t become even more attentive to their sick and elderly in the hurricane’s direct aftermath, thereby decreasing (if only temporarily) the mortality rate in Puerto Rico.

No, I’m not going to go that far. That would make me no better than CNN. And it may be true that the post-Maria mortality rate is higher in Puerto Rico. Counting cremations and dead bodies in morgues however is not a reliable way of getting to that true number.

This is why the news media’s ‘feed-the-narrative’ motivation is so important to understanding what it reports as news. The primary concern of CNN or The New York Times or MSNBC or The Washington Post is not understanding the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. Their primary motivation is finding ways to make Donald Trump look bad.

‘So what if the news media is reporting a sketchy death count, does it really matter?’

Unbiased mortality, morbidity, and financial loss estimates due to natural disasters are critical to understanding trends and long-term disaster planning. When these numbers are manipulated for political and economic reasons, public policy suffers.

“This poses a problem for any attempt to characterize trends in disaster impact and – maybe more importantly – to use those trends to identify optimal policy choices,” according to Dr. Llan Noy, from the Victoria Business School (Canada). “Trends in disaster losses are crucial because the distribution of losses across regions – and across countries at various levels of wealth and development – informs the discussion of climate change mitigation policies.”

Inflating the Puerto Rican death count may cultivate the news media’s anti-Trump narrative, but it harms those trying to prepare the world for the possible impact of climate change and natural disasters in general.

There is not going to be a quick answer to the “How many people died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria?” question. In the meantime, exploiting this period of scientific uncertainty to bash Donald Trump should be beneath the ideals of the news media. Unfortunately, it is not.


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.

A post-essay addendum:

I used these two imaginary scenarios to explain to my son how someone might measure the impact of Hurricane Maria:

In the first scenario, a hurricane hits an island and, sadly, a boat with 200 people from the island capsizes and everyone dies. However, on the island, nobody dies and power and normalcy return quickly. Using the Pre-Post design, the researchers would see a spike of 200 people (above the normal mortality rate) but the rate would promptly return to its historical norm. Deaths directly attributable to the hurricane would stand at 200 and indirect deaths would be around zero (assuming the 200 people that died on the boat weren’t all doctors and first-responders from the island).

In the second scenario, a hurricane hits the same island but nobody dies on the day of the hurricane. Instead, the island’s power and transportation infrastructure is destroyed and is not repaired for weeks, even months. In this case, the researchers would see no spike on the day of the hurricane but may see a steady — maybe even abrupt — increase in the island’s post-hurricane mortality rate. This mortality rate change is the estimate of the hurricane’s impact.

Of course, reality is more complicated than offered in these simple scenarios. For example, life-expectancies can change due to natural disasters and would not be easily discernible a simple Pre-Post measurement design. For this reason, researchers employ much more sophisticated (but analogous) statistical techniques to assess the impact of natural disasters.