Monthly Archives: March 2018

When will it be OK to say the Parkland kids are obnoxious? (And are hurting our chances for meaningful gun control legislation)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 26, 2018)

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Parkland student David Hogg’s impassioned plea at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. over the weekend to hold lawmakers accountable at the ballot box if they don’t pass gun control legislation soon was an exercise in earnest cluelessness.

Hogg’s sincerity is not the issue. That the Democratic Party and its network of government-empowering interest groups would use children to advance their political agendas, though troubling, is not the issue.

The problem with the March for Our Lives movement and pro-gun control Americans in general is that they are fighting a battle that is rigged against them. Earnestness, persistence and hard work will not overcome that problem. Voting Republicans out of office won’t even help.

First things first, I must disclose my own biases on this issue. I fully support banning “assault weapons” and their deadly enhancements, such as high capacity magazines and bump stocks. Unlike the 1994 assault weapons ban, which left many loopholes in its definition of an “assault weapon,” I would aggressively broaden the definition (For an excellent summary of the deep flaws in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, I recommend Brad Blumer’s article in the Washington Post from December 17, 2012).

“Experts who have studied the (1994) law tend to agree that it was rife with loopholes and generally ineffective at curbing gun violence,” reported Blumer in his 2012 Washington Post article.

And why was the law ineffective?

“For starters, only 18 firearm models were explicitly banned. But it was easy for gun manufacturers to modify weapons slightly so that they didn’t fall under the ban. One example: the Colt AR-15 that James Holmes used to shoot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last summer would have been outlawed. Yet it would have been perfectly legal for Holmes to have purchased a very similar Colt Match Target rifle, which didn’t fall under the ban,” wrote Blumer.

I want to see substantive gun control legislation passed in this country as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the marches I watched on Saturday didn’t address the barriers to gun control and may have, in fact, setback any chance of such legislation passing anytime soon.

Three factors work against seeing any meaningful gun control legislation passed by this Congress, or a Democrat-controlled Congress after the 2018 midterms.

The Constitution stands in the way of gun control legislation

The first factor is the constitution itself. Often we hear a pro-control argument that goes something like this: “There are more legal and administrative restrictions in place to restrict our ability to get a driver’s license than there are to buy a gun.”

The problem with that argument is that we don’t have a constitutional right to drive a car. If we did, the barriers to getting a driver’s license would be very different. An absurd comparison only because there were no cars when the Founding Fathers wrote the constitution.

But what about the right to vote? That is also a constitutional right that is continuously threatened by Republican efforts to erect more and more barriers to the voting booth.

While true in the short-term, the historical arc with respect to voting rights in this country actually supports the notion that gun rights are going to be protected by future courts as well. With few exceptions, the voting franchise has been consistently expanded and barriers to voting significantly reduced since this country’s founding.

When Republicans tried to pass a voter ID law in North Carolina in 2013, the Supreme Court quickly knocked it down by allowing lower court rulings against it to stand.

The Fourth Circuit court found in 2016 that the 2013 package of voting reforms in North Carolina, including the establishment of a strict voter-ID requirement and restrictions on early voting and same-day registration, “were enacted with racially discriminatory intent.”

When something is a constitutional right, the courts take a circumspect view of attempts to restrict that something.

If the Constitution included a positive right to basic health care, which has been erroneously suggested as FDR’s intent in his “Second Bill of Rights” speech in 1941, we would have had universal health care in this country already.

But we don’t.

Gun control advocates face a similar problem.

James Madison, our fourth president and Father of the U.S. Constitution, laid out in Federalist Paper No. 46 the importance of the people possessing the right to form well regulated state militias:

“Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger.”

Our Founding Fathers had good reason not to trust a federal government. History was rich with evidence showing strong central governments monopolizing the tools of violence to control the people.

If state militias are essential to repelling a federal army, in Madison’s view, and in sharp contrast to the views of many European legal scholars at the time, the American republic cannot be afraid to “trust the people with arms.”

Subsequent to Madison’s writings, early U.S. court rulings adopted a restricted (well regulated militia) view of the Second Amendment. In United States v. Miller (1939) the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court wrote: “The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon.”

Hardly a stance the National Rifle Association (NRA) would endorse today. And, since 1939, U.S. courts have taken increasingly more negative views of attempts to restrict gun rights, in part, due to the NRA’s expansive and sophisticated lobbying efforts.

There is no question the NRA has been a powerful force for gun rights, though its power is exaggerated through its association with the inherent potency of a constitutional amendment.

Take away the Second Amendment, we wouldn’t be talking about banning assault weapons in the U.S. right now. From their first inception they would have been banned.

Partisanship hurts the prospects of gun control legislation

The second factor is the role of partisanship in national policymaking.

Once partisanship has infected an issue, it is all but impossible to pass substantive and enduring legislation.

Partisanship has given us a graveyard of stunted and unfulfilled legislative dreams. National health care? Partisanship gave us the weak alternative called Obamacare. It may well die before another Democratic president and Congress can get elected.

A sustained national commitment to a complete conversion to renewable energy to combat global warming? Partisanship has limited government action to a series of executive orders and bureaucratic rulemaking, all potentially reversed under an opposing party’s administration.

Is there an example of a current national policy driven by a bipartisan consensus?

Yes — the vast majority of federal spending: Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, debt servicing and national defense.

Source: U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

Attempts to cut Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid spending is token at best, typically led by a small faction of libertarian deficit-hawks in the Republican Party (e.g., Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee).

As for defense spending, the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats and Republicans can’t fall over themselves fast enough to put money behind their shared prosaicism that they want to “support our troops.” The flat defense spending under Obama was the result of his administration overseeing the reduction in combat operations initiated under George W. Bush. And the increases just passed by the current Congress and signed by Trump significantly reverse those lean Obama budgets.

When bipartisanship prevails, substantive legislation happens. When partisanship takes over, substance is replaced by platitudes and posturing.

That is a fair summary of the rhetoric at the March for Our Lives. 

Parkland students, like Hogg, lecturing their “old ass parents” for not knowing how to “use a f-king democracy” is not only laughably stupid and ahistorical, but does more to help ignite the backlash against passing gun control legislation.

Had the Democratic Party and associated interest groups not co-opted the Parkland students, there may have been a real chance to see a broad assault weapons ban in this country. Once CNN, Ted Lieu and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz got their paws on the Parkland students, however, the odds of such legislation dropped dramatically.

Enabling the Parkland students to publicly humiliate Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the CNN town hall on gun control or during the March for Our Lives rally didn’t help either.

Rubio is the exact type of Republican the gun control lobby needs to be working with, not against.

At this point, assuming the Democrats control both the White House and Congress after 2020 presidential election, the best-case scenario is passing an assault weapons ban as riddled with loopholes as the 1994 law.

Only a bipartisan effort can hope to counterbalance the NRA’s influence on the relevant congressional committees.

The importance of gun control to the American public is volatile

The third factor stopping gun control legislation is its long-term volatility in importance relative to other problems facing our nation.

In its most recent poll on the most important problems facing the U.S., the Gallup Organization reports a surge in their importance of gun control.

“The U.S. Gallup’s March update finds 13 percent of Americans mentioning guns, up from less than 1 percent in early February, before the (Parkland) shooting occurred,” according to Gallup analyst Jeffrey Jones. “The percentage mentioning guns in response to this open-ended question is the highest Gallup has recorded since it first began compiling mentions of gun-related issues in 1994. The previous high was 10 percent after the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado.”

Not surprisingly, this current rise in the importance of gun control is driven by the Parkland shooting incident. Opinion surveys, particularly when asked about national issues most Americans only experience through the media, are mostly reflections of what people directly or indirectly read, hear and see in the media. Opinion surveys are prone to the ephemeral effects of event-driven phenomena.

But policymaking is typically a long-term project. The volatility in the importance of gun control to average Americans will not work in gun control advocates’ favor. As the table below shows, the importance of gun control spiked with the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017 but quickly eroded by December. The importance of gun control will fall after Parkland too. Perhaps not as fast or as far as previous shootings because of the news media’s higher level of attention to the issue, but it will fall.

Source: Gallup

Assigning too much weight to poll results at this point only sets up gun control advocates for the inevitable disappointment when the media spotlight turns to the next cable-news-driven event (Stormy Daniels Round 2? The next series of Mueller indictments? The next stock market collapse? A strategic strike on North Korea or Iran?). It is just a matter of time and if there is no action in Congress soon on gun control, the chances of passing an assault weapons ban diminish rapidly.

The Democrats must strike while the iron is hot.

“If [McConnell and Ryan] were to simply let the (gun control) bills comes to the floor, they would pass,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer said at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. “The NRA represents a small minority, but it has a stranglehold on Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan.”

But McConnell has already tabled gun control on the Senate’s 2018 schedule in favor of banking reform. Anything gun control legislation that does make it to the floor before the midterms will be limited to enhancing background checks, raising age minimums for gun purchases, and limiting the sale of bump stocks and high capacity magazines. Those are not insignificant policy changes, but they are not likely to change the levels of gun violence in this country.

With the deck stacked against them, what are gun control advocates supposed to do?

Of course, giving up on passing gun control legislation is not an option.

But anyone advocating changing the Second Amendment is spitting into the wind.

Instead, gun control advocates must focus on what they can control: the media and themselves.

Hopefully, it is not controversial anymore to say that the major news media outlets (Fox News and The Wall Street Journal notwithstanding) are in the tank for the establishment Democrats’ political agenda.

That fact is a double-edged sword for gun control advocates. On the one hand, anything that can keep gun violence high on the public agenda works to their advantage. But by associating gun control with a partisan agenda works to their disadvantage.

At a minimum, adults need to assert control of the message coming out of the gun control movement. The maudlin, over-heated theatrics coming from the Parkland students will backfire over time if left unfiltered.

If there is one iron-law in political communication it is that Americans don’t like to see their political leaders excessively emotional. It is tolerated in brief, well-defined moments: Reagan hugging the family members of the space shuttle Challenger victims. Obama shedding a tear for the Sandy Hook students.

Gun violence victims and their families should express their profound emotions. But for political leaders, crying, swearing and yelling are generally not effective political communication styles.

Effective political leaders are not victims. They are compassionate but even-tempered, and when they do show strong emotions, they must appear in control of those emotions.

But the sonics and optics at these mega-marches, including the Women’s march in January 2017, are not designed to attract fence-sitters and independents to a cause. These marches are meant to rally troops (hence, why they are called ‘rallies’!), but they are piss-poor at expanding a political base.

The Vietnam War marches ushered in two Richard Nixon election victories. The Nuclear Disarmament Marches in the 1980s preceded Ronald Reagan’s 1984 electoral victory, the largest election landslide since FDR.

The point is, marches don’t necessarily presage significant political victories in the marchers’ favor.

Two-thirds of Americans now support stronger gun control measures. The rise in support is almost exclusively among Republicans and Independents, not Democrats (see charts below):

It is support among independents and Republicans that will determine the final outcome of the current momentum to pass gun control legislation. Calling anyone over 18-years-old part of the problem, which is what more than one Parkland teen expressed at Saturday’s march, is a recipe for choking off the momentum gained since the Parkland shooting tragedy.

Chuck Schumer telling marchers that the students like those at Parkland “are our leaders” says more about the Democratic Party’s leadership vacuum than anything else.

Gun control advocates therefore should take that as a sign that letting their movement align with the Democratic Party is a grave mistake.

There are Republicans ready to work with the Democrats on meaningful gun control legislation. Don’t alienate them with immature spokespeople like David Hogg.


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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.


Are Americans growing weary of the Trump-Russia story?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 23, 2018)

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The signs are starting to appear…

The American people may be growing weary of the Trump-Russia story.

The first sign is what scares media executives the most…TV ratings. It’s the canary-in-the-mine indicator.

MSNBC’s three leading prime time news programs experienced ratings declines between January and February this year. Rachel Maddow lost 159,000 adult viewers, Lawrence O’Donnell dropped 248,000, and Chris Hayes shed 87,000. At the same time, Fox News saw complementary increases across its prime time lineup.

Its just one month and MSNBC’s weekday evening schedule still garners more viewers than a year ago. But trends start somewhere.

The second sign of Russia-fatigue is the recent sustained increase in Donald Trump’s job approval ratings. As of March 23rd, the average was at 41.6 percent.

He’s not exactly popular. In fact, he remains historically unpopular for this stage in a presidency. Yet, for Trump, 41.6 percent looks good. He is well off his all-time lows in mid-December 2017, when he had 37 percent approval, and if the trend were to continue through October, the GOP would have a decent chance of keeping control of the U.S. House.

Trump is too unpredictable to justify any prediction that bold. But it is also true he is in the midst of his presidency’s most sustained increase in job approval. Hardly evidence that the American public is losing faith in his presidency over the Trump-Russia probe.

And the third sign of Russia-fatigue should scare establishment Democrats the most. Progressive Democrats are openly starting to wonder if the Democrats’ obsession with Russia isn’t designed to distract Americans from the real issues that affect their lives: Jobs, health care, college costs, income inequality, etc.

During a March 19th live-streamed discussion of income inequality, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and filmmaker Michael Moore both highlighted the excessive coverage given to the Trump-Russia story.

“You turn on the TV and it’s ‘Russia, Russia, Russia!’” complained Moore, with Sanders quickly adding: “And don’t forget Stormy Daniels!”

“These are all shiny keys to distract us,” said Moore during the broadcast. “We should know about the West Virginia (teachers) strike. What an inspiration that would be. But they don’t show this, Bernie, because, what would happen if they did?”

The American people might realize progressives can take collective action in conservative states like West Virginia and actually achieve progressive policy outcomes supported by the majority of people in those states.

While always at risk of sounding like Jan Brady with their “Russia, Russia, Russia” lament, progressives are justifiably insecure and a little paranoid right now. Their own party’s leadership, led (on paper at least) by Democratic National Chair Tom Perez, is at war with them.

In October 2017, Perez purged a number of the party’s progressives of their at-large delegate status or leadership positions, while appointing dozens of new members, many of whom were Hillary Clinton campaign veterans or former corporate lobbyists.

Perez’ thinly-veiled message to progressive Democrats: We don’t need you to win elections.

How can Perez and the Democratic establishment be so confident? Because they have the major news outlets doing the heavy lifting for them. Just keep hammering the American public with Trump-Russia collusion stories, throw in a little ‘Facebook is selling your private information’ fear-mongering, and add in an extra helping of ‘The Parkland kids are going to end gun violence in this country,‘ and the American public won’t know Bernie Sanders from Colonel Sanders.

That’s the hope of the Obama-Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, at least.

In the past month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), chaired by New Mexico Representative Ben Ray Lujan, openly undermined progressive candidates in three Texas U.S. House primary races through their support of the establishment-approved candidates.

The DCCC was even so bold as to publicly release opposition research against progressive Democrat Laura Moser in the primary race for Texas’ U.S. House District 7. Despite (or because of) the national party’s efforts, Moser finished second in the Houston-based district and will face establishment candidate Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in a runoff election on May 22nd.

When will establishment Democrats learn? Let your party’s voters decide who should run in the general election. If you had done that in 2016, we’d probably be talking about President Sanders right now.

Will the establishment’s strategy work? It will, of course, depend on the final disposition of the Mueller investigation. Even with CNN and MSNBC’s insistence that the Mueller probe is closing in on Trump fast. The verifiable public evidence suggests otherwise.

Writes The Washington Post‘s Ed Rogers: “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team of investigators appear to be aimless and are wandering, Democrats are grasping at straws and President Trump is lawyering up. Going by what information has, so far, been made public, there is no collusion with Russia to be found — at least on the part of the Trump campaign. And with obstruction of justice difficult to establish, Mueller’s plate seems to be full of side dishes but no entree.”

Rogers may be engaged in a bit of selective observation; but, in the end, he may be correct to this extent — the public evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians is insufficient, if the goal is to impeach and remove a sitting president.

However, if the goal is simply to weaken a president and his party for his entire term, the Trump-Russia investigation is right on schedule.

The problem the establishment Democrats risk is that, by focusing on Russia, the American people are bound to notice the party’s failure to address the serious problems that continue to fester, particularly in parts of the country Hillary Clinton has decided are too ‘backward’ to belong in any future Democratic Party coalition. She denies she said that, of course, but we have it on tape (here).

And as signs add up that the American public is ready to move on from the media’s Russia obsession and on-going rationalization of Hillary Clinton’s defeat, the establishment Democrats may want to reconsider the marginalization of their progressive brethren.

Trump’s recent rise in approval has occurred despite a daily diet of insults, lies, denials and threats. His congenital lying is baked into public opinion already.

More distressingly, his administration accomplishes little of substance at home (except explode the national deficit) as it seems to be committing this country to a wider-scale Middle East war at the behest of our allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The neocon’s liberal sounding board, The Washington Post, is already softening up opinion on the Left to the idea of a larger U.S. military commitment in Syria.

As if it was not enough that 17 years in Afghanistan has given this country little to show for it, and a 10-year engagement in Iraq has only created an Iranian client state, now the Trump administration quietly, with congressional Democrats’ apparent complicity, positions our military for a renewed war on Syria’s Assad and a potentially larger conflict with Iran. All this while Saudi Arabia uses American weapons to target Yemeni civilians which only pushes Yemen further into chaos and despair, ensuring a whole new generation of young men and women dedicated to hating the West.

Its called perpetual war and its good for business. Literally, its good for business.

It probably kills Hillary Clinton that she’s not the one leading the country into this regime change war against Assad. It was her brainchild after all.

But, instead, we have Trump. And with his replacement of H. R. McMaster with John Bolton as his national security adviser, the Trump war cabinet is taking shape. If trends continue, we will be in a hot war with Syria, Iran, or North Korea before the midterm elections. Hopefully not all three.

But we don’t hear bupkis from Democratic leadership on the increased likelihood of this next U.S. military adventure. Two lone voices in the U.S. Congress have credibly sounded the alarm on what the Trump administration is doing: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Not coincidentally, neither is loved by their party’s leadership.

And the news media? They are too busy covering Russia, the story that will keep on giving and giving, especially if CNN and The New York Times are allowed to make up a few things now and then. If being glorified stenographers for the U.S. intelligence agencies and the “deep state” means getting a few facts wrong, what do they care as long as profits stay strong?

But the signs are there that the news media’s latest gilded age may be almost over.

The American public grows tired of the Trump-drama. They may not flock to Trump’s defense as they did with Bill Clinton in 1998, but they may hold the Democrats as equally responsible as the GOP for the absurdity of this presidency. They may even vote him back into office if the Democratic Party’s leadership continues to fixate on Russia (and now gun control) instead of the ‘bread-and-butter’ issues that matter most to Americans.

Imagine that…six and a half more years of President Donald Trump. And you can thank Adam Schiff, Mark Warner, and Tom Perez if that happens.


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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.

Cambridge Analytica may be guilty of being too successful

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 19, 2018)

{Send comments to:; the SPSS dataset used in this article can also be provided upon request}

According to whistleblowers, a voter profiling company, Cambridge Analytica, started collecting private information in 2014 from more than 50 million Americans through their Facebook profiles. This unauthorized “data breach” represents one of the social media giant’s largest data leaks.

Facebook claiming it was unaware of Cambridge Analytica’s exploitation of Facebook users for the Donald Trump campaign’s targeting of potential voters is a bit like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca saying, “I  am shocked…shocked! find that gambling is going on in here!”

Facebook is equally phony. By its own admission in a statement last Friday, the company knew, as early as 2014, what Cambridge Analytica was doing with Facebook users’ profile data and chose to ignore it.

Why? Because it is good for business. Facebook’s business model is built on the premise that the personal information it collects on its users has considerable market value. And Facebook aggressively sells this feature of its service.

Furthermore, any attempt to call what Cambridge Analytica did with its access to Facebook profile data a “data breach” is cynical misuse of the term.

“There was no unauthorized external hacking involved, meaning that Facebook databases were not breached by an outside malicious actor,” according to Ido Kilovaty, a Cyber Fellow at the Center for Global Legal Challenges and Resident Fellow at the Information Society Project, Yale Law School.

Cambridge Analytica simply exploited the Facebook profile data for maximum value. Its innovation was to pull in users’ Facebook friends to expand its analytic base.

The Trump campaign’s voter targeting firm may have pushed boundaries by harvesting 50 million Facebook user profiles to build its own database for communications targeting, but its methods were well-known within Facebook.

Why? Because Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns pioneered such use of Facebook data to target voters.

Investor’s Business Daily nicely summarizes the 2012 Obama campaign’s methods:

In 2012, the Obama campaign encouraged supporters to download an Obama 2012 Facebook app that, when activated, let the campaign collect Facebook data both on users and their friends.

According to a July 2012 MIT Technology Review article, when you installed the app, it said it ‘would grab information about my friends: their birth dates, locations, and likes.’

The campaign boasted that more than a million people downloaded the app, which, given an average friend-list size of 190, means that as many as 190 million had at least some of their Facebook data vacuumed up by the Obama campaign — without their knowledge or consent.”

And it should surprise no one that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was doing something similar in building their own voter targeting algorithm, Ada, which also relied on social media content to build its models.

The current hand wringing by the mass media about Facebook’s role in helping the Trump campaign appears to be nothing but another poorly veiled partisan attack on Trump.

Had Clinton won the election, Ada’s algorithms would be legend. Instead, Ada is a monument to Clinton’s over-reliance on Moneyball-inspired data for its decision-making.

In contrast, Cambridge Analytica, because it aided the Trump campaign, is a digital age boogey man meant to instill fear in every red-blooded America who has ever re-posted an anti-Hillary meme on Facebook or ‘liked’ a group page dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment.

The unacknowledged truth is that all of these sophisticated data algorithm’s are somewhere between profound data-driven insights and modern versions of a kabuki dance — a stylized ritual meant to convey legitimacy to the data firms promoting the superior value of data analytics.

Does that mean data analytics are a fraud? No, of course not. It does mean that assigning excessive value to data analytic methods undervalues the real mechanisms behind how people decide their vote preferences.

Too frequently in today’s social science, personified by Cambridge University psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, who helped build the psychological profiling algorithms employed by Cambridge Analytica, interesting correlational relationships substitute for sound insight.

Stillwell, specifically, developed an app for Facebook where users would take a short personality quiz and get a score on five personality traits — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. In exchange for their cooperation, Facebook users would agree to give Stillwell access to their Facebook profiles.

By 2015, Cambridge Analytica, who had signed a contract with Facebook to gain access to Facebook’s users, would leverage Stillwell’s app to develop personality profiles for millions of Facebook users.

Among the unique insights from Cambridge Analytica was that people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

Those types of findings are a tell-tale sign of pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

There is no causal social theory that links the purchase of Nike shoes and KitKat bars to antipathy towards Israel. Those types of relationships are “spurious” in that they represent statistically significant correlations in data that fail to account for the true causal factors actually linking variables.

We repeat. Buying Nike shoes or KitKat bars is not a subconscious indicator that you are anti-Israel.

In all probability, the relationship Cambridge Analytica found in their data was either a product of random chance or an artifact of the targeting used in marketing Nike shoes and KitKat bars that may correlate with social subgroups prone to anti-Israel sentiments.

Either way, suggesting a substantive relationship between KitKat bars and anti-Israel sentiments is shitty social theory and bad business practice.

Cambridge Analytica and other mainstream data analytic firms will argue they aren’t in the business of developing solid social theory. What they care about are the deep correlations in data, not the true causal mechanisms behind them. They will defend their methods with the oft repeated academic canard that we are “data rich and theory poor.”

No kidding.

Unfortunately, throwing one’s arms up and giving up on developing good theory does not justify findings like, “the purchase of Nike shoes and KitKar bars correlates with anti-Israel sentiments.”

It is an intellectual cop-out that may explain why so many sophisticated modeling algorithms, like the Clinton campaign’s Ada algorithm, fail in practice.

But there are other reasons supporting skepticism about the big data analytic models like the ones employed in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

The 2016 presidential election results were predictable months in advance of the election itself. In some cases, months before a single general election ad had been purchased by the Clinton or Trump campaigns.

Contrary to the popular myth promoted by the mainstream media, the polls and econometric models were exceptionally accurate in their predictions for the 2016 popular vote. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 3 percentage points and that is very close to what the polls and econometric models predicted on the morning of November 8th.

What failed in 2016 were the prediction markets (i.e., “the experts). The econometric models, which generally rely on economic data gathered months prior to election day, performed particularly well — as usual (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Forecast Errors in 2016 presidential election by forecast method (Source: Andreas Graefe,

What shocked the system was the degree to which the Clinton vote clustered along the American coastal states and under-performed in the American rust belt.

Had the Clinton campaign recognized her vulnerability in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the outcome could have been very different. Robby Mook should never be allowed to present himself as a political expert in any forum. Hillary Clinton lost because he was not good at his job.

And it is that type of strategic intelligence that Cambridge Analytica may have maximized using its own data models. Cambridge Analytica identified marginally conservative Americans most vulnerable to voting for Clinton and targeted them for anti-Clinton campaign ads. has previously shown in its analysis of 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) that older conservatives most engaged in using social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) for sharing political information were particularly negative towards Hillary Clinton.

Older conservative voters that used social media for sharing had noticeably different attitudes in the 2016 election

In rating Hillary Clinton on a 0 to 100 favorability scale, on average, “slightly conservative” adults aged 40 or older who used Facebook or Twitter to share political information gave her a rating of 20.7, compared to 32.1 among otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information (see Figure 2 below). A similar relationship emerged among “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older). This pattern did not appear however among adults under 40 years of age, regardless of political ideology.

Figure 2: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

“Slightly conservative” and “conservative” Americans accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. vote eligible population according to the 2016 ANES. And within that 25 percent, just under half of them said they used Facebook or Twitter to share political information during the campaign.

That is still almost 12 percent of the population that had a distinctly more negative view of Clinton by the end of the campaign, compared to other eligible voters with otherwise similar demographic and attitudinal characteristics.

We believe something unique happened to this group during the campaign. We may have prematurely called this evidence of “Russian meddling” but we feel comfortable in calling it the “social media effect” (SME).

When we looked at the relative difference in favorability towards Clinton and Trump (see Figure 3 below), the same older conservatives appeared to stand out. “Conservatives” (aged 40 or older) that used Facebook and Twitter to share political information were significantly more positive towards Trump, relative to Clinton, than those in the same demographic category but did not use Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing.

Figure 3: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

When assessing the honesty of the two presidential candidates, “slightly conservative” and “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older) who used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information thought Trump was much more honest than Clinton than did otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

We believe these findings are tentative evidence of the Trump campaign’s intense targeting of conservative voters, particularly those most open to voting for Clinton, with negative campaign ads.

Within the 2016 ANES survey data, the relative favorability and honesty evaluations of the two candidates were highly significant predictors of actual vote decisions (see the SPSS output for a logistic model of 2016 vote choice in Appendix).

When we quantify our findings on the impact of Facebook/Twitter use for sharing political information, we get these results (see Table 1 below):

Table 1: Estimated population sizes (Source:

Based on the 2016 ANES survey data, we estimate over 28 million vote eligible Americans (or about 12 percent of the voter eligible population) were prime targets for the Trump campaign’s social media strategy. They were self-described as “conservative” or “slightly conservative” and used Facebook and/or Twitter for sharing political information. We consider this subgroup to be the primary source of any “social media effect” (SME) in the 2016 presidential election.

On election day, almost 16 million of these voters actually voted.

Table 2: Estimated impact of conservative Facebook-Twitter users on the 2016 vote (Source:

Using an admittedly ‘back-of-the-envelope’ method, we compare the actual vote totals with an alternative result had conservative Facebook-Twitter users held the same opinions as conservative voters that did not use Facebook-Twitter for sharing political information.

We estimate that, without the “social media effect” (SME), Trump would have lost the popular vote by 3.7 million votes and would have lost Michigan by 19,000 votes (see Table 2 above) He still would have won the electoral college in our estimate, but it would have been even closer than the actual 77,000 vote margin.

Keep in mind, we are not considering other subgroups (i.e., “middle of the road” and “slightly liberal” voters) that also may have been impacted by Trump’s social media efforts.

Nonetheless, the practical impact of an effective social media campaign can be the difference between winning and losing a presidential election. In our estimate, at a minimum a additional 1 million votes would have gone to Hillary Clinton had it not been for the Trump campaign’s (i.e, Cambridge Analytica’s) social media efforts.

More directly, we think Cambridge Analytica’s data insights were one of the decisive factors in Trump’s electoral victory, along with the mainstream media’s excessive gift of “free media” to the Trump campaign.

Did Cambridge Analytica pass its data to the Russians?

The big question becomes, did Cambridge Analytica pass its data (and algorithms?) on to the Russians? That is clearly where the mainstream media intends to take the Cambridge Analytica story.

The Twittersphere is flush with conspiratorial theories and some unverified evidence linking Cambridge Analytica to the Russians.

First reported by, reports in late-October 2016 surfaced about a server in Trump Tower connected to a bank in Russia (the Alfa Bank).

Soon after the initial reports, bloggers @TeaPainUSA  and @Conspirator0 analyzed server log data and suggested the Trump Tower server had been communicating during the 2016 general election period in a manner suggesting ‘database replication’ had occurred at distinct times by the Alfa Bank server. In addition, another server in the U.S., this one controlled by Spectrum Health, a company owned by the Devos family, which includes the current Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, was also communicating with the Trump Tower server.

In addition, a September 2017 blog post by another blogger reported that a Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) server was also “sending Cambridge Analytica data targeting and propaganda messages to Trump’s server, in order that they be washed with the voter registration and DNC databases that were being sent to and from Alfa Bank” during the 2016 campaign.

As one might imagine, conspiracy theories have blossomed regrading the Trump Tower server, which is now part of the Mueller investigation. But, in all fairness, some early reports have thrown cold water on the suspicious Trump Tower and Alfa Bank server connections, suggesting they are the result of normal spamming activities that are common between commercial servers.

It is also possible that the Russian’s hacked into the Trump Tower servers without assistance from the Trump campaign. The Russians are good at that.

Nonetheless, particularly since the latest Cambridge Analytica controversy, the Trump Tower server story remains a small cottage industry for some investigative reporters and will hopefully be resolved when the Mueller investigation is completed.

Until that time, the 2016 voter opinion data we have analyzed convinces us that the Trump campaign’s social media efforts — whether aided by the Russians or not — were a significant factor in the 2016 presidential election. Call Cambridge Analytica’s methods sleezy and improper if you’d like, there is solid evidence they succeeded in helping get Donald Trump elected.


Appendix: Logistic Model of the 2016 Presidential Vote (American National Election Study)
Table 5: Based on 2016 ANES individual-level survey data; data are weighted to represent the vote eligible population; dependent variable coded as 1 = Trump vote / 0 = Clinton or other vote

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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.

Are we seeing evidence that Russian meddling impacted the 2016 election?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 13, 2018)

{Send comments to:; the SPSS dataset used in this article can also be provided upon request}

“We conducted an election that had integrity,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo and soon-to-be Secretary of State during a public event last October. “And yes, the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”

Unfortunately, no U.S. intelligence agency has ever publicly addressed the question about whether the Russians affected the outcome, much less answered it to the degree Pompeo implied.

We still don’t know if Russian meddling affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and there is an excellent chance we will never know with certainty.

In past posts, we expressed skepticism that $30-40 million of Russian-backed social media advertising, no matter how well spent strategically, could alter a U.S. presidential election where the two major campaigns spent over a billion dollars. Even the releases of the DNC and Podesta emails, also products of Russian meddling, do not directly correlate with any changes in tracking polls or prediction markets. Obviously, the email leaks could still have been very important in that they drove daily news coverage for consecutive days and prevented the Clinton campaign from generating momentum.

“To drive a wedge between Democrats just as we were coming together after the primary, Russian hackers stole and selectively published files from the Democratic National Committee,” Hillary Clinton told one of her book tour audiences last October. “It was a virtual Watergate break-in. Later, to blunt our momentum, and distract from the Access Hollywood tapes, they released emails stolen from my campaign chair, John Podesta.”

Clinton’s contention has significant merit. The DNC and Podesta emails hurt her campaign. But as the election forecasts show in Figure 1, both the first release of the DNC emails (by DCLeaks in early July 2016) and the Podesta emails on Oct . 7, 2016 were followed by either stable or increasing poll numbers for Clinton. Only the Wikileaks release of the DNC emails in mid-July was followed by a decline in Clinton’s poll numbers, but even that trend started days before the Wikileaks release. The DNC and Podesta email leaks very likely changed the campaign’s dynamics, but it will be difficult to prove how they changed the final outcome.

Figure 1: 2016 Presidential (Polls-only) Daily Forecasts (Source:

Before identifying nuanced factors behind the 2016 outcome, it is important to identify the most potent factors first, and at the top of that suspect list is the $1.2 billion advantage in “free media” the major mass media gave Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Hours of unfiltered television coverage of Trump rallies in front of enthusiastic crowds, particularly during the primaries, were a priceless gift to the Trump campaign (see Figure 2).

Explaining Trump’s stunning election victory must therefore begin with the news media’s pursuit of an audience; and nothing attracted an audience during the 2016 campaign like Donald Trump. From earliest moments of the campaign the news media incubated and nurtured the Trump campaign with hours of unfiltered coverage of his campaign speeches and rallies. Through this coverage, Trump gained credibility and relevance.

According to media analyst Andrew Tyndall, by March 2016, Trump accounted for nearly a third of all election coverage and more than all Democratic candidates combined. And the mass media couldn’t have been happier as the Trump coverage translated directly into larger audiences and larger profits.

And nobody was happier than the cable news networks.

Ad revenues in 2016 for cable news reached $2 billion, a 15 percent increase over 2015,  with both Fox News and CNN earning profits over $1 billion for the year.

And the main attraction was Trump.

Figure 2: Media attention devoted to Clinton and Trump during the 2016 election (Source: Faris, Robert M., Hal Roberts, Bruce Etling, Nikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman, and Yochai Benkler. 2017. Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research Paper.)

Do you want to understand why Donald Trump won the election? Start your inquiry with the cable news networks.

But that doesn’t let the Russians off the hook.

Any attempt to measure Russia’s unique impact on the election must also contend with the multitude of competing campaign communications that flooded the daily news cycle. And it doesn’t help that the messages and social media tactics used by the Russians paralleled what was already coming out of the Trump campaign. To tease out a causal link attributable to only the Russians may be no more than the digital age version of a snipe hunt.

All the same, the Russians did lay down some markers during their social media campaign, most notably a series of Facebook group pages that may have generated collateral behaviors such as Google searches which may offer indirect evidence of the Russians’ impact.

And that is where the search for the Russians’ influence on the 2016 election begins.

Killary and the “Heart of Texas”

Using Google’s Trends service — which allows the public to discover trends in Google searches — we found two terms over the course of the 2016 campaign that we attributed to the American public’s interest in two Facebook group pages created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA): “Killary” and “Heart of Texas.”

Figure 3: Google searches on selected key words and phrases from the 2016 campaign (Source: Google Trends)

The terms “Killary” and “Heart of Texas” — shown in the Figure 3 with star markers (X) — barely registered in Google searches relative to the major campaign issues: Clinton emails, Clinton health, Clinton Foundation, Access Hollywood tape, and the Podesta emails. The index scores (which can range from 0 to 100) for “Killary” and “Heart of Texas” never exceeded 10 during the course of the election. In comparison, “Clinton emails” had a weekly index score over 40 four times during the campaign.

Even so, is there is a noticeable peak in “Heart of Texas” Google searches during the Democratic National Convention in late July and a peak in “Killary” searches in the last week of the campaign, which only proves the Russians had a barely discernible impact on Google searches.

The 2016 American National Election Study

Feeling slightly more confident after exploring Google Trends, we decided to leverage some of the public opinion data available online, more specifically, the 2016 American National Election Study conducted during every national election by The University of Michigan and Stanford University. Their data is available to the public here.

We must state upfront: The 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) was not designed to measure the impact of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

[A detailed description of this nationally-representative survey conducted by The University of Michigan and Stanford University during every national election can be found in Appendix A.]

Social science inquiry is hard enough when a study is specifically designed to measure precise empirical questions, but when they are not, conclusions are often heavily qualified.

That will be the case here.

The following analysis shows that over the course of the 2016 campaign there were attitudinal differences in specific segments of the population consistent with the hypothesis that Russia’s social media efforts, particularly the memes portraying Clinton in a negative light, targeted older conservatives otherwise open to voting for Clinton.

We cannot say for certain that Russian meddling is the cause of these attitudinal differences. And, in fact, the first suspect must be the overall partisan nature of social media itself. A recent Harvard study of the 2016 elections found Facebook and Twitter to be highly partisan social media platforms and a person’s ideological orientation largely determined what platforms they used and what information they consumed.

Before we blame the Russians for strengthening partisan differences in Americans’ evaluations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, we must account for the broader impact of social media in general.

Furthermore, the objective evidence that the Russians even engaged in such detailed social media targeting is minimal and comes largely from Facebook’s internal analysis of Russian-sourced content during the 2016 election.

Nonetheless, it is interesting that older conservatives that used social media for sharing political information were significantly more negative in their attitudes towards Hillary Clinton.

Either they were unusually susceptible to negative information about Clinton found on social media, or they were targeted with negative political information about Clinton…or both.

In the 2016 election, older conservatives that used Facebook/Twitter for sharing political information had particularly negative views of Clinton

With those caveats in mind, our analysis of the 2016 ANES shows preliminary evidence that, among politically conservative adults over 40-years-old, the use of Facebook and Twitter for sharing political information during the 2016 election correlated with significantly more negative opinions and impressions about the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, both in absolute terms and relative to the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

In rating Hillary Clinton on a 0 to 100 favorability scale, “slightly conservative” adults aged 40 or older who used Facebook or Twitter to share political information, on average, gave her a rating of 20.7, compared to 32.1 among otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information (see Figure 4 below). A similar relationship emerged among “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older). This pattern did not appear however among adults under 40 years of age, regardless of political ideology.

Figure 4: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

“Slightly conservative” and “conservative” Americans accounted for 25 percent of the U.S. vote eligible population according to the 2016 ANES. And within that 25 percent, just under half of them said they used Facebook or Twitter to share political information during the campaign.

That is still almost 12 percent of the population that had a distinctly more negative view of Clinton by the end of the campaign, compared to other eligible voters with otherwise similar demographic and attitudinal characteristics.

We believe something unique happened to this group during the campaign. We can’t call it a “Russian effect” but we feel somewhat comfortable calling it, for now, the “Facebook-Twitter effect” (FTE).

When we looked at the relative difference in favorability towards Clinton and Trump (see Figure 5 below), the same older conservatives appeared to stand out. “Conservatives” (aged 40 or older) that used Facebook and Twitter to share political information were significantly more positive towards Trump, relative to Clinton, than those in the same demographic category but did not use Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing.

Figure 5: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

When assessing the honesty of the two presidential candidates, “slightly conservative” and “conservative” adults (aged 40 or older) who used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information thought Trump was much more honest than Clinton than did otherwise similar adults who had not used Facebook or Twitter for political information sharing (see Figure 6 below).

Figure 6: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (aged 40+); Source:

Again, this disparity in the honesty gap did not occur between Facebook/Twitter users and non-users for any other ideological or age group (see Appendix B for similar charts on those under 40 years of age).

It does appear older conservatives that used Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information experienced a different election than those that did not. More importantly, the implication is that, for conservative Americans, the election was a much more negative experience with respect to Clinton. By comparison, among liberals, use of Facebook or Twitter for sharing did not relate to their relative views about the two candidates.

As to why “extremely conservative” adults aged 40 or older didn’t show similar attitudinal disparities between Facebook/Twitter users versus non-users, it may be that once people pass a threshold in their dislike of a candidate, the heart can’t get any darker. Similarly, the lack of a social media effect on “extreme” conservatives may be that they were already exposed to so much negative information about Clinton outside of social media that anything else was redundant.

It is also puzzling that the social media effect was not significant with people that considered themselves ‘middle of the road’ ideologically, though directionally their attitudes were more negative towards Clinton if they used Facebook or Twitter for sharing.

Are these differences necessarily a function of Russian meddling?

It cannot be emphasized enough, these attitudinal differences are not necessarily a product of Russian meddling. In fact, from what we know about the differences in social media spending by the two presidential campaigns compared to the Russians, it is reasonable to question how the Russians could possibly have impacted the election.

Combined, Clinton and Trump spent $81 million on social media advertising. That is substantially more than the $1.5 million spent per month by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in the year or two prior to Election Day, as detailed in the indictment of 13 Russians by the Robert Mueller -led investigation.

However, $1.5 million per month isn’t just pissing in the wind either.  And through IRA’s use of Twitterbots and other impression-seeding and multiplier techniques, that $1.5 million per month may well have had a much bigger impact than the reported monthly spending figure indicates.

And while we want to think social  media have become decisive in national elections, the campaign ecosystem is too massive and interdependent to assign that much power to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

A comprehensive media study of the 2016 election by Rob FarisHal RobertsBruce EtlingNikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler shows that the media’s “coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton.” Where Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, Trump’s was focused on his core issues (immigration, trade and jobs). To what extent Russian trolls contributed to that phenomenon is difficult (if not impossible) to assess using their data (..but we are trying as you read this). You can access their data here.

So, we are extremely cautious about reading too much into some attitudinal differences within a small segment of the vote eligible population (25 percent, approximately). It is too soon to assign differences to Russian meddling.

Yet, the attitudinal differences we are seeing in the 2016 ANES related to social media use are proving to be robust. Though not included in this article, in trying to explain candidate favorability ratings and assessments of their honesty, we ran numerous linear regression models controlling for factors such as age, ideology, sex, education, interest in politics, race, and Hispanic heritage. And, across the various models, the impact of social media use (Facebook/Twitter) among older conservatives never lost statistical significance.

We believe something unique in the social media sphere happened among older conservatives affecting their views of Hillary Clinton.

But we remain skeptical of our own results. And there are three additional reasons why we are so skeptical:

First, social media is already so partisan and negative that it didn’t require the Russians to make it worse. Facebook and Twitter are already virtual cesspools of hate, negativity, distrust, and unhinged hostility. Those platforms didn’t need the Russians’ help to make them repositories of society’s lowest forms of political dialogue.

Besides, the Russian meme’s were often more absurdist than negative, and sometimes even funny. We highly recommend, if you haven’t visited already, an anonymously authored blog on that is warehousing the Russian 2016 election memes.

Given the already negative nature of social media, the attitudinal differences seen in the 2016 ANES are likely due more to the overall nature of social media than anything the Russians did. But we have seen no evidence to help us decide what was the cause of these differences.

Second, to determine the effect of Russian meddling on attitudes, we would need to know  what respondents actually saw on Facebook or Twitter, including both the Russian-sourced content and other content. The 2016 ANES tells us about sources and channels of communication used during the election, but tells us little about the specific content. Without that information, it is impossible to definitely conclude the “Russians caused it.”

And, third, there is the problem of self-selection. Perhaps older conservatives that use Facebook or Twitter for sharing political information are distinguishable from otherwise similar adults on a factor that was not measured. And if that factor correlates with political attitudes and opinions, we could see the same results shown in Figures 1 and 2 without being the result of the Russians.

Next steps and final thoughts

The relevant questions to vote eligible Americans about the 2016 presidential election and the Russian-sourced social media effort are simple:

  • What did the eligible voter see on social media during the campaign and when did he/she see it?
  • What Russian-sourced content did he/she see on social media and when did he/she see it?
  • Did his/her candidate evaluations change over the course of the campaign and, if so, when did the evaluations change?
  • Did changes in his/her candidate evaluations relate to his/her social media exposure?

Simple to ask, but hard to answer.

A comprehensive media study of the 2016 election by Rob FarisHal RobertsBruce EtlingNikki Bourassa, Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler shows that the media’s “coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton.” Where Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, Trump’s was focused on his core issues (immigration, trade and jobs). To what extent Russian trolls contributed to that phenomenon is difficult (if not impossible) to assess using their data (..but we are trying as you read this). You can access their data here.

So, we are extremely cautious about reading too much into some attitudinal differences within a small segment of the vote eligible population (25 percent, approximately). It is too soon to assign these differences to Russian meddling.

Yet, the attitudinal differences among older conservatives are proving to be robust across our analyses of the 2016 ANES. Though not included in this article, in trying to explain candidate favorability ratings and assessments of their honesty, we ran numerous linear regression models controlling for factors such as age, partisanship, ideology, sex, education, interest in politics, race, and Hispanic heritage. And, across the various models, the impact of social media use (Facebook/Twitter) among older conservatives never lost statistical significance.

Is it the Russians? Not too long ago we would have said, emphatically, no way. Now we are not so sure.

We believe these attitudinal differences within older conservative Americans warrant closer examination if we are ever to find how Russian meddling affected the 2016 election.

The 2016 USC Dornsife / LA Times Presidential Election Poll and the RAND 2016 Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS), both of which implemented panel designs to allow for assessing the impact of specific events and media exposures during the campaign, may offer an opportunity to merge Facebook, Twitter and Instagram behaviors to specific individuals in their surveys. If so, those two research instruments may represent the best (and only) chance we have to answer the question, “Did the Russians affect our presidential election result in 2016?”

As of today, we believe the Russians did target older conservatives who were more vulnerable to their anti-Clinton memes and messages. The result is that these conservatives became significantly more negative towards Hillary Clinton than they would have been otherwise without Russian meddling.

 Appendix A – Methodology

The 2016 American National Elections (Time-Series) Study is sponsored  and managed by the University of Michigan and Stanford University.

The national survey is designed to assess electoral participation, voting behavior, and public opinion as it relates to eligible U.S. voters. In addition to the political content of the survey, it also measures media exposure, cognitive style, and personal values.

Data collection for the ANES 2016 Time Series Study began in early September and was completed in January, 2017. Pre-election interviews were conducted with study respondents during the two months prior to the 2016 elections and were followed by post-election re-interviewing beginning November 9, 2016. Both face-to-face interviewing and Internet-based data collection was conducted independently, using separate samples but substantially identical questionnaires. Web-administered cases constituted a representative sample separate from the face-to-face.

The SPSS dataset we used for our analysis combined the face-to-face and Internet samples which can be summarized as follows:

Analytic survey weights, provided by the ANES researchers, were used in all of the quantitative analyses presented in this article.

A complete description of the ANES 2016, including datasets, questionnaires, and supporting documentation, can be found here.

Appendix B – Other Tables and Figures
Figure 7: Favorability Towards Clinton by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


Figure 8: Favorability Gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


Figure 9: Clinton-Trump “honesty” gap by Ideology and Facebook/Twitter Use (< 40 yrs. old); Source:


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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.


Trump Is Turning the Foreign Policy World Upside Down

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 9, 2018)

You are forgiven if you are feeling a little confused about President Donald Trump’s accepting an invitation for direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sometime in the next two months.

On one side, pundits are effusive about this breakthrough.

“Donald Trump’s acceptance of Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet is a master stroke. It’s exactly the kind of thing Ronald Reagan liked to do,” writes  for The Spectator. “Reagan announced his pursuit of a missile defense system in March 1983 on national television without alerting his advisers beforehand. Liberals went crazy. Then he decided to end the Cold  War by reaching out to Mikhail Gorbachev. Conservatives went bonkers. Reagan, we were told, had become a useful idiot. Today he is hailed as a visionary by all and sundry.”

I don’t quite remember it that way, but I will defer to others on what exactly brought down the Soviet Union.

Heilbrunn’s drawing the parallel between Trump and Reagan is still apt. “All along Trump, like Reagan, has been dismissed as a buffoon by the regnant foreign policy establishment. He now wants to show that his much vaunted dealmaking prowess is for real. That he, and he alone, can solve the conundrum that has vexed his predecessors, dating back to Harry Truman.”

In contrast, there are foreign policy experts today that are more afraid than ever after the South Korea’s announcement of the upcoming talks:

“If…Trump actually succeeds in beginning the denuclearization of North Korea, he will be far worthier of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama ever was,” says Naval War College professor Tom Nichols. “The chances of this are roughly zero, but it’s not impossible. More likely is that this will all end in diplomatic disaster.”

“The White House is about to walk right into a trap the North Koreans have been laying for American presidents since the 1990s. A one-on-one summit between a U.S. president and one of the world’s weirdest and most irresponsible leaders would be a huge reward for a regime that has long chided other rogues and dictators for their weakness in dealing with the United States.”

Nichols points out that Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to denuclearize his country followed by his unceremonious torture and death has decreased the chances any rogue nuclear power — like North Korea — will ever give up their nukes. We can thank Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for that epic foreign policy disaster and its only the ineptness of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, that Obama doesn’t go down in history as the worst foreign policy president since Jimmy Carter.

Nonetheless, Nichols believes in the value of experts and when it comes to diplomacy. “A summit should be a reward for months, even years, of careful work and actual progress. Meetings at lower levels should progress to more senior principals, and then to the heads of state.”

So if you are willing to prolong low-level diplomacy long enough so North Korea will have time to finish work on miniaturizing its nuclear arsenal and putting them on reliable ICBMs, Nichols is your guy.

Many of us who have lived through eight presidencies since the taking of the U.S.S. Pueblo by the North Koreans in 1968 are beginning to think slow boat diplomacy is a trip to a nuclear North Korea with ICBMs.

That is why Trump offers some sense of relief from the status quo-preserving diplomatic strategies of the past. Of course, it brings risks…big risks…such as, an all-out land war on the Korean peninsula.

That is bad option, even if you believe, as some military analysts do, that the U.S. military is more than capable of neutralizing the North Korean military in a short period of time, especially if North Korea uses its numerous artillery batteries to shell Seoul, South Korea to the neglect its border defenses.

“An all-out bombardment of the South Korean capital might very well leave Pyongyang without the ability to actually capture it, while at the same time ensuring a U.S./South Korean counteroffensive that would spell the end of the regime of Kim Jong-un,” writes Kyle Mizokami, a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco. “Even if a million civilians were killed in Seoul it would ensure Kim’s untimely demise, and from his perspective that is still almost certainly a very bad trade.”

It is acceptable to believe a nuclear North Korea with ICBMs is the better option.

Has the Chance of War on the Korean Peninsula Gone Up or Down?

As diplomacy experts and scholars debate over whether Trump has made a brilliant strategic move or an epic blunder, it is possible both views are accurate.

If you see presidents as having different risk acceptance levels with respect to war with North Korea, you can begin to visualize how Trump is so dramatically different from his predecessors.

The graphic below shows a theoretical depiction of war/peace probabilities from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. The graph on the left shows all previous presidents before Trump, and the graph on the right shows the probabilities of peace and war under Trump.

Its an oversimplification, of course, but the chances under previous presidents of peace or war with North Korea was essentially zero, as they were all dedicated to preserving the status quo. And for good reason. Most presidencies had bigger foreign policy problems than North Korea. LBJ and Nixon had Vietnam. Carter had Iran. Reagan had the Cold War to win. And George W. Bush and Obama had Middle East conflagrations to worry about.

Trump does not operate like that. The Middle East is no less problematic and new concerns arise every day now in Africa, yet Trump has a different view of risk. Maybe because war with North Korea sounds better than being interviewed by Robert Mueller? Who knows. What we seem to see with Trump is a deep dedication to the high risk-high reward strategy of diplomacy.

The office of the presidency generally discourages that strategic approach to problems; but this president has a unique set of pressures on him right now that have may helped prompt this dramatic diplomatic move.

The result is, we have a risk-accepting president that’s has given us an inverted probability distribution for war and peace in North Korea. And it is both exciting and frightening. Before this presidential term ends, we may well see either the Asian land war we all dread or the nuclear-free Korean peninsula we all pray for. What isn’t going to stand under our current president is the status quo. Trump blows up status quos the way Stephen Curry blows up perimeter defenses in the NBA. You can try to stop them, but they find a way.

And Trump has found a way with respect to North Korea. Regardless of political party, we should all wish him luck accompanied with a sudden bout of good judgment.

– K.R.K.

Added note: We should never discount the diplomatic skills of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is playing a pivotal role in these direct talks. Even as his popularity has lagged, Moon is proving to be more forward-leaning than many observers previously thought possible. Some analysts go as far to say Moon has engineered this whole breakthrough, dragging Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump with him.

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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.


America’s Shock Brigade: The Students of Stoneman Douglas High School

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, March 4, 2018)

In Soviet Russia, where propaganda was indistinguishable from news, the shock brigades were promoted as idealized representatives of the people. They couldn’t be challenged because, to do so, would be to challenge the people themselves.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have become our modern version of a shock brigade.

As the label implies, shock brigades are designed to trigger people into action.

In the hands of today’s partisan media, it results more often in people being hurt.

The most recent example is a teacher at Stoneman Douglas High School that was originally portrayed by the media as a ‘hero’ following the tragic shootings at the school on February 14th where 17 people died.

Here are just some of the representative headlines from March 3rd…

Newsweek: Parkland Shooting Survivor Calls Teacher ‘Coward’ For Locking Students Out of Classroom During Attack

Yahoo News (whose first mistake is treating Inside Edition as a legitimate news organization): Parkland Teacher, Praised as a Hero, ‘Is Nothing but a Coward,’ Student Says.

Though the story never should have been run to begin with, at least Fox News tried to get the headline right: Protocol or cowardice? Parkland student slams teacher over locked door during shooting, report says

The gist of this story is that a Parkland student, in the teacher’s class at the time of the shooting, tweeted that the teacher was an “opportunist” and “a coward,” after he allegedly wouldn’t unlock his classroom door and let students in.

As with any story, the truth is more complicated, and certainly did not warrant headlines calling the teacher (by name) a coward. The man’s life is irreparably damaged by this attack from a junior in high school.

The explanation for the teacher’s behavior, which was consistent with protocols established by the school system after consulting with security experts, was buried at the end of the news stories published on March 3rd. Only a day later have the subsequent stories put more emphasis on the established protocols guiding the teachers behavior.

But in the era of hyperpartisan media, particularly within the cable news networks, it is not acceptable to challenge the shock brigades. If they say something, anything, no matter how baseless, Anderson Cooper will be there to report it, unfiltered. He might even cry.

After all, air time and compelling theater is far more important than the reputation of some high school biology teacher in Florida.

The right-wing conspiracy media is shameless and offensive, but they are not the problem

It didn’t take long after the Parkland shootings for the right-wing conspiracy peddlers to question the authenticity of the Stoneman Douglas High School students that became almost instant media celebrities.

“Crisis actors” they were called. And while the term is wholly inaccurate as applied to the Parkland students, it has become popular with Alex Jones and other right-wing media opportunists.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media, particularly CNN, by indulging in their own false narratives, facilitate the attractiveness of these right-wing conspiracies. When mainstream news outlets start losing credibility, alternative facts and conspiracy theories become more attractive.

The depth of the tragedy in Parkland — 17 innocent people were killed for no reason — did not require embellishment. Yet, somewhere, a decision was made to construct an heroic myth that the Parkland students, on their own initiative, sparked a national consensus to pass meaningful gun control legislation. What the Democratic Party and gun control activists have failed to do for all these years, these plucky kids from Parkland were able to do in a matter of days.

Since the shooting, CNN has been on a daily campaign to promote the Parkland students and their #NeverAgain movement as representing something bigger than just another collection of gun violence victims.

CNN and the mainstream media have consciously created a heroic myth tale, one of the hallmarks of propaganda campaigns, with the clear intention of pressuring Congress and the President Trump to support and pass gun control legislation. The false narrative of the Parkland kids creating the #NeverAgain movement on their own is a critical element of the story. Without the false narrative, the movement regresses back to the old and failed narrative of ‘just another partisan politics battle.’

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is built to win the old narrative. The ‘super kids of Parkland’ narrative makes the NRA very nervous.

How can you argue against making the NRA nervous for once?

Well, it is pretty easy, actually. And it is not because I support the NRA or its purest approach to the Second Amendment (I don’t). The problem is the lack of concern about major news organizations being active lobbyists on political issues, because that is what CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald are doing when they uncritically accept, or even create, false narratives to advance partisan political goals.

The mainstream media, by misrepresenting what is really going on with the Parkland students, are engaging in advocacy work. Through agitation and propaganda, otherwise known as agitprop, they cease to be journalists and are in the lobbying business.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with CNN or MSNBC (or Fox News) from being partisan lobbyists. But they have to stop calling themselves ‘news organizations.’

They are not. They are lobbyists.

If you don’t think Parkland student David Hogg is the greatest human being ever, you are probably a Russian sympathizer

When journalists have a point of view and they filter information based on its support for that point of view, journalism ends and propaganda begins.

Since the shooting, Parkland students appeared on a CNN town hall broadcast, organized a pro-gun control rally in Tallahassee, and are in the process of preparing for a national “March for Our Lives” protest scheduled on March 24th.

Regardless of any help the Parkland students are receiving from professional activists, the rapid growth and scope of the #NeverAgain movement is impressive. News coverage of the Parkland students never required a false narrative to heap significant praise on them.

But it is a legitimate question to ask: who is helping these students? Are the Democratic Party and gun control activists leveraging the Parkland tragedy to achieve political aims beyond just gun control legislation?

Former Georgia congressman Jack Kingston, while appearing on CNN, asked, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

The National Review’s film critic Armond White called them: “Parkland Puppets.”

The news media pounced fast.

“I talked to these kids before they knew the body count of how many of their friends had been killed. No one had talked to them yet,” Alisyn Camerota said during her CNN morning show broadcast on February 20th. “They hadn’t been indoctrinated by some left-wing group. They were motivated from what they saw and what they endured.”

Click on image to watch video

Camerota’s inflated posturing aside, her attempt to shame Kingston sent a clear message to those considering attributing the success of the #NeverAgain movement to anyone other than the Parkland students.

Kingston never suggested the Democratic Party or gun control activists were organizing these students on the day of the shooting (Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz had the good sense to at least wait a day before contacting the students). He never questioned the validity of their fear and anger. He just wanted to know how their movement had become so professionalized so fast.

Camerota’s shaming technique was not the only method used to shutdown debate. Some in the mainstream media willfully conflated the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy theories (which were nuts) with legitimate questions like Kingston’s about whether or not national activists were co-opting the movement.


After conveying the story about an aide to Florida legislator passing a ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy video to a journalist, Vanity Fair writer Tina Nguyen decided to classify Kingston in the same category as other purveyors of the ‘crisis actor’ theory, suggesting even that CNN should ‘take action against’ Kingston.

Kingston never suggested David Hogg or any other Parkland student was a ‘crisis actor.’

Writing just two days after the shootings, The New York Times‘ Anne Applebaum even grouped pro-gun rights advocates on social media with Russian Twitterbots already spreading conspiracy theories about the Parkland shootings: “Over the next few days, many of these same kinds of accounts will invent a whole range of conspiracy theories about the shooting. If the past repeats itself, pro-Russian, alt-right, white-supremacist and pro-gun social media accounts will promote the same hashtags and indulge in the same conspiracy theories.”

If that is not virtue signaling, I don’t know what is. By throwing down the gauntlet early, Applebaum and The New York Times were letting everyone know they shouldn’t even think about questioning how the legitimate media will be covering this tragedy — if you do, its as good as working for the Russians.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, therefore, that there was little reporting on how organized activists converged quickly on the Parkland students.

Its not like the evidence wasn’t there: Dozens of buses all over the state of Florida ready to transports hundreds of students to Tallahassee on just a few days notice;  millions of dollars in donations within days of the tragedy, including $500,000 from George Clooney;  Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu sharing in a tweet that he has a personal connection to David Hogg; the known political aggressiveness of Broward County’s teachers union.

“For two weeks, journalists abjectly failed in their jobs, which is to tell the public what’s going on,” writes forensic science expert David Hines for The Federalist. And any of them who had any familiarity with organizing campaigns absolutely knew.”

Why did the news media fail? Because news media celebrities, like Aliysn Camerota, are in the myth-making business, not journalism.

When Buzzfeed is leading the way, something is really wrong with the state of American journalism

The condemnation of the ‘crisis actor’ conspiracy promulgators was more than warranted.

It also reasonable that CNN and others would want to build a compelling narrative (‘those great kids at Parkland’) to attract viewers and readers. That is not necessarily good journalistic technique, but entirely understandable.

But what puzzles me is how the ‘journalists’ on CNN and MSNBC were so quick to censure people like Kingston for asking an obvious question that deserved to be answered.

Aren’t journalists supposed to be curious, by nature? Shouldn’t journalists be asking, regardless of how noble the cause, how the #NeverAgain movement is being organized and financed. Who did the heavy-lifting in building the website? Who opened the webpage? Where exactly is the money going? Who financed and organized the buses that took students from all over Florida to the Tallahassee rally?

The mainstream media has spent nearly three weeks ignoring the obvious professionalization of the #NeverAgain movement. Instead, stories have credited the organizing skills of the Parkland students as being the results of a good comprehensive education, and, like all teenagers today, their skills at using social media.

All true. But that doesn’t rule out a significant role for the Democratic Party or the organizers from other anti-Trump movements like the Women’s March or #MeToo.

And guess what? We now have reporting that offers credibility to suspicions that organized partisan and gun control activists are playing a large role in the #NeverAgain movement. But it didn’t come from The New York Times or The Washington Post. The first story came from Buzzfeed.

“Barely two weeks ago, the (Parkland) student survivors sat in a circle in the living room of one of their parents’ homes, planning a trip to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers and handling nitty-gritty matters like which media outlets to talk to,” writes Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and Brianna Sacks. “Since then, major players and organizations — including Everytown, Giffords, Move On, and Women’s March LA — told BuzzFeed News they are helping with logistics, strategy, and planning for next month’s March for Our Lives rally and beyond. Much of the specific resources the groups are providing to the Parkland students remains unclear — as is the full list of supporting organizations — but there are broad outlines.”

As the Buzzfeed story notes, the funding and scope of this help is unclear. Why? Because very few journalists are going to the effort to find out. CNN and MSNBC won’t. But where is The New York Times or The Washington Post?

Trying to understand the details behind the #NeverAgain movement in no way diminishes what the Parkland students did in the first weeks after the shooting. They were media-ready, not because Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee were pulling the strings, but because these kids are well-educated and confident.

That is undeniable.

These students built a social media following numbered in the millions on their own effort (though, even there, there were national opinion leaders that helped them). But that is how social media works. That is why you want celebrities to follow you on Twitter.

But the fingerprints of the Democratic Party is also all over the #NeverAgain movement — which makes the effort a partisan one, which means partisan divisions are quickly activated across the country, and we are subsequently stuck, once again, with dozens of innocent dead people and little chance of seeing substantive gun control legislation.

Partisanship infects our news media organizations and we are paying a price for it

It does matter if partisan forces are driving the #NeverAgain movement, if only for the historical record. More importantly, hiding the partisan nature of the movement only strengthens the partisan opposition to it.

And that is not what this country needs.

After a 5-minute search on Twitter regarding the #NeverAgain movement, found clear evidence that at least one Florida Democratic Party activist was critical in the planning and execution of the February 20th Tallahassee rally of the then-nascent #NeverAgain movement.

Seventeen-year-old Parkland student Jaclyn Corin’s Facebook and Twitter posts on Feb. 18th acknowledged the critical organizational role played by Kathryn Casello, the Director of Political Affairs for the Florida State University Democrats, who was also the “creator” of the “Florida’s March on Gun Control” website.

As Buzzfeed, again, discovered before anyone else, “Democratic US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County resident for nearly 30 years…has been in touch with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas since the day after the shooting, helping them connect to state legislators and plan their trip to Tallahassee last week.”

That is not unethical or inappropriate on Wasserman Schultz’ part. What is distressing is that the national media has shown no inclination to find the facts behind the rise of the #NeverAgain movement and has shouted down anyone that suggests someone should.

And, frankly, wouldn’t it have been refreshing if Wasserman Schultz had included a fellow Republican when she contacted the Parkland students?

If Wasserman Schultz’ true motivator was passing substantive gun control legislation, an issue where a majority of Americans (and NRA members) side with the Democrats, casting the #NeverAgain movement as a bipartisan effort would not hurt the cause.

But when your motivator is to use the tragedy in Parkland as another cudgel against the illegitimate Trump administration, bipartisanship doesn’t enter Wasserman Schultz’ calculus.

Hyper-partisanship damages policy. Obamacare, as an example, passed only because of partisan support, and dies (though not as fast as some hope) for the same reason.

Medicare included interests and support from the Republican Party (or at least its now defunct liberal wing) and survives today.

Instead, we get CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the impetuous but earnest Parkland kids and their fight to save America. Because it is now just a partisan effort, the students’ good intentions are starting to wear thin partisan-weary Americans.

The hashtag movements are the new agitprop

Many journalists and academics just want to refer to our current state of affairs as partisan media. Nothing radical or even that new. Just good old-fashioned partisan politics working its way through the news media. It might even be good for hammering out issues in the public sphere.

Sadly, partisan media is much more hazardous to our democracy than previously understood. So dangerous, in fact, I prefer to call it for what it is: institutionalized agitation and propaganda — or agitprop.

In general, agitprop is a political strategy where agitation and propaganda are used to influence and mobilize public opinion. That definition makes it seem benign. But when weaponized, as it was in the 1920s in Soviet Russia, it destroys societies as it turns criticism into treason, neighbors into spies, and citizens into serfs.

CNN’s use of the Stoneman Douglas High School students as their shock brigade is not a criticism of the students. They are victims of gun violence on a level none of us should ever experience. Sadly, they have that experience and now, for good reason, they are activists demanding meaningful gun control legislation.

What is alarming is how quickly partisan forces and their collaborators in the mainstream news media co-opted and manipulated the Parkland students to advance a partisan agenda that has more to do with damaging the Republican Party and the Trump administration than actually passing substantive gun control legislation. The news media isn’t covering the #NeverAgain movement, they helped create it and are active participants in its growth trajectory.


In just the last year, the news media has covered the Women’s March, #TheResistance, the #MeToo and other anti-Trump movements, and through them we have learned the names of activists like Teresa Shook, Billy Wimsatt, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour.

Since the Parkland shootings, according to CNN, its news producers have been in daily contact with the Parkland students’ parents and activists as they prepare for the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th. To what extent CNN is coordinating with the Parkland students is unclear. At a minimum, CNN is facilitating the #NeverAgain movement by giving its organizers generous access to CNN air time.

Some will argue that CNN should be facilitating this movement. And I would agree on this point: CNN is breaking no laws by offering airtime to the Parkland students as they organize themselves into a credible, sustainable national movement.

If CNN wants to organize a CNN Town Hall, help tighten a few of the Parkland students’ questions, give those students the resources to express their deep emotions surrounding this tragedy, and help the students in keeping their movement alive, I have no problem with that.

It is called advocacy. It is constitutionally protected speech. It is democracy in action.

But it is not journalism. It is not even advocacy journalism, which requires the same objective reporting standards as investigative journalism.

CNN appears to be actively shaping the political environment to not just feed a pro-gun control narrative, but to bring down a presidency and an opposition party.

Why now? Why after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas?

When people ask — Why did this gun control movement start after Parkland, but not after Sandy Hook or Las Vegas? — they deserve an accurate answer.

The answer will not be complete unless it includes how news outlets midwifed the Parkland student gun control movement through their generous access to broadcast airtime.

The next question is why didn’t the Sandy Hook or Las Vegas survivors get similar assistance? There may be no simple answer, but here are some possible candidates:

  • This latest assault rifle attack on children may truly be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’
  • The Parkland students are good-looking, articulate kids and it was easy an decision on the media’s part to keep their focus on the Parkland tragedy. One audience research colleague of mine suggested Sandy Hook was too tragic and was more likely to drive cable news audiences away. Parkland is the perfect blend of tragedy and attractiveness.
  • CNN and the anti-Trump news media are gaining experience assisting and sustaining national movements since Donald Trump’s inauguration. The news media attempted something similar with Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, but the public’s interest (i.e., audience ratings) never reached the critical mass necessary for the news media to devote significant resources to the crisis.

The organization and promotion of the ‘March for Our Lives’ on March 24th mirrors the methods used by the ‘Women’s March’ on Trump’s inauguration day and #TheResistance, further suggesting significant organizational resources are being provided to the Parkland students.

Again, this is not a crime and it is not an indictment of the Parkland students or their cause. And it isn’t necessarily an indictment of CNN either, except for one caveat.

The truth matters. If CNN and Democratic activists are providing ongoing, in-kind assistance to the Parkland students movement, it is important for the public to know.

The credibility of any social movement often rests on whether its energy source is organic (i.e., rising from the masses), or is contrived and sustained by well-funded, elite interests. The former confers authenticity, and the latter suggests manipulation.

Why do you think the U.S. government still denies its past interventions in political revolutions in other countries, such as the ‘color’ revolutions in post-Soviet Eastern Europe or the failed revolutions during the “Arab spring.” Any suggestion that a social movement is aided by external forces can delegitimize that movement, even if that assistance is minor.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are not news organizations, they are agitators and propagandists

The Washington Post recently changed its motto to: Democracy Dies in Darkness. Last I checked, the U.S. doesn’t devolve into a dictatorship between sundown and sunrise, but maybe I’m missing the point.

A more appropriate motto would be: Our collective understanding is degraded when news organizations publish information uncorroborated by other independent sources and selectively include information based not on its accuracy or relevance, but on its fit with a broader (often biased) narrative.

OK, its not very catchy.

But when our constitutionally-protected Fourth Estate becomes infected by a fraudulent cast of semi-journalists, partisans and political hacks claiming to carry the banner of objectivity and truth, we have lost an institution critical to our democracy.

No ideology or major news organization is spared from this criticism. From the New York Times to Fox News, this malignancy has found its way into every newspaper, news website, broadcast news organization, and journalism school in this country. Few people complain anymore that news organizations promote specific ideological or partisan points of view. To the contrary, most Americans seek out news that confirms their partisan worldview.

Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and the author of The Business of America is Lobbying, argues in The New Republic that partisan media is a positive thing and it was only for a brief period in our country’s history when “objective” journalism was the aspirational norm (1950 – 1980). Partisan control of the media dominates other periods in our history and, when considered cross-nationally, is the norm in most democracies.

Drutman further argues that the partisan media doesn’t create division but merely reflects our nation’s diversity and, therefore, is a virtue, not a vice.

“Partisan media can amplify existing partisan divisions, but mostly they reflect them,” writes Drutman. “In a political system divided on fundamental questions of science, religion, and national identity, the question of what responsible media looks like will only get more pressing—but it can’t be answered in terms of ‘objectivity.’

Partisan media are vulnerable to a number of potentially dangerous biases:

  • Selection bias: Choosing information that fits a partisan narrative to the exclusion of relevant information that does not.
  • Single-source bias: Relying too heavily on single sources, with uncorroborated information, because they are partisan allies, insiders or have information that, again, fits a partisan narrative.
  • Anonymous source bias: Similar to the single-source bias, partisan media for the party in power will have unique access to government officials with critical information, often classified, that will help the party in power. But even the partisan media for the out-party will use anonymous sources as conduits of information from whistle-blowers and critics of the party in power.

As a quantitative social scientist, it is surprising that Drutman is not more sensitive to the problem of selection bias which looms over every social scientist when he or she engages in research. Drutman knows selection bias can lead otherwise scientifically rigorous studies towards deeply flawed conclusions. Does that sound like something good for American journalism or our democracy?

Besides, we are not arguing that there shouldn’t be partisan news and outlets. They do serve a purpose and losing them would harm the quality of this country’s political dialogue, not to mention its entertainment value.

We are arguing that there should be better defined lines between objective news outlets and partisan ones.

CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are the modern versions of Soviet agitprop and citizens need to protect themselves

An obvious by-product of agitprop is fake news and, not coincidentally, the Russians are masters of the technique. Unfortunately, according to liberal podcaster Bob Cesca, Americans are particularly susceptible to the new form of agitprop.

“Our widespread habit of blindly ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ news without critical scrutiny was absolutely exploited by the Russians,” writes Cesca. “Millions of Americans on social media continue, to this day, to serve as middlemen for circulating fake news and agitprop, political or otherwise.”

Another vivid example of the new agitprop,, Hillary Clinton’s propaganda distributing website, is unapologetic about its mission to flood the news media with pro-Clinton stories.

But the most alarming example of modern agitprop is the mainstream news media itself.

CNN’s Town Hall following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School has further lifted the curtain on the news media’s deceit and laid bare their tools and methods for disguising it as public service.

“This town hall was a theatrical production with the clear aim of advancing an anti-gun narrative, so it’s not hard to believe the network was prompting and even scripting questions,” writes Rachel Stoltzfoos, managing editor of The Federalist.

Stoltzfoos also points out that this is the same cable news network that recently “sent a reporter to an elderly lady’s front lawn to confront her about her role in Russian election meddling — because she reposted something on Facebook.” The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald nicely summarized CNN’s journalistic practices with a tweet:

Objectively speaking, the Trump administration has not been good for CNN’s reputation. It’s journalistic integrity has taken a severe hit in the past year as CNN has repeatedly been caught exercising poor journalistic standards in their coverage of the Trump administration.

The rule should be when a news organization is caught for the 10th time in one year disseminating misleading or false information, the “we-weren’t-using-our-highest-editorial-standards” defense should no longer be allowed. Even as a critic of the Trump administration, I view CNN’s coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation as frequently dishonest and an undisguised quest to ruin a president they helped elect.

It is ironic that CNN and the other cable news networks, through their gifting Trump a $1.2 billion advantage over Hillary Clinton in ‘free media’ during the 2016 election, are probably the single biggest reason Trump is president today. At most, the Russians invested $60 to $80 million in their attempt to meddle with the 2016 election, and majority of that was squandered on ad buys in the low-credibility arena of social media.

Like Drutman, though, I have no problem with CNN or MSNBC or Fox News being partisan tools. I do have a problem however with these cable networks operating under the pretense of being news organizations. They may hire former journalists or interview practicing ones, but that does not make them news organizations. They are agitators and propagandists and, by understanding that, Americans will take a big step in protecting themselves from them.

Agitprop is more watchable than objective journalism

By design, agitprop cloaks itself within legitimate journalism and trades on the Fourth Estate’s credibility as it pursues a political agenda informally coordinated with an established political ideology, party or administration.

Fox News has been doing this for over twenty years. While the rest of the mainstream media may have always served as propaganda garrisons for a leftist political ideology, their noticeable decline into partisan politics accelerated after their embarrassing complicity with the George W. Bush administration’s propaganda offensive in the run up to the Iraq War.

Objective journalism is hard to find anymore. Its a documented money loser that doesn’t entertain enough and includes too many shades of gray.

Agitprop, on the other hand, generates ratings and readers.

According to the Nielsen ratings, CNN’s Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action Town Hall broadcast crushed the competition.

Airing from 9 p.m.-11 p.m., the town hall drew 2.91 million total viewers, while Fox News averaged 2.45 million and MSNBC averaged 2.31 million in the same time period. More importantly, CNN won the coveted ‘adults 25-54’ demographic. On the digital side, the town hall attracted 1.9 million multi-platform live viewers, the largest such digital audience ever for a CNN town hall.

I am certain, out of respect for the 17 students that had died only a week earlier in Parkland, CNN executives only spoke of their ratings victory in somber, hushed tones.

New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, contends today’s “opinion journalism is still journalism, not agitprop,” but watching CNN’s Town Hall with Parkland students suggests otherwise. Watching Florida Senator Marco Rubio squirm and sweat when asked if he would accept NRA campaign money in the future was great television. I don’t care what your politics are, if that moment didn’t grab your attention, nothing will.

The new agitprop, pioneered by Roger Ailes and Fox News in the mid 1990s, combines live television with a partisan political agenda to create a much more visceral and watchable form of television news. Where objective journalism mostly appeals to our brain’s analytic frontal lobe, the new agitprop goes right to the amygdala.

Strong emotions are good sometimes. But sometimes they are bad.

I met Harvard Professor Jennifer Lerner eight years ago when I worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and she was giving a presentation on the role of emotion in decision-making.

Her thesis that day was simple: emotion is a powerful predictor of behavior, especially in the area of politics and policy. More importantly, she noted that decision-making can be impaired by a specific type of emotion, incidental emotion, which is “triggered by a particular situation that carries over and influences your subsequent judgments and decisions.”

Lerner said fear is a particularly powerful emotion when it comes to decision-making, as it generates levels of confidence that have a direct impact on decision-making. Angry individuals are more likely to blame individuals over societal causes, and are more likely to take greater risks.

According to Lerner anger tends to simplify our thinking processes which, in the short-run, get us involved in the problem but, in the long-run, proves inadequate for making good decisions. It is in the absence of anger (or happiness) when our cognitive decision-making skills perform best.

That is the problem with event-driven policy debates. Triggered by intense tragedies, such as the Parkland mass shooting, emotions gets us engaged but suppress our more thoughtful cognitive abilities that would otherwise help us render better decisions.

Their good intentions notwithstanding, CNN’s Town Hall exploited the emotions of the Parkland shooting victims, including parents that lost children in that carnage.

That is not journalism. That is advocacy. That is propaganda meant to agitate others into action. That is the new agitprop.


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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.