Friday, May 29, 2020

Summer Campaign Season: Trump Still Behind in Battleground States

As the post Memorial Day campaign season begins, presidential campaign metrics haven’t moved much the last 30 days and President Donald Trump remains in trouble. The most recent national polls as aggregated by RealClearPolitics has Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 5 points, one point below the spread on April 28, the last time I reported the data.

During the 30 days, Trump ended his participation and the media coverage of the widely panned Coronavirus Task Force press conferences and began road trips to battleground states – Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. His nonstop emphasis is on starting the economy, which has indeed begun opening, if at different rates and still with considerable public caution.

Former VP Joe Biden and Pres. Donald Trump
Other key metrics framing the race – deaths from COVID-19 and unemployment – continue to go up. Deaths are now over 100,000 and unemployment claims hit 38 million, a post WWII record.

The President, his campaign and his political allies, especially in the Senate, are also facing difficult numbers in battleground states. Trump is currently behind in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona. He’s ahead in North Carolina by only one point. He has lost ground during the last month in both Michigan (was down 4, now down 5) and Pennsylvania (was down 3, now down 6).

Mitch McConnell and his leadership team are increasingly concerned about their senate majority. Colorado incumbent Cory Gardner is down more than 10 points in repeated polls, including a recent online survey where he was down 18 points. Arizona incumbent Martha McSally is behind 9 points to challenger Mark Kelly. Susan Collins is behind in Maine by 3 points and Thom Tillis in North Carolina by one.

Generic Vote
The final metric that causes concern to the Majority Leader and his colleague in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is the generic ballot tests that continue to show the Republicans 8 points behind in both RealClearPolitics and 538 (48% to 40%). Republicans were behind by 7 points in late October 2018 just before they lost 41 seats and control of the House.

Of course, it’s early. Conventions need to be held. Colorado still has a primary, but when so little has moved the last month, the numbers appear to show strong tendencies and the Republican Party is beginning to worry.

The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Six

Out of a total of 850,000 worldwide COVID-19 deaths, the U.S. just crossed the 100,000 mark, or 29 percent. Although the rate of deaths is slowing (down from 2,000 a day in April to about 1,200 today), there are sufficient infections, some in areas with weaker health care networks, that the number of deaths will continue to grow. Also, as the country opens up, spikes are a concern. May through Memorial Day produced 40,000 deaths. June is likely to have a significant increase, even as the curve in the U.S. levels off.

The last week produced 2.4 million new unemployment claims, increasing the total since the beginning of March to 38.6 million. With the country opening back up, increases in claims should decline as people drop off the roles and return to work. But as the worldwide recession takes hold, even with the end of the lockdown, a slow recovery is now anticipated nearly universally among economists, financial officials and business and another wave of unemployment is likely as businesses adjust to the diminished demand.

The unemployment rate and economic data for May published in June will be record-breaking bad, with a likely unemployment rate near the Depression level of 25 percent – one out of four Americans.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

China’s Delayed Congress Meets May 22 – Sign All is Well?

After a two-month delay, the National People’s Congress’s annual meeting of political and business elites will start on Friday, May 22. It represents a risk to assemble several thousand of the country’s top leaders in Beijing, but it signals China wants the narrative to be that it managed the virus and is back to normal.

President Xi’s and the leadership’s handling of the coronavirus will be the lead topic as it is a part of the global public relations effort to counter criticism and assert China’s growing global strategy.

But, the economic rhetoric and plans will be critical. President Xi Jinping has recently placed more emphasis on restoring jobs and less on growth projections. That’s partially a reflection that the economy has contracted more in the first quarter than since Mao died in the mid-1970s. The credibility of his leadership and the legitimacy of the party are at some risk.

Also, the reports and conversations on Hong Kong will be watched closely. Hong Kong has mostly exhausted the central government’s patience due to riots, parliamentary disruption and the damaged economy. China argues sovereignty is threatened and national security. It alleges interference from the U.S. Also, a surge of nationalist fervor is affecting China’s rhetoric and possibly the substance of the relationship. Expect tighter control.

Chinese leaders have been wearing masks. How many actually show up versus teleconference will be a sign of the risk assessment. Upwards of 5,000 participants and associated interests could show up for the Congress and the parallel meeting of the party’s political advisors at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Cory Gardner Runs on “Bringing Home the Bacon”

Although President Trump is one of Senator Cory Gardner’s major burdens in his re-election, he is also helping Gardner make his case that he is the best person to serve Colorado and should be re-elected. Gardner has scored a host of impressive wins for Colorado in his first term, mostly with the help of Trump and backed by his Republican Senate colleagues.
  • Move Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction
  • Place start-up of new Space Force in Colorado Springs
  • Fund Arkansas Valley Conduit ($28 million)
  • Fully fund Land and Water Conservation Fund 
  • Acquire masks from Asian contacts due to Senate Committee work
President Trump brings Sen. Cory Gardner to the stage as
he speaks to supporters at the Broadmoor World Arena,
February 20, 2020 | AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Senators who focus on bringing in projects and funding to their states as a primary congressional activity and campaign message has falling out of favor, especially during tough re-elections, with the rise of nationalized campaigns, polarization and intense partisanship. But historically, it has been a frequent approach by Colorado senators, with Republicans Ben Campbell and Wayne Allard, both re-elected, adept at it in recent years. It fits with Gardner’s primary advantage of being in the majority senate party and having a friend in the White House. The election in 2018 made clear it’s impossible for Republican candidates to avoid Trump. They may as well use him as best as possible.

Gardner also emphasizes that the projects often had bipartisan support. Bipartisanship always tests well in Colorado polls and is a characteristic voters say they like.

Pandemic and Public Opinion: Colorado

Colorado is beginning to open up its businesses. The media is covering the uneven lifting of restrictions due to different state and city rules, along with a few outlier businesses opening on their own timelines and rules. Protests of the regulation have received coverage. But, public opinion polls – both nationally and in Colorado – tell a different story, one of a broad consensus on safety first and only then relaxing the rules.

Open and Close
The majority of the public still support restrictions with just a modest shift in the last few weeks toward fewer restrictions.
  • Nationally, 68 percent say their greater concern is that restrictions on public activity will be lifted too quickly, while 31 percent are more concerned that states will not lift restrictions quickly enough, essentially unchanged since early April (Pew, 4/29-5/5).
  • Three-quarters say the country should keep trying to slow the spread of the virus, even if it means keeping many businesses closed. A quarter instead say the country should reopen the economy, even if it results in more infections (Post/Ipsos, 4/27-5/4).
  • Colorado also records 64 percent prefer restrictions over quickly easing up – Colorado: keep rules – 64%, ease up – 29% (see chart below). (Magellan Strategies, 4/15-4/21)

Although like nearly everything in America, there are partisan differences. Republicans are closely divided in Colorado, with 44 percent preferring keeping rules and 49 percent wanting to ease up. Democrats (80%) and independents (68%) are in favor of keeping rules. The Colorado poll reported in the Denver Post was done in April online.

Another Colorado poll also done online in May reports 78 percent of Coloradans support masks in stores and workplaces. It had bipartisan support, with 68% Republicans and 87% Democrats in favor (Keating Research, 5/1-5/3).
  • Nationally, use of masks continues to increase: 77 percent now say they’re sometimes (28%) or always (50%) wearing a mask when they leave the house (Axios/Ipsos, 5/8-5/11).

Confidence in Information
Magellan also reported that only 29 percent of Coloradans trust information on the virus from President Trump versus 50 percent who say they trust Governor Polis.
  • Nationally, only 36 percent view the president as a trusted source of information about the outbreak (CNN, 5/7-5/10). Along with social media, more than half (54%) identify the Trump administration as one of the two most common sources of misinformation about the virus (Gallup, 4/14-4/20).
  • Eight in 10 Democrats say they trust Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC as sources of information about the outbreak. Fewer Republicans, albeit still majorities, say the same – 61 percent and 72 percent, respectively (CNN, 5/7-5/10).
Keating’s poll states Polis’ approval rating went up from 50 percent last fall to 66 percent today.

Lifting Restrictions
David Brooks, in his New York Times commentary reprinted in the Sunday Denver Post Prospective section, agreed that America is less divided than we seem online or between our partisan cable news shows. Indeed, the Keating poll indicated that 68 percent of Coloradans supported Polis’ “safer-at-home” phase easing of restrictions. Interestingly, more Republicans supported it (75%) than Democrats (63%). Republicans probably liked the relief and opening up of businesses and the Democrats the continued emphasis of health rules.

Of course, polling is a snapshot of opinion, and in a fast moving political environment, it will shift. But for now, neither Coloradans nor Americans are ready to ignore science-based recommendations concerning their health.

The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Five

COVID-19 Deaths
The world count of COVID-19 victims just crossed 300,000 as America records 90,258 victims on Sunday, May 18, a 20,000 plus increase in approximately the last two weeks (a 32% increase).

The Tension
A major fight has broken out over the best; i.e., safest and fastest, strategy to lift the stay-at-home and essential business orders. President Trump, seeing it as a way to revive his flagging campaign and focus on the economy as the narrative he runs on, has been encouraging states to rapidly reopen, supporting protests, and criticizing governors and health officials (Dr. Fauci), who he believes are too cautious.

Although there is a constituency for his agitation, it’s modest, and his offhand references to safety are drowned out by his blunderbuss economic cheerleading. Although the states are opening at a variety of rates, most are taking a slow, phased approach watching infection rates and hospital utilization.

The growth of victims in New York City has slowed and represents 31 percent of the national total. The next 9 states represent 37 percent, and many haven’t slowed yet (68% total). The remaining 40 states represent 32 percent of total deaths. Changes in these proportions will be an indicator of the application of caution and best practices in the states as they open for business.

Unemployment claims continue to climb as 2.9 million filed the last week, increasing the total filings since March to 33.5 million. The latest Wall Street Journal survey of economists from May 8-12 reported an expected unemployment rate in June of 17 percent, up from the April 14.7 percent reported last week. The economy, as it enters a second quarter of downturn, is approaching nearly twice the slowdown of 2008-10. Many economists believe the unemployment rate is more accurately 20 percent.

The economists agree with our blog observations of a slow “Swoosh” shaped recovery. Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, who earned an “A” from 72 percent of the economists for his early monetary actions (interest rates to near zero, purchase trillions of government debt and loans to American businesses) said on Wednesday, May 13:

“There is a growing sense the recovery may come more slowly than we would like…and that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more.”

He implied another major spending bill was needed. The House of Representatives just passed $3 trillion package for states and local government and other programs with a slim 9-vote margin. The bill is opposed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump. But, expect the May unemployment report released in June to be very painful. Trump and the Republicans are going to start looking for political cover.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Blame Game: China and U.S.

The intense media attack on China for its early behavior related to COVID-19 by the Trump administration and the equally fierce counterattack from China was a major topic at the May 14 Zoom conversation, “China, the U.S. and Global Leadership in the Pandemic,” with professors Suisheng Zhao and Floyd Ciruli of the Korbel School, which attracted more than 100 participants.

Since the session, the blame game has become even more heated between the major powers and has received considerable coverage in the media. WHO was the latest forum for the fight during the last two weeks. President Trump delivered a four-page ultimatum to cut off funding due to the organization’s lack of “independence” from Beijing. China, for its part, has been aggressively counterattacking through its diplomatic corps and in social media claiming the U.S.’s incompetent handling of the virus is an indictment of both Trump and the failed U.S. system.

It is an important issue domestically in both countries. China, as it convened a delayed annual meeting of its National Congress, is highlighting the narrative that the party and leadership managed the virus effectively and it’s under control. In the U.S., China bashing has become part of the presidential campaigns, with Republicans spending millions on advertising the message that China was responsible for the virus, covered it up and that Joe Biden is weak on China. People who oppose Trump, such as the Lincoln Project, have a devastating ad titled “Mourning in America” that ties Trump to the virus mismanagement and the tragic result. Biden and the Democrats argue, of course, Trump is the problem and that he has been President Xi Jinping’s biggest booster.

To view the May 14 session, click here

Sam just published an article on the topic: “China–US blame game hampers COVID-19 response.” And I’ve posted: “China’s delayed Congress meets May 22 – Sign all is well?