Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Iran Deal. In Trouble?

The Iranian nuclear agreement has little current American public support. Barely a third of the public (35%) favor it in a recent Fox News poll. In 2015 when the agreement had sufficient votes in the U.S. Senate to sustain a veto (42 senators committed, enough to sustain veto or filibuster a Senate resolution, September 8, 2015), most opinion polling showed a majority of the public opposed the agreement.

That reflected a fall-off in support from when the agreement was signed in July 2015 by the five members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Germany and the European Union. Several polls showed a barely informed public was supportive (when offered details of agreement, support went up 9 to 10 points) (see below).

President Obama, Susan Rice, Benjamin Rhodes, Joe Biden, Jack Lew
and Denis McDonough. Onscreen: John Kerry and Ernest Moniz,
March 15, 2015 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) 

Public opinion was in contrast to much of the foreign policy establishment and more liberal media, which considered it a victory for “smart, patient and disciplined diplomacy” as President Obama described it (some supporters felt it was simply the best deal under the negotiating conditions).

In general, as the debate proceeded in 2015, partisanship, pro and anti-Obama sentiment, and criticism of the agreement took a toll on its support. The bottom line is that Iran is not a popular country in the U.S.; its general behavior in the Middle East is controversial; and the agreement, for its benefits, still is a negotiated document with many unpopular compromises.


So not surprising, today the public is divided, with a quarter holding no opinion. There is a 28 percent difference in support between Democrats and Republicans, although even half of Democrats either oppose the agreement (21%) or don’t know (29%).

The future of the agreement, which is still supported by the other signatories, is in the hands of the Trump administration, Congress and the foreign policy establishment.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Colorado Politics – Fake Polls

As we near the one year anniversary of the most tumultuous presidential election in the modern era, it’s time to reflect on the polls and reporting of November 8, 2016.

Most people believe the polls failed. And President Trump and his media team often criticize current unfavorable polls as fake and refer to that night. In the second article in Colorado Politics, the state’s top political website, I take on the Election Night reporting and analyses and the charge of fake polls.

Fake polls – just a Trump put-down or a real problem?

At a recent press conference, Sarah Huckabee Sanders brushed back a question from a CNN reporter about a Fox News poll that showed 56 percent of the American people saw President Trump as “tearing the county apart.” She used Trump’s favorite put-downs: 

“A lot of those same polls told you Donald Trump would never be president, and he’s sitting in the Oval Office as I stand here, so I don’t have a lot of faith in those polls.”

She then quoted a poll she liked about support for tax reform. Some polls are fake, others useful.
Listening to Sanders or Trump, you would believe all polling in the 2016 election was a disaster and entirely baseless. Clearly, the narrative going into Election Day created an expectation that turned out to be wrong. But the polling itself was mixed, with most state and national polls accurately capturing the final results. It is important to establish what happened in 2016 and correct any mistakes, as polling has become an essential element in protecting democracy in the Trump era.

Wolf Blitzer, Election Night 2016 | CNN


Friday, October 6, 2017

Crossley, Roper and Gallup Establish Presidential Polling and Remedy Early Errors

Political polling as we know it began more than 80 years ago. Soon after its introduction, the polling industry gathered in Central City, Colorado, in 1947 to establish itself as a professional association and define its set of rules. The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) will return to Colorado for the first time since 1947 with its national convention in Denver next May.

The 1936 presidential election became the first election to include a statistically based presidential poll. The polling began as a curiosity, but today it dominates much of the national media coverage and political conversation.

In 1936, for the first time in a presidential election, polling pioneers Archibald Crossley, Elmo Roper and George Gallup put polls in the field for dozens of media clients, including the Hearst Publication and Henry Luce’s Fortune Magazine. The risk was high. A miss could doom their credibility and stifle a nascent industry – or at least delay it for several years. They predicted a Franklin D. Roosevelt win over Alf Landon, which refuted a projected Landon win by the heralded presidential poll of the era (non-random) sponsored by a national magazine, the Literary Digest.

After their winning result, the three pollsters became known as the “Trio of ‘36” and went on to conduct accurate polls in Roosevelt’s next two elections, 1940 and 1944. They gained personal renown and established the legitimacy of polling as an accurate gage of public opinion in high stake elections.
“Trio of ‘36”: Archibald Crossley,
George Gallup and Elmo Roper
Life Magazine, 1944

All three men, and especially Gallup, became proselytizers for frequent polling, arguing that it helped counter special and well-off interests from dominating government. They saw polling as a way of bringing the public to the table when policy decisions were made, especially during the periods between elections when specific issues arose that might not have dominated the most recent election.

Gallup posed: “Shall the common people be free to express their basic needs and purposes, or shall they be dominated by a small ruling clique? In other words, how does one make those holding high public office responsive to the needs and wishes of the public?”

But the 1948 election shook the new industry to its core. All three pollsters predicted Thomas Dewey, the Republican, would win the election over incumbent Harry Truman. And, as Truman famously quipped, “That ain’t how I heard it.”

The leaders of the profession realized that mistakes were made and that changes were in order. They acknowledged that they had prematurely quit fieldwork weeks ahead of the election in 1948, believing it was over. Most importantly, they recognized flaws in their sampling procedures and shifted to improve their random selection methods.

AAPOR was created after the first organizing meeting in Central City. It became the professional association that established the rules and ethics of the polling industry. The rules required that published polls provide basic information to readers, such as the date of the poll, sponsor, population polled, sample selected, questions asked and margin of error.

Gallup Inc. became an international company with polls conducted in many countries. Crossley’s specialty was surveys of radio audiences, but he continued to poll for political parties, leaders and public policy. His family, including daughter Helen Crossley, also a renowned public opinion researcher, established the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Roper operated a national market research firm and created a polling archive that became the Roper Center, first at Williams College, then the University of Connecticut and now Cornell University. Each made a lasting mark on a fledgling field that is now universally used to understand public preferences toward both domestic and international policies and leaders.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Afghanistan: A Decision That Both the Public and the Base Dislikes

The Afghanistan decision may have been President Trump’s most difficult. He did not want to raise the ante in what looks like a losing proposition. He has railed frequently on how poorly it’s been handled and how we should just get out. But after weeks of wrangling with the Pentagon and the generals in his administration, he went with their recommendation for more time and troops. 

He only made it only after a long meeting at Camp David with his full national security team.


While he gave a speech as to why he went against his preference, he was vague as to what exactly was committed. But Trump’s instinct on ending America’s participation in the Afghanistan war is in alignment with a plurality of public opinion and his most ardent supporters of the Steve Bannon wing of the base. In fact, Bannon’s exit from the White House was expedited by his resistance to the military’s recommendations on Afghanistan.


Although Republicans supported Trump’s decision, with 66 percent among whites with no college degree (4-year), only 48 percent agreed with nearly two-fifths opposed (39%).

Bannon Goes to War Against GOP Establishment

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Bannon
on 60 Minutes, Sept. 10, 2017 | CBS News
A bigger problem for the GOP than what Trump working with Democrats could do to the Republican senate and congressional races in 2018 is what Steve Bannon announced on 60 Minutes that he’s going to do outside the White House. Even before Bannon’s interview, speculation was rife that Trump has fatally damaged incumbent Republican Senators Flake’s (AZ) and Heller’s (NV) reelections. He praised and cajoled Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp for a tax cut/reform vote at his North Dakota rally, while Republicans had made her one of their top targets. In addition, between Trump and the ridged ideologists in the Republican House, two swing district incumbents in Pennsylvania and Washington State announced retirement.

But, Bannon and his alt-right media outlets, like Breitbart, intend direct action to fight Republican incumbents that don’t tow the Trump line. They are setting in motion a local dynamic where Trump acolytes and more general supporters are blaming Republican congresspersons and senators for Trump’s many problems (lack of progress on health care, Russian investigations, Charlottesville press conference, etc.). In the interview, Bannon made clear he and these voters are either encouraging primaries or are suggesting they simply won’t vote for various incumbents in 2018. And, of course, it’s state and swing district incumbents who are most likely to express some reservations about Trump concerning his character or the legislative agenda.

Bannon’s and Trump’s strategy of internecine conflict is making it much easier for “Nancy” and “Chuck” to achieve their November 2018 majorities.

President Donald Trump and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon

Trump Approval Should Pop Up

Donald Trump is having an overdue good week. Presidents and governors who handle weather crises benefit; they even get extra benefit when the damage is less than expected.

The public loves bipartisanship and is desperate for some action in Washington. His “Chuck and Nancy” moment has been well-received, especially by legacy media, which at the moment, he doesn’t believe is fake.

Hope for a tax cut increased slightly this week, along with the market and investor optimism. Trump appears to be staying focused on it.

Charlottesville produced the worst numbers of his presidency, 57 percent negative to only 37 percent positive on the RealClearPolitics average (August 13, 2017). He spent most of August below 40 percent. Today, his average has improved to 56 percent negative and 40 percent positive. Expect Trump to finally get back above 40 percent positive. His recent high was 44 percent positive on May 2 right after his first 100 days. It’s been a slog since then.


Studio 1600

Donald Trump rearranged the politics of Washington on Wednesday, September 6 with his decision to go with “Chuck’s” and “Nancy’s” three-month debt limit. He did it in his Studio 1600, where with the Resolute Desk and the Oval Office couches he stages most of his political theater (see blogs: Trump Backs the Democrats’ Debt Limit and Kelly Needs to be a Theater Director).

President Donald Trump meets with bipartisan group of congressional
leaders and members of his economic team in Oval Office, 
Sept. 6, 2017 | Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
The political impact was felt most abruptly on the Hill where Republican leadership and its legislative strategy were upended. A round of media and pundit speculation was launched concerning the impact on Paul Ryan and his seldom happy or unified caucus and on Mitch McConnell being able to align the Senate with the administration on the legislative agenda.

The broader political effect is also beginning to register. Trump, the independent, was one story in the New York Times suggesting he could run as an independent in 2020, but suggesting for now, the Republicans may need to assume Ross Perot was elected in 2016 and negotiate accordingly.

Expect Studio 1600 to be the staging ground for a major challenge to the establishment Republican Party, its leadership and its power.

Donna Lynne Enters Crowded Democratic Primary – KOA Interview With April Zesbaugh and Ed Green

In the first Democratic primary for governor in two decades, Lt. Governor Donna Lynne jumps into the crowded five-person race. The last primary also featured a woman lieutenant governor. Governor Roy Romer. Lt. Governor Gail Schoettler won the Democratic primary in 1998 and went on to closely lose the general election to Republican Bill Owens.

Donna Lynne is an accomplished executive, but has minimal political experience. With a crowded, competitive field, Governor Hickenlooper can help behind the scenes, but this will be a fight she must win. Success will depend on her speaking and debating ability and talent at cajoling volunteers and donors. Endorsements, money and media savvy will be early indicators if Ms. Lynne can move quickly to the front the race.

As a political moderate with much executive experience, she would likely be a strong candidate in the general election. But, it is not clear Democrats want a manager or a fighter as their nominee in 2018. The party’s mood hardly seems moderate. Candidates and activists are negotiating positions on single-payer health care, sanctuary cities, 100 percent renewables and hostility to President Trump.

Health care, which is Ms. Lynne’s expertise, is both an asset and a liability. Premiums are going up, Obamacare, which she has been managing, is in trouble and many Democrats want Bernie Sanders’s single-payer system.

What the Lynne effort may mostly indicate is that the Hickenlooper wing of the party and many professionals see the Democrats losing the governor’s race if the party doesn’t steer in a more centrist direction. Besides being highly qualified, Hickenlooper hopes she can defend the administration’s style and relationship that has been successful with the state’s moderate voters and political donors.

Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne and Governor John Hickenlooper at the
Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Mar. 23, 2016 | Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trump Backs the Democrats’ Debt Limit

In what had to be Mitch McConnell’s and Paul Ryan’s worst Trump experience – and there have been numerous low points – they had to sit and listen as President Trump, after some discussion, decided to support Chuck Schumer’s and Nancy Pelosi’s three-month debt ceiling extension with hurricane funding and a continuing resolution.

Republicans felt blindsided by a bad deal, but Trump was joyous over having struck a deal and effusive in his praise of the two Democrats without mentioning the Republican leadership.

President Donald Trump speaks to (L to R) Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office, Sept. 6, 2017 | Evan Vucci/AP

It demonstrates:
  • Trump is desperate for some legislative action that will be judged as progress.
  • He has no rapport with the Republican Hill leadership. In fact, tweaking them is pleasant and fires up the base
  • Republicans’ internal fights over entitlements, debt and deficits are of little interest to him. He wanted health care as an accomplishment and really believes tax cuts will be a legacy item, but the fiscal issues are inside baseball.
  • The optics was perfect for Trump. He’s in the Oval Office (his studio), the parties are asking for his decision and he pulls a surprise. Top ratings.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L) and President Donald
Trump in the Oval Office, Sept. 6, 2017 | Alex Wong/Getty Images
Expect more effort to strike bargains with Democrats if Republicans can’t settle their differences and unit behind a position.

Trump’s Slippage Continues

The Orange County Register resident conservative/libertarian public intellectual Joel Kotkin just called for the removal of Donald Trump in spite of his usefulness in bringing disruption to a deadlock and progressively dominated D.C. establishment. Or as Kotkin put it:
“The great disrupter is rapidly becoming a great disaster – for the country, his party and even his own political base. In order to save anything from his landmark 2016 victory, President Donald Trump must go – the sooner, the better.” (Sept. 3, 2017)
Trump is increasingly losing his party and the American people based on his ill-disciplined behavior and venomous attacks – his general lack of character. Kotkin may be ahead of the Republicans that have been Trump’s hardcore base due to preferring his policies, but they appear to be moving in his direction.

August was a devastating month for President Trump. The latest Fox News poll has 56 percent of the public believing he is “tearing the country apart.” And a new Pew Research poll shows Trump losing nearly two-thirds of Republican (64% “don’t like” or “mixed feelings”) support due to his character.

Trump is now beyond six months into his presidency. The start-up excuses are waning. Winter is coming.

Charlottesville Changed the Trump Presidency – 9News, Kim Christensen

Tragedy often changes a president’s policies and politics. President Bush became a war president after 9/11 and never entirely recovered from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and its blow to New Orleans. President Trump is currently dealing with Hurricane Harvey and the Texas coast, but the August 12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his subsequent press conference are still affecting his public image, his relationship with fellow Republicans and the corporate leadership he had recruited to serve on various White House councils.

In a 9KUSA interview on Wednesday, August 16, with Kim Christensen at the 4:00 pm news, what a teacher would tell high school or college students was discussed. Some points made were:
  • Although we’ve had a black president for eight years, anti-Semitic, KKK and neo-Nazi views are not new and appear repeatedly in American politics.
  • America has been undergoing rapid change, there is a lack of trust in institutions, and deep divisions based on party and political beliefs.
  • That the American political creed requires respect for unpopular views so it’s important to have skills at non-violent debates with people who a person disagrees with.
  • Many students are not familiar with the basic tenets of American democracy that allows majority rule, but protects minority rights.
  • American people overwhelmingly reject neo-Nazi and White Supremacist views (83% unacceptable).


Polls subsequent to the Charlottesville event and Trump’s handling of it.

In a PBS NewsHour, NPR/Marist poll of August 14-15, 2017, 52 percent of respondents think Trump didn’t issue a “strong enough” statement on the violence in Charlottesville. An early Washington Post-ABC News poll (Aug. 16-20, 2017) agreed and showed disapproval of President Trump by two-to-one (56% to 28%). But in the earlier NPR poll, 62 percent believed statues of confederate leaders should “remain as historical symbols” vs. “removed as offensive” (27%). Also, many Republicans tend to believe there is “a lot of discrimination against” white people (42%) and Christians (48%).


This became a moment when Americans and citizens around the world would expect the U.S. president to act as the sovereign, the symbolic head of state, and condemn evil and call for unity and healing.

Trump tried, but mostly his reaction was as the head of Trump Nation, something between offering color commentary of the events and a defender of what he believed were “good people”; i.e., protectors of confederate statues. It was a poor choice of roles and disastrous timing. He paid dearly. In a Pew Research poll at the end after event of August 15, Donald Trump was judged harshly for his conduct as president, even by Republicans who have been faithfully approving of his presidency, especially on issues. More than half of the public (58%) don’t like his conduct and almost two-thirds of Republicans (65%) now have either mixed feelings or don’t like his conduct.



Hickenlooper and Kasich Offer Bipartisan Health Care Plan – Susan Witkin, KOA


“Goddammit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!”
(General Beringer, WarGames, 1983)

The American people are so desperate for breaking the gridlock in Washington and making some progress on health care that they will welcome the improbable plan of Governors Hickenlooper and Kasich. In a Friday, September 1 interview with KOA’s Susan Witkin, we discussed the politics of the initiative.


The Hickenlooper/Kasich (with six other governors) got very strong coverage over Labor Day weekend. They sent a letter to Congress and will testify before the Senate Health Care Committee on September 7. Of course, as can be expected with any bipartisan effort, the right and left immediately attacked it as too little or too much (not repeal - right, not single-payer – left). But the governors labeled it as a pragmatic first step presented by the executives who will be held most responsible by voters if the current system simply collapses next year.

Can bipartisanship actually gain some traction? There are at least a handful of senators that would support a stop-gap measure and more than 40 House members of the Problem Solvers Caucus who had their own bipartisan plan issued last July. But legislative leadership is differential to the extremes in their respective camps and the congressional process is cumbersome and can be derailed.

Both Kasich and Hickenlooper are ambitious and want to be part of the national conversation on how to break the gridlock (and possibly move on to a new job). It remains difficult to see how either one of them can affect their respective parties, but there is clearly a vacuum, which they are enjoying trying to fill.

See The Buzz: Country ready for an independent?

Country Ready for an Independent?

Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican
 Ohio Gov.  John Kasich at a news conference in Washington, 
June 27, 2017 | Getty Images.
John Kasich and John Hickenlooper have mused the moment might be right for an independent ticket for president and vice president. Of course, they offer the usual denials that they are not serious, but they do have several things working for them. Both parties delivered their nominations to very unattractive candidates leaving huge swaths of voters making their least unfavorable choice. Donald Trump’s insurgent takeover of the Republican Party and Bernie Sanders nearly capturing the Democratic nomination shows how vulnerable the parties are to movements and ideas outside their respective establishments and orthodoxies.

Considering 2020, the Republican Party remains fractured by Trump’s self-regard and character flaws as much as any policy differences. But the Democrats continue to appear befuddled locating an attractive governing philosophy beyond opposing Trump, a strategy that did serve them sufficiently in 2016.

But as weak as the parties have become, the opening for a bipartisan team of two moderate governors to run as independents is still very narrow.

Power of Partisanship
America’s two-party system still represents at least 60 percent of the electorate and voters tend to remain loyal. Trump would have a 25 percent approval rating from his core supporters if regular Republicans weren’t still on board. And, although he eked out his thin victory with the white working class in several states, in fact, he carried upwards of 90 percent of rank and file Republicans.

But beyond voter loyalty to overcome, the parties have embedded themselves in state statutes, making ballot access and conducting third-party campaigns very onerous.

Money
Massive amounts of money will be needed to get on the ballot in most states and to run a campaign. Neither Kasich nor Hickenlooper are rich or such high-profile celebrities to get around the $1 billion minimum that appears to be required to both promote a candidacy and to defend against the inevitable attacks.

Democrats
Hickenlooper, in particular, will be considered by Democrats as a spoiler. The Party is convinced Trump is likely a one-termer and will not want a moderate independent/Democrat in the field that could siphon Democratic votes from the ticket.

Moderation
This appears to be a moment the public is interested in politicians who lower the drama and extreme partisanship to get things done. But, the centrist approach that often wins for state executives may not motivate the wider reaches of national party voters or even independents.

The good news for the two of them is that the moment appears right to offer some can-do bipartisanship. All the legacy media is ready for a contrast to Trump, the Freedom Caucus, Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. At a minimum, Kasich and Hickenlooper should have fun ride on the talk shows.

Interview with Erica Meltzer for the Denverite, an online newsletter:

Longtime Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli said this frustrating coyness is “a common Colorado trait of politicians who are nationally ambitious.”

“The history is that for a very long time, as soon as you talk about national ambitions, you get into local trouble,” he said. “They say, ‘you’re not paying attention to us,’ and everything gets judged by their national ambitions.”

So all those denials are really confirmations?

“He’s absolutely interested, but he’s realistic,” Ciruli said of Hickenlooper. “This would be the longest of long shots, but at the moment, this is a really interesting perspective in terms of partisanship and gridlock and moving past that.”

. . .

Ciruli said the fact that this ticket is being talked about at all reflects the political moment we’re in, one where both parties produced candidates that were broadly unpopular in the last general election and there is widespread disgust with gridlock in Congress and intense partisanship.

“It’s the best alternative theme out there,” he said.

. . .

Ciruli said the more likely third-party candidate would be someone very rich and capable of self-financing a national run — someone like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose recent tour of the country complete with many social media posts with “real Americans” raised speculation, or former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — not “a couple of well-intentioned politicians.”

. . .

If nothing else, this speculation raises the profile of the governors’ brands.

“Good for them,” Ciruli said. “They’ll make a lot of talk shows.”

War With North Korea and Presidential Trust

President Trump doesn’t make it easy for the majority of Americans to support his direction on North Korea.

  • A majority of the public prefers negotiation to threats of military action with North Korea (59%)
  • Most experts believe war would be “catastrophic” (Mattis, 8-10-17)
  • Americans would support military action of diplomacy failed
  • Trump’s rhetoric has been full of bellicose slogans: “fire and fury” and “locked and loaded”
  • Much of the administration’s foreign policy leadership (Mattis, Dunford, Tillerson, McMaster) put Trump’s comments into a more diplomatic context

The bottom line is that more than half the public (59%) is uneasy about Trump’s “ability to handle the North Korean nuclear situation” (CBS News poll, Aug. 14-16, 2017).

And, of course, more than half the public (56%, RealClearPolitics average) disapprove of President Trump’s presidency as of mid-August and only 38 percent approve. He would be the weakest president in terms of approval at the start of a crisis involving military action since Carter (32% approval) in 1979 at the beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis.


Trump has the advantage that most Americans rate North Korea as a serious threat, and know that previous diplomatic efforts have failed. But, Trump has to construct support for his approach from a very skeptical public.

Trump

“Fire and fury” – 8-10, Any further threat met with fire and fury (tweet)

“Maybe wasn’t tough enough” – 8-11, “They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

“Locked and loaded” – 8-11, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path! He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it. This is a whole new ballgame.”

Mattis – 8-10, “My portfolio, my mission, my responsibility, is to have military options should they be needed. You can see the American effort is diplomatically led. It has diplomatic traction. It is gaining diplomatic results. And I want to stay right there right now. The tragedy of war is well enough know; it doesn’t need another characterization, beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

In Age of Disruption, Governing is Tough

Although European establishment politicians hold power in France, Germany and Great Britain, they are struggling with leading the change the era and major segments of the public demand.

Prime Minister Theresa May was to bring a firm hand to the Brexit process, but lost an election to strengthen her majority and now only has the approval of a third of the public. She faces an unhappy right, an energized left and ever threatening secession sentiments.

President Emmanuel Macron swept into office extoling the EU and internationalism, while crushing the far right. But he shares with May the approval of only a third of the public. Budget cuts required by EU rules have alienated his military and his own style, criticized as imperial, has taken a toll.

Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to lead the Western leaders with more than half of the public’s support. She will likely win re-election. But, her approval has fluctuated and dropped recently as her re-election campaign deals with criticism from the left.

President Vladimir Putin’s 2018 election is in the bag, but he works public opinion like a pro, with a sophisticated propaganda machine, aggressive restraint of opposition and use of foreign policy for fueling nationalistic sentiment. He lets his prime minister take the blame for any weaknesses in domestic policy. His approval rating is in the 80s. Medvedev’s is usually well below the 50s.

President Donald Trump has been in office about 220 days, won office with 46 percent of the public and has never moved above that figure. Today, his approval is often measured below 40 percent.

The politics of the era of disruption is driven by the deep loss of trust in the government and major institutions, including national parties and its leaders, and the broad polarization among significant segments of the public, reinforced by the new technologies of communication; i.e., cable news, social media.

If you prefer a liberal democratic order and a free market, don’t expect it to survive without leaders and a public ready to fight for it.


It’s War: Trump vs. Republican Establishment

Donald Trump has declared war on the Republican Senate establishment. It started with a testy exchange between Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell after the defeat of the health care bill. Trump ramped it up with a series of tweets implying that McConnell was a failed leader and that Senate Republicans were negligent for not staying in D.C. and passing one of the Republican-led bills.

Trump has taken on a number of individual Republican senators who have criticized him during various August controversies. He added fuel to the fire at the recent Arizona rally with attacks on Senators McCain and Flake, including encouraging a primary against Senator Flake. Trump hasn’t spared Republicans in the House. Recent tweets have criticized the House leadership on the debt ceiling. He has called for a shutdown of government if his wall along the Mexican border isn’t funded in the upcoming budget bill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump and
Speaker Paul Ryan (Happier days), Mar. 1, 2017 | ABC News
The result of the war between the executive branch and Republicans in Congress will damage the Republican brand and cause a schism between Trump supporters and the Republican establishment, including more traditional Republican voters. Although it will be hard for Republicans to lose the Senate due to the number of vulnerable Democrats up in 2018, the Republican House and its 24-seat majority is up for grabs.

Although President Trump wins a head-to-head contest in the polls with Senator McConnell and Congress – mainly because Congress rates so poorly among the public – it’s a self-defeating victory because it likely undermines any chance for tax reform or infrastructure legislation this year, or even in this session. Trump, no doubt, considers his attacks a warning to Republicans that he will retaliate against any criticism. And, given that he’s most concerned about his brand and already beginning his 2020 campaign, separating from Congress and the health care loss may offer some personal protection. But it damages the Republican Party and highlights the failure of party control and his leadership to relieve gridlock.

Trump appears to be running on his own and against Congress. Will Republicans in Congress now begin to go their own way? This is new political territory. It’s a guess how it changes the 2018 election.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Record Crowd – Hill and Ciruli Speaking to Denver Eclectics

Former Ambassador and Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, Christopher Hill, and Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, will present a talk on November 10 to a record crowd of 330 members of the Denver Eclectics.

The following describes the program.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Will Polis Join the Ranks of Wealthy Governors? Wealthy Running for Governor.

Louis Jacobson, a political writer for Governing Magazine and co-author of the Almanac of American Politics (2018 edition, due out in a few weeks), writes that billionaires and millionaires are winning the nation’s governorships, but are losing on governing.

Jacobson counts nine billionaire or millionaire governors and more coming, including Jared Polis.
Then there's Colorado, where the race next year to succeed two-term Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper includes at least one deep-pocketed Democrat: multimillionaire U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.
In the Democratic field, "Polis is the front-runner and will spend all the money needed," says Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli. "He poured $5 million into a small-time Democratic primary to win his congressional seat in 2008. Beating Polis in a Democratic primary will require a very smart and tough campaign."
With a high-stakes gubernatorial cycle -- the last big cycle before the once-every-decade redistricting process -- each of these races will be closely watched by both parties. "I expect a tough, expensive race [in Colorado]," Ciruli says. "Republicans have their first chance in years to win it, and Democrats see it as important to the presidency."
Read Louis Jacobson’s article, These Governors Are Rich, But Are They Effective? 

Also read The Buzz:
Polis in the Race. Is He the New Frontrunner? – Denver Post
Polis – He Changes the Race – 9KUSA Interview with Brandon Rittiman

The Only People Left

“One by one, our old friends are gone. Death – natural or not – prison-deported.” (Johnny Ola, The Godfather Part II, 1974)

The only people left from the team pictured on January 28, 2017 are the two that can’t be fired.

Will Mr. Bannon’s removal make much of a difference? It’s better for General Kelly and it lowers internal conflict for the national security and economic and domestic policy teams, but Donald. J. Trump is still the master of provocating and improv. Expect more.


See The Buzz:
What chaos?
Bannon about to join Flynn?

Impeachment: How It Will Work

Donald Trump likes to live on the edge. He still has his base, but the broad reach of the country’s leadership community, from small towns to the big cities, are beginning to believe that, regardless of their preferences for many of his policies, Trump is not suited to the job. His failure to move the big agenda, combined with the constant controversies, mostly self-created, highlight his greatest weakness – the character issue.

As opposed to a parliamentary system where if a leader loses his or her majority, he must stand down. America’s elections are regularly scheduled. But if Republicans lose their House majority, impeachment is possible. Most likely, the Democratic Party would prefer to just end his term at four years in 2020, but his actions or political pressure may start the process.

A bill of impeachment, an indictment, would start in the House and most likely use whatever investigative materials had been gathered up to that point. The Judiciary Committee is the usual committee of jurisdiction (today, the ranking Democrat is Rep. John Conyers of Michigan) and would likely conduct any final investigations and hold public hearings.

A majority vote of those present and voting can get the impeachment bill out of the committee and then through the House. The Senate, of course, is Trump’s firewall. It is unlikely Democrats will take control in 2018, and even if they did, it requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, to convict. As of today, it seems unlikely a Barry Goldwater scene will ensue as in 1974 when he led a Republican delegation to the White House to tell President Nixon he didn’t believe there were 15 Republican votes to stop a conviction in the Senate. It was assumed the House would vote to indict. Goldwater also made the case that the country should not have to go through the ordeal of trial and conviction.

If this scenario played out today, the House action would start in 2019, just as both parties start the prep for the 2020 general election, a trial could follow in the Senate. Would Republicans move to dump Trump? Could they succeed or does his base hold? Will he have 34 Senate votes in two years?

This seems like a far-fetched scenario today, but it makes for interesting speculations.


The Western Battleground

Republican control of the U.S. Senate could be up for grabs in the West. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, the scourge of Donald Trump, and Nevada Senator Dean Heller, the waiving vote on health care (he finally voted yes), are in the two most vulnerable Republican seats in the country. Both Flake and Heller face possible primaries from Trump supporters and very tough re-elections in states Trump just barely won (Arizona) or lost to Hillary Clinton (Nevada).

Democrats have vulnerabilities in Montana trying to re-elect Senator Jon Tester in a state Trump won by 21 points and hanging on to North Dakota is first-term Democrat Heidi Heitkamp. She won with only a 2,900-vote margin while Trump took the state with 123,000 votes.

Democrats are hoping to win both Republican seats and hold their two, but winning the Senate will be difficult. But for a Republican disaster due to Trump’s 38 percent and declining approval rating, Democrats should lose, not pick up ground in 2018 Senate elections because they are defending so many seats, several of which, like Tester and Heitkamp, are in Trump country (e.g., Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia).


Polling Is Doubling Down

The nation’s top media organizations are not pulling back on polling. They are intensifying their efforts with more polling, new methods and more analysis.

The Donald Trump presidency, the rise of populism, the surge of nationalism, the realignment of parties and collapse of the political center has increased public interest and viewers and subscribers.

Pollsters are making some shifts in vendors and adding new methods. Their general goal is to gather more data with more varied methods – phone (landline and cell), online, probability, non-probability. The answer to the charge of “fake polls” is not less, but better and more. As CBS polling director Anthony Salvanto said, “There’s an interest in what people are thinking. We believe people want to understand how public opinion is shifting in these times.” Hang on, 2017 and 2018 will be very big polling years.


Read Politico: News outlets aim to bolster polling amid charges of “fake news”

Trump Works His Base

Both on purpose, but also as a natural product of his viewpoint, Donald Trump works his base in the Republican Party and alt-right using politically incorrect and anti-establishment rhetoric every day. He provides constant fuel for his partisan and populist supporters.

On average, Trump is holding about two-fifths of the public’s approval. Triangulating recent polls (Fox, CNN and Gallup), he receives about 85 to 80 percent of Republicans, 35 to 30 percent of self-identified independents and less than 10 percent of Democrats. The following chart shows where he receives his 40 percent of support.


When he has slipped below 40 percent in the average, and he most recently slid to 38 percent in RealClearPolitics.com, it is mostly a reflection of small fall-offs (2 to 3 points) in each group. In addition, the percentage of Republicans has fallen in many surveys, with corresponding increases in Democrats and Independent identifiers.

A month into Trump’s presidency, he had 88 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of Independents, and for a short time, 10 percent of Democrats. Today, with his 38 percent, he has 82 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Independents and only 7 percent of Democrats.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Bipartisan Movement on Health Care

The public claims it supports a bipartisan approach to health care legislation now being attempted by a group of independent-minded congresspersons. Seventy-seven percent of Americans tell CNN pollsters that “Republicans should work with Democrats to pass a health care bill.” Only twelve percent said go it alone. In fact, sixty-nine percent of Republicans said go with bipartisan approach.


A bipartisan coalition of the House of Representatives has proffered a plan to stabilize the Obamacare markets to ensure the ACA doesn’t just collapse. This bill has a number of significant elements, but it faces a leadership in both parties that must deal with members committed to completely repeal on the right to single-payer on the left. In Colorado, Representatives Coffman and Polis have been listed as members.

See:
Release: Josh Gottheimer and Tom Reed lead 35 problem solvers caucus members in bipartisan letter to President Trump
Politico: Centrist lawmakers plot bipartisan health care stabilization bill
Bipartisan problem solvers caucus proposal to stabilize the individual market

Oorah! Semper Fi

Donald Trump early on liked military officers. They are now the most prominent feature of the administration. His attraction is partially based on military officers being mostly non-partisan, very professional and tending to support the commander-in-chief, even if they disagree with some policies.

Marines, who have the smallest officer corps of the four major divisions, are holding key positions in the government’s foreign policy establishment and White House: Generals Mattis, Dunford, Kelly and Alles (Secret Service). H.R. McMaster is Army and operates the National Security Council.

The Corps had serious reservations with Barack Obama’s risk avoidance foreign policy characterized by withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and little involvement in Syria. In Trump’s administration, there is a potential for conflict with the nationalist camp. The Corps (and the Army) believes the peace and prosperity of America depends on the order established by the United States since the Second World War. The threats they see today will not be addressed by any form of nationalistic isolation.


August 2017 Recess

The August 2017 congressional recess feels like the history-making 2009 recess. In that year, the Tea Party got its start going to congressional town halls and offices to express their supreme dislike of the early drafts of Obamacare.

Although Obamacare didn’t pass Congress until the next March, the movement had momentum and Democrats began to recognize they were in trouble. They lost two governorships in November 2009, Ted Kennedy’s open Senate seat, and then in November 2010, a record-breaking 63 House seats.

Republican congresspersons are in trouble from disappointed conservatives who wanted Obamacare repealed. In addition, the high profile collapse of the bill damaged Republicans with voters who actually depend on Obamacare insurance. Possibly most importantly, their agenda has lost credibility and their rationale for having control of the government to get things done is no longer believable. Gridlock is back.

Off-year elections are typically difficult for the presidential party and can be a disaster in the first term if presidents are in trouble. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had terrible first midterm elections. Clinton lost the House for the first time in 40 years and Obama lost it back to the Republicans after holding it for only four years.


John McCain Made History – 9-KUSA, Kim Christiansen

John McCain voted 2:00 am Friday morning, July 28, at the end of a late night Senate session that decided the fate of the repeal of Obamacare. McCain voted no, joining two colleagues, and stopped the Republicans’ plan for repeal. This was part of an on-air interview with Kim Christiansen.

McCain demonstrated the power of a single senator from a small state taking on his party establishment and president. His vote, which saved Obamacare for the time-being, was ironic. McCain was beaten by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, and now he was saving Obama’s legacy legislation.

Sen. John McCain cats "no" vote on health care bill,
July 28, 2017 | New York Times

The closeness of the vote was not surprising from a historical sense. Obama barely received the 60 votes he needed in the Senate back in 2010, and it only passed with one vote to spare on the House floor in final passage in 2011. Indeed, this bill struggled since its filing this year, first in the House and then in the Senate. A vote had to be postponed over the Fourth of July recess for a lack of a majority.

Although McCain was hailed in many quarters as a hero for stopping an unpopular bill, many of his Republican colleagues criticized him for contributing to the problem of “getting nothing done,” which he complained about in his epic Tuesday afternoon speech after dramatically returning to the Senate from his cancer treatment.

Regardless of the reasons, the bill’s loss was historic and could have fateful consequences for Republicans. Seldom has party leadership brought a bill to the floor without knowing the vote. The loss damages the party’s reputation as being effective and it derails its momentum.

One aspect of McCain’s action was a help for the party. The bill’s repeal aspect was extremely unpopular with some people, but the replacement parts were nearly universally disliked. Also, three-quarters of the public said they would like to try McCain’s bipartisan effort to pass health care.

Read more:
New York Times: Senate rejects slimmed-down Obamacare repeal as McCain votes no
The Buzz: Cory Gardner’s problems with health care


Soaring Market and Plunging Polls

The Dow has hit four 1,000-point records since Donald Trump’s election nine months ago, but on August 2, the day it crossed its latest record (22,000), the President’s approval rating hit a new low –33 percent (Quinnipiac).

Trump often rails that the media does not give him enough credit for the markets. In fact, he was frequently mentioned as having unleashed pent up optimism from investors and businesses based on his having a pro-business cabinet and agenda. But as the agenda bogged down in Washington, his contribution got less notice, and more credit now goes to good earnings reports, low interest rates and a reasonably calm world economy. An economic recovery going into its 9th year is also a driver.


The latest 1,000-point record represents an 11 percent increase for the year and a 20 percent increase since the election (183 trading days). In spite of the dysfunction in Washington, the market continues to surge, hitting its latest increase in a mere 107 days.

Trump’s approval rating, however, has been moving in the opposite direction, with the latest polls placing it in the mid 30-point range. His approval (using RealClearPolitics average) – never high – is 8 points lower at about the same time the market is 10 points higher.


Kelly Needs to be a Theater Director

President Donald Trump shakes hands with John Kelly
after he was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff
Photo: Thomson Reuters
The White House has been the stage set that Donald Trump has used to star in the first seven months of the show – “Trump.” The personalities and production has led to some riveting moments, but a poor performing government. As the President’s poll numbers collapse, he finally recognizes his problem and brought in a director. He made John Kelly, Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, the new Chief of Staff.

In the blog, “Staging the First 100 Days from the White House” (May 5, 2017), I described the unique decision structure Trump created, which will make Kelly’s job difficult:

Flat decision process. There is no chain of command. Trump is the star, he decides. Chief of Staff Preibus has some staff, but clearly he doesn’t control access or the agenda.

Centers of conflict. There are numerous power centers defending turf and viewpoints. Competition between nationalist Steve Bannon vs. globalist Jared Kushner is the highest profile conflict, but Preibus has his turf, Kellyanne Conway has hers.

Stay close to the desk. Trump is a mercurial man who tends toward the provocative and the impulsive. If you want to defend a position, an initiative or a space, stay close to his desk. The last person who talks to him often has the most influence.

Incessant tweeting. Add to that May 5th list the incessant tweeting of policies, personnel changes, insults, exhortation and random ruminations and it makes for a difficult management job.

Kelly clearly has a challenge, but the show desperately needs a strong director. Kelly should just remember the first rule of the job is don’t upstage the star. Unfortunately, the second may be don’t inhibit the star’s access to his fans or to expressing his true feelings.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Market Continues to Break Records

Thirty days after the end of a mostly positive first half of the year, the stock market continues to break records. The Dow was up 542 points for the month, ending at 10.8 higher year-to-date. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 both hit record highs. Earnings have been positive and the Federal Reserve is holding steady, projecting some, but rather restrained tightening. The underlying economy continues to show improvement, but a few indicators, such as retail sales and consumer sentiment, flattened.

One factor expected to negatively affect the economy and the market was the gridlock in Washington, but it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, one of President Trump’s best indicators is the public’s view he’s working on jobs and the economy. Trump and Republicans in general get their highest approval ratings dealing with the economy.


What Chaos?

The original group that gathered around the Resolute Desk at the end of the first heady week have been decimated – General Flynn was first to go, next Sean Spicer and finally Reince Priebus. Vice President Pence has a secure job, and Steve Bannon appears a survivor.


General Kelly’s first recommendation as Chief of Staff is being unanimously well-received. He removed the President’s most recent personal hire – Anthony Scaramucci (July 21 to July 31).

Or as the President might say, “What chaos?”


Read The Buzz:
Gathering around the Resolute Desk
Bannon about to join Flynn?
Trump’s First Seven Days – 9KUSA; Trump has Very Big First Week

Is Trump Losing Drudge and Rasmussen?

On Friday, July 28, Drudge, a powerful ally of Donald Trump, posted Rasmussen Reports’ latest Trump approval number – 41 percent (it dropped over the weekend to 39%).

That represents a historic low for Rasmussen, which, due to its sample selection technique, has approval numbers several points more positive for Trump than the average approval maintained by RealClearPolitics.com. Trump usually cites Rasmussen and criticizes all other polls as fake news.

But even more startling than the poll is it was posted by Drudge. A frequent guest at the White House, rumor has it he’s disappointed by the lack of progress on several fronts. Expect Trump and his team to become even more solicitous of Drudge concerns.

What Trump and Republicans should be most concerned about is that not only is Trump’s average approval by most polls now below 40 percent, but even his favorite pollster has him collapsing from 56 to 41 percent since the inaugural.


Read The Buzz: Trump is the 40 percent president

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Higher Education Facing Partisan Challenge

The public’s view on the positive contributions of higher education to the “way things are going in the country” has declined in the last seven years. Republicans in particular have turned negative on colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country.

Decline of the Public’s Views
The public’s opinion of colleges’ and universities’ positive contributions has declined from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent this year. Much of the decline began in 2015. The public’s negative views increased 8 points during the last 2 years. The data was reported from a Pew Research poll released July 10, 2017. The poll was conducted with 2,504 adults from June 8-18, 2017.


Partisan Voices on Colleges and Universities
Partisanship is a major factor in the decrease in support for colleges and universities. There is a 36 percentage point difference between Democrat and Republican viewpoints on the positive contribution of colleges and universities to the country. Only 36 percent of Republicans have a positive view of colleges and universities, compared to a 72 percent positive view by Democrats. Few Democrats (19%) take a negative view, but a majority of Republicans (58%) do.


Republican Negative Trend
Partisan differences increased since 2015. Republicans’ positive viewpoints went into a steep decline starting in 2015, with support dropping 18 points in the last two years from 54 percent to 36 percent today.


News organizations have reported numerous stories with a negative slant toward higher education in recent years. The high cost of college, student debt loads and low graduation rates have been well covered. Recently, and of more interest to Republicans, have been stories frequently reported in conservative news sites of campus disruptions, takeovers of administrator’s offices, student protests of conservative speakers and an assertion of weak faculty and administrative responses. And, of course, conservative commentators often point out college communities’ consistent voting majorities for Democratic politicians.

Comparison of Colleges and Universities to Other Institutions
Although there has been a recent decline in the positive ratings of colleges’ and universities’ contributions to the country, Pew reports that at 55 percent positive ratings, colleges and universities are still above a host of other institutions tested.

Churches are slightly ahead at 59 percent, but labor unions (47%), banks (39%) and the news media (28%) are behind colleges and universities.


The reputation of colleges and universities is still high, but they face a host of challenging issues. The perception of higher education’s contribution to the country is important to its reputation and effectiveness, and although the recent decline is understandable, the key underlying issues need to be addressed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

DU and CU Are Highly Favored in Denver Metro Area

The metropolitan Denver public has a positive view of the University of Denver (DU) and the University of Colorado (CU) and they are closely matched in public opinion in the Denver area.

Overall Favorability
In a voter survey conducted by Ciruli Associates in 2016, DU received a 41 percent “very favorable” rating, followed closely by CU with a 37 percent “very favorable” rating. The total favorability ratings (combining “very” and “somewhat” favorable) were 74 percent and 73 percent, respectively. A few more people were unable to rate DU (22%) CU than (18%), and CU had a slightly higher negative rating (9%) than DU (5%).


County Ratings
One difference in perception of the two universities was their rating within individual counties in the seven-county metro area. Some of the variation is explained by differences in public awareness of the institutions and different negative ratings. DU had a 9-point negative rating in Adams and Denver counties. It was not well-known in Boulder (38%) and Douglas (32%) counties. CU had a high negative in Douglas County (19%) and was not well-known in Jefferson County (26%).


Partisan Ratings
Although there was a partisan difference, with Democrats more favorably disposed than Republicans, both institutions received high favorable ratings from each party.


Comparison with Other Organizations and Leaders
In comparison to other organizations and leaders in the metro area, the schools were in the high middle range of favorability. They were not as high as major cultural facilities, but higher than some sport teams and the Governor.


Both schools are well thought of during a time in which the public has generally low trust and confidence in most institutions.

The telephone survey was conducted by landline and cell phones with 600 voters in the seven-county Denver metro area in May 2016 by Ciruli Associates.