Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump Starts a Border War – Populism From Left Sweeping Into Mexico

  • “America First” will affect many countries and not always to the benefit of America’s foreign policy. 
  • Not all populist movements come from the right. Mexico is moving to the left.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has a 12 percent approval rating, with a painful two more years to serve. François Hollande, the socialist president of France, has a 12 percent approval, and has wisely decided not to stand for another election. The main populist opposition in France approaches from the right.

The populist opposition to Peña Nieto comes from the left in the form of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who has challenged the two establishment parties for more than a decade. López Obrador almost won the presidency in 2006 against the center right PAN party candidate Felipe Calderón. Peña Nieto’s PRI, which was the old revolutionary ruling party, morphed in recent years into a more centrist organization and beat Calderón in 2012.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the proposed policies toward Mexico are the major contributors to Peña Nieto’s collapse. The border wall, hostile references to Mexican immigrants, renegotiation of NAFTA and demanding manufacturers wishing to sell in America, build in America have put the Mexican economy into a crisis and the political and business establishment on the defensive. Peña Nieto’s meeting with Trump last fall helped Trump, but was a disaster for Peña Nieto.

Peña Nieto was a reformer and it has cost him support among the status quo interest groups. Education reform opposed by teachers’ union and more competition in the monopolistic oil industry have led to social conflict. The oil and gas effort sparked riots as prices increased. Peña Nieto and the PRI also suffer from an image of corruption in a country that has little trust in major institutions. Mr. Trump may deal with a very hostile socialist-oriented Mexican government in 2018.

See Wall Street Journal: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto loses support, poll finds

Thursday, January 26, 2017

European Nationalists Cheer Trump

Donald Trump’s inaugural address was excitedly received by European populists and anti-globalists at a conference of Euro skeptics and anti-immigrants leaders held in Germany. The continent’s top far-right political leaders see Donald Trump’s victory and his aggressive populist (anti-establishment) and nationalist (own country first, closed borders) themes as a positive sign that Western elites everywhere are losing power.

The inaugural speech itself has many anti-establishment and nationalist lines that appealed to Europe’s right wing political groups.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed…Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
 Marine Le Pen, the highest profile participant, said about Trump, “He will not support a system that oppresses the people.”

The European elections in 2017 will provide numerous opportunities to advance the candidates and agenda of the right starting on March 15 with Dutch parliamentary elections under the well-established leadership of anti-Islamist Geert Wilders. Elections are scheduled or are likely in France, Germany and Italy and in each, populist forces are energized.

Wall Street Journal: Boosted by Trump, Europe’s anti-EU parties unite
NBC News: Marine Le Pen, Europe’s nationalist leaders kick off year of election hopes

New Right Authors Inaugural Speech

The White House admitted the inaugural speech was written by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller. The two Steves are leading doctrinaires of the new administration’s direction. The inaugural speech was a textbook definition of the populist and nationalist approach Donald Trump has advocated for 18 months.

A dark, uncompromising speech that began with an attack on the Washington establishment across the board:
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country…That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.”
It offered a dark vision of American carnage:
“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. 
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It then provided an intense nationalism that closes borders and puts America ahead of everyone else:
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern out land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Finally, to implement the vision, it required the full attention the all-sacrificing leader:
“I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before…The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”
Though it ended with patriotic sentiments of national unity, it was generally a tightly crafted statement of 2017 populism and economic nationalism that Bannon and Miller ascribe to. The speech was immediately seen by the European right forces as a manifesto that speaks to their movements.

The Trump administration represents significant change. With the new cabinet designees, aggressive White House staff and the inaugural direction, the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle should hang on.

Read The Buzz blogs:
European nationalists cheer Trump
Populism dominates 2017 European politics

Friday, January 20, 2017

Populism Dominates 2017 European Politics

Populism is the rage. It’s on the cover of Foreign Affairs, the topic of politicians, columnists and faculty, and the apparent political trend resulting in Brexit, the Donald Trump victory, and numerous political movements and elections in Europe the last few years.

The word’s origin is mostly generic and can apply to a host of political movements, some right, some left, some benign and some ominous, but in today’s context the main features are anti-elitism and desire for a strong leader to ensure significant change. In Europe, it tends to be anti-EU, anti-immigrant and pro-Russia.

European political conversation has been dominated by talk of the sweep of populism from Poland and Hungary to Great Britain and Italy and most of the nations in between.

The year starts with the global conference in Davos where capitalists, globalists and free traders will try to account for the hostile environment. Chinese President Xi will be the ranking world leader, positioning himself and China as protectors of globalism. Conference session focuses on the dangers of anti-globalism and trade protectionism – elements in the current version of populism. Capitalism is on the defensive from the right and the left.

Italy’s pro-EU party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum in early December to reform the sclerotic Italian government. He resigned (Obama’s last state dinner was held for him) and the populist Five Star Movement is maneuvering to win an election likely to be called this year.

Great Britain
Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to begin its Brexit negotiations in March. There appears little consensus on how the process will work or the objective. But the anti-immigrant, nationalist fervor that led to the Brexit vote looms as a threat to the British establishment. She appears committed to a “hard” as opposed to a “soft” exit.

France faces an election in May that will likely bring a conservative to power, with the populist Marine Le Pen leading the largest anti-immigrant, anti-EU party in close pursuit of the center-right frontrunner, François Fillon. Both candidates take a friendly position toward Russia.

The German anti-immigrant right is still too weak to derail Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September German federal elections, but they have forced Merkel to move to the right on immigration. She is now the only voice of authority for European unity and continued sanctions on Russia.

America’s new foreign policy direction, apparently more in alignment with the anti-immigration, anti-EU, pro-Russian trends, is likely to influence the politics of the continent, if not the voters directly. But the potential significant impact of Trump’s presidency (such as Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn and others) on 2017 European politics is a story yet developing.

America’s Views of World Leaders

The latest CNN poll asked Americans at the start of the new administration how they would rate some national and world leaders. The results should remind the new administration that there is a backdrop of attitudes positioning friends and foes that should be kept in mind as policies and tweets start to fly.

For example, at the bottom of the list of favored leaders are Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Raúl Castro and Xi Jinping. Claiming any one of these people a good friend and ally will be a lift.

The public loves the Queen and the Pope. They have a few detractors, both to the office and the person, but very few. Starting fights with them will be costly.

Many people don’t know Angela Merkel or Theresa May, but due to old alliances and respect for their actions, they have more than two-to-one favorability among the attentive public.

Donald Trump has a 44 percent favorability rating, higher than the mean of the eight foreign leaders. However, with near universal awareness, his unfavorability rating of 53 percent is near Raúl Castro’s.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Red Line: A Decision that Leveled a Foreign Policy

Barack Obama is doing his legacy tour. There are some high points; some may even survive his successor. But one decision sums up a series of mistakes that most harmed his foreign policy and produced a disastrous effect still being felt.

In August 2014, Obama backed away from a threat to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for the use of chemical weapons against his population. From the moment the decision was announced, Obama’s credibility dropped with allies and adversaries, foreign and domestic.

The Situation Room announcement picture captures the disbelief among the president’s team, especially the responsible politicians – Biden, Kerry and Hagel.

In fact, the decision only highlighted an often described feckless policy related to the Syrian civil war. A strategy that contributed to millions of refugees, many fleeing and destabilizing democracies in Europe, a vacuum allowing the entry of Russia on Assad’s side, and the utter destruction of Aleppo. The decision was firmly embedded in Obama’s fundamental approach of minimalism in the Middle East, which included the Iraq withdrawal and the truncated Libyan intervention.

See blogs
President has options in Syria
Will foreign policy effect the 2014 elections?
Red Line: Kerry and Hagel agree Obama foreign policy disaster
Chuck Hagel – Nice guy, wrong fit
Syria: Public opinion cul-de-sac
Panic in the White House – Foreign policy
Obama’s last State of the Union and foreign policy

Trump Wins Intel Battle, But Losing War – 9KUSA

Trump at first press conference, Jan. 11, 2017
Photo: Getty Images
Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect was vintage Trump. He vigorously denied
(fake news) the Internet-driven intelligence story about a Russian dossier on him, attacked the media for printing it and pivoted to his approach to conflicts of interest concerning the Trump Corporation. He dominated the news cycle and the press conference. Not particularly “presidential,” but self-confident, chatty and in control.

Of course, it is likely only a temporary reprieve from news on the dossier and fight with the intelligence community, and Trump already has problems. A new Quinnipiac poll shows the president-elect with a declining favorability rating since his November victory and low approval ratings for the transition.
  • 37% favorability, down from 44% right after the November 8 election
  • 37% approve transition, 51% disapprove
  • Optimistic about next 4 years was 59%, now 52%
  • Stop tweeting 64% to 33%

In an interview with 9KUSA TaRhonda Thomas, the following was highlighted.
  • It is unprecedented to have this much controversy just prior to the inauguration, but the entire public aspect of this transition is unprecedented. The public entrances and departures at Trump Tower and frequent tweeting, including fights with actor Meryl Streep.
  • Trump is master at surviving scandal. The Access Hollywood controversy last fall shows his durability. He recovered and won the election.
  • The dossier will surely recede if no new evidence shows up. As president, he will have more ways to manage bad news, but there are a lot of intelligence players who intend on protecting their agencies, some of whom don’t believe he should be president.
  • The conflict of interest issue will be back because his solution is too shallow for most observers.

See Politico: Highlights from Trump’s press conference

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Can You Feel the Global Power Shift?

Chinese President Xi will lead a group of mega-millionaires and billionaires from his communist-controlled country to the Davos World Economic Forum, a think tank of capitalism. He will argue for globalism and against protectionism. Of course, at home he is intensely nationalistic and China has a myriad of protectionist practices, but still he is now a world spokesperson for globalism. Mostly Xi is looking for allies against America’s pending anti-China position. Also, his presidency is up for renewal this year and President Xi is looking for some international prestige.

President Vladimir Putin will not attend Davos and continues to try to be the leading spokesperson for anti-globalism, nationalism and defending the Christian West against radical Islam.

Trump, who will be sworn in the last day of the Davos conference, sides with Putin on globalism, a shift from the the U.S.’s post-World War II positions, and against the positions of most of America’s historic allies.

Attending Davos will be Secretary John Kerry, who most likely considers Switzerland his second home, and Vice President Joe Biden.

Given the momentum of anti-global populism in the developed world, the World Economic Forum no doubt welcomes China’s high-profile advocacy. But, the champagne will not be flowing at the 2017 Davos conference.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Aspect of the Cold War is Back: Russian and American Publics Are at Historic Odds

Russian approval of their president, Vladimir Putin, couldn’t get much higher and disapproval of American leadership any lower. Numerous Russian polls report Putin’s approval among his citizens at 80 percent or higher. But Gallup reported in 2015 only one percent of Russians approved of U.S. leaders – “worst rating in world” and “lowest approval for the U.S. in the past decade.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Defense Minister Sergei Sholgu (R) and
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016
Photo: Wall Street Journal
Well before reports of Russian intervention in the U.S. election, American opinion of Russia had sunk to new lows. Only 22 percent of U.S. have a favorable opinion of Russia. The new low reported by Gallup reflects the criticism of Russia related to the Crimea, Ukraine, Syria and Edward Snowden.

One observation that stands out from the data is an uptick in partisan difference. A significant gap now appears between Democrats and Republicans, with a recent YouGov survey showing only 16 percent of Democrats see Russia as an ally or friendly, but 31 percent of Republicans categorized them that way, a significant jump since July 2016.

It remains to be seen if President-elect Trump and foreign policy elites so inclined (i.e., realists, nationalists, etc.) can head off a further deterioration in relations, but the public in both countries already feel winter is coming.

Wall Street Journal: Obama sanctions Russia, expels 35
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Majority of Americans – except for Republicans – back congressional inquiry; survey shows 30-year lows for Russian’s favorability
Gallup: The 2016 year in review at Gallup.com
FiveThirtyEight: All of a sudden, Russia has become a partisan issue

Monday, January 9, 2017

U.S. Asian Policy in Turmoil, Key Old Allies Uncertain on America’s Commitment

The first eight weeks of the transition to the Donald Trump administration has caused major upheaval in Barack Obama’s Asian foreign policy initiatives and turmoil with even longer-standing diplomatic and treaty understanding.
  • In general, Trump has been highly critical of China’s trade and currency policy.
  • Trump will abandon the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
  • Trump has said he would talk to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, took a call from Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, and is quoted as telling Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte his anti-drug dealers campaign is the right way.
  • He generally casts doubt on American treaty commitments and understanding related to national defense and nuclear deterrence. He has wondered aloud about the U.S. commitment to Japan and South Korea’s defense and speculated they possibly should obtain nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, residents of the region were asked if their country “was in a military conflict with another country, do you think the U.S. military would defend or not defend” them.

South Korea, among the most threatened nations in the Asian Rim, is also among the most confident the U.S. will defend them (70%). Philippine President Duterte has decided direct China negotiations about territorial disputes without U.S. involvement is a better strategy, but his constituents believe the U.S. would support them militarily (78%). Two of our allies most dependent on the U.S. deterent and military commitment – Japan (53%) and Taiwan (44%) – have populations clearly divided in their sense that the U.S. would defend them.

It will likely be considerable time before the turmoil subsides and a new equilibrium of relationships with the U.S. and China is established. Public opinion will only then come to reflect the new reality.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trump on Safe Ground Picking Military Leaders

Since the War on Terror began, the military has been on the top of the list of American institutions people have confidence in. Donald Trump selecting several military leaders for his cabinet is likely to be well-received.

More than two-fifths of Americans (41%) have a great deal of confidence in the military. That number was in the 20s throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It improved during the Clinton presidency and then jumped to 40 percent and stayed there from 2002 on (Gallup, June 2016).

Obviously, the question of the right person, right job and total number will be factors the public and Senate interrogators will weigh, but in general, the military has become one of the country’s most respected institutions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

PAPOR: Marijuana and Public Opinion Change

The Pacific Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (PAPOR), the nation’s primary association of the polling and survey research industry, including universities, media, government and campaign organizations and professionals, held its annual conference on December 15 and 16.

In one of the programs, public opinion related to marijuana was deconstruction in light of 57 percent of Californians voting to legalize recreational marijuana after defeating a similar proposal in 2010 by 46 percent, a 10-point shift in 6 years.

Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, took the lead on describing California Proposition 64.

I described recreational marijuana issues on the Colorado 2016 ballot, along with some new public opinion data, which points out legalization, which is popular, is different than expansion, which is increasingly controversial.

See PPIC blog: California’s marijuana majority

PAPOR – The 2016 Election: What Happened and What’s Next?

PAPOR, the Pacific Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, organized a panel at its recent annual conference on the 2016 election and what’s next for public opinion polling.

As the chair of the panel, I took on the trend of populism in Western democracies and the specific impacts of it on the 2016 election.

Also joining the panel was Jill Darling, the lead researcher in the controversial experimental poll conducted by the LA Times and USC, which consistently said Donald Trump would win the overall vote, and Sarah Cho, representing SurveyMonkey, which published dozens of polls with NBC and on its own during the election based on their massive database and non-probability methodology. Their last survey had Hillary Clinton winning by 6 points.

Both of these talks focused on the why of the election results, but also on the usefulness of the data they collected.

Finally, David Kordus, a researcher with the state’s best-known research think tank, the Public Policy Institute of California, pointed out that although Clinton swept the state, there were still 4.5 million Trump voters and that data from their numerous statewide polls provide an in-depth database on the Trump phenomena in some places outside the rust belt.

Links to their presentations will be available on the PAPOR website. I will be publishing blogs and articles on the election and polling challenges and practices.