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?

Friday, May 15, 2020

China, the U.S. and Global Leadership in the Pandemic

Is America a dysfunctional state? Can it recover a global role? Could the COVID-19 argument lead to conflict?

Two American foreign policy’s most urgent concerns today are the deteriorating U.S. relationship with China and the lack of global leadership. This Thursday, I will join Professor Suisheng (Sam) Zhao as we explore both of those topics, specifically the origin, causes and likely outcome of the growing confrontation with China and what should be the U.S.’s role in global leadership. Please join us at 3:00 pm (MT) on Zoom for the conversation.

Thursday, May 14, 2020
3:00 pm to 4:30 pm MST

Zoom Meeting Details
Meeting ID: 926-3541-6507

Unemployment Rate Nears Depression Level

My mother told me stories of her parents feeding people passing through Kansas and Colorado in the 1930s looking for work, many coming from the rail yards, and in the 2008-10 Great Recession, nearly everyone had some financial hard times. But, the latest unemployment rate recorded for the month of April was at 14.7 percent, well beyond the Great Recession and approaching the hardships of the 1930s when one out of every four workers was out of work.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 20.5 million workers lost their jobs in April, erasing the jobs gained since the last recession. And, another 6 million Americans were unemployed, but not counted due to not looking for work because they believed they would be called back to their previous jobs. The last time the unemployment rate was this high was at the end of the Great Depression (1940) and before the start of WWII.

Hospitality and Leisure Industry
Not surprising, the hardest hit sectors are the hospitality and leisure industry, professional services, retail and health totaling more than 13 of the 20 million out of work. The job types not affected are those that require physical presence that can’t be automated. Many are now considered essential, such as food workers, retail sales (grocery, convenience stores), hospital workers and home health aides, often lower paid with fewer benefits.

The unemployment is not spread equally among Americans. More women (15.5%) are unemployed than men (13%), and more Hispanic (18.2%) and black (16.3%) workers than white (13.6%). The unemployed mostly lack and/or only have high school degrees (38.5%). Only 8 percent of the 20 million unemployed are college graduates or higher.

Unemployment Claims
The weekly report of new unemployment claims continue to decline from the initial high of over 6 million per week to 3.2 million in the latest report. But, it is a sign that layoffs and furloughs continue at a high rate after 7 weeks from the start of the shutdown in the 3rd week of March.

The Wall Street Journal article, “Hope for Speedy Rebound Dim” (5-12-20) captures the growing consensus among economists and the business community that the recovery will be long and difficult. As described in previous blogs on the pandemic (The Twin Towers of Pain series), a host of economic, psychological and health factors will affect the recovery – especially the behavior of consumers, patients, students, office employees, sports participants and others as they assess the risk of various activities. I suggested a recovery in the shape of the letter “L” with a long slope up after the initial drop. The WSJ says some expect a NIKE logo-style “Swoosh” recovery is most likely. In either case, slow and cautious.

See  blogs:
The Twin Towers of Pain
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Two
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Three
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

Massive State Budget Deficits: Colorado and California

Both California and Colorado are preparing for massive state government budget deficits estimated today in the billions. California is anticipating a $54.3 billion shortfall. They are projecting budget deficits through 2024. Colorado’s $30 billion state budget is expected to have a $3 billion gap that the State Legislature will first address after Memorial Day. May 26 is the date, recently moved back, the legislature reconvenes for the first time since it adjourned mid-March due to COVID-19.

Each state has reserves it can use and some sources of funding easier access in terms of restrictions on use and less painful in their immediate impact on programs and employees. Also, there will be some federal funds newly available for specific use, such as COVID-19 costs. But still, there will be painful shifting of funds and program reductions in both states to meet balanced budget requirements. Unlike the federal government, they can’t print money.

In Colorado, sales tax that supplies municipal and some special district budgets and augments some county budgets is starting to drop. A $44 million, one- percent sales tax collection in the six-county Denver metro area was down approximately 8 percent in March, a month that experienced only a couple of weeks of the shutdown. The drop in April should be spectacular.

Gov. Jared Polis provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus | Andrew Kenney/CPR News
Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the public about California's response
to the coronavirus outbreak | Office of the Governor of California

Ron Brownstein on Donald Trump and the Colorado U.S. Senate Race in CNN

Sen. Cory Gardner and President Donald Trump
Political columnist Ron Brownstein wrote a long opinion piece describing the close alignment of U.S. Senate races and the fortunes of President Trump in the states. I was quoted pointing out that Cory Gardner is as good a candidate the Republicans have produced in Colorado since Bill Owens, but that he will still have a struggle running with Donald Trump.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper and VP Joe Biden
Republican incumbents Collins in Maine and Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado face the challenge of holding seats in states where Trump lost last time and now stands as an underdog again. Gardner's odds appear especially bleak given Trump's decline in the state. "Gardner is one of the best politicians the Republicans have produced in that state since" the 1990s, says Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver. "But I just don't think being the best Senate candidate the Republicans have produced and lots of money can deal with ... just what looks like [a] wave against Trump in terms of Colorado."

The latest Keating Group poll (Democratic pollster and consultants) reinforces the point that Trump and Gardner are running essentially together and are very behind the likely Democratic nominees, John Hickenlooper and Joe Biden. 

Although these numbers are unlikely to hold going into the fall, it is a very deep hole to climb out of.

Open for Business and Living With the Risk

As America and much of the world attempt to shift out of shelter-in-place rules, the number of deaths continues to rise. The U.S., at 71,260, is now nearly 50,000 more fatalities over its total on Easter of 22,000 (April 12). The Trump administration wants to shift the narrative from the Task Force, which President Trump has abandoned to focus on the economy, with him cheerleading the openings.

There has been a shift in the rank order of top nations in number of fatalities. Brazil is the first country south of the equator moving up rapidly in the number of deaths, most recently overtaking Germany, Iran and the Netherlands. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has resisted the lockdown, is famous for calling COVID-19 a “little flu.” The United Kingdom, another country slow to shelter-in-place, has now overtaken Spain and Italy as its losses approach 30,000. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also promoting the start of economic activity.

After six weeks or more of lockdowns in most developed countries, the pressure to restart lives and economics is irresistible, but the risk of a second wave of infections is great. U.S. medical authorities suggest the death total could climb to 130,000 by June if the public doesn’t adhere to good separation and hygiene rules. Masking or no masking is the new flashpoint between the risk adverse and the “let’s just live with it” crowd. In any event, the new normal will be very different than the recent past.

See blogs:
The Twin Towers of Pain
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Two
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Three
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

COVID-19 Deaths
The last week recorded 13,000 victims of COVID-19, up from 55,000 to 68,000. As states begin to open up retail businesses and segments of the public clamor to get back to activity, will there be a spike in cases and accompanying deaths? The public health community is watching closely, especially for the public’s willingness to maintain social distancing, hand washing, masking and other protective measures. Americans have shown compliance with the public health rules, but after a disruptive president, a hostile online subculture and intense economic hardships, the nearly seven-week shutdown is beginning to break down.

The Tension
Every governor is struggling to resolve the tension between the twin towers of pain, how to maintain the maximum safety level of the public, yet get the economy moving and reduce the hardship of unemployment.

The latest report of unemployment claims of 3.8 million shows that, while the rate of weekly increases has slowed, the total of 30.3 million out of work is extraordinary and historic. It represents more than 18 percent unemployment, a record not archived since the Great Depression.

Some people are returning to work, but economists predict the slow economy will produce a second wave of unemployment among white collar workers who were able to work at home, including government employees and workers in the oil and gas sector. The looming recession, loss of local government tax revenue and the oil bust will cause the next increase.

The president believes the recovery will be swift and fully realized by November for the election – a v-shaped curve. However, if consumers are slow to restart gathering and spending compared to the recent past, the course of the recovery may be a long and only a gradual slope upward.

Denver Post’s The Spot: Denver Judge Starts Rewriting Election Rules

Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper
The Democratic primary of June 30 was set after the April Democratic State Assembly as a two-person contest when the Assembly only nominated Andrew Romanoff, the state party activist and grassroots candidate, to face off against John Hickenlooper, the well-financed party establishment candidate who got on the ballot by petition.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, a Denver judge, Christopher Baumann, ruled additional petition-seeking candidates will be let on the ballot in spite of not having sufficient signatures because COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders interrupted their efforts. The judge received appeals for relief from three candidates and decided that two had sufficient signatures to qualify and one did not.

In an interview with Justin Wingerter in the Denver Post’s political newsletter, The Spot (5-1-20), I suggested his decision appeared subjective and arbitrary and believed it upsets a set of rules governing all the candidates, their supporters and the parties.

My quote:

“It really destabilizes a system that was designed in a certain way,” said Floyd Ciruli, a longtime pollster and political consultant. “Within a certain timeline you have to get a certain number of signatures and the assumption, frankly, is that most people won’t. It’s extremely hard to do.”

My point was that the system was designed to avoid a ballot crowded with self-motivated longshots. I specifically felt it hurt Andrew Romanoff who needs to win the anti-establishment, left-leaning vote. “Romanoff needs a head-to-head as much as possible.”

See The Buzz:
Denver Post: Coronavirus and Colorado Primary