Search This Blog

Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Blue and and the Gray

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  The 2017 tax legislation is greatingly expand the deficit, which puts social security and Medicare at risk.

Like a son who murders both his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he is an orphan, Senator Mitch McConnell is claiming that exploding budget deficits caused by Republican tax cuts need to be cured by cutting Social Security and Medicare. Can you say “chutzpah”?
With less than three weeks left until the midterms, McConnell may have just handed the Democrats the economic argument they had been longing for at the worst possible moment for the Republicans. According to the latest projections, the odds of Republicans retaining control of the House are fading. The number crunchers now peg the likelihood of a House controlled by Democrats at better than 83 percent.
As to be expected, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee seized on McConnell’s comments, and the pile on began. Senator Ron Wyden weighed in: “Here’s what this means: SOCIAL SECURITY is on the ballot. MEDICARE is on the ballot. MEDICAID is on the ballot.” Not to be outdone, Warren gave a campaign lesson of her own: “Step 1: GOP explodes the deficit with $1.5 trillion in tax giveaways to wealthy donors. Step 2: GOP uses the deficit they created as an excuse to slash Social Security and Medicare.” As a matter of fact, this time she was persuasive.
If the tax cuts had trouble gaining traction with the public before McConnell’s pronouncement, they will face an even tougher slog now. Early on, the cuts were the bane of wealthy blue America as the legislation effectively ended the state and local tax deduction upon which many Californians and New Yorkers turned to for relief. Now the rest of the country can detest them as well and look forward to Election Day.
Yusra Murad at Morning Consult:
Last week, President Donald Trump published an op-ed in USA Today titled “Democrats ‘Medicare for All’ plan will demolish promises to seniors,” drawing attention to the midterm battle at the convergence of health policy and a key bloc of extremely motivated voters: seniors.
The president’s column may also shed light on concern among Republicans about losing their status as advocates for older Americans: an Oct. 11-14 Morning Consult/Politico survey finds Democrats hold a 19-point advantage over Republicans among the group of voters who prioritize seniors’ issues such as Medicare and Social Security.
Seniors’ issue voters, the majority of whom are over 65, retired and white, are among the most motivated voters heading into a decisive midterm election in which health care promises to be a leading issue.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Trump Says He Won't Be to Blame for a Loss in the House

From AP:
AP: So my question is, if Republicans were to lose control of the House on November 6th — or a couple of days later depending on how long it takes to count the votes — do you believe you bear some responsibility for that?
Trump: No, I think I’m helping people. Look, I’m 48 and 1 in the primaries, and actually it’s much higher than that because I endorsed a lot of people that were successful that people don’t even talk about. But many of those 48, as you know, were people that had no chance, in some cases. We look at Florida, you look at Donovan in Staten Island. He was losing by 10 points, I endorsed him and he won. I could give you a long list of names. Look at Georgia governor of Georgia. And many, many races. And I will say that we have a very big impact. I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact. They would say that in the old days that if you got the support of a president or if you’ve got the support of somebody it would be nice to have, but it meant nothing, zero. Like literally zero. Some of the people I’ve endorsed have gone up 40 and 50 points just on the endorsement.
AP: Eight years ago, Barack Obama said he got shellacked, so you know, taking the outcome of the election as a referendum on himself.
Trump: So I think we’re going to do well. Look, it feels to me very much like ’16. I was going out and making speeches and I was getting tens of thousands of people. And I was getting literally tens of thousands of people, also, more than Hillary in the same location. And I said, ‘Why am I going to lose?’ I mean, I go out, I make a speech like I have, you know, 25 times more people than she gets. And I didn’t need Beyonce to get them. I didn’t have to have, you know, entertainment and entertainers to get them. And then they’d all leave before she made the speech after the entertainer was finished. Honestly, it feels very much like it did in ’16.
Now, I’m not sure that that’s right. And I’m not running. I mean, there are many people that have said to me, ‘Sir, I will never ever,’ you on the trail when I’m talking to people backstage etcetera, ‘I will never ever go and vote in the midterms because you’re not running and I don’t think you like Congress.’ Well, I do like Congress because I think, and when I say Congress I like the Republicans that support me in Congress. We’ve had tremendous support. I mean, we’ve got the taxes with 100 percent Republican votes and we don’t really have much of a majority. You know when you say majority, I always say, ‘If somebody has a cold, we have to delay the vote.’ So I get along, you know, very ... people have no idea how low how well I get along with Republicans in Congress. I get along well with a lot of the Democrats in Congress, but I’ll never get their vote.

Dems Swamping House Republicans in Campaign Money

Elena Schneider writes at Politico that 92 Democratic challengers outraised House GOP incumbents in the third quarter.
There is no historical precedent for financing this broad and deep for congressional challengers. About half of the 92 GOP incumbents are protecting battleground districts, and some of them posted personal-record fundraising totals in the third quarter of 2018 — but they still found themselves swamped by a combination of incandescent online fundraising for Democrats and bigger donors spreading money to challengers around the country, as 61 Democrats raised over $1 million. Fifty-one House Republicans were outraised at least 2-to-1, according to POLITICO’s analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings, while 71 were outspent by their challenger. Only five Democratic House incumbents were outraised.
Meanwhile, 33 GOP representatives have less cash on hand than their Democratic challengers, while no Democratic members lag their Republican opponents in cash. That cash on hand gap has been a particularly dire historical indicator: In the last four elections, two-thirds of the House incumbents who ended September with less cash to spend than their opponents lost their seats weeks later.
Typically, only a handful of incumbents find themselves in that position each year. But a high number of cash-swamped Democratic incumbents heralded the Republican wave election in 2010. That year, 18 House Democrats finished the third quarter with less cash on hand than opponents, and 10 went on to lose their seats weeks later.
The financial picture is even worse for the GOP in open districts, where Democrats lead Republicans in both fundraising and cash on hand in two-dozen contested seats, after an unusually high number of retirements before this election.
Another Republican consultant, granted anonymity to speak candidly, put it more bluntly: “We’re getting our asses kicked. Nothing else to say.”
At the Los Angeles Times, Christine Mai-Duc reports :
This year’s midterm election is already the most expensive ever, with the total raised by House candidates nationwide surpassing $1 billion weeks before the Nov. 6 election. In California, with at least seven tightly contested races that could decide control of the House, Democrats seeking to win seats in areas long held by Republicans are raising staggering amounts of money.

In those seven races, Democrats raised $21.6 million over the last three months ending Sept. 30; Republicans took in just $4.2 million in aggregate.

The Republican candidates also had smaller cash reserves, with an average of about $652,000 at the end of the quarter. Their Democratic opponents, all of them running for office for the first time, had on average more than $1.2 million in the bank.
All but three of California’s 12 Republican House incumbents running for reelection were out-raised by their competitors in the third quarter. Only Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Reps. Paul Cook of Yucca Valley and Ken Calvert of Corona raised more than their rivals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

GOP Cavalry: F Troop

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Kenneth P. Vogel and Rachel Shorey at NYT:
Democratic candidates are outpacing the fund-raising of their Republican rivals in key congressional races, but huge checks from conservatives assured that their side will remain financially competitive in the weeks before next month’s midterms.
In an election season that appears likely to shatter midterm fund-raising records, Democrats outraised their Republican opponents in 32 of the closest 45 House races by a total margin of $154 million to $108 million since November 2016, according to an analysis of reports filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission. Even in the 13 targeted races in which Republicans outraised their Democratic rivals, the margin was a less gaping $41 million to $31 million.
The breakneck Democratic campaign fund-raising, much of which was fueled by donors giving small sums online, has boosted the confidence of party leaders. They believe the financial advantage will give them the resources they need to harness an enthusiasm gap and capitalize on enmity for President Trump headed into Election Day.
Republican super PACs like the Congressional Leadership Fund are using the cash to try to offset the Democratic advantages in campaign fund-raising by spending money on voter mobilization and other tasks traditionally handled by campaigns, instead of the television ads on which such groups traditionally spent the majority of their cash.
“That’s an experiment in process, and the jury is still out on whether that can be successful,” said Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who represents Republican campaigns, including the 2016 presidential bid of the former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “For outside money to be of equal value to campaign money, they’ve got to be effective at turning people out, because people aren’t watching TV anymore.
Dan Merica and David Wright at CNN:
Federal law mandates that political campaigns receive discounted rates for television ads, making money spent by a candidate far more efficient than that given to a super PAC, which has to pay the full rate to run ads. That means that in some districts, groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund need to spend four times as many ads as a Democratic candidate in order to air the same number of ads.
One reason for the more spread out fundraising numbers for Democrats stems from the continued rise of ActBlue, a non-profit organization that helps Democrats raise money from small dollar donors across the country. The platform, which give millions of donors the option to store their information on the platform, allows each of those users to donate money to 14,000 campaigns and nonprofits with Amazon-like efficiency, dispersing money in just one-click.
This has not only led candidates to prioritize small dollar donors by focusing on creating viral moments that boost national recognition and fundraising, but it gives candidates without deep fundraising networks -- mostly those running for the first time -- the ability to raise enough money to keep up with usually well-funded incumbents.
Steve Peoples at AP:
GOP operatives connected to several vulnerable candidates complain that the committee responsible for electing House Republicans has failed to deliver on its promise to invest $62 million in political advertising across 11 states this fall, a promise detailed in a September memo that declared, “The cavalry is coming.”
The operatives spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution; vulnerable Republican candidates still hope to receive additional financial support over the three weeks before Election Day.
But if the cavalry is coming, it’s not coming for everyone.
Already, the Republican operatives and spending patterns by both sides indicate GOP defeat in as many as a dozen House races — halfway to the number Democrats need to seize the House majority this fall. Dozens more seats are in play.
“We’re starting to hone in on what are the races we can actually win. Sometime that requires a hard conversation,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fundraising chief, Spencer Zwick.
Even after a burst of enthusiasm that helped Republican Senate candidates in several states following the recent Supreme Court debate, some Republicans closely following the more complicated House battlefield fear the party may have already lost Congress’ lower chamber. With 22 days to go, they’re working furiously in an expanding political battlefield to limit their losses.
Fundraising challenges make it harder.
As of Friday, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent or reserved $44.8 million of television advertising in competitive House races since the end of July, according to spending records obtained by The Associated Press. That’s significantly less than the $62 million promised in last month’s memo.

Low-Hanging Fruit for Democratic: Latino Turnout

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the demographics of the 2016 election

Antonio Flores and Mark Hugo Lopez at Pew:
More than 29 million Latinos are eligible to vote nationwide in 2018, making up 12.8% of all eligible voters – both new highs, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.
The pool of eligible Hispanic voters has steadily grown in recent years. Between 2014 and 2018, an additional 4 million Hispanics became eligible voters (U.S. citizens ages 18 and older). Much of this growth has been driven by young U.S.-born Hispanics coming of age. Since 2014, around 3 millionhave turned 18. Other sources of growth include Hispanic immigrant naturalizations – among Mexicans alone, 423,000 became U.S. citizens from 2014 to 2017 – as well as residents of Puerto Rico moving to one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, especially Florida.
In 2014, the turnout rate among Latino eligible voters dropped to a record low of 27.0%. (White and Asian eligible voters also had record-low turnout rates.) Despite this, a record 6.8 million Latinos voted.

 The number of Hispanic eligible voters has grown, while midterm election voting has remained flat

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Tax Cut was a Political Dud

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax issue in the 2016 campaign.  

With the midterm elections less than a month away and Republicans fighting to retain control of both houses of Congress, more Americans continue to disapprove than approve of last year's sweeping tax overhaul bill signed into law by President Donald Trump, 46% to 39%. Americans' approval of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which included tax cuts for individuals and businesses, is unchanged from the previous reading seven months ago but is slightly higher than measures prior to and immediately after its passage.

Sahil Kapur and John McCormick at Bloomberg:
 A deep-pocketed Republican group that began the year vowing to focus on the tax overhaul has mentioned the GOP’s signature legislative achievement in just a fraction of its TV ads in 2018, a signal that the issue hasn’t been the political boon party leaders hoped it would be.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super-political action committee that’s the largest-spending political group this cycle, has put out 31,220 broadcast spots in the first nine months of 2018, just 17.3 percent of which referred to the tax law, according data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political advertising.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ex-Family Values

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race

In an Arizona House race, the incumbent's siblings are endorsing his opponent.

In an Ohio Senate race, the incumbent's ex-wife is sticking up for him.

Second Assignment for Structured Independent Study

Answer one of the following:
  1. Propose and defend one reform of federal campaign finance law. Be specific about what goals you are trying to achieve. What would opponents of the proposal say? What practical and political obstacles stand in the way?  In your answer, pay careful attention to Mutch's analysis.  If you want to write about dark money, please note an important recent court case.
  2. Mutch phrases his subheads in the form of questions.  Pick one.  If you disagree with his answer, explain why.  If you agree, explain how events since the 2016 election confirm his analysis.
  3. Pick a super PAC.  Explain its finances, strategy and tactics in the 2018 campaign. Is it circumventing rules against coordination with party organizations and candidates?  If so, how?  (See Mutch, ch.6.)
  • Essays should be typed (12-point), double-spaced, and between five and six pages long. I will not read past the sixth page. 
  • Email me your papers as Word documents, not pdfs.
  • Cite your sources. Use Turabian/Chicago endnotes. 
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you. 
  • DEADLINE:  You pick!  If you want to finish up this assignment earlier so that you can focus on the research paper, you can go for November 4.  If you want more time to take the 2018 election into account, go for November 11.  Decide among yourselves and let me know.

Democratic Money Advantage

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Alex Isenstadt at Politico:
Since the end of July, Republican candidates in the 70 most contested races have reserved $60 million in TV ads, compared to $109 million for Democratic hopefuls, according to figures compiled by media trackers and reviewed by POLITICO. The disparity is almost certain to grow, as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes good on plans to spend nearly $80 million to help Democrats flip the House.

“From Democrat candidates to outside groups, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Brian Walsh, president of the pro-Trump America First Action super PAC. “They are dumping in cash by the truckload.”
 “We’re raising more money than we usually do on our side, and they’re raising more than they ever do and it’s because of Trump," [Charlie] Black said. "He’s the great motivator.”
Meanwhile, a blame game is underway. Many Republican lawmakers and strategists are frustrated with the NRCC over its failure to raise more money, they said in interviews. The committee has reserved $46 million on the TV airwaves, compared to $64 million by their Democratic counterpart. A committee spokesman said the NRCC has eclipsed its fundraising record by $20 million this election cycle.
Critics also contend that the House GOP campaign arm has miscalculated by continuing to spend on behalf of Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Northern Virginia Republican who faces an uphill path to reelection. The committee has reserved nearly $5 million in the pricey Washington, D.C. media market — resources, some argue, that could be used to buttress other lawmakers with more realistic odds of winning.
Other senior party officials, however, say fault lies with Congressional Leadership Fund. They argue that the group erred by spending millions of dollars on TV ads well before the fall campaign season kicked into gear, when voters weren't as tuned in.

Friday, October 12, 2018


In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

House Majority PAC is up against... Steve Knight (CA25)

Young Kim (CA39)

Mimi Walters  (CA45)

; /

 Comrade Rohrabacher (CA48)

Diane Harkey (CA49)

GOP Triage: Shooting the Wounded

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race

Alexander Burns at NYT:
As they brace for losses in the House of Representatives, Republican Party leaders are racing to reinforce their candidates in about two-dozen districts, trying to create a barricade around their imperiled majority. They are pouring money and effort mainly into moderate suburban areas, like Mr. Sessions’s seat, that they see as critical to holding the chamber by even a one-seat margin. And they have begun to pull millions of dollars away from Republican candidates who have fallen substantially behind in once-
competitive races.


There are between 60 and 70 Republican-held districts that are being seriously contested, and Democrats, boosted by strong fund-raising, have been expanding their television advertising in conservative-leaning districts in an effort to stretch Republicans thin. National polls have shown most voters favor a Democratic-led House over a Republican one, though the Democrats’ lead has varied.
In a tactical retreat, Republican groups have already withdrawn some or all funding from a few embattled incumbents, mainly in suburbs where President Trump is unpopular, including Representatives Kevin Yoder of Kansas, Mike Coffman of Colorado and Mike Bishop of Michigan. They have abandoned more than half a dozen seats where Republican lawmakers are not running for re-election. On Wednesday they cut loose the Tucson, Ariz.-based seat of Representative Martha McSally, who left to run for Senate.
 Party strategists said several other incumbents must recover quickly or risk losing funding, including Representatives Peter Roskam of Illinois and Mimi Walters of California, who represent white-collar suburbs near Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively.
[DCCC chair Ben] Luján wryly pointed to Mr. Sessions, 63, as an example of Republican distress, noting that the Republican candidate had suggested last year he would not need help from the national party. Now, Mr. Luján said, Mr. [Pete] Sessions is “calling the cavalry home to see if they can defend that seat” against Colin Allred, his Democratic challenger.
Mr. Sessions, a House committee chairman, is in a close race with Mr. Allred, 35, a civil rights lawyer whom Republicans have sought to brand as a liberal. A poll conducted by The Times and Siena College found the two effectively tied, and both parties are saturating the district with advertising.

SwingLeft, a hybrid PAC and super PAC, has brought out a big gun for Allred:  Samuel L. Jackson.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

GOP Control

At WP, Aaron Blake notes that Kavanaugh's confirmation solidifies the GOP hold on the Supreme Court, which in turn bolsters the party's historic grip on American government.
Republicans control 33 out of 50 governor’s seats, which is just one shy of the record set briefly last year. That happened after West Virginia’s Jim Justice switched to the GOP but before Republicans lost in New Jersey. Before the last few years, the GOP had never held more than 32 seats.
The GOP also holds complete control of the governor’s seat and the state legislature in 25 states (compared to eight for Democrats). That’s also just one off the record, set briefly last year for the same reasons as above. Before this decade, the GOP had never held more than two dozen.
The GOP controlled 4,104 out of 7,383 state legislative seats as of July, which was just a few dozen seats off its record, also set in recent years.
In Washington, the GOP’s House majority currently includes 235 seats, but it stood at 241 before some election-year resignations. That was just five seats off the post-World War II high of 246, set in the late 1940s and matched early this decade.
Republicans' narrow 51-49 Senate majority is not, of course, near a record. But when you combine it with the GOP’s control of the House and the presidency, it gave the GOP unified control of policymaking in Washington for just the fourth Congress since the Great Depression.
And that’s the point here. Any one of these numbers may not be a record, but the GOP has not had such a favorable overall picture, across all these levers of power at the same time since at least the 1930 election, when the Depression swept Democrats into power. At the end of the 1920s, Republicans controlled the presidency, 267 House seats, 56 Senate seats (out of 96 overall at the time) and 29 out of 48 governorships.
 At State Legislatures,Tim Storey and Wendy Underhill write:
Going into the election, Republicans rule the legislative roost, with 4,107 of the nation’s 7,383 legislators from the GOP. That means 56 percent of legislators and 66 percent of legislative chambers (65 of 98) are Republican. (Nebraska is excluded from the tally because its members are elected to only one chamber on a nonpartisan basis.) Democrats control 31. Two chambers have tied membership, the Connecticut and Minnesota senates.
In terms of total legislative control—when a single party holds both chambers—Republicans outnumber Democrats 31 to 14, with four states split: Connecticut and Minnesota because of tied senates, and Colorado and Maine, where Republicans control the senates and Democrats have the houses

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Conflict and Kavanaugh

In Defying the Odds, we discuss polarization in the 2016 election.

Steve Bannon, the president’s former senior adviser, framed the narrative in near-Manichean terms: “The fight for Judge Kavanaugh became a proxy fight for Trump’s presidency — the same howling mob intends to stop his agenda if they win in November. That display of the anarchy to come is what has galvanised and united the right, the grassroots and the establishment in a final drive to victory.” So much for Mr Bannon’s antipathy for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Yet a majority of Americans continue to oppose Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Not surprisingly, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat and ranking member of the Senate finance committee saw things very differently from Mr Bannon: “This saga confirmed yet again that we as a society have made little progress toward treating women . . . We can and must do better.” Or maybe not.

If any lesson will be drawn from this latest tussle it is that hyper-partisanship is an almost indelible feature of American politics.

Back in the day, Hamilton Fish, a former New York governor and congressman, served as President Ulysses S Grant’s secretary of state. As the general of the Union army under Lincoln, Grant had defeated the Confederacy.

Decades later, the secretary of state’s great-grandson would return to Congress. There, he represented the same constituents as Mr Faso does today. Hamilton Fish Jr, however, also reached across the aisle, and voted to impeach former president Richard Nixon.

That world is gone. Instead, the embers of the civil war continue to glow red hot.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Update on Fake News

From the Knight Foundation:
Using tools and mapping methods from Graphika, a social media int­elligence firm, we study more than 10 million tweets from 700,000 Twitter accounts that linked to more than 600 fake and conspiracy news outlets. Crucially, we study fake and conspiracy news both before and after the election, allowing us to measure how the fake news ecosystem has evolved since November 2016.
Consistent with other research, we find more than 6.6 million tweets linking to fake and conspiracy news publishers in the month before the 2016 election. Yet disinformation continues to be a substantial problem postelection, with 4.0 million tweets linking to fake and conspiracy news publishers found in a 30-day period from mid-March to mid-April 2017. Contrary to claims that fake news is a game of “whack-a-mole,” more than 80 percent of the disinformation accounts in our election maps are still active as this report goes to press. These accounts continue to publish more than a million tweets in a typical day.
Sixty-five percent of fake and conspiracy news links during the election period went to just the 10 largest sites, a statistic unchanged six months later. The top 50 fake news sites received 89 percent of links during the election and (coincidentally)89 percent in the 30-day period five months later. Critically—and contrary to some previous reports—these top fake and conspiracy news outlets on Twitter are largely stable. Nine of the top 10 fake news sites during the month before the election were still in or near the top 10 six months later.
Our study finds much more fake news activity than several recent studies, largely because it examines a larger corpus of fake and conspiracy news sites. Fake and conspiracy news sites received about 13 percent as many Twitter links as a comparison set of national news outlets did, and 37 percent as many as a set of regional newspapers.
Machine learning models estimate that 33 percent of the 100 most-followed accounts in our postelection map—and 63 percent of a random sample of all accounts— are “bots,” or automated accounts. Because roughly 15 percent of accounts in the postelection map have since been suspended, the true proportion of automated accounts may have exceeded 70 percent.
In both the election-eve and postelection maps, our methods identify an ultra-dense core of heavily followed accounts that repeatedly link to fake or conspiracy news sites. Sites in the core are typically not the highest-volume tweeters of fake news. However, the popularity of these accounts, and heavy co-followership among top accounts, means that fake news stories that reach the core (or start there) are likely to spread widely. The pre-election fake news network is one of the densest Graphika has ever analyzed, necessitating unusual map drawing procedures.
While a large majority of fake news came from supposedly pro-Republican and pro-Donald Trump accounts in the month before the election, smaller but still substantial amounts of fake news were passed on by liberal or Democratic-identified accounts. After the election period, though, left-leaning fake news decreased much more than right-leaning fake news.
In the pre-election map, clusters of accounts affiliated with Russia serve a broker- age role, serving as a cultural and political bridge between liberal U.S. accounts and European far-right accounts. Postelection, however, accounts in the Russia cluster have become more peripheral, while the International Conspiracy | Activist cluster (which similarly spreads pro-Russia content) is spread broadly through the map. This structure suggests that international conspiracy-focused accounts have become more important as brokers of fake news postelection.
Twitter has claimed repeatedly that it has cracked down on automated accounts that spread fake news and engage in “spammy behavior.” Yet of the 100 accounts that were most active in spreading fake news in the months before the election—the large majority clearly engaged in “spammy behavior” that violates Twitter’s rules— more than 90 were still active as of spring 2018. Overall, 89 percent of accounts in our fake and conspiracy news map remained active as of mid-April 2018. The persistence of so many easily identified abusive accounts is difficult to square with any effective crackdown.
Of the more than 2,700 IRA accounts named publicly as of this writing, 65 are included in at least one of our maps. The IRA accounts in our maps include several accounts that were widely quoted in U.S. media, such as @WarfareWW, @TEN_GOP and @Jenn_Abrams. Most of the publicly known IRA accounts are filtered from our map because of relatively few followers and little measurable influence. Plenty of other accounts, though, do tweet in lockstep with the Kremlin’s message, including hundreds of accounts with more followers than top IRA trolls.
Most news stories on Twitter follow a statistically regular pattern: The rate of new links ramps up quickly (but not instantly), peaks in an hour or two, and then decays in an exponential, statistically regular fashion. But many fake news stories do not follow this nearly universal pattern. Organized blocks of accounts appear to coordinate to extend the life cycle of selected news stories and hashtags. Segments of our maps associated with Russian propaganda are key participants in these campaigns, and many of these efforts align strongly with Russian goals and interests.
Public discussion has often vacillated between portraying fake news as an organic, small-scale phenomenon driven by ad dollars, and characterizing it as the product of massive coordinated efforts by state actors. Our data tell a more complicated story, in which some narratives are carefully crafted, but others are amplified because they fit with the agenda of those running these campaigns. This is the information warfare equivalent of giving air cover to a rebel group, using outside technology and resources to augment otherwise-weak organic efforts.
The Real Strategy was referenced by more than 700,000 tweets in our election sample, the second-most linked fake or conspiracy news outlet overall. After being tied to a large-scale harassment campaign and the “Pizzagate” falsehood, though, The Real Strategy’s Twitter account was deleted, it was blacklisted on online forums such as Reddit, and a network of supportive bot accounts was partially disrupted. The postelection sample showed only 1,534 tweets to The Real Strategy, a drop of 99.8 percent. This example suggests that aggressive action against fake news outlets can be effective at containing the spread of fake news.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Poll Numbers: Blue House, Blue and Red Stripes in Senate

Likely voters who live in 69 battleground House districts across the country narrowly prefer Democratic candidates, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School survey, a potentially worrying sign for Republicans given that the overwhelming percentage of these districts are currently in GOP hands.
With just a month to the midterm elections and with early voting set to begin in many states, the new poll highlights the challenge for Republicans as they seek to maintain their House majority at a time when President Trump’s approval rating remains below 50 percent despite sustained economic growth, low unemployment and a rising stock market.
The survey of 2,672 likely voters by The Post and the Schar School at George Mason University shows that likely voters in these districts favor Democrats by a slight margin: 50 percent prefer the Democratic nominee and 46 percent prefer the Republican. By way of comparison, in 2016 these same districts favored Republican candidates over Democratic ones by 15 percentage points, 56 percent to 41 percent.
The battle for Senate control finds Democrats trying to mount upset challenges in a string of typically Republican states, and this round of Battleground Tracker polls shows them having at best mixed results so far. In the closely watched race in Texas, incumbent Republican Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke, at six points among likely voters, 50-44.

In Arizona — an open seat in a state that went for President Trump in 2016 — Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has a slight edge over Republican Martha McSally, 47-44.

Tennessee finds Republican Marsha Blackburn with an eight-point lead over Democrat Phil Bredesen, 50-42. Bredesen is a former governor who, having won statewide office before, has given Democrats hope of flipping a red state that Mr. Trump won easily.

Typically blue New Jersey finds Republicans trying to mount an upset of their own against incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez, but Menendez has a sizable 49-39 advantage over Republican challenger Bob Hugin.

These Senate races have been nationalized: By more than two to one, registered voters say national issues outweigh local ones, and voters in all the states surveyed say their vote for the Senate is mainly about the direction of the country over a list of other factors. Across the states, large majorities of each candidate's voters say their vote is explicitly to put either the Democrats or Republicans nationally in control of the Senate. Supporters of each party are about equally likely to say they'll turn out, and more than two-thirds of each describe themselves as very enthusiastic about doing so. There is a bit of difference in Texas, where Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they'll "definitely" vote, which is helping to bolster Cruz.

Heitkamp Explains Her Vote Against Kavanaugh

In Defying the Odds, we discuss how the issue of Supreme Court nominations affected the 2016 race.  The Senate narrowly confirmed Kavanaugh, who immediately took the oath.  Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted no, which may hurt her reelection chances in a conservative state.  She explains her vote in a new spot:


Wall Street Money Goes Blue

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

Shane Goldmacher at NYT:
In interviews with two dozen Wall Street executives, fund-raisers, donors and those who raise money from them, Democrats described an extraordinary level of investment and excitement from the finance sector. And many Republicans fretted about a softening of donor enthusiasm — Mr. Short warned of “complacency” — in what has long been one of the party’s most critical and reliable sources of campaign cash.
The numbers are stark.
Four years ago, in the last congressional midterm, Republican incumbents and candidates outraised Democratic counterparts by more than $50 million in direct donations from the broader finance, insurance and real estate industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And in 2016 and 2012, Republicans outraised Democrats from that group by nearly $50 million and $100 million respectively, the data show. This year, Democrats held a narrow $5 million advantage through the middle of the year.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Kavanaugh In

In Defying the Odds, we discuss how the issue of Supreme Court nominations affected the 2016 race.  The Senate narrowly confirmed Kavanaugh, who immediately took the oath.

A post-Kavanaugh conservative majority could be vulnerable to a political backlash for a less-appreciated reason. Both Kavanaugh, if confirmed, and Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee to the court, can be considered “minority” justices — judges who were nominated to the Supreme Court by a president who lost the popular vote and would be confirmed by senators representing a minority of Americans.
Of course, the framers designed the court to be “counter-majoritarian,” meaning that it often sides with individuals or principles over popular majorities. However, the court derives some democratic legitimacy from each justice being nominated by an elected president and confirmed by a majority of elected senators. Just this week White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Democrats of “trying to undercut the voice of the American people when they elected Donald Trump.”

But the breadth of support that Kavanaugh and Gorsuch enjoy is uniquely narrow. First, Trump famously lost the popular vote. In addition, because each state gets two votes in the Senate, regardless of population, the confirmation process overweighs the views of voters in small states, where Republicans tend to dominate. As a result, when the Senate confirms Kavanaugh with support from every Republican present plus one Democrat (which futures markets consider the most likely outcome), a majority of Americans will have had their Senate representatives oppose both Trump nominees.
This scenario is projected in the figure below, which illustrates that no other nominee since 1981 has been put forward by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by votes from senators representing a minority of the American public. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would be outliers in the contemporary era. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Original Gangsters

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's character and record of dishonesty.

Jonathan Swan at Axios:
Sources in Trumpworld who spent their careers attacking McConnell as a weak and corrupt totem of the “establishment” are now praising him for ramming through Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation without flinching.
  • “A straight-up gangster,” said one source who had previously dedicated a significant amount of time to trying to destroy McConnell.
It makes sense that someone in Trumpworld would use "gangster" as a compliment.  Trump has long had extensive Mafia connections. 

And a mob boss likely served as a role model of sorts.   In the 1970s, when Trump was coming of age in New York, mob boss Joe Colombo became a celebrity by brazenly denying that he was a mob boss, indeed denying that the Mafia even existed.  Not only did he proudly declare such falsehoods, but he also mobilized white ethnic resentment by launching the Italian American Civil Rights League, claiming that people like him were the real victims of discrimination.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bizarro Campaign Strategy

In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race.  Campaign finance is a big part of the story.

Rebecca Robbins at STAT:
In 26 years in Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo has always won reelection by at least 20 points. The Democrat is virtually certain to win big once again in November, buoyed largely by voters in her wealthy Silicon Valley district who do not struggle to pay for their prescription drugs.

So why is a political action committee focused on high drug prices bothering to sink $500,000 into attack ads against her?
The ad blitz from Patients for Affordable Drugs highlights the unorthodox tack the group is taking in the 2018 midterm elections: intervening in races in which there is no hope of altering the outcome.

Of the nine congressional and gubernatorial races in which P4AD has supported or opposed candidates to date, just three or four are competitive, according to STAT’s analysis of election forecasts from the website FiveThirtyEight.
And of the at least $8 million the group has spent in total, as much as $6 million has gone to the races in which the outcome has long been determined.
P4AD, which is funded mainly by the billionaire Houston couple John and Laura Arnold, says that where its money can’t help decide a race, it can still send a message: that politicians running campaigns funded by drug companies will face retribution. But that, too, is a dubious strategy, experts say.
If the goal is to make politicians hesitate before accepting a check, “pharma’s not at the stage of the NRA,” said Bob Blendon, a Harvard professor who studies the politics of health care. “It’s going to be years before somebody runs in this state or that with a major biotech presence [and says] they’re not going to accept [drug industry] funding. I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal.”