The role of social media in the spread of hate speech

Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 4.16.47 AM

Remembering the victims in New Zealand. (Wikipedia photo by “Natecull”)

Following the murder of 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a white supremacist from Australis, China Radio International devoted its weekly news round-up on March 22 to issues raised by the massacre of Muslims during services at two mosques. The discussion focused on the role of social media in the spread of hate speech and the power of the internet to radicalize the disaffected around the world.

Here are my answers to a series of questions posed by the hosts:

Q: Lots of tough questions are being asked about the role of social media in the wake of the horrific shooting at two New Zealand mosques. First of all, do you think this is an attack made by and for the internet?

A: Yes, this is a modern terrorist attack using the true definition of terror. It is designed to create fear and anxiety in the global public by making people think such mass murder and mayhem can happen anywhere. If it happened in New Zealand, is my own city safe?

The gunman was introduced to white supremacy hate material on the internet and was radicalized via the internet and social media. He chose New Zealand because it was a soft target and because he thought an attack there would have maximum impact.

Q: As the gunman decided he was going to use his camera as he began this terrible massacre, was there anything in social media to stop him?

A: Facebook live and other live-streaming sites cannot be blocked in advance. The only way it could have been stopped in advance is if his account had been suspended. After the attack was underway, police called Facebook and the live-streaming was stopped. But millions of video clips of the massacre had been shared. Such reactive measures don’t solve the problem.

Q: We know that underneath it all is white nationalism or white supremacy, a kind of racism that has always existed. What’s so special about the social media’s role in this?

A: Social media makes it easy for haters or all political ideologies to meet like-minded people and to reinforce their worst tendencies. Radicalization, whether it is Islamic extremism, Hindu extremism or white Christian supremacists, is easier on the internet. While government around the world, from the U.S. to Russia to China, have focused on potential Islamic terrorist threats, there has been little attention from governments on white supremacists in the U.S., Europe and the European colonial diaspora.

Q: What role is social media playing in the spread of extremism in today’s world?

A: Social media makes it easier to target fellow haters and share material with them. The problem is exacerbated by the algorithms of such platforms as Facebook and YouTube that suggest posts similar to the ones you are reading. Facebook and YouTube make money from the advertising, so they have little incentive to act as responsible corporate citizens. As a result, white supremacists can view one hate-inspiring video on YouTube, and YouTube abets their radicalization by suggesting other videos. I did research on anti-Jewish videos on YouTube and discovered how the YouTube algorithm opens door after door with Russian anti-Semitic videos and Middle Eastern and North African anti-Jewish diatribes.

Q: Association of New Zealand Advertisers and Commercial Communications Council said in a statement, quote “The event in Christchurch raise the question, if the site owners can target consumers with advertising in microseconds, why can’t the same technology be applied to prevent this kind of content being streamed live?” How do social media platforms like Facebook take down videos? Is it that they could not stop this or did not stop it?

A: This sharing of hate can be combatted. It requires two things. Social media platforms must spend more money and hire more humans to monitor hate speech and take down posts and videos that foment radicalization. And the platforms must be more aggressive at fighting white supremacists. Thus far, they are not nearly as committed to fight Christian extremists as they are Muslim extremists. Both are deadly and anti-social.

Q: Critics of the companies say that Facebook and YouTube have not done enough to address the white supremacist groups on their platforms. There was a time when ISIS videos and ISIS content and propaganda were proliferating on all of these platforms. They have been quite successful at tamping down on that content and making it far less a problem. Critics cite this as proof that the problem is well within the power of the companies. It’s just that they haven’t prioritized the problem of white supremacist content. Do you think that’s really the case? And why is that?

A: White nationalists in the U.S. have launched a public relations campaign, aided and abetted by Donald Trump, accusing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube of being liberal, anti-conservative and anti-Christian. One far-right American congressman recently sued Twitter for $250 million and accused it of anti-Republican and anti-conservative bias. The platforms must ignore these critics and their misdirection attempts and be as aggressive in combatting white supremacists as they are Islamic radicals. White nationalists have been responsible for far more deaths in the U.S. — of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, both white and black — than Islamic terrorists are. As you noted, it can be done. They are just not doing it effectively so far.

Q: These companies are American companies, and Islamophobia is somehow widespread in the US right now. Should we buy the argument that the business model will inevitably lead to this type of content no matter what?

A: I disagree that Islamophobia is widespread. It is contained within a narrow group. But it is encouraged by the hate tweets of Donald Trump and the irresponsible television propaganda of most Fox News shows.

Q: Do you think media, especially social media, has demonized the image of Muslims since 911?

A: No. Not most media. Remember that then-President George W. Bush went to a Mosque in Washington shortly after the September 11th attacks and called for brotherhood and understanding. There’s no doubt that anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. increased after 9/11, directed mostly at Saddam Hussein, who was not responsible for the attacks, and Saudi Arabia, which was home to most of the attackers and finances a radical brand of Islam. And, yes, there were sporadic attacks against Southwestern and South Asians, including a number of Hindus and Sikhs from India. It’s always bad to think of individuals as members of a group, whether they are Palestinians from Gaza or Uighurs from Xinjiang. That thinking, demonizing groups because of the misbehavior of a few, creates a risk of overreaction.

Q: Do these social media platforms see their responsibility as stopping this kind of material from being spread? Do they have an incentive to let extremist content remain on their platform as long as it’s profitable for them? (There’s a growing concern that the algorithms that determine what people are likely to see have become tilted toward promoting extremist content.)

A: Social media platforms must remember that they are corporate citizens and citizens of their nations and the world. Yes, they want to make money, and they have a human right to make money. But they also have a responsibility to the society at large. At this time, the scales are unbalanced and favor profits over social responsibility. That must change through persuasion and, if necessary, government regulation. That’s a dangerous road to go down, but it can’t be ruled out if self-regulation doesn’t work.

Q: New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, had some strong words for the social media companies that enabled the shooter to broadcast his massacre. She said: “They are the publisher, not just the postman.” That’s a challenge to the American view on social media. The Communication Decency Act originally passed in 1996 designates internet forums as carriers like a telephone company or postal worker rather than a publisher. What do you see as the role of social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter? Should they be held responsible for the speech that occurs on their platforms?

A: American laws are outdated. I covered that 1996 debate for Business Week, and the 1996 law was outdated almost as soon as it was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. Telecommunications companies wanted, and received, protection against lawsuits. As the proliferation of internet and social media hate speech has shown, Google and Facebook and Twitter and Weibo and WeChat are publishers and not just mail deliverers. Facebook has replaced local newspapers, taking their readers, and even more, their advertisers. At a minimum, people who suffer damage as a result of their posts should be allowed to recover damages. The economic threat of damages might prompt the companies to enact reforms that they have not yet adopted because they face little economic risk for allowing hateful content to thrive on their platforms.

Q: There’s similar debate in the US. Republican Devin Nunes is suing Twitter and three users of the platform for defamation, claiming the users smeared him and the platform allowed it to happen because of its political agenda. He’s challenging the Communications Decency Act which protects internet service providers from defamation claims. How do you look at this lawsuit?

A: The suit is absurd on its face. It is not illegal to make fun of politicians and to criticize them sarcastically. This meets the definition of a frivolous lawsuit. That doesn’t mean that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shouldn’t be changed to remove the protections written into it by a previous generation of internet giants, when there were no Facebooks, Twitters, YouTubes or even Googles.

Q: Some see the responsibility of social media companies as providing a platform for free speech. Do they have an obligation to remove the extremism content? Should there be a balance between the protecting the right to freedom of speech and preventing harm it can cause?

A: They have a moral responsibility to remove extremist hate speech. Most of the world, including the United States, protects freedom of speech. But the freedom of speech is not unlimited. You can’t threaten the life of a president or conspire to violate laws. What’s harder is to find these haters in the dark recesses of the internet and snuff out their dark conspiracies.

Q: Will it be a problem if social media platforms are given too much power over speech and thought online?

A: Yes, too much power in private hands is dangerous, as is too much power in government hands. But there’s a difference between controversial speech, like advocated Communism in the U.S. or feminism in China, and hate speech. There can be near-universal agreement that plotting violence, sharing information on building bombs or creating guns with 3D printers, or advocating violence against non-whites or non-Muslims, crosses the line into impermissible speech. Social media platforms have a moral duty to self-regulate when it comes to hate speech and violence.

Q: What do you make of the phenomenon of online radicalization? Should social media bear all the blame, or do you feel there are some deeper social problems behind this that’s perhaps too large for tech companies to fix on their own?

A: There are deep social problems. Radicals, include white supremacists in the U.S., have been emboldened by the statements of politicians like Donald Trump and Congressman Steve King. The tech companies can’t fix the problem on their own. Congress must act. But that doesn’t mean that social media platforms shouldn’t do their part and shouldn’t be leaders in encouraging a new era of civility.

Q: People used to conceive of “online radicalization” as distinct from the extremism that took form in the physical world. But do you feels that nowadays more extremists are getting radicalized online? If we look at how ISIS used social media to spread their propaganda, and how the “Yellow Vest” movement in France flourished on the social network.

A: As I tell my multimedia journalism students, digital platforms are merely a means to deliver your message. The root of hate speech is the same, whether it is shared in terrorist training camps in Pakistan or Somalia, in troll factories in Russia, or in basements and garages in rural America.

Q: Have Extremist groups in recent years been using social media as a recruitment tool? Who are their targets?

A: Their targets are alienated people, many of them young, who feel that they’ve been left behind by society, and they blamed others. Most of these people are less educated and many are struggling financially. Social media is an easy way to find a community of like-minded thinkers who make you feel better about yourself and point you toward groups to blame for your problems.

Q: An Op-Ed on Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan said: “Social media is full of swarming political and ideological mobs. In an interesting departure from democratic tradition, they don’t try to win the other side over. They only condemn and attempt to silence.” Do you think that’s a fair judgement of the online environment today?

A: Yes, Peggy Noonan makes a good point. These haters are not trying to convert people, they are trying to convince converts to act on their worst impulses.

Q: Do you agree with government intervention in preventing online extremism or hate speech on social media?

A: It’s always dangerous for governments to become involved in free speech, but hate speech is not protected anywhere, so a combination of government action and self-regulation by tech companies is needed.

Q: What do you make of the role of social media in today’s politics? Take Donald Trump, the twitter president, for example, some say he has weaponized the social media, using it not just to reach the masses but to control the news agenda through bluster and distraction. What’s your thought?

A: Trump has weaponized social media. I strongly believe that there is not more prejudice in America today than when Trump became president, but the haters and provocateurs who were there before have been emboldened and empowered by Trump’s words and actions. When he defends Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, by saying there are good and bad people on both sides of the white supremacy debate, that sends a message not only to neo-Nazis but to far-right Christians. When he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, something the American courts would not allow because it is an illegal religious test, he is sending a message to white supremacists. When he calls Mexicans rapists and drug-dealers, he is sending a message. Some of this is bluster. Some of it is an attempt to dominate each day’s news cycle. But the overall message is that white supremacists have a safe space to operate in corners of Trump’s America.

Q: President Trump claimed on Tuesday that social media companies are biased against Republicans. Is that really the case? Why is he saying that?

A: Every time a far-right media personality is sanctioned by social media authorities, Trump repeats this claim. It’s specious. But he has his right to free speech. Lying is not against the law, unless you do it to the Congress or the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.

Q: How do you see the social media’s impact on how politicians raise money and communicate with voters?

A: One of the good things about social media is that it helps you build communities of like-minded people. It has been a very effective tool for a few politicians, led by Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, social media has allowed Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman now running for president, to raise more campaign money in one day than all of the better-known candidates such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It has made freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to become the most-followed member of the U.S. Congress and to give voice to her brand of Democratic socialism. And it has allowed a humorous parody site called Devin Nunes’ Cow to have more followers than the California congressman it is skewering with its humor.

Q: There are of course positive aspects of social media, say, transparency, respect for individual rights and rejection of power imbalances. If we look at the bigger picture, how is social media transforming the use and misuse of power?

A: Like all forms of media, social media has good and bad. Think of the power of previous media such as radio and television. Radio brought entertainment to the masses in their own homes, and it allowed American president Franklin Roosevelt to reassure Americans at the depth of the Great Depression of the 1930s. But it also helped bring Hitler to power and to maintain his power. Television was hailed for its potential as an educational tool, but later become known as “the idiot box” for stupid programming. And the internet made research and communication easier than they had ever been, but it also monetized pornography and enabled terrorist groups to organize and thrive. Social media builds communities, but it also tears at society’s social fabric. All forms of media are a reflection of human beings, in their glory and their capacity for evil.


Late demographic shifts scramble election: Trump gains among Midwestern men, wealthy Latinos; Clinton soars among unmarried white women, upper-middle-class whites

The index logoIs the election over yet?

A lot has happened in the five months since Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wrapped up their parties’ nominations after divisive primary battles. Trump has been entangled in a series of scandals of sexual, financial and prevaricatory natures. Clinton has been entangled in a series of scandals related to email servers, Russian-hacked emails and some guy named Weiner. Trump has been caught in a scandal about his foundation’s spending. Clinton has been caught in a scandal about her foundation’s fundraising.

I don’t believe in the media fiction of faux fairness through equal-opportunity faux scandal coverage. I’m just trying to make a point: A lot has happened in the general election campaign, but the relative popularity of the two candidates with the American public has changed very little. Since June 5, Trump has gained 3.3 percentage points on Chinton nationally, according to Reuters polling.

Screenshot 2016-07-22 10.45.53

A slight Trump trend nationally, but big shifts among demographic blocs.

But within the slight national shifts to Trump, there have been significant demographic shifts that have altered the election on the ground in the 50 states. And that is what the election is about: a collection of contests for the electoral votes of 50 states, one territory (the District of Columbia) and five congressional districts in Maine and Nebraska.

Since June, I have been analyzing the partisan presidential preference of 100 demographic subgroups – 34 “battleground” groups and 33 favorable to either Democrat Clinton or Republican Trump — using polling data from Reuters. And there has been significant movement among the swing groups. Both ways. Trump has strongly improved his standing among most traditional Republican groups, like Southern whites and wealthier Latinos. Clinton has consolidated and expanded her support among almost all subgroups of women and has extended her leads among higher-income and highly educated voters, reflecting historic shifts among those once-Republican groups. On the flip side, Trump has gained significant ground among less-educated whites and white Catholics, resulting in a narrowing of Clinton’s once-daunting advantage in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and turning Ohio and Iowa into prime Trump targets.

Screenshot 2016-07-29 11.45.09

Clinton maintains an overall edge, but Trump has made gains among some traditional Democratic blocs.

Going into the final days of the election, Clinton leads in 16 of the battleground groups I identified, Trump leads in 14, and one is tied. (Three others – veterans, families of veterans, and Mormon women – have polling sample sizes too small to analyze.)

The momentum at the end is with Trump. Trump is gaining ground with 19 of these 31 battleground groups, while Clinton has improved her standing with 10 of them. Two subgroups have not moved perceptibly over the past five months.

Among my battleground demographics, Trump has gained the most ground in the Great Plains, among Latinos earning >$100K (where he has cut a 50 point Clinton lead in half), divorced white voters, Midwestern men, white Catholics and Southern white men with college degrees. The GOP nominee’s gains among less-educated Northern white men continues a realignment that was evident in the 2012 presidential results, when Barack Obama lost ground with these voters, costing him the state of Indiana and narrowing his victory margins in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Clinton has gained the most ground among unmarried white women, wealthy and upper-middle-class whites (white voters earning more than $150,000, whites earning between $75,000 and $100,000 a year), Midwestern white women, and white voters under the age of 40. (Bernie Sanders supporters have settled on Hillary.)

As you can see from these trends, the Midwest has become a curious electoral stew, as white men have moved strongly toward Trump while white women have shifted just as strongly toward Clinton. It underscores just how divisive the 2016 election has become.

My analysis of the Electoral College is that Clinton has a decisive edge based on the current numbers because of her continuing strength in suburban areas and among high-income and highly educated voters. That is particularly important to Clinton because these voters are concentrated in swing states that are essential for Trump to carry if he is hoping to reach the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.

Trump’s only hope for a come-from-behind victory would be a sharp increase in his support among independent-minded voters with high incomes and college diplomas. Clinton could cement an Electoral College landslide if she gains ground among less-educated women or highly educated whites in a swath of the country stretching from North Carolina to Arizona.

Here are the “innards” of my analysis. First, you can look at which groups are the most pro-Trump or pro-Clinton. Then you can analyze the battleground groups by trendline: from those trending Trump to those trending Clinton.

I welcome your feedback on this project.

Screenshot 2016-07-28 11.53.52

Stronger Together

Battleground voting blocs: Clinton 16, Trump 14, Tied 1

Great Plains TRUMP +28 … SWING between Clinton -39 and Clinton -20
White divorced TRUMP +17 … SWING Clinton-23
White southern women with college degree TRUMP +15 SWING Clinton-10
White Catholic women TRUMP +13 … SWING Clinton-20
Midwestern white men TRUMP +13 … SWING Clinton -22
White southerners with college degree TRUMP +12 SWING Clinton-9.9
Southern white men with college degree TRUMP +12 SWING Clinton-14
White Catholic TRUMP +11 … SWING Clinton -20
White Catholic men TRUMP +9 … SWING Clinton-22
Whites 50-65 TRUMP +8 … SWING between Clinton-4 and Clinton+5.1
Whites earning between $50-75K TRUMP +6 … SWING Clinton -7
Whites earning between $50-$100K TRUMP +3 … SWING Clinton -10.2
Married voters TRUMP +1.4 … SWING Clinton +4.5
White women, no children at home, TRUMP +0.6 … SWING Clinton -4.3

Whites earning between $75K-$100K Tie … SWING Clinton +17

Voters earning between $50K-100K CLINTON +3.6 … SWING Clinton -9.8
Lean conservative CLINTON +2 … SWING between Clinton+6 and Clinton-2
Homeowners CLINTON +2.7 … SWING Clinton-1
Men CLINTON +3.5 … SWING Clinton -10.8
White men under 30 CLINTON +3.5 … SWING Clinton -8.8
Independent CLINTON +4 … SWING Clinton+7
Midwestern white women CLINTON +5 … SWING Clinton +12
Midwest CLINTON +6.3 … SWING C-5.9 Clinton +1.6
Voters earning $75K+ CLINTON +6.7 … SWING Clinton -13.7
Women CLINTON +9.7 … SWING C-1.6 Clinton +1
Great Lakes CLINTON +16 … SWING C-2 Clinton +13
Whites earning >$150K CLINTON +18 … SWING Clinton +21.2
White single, never married CLINTON +23 … SWING Clinton +17
Whites -40 CLINTON +20.6… SWING between Clinton -4.3 and Clinton +19.4
Latinos earning >$100K CLINTON +24 … SWING Clinton -26.9
Unmarried white women CLINTON +27 … SWING Clinton +19.1

Screenshot 2016-07-20 13.01.21

Make America Great Again (Washington Post Twitter photo)

Battleground trendline (from strongest point of each candidate to final numbers): Toward Trump 19, Toward Clinton 10, No Trend 2

Great Plains Trump +28 … SWING between Clinton -39 and Clinton -20
Latinos earning >$100K Clinton +24 … SWING Clinton -26.9
White divorced Trump +17 … SWING Clinton -23
Midwestern white men Trump+13 … SWING Clinton -22
White Catholic men Trump +9 … SWING Clinton -22
White Catholic women Trump+13 … SWING Clinton -20
White Catholic Trump +11 … SWING Clinton -20
Southern white men with college degree Trump +12 SWING Clinton-14
Voters earning $75K+ Clinton +6.7 … SWING Clinton -13.7
Men Clinton +3.5 … SWING Clinton -10.8
Whites earning between $50-$100K Trump +3.0 … SWING Clinton -10.2
White southern women with college degree Trump +15 SWING Clinton -10
White southerners with college degree Trump +12 SWING Clinton -9.9
Voters earning between $50K-100K Clinton +3.6 … SWING Clinton -9.8
White men under 30 Clinton +3.5 … SWING Clinton -8.8
Whites earning between $50-75K Trump+6 … SWING Clinton -7
White women, no children at home Trump +0.6 … SWING Clinton -4.3
Homeowners Clinton +2.7 … SWING Clinton -1
Midwest Clinton +6.3 … SWING between Clinton -5.9 and Clinton +1.6

Women Clinton +9.7 … SWING between Clinton -1.6 and Clinton +1
Whites 50-65 Trump +8 … SWING between Clinton -4 and Clinton +5.1

Lean conservative Trump+2 … SWING between Clinton+6 and Clinton -2
Married voters Trump +1.4 … SWING Clinton +4.5
Great Lakes Clinton +16 … SWING Clinton -2 and Clinton +13
Independent  Clinton +4 … SWING Clinton +7
Whites -40 Clinton +20.6… SWING between Clinton -4.3 and Clinton +19.4
Midwestern white women Clinton +5 … SWING Clinton +12
White single, never married Clinton +23 … SWING Clinton +17
Whites earning between $75K-$100K Tie … SWING Clinton +17
Unmarried white women Clinton +27 … SWING Clinton +19.1
Whites earning >$150K Clinton +18 … SWING Clinton +21.2

Previous posts:

>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them
>>> The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling data
>>> Who are the undecided voters in 2016? Mormon women, wealthy Latinos, Midwestern white women

Methodology:

The Index analyzes the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.

The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.


Day 1 Analysis: Heavily scripted convention tries to make Clinton seem more authentic

Screenshot 2016-07-26 11.04.20

Hillary Clinton has the nomination, but Bernie Sanders had the passion on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

Americans claim to want their politicians to be “authentic.” Even if the authenticity comes by way of Hollywood (like Ronald Reagan’s aw-shucks, cowboy hero persona) or Madison Avenue (Bill Clinton’s rural roots in “a place called Hope”).

That’s one of the things I’ve heard over and over from Donald Trump supporters. Some concede he’s a bigot, others admit he’s a bully and a blowhard, many acknowledge he’s a narcissist of the first order. But they like how he’s willing to “stick it” to “them.” The “them” is elites (however you choose to define them), minorities, foreigners, Muslims, the “politically correct,” even his fellow Republicans.

Hillary Clinton has a problem with this concept of being “real.” Many voters remain uncertain of who she is at her core, what she believes in, who she trusts, or if she can be trusted. Only 30 percent of Americans consider her honest and trustworthy, according to a pre-convention CNN poll. It’s imperative for Clinton to use her week in the national media spotlight to shift public perceptions of her, if she is to win what is now a close race with Trump.

Screenshot 2016-07-26 14.55.57

Hillary Clinton’s image has been damaged during the 2016 campaign, as seen in HuffPost Pollster graphic.

On the first day of the convention, Team Clinton may have tried too hard. Message: she cares. Message: She’s passionate about people’s problems. Most of the speeches were too smooth and too predictable. (Exceptions: Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders. More on that later.) 

“Every speech here feels vetted to death,” Adam Nagourney, Los Angeles bureau chief of the New York Times, wrote during a convention liveblog. “I’m sure they have an extensive speech reviewing-shop.”

The action on the convention podium was disciplined and carefully scripted, even if the crowd was raucous and often off-script. Somehow, the DNC managed to squeeze the intelligent ridicule out of Al Franken. Instead of coming off as clever, he came off as somebody reading a speech written by someone else, which it undoubtedly was.

The most unscripted moment of the event came when Franken and comedian Sarah Silverman were directed to waste time so that ’60s music legend Paul Simon could get comfortable at his piano. She filled the “dead time” with a pointed message to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd: “You’re being ridiculous.”

Franken, who became famous as a political commentator by roasting Rush Limbaugh as “a big, fat idiot,” looked momentarily stunned. Then the convention returned to script.

The most effective scripted moments came during First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech. In a speech praised by political analysts from both parties, she described her life in the White House and its impact on her family. In a gentle reminder that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, she noted that the 2016 election will determine “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.” She also noted politely that you can’t solve complex policy problems in 140 characters.

“Michelle Obama tonight delivered one of the best speeches I have ever seen in my career in politics,” former George W. Bush adviser Mark McKinnon wrote on his Facebook page.

Obama was followed by a keynote address by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was predictable in her attacks on Trump and her “proud” support of Hillary.

(The password of the night was “proud.” Democrats are proud of Hillary.)

Warren’s address, which did not receive nearly the applause of Obama’s, served as a bridge to Bernie Sanders’ gracious speech endorsing Clinton. The Vermont senator spent 30 minutes making the case both for Clinton and against Trump, all the while thanking his supporters in the Democrats’ socialist, populist revolution. It was no concession speech. He conceded no ground. But he did advance the cause of party unity.

One Sanders speech is unlikely to mollify his hard-core supporters. Acrimony  was evident everywhere on Monday. In state delegation meetings. On the steamy streets of Philadelphia. And in a convention hall that was packed (unlike Cleveland), but abnormally unresponsive to speakers’ calls for unity — at least until Obama and Sanders came along late in prime time.

“It was a rough day earlier on,” Senate Democratic Leader-in-Waiting Chuck Schumer admitted on NBC. But it could have been worse, he quickly added: “Compare this to Ted Cruz”

If this was your first time watching a national convention, you might think these public displays of division are bad news for Democrats’ hopes of winning. But for those of us who’ve seen Democratic schisms in the past, this was relatively mild. Past divisions have been deeper and far more fundamental. Take it from this Republican activist:

Team Hillary hopes that’s the case.


Democratic preview: 10 things Hillary Clinton needs to accomplish in Philadelphia

Screenshot 2016-07-24 23.06.22

The Veep pick got good reviews. But the convention is even more important to Hillary Clinton’s future.

Donald Trump is the most disliked presidential nominee in the history of scientific polling. But most national polls still show him barely trailing in his unconventional outsider bid for the presidency. The combination of those two facts creates an uncomfortable reality for Hillary Clinton as she prepares for the first Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia since 1948. She has work to do.

Here are 10 things I think Clinton needs to accomplish in Philly to make her week a success.

1. Lower her negative ratings.

Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings would be lethal in a normal year. But this is not a normal year. True, she’s the most unpopular Democratic nominee in modern times. Her opponent, however, is even more widely loathed. Still, Trump is hanging tough in most national polls conducted the week of the Republican National Convention. In the next four days, Clinton has to convince at least a few of the anti-Trump, anti-Clinton undecided voters that she’s acceptable. Or, as Barack Obama said infamously in the 2008 New Hampshire primary debate, “likable enough.”

2. Connect with working-class whites.

That’s one of the reason she picked a running mate with a blue-collar family background, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. But she has to convince displaced white workers in the industrial heartland that she understands why they feel dispossessed and angry at the system. A tall order, but that’s what national conventions are for. (Right, Donald?)

3. Convince Democratic liberals to get on her bandwagon.

Clinton is doing better than Trump at winning back supporters of her primary opponent(s). But that’s a low bar. She needs 95 percent of Bernie Sanders’ supporters to back her, not just 80 percent. And if she can’t persuade them not to vote for Jill Stein, she needs to at least make sure they don’t vote for Trump. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and the Russian hackers who released the scurrilous, embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails the weekend before the convention) didn’t do the nominee any favors. Eight years ago, I covered an event featuring “NObama” activists who had backed Clinton during their bitter primary battle. By the end of the week, they were on the Obama team.

Screenshot 2016-07-20 13.01.21

Memo to Hillary: Don’t do this kind of stuff.

4. Keep the convention on the issues and avoid personal attacks on Trump.

Undecided voters don’t need to hear jokes about Donald Trump’s combover or his gold-plated chairs. They don’t like Trump already. No need to remind them. Democrats would be better served by dissecting Trump on issues, from foreign policy and national defense and outsourcing jobs to tax cuts and family leave and stiffing small businesses. There’s plenty of meat there for Democrats to devour.  And they can make the case that her judgment and temperament are more presidential than Trump’s. If we hear jokes about his hand size or bald spot, it’s a bad sign.

5. Increase her margin among Latinos — and the turnout.

For at least two decades, I’ve seen Latinos described as “the sleeping giant of American politics.” It’s a tiresome cliche, but it’s still being used because the turnout rate of Hispanic Americans remains significantly lower than African Americans, Asian Americans, and non-Hispanic whites. Clinton is crushing Trump among Democratic and independent Latinos. She has a huge lead among the wealthiest Latinos — about 50 percentage points, according to my analysis of Reuters presidential polling data. But 40 percent of this Republican-leaning group remains undecided. Clinton needs to convince them to vote for her, not to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson or stay home. A Latino wave could drown Trump in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and even Arizona, making it all but impossible for him to win, even if he takes Pennsylvania and Ohio.

6. Match Barack Obama in the African American vote.

For the past two presidential elections, African American turnout has been higher than non-Hispanic white turnout. Many political journalists attribute that to the historic Obama candidacy. Can Clinton maintain that level of support and enthusiasm? Support: undoubtedly. Two state polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania showed Trump registered zero percent of the African American vote. Can’t do much worse than that. But Clinton needs to mobilize African Americans who are either enthusiastic about her agenda or scared of Donald Trump’s vision for America (or his backing among white supremacists like David Duke).

7. Appeal to young Americans.

The major party candidates have the oldest combined age of any nominees in American history. Young voters overwhelming reject Trump. But young Democrats overwhelming rejected Clinton for the even-older Bernie Sanders. So that means it’s not about age, but ideas and outlook. Clinton must describe her ideas that can improve the lives of the Millennial Generation. College-loan debt, equal pay for women, paid family leave and an improved environment for job creation would be good places to start.

8. Make the convention about the future and not the past.

Yes, yes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be speaking. But this convention is not about the glories of past Democratic victories. It’s about what’s yet to come. Donald Trump wants to return America to its past greatness.
Nostalgia is not a winning formula in an increasingly young, diverse America. Today’s 18-year-old voters were 2 years old when Hillary Clinton was elected to the Senate and 14 when she stepped down as Secretary of State. Yes, old accomplishments are fine. But they are old. What will you do for us tomorrow?

9. Avoid a cheesesteak blunder.

As a native Philadelphian, I cringed when John Kerry, then running for president, ordered a cheesesteak with swiss cheese in 2004. That’s a cultural faux pas. If you’re trying to appeal to “average folks,” it’s best not to act like an out-of-touch politician. Please don’t play the theme to Rocky — or even talk about Apollo Creed and his son. It doesn’t fit. Authenticity matters. I know that’s going to be tough, but be yourself. Whatever that is.

10. No plagiarism.

Right, Michelle Obama?

>> Catch my daily analysis of ongoings at the Democratic convention, right here on RickDunhamBlog.com.

 


Who are the undecided voters in 2016? Mormon women, wealthy Latinos, Midwestern white women

The index logoWelcome to the third installment of The Index, a series of posts analyzing the latest polling data through the lens of 100 micro-targeted demographic groups. Today, we look at the voters who can’t make up their minds.

The presidential campaign polling has been remarkable stable over the past month — despite temporary blips — but the number of voters who are not supporting either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump remains historically high for the summer before a presidential election.

On June 5, Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump in Reuters Polling, 40.9 percent to 30.9 percent — a margin of 10 percentage points.

On July 5, Clinton led the presumptive Republican nominee by 40.2 percent to 30.0 percent — a margin of 10.2 percentage points.

Both candidates declined a little over the month. Trump slipped a bit more than his Democratic rival. In some ways, the minuscule decline is good news for Trump. He had a horrendous month in “free media”: Jewish stars and white supremacist message boards; a quick trip to Scotland; a vice presidential search (and rescue) mission; more praise for Saddam Hussein’s murderous efficiency; and more former Reagan and Bush (41 + 43) officials endorsing Democrat Clinton. The controversies dinged Trump temporarily, but each time he seemed to bounce back to his core support, 10 points behind Clinton’s core.

Clinton also weathered a media storm over her email server and the  final report of the Republican Benghazi committee. But the clouds over her candidacy are hindering her from pulling away from the most unpopular Republican presidential candidate since the invention of scientific polling.

Amid the two candidates’ troubles, the number of undecided voters — already higher than at comparable times in recent election cycles — continued to grow. These are the people who tell Reuters they support another candidate, favor “none of the above,” plan to stay home on Election Day, or refuse to answer the question. This “other” category ticked up from 28.2 percent to 29.8 percent — within the poll’s margin of error, but still the only number that has gone up since early June.

To get from 30 percent to 50 percent, Trump has to win about two-thirds of these up-for-grabs voters. So let’s look at our 34 “battleground” voting groups and see which of these blocs has the most undecided voters. You can decide for yourself if Trump is likely to win two-thirds of them.

Battleground groups with highest share in the “other” column:

  1. Mormon women     54%   (Clinton leads by 4 points*)
  2. Latinos earning $100,000 a year and more     39%   (Clinton leads by 41 points)
  3. Midwestern white women     39%     (Trump leads by 7)
  4. Lean conservative     38%    (Clinton leads by 4 points)
  5. Great Lakes states voters     35%   (Clinton leads by 6 points)
  6. All women     33.7% (Clinton leads by 7 points)
  7. White men under age 30     32%    (Clinton leads by 4 points)
  8. Midwestern voters     31.8%     (Clinton leads by 6.5 points)
  9. White voters under 40     31.1%     (Clinton leads by 24.9 points)
  10. Single whites (never married)     30.9%    (Clinton leads by 19)

Analysis: Mormon women can’t decide between two unpalatable choices. Trump has the support of only 10 percent of America’s wealthiest Latinos, but 39 percent still are not committed to either major-party candidate. Midwestern voters are the most volatile, with Midwestern women resisting Clinton but not fully embracing Trump. White men under 30 — the Bernie Sanders demographic — still have not moved to Clinton. But they haven’t gone to Trump, either.

Bottom line: More upside for Clinton among these voters, if she can close the deal. Trump can do very little to win many of these voters. They are there for Clinton to win or lose.

Now here are the battleground groups with lowest share in the “other” column:

  1. White Catholic men      13%     (Clinton leads by 13 points)
  2. Whites earning between $75K and $100K     18%     (Clinton leads by 18 points)
  3. Southern white men with college degree      20%      (Clinton leads by 2 points)
  4. All men      20.7%      (Clinton leads by 8.9 points)
  5. Voters earning $75K+      22.2%      (Clinton leads by 20.4 points)

Analysis: Men are more likely to have made up their minds already. And Clinton is doing surprisingly well among some unlikely blocs including Southern white men with college degrees and white Catholic men. If she were doing as well among white Catholic women as among men, she would have clinched the battleground states of the industrial heartland. Trump has lost upper-middle-class voters of all races and genders, and he’s losing college-educated voters, even in the South.

Bottom line: Most swing voters who’ve made up their minds have chosen Clinton.

While the overall “horserace” numbers haven’t changed in the past month, some of my 100 key demographic subgroups have shown movement. Here are some examples:

Screenshot 2016-07-07 22.39.00

Trump has cratered among white voters under the age of 40. But 31.1 percent of them are in the “other” category.

Screenshot 2016-07-07 22.43.22

While young whites despise Trump, white Baby Boomers are keeping Trump in the race with a double-digit edge over Clinton.

Screenshot 2016-07-07 22.55.34

Clinton has opened up a big lead among upper-middle-class whites, voters with family incomes of between $75,000 and $100,000.

Screenshot 2016-07-07 23.11.37

Trump has pulled ahead among divorced white people.

 

Previous posts:

>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them

>>> The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling data

Methodology:

The Index analyzes the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.

The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the poll is respected, but, most of all, because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.

One small asterisk (*): Certain subgroups are too small to have a statistically significant counts on the five-day average. In the cases marked with an asterisk (*), I have included data for these groups from the past 30 days of polling. One warning: Subgroups are, by definition, smaller than the entire survey, so they have a larger margin of error and more volatility from survey to survey.

 


Explaining America to the world: I analyze Trump’s populist revolt for a Finnish audience

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I moved to Beijing in 2013 to explain global best practices in journalism to a diverse group of Global Business Journalism Program students, I had not expected that I also would frequently be asked to explain American politics and democracy to a global audience. I’ve been interviewed regularly in Chinese media, but also in European news outlets from Finland to Slovakia (plus the good old USA).

This week, I discussed the rise of Donald Trump with my friend Matti Posio, who heads up the national news operation for a group of Finnish newspapers, Lannen Media. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Q: You have met Donald Trump in person. Tell me about it.

I am one of thousands of people who has met Donald Trump at black-tie social events. For me, it was the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington several years ago. He was cordial and polite, very different than his public persona. He was clearly a celebrity among celebrities. Reporters were coming up to him an asking if they could pose for photos with him. He was patient, unlike the hot-tempered character on the campaign trail. Nobody I talked to thought he would ever run for president. I really didn’t do more than exchange small talk. He seems comfortable with social conversation and, obviously, he has been going to formal events for a half-century. From my very short glimpse into his life, I would say that he is a very good actor playing certain roles that are expected of him at different times.

Q: I don’t see how anyone can actually be like that. Is his personality the same in real life than portrayed on media?

How many of us get to see him in “real life”? Real life is his life in his big mansion in Florida. Real life is his family. I can imagine Orson Welles playing the role.

Screenshot 2015-12-26 11.17.49

Cruz + Trump = Volatile mix

Q: What is it that foreigners / Europeans really don’t get about Trump?

Do you mean, “Why is he getting so many votes? Why would anyone vote for him for president?” Politically, he is the right man at a very strange time in American political history. After two decades of anti-elitist rhetoric on right-wing talk radio and the Rupert Murdoch-owned conservative cable news network Fox, there is a large minority of the country that believes their way of life has been taken from away from them by the faceless “them” — minorities, immigrants, big companies shipping jobs overseas, corrupt speculators, too-big-to-fail banks, gays and lesbians, working women, feminists, or Big Government giving their tax dollars to undeserving others, Donald Trump is a reality TV performer and is playing to that audience. He is playing the role of populist demagogue, race-baiter, keeper of the working-class flame, proud leader of the “poorly educated,” ranter against the system and the elites and Wall Street and Big Business. So what if he is a son of privilege, a highly educated billionaire and someone who has played the system for years to make deals and make money.

Q: What are the main reasons he has become so popular?

He strikes a responsive chord with less-educated, lower-income white voters across the political spectrum. He is winning among moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Evangelical Christians.. He is even getting a modest share of higher-educated, higher-income voters. He is bringing new voters into the system, economically struggling people who thought they had no voice until Donald Trump appeared. While Trump moved relentlessly forward in a media frenzy, his opponents spent months destroying each other rather than going after him. His opponents sound like traditional politicians — which they are — at a time American voters yearn for the myth of “authenticity.” Trump is acting the role of “truth-sayer” supremely well, even if the fact-checking web sites say he is lying much of the time.

IMG_1090

Talking multimedia innovation at Lannen Media’s Helsinki offices last March

Q: He is behind both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the real election. Could he still win?

When it is a one-on-one race, anything could happen. If there are independent candidates dividing the non-Trump vote, anything could happen. There has never been an election like this. Bill Clinton says he expects a close general election. Pundits, who have been wrong all year, are predicting a Trump defeat that costs Republicans control of the U.S. Senate. I’ve been predicting that the public will eventually tire of Trump and “cancel” his election-year reality TV show. But I’ve been wrong for months, along with my fellow political reporters and pundits. So, to repeat an American political cliche, never say never.

Q What would happen if he really became the president? How much would he change?

In recent days, his primary opponent rival Ted Cruz has claimed that Trump told the New York Times editorial board privately that he would act very differently as president than he has during the campaign, as least as far as immigration is concerned. None of us know. As a reporter, I’ve always said that the best way to judge what a politician will do after getting elected to office is to study what he or she promises during the campaign. We can’t read his mind. If he does everything he’s promising to do on the campaign trail, there will be a constitutional crisis and a global economic and diplomatic catastrophe. You’ll have the Putin-Trump axis versus the world. I can’t see it. He would have to change or he would be ineffective domestically and isolated internationally.

Q: Let’s assume he doesn’t become the president. Has he already achieved something, left a lasting mark in the country and its politics? What is it?

Screenshot 2016-02-29 13.58.51

Dismantling the Reagan coalition

Yes, he has achieved something of historical significance. He has destroyed Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party. If he wins the nomination, the party of Reagan will have ceased to exist. It is the same thing that happened to the Democrats in 1972, when George McGovern won the presidential nomination and destroyed the four-decade-old New Deal coalition of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although Democrats won the White House four years later because of Nixon’s Watergate scandal, it took them two decades to recover institutionally from the crack-up of 1972.

Q: You are currently a professor in China. What is told about Trump there? How much of it is true?

Trump has been portrayed in Chinese media as an eccentric, bombastic showman and celebrity. He’s seen more as a curiosity than a threat, so far, at least. Most people who are savvy about the United States ask me, “Could Trump be elected? Why would Americans vote for Trump?” It’s similar to questions people would ask you in Europe. The coverage of him on Chinese state television is generally straightforward, so far, at least. There has been a bit of negative editorial commentary in traditional state print media, but nothing nearly as inflammatory as what Trump has said about China. And Japan. And Korea. And Mexico. And Iran. And Europe. And Obama.

Q: Would you consider moving to China all together, should Trump be elected?

How about Finland?

IMG_1093

Taping an interview at YLE, the Finnish radio network


Ten terrible political journalism clichés — it’s a real game-changer

Screenshot 2016-01-12 10.19.44

Ted Cruz’s “lane” is marked “right turn only.”

The 2016 presidential candidates are criss-crossing New Hampshire as they enter the home stretch before the first-in-the-nation primary.  Polls show the horse race is too close to call.  With candidates running neck-and-neck, the air war is ferocious, but the ground game could be a game-changer. Only time will tell. This tight race is make-or-break for Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Jim Gilmore … well, all of them. It is the most important primary of 2016.

Until the next one in South Carolina.

Watching a presidential primary contest unfold from my living room (for the first time since 1972), I have been impressed by the legion of young reporters following the dozen-plus presidential candidates. (H/T Al Weaver and Alexandra Jaffe) But I also have been less-than-impressed by the cliché-littered coverage by many political reporting veterans and partisan pundits, particularly on cable television.

Here is a list of ten terrible clichés that I would ban from 2016 presidential stories … if I had the power of Donald Trump to shape news coverage.

  1. LANES. Enough of this garbage about “lanes.” There is no “Establishment lane,” “Evangelical lane,” “moderate lane,” “mainstream lane,” “Kasich lane,” “socialist lane” or “Penny Lane.” This is a really stupid rhetorical device. Average Americans don’t have any idea what you’re yammering about. Enough!

    Screenshot 2016-02-03 07.37.34

    The Establishment “lane”? No such thing.

  2. SECRET WEAPONS. I’ve seen the story about Ted Cruz’s wife being his secret weapon. And the one about Bernie Sanders’ wife being his secret weapon. And Hillary Clinton’s husband being her secret weapon. That is one over-used cliché. Why are spouses “secret weapons”? They’re not secret. And they’re not weapons. Please retire this sexist, martial metaphor.
  3. NARRATIVE. As in “controlling the narrative.” Or a campaign’s “narrative.” “Narrative” is a means of storytelling. It is a big stretch to use it as a substitute for “setting the agenda.” To those of us who care about good writing, the word “narrative” is a valuable word that should not be devalued through misuse and overuse.
  4. -MENTUM. The reporter who talked about “Marco-mentum” this week thought he was being clever. No, sir. A name with the suffix “-mentum” is the new all-purpose cliché for momentum, and it’s not funny or clever. Maybe it was clever in 2004, when Democratic presidential candidate coined the term “Joe-mentum” for the (non-existent) momentum generated by his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. In 2016, it’s become such a cliché that it has become a tongue-in-cheek hashtag mocking former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore’s Quixotic quest for the GOP nomination. (#Gilmentum).
  5. GAME CHANGER. If Joe-mentum is a 2004 cliché, “game changer” is a throwback to 2008, when the book (and subsequent movie) “Game Change” chronicled Sarah Palin’s impact on that year’s presidential race. Now it’s used for just about any plot twist in the presidential race. Pundits predict, with dubious reliability, that it may be a “game changer.” How many changes can there be in the game? This year, way too many.
  6. DOUBLE DOWN. The third and final golden-oldie that should be banned from all political coverage: the term “double down.” It seems to be used almost weekly when Donald Trump says something the media considers outrageous and then, rather than apologizing and backing down, he says it again and again and again. Perhaps it is appropriate that Trump, who has made and lost billions in the gambling biz, should be the subject of a gambling-related cliché. This once was a term defining an audacious and risky strategy, but “double down” is so overused that it has lost its journalistic impact, if it ever had any.
  7. RE-SET THE RACE. This is what happens when a losing candidate hopes to change the dynamics of a presidential contest. The week before the New Hampshire primary, we are hearing that Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and other presidential candidates are trying to “re-set the race.” There is no need for a mechanical metaphor. Why not say that they’re hoping to remain viable?

    Screenshot 2016-02-03 07.43.20

    Polls can be unreliable. The “Poll of Polls” concept is inherently unscientific and dubiously reliable.

  8. POLL OF POLLS. This concept is a methodologically fraudulent way that a news outlet can create artificial news by averaging a group of polls to develop its own “poll of polls.” News outlets in England used this technique — with disastrous journalistic consequences — during last year’s British parliamentary elections. CNN has resurrected its own “poll of polls” for the 2016 election. How accurate was the CNN Poll of Polls in Iowa? Not very.
  9. TOO CLOSE TO CALL. This is a legitimate analytical term that is misused by journalists who seek melodramatic effect. It is often used to describe poll results. It should never be used to describe poll results. Polls are not “too close to call.” Elections are only too close to call when, on election night, the margin is so small that the result cannot be predicted until more results are in. However, once 100 percent of the returns are in, and one candidate has won by 0.3 percentage points, the race is not too close to call. It is over, and one candidate has won. By a very tiny margin.
  10. BREAKING NEWS. This term should be banned on cable news, social media and press releases. News breaks once. It doesn’t break all night, after every commercial break, on television. A candidate dropping out of the race is breaking news. Once. When it happens. Scheduled events — like primary elections, caucuses and State of the Union speeches — are not breaking news. They are scheduled events. If you’re reporting that 16 percent of the precincts are reporting their results (instead of the previous 14 percent), it is not breaking news. It is an update.

This list of clichés is incomplete. Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments section below.