Trump, Putin and journalism in the post-truth world: A philosophical dialogue

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My conversation with Matti Virtanen, as it appeared online in Finnish.

During my latest speaking tour of Finland, I’ve been discussing the policy implications of the Trump presidency with business leaders, university students and business school alumni. But I’ve also had the chance to talk to some of the top editors in Finland about the ethical and journalistic challenges facing American reporters trying to cover a very different kind of president.Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 1.20.05 PM

Here is my conversation with Matti Virtanen, a veteran journalist with Talouselämä. Click here to read his article in Finnish.

Q: If you look at Trump’s communications as a whole, what do you think is the main difference between his and a professional politician’s rhetoric?

A: Trump’s rhetoric is more colorful and less “politically correct” than an average politician. He seems to enjoy being incendiary and provocative. He never fears the consequences of his own words.

Q: Much of political discourse is full of exaggerations and embellishments, and statements that are meaningless or “not even wrong.” Where do you draw the line that differentiates all this from lying?

A: Lying is intentionally or knowingly saying something that is untrue. It is the same as the distinction between a killing and a murder. Murder is killing with malicious intent. Lying is telling falsehoods or untruths with malicious intent. Saying that 3 million “illegal aliens” voted — and all voted for Hillary Clinton — is untrue. Once you are told it’s not true and you keep saying it, it’s a lie. (Or if you knew it was untrue when you first said it, it’s a lie.) The difference between Trump and typical politicians is that Trump’s supporters do not hold him accountable for not telling the truth. Average supporters and his advisers will lecture the press, saying you are “taking him too literally.” It’s dangerous territory for the media and for politicians when the truth is a philosophical concept and not an objective reality.

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Talking Trump in Finland.

Q: What are the most obvious lies that Trump has expressed in office? (Three examples will do, let’s forget the campaign lies for now.)

He falsely stated, over and over, that he had the biggest Electoral College landslide with Ronald Reagan, when, in reality, Barack Obama (twice), Bill Clinton (twice) and George H.W. Bush all had more. He stated without evidence that Obama tapped his phones in Trump Tower, something flatly denied by the FBI and the former Director of National Intelligence. He claimed, without offering evidence, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for her. He said she won New Hampshire because of “massive” voter fraud. Elections officials in the states he mentioned all denied his claims, which he has repeated over and over since then. Also, he said more than 100 former Guantanamo Bay prisoners were released by Obama and have returned to the battlefield. (All but nine were released by Bush.)

Q: How is the system equipped to counter lies from the White House?

A: The media ecosystem is not set up to deal with serial lies from public officials, or, as Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called them, “alternative facts.” Trump’s strange relationship with the truth has left reporters in an uncomfortable position: report his claims factually, as you would with most public officials, and become part of a disinformation or propaganda campaign — or state that the president of the United States did not tell the truth, which makes many Americans believe that you are taking political sides and are part of “the opposition” to Trump, as Trump aide Steve Bannon puts it.

Q: Why is he getting away with lies better than his predecessors, who were also not quite immune to the syndrome?

A: Many of Trump’s supporters say it is just “Trump being Trump.” They think it is refreshing to have a “politically incorrect” president. Some find it entertaining to see the establishment ridiculed. Thus far, none of the falsehoods seem to have harmed Trump’s public standing. His approval rate has changed relatively little since it dipped during his first week in office, despite a barrage of reporting on false statements from the president.

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Speaking at an AmCham Finland “Brief on the Go” in Helsinki.

Q: What is the threshold that would trigger a formal, legal investigation of the president’s lying?

A: Either a Democratic-controlled Congress (in two years at the earliest) or a lie on a sensitive national security subject, such as his relationship with the Kremlin or possible blackmailing of him by Vladimir Putin or Russian intelligence.

Q: How long can the Republican Party remain united in defense of presidential lying?

A: Party leaders are following their followers. As long as Trump’s support among rank-and-file Republicans remains above 80 percent, as it has been since he assumed office, Republican elected officials will be cautious in they criticism. Some Republican elected officials have dismissed some of Trump’s statements as incorrect (such as his allegations of voter fraud or his claims about wiretapping), but they have not broken with Trump politically. As long as Republican voters do not abandon Trump, he will maintain a base of power in Congress.

Q: How likely is it that we are going to see an impeachment process against Trump?

A: It won’t happen as long as the Republicans control Congress — unless there is evidence that he sold out the United States to Russia for business purposes or under threat of blackmail. There is no evidence of that now. Short of that, it won’t happen in the next two years. I think it would be a mistake for Democrats, should they take control of Congress in 2019, to immediately initiate impeachment proceedings. It would look like crass politics. It would be smarter to have oversight hearings and see where the evidence leads.

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Q&A in Helsinki

Q: What if the Department of Justice refuses to appoint a special prosecutor? Does the Congress have any way around that?

A: Excellent question. Congress can’t appoint a special prosecutor, but it can create a bipartisan investigating committee or empower an independent, bipartisan commission. I think the commission approach is the most likely. It will be less inflammatory and more likely to get at the truth, quietly and over a longer period of time.

Q: How would you rate Trump’s lying if you compare it with the untruths from Russian and Chinese governments?

A: Trump’s relationship to the truth is similar to Putin’s. They both say things that are demonstrably untrue. With the Chinese government, there is a lot of “partisan spin,” but rarely does the government say things that can be easily contradicted. One way or another, an American president doesn’t want to be compared to Putin or other authoritarian regimes when it comes to credibility.

Q: What about the personal level: how do you feel about the situation?

A: I feel that it’s a tough time to be a reporter. You must have a thick skin and be willing to be bullied and threatened. Thus far, no harm has come to an American reporter, but many of my former colleagues have been subjected to online harassment and even phone calls at their homes. The old rules of fairness apply to our reporting, even if the norms of truthfulness are shifting. Reporters have to adjust if they want to maintain their integrity and shed light on the words and deeds of public officials.

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Pay no attention to the man behind the podium.


Day 1 Analysis: What else could go wrong for Trump? (We have 3 days to find out)

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Empty seats during Senator Joni Ernst’s speech.

A national presidential nominating convention is supposed to help the party’s candidate win the general election.

Since I started watching political conventions in 1968 (and attending at least one each campaign since 1976), there have been only two exceptions: the 1968 Democratic disaster in Chicago, and the 1972 Democratic chaos-fest in Miami.

After one day, I’m prepared to say that the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland could join this short and ignominious list.

Day One of the GOP convention did nothing to help Donald Trump appeal to undecided voters. It did nothing to reassure wavering Republicans or independents who dislike both GOP nominee-to-be Donald Trump and Democratic nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton.

And that was before the plagiarism thing.

From the early morning, the Trump campaign seemed to be trying its best to sabotage its stated Day One message of national security. At a breakfast meeting with reporters, its campaign chief picked an unnecessary fight with Ohio Gov. John Kasich by insulting the popular governor of a state he needs to win to have any plausible shot at an Electoral College majority. Paul Manafort’s unforced error drew a fast and furious rebuke from the Ohio Republican Party chair. Suffice it to say that Ohio Republicans will concentrate their efforts and passions on re-electing endangered incumbent Sen. Rob Portman now, rather than the presidential race.

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It was “Make America Safe Again” night. Do you think it was effective?

Later in the morning, in an episode I missed until it was pointed out on Twitter by ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, Team Trump forced the GOP to tear up its platform to excise a section that might ruffle the feathers of one Vladimir Putin. Kowtowing to the Russian leader is not exactly the image of strong American leadership. Hard-core Trumpistas won’t care, but undecided voters won’t be impressed.

To further alienate Jewish voters, the Republican National Committee had to shut down a convention live chat during a speech by former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle (who happens to be Jewish) when it was bombarded by pro-Trump, pro-Hitler, profanely anti-Jewish ranters, according to a report in the Times of Israel.

And then there was a white supremacist riff from Iowa Congressman Steve King, who belittled all contributions to global civilization from non-white, non-Christian humans. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” he asked on MSNBC, setting off a hourlong tweet storm in the Twitterverse.

Before the prime-time speeches, Republicans had a Democrat-like rumble over convention rules. It reminded me a little of Chicago 1968, when Mayor Daley had the microphones turned off on anti-war, anti-Humphrey delegations. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus’ team played hardball to prevent an actual recorded  vote that would have shown the world the level of dissatisfaction with Trump among convention delegates.

You have to divide the evening session into three parts: pre-Melania, Melania and after Melania.

Pre-Melania was red-meat rhetoric for Trump Lovers and Hillary Haters. Also birthers. One speaker said Obama was certainly a Muslim. Several called for throwing Clinton in jail.   Rudy Giuliani is passionate, and he hates Hillary Clinton, but there’s nothing he said that would convince wavering voters why they should vote for Trump. Indeed, I didn’t hear a single Trump policy initiative from any speaker.

Post-Melania was a sleeping pill for America. Rising star Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa was pushed out of prime time by a rambling, never-ending speech by an obscure military guy named Flynn. Don’t think this will launch a speaking career for him. And Ernst, speaking to a mostly empty auditorium, gave her normal stump speech, evoking the parallel political worlds Republicans live in. Just watching the early lines to the exits, you can see that this is not a Republican national convention, it is the Trump national convention. Many Trump delegates don’t care about Republican rising stars. Only Trump.

Finally, Melania, the most important speaker of the night. I liked the speech. It was well-written. It was human. It was plagiarized.

The part about honesty.

Oops.

To all the Trump backers who tweeted that Melania will bring class back to the White House after eight years of Michelle Obama, all I can say is … I don’t really have anything to say.

I had forgotten that Mrs. Obama said many of the same words in a similar introduction-to-the-nation speech eight years ago. In the afternoon, Mrs. Trump boasted in an interview that she had written almost all of her speech. By the end of the evening, Team Trump released a curious statement citing a “team” of speechwriters.

As the aforementioned Hubert H. Humphrey once remarked, “To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.”

Day Two. What else could go wrong?

I will be analyzing the convention on CCTV’s World Insight program at 10:15 a.m. EDT/9:15 EDT on Tuesday. Tune in for a live discussion.


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:

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

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

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

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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.

 


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

The index logoEvery recent national poll agrees: Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump as the 2016 presidential campaign enters the sizzling summer convention season.

But, as we all know, because of America’s antiquated Electoral College, the national “horserace” numbers don’t tell us much about what’s happening at the grassroots level, where there are 50 state-by-state contests going on. That’s one of the reasons I launched “The Index” this week. Through a deep analysis of demographic subgroups, we can get a very good idea about the way the race is shaping up in certain regions (or even states) from the ground up.

There are some important findings, and some that may surprise you, about military families, empty-nesters, young white Southerners and prosperous Latinos. I identified big shifts among Latinos, northern working-class whites, and Mormons … not always in the same direction.

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

Here are ten key takeaways from my analysis of the first round of data (taken from Reuters Polling’s five-day rolling average, June 20-24):

  1. Education is a key defining demographic in the 2016 election. American presidential election analysis was governed by economic determinism: the higher your income, the more likely you were to vote Republican. That’s not the case this year, when the poorest and the richest are most likely to favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The divide isn’t one of income in 2016, it’s educational attainment — for white people, at least. College graduates favor Clinton by 32.2 points. That soars to a 45-point lead among Americans with advanced university degrees. Among whites without a degree, Trump leads by 14.3 points, while minority voters without college degrees favor Clinton by 41 points. Trump’s lead among less-educated whites is largest in the industrial Midwest, where millions of manufacturing jobs once filled by Americans without college diplomas have been lost over the past four decades.
  2. The South is changing, and the way we think about Southern politics should change. There have been far too many stories about the Republicans’ “Solid South,” which is no more solid now than the Democrats’ Dixie was in the middle of the last century. President Barack Obama won Florida and Virginia twice and North Carolina once. Because of racial, educational and generational factors, the South could become even more competitive — and very soon. Yes, Trump is strong with less-educated and older white voters, particularly southern women without college degrees (+26 points). But young white southerners are a swing voting group. White southerners with college degrees, a growing vote bloc, are nearly evenly divided, with women slightly favoring Clinton. Even with Florida’s Cuban-American’s traditional ties to the GOP, Latino voters in the Southeast are strongly Democratic in 2016 (+24 points). With the growth of the Hispanic vote in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, the trend lines in all of these states are likely to move toward Democrats unless Latinos or young voters reverse course. States with smaller minority populations (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia) will remain out of reach for the party of Obama and Clinton. But Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina are slowly trending Democratic as a new generation replaces the Confederate flag wavers, and whites from the North migrate to the warmer climes of the Southeast.
  3. America’s industrial heartland is deeply divided by race, religion and education. As strange as it sounds, Donald Trump might have a better chance to win Pennsylvania this year than Florida. The reason is the changing demographics of the American heartland states running west from Pennsylvania to Iowa. These areas have large, traditionally Democratic Catholic populations, a higher proportion of older voters, and more whites without college degrees. All of those factors play into Trump’s current strengths. He leads among midwestern men without college degrees by 26 points, among white Catholics over the age of 40 by 12 points, and among white Catholic women by 5. Shifts among these groups put the Clinton campaign in the danger zone: She leads in the Midwest by just 4.9 points and in the Great Lakes states by 3 points, well below her national polling numbers. If current trends hold, Trump might “bet the ranch” on winning historically Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Democratic-leaning swing states such as Ohio and Iowa. States with lower minority populations (Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin) may be particularly attractive to Team Trump. Clinton easily beats Trump among mainstream Protestant denominations here, but older white Catholics are a tougher sell.
  4. The Latino vote could bury Trump. I have suspected from the day Trump announced — when he called Mexicans criminals and rapists — that he was going to do worse than the 27 percent Mitt Romney received in 2012. After all of his talk of a wall on the U.S. southern border, the electoral reality is sinking in. Trump is losing every kind of Latino voter: young, old, liberal, conservative, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Dominican — even Cuban-American, which hasn’t ever happened before. He’s doing worst among Latinos in the Pacific region (California, Nevada), where Clinton has a 60-point edge. Say goodbye to Nevada, Donald. He’s 49 points behind among Latinos in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) — more than twice the deficit GOP presidential candidates have faced in the past two decades. That takes New Mexico off the table for Trump and puts Arizona into play. Even in the Southeast, with a large bloc of Cuban-Americans in Florida, Trump is down by 24 points. Unless he improves his standing, that’ll make Florida all but impossible for him to win, it’ll complicate his efforts to hold the swing state of North Carolina, and it could even help put Georgia into play. How badly is Trump doing among Hispanic Americans? Latinos earning more than $100,000 per year — a swing voter bloc — now favor Clinton by 24 points. For Latinos, Trump may have done in 2016 what “America First” anti-Semites did for Jewish voters in the 1930s and Barry Goldwater did for African Americans in 1964: unite a voting bloc of disparate national origins and varying political philosophies. If this shift is lasting, it could be profound.
  5. The Generation Gap is back. There is a chasm between America’s oldest (white) voters and younger voters (of all races and ethnicities). But younger voters are far more anti-Trump than older voters are pro-Trump (or anti-Clinton). Whites over age 50 favor Trump by 5.9 points, while whites under the age of 40 favor Clinton by 1.2 points. The younger the voter, the more Democratic. White men under 30 give Clinton a 10-point edge. Among students of all races, Clinton tops Trump by 33 points. This is a problem for Trump in 2016. It is a problem for Republicans for a generation.
  6. A wide-open battle for the white middle class. Almost everyone in America claims to be a member of the “middle class.” But when you divide U.S. incomes into numerical ranges, the plurality of voters is between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. The candidate who wins most of these votes usually wins the election. Today, that candidate is Hillary Clinton, leading by 9.3 points (almost the same as her national lead). But among white voters earning $50-100K, Trump’s up by 2.7 points. The reason is his support from the lower half of the middle class, the group earning between $50K and $75K, where he leads by 5. As middle-class incomes rise, so does support for Clinton. Trump’s appeal is stronger to lower-income whites struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. So it should be no surprise that Trump does better in areas with more lower-middle-class whites and fewer minorities.
  7. The new “soccer moms”? How about “the empty-nesters”? Political reporters love to humanize swing voter blocs. The soccer moms were the rage at the turn of this century. We haven’t come up with a new one yet, but for 2016, I’ll nominate “empty-nesters.” That’s mothers who don’t have any of their kids living with them. Because all minority moms are overwhelmingly Democratic, we’ll concentrate on white empty-nest moms. They are a swing group because young moms skew Democratic like all young voters. Middle-aged and older white women tend to be a bit more Republican than the entire universe of women voters. According to the late-June Reuters polling, Clinton leads among these “empty-nesters” by 2.8 points, less than her lead among all voters but better than Barack Obama did in his successful 2012 re-election race.
  8. Democratic dissatisfaction with Clinton and Republican concerns about Trump are canceling themselves out at this point.  There have been lots of stories about conservatives angered by Donald Trump’s coarse behavior, his repeated denunciations of Bush-Cheney foreign policy, and his long-enunciated liberal beliefs on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights. There have been stories about moderate Republicans scared off by his xenophobia and racially tinged campaign rhetoric. There have been stories about Bernie Sanders supporters pledging never, ever to vote for Hillary Clinton. But the polling numbers don’t match the stories, at least at this point. Very few hard-core partisans have switched sides. Clinton leads by 68.2 points among Obama voters, and Trump leads by 67.6 points among Romney voters. Almost identical. There appears to be at least a small enthusiasm gap on the ideological extreme: Clinton leads by 59.4 points among very liberal Democrats; Trump’s lead among very conservative Republicans is “just” 45 points, with a large number parking in the undecided column.
  9. Military families are shifting toward Democrats. This is one trend story that has eluded the American political media. But it makes perfect sense. As more and more of the U.S. military is made up of women and minorities, the share of presidential votes won by Democrats is going up. Trump may have accelerated the shift by his unproven allegations that U.S. troops in Iraq had pocketed stolen loot after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Trump hasn’t helped with his repeated assertion that the U.S. military has been incompetent under Presidents Bush and Obama. The Reuters polling shows that active duty military personnel favor Clinton by 9.4 points, and the families of active duty military and veterans lean to Clinton by  9.6 percent. Trump still leads among veterans, a predominantly white group, by 5.7 percent.
  10. Trump indeed has a Mormon problem. Trump’s ongoing war of words with Romney, a leading Mormon politician, and his demonization of a religion (Islam) clearly contribute to his troubles with one of the most Republican voting blocs in the country. Romney beat Obama among Mormons by some 50 points. Trump’s lead, according to a month of Reuters numbers, is 13 points — and just 8 among Mormon women. This is unlikely to cause Trump to lose heavily Mormon (and very heavily Republican) Utah, but it could prove costly in nearby states with significant Mormon presences like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

These polling numbers reflect a snapshot in time, and they could change (again and again) between now and Election Day, November 8. But this kind of data analysis can help us understand what often is oversimplified in the “who’s up, who’s down” world of daily political coverage.

This analysis is part of a series that will continue through the election season.

Click here to see the data for all 100 blocs and demographic subgroups.

 


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

Polls, polls, polls. Every day, it seems there is a new poll. She’s up. She’s down. He’s up. He’s really down.

What does it mean?

To many media outlets, polls are cheap click bait to drive web traffic. To cable news networks, they are the score in the latest inning of an endless political baseball game. There are some smart polling analysts, but most stories about polls are politically shallow and journalistically useless.The index logo

As a political reporter who has covered every presidential race since 1980, I hope I can offer you a respite from pedestrian polling analysis. Welcome to “The Index,” a new analytical feature that will run periodically through Election Day 2016. I hope I can bring you something new, different and interesting.

Here’s my angle: I will analyze 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.

A few of the groups are the basic demographic groups you are accustomed to hearing about: Republicans and Democrats, very liberal and very conservative voters, African Americans and born-again whites. I included these as tests of the loyalty of core voting groups for each party.

But I’m also looking at some groups you don’t read much about, the kinds of groups that will tip you off about the way the election is going. Among them: Latinos making more than $100,000 a year, white men under age 30, families with active duty military or veterans, white southerners with college degrees, homeowners, moms with kids at home, Midwestern white men, white Catholic women, even Mormon women.

I’ll analyze the different support levels of Latino voters in the Southeastern United States (where Cubans have some influence in Florida), the Southwest (from Texas to Arizona), and the Pacific coast. Differing levels of support in each region could be a tipoff as to whether states like Arizona or Georgia are in play, or whether Trump has any chance in Florida or New Mexico.

In each update, I will describe which candidate is leading among each group, and you can easily see how much better or worse than the national norm that is. The reason is simple: As the “horserace” changes from week to week, a key is whether a certain voting bloc is skewing more heavily toward Clinton or Trump. Clinton currently leads every recent national poll, but if the race ends up close, that variation from the norm will be important.

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.

With no further introduction, here is the first set of data:

Overall (6/20-24)

Clinton 40.3%, Trump 31.3%

Clinton +9

Note: (C) means that Clinton leads by more than the 9 point national difference. (T) means that her lead with the group is less than her national lead.

Battleground groups

  • Latinos earning >$100K    Clinton +24* (C)
  • White Catholic men    Clinton +11 (C)
  • Great Plains states   Clinton+11 (C)
  • Voters earning $75K+    Clinton +11.1 (C)
  • White men under 30    Clinton +10 (C)
  • Men    Clinton +9.7 (C)
  • Families with active duty military or veteran    Clinton +9.6* (C)
  • Active duty military    Clinton +9.4* (C)
  • Voters earning between $50K-100K    Clinton +9.3 (C)
  • Midwestern white men    Clinton +9
  • Women    Clinton +8.7 (T)
  • Whites earning >$150K    Clinton +8 (T)
  • Unmarried white women    Clinton +7.9 (T)
  • White single, never married    Clinton +6 (T)
  • White divorced    Clinton +6 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-75K    Clinton +5 (T)
  • Midwest    Clinton +4.9 (T)
  • Great Lakes    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White Catholic    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White women, no children at home    Clinton +2.8 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-$100K     Clinton  2.7 (T)
  • Whites under age 40    Clinton +1.2 (T)
  • Homeowners    Clinton +1.9 (T)
  • Whites earning between $75K-$100K    Clinton +1 (T)
  • White southern women with college degree    Clinton +0.4* (T)
  • Independent     Tie (T)
  • Married voters     Trump +1 (T)
  • White southerners with college degree     Trump +2.1* (T)
  • Southern white men with college degree     Trump +3.9* (T)
  • Whites 50-65    Trump +4 (T)
  • Lean conservative     Trump +4 (T)
  • Midwestern white women     Trump +5 (T)
  • White Catholic women     Trump +5 (T)
  • Mormon women     Trump +8* (T)

Trump base

  • Voted for Romney     Trump +67.6 (T)
  • Republicans     Trump  +52.4 (T)
  • Very conservative voters     Trump +45 (T)
  • Moderately conservative whites     Trump +35 (T)
  • White born-again men     Trump +35 (T)
  • Southern white men     Trump +33 (T)
  • White born-again voters     Trump +32.7 (T)
  • White Tea Partiers     Trump +30.5 (T)
  • White born-again women     Trump +30 (T)
  • Whites who attend church at least once a week     Trump +26 (T)
  • Southern white women without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • Midwestern men without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • White women, children at home     Trump +17 (T)
  • Southern white men without college degree     Trump +15 (T)
  • White non-college grads     Trump +14.3 (T)
  • Southern white women     Trump +13 (T)
  • Whites 65+     Trump +13 (T)
  • Mormons     Trump +13* (T)
  • White independents who voted for Romney     Trump +13 (T)
  • White Catholic over 40     Trump +12 (T)
  • White married voters     Trump +10.6 (T)
  • Whites $100K-$150K     Trump +9 (T)
  • Southeast     Trump +8.6 (T)
  • South     Trump +8.2 (T)
  • Southwest     Trump +7 (T)
  • Whites 50+     Trump +6.9 (T)
  • White voters     Trump +6.4 (T)
  • Veterans     Trump +5.7* (T)
  • White, children at home     Trump +5.2 (T)
  • White non-college grads earning <$50K     Trump +5 (T)
  • White voters earning less than $50K     Trump +2.8 (T)
  • Non-college grads     Trump +0.1 (T)
  • Rocky Mountain West    Clinton +4 (T)

Clinton base

  • African Americans who attend church at least once a week    Clinton +71.6 (C)
  • African Americans    Clinton +70.6 (C)
  • Voted for Obama    Clinton +68.2 (C)
  • Latino voters in West    Clinton +60* (C)
  • Very liberal voters    Clinton +59.4 (C)
  • Democrats   Clinton +50.1 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southwest    Clinton +49* (C)
  • Asian American voters    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Voters with advanced degrees    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Minority voters without college degrees    Clinton +41 (C)
  • White Catholic under 40    Clinton +35 (C)
  • Students    Clinton +33 (C)
  • Voters with college degrees    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • College graduates    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • Latina voters    Clinton +29.8* (C)
  • LGBT voters    Clinton +27 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southeast    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Latino voters nationally    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Unmarried women    Clinton +22.6 (C)
  • White voters with college degree    Clinton +21.1 (C)
  • White men with college degree    Clinton +21 (C)
  • White women with college degree    Clinton +20 (C)
  • Voters who never attend religious services    Clinton +19.3 (C)
  • White students    Clinton +19.5 (C)
  • Southerners with college degree    Clinton +19 (C)
  • Latino men    Clinton +18* (C)
  • Voters under 40    Clinton +16.4 (C)
  • Far West Clinton Clinton    Clinton +16 (C)
  • Mid-Atlantic    Clinton +15 (C)
  • Voters who attend religious services once a month or less    Clinton +15 (C)
  • New England    Clinton +14 (C)
  • Voters under 30    Clinton +13.9 (C)
  • Women with no children at home    Clinton +10.9 (C)

In the next few days, I will post some of the analytical highlights of this first data dump, explaining which subgroups’ results I think are the most important and surprising. I look forward to sharing the 2016 political roller coaster with you.

 

 


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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Taping an interview at YLE, the Finnish radio network


What would Reagan do? Here’s what he said about immigration, walls and open borders

Screenshot 2016-02-29 13.50.19

Reagan signed into law the bipartisan Simpson-Mazzoli Law that granted amnesty to millions of people living illegally in the United States.

Ronald Reagan was all about tearing down walls, as in Berlin.

But he also was against building them, as in Mexico.

With all of the heated political rhetoric about Mexico today, it’s a good time to revisit what presidential candidates Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush said about immigration as they debated each other during the 1980 campaign.

“Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual concerns?” Reagan asked.

Bush tried to be even more pro-immigrant, noting at one point, “Part of my family is a Mexican.”

Listen for yourself. And ask yourself, “Would Ronald Reagan be welcome in today’s Trump-guided Republican Party?”