Bringing it all back home

Last month, the Cook Political Report released updated analyses of state and district partisanship. The analyses showed increased partisan polarization in Congressional districts ( Polarization and realignment over the last 25 years have cut the number of competitive seats in half with a shrinking middle ground. ( In a polarized electorate, partisanship plays a larger role in who wins elections than it did a generation ago.

No doubt much of the change reflects greater polarization in voter attitudes. Former President Trump deepened polarization with violent rhetoric as a tactic. The Obama Presidency was not tumultuous but because – in politics as in physics – for every action there is a reaction, his presidency polarized as well. Increased polarization also derives from how campaigns are conducted, which has changed radically over the past 25 years.

Ever since Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America in 1994, national messaging has dominated congressional races. And since 2010, when the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened-up unlimited spending through independent expenditures (IEs), more campaign decisions are made outside the state and district, often with little or no local input at all. The Citizens United changed the practice of politics in fundamental ways and increased the distance from the people and places that the political process is supposed to represent.

A newly nationalized competition for funds overwhelms at least federal races – what people say about the candidate at the National Republican Senatorial Committee or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee matters for IE and campaign money. National press and cable TV mentions, even if they do not penetrate state and district lines, also help raise funds into campaigns and IEs. And pleasing the power brokers requires hiring staff and consultants, “pros from Dover,” that have their imprimatur. Outside consultants bring technical expertise, volumes of experience and brash confidence that they know how to win. Consultants rarely bring local knowledge although the best of them understand that Wisconsin is not like Minnesota, Mississippi is not like Alabama, and Rhode Island is very different politically from Connecticut. And each state has internal microcultures that matter to who wins them.

By now, there is a generation of consultants and operatives who know only the post-Citizens United world. They know the process of nationalized fundraising and often nationalized messaging. There are operatives running IEs who have never worked on the ground in a campaign. To them, the “ground game” is three weeks of paid GOTV in the closing weeks, without political infrastructure or local nuance.

Now, should any prospective candidates out there read this, let me be clear: Nothing in this blog post should be read to mean you shouldn’t raise money. If you are not willing to spend countless hours on the phone asking strangers for specific dollar amounts, if you will not treasure mentions in the Washington Post of your authentic roots, and if you will not confide your poll numbers with appropriate spin to all the right people, you probably should not run. You need to do those things as a candidate, particularly for an office you do not yet hold. Otherwise, someone will call you an axe-murderer on TV and you won’t have the money to say its not true, much less make the case for why you would do a great job. You need to raise money.

But you need to do more than that. The best campaigns – the ones that break through the partisan polarization now bred by the political system – are the most localized and personalized. Sometimes it is about the choice of issues. Congresswoman Mary Peltola ran on “Fish, Family and Freedom,” putting Alaska Salmon ahead of any national issue agenda. Sometimes it is about force of personality, as Senator John Fetterman’s sartorial choice of shorts and a hoodie led to praise of his authenticity. In all cases there is no substitute for showing up. If the members of the Board of Aldermen, the county Sheriff, and the local Mayor – all of whom have a lot more voter contact than members of Congress – are invested in who wins, it will validate messaging and spur voter turnout. The new Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida held a town hall in every neighborhood. A ground campaign is harder in a big state or district than a small one – although I can think of a couple big state U.S. Senators who pull it off – but the more the better. Voters care more if they have a more direct connection to the candidate than if he or she is simply a TV celebrity, no matter how compelling he or she may be in paid advertising.

Voters may be pounded by TV ads, but they still try and judge what is real beyond that. They notice the unscripted gestures, take their own reads of candidate character, and listen to those of their friends who follow politics more closely than they do. There may not be many swing voters left, but those who remain are far more likely to be for you if you seem to be a real person who cares about Washington County (the most common county name). Maybe they heard from their cousin who works at the Courthouse that you met with the town council who talked to you about the need to rebuild a bridge or repair a school roof. Or they caught a shot of you on the local news in which you seemed to be enjoying the local 4th of July parade. When it comes to turnout, also, people are far more likely to show up at the polls if they know someone who vouches for you and reminds them to vote than if they get an SMS text that says its time to go to the polls. (The high tech name is direct relational organizing – and all the research says it is much better than SMS.)

Next year is a presidential election year and the electorate will be deeply polarized on a national level. Some candidates will win if they just go with the flow. Partisanship can be your friend – and the partisan flow will likely be a torrent in 2024. But in the handful of competitive states and districts remaining, campaigns would be well served by at least establishing a local track. You will not only follow the shibboleths of your party, but you know about the issues in Washington County. And you talk not only about working families need for health care, but about the strains on the local hospital in nearby Franklin County. And maybe you also seem like a person they might like – with some rough edges as well as the smarts and compassion demonstrated in your scripted TV persona. If you need voters to cross partisan lines to win – raise the money, please the powers that be – but then bring it all home. Let people say on November 8th how surprised they were at how well you did in Washington County – and nearby Franklin too.

How to read a poll

As readers of this blog know, I am not wild about public polls – they tend to focus people on the “horse race” at the expense of other areas of the campaign and way too often their read of the horse race or of changes in it are misleading. Nonetheless, they seem to proliferate so here is a short primer of what to look for to evaluate how real they are – or are not:

1. Do the demographics of the poll match those of the electorate? The distribution in the poll by age, gender, partisanship, race, education and geography should match that of the electorate. Now, these factors vary in the electorate depending on voter registration and turnout so the exact distribution for a future election is unknowable. Additionally, while we all have access to U.S. Census data, most of us do not have access to special modeled voter files that tell us this information for earlier elections. So some “guesstimating” is necessary for casual consumers of polls.

Still, the electorate isn’t radically different from the adult population, except perhaps by age as older people are more likely to vote than younger people. One thing to always watch out for is percent college educated because people with four-year college degrees are only a little more likely to vote but much more likely to complete polls. In Mississippi, 24 percent of adults over age 25 have four-year college degrees. The most recent MSToday poll of registered voters over age 18 had the figure at 21 percent. That is not unreasonable, although perhaps a tad low. On the other hand, I have seen polls that had the figure over 40 percent in Mississippi, which is not at all reasonable. It matters a lot because Governor Tate Reeves has more support among white voters without college experience than among white voters with four year college degrees. It also mattered a lot in producing the polling errors of 2016 as Hillary Clinton had a lot more support than Donald Trump among voters with four-year college degrees.

2. Is the partisanship correct? In states with party registration, like California or Florida, you can see whether the number of Democrats, Republicans and independents (or decline to state voters as they are known in California) is correct. With a special modeled file, statisticians have estimated the probability of each voters’ partisanship in every state and polls that use those files rely on that modeling. When neither of those is available, partisanship can rely on party self-identification or on prior vote. Both of those methods are somewhat problematic. Self-identification is an attitude and can fluctuate over time – someone may see themselves as a Republican today but start thinking next week they are more of an independent, particularly if they anticipate crossing party lines in the next election. Prior vote – for whom people voted in the last election – relies on their memory, and there is a tendency to recall voting for the winner. Still recalled Presidential vote, since people felt pretty strongly about that one, can be a useful measure and ground those who say they are independents as leaning one way or the other in reality. In the last two MSToday polls, party self-identification shifted quite a bit from 35 percent Democratic in January to 27 percent in April while the Republican percent went up two points from 38 to 40 percent and the independent percentage went down five points. It may be that voters are feeling less Democratic but it is likely that some of the change was the result of sample fluctuation. If the state’s underlying partisanship is the same, the partisanship of the two samples should have been more similar than it was.

3. Know the real sample sizes (or be cautious of them). Every poll these days has been weighted. That means that when the data collection is done, the pollster looks at the sample and up-weights or down-weights respondents in some groups to reflect their representation in the electorate. If they do not have enough young people, or people without college experience, or voters in the Delta, they count those they do have extra – as if they were 1.1 persons (or more) instead of 1 – and they down-weight people in groups that are over-represented. Small weights make the poll better but larger weights – or multiple weights – can make a very small group of people count for too much of the poll. I once did a poll that was low on both Republicans and African Americans and made the rookie mistake of up-weighting both those groups at the same time creating a sample that had a lot of Black Republicans, which made it appear (wrongly) that my candidate was slipping among Black people.

Weighting can be tricky and as response biases have gotten worse, it matters more. Very few public polls report their weights or the actual sample sizes they collected. Ask for them – or know that in telephone polls the pollster has probably up-weighted younger voters – especially younger men – African Americans and Hispanics. In on-line polls, they have almost certainly up-weighted voters without college experience, and seniors. In either case, the actual sample sizes of these groups are likely smaller than they appear.

4. Take it all with many grains of salt. Polls can be very useful in understanding how other people are thinking about the world or about an election. But they used to be more of an exact science than they are because people used to be easier to reach. If everyone in the population of interest (people who will vote in the next election) is equally likely to be in the poll, then all the laws of probability apply and you know their opinions within a mathematical margin of error. But as the response rate to polls has plummeted, and in ways that are not at all random, those laws no longer apply. The collection has biases that have been adjusted by the pollster in line with their assumptions. The best pollster making the most studied assumptions still misses the mark sometimes. And changes in a horse race for an election that won’t happen for months may – or may not – mean anything at all. I hope to see more news coverage of what candidates are doing and saying, and leave the internal processes and strategic judgments to their campaigns – although I am still something of a poll addict and will look, even while shaking my head and wishing for more coverage of who these people are, what makes them tick, and what they would do if they win the office that they seek.

Right now, like most Mississippians, I know a lot more about Tate Reeves and the kind of leader he is than I do about Brandon Presley. That will change as the candidates, their campaigns, and the press each tell us more. All we really know right now is that Mississippians aren’t satisfied with the status quo leaving room for the challenger, whom most of us don’t know very well yet.

Girls sports, George Soros and the U.S. Senate

Last week Mississippi’s junior Senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, came out in opposition to President Biden’s nominee for the U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi, District Attorney Scott Colom. She expressed concern about his presumed opposition to legislation to protect female athletes and about support he received in his first campaign for district attorney from an independent expenditure financed by George Soros. By traditions of U.S. Senate courtesy, her objection could undo the nomination so that Colom does not get a hearing – much less a vote – and the seat would remain vacant until someone else is nominated.

I hope the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary gives him a hearing anyway. They have overridden home state objections in the past. For example, a Republican majority overruled the objections of a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and confirmed a Trump appointee as a judge in that state. The current Judiciary Committee could do the same on this nominee. I hope they do, especially given the flimsy rationale Hyde-Smith gave for her objection.

Let’s examine her rationale:

I referenced the female athlete issue in my last blog post because Governor Tate Reeves is so prone to discussing it as if it were one of the most pressing issues facing Mississippi. To recap, in May of 2021, the Mississippi legislature passed a law barring boys from playing girl’s sports. ( Reeves always refers to “boys playing girl’s sports” and Hyde-Smith speaks of “protecting female athletes” because these are, apparently, better tropes. The issue is about transgender girls playing on girls teams.

There is a legal issue pending on whether trans girls can play girls sports, although no trans girls are known to be playing girls sports in Mississippi, nor were they at the time of the 2021 law. Colom is a DA and not a member of the legislature and we don’t actually know his position on this issue, although he and other prosecutors around the country did say they oppose criminalizing doctors who perform gender affirming treatment. That is a different issue than trans girls playing sports, albeit loosely related.

Neither is the issue of trans girls sports likely to come before a federal judge in Mississippi. There are no trans girls known to be playing on sports teams here and a West Virginia case may resolve the issue soon. West Virginia passed a law banning trans girls from playing on girls teams around the same time that Mississippi did. A trans girl named Becky in West Virginia has sued that state to play. The U.S. Supreme Court has now upheld a lower court and is allowing her to play until the matter of her rights is resolved. No case is yet pending in Mississippi and there seems little basis on which to pre-judge Colom’s views on such a hypothetical case were one to come before him. The U.S. Supreme Court may well resolve the matter in any case. But if members of the Judiciary Committee want to know Colom’s views on transgender rights in general – or girls sports – they could ask him at a hearing.

Then there is the matter of George Soros who did, indeed, support Scott Colom’s first election as District Attorney through an independent expenditure. Soros is an American citizen who was born to a working class Jewish family in Hungary and lived in England for a time. He made a billion dollars on a short sale at an auspicious moment. A short sale is a perfectly legal venture in which you borrow stock at a lower price thinking the price will decline and sell the borrowed stock at market price, then pay for the borrowed stock when the price goes down. It the price doesn’t go down you are in big trouble but can make a lot of money if the expectation of a reduced price is met. Soros continued to make savvy investments and made billions. He has reportedly given over two thirds of it away to charitable and progressive causes and now, at age 92, is largely retired. Meanwhile, Colom has been reelected since, winning both without opposition and without support from Soros.

So what is Hyde-Smith’s objection to Soros’ earlier support of Colom? Well, if you look at responses on Twitter, many people feel that her criticism of Soros has roots in anti-Semitism, which is prejudice against Jews. I am not willing to say that criticism of Soros alone is proof of anti-Semitism, unless it is part of a pattern of bigotry.

But it does seem unlikely that Hyde-Smith objects to all independent expenditures by people who made money in the banking and securities industries. Her own first election was aided by a significant independent expenditure ( Hyde-Smith had referenced being “on the front row” of “a public hanging,” a remark widely interpreted as a reference to lynching. Hyde-Smith later apologized for the remark and said her words had been “twisted.” The fracas around her remarks was serious enough, however, for the National Republican Senatorial Committee to decide to spend almost two-million dollars on an independent expenditure in her behalf, almost all of it attacking her African American opponent Mike Espy.

One of the largest contributors to Republican Party independent expenditures is hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who last year alone contributed over 18 million dollars to an effort to to put Congress in Republican hands. Hyde-Smith has not been heard criticizing Griffin. (

Hyde Smith’s objections to Soros could be to his progressive politics, implicating Colom through guilt by association, which is a weak argument to apply to a judicial appointment as it would not implicate someone under the law. Again, if the Judciary Committee thought Colom’s political views relevant to the judicial nomination, they could ask him about that. Finally, it may be that Hyde-Smith may just not like Soros. I don’t know that they have ever met but she does exhibit behavior that seems a bit ill-mannered at times. When she won re-election to the U.S. Senate, she ungraciously declared that the only thing better than beating Mike Espy was beating him twice.

So what is Cindy Hyde-Smith’s real objection to Colom, whom she acknowledges is smart and well-liked? We are left with her objecting to hypothetical views he has not expressed, and support Colom received from a significant donor, now retired, during his first election as District Attorney several years ago. I cannot definitively say that either anti-Semitism or prejudice against Colom, who is African American, were part of Hyde Smith’s calculus. Her stated rationale, however, does not hold up well to examination.

I hope Colom gets a hearing.

Democracy and Barking at Box Turtles

So, Gavin Newsom has launched a new Campaign for Democracy to invest in change in Red States. Now, I am all for Democratic donors from California and elsewhere giving money to Mississippi organizations and candidates. Mississippi has a Governor’s race in 2023 in which a strong Democratic candidate, Brandon Presley, faces an unpopular Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. All public polls show the race as highly competitive. Mississippi also has a strong network of not-for-profit and grassroots-based organizations working in its local communities. They all need support.

And Mississippi needs donors. There are only 45 thousand millionaire households in Mississippi. It has the lowest percent of millionaire households of any state ( Many made their money by supporting the current oligarchy that runs the state and they donate copiously to preserve it. California, in contrast, has more than 885 thousand millionaire households. Definitely send your money to support progressive democratic change in Mississippi.

But there is nothing democratic about Californians telling Mississippians what to do, and nothing new about wealthy people thinking their wealth gives them that right. Supporting democracy in a progressive way means supporting grassroots and local efforts that lead people from where they are. There is a lot of trust involved in democracy but I do believe in the process.

I am not part of the Presley campaign but I have been watching it closely. Presley supports addressing most of the critical needs of people here in my view. Our Governor could expand Medicaid with the stroke of a pen, as Presley vows to do, and which most voters support. Instead, people in Mississippi die every day because they don’t have access to health care. Mississippi is 47th in the country in per pupil spending on education, and its low state expenditure means it gets fewer dollars per pupil from the federal government than low income states that invest more. Presley – and voters – support greater investment in public schools. Presley is also pro-life on abortion, which can slow down Democratic donors who aren’t from here, where fewer than four in ten people believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances (

Living in Mississippi has not weakened my personal support for legal abortion and it has strengthened my support for social justice. But it has also given me a far greater understanding of the culture here, which is not the one I came from. That’s ok, I have much to learn from this one and much hope for how it may evolve over time.

The evangelical Christian tradition that predominates in Mississippi is more pluralistic than the stereotype imposed on it by some outsiders. Some Pentecostal and evangelical traditions have been a democratizing force for over a hundred years with deep elements of social and racial justice. The adherents of those traditions, however, don’t support abortion morally and only sometimes support it legally. Abortion rights language is increasingly insensitive to that difference. “Safe, legal and rare” has been replaced with a moral neutrality in messaging that is very distant from popular attitudes here.

In addition to having different religious traditions, Mississippi is one of the most rural states. It has low population density even in its urban and suburban areas. One result is that I am impressed by the variety of birds in my yard even here in Jackson. And every spring I need to rescue box turtles crossing my yard as my Mississippi-bred dog barks at them furiously. The dog expects a fight or flight response. Instead, the turtles close up and hunker down until I take the dog inside or move the turtles to the other side of the fence.

Mississippi is a state of small towns and small communities where everybody knows each other. Even in the metro area, many people are from rural Mississippi. They are often tolerant of those who act differently – God made us all, as they will explain – but they don’t always celebrate the differences. I wish there were more dialog.

Instead, the oligarchy demagogues the cultural differences. The Governor gets self-righteous about eliminating problems that don’t exist and the legislature won’t allow ballot initiatives because they might create dialog. The oligarchy is thrilled to have the Governor of California take sides. It gave the Governor of Mississippi an opportunity to trumpet his own opposition to “letting boys play girl sports,” something he talks about every chance he gets, believing, I suppose, that the problem is greater than that of hospital closings for lack of Medicaid dollars.

People in Mississippi need outside support to stand up to the oligarchy and make their their own decisions at the ballot box. Outsiders may not always agree with their decisions but having two dogs bark at the box turtles doesn’t help them find their way across the yard.

So I hope people from elsewhere contribute to Mississippi candidates and progressive organizations with roots in the ground here. You may not agree with it all – or understand it all – but the lines that have been drawn here this year are clear and stark. I hope supporting democracy can mean supporting Mississippians as we find our own way to the other side of the fence.




Will Magnolia Tribune Use Fake Polls to Create Fake News?

I hope not. But watch for it. Because the Magnolia Tribune is polling its subscribers on issues on which it is taking a position. The questions are biased and the sample is hardly random. If the purpose is to probe subscriber views, that’s their own business. If the data are presented as more than that, it will be fake news.

I used to be a professional political pollster because I care about what people are thinking and feeling. It’s important in political campaigns and in understanding public dialog. I subscribe to the Magnolia Tribune because it tends to telegraph what I believe will be the right-wing messages in Mississippi this year and it is useful to know what those are. I have learned from the Magnolia Tribune that the right will attack Medicaid expansion as not helping the poor based on biased research from states that charged recipients of Medicaid coverage a premium, with the result in those states that lower income people dropped out. More recently, I have learned they will argue that more state help for schools will force up local property taxes, which is not necessarily true, especially as in lower income districts it will result in more Title 1 federal money. Finally, I have learned they will argue that if the state spends money on its Capital City, it should be able to overrule local leadership, although I suspect people in Tishomingo County want self government despite the money the state (and feds) spend there. Mississippi has a long history of strong local and county government.

Now the Magnolia Tribune is conducting a “poll” of subscribers on these and other issues. The questions follow a paragraph arguing one side and then providing a button so subscribers can express their opinions. Nothing wrong with that if the purpose is to see if active subscribers share the editorial opinions of the Magnolia Tribune. (I don’t share them but it wont surprise me to learn that most subscribers do.) If the results are presented as a poll of public attitudes, representing a broader population than those who answered it, it will be fake news.

Polls that mirror public or voter attitudes are much harder to conduct than in the past because response rates are low. Good pollsters reach out repeatedly to try to up the rate and try extra hard to reach those who are hardest to reach – young people, people of color, and people in the political middle. They then count those they do reach from harder to reach groups extra by “upweighting” their responses. There are problems with these procedures too as I have written about in this space but at least it is an honest effort to be representative. I believe the Mississippi Today poll early this year was an honest effort, although an imperfect one. Pretending self-selected subscribers are representative of anything else is not an honest effort at a professional poll. I hope the Magnolia Tribune does not present its results as more than they are.

I haven’t seen any in depth recent polls that address the issues at hand but I suspect the following is still true: Most voters are not policy wonks. They want good schools because it is good for kids and for the Mississippi economy to have them. If only they had political leaders who go about that effort honestly. If we are all lucky, they will get them. They are apparently pretty clear they don’t have such leaders now.

Presley’s Path To The Governorship

Not a full post but a more than Twitter-length response to the Magnolia Tribune piece on Brandon Presley’s path to the Governorship.

1. Not everyone is a Republican or Democrat. Much of the piece is about Presley needing to prove conservatism to win Republicans. The reality is that many Mississippians are neither Democrats nor Republicans but are about living their lives and taking care of their families. They may default to one party or the other but it is not a lifelong commitment. They really don’t much like politics.

Voters do need to believe Presley shares their values and perspectives. In Mississippi that means the importance of family, church and community – values that are shared broadly. They apparently already believe Governor Reeves isn’t quite with them on those.

2. Low Name ID. The Magnolia Tribune piece noted that just over half the people in polls showing Presley ahead knew much about him and that the Reeves campaign has the money to define Presley before he defines himself. Now, that is a good reason for those who do not like Reeves to contribute to Presley. It is also a reason for the Reeves campaign to proceed with caution here. It is pretty easy to respond to nastiness from someone people don’t like. Oftentimes, you can just shrug it off.

3. Comparison with Hood. The notion here is that both are white men from NE Mississippi and that Hood had more of a political base while Presley is more likable. I don’t know either man but that all seems true. It also may be that people want someone who is not a typical politician and that Hood’s “advantages” actually weren’t. Except for the money – which is correctable.

4. The National Democrats. The Magnolia Tribune piece says national Democrats, whose views are different than most of Mississippi, will not support a candidate who, like Presley, is pro-life and socially conservative. Don’t bet on that. Those decisions are pragmatic and political, not values-based approbations. That section read as a set up for a later suggestion that national support means closet liberalism. It doesn’t. Just good investment strategy.

Three points beyond the article: The first is a problem for Presley to which I am contributing. That is, that process stories help the incumbent. If the race is about polls and strategy, it makes it harder to make the necessary points about values and issues. A contest about dueling polls and pocketbooks doesn’t help Presley.

The second point is about gender. The voters in Mississippi who are not firmly aligned to either party are disproportionately white women. They are less aligned for a variety of reasons, including that many care more about their families than about legislation and that most candidates in Mississippi don’t do a good job communicating to them. I won’t say more about that in a public space but they are a big factor here. (Hint: They find neither nastiness not ads with trucks very relatable. They also aren’t interested in process stories.)

The final point is about race, on which the Magnolia Tribune story is characteristically oblique. So, yeah, Presley needs to generate depth of enthusiasm in the African American community and grow support among white voters (and mostly white women, I suspect). Got it. Some have looked at that as two campaigns. Another losing strategy. What I hope we have here is a candidate who communicates effectively about family, church and community versus one who continues to look like politics as usual. A lot more nuance to it that will, I’m sure, unfold. But seems to me Presley starts in a pretty good place.

Mayhem and Message in Mississippi

The opening month of the state legislature has been hard to watch. Our legislature is sending back federal money, taking away basic rights, and blowing dog whistles sent down from Washington and up from Florida. The Governor, in his State of the State address, assures us this is the best year yet here in Mississippi.

It is all making progressives here want to scream, or move, or at least tweet in outrage. I have had moments of all three of these myself. But it is probably time instead to hunker down and fight. The fight starts in the legislature where gerrymandering, corruption, and vindictiveness add to the problems. It will end at the ballot box. Those of us who don’t work in the legislature need to focus on the end game.

Think what you can do to help: Give money. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Organize a canvas. Raise money. Be strategic. Give more money.

Social media from the last few days is full of ranting and raving – and I have done a little of that myself. But the election will rest on the dynamics of turnout and on a relatively small group of persuadable voters who could go either way. They are not political, partisan, or ideological or they wouldn’t be in the middle. They are also mostly women, to whom neither party in Mississippi does a good job communicating. We need to get their attention without turning them off by how we talk about issues. A few examples:

The legislature’s taking away fundamental rights of self-government from those of us who live in Jackson is enraging me, and of course I see it as racially motivated. But it is also a set up so that we call out racism and Republicans benefit from the polarization. That’s what the whole Gov. v. Mayor fight has been about for them – deepening polarization to the Governor’s political benefit in his base. When you want to call them racists, pull out your checkbook and give to Democratic candidates to make yourself feel a little better. Meanwhile, you can note they are paying double for administration by having two police departments. And in other cities, community-based policing has been more effective than double-cost administrative layering. They are playing politics, not solving problems.

Speaking of playing politics, Republicans are making much of the problem of 11-year olds being forced into gender altering surgical procedures. Now, we all know that’s not happening. It’s an easy one to rant about but think about those persuadable voters. If friends and neighbors bring it up, note its not actually happening (never mind the motivation). Suggest that if the legislature really wanted to help kids they could address the lack of air conditioning/science labs/school nurses/full time librarians/AP Calculus – whatever is applicable – at the local high school. Instead, they are just playing politics by making things up. That’s what they do.

Which brings us to Medicaid expansion. Virtually no one wants to leave federal money on the table that would save local hospitals. But remember that a lot of swing voters – who are never policy wonks – do not know much about Medicaid expansion, although expansion and “medi” sound good together. Here’s what it is: money is available to insure more people treated at the local hospital so it can afford to stay open. The legislature won’t even discuss it. Instead, they are spending time and money on things people don’t want, like administrative costs and corruption. They could take care of the problems in our county/town if they wanted to – and without costing us any more money than we are paying now. But they are playing politics instead.

The legislative session is the first quarter of what will be a long game. In the final quarter, if there is a fight between Jackson and the rest of the state, or about whether minor children can choose surgery without consent, or about federal takeovers of anything, well, then it won’t be a very interesting game. If it is an election between a guy who sounds like a Mississippi version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and a crass politician playing games with our money, then it could be very interesting indeed.

I’ve long thought that persuadable voters choose the candidate who would be a good neighbor – who can be relied on to feed their cat over the weekend when they are out of town. Let November be about that. If not, come January of 2024 this crowd will strangle your cat for sure.

Humility Beat Hubris (For Now)

On November 8th, humility beat hubris. The election was not a triumph for professionals of either party who, with a few exceptions, didn’t see it coming. It is hard to claim credit for something you didn’t see. Meanwhile, voters, who generally lack hubris, quietly took a stand, particularly those in the middle who don’t talk to pollsters and just go do their thing.

There will be a lot of analysis forthcoming about who turned out and why, and how they all voted. But it is pretty clear that the “normal” people (see October 9th post), decided that Republicans were the riskier bet. They still don’t embrace either party – or politics in general these days – but when it came down to it, they decided that the Republicans go too far in ways that are more dangerous than the ways the Democrats go too far. That’s not approbation, but it is and was a choice.

It was quite remarkable. Midterm elections just don’t look this way, at least without a missile crisis 90 miles off our coast or an attack on New York City. President Biden’s numbers are “underwater,” as they say, and inflation is a problem. But given a choice between worse and worser, well, here we are, although it was a close call.

But humility will quietly recede and hubris will roar back. Hubris apparently runs rampant already in the state of Florida and will (no danger of a wrong prediction here), be back in DC any minute. So here are a few things for both parties to keep in mind if you don’t want the forces of humility to clobber you next time around.

1. Get Shit Done. Yeah, it is still a close divide, but that is no excuse. Democrats have enough of a mandate that no one wants to hear about how Republicans are the problem (even if they are) and, Republicans, neither standing up for Trump nor standing up to Trump counts as helping people who are still facing a wavering economy and high inflation. Cutting Social Security and Medicare and screaming about the Democrats – or about the election – is appealing to me as your chosen posture only because I am still a partisan Democrat and that posture is a loser.

2. Voting Rights. Almost all Americans take it as a given that every adult citizen in the United States has a right to vote and to have their vote counted. Republicans: If you are not for this, then you are not for our system of government and should not be a part of it. I get your strategic reasons for embracing racism and blocking voting rights – more of your people are uncomfortable with race than not. But even those who are uncomfortable with people whom they believe are different than themselves – and even those who have lingering attitudes of white supremacy – do not identify with ugly, screaming, violent and near-violent insurrectionists. You and yours variously led, encouraged, or tolerated that. If that is your brand, you will keep losing. Democrats: Do more and talk less. Starting every sentence with “regardless of race,” racializes. Failure to pass voting right legislation undercuts the argument that you stand for inclusive democracy. You need to act to protect free and fair elections and the right to vote.

3. Abortion. Americans did not approve of the Supreme Court decision taking away a right that women have had for two generations. Republicans: If you really believe that women should only have the legal right to make this decision only sometimes and in some places, you need a lot better messaging on it. Right now, it appears just a power play by a politicized Court of your making. And the argument that it is up to the states undercuts your message on the morality of abortion both to those who favor the right and to those who oppose it. It is logically inconsistent to say something is morally wrong in Mississippi but not in Colorado. Or morally wrong in Mississippi for those who cannot afford the flight to Colorado. Your arguments are mush. Democrats: Voters are with you on the legality of abortion. Most voters favor it being legal and don’t want to get into litigating details of circumstance. But most do not believe it is a morally neutral choice either; they are still with “safe, legal, and rare.” Don’t celebrate it; just keep it legal. Even in Mississippi.

4. The Economy. A little explanation and focus would help here. Blaming Biden, Putin, China, or immigrants really doesn’t make anyone more comfortable. Yeah, I know its a world-wide problem, but knowing that isn’t comforting to people. What is the focus and what is the government doing about it – in clear language that is oriented toward action not blame.

A final note to the news media: I have written plenty here to say polls don’t work the way they used to and forecasting just says what happened before will happen again. Next time, talk to fewer pollsters and forecasters, and talk more to the “normal” people. They knew what they were doing here, although they may not want to talk about it much.

The midterms, prophecy, and blood sacrifice

I am just back from two weeks in Greece. A visit to the cradle of democracy and contemplation of events Before the Common Era provides perspective. Besides, Greece is beautiful and retired people get to travel in October. But so much back here is messier now than when I left.

Despite all the polls, analytics, and forecasts, I think it is unwise to be too confident that any of us know what will happen in 11 days. A lot is close; in the last few election cycles, close polling has presaged a wave in one direction or the other, and the trend the last couple weeks has not been good for the Democrats. But the past is an imperfect predictor of the future, or even of the present. I am concerned, also, that such prophecies become self-fulfilling, creating rather than measuring momentum. Past performance is a useful predictor in targeting as well, but it does seem to me a bit overdone. Upsets do happen as a result of candidates or chemistry. The first U.S. Senate race for which I polled was Paul Wellstone’s in 1990, back when I was too new and naive to understand he couldn’t win. (For those who do not remember, he did indeed win.)

So, having learned from the oracle at Delphi how to be properly ambiguous my prediction is JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL NOT LOSE GROUND NOW. The meaning of that depends on how you see justice and whether you place the comma before or after the word “not.” Thus it’s correct – if interpreted properly.

If this is a wave election, there will be blood. It seems rather likely that many will call for a blood sacrifice of the pollsters. I do not think that will work any better than the blood sacrifices of pre-classical, pre-democratic Greece. True, if you sacrifice animals or even people after an earthquake, you are unlikely to have another earthquake right away but that may well have nothing to do with the sacrifice.

Now, I have been very clear in this blog and to anyone who asks that I believe people need to change and expand their research protocols. Polling is hardly the only form of research available, it does not work the way it used to – or the way people think it does. It also looks at the aggregate, which is less useful in the internet age, encouraging aggregate media like TV and lessening the emphasis on organizing on the ground, or by internet networks. There is utility in knowing aggregate attitudes but as an early step in a strategic process which now in my view over-relies on polling.

But the problems with polling should not swamp an examination of the problems with campaigning, which seems far less connected to people than in times past. And the media’s coverage of politics seems highly problematic and often destructive of the democratic process. It emphasizes polarization for the drama, forecasting and predictions for their ease, and in the process makes change, creativity, and conversation with the middle more difficult for everyone. The middle, which is bigger than some think and includes soft partisans, is increasingly non-participatory in polls and in reality, which also makes the polarization worse.

So, yes, we need better ways of doing research. But also a different attitude about listening to people and their views, more individual contact, less nationalization. And far less forecasting which does not, as far as I can see, contribute much to the dialog at all and risks creating a conversation from the top-down which alters results from the bottom-up. Besides, even if you sacrifice the pollsters, it wont affect the timing of the next earthquake.


The Midterm Election: Beware the “Normal” People

If you are reading this, you are not one of them. The “normal” people, for want of a better term, aren’t interested in politics. Normal people don’t see why anyone gets as excited as they do about candidates, parties, politics or issue positions. Normal people have their own ideas, but they aren’t passionate about them. They are passionate instead about their family, their hometown, their local football teams, and their hobbies. They vote – it’s something you are supposed to do – like going to church at least on holidays, or stopping at stop signs – but they don’t obsess over their vote; sometimes they don’t decide until they get to the booth.

Normal people used to find politics more interesting back when they could have a civil discussion about it. As I said, normal people have points of view. But they feel now its just so hysterical and overwrought – and that goes for both parties. Normal people may or may not have voted for Trump but now he seems to them to have lost it. A lot of people can get that way when they lose something they once had. But the Democrats are screaming all the time too. They are always crying racism, even when normal people don’t see it, not that they look that hard. And on abortion, they feel its better when abortion is legal because the sorrow of an unwanted pregnancy does happen, even among normal people. Abortion is not right, they say, but we can all forgive people who make mistakes. Still, women can walk, and talk; they haven’t lost control of their bodies and, really, people should be more careful.

As for the midterms, normal people aren’t sure what they will do. The Republicans really do seem to be on some kind of power trip but normal people have always worried about the Democrats on taxes, and the Democrats do seem to be on their own kind of power trip too – much more about screaming at the Republicans than saying what they will do about anything, except maybe abortion. Most normal people voted for Biden because they thought he would settle things down but things don’t seem very settled right now. Maybe its better to have Republicans in Congress so the Democrats don’t get out of control. On the other hand, they will all just scream at each other all the time and no good will come of it.

These days, normal people don’t take polls much. You hear a lot about the hard right anti-institutional crowd avoiding polls so everyone knows to make sure they have “enough” Republicans. But normal people don’t want to talk politics with a stranger for 15 or even 10 minutes either. And if they know your focus group is about politics, they really would rather not participate. Whatever they do in the midterms, it won’t be far off their center line, and they wont feel all that strongly about it. It’s football season, after all, and time to start planning for Thanksgiving.

To be clear, I’m not normal myself. I never have been. But they used to be willing to be in focus groups “about the community” and even to take polls. And while much of Mississippi is not normal by these definitions, a lot of it is – and more normal than Washington, although both D.C. and Jackson are football towns.