US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?



Joe Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Justin Lane

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next US presidential election will be held on November 3, 2020. Incumbent president Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, but there is a contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Republican and Democratic nominees will be the only candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency.

Both major parties will hold presidential primaries and caucuses in the various states between early February and early June 2020. These contests select delegates to the party conventions in mid-July (Democrats) and late August (Republicans), at which the party’s candidate is formally nominated. Primaries are administered by the state election authority, while caucuses are managed by the party.

Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who clear a high 15% threshold, both within each Congressional District (CD) and state. The more Democratic-leaning a CD is, the more delegates it will receive. The total number of delegates for a state depends on that state’s population and how Democratic-leaning it is.

There will be a grand total of 3,768 pledged delegates, so 1,885 is needed to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates (Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders) cannot vote in the first round, but if no candidate has a first round majority, it becomes a “contested convention”, and superdelegates can vote.

Four Democratic contests are permitted in February 2020: the Iowa caucus (Feb 3), New Hampshire primary (Feb 11), Nevada caucus (Feb 22) and South Carolina primary (Feb 29). Relatively few delegates will be chosen at these contests, but they are still very important for establishing front runners and winnowing the field.

On “Super Tuesday” March 3, 14 states will vote including delegate-heavy California and Texas. 1,358 pledged Democratic delegates, or 36% of the total, will be determined as a result of these contests, so this could be the decisive moment of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Current Democratic primary polling

In the RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, Joe Biden has 28.4% support from national Democrat-aligned voters, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15.0%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Kamala Harris at 12.6%. Everyone else is at 5% or less.

The first Democratic presidential debate was held over two nights, June 26-27, to cope with the 20 candidates who qualified. As a result of this debate, Biden dropped from the low 30’s to the mid 20’s, but has recovered a little. Harris surged from 7% to 15%, but has fallen back since.

The next Democratic debate will also be held over two nights, July 30-31. For the following debate on September 12, the qualification threshold has been raised, so fewer candidates will qualify.

In early-state polls taken since the first debate, Biden had 24% in Iowa, Harris 16%, Warren 13% and Sanders 9%. In New Hampshire, Biden averaged 22.5%, Warren 18%, Sanders 14.5% and Harris 13.5%.

On current polling, Biden would win the Democratic nomination as he would be the only candidate certain to pass the 15% threshold in the vast majority of CDs and states. Unless one of Sanders, Warren or Harris can build their support beyond 20%, this is a viable scenario.

Biden appeals to older and more conservative Democrats, but an important reason for his lead is his perceived electability. After Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016, Democrats are desperate to ensure Trump is a one-term president. In a Quinnipiac poll of California, 45% of Democrats thought Biden had the best chance of any candidate to beat Trump, with no other candidate getting more than 12%.

By the time of the 2020 general election, Biden will be almost 78, Sanders will be 79, and Trump will be a mere 74. Warren will be 71. Harris is easily the youngest top-tier candidate; she will be 56 by the election. According to CNN analyst Harry Enten, only 33% of Democrats would feel comfortable with a nominee aged over 75.

Another reason for scepticism about Biden’s electability is that, like Clinton, he is an established politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. There are likely to be some things in Biden’s long political career that Trump will be able to exploit in the general election.

For the record, Trump has over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination.

What about the general election?

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are currently 42.4% approve, 52.8% disapprove with all adults. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.3% approve, 52.4% disapprove.

With the official US unemployment rate at just 3.7%, Trump’s ratings are weaker than they should be given economic data. There has been little change in his ratings since a slump during the January 2019 government shutdown, followed by a recovery once the shutdown ended.

Trump’s current ratings show that, if the next election is a referendum on his performance, he should be defeated. Trump’s best chance of re-election is if the Democrats nominate somebody who is also unpopular, as Clinton was in 2016.

On current economic figures, Trump will probably be defeated in 2020, but this is by no means certain. However, there is a major political risk to the economy: a “no-deal” Brexit. Right-wingers have strongly advocated a hard Brexit, and they may get what they want with Boris Johnson certain to be the next British PM – as I wrote for The Poll Bludger on July 10. The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader will be declared on July 23.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, there is likely to be a large negative impact on the UK economy, with knock-on effects for the world economy. A no-deal Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are likely to have some impact on the US economy. A US recession in 2020 would be very bad for Trump’s re-election chances.

As I said in the article I wrote immediately after the May Australian election, I believe the left’s only hope to consistently win elections is if there is a major economic disaster that is blamed on the right.




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Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

I wrote on my personal website on July 8 that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

An unprecedented 24 Democrats are currently running to be their party’s 2020 presidential nominee. Why are so many well-qualified, ambitious and smart people in the race?

The answer is Trump. The triumphant Democrat will face a president who was elected in 2016 with a historically high unfavourability rating, and the party is hoping this could mean an easy path to victory. In fact, many potential Democratic candidates are already significantly outpolling Trump.

In addition, those running view Trump as an existential threat to America, which means their candidacy can be spun as a calling rather than a career move.

On top of Trump’s ignorance, misogyny and frequent lying, he is despised by Democrats for his cruel immigration policies, loosening of environmental regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy, appointment of conservative anti-abortion judges, and habitual praise for dictators.




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Yet despite his policies and character, the president could well be re-elected. As Hillary Clinton discovered, running against Trump has its challenges. His attack-based, fear-mongering style is more electorally effective than many would hope.

Pundits frequently write about the loyalty of Trump’s base – rusted-on Republicans and whites without college degrees. However, Harvard voting data suggests that, in key swing states, registered independents and self-described moderates switched parties or turned out to deliver Trump victory.

So many Democrats are running for the nomination, the field was split in two for the first debate.
Giorgio Viera/EPA

The leader: Biden

Last week, we saw the 2020 election season officially kick off, with two televised debates featuring ten Democratic candidates apiece. But while the stages were packed, only a few candidates seem to have a genuine chance of taking out Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Currently, Biden is well ahead in the polls. He also claims to be the most “electable” Democrat in the field. However, primary voting does not start until February, and early leads can evaporate between the first debate and the first vote.

And since May, Biden’s polling average has declined from around 41% to 31%, according to an average of eight major polls. Right now, he’s riding name recognition and the warm glow of association with still-popular former President Barack Obama.

Joe Biden suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar territory as the front runner.
Tannen Maury/EPA

We’re particularly cautious about Biden’s chances, because when he campaigned to be president in 1987-88 and 2007-08, he was unimpressive. The former vice president remains notoriously gaffe-prone and his speech-making abilities are middling. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth.

Biden’s policy record is also full of controversial positions that are already being challenged. He supported the 2003 Iraq War, has a long-standing record of opposition to the federal funding of abortion clinics, and has been notoriously tough on urban crime. He also has a history of being on the side of financial institutions, backing a bankruptcy bill that was supported by credit card companies.

But in the race, Biden will look to highlight some of his positive policy achievements, such as his advocacy for landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and his involvement in promoting global poverty alleviation goals through proposed bills such as the 2007 Global Poverty Act.

The progressives: Warren and Sanders

Biden’s career of centrism and bipartisanship contrasts starkly to those of Sanders and Warren, his two closest competitors. Warren has been steadily improving her position in national polls in recent months, as Sanders’ has slightly declined – Sanders now averages around 17% of Democratic primary voters and Warren 13%.

Both have staked out left-of-centre policies the like of which have not been prominent in American presidential campaigns since the beginning of the Cold War. They support a progressive tax code and higher minimum wage. Both want to significantly cut US defence spending and curtail America’s overseas military involvements. Addressing climate change is also a priority.




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They have shifted the tone. Conversations about decriminalising illegal immigration to the US, expanding Medicare to all Americans, and cancelling more than a trillion dollars in student debt – all unthinkable in mainstream American politics even three years ago – are suddenly being taken seriously.

Why has America arrived at a moment where progressive policies are popular and it is conceivable Sanders or Warren could become the next US president?

The short answer is that status quo politics and economics have failed many Americans and the nation seems open to new solutions. Those “solutions” might still look like Trump, but they might also take the form of leftist policies that have long been considered irrelevant or unrealistic.

In the past, the Democrats have offered younger voters a less moralistic and more inclusive form of capitalism. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are now promising a social democratic vision that is far easier to communicate to the electorate than the complicated social policies promoted by the Clintons.

Gaining ground: Harris and Buttigieg

Harris and Buttigieg both sit to the left of Biden, but to the right of Sanders and Warren. Harris performed especially well in the debate – she effectively attacked Biden’s political history, and used her own past as a prosecutor to push for a ban on assault weapons. After the debate, one poll showed her moving from 6%-12% among Democratic voters.

Harris’ own history as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, however, could prove a weakness, particularly in an environment where candidates are being challenged on progressive terms. In January, a New York Times op-ed argued that, when in power, Harris failed to push criminal justice reform and worked to uphold wrongful convictions.

A debate clash with Biden helped raise Kamala Harris’ profile among voters.
Etienne Laurent/EPA

Buttigieg is attempting to stake out the ground of the “scholar politician,” echoing Obama’s Ivy League credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, and reportedly speaks seven languages. He also served in the US military and would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.

Popular among progressives, Buttigieg has made electoral reform a central policy platform – supporting abolishing the electoral college and introducing automatic voter registration – and has called for restructuring the Supreme Court to enshrine political balance.




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Among the challenges confronting Buttigieg is his response to the shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city, South Bend. At the Democratic debate, he was asked why he has been unable to improve African-American representation on the city’s police force. Buttigieg responded, “Because I couldn’t get it done”.

As the campaign wears on, we will likely see increasingly heated debate among the winnowing field, with any weakness that puts a candidate at risk of being defeated in the presidential race ruthlessly confronted and thoroughly interrogated.

As we approach February 2020, when the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats will continue to go through an existential struggle between those who believe the time has come for fundamental social reform, and those who believe such a platform would make a candidate un-electable, even against Trump.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, Research Assistant at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The US midterms show the power of Trump’s divisive messages



File 20181107 74775 lmzbfz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Ted Cruz held off a spirited challenge from Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke to help the Republicans hold onto the Senate in a big night for the GOP.
Michael Wyke/EPA

Timothy J. Lynch, University of Melbourne

The good news if you don’t like US President Donald Trump: he has less than 24 months remaining in his first term in office. The bad news: he now looks to have a better chance at staying in office until 2025.

This year’s midterm elections broke for Trump much more than expected. The Republicans maintained their control of the Senate, picking up key victories in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. And though the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives, as expected, this is not the counter-revolution they were hoping for.

It is not a Trump wave, but it has confirmed the president’s staying power. Love him or hate him, he remains a remarkable political phenomenon.




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Some key takeaways from the midterm elections:

Scaring people worked: The Republicans not only held onto power in the Senate, they seem likely to have increased their slim majority in the chamber. Importantly, there will be more Trump Republicans in the Senate.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, such as his pledge to secure the border against an “invading caravan” of Central American migrants, worked as a get-out-the-base strategy. While Democrats enjoyed a surge in turn-out, Republican voters also did not stay home.

And several winning Republican candidates, like Mike Braun in Indiana, ran hard on Trump themes like immigration. Their victories show how much Trump’s control of the GOP has increased.

Trump for president in 2020: Trump looks to be in a better position for re-election than many commentators had believed.

The Democrats did take back the House, but that is par for the course in midterm elections. What’s more telling is that they did not invade Trump territory – the deep-red parts of the South, Midwest and Rust Belt – in any substantial way. Winning control of the House could make life difficult for Trump, but the Democrats cannot remove him from office without a sizeable majority in the Senate – which seems a world away.

Also, the midterms should make it a near-certainty that no serious Republican will challenge Trump for the presidential nomination in 2020. He has proven once again that he is an impressive electoral campaigner with a crude but effective grasp of strategy.

Democrats celebrated retaking the House, but they failed to make huge in-roads in ‘Trump country’.
Erik S. Lesser/EPA

There was a Brett Kavanaugh effect: The highly contentious nomination battle over Trump’s Supreme Court pick seems to have energised his base more than the Democrats’. The Democrats in red states who voted against Kavanaugh lost their re-election bids – Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Meanwhile, the only Democrat to vote to confirm Kavanaugh – Senator Joe Manchin – won his race in predominantly Republican West Virginia.




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There is not a Democratic messiah in waiting: Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke looked like he might be this figure – a person to energise the party much the way then-Senator Barack Obama did in 2008 – but O’Rourke lost his race against incumbent Ted Cruz, despite a very tight contest. Democrats still need a platform that is about more than “Stop Trump.”

Beto O’Rourke would have been the first Democratic senator elected in Texas since 1988.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

It is a year of the woman – but not just progressive women: A record number of women (260) ran for Congress this year. Early results suggest that many white, female voters who backed Trump in 2016 went for Democratic candidates this time around, reflecting the salience of healthcare as a key election issue for Democrat voters.

But not all winning female candidates in the midterms were Democrats. Marsha Blackburn, a staunch Trump supporter and demoniser of the Central American migrant caravan, won the race for the open Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hispanics remain a key demographic: Trump was widely condemned for his anti-Hispanic immigrant stance in midterm campaigning. The paradox is that the more Republicans can appeal to Hispanics, the more likely they are to win next time.

According to exit polls, the Republicans look set to win less than 30% of Hispanic votes in the midterms, compared to nearly 45% captured by Republican George W. Bush in 2004. If they are able to increase this margin to between 35 to 40%, this might be enough to turn purple states like Florida and Nevada reliably red.




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There is a lot of purple out there: Americans still rather like split-ticket voting, meaning they are fine voting for different parties on the same ballot. This makes the notion of exclusively red and exclusively blue states an exaggeration.

For example, Democratic candidates picked up governorships in traditionally Republican states, such as Laura Kelly’s win in Kansas over Kris Kobach, a hard-line, anti-immigrant Trump ally. And Republicans won several governor races in traditionally Democratic New England.

Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial win in Kansas was a bright spot for the Democrats.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Florida has retained its centrality to US electoral politics: The state remains essentially impossible to call. Polling trends were again defied on election day, with losses by Democrats Bill Nelson for Senate and Andrew Gillum for governor. As purple a state as they come, Florida could well determine the next several presidential elections.

The bottom line after the midterms is that Trump is here to stay. And though the Democrats now control the House, this has just offered him a foil – an institution to define himself against – as he moves toward re-election in two years time.The Conversation

Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in American Politics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Democrats take House at US midterm elections, but Republicans keep Senate; Labor well ahead in Victoria



File 20181107 74754 100vysb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Democrats celebrate as the US mid-term results come in.
AAP/EPA/Erik S. Lesser

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

US midterm elections were held today. All 435 House seats and 35 of the 100 Senators were up for election. Democrats were defending 26 Senators, including some states that Trump won by big margins in 2016, and Republicans just nine.

Democrats won the House, regaining control of a chamber they lost at the 2010 midterms. They currently have a 218-192 seat lead over the Republicans, with 25 races uncalled, and have gained a net 26 seats. Democrats lead the House popular vote by 50.7-47.6, but this gap will widen as more Californian votes are counted over the coming weeks.

The New York Times House forecast currently gives Democrats a predicted final majority of 229-206 and a popular vote margin over the Republicans of 7.1%. Expectations were that Democrats needed to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to win control, owing to Republican gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic votes in urban areas.

In the Senate, Republicans hold a 51-45 lead over Democrats, with four races uncalled. They gained Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota. Indiana and Missouri voted for Trump by 18-19 points in 2016, and North Dakota by 37 points. However, Republicans missed out in West Virginia, which voted for Trump by 42 points. West Virginia’s Senator, Joe Manchin, is a more conservative Democrat. The Democrats gained Nevada, somewhat compensating for losses.

The most disappointing Senate result for Democrats is likely to be Florida, which voted for Trump by just 1.2 points. But Republican Rick Scott, the current Florida governor, currently leads incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson by 50.2-49.8, with few votes outstanding. Strong rural turnout for the Republicans, and lack of turnout from Democratic-favouring Hispanics, was probably responsible for this result.

A Senate byelection in Mississippi used a “jungle primary” format, where all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ballot paper. If nobody wins a majority, the top two proceed to a runoff. The Republicans will almost certainly win this seat after the runoff on November 25.

In the Senate, Democrats paid the price for a very strong performance when these seats were last up for election in 2012. Republicans will be defending 22 seats in 2020, and Democrats just 12. As the whole House is up for election, it is a better gauge of popular opinion than the Senate.

Trump’s final pre-election ratings in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate were 41.8% approve, 52.8% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.0. Trump’s approval slipped from 43.1% on October 23, a high he had last reached in March 2017.

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on Saturday that the vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric, with which Trump closed the campaign, was likely to be counterproductive in the House, where battleground districts had higher levels of educational attainment. However, the more rural battleground Senate states were easier to win. In my opinion, it would have been better for Trump to focus on the strong US economy in the final stretch.

These results will give Democrats a veto over any legislation proposed by Trump and the Republicans, and they will be able to set up House investigations into Trump. However, the Senate has the sole power to confirm presidential Cabinet-level and judicial appointments. The Supreme Court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority, so Democrats will hope that none of the left-wing judges dies in the next two years.

With four contests uncalled, Republicans led Democrats by 25-21 in state governors, a six seat gain for the Democrats. Governors and state legislatures are important as, in many states, politicians can draw federal boundaries.

Victorian Newspoll: 54-46 to Labor

The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A Newspoll conducted October 24-28 from a sample of 1,092 gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since April. Primary votes were 41% Labor (up three), 39% Coalition (down two) and 11% Greens (steady). One Nation will not contest the state election.

45% (up two) were satisfied with Premier Daniel Andrews, and 40% (down seven) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +5, up nine points. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s net approval was -15, down two points. Andrews led Guy by 45-29 as better Premier (41-34 in April).

Labor led the Liberals by 45-37 on managing Victoria’s economy, a bad result for the Liberals as economic management tends to favour conservatives. Labor also led by 43-32 on maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower (42-40 in April). On law and order, a Liberal lead of 46-37 shrunk to just 39-38. Labor led by 33-30 on having the best plan for population growth.

We have had a recent Galaxy poll for the bus association that gave Labor a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll adds to the impression that Labor is pulling away, and should win the election easily.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The US midterm elections are being billed as a referendum on Trump, but it’s not that simple



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Much is hanging on the outcome of the US mid-term elections – and much of it is unpredictable.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation , CC BY-ND

Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

From afar, the US midterm elections might seem to be all about Donald Trump, and there is some truth to this. The man, as has been the case for some years now, is unavoidable.

More than 700 days after the host of The Apprentice was elected to lead the world’s largest military and economic power, this will be the first chance for Americans to express buyer’s remorse at the ballot box by potentially giving the Democrats control of the House (and less likely the Senate) in order to rein in the president.

Trump himself is not up for re-election, though. Voters will be making decisions about local and state representatives, so it would be a mistake to presume the outcome will be entirely dependent on questions of federal leadership.




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However, Democrat Tip O’Neill’s famous claim that “all politics is local” is not entirely true here; this election has local, national and international implications.

This is why, once again, non-Americans are taking such an interest in an American election. Many believe that Trump and his Republican Party represent much of what endangers the world.

Who is up for election?

Members of the US House of Representatives serve two-year terms, and senators six-year terms. This means that all 435 members of the House and 35 out of 100 senators (33 plus two empty seats due to resignations) are up for re-election on November 6.

Due to the Democrats’ success in the 2012 election, just nine of those 35 Senate seats are Republican-controlled. So the Democrats’ chance of taking the Senate is slim – around 1-in-7, according to FiveThirtyEight.com – despite the fact Republicans currently hold only a narrow 51-49 majority.

For those outside the US, this may seem remarkable, given the profoundly unethical decisions enacted by the Trump administration, and the parade of misogyny that surrounded Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s recent Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court.

And yet, there are a number of plausible scenarios in which the minority party could actually lose ground.




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To forge a path to victory in the Senate, Democrats will need to retain seats in states that Trump won easily in 2016 – North Dakota, Montana and Missouri – as well as in Florida, where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson faces a tough race against multimillionaire Republican Governor Rick Scott.

They’ll also need to pick up a seat or two in the traditionally Republican states of Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi (listed in order of likelihood). The fact that Mississippi and Tennessee are even in play for the Democrats is noteworthy because Trump won both in 2016 by over 15 percentage points.

But given the circumstances, the Democrats remain unlikely to win a Senate majority.

A Democratic victory in the House is far more probable, with FiveThirtyEight.com giving the minority party a 6-in-7 chance to take back control.

Because all House seats are up for grabs, this is the contest that many will view as a national referendum on the Trump administration. And the results will be shaped by voter turnout.

Typically, turnout for midterm elections is older and whiter than it is for presidential elections, and this is a demographic that favours Republicans. The Republicans have maintained or taken control of the House in every midterm election since 1994, with the exception of 2006, when President George W. Bush’s popularity had plummeted to the mid-30s due to his mishandling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.

According to recent polling averages, Trump’s approval rating has been hovering at just over 40%.

Why is gerrymandering significant?

This election is consequential for far more than the future of the Trump administration. Republican victories in state legislatures and governors’ races, which occur alongside the national election, will provide another opportunity for the party to consolidate its power through gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the underhanded process whereby elected politicians redraw federal and state electorate boundaries to group voters by demographics and improve their chances of success at the ballot box.

These lines are redrawn every 10 years, following a nationwide census. The next census is in 2020, so the lines will next be redrawn in 2021. This year’s midterm election is therefore crucial in determining which party will control each state during the upcoming redistricting process.

Gerrymandering tends to be a tactic of Republicans, who currently hold the majority of seats in 32 of America’s 50 state houses. Furthermore, the task of gerrymandering is more straightforward for Republicans, as Democratic voters are typically packed together in urban centres, while Republicans are usually spread out across states.

In a number of states, Republicans have engineered things so Democrats are sure to win just a few seats with massive majorities, while Republicans are favoured to capture far more by closer margins, for instance a 55% to 45% majority.

However, there is a catch. In a wave election, as this one may well be, those Republicans who would normally expect to get elected with 55% of the vote could be vulnerable. This may occur in this year’s House races in North Carolina.

What is the effect of voter suppression?

Further impeding the Democrats’ chances is the systematic and widespread strategy of voter suppression, which is typically utilised by Republicans to prevent likely Democrat voters, such as African Americans, from voting.

One particularly alarming example has been happening in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams is attempting to become the country’s first female African American governor.

Her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, also happens to be Georgia’s secretary of state. His office had been strictly enforcing a new law known as “exact match”, under which voter-registration applications are dismissed for absurdly minor discrepancies, such as missing hyphens or slightly mismatched signatures.




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A judge recently halted this practice, but over 53,000 registration applications have already been suspended. African Americans comprise 32% of the state’s population and nearly 70% of the rejected applications.

This kind of behaviour is not confined to a few rogue states. Other methods of voter suppression, such as felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws and reductions in the number of polling booths in African American communities, are routinely used across the country to disproportionately target minority voters.

Even the fact that voting takes place on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend, marginalises people who cannot get off work. These people are likely to be poorer and less likely to be white.

Will Trump be impeached?

As was proven on the evening of November 8, 2016, while polls can show likelihoods, nothing is guaranteed. However, the polls currently suggest that the most likely outcome of these midterms is a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

What this would mean for Trump is more frustration. The Democrats would be able to investigate the president’s questionable financial deals, potential fraud related to Trump University and possible links to Russian interference in the 2016 election. They could also push for the release of Trump’s much sought-after tax returns.

It seems likely the House will find grounds to impeach Trump. But, hold your breath – that would be only step one of a lengthy process.

Dismissal of a president requires 67 of 100 Senate votes, a threshold that makes such an event unlikely. Given the president’s propensity for mendacity, it will be intriguing to see whether he is able to avoid any perjury charges that might arise from Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. But again, such charges are unlikely to lead to his removal from office.

Yet who can say? Whatever the outcome on November 6, there is much about the future of US politics – and the global ramifications – that remains entirely unpredictable.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, PhD Student in English, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Democrats have filed a lawsuit against Russia – and what Australian politicians should learn from it


Sandeep Gopalan, Deakin University

Last week, the Democratic Party in the United States brought an unprecedented lawsuit against a foreign country, Russia, and persons connected to the Kremlin. Predictably, this has received condemnation from Republicans and the Trump campaign.
The Russian government – the primary target of the case – has not responded publicly.

Democratic party faithful have been supportive, invoking memories of their successful legal action against the Nixon campaign. That action yielded a settlement worth US$750,000 in 1974.

The recent filings provide important insights for Australian politicians.

The case

The case has several defendants. These include Russia, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), the Trump campaign, senior Trump advisor (and First Son-in-law) Jared Kushner, former campaign advisor Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Wikileaks, and several Russian individuals.

The case will be heard in the US District Court for the Southern District of NY. The legal action is brought under provisions of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the Stored Communications Act, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.




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How to manage Russia becomes one of the most pressing questions in US, and world, affairs


Essentially, Russia is alleged to have hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) computers. The government and related entities are accused of accessing the party’s telecommunications and obtaining tens of thousands of documents and emails.

This “stolen information” was allegedly used to advance Russia’s own interests, destabilise the US political environment and denigrate Hillary Clinton. Russia is also accused of supporting Trump’s campaign because his “policies would benefit the Kremlin”.

The Trump campaign is also alleged to have engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to ensure the election of Trump.

Chronology of events

Shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between his campaign and Russian operatives.

By July 27 2015, Russia had conducted cyber attacks on Democratic National Convention (DNC) systems, which contained “some of the DNC’s most sensitive strategic and operational data”.

In October of that same year, Trump signed a letter of intent to develop real estate in Russia financed by a Russian bank (Vneshtorgbank) that was under under US Treasury sanctions.

This deal was brokered by real estate developer Felix Sater, who claimed in a November 3 email:

I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.

The DNC complaint alleges that in 2016, Kremlin operatives:

notified the Trump campaign that Russia intended to interfere and expressed their government’s backing of Trump via meetings, emails, and other communications.

This included a willingness on Russia’s part “to use stolen emails and other information to damage” Hillary Clinton.

The Russians hacked into the DNC’s servers for the second time in April 2016. GRU agents hacked the DNC’s research, IT, and other departments, and document repositories.

On April 26, then foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, George Papadopoulos, met with a Russian agent who told him that the Russians had dirt on Clinton in “thousands of emails”. Papadopoulos only reported this to his employers and not law enforcement.

He also confided in an Australian diplomat, who reported this to US officials, prompting an FBI inquiry into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But for this crucial error by Papadopoulos, Trump may not have been in his current predicament.




Read more:
US approach to security is deeply troubling – and it’s not just about Trump


Russia continued its presence on DNC servers. By May, it had hacked data including donor information, opposition research and plans for political activities, as well as thousands of confidential emails.

Donald Trump Jr. was contacted on June 3 with an offer of damaging information about Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”. Soon after, Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner had the now infamous meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.

A GRU operative publicly disseminated illegally obtained documents on June 15.

On July 22, prior to the DNC Convention, Wikileaks publicly disseminated DNC emails and other documents.

The complaint documents contact between Rick Gates (Trump Campaign Deputy Chair), Assange, and a GRU Operative.

What the DNC claims

After learning of the hacking, the DNC commissioned a forensic analysis by IT firm Crowdstrike, which confirmed hacking by two Russian state-sponsored entities.

The entities were codenamed “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear”. The latter was an agent of GRU.

The analysis found that user credentials were used to access information that was then posted online by the GRU operative. Hackers also accessed phone calls and voicemail.

The DNC claims the motivations for the conspiracy were twofold. First, Putin’s intense dislike of Clinton, stemming from his belief that she was behind massive protests in Russia in December 2011. Putin is quoted in the complaint, accusing Clinton of setting “the tone for some of our actors in the country”.

Second, Trump’s admiration of Putin made him valuable to Russia.

The DNC claims these two motivations provided the “common purpose” for the conspiracy. They argue Assange was part of the conspiracy because of his long history of conflict with Clinton.

Lessons for Australia

This case provides the most detailed view of Russia’s tactics in election manipulation – providing a roadmap for other countries where it might try similar methods.

Australia may be vulnerable because of tensions with Russia and North Korea in recent times. With a federal election on the horizon, it would be sensible for Australian political parties to upgrade their cyber security and protect IT equipment in close consultation with intelligence agencies.




Read more:
Could Russian hacking pose a threat to Australian democracy?


Parties should be wary of approaches by unknown entities with promises of assistance and carefully vet any foreign commercial contacts or deals. They should also assume that sensitive information is likely to be leaked and dirty tricks against the opposition could backfire. Individual politicians should be careful not to become pawns of foreign governments.

The ConversationFinally, Australian political operatives should carefully scrutinise social media information trends for manipulation and invest in human monitors, and of course, report anything suspicious immediately to law enforcement.

Sandeep Gopalan, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Innovation) & Professor of Law, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days



File 20180126 100919 1id09st.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Before the government shutdown, Donald Trump exceeded a 40% approval rating for the first time since May 2017.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On January 20, 2018, exactly one year after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, the US government entered a partial shutdown for three days – the first shutdown since 2013. This is the second shutdown that has occurred when the same party controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress; one agency was shut down for one day in 1980.

While Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, it usually takes three-fifths of the Senate (60 votes) to invoke cloture and prevent filibustering of legislation. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a 238-193 majority, and a bill that funded the government passed 230-197.

In the Senate, the same bill won the vote 50-49, but was short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. Five Democrats, all representing states Trump won by at least 18 points in 2016, voted in favour of this bill, and five Republicans voted against, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “no” vote was technical, to allow him to reintroduce the same bill.

The reason Democrats denied supply was a dispute over “Dreamers” – children who came to the US illegally. Under President Barack Obama, the approximately 800,000 Dreamers were eligible for renewable two-year non-deportation periods, and work permits. Trump rescinded this program in September 2017, but Congress was given until March 2018 to legislate an alternative.

Four months since Trump’s rescission, no legislation on Dreamers has been voted on by either chamber. On January 11, Trump reportedly said “shithole countries” in reference to immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. Democrats clearly believe Trump and Republican congressional leaders will do nothing to stop the Dreamers being deported, so they blocked Supply to try to force action.

On 22 January, the shutdown ended with Democratic support after McConnell promised the Senate would vote on action for the Dreamers. However, the government’s funding expires on February 8. If McConnell fails to honour his promise, it is likely there will be another US government shutdown.

The funding bill agreed to also funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years – a key Democratic priority.

Even if a bill that stopped the deportation of Dreamers passed the Senate, the House of Representatives is more difficult, as there is a large bloc of hard-right Republicans who would detest leaders bringing any pro-Dreamer legislation to a vote. Trump can veto legislation, and it requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override his veto.

The strong US economy has improved Trump’s ratings in the last month. According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings were 36.4% approve, 57.5% disapprove on December 16, but they are now at 39.1% approve, 55.9% disapprove.

Before the shutdown, Trump exceeded 40% approval for the first time since May 2017.

The strong US economy also appears to be helping Republicans in the race for Congress. A month ago, Democrats led Republicans by 50-37, but that advantage has shrunk to 46-39 in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate.

Republicans may also be benefiting from a lack of media focus on the controversial bills they had passed or attempted to pass, such as the corporate tax cuts or Obamacare repeal.

The shutdown was not long enough to have a large impact on Trump’s ratings or the race for Congress. According to FiveThirtyEight analyst Harry Enten, the previous two long shutdowns – in 1995-96 and 2013 – had a large negative short-term impact on the Republicans, who were blamed for both. However, once the shutdowns were resolved, voters quickly forgot about the disruption.

Midterm elections will be held this November, in which all 435 House of Representatives members and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election.

Owing to natural clustering of Democrats in cities and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need a high single-figure lead on the popular vote to take control of the House of Representatives. A seven-point lead for Democrats would give Republicans some chance of retaining control.

Commissioned Tasmanian polls stronger for Liberals than December EMRS

The Tasmanian election is expected to be called soon for either March 3 or 17. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system for its lower house, with five five-member electorates. A December EMRS poll gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 34% and the Greens 17%.

There has been no media-commissioned polling since this poll, but the Liberals released a MediaReach poll last week that gave them 41.1%, Labor 34.3%, the Greens 12.8% and the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 6.2%.

A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute in the seat of Bass gave the Liberals 49.4%, Labor 27.6%, the Greens 10.5% and the JLN 10.1%.

MediaReach has previously only taken polls in the Northern Territory, so it does not have a track record. ReachTEL’s Tasmanian polls were biased against Labor at the last two federal elections, but the Liberals performed better than ReachTEL expected at the 2014 state election.

Essential 53-47 to federal Labor

The first federal poll of 2018, an Essential poll, was released last week. Labor led by 53-47, unchanged from the final Essential poll of 2017 five weeks ago.

Primary votes were 38% Labor (steady), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one). This poll was conducted on January 11-15 from a sample of 1,038.

According to the Poll Bludger, Essential will be a fortnightly poll this year. Previously, Essential polled weekly, with a rolling two-week sample used for voting intentions.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net approval was minus seven, down four points since December. Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped to minus 17, down eight points since December.

By 44-29, voters would support Australia becoming a republic with an Australian head of state (44-30 in January 2017). By 53-38, voters would support a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

More than 50% thought all types of crime had increased in the last few years, including 70% who thought youth gang crime had increased, and 76% who thought drug-related crime had increased. 53% and 40% respectively thought drug crime and youth crime had increased a lot.

The ConversationI expect the first Newspoll of 2018 when federal parliament resumes in early February.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate byelection in stunning upset; Bennelong is tied 50-50



File 20171213 27565 jztyz5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Democrat candidate Doug Jones has had an unlikely win in the hard-fought Alabama Senate ballot.
Reuters/ Marvin Gentry

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all election-day votes counted, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 49.9-48.4 margin to win the Alabama Senate byelection today. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will hold only a 51-49 Senate majority, down from their current 52-48.

Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 62-34 margin in Alabama at the 2016 Presidential election, so in Australian terms, this result is a swing to the Democrats of 14.6%.

The massive swing was partly due to Moore’s faults. His extreme right-wing views probably made him a liability even in a state as conservative as Alabama. In November, I wrote that Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl, when he was 32, could damage him. Similar allegations against Moore were made by other women.

While Moore was a bad candidate, Trump and national Republicans can also be blamed for this result. According to exit polls, Trump’s approval with the Alabama electorate was split 48% approve, 48% disapprove, a large drop from his 2016 margin.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump’s national ratings are 37% approve, 57% disapprove, for a net of -20. Trump’s ratings have recently slipped back to near-record lows, probably as a result of the unpopular Republican tax plan.

This tax plan is unlikely to be derailed by Jones’ win. Different versions have already passed the House and Senate, and Republicans still have some time before Jones is seated to pass the same version through both chambers of Congress. The current Senate version was passed 51-49. Even if Jones is seated, there would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.

The last Democrat to win an Alabama Senate contest was Richard Shelby in 1992, and he became a Republican in 1994. Southern Democrats used to easily win Alabama and other conservative southern states, but these Democrats were nicknamed “Dixiecrats”, and were definitely not left-wing. Doug Jones may be the first genuinely left-wing Senator from Alabama.

The Alabama result will be a massive morale boost for Democrats, as many will think that if Democrats can win Alabama, they can win anywhere. This should allow Democrats to recruit strong candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.

According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Democrats lead in the race for Congress by 47.2-37.5. If Democrats win the national popular vote by this margin next November, they should easily gain control of the House.

The Alabama result will make it more difficult for Republicans to pass legislation and get conservative judges approved. It also puts the Senate in play in November 2018, as Jones will not be up for election until 2020. Democrats now need to gain two seats in 2018 to take control, rather than three.

One-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and Democrats won the 33 Senate seats up next year by a 25-8 margin in 2012. Republicans will only be defending eight seats, while Democrats defend 25. In these circumstances, two Senate seats are far easier to gain than three.

Most Alabama polls gave Moore a three-to-seven-point lead over Jones, with one at a nine-point Moore lead. The Monmouth and Washington Post polls (respectively tied and Jones by three) were the most accurate. Ironically, the Fox News poll was the most pro-Jones, giving him a ten-point lead.

Bennelong Newspoll 50-50

The Bennelong byelection will be held on Saturday, December 16. A Bennelong Newspoll, conducted December 9-10 from a sample of 529, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 election. Primary votes were 39% Liberal, 39% Labor, 9% Greens, 7% for Cory Bernardi’s Conservatives and 2% Christian Democrats.

Newspoll is assuming that Conservative and Christian Democrat preferences are as favourable to the Liberals as Greens preferences are for Labor.

At the start of the campaign, more than three weeks ago, Galaxy had a 50-50 tie, while ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll is the first publicly released Bennelong poll since then, though The Australian reported last week that internal Liberal polling had them leading 54-46.

In past elections, individual seat polls have been inaccurate. There is some chance of a Labor win in Bennelong, but there is also some chance of a thumping Liberal win.

Newspoll asked about Labor candidate Kristina Keneally’s performance when she was NSW premier. 19% thought she was one of the worst premiers, 15% below average, 26% average, 23% better than average, and 10% one of the best. The Liberals have attacked Keneally on her record as premier, but this does not appear to have worked.

The national polls below indicate the media frenzy over Sam Dastyari has had little impact on voting intentions. Often issues that excite partisan voters have little resonance with the general public.

Essential 54-46 to federal Labor

The Coalition gained a point in this week’s Essential, but this was due to rounding. Labor led 54-46, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for voting intentions. Additional questions use one week’s sample.

Despite Labor’s strong lead in voting intentions, Turnbull’s net approval improved from -12 in November to -3. Shorten’s net approval also improved from -13 to -9.

71% thought it is important that sexual harassment claims in the film and TV industry are exposed, while just 17% thought exposing these claims could unfairly harm reputations. 55% thought the current media attention on sexual harassment would bring about lasting change in the Australian workplace, while 30% thought it would soon be forgotten.

Considering energy policy, 37% said costs should be prioritised (up nine since June), 18% thought reliability should be prioritised (down three) and 15% carbon emissions (down four).

YouGov primary votes: 35% Labor, 34% Coalition, 11% Greens, 8% One Nation

This week’s YouGov, conducted December 7-10 from a sample of 1,032, had primary votes of 35% Labor (up 3 since last fortnight), 34% Coalition (up 2), 11% Greens (up 1) and 8% One Nation (down 3).

Although this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 election preferences, YouGov’s respondent allocated preferences are tied 50-50, a three-point gain for the Coalition.

By 40-39, voters thought Turnbull should stand down as prime minister and let someone else take over, rather than remain prime minister. 28% said Turnbull’s decision to go ahead with the banking royal commission gave them a more positive view of him, 15% more negative and 52% said it made no difference.

The Conversation39% expected Labor to win the next federal election, 24% the Coalition, and 14% expected a hung parliament.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

USA: BARACK OBAMA SWEEPS TO VICTORY


In good news for the United States and the world, Barack Obama has swept to victory in the US Presidential election. The George W. Bush reign will end at the beginning of next year and Barack Obama will be sworn in as the next president of the United States.

With the Democratic victory over the Republican Party, President-elect Obama has described his victory as one that brings new hope to his country. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it brings new hope to the world – a sentiment that I would certainly agree with.

But more than that (or at least as part of that), Barack Obama brings some intelligence to the Oval Office when his predecessor George W. Bush moves out. The Bush presidency has been marked by an endless procession of gaffes (and some unbelievable ones at that).

Of course there are some major issues with some of the Obama policies – such as abortion, etc. Now is the time for celebration, soon will be the time of tackling these other important issues that will come to a head soon enough. We must remember that the Republican Party is not the bastion of moral integrity in the United States – just look at the Californian government’s view on several issues (a Republican government under the ‘Terminator’) including that of homosexuality.

One must not expect the secular arena to be the bastion of moral integrity – that should surely be the Christian Church as God’s representative on earth. Now that is a major basket case in the United States that we should be more concerned about.