Tuesday Reads: Hopeful Views and Crazy News

Illustration by Aïda Amer, Axios

Good Morning!!

Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Rachel Bitecofer about her accurate prediction of 2018 election results and her current prediction for the 2020 presidential race.

Rachel Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis and conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns. Her work and analysis has been featured in many media outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostUSA TodayNPR, and she is a contracted commentator on CBC Radio. Her book, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (Palgrave McMillan) is available via Amazon. Her unique election forecasting model accurately predicted Democrats gaining 42 seats 5 months before the 2018 midterms.

Bitecofer has describes her model for the 2018 and 2020 elections at The Judy Ford Center for Public Policy: With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election.

In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out. I’ll serve up that result below, but first let’s set the table by reviewing my model’s 2018 forecasting success.

Rachel Bitecofer

Not only did I predict that they would gain nearly double the seats they needed, but I also identified a specific list of Republican seats Democrats would flip, including some, such as Virginia CD7, that were listed as “Lean Republican” by the majority of race raters at the time. At a time when other analysts coded even the most competitive House races for Democrats as Lean or Tilt Democrat, I identified 13 Republican-held districts as “Will Flips,” 12 as “Likely to Flip,” and 6 as “Lean Democrat.” I also identified a large list of “Toss Ups,” from which I would later identify the remaining “flippers.” In addition, I identified some “long-shot toss-up” districts that could be viable flips under some turnout scenarios. Of the original 25 districts I identified as definitely or highly likely to flip, all but one, Colorado CD3, did so, possibly because the party failed to invest in their nominee there.

What does the model say about 2020?

Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.

Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.

Last night Bitecofer predicted that the Democratic candidate will win 270 electoral votes. There’s much more interesting analysis at the link above. Read a slightly less technical analysis of Bitecofer’s model by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave — here’s her forecast.

Meanwhile, at the moment we are at the mercy of the insane occupant of the White House. Eugene Robinson: Trump is melting down. Again.

Fears of a global recession, greatly exacerbated by Trump’s erratic and self-destructive trade policies, have sent financial markets tumbling. A sharp downturn would close off one of the principal lines of attack the president was hoping to use against his Democratic opponent. He tried it out at a rally in New Hampshire last week: “You have no choice but to vote for me,” he told the crowd, “because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s gonna be down the tubes” if he loses. “So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”

Fact check: No.

Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal — any trade deal, apparently — and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.

He entertains grandiose, almost Napoleonic fantasies — purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.

And Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News pollthat showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda — indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play — but the polling unit is a professional operation. “There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates — the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.

The only thing Robinson leaves out is that Trump’s health is going downhill; his dementia symptoms are getting worse by the day.

Trump’s biggest supporters are nuts too, but they are also very influential on social media. Check out this story at NBC News: Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.

By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times.

The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive — more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.

Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem. The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years.

But it isn’t.

Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government.

It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message.

Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.

Click the link the read the rest. We are truly living in the Twilight Zone.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll add some non-crazy links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?

58 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Hopeful Views and Crazy News”

  1. roofingbird says:

    I can see it coming now. Don’t hire anyone over 50! Term limits! What did you expect from an old fart? I don’t care if the old fart has got double jointed dementia backed with pass out rageahololic high blood pressure. Drumpsters voted in the change they wanted and it had nothing to do with a medical condition.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No, but we’re dealing with it now.

      • roofingbird says:

        Agreed. I live every day with someone now labeled cognitively impaired, who is very different than he was. He still makes decisions and is active in his church and elsewhere. I know the symptoms as well as anyone. No doctor wants to tell him what he can’t do if he wants to try, except drive. There you have it. What is the bright line standard for presidential incapacitation? I don’t think we are there yet. Also, once
        determined, what previous presidential actions should be scrutinized? I just don’t want to wade through false ageism claims

        • NW Luna says:

          Agree with you on the false ageism claims. RBG and HRC are just 2 examples why you can’t uniformly say “no one over xx yrs.”

          Someone with cognitive impairment is usually fine making minor decisions, but not moderate or important decisions. However when it comes to presidents, any of their decisions are arguably important. Unfortunately legal competence has a low standard. Competence to make medical decisions, such as consent to surgery, is much higher.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Here’s a story you might like. Politico: We talked to aging experts about the 2020 field. Here’s what they told us.

      The two brain aneurysms that Biden suffered in 1988 were fully treated and he showed no signs of mental trouble as a result, said Dr. Neal Kassell, who performed the surgery on Biden three decades ago. Nor did Biden suffer any brain damage that would might come back to haunt him in old age, Kassell said.

      “He is every bit as sharp as he was 31 years ago. I haven’t seen any change,” Kassell said. “I can tell you with absolute certainty that he had no brain damage, either from the hemorrhage or from the operations that he had. There was no damage whatsoever.”

      On the other over-70 candidates:

      “They have prospects for survival that extend well beyond the four-year term of the office. The bottom line is their chronological age does not matter at all,” said Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, who led the study….

      But “there was nothing we could see that would lead us to believe that the age of an individual, in and of itself, should be a disqualifying factor to run for president,” Olshansky said.

      For someone of Sanders’ age and gender, the study pegs the chances of surviving a four-year term at 76.8 percent. The corresponding figures for the other candidates are Biden at 79.2 percent, Weld at 83.6 percent, Trump at 84.8 percent and Warren at 91.8 percent.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    I love this story at CBS News: World’s largest highway overpass for wildlife on track in California.


    Hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway. It will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates.

    The span along U.S. 101 will only be the second animal overpass in a state where tunnels are more common. Officials say it will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet above 10 lanes of busy highway and a feeder road just 35 miles northwest of downtown L.A.

    “When the freeway went in, it cut off an ecosystem. We’re just now seeing impacts of that,” Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation told The Associated Press.

    And it’s mostly funded with private money. Please read.

    • lililam says:

      I think the overpass is great, but I dispute the claim that mountain lions are endangered. There are concerns about some cats in Florida and Virginia, but they are not endangered in California. Some of their habitats are a bit crunched, but it has been illegal to hunt a lion in Cali for some time and due to relocations from fires, perhaps, we in the foothills are seeing a real explosion in their numbers. My neighbors and I have had at least weekly sightings and I am very hesitant to go out at dusk or dawn without the buffer of my mastiff by my side. They tend to attack deer, poultry, and domestic cats and small dogs around here; one of the reasons I choose the larger breeds.

  3. dakinikat says:

    he’s freaking out again …

  4. Sweet Sue says:

    Great roundup, BB. Thanks

  5. dakinikat says:

  6. dakinikat says:

    Trump is really deteriorating. Did you see him go after the mooch with some kind of video thing and the mooch’s wife? It’s insane how he goes on attack for the least little thing.

  7. Pat Johnson says:

    Just me, but I well remember 2016 when Hillary was miles ahead of Trump and look what happened.

    It all depends upon turnout and if the Dems fail to enthuse the base we are stuck again. Trump will always have his 38%. But if one of the Dems (or Bernie) decides to go third party we are looking at Trump again. And I don’t put it past any of them to go “rogue”. Bernie for one. Beto for two. Who knows?

    The issue is Trump but we are also looking at a stage full of Dem prima donna’s who feel they are ready and able to chuck him out.

    I am an admitted pessimist but I never thought that we would elect a movie star as POTUS. Or another dimwitted Bush not once but twice. Nor did I see Obama beating Hillary in 2008 and Trump beating her in 2016.

    I am going to have to see the actual “win” to occur before I celebrate.

  8. dakinikat says:

    • Sweet Sue says:

      I hope to God they’re allowed to vote. The Republicans put up every obstacle they can get away with. I shudder to think what will happen now that Moscow Mitch has rammed all of those right wing (and young) judges through the Senate.

  9. Sweet Sue says:

    Has anybody read why Kamala Harris is slipping in the polls? What am I missing?

    • dakinikat says:

      I’ve heard two hypotheses but I’m not sure if they’re all that viable. One is that she didn’t do well in the second debate. The other is the first debate where she took on Biden. I’m not sure what the basis is for either of those but the CNN poll shows Biden up again so who knows.

    • quixote says:

      She gets mediocre coverage to the extent of the media’s abilities (because female, black, yadda yadda, certainly not based on *her*), and the Russians are apparently doing their best to undermine her because they see her as potentially the strongest competition for their Pet Pile-o-Poo.

      Given how easily swayed too many people are, I suspect her ups and downs just reflect the latest garbage or lack of it flying around.

    • quixote says:

      If that’s the CNN poll everybody is on about, I just saw that it had 400 respondents — less than half the usual number — and hence a huge margin of error: + or – 6%

      Harris’s numbers could be 6% higher, another candidate’s could be 6% lower, and suddenly she hasn’t dropped 12% at all. The statisticians call that sort of thing “having little explanatory power.” I.e. garbage in, garbage out.

      • NW Luna says:

        IIRC there were ~250 respondents — will hunt for reference. I definitely recall the + or – 6% and thought “WTH? That’s practically worthless!”

      • dakinikat says:

        yeah, EOMs are really silly giving the low polling numbers of most of the folks in there and the number of them

  10. dakinikat says:

  11. dakinikat says:

    • RonStill4Hills says:

      “Here’s Uncle Joe he’s thinkin’ kinda slow at the ‘Lection.”

      Biden has lost a step or two…it isn’t about age necessarily, RBG is a sharp as a tack. Nancy and Auntie Maxine don’t have Senior moments that I am aware of, but Biden looks, feels and sounds like a shadow of the DINO, pandering hypocrite he used to be.

      • dakinikat says:

        My mother used to tell me that the older people got the more they consistently showed their true selves. She never gave me an explanation for why she felt that way but I’ve noticed that it’s gotten progressively harder for me to keep up acts for the benefit of others.

  12. jackyt says:

    It’s interesting to me that Biden’s numbers go down after debates, where he’s viewed side by side with his opponents. When he avoids comparison by not showing up at events designed to present the full range of candidates, like in California last week, his numbers go up. It seems to me Joe Biden looks better the less you see of him.

    • NW Luna says:

  13. NW Luna says:

  14. RonStill4Hills says:

    Ok, so what is Bibi the Bozo going to say about “love him like he is the second coming of God.”

  15. dakinikat says:

    Zerlina Maxwell is my guru:

  16. bostonboomer says:

  17. bostonboomer says:

    • dakinikat says:

      IT sounds like 25th amendment time.

    • Sweet Sue says:

      That’s terrifying. He sounds like Greg Stillson from “The Dead Zone”

    • NW Luna says:

      It’s time Trump gets involuntarily committed.

    • quixote says:

      Sady Doyle said it long ago (2015? 2016? at least a century 😦 ). The Dump is a Chatbot. He spews back anything that will get him more clicks.

      So for me it’s hard to tell whether this is genuine crazy, ie he actually thinks these crazy things (for some value of the word “thinks”). Or he’s just presenting the biggest reddest button available right now, no matter if it’s insane or not, which he’s always done.

      Thank god we didn’t vote for the lady who received three wrongly classified emails, though. Because that would have been bad. (Thank you, Jeff Tiedrich.)

  18. dakinikat says:

  19. NW Luna says:

    JJ, here’s one for the cartoon roundup.