The pointless pursuit of “moderate” voters

Based on lots of great data analysis (trust me, or click through and read the whole thing), Lee Drutman makes a strong case for the futility of chasing after “moderate” voters:

But unlike independents, moderates are more likely to be Democrats. The average moderate in the Voter Study Group data is solidly center-left on both economic and immigration issues. This, I think, has mostly to do with linguistic history: Republicans have long embraced the “conservative” label, but for decades Democrats ran away from the “liberal” label, leaving “moderate” as the only self-identification refuge for many Democrats. (Only recently has “liberal” again become a fashionable identification for the left.)

Consider the typical ideology survey question, which gives respondents three options: liberal, moderate or conservative. A voter who identifies as neither liberal nor conservative has only one other option: moderate. And moderate sounds like a good thing. Isn’t moderation a virtue?

As the political scientists Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe put it, after looking at five decades of public opinion research, “the moderate category seems less an ideological destination than a refuge for the innocent and the confused.”8 Similarly, political scientist David Broockman has also written about the meaninglessness of the “moderate” label, particularly as a predictor of centrism.

The upshot of all this is that if you’re a campaign trying to appeal to independents, moderates or undecided voters — or a concerned citizen trying to make sense of these groups in the context of an election — policy and ideology aren’t good frames of reference. There just isn’t much in terms of policy or ideology that unites these groups.11

Anybody who claims to have the winning formula for winning moderate, independent or undecided voters is making things up. Perhaps more centrist policies will appeal to some voters in each of these categories — but so will more extreme policies.12

And come election day, these potential swing voters may not ultimately care all that much about policy. They don’t tend to identify themselves based on ideology, and they don’t follow politics all that closely. They’re more likely to decide based on whatever random events happen at the last minute (like, say, a letter from the FBI director). These are even harder to measure and generalize about. (The good news for pundits and campaigns is that they leave even more room for open speculation and political fortune-telling.) [emphasis mine]

This doesn’t mean that there’s absolutely zero ideological penalty for a more extreme candidate, but it sure does mean we should not be listening to pundits talking about Democratic candidates need to capture some large group of moderate, undecided voters.

Why impeachment is actually sticking this time

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp on why he’s now persuaded:

Since the Democrats took control of the House, I’ve been deeply conflicted about the debate over impeaching President Donald Trump. There were very strong arguments on both sides, and it seemed genuinely difficult for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to chart the right course.

That ambivalence ended this weekend. After worrying press reports about the president’s phone calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump all but openly admitted that he had pushed Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

This changes everything. Impeaching Trump over Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation would have been an attempt to address past offenses; impeaching Trump over these calls would be an attempt to halt what sure looks like an ongoing attempt to hijack American foreign policy in service of the president’s reelection. Democrats have an obligation to try to stop this before it gets any further.

There is now no question: It’s time to impeach Donald Trump…

The aim would be to prevent the president from making some kind of shady, behind-the-scenes agreement with Ukrainian authorities and make him think twice about any other similar scheme for using his powers for electoral gain.

This level of attention seems like the best available tool for preventing Trump from continuing his efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Moreover, such high levels of press coverage and partisan furor would also make it harder to imagine that the Ukrainian government, which might have to deal with a Democratic president in 2021, would come to any kind of corrupt deal with Trump. Democratic posturing would serve as a counterweight to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, signaling to the country’s leadership that any cooperation with the president’s inappropriate demands could seriously fray relations with the US in the next administration.

Under this logic, it doesn’t actually matter so much that impeachment will invariably fail in the Senate. The very act of shining a light on Trump’s misbehavior would limit his freedom of action.

If you have a president who is actively trying to abuse his power in order to invite foreign meddling in the next presidential election, you need to do what you can to stop him. And impeachment is the biggest and most powerful tool in Democrats’ toolbox.

And EJ Dionne sums up the new dynamics nicely via tweet:

 

Impeachment for Slovaks (and Americans)

As I am wont to do when when giving email interviews for Slovakian media, I also like to share that here.  So, my interview for Pravda:

1. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the establishment of a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump after reports Trump pressured the President of Ukraine to investigate activities of Joe Biden’s son. Is this Ukraine affair the biggest problem for Trump regarding impeachment, or there are other (maybe even more) important issues?

Yes, I think you’d have to say that Ukraine is is Trump’s biggest problem in that, this, of all things, has finally actually led to an official impeachment inquiry. For many wavering Democrats and impeachment-skeptical Trump doubters/opponents, this has moved them into new territory of clearly supporting impeachment. Since impeachment is ultimately a political decision, safe to say that the politics of impeaching on Ukraine are the most appealing politically to follow-through on. That said, now that the impeachment genie is out of the bottle, there are other areas where President Trump is quite vulnerable. I think there’s a good case to be made that the administration’s general refusal to accept congressional oversight is ripe for impeachment charges. And, now that the impeachment inquiry is actually happening, it is quite possible the President’s behavior outlined in the Mueller report could be the basis of impeachment charges.

2. On one hand Trump criticizes Democrats for their impeachment move, on the other hand it seems that he perhaps believes it will help him to be reelected. What does the impeachment process mean for the US politics and upcoming presidential elections in the hyperpartisan atmosphere? Could it be good for Trump?
For the record, my thoughts here rely heavily on Jonathan Bernstein as I agree 100% with this analysis:
https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-09-25/will-impeaching-donald-trump-affect-the-2020-elections

I think the greatest likelihood is that there is actually pretty minimal impact on the election from where we stand here. To a (sometimes stunning) degree, Republicans seem to have already “priced in” bad, if not, egregious behavior from the President, or, alternatively, convince themselves of a reality where his behavior is actually appropriate. If you’ve been with the president so far, it’s hard to see too many people actually changing their minds against him. Nonetheless, I do believe there’s a non-trivial chance that truly damning evidence comes out that causes him to lose some elite Republican support. If that happens, things could get very bad for Trump.

On the other hand, it’s hard to see the case where this helps him. Who are the voters that are going to turn towards Trump because they see him as unfairly attacked who were not already supporting him? Especially, when one considers the strong case that Democrats have along multiple lines of inquiry and the cautiousness and judiciousness with which Nancy Pelosi has approached the matter, the kind of gross overreach that mind actually turn opinion towards Trump seems quite unlikely.

And, as to what happens from all of this, anybody who says with any confidence is really just making stuff up. We are very much in uncharted territory.

So, go and read that Bernstein link.  It’s really good. Or, okay, here’s some excerpts:

So far, President Donald Trump is unpopular – and, polls say, so is impeachment. I expect the latter to change. The more that highly visible Democrats are united in favor of impeachment, the more that Democratic voters and independents who dislike Trump will likely shift toward their position. I wouldn’t be surprised if that shift happens rapidly, at least if the news media gives saturation coverage to the story and voters start to learn more about it.

I think it’s a lot less likely that Trump’s popularity will change. Yes, President Richard Nixon’s approval ratings dropped dramatically over the course of the Watergate scandal. But there are a lot of differences, starting with the fact that Trump has a lot less ground to lose. It’s possible that new facts could push mild Trump supporters into being mild Trump opponents (and so on for other levels of support), but I wouldn’t count on a lot of that. What really could hurt Trump would be if numerous high-profile Republicans turned against him. That’s unlikely, because those Republicans know that the less popular Trump is, the worse off all party candidates will be in the next election. But if Trump’s approval ratings are going be harmed, that’s how it’ll happen.

Could impeachment actually make Trump more popular? That, too, is possible but unlikely. President Bill Clinton was probably helped by a partisan impeachment that most neutral opinion leaders, and even some Republicans, thought was a bad idea. I don’t think that’s where elite opinion will be this time. If, however, this winds up uniting congressional Republicans, and some Democrats go along in opposition, it could conceivably help Trump. But I wouldn’t count on it. One reason: He’s going to keep doing things that people who have turned against him don’t like.

Assuming Trump survives and becomes the Republican nominee next year, the effects of impeachment per se on the presidential election will probably be small and possibly nonexistent. We don’t know how long any impeachment and trial would last, but voters tend to have shockingly short memories.

And, lastly, this is a terrific piece on what should be the basis of impeachment from the Lawfare team:

If the House is no longer considering whether to impeach Trump and has really decided to move forward, it needs to think about what articles of impeachment should—and should not—contain.

This is actually a difficult question. Trump’s misconduct presents what the military calls a target-rich environment. There’s a huge range of activity that a reasonable member of Congress could in good conscience regard as impeachable. That said, it would be a very bad idea for the House to take the approach of throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what, if anything, sticks. That approach could potentially trigger political blowback, giving the president’s allies more material with which to portray congressional Democrats as just a bunch of crazed and partisan attack dogs. And it could also risk doing real institutional damage. When Congress passes an article of impeachment, it makes a statement about the nature of offenses that justify removal from office. It is important to be careful when making such statements so as not to create ill-considered precedents that will justify future mischief.

This is why it is critically important to be disciplined at this juncture—to base articles of impeachment only on that activity which is not merely a plausible basis for removal but is unambiguously justified as a basis for removal. That means that anything that is a matter of policy—no matter how much one might disagree with the policy or how abhorrent one might find it—should not be included. For example, Congress should strongly resist the temptation to include disputes over border security—including both spending on the wall and the grotesque policy of family separation—in any articles it might draw up.

It also means that Congress should avoid issues that implicate Trump’s conduct before he became president. Whether pre-presidential conduct can ever be impeachable is an interesting question; the answer is probably that it can under certain extraordinary circumstances. (One of us has argued as much regarding payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during the campaign.) But, here, there is not a good reason for Congress to force that difficult question. For impeachment purposes, Trump should get a mulligan on misconduct that took place while he was a candidate. That means not including wrongdoing associated with Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election—most of which does not overtly implicate Trump’s personal conduct anyway. It also means ignoring for impeachment purposes Trump’s likely criminality with respect to the Daniels and McDougal payments. While this activity spilled over into his presidency, it is predominantly pre-presidential.

There’s another reason to leave this particular material out, independent of its merits as a potentially impeachable offense: During the Clinton impeachment, Democrats presented themselves as taking the principled view that a president shouldn’t be removed for modest criminality to cover up sexual indiscretion. Unless they want the impeachment debate to focus on their flip-flop, they would do well not to flip-flop on that…

In short, Congress should focus for impeachment purposes only on matters of unacceptable presidential conduct that are provable on the basis of currently available evidence and that are thus easily presentable to the Senate for judgment.

This does not mean that Trump’s conduct outside this category is wise, moral, acceptable or even, in some cases, legal. But the House must rigorously focus on the worst provable offenses undertaken as president in part because there are so many possible charges to begin with. Some of these are very bad but not impeachable; some might conceivably justify impeachment in and of themselves. But incorporating everything will ensure that nothing receives the full attention that it warrants. The House thus needs to focus on those offenses that make the strongest case of misuse of presidential power, rather than wading into difficult questions concerning the impeachability of pre-presidential conduct, sexual misconduct, racism or other moral failures.

What does that leave in terms of impeachable conduct? A lot. [emphasis mine]

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