Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A Countertrend Inside A Countertrend

Johnson County, Iowa may be one of the worst possible vantage points for viewing the 2016 presidential election.

As the rest of the nation is trending bluer, recoiling in disgust at Donald Trump, Iowa with its heavily white and rural population is trending redder, reverting from the relatively solid Obama margins of 2008 and 2014 to the razor-close 2000 and 2004 contests.

And as the rest of Iowa is trending redder, the People's Republic, with its higher diversity and education levels, has been trending even MORE Democratic than its traditional best in the state margin.

As I noted in the aftermath of 2014, we're not just the bluest county in the state by a little. It's by a LOT. Race by race we were 13 to 15 points more Democratic than any other county in the state.

We're also, in the context of this election,  more different than the rest of our state than other liberal academic enclaves. Places like Ann Arbor, Madison, and Berkeley have other diverse, Democratic-trending, pro-sports size metro areas in their states. But without those majority-minority precincts where Hillary is at 93% and Trump is running FOURTH, we stand out a bit more.

And because we're so different, we have different needs and concerns than the rest of the country. What's helping in the Big Picture may not be helping here. Because Hillary Clinton is not really running against Donald Trump here.

If you look back, you'll see that the Johnson County GOP over/under bar for presidential tickets in recent decades is around 30%. W was at 34 and 35 in his two runs, and won Iowa in 2004, the only Republican win since Reagan `84. Romney maintained minimal dignity at 31%, but Bob Dole was at 29 and McCain only managed 28%. Bush 41 was at 35% in his win and 27% in his loss.

Given the unique nature of his candidacy, Donald Trump would be doing very, very well to get that 27%. I'm betting a beret that he's closer to 25. But that's only part of the story.

Because Hillary Clinton is not running against TRUMP in Johnson County. She's running against Gary Johnson and Jill Stein and not voting at all and a blank space baby and I'll write your name.

Don't encourage them, Taylor.

It's clear that Brooklyn has done the math and determined that Clinton's path to national victory relies more on Never Trump Republicans and independents than it does on disgruntled Sanders supporters. So that's the strategy - but it may hurt the margin here.

In the big picture, it makes sense for Clinton to tout those Never Trump endorsements (thank GOD that Henry Kissinger took the hint, though, and agreed not to make an endorsement) and have the likes of Meg Whitman out on the trail. But it probably hurts her margins here, as the self-righteous can point to it, pretend The Parties Are The Same, and feel smug while casting a Vote Of Conscience.

Which Noam Chomsky - THERE'S a great lefty name from my own grad school days - argues convincingly against in eight bullet points:
"...cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing."
2016 isn't quite a three-way contest like 1980 or 1992. It's more of a two and a half way contest like 1996 or 2000, with the third parties getting more than an asterisk but less than double digits.

It's dangerous to go TOO far back, but it's worth noting that in Johnson County, John Anderson in 1980 ran stronger than Ross Perot in 1992. That factoid still rings true, both in terms of style and in terms of our ideological inconsistency. We don't like lowbrow folks like Trump and Perot and George Wallace, but we respond well to liberal style despite iffy substance.

2000 is of course the example everyone is pointing to this year, but remember: disappointed Bernie kids only know that as a thing from a history book, and not even a BIG thing because it's all mixed in with chads and butterfly ballots.

Ralph Nader scored 6.2% in Johnson County in 2000, and rather embarrassingly pushed Bush into THIRD place in one precinct. But in the aftermath of Florida, the bottom fell out for Nader and he was a smidge below 0.5 in `04, and the various left candidates combined have stayed around that level since.

At least Ralph Nader accomplished some stuff before going on to the electoral infamy.

Yes, I know "Unsafe At Any Speed" was the Corvair not the Pinto. Still funny.

The lefties have a significantly weaker standard bearer this time. Jill Stein exudes a definite Not Ready For Prime Time quality with her pandering to anti-vaxxers and fueling of conspiracy theories.

The more significant third party contender, even in Johnson County, is Libertarian Gary Johnson, who polled 1.1% here in 2012 to equal the party's best prior showing in 1980.

The under told story of this entire election is how the Bernie Sanders phenomenon completely wiped out the Rand Paul campaign. It seems counter-intuitive to imagine people switching from libertarianism to socialism and back to libertarianism, until you realize that the core appeal of Sanders wasn't socialism, it was pacifism. It was foreign policy non-interventionism.

Look at the cluster of privacy and surveillance issues. Look at the number of debate and speech references to Clinton's Iraq war vote. Look at how the most enthusiastic jeering at the national convention was directed at military figures and was a chant of "NO MORE WAR." Not "No Iraq War," not "No Afghanistan war." No more war. Period. (That probably tacitly includes the drug war, too.)

So folks who signed up with Bernie for free tuition and campaign finance reform and a $15 minimum wage should look long and hard at where Johnson is on those issues.

Some people won't vote at all, of course, something I literally can't understand. The traditional early indicator, absentee requests, is way way down from 2012, a fact confirmed from other counties. The Democratic field operation, which is what drives those numbers here, began much later than usual. Some of that may have been the longer than necessary conclusion to the nomination season, but it now feels like a strategic decision at the Brooklyn level to do things later. So the jury is still out on where turnout will land and how many people will skip out. (Among those who DO vote, historically about 0.25 to 0.5% skip the presidential contest, a figure that grows to close to 50% for the last judges on the ballot.)

As for write-in votes. You got that right. Take that right seriously and reserve it for when there actually IS a write in campaign going on. In most cases, write in votes are only seen by poll workers, who have to count them by hand at the end of a very, very long day. And don't get me started on Fred Hoiberg. There's ten names on the ballot. Pick one. But do so knowing that either Clinton or Trump will be the next president.

Which leads my to my final argument, which no one who needs to read it will see because the people who need to are disaffected and un-reachable voters who don't read intermittently published political blogs.

And that's what worries me: that the same "Everybody *I* Know" dynamic we saw in the primaries, in which students in monolithic Bernie academic precincts were unable to comprehend that an AME congregation in Georgia may not be voting the same way, will happen this fall. There are going to be yooge numbers of Johnson County voters, concentrated in the student precincts, who will literally know zero open Trump supporters. Unable to believe Trump could actually win the state, they'll feel like they get a freebie, a Protest Vote that is nothing of the kind.

The left, the center, and much of the right is recoiling against Trumpism, a weird mishmash of the Know Nothing Party, the National Front style movements of Europe, alt-right internet trolls, and actual Illinois Nazis.

And John Belushi knew what to do with Illinois Nazis: run them into the river.

To discredit Trumpism, a Johnson or Stein or Non vote doesn't help. That's because the story that will be told in the short term and engraved in history in the long term is the MARGIN. And that story will be told in Hillary Percent Minus Trump Percent, with the third parties forgotten in the headlines and ignored by the history books. The Protest Votes will be literally written out of that math.

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