Gallup Finds Increase In Self-Described Liberals

Gallup Liberals

In a poll of limited significance, Gallup has found an increase in the number of self-described liberals:

Conservatives continued to outnumber moderates and liberals in the U.S. population in 2014, as they have since 2009. However, their 14-percentage-point edge over liberals last year, 38% vs. 24%, is the smallest in Gallup’s trends since 1992. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying themselves as politically conservative in 2014 was unchanged from 2013, as was the percentage of moderates, at 34%, while the percentage considering themselves liberal rose a percentage point for the third straight year.

While not a huge number, this might contradict the idea that the Republican midterm victory was a sign of greater support for conservative views.

I find this to be of limited significance as people tend to take more liberal positions on polls than would be expected if self-described labels had a real bearing on political positions. I have generally seen this poll to be more a measure of the demonization of the word liberal by the right wing noise machine than a measure of ideological beliefs, and perhaps this trend shows that conservatives are having less success in demonizing liberals.

Besides polling on issues, I find the recent Pew survey on religious affiliation to be more meaningful than this poll. Among their findings which might be of significance in speculating on political trends, Pew found that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

Another finding of interest is that, while 70 percent of Republicans label themselves conservative, only 44 percent of Democrats label themselves liberal. Is this due to a majority of Democrats not being liberal, or again due to people simply avoiding the term liberal? I suspect it is a combination of each, with the Democratic Party being a more centrist party, but also with many Democrats supporting liberal positions without using the liberal label.

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Clinton v. Bush, Again?

Clinton Bush

A lot can change between now and when the two major political parties pick their nominees, but it is looking increasingly like we might face another Clinton v. Bush campaign. Larry Sabato, while acknowledging that there are factors which could cause him to lose, has placed Jeb Bush alone in his top tier of Republican nominees:

So for the first time in a while, we elevate a candidate to the First Tier of the Crystal Ball’s GOP rankings for president. Jeb Bush fills a long-established vacuum. Our decision is tentative; his poll ratings are still underwhelming, and Bush is a shaky frontrunner. Yet Bush is No. 1 on a giant roster as we begin the long roller-coaster process of picking the party nominees over the next year and a half.

We are amazed that Republicans could nominate their third Bush for a fifth run at the White House since 1988. Such family dominance of either major party is unprecedented in American history, unless you want to link Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s one nomination (1904) with Democrat Franklin Roosevelt’s four nominations (1932-1944). The Roosevelt presidencies were separated by party labels and 24 years. The Bush presidencies, should Jeb win it all, will have been separated by just eight-year intervals.

By no means is Bush a sure thing — far from it. The path to the nomination will likely be tougher for this Bush than it was for his father in 1988 and brother in 2000. The party establishment is still a force to be reckoned with, but nowhere near as dominant in the GOP of 2015 as it was in those earlier times.

Currently, more than three-quarters of Republicans want someone other than Bush. The frontrunner depends on a split in conservative ranks — which appears to be happening — as well as a concerted push by the party’s establishment leaders and donors to freeze out Bush alternatives (including Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich). We’ve always doubted Romney would run unless the pragmatists in the leadership and donor class deemed a rescue mission essential; right now, they do not. The remaining Bush alternatives are still in the game, though.

After Bush, Sabato has Rand Paul, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie in the second tier, with other candidates ranked down to a seventh tier. Mike Huckabee, who has also taken recent action towards a possible campaign, is in the third tier along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. My Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan is in the fourth tier. He is likely the least bat-shit crazy of the bunch, but I fear that even if he was president he would acquiesce to far too much from a Republican Congress, as he sometimes does with the bat-shit crazy Michigan legislature. Snyder originally won the Republican nomination for Governor because of support from Democrats in 2010 when he looked like the lesser evil when it was apparent that a Republican was going to win.

With three-quarters of Republicans wanting someone other than Bush, it certainly seems possible that another candidate could emerge. While there is some sentiment among Democrats for someone other than Clinton, there do not appear to be any serious challengers at this point.

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Goals Of The New Republican Congress: Repeal Obamacare Despite Success In Lowering Uninsured, Declare War On Math, Promote Pseudoscience To Restrict Abortion

Uninsured 2015

While Republicans are probably on the verge of voting yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to make false claims that it has been a failure, Gallup shows once again how successful the law has been. The uninsured rate has fallen to 12.9 percent, down from 17.1 percent a year ago. The open enrollment period for 2015 remains open making it likely that the uninsured will fall further, especially if there is a last minute surge in people enrolling as last year. The number will further increase if more states go ahead and accept the expanded Medicaid program, and more people are also likely to receive insurance from employers with the trend towards decreased unemployment. Gallup also found that most who have obtained insurance plan to continue coverage, either through the same or a different insurance company.

Even before the inevitable vote to repeal Obamacare, the new Republican controlled Congress has declared war on math, as Jonathan Chait described it, and have introduced a national ban on abortions after twenty weeks. I recently discussed the pseudo-science used by Republicans to justify this, and there is more at Think Progress.

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Red State Republicans Are A Minority Of Population Despite Senate Gains

Congress

The Senate is probably the strongest example of how our political system is (small-d) non-democratic. Each state receives two Senators, regardless of size, and the District of Columbia, with a population greater than several states, receives zero. The difference in size between the smallest and largest states has also increased significantly since this compromise was reached in the writing of the Constitution. A combination of factors including Senate races primarily in red states, the usual problems faced by either party in the sixth year of a presidency (with Republicans even losing control of the Senate under Ronald Reagan), and several tactical errors by Democratic candidates, led to the Republicans taking control. However, Vox has an interesting calculation:

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

Republicans also receive an advantage in the House due to a combination of gerrymandering and the fact that Democratic votes are more concentrated in cities, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of districts by higher margins, and in some years allowing Republicans to control the House with a minority of the vote.

Republicans will be forced to defend more seats in blue states in 2016 but the magnitude of the Republican pick up in 2014 will make it much harder for Democrats to actually regain control. The Atlantic looked at key election races, pointing out:

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

Other factors could help Democrats in 2016 beyond the geography. The economy will hopefully be even stronger, unless the Republican-controlled Congress, or even factors beyond political control, create further problems. The Affordable Care Act will be even more established, assuming Republicans aren’t successful in dismantling it in Congress or the courts, and might be less of a divisive political issue. Perhaps most importantly, the Democrats will be running a more national campaign behind a presidential candidate as opposed to running as Republican-lite and hiding from Obama.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress:

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he’ll also offer specific new proposals — some that he’ll pursue with Congress and others he’ll advance with his own authority — that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It’s an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president’s annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Obama, and other Democrats, should have been made the successes of Democratic policies the major point of the campaign, as opposed to running away from their successes. They might have still lost in deep red states, but Democratic turnout would have been better and they would have done better in less red areas. Besides the benefits of running on Obama’s previous record, as a result of Obama’s post-election actions his approval has shot up in the Gallup and other polls.

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Republican State Governments Expected To Renew The Culture Wars And Promote Conservative Pseudo-Science On Abortion

Democrats made a tremendous tactical mistake in the 2014 midterms. As the key Senate battles were in red states, Democrats ran as Republican-lite and Obama stayed quiet. As a consequence, turn out was at historic lows as Democratic voters saw no reason to turn out across the country, giving Republicans increased control in both Congress nationally along with in many state governments. (In contrast, once Obama became active after the election, his support shot up in the Gallup poll and multiple other polls).

While many Republicans ran with little talk of their positions on social issues, knowing that doing so might get many more people to turn out to vote against their unpopular views, The Washington Post points out that they plan to pursue conservative goals on social issues now that they are in office:

Renewal of culture wars

A new round of the culture wars is also inevitable in 2015. Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, said she expects that measures to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will advance in Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia. Missouri, too, is likely to take up some abortion-related bills.

In Tennessee, voters gave the legislature new powers to regulate abortion, and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (R) has said her chamber will take up three measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics.

Conservative efforts to ban abortions after 20 weeks are based on ignoring science, just as many conservatives do in denying evolution and climate change. Conservatives make pseudo-scientific claims that the fetus can feel pain at this point, despite the cerebral cortex not being developed until well after this point. There is no real controversy over this point in medicine. Conservatives sometimes twist studies showing simple reflexes as indicating that the fetus is feeling pain. Often they misquote researchers to falsely claim their is a scientific basis for their bogus claims. More on this faux controversy over the science here and here.

The 20 week ban is especially harmful to the rights of women as fetal abnormalities are often not discovered until after this point. It is understandable that a woman who discovers after 20 weeks that she is carrying a fetus which has severe brain abnormalities which would prevent survival might want to abort, but Republicans would deny them this choice by setting an arbitrary limit before such abnormalities are apparent. It is also feared that once they set the line at 20 weeks they will use more pseudo-science to justify moving it up.

Conservatives have also practiced pseudo-science in trying to make the abortion debate over the moment when life begins, when development of the human embryo and fetus is a continuum. Conception is a process without an exact moment at which it occurs, and even fertilization can take twenty-four hours.

If conservatives are really concerned about preventing fetal pain their policies are counterproductive. Late term abortions are very rare in this country, primarily done when the mother’s health is in danger. Another common reason for abortions being delayed until after 20 weeks is the inability of the mother to obtain the abortion earlier, often due to roadblocks placed by Republicans making abortions more difficult to obtain. Of course Republican opposition to contraception further increases the number of abortions. If conservatives were consistent in desiring to prevent fetal pain, they should facilitate the ability of women to obtain both contraception and to obtain early abortions even beyond twenty weeks and before the actual ability to feel pain is present.

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Ideological Republican Legislatures Blocking Attempts At Expanding Medicaid By More Pragmatic GOP Governors

Governors are often more pragmatic than other politicians, having to actually run the state government and consider fiscal realities. Accepting Medicaid expansion is an obvious decision for governors, as long as they consider economic factors rather than Republican ideology, as the federal government picks up most of the cost. The federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years with this gradually dropping to 90 percent in 2020. In contrast, the federal government pays approximately half the cost of the original Medicaid program,with state governments responsible for the rest.

So far some Republican-run state governments have accepted and others have rejected Medicaid expansion. Additional Republican governors would like to participate in the expanded Medicaid system but this is being blocked by more ideological members of the state legislature. AP reports:

Partisan politics have driven states’ Medicaid decisions ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that expansion was optional, not mandatory, under the new law. Within months, every Democratic governor agreed to expand Medicaid (although Republican legislatures blocked a few of those efforts).

Only nine states with Republican governors accepted the offer…

The law expanded Medicaid eligibility to adults with annual incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That will qualify an individual making less than $16,105, and a family of four earning less than $32,913.

So far, 27 states have agreed to expand Medicaid. But several more, including some with Republican governors, now want in. These governors note that their residents pay the federal taxes that fund expansions, so declining to participate amounts to subsidizing other states without receiving benefits.

Several Republican governors and one independent are meeting Republican legislative resistance to their expansion proposals. Some have tried to woo conservatives by adding “free enterprise” provisions, which require federal approval.

Perhaps the most aggressive GOP governor is Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who won re-election in November. Meeting with newspapers and others, Haslam now says Medicaid expansion is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do.”

The full article also reports on Republican legislatures blocking Medicaid expansion in Wyoming and Alaska, as well as reporting that “Arkansas could become the first state to rescind a decision to expand Medicaid.”

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Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Obama Affordable Care Act

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

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Quote of the Day: David Letterman On Jeb Bush Running For President

letterman

“I feel like Bush presidencies are like ‘Godfather’ films. You should stop at two.” –David Letterman

Actually I think Bush presidencies are more like The Matrix–they should have stopped after the first. (Except that the first movie was good, the first Bush presidency wasn’t, but the second was far worse like with the movies.)

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End Of Temporary Increase In Medicaid Payments May Impact Treatment In 2015

The Affordable Care Act has been a tremendous benefit to those who purchase insurance on the individual market, but success has been mixed for the working poor who receive coverage from an expansion of Medicaid as opposed to obtaining private plans. While reimbursement varies by state, it is significantly lower than what Medicare and private insurance plans pay, and often insufficient to meet overhead expenses of private physicians. Many people who might benefit from the expanded Medicaid plan were denied coverage in Republican-controlled states which refused to allow the program, despite the vast majority of the costs being paid by the federal government, following a Supreme Court decision allowing them to opt out of the program. There are also concerns as to whether those covered by Medicaid will be able to obtain sufficient coverage.

In order to increase the number of physicians who accept Medicaid patients, the Affordable Care Act provided for an increase in payment to Medicare levels for primary care services for two years. As The New York Times reports, this period ends at the end of 2014, raising questions as to whether as many private physicians will continue to see Medicaid patients. President Obama has recommended an extension of this increased pay but it is unlikely to be approved by a Republican Congress which is more likely to continue to talk about repealing Obamacare as opposed to work to improve upon it.

It is difficult to predict exactly what the impact of the end of the increased Medicaid payment will be. The article does quote one physician of complaining that this was a “bait and switch” tactic. In reality, the federal government was quite open about the two year time frame for the plan, but it is possible that not all physicians paid adequate attention to information available. Private physicians have historically limited the number of Medicaid patients they accept due to the poor reimbursement, among other problems with Medicaid programs, and I doubt that many have taken a significantly larger number in the past two years in response to a temporary plan.

Much of the Medicaid population is treated by clinics and hospital facilities which are paid different from private physicians, with  Medicaid reimbursement representing an improvement over providing free care as in the past. Contrary to claims frequently made at conservative sites, expanding Medicaid does provide significant benefits for many people, but this will not be an ideal situation as long as Medicaid reimbursement is often less than overhead costs for private physicians. Most likely Medicaid patients will continue to be treated by a combination of clinics and by private doctors who take limited numbers of Medicaid patients.

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IRS Scandal Joins Other Republican-Created Scandals In Being Debunked When Investigated

As I noted at the start of the year, the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals–or at least real scandals as opposed to scandals manufactured by Republicans. Investigations of faux scandals ranging from Benghazi to Grubergate all failed to show any truth to right wing accusations and conspiracy theories. Now we find that not even Darrell Issa, despite often engaging in McCarthyist tactics, has been able to find any evidence for the Republican claims of coordination between the White House and the IRS to investigate conservative groups. The New York Times reports:

An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Despite lacking any evidence to back up the original claims, Issa did attempt to provide some rhetoric to excite conservatives in alleging that conservative groups did receive scrutiny in applying for tax exceptions. What conservatives ignore is that 1) it is the job of the IRS to review tax exemptions by political groups (with far too many probably getting away with unwarranted tax breaks) and that while Issa purposely limited his investigation to scrutiny placed on conservative groups, progressive groups faced an even greater amount of scrutiny by the IRS.

While conducting this investigation, Issa has repeatedly released selective testimony which suggested scrutiny of conservative groups and has refused to release other testimony which doesn’t line up with his claims:

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who has compared the inquiry about the I.R.S. to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s investigation of suspected communists in the 1950s, was sharply critical of the report.

“It is revealing that the Republicans — yet again — are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative,” Mr. Cummings said, “without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first.”

The Republican smears against Obama are no longer working out so well with them, and Obama might get the last laugh with his approval now surging to a twenty month high at 48 percent. Just maybe the stronger looking Obama we have seen since the midterm elections, accompanied Democrats who, despite being in the minority are less held back by the conservative members who lost in November, will be a more potent force in fighting the authoritarian right in the upcoming years.

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