September 8, 2023

Thought of the Week

The 2023 National Football League (NFL) season quite literally kicked off Thursday when the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs played the Detroit Lions. Although the Chiefs of the AFC and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFC remain heavy favorites to return to the Super Bowl next February, all 32 NFL teams will play the season under a variety of rules changes. Among others, tripping is considered a personal foul and subject to a 15-yard penalty, fair catches on kickoffs will be marked at the 25-yard line, and “Zero” is a legal jersey number. Just as the NFL modified its rules to keep up with the times, politics today also seem to operate under a new set of rules. And just as an NFL play-by-play announcer turns to an analyst, typically a former player, for insight into the game, this blogger has turned to famed political consultant Doug Sosnik to outline what he sees as the 10 new rules that will challenge accepted fundamentals of American politics; they are:   

  1. All politics is national. While Tip O’Neill coined the phrase “all politics is local,” that axiom has now been turned on its head. Voters today increasingly cast their votes for the same party—from president down to local offices.
  2. Education as the new fault line. Education is now the best predictor of how Americans will vote. The “Diploma Divide” has become fundamental to the country’s politics with college educated voters at the core of the Democratic Party’s base.
  3. National polling does not accurately predict presidential election outcomes. In a divided country Democrats rack up huge margins in blue states, while Republicans run up the score in red states. Since most of the country overwhelmingly supports one political party, polling that includes all states is largely meaningless in gauging the likely outcome of a national election.
  4. There are only a handful of states that are in play and determine control. Over the last four presidential elections, forty states voted for the same party. Heading into the 2024 presidential election, these eight states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—that will determine the outcome.
  5. The potency of abortion as a political issue will increase. Abortion has already proven to be decisive in determining the outcomes of elections in several swing states. GOP efforts to further restrict a woman’s right to choose at the state level run counter to the views of a majority of the country and will increase the political potency of the issue.
  6. The south and the west are the center of political power. In the last decade, nine of the top 10 states with the highest increase in population growth were in the South and the West. The Sun Belt now comprises 50% of U.S. population and this number is expected to increase to 55% by 2030.
  7. The suburbs are the last battleground. As cities have become solidly Democrat, and Republican dominance continues in rural areas, the suburbs have become the last remaining battleground in American politics. Suburban voters determined the outcome of the last two presidential elections, as well as at least one branch of Congress in each of the last three election cycles.
  8. Online small $ donors, not fat cats or bundlers, determine the strength of a candidate. The real power, and the best measure of candidate support, is whether candidates can attract small, online donations of less than $200.
  9. There is no longer an “Election Day.” In the 2020 campaign for president, 69% of the country voted before the election—43% by mail and 26% in person. This trend will only expand.
  10. Political reform is gaining strength across the country. Americans are fed up with a political system that rewards conflict, and efforts at the state and local levels are emerging to change the system. While gerrymandering is the root cause of extreme conflict and partisanship, states are moving toward commissions to take politics out of the process. In addition, voting reforms such as rank choice and open/ jungle primaries are increasing in popularity.

Thought Leadership from our Consultants, Think Tanks, and Trade Associations

National Journal’s Charlie Cook Describes President Biden’s Three Major Challenges to Reelection.  First, wasted votes; second, an electorate highly critical of his economic stewardship and handling of inflation; and third, concerns about his age, health, and cognitive abilities, if not now then in five and a half years, when he would be concluding a second term. A lack of confidence in whether Vice President Harris is ready for the job doesn’t help, either. While President Biden is just three years older than Donald Trump, by appearance, he looks at least 10 years older. As a consequence of Republican voters being more efficiently allocated among the 50 states, Biden (or any Democrat) will probably need to win the national popular vote by at least 4 or 5 percentage points, possibly 6 or 7, for that to translate into 270 Electoral votes. Additionally, although economic measures continue to improve—inflation has slowed significantly from pandemic-era highs and many economists now predict a “soft landing” rather than a recession—voters don’t seem to notice, much less give Biden credit for it. Multiple polls illustrate these points. Consider that the RealClearPolitics average of all national polls has President Biden ahead by seven-tenths of a percentage point: 44.7% for the incumbent, 44% for Trump, and 11% undecided. In fact, it is impossible to overstate the importance of voters’ perception of Biden’s handling of inflation and the economy. On the question of, “Who did a better job of handling the economy, Donald Trump or Joe Biden?” Trump prevailed by 16 points, 53% to 38%; among independents, the margin was an even wider 23 points, 54% to 31%. A Wall Street Journal poll asked whether Biden is mentally up for the job of president? Just 36% said that described him either very or somewhat well, while 60% said either not too well or not at all well. When asked if he’s too old to run for president,” 73% said that described him very well or somewhat well. In the end, the election will come down to what and who the election is about. A referendum up or down on Trump would almost certainly be bad news for the 45th president’s chances of getting back into the Oval Office. But to the extent that it is a choice, with voters remembering the economy under Trump as more favorable than it is now under Biden, and with Biden appearing much older and more frail, the Electoral College fight for Biden would be very tough.

Politico Asks, “U.S. Bullet Trains?” Don’t Hold Your Breath. While the first U.S.-made “bullet” trains may start running as early as 2024, with the promise of cutting transportation emissions by attracting new rail passengers who now drive or fly, Amtrak’s plan to run high-speed rail service* on its Northeast Corridor faces major obstacles, most notably, the 450-mile route does not have modern tracks that can handle the speed. The new trains will operate on tracks that were built more than a century ago for much slower commuter and freight service. Although many European and Asian countries operate 200 mph trains on special tracks designed for faster speeds and closed to slower rail cars, American bullet cars will be forced to run slower than 110 mph on most segments. Old infrastructure highlights the difficulties in bringing high-speed passenger rail service to the U.S. While President Biden vowed to develop high-speed rail to help the U.S. achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, four obstacles complicate the effort:

  • Tracks: none of the nation’s rail lines are built for trains to run at 200 mph. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor—the busiest U.S. passenger route— is filled with sharp curves, bottlenecks, decaying tunnels, bridges, and overhead power lines that slow down trains.
  • Buy America: the policy requires federally funded infrastructure including rail cars and tracks to be manufactured domestically. The rules will slow down projects and increase costs because U.S.-made parts are costlier and manufacturing capacity is limited.
  • Domestic rail industry: the U.S. lacks a passenger rail industry that can produce all of the parts needed for a high-speed rail system to comply with Buy America.
  • Money: Congress and the White House have not created a program that would help establish a domestic rail industry to produce rail cars, tracks, and components that meet Buy America requirements.

Building a national high-speed rail network would require decades of annual appropriations similar to the funding stream that built the interstate highway system. The interstate highway system cost $290 billion in current dollars and took 35 years to complete; the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill has just $102 billion for rail, but none for high-speed.

*The U.S. does not have high-speed rail as defined by the International Union of Railways. High-speed rail is defined as trains that travel faster than 155 mph on special tracks. The definition includes trains that run on standard tracks, if the trains can cruise faster than 125 mph over most segments.

“Off the Record”

During lunch at a Kyiv McDonald’s, Secretary of State Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Kuleba traded stories from their time as college students. While Kuleba admitted that his favorite hangover food was a Mickey D’s double cheeseburger and Coke, Blinken somewhat sarcastically said that he’s never had McDonald’s while hungover.

In Other Words

“When donkeys fly,” Sen. Kennedy (R-LA) on when Senate Minority Leader McConnell will step down.

“It would just be like a big circle jerk on the fringe right,” Sen. Fetterman (D-PA) on GOP efforts to impeach President Biden.

Did You Know

Not sure who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election? Maybe candidates’ choice in music will help you decide. Politico reached out to every presidential candidate and asked them for a playlist of their favorite songs. Although not every candidate responded, here is the #1 hit from each candidate who did:

Chris Christie: Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen.

Nikki Haley: I Love Rock and Roll, Joan Jett.

Vivek Ramaswamy: Lose Yourself, Eminem.

Will Hurd: I Gotta Go, Robert Earl Keen.

Larry Elder: My Girl, The Temptations.

Asa Hutchinson: Ophelia, The Band.

Cornel West: A Love Supreme, John Coltrane.   

Graph of the Week

While All Voters Care about Education, It Represents Different Issues to the Parties. While nearly all voters consider education an important issue, few list it as the top priority. In fact, education means different things to members of the two parties. For Republicans, education primarily concerns K-12 schooling and is a vector to discuss the party’s social policy agenda—racial issues, LGBTQ+ and gender issues, and Covid-19 lockdowns. The GOP sees education as a wedge that can win votes with white suburban women. Democrats, on the other hand, focus on post-secondary education, particularly the high cost of college and accompanying student debt. Politicians on the left discuss these issues to appeal to younger college-educated voters who are more likely to have student loans. Democratic candidates tend to talk about K-12 education only to oppose GOP proposals or advocate for higher teacher pay. President Biden and Donald Trump, the current 2024 frontrunners, represent their parties’ views well.

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