Reader questions. Plus, debate night #2 is in the books.
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What D.C. is talking about.
The debates. Last night, the first round of the second round of the Democratic debates kicked off with a fiery group that included Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. “Mayor Pete” calmly explained that no matter what his policies were, Republicans would call him a “socialist.” So he was just going to do what’s right. Elizabeth Warren literally rubbed her hands together at the idea of raising taxes on former Maryland Congressmen John Delaney, the wealthiest man on stage. And Bernie Sanders flexed on everyone, doing his best to remind people that Democrats’ platforms were further to left thanks to him. (Btw, the second round of the second round of the Democratic debates is tonight, featuring Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Andrew Yang, among some other notables.)
What Democrats are saying.
Fractures are starting to show. This was the first time Democrats really began digging in at each other since Kamala Harris took Joe Biden to task over his stance on bussing. Moderates like Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock characterized Sanders-esque legislation like Medicare-for-all as “bad policies” that are “free everything and impossible promises.” Warren and Sanders punched back, claiming the policies are feasible, already fleshed out and just require the rich sacrificing some of their wealth. A consensus grew in Democratic circles that Warren had the best night on stage of anyone.
What Republicans are saying.
They’re pointing to the “socialist agendas” of Warren and Sanders, two of the most popular candidates in the race, and noting that members of their own party think the idea of free health care, free college tuition and decriminalizing illegal immigration are absurd, bad policies. Conservative never-Trumpers are happy, as they believe the attacks on the far-left are a good sign for Joe Biden, the never-Trumper alternative to Trump and far-left liberals. Oh, and the pro-Trump crowd got a kick out of dunking on CNN for bad questions, embarrassing intros and general “hackery.”
Nothing changed. This primary was always going to get ugly, and last night was just a primer. There are deep divides between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, and what we saw last night was emblematic of those divides. When the race gets smaller, and the remaining candidates can all fit on one stage, and more people are tuned in, things will get uglier. For now, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg did enough to stay ahead of the rest of the crowd in the polls, who are nipping at their heels for some limelight.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: readers run this newsletter. Send a question in by replying to this email and I’ll get to it as soon as I can.
Baru from Pennsylvania said: One of the things I most interested in is what it would take for millennials to exercise their voting bloc. Do they understand in a real way that they have a very powerful voice?
It’s a great question, and one candidates have been trying to solve for decades. In 2008, during President Barack Obama’s first run for office, just shy of 50% of Americans aged 18-28 voted. In 2016, the number was back to the low 40% range. That, on its own, is not encouraging. But this is: young voters set a record in 2018 for turnout in a midterm election with more than 30% showing up to vote. In the 2014 midterms, that number was more like 17%, and rarely moves above 20%. Of the new voters who came out in the 2018 midterms, the vast majority showed up to vote for Democrats. That’s a good sign for whoever gets the nomination, and points to another blue wave in 2020. Still, there’s a reason this voting bloc is hard to wrangle. If a nominee like Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor who the youth have taken to calling Kamala “The Cop,” wins the primary, she could conceivably drive down turnout amongst the kids. Obama had the “cool factor” that attracted younger voters in 2008 and the ones who showed up during the last midterms seemed genuinely terrified of Trump, climate change and rising costs of college tuition. Those same voters have an opportunity to swing the 2020 election but it’s still unclear if they’re going to take advantage of it.
Daniel from Ohio said: How do polls work and are they accurate?
Short answer: yes, they work. Longer answer: It depends which poll. Historically speaking, the most accurate polling is done by Quinnipiac University, Marist College, and Monmouth University. FiveThirtyEight is a fantastic source to get averages and trends in how all polls, as a monolith, are moving. Polls like SurveyMonkey, Rasmussen and Google Surveys should be trusted a lot less. Surprisingly, some traditional pollsters like Gallup have been found to have eroding accuracy, too.
Usually, polls are conducted via telephone call. If you haven’t been called, it’s not because there is some giant conspiracy against you. There are just a lot of people in America and your odds are pretty low. I’ve gotten a random phone call to participate in a national politics poll, and it usually takes about five minutes and consists of questions like, “are you more likely to vote for Elizabeth Warren after the debate, less likely to vote for Elizabeth Warren after the debate, or has your opinion not changed at all?” Other questions are more straightforward like, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?” Pollsters typically try to ask these questions to a “representative sample” of Americans and will be based off of at least 1,000 respondents. So, for instance, if Quinnipiac is surveying 1,000 voters, and they want a representative sample of American voters, they’ll look to see what percentage of the voting bloc is white. If the answer is 40%, then they’ll try to poll 400 white people — or 40% of the 1,000 respondents. Because polls are an effective way to drive a narrative or get media attention, some political operatives will stack polls to get the answer they want. This was in the news recently when Axios published an anonymous poll that essentially said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her far-left ilk could cost Democrats the House, the presidency and the Senate in 2020 (spoiler: the poll looks like bunk).
Because Donald Trump’s election was such a shock to the system, a lot of people left the 2016 elections thinking that polls were inexorably broken, totally wrong, or had been completely debunked. But the polls of 2016 were actually pretty accurate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin most pollsters expected. What people missed was the possibility Trump could shoot a perfect straight in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, effectively winning all three states by a combined 77,000 votes and walking away with the election. What’s a more accurate criticism is that the media has a serious problem with publishing probabilities, and you can read more about that here.
Number of the day:
Fewer than 50% of Republicans think the n-word is offensive. And fewer than 60% agree with the sentiment that it’s “never acceptable for whites to use the n-word.” In 2018, only 33 percent of self-reported Trump voters said that it was racist for whites to use the n-word, compared to 86 percent of Clinton voters. These numbers, which shocked me, are courtesy of Brendan Nyhan, Adam Serwer and The Washington Post, who are diving in after POTUS was accused of racism. Also, in 2006, Democrats weren’t much better on the issue. And there’s still a huge chunk of Democrats who don’t find the word offensive (Since we just talked polls, it’s worth noting this one was conducted by YouGov, which is generally reliable but has whiffed on issues here and there). Read more.
Have a nice day.
Coke and Pepsi announced they are ending their partnership with the plastic lobby. It is part of sweeping commitments to sustainability both companies have made in recent months and signals a larger effort to move towards using recyclable plastics. The destruction plastics are doing to the environment, and especially the ocean, is a hot topic. As Democrats and Republicans debate whether the government should play a role, it’s encouraging to see private companies meeting the challenge head on. You can read more about their commitments here.
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