Florida in the Election

A French version of this article appears in L’Express.

Former mayor Mike Bloomberg has announced that he would spend as much as $100 million of his own money to help Vice-President Biden prevail in Florida on Election Day. This underscores once again the importance of Florida in this and every presidential contest.

Florida has a good track record of picking the winner in a presidential election. With the messy 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the state gained prominence as the ultimate prize and must-win battleground. To be sure, it is not a perfect track record, given that Florida favored George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1960 over winners Bill Clinton and John Kennedy. If you go to earlier times, you also find that Floridians misfired with John Davis and James Cox in 1924 and 1920, two unknowns today except among aficionados of electoral history. But in sum, four misses out of 25 elections over a century can indeed be called a strong track record.

The stakes are high in 2020 given the state’s 29 Electoral College votes and the tightness of the race according to the polls. Vice President Biden is now nominally ahead by 1 to 3%, an insignificant gap that can easily close or widen in the remaining days of the campaign, depending on a slew of factors, not least the performance of each candidate in the upcoming debates.

In 2016, candidate Trump won the state by a plurality of 48.6% to Hillary Clinton’s 47.4%, a lead so slim that it would not be deemed meaningful in a poll today. In the same pattern seen across other states, Clinton carried the large urbanized counties encompassing the Miami-West Palm Beach corridor, Orlando, Gainesville (home to the University of Florida), Tampa and Tallahassee while Trump swept all rural states and also managed to prevail in some smaller cities such as St Petersburg, Fort Myers and Jacksonville. In 2008 and 2012, Obama won Florida by margins of 2.5% over John McCain and 0.9% over Mitt Romney, with roughly the same urban-rural divide as in 2016. There is little doubt that the map will look the same in 2020, with some variances that may or may not in the aggregate tip the state to the Democrats.

2020 vs. 2016

The questions then are what has changed since 2016 and are these changes important enough to overcome other factors?

ONE, the population of Florida has grown by about 5% from 20.6 million in 2016 to an estimated 21.6 million in 2020, with over 90% of this growth coming from migration from other states and from foreign immigration. Owing to the large number of older people, Florida’s natural growth rate (births minus deaths) only adds about 20,000 to the population annually. The overall population growth is neutral or marginally positive for Biden as most migration originates from blue Northeastern states or from Puerto Rico and Latin America.

It is estimated that over 100,000 Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida (and many more to other states) after hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Assuming that they vote, they could make a difference for Biden in a close election, given that not all are pleased with President Trump’s handling of Puerto Rico in the days after Maria. More broadly in other US states, the Hispanic vote would favor Democrats but the case of Florida is complicated by a large contingent of Cuban-Americans who generally prefer the harder line Republican stance towards the Cuban regime.

TWO, the number of people aged 64 and over has grown faster than other age groups, which means that Florida has gotten older since 2016 and will continue to get older. In theory, this would benefit the President because he usually polls better with older age groups but the change does not seem significant enough to neutralize the margin of error or other factors. Still, it can be considered a net plus for Trump on the margin. And in Florida, everything on the margin can make a difference.

THREE, the number of people declaring no party affiliation has continued to grow, an indication that independents could weigh more in this and future elections. They tend to make up their minds in the final weeks of the campaign in October and early November, a delay that increases the possibility of earlier polls being wide off the mark. This is of no particular advantage to either candidate but adds uncertainty to the current polls.

New Factors

Among non-demographic factors is of course the coronavirus pandemic. It hit Florida severely in the summer and has caused nearly 13,000 deaths so far. Because the state sees over 200,000 deaths in a typical year, these excess pandemic deaths add 6 to 7% to the total, an incidence that is tragic for the next of kin but that can go largely unnoticed by the vast majority of people whose families were untouched. In addition, a sizable segment of Trump supporters see the pandemic as a hoax or at least an exaggeration, a stance that binds them to the President whom they see as a bulwark against the spread of conspiracies by the nefarious (in their view) elite media. In the end, the pandemic is likely to prove neutral for both candidates, with each constituency looking at it through its own political lens.

More important are the economic consequences of the pandemic. Florida was hurt by the shuttering of several sectors, not least travel and hospitality, two of the pillars of the state economy. But here again, some people will blame the President for mishandling the crisis while others will blame alarmist elements of the media and elites for encouraging a lockdown in this or other parts of the country. The notion that the lockdowns were more damaging to the economy than the pandemic has many adherents in Florida and other states, including among some well-heeled researchers and academics. Because Trump is blamed by some for the mishandling of the pandemic and Biden is seen by others as more likely to impose future lockdowns, the impact of the pandemic economy on electoral choices is likely a wash.

Taxation policy may shave some points off the Biden appeal since Florida is known as a state where people go not only to retire but also to save on their tax bill. The Democrats’ proposals to raise income tax rates and in particular their plan to make capital gains tax rates equal to those on earned income will not make many fans among older Floridians living off their investment portfolios. Tax policy is a likely negative for candidate Biden.

County by county

Looking at 2016 for more granularity, we find that racial identity was significantly correlated with a county’s results, tempered in a few cases by the county’s percent of college graduates. In 2016, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites correlated with the county’s vote: if it was over 55%, the county went to Trump; under 55%, it went to Clinton. In the table below therefore, the red line is the 55% demarcation. In theory, all counties above the line would have gone to Clinton and all below to Trump.

There were 10 exceptions that did not conform with this rule however. In 9 of them, there was another important correlation and it was to education. Trump won seven of these counties (yellow in the table), or where the percentage of college graduates is well below Florida’s average. Whether by instinct or through campaign analytics, Trump was right to “love the poorly educated” as he had said in Nevada in 2016. Meanwhile, Clinton won the two counties (green in the table) where that percentage is well above the state average. The remaining one exception (blue in the table) is Duval county (city of Jacksonville) where a concentration of military bases and of veterans helped Trump prevail by a thin margin.

(click on the table to enlarge).

Projecting these results on 2020, we can assume that the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in any given county will again correlate strongly with that county’s results. Whether the demarcating number will still be 55% depends on whether Trump’s appeal has gained or lost ground among this group since 2016. If this dividing number turns out to be closer to 60% this time around, Trump would lose many voters in populous counties such as St. Lucie, Leon, Polk and Collier. On the other hand, if the demarcation is closer to 50%, Trump’s lead would end up higher in 2020 than in 2016 in particular by reducing the Democrat lead in Palm Beach county.

Further, in 2016, the poorest counties all went for Trump. Of all counties where the poverty rate is higher than 20%, Hillary Clinton won only Leon where the percentage of college graduates is very high at 45.7% and Gadsden where the percentage of African-Americans at 56% is the highest of any county in the state. Biden’s brand of politics is more populist and working-class than Clinton’s and it will likely reduce Trump’s margin in the poorest counties.

It is unlikely that the counties marked in yellow and green in the table will switch parties from 2016 because Trump’s and Clinton’s margins of victory in these counties were significant. However, it is likely that Trump’s margins will erode in the yellow counties, owing to Biden’s greater appeal to the working class compared to Hillary Clinton’s. Trump’s margin in Duval county was thin in 2016 and his comments about the military (whether true or not) may switch enough votes to turn Duval into a Biden county.

Using the table above on Election night, we can try to make an early call on the Florida result by looking at the ratio of Trump to Biden votes in each county and comparing it to the Trump/Clinton ratio shown in the right hand column. Higher ratios in any county would mean that Trump is doing better than in 2016 and vice-versa. This straight math assumes that third party candidates garner roughly the same percentages.

All in, Florida has many moving parts and the outcome hinges on independents making their decisions in the final few weeks. Biden’s appeal is in theory broader across the various demographics than Clinton’s was. But Trump’s may be deeper in the places where it counts.

More on the demographics of Florida in this table. Click to enlarge.

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Wednesday Briefs – 16 September 2020

A weekly commentary on current events. Follow populyst to receive notification.

This week: Mass terrorism; Florida in the Election; Reading List.

Mass Terrorism

September 11th, 2001. We all remember where we were. We saw the impossible and surreal become real, and evil design on an unimaginable scale. We also remember the anxiety and warnings that gripped the country in the weeks following the attacks: the televised images of planes slamming into buildings played over and over as if to test our disbelief; smoldering destruction in New York, Pennsylvania and DC; anthrax mailed to several locations and public figures; a foiled shoe bomber on an inbound airliner; rumors of imminent attacks on other landmarks, possibly with WMDs…

Looking back after nineteen years, we can say that most Americans expected more terrorism to take place in the US after 9/11. Of course, there have been many attacks but none on the scale of 9/11. These more recent ones were usually carried out by one or two perpetrators such as the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon (2013), the Farook-Malik husband and wife in San Bernardino (2015), or Omar Mateen in Orlando (2016). On a larger scale, there were several attacks on other continents, in Madrid, Paris, Nice, London, Nairobi, Bali and Mumbai, to name only a few. And the carnage inflicted by non-state actors in the Middle East has continued unabated.

On this last count, the definition of terrorist has drifted over the years. Twenty or thirty years ago, a terrorist was usually understood to be an actor or team carrying out attacks on civilians outside of the perpetrators’ home countries in the name of (usually) a Middle Eastern cause, be it religious zealotry or a liberation movement. But starting about ten years ago, the term terrorism was increasingly applied to other incidents, notably by autocratic regimes facing home-grown resistance movements.

In a further drift, the word terrorist is now also applied to any attack on civilians, such as for example attacks by lone shooters with no connection to the Middle East. Anders Breivik in Norway (2011), Dylann Roof in Charleston (2015), Robert Bowers in Pittsburg (2018), Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch (2019) are all seen as terrorists. The common denominator is that in every case, the attacker(s) laid claim to a racist or political ideology, in contrast to shooters who carry out their deeds because they are violent sociopaths with no identifiable agenda. Due to the absence of a clear motive or specific ideology, the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock (2017) is not identified as a terrorist, though he murdered sixty people.

The difference may not be as great as commonly believed. Regardless of the stated motive, people who deliberately target civilians probably have this one thing in common: they are violent sociopaths. In many cases, religion, ideology or another cause are merely pretexts to justify one’s actions and obtain approval from like-minded people around the world. There is probably a large chasm between being a racist or other pathology and taking up arms to kill someone of another race or creed. At most times, only the very few cross this chasm. But in a time of war or civil war, many more do.

Florida in the Election

A French version of this segment appears in L’Express.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has announced that he would spend as much as $100 million of his own money to help Vice-President Biden prevail in Florida on Election Day. This underscores once again the importance of Florida in this and every presidential contest.

Florida has a good track record of picking the winner in a presidential election. With the messy 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the state gained prominence as the ultimate prize and must-win battleground. It is not a perfect track record to be sure, given that Florida favored George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1960 over winners Bill Clinton and John Kennedy. If you go to earlier times, you also find that Floridians misfired with John Davis and James Cox in 1924 and 1920, two unknowns today except among aficionados of electoral history. In sum, four misses out of 25 elections over a century can indeed be called a strong track record.

The stakes are high in 2020 given the state’s 29 Electoral College votes and the tightness of the race according to the polls. Vice President Biden is now nominally ahead by 1 to 3%, an insignificant gap that can easily close or widen in the remaining days of the campaign, depending on a slew of factors, not least the performance of each candidate in the upcoming debates.

In 2016, candidate Trump won the state by a plurality of 48.6% to Hillary Clinton’s 47.4%, a lead so slim that it would not be deemed meaningful in a poll today. In the same pattern seen across other states, Clinton carried the large urbanized counties encompassing the Miami-West Palm Beach corridor, Orlando, Gainesville (home to the University of Florida), Tampa and Tallahassee while Trump swept all rural states and also managed to prevail in some smaller cities such as St Petersburg, Fort Myers and Jacksonville. In 2008 and 2012, Obama won Florida by margins of 2.5% over John McCain and 0.9% over Mitt Romney, with roughly the same urban-rural divide as in 2016. There is little doubt that the map will look the same in 2020, with some variances that may or may not in the aggregate tip the state to the Democrats.

Looking at 2016 for more granularity, we find that racial identity, more specifically the percentage of non-Hispanic whites, was significantly correlated with a county’s results, tempered in a few cases by the county’s percent of college graduates. More on this in an upcoming post.

The questions then are what has changed since 2016 and are these changes important enough to overcome other factors?

ONE, the population of Florida has grown by over 5% from 20.6 million in 2016 to an estimated 21.6 million in 2020, with over 90% of this growth coming from migration from other states and from foreign immigration. Owing to the large number of older people, Florida’s natural growth rate (births minus deaths) only adds about 20,000 to the population annually. The overall population growth is neutral or marginally positive for Biden as most migration originates from blue Northeastern states or from Puerto Rico and Latin America.

It is estimated that over 100,000 Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida (and many more to other states) after hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. Assuming that they vote, they could make a difference for Biden in a close election, given that not all are pleased with President Trump’s handling of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane. More broadly in other US states, the Hispanic vote would favor Democrats but the case of Florida is complicated by a large contingent of Cuban-Americans who generally prefer the harder line Republican stance towards the Cuban regime.

TWO, the number of people aged 64 and over has grown faster than other age groups, which means that Florida has gotten older since 2016 and will continue to get older. In theory, this would benefit the President because he usually polls better with older age groups but the change does not seem significant enough to neutralize the margin of error or other factors. Still, it can be considered a net plus for Trump on the margin. And in Florida, everything on the margin can make a difference.

THREE, the number of people declaring no party affiliation has continued to grow, an indication that independents could weigh more in this and future elections. They tend to make up their minds in the final weeks of the campaign in October and early November, a delay that increases the possibility of earlier polls being wide off the mark. This is of no particular advantage to either candidate but adds uncertainty to the current polls.

Among non-demographic factors is of course the coronavirus pandemic. It hit Florida severely in the summer and has caused nearly 13,000 deaths so far. Because the state sees over 200,000 deaths in a typical year, these excess pandemic deaths amount to 6 to 7% of the total, an incidence that is tragic for the next of kin but that can go largely unnoticed by the vast majority of people whose families were untouched. In addition, a sizable segment of Trump supporters see the pandemic as a hoax or at least an exaggeration, a stance that binds them to the President whom they see as a bulwark against the spread of conspiracies by the nefarious (in their view) elite media. In the end, the pandemic is likely to prove neutral for both candidates, with each constituency looking at it through its own political lens.

More important are the economic consequences of the pandemic. Florida was hurt by the shuttering of several sectors, not least travel and hospitality, two of the pillars of the state economy. But here again, some people will blame the President for mishandling the crisis while others will blame alarmist elements of the media and elites for encouraging a lockdown in this or other parts of the country. The notion that the lockdowns were more damaging to the economy than the pandemic has many adherents in Florida and other states, including among some well-heeled researchers and academics. Because Trump is blamed by some for the mishandling of the pandemic and Biden is seen by others as more likely to impose future lockdowns, the impact of the pandemic economy on electoral choices is likely a wash.

Taxation policy may shave some points off the Biden appeal since Florida is known as a state where people go not only to retire but also to save on their tax bill. The Democrats’ proposals to raise income tax rates and in particular their plan to make capital gains tax rates equal to those on earned income will not make many fans among older Floridians living off their investment portfolios. Tax policy is a likely negative for candidate Biden.

All in, Florida has many moving parts and the outcome hinges on independents making their decisions in the final few weeks. The factors above, or others that will be obvious only in hindsight, will determine the outcome.

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Wednesday Briefs™ is a trademark of populyst and its owner. Copyright © 2020 populyst. All Rights Reserved.

Father of the Bernie Sanders Presidency

President Trump’s elite-managed populism opens a path for a more genuine version.

On the usual political spectrum, there are left and right, people who call themselves progressive or conservative, socialist/social democrat or capitalist. But these labels seem to mean less today than in the past. The Trump phenomenon highlighted another divide that has little to do with the historic left and right. Crudely speaking, we can call it coastal vs. non-coastal, urban vs. rural, ethnically diverse vs. more homogeneous, elitist vs. populist. This at least is the way the dominant media sees it.

(click chart to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.26.26 AM

At the same time, the old labels are not completely dead. So if we try to overlay the new on the old and to categorize the Trump following, we could say that some of the old guard conservatives joined forces with the new rural populists. This is a little complicated and barely makes sense given that the former include some of the elites, in other words the very same people who have angered the populists for the past decade. Many people who want lower taxes and free trade and globalization voted for the same person, Donald Trump, as did people who want import tariffs and restrictions on the flows of people, capital and goods. Some of the same people who survived in 2008 thanks to Wall Street bailouts voted for the same candidate as did people who are still seething over the bailouts. Read more

Trump Country: Where the Immigrants Aren’t

Trump did best in the states with the lowest percentages of foreign-born residents.

“I love the poorly-educated”, gushed Donald Trump after winning the Nevada primary in February. But in the end, what happened in the primary, stayed in the primary. Come November, Trump lost the state to Hillary Clinton, a turn that is explained by the fact that there is a higher percentage of foreign-born residents in Nevada than in any state won by Trump, save Florida.

In fact, Trump won the general election because he carried almost all of the states where there are few foreign-born residents. His anti-immigration message resonated most in the parts of the country that have the fewest immigrants. Of course, he also won immigrant-heavy Arizona, Florida and Texas, but mainly by prevailing in rural counties. He lost in the counties that include the major urban centers of Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. He did win in Maricopa county where Phoenix is located but perhaps not in Phoenix itself. (Maricopa county encompasses a lot more than Phoenix as it is larger by itself than the entire state of New Jersey, and larger than Connecticut and Delaware put together.) Read more

To Save or Ruin Twitter

A decision that could fix Twitter or hasten its demise.

This is not the first article to suggest that Twitter can generate some revenues by charging its users, but perhaps we can offer some new angles to the discussion. To begin, it is helpful to differentiate between the different types of Twitter users. These seem to be:

  • Media firms publishing their stories and videos, for example CNN, the New York Times, etc.
  • Corporations marketing their products or making announcements.
  • Non-profit organizations and NGOs raising awareness on various issues.
  • Government institutions, agencies or individuals trying to inform the public.
  • Famous individuals looking to communicate with their fans, for example celebrity entertainers, politicians or opinion leaders.
  • Public or semi-public individuals looking to raise their visibility and to build their personal brand, for example journalists, consultants and academics.
  • Small or mid-sized businesses promoting their services and products.
  • Private individuals seeking a mode of expressing their thoughts and feelings, often anonymously through a pseudonym.
  • Private individuals who rarely or never tweet but visit Twitter frequently to read the news or other people’s tweets. Continue reading at Seeking Alpha >>>

The Mainstream Media Will Rise Again

The news media was flattened on November 8th but its recovery has already started.

One of the striking features in all the commentary on Facebook about Donald Trump’s victory is the number of times that the words I, me and my appeared in member posts. For example, “I am proud”, “I am optimistic” or “I am fearful”, “I am worried” etc. The comments celebrating or lamenting the event were mostly about the way the writer felt about the event, not about the event itself. That looks like a subtle difference but it reveals a demarcating line between an introverted reaction vs. an extroverted one.

img_3823

None of this is too surprising because even in normal times, Facebook’s format and primary raison d’être are to enable people to talk about themselves and to update their friends on their comings and goings. On any given day outside of an election period, the blue bannered webpage seems to be 80% introversion (photos and news of one’s own family, or one’s own meal, or one’s own travels, challenges and accomplishments) and 20% extroversion (posts of articles about third parties). Read more

Should Children Vote?

The rising cost of entitlements will test inter-generational harmony.img_6331

In the week following the Brexit vote, a recurrent complaint from the losing side was that a majority of older people voted to leave while a majority of younger people voted to remain. In the eyes of the complainers, this rendered the leave outcome less legitimate because younger people have more years of life ahead of them and therefore would allegedly suffer more than old people from a decision to leave the European Union. So much for the wisdom of old age knowing what is best. And so much for the principle of one person one vote, regardless of age, gender or race or whatever.

Instead of disenfranchising a group of older voters, we may consider allowing children some representation in our voting system. In the United States, the voting age is 18 which means that there are approximately 74 million US citizens aged under 18 who do not have the right to vote. That is a sizable 23% of the entire population who will all be adults by 2034 and who may not in the future take kindly to the long-duration budget commitments that were made in their absence. Read more

Job Creation Under the Next President

(The Wall Street Journal published on November 2nd a synopsis of this post. It was also featured on January 20th in the French weekly L’Express.)

Retraining the employed and the unemployed for higher value-added skills is now more important than simply adding to the number of jobs.

Coal and steel magnate Wilbur Ross, a senior policy advisor to the Trump campaign, has just made in the pages of the Wall Street Journal an economic prediction that looks mathematically unattainable.

Writing with business Professor Peter Navarro of UC – Irvine, Mr. Ross forecast that policies enacted by a President Trump would lead to the creation of 25 million new jobs, ostensibly over an eight year period: Read more

On White Collar Prosecutions, with Jesse Eisinger

“The government no longer has the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives across a wide variety of major industries.”______ Jesse Eisinger

photo_7887Jesse Eisinger is a senior reporter at ProPublica and a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal. He has studied, investigated and written extensively on the 2008 financial crisis, its causes and consequences. In 2011, he and a colleague won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. In addition, he has won the 2015 Gerald Loeb Award for commentary.

Eisinger is the author of a forthcoming book on white collar prosecutions, to be published next year by Simon & Schuster. He speaks to populyst’s Sami J. Karam about the reasons why there have been few such prosecutions in recent years. Among these reasons, Eisinger identifies ‘elite affinity’, a revolving door between government and business, and a resource shift that took place at the FBI after 9/11. The conversation closes with Eisinger’s discussion of current anti-trust issues and some comments on the 2016 US presidential race.

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