NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the New York Foreign Press Center. Just a few reminders before we begin today. This is an on-the-record briefing. We will have journalist colleagues from Washington, D.C. also participating remotely, so during the question-and-answer portion you may see them.
A few other reminders. Please do take a minute to silence your cell phones, please. And I’d also like to note that we here at the Foreign Press Centers, do invite guest speakers who are not necessarily representative of the U.S. Government’s views, but we invite them to share their expert opinions.
I have the honor of introducing Professor Robert Shapiro today. Professor Shapiro is a professor and former chair of the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, and he served as acting director of Columbia’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, ISERP, from 2008 to 2009. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received a Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award in 2012, and in 2010 the Outstanding Achievement Award of the New York Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
Professor Shapiro specializes in American politics with research and teaching interest in public opinion, policy making, political leadership, the mass media, and applications of statistical methods. He has taught at Columbia since 1982 after receiving his degree and serving as a study director at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago.
He has – we’re welcoming – he has agreed today to speak about the history and state of partisanship in the United States. Following his remarks, we will take questions and field answers. So, thank you again. Thank you.
MR SHAPIRO: Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak today, and thanks for the very kind introduction. Now I’m going to speak about basically partisanship, ideology, and conflict in the United States; that is, the history of it and the current state of it. Also, after I’ve finished speaking, I’d be happy to take questions on, of course, any aspects of the current political climate and the elections that are ongoing here in the United States.
The main thing I want to just emphasize here that the current conflict that you see in American politics between the parties and along ideological lines and along disagreements on policy issues, they would be present even if Donald Trump were not President of the United States, if Hillary Clinton had won the election or if another Republican had won the election, which also means that that conflict is here to stay to an extensive degree once President Trump has left office either in 2020 or 2024.
Now, the historical context of this is actually – it’s actually very interesting, especially for students of politics and political science in the United States. And people outside of the United States and probably many of you are not fully aware of the details of this, and I just want to give a very whirlwind summary of the last 90 years of American partisanship and political conflict.
The starting point here is the nature of the political parties and where they disagreed. And during the last sort of official formal – what political scientists call political realignment that occurred in the United States, which was in the 1930s when Franklin Roosevelt become president. The parties then were very – were the Republican and Democratic Party, but they were different than they are today in terms of how they aligned between each other and within the party along policy issue lines. And that’s at the level of political leadership, and we’ll also talk about the level of public opinion as well.
In the 1930s, the parties were less consistently ideological and as homogenous as they are today, especially the Republican Party, but even the Democratic Party to a very great extent as well. The Democratic Party at the time Roosevelt was elected was the liberal party on issues of economic welfare, big government, ostensibly support for labor unions, and regulation, and that was basically as far as it went. That party was an uneasy alliance among northern liberals and Midwest liberals and southern conservatives, where the South was conservative – not on big government and those kinds of issues; they were perfectly happy with an expansive government to help with economic development in the South; they were perfectly happy with that – but they were a party that was conservative on economic issues.
The Republicans were conservative on economic issues, and they were the liberal – the moderate or even liberal party when it came to issues of rights and liberties. They were still the party of Abraham Lincoln, ostensibly supportive of the civil rights that were granted after the Civil War to blacks in the United States, and they were also part of the party of rights of women. The Equal Rights Amendment is now a subject of discussion here in the United States, and they were the party where the Equal Rights Amendment originated, and it was in every Republican Party platform up until 1980 when Ronald Reagan became president.
So, the Democratic Party’s liberal predispositions were moderated by the conservatives in the South, and on the Republican side there were – the party was conservative on economic welfare type issues but more moderate-liberal on rights kinds of issues.
Fast-forward to the 1960s. We’re going to bypass World War II here, but which obviously had a very transformative effect on life in the United States and the scope of government. And the next big change that occurred was – it was not the kind of political realignment that occurred in the 1930s that produced those kinds – the two kinds of parties that existed then, but rather an internal realignment that began within both parties. And the two key forces involved here, to different degrees, were the Civil Rights Movement, which raised the prominence of civil rights issues, the rights of blacks, and also the positions and politicking of Lyndon Johnson.
The Civil Rights Movement put civil rights on the agenda. There was a big fight within the Democratic Party with regard to how to handle that issue. The northern liberal wing became ascendant, and together with Lyndon Johnson, and of course, spurred on by the Civil Rights Movement, the Democratic Party became the decisively liberal party on civil rights issues. They became the pro-civil rights party on those things.
Key things that happened beyond the civil rights demonstrations and the consequences of that in terms of raising the salience of the issue, the big political acts that occurred, there was, of course, the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that desegregated schools, which is a big part of this and helped spur things onward. But it took a long time. That was in 1954. The big jumps then – the biggest jump then occurred in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and which was really, as they say, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which basically drove southern Democrats ballistic, so to speak.
And that led to a slow – it wasn’t immediate. It was slow, but it was a process by which the Democratic Party became the liberal party on economic welfare and civil rights and labor issues and regulation, with civil rights becoming more prominent; and southerners, the southern leaders, either changed parties or otherwise left the party, or their seats in Congress were taken in districts where blacks had the right to vote and more liberal and black representatives were elected.
Okay, so the South was no longer a big part of the core base of the Democratic Party, and it’s now the core part – a big part of the core base of the Republican Party.
With regard to the Republican Party, the politicking there was basically twofold. The rationalization that the Democrats had for moving on the civil rights issue was – well, one, it was the morally right thing to do. That would be a claim that I think they would all – they would all state. But from a political calculation standpoint, there was no surprise that this would hurt them with respect to support in the South, and they thought – or at least they concluded as an aspiration after the fact – that they could make up for their losses of white voters in the South through African American voters and possibly through – during that period there was the 1965 Immigration Act that eased things on immigration, possibly new immigrants to the United States, but they were a relatively small part of the population then.
So, there was that realignment, and at the same time the Republicans seized the opportunity to attract the South. There was Richard Nixon’s southern strategy that came into play here, and that strategy was very successful, and it worked.
Now, that’s a great oversimplification of what happened, that it happened over a number of years, and the visible consequences of it didn’t become apparent until the 1970s. But from the ’70s forward, especially as new issues arose – there were a lot more issues than economic welfare and civil rights, issues like cultural values-oriented issues like abortion, gay rights, other regulatory issues having to do with energy, the environment.
Part of the southern strategy was also a northern strategy by the Republicans to – basically to appeal to voters for whom law and order issues that were very important. Now, you have to keep in mind law and order issues were very closely connected to racial issues in terms of problems in urban areas and problems of crime there and so forth, and also the welfare had a particular stigma attached to it, one of which had to do with the fact that there was the sense that the people on the welfare rolls were – the vast majorities of them were African Americans, which wasn’t – which was not, in fact, the case, but there was that stereotype at play there as well.
So with regard to these new issues like abortion, gay rights that came about, law and order issues including capital punishment, the extent to which the courts should be harsher on criminals, and then also the issue of gun control came into play in a different way, more as a rights issue than as a law and order issue per se, which it used to be thought of as a law and order issue where gun control was very important in order to deal with problems of violent crime and guns. But that issue has been transformed into more of a rights issue where it’s the one area of rights where the Democrats are not the pro-rights party, but rather, the regulatory party on those kinds of issues.
The other thing that happened, and it’s not unrelated to the fact that the Democrats lost the South, is that the parties became not only more distinctive from each other on – going to the present – basically almost every policy issue that’s emerged. In more recent years, immigration, and then in a more complicated way, the issue of trade. So, the parties became much more distinctive on everything.
In addition, what happened during this period is that for the – most of the – the biggest part of the 20th century from the 1930s going forward, the presidency went back and forth between the parties. After the – after Roosevelt and Truman, Republicans and Democrats kind of switched off in terms of who was president.
But during that entire period, the Democrats maintained control for the most part, with a couple years of exceptions, of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which meant while the Democrats on occasion would have unified Democratic government – unified in terms of having a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, thereby giving them control of the courts as well through presidential appointments and other appointments as well – the Republicans were always, for the most part, faced with divided government. That is, a Republican president was faced with a Democratic Congress, making it difficult to pursue a uniformly conservative agenda across the board.
That changed starting in 1980. When Ronald Reagan was elected, his coattails brought with him the election of a Republican Senate, and from that day forward, the Republicans have been competitive for control of the Senate. 1994, an equally and perhaps more important year, was when the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives led by Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House. And from then on, the Republicans became competitive for control of the House of Representatives.
Now, that meant that it was possible for either party to have unified party control of government. And given that also the parties were so different from each other, the stakes in the elections became much greater. Elections have greater consequences because if a unified Democratic government were elected, they could do major liberal things, which they did when Obama was elected – first and foremost there, the Affordable Care Act. And then most recently, when Trump was elected, he was able to get a lot done upon his election: tax reform, deregulation, Supreme Court appointments; and then there were things he could do without getting congressional approval, such as dealing with changing the U.S.’s position on the Iran agreement and also the climate change agreement.
But with a unified government and the parties different from each other on everything, it means that when the government went from Democrat – goes from Democrat to Republican, things can change dramatically, and the same if it goes from Republican to Democratic. So, the stakes are higher. And there are a lot of emotionally charged issues involved here as well, particularly abortion, gun rights on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, but arguably more so on the conservative and Republican side as well. And then also, there’s the issue of gay rights and gay marriage and other issues related to that in terms of equal rights for gays and lesbians and equal treatment in terms of business dealings and the like that have come up as well.
So, because the stakes have become greater and because of some of these emotional issues, politics has become more highly emotionally charged, especially with elections being very competitive. And it really can’t get any more competitive than having a presidential election. Beginning in 2000, we’ve had presidential elections in which the – one party won the popular vote and another party won the electoral vote. That makes things even more contentious, raising – making the Electoral College another partisan issue here for the moment, especially because the Republicans have benefited from that. So, it’s led to emotionally charged politics.
The other factor – and this kind of takes us to the 2016 election in terms of if we ask why Trump won the election. Well, a Republican won the election, in general, because it was a good year for Republicans to run. Usually after one party is in the presidency for two terms, there’s – statistically, it’s been more likely than not that it would go to the other party. And so it was – that was actually thought to be a good year to run for election. We had 17 Republican candidates there, and it was – and you got a sense there in that race in terms of how united the party was, not necessarily about the candidate until nearer to the end, but in terms of how united they were on all of these issues taking consistently conservative positions, and also being very critical in a highly emotional way of the incumbent, Barack Obama.
And we see this similar kind of thing going on in the current environment, although the irony here is that statistically speaking and historically speaking, this would not be a good year for a Democrat to run for president unless the president was perceived as vulnerable, and Trump has been perceived as vulnerable because of the close last election and also because of his lower – lowish popularity rating and also because of, to say the least, disagreements about his style and personality associated with his leadership, and I’ll say that in a milder way than I might normally say in another setting.
But – okay, so we have highly emotionally charged politics, and there are two theories about what’s driving the emotions. Now, one is it’s basically related to policy issues and political power and the ability to pursue a particular policy agenda. The stakes are high for that. But it’s also been highly charged and emotional having to do with the issues that played out in the 2016 election in terms of how the economy hurt certain sectors of the country, particularly white – well, it’s referred to as the white working class. It’s actually been identified in survey data as whites without college degrees who were hurt economically by policies during the Obama administration and how the – and also how the economy went and in terms of jobs being lost in the United States, in particular in areas – in rural areas and small town areas especially in the Midwest, which were decisive in the election. So, there were emotional feelings attached to that economic discontent.
Related to that, or distinct from that, depending on how you prefer to think about it, is – were issues having to do with social identity in the United States related to increased immigration in the United States, illegal immigration, the “darkening of the population”, so to speak, transformations afoot that will lead the country to be evenly split and perhaps more minority than majority white going down the road. And there are a lot of emotions attached to those kinds of things as well. That might have been decisive in the last election. These things might be decisive again in the current election.
So, we’ve got the conflict occurring both in terms of social identity and policy issues, and it’s hard to distinguish what’s the full driving force there. What we do know is that the outcome is highly emotionally charged politics, and if you thought the 2016 election was highly conflictual and emotional, well, we probably haven’t seen anything yet until we get to the 2020 election.
And this has had all kinds of other consequences that we’ve seen as well. That is, embedded in all of this is that emotions are so charged here, and disagreements are so charged, when it comes to justifying people’s political leaders and people’s positions on issues, all kinds of misperceptions and mis-assertions about reality and facts have come into play. And this level of emotional conflict has led to kind of people’s – it’s pretty clear that people see politics through partisan and ideological blinders, or blinders in terms of support for Trump or opposition to Trump.
We have this whole – and also having a president that often misstates the nature of facts and reality has contributed to this a lot. It’s not that his supporters necessarily believe everything he says, but it’s clearly the case that their main concern is not him per se, but what he’s doing per se, and more importantly, what they think of the opposition. There’s a lot of what political scientists and political psychologists call affective polarization, affective partisanship or negative partisanship. That is, these emotions may be more of anger and dislike of the oppositions than support for the current leaders in each of the party. And we’re seeing this kind of thing play out in a visible way.
And so, the punchline here is – and I’ll just return to where I started – even if there was a different occupant of the White House, these issue conflicts and partisan ideological conflicts and the closeness of the parties in competing with each other, that’s here to stay. In addition to that, all of these social identity issues that have emerged that are highly emotional. Now, arguably, they’ve been driven to a new height by Trump and the Trump administration, and those kinds of things might tone – some of this might be toned – might tone down a little bit depending on the next president. But the fundamental conflicts are there, and the emotional level of conflict is there, and the stakes are there and very high. And there’s the big question about how to moderate this.
Now, the one thing you have to keep in mind here is that these differences on issues first occurred – and there are political science studies of this, and I could show all kinds of slides that show this – but it began at the level – the conclusion of political scientists for the most part is that it was political leaders driving this change, although some people argue that the transformation of the Democratic Party was heavily driven by grassroots politics in the Northeast and the Midwest. So, there’s a little debate about who caused it, the elites or the voters. But the – in terms of driving it through, in terms of politics at the leadership level, it was political leaders.
But all of this eventually penetrated, certainly by the 1990s – penetrated to the level of public opinion, that it’s the parties disagreeing on all of these issues, and increasingly so. If you – I could show you graphs of where – in public opinion surveys, people who identify with Democrats and Republicans have split, moved in opposite directions on policy issues. It’s not the case that some political scientists and others have argued that it’s really the Republicans driving all of this, it’s really the Republicans’ fault that we have this conflict. They may – it may have originated with the Republicans, but the Democrats have really done more than their fair share in terms of splitting the parties on all of these kinds of things.
The one area they’ve differed though is that public opinion surveys used to show, up until pretty recently, that it was Republicans more than Democrats that were less willing to compromise, which meant that even if Republican leaders wanted to moderate, they’re worried about being primaried and being opposed and supported by voters – and opposed by voters, and opposition candidates might run against them in a primary election because they’re not sufficiently conservative or maybe not sufficiently supportive of Donald Trump.
But that’s changed. The last Pew Research Center poll on this actually has Democrats and Republicans equally unlikely to want to compromise. And we see – and where this has emerged – and it’s related to the split within the Democratic Party. After the 2016 election, part of the party was so disappointed that the moderate wing of the party won out and Hillary got the nomination and she was beaten, even though she got a majority of the popular vote – at this point, they thought the party needs to move further to the left and be more uncompromising in its position.
And we see this now front and center. It was widely – it was clearly visible in the last presidential debate. And the big question is that – and I’ve already stated it – that no matter who’s in the – no matter who the next president is, this conflict is going to still be there.
And I’ll just leave – I’ll just conclude with the following question that political scientists have been scratching their head about: Is there anything that could be done to tone down and moderate politics so that at least the spirit of compromise can come back and the government can kind of get things done? Because the kind of conflict that we have has been leading to gridlock. That is, once the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, it’s very difficult for things to get done, with a couple noteworthy exceptions that are worth talking about. And that sets the stage for the current election. And I’m going to stop there. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, Professor Shapiro. So, we would like to start the Q&A now. When you have a question, please do state your name and outlet before asking your question. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. My name is Robert Poredos from Slovene Press Agency. I mean, you just posed my question. That was the thing I was going to ask you. And do we have any historical parallel of being so emotionally charged, so polarized? And in this environment, do you see any kind of – you said it doesn’t matter who would be the president now. But do you see – with this batch of candidates that we have today, do you see anyone that could be like soothing for this?
MR SHAPIRO: Well, I – okay, so you’ve kind of – you’ve raised a lot of things here. In terms of solutions to the current problems and any historical parallel – well, in terms of historical parallels, I mean, there are times in American history where politics has really been very conflictual and personal. You can go back to the founding with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and then fast forward a little bit to Andrew Jackson, who was a very controversial figure.
But obviously the biggest conflict in the United States was the Civil War. That’s really – that really is unparalleled. That was – then – that was – and a lot of these – a lot of times this corresponds with periods of realignments which occurred then in 1856 or 1860. And then also in the – around the 1896 election things were conflictual along certain lines and so forth. And of course, there was the turmoil over the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, riots in the streets, urban crime, Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam. Those were very tumultuous.
But never something this – that’s so broadly ideological, and especially in the context of – we’re debating truth and falsehood, what’s real, what’s not real. The latest claims of Russian interference in the election really leads to people seeing things very differently. There must be facts there, but – and if there are, nobody seems to agree on what they are yet. So that’s a historical parallel part.
In terms of solutions, in terms of the kinds of things that could moderate politics, I can rattle off a list of possible things. The thing that always comes to mind to me is might there be a crisis or an event that would moderate politics. We’ve been there, done that. There was 9/11, and where things did really moderate for a while. But the conflict emerged once again.
Political scientists have talked about political reforms like term limits. Actually, one of my favorites, and we haven’t talked about it here – we haven’t talked about the role of the media in all of this. And I’ll just simply say the media – they’re not the cause; they just amplify and help inflame things. But in terms of toning down the debate, if we were to reenact what was called the Fairness Doctrine, which forced all media outlets to give equal time to the opposition, that would – that could moderately moderate things. But that was much easier when there were only three major TV networks, and only a few major national newspapers, and not that many radio outlets that were national. Today, given the media environment, that would really – there would be yells and screams from all sectors of the press on that.
In terms of any one candidate, obviously it would be a candidate who is more moderate and who could conceivably pull the nation together, as we say, at the moment. But the problem here is that if the Democrats were to run a more moderate candidate the Republicans would still claim that the person is still very far to the left. Although if the Republicans ran a moderate candidate, that would be interesting. That could be interesting.
The parties themselves – the Republican Party is really the more cohesive, conservative party. The Democratic Party is fairly much more liberal, progressive, to the left than the Republican Party. But it’s more of a combination of different factions and groups, who – and the parties let more heterogeneous in terms of racial backgrounds, age distributions, and other things that come into play as well.
But in terms of who the – I mean, if the Republicans – something happened in the Republican Party and they – and Trump weren’t the candidate and if Bill Weld were the candidate or Mitt Romney, that would have a profound effect on the nature of political debate. It would at least make the debate itself more civilized. There might be sharp disagreements on issues and a lot of emotions, but at least the tone of the rhetoric would be more moderate.
QUESTION: Arnaud Leparmentier, French daily, Le Monde. I have two questions. You didn’t speak about swing states. Some people say when Texas because of immigration becomes a Democrat the White House is forever to the Democrats. Would you agree with these analogies or will it change over time and be – parties will readapt? And the second question, you almost answered it, but do you feel so that it’s more Sanders that might be able to win rather than a moderate in such a polarized situation?
MR SHAPIRO: Okay. So, there are two questions there. One is the – where swing states fit into all of this. Swing states are crucial. They’re absolutely crucial. And if you look at the blue and red electoral college map going back from Clinton to the present, there have been some pretty profound changes there. The Democrats have their blue wall, but the blue wall is – it’s never clear to me – and you look at the map, there’s that West Coast wall, there’s the East Coast wall, and then there was the Northern Midwest wall, which some stunning things happened in the last election.
It’s clear that once the parties have decided on their candidates this will be a regionally focused election because of the swing states. The current polls – and just to give you – just to remind you of this – all the current polls that show all the Democrats beating Trump or ahead of Trump in the election – well, that’s perfectly fine. So that says that Democrats are going to win the popular vote. The Democrats will almost certainly win the popular vote. It’s a question of the swing states.
And right – at this moment, it’s a very – it’s just very decisively clear who the swing states are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. I’ll talk about some other states in a second. And the parts of those states that shifted from Obama to Trump were parts of the states that were rural and small town and heavily populated by white voters without a college education. And they switched over. Their survey data showed that those voters switched and the aggregate statistics in terms of county voting shows that pretty clearly and decisively.
Now where immigration fits into this is that – those areas were areas that were hit hard economically, so the economic forces were push – were at work as well. That is the voters there were thinking economically and rationally in that sense. By the same token, they were – these were predominately white voters who were sensitive to where the Democrats stand on cultural values issues, political correctness, all those kinds of things, support for immigration, which they perceive as a threat.
Now the irony here, of course, is that those states are very far from the borders where those people come through, and there’s a statistical correlation between attitudes toward immigrants and distance from the border. The further away you are from the border, the more opposed you are. Okay, that’s sort of an irony there.
But the states are absolutely crucial. This a numbers game. American politics right now is a numbers game. The first game is the getting a majority of electors, which we can – not electors, delegates to the convention; we’ll talk about it in a second. The other is getting a majority of the Electoral College.
Karl Rove actually got this wrong. He said Trump can win without winning – I’m sorry, the Democrats can win if they only win two of the states Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. They need all three. The way that – and if – you can go on – you can look at Nate Silver talking about this stuff today. They need all three in order to get to 270, and that assumes they hold onto New Hampshire and Minnesota. Now, that’s interesting because we’re not talking about Florida, North Carolina, Ohio. We’re not talking about Iowa either. We’re talking about New Hampshire, which the Democrats barely won in 2016, and Minnesota, that was in – it was kind of a scary – in scary range for them.
And now the Democrats think they have in play Arizona, which could make a difference. That is, they could lose Wisconsin, but they would need Arizona. But they – so the swing states are crucial, and that’s where Republicans will be devoting their energy. And you’ll – I think you’ll see that when those states have their primaries. I’m sure Donald Trump will probably have rallies there.
Okay, so that’s what’s going – now, in terms of the current election – well, in this polarized environment, given the rules by which delegates are selected, and given the number of candidates that are in play, I would say Sanders has a plausible path to getting the nomination. It’s – and it’s not because he’s going to get a groundswell of support and he’s going to get a majority of the – he’s going to get a majority of the vote in a two-candidate race, in – if there were a two-candidate race in the primary in particular states. His path is that he’s leading right now in the polls, and if he were to keep that lead, consistently getting 30 percent of the vote, let’s say, given the rules, what the rules are, the Democrats allocate delegates proportional to the vote to candidates who get at least 15 percent.
One scenario – one easy to see scenario where Sanders gets a majority of the delegates in the primaries is that he consistently gets 30 percent. If other – unless the candidate – unless most of the candidates drop out or get miniscule percentages of the vote, it’s possible that the next best candidate in terms of votes might get, let’s say 19 percent, or 20 percent. Nobody else gets above 15. So, if he gets 30 percent and the second candidate gets 20, and nobody else gets above 15, he gets 60 percent of the delegates. That’s a clear path. It’s not a path that represents a consensus, a majority consensus in the party. And in fact, there are data that show that Sanders is not a lot of – for a lot of voters – he’s not second choice for a lot of voters, okay. But he’s a strong first choice for a great many voters. So he has a path that’s there.
So, the big question is – I mean, we – is – looking at Nevada and South Carolina, look to see who wins. Look to see if Sanders wins, and then look to see who’s second, and look to see if there’s another third candidate who gets above 15 percent as well. The key thing, if another candidate gets above 15 percent, and that candidate, whoever finishes second, has more than – that combined total is more than 50 percent of the delegates, then Sanders will not – would not be able to get the nomination on the first ballot. He might have a claim of having a plurality of delegates, but on the first ballot, all the delegates would have to vote for whom they’re committed. The superdelegates, the uncommitted delegates, don’t vote on the first ballot. They vote on the second.
So, going into the convention –I mean, the scenario is that going into the convention, this is going to be a contested convention. That is, nobody will have a majority of delegates, and they’ll have to – the Democrats will have to figure out how to sort that out.
Now, in the old days, it was a lot easier because the delegates were not selected by or beholden to the electorate. They were beholden to party leaders who selected the delegates. This was all done in the smoke-filled back rooms. But we don’t have smokeless back rooms today where this occurs. And also, if there were leaders who were brokers of this, who were the leaders that are brokers? Who’s – who would get together and decide this kind of thing?
Now, of course, the one thing – the one saving feature is that if it looks like it’s going to be a contested convention, they’ll know this, we’ll know this, in maybe May. So there’ll be a lot – there’ll be a long time for the party to kind of have – to talk among themselves, the leaders of the party and the candidates who are running to talk among themselves and to figure out a way to – how to sort this kind of thing out.
And in terms of who might be perceived as the kind of neutral or respected brokers of this, the only person that comes readily to mind, and he seems to be positioning himself for this, is who? Who? Obama. He’s been very careful about where he stands on this, although the Sanders folks have gotten – seem to have gotten wind that he seems to be more moderate than left-oriented. And I think that’s pretty much the case.
That’s my answer.
QUESTION: I’m Barbara Kramzar, Delo, Slovenia. Would you dare to say that Trump, due to economy and everything else, he has the realistic chance to win? Or do you think that his personality, it’s too divisive, for example, for the so-called suburban moms? And so – or do you think that – I mean…
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah. That’s the key question here. And of course, the big irony here, if – as we say, if Trump weren’t Trump, if he were any other more deliberative, statesman-like Republican, we wouldn’t be talking about who’s going to win the election. The economy’s doing extremely well; other things are going pretty well. Obviously, in foreign affairs, things are a little bit of a mess on different fronts there. Also, if Trump weren’t Trump, we wouldn’t have the current conflict that we have regarding trade and immigration, which are issues.
The thing working against him is – basically is his personality and style, and as indicated by the fact that his popularity rating since he became President really never broke 50 percent. It’s – well, depending on what pollster you look at. The averages still have him below 50, although his popularity has been increasing, and certainly enough to suggest that he could pretty readily win the electoral vote come November.
But the big question is, in terms of what it comes down to, it’s really coming down to – you talk of the suburban moms. It’s the suburban moms in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that are very crucial here. And we’re not talking gigantic numbers. That as we’re talking about 90,000 votes that if the Democrats had those votes in 2016 they would have won those states.
Now, the way they’re distributed, there’s about 60,000 in Pennsylvania, and then 20- and 10- in Michigan and Wisconsin. I think 10- in Michigan and 20-, something like that. And that’s pretty crucial. And then there’s the question of – and especially if these were voters who voted for Trump in the last election who now have second thoughts about him. And then the other force at work, if we’re trying to count where are the numbers coming from, one force at work was that in 2016 the voter turnout among African Americans was low, lower than expected in those states. And had it been higher, that would have made a difference. And also, young people in those states voted – may have voted less as well.
In terms of how Trump might make up for that, well, I mean, there are people who are new voters, young people who are now of a voting age that the Democrats will win most of those, but some might – will – might go to Trump. And there may have been voters who did not vote in the previous election who might be mobilized to vote if not for Trump against the Democrats, particularly if it’s a Democrat who’s perceived at the extreme.
Sanders and that wing of the party claims that those voters, if they voted, would vote for the – would be more mobilized and excited by a socialist-leaning candidate. These are voters for the most part who haven’t cared much about politics and are pretty independent and detached, and are more likely, if they’re going to vote, maybe they’re as equally likely to vote against someone as they are to vote for someone. And it’s a question of whether those voters would be mobilized by Trump as well. And his entire social media microtargeting operation is really geared toward that and identifying places where they can find voters like that. So, it really is a numbers game.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Ville. I come from Finland, work as a U.S. correspondent for YLE. Thank you for an interesting presentation. Two questions, please. You spoke about how the parties have become more polarized; partisanship has gone up. Can you say which part of the electorate still percentagewise can be described as a middle, some kind of independents who are truly still choosing between voting for a Republican and a Democrat?
And the second question is I read somewhere that about 30 percent of the senators are representing 70 percent of the voters because of how the Electoral College is put up, and vice versa, that 70 senators are representing 30 percent of the voters.
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you see that as a threat to the sort of democratic nature of the Senate? And can you talk about that a little? Thank you.
MR SHAPIRO: Okay. In terms of the voters who are genuinely independent and undecided – well, when they ask people about their party identification – and the way they do it in the surveys, the preferred question, if you’re really trying to dig into party identification, they ask people, “Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, or Independent, or what?” And so, people will say Democrat, Independent, Republican, or they might say other, okay. Then they ask people who say they’re Democratic: “Are you a strong Democrat?” People – so they distinguish strong Democrats and non-strong Democrats, and the same thing Republicans – strong Republicans, not strong Republicans.
Then they ask the independents: “Okay, you’re independent. Do you learn toward one party or the other?” And some people – and so among those independents, some lean Democrat, some lean Republican. The ones that don’t lean either way, they’re no more than 10 or 15 percent, okay. Now, of that 10 or 15 percent, that’s not – that’s – in the surveys, that’s not voters. That is, if you kind of drill down and see if they’re voters or not, they tend to be less likely to vote. So, we’re really talking now about undecided voters that might in the past have had partisan leanings, plus people who really are genuinely, genuinely independent. I wish I could tell you that – tell you the nature of the partisan identification of people who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. But there were voters who voted for Sanders in 2016 in the primaries who voted for Trump in 2016, and you can only guess what their partisanship might be.
QUESTION: How big a group of them? Sorry.
MR SHAPIRO: I – well, between those voters and the voters who voted for third party candidates, they were enough to make a difference in those states. I’m not a hundred percent sure about Pennsylvania, but certainly Michigan and Wisconsin.
Now in terms of the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the Electoral College – because small states get two senators no matter what their population is, and because of that they get two electoral votes – yeah, that’s completely undemocratic in the sense of one person, one vote nationally, but that was part of the design of the Constitution. Okay. The – you have to remember – and this could be a long lecture on the Constitution, and I won’t bore you with the details – but the Constitution was not a democratic document. It was a document that was – that came about through compromise, and the compromise was, for one, to basically – the founders were worried about the whims and passions of the great masses, that is they feared – they kind of feared the people there. And so that the only office for which officials were elected were members of the House of Representatives. You have to keep in mind they set up the Electoral College. They also specified – the Constitution also specified that the senators were elected in any way the state legislatures wanted to. And it wasn’t till the passage of the 17th Amendment after the turn of the century that the senators – senators were elected directly by the people. So the system wasn’t designed to be democratic.
And in terms of the Electoral College, well, giving the smaller states two senators was a way of getting them to agree to ratify the Constitution early on, and there a lot of – there were other aspects of that related to how slaves were counted in terms of representation in the House of Representatives.
And also, the Electoral College – the purpose of the Electoral College was to basically have an outcome that wasn’t necessarily democratic, but was fair – or maybe democratic, if you will – in the sense of regional representation and regional influence on the selection of the president. The idea was to get a broad regional consensus even if some regions were smaller than others in terms of the vote. And so that was the design. And for the most part, historically, we haven’t had that many cases in where the electoral vote went for one candidate and the popular vote went for another. But we’ve had two since 2000, and that’s raised all kinds of questions.
QUESTION: I am – represent a Norwegian newspaper, Aftensposten, and I have a question. You already touched upon this, but could you say a little bit more about Bernie Sanders’ chances in the general election in this polarized environment, and also say a little bit about – I mean, he calls himself a Democratic Socialist. The American – are they ready for a socialist? What does the opinion polls say?
MR SHAPIRO: Okay. So the – the realities here are the candidate Donald Trump and the Republicans would like to run against is Bernie Sanders, okay, because he can be – we know with – just like we knew what the attacks on Bloomberg would look like in that debate, we know what the attacks of the Republicans would look like with regard to Sanders. He’s – Democratic Socialist, socialist, communist. He went to Russia after his – after he got married – okay, red-diaper baby type person, okay. And also extreme policies, wants to take people – wants Medicare for all in the face of the fact that Americans would be very worried about – worrying about the insurance coverage they have.
Now, the American public, they dislike insurance companies, but you have to remember, most Americans are healthy. They depend on the healthcare system for things that really aren’t dire, threatening life – life threatening, and the like. And – but losing that would upset them, and their families.
In terms of the electorate, I mean, the only chance for Bernie Sanders to win the election – and putting aside an economic downturn or some crisis or scandal in the Trump administration that hurt him across the board, and I don’t think that’s very likely – his only chance of winning the election is if the entire party, including all the moderates in the party and maybe some of the never-Trumpers – well, the never-Trumpers on the Republican side – I can’t imagine them voting for Sanders, but – and appealing to some of the white working class voters that voted for Trump and had been dissatisfied with some of the things that Trump’s done. But the party would have to unify around him. And in fact, any – if that were the case, any democratic candidate could win.
But the problem is that people care about policies, people care about ideology, and Sanders would be perceived too far to the left. And so, the concern there is that he wouldn’t win the election, and possibly not just the Electoral College, he could even conceivably lose the popular vote as well. So that’s the worst case that’s of concern here. But his prospects really hinge the party getting together and uniting around him.
QUESTION: This is Ali Cinar from Turk of America. I want to go back to 2016. So, when we look at the polls, many different companies – poll companies’ results, it was mostly Hillary, 90, 95 percent. So, it seems like 2020 elections, there is a mistrust from the public. So, I would like to get your opinion on the polls especially from the Democratic side and Republican side. Thank you.
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah. Okay. All right, so the perception is that the polls were dreadful, and it was a scandal, a scandal worthy of a congressional investigation, which is what happened in 1948 after the 1948 election in the pools. There were – actually, even before that, the Congress was all upset about the fact that Gallup was over – basically overpredicting Republican votes back then.
Okay. The truth of the matter is is that the national polls were actually quite good, that is the national polls had Hillary winning the popular vote, and she won the popular vote maybe by a percentage point less than the polls predicted, but you can allow for sampling error, measurement errors, last-minute changes, and so forth. The state polls were wrong, and the state – and all of these poll predictions were based on averages. If you want to read more about this, you should go to the American Association for Public Opinion and Research’s website. They have a task force report that investigated this with – in excruciating statistical detail. And they have a committee in place right now for the next election as well.
The national polls were not a problem. And it’s not in the report, but my view, which is – I think it’s readily obvious – the national polls, there were 11 arguably good polls done in the last three days before the election – national. And because they were averaging 11 – pretty good numbers, they got a pretty good number.
In the state polls, if you look at how many polls that were done in the last week before the election in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, there were at most five or six, and some of the polls done were done by some of the lesser polling organizations. So, the quality was – and in terms of what the problems were and the quality, and the AAPOR report cites it pretty clearly. There were some last-minute changes in voters. Those who had decided within the last day or two after the last polls were done broke heavily for Trump, were enough to put him over the top.
Also, what happened was in – all these polls have low response rates. They have to do statistical adjustments, and they’re kind of guessing. See, they can’t weight this to the population. They’ve got to make some guesses as what’s the composition of the voting electorate going to look like, which we don’t know, and we only have a chance of knowing if we look at the electoral polls once they’ve been weighted after the election. Okay. And we don’t – then they don’t have the exit polls, excuse me.
What they found was that in terms of the composition of the electorate, they underestimated the proportion of white voters without college degrees in – overall, and perhaps, I think, if they look closely, probably also in small towns and rural areas. The underestimated those, and – which meant that those kinds of people were not responding to the surveys.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time – we have a few journalists who have had their hands up for quite some time. We’d like to give them the chance to ask their questions, and then we’ll be wrapping up. As I understand it, there are no questions coming from D.C. Thank you.
MR SHAPIRO: Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you, professor. Let me go back to your first remarks, your first presentation. I come from [a] Portugal radio station. My point is this: You mentioned, you stressed very much, there’s obviously a conflict that is there in the society regardless of the president or the party who is in power. That’s normal because that’s – salt of democracy is conflict somehow, right?
MR SHAPIRO: It’s become normal.
QUESTION: Yeah, it has become normal. But also, in Europe, I mean, in democracy, the conflict is the driver of the thing.
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah.
QUESTION: So, but what we are witnessing now is much more than this kind of conflict of divergence, right? It’s somehow an eruption of emotions, as you said, and maybe even irrationality, because people are taking decisions – like, you mentioned the example of immigration, for example. The areas where people vote more against immigration are exactly the areas where there is no immigration. It also happens in Europe currently. So, my point is this: This eruption of maybe irrationality more than emotions has been driven mostly, on your opinion – who is more to blame on this? The leaders, the parties, or the public opinions, since you are also an expert on the public opinion surveys?
So, for example, what happened during impeachment process – many of the senators and the House of Representatives, they were voting pro-Trump or against impeachment exactly because their constituents were pro-Trump. So, this tribalism that is in the public opinion is driving them, or they are driving this and riding this wave of tribalism?
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, the – I mean, the whole suspicion that the founders had of the public was kind of predicated on the assumption that while the public might not be – fulfill the requirements of democratic competence that they should have in a democracy, the assumption was that the leaders would have this kind of democratic competence associated with them. And I would argue if you’re looking about where to point the fingers at, you can either point your fingers at the public, blame the electorate, you can talk about the media – the media’s a good scapegoat here, you all are good scapegoats if you are American journalists reporting on these things – and – or the leaders.
And from my standpoint, the starting point there has to be the – has to be leaders, that is the public doesn’t run the government. We don’t have a pure democracy; we have a representative democracy. This is a republic, a democratic republic, meaning we elect – we – it’s – we’re democratic because we have free and fair elections electing leaders and we delegate the leaders all of this. And we could argue whether the leaders should be responsive to public opinion or not, but the leaders should be competent leaders who lead. And the idea that leaders lie or don’t acknowledge reality is something that’s completely abhorrent. It violates the norms of the U.S. Constitution. And I may be overstating it here but in terms of the finger pointing, it’s – in terms of where the change has to come from – I’ve kind of written about that – the people have to change. And there are two kinds of people to change. One is the population could change because of generational replacement or immigrant groups coming in, or more plausibly, new leaders, new generations of leaders.
One solution proposed to help moderate politics: we put term limits on the current politicians, and we – if they’re pouring flames on the conflict – the fires of political conflict, let’s get to – let’s get some new people in there and prevent these people from just getting reelected time and – year in, year – election after election. And so, I would say the change has to come from the level of political leaders. Now of course, here, the chances of those kinds of leaders getting elected is affected by where – how strongly the public feels about political issues and the existing conflict. And the whole idea that a republic – a more – that a moderate Republican or a moderate Democrat might have difficulty staying in office or getting nominated because those people who vote in primary elections are more extreme could be part of the problem as well, where you’d have to point your fingers a bit at the electorate.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Ken Moriyasu from Nikkei Asian Review based in Japan. Since we are the Foreign Press Center, I wanted to ask an international kind of question. Are there any cluster of racial groups or ethnic groups like Asian Americans or Jewish Americans in these key states that the campaigns might be looking to target? For instance, I think President Trump is going to India next week. Is that in any way related to the Indian Americans in America?
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah, well I think those kinds of things do come into play. I mean, the – with – the kinds of things that are most visible are the parties competing for the Jewish vote, which has predominately gone Democratic on the order of 70/30. But the 30 isn’t necessarily trivial and the 30 may not be trivial in certain locations, and for – and the issue that the parties are concerned about with respect to those voters are U.S. policy towards Israel, and that’s first and foremost. I mean, Trump’s support for Israel might help him in New York, but that doesn’t really matter given the fact that he’s not going to win New York because of the democratic nature of the electorate here. But there are clusters. You’d have to kind of – you’d have to kind of do the arithmetic and try to get some data on this. Certainly, in Pennsylvania, there are voters there who – for whom Israel is a key thing, and particularly also in urban areas in – with Wisconsin and Michigan. But – and certainly, all leaders will make political calculations in terms of how what they do diplomatically affects certain constituencies here.
Going to India is significant because you have a rising South Asian population in the United States as well. I’m not quite – I’m not quite sure how that’s played out with respect to other Asian groups like Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese Americans, but certainly it’s a factor. There’s always an advisor who will say what are the implications of this for group X, and historically in the United States, especially when the Democratic Party was the party of immigrant voters, there were concerns about U.S. relations with Poland and Ireland and places like that as well – and Italy.
QUESTION: Mikko Marttinen from Ilta-Sanomat newspaper in Finland. I would like to take a little bit longer view – some people have estimated that the demographic changes and the urbanization in certain states – for example, Texas and Georgia – will lead to those states turning Democratic at some time, which would mean that the Democratic Party would control U.S. politics once again. Do you believe in that theory or would it rather be like values of the parties would realign and that – in issues like what has happened with gay rights now that Republicans are for gay rights?
MR SHAPIRO: Yeah, and Trump is proposing to appoint the first gay person to his cabinet. Okay, so there are two things at work here, and one is the – the short-term and the long-term. Beginning in 2012, after that election, all of the Republican political consultants, and some Republican leaders, argued that the fact they couldn’t beat Obama in 2012 given all the disgruntledness and unhappiness about Obama was indicative of the fact that the party has to change to appeal to younger voters, African American voters, Latino voters, and Asian American voters of different sorts as well. And they thought this – the Republicans needed to do this immediately, okay. The counter-argument was whether they – and I’m not sure if anybody was looking at the actual numbers here – or maybe taking positions driven by their hearts and emotions and ideologies – that they thought, well, the alternative is is we just need to do much better among white voters. And for the moment at least, that’s the strategy Republicans have adopted, and it’s worked. Part of the reason it’s worked is because of the Electoral College that’s come into play.
And it’s – and so it’s simply a question of when there are really no additional white voters to get, and when the Republicans will have to expand their electorate, and maybe sooner rather than later in particular states. In my view, I don’t think that will happen until it looks – until they actually lose one of those states, because I think they’ve kind of, at least for the moment, have dug in their heels on this kind of thing. And – but working in their favor in terms of delaying this is the fact they’ve been able to appeal to more white voters, if you look at the data on this. And also, the new groups that have been coming in, they vote at lower rates. And it’s also the case they’re not voting a hundred percent Democratic, they’re splitting maybe 70/30 or 65/35, so the Republicans are getting some of them. And those groups aren’t homogenous, that is there’s diversity among those groups. They can’t necessarily be treated as a block.
MODERATOR: Okay, this will be our final question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for allowing me to ask the question. My name is Dayo Benson. I work for The News Guru. The question I want to ask somebody else asked, but I’ll still ask you. I’d like you to put your finger on it. First, I want you to answer this question: Do you think given the vicious nature of attacks of the candidates in the – at the last debates of the Democrats in Nevada two days ago – if it’s just [an] attack against one another? Do you think at the end of the day, when the chips are down, the supporters, whoever emerges as the nominee, do you see the supporters of other rallying around that candidate? That is one, and then second, between the extreme leftist stance of Sanders – that’s the Democratic Socialist that he calls himself – and the moderate position of Biden, does – any mixed ideology – are you finding mixed ideology of the Democrat? Do you not see this as a drawback of sort for the party? Because you find it difficult that – as – on like the Republican, you see a kind of a homogenous identity, but this is lacking in the Democrats. Do you see this as a drawback of sort for the party, a party that lacks a definite identity? Thank you very much.
MR SHAPIRO: Okay, so in terms of the viciousness with which the candidates have started to attack each other, whether that’ll have repercussions in terms of unifying the party, I think it has the potential of doing that. Fortunately for the campaign and the party, the election is far away. It’ll be interesting to see in the next debate if we see the same level of attack. I mean, the big question is, I mean, how many more times can you go after Bloomberg the way you went after Bloomberg. I think the candidates may have a big incentive to given how important these next two races are, but going forward, after that, I think the field may diminish in size. So that’ll work in favor of that as well. Also, they may start to figure out that they – that the viciousness should only – really can only go so far, and they need to tone things down.
The one thing that was interesting was the candidates really went at each other but – as was picked up by some of the network people – during one of the breaks, Sanders and – not Sanders – Bloomberg and Warren appeared to be having a very cordial, civilized conversation with each other, which – and – which kind of suggested that all these attacking – all these attacks was kind of more business than personal, so to speak. That is – they really were – they’re basically fighting here for the nomination, and that they really can get along. But if they keep doing that, it will in fact become more difficult, and we saw this in 2016, when Sanders – he may have tried his best to get his supporters to unify around Hillary, but it didn’t fully work, and it didn’t fully work enough that it may have cost her the election.
MODERATOR: All right, thank you so much. This concludes our briefing today. Thank you to our briefer. Thank you to all of you for coming. If you like this program, please stay tuned. We have many more briefings coming up and we look forward to seeing you there. Thank you.
MR SHAPIRO: Thank you. (Applause.)