Steyer makes the best of his jury duty week

As we discussed yesterday, activist and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer is officially off the campaign trail while on jury duty in San Francisco. But that hasn’t stopped him from doing a little campaigning…in San Francisco.

On Monday night, Steyer attended an event at the Commonwealth Club and spoke to an audience of about 200 people about his policies, with a focus on climate change and foreign policy.

Reading from an ABC7 News summary of the event:

“On Monday, Steyer says if elected, he would declare a climate emergency on day one of his presidency.
[He said,] "We are going to have a healthier economy and a healthier environment."
Steyer, a San Francisco-based activist and former hedge fund manager, also took aim at President Trump's foreign policy.
[He said,] "We're part of the world, whether we like it or not. And you cannot build a fence around the United States of America and think all of a sudden all the problems are going to stay outside. That's ridiculous."

And no word yet on whether Steyer has been selected for jury duty during his week off the trail, but I will keep you posted.

Gillibrand is open to being Vice President

On Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke at an event sponsored by the Washington Post. During that event, she was asked by Robert Costa of the Post about the possibility of being Vice President. Here’s that exchange:


Yeah, so this falls into the category of, ask an obvious question, get an obvious answer. Having covered this race for quite a while, I can bet you there are roughly twenty-ish people who would consider a VP spot on the ticket to be pretty awesome. In fact, the only person I can easily imagine turning down such an offer would be Joe Biden. And maybe Senator Bernie Sanders. Now, few candidates would actually admit it today, so points to Gillibrand for keeping it real.

Gillibrand, at this point in the race, faces real challenges. She won’t make the September debate, and she’s a long shot for the October debate, despite spending a ton on targeted ads trying to pull a Steyer and get her numbers up. Beyond October, who knows? The requirements will presumably become even more strict. So we might never see Gillibrand on a DNC debate stage again.

She’s not nearly as bad off as Hickenlooper was when he dropped out last week, but still, her campaign hasn’t caught fire and she’s been at it for 157 days. At last count, she had something like 110,000 donors and one qualifying poll for the upcoming debates. That’s better than most of the field, for sure, but it’s also right on the bubble of remaining viable at all.

All of this raises an interesting question, which is whether Gillibrand would be a useful VP from an electoral standpoint? She is from New York, which is a safe Democratic state in the general election. So no help there. She’s also a moderate within this field, and a woman—both of those could be helpful depending on what the top of the ticket looks like. So it’s smart for her to keep these options open, and it’s genuinely hard to predict who might end up in that VP position.

Sanders releases a plan to boost unions

This morning, Senator Bernie Sanders released a plan to boost union membership, as well as reforming a whole bunch of union-related laws and practices. The plan is called “The Workplace Democracy Plan,” and it’s essentially a laundry list of fixes to specific problems that make it harder for workers to unionize, maintain their benefits, and lots and lots of other stuff.

Reading from the introduction:

“There is no doubt that union membership is good for workers: union workers earn 22 percent more, on average, than non-union workers. In America today, 72 percent of union workers have a defined benefit pension plan that guarantees an income in retirement compared to just 14 percent of non-union workers.  Union workers are also half as likely to be victims of health and safety violations or of wage theft and 18 percent more likely to have health coverage.
Declining unionization has fueled rising inequality. Today, corporate profits are at an all-time high, while wages as a percentage of the economy are near an all-time low. The middle class is disappearing, and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider.
There are many reasons for the growing inequality in our economy, but one of the most significant reasons for the disappearing middle class is that the rights of workers to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined.”

The plan, if enacted, would more than double US labor union membership within his first term in office, AND would allow federal workers the right to strike. That’s an interesting one, as it gets at how federal workers are subject to losing their paychecks when the government shuts down—which it seems to do kind of a lot these days—but they don’t actually have a right to unionize or to go on strike. Well, the Sanders plan would change that. The plan would also block federal contracts to companies that pay workers less than $15 dollars an hour and companies that have anti-union policies.

As always, what would this cost and how would Sanders pay for it? No idea. No math like that appears in this plan.

All of this comes ahead of a speech by Sanders today to the AFL-CIO in Iowa. If you’re unfamiliar with that group or its acronym, it is the largest group of unions in the US, and it stands for, “American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.” Hence, AFL-CIO being way easier to say.

I don’t have audio of the Sanders speech yet, but if it makes waves, we can hear about it tomorrow.

Biden airs his first TV ad

On Tuesday, Joe Biden ran his first TV ad of this campaign. It aired in Iowa and is one minute long. While I normally avoid running candidates’ ads, I think this is worth listening to from a strategy perspective. The ad is titled “Bones,” and…well, just listen to it, then we’ll talk more:


Okay, so let’s break down this argument. First, the ad argues that beating President Trump is important because of the rise of white nationalists. Although that phrase isn’t said out loud, there’s footage of the Charlottesville rally playing while talking about Trump early on.

The next point is that Biden is doing the best in head-to-head matchup polls against Trump. We talked about that on Friday—head-to-head matchup polls this early are not great, though they certainly LOOK great in an ad. And beyond that, yes, Biden is the front-runner in every OTHER kind of poll I’ve seen, so…he does have a point there.

Next up, we get into a string of Obama stuff. Many of the greatest hits are there—together with Obama, Biden helped, QUOTE, “save the American economy,” END QUOTE, maintained stable relationships with international allies, and avoided major scandals. And they passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Then the ad turns to Biden vision for the future. He plans to build on Obamacare, invest in education, take action on climate change, rebuild international alliances, and “Most of all, he’ll restore the soul of the nation.” And then some more anti-Trump stuff. And then this line:

“Strong, steady, stable leadership. Biden. President.”

Now, technically that isn’t really a sentence, but it’s still the campaign message Biden needs to be sending right now. Biden is battling a variety of narratives, but most of them boil down to whether he’s competent to serve given his age and the related baggage from his years in the spotlight—the argument he needs to make is that he’s doing just fine, thank you very much. And this ad goes in that direction without saying it out loud.

The entire ad has three core components. First, Trump is dangerous and unfit to be president. Second, Obama was awesome, Obamacare was awesome, and Biden was part of all that. Third, Biden is, “Strong, steady, stable,” and therefore a better alternative to Trump…despite the age stuff.

The take-away here is that Biden continues to ignore the other candidates in the primary field and go straight at President Trump. The only point he makes that has ANYTHING to do with his fellow candidates is that he wants to expand Obamacare and hints that he’s not for Medicare for All. And Biden continues to lead in the polls, so this continues to be a winning strategy.

The Economist releases a new interactive primary data explorer tool

Last up today, The Economist has posted an interactive tool that lets you dig into existing polling data about the presidential primary. This tool is EXCELLENT, and for me, it’s an instant bookmark. Essentially, this thing is like the RealClearPolitics polling average, except it doesn’t crash your web browser and it looks much, much nicer.

So what does it do? First up, it averages high-quality polls. In a Twitter thread, Economist data journalist G. Elliott Morris wrote a bit more to define what “high-quality” means. “We include phone polls from firms that survey with live interviewers and online polls from firms that use well-documented, trusted methods (ie no IVR/Mturk combos).” Just to clarify that last bit, an IVR is an Interactive Voice Response system—in other words, those robots you talk to on the phone that sometimes get it right and sometimes don’t. And when Morris says “Mturk,” he’s referring to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which is a system that lets humans do tiny tasks—such as responding to polls or transcribing things people said—in exchange for tiny amounts of money. So Morris is saying here, if a poll uses those kinds of technology, they’re out. And that’s good, because those polls tend to be unreliable.

Then the second thing on the page is this big wavy graph showing how candidates have been doing over time. I have to say, this is one of the prettiest and easiest-to-understand graphs I’ve seen yet related to polling data in the primary. It’s interactive, and it appears to be something that will keep getting updates. In explaining it, Morris wrote in part, “We average the polls over time using a Bayesian implementation of a dynamic Dirichlet regression model.” Um. Good thing he continued in English, “The model is specified to give more weight to higher quality pollsters, less weight to data collected in the past and incorporates pollster house effects.” A house effect is a measurable lean that a given pollster typically has. So when you analyze a giving polling firm, you might say, hey, these folks tend to go a few points Republican or Democrat, or whatever. They’re building in compensation for that.

And THEN things get really, really interesting. The tool breaks down support by various demographics, including race, age group, and education. If you mouse over—or tap—a given candidate, it highlights that candidate’s support among all the groups. So for instance, I can tap on Senator Bernie Sanders and see that he’s doing relatively well among Hispanic voters, he’s second among Black voters, he’s third among White voters, and he leads the pack among the group labeled “Other.” One quick note, this tool is somewhat limited by the data is has to work with, so unless the pollsters start going more granular with their polls, this tool can’t magically tell us who, for instance, Native American voters prefer. Here, they are just part of that “Other” category. But while I’m looking at Sanders and his support by race, I can also see his support by age—he has a comfortable lead among voters under 30, and a slim lead among those aged 30-44. So you can kind of begin to see the coalition that each candidate currently has, and where they might need to look next for more support.

The final part of the system shows us who voters are ALSO considering if they support a specific candidate. This is where the Fantasy Football stuff can really get started. You can see which candidates seem to cluster together, and who are outliers. For instance, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are clearly a pair—voters who like either one tend to like the other one too. This is very interesting stuff, and you can to imagine fantasy presidential tickets using this data and see how they might appeal to different groups.

So, I encourage you to check out this interactive tool—it’s the last link in the show notes—and don’t forget that you can CLICK ON A CANDIDATE’S FACE up top to get super-detailed info about that candidate.

This applies to EVERY candidate they’ve got, regardless of their polling status. So if you’re a passionate supporter of, say, Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard or Joe Sestak, go click on their faces on this tool and dig into the details, to see where they’re lumped in with the pack versus out there on their own.

It’s a fascinating piece of work, and this is the best tool I’ve seen yet for this kind of analysis. Add it to your bookmarks, folks, because this thing reveals a ton of data and trends that is hard to find anywhere else.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Now I know you’ve all been waiting for this. So. Regarding the tree stump, victory is mine. At least for now. The stump—technically two stumps kinda joined together—is now riddled with giant one-inch holes that go about 16 inches deep, thanks to an evening session in the yarden. Today is supposed to be rainy, so I hope to see water get deep into this stupid stump and start the decomposition process. I might also get in there and just start sawing out the middle, just to send another message to this unwelcome piece of wood. Meanwhile, I hereby endorse the following product: IRWIN Industrial Tools 47416 1-Inch by 17-Inch Tubed Long Ship Auger Bit. They get that one for free. It really works, there’s photographic proof on Instagram. Warning, if your neighbors see you wielding this thing they might call the cops. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.