youth in the Iowa caucuses

Posted just now by CIRCLE:

Young people had an extraordinary impact on the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, representing a higher share of the overall vote than in previous caucuses and propelling Sen. Bernie Sanders to one of the top spots, according to a youth turnout analysis released by researchers from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)—the preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

Young people (ages 17-29) turned out at an estimated rate of 8% and made up a 24% share of all caucusgoers, the highest youth share since CIRCLE has been tracking Iowa entrance polls.

Young people strongly backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (48%), followed by former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (19%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (12%). 

new CIRCLE poll of Iowa youth

Here is one finding from CIRCLE’s survey of young Iowans, released today. The differences between younger and older Iowa Democrats on Sanders v. Biden are pretty striking.

Although people always overestimate their chances of participating in future elections, 35% of young Iowans say they are “extremely likely” to participate in the presidential caucus. That suggests a substantial increase in youth turnout compared to past years.

The release is on CIRCLE’s awesome new website, also launched today and valuable to explore.

how to assess candidates in a presidential primary

Voters in a primary are a bit like members of a hiring committee. They have a batch of eager candidates and must choose one to represent their party and–they hope–hold the office.

I have served on dozens of hiring committees, including some for nonprofit CEOs and senior university administrators. Head-hunters give consistent advice about how to assess candidates. They advise committees not to ask how a candidate will or would address issues in the future. Candidates don’t really know, because their strategies will depend on the details of the issue and the other stakeholders’ actions. They almost inevitably give platitudinous responses: “I will bring people together, build consensus, and then move decisively.” “I will identify the ineffective programs and phase them out.” Such responses have zero informational and predictive value. Instead, committees should ask candidates how they actually addressed challenges in their previous work, and what they learned from that experience. This is more informative.

I don’t think that advice applies to voters in legislative elections. A legislator faces decisions about whether to vote yea or nay on bills. Newly elected legislators–back-benchers–do little else than vote yea or nay. It makes sense to ask legislative candidates (especially newcomers) how they would vote.

I realize that voters around the world are cynical about politicians’ promises. But I think cynicism should be reserved for their very general rhetoric about outcomes. “I will bring the country together” or “I will generate 5% growth” — these are promises waiting to be broken. (If they come to pass, it’s mostly good luck.) On the other hand, when candidates say, “I will support HR 1234,” that is quite predictive. It’s good to ask them how they will vote.

But presidents are more like CEOs than legislators. To be sure, they face decisions about whether to sign or veto bills, but those are rarely their decisive actions. Most of their impact results from hiring, firing, and guiding subordinates and jawboning all kinds of independent actors: 535 members of Congress, foreign heads of state, civil society actors and corporate leaders. (They also have the bully pulpit to address the nation, but the impact of that is somewhat overrated.)

We’d like to know how well they’ll do in those conversations and what their (precise) objectives will be. But what they say how they will deal with other people has limited value. It’s currently fashionable to place Democratic candidates on a scale from accommodating to tough, where the question is how they will handle their relationship with Republicans. I don’t think how they present themselves on the campaign trail predicts that very well at all.

Candidates should publish policy briefs, and we should read them. The main reason is that a campaign is a precious opportunity for a national debate about issues, influencing citizens’ knowledge and values. But policy briefs are not very informative about a candidate’s actual performance as president.

A brief may tell you something about the candidate’s goals and values. A Democratic candidate who says “Medicaid for all,” is conveying more progressive ideals that a candidate who asks, “How will we pay for that?” But an actual Democratic president will not choose between those two policy positions. She or he will: (1) choose one or two issues to emphasize at key moments, (2) deal with members of Congress across the spectrum about those issues and the many issues that arise for other reasons; and (3) decide whether to sign or veto the actual bills that emerge from Congress–if any do. Asking candidates how they will perform those tasks is not terribly informative, because the question yields platitudes of the form, “I will bring people together and move forward together” or “I will rally the troops and drive change through.” (Those sound different, but neither describes what they will actually do.)

The 2020 Democratic Primary has generated an especially large number of interesting policy proposals. The Warren campaign, in particular, has made a meta-issue of having detailed policy briefs. (“I have a plan for that.”) I like the message that Warren is detail-oriented and interested in policy, a major contrast to the incumbent and probably predictive of how she would govern. I like the ethic of presenting specific ideas to the voters: it takes people seriously as thinkers. I also think the policy debate among candidates may have some influence on other actors–Members of Congress, interest groups, and the public–which is beneficial. But I would still take the headhunters’ advice and focus more on how candidates have actually dealt with challenges than on what they say they would do if they were president.

why I am optimistic about the impeachment process

I find myself less anxious than most friends and commentators. Here are my largely sanguine responses to several current concerns about the impeachment process:

It’s a mistake to focus on one specific scandal. Congress should persuade the American people to condemn a whole pattern of corruption in the administration. (See David Atkins, for example).

Congress can focus on one or two articles of impeachment in order to handle those charges well. (The best current guess is that the articles will involve: 1. Trump’s interaction with Ukraine, and 2. the administration’s obstruction of Congress across many issues.) Meanwhile, the press, presidential candidates, pundits, social movements, and regular citizens will inevitably conduct a wider inquiry and debate. I don’t think the big picture will be lost just because the articles in Congress are precise and narrow.

The Ukraine story also implicates Hunter Biden, and hence (in some way) Joe Biden. That either means that it’s a poor choice of a scandal for the Democrats to use in an election year, or that it’s bad for the public, because both parties will end up defending crony capitalism.

Joe Biden has an opportunity to make a case that he is truly blameless in the Ukraine matter. If he is persuasive, fine. If he fails to persuade, then it’s better that he should fail now, rather than during the general election. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has every incentive to broaden the issue to encompass crony capitalism writ large. Her voice (and others’, too) will ensure that the whole Democratic Party is not soft on corruption.

Impeachment will drown out the Democratic primary campaign, overwhelming an important debate about our future.

During the primary season, a party wants its own faithful to pay attention to the rival proposals, critiques, counter-arguments, endorsements, gaffes, etc. It’s generally fine if other voters pay little attention until a nominee emerges to address the whole public. With vast attendance at primary campaign events and a lively debate online, there is little chance that core Democratic voters will tune out the primary. The intended audience is paying attention.

The impeachment debate will arbitrarily affect the outcome of the Democratic primary.

If it takes Joe Biden down, he was doomed anyway. If he turns it to his advantage, it will reinforce his best argument: his electability. If Warren benefits because she makes the sharpest critique of corruption–well, she is raising a real issue. And if someone else (say, Kamala Harris during a Senate trial) uses the impeachment effectively, it’s evidence of that candidate’s skill.

The Speaker seems to want a short, narrow impeachment process. That will not persuade the American people of the deeper problems with Trump. Pelosi is resigned to an unpopular process and doesn’t understand that impeachment hearings could change Americans’ opinions.

Don’t take what Speaker Pelosi says precisely at face value. I’m not saying that she’s lying; she would genuinely prefer a shorter and tighter process. But she knows that impeachment is likely to extend and expand. She wants unconvinced voters to believe that Democrats are trying to make this quick so that they can move onto other matters. She is also putting mild pressure on her caucus to move things along. I would be very surprised if things actually do wrap up by Thanksgiving, or if she believes that they will.

(By the way, I am continually surprised by strong partisans’ assumption that when someone on their side says something conciliatory about the other side, that person really means it. Do you really think Nancy Pelosi’s main reaction to this situation is to be “heartbroken and prayerful,” as she told ABC News? Are you sure Joe Biden actually believes the Senate Republicans are reasonable? It is not only the other side that sometimes doesn’t say exactly what they think.)

The Senate will acquit, Trump will survive, and as a result, not only will impeachment be further weakened as a tool for accountability, but Trump’s electoral prospects will improve.

Yes, the Senate is overwhelmingly likely to acquit, and Trump will still hold office on Election Day in 2020. But the American people should by then have a clear account of his criminality, which should weigh, at least mildly, against his reelection prospects. That is a sanction. Subsequently, he may face a federal jury on related charges.

If anything, I would have some qualms about actually removing him less than a year before the election. Who would the GOP nominate? What kind of mandate would a Democratic president hold? My ideal outcome might be for the House to impeach, a majority of US Senators to vote to remove Trump, for him to hang on because fewer than 67 Senators voted against him, and for the American people to finish the job in November.

Impeachment creates (at best) a tough vote for Democrats in districts that voted for Trump. Why “punish” the president by giving his party a boost in the congressional election?

This matter has received vast amounts of attention. My tentative takeaway is that any electoral impact will be small and may be a wash–a few Democrats losing in conservative districts and states (like Alabama), but a few Republican Senators facing very tough votes as a result of impeachment. There is a long tail of possible outcomes in either direction, but the best bet is a limited effect.

It’s a mistake to give many House committees a role in impeachment. One committee should handle it.

Pelosi is trying to build support by giving several leaders and groupings within her caucus a stake. Also, one of the articles is likely to be obstruction, and the Administration has obstructed several committees.

The Democrats grandstand amateurishly in hearings. They don’t know how to cross-examine and build a case.

True. And there’s a reason for it: individual politicians want to talk on camera, even though the inquiry would be much better handled by professional counsel. This problem is worth worrying about, but surely the Democrats will finally get it together now ….?

CIRCLE’s “growing voters” framework

CIRCLE has released its framework for “growing voters” (as an alternative to mobilizing people just in time to vote one way or the other in an election). This short slide deck is a summary; much more information is here.

the ethics of playing hardball with the federal budget

Congress must pass appropriation bills by late September and must raise the debt limit by about Oct. 1 to allow the government to pay its bills. Failure to do either will have substantial economic impact. Neglecting to raise the debt limit could be catastrophic, since the federal government has never defaulted before.

A solution could either be a real agreement or a mere patch–a bill that continues current spending levels for a few months and raises the debt limit enough to get us to the next short-term deal.

Since the economy seems fragile, and federal (and state) elections are a mere 16 months away, the political stakes are high. In fact, I think the negotiation over the budget and debt limit is the most important political story of the present moment.

Conventional wisdom holds that an incumbent president has more to lose from a sudden recession than members of Congress do. Thus Donald Trump is probably most at risk if there is no deal. Although most Americans disapprove of his economic policies, I still think his popularity would fall further if we entered a recession.

For their part, the Democrats must decide how hard to bargain. That is an ethically complex question, and it confronts not one actor (an imaginary, monolithic party) but many Democratic members of Congress who have disparate values and interests.

Democrats have good ethical reasons to play hardball. They have policy goals (spending, immigration, climate) that they can advance by forcing Trump to swallow compromises. By pushing hard, they risk a government shutdown or a default, but the moral responsibility for a crisis would be shared. Whatever happens, we are headed for a recession at some point, and the country may be better off if it comes in time to unseat Trump rather than late enough that we must weather the downturn during his second term.

On the other hand, Democrats shouldn’t intentionally drive Trump into an impasse because they are happy to hasten a recession. To see that that is wrong, apply Immanuel Kant’s test of publicity. It is unethical to do something unless you can admit you are doing it. That is especially true of political leaders in a republic, because it is definitive of republics that everyone must explain their actions to everyone else. I don’t think the Democrats could face the electorate saying that they had intentionally driven the economy into recession.

But there is a fine line between: (a) driving a hard bargain for good causes while not worrying overly about the collateral risk to the economy and (b) actively pushing a breakdown in order to cause a recession and win the next election. I would drive right up to the edge of (b) but not over that line.

A subtler question is what to do about raising the domestic discretionary spending limits. Democrats believe that raising these caps will truly help people. However, increasing spending without raising taxes is a fiscal stimulus. As such, it has some potential to forestall a recession. Thus raising the domestic spending limit is win/win for Trump and the congressional Democrats (although an ideological loss for congressional Republicans). The problem is that a win/win deal could get Trump re-elected. I think I would bargain hard on immigration and climate regulation and give way on domestic spending for this year.

See also: on playing hardball with the shutdown (2019); should Democrats play constitutional hardball in 2019-20?; avoiding arbitrary command

the Green New Deal and civic renewal

Here’s a short case for a Green New Deal:

  1. We face a climate emergency.
  2. Government spending must be part of the solution. Even if we passed a robust carbon tax, we still need coordinated action that can’t be accomplished by individuals and firms that are trying to minimize their taxes. For example, building a new power grid, shifting some traffic from a national network of highways and gas stations to a more sustainable transportation system, and subsidizing basic research are goals that need coordinated solutions. Note that most actual work will still be done by companies (that’s true in Europe as well as the USA); the question is who should plan and pay for it. I suspect the payer must be the government, borrowing at currently low rates and using tax revenues to finance the debt.
  3. If we are going to spend trillions, we must spend it equitably. That means not just distributing the resources fairly but using them to combat accumulated injustices. Jobs and profits must go to the people who deserve and need them most. Deciding who those people are requires a theory of justice; and in my view, such a theory requires attention to racial injustice as well as class differences.
  4. Politically, the way to pass a major economic reform is to ensure it serves many interests. Although it may offend purist notions of good government and detract from the cost-effectiveness of our response to climate change, we’re probably going to have to make a big spending package a bit of a “Christmas tree,” with some additions that address legitimate concerns apart from the climate and some that just help get the bill through Congress.

Meanwhile, we also face a sustained decline in certain aspects of our civil society, with fewer Americans associating, organizing, and exercising power. This is one reason that our political system fails to address issues like climate change and racial injustice.

The original New Deal supported civic life in at least three ways.

First, the Civilian Conservation Corps added an explicit civic education curriculum to its public works projects, striving to teach the participants to be responsible and effective citizens.

Second, programs like the WPA not only employed Americans to do important work but also empowered them to make creative decisions about what work to do. The WPA’s artists, architects, engineers, craftspeople, and laborers contributed their talents and ideas, thus gaining a sense that they (not the government) were rebuilding America.

Third, Roosevelt explicitly supported unions, which not only increased workers’ take-home pay but also recruited them into powerful, autonomous, durable groups.

Could we do this again? One component would be big employment programs that provide civic and workforce education for the people who insulate houses or build public transit. That was already the proposal of Van Jones’ 2008 book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. His chapter four is entitled “The Green New Deal.” It almost goes without saying that most federally supported jobs should be unionized jobs.

Another component would be support for civil society groups. Rural electric cooperatives own 42 percent of the distribution lines in the US and serve 12 percent of the population. They have already shifted somewhat more to renewables than the energy industry as a whole (even though they are disproportionately based in conservative states). At the same time, they provide opportunities for Americans to participate in governing significant assets–for instance, at their required annual public meetings. They should be favored along with urban analogues.

A third component would be lots of support for innovative solutions by smallish groups– for-profit startups as well as nonprofits. If you invent a company that has a positive impact on the climate, you are doing public work.

Fourth, people should have more and better ways to influence and even create policy, at all scales. The traditional means include formats like public meetings, which devolve into lines of angry citizens who each get 30 seconds to yell at the decision-makers. Check out Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger’s book Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy (2015) for better ideas.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, to address social justice, we need an account of what justice requires. That is a contested matter, appropriately so. It involves conflicting goods, from the intrinsic value of nature to the principle of liberty to concerns about past injustices. We won’t reach consensus, because these issues are complex and we differ in our values, identities, beliefs, and interests. But we can have a better or worse conversation about justice at all scales, from neighborhoods to the US Congress. Better conversations require better institutions, from neighborhood centers and listserves to broadcast news.

It would be important not to detract from the ranked priorities of (1) combating climate change and (2) remedying injustice, but a thoughtful approach could use civic means to accomplish these goals. In fact, civic engagement can strengthen the environmental benefits. For example, although it takes time to involve the public in designing a new transportation system, the chances are then greater that people will use the system. And unless they use it, it does no good for the climate.

I would not go so far as to argue that civic engagement always makes programs work better. Engagement can be done well or badly. There can also be tradeoffs between good engagement processes and efficiency. The most difficult challenge for environmentalists may be that active citizens resist directing resources efficiently to climate issues, because their agendas are broader. But I do think it’s worth investing in civic engagement to maximize the advantages for (1) climate, (2) justice, and (3) civic life.

See also national service in the stimulus; empowering citizens to make sure the stimulus is well spent; public engagement in the stimulus: Virginia’s example; an overlooked win for civic renewal: federally qualified health centers; work, not service. And see Harry C Boyte, “Populism or socialism? The divided heart of the Green New Deal.”

an agenda for the dignity of work

Sen. Sherrod Brown’s theme of the “dignity of work” is powerful and important, for these four reasons:

1. A basic cause of unacceptable inequality is the worsening position of workers versus the owners of capital. That shows up in statistics on the share of income …

… and also in less tangible ways, such as a growing cultural and spatial distance between workers and investors and the rising deference or obsequiousness to the rich

2. Work, in the broadest sense—making things of value—is one basis of a good life for human beings. It is spoiled when work is alienated (split between decision-makers who don’t actually do anything and laborers who make no decisions) or replaced entirely by automation and AI. The availability of good work is probably shrinking and is certainly threatened by the next wave of automation.

3. The dignity of work can be a unifying theme. Yes, who has dignified work depends on gender, race, class, and age, so addressing this issue requires attention to inequality and difference. But people in very different social positions share a sense that dignified work is threatened.

4. Workers who are organized (in unions or the functional equivalents of unions) gain countervailing political power along with dignity. I’m of the school that it doesn’t matter much which policies Democratic candidates endorse, because their policy options are highly constrained once they’re in office. It matters how power is distributed. Strengthening workers’ organizations addresses the third level of power (“Who decides policies?”) rather than the first or second levels of power (What do particular people get? and “What policies are in place?”).

[For related arguments, see Harry C. Boyte, “The Shutdown Taught Us About the Dignity of Work: An Unanticipated Civics Lesson, Courtesy of President Trump” (The Nation, Jan 29) and Albert Dzur, “Teaching Citizenship” (The Boston Review, Jan. 30).]

Sen. Brown has a plan entitled “Working Too Hard for Too Little: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America.” I think it’s an important contribution, but it’s mostly about raising pay per hour and improving the bargaining position of unions. We could add to his agenda, recognizing that some people just aren’t going to be unionized, that AI threatens employment for all, and that work faces crises of quality as well as pay and hours.

I can only offer vague thoughts because I am insufficiently informed, but I would consider:

  1. Federal support for associations of workers who would have a very hard time unionizing. Domestic workers are the prime case, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance is the leading example. When organized, domestic workers can advocate for favorable government policies, but they can also provide education, training, insurance, and other services for their members and speak to a range of audiences. In practice, they use their voice to advocate for their patients and clients as well as for themselves, and they demonstrate a concern for the quality of work as well as pay. I am not sure what federal policies would help them most, but possibly they should be eligible for grants for their service functions to subsidize their organizing efforts.
  2. A new look at accountability policies in a wide range of fields, from teaching and policing to medicine, to ensure that the drive to measure inputs and outcomes doesn’t ruin the quality of professional work. Often these accountability measures are driven by federal policy.
  3. A new look at the federal civil service, with an eye to making the jobs that are directly controlled by the national government as rewarding and substantive as possible.
  4. Funding for R&D that uses new technology to enhance and expand work (not to replace work).
  5. Federal programs modeled on the EPA’s now-defunct Community Action for a Renewed Environment CARE) that support a range of stakeholders who work on common problems. Typically, some of the stakeholders are paid to work full-time on these problems; others use some of their paid time to help out; and others are volunteers. For instance, in an environmental project, some participants may be government regulators, some may be local business people, and some may be unpaid activists. It’s important to see and name them all as working.