Grandmother to the Nation?

Before we start, Hillary Clinton is still yet to declare whether or not she will be running for president in 2016, but the starting gun has all but been fired. The colossal machine that surrounds the former Secretary of State has, in recent months, stepped up its behind-the-scenes preparations for the inevitable announcement of a presidential exploratory committee, and staffers are getting restless to get going. There has been much speculation in recent weeks over the image that Mrs Clinton will wish to portray, given the criticisms from 2008 that she failed to show compassion for the plight the average American, and the bounce she experienced in the polls when she eventually did show some emotion the day before the New Hampshire primary. Many are expecting the message to be a combination of two strands:

  • Firstly, there are still those eighteen million cracks in that glass ceiling with, to steal an Obama phrase, the Democratic base is fired up and ready to go under a Clinton banner. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed support for Hillary at 73% amongst those voters who identify with the Democratic Party, with Joe Biden trailing far behind on 12% and Elizabeth Warren, who has categorically ruled out running in 2016, on 8%. I’ve expanded extensively on Hillary’s polling data previously, but suffice to say it seems inevitable that she will be the front runner amongst women with a consistent polling advantage of 61 percent.
  • Secondly, that the Clinton campaign will coalesce around the idea that a second President Clinton, at this stage in her life, could act as a ‘Grandmother to the Nation'; a maternal matriarch, the saviour of her people.

This is certainly not a new idea amongst female politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is affectionately known as ‘Mutti’ in the popular press, or ‘mummy’. Both Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia campaigned on platforms of maternal instinct when it came to sweeping industry and politics clean. So could this be a viable and legitimate platform for Clinton to run on? There is certainly a strong resonance with the idea that, as grandparents, Hillary (and Bill) would be tempered into pursuing policies and philosophies that will leave the world in a better place for future generations, rather than go back to the oft short-termism of the last decade. That is a message that many middle-class families, with children and grandchildren of their own, will understand and agree with, if coupled with strong legislative proposals on opportunities for the next generation, and promises to deal with the pressing issues of energy independence and climate change.

Twelve month to Iowa

Well, as much as my Hillary spidey-sense might still be tingling, my prediction last year that the former Secretary of State, US Senator from New York, and First Lady would announce her candidature for President in early January seems to have ill-judged. I had thought that we’d have seen some decision by the Clinton camp on or around January 12th, especially as four days ago was the [url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/hillary-clinton-2008-campaign_n_6507254.html]eighth-year anniversary[/url], back in 2007, since Hillary announced her 2008 White House bid.

The race continues to be Mrs Clinton’s to walk away from. Polling consistently shows that she would wipe the floor with any contenders, Democrat or Republican; a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Mrs Clinton tops Republican presidential hopefuls by wide margin. Indeed, she enjoys a lead over Jeb Bush of 54 percent to 41 percent (among registered voters) and over Mitt Romney by 55 percent to 40 percent. All that remains is when the Clinton campaign monolith will roll into action; the Iowa caucuses are now less than twelve months away..

Why the Democrats might lose in 2014 and 2016

A recent study conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics suggests a worrying trend amongst 18-29 year-olds, and one that Democrats most of all should be very concerned by. Voting intentions of 18-29 year-oldsPolling in April shows that less than a quarter (23%) of Americans in this age bracket are definitely sure they will be voting come November 4th this year – a drop of some 11% since the same question was asked back in November 2013.

More importantly, for President Obama and the Democrats, is the finding by the same survey that Republicans seem to be much more enthused about voting this November; 44% of those who identified as Romney-voters say they are definitely voting in the Midterms as opposed to only 35% of Obama’s supporters. This is bad news if the Democrats wish to retain control of the Senate, and disastrous if they even have a hope of taking control of the House as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer predicts they might this year. For those who think this is a long shot which – given the number of uncompetitive seats up for election – it might be, Hoyer points to a fundraising advantage for Democrats, lower poll numbers for congressional Republicans, divisions inside the GOP ranks, and a good recruiting class of Democratic challengers. Indeed, the Democrats need only to win 17 House seats to take overall control of Congress.

Voters in this 18-29 year-old age bracket, the ‘Millennials’, take much more liberal positions than older generations on the major policy issues of the day and are at the forefront of the recent surge in public support for equality in marriage and legalization of marijuana. A majority say that abortion should be legal across the country in all or most cases, are supportive of immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and tend to express support for a more ‘activist government’ with a large social safety net. 68% of 18-29 year-olds favour same-sex marriage, compared to only 38% of those aged 65 and over. The gap on marijuana legalization is even larger; 69% of those born between 1981 and 1995 support such initiatives whereas less than 30% of those born before the Second World War would be in favour. There are twice as many old folks (31%) who think that illegal immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally as opposed to the youth vote (16%).

The defining issue, however, for young voters is clearly emerging as action on climate change. A bipartisan study last year, commissioned by the League of Conservative Voters, shows that politicians – particularly those within the GOP – need to make some quick decisions about which mast they are going to pin their colours to. An overwhelming majority of voters under 30 understand the threat of climate change and already see the harmful effects of it, or expect to in their lifetime. 66% of young voters say climate change is a problem to address, while just 27% say climate change is a natural event that humans can’t affect, and only 3% don’t believe climate change is really happening. Around 80% of this demographic of voters support the action President Obama is taking to address climate change:

  • 79% say they are more likely to vote for someone who supported these steps;
  • 73% say they are less likely to vote for someone who opposed these steps;
  • Notably, over half of young Republican voters (52%) would be less likely to vote for someone who opposed the president’s plan.

However, none of this disguises a growing political disquiet amongst young voters; many Millennials seem to be gripped by a combination of angst and apathy when it comes to American politics. During the past year, trust in the president to “do the right thing” all or most of the time has decreased to 32% from 39%; the U.S. military has seen its level of trust drop from 54% to 47%, and the U.S. Supreme Court has fallen to 36% from 40%. Wall Street is trusted by around 12% of young Americans, roughly the same levels as in previous Harvard polls.

Why does this matter to Democrats, specifically? Using the excellent site 270towin, I plotted two electoral maps which highlight very clearly the threat of leaving 18-29 year-olds at home come election day. With the help of state-by-state exit polls from presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, and the swing between the two parties amongst different demographics, I was able to show what might happen to the electoral college in 2016 if only 18-29 year-olds voted (in the first map), and the result (in the second map) if only those aged 65 and over were allowed to vote.

2016 Electoral College Map (18-29 year-olds)

2016 Electoral College Map (18-29 year-olds)

2016 Electoral College (65 year-olds and over)

2016 Electoral College (65 year-olds and over)

If ever the Democrats needed a ‘get out the vote’ push, it was right now. Congressional candidates must find policy platforms to stand on which will attract the youth vote to them, and must ensure that this base of voters is as energised and “fired up, ready to go” as they were for Barack Obama’s inaugural election year. If not, then Hillary Clinton’s job in 2016 will be all that much harder.. and President Obama will be left as a lame duck for the remainder of his presidency.

Forget UKIP, what about Swindon?

With UKIP making a couple of seat gains already, it’s easy to get distracted by what appears to be the surge of UKIP support. Sunderland has given the party some 24% of the vote, mostly in line with last year’s local elections support nationally, but the question remains as to whether this is mostly a protest vote in safe Labour wards.

More interesting is what is happening between the two national parties who stand a chance of forming the next government in the May 2015 General Election.

One area to consider is Swindon. Swindon Borough CouncilThis borough, centred on the town centre and parts of the ceremonial county of Wiltshire, is the top of the Labour target list to wrest overall control away from the Conservatives.  The current make-up of the Borough Council is 29 Conservative councillors, 23 Labour, 4 Liberal Democrats and 1 councillor sitting as an independent. This gives the Conservative Party an overall majority of 1 councillor.

Now, early signs from Swindon are looking very very good for the Conservatives. Not only have the Tories picked up another seat so far – projecting them to have an increased majority overall on Swindon Borough Council – but Councillor Emma Faramarzi, of Priory Vale ward, has apparently achieved the highest ever majority for the Conservatives.

Obviously this is still early into the early hours and the London results are just beginning to come through, but these are interesting and positive trends for the Conservatives. Let’s see how this develops. My own eyes are on Hammersmith & Fulham, where I campaigned on the doorsteps for the Conservative-led council, and whether the party can translate low council tax bills (third lowest in Britain), support for a “flyunder” to replace the Hammersmith flyover, and other local issues into an increased majority on the council. Currently 31 out of 46 councillors are Conservative; 15 are Labour.

This is not, so far, proving to be such a good night for Labour, and does not bode well for Ed Miliband in 2015.

The Republican problem

Everyone's favourite racist

Everyone’s favourite racist

The Republican Party has an image problem. It’s not a new thing, and it’s the same problem the Democrats struggled with for many years. Whereas the Democrats had officially abandoned it as policy by the early 1960s, continuing a trend that had started under FDR’s New Deal coalition and was cemented by Truman’s desegregation plank at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, some strands of Republicanism are still beating the war-drum loudly and clearly.

I’m talking, of course, about racism. Since Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon began espousing the Southern strategy of politically supporting Republican candidates in the Southern United States, by appealing to those white Southerners who had left the Democratic Party to form the Dixiecrats in order to defend states’ rights to oppose racial integration, the GOP have called – openly or from behind closed doors – the racist community their own.

The "loss" of the Solid South

The “loss” of the Solid South

Before those reading this from within the Republican community call “foul!” and say that the Democratic Party used to be the platform of racist bigots, let me say that you have just made your point clearly already. Yes, the Democrats used to be the party of white supremacy and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, and I don’t think any right-minded person can defend those intolerable beliefs. However, the coalescing of “radical” liberal free-thinkers, progressives, and supporters of universal equal rights into the Democratic Party allowed for an amelioration of some of the party’s more historically despicable attributes. The New Deal, the series of domestic policies enacted by the Roosevelt administrations during the 1930s, was one of the early key elements in moving political support towards the Democratic Party from amongst a wide coalition of voting blocs including, perversely, both African-Americans and white Southerners.

The true beginnings of the Democrats’ anti-racism stance comes from the 1948 Democratic National Convention. Hubert Humphrey, then-Mayor of Minneapolis, gave a keynote speech in which he said “the time has arrived in America for the Democratic party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights“; this was the year that Humphrey was first elected to the United States Senate and the year that his proposal to end racial segregation was officially added to the Democrat’s party platform by President Truman.

Many white Southerners, including all of the Mississippi and one-half of the Alabama delegates who walked out of the Convention in abject disgust, were so repulsed by the thought of giving African-Americans an equal-footing that they formed the Dixiecrat party with the goal of taking the Southern states away from Truman and causing his defeat. Whilst the civil rights plank adopted at the 1948 Convention cost Truman the support of the Dixiecrats, it gained him unprecedented numbers of votes from the black community, especially in large northern cities. Truman’s stunning (and surprise) victory over his Republican opponent Dewey showed decisively that Democrats could win presidential elections without the “Solid South”, and thus weakened Southern Democrats instead of strengthening their position.

The situation continued to deteriorate for white Southerners who fled the Democratic Party en masse during the 1960s, under LBJ’s support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the 1964 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater ran a conservative campaign which broadly opposed strong action by the federal government including the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Goldwater’s position was rooted in his opinion that the Civil Rights Act was an unwarranted intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and, second, that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do business, or not, with whomever they chose, even if the choice is based on racial discrimination. All this appealed to white Southern Democrats, and Goldwater was the first Republican to win the electoral votes of the Deep South states since Reconstruction.

Enter Nixon..

Enter Nixon..

In the 1968 election, the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, saw this trend and capitalized on it with his “Southern strategy“. The new method of campaigning was designed to appeal to white Southerners who were more conservative than the leaders of the national Democratic Party. As a result of the strategy and conservative Southerners reactions against Democratic leaders, Hubert Humphrey was almost shut out in the South; he carried only Texas for the Democrats, the rest of the region being divided between Nixon and the American Independent Party candidate George C. Wallace, the governor of Alabama, who had gained fame for opposing integration. Nixon’s campaign in 1968 played on Southern whites’ anger over the success of civil rights, but since you couldn’t get away with supporting segregation by that point, his “Southern strategy” disguised an essentially racist policy through terms like “law and order” and the old “states’ rights” excuse.

We’ll look next time at what this “Republican problem” means in the context of the 21st-century, why racists like Cliven Bundy somehow seem to keep rearing their heads, and how it is all tied into “states’ rights” and the opposition to the federal government.