Tracking Trump’s inattention to Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria via his tweets

Ten days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, millions in Puerto Rico are still without electricity, gas, cash or running water (make a donation to help out here)—but this is 2017, so obviously we’re talking about the president’s bad tweets.

The meta-narrative here is that Trump is on the defensive against an emerging narrative that the administration has been tragically slow to respond to Maria, the third major hurricane to make U.S. landfall this season. In fact, the specific tweet that got me thinking about this post was actually from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee, pushing back on a report published by the Washington Post overnight.

The report itself is a truly damning, and depressingly plausible, account of Trump’s initial handling of Maria. It describes how Trump became alerted to the true urgency of the crisis in Puerto Rico only after watching television from his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, already several days after Maria made landfall and knocked out power for the whole island.

Though the obvious answer to “should we believe Sarah Sanders that Trump has been attentive to the crisis?” is “no” we are actually in a fairly unique position, historically speaking, to understand the president’s priorities and state of mind over this period. Because of his bad tweets.

So, as it’s a beautiful Saturday in NYC, I cracked open Excel and coded five weeks of the president’s tweets and retweets based on their subject-matter. The data is displayed in the charts below, with tweets about the three recent hurricanes—Harvey, Irma and Maria—highlighted. I also note the dates each hurricane made landfall in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, respectively, and the dates Trump visited each hurricane site.

TrumpTweets-1

Here’s the same data, but with each day’s topics shown as a percentage of all topics Trump tweeted about that day.

TrumpTweets-2-2.png

It’s pretty obvious which events really gained the president’s attention. In terms of hurricanes, Trump tweeted dozens of warnings and, later, supportive messages for Harvey. Similarly, Irma dominated his output when it seemed poised for a direct hit on southern Florida (it also hit PR several days earlier—killing three—thought only one Irma tweet mentioned the island). Maria has only come into the foreground the past couple of days—more than a week after landfall, and after coverage had already turned negative on the administration’s handling of a growing crisis. And while Trump visited both Texas and Florida within 5 days of landfall, his first trip to Puerto Rico is scheduled for next Tuesday, 13 days later.

Notice also that Trump found plenty of time to tweet about other topics in the period after Maria hit Puerto Rico, including 25 tweets about the NFL protests, 18 tweets about the UNGA, 15 about Senate health care bills and 13 about the Alabama U.S. Senate primary (including several he later deleted). During this same period he tweeted or retweeted a total 22 times about Puerto Rico and Maria (as of noon Sep 30), not including his five tweets this morning attacking the Mayor of San Juan and the media for its coverage of the crisis.

The data tells a story that is consistent with two especially troubling features of crisis management in the Trump Era: first, that Trump will only give a crisis attention once it starts to look especially bad on cable news (remember Syria?)—and, second, that this first feature means crises, even those affecting millions of Americans, may go ignored until its too late.

 

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Tracking Trump’s inattention to Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria via his tweets

Trump and the unpopular GOP health care bill

Zombie Trumpcare 2.0 has been laid to rest – again. Without delving into the policy or the politics of ACA repeal, this seems like a good time to touch on some notable aspects of the bill’s popularity.

It was striking how just how unpopular the bill was. The best illustration of this I have seen is from MIT political scientist Chris Warshaw, who compared numbers for the GOP health care reform to various major legislative proposals from the past few decades. GOP health care reform is less popular than them all – not just less popular than, say, the ACA (in 2009/10), but also less popular that TARP, which passed after a market crash and led to huge backlash, or Hillarycare, which failed to launch and helped foment the 1994 GOP wave.

What’s at the heart of such historic unpopularity? Part of the blame surely falls at the feet of its low quality as legislation, a reality that’s manifested itself in the public eye through CBO scores, protests, industry opposition, and even skeptical Republican officials. But I wanted to focus on one Republican official in particular – the main one.

The reality is Donald Trump’s sales effort on this bill has been noticeably limp, not only when you compare it to Obama’s full-court press in 2009 and 2010, but also when you compare to his own remarks on things he actually cares about – like border walls, and stopping people from looking into his financial information. His remarks about health care have been rare, and when they appear they do nothing to directly address concerns about what’s in the new bill, but instead focus on Obamacare and Senate process.

I went to a recent YouGov poll to see if there was evidence of poor marketing. The basic idea is this: if Trump’s sales pitch on GOP health reform has been especially bad, it should mainly show up when looking at the voters who are in general likely to listen to Trump (e.g. Republicans, 2016 Trump voters). Conversely, on issues where he’s made a real push, you’d expect to see a boost with these same Trump-friendly voters.

A recent YouGov poll asked about a few Trump-backed policies, including the health care bill, the border wall, and the firing of James Comey. Below is public opinion on those three policies, broken down by party identification and 2016 vote. The policy changes are set alongside Trump’s own approval rating with the same groups.

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 5.01.29 PM
Source: Economist/YouGov Poll

Notice anything?

To make it a bit clearer, here’s that data again, except this time it shows the difference between support for the policy and support for Donald Trump (negative numbers indicate the policy is less popular with a given subgroup than Trump is).

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 5.01.24 PM
Source: YouGov/Economist Poll

Support for the border wall and the firing of the FBI director track very closely to Trump’s own popularity among groups that mostly dislike him. These policy/personnel changes trail his own popularity only slightly among supporters.

The GOP health care bill is no different among Trump’s disapprovers – they like the bill as much (or as little) as they like Trump, no more, no less. Yet the the bill trails Trump by around 20 points when it comes to his supporters.

In other words, he appears to have effectively tied the border wall and the Comey firing to his own popularity, but has failed to do so with the Obamacare replacement. That’s still not necessarily a positive thing for the popularity of the firing or the border wall – Trump himself is not very popular, and there are compelling reasons to believe the border wall is actually less popular than it could be without its association to Trump. But a failure by Trump to even win over his supporters helps explain why the GOP health care bill is especially unpopular.

 

Trump and the unpopular GOP health care bill

Newspaper endorsements in British elections

A British general election is tomorrow! That means lots of predictions and projections floating around for the next 24 hour. There are also some interesting questions surrounding British polling right now, after pollsters dramatically underestimated support for the Conservatives in 2015. But I have no prediction of my own; for one, I would find it hard to improve on what’s already out there. Here’s a smart piece on the state of things (along with an overview of changes to British polling post-2015) if that’s what you’re after.

I did find myself looking for a history of endorsements by UK newspapers, and couldn’t find anything recent. I have always found British newspaper culture fascinating, particularly for its open partisanship. While newspaper endorsements tend to reflect elite opinion in both the US and Britain, in Britain they are also much more likely to reflect an editorial line that has been visible in the paper’s tone and choice of coverage throughout the campaign. Probably the notorious endorsement to have taken place in modern British politics was the Sun’s in 1992, which led the tabloid to outright claim credit for an upset Tory victory: “it’s the Sun wot won it“. One study even found that the Sun’s shifting stances in 1997 (pro-Labour) and 2010 (pro-Conservative) were responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of votes.

So, where do UK newspapers find themselves now? After backing New Labour for several years, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun is back to supporting the Conservatives and had been reliably pro-Brexit. There are few other surprises compared to 2010, though it is interesting to see how some of the papers have evolved since the Labour landslide in 1997 (many through changing ownership, but also shifting tides).

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 11.00.23 PM.png

The post-financial crash election of 2010 looks like a high water mark in newspaper support for the Conservatives since 1992. In fact, an analysis by LSE found that 71% of newspaper readership in 2010 went to a Tory-endorsing paper, more than double 2005. Of the 10 larger papers shown above, the 7 endorsing the Conservatives account for about 70% of the overall circulation (some of this could be overlap, and the list is incomplete, so classify this as very rough). Either way, May appears to have mostly kept hold of Tory gains under Cameron.

Of course, causation can go either way here – some readers may be swayed by the editorial line, and some newspapers may have made their picks to attract new readers or avoid alienating old ones.

Please let me know if you see any errors* or important omissions, some of this came secondhand. My main sources are here, here and here. In some cases they conflicted, and I did my best to find a better resource. 

*The Evening Standard came out for the Conservatives today, so that’s been updated. It’s also been pointed out that the Sun endorsed SNP for Scotland in 2015.

Newspaper endorsements in British elections

Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

The latest Economist-YouGov national tracking poll includes a few great questions on public trust in government statistics. What’s better is they were previously asked in 2014, which allows for a comparison of views under the Obama and Trump administrations.

Key takeaway: while Republican views on government statistics have evolved – they now have considerably more confidence in the numbers than they had in 2014 – Democratic views have not shifted much at all.

Percentage who say half or more of the statistics reported by the government are reliable and accurate:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 32% 58% +26
Independents 50% 56% +6
Democrats 74% 77% +3
Total 50% 64% +14

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

You see the same thing when the question gets more specific: is the unemployment rate being accurately reported?

Percentage who say there are “More unemployed people” than shown in the numbers released by the government in the most recent employment report:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 76% 48% -28
Independents 64% 46% -18
Democrats 41% 39% -2
Total 59% 44% -15

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

There are similar effects to varying degrees for CBO data on the number of uninsured, US Census data on the population, and NASA/NOAA data on temperature changes.

It’s possible that Democrats’ trust in Trump administration will deteriorate over time. It might even be surprising if that didn’t happen. However, it’s also plausible is that Democrats are, as a starting point, much more likely to be confident in official government information.

In fact, pushing a “both sides do it” frame on this seems forced – and worse, for a blog post, boring. The more interesting theorizing has to do with the question of why Republicans tend to be more epistemologically flexible when it comes to official statistics. My hypothesis is that these people have been forced to choose between political or religious realities and the word of “the BLS” or “the media” or “climate scientists” or “crowd scientists”  in ways most Democrats simply have not (or at least have not had to do so on such a regular basis). As a result, the default position on official and expert data shifts from credulity to something purely conditional. Democrats are surely victim to this in certain ways. But it seems to me that they are not forced to choose between the “official” line and their own moral line nearly as often as Republicans are.

Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

The New Quinnipiac Poll: Either Noise… or Pretty Worrying for Trump

Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University has a new poll out, which is mainly interesting for some erosion in support among Trump’s base, as their poll release points out.

Quinnipiac always breaks out the information for whites with and without a college degree (something really all pollsters should do in the Trump era), which allows for a look at the trend lines since January. This shows that their previous polls had been relatively consistent among both groups — non-college whites gave Trump net ratings of around +20 and college whites around -15.

This week, whites with a degree haven’t budged, but his support among non-college whites has fallen significantly to a net +7, from a high in early March of +26. This is the first Quinnipiac Poll to come out since the GOP released its Obamacare replacement bill (on March 6th). Importantly, it’s not alone in showing a softening in Trump’s numbers during March, at least in the toplines.
trump4.png

Using “net” approval, percent approve minus percent disapprove, has its drawbacks – the measure is, basically by definition, noisier than just “approve” or “disapprove”. But it’s useful for comparisons across groups, and the changes are eye-catching however you look at it. Since February, Trump had been consistently in the 56-60% range for approval with non-college whites, and he is now at 50%. File under Number To Watch.

In addition, Trump’s support among Republicans declines from 91% to 81%. Disapproval is up to 14% from 5%. This may seem like a natural decline, or like it’s still quite high, but context is important here. George W. Bush was in the 80s and 90s among Republicans for most of his presidency – amidst numerous crises and big declines among Democrats and independents. He only fell consistently below Trump’s current level after his second midterm election in 2006, with the combined pressures of Katrina, Iraq and eventually economic crisis. And even at Barack Obama’s lowest points, he really slumped into the mid-70s among Democrats. In other words: maybe this is just noise, or else Trump hitting his floor with Republicans – but I don’t think “still strong with the base” is the correct frame if he’s really hovering around 80%.

The New Quinnipiac Poll: Either Noise… or Pretty Worrying for Trump

The Age Gap in the Age of Trump

Ron Brownstein has a new piece in The Atlantic interrogating Donald Trump’s support—or lack thereof—and what it might mean for Democrats. It contains some eye-popping numbers, such as the huge differential swings among white Millennials with and without college degrees. Brownstein also notes Trump’s very low approval ratings among 18 to 29 year olds, which have ranged between the low-20s and the low-30s depending on the pollster.

This raised a secondary question for me about age cohorts in the Age of Trump: namely, is this anything new? In the background of these thoughts is the common misconception that young people have always tended to vote more Democratic than the rest of the population. Actually, while the age gap existed during Hippie Era, it essentially went into hibernation until George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection and then exploded during the Obama years.

If anything, the relative advantage Democrats have held with younger generations is anomalous until proven otherwise, so it is notable (if not necessarily surprising) if it endures into the Age of Trump. To that point, I looked at the age variation in approval ratings across recent presidencies.

agegap1.png

As I mentioned, the age gap is a recent development. If you take the average approval ratings from their entire presidencies (as Gallup has done here), there is virtually no difference between levels of support from the youngest and oldest voters. In the Obama years, this changed, and on average his approval rating was 16 points higher among 18-29 year olds than it was among Americans over the age of 65. Based on recent polling of Donald Trump, he may indeed be headed for an even bigger gap: according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, he is getting 28% from 18-29 year olds and 52% from over-65s—a yawning gap of 24 points.

However, a bit more context is probably necessary, because averages can be misleading when seeking out trends. The young/old gap in approval actually varied quite a lot during Obama’s presidency, and if you take only his last year in office, the age gap was much larger—24 points, in fact, exactly the same as under Trump (but reversed, with positive ratings higher among young people).

agegap2

So, in one sense, the age gap in the Age of Trump is picking up from where it left off under Obama. On the other hand, while Trump has gained only 9 points on Obama’s 2016 average among the oldest age cohort, he trails Obama’s average among young people by a massive 39 points, and even trails Bush 43’s average by 18 points. Millennials continue to vote at much lower rates than older voters, so Republicans have generally had the better end of the deal when it comes to the age gap. Whether that continues to be the case as Millennials grow from 30% to 45% of the electorate over the next 8 years… well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Age Gap in the Age of Trump

What’s a winnable seat?

Increasingly, Democrats are turning their attention to the congressional race in GA-06, the district of Tom Price, Donald Trump’s new Health & Human Services Secretary. The first round of this election is April 18th*,  and it will inevitably come to be seen as a test case for how transferable the energy seen in ongoing anti-Trump protests is to defeating Republicans down ballot. Progressives have already raised around $600,000 to win the seat (Donate here).

But there’s another twist. While Tom Price won his race there decisively (62-38), it’s one of a handful of traditionally red, suburban districts that swung dramatically towards the Democratic presidential ticket in 2016. For example, while Mitt Romney won GA-06 by 23 points in 2012 (61-38), according to Daily Kos Elections, Donald Trump won by less than 2  points (48-47). Arguably, educated, suburban and often increasingly diverse districts like these could be key to Democrats future if they are unable to separate Trump from the less educated, whiter base that lifted him to victory last November.

This prompts a question: will Democrats be able to win these seats without appeasing their Democrat-curious Romney-voting electorates by tacking sharply to “the center”?  My instinct is yes. It deserves a closer look, but the chart below comes to mind. It’s from the excellent book Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels (buy it, read it).

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SOURCE: Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels

The illustration shows how the ideology of constituents** compares to the ideology of their representatives, based on roll call votes.

The broader question of why voters vote the way they do is obviously a deep and complex one, but it’s worth making a simple point. There are many reasons voters choose one candidate over another, from incumbency and name recognition, to national trends or simply candidate quality and missteps. Could suburban Georgia voters reject a candidate who comes to be seen as radically left-wing? Of course. But, based on the above, it seems likely that a good candidate in good conditions is just that. There are a lot of “moderate” districts that end up with representatives that vote in a very conservative way (in a large part because they are Republicans) and other, equally moderate districts with representatives that toe the party line in the other direction.

Democrats have real opportunities here.

* However, Georgia uses a runoff system, and if no candidate reaches 50% there is another election on June 20th for the top two contenders.
** Based on the massive 52,000-respondent Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) conducted by YouGov in 2012. The ideology measure combines response from a range of issue-based questions, from abortion to Obamacare.
What’s a winnable seat?