Stand up and join the fight for freedom
Take The Oath with General Flynn.
Freedom isn’t free. It’s always only one generation away from being lost. Evil can only prevail when good men do nothing. The world is going through historic changes.
Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Last week, President Trump sparked a firestorm by calling for the postponement of the November election as the country prepares to vote amid the coronavirus pandemic. And although the president cannot actually delay the vote — Congress determines the federal election date — this hasn’t stopped Trump from repeatedly casting doubt on the election results and exacerbating Americans’ already-flagging confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
But so far, Trump’s idea of postponing the election isn’t very popular. Three new polls this week found that Americans strongly oppose postponing the election, even in the face of a public health crisis. Reuters/Ipsos found that 66 percent of registered voters opposed a delay, while just 23 percent supported it (11 percent weren’t sure). The Economist/YouGov found that 66 percent of adults opposed postponement, compared to just 15 percent who backed it (19 percent weren’t sure). Politico/Morning Consult also asked voters how they felt about delaying the election, giving them three choices: Postpone the election, hold the election as scheduled but with mostly in-person voting, or hold the election as scheduled but with most Americans voting by mail. It also found that most opposed postponing: Just 7 percent backed delaying the election, down from 16 percent in April when the pollster last asked about this, while 86 percent of respondents said the election should stay on schedule, one way or another.
However, as with most issues in American politics, there were notable partisan splits, although the polls disagreed as to just how far apart Democrats and Republicans were on the issue. In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, for instance, 79 percent of Democrats opposed a delay compared to only 51 percent of Republicans. Whereas in that Economist/YouGov poll, the gap was smaller: Seventy-seven percent of Democrats opposed a delay, versus 59 percent of Republicans. Politico/Morning Consult found an even smaller partisan divide, with 93 percent of Democrats saying the election should be held as scheduled, compared to 82 percent of Republicans. It’s worth noting that the Politico/Morning Consult survey offered respondents three options, which might have affected the partisan breakdown to some extent, as some Republicans might prefer postponement to a largely vote-by-mail election.
Americans were also split on Trump’s motivation for suggesting a delay to the election. Among Republicans in that Reuters/Ipsos poll, 41 percent said Trump’s tweet was driven by a fear of voter fraud, and 21 percent said Trump wanted to protect Americans from getting the coronavirus at polling places. Only 17 percent of Republicans said he was trying to either distract the country from the pandemic or give himself a better shot at victory (another 16 percent weren’t sure of his motivations). Conversely, a whopping 63 percent of Democrats said Trump wanted a delay to the election to improve his chances of winning, while another 19 percent thought he wanted to distract the country. Just 10 percent of Democrats thought Trump’s main motivation was either a fear of voter fraud or a desire to protect Americans from contracting the virus.
Politico/Morning Consult’s question on postponing the election also offered some insight into how respondents want Americans to cast their ballots. The share who desired a predominantly vote-by-mail election hadn’t really changed since April, but the share who preferred mostly in-person balloting shot up to 34 percent from just 19 percent in the spring — a shift largely driven by Republicans and independents. Fifty-five percent of Republicans said they wanted most voters to physically go to the polls, up from 32 percent in April, as did 30 percent of independents, a share that had doubled from 15 percent in April. However, only slightly more Democrats wanted mostly in-person voting than they did in the spring (18 percent versus 10 percent). As for mail-in voting, there was one notable development: Fewer Republicans supported it. The share of Republicans who said they wanted an on-schedule, mostly vote-by-mail election slid from 38 percent in April to 27 percent in August.
And that shift in Republican attitudes in the Politico/Morning Consult survey reveals how Trump’s call to postpone the election could gain traction if he keeps trumpeting it. After all, the president has repeatedly denounced voting by mail, and correspondingly, we’ve seen the share of Republicans who want a mostly vote-by-mail election decrease.
For now, though, the thought of postponing the election is very unpopular. And it probably doesn’t help the president that most Republican elites view the idea as a non-starter. But if the president keeps pushing the issue, don’t count out more Republican voters supporting a delay.
The coronavirus threat has influenced attitudes toward schools reopening, and a poll from Gallup conducted in mid-to-late July found that a majority of parents of K-12 schoolchildren wanted some form of distance learning for their children. Thirty-six percent preferred a mixed approach involving some in-person and remote learning, while 28 percent wanted full-time remote learning. Just 36 percent wanted full-time in-person schooling this fall. These views represented a major shift from late May and early June, when Gallup found that a majority of parents preferred full-time in-person schooling for their children in the fall.Teachers are struggling with how they feel about in-person and distance learning, too. An NPR/Ipsos poll conducted in late July found that 66 percent of K-12 teachers preferred fall classes to be remote, while 34 percent preferred a return to in-person learning. Eighty-two percent of teachers said they’re concerned about returning to in-person teaching, but 84 percent also said they’re worried that distance learning will cause some students to fall behind. And only 37 percent said their school district has provided them with enough training to teach in the fall while the pandemic is going on.A new survey from NBC News/SurveyMonkey found that Americans trusted Trump significantly less on the coronavirus than they trusted their state’s governor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fifty-eight percent said they don’t trust what the president has said about the pandemic, while just 31 percent said they do. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent of Democrats said they didn’t trust what Trump had said about the coronavirus, as did 66 percent of independents. Meanwhile, 69 percent of Republicans said they trusted what Trump had to say on the coronavirus, and 22 percent said they didn’t.Gallup recently found that public approval of the U.S. Supreme Court is at its highest level since 2009. Overall, 58 percent of Americans approve of the court’s job performance, similar to the 61 percent approval it enjoyed 11 years ago. Attitudes toward the court also differ little by party, as 60 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats approved of its performance. This is a stark departure from the partisan differences in public approval of the court roughly a year ago.Sports leagues have had mixed success restarting play in the age of the coronavirus, and a new survey from Morning Consult found that most fans of football — both professional and college — don’t think the sport should return as scheduled. Only 32 percent of NFL fans thought the season should be played as planned, 33 percent said it should be postponed, and 18 percent said it should be canceled (17 percent weren’t sure). College football fans were even more pessimistic: Just 30 percent thought the season should go ahead as planned, 34 percent said it should be postponed, and 24 percent preferred cancellation.The social media platform TikTok could be banned by the U.S. government, so YouGov polled Americans about how they viewed a potential ban. The survey found that 35 percent either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported a ban, while 33 percent either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed one. Another 15 percent said they didn’t know, and 17 percent said they were unfamiliar with TikTok. Adults under the age of 25 — the app’s most active users — were most likely to oppose a ban: Forty-four percent opposed a ban, while 34 percent supported one.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -13.5 points). At this time last week, 40.6 percent approved and 55.1 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -14.5 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 55.9 percent, for a net approval rating of -15.2 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.8 percentage points (48.2 percent to 40.5 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 8.3 points (49.1 percent to 40.8 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 8.8 points (49.2 percent to 40.4 percent).
Election Day is now just three months away, and the overall trajectory of the race hasn’t changed much recently: Joe Biden continues to hold a sizable lead over President Trump. Biden is now up by 8 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, and he has an advantage of 5 points or more in several key battleground states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Faced with these numbers, though, a lot of people — Republicans, Democrats and people with no particular party affiliation — raise a reasonable question: “Wasn’t Hillary Clinton leading in the polls too?”
Well, yes. But not quite like this. We compared Biden’s standing to where Clinton was at this point in the polls four years ago.1 We specifically chose this point in the cycle in 2016 because it’s about where Clinton hit her peak — on Aug. 7, 2016, following the Democratic National Convention, Clinton had a 7.5-point lead over Trump in national polls.
Clinton never topped that lead. But as you can see in the chart below, even at her post-convention peak, Clinton’s lead over Trump still wasn’t as large as Biden’s is now.
This means that the sizable advantage Biden currently holds isn’t the product of a convention-induced sugar high but rather the larger electoral environment, which is very poor for Trump. That’s no guarantee Biden’s lead will hold — it’s hard to know what the post-convention bounces will look like this year, for example, given that they’re remote affairs and scheduled back to back.
But Biden seems to be starting from a better baseline than Clinton. Crucially, he enjoys a higher level of average support than Clinton ever did.
Clinton led in most national polls, but was typically garnering support only in the low- to mid-40s. Biden’s share has been hovering around 50 percent. As a result, some of the uncertainty about the trajectory of the Trump-Biden race might be reduced, in part because there are simply fewer voters who haven’t made up their minds and because signs point to fewer third-party voters than in 2016. Combined, Clinton and Trump had secured 84 percent of support, on average, in national polls in early August 2016. By comparison, Biden and Trump currently combine for 92 percent.
Things are mostly good for Biden at the state-level, too. Just as he does nationally, Biden enjoys more overall support than Clinton in each of the battleground states we looked at. But there are a couple of significant caveats: As the chart below shows, there are several key states where Biden’s margin against Trump is actually lower than Clinton’s was at this point in 2016. (Although remember, we’re comparing Biden to Clinton at her peak nationally.)
Let’s start with the eight states where Biden has more support and better margins. These are states where Biden is doing much better than Clinton, even at her peak. In Arizona and Texas, for instance, Biden is attracting about 6 to 10 more percentage points in total support than Clinton and has consistently topped her margin against Trump. In other words, Biden may actually be a slight favorite in Arizona and Texas may end up a toss-up, which definitely wasn’t the case in 2016. And in a perennial swing state like Florida that has shown signs of getting redder in recent years, Biden is attracting about 4 more points in overall support, and his margin over Trump is better, too. If Biden were to win Florida, that would undoubtedly narrow Trump’s path to reelection.
But there are also nine states where Biden’s margin over Trump is smaller than Clinton’s was at this point in the campaign. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example, Biden’s margin over Trump is about 2 to 4 points smaller than Clinton’s was. But he’s also at or very close to 50 percent in each of those states, which wasn’t the case for Clinton. Still, it’s notable that Biden’s margins tend to be lower than Clinton’s in many Rust Belt battleground states. That could be due to Trump’s resiliency in the region, but also perhaps a shift in the pollster methodologies: In 2016, many polls in these states underestimated Trump’s support in part because they didn’t weight by education, an important consideration as white voters without a college degree broke strongly for the president.
All in all, national and battleground state polling at this point suggests that Biden is in a better position to win 270 electoral votes — and the presidency — than Clinton was at this point in the cycle. Just consider this simple arithmetic: If we take all the swing states in which Biden leads by at least 5 percentage points and add their electoral votes to those from the “safely blue” states that always go Democratic, Biden has 307 electoral votes.2 So if the race were to tighten by a few percentage points and Biden were to lose every other state, even the ones where he currently holds smaller leads — such as in Arizona and North Carolina — Biden would still win the presidency. That’s a much cushier margin than Clinton’s 272 electoral votes at this same point in 2016.
That said, while fewer undecided and third-party voters will likely make the polls less volatile and therefore decrease uncertainty, other factors unique to 2020 add uncertainty: namely, the novel coronavirus, the economic collapse and the nationwide scramble to make voting safe during a pandemic. There’s a long way to go in this campaign. We still have to see how the public responds to Biden’s vice presidential pick and the party conventions. We don’t know what course the pandemic will take or how the economy will change. For now, the fallout from the coronavirus appears to be hurting Trump’s chances, but that’s not written in stone — and neither is Biden’s sizable edge. If the race tightens a little, Biden would likely still be a decent favorite. If the race tightens more than that — and it could — Trump can win a second term.
In the video, Juniper Simonis screams as they are pushed to the ground, struggling, by a group of men in military fatigues who wield large, black weapons. While Simonis is handcuffed and their service dog barks, the men surround them, a wall of camo, blocking the videographer from capturing the full extent of what’s happening. Simonis wears shorts and a tank top, but the men appear dressed for war. The officers’ uniforms bear a large patch that says “police,” but they aren’t police. They’re federal agents, but with no name tags or badges, they are, in the moment of Simonis’s arrest, impossible to identify.
Simonis is an American scientist — a computational ecological who does data analysis for researchers and the government. Last month, Simonis was detained outside a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, by mysterious men now known to be agents of the Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency created to fight terrorism. By Simonis’s own estimation, the scientist spent around eight hours in the agents’ custody. For the first 45 minutes or so, they said, they were held in a parking garage without having been read their rights. Simonis was then transferred to a U.S. Marshals’ lockup. Their request to call a lawyer or a friend was refused. Eventually, Simonis was given a citation for vandalism related to chalking the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, and sent out the door in the middle of the night with no way home.
Simonis’s story is not how most Americans expect law enforcement to work. But over the last few weeks, it’s become part of a familiar pattern. DHS agents in Portland have tear-gassed protesters and pulled individuals into unmarked vans, and some of those people were banned from attending any more protests as a condition of being released from jail. The agency also collected information on journalists who published leaked documents.
Late last week, a deal was struck with Oregon’s governor to withdraw the troops. The governor said it was happening immediately, but DHS officials said it was a phased withdrawal and that they wouldn’t leave until “[W]e are assured that the courthouse and other federal facilities will no longer be attacked nightly.”
These events sit in a weird nexus. They are extraordinary enough to draw the attention of legal scholars and criticism from civil liberties groups. But politically, the response has been divided. House Democrats called for an investigation, while Sen. Rand Paul is the only congressional Republican to speak out against the DHS response. The media’s reaction has also fallen along well-worn lines, with outlets like the National Review telling readers that the events in Portland were justified and The Atlantic saying justification was impossible. That divided response makes some experts almost as concerned as the arrests. Partisanship is dangerous, they told us, particularly when it’s accompanied by a long series of warning signs that could signal serious danger for American democracy.
Portland is not the first place the federal government has stepped in with disproportionate force against the will of local authorities. In 1794, George Washington himself led a militia of 13,000 men into Pennsylvania to put down an anti-tax revolt. And while that is a very long time to reach back for precedent, experts say it’s important to understand the context of American history when it comes to violation of democratic norms. “Contrary to what a lot of people assume, American democracy has always been fragile and in real danger of backsliding,” said Suzanne Mettler, a professor of American politics at Cornell University and one of the authors of “Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy.”
She, and other experts, consider our current time period one in which authoritarianism poses a serious risk — but not because of what is happening with the DHS in Portland. Instead, it’s more likely that recent events are a symptom of something bigger, a risk that has steadily grown in the last several decades. Instead, they point to the political polarization evident in public opinion on Portland as indicative of the danger we’re in.
When it comes to Portland, specifically, the partisan divide is definitely real. In a survey fielded by Data for Progress on July 28, respondents were split about Trump’s decision to send DHS to Oregon, with 42 percent calling the deployment of federal police “essential” and 45 percent calling it an “overstep.” And that split was highly partisan. Broken down by party affiliation, nearly three-quarters of Republicans favored the decision while a similar proportion of Democrats opposed it. (Full disclosure: Shom Mazumder, one of the authors of this article, is a fellow at Data for Progress.)
That, by itself, isn’t much of a shock. We are, for better or for worse, used to all sorts of issues dividing public opinion. The terrifying thing is the way it links partisan politics and authoritarianism. According to a recent report by the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, support for democracy is in no way universal. In fact, their findings show that 1 in 3 Americans have, at some point in the last three years, supported some kind of authoritarian view, and only about 20 percent said it was very important to live in a democracy.
And separate polling, commissioned by Mazumder before Portland, from YouGov Blue, an arm of YouGov that primarily serves Democratic and progressive clients, underscores this as well. Although it found that Republicans were less supportive overall of democracy — 1 out of 4 Republicans said that democracy is a “very bad” or “fairly bad” way to govern the country compared to just four percent of Democrats. There was also more support for a strong leader, defined in the survey as someone “who does not have to bother with Congress and elections” among Republicans. But it wasn’t just Republicans driving these anti-democratic views. A significant percentage of Democrats said they preferred to have “experts, not the government” make decisions on what they think is best for the country.
That isn’t necessarily all that surprising when you consider we’ve spent the last 30 years building up an increasingly apocalyptic view of our political opponents and their intentions. Since 1994, Pew Research Center has asked Americans about the amount of partisan animosity they held. In that time, the percentage of people who rate the opposing party as “very unfavorable” has climbed from about 20 percent to more than 50 percent. In fact, as of 2016, more than 40 percent of both Republicans and Democrats said they saw the other side as a threat to the nation.
That poses a real threat to our democracy, too. “If we view that if one party gets into power they’ll be a threat to my way of life or the nation as a whole, we’ll do whatever we can to keep them out or keep ourselves in,” said Jennifer McCoy, a professor of political science at Georgia State University. That, she added, is when people start to tolerate the violation of democratic norms. “The goal is to stay in power or get in power and it overrides the value of respecting democratic principles,” she said.
In fact, research from political scientists Matt Graham and Milan Svolik of Yale University found that survey measures might even underestimate the American public’s commitment to upholding democratic norms, especially when subverting norms might help get one side’s preferred candidate pushed through.
Looking at situations in American history and around the world, McCoy, Mettler and other experts have found that extreme polarization is one major red flag that shows a democracy is in trouble. That’s because people will condone all kinds of violence in the name of protecting themselves, said Christian Davenport, professor of political science at the University of Michigan. Violations of norms — even the law — become justifiable depending on who is doing the rule-breaking and who is being targeted.
Through that lens, it makes perfect sense why Americans are politically divided on Portland: It’s actually a divide over whether you see the protesters as a threat. And that should make us all very uncomfortable — no matter which side of the aisle we’re on. Because evidence points to the fact that many Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, are willing to condone violence and repression against their political opponents.
Back in March, McCoy and other researchers surveyed nearly 3,000 Americans about their support for various anti-democratic policies under different scenarios where one party, or the other, was in power. The results from this survey have not yet been published, but their preliminary analysis finds significantly higher support for such policies as prosecuting journalists, banning protests and disqualifying political opponents from elections in situations when a respondent’s preferred party was in power — and hoping to stay there. The effect was larger among Republicans hoping to consolidate Republican power. But it existed for Democrats, as well. For instance, while 23.6 percent of Democrats and 22.7 percent of Republicans said the president should do what the people want, even if it goes against existing laws, when their party was out of power, those numbers jumped to 29.6 percent and 35.1 percent, respectively, when the rule of law became inconvenient to keeping the other side at bay.
Not all experts who study democratic erosion think what’s going on in Portland is a threat to democracy, though. Robert Mickey, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, told us he’s more concerned with threats to voting rights and sees Portland as especially dangerous political theater.
But all of the experts we spoke to said our democracy is in a dangerous place, and that the partisan split we see over things like federal agents dragging a screaming woman into a courthouse is part of that. “We’re not immune to the rise of authoritarianism in the United States,” Mettler said. “And we can’t be cavalier in thinking we are.”
Will you get robbed this year? How would you rate your chances?
Over 10 years, from 1994 to 2004, the national Survey of Economic Expectations asked respondents to do just that. People estimated their risks for a whole host of bad-news life events — robbery, burglary, job loss and losing their health insurance. But the survey didn’t just ask respondents to rate their chances: It also asked whether those things had actually happened to them in the last year.
And that combination of questions revealed something important about American fear: We are terrible at estimating our risk of crime — much worse than we are at guessing the danger of other bad things. Across that decade, respondents put their chance of being robbed in the coming year at about 15 percent. Looking back, the actual rate of robbery was 1.2 percent. In contrast, when asked to rate their risk of upcoming job loss, people guessed it was about 14.5 percent — much closer to the actual job loss rate of 12.9 percent.
In other words, we feel the risk of crime more acutely. We are certain crime is rising when it isn’t; convinced our risk of victimization is higher than it actually is. And in a summer when the president is sending federal agents to crack down on crime in major cities and local politicians are arguing over the risks of defunding the police, that disconnect matters. In an age of anxiety, crime may be one of our most misleading fears.
Take the crime rate. In 2019, according to a survey conducted by Gallup, about 64 percent of Americans believed that there was more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago. It’s a belief we’ve consistently held for decades now, but as you can see in the chart below, we’ve been, just as consistently, very wrong.
Crime rates do fluctuate from year to year. In 2020, for example, murder has been up but other crimes are in decline so that the crime rate, overall, is down. And the trend line for violent crime over the last 30 years has been down, not up. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the rate of violent crimes per 1,000 Americans age 12 and older plummeted from 80 in 1993 to just 23 in 2018. The country has gotten much, much safer, but, somehow, Americans don’t seem to feel that on a knee-jerk, emotional level.
“The biggest challenge really, and we’re seeing this as a society across the board right now, is that even though our organizations, our businesses, our government entities are becoming more data driven, we as human beings are not,” said Meghan Hollis, a research scholar at the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship.
That’s not to say that Americans are completely clueless about crime. When we spoke to John Gramlich, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center and one of the people who has been tracking and writing about this disconnect for years, he was quick to clarify that Pew didn’t like to frame Americans’ apparent inability to register their own increased safety as a product of being uninformed or misinformed. The reality, he told us, is that the nature of data collection makes it hard for the public to really assess crime rates and for experts to assess what the public knows or feels about crime rates.
Even the concept of a “crime rate” is messy. When we talk about crime rates in the context of an article like this one, what we’re actually discussing is the number of crimes, in a set of particular categories, that get reported to the police and, from there, to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — or results from a government survey about whether people have experienced crime. These stats document murder, rape, robbery and assault, among others, as well as several property crimes, including burglary, theft, car theft, and arson. That covers a lot of ground, and it gives us a pretty good idea what the crime rate truly looks like — enough that experts feel comfortable saying things like “Hey, look, the crime rate has been going down for 30 years.”
But those statistics don’t tell the whole story, and that matters in ways that become important when you’re trying to understand the difference between how people feel and what the data say. Not all crimes are reported to the police. Sexual assault, in particular, is notoriously underreported. And there are plenty of crimes we don’t really track well in data — like vandalism, drug use and sales, or public intoxication — which can affect how safe people feel in their neighborhoods, even if the crimes aren’t serious.
Wesley Skogan, professor emeritus of political science at Northwestern University, spent much of the 1990s attending neighborhood-level public meetings around Chicago and documenting the issues that residents told police were problems they wanted solved. Some of these issues weren’t even, strictly speaking, crimes, at all. In 17 percent of the meetings, residents asked police to do something about litter. Loud music or other noise-related problems were discussed in 19 percent of the meetings. Residents complained about abandoned cars more often than they complained about gang problems. Skogan thinks about these factors as measurements of social disorder, and has found evidence that these things affect how safe people feel. If violent crimes are down, but there’s still a good deal of social disorder in an area, people’s responses to a survey might reflect how they feel about litter more than how they feel about a reduced murder rate.
The way the polls are worded also don’t help. “The polling tends to be pretty generic,” said Lisa L. Miller, a political scientist at Rutgers University who studies crime and punishment, which makes it hard to capture the difference between how Americans think about murder and litter when it comes to how safe they feel. More importantly, she said, questions like “Do you think crime has gone up or down?” is not the same thing as measuring fear. “When people are genuinely worried about crime and really fearful, it tends to be in relation to violent crime. That’s the thing I’ve found really drives public pressure for the government to do something,” she said.
This whole thing is further complicated because crime is extremely localized — and estimates about the national crime rate are, well, not.
“All the homicides in Chicago occur in about 8 percent of the city’s census tracts,” Skogan said. For almost everybody, he said, that means “the crime you hear about is crime somewhere else.” And that matters because research suggests people are a lot better at estimating the crime rate in their own backyard than they are at estimating what it’s like across town, or across the country.
Finally, there’s the question of race, which permeates and complicates everything surrounding crime. It’s not just trash and loitering that make people perceive a neighborhood as more dangerous regardless of the crime rate. When Lincoln Quillian, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, analyzed data from three surveys of crime and safety in cities across America, he found that people perceive their neighborhood as more dangerous — regardless of the actual crime rate — if more young Black men live there. That was true for both Black and white respondents of the surveys, but in some cities the effect was significantly more pronounced in white people.
This is all a long-winded way of saying the situation is messy on many levels, but it remains true that people’s personal fear of being victims of crimes and their perceptions of national crime rates are far from accurate.
So why do Americans still think crime is high?
Turns out, the local news may be responsible for convincing Americans that violent crime is more common than it really is. Researchers have consistently found that “if it bleeds, it leads” is a pretty accurate descriptor of the coverage that local television broadcasters and newspapers focus on. For years, rarer crimes like murders received a lot more airtime than more common crimes like physical assault. And that hasn’t changed as the crime rate has fallen.
Understandably, seeing stories about violent atrocities on the news every night seems to make people afraid that the same thing could happen to them. According to one study conducted in California, consumption of local television news significantly increased people’s perceptions of risk and fear of crime. “The news is not going to report on things that are going really well very often,” Hollis said. “It’s not like ‘Hey Austin, Texas doesn’t have a whole lot of crime and that’s our news for the day!’” Stories about gun violence grab attention, so you get more stories about rare, but serious, crimes. “You can have people perceiving areas of cities as much more violent than they actually are because that’s what they see in the news,” she said. “It really amplifies that view of criminal activity beyond what it really is.”
There’s a significant amount of evidence, too, that reporting on crime can prop up harmful stereotypes: Studies have found that local news media disproportionately portray Black people as perpetrators of crime, and white people as victims.
There’s also plenty of fodder for this kind of coverage because even though crime has fallen a lot over the past few decades, the U.S. is still a pretty violent country, at least compared to other developed nations. “Violence remains an American problem,” Miller said. “Just think about mass shootings. So in that sense it’s not irrational for people to be somewhat fearful of violence.”
But often, those fears can be blown out of proportion — not just by wall-to-wall murder coverage on the news, but also by politicians who bring up the crime rate in press conferences and interviews. President Trump is far from the first president to paint a dark vision of crime in American cities, but he is singularly obsessed with the topic, especially now. According to a HuffPost analysis, the vast majority of the ads his campaign aired in the month of July dealt in some way with public safety. In one ad, an elderly woman is robbed as text flashes across the screen reading, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
And a recent study suggests that Trump’s words could have an effect. Researchers found that news coverage and political rhetoric — as measured by mentions of crime in presidential State of the Union speeches — were significant indicators of whether Americans thought crime was a pressing issue facing the country. The actual crime rate was not. A HuffPost poll conducted from July 22 to 24 found something similar: Only 10 percent of Americans correctly believe that crime has fallen over the past decade, while 57 percent think crime has increased.
Some Americans may be more receptive to tough-on-crime rhetoric than others, of course. Republicans are generally more apt to say that crime is a serious problem facing the country than Democrats. And although Pew analysis of polling data doesn’t uncover big racial differences in perceptions of crime, white and Black Americans likely think about crime very differently because criminal justice has become so inextricably tied to race.
Hakeem Jefferson, a political scientist at Stanford University who studies race and justice, told us that Black people’s views on criminal justice are complex, in part because they’re likelier than other demographic groups to actually live in high-crime neighborhoods and to be victims of crime. In other research, he’s found that some Black people have also internalized negative stereotypes about who commits crime, and may be more likely to embrace punitive solutions as a result. Those perceptions and experiences are hard to capture in public opinion data, but they can do a lot to shape what Black people mean when they tell a pollster that they think crime is a serious issue facing the country. And that’s important, because as the past few decades have shown, Black people are also much likelier to be mistreated by police, experience incarceration or grapple with the challenges of a criminal record.
Regardless of what’s driving fear of crime, though, the fact that it is so out of whack with reality can make it really hard to change people’s minds or reform the criminal justice system. It’s not that an out-of-proportion fear of crime automatically leads people to support more punitive policies — right now, for instance, Americans are mostly not in favor of more money for policing. But these misperceptions can make it harder for reforms to gain traction, particularly if politicians with a big national platform — like Trump — are talking about out-of-control crime at every turn.
It’s not hard, for instance, to imagine that kind of rhetoric being used as a wedge against efforts to restructure local funding for the police. Especially considering that in the past, a fear of crime has been used politically as a reason to oppose criminal justice reforms like reducing incarceration or changing the bail bond system — even though research suggests those reforms don’t increase crime in the long term.
The history of “law and order” campaigns is riddled with dog whistles, and Trump’s recent rhetoric about sending federal agents to combat crime in cities like Chicago arguably falls into this category, according to Justin Pickett, a criminologist at the University of Albany who studies attitudes toward crime and justice. Talking about the dangers of crime, he said, can turn into a cover for racist attitudes.
None of this has made us safer. And ironically, fear of crime can actually lead to other behaviors that put us at greater risk, like buying and carrying guns. If anxiety about crime keeps Americans from embracing different ways of thinking about criminal justice, that may be doing more harm than good, too. For instance, there’s no real evidence that putting more people behind bars contributed to the decrease in crime or that imprisoning fewer people will raise crime. Instead, a mountain of research points in the opposite direction to problems and inequalities linked to mass incarceration.
The trouble is that fear about crime isn’t rational, and it’s hard to convince people to think differently about a problem that they don’t experience on a day-to-day basis anyway. “You can tell Americans that the crime rate is lower today than it was in the 1990s, but it won’t feel real to them,” said Kevin Wozniak, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “That is, unless politicians stop drumming up the crime rate and people stop hearing about murder every night on the local news.”
And that seems unlikely to happen in 2020.
For this week’s episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we interviewed Rep. Will Hurd of Texas’s 23rd Congressional District. And as you’ll hear in the podcast and read in selected excerpts below, we covered a lot of ground, including whether Hurd will vote for President Trump in November.
By Galen Druke
More: Apple Podcasts |>ESPN App |
The transcript below has been lightly edited.
On whether Hurd will vote for Trump:
Galen Druke: I want to talk about all that strategy and what the future of the party looks like. But are you going to vote for Trump this fall?
Will Hurd: Like a lot of Americans, I wish I had different options on the ballot. And my plan is always to support a Republican and we’re going to be making those decisions over the next 98 days.
GD: So you’re going to decide whether or not to vote for him over the next 98 days?
WH: That is how I always approach my election. I’m just like everybody else.
GD: Well, you previously said that you will vote for Trump this fall. So I’m just wondering if you’re hesitant a little bit now?
WH: I think that’s accurate.
Your polling is showing that. I’m like everybody else. I don’t want to vote for a Joe Biden because in the end, some of the policies, I think that a unified Democratic Party is going to pass … would be tough for the country, and things that I don’t support, and haven’t supported during my time in Congress. And as somebody who’s represented a large, competitive district, I know something about competitive districts and what needs to be done in order to win.
GD: I understand that desire not to vote for Joe Biden, but I guess more specifically on whether or not you’ll vote for Trump, what could change your mind in the next 98 days that would make you view him and his presidency differently than what he’s shown us so far?
WH: It’s a good question and who knows. I don’t think a year ago we would have been thinking about a global pandemic that would have impacted the entire world and brought the world economy to a standstill. And so who knows what can happen over these next few weeks.
But in the end, what I think that I’ve been trying to preach to my colleagues is that we have to change as a Republican Party. We have to start appealing to broader groups of people. And if we don’t, and also if the Republican Party doesn’t start looking like America, we’re not going to have a Republican Party in America.
GD: Everything you’re saying here makes it sound like you aren’t voting for Trump. Is that the case?
WH: As I said, I don’t like either one of my choices. And in the end, we’re going to evaluate this over the next 90 days, or 96 days.
On delaying the election:
GD: President Trump suggested delaying the presidential election, which Congress has the power to do, your branch of government. Do you support delaying the election?
WH: We are not an authoritarian government where the head of state gets to decide on a whim when an election happens. So no, this is Congress’s role, as you said. It should go forward as has been established. And ultimately, look, I’m of the opinion that we should be increasing the ways for people to vote, right, the more people that vote, the better off it is. And this is something that I’ve been able to prove, during my time in Congress, that if you take a message to more people, you can get it to resonate with more people and we shouldn’t be afraid.
On the U.S. response to COVID-19:
GD: Overall, do you think the country is doing a good job combating the pandemic?
WH: No. We have increasing death rates, right? We have the most number of people that are dealing with this right? I think the impact it’s had on the United States of America versus other countries is still … we’re dealing with one of the worst cases. We’re having debates on whether you should be wearing a mask or not. Wear a mask! Right? A mask is to protect yourself but also to protect the people around you. So why are we debating that? This debate and fights around whether school should open or not — we should be talking about, ‘how do we work together in order to exceed CDC guidelines on opening schools?’, not whether or not it should happen.
And so yeah, there are all kinds of problems. But I’m always trying to work with these folks to deal with the problem as it is right now. I know in Texas, a third of the deaths of coronavirus have been in nursing homes. That’s outrageous. And then also in prisons. And so if we couldn’t handle this in nursing homes or in prisons, how are we going to be handling it in an educational environment where it is even more chaotic than those other places? So yeah, we have a long way to go.”
On the future of the Republican party:
GD: Let’s talk about where the Republican Party is headed. You said that the Republican Party needs to look more like America. And you know, right now, it doesn’t. You’re the only Black lawmaker on the Republican side in the House. Why do you think there are so few Black lawmakers in the Republican caucus in the house?
WH: Everybody asked me when I first got elected, how does a Black Republican represent a 71 percent Latino district? And I say it’s because you know, I work hard and I show up to communities that had never seen a Republican show up, and you do that multiple times. If you’re showing up 90 days before an election, that’s called pandering.
You have to be in those communities. Showing up is half the battle. And unfortunately, I think over time, professional political consultants talk about focusing on your likely “x voter” — whether that’s a Republican primary voter or Democratic primary voter — rather than trying to grow and appeal to a broader group of people. It’s hard.
GD: Do you think that part of the reason has to do with Republicans actively appealing to a white identity?
WH: Look, I think when you look at a person like a Steve King — and you know Steve King losing his primary is ultimately a good thing — but when you know folks that that have been elected as a Republican that say racist or misogynistic or homophobic things, that hurts all of us that identify with with being a Republican.
… But what I found is that’s not everybody. But yeah, over time, have those things been said? Yes. And Does that hurt? Yes. And that’s why we have to speak out when those things do happen.
This month, for the first time since April, our tracker of public opinion around the coronavirus shows that the share of Americans who say they are “very” concerned that they or someone they know will become infected with COVID-19 is higher than the share who say they are “somewhat” concerned.
That rise in concern is understandable, too, when you consider the spike in new coronavirus cases that began in mid-June, especially in the South and West. Just this past week, California, Florida and Texas, along with a handful of other states, saw record spikes in fatalities.
And the fact that the geography of the virus is changing — it’s no longer just a blue-state virus — may mean behaviors and political attitudes are shifting once again. To be clear, there are still deep political divides in how concerned people are about the virus, but there are also some signs that Republicans may be growing more concerned.
For example, as many states started lifting restrictions in April, the share of Republicans who said they were staying at home declined, while the share of Democrats saying they were staying put remained roughly the same. As you can see in the chart below, the share of Republicans who reported staying home as much as possible has ticked up by at least 10 points since the start of July. The latest poll from YouGov/Huffpost to ask this question did, however, also show a decline of 4 percentage points from the previous week, so it’s possible that the changes in Republican behavior could be plateauing — or declining again.
The YouGov/Huffpost polls show increased support for coronavirus-related restrictions, too. In early June, only 23 percent of Americans said there were not enough restrictions where they lived, but in the latest poll, that number had grown by 14 percentage points to 37 percent. That includes an increase of more than 10 points in every region except the Northeast, where the coronavirus’s spread has slowed down. And the share of Republicans who believe there are not enough restrictions, while still relatively small, has doubled from 10 percent in early June to over 20 percent in late July.
These shifts are small, as Republicans still lag behind Democrats on both of these metrics. But it’s significant because it comes at a time when public approval of the government’s handling of the pandemic has fallen to new lows.
According to our tracker, Trump’s approval rating on his response to the crisis has steadily declined since April. That even includes Republicans, whose approval of how he is handling the crisis, while still high at 78 percent, has declined roughly 5 percentage points since mid-June, when cases began spiking.
Recent polls have also shown that Republican governors are getting lower marks on how they’ve handled the pandemic, especially in hard-hit states like Texas, Florida and Arizona.
To be sure, Democrats are still more concerned about the coronavirus than Republicans, but that uptick in our tracker isn’t being driven by just Democrats. Republicans are also showing signs of increased concern around the virus. Some of that may be because as the virus spreads to different parts of the country, more Republicans are coming into contact with it, which may change their perceptions of it. Take what an Ipsos/Axios poll recently found. While only 35 percent of Republicans who had no personal experience with the virus said they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about COVID-19, concern over the coronavirus rose to 51 percent among Republicans who knew someone who died from it. Additionally, more than half of Republicans who knew someone who died from the virus said they always wore a mask, while only 38 percent of those who had no personal experience with the virus said they always wore a mask.
And perhaps that nuance underscores something Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote about for FiveThirtyEight earlier this month. Republicans and Democrats are divided on how they see the virus. But they’re less divided on the actual steps they can take to stay safe — whether that’s social distancing, trying to stay home more or wearing masks in public places. It’s possible that partisan opinion on the coronavirus isn’t entirely baked in — yet.
65 percent of American adults said that they supported the protests that have taken place around the country following the police killing of George Floyd, according to a Gallup poll conducted between June and July. Fifty-four percent said that the protests have changed their views on racial justice either “a little” or “a lot,” and 11 percent reported personally participating in a protest about racial justice and equality in the previous month.On Wednesday, the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook testified in an antitrust hearing in the House of Representatives. And according to a recent IBD/TIPP poll, many Americans seem supportive of breaking up these big tech companies. When asked about each company on its own, 60 percent of Americans said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” supported breaking up Google, 58 percent said the same of Amazon, 57 percent said the same of Facebook, and 55 percent said the same of Apple. This is an increase from a year ago, when a previous IBD/TIPP poll found 48 percent of Americans supported breaking up Facebook, 45 percent supported breaking up Amazon, 43 percent supported breaking up Google, and only 36 percent said they supported breaking up Apple.According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of American parents who have a child 11 or younger said their child watches videos on YouTube.Another poll from Pew found that lesser-educated Americans were much more likely to believe the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus outbreak was intentionally planned by powerful people. Forty-eight percent of those with a high school education or less and 38 percent of those with some college education said this theory was either “probably” or “definitely” true, while about a quarter of college graduates and only 15 percent of those with postgraduate education said the same.According to a new Ipsos/Newsy poll, Americans have a variety of concerns about the upcoming elections. Seventy-nine percent were concerned about the impact of COVID-19, 71 percent were concerned about the impact of fake news, 63 percent were concerned about foreign interference, 63 percent were worried about vote suppression, 58 percent were troubled by voter fraud, and 54 percent expressed concern about mail-in-ballot fraud.A new Gallup survey found that 34 percent of Americans identified as politically “conservative” in May and June, down from 40 percent in January and February. And among those with incomes of over $100,000 or between 35 and 54 years old, the share who identified as conservative fell by 11 and 10 percentage points, respectively. Meanwhile, the share of people who said they were “liberal” rose four points, from 22 percent at the start of the year to 26 percent in May and June. Gallup has tracked these numbers since at least 1992.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 40.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 55.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -14.5 points). At this time last week, 40.3 percent approved and 55.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -15.3 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 40.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 56.4 percent, for a net approval rating of -16.1 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 8.3 percentage points (49.1 percent to 40.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 8.2 points (49.4 percent to 41.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 9 points (49 percent to 40 percent).
Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.
Gun sales were so slow earlier this year that in February, The New York Times ran a piece on how some gun manufacturers were looking to rebrand to make up for the “Trump slump.”
But then the pandemic hit. And on Friday, March 13, when President Trump declared a national emergency, the number of background checks went through the roof, according to the FBI system that vets gun buyers.
In March, the FBI received almost 1.5 million requests for background checks, according to data the bureau released to FiveThirtyEight in response to a public records request. On Friday, March 20 alone, 104,084 background check requests were sent to the bureau; according to a slightly different measure that includes checks run by state systems, that day saw the highest daily number of background checks on record.1 In fact, by that broader measure, five of the gun background check system’s 10 busiest days were in March 2020. While March is usually a busy month for background checks, it was off the charts this year.
But the number of background checks didn’t just go up. As you can see in the chart below, as the number of background checks sent to the FBI rose, so did the percentage that were delayed more than three business days — a critical deadline after which federal law allows dealers to legally sell a gun without a completed background check.
This is significant because it means that it may have been easier for guns to get into the hands of people who cannot legally own them.
The danger here isn’t theoretical. Dylann Roof was able to buy the gun he used to kill nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 because of this loophole. Roof had a record for drug possession that meant he couldn’t legally own a gun, but after the three-day period passed, the gun dealer sold him a gun anyway.
To be sure, these numbers aren’t a perfect portrait of gun sales: They don’t include data from 20 states that process some or all of their background checks themselves rather than through the FBI. And not every background check represents a gun sale — many checks are run when people apply for gun permits, when states check on the status of gun permit holders, or for other purposes. A single background check can also represent multiple gun sales.
[Related: Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We’re Headed — And Why They Disagree]
We also don’t know how many background checks from March the FBI never completed. When a background check drags on for 88 days, the bureau stops researching the potential buyer and purges the background check request from its systems to comply with federal regulations. The bureau hasn’t yet released data on purged requests made in March.
We do know that the bureau never completes the overwhelming majority of background checks that take longer than three business days. For instance, 79 percent of such checks were never completed in 2019. This year, it purged over 80 percent of such checks from January and 78 percent from February.
Still, Jurgen Brauer, chief economist at Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, and other experts agree that the spike in background checks in March represented a real surge in retail gun sales. For instance, Brauer’s consulting firm analysed FBI data and found that retail gun sales drove the surge in March, along with a second surge in June that was likely tied to Black Lives Matter protests. In total, the firm estimated that gun sales rose year-over-year by 85 percent in March and 145 percent in June.
And a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program compared FBI data on gun background checks to gun violence data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, finding a nearly 8 percent increase in gun violence over expected levels from March through May 2020. This study hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, but if it’s accurate, that’s 776 additional fatal and nonfatal injuries, not including suicides and accidents.
[Related: How Americans View The Coronavirus Crisis And Trump’s Response]
This surge in gun sales during the pandemic has meant that an already brittle background check system is getting overloaded, causing massive delays, according to Brauer. He compared background checks to a drainage system that backs up during a big storm. “There’s a massive flow of rainwater, and the systems can’t handle it,” he said.
The FBI, however, disputed that characterization in a statement to FiveThirtyEight.
Holly Morris, a spokesperson for the bureau, said the agency hasn’t found a relationship between the rise in the share of delayed background checks and the increased volume of requests. “The influx in the percentage of delayed transactions and any extended processing times can be attributed to a number of variables,” Morris wrote via email, adding that staffing levels for the background check system have remained the same throughout the pandemic.
There are signs that the influx in gun sales might not be slowing anytime soon. The initial spikes in gun sales in March lined up closely with events related to the pandemic, including Feb. 26, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first confirmed that the virus was spreading within the U.S. and not just being brought back by travelers, and Trump’s national emergency declaration on March 13. But as the pandemic has worn on, the reasoning driving the spike in gun sales has changed, too. By the time gun sales soared even higher in June, research suggests it was no longer the coronavirus on buyers’ minds but the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
[Related: The Latest Political Polls Collected By FiveThirtyEight]
Phillip Levine and Robin McKnight of Wellesley College compared the FBI’s state-by-state background check data with data on Google searches for the N-word to see if states with more searches for the racist slur saw a larger increase in gun sales. They found what Levine described as a “modest correlation” in June, suggesting that at least some of those sales were driven by concerns over Black Lives Matter protests.
“As the pandemic settled down, gun sales settled down too, until it got to June,” Levine said in an interview. “In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, there was another very dramatic spike.”
It’s hard to know how gun sales in the U.S. will continue to progress, as we don’t yet have data for July. The data released to FiveThirtyEight did not include June, but less-detailed data the FBI published online shows that last month the agency ran more background checks than any other month on record. And, of course, sales rose in 2016 in part over fears that Hillary Clinton would take the White House and impose new gun regulations, so with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden ahead in the polls, another surge in gun sales may not be far behind. Not to mention that another surge in coronavirus cases could again drive a spike in sales like the one we saw in March.
Whatever happens, more gun sales will likely mean more delays — potentially putting guns into the hands of people who can’t legally own one.
NASCAR is niche. A recent Morning Consult survey of the sport’s fans found that they’re much more male, white and Southern than other sports fans are. It’s a subculture status that some fans have relished but which NASCAR itself seems eager to shake — in the last two years, its TV ratings bottomed out after peaking in the mid-2000s, according to SportsBusiness Journal. They’ve declined for six years running, in fact. Since the mid-aughts, the sport has actively sought to expand its fan base — seeking race venues outside the South, for example — and in doing so, sometimes drawing the ire of its core fans. “We believe strongly that the old Southeastern redneck heritage that we had is no longer in existence. But we also realize that there’s going to have to be an effort on our part to convince others to understand that,” then-NASCAR President Mike Helton said in 2006.
Like so many institutions in American life, the sport was grappling with what its place would be in a more diverse county and culture.
So when the NASCAR Cup Series’ only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, called for a ban of the Confederate flag earlier this summer, saying “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” NASCAR readily complied. It had already formally asked fans to stop bringing the flags to events in 2015 following the murders of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist. President Trump weighed in on NASCAR’s decision, tweeting that its flag ban was to blame for its “lowest ratings EVER!” (ratings are actually up following the flag ban).
But according to the Morning Consult survey from June, 44 percent of NASCAR fans agree with the president and said that fans should be allowed to bring the flag to races. Only 30 percent were fine with the ban. And at NASCAR races in June and July, Confederate flags reappeared. Not in the stands, but high above them; a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans rented planes to fly the flag over the racetracks. The group’s leader, Paul Gramling Jr., told the Columbia Daily Herald that “The Sons of Confederate Veterans is proud of the diversity of the Confederate military and our modern Southland. We believe NASCAR’s slandering of our Southern heritage only further divides our nation.”
[Related: Confederate Statues Were Never Really About Preserving History]
Gramling’s statement about the “diversity” of the Confederate army and his use of the term “modern Southland” speak volumes. Enslaved men were conscripted as soldiers and servants in the Confederate Army — they were hardly volunteers for the Southern cause — and Gramling’s “Southland” conjures the image of a cohesive nation, as if the Confederacy, which existed for less than five years, had not been decimated long ago.
The SCV and NASCAR’s oblique tussling might seem like a fringe issue in an election year when a pandemic and an economic crisis imperil millions of lives, but their divergent visions of what the culture of the American South is — who it’s for and of — embodies much about the political and cultural climate in which we find ourselves. Trump and NASCAR are in similar positions: overly reliant on a slowly shrinking, mostly white base. NASCAR is trying to expand its audience in order to stay relevant; Trump is not. The sport has realized something that the president can’t seem to grasp, which is that overt shows of racism turn most Americans off.
Electoral politics has played a role in normalizing on a national level the kind of neo-Confederate views that the SCV — and Trump — have condoned and promoted in recent weeks. You don’t have to have grown up in the American South to have thought that the Confederate flag was inextricably tied to what the SCV calls “Southern heritage,” but which really means a particular slice of Southern white culture. Going back decades, blocks of white votes in the South have been courted aggressively by non-Southerners who have played to the culture that has grown around these symbols and a particular nostalgic language about the Confederate past. During his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan, a California governor of Illinois birth, appeared in Neshoba County, Mississippi — where Freedom Rider activists were famously murdered in 1964 — and gave a speech about “states’ rights,” which was read by many as euphemistic in the most loaded way possible, given the context of the place. The country had gotten comfortable with delicate work-arounds like that — the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights. For decades, parts of the country have tolerated a semantic category that blandly normalized a strain of white resentment at the Confederate defeat. Sometimes the language is more blunt, of course: the War of Northern Aggression, “the South will rise again” or “It’s only halftime.”
[Related: Our 2020 National Polling Averages]
According to the 2010 census, 55 percent of the country’s Black population live in the South. While the region is still nearly 60 percent white, its Black and Hispanic populations are significant, and while traditionally rural, diverse, growing cities like Atlanta and Charlotte have become important business hubs. North Carolina’s Research Triangle region boasts the sort of academic power and national draw often associated with the Northeast Corridor’s Ivy League. NASCAR’s bid to diversify, geographically and otherwise, is in keeping with the modern South’s changes.
But strong vestiges of the racist Confederacy have held on in the region. Mississippi removed the Confederate stars and bars from its state flag only last month, becoming the last state in the Union to do so. While the majority of Americans — 52 percent — favored the removal of Confederate statues from public spaces, according to a Quinnipiac University survey from June, 52 percent of those from the South opposed removal, the only region of the country where a majority supported keeping the statues.
In the midst of a floundering campaign, Trump grasped onto Southern white culture — that particular strain of it — as a way to pull his head above water. A large base of his support does indeed lie in the South, as has been the case for all recent Republican presidential candidates; Bill Clinton won Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia in 1996, but no Democrat has since. Trump ran a race-baiting campaign in 2016, and his 2020 campaign has continued to play on long-standing tropes of racial fear, like violent “liberal Democrat” cities. Ironically, his use of federal law enforcement officers in Portland, Ore., is about as far from states’ rights as you can get.
But Trump seems to be speaking to the SCV types and not the more “mainstream” white voters he actually needs to win. The SCV, for what it’s worth, is more than the “historical, patriotic, and non-political organization” that its website says it is. Its branches have donated to Republican politicians and it controversially purchased the Silent Sam Confederate statue that was torn down at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In other words, the group is representative of the types of (white) voters who are Trump’s ride-or-dies.
[Related: How Popular Is President Donald Trump?]
But Trump has misjudged — or refuses to see — that much of white America is changing how it thinks about racial issues. A Monmouth University survey from June found that 49 percent of white Americans thought police were more likely to use excessive force against a Black person, up from only 25 percent in 2016. A Morning Consult poll from May and June of this year found that 49 percent of white Americans supported the protests unfolding across the country, and 54 percent of suburbanites supported them (white people are the majority in 90 percent of America’s suburban counties, according to Pew Research Center).
Someone seems to have leaned into Trump’s ear and told him he needs these white suburbanites in order to have a fighting chance of winning in November. Last week, he called on “The Suburban Housewives of America” — as if harkening to a membership organization from 1955 — and said that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden would “destroy” their American dream by promoting affordable housing for all in the suburbs. In Trump’s framing, by hoping to diversify the suburbs, Biden would destroy the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.” A majority of Americans in a Pew survey conducted in 2019 said Trump had made race relations in the country worse, and while white, Black and Hispanic people still differ in their views on racial issues, it’s clear that recent events have brought greater racial awareness to the forefront of white Americans’ minds.
[Related: A Tale Of Two Suburbs]
Republicans are increasingly worried about Trump losing a state like Ohio — once thought solidly in Trump’s camp — in large part because of the president’s diminishing support in suburban areas. (I wrote at length about this Ohio suburban phenomenon back in 2019.) His embrace of the racist totems of the white South — which large swaths of the white South itself eschews — could now potentially cost Trump with the Midwestern or Northeastern (whatever you want to call Pennsylvania) voters he needs to hold onto in order to win.
Trump, a New York City-born pol who doesn’t quite seem to “get” the ‘burbs — and has never been a particularly subtle political thinker or communicator — crucially misunderstood that the muscular Southern racism the Confederate flag has long represented doesn’t work in the white suburban realms of respectability anymore. That cohort — Republican and Democratic — absorbs and displays its biases more mutedly in 2020. Trump, who came to political power riding a wave of racist conspiracy theory — it was only fair to ask questions about whether the first Black president was actually American, wasn’t it? — now suddenly seems ill-equipped for the political times.
He forgot that most of the country requires a modicum of plausible deniability in its dog whistles.
Pakistan and China have allegedly entered a three year bio-warfare agreement to cooperate on projects associated with the deadly anthrax agent, as well as other dangerous viruses, according to an exclusive report written by The Klaxon. U.S. intelligence officials and analysts are warning that the United States cannot afford to ignore the information and the danger this secret deal poses to the world.
I may not have noticed the Klaxon report if it weren’t for Gordon Chang, an expert on China and someone I follow religiously when it comes to news in the region. He retweeted the exclusive on Tuesday, which was written by Anthony Klan, an investigative reporter from Australia.
And Chang, along with other intelligence officials I’ve spoken with, warn that the deal made with Pakistan poses significant dangers to accidental contamination leaks, along with rising concerns as to what the two nuclear powers may be planning.
Gordon Chang is an expert on China and frequently advises the administration on the matter.
“It’s no wonder China wants to outsource its dangerous bioweapons research to Pakistan,” Gordon Chang told me Wednesday. “Chinese weapons labs, over the course of decades, can’t master the concept of safety.”
“The failure to contain pathogens has had consequences,” Chang added. “From Russian sources, we have learned there were two epidemics of hemorrhagic fever in the late 1980s in a part of China where these diseases were previously unknown but which did host a biological weapons facility.”
#China is almost certainly conducting illicit biological weapons research. https://t.co/lq8AKpQVja
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) July 28, 2020
It’s not surprising that Chang would be monitoring stories from all over the world because he has become extremely vocal about the dangerous expansion and global reach of Beijing and a staunch ally of freedom fighters in Hong Kong opposed to communist China’s tyranny.
In fact, Chang, who has lived in China, recently posted warnings about news reports that tend to downplay Beijing’s role in covering up its enormous failures to warn the world of the novel Coronavirus epidemic during the onslaught of the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.
For example Chang said, “the SARS epidemic beginning in 2002 probably had a natural origin but could have been fueled by subsequent lab leaks.
He pointed out that “the world’s first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred near the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which had been engineering coronaviruses to make them more virulent. The Institute is more than a thousand miles from where the closest strain of the virus was found in a natural environment, a cave full of bats.”
“If you are a Chinese leader today, you too would want your dangerous research conducted on the other side of the Himalayas,” said Chang. “After all, with the coronavirus still spreading around China, you probably would not want to deal with two killer epidemics at the same time.”
From The Klaxon, an investigative online news agency that reports on intelligence matters and business malfeasance out of Australia:
In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak on Chinese soil, China’s now infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology has signed the covert deal with Pakistan military’s Defense Science and Technology Organization (DESTO), to collaborate research in “emerging infectious diseases” and advance studies on the biological control of transmitted diseases.
According to highly credible intelligence sources, the program is being entirely funded by China and is formally titled the “Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies on Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases”.
Intelligence sources, including from the Indian subcontinent, have told The Klaxon they have serious concerns about the secret project, which involves China testing biological agents outside its borders in an apparent bid to minimize the “risk of drawing condemnation from the international community”.
“DESTO has been engaged in various dual-use research projects related to anthrax under a covert biological weapons program,” one senior intelligence source said.
The source said China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology had “lent all financial, material and scientific support for the project”.
The information reported by The Klaxon shouldn’t be ignored. Think about what’s happened to our nation and for that matter, the world since the outbreak of COVID-19. There is no doubt that this won’t be the last time but imagine a virus far worse than what we’re witnessing today.
GORDON CHANG HERE
When the Chinese communist owned Global Times reported that scientists believe that SARS-CoV-2 originated naturally and had nothing to do with Wuhan laboratories Chang shot back.
The paper stated because of that President Donald Trump “owes us an apology as he claimed” the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Okay, but why did #China in February send Major General Chen Wei, the country’s top biological weapons expert, to head the P-4 lab at the #Wuhan Institute of Virology? To destroy evidence of an illicit program perhaps,” Chang responded on Twitter.
And U.S. policy makers should heed Chang’s warning. After all, President Xi Jingping’s decision to keep COVID-19 secret has torn the world’s economy apart, left millions infected and killed an estimated 661,000 people globally.
Imagine what happens if we ignore the possible biowarfare deal between China and Pakistan.
Imagine the threat that a relationship like this could have on the world and the implications for the future.
Okay, but why did #China in February send Major General Chen Wei, the country’s top biological weapons expert, to head the P-4 lab at the #Wuhan Institute of Virology? To destroy evidence of an illicit program perhaps? #coronavirus #COVID19 https://t.co/Ea8fctDBK5
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) July 25, 2020
I’ve traveled to Pakistan, have met with Pakistani leaders in the past and have covered stories in that region long enough to know that China is a very close ally of the Pakistani government. Moreover, Beijing works diligently to cultivate a strong geo-political relationship with Pakistan, and in the process uses that relationship to influence and spy. on American interests in the region as well.
I’ve also covered numerous intelligence matters in Pakistan, and know there have been concerns among U.S. intelligence officials regarding the nation’s very modern bio-level laboratories, which are suspected of conducting ‘covert experiments’ and could potentially pose a national security threat in the future.
According to intelligence officials that spoke to The Klaxon, Pakistan and China’s efforts are part of a broader offensive against India and Western rivals.
It is. It always has been. Whether The Klaxon story is completely accurate remains to be seen. It has not been independently verified by this reporter.
Either way, there is enough evidence to suggest that China will continue to expand its diplomatic relations with Pakistan by trading and combing its technological, military and political apparatus in South Asia.
It serves China’s purpose to pursue these interests because those interests also assist in driving a deeper wedge between the U.S. and its allies in the region.
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The post Warning: ‘Chinese weapons labs…can’t master concept of safety’ As Intel Surfaces That Pakistan & China Signed Secret BioWarfare Deal appeared first on Sara A. Carter.
The fight for D.C. statehood is hardly new.
It’s been decades since Congress first introduced legislation to make Washington, D.C., a state, and 27 years since such a bill got a full (losing) vote in the House of Representatives, but in late June, a historic step was taken: A majority in the House voted in favor of legislation that would make Washington, D.C., a state for the very first time.
Of course, this bill won’t be signed into law this year given the clear partisan calculus involved — making D.C. a state would almost certainly give Democrats two additional senators thanks to the District’s deep blue hue. But it’s important we understand why the Democrats are waging this fight now and why we might see more fights over admitting states in the years to come.
The answer boils down to unequal representation.
On the one hand, the Senate has always been unequal, long giving less populous states an outsized voice relative to their population.1 But for more than a century, this hasn’t posed much of an issue: Until the 1960s, Republicans and Democrats competed for both densely and sparsely populated states at roughly the same rate
But over the last several decades, that’s changed. The parties have reorganized themselves along urban-rural lines, and there is now a clear and pronounced partisan small-state bias in the Senate thanks to mostly rural, less populated states voting increasingly Republican. In fact, it’s reached the point that Republicans can win a majority of Senate seats while only representing a minority of Americans.
One way to observe this growing partisan bias in the Senate is to compare the party makeup of senators elected to represent the 15 most populous states (which have collectively housed about two-thirds of population since the turn of the 20th century) to the partisan makeup of senators elected to represent the 25 least populous states (which have collectively housed roughly a sixth of the population consistently since the 1960s). As the chart below shows, the partisan makeup of the Senate was fairly even until the 1960s, when Republicans started to amass a partisan advantage in less populated states.2
What happened? Much of this follows from the post-civil rights realignment of American partisan politics, in which the Democratic Party became more consistently liberal (and thus more appealing in big, largely urban states), and the Republican Party became more consistently conservative (and thus more appealing in small, largely rural states). But that gap has also widened in recent years, especially starting in 2015, when Republicans took back a Senate majority, flipping seats in small states like West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska and Montana — all states that will be tough for Democrats to regain in 2020.
And what this has meant practically is that Republicans now hold a majority of Senate seats while only representing a minority of Americans, as you can see in the chart below.3
This imbalance is significant because it poses a real obstacle to Democrats taking back a Senate majority in 2020. Take Democrats’ current odds of retaking the chamber. The Cook Political Report recently said Democrats are favored to win the Senate, but considering Democrats currently lead the generic ballot for Congress by over 8 percentage points and have a similar margin nationally in the presidential race, it’s remarkable that they still are only slight favorites to control the upper chamber.
Even if D.C. or Puerto Rico were states (as some on the left advocate), Republicans would still have the advantage. It’s true that the statehoods of D.C. and Puerto Rico would help Democrats close the small-state gap, but even if both were states and elected two Democratic senators, Republicans would still have had a two-seat majority in 2019, while only representing 48 percent of the population.
The Senate has always held a contested place in America’s democratic system because of its non-proportional qualities. For the first half of the 19th century, the Senate was a bulwark for the South, with an equal balance of slave and free states despite the growing Northern population advantage. And in the second half of the 19th century, Republicans attempted to “stack” the Senate by admitting a large number of Republican states into the union, starting with Nevada in 1864 (population of just 6,857(!) in the 1860 census), Nebraska (1867), Colorado (1876), Montana, Washington, and North and South Dakota as separate states in an 1889 omnibus, and Idaho and Wyoming in 1890.
But despite rising prairie populism spreading through the Great Plains to the Mountain West in the 1890s, Republicans’ hopes for a stacked Senate didn’t work out quite as planned. And thanks to the way the American two-party system developed in the 20th century, with Democrats and Republicans both containing urban liberal and rural conservative wings, the small-state bias of the Senate never became a real partisan issue — until now. It will likely remain an issue, too, as long as one party is able to win a majority in the chamber while only representing a minority of the population.