US Elections for the Political Noob

bekkilyn wrote:

I liked the way CSPAN showed the recent Republican and Democratic conventions without all of the biased commentary that normally happens with the major news networks. Since I don't regularly watch TV, I don't know if it's the way they normally operate, but if so, then it may be one of the best places to watch political events in general without having someone trying to sway you to various opinions.

Along similar lines:

Finding trustworthy, transparent sources of reportage, commentary, and analysis is important, but if you have time make it a point to seek out primary sources on your own so you can be more fully informed as well as compare how your read on something matches with what you're hearing in the news.

Of course, in many cases this can be challenging — for example, if you aren't a lawyer or otherwise trained/knowledgeable about the law, it can be tough to fully understand court rulings by reading the raw documents. But you can often work around that if you put the time in, or know the right kinds people. I frequently annoy my lawyer friends by pestering them with questions about things I didn't understand, or didn't have the knowledge to interpret properly, and not surprisingly, they are usually happy to share their thoughts on things when they are familiar with the subject. (Incidentally, this is a practice I highly recommend in general, if you have acquaintances with expertise in other fields — scientists of all stripes, for example. It's always illuminating to see the difference between what experts think about a subject and how it is presented in the news.)

And other times, it's a bit easier. As bekkilyn notes, if you have cable, you have CSPAN and can watch the proceedings of the federal legislature. Similarly, many state legislatures can often be watched directly as well, either on cable or on the internet. And for that matter, you can generally find full, raw video of just about any major or meaningful political speech on Youtube, which is especially helpful if you are a cord cutter. I am, but I was able to watch raw feeds of both the RNC and the DNC streamed on Youtube.

And relatedly, if you are curious to learn more about our current administration, the White House Youtube channel is very good about live streaming and hosting full archives of just about every press conference, speech, or other speaking event involving the president, vice president, or the press secretary, and often have full archives or at least summaries of events and activities involving the first and second ladies as well.

Incidentally, I can't recommend enough taking the time (if you have it to spare) to watch President Obama speak whenever you can, be it prepared remarks, press conferences, open conversations, or anything in between. Whether you agree with him or not on any particular subject, the man is inspirational to see and hear. And I don't just mean because he is one of the most gifted orators of our time — although he is — but also because he embodies and exemplifies all the best characteristics I (and many other people, I'm sure) hope to see in our elected officials and public servants.

Intellectual honesty and curiosity, decency and compassion, a firmness of conviction paired with a genuine interest in hearing contrasting opinions and addressing them in good faith, good humor and and general sense of optimism about the country and the world, and above all, a deep, abiding belief in ability of our democracy to progress and improve, messy, dirty, complex, and imperfect though it may be; all these things bleed out of him when he speaks, no matter what the topic is, and it's infectious. Watching him over the last few years has certainly been a key factor in revitalizing my sleeping interest in being aware and participatory in political discourse and activism, that's for sure, and imagine the same would be true for others as well.

wordsmythe wrote:

As to the two-party system, I have hope that this year will have enough break-away voters for Johnson that the Libertarian Party will be officially in the mix next time. Other non-noobs can back me up, but i think at 10% of the popular vote, there are more systematic things that trigger.

Unfortunately, not really. It will help with ballot access in some states, and would definitely be the best showing the LP has ever managed by far. But to stay on topic, one of the things a political neophyte needs to learn early is just how much control the two major parties have over American elections. It is far, far more than most people think. The major parties will do things like move the bar or set bars that appear reasonable, but aren't - for example, this year Johnson has to poll at 15% in five national polls to make it into the debates. This is nearly impossible, because the polls don't usually include third party candidates at all. The last time a third-party candidate was in the debate was Ross Perot in 1992, and that's because the CPD didn't use the poll requirements that year.

The CPD itself is, of course, composed entirely of ... Republicans and Democrats.

Reading back I don't want to derail the thread. My 2 takeaways would be to find some conservative friends and neighbors who you feel comfortable asking about how they came to their beliefs, and also take a hard look at the accomplishments of local politicians who may have great intentions but don't execute well.

sigh, quoted when editing.

If you can honestly claim that Lincoln and Eisenhower are your guiding stars, you are literally a modern Democrat in your policy desires.

Sanders Democrats, maybe. But I don't think the mainstream party reflects those values very much, anymore.

Robear wrote:

That chart is interesting, in that the most liberal source (well into the "check before you post" terrain for me) is Ezra Klein, but 10 of 19 conservative sources are all more biased than that. So consider your sources carefully.

It's also worth noting that as a lefty, I really feel like NPR is right of where center "ought" to be, these days. Then again, so is the Democratic Party. (They're left-er than the Republican Party, but by no means left. I feel like Obama and Clinton are pretty even with Reagan. "Yay, neoliberalism. *waves tiny incredibly tacky flag*")

(Which, of course, means that I vote for Democratic candidates unless there's a really compelling alternative. And sadly, I don't consider the platform of the Greens, for example, to be particularly appealing--even if they did run better local candidates. :l)

Malor wrote:

Sanders Democrats, maybe. But I don't think the mainstream party reflects those values very much, anymore.

Right. What I meant is that while Clinton is actually more conservative than those two on many things, most of their positions would fit within the accepted spectrum of Democratic identities. Not as the central focus of Clinton's campaign, but well within the beliefs of people who identify as Democrats.

Hypatian wrote:
Robear wrote:

That chart is interesting, in that the most liberal source (well into the "check before you post" terrain for me) is Ezra Klein, but 10 of 19 conservative sources are all more biased than that. So consider your sources carefully.

It's also worth noting that as a lefty, I really feel like NPR is right of where center "ought" to be, these days. Then again, so is the Democratic Party. (They're left-er than the Republican Party, but by no means left. I feel like Obama and Clinton are pretty even with Reagan. "Yay, neoliberalism. *waves tiny incredibly tacky flag*")

(Which, of course, means that I vote for Democratic candidates unless there's a really compelling alternative. And sadly, I don't consider the platform of the Greens, for example, to be particularly appealing--even if they did run better local candidates. :l)

You beat me to my periodic reminder to Americans that calling the Democrats either 'Liberal' or 'Left Wing' would be considered pretty laughable in most of the world.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Hypatian wrote:
Robear wrote:

That chart is interesting, in that the most liberal source (well into the "check before you post" terrain for me) is Ezra Klein, but 10 of 19 conservative sources are all more biased than that. So consider your sources carefully.

It's also worth noting that as a lefty, I really feel like NPR is right of where center "ought" to be, these days. Then again, so is the Democratic Party. (They're left-er than the Republican Party, but by no means left. I feel like Obama and Clinton are pretty even with Reagan. "Yay, neoliberalism. *waves tiny incredibly tacky flag*")

(Which, of course, means that I vote for Democratic candidates unless there's a really compelling alternative. And sadly, I don't consider the platform of the Greens, for example, to be particularly appealing--even if they did run better local candidates. :l)

You beat me to my periodic reminder to Americans that calling the Democrats either 'Liberal' or 'Left Wing' would be considered pretty laughable in most of the world. :)

Could you give me a bit more on that as a noob? I'm assuming you're saying that the current version of a Democrat that people call liberal is still fairly conservative in comparison to many other places in the world?

If you are looking for a pretty clearheaded analysis of the horserace, I suggest fivethirtyeight. They don't do a lot of editorializing and their strict adherence to the law of large numbers has consistently given them an edge predicting races better than anyone else out there.

http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/...

Asterith wrote:

Could you give me a bit more on that as a noob? I'm assuming you're saying that the current version of a Democrat that people call liberal is still fairly conservative in comparison to many other places in the world?

Got it in one. The Democrats post Carter are pretty much center-right from a global perspective. While they do, to their credit, have a lot of Leftist policies as long as they subscribe to Neoliberal* economic policies they can't be truly 'Liberal.'

*confusingly, 'Neoliberal' isn't liberal. It's a conservative economic policy all about the liberalising/deregulating of the economy.

And yet, compared to Republicans, Democrats are raging liberals. Kind of nit-picky to compare to other countries when we're talking about a US election...

Suggestion: since you're talking very specifically United States elections, put a "US" up there in the thread title.

And am I understanding correctly, the reason there's no third candidate is purely that nothing else can come close to the momentum of the existing two parties? Or are there rules keeping other candidates out?

There are rules that make things a lot more difficult for third parties, but the real problem is the first past the post voting system that makes the two parties the natural equilibrium point.

Robear wrote:

And yet, compared to Republicans, Democrats are raging liberals. Kind of nit-picky to compare to other countries when we're talking about a US election...

I don't know. I think the perspective can be useful for a relative newbie, especially when the 'liberal' candidate is very frequently criticised for not being liberal enough by American pundits.

Mermaidpirate wrote:

And am I understanding correctly, the reason there's no third candidate is purely that nothing else can come close to the momentum of the existing two parties? Or are there rules keeping other candidates out?

One thing that frequently gets missed is that there's really no such thing as a 'conscience vote' in the US because they're basically all conscience votes. You can be part of one of the two major parties yet vote against your party a lot of the time. So there's less pressure to form your own party in the first place.

Over in the "what's Trump done now" thread, Zona posted a link to Trump's page to sign up to be an Election Observer. Krev82 asked:

krev82 wrote:

Wait, what is an 'election observer'? Isn't the voting process private? are the observers the counters? if so I would think having non-partisan ones would be more ideal.

(A couple of other people responded as well, and I wrote:)

This is how it works in my county in New York State:

Election watchers are perfectly fine. They are allowed to come to the polling places, register with the election inspectors, who keep a list of which politicians and poll watchers come to the polls. The watchers can ask who has come to cast their vote, or challenge identity/residency. The ballots themselves are private.

Ballot counting is done by machine (mostly). Write-in votes, absentee ballots, and votes by affidavit are processed by a bipartisan group at the board of elections / town hall in each voting district.

The only situation where a second party will see a ballot while it is being cast is if the voter asks for assistance. They can ask a friend/neighbor/relative to assist, in which case that person must swear/affirm that they will not attempt to influence the vote; or they can ask the election inspectors to assist, in which case both a Republican and Democrat election inspector will assist together (they will have sworn/affirmed not to attempt to influence the vote before the polls open).

(Cross posted from the Trump thread.)

edit: I speel goodly.

Thanks for the helpful replies. Sounds like you could benefit from a preference system.

Thanks for bringing that over from the other thread Katy!

Max Temkin posted a link to an article on Twitter that I thought was rather interesting. It looks at two books recently published that talk about poor white people and why a lot of them are flocking to Trump. Based on some of the conversation that started this thread, I thought it was interesting.

https://www.propublica.org/article/w...

edit: eh, maybe more 201 than 101 for this thread.

Mermaidpirate wrote:

Thanks for the helpful replies. Sounds like you could benefit from a preference system.

Probably. As it stands though the whole system is almost perfectly calibrated to result in two parties. Short of a constitutional amendment I'm not sure what you could do about that when it comes to the presidency. Congress could possibly make The House at least something closer to a preference system, but I'm not holding my breath for now.

Partly this outcome is the result of the founders not anticipating political parties. One of the many ways I think of the U.S system as being Representative Democracy Beta V.02.

Zona wrote:
Mermaidpirate wrote:

Thanks for the helpful replies. Sounds like you could benefit from a preference system.

Probably. As it stands though the whole system is almost perfectly calibrated to result in two parties. Short of a constitutional amendment I'm not sure what you could do about that when it comes to the presidency. Congress could possibly make The House at least something closer to a preference system, but I'm not holding my breath for now.

Expecting the two parties to weaken the two-party system... yeah, not going to happen.

Zona wrote:

Partly this outcome is the result of the founders not anticipating political parties. One of the many ways I think of the U.S system as being Representative Democracy Beta V.02.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

- JOHN ADAMS, letter to Jonathan Jackson, October 2, 1789

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

- GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

The founders were extremely aware of the dangers of political parties - on all sides. They were children and students of the British system, which had already had political parties clinging to it like barnacles for a hundred years at the time of the American revolution. Unfortunately, their attempts at controlling political parties failed. Indeed, in any political system that permits relatively free association it is nearly impossible to prevent the creation of political parties - they are, after all, private entities.

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
- James Madison, The Federalist #10, November 22, 1787

The tendency of electoral systems like the U.S system - "first past the post" - to be dominated by two major parties is explained by Duverger's Law. Note, however, that the law does not address turbulence. Historically, there have been two major shifts in American politics: the dissolution of the Whigs and the rise of the Republicans after the Civil War, and the bizarre Republican / Democrat swap that occurred roughly during the middle of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, they were not able to convince the States to change the system in the Constitution, so... I don't think Originalism helps here, since if they really *were* very aware of the dangers, a majority were happy with it, or we'd have a different system. Madison and Washington signed it; John Adams did not, but was a member of the Federalist party all his (American) political career. Likewise, Madison was a Democratic-Republican. Washington was the only President of the time to eschew party membership at all.

Note also that at the time of the Constitutional debates, and continuing afterwards, there were indeed two parties holding the majority of American politicians. There were many, many compromises and awkward agreements between delegations that led to the content of US Constitution. Bear in mind that the Federalists aligned with the Tories in believing that the Executive branch should be more powerful than the other two, while the Democratic-Republicans believed in the primacy of the Congress. (There was no party that pushed the Judicial branch over the others, and it nearly withered into irrelevance as a result.) So the party differences actually *informed* the Constitutional debates as well as the elections of Presidents and Congress after Washington. It's inaccurate to imply that the Constitution was written without party factions and to imply that they arose in spite of efforts to stop them.

Edit - It's worth remembering that the entire movement to write a new Constitution instead of fix the Articles of Confederation was put together by the Federalists, whose papers on the topic we have, and who were a named and organized group put together for the purpose of defining the political system of the country. As far as I know, they had not intent of disbanding after the Constitutional Convention. Likewise, opposition coalesced around a different group of people; another party, and they stuck to many of their positions moving forwards, many ending up in the Democratic-Republican party.

It's *really* hard to argue that political parties are not the natural result of aligned interests in individuals.

Demosthenes wrote:

To clarify, I wasn't trying to say, it's just a joke. That wasn't my defense or anything, just noting the origin of the quote (which was from Colbert's presentation at a White House correspondent's dinner)... but as a reference to NPR being pretty balanced as a national news source. They're liberal, yes, but not nearly as liberal as many conservative commentators make them out to be.

I maintain that a decent chunk of the implied bias is usually because of the perception (which I'd actually agree with) that outside of their news/politics stuff... they tend to be very artsy and somewhat outside the mainstream.

IMAGE(http://blogs-images.forbes.com/jeffbercovici/files/2011/03/twitter-politics-full-chart.png)

I am confused. I see certain Fox commentators but I don't see the network as a whole. However I do see MSNBC, NBC, NPR, etc. as a whole. I guess I also don't see CNN as a whole.

I don't understand what the cut off was between a whole network and individual commentators.

farley3k wrote:
Demosthenes wrote:

To clarify, I wasn't trying to say, it's just a joke. That wasn't my defense or anything, just noting the origin of the quote (which was from Colbert's presentation at a White House correspondent's dinner)... but as a reference to NPR being pretty balanced as a national news source. They're liberal, yes, but not nearly as liberal as many conservative commentators make them out to be.

I maintain that a decent chunk of the implied bias is usually because of the perception (which I'd actually agree with) that outside of their news/politics stuff... they tend to be very artsy and somewhat outside the mainstream.

IMAGE(http://blogs-images.forbes.com/jeffbercovici/files/2011/03/twitter-politics-full-chart.png)

I am confused. I see certain Fox commentators but I don't see the network as a whole. However I do see MSNBC, NBC, NPR, etc. as a whole. I guess I also don't see CNN as a whole.

I don't understand what the cut off was between a whole network and individual commentators.

They're twitter accounts. It's explained in the article (from 2011, btw) that some are too broad to infer where they lean.

Ok, new question! What happens when the election is over? Assuming Clinton gets into office and Trump fails in his bid, I don't see Trump going off quietly. I think I read here on GWJ that someone said if Trump gets into office, he's going to cause World War III, if not, he's going to cause the next civil war. While I think that's an exaggeration, I'm not confident that he, and his minions, are just going to ride off into the sunset. Any thoughts?

Asterith wrote:

Ok, new question! What happens when the election is over? Assuming Clinton gets into office and Trump fails in his bid, I don't see Trump going off quietly. I think I read here on GWJ that someone said if Trump gets into office, he's going to cause World War III, if not, he's going to cause the next civil war. While I think that's an exaggeration, I'm not confident that he, and his minions, are just going to ride off into the sunset. Any thoughts?

This wouldn't be the first time a populist candidate that stirred up hate got defeated and disappeared into political obscurity (Look up Goldwater). And Trump himself has hinted at taking a long, relaxing vacation once this is all over in tacit acceptance of the inevitability that he will lose.

The optimist in me sees precedence for a Clinton victory in the George H. W. Bush victory in 1988. As I alluded above, he was pretty unenthusiastically embraced by the Right as the default candidate after 8 years of Reagan and faced by a very weak Democratic challenger. He was ideologically unreliable (author of the term "voodoo economics") and insufficiently religious (not a bible banging evangelical). His sensibilities were woo Northeast and "Rockefeller" for many in the party and his support among core conservatives was seen more as a rejection of Dukakis' liberalism than any enthusiasm for him.

Bush 41 turned out to be a fantastic foreign policy president whose penchant for the details and qualifications for office nearly mirror those of Secretary Clinton. In the end though, the party turned its back on him because he didn't tack far enough to the asinine Right. His raising of taxes, for instance, and his downsizing of the military put us on the path to fiscal responsibility that was continued under the William Clinton administration.

In interesting contrast, the Democratic Party tacked to the political center and effectively abandoned much of the liberalism that made folks like Dukakis unelectable. Clinton's embrace of trade, for instance, made it very difficult to paint the party as anti business.

If the GOP is to make similar use of their 12 year time in the political wilderness, they will likely need to abandon their rhetorical center of white identity. If anything has shown that that is played out, it should be the fact that Trump's power horning of what has traditionally been successful dog whistling is a measurable drag on not only his, but state and local contests. The demographics have and will continue to change in a manner that disadvantages such talk and policy.

I suspect you will see a lot more of the sort of thing you saw with Rick Perry's speech at ALEC last month and folks trying to really make the platform relevant to non whites in sincere ways. It will come off as comical at first and may take years to gain traction, but I suspect you will see a very different GOP in 2020. Hopefully, it will be less about "winning" and more about introducing ideas that can make a meaningful difference for Americans.

Paleocon wrote:

I suspect you will see a lot more of the sort of thing you saw with Rick Perry's speech at ALEC last month and folks trying to really make the platform relevant to non whites in sincere ways. It will come off as comical at first and may take years to gain traction, but I suspect you will see a very different GOP in 2020. Hopefully, it will be less about "winning" and more about introducing ideas that can make a meaningful difference for Americans.

The GOP has turned its particular brand of identity-over-facts ideology into a media profit center, so not only do we have to wait until its consumers die off, but we have to somehow make sure another generation is not inculcated with the same propaganda. I'm not optimistic that this can be done without breaking the media behind it.

As long as the message is profitable, it will flourish.

Robear wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

I suspect you will see a lot more of the sort of thing you saw with Rick Perry's speech at ALEC last month and folks trying to really make the platform relevant to non whites in sincere ways. It will come off as comical at first and may take years to gain traction, but I suspect you will see a very different GOP in 2020. Hopefully, it will be less about "winning" and more about introducing ideas that can make a meaningful difference for Americans.

The GOP has turned its particular brand of identity-over-facts ideology into a media profit center, so not only do we have to wait until its consumers die off, but we have to somehow make sure another generation is not inculcated with the same propaganda. I'm not optimistic that this can be done without breaking the media behind it.

As long as the message is profitable, it will flourish.

Yup.

And the problem is, as their 2012 autopsy pointed out, the GOP doesn't have control over conservative media anymore. The days of the GOP leadership telling Fox News how to cover something are long gone.

Instead, the GOP has become the tail that is wagged by conservative media. Media personalities like Hannity are far more likely to be telling Republican voters what's important and what the "real" conservative position on a topic is than the GOP itself. And those media personalities aren't accountable to anyone but the Nielsen ratings, which means they'll continue to tell their viewers/listeners exactly what they want to hear.

It will be very interesting to see how the GOP tries to wean its voters off of conservative media, especially since they've been telling them for 40+ years that the MSM are a bunch of liberal liars.