Fair political polling is a statistical balancing act

Fair political polling is a statistical balancing act

Recent history has demonstrated the risks of polling with a non-representative, unweighted or poorly weighted sample.In 2014, several pollsters incorrectly forecast outcomes for key elections: the U.S. midterm for the Democrats (Republicans won most…

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The ‘pussyhats’ (and other things) make protests fun — which keeps people coming back

The ‘pussyhats’ (and other things) make protests fun — which keeps people coming back

The ‘pussyhats’ (and other things) make protests fun — which keeps people coming back

Groups gather for the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Donald Trump’s inauguration has brought with it a wave of protest and activism. Much is being written on who is involved, how and why, and what they’re achieving . Commentators from the left , right  and in between have weighed in on what protesters ought to be doing differently.

But one important characteristic of protest has so far been overlooked: Protesting can be pleasurable.

Generally, more citizens  choose easier ways to be involved politically: voting, contacting elected officials, signing petitions and so on. Those who take their grievances to the streets generally have a wide range of motivations , according to scholars, including a perceived crisis, an unexpected event, a desire to visibly express popular dissent , a fear of material or status loss  and resentment .

But movements often find it hard to attract enough participants to be noticed and make a difference. Most people find street marches, demonstrations, confrontations with police or government officials and civil disobedience to be intimidating.

So how do we account for the record-breaking and enthusiastic turnout for recent anti-Trump actions? Many people clearly feel the Trump administration presents an acute threat. But another major factor that can move them from the couch to the streets is the tangible pleasure people can feel from acting publicly and collectively to try change something.

The pleasures of protest were visible at the post-inaugural women’s marches, beginning with the pink knit “pussyhats.” Started as a craft project by Los Angelean Krista Suh and friends, the hats echoed the “pussy grabs back” slogan used by women objecting to candidate Trump’s derogatory comments last fall about grabbing women.

The handcrafted head coverings emerged en masse  and became instantly iconic. Clearly, people enjoyed wearing them. The fun was amplified by the variety of handmade signs protesters brought, with jabs like “You’re so vain, you probably think this march is about you” and “A woman’s place is in the resistance.” A pleasurable aspect of protest is having a space to defiantly “talk back” to political adversaries.

The women’s marches built on feminists’ long history of employing pleasure and play as movement tactics. Consider the women’s liberation movement. This radical spinoff of the New Left student movements of the 1960s catapulted itself into public consciousness in the summer of 1968 when it staged a protest of the Miss America pageant on the Atlantic City boardwalk. To highlight the pageant’s sexism, activists crowned a live sheep and tossed bras, false eyelashes and other “instruments of female torture” into a “freedom trash can .” (That’s the source of the feminist “bra-burning” myth , though no lingerie was actually burned.) Inside the pageant, as the outgoing Miss America delivered her farewell address, activists unfurled a bedsheet with “Women’s Liberation” scrawled across it. This early and impish “women’s lib” action made the movement’s radical challenge to the gendered order seem less threatening, even fun, and attracted others to the cause.

Later, in 1971, women’s liberationists again displayed their playful side in a rhetorical faceoff with literary titan and outspoken anti-feminist Norman Mailer in New York’s Town Hall. Amid a buttoned-up crowd of New York literati, Village Voice columnist Jill Johnston delivered an outrageous speech declaring that all women are lesbians — then rolled around on the floor groping, kissing and getting generally freaky with two other women who rushed the stage. This impromptu lesbian “love-in” delighted the audience. Mailer, missing the joke at his expense, rebuked the feminists for lacking a sense of humor.

This spirit of humor, pleasure and play continues in contemporary feminist activism. Take the SlutWalk movement , for example. In addition to protesting rape culture, slut-shaming and victim blaming, SlutWalk marches are a kind of feminist Halloween. During a typical march, activists of all shapes, shades and ages can dress up in their favorite slutty attire — corsets, fishnets, vinyl panties, you name it — and get a taste of the freedom they long for in a world without rape.

The gay liberation movement provides another trove of examples. The movement’s signature event, the Pride march, is also a parade featuring drag-queen kicklines, campy color guards and leather-clad “Dykes on Bikes.” In addition to making a bold political statement — “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” – these annual events also provide much-needed oases of sensuality and freedom for the LGBTQ community and its allies.

Protest movements are fueled by more than fear and righteous indignation. They bring together like-minded comrades and give them a chance to show off their creativity, express emotions, share a singular and powerful experience, and push back together against a resisting but malleable world. Protests can be enlivening, empowering and even fun. They can forge solidarities, communities and friendships that make the more arduous and tedious aspects of political activism bearable.

Of course, what constitutes pleasurable protest is always a matter of perspective. And the tactics of one movement can inform those of its adversaries, in a movement-countermovement call and response. The sexual boldness of the women’s and LGBTQ movements certainly stoked conservatives’ fears of a loss of a cherished moral order. Since the 1980s, the Christian Right has, in turn, channeled such fears into political engagement. Tactics like pro-life street politics or blocking gay rights at the ballot box have their own logics of pleasure for participants fighting against cultural change.

In the Obama era, tea partiers reveled in defiant displays of guns, paramilitary costumes  and anti-Obama posters that some argued  were racist. (The racism of the tea party has been debated .) Movement participants may have felt this was all in good fun, but some onlookers were frightened.

In 2016, Donald Trump’s campaign rallies had a carnivalesque atmosphere, as participants paraded their anti-Hillary paraphernalia and iconic red hats before the cameras. Who could deny the vicarious thrill many Trump supporters receive from watching the president flout well-established norms and thumb his nose at “political correctness” and the mainstream media ?

As both Trump’s rise and the resistance to it show, at their most effective, pleasurable and playful politics can bring together and energize individuals and groups, enabling them to settle in for the long haul.

Lorna Bracewell is assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Kearney. 

Nancy D. Wadsworth is associate professor of political science at the University of Denver. 

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Under Trump, Obamacare’s Medicaid enrollments may actually go up

Under Trump, Obamacare’s Medicaid enrollments may actually go up

Under Trump, Obamacare’s Medicaid enrollments may actually go up

A woman holding an Obamacare sign in front of a medical center in Miami on Nov. 27, 2016. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the biggest early surprises under the Trump administration is that the long-standing Republican campaign against Obamacare seems to be shifting from “demolish it” to “fix it .” House Republicans and conservative activists remain focused on substantially rolling back the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the Senate’s 52-seat Republican majority is split. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is bringing together a group opposed to a quick repeal, and Democrats are unified enough to stop Senate Republicans from overriding a filibuster.

Much of the media coverage and public political battle has focused on regulations and subsidies that impact middle America and those with coverage. The program targeted at the poor — Medicaid —has received less attention but demands more.

For now, it looks as if the Republican Congress will end up leaving the structure of Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid program intact and that Tom Price — President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — will use his administrative powers to grant states greater discretion in running their Medicaid programs.

Our research has analyzed state Medicaid expansion and enrollment since the ACA’s passage and suggests that increased state discretion over Medicaid is likely to invite a new wave of Medicaid expansion in red states. The partisan obstacles to red states during the Obama presidency will likely ease as congressional Republicans put their fingerprints on reform. Economic circumstances and administrative muscle will guide state decisions and enrollment. We explain below.

Here’s the background.

Unlike social insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid is designed for people who are poor —even though more than  20 percent  of its beneficiaries were middle class for most of their lives before being impoverished when they entered in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. Federal funds pay the lion’s share of its costs.

Before 2010, all states were free to set rules on eligibility and other limitations. In many Southern states, those rules barred all but the destitute. The ACA toppled state control by setting a national standard for eligibility: All individuals living below 138 percent of the federal poverty line ($24,300 for a family of 4 in 2016 ) were made eligible for health benefits. The federal government pays 90 percent of the costs for the new coverage; states pay the remainder.

While the original ACA legislation pressured states to adopt the new expansion under the threat of losing their existing Medicaid funding, the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in NFIB v. Sebelius granted states the ability to decide whether to adopt the program without this threat. Governors in 19 states — all Republican — refused to expand the program. But the 31 states that adopted the new benefits lowered the percentage of residents who were uninsured ; decreased the costs that health care providers previously paid for treating the uninsured by reducing the size of the uninsured population; and reduced the burden on state budgets with increased federal funding.

Congressional Republicans continue to introduce proposals to reduce Medicaid or deliver it as a block grant to states, which will lose value over time. However, that looks less and less likely to succeed. Sixteen Republican governors accepted the Medicaid expansion, and eight are facing reelection in 2018 —and they’re pressuring Congress to leave Medicaid as is. That’s because the added Medicaid funding has helped state budgets while enabling those states to insure an additional 12 million people, thereby reducing the amount of unpaid medical services those states have to underwrite.

However, the Trump administration will probably loosen the rules under which states administer Medicaid —giving them greater discretion than they had under President Barack Obama. We can expect Republican-run states to introduce conservative proposals, such as requiring recipients to work or to pay a fee for coverage.

What will happen moving forward?

Our research projects two patterns.

1) Republican-led states will accept the Medicaid expansion —and reduce the number of uninsured.

Without the partisan resistance that drove many Republican governors to oppose Obama and his signature policy achievement, many Republican states will see the Trump administration’s revised program as an opportunity they can’t pass up. The figure below shows that Texas, Florida and Georgia have the most new enrollees to gain if they adopt a revised Medicaid program. If Congress doesn’t significantly reduce the benefit levels, those three states alone could extend Medicaid to cover nearly 1.46 million people who are currently uninsured.

States with the most to gain from Medicaid expansion. Data on the Medicaid gap obtained from The Kaiser Family Foundation.

2) Factors that make a difference in how many new Medicaid recipients a state can enroll

All this will probably open up a race among states for enrollment. Our research pinpoints why some states are more successful at enrolling eligible individuals into expanded Medicaid programs than others.

As you can see in the figure below, a group of states increased Medicaid enrollment after the ACA by quite a bit relative to the size of their Medicaid populations before the ACA. Other states showed very little change.

Our research found several factors that led states to enroll more or fewer new Medicaid recipients. Unemployment was a positive and significant predictor of higher enrollment, indicative of the strong connection between state economic circumstances and the size of this health program for the poor.

More important, we find that states are prone to enroll more Medicaid recipients if they invest in the administrative muscle needed to implement the Medicaid expansion. Strong administrative capacity allows states to better identify and enroll those at or below the new eligibility threshold and to reduce the size of their uninsured population.

State leaders and laggards in Medicaid enrollment since ACA passage.


In sum, while we expect Congress and the Trump administration to largely leave Medicaid alone in their efforts at repeal and replace, minor changes that provide states greater administrative discretion over the program seem likely. As a result, we expect more Republican states to sign on. Ironically, that means a Republican-controlled government may preside over a significant expansion to the program they originally vowed to replace.

Here’s another irony. Much of Obamacare works through private insurance markets. Its expansion of Medicaid is the exception; that is a genuine “big government” program. Republican reforms appear on track to leave Obamacare’s big government component while rolling back its market reforms.

Timothy Callaghan is an assistant professor in the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Follow him on Twitter @THCallaghan.

Lawrence R. Jacobs is the Mondale Chair for Political Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School and the department of political science at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @larryrjacobs.

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Is the White House ready for these ‘nightmare scenarios’ in U.S. foreign policy?

Is the White House ready for these ‘nightmare scenarios’ in U.S. foreign policy?

Is the White House ready for these 'nightmare scenarios' in U.S. foreign policy?

Sophisticated foreign policy establishments have a purpose. To minimize unforeseen consequences of policies emanating from political leadership, policy experts “game” the implications of policy shifts — an analytic exercise involving the imagining of low-probability scenarios that could potentially produce dangerous outcomes.

With a fully staffed foreign policy team still in formation, here we do the stuff of policy analytics, mapping out “nightmare” scenarios that are hypothetical consequences of two of President Trump’s foreign policy orientations: 1) deriding Mexico as an exporter of riffraff and as a country subsidized by NAFTA-protected consumer goods , and 2) recognition of Russia as a valued international partner , especially in the war on terrorism.

In each of our nightmare scenarios, we consider how Russian President Vladimir Putin might take advantage of events in other countries to undermine the cornerstone alliance of U.S. international security: NATO, the North American Treaty Organization.

We assume that Putin dreams of a reconstituted great power with a sphere of influence among the former Soviet states and allies. Putin has long opposed NATO’s expansion into Russia’s back yard, explicitly affirming that “the expansion of military alliances ” threatens Russia’s borders. In Putin’s view, NATO’s inclusion of former Soviet bloc nations such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic — as well as former Soviet republics such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — challenges Russia’s interests.

Donald Trump’s orientation toward Mexico and NATO brings several realistic opportunities for Putin to pursue his goal of neutralizing the perceived threat of an expanding West and regaining Soviet glory. Such opportunities for Russia, however, are threats to U.S. interests. Rather than leave these potential threats abstract, we’ve mapped out two resulting scenarios, which need to be considered as the costs and benefits of turning orientations into policy are calculated.

Nightmare Scenario #1: Neutering NATO with a new Cuban-style missile crisis

In this scenario, the struggling Mexican economy sets the stage for anti-U.S. sentiment among the Mexican electorate, and carries the left to victory in Mexico’s 2018 elections. The election of Trump brought the Mexican economy into crisis, with a sharp drop in the peso after the U.S. election. Mexico’s economic woes further hurt the chances of the unpopular party in power (the PRI ) maintaining the presidency.

Enter Putin.

In November, Putin signed a security agreement with President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua — an old Soviet ally during the Cold War. Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration was concerned that such an alliance might lead to other alliances to the north, including Mexico . The great fear was that the Soviet Union could claim a presence on the U.S. border .

It’s not obvious which of the remaining parties will win Mexico’s 2018 presidential race — right-wing PAN , left-wing PRD  or the new left-wing MORENA party. A PRD victory could open the door for Mexico to enter into a security agreement with Russia, similar to the one Putin recently signed with Nicaragua.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador , who formerly ran for president for the PRD and now leads MORENA, announced in the 2012 presidential race that he would reject U.S. intelligence, arms and money to deal with drug trafficking. On Feb. 12 of this year, López Obrador blasted Trump’s immigration policies and the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling for a formal complaint to the United Nations of human rights violations.

Given the anti-Mexican rhetoric coming from Washington, it’s not a wide stretch to imagine López Obrador or a similar candidate seeking to fill the gap of lost U.S. aid with aid from Russia. This aid would only heighten tensions between Mexico and the United States, which could lead Mexico to consider a security agreement with Russia.

A security pact with Mexico would give Putin considerable leverage over U.S. NATO policy. Putin could promise to match in Mexico any defensive missiles that NATO has in place in former Warsaw Pact countries.

A Russian-Mexican defensive pact could essentially neuter any plans for U.S. defensive missiles in the NATO countries of Eastern Europe. A weakened NATO could set the stage for more aggressive actions by Russia toward its neighbors. But there’s a bigger nightmare. Russian implementation of such a pact could line up another direct nuclear confrontation — like those tense 13 days in October 1962.

Nightmare Scenario #2: Testing NATO Resolve

The key to the NATO agreement is Article 5, the principle of collective defense . An attack against one NATO ally is considered an attack against all allies. NATO exercises planned during the Obama administration are taking place at the Estonian/Russian border to demonstrate NATO solidarity. But Trump, in his public remarks , has made the commitment to collective defense ambiguous. Might Putin take this ambiguity as an invitation to test NATO’s resolve?

Here’s how this scenario plays out. Along lines suggested by journalist Uri Friedman in his interview with former NATO officer Richard Shirreff, suppose Putin sends out another handful of “little green men ” — the nickname for the Russians deployed to Ukraine in 2014. This time, they head across the Narva River in the west of St. Petersburg oblast, into the town of Narva.

The majority of the population in this northeastern-most Estonian town is of Russian origin. They have integrated well into Estonian society and nearly all secondary students there are now studying in Estonian, a language in which their parents (born in Soviet Estonia) were mute.

Indeed, surveys reveal that local Russians largely disagree with Russian troops going into Estonia for the “protection of their compatriots.” Nonetheless, due to historical, geographical, media and linguistic connections, these Russian-Estonians have latent sympathies with the Russian Federation.

Suppose Putin’s little green men create violent incidents in confrontations with the 5 percent of Narva’s population that has Estonian cultural roots. Suppose further (perhaps due to the instructions provided to Putin’s undercover agents) several young Russian Estonians are killed.

Would that justify Putin’s use of the language of the U.N.’s Responsibility to Protect  principles to send his regular troops into a NATO country to “protect” the Russian-Estonians from further violence? Would the local population stand firm as Estonians?

More important, would NATO respond in full force in a land war against Russia to protect Estonia’s territorial sovereignty? If not, well, NATO would essentially be obsolete, and NATO’s collective security commitment would fall into desuetude. This would be a historic victory for Putin.

These two scenarios map out the ways in which Trump’s anti-Mexican and anti-NATO statements have opened new potential avenues for Putin to achieve his goals at the expense of Western security.

David D. Laitin is the Watkins Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and co-author of  “Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-heritage Societies .”

James Raymond Vreeland is a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and co-author of “The Political Economy of the United Nations Security Council .”

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The Guardian view on equal pay: it’s time it happened | Editorial

The Guardian view on equal pay: it’s time it happened | Editorial

More than four decades after a law was passed to ensure men and women were paid the same, large differences persist. To end this gender wage gap will need more government action

The danger of using milestones as a metaphor is that we may imagine we are on a steady journey. Progress is rarely so predictable. It can take much longer than one might imagine to get from one marker to the next. More than four decades after the Equal Pay Act came into force, women are still earning 18.1% less than men across full- and part-time work. The gap between full-time employees is 9.4%. On current trends it will take another 24 years to close the gap, according to PwC ; others believe it will take much longer. Analysis has suggested that if every other relevant factor is controlled for – from race to hours worked to seniority – women earn 5.07% less than men for like-for-like work. Part of the decrease in recent years is, depressingly, down to more young men moving into low-paid work. Economics make up one part of the picture for women. Political power constitutes another. In 1975, when the act came into force, Margaret Thatcher became the first female leader of a major British party. Now the UK has its second female prime minister and many more women in senior positions across major institutions; one could soon be running the Metropolitan police. Several run or lead local authorities. Yet this week’s “northern powerhouse” conference includes only 13 women among the 98 speakers, and organisers did not bother to include any of them in the press release listing 15 influential speakers – despite the region’s many influential women.

There is a temptation to present the question of female representation as a distraction from the real business of supporting the lowest-paid. But this is a false choice. The point is simply that no woman, be she a childcare assistant or a chief executive, should receive less pay or respect because of her gender. Representation does not guarantee better treatment, but women are unlikely to get it without women at the table. What ties these issues is the question of what and whom we value. We downplay the complex or demanding nature of work primarily done by women . We judge a man more authoritative or qualified than a female candidate with the same CV . We choose to put some leaders on a stage, but not others. Urging women to speak up, lean in and push for higher salaries is of limited usefulness when they are more likely than men to be punished for the request .

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