Monthly Archives: January 2016

The election reforms that could heal American democracy

Since America’s founding, the franchise has been dramatically expanded in waves: first, universal suffrage for all men (first, through the abolition of property ownership requirements for white men, then the 15th Amendment) then the expansion of suffrage to women and finally the Voting Rights Act, which abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the franchise is still under fire, from racially biased voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement, as well as our complex registration system. Automatic voter registration and the abolition of voter ID laws could be part of the next wave of the slow march to true democracy.

Recently, Hillary Clinton called out Republicans for their strategy of suppressing the vote and then called for automatic voting registration. While many pundits quickly chalked this up to an attempt to revive “the Obama coalition,” in fact, Clinton has been pushing for democracy reforms since before “the Obama coalition” existed. In 2005 she and Senator Barbara Boxer put forward the “Count Every Vote Act.” The law would have made same-day registration the law of the land, expanded early voting and made election day a holiday. In addition, Clinton has been fighting against felon disenfranchisement, though Rand Paul, who has a penchant for receiving praise for things he hasn’t done, has recently been garnering credit for his talk on the subject.

These three reforms — automatic voter registration, an end to voter ID, and an end to felon disenfranchisement — are hugely important. (Clinton also pushed for an expansion of early voting and making election day a holiday, no doubt significant reforms in themselves.) A new study by Michael McDonald, Enrijeta Shino and Daniel Smith suggests that reforms that make voting easier (like early voting) increase turnout, while those that make it more difficult (like voter ID laws) decrease turnout. This is important because there is growing evidence that conservatives are using voter ID laws to suppress low-income and Black voters.

I recently examined the fact that restrictive voting systems were strongly correlated with racial stereotyping. I also found that voter ID laws were correlated with racial resentment. When re-examining the evidence, I found something equally as stunning, between 2010 and 2014 the most racist states were significantly more likely to pass a photo voter ID law. Of the eight photo ID laws that were most strict, meaning that voters without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted, all were in the top half of the racial stereotyping index.

Studies suggest that these laws are passed with partisan intent, and there is evidence that they reduce voter turnout among the poor and people of color, by acting as a de facto poll tax.

Automatic voter registration would add 50 million people to the voting rolls, according to a recent estimate by Michael Waldman, president of theBrennan Center. As my chart below, created using Census data, shows, the beneficiaries will disproportionately be low income people, who are less likely to be registered.

Will these voters turnout to vote? It’s impossible to tell, because automatic voter registration has never been tried (Oregon has passed a law, but it has yet to implemented). However, there are reasons to suspect it would. We know that registration is an impediment to voting, and reduces voter turnout. A study that randomly assigned streets for a registration drive found that streets that were targeted had higher turnout than the control. A recent literature review by elections expert Tova Wang finds laws like same-day registration and motor voter, which made registration far easier, increased turnout, particularly among the poor. Recent research by Elizabeth Rigby and Melanie Springer shows that boosting registration is the most effective way to reduce the class bias of the electorate.

In addition, we know that once people are registered, it becomes more likely they will be mobilized. Election reforms work in tandem with GOTV campaigns and other advocacy actions. In a study of state legislative elections, Peter Francia and Paul S. Herrnson find, “there is a statistically significant and positive interactive effect of campaign spending, party GOTV efforts and Election Day registration on turnout.” That is, a district with high levels of campaign spending and party GOTV efforts and Election Day registration has turnout 11 points higher than a district that has high levels of campaign spending and GOTV but not EDR. Using the ANES, I find a significant mobilization gap between registered and non-registered Americans.

In an investigation of what caused voter turnout to decline between the 1960s and the 1980s, political scientists Steven J. Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen find that a decrease in voter contacting accounts for half of the decline in turnout. The problem is, in the status quo, mobilization is biased by class. In her study of mobilization between the 1956 and 2004 elections, Andrea Louise Campbell finds that “both the Republicans and the Democrats are most likely to contact top income earners.” This was not always the case – the rate at which the Democratic Party reached out to high income voters increased nearly four-fold between 1980 and 2004. In 2004, high income Americans were nearly three times likely to be mobilized by the parties, likely a significant contributor to class bias in turnout, which has dramatically shifted policy in favor of the rich. It’s not just parties that would have more incentive to target voters: labor unions, advocacy organizations and mass participatory groups would have a new pool of Americans to try to win over. Politicians would be forced to pay attention the concerns of the millions of Americans who are currently denied political voice.

Clinton’s stand against felon disenfranchisement is also significant: by reducing turnout among low-income Americans and Blacks, who are disproportionately likely to be caught up in the criminal justice system, it diverts precious resources away from their communities. While it’s unclear whether there will be any action on Clinton’s proposals, it’s clear that their effect on democracy would be profound.

The right wing fears the vote because it knows that voting is power. In 1977, Reagan was horrified by Carter’s push for universal registration, worrying that it would make the Republican party “dead as a the Dodo bird.” Recently Noah Rothman wrote in Commentary, “It will never be popular to oppose extending voting rights to what Daniel Foster calls, perhaps uncharitably, ‘civic idiots,’ but there is something to be said for privileging the informed voter.” His argument is reminiscent of William Buckley’s famous defense of Jim Crow, “The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could. Overwhelming numbers of White people in the South do not vote. Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom… The problem in the South is not how to get the vote for the Negro, but how to equip the Negro-and a great many Whites-to cast an enlightened and responsible vote.”  The language is is changed, but the rhetoric is the same: supremacy before democracy.

The end result of policies that restrict the franchise is to divert political influence away from people of color and low-income people and towards wealthy whites. Eliminating barriers to voting would be nothing less than a transformation of American democracy. That’s why conservatives are so terrified.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

The NYT’s 1 percent problem: Media bias goes much deeper than Fox News vs MSNBC

The media is biased, but not in the way most commentators think. By focusing on whether the media is harder on Republicans or Democrats, we’ve missed a more important bias: toward things that matter to the rich. This bias, by linking the state of the economy to how the rich are performing, ends up benefiting Republican candidates.

Media are subject to a deep availability bias: They write about the things they know and things that interest them and the people who surround them. This ends up giving coverage an upper-class tinge. To take a few examples, consider the longbattle over reclining airplane seats, which garnered three full Upshot stories (withUber getting at least six). Meanwhile, Upshot has done scant, if any, coverage on payday lending, employer credit checks, abusive scheduling, the desperate state of American pensions and the rise in abusive “rent to own” selling. It sounds almost impossible, but Upshot has published more stories on airplane seating than predatory payday lending. This isn’t entirely a critique of the Upshot; it’s delivering content that its readers are interested in. An editor might be hard-pressed to devote large amounts of space, even online, to stories that affect very few of its readers. The result is often stark, however, like the New York Times’ cutting its race beat at a time of deep racial turmoil, while continuing to report on the housing whims of the rich(and the ideal way for them to reduce pesky arm fat).

More concretely, journalists will often use the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500 as shorthand for the state of the economy. This is misleading, however, since the richest 10 percent of Americans control 83 percent of financial assets. Morethan 50 percent of Americans don’t own any stock, and are therefore unaffected by the stock market.

Imagine an alternative universe in which the health of the economy was determined by wage growth for the middle class, rather than the stock portfolios of the wealthy. Further, reporters and wonks tend to rely on unemployment rate, while ignoring the fact that it excludes things like discouraged workers and the underemployed. In addition, the raw unemployment rate obscures deep class and racial divisions in unemployment. For instance, Jesse Myerson and Mychal Denzel Smith write that “teenage black high-school dropouts from poor families” face an unemployment rate of 95 percent. The rate of unemployment for black Americans is regularly doublewhat it is for whites. As Reniqua Allen writes, African-American men are “stuck in a permanent recession.”

Why does this matter for politics? It helps explain a persistent paradox in American politics: the fact that during the postwar period, the economy performs far better under Democrats, but Republicans have managed to hold the presidency more than half of the time. But growth isn’t just faster under Democrats, it’s far more equally distributed between class and race. Under Democrats, incomes for the low-income and middle-class Americans grew dramatically faster than under Republicans.

Political scientist Larry Bartels’ results (above) are striking and they raise a question: Why on earth would low-income and middle-income Americans ever vote for Republicans? Bartels presents three theories. First, what he calls myopia. Upon reexamining the data, Bartels discovered something odd: Most of the Republican income growth happens on the fourth year of a presidential term, while most of the Democratic income growth happens on the first year.

The result is that voters, who remember only their most recent economic experience, end up voting Republican. Second, Bartels finds that Republicans have a distinctive campaign finance advantage, which has helped them win in key elections. He finds that “Every Republican incumbent (or successor) has spent at least slightly more than his Democratic challenger, while every Democratic incumbent (or successor) has spent at least slightly less than his Republican challenger.” A recent study finds that this advantage continues: Citizen’s United boosted Republican chances in state House races by about 4 percentage points overall.

While these two factors are certainly important, the most surprising thing Bartels finds is that low-income and middle-income voters are more sensitive to the income growth of the rich. The effect he finds is impressive. A 1 percent increase in real income growth would increase the vote share of the incumbent party by 2.3 percent, while a similar increase in income for the richest 95 percent would boost the incumbent vote share by 10.2 percent. Together, these factors were powerful enough to swing four postwar elections (1956, 1968, 1980 and 2000)  in favor of the Republican Party (see chart). The chart shows how much higher the Republican vote margin was because of the three factors Bartels observes. Over the full period, the three added, on average, 9.5 points to the Republican popular vote margin. The Republicans also benefit from structural factors, as I’ve noted elsewhere: Majoritarian systems favor right parties, low turnout (particularly in midterms) and some well-placed Supreme Court justices to deliver the closely contested 2000 election.

Republicans benefit from the fact that journalists are loath to seem biased. Even reporting basic facts, like the fact that while Republicans claim to be interested in cutting deficits, the deficits actually rise faster under Republicans, would seem partisan. The result is that the truth about the parties remains widely unknown: A 2014 poll found that Americans trust Republicans to deal with the federal deficit 42 percent to 36 percent. Indeed, despite having presided over higher unemployment, lower GDP growth and higher inflation, Americans consistently say they trust Republicans more with the economy. Pew reports that in 2015, 44 percent of Americans said the Republican Party would do a better job dealing with the economy compared with 41 percent for Democrats. This is striking given that Americans are living through the Obama recovery that directly followed a dramatic recession under Bush. At the same time, 60 percent of Americans say that Democrats care about the middle class, compared with 43 percent for the Republican Party. But research showsthat middle-class economics is far superior to the Republican Party’s “trickle down” economic agenda. As Nixon realized long ago, facts do not matter, only opinions do. And Republicans have successfully goaded, cajoled and manipulated the press so deeply that their flawed economic agenda appears beneficial. But it is merely a facade: Recent research suggests Republicans boost the stock market (benefiting the 1 percent) while Democrats reduce unemployment (helping everyone).

What can be done? First, progressives desperately need to combat the trickle-down narrative. They need to give Americans plausible reasons for why their policies are better for the economy. Middle-class economics is certainly one part. The fact that progressives direct economic growth toward lower unemployment rather than a fatter stock market is another. I’ve outlined 11 reasons why progressive policies grow the economy faster. Progressives need to make an equitable growth narrative central to their campaigns, and deliver on promises to help low-income and middle-class Americans. The progressive agenda of a higher minimum wage, a more robust social safety net, universal paid sick leave and debt-free higher education would bring around many voters.  Second, those who benefit from progressive policies are least likely to turn out to vote, while the wealthy whites who benefit from conservative policies overwhelmingly turn out. Boosting registration and turnout is thus key.

Finally, progressives shouldn’t be afraid of fighting for racial justice. We need an economy that works better for everyone. The progressive agenda can’t just be focused on the white middle class, but it would be absurd to pretend that a policy agenda for racial equity would sacrifice the interests of working-class whites. As I’ve shown, progressive presidents close income gaps between whites and people of color while also benefiting white people. Progressive policies offer a better world for everyone — while conservative policies pit the poor against the rich. Instead of the zero-sum economy conservatives offer, progressives can offer broad-based economic growth that will benefit all Americans.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How the 1 percent is systematically destroying the middle class

The idea of a property-owning democracy has long roots in American political thought. In their book, “The Citizen’s Share,” Joseph R. Blasi, Richard B. Freeman and Douglas Kruse argue that the Founding Fathers wanted everyone (well, everyone who was white and male) to own a small slice of property. Both Madison and Washington praised the relatively equal distribution of property in the United States (compared with Europe). Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.” Indeed, the concept is still popular today, even on the right. James Poulos writes, “Without an ownership society, where citizens are prudent stewards of broadly distributed private property, freedom tends to become what it was in revolutionary France — an abstract ideal that can easily arouse destructive political feelings that know no bounds.” But new data suggests America may no longer be such a society, and that has worrying implications for democracy.

The idea of a property-owning democracy is no longer the reality in the United States. Edward Wolff finds that the wealthiest 10 percent own 90.9 percent of all stocks and mutual funds, 94.3 percent of financial securities but only 26.5 percent of the debt. For the middle class, their home makes up 62.5 percent of their limited wealth. (The bottom 40 percent have negative wealth.) The Gini coefficient for net worth has increased from 0.803 in 1962 to 0.871 in 2013. (By way of comparison: A Gini coefficient of 1 means that 1 person owns all of the wealth.) As the chart below shows, financial instruments and wealth are far more unequally distributed than income.

The United States is no longer more equal than European nations, but actually deeply more unequal. The chart below shows that the United States has the most unequal distribution of the wealth of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member country examined. Across the OECD, the bottom 60 percent own about 13.3 percent of the wealth. (The bottom 40 percent own only 3.3 percent.) In Canada, the bottom 60 percent own 12.5 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 40 percent own 2.2 percent. In France, the respective numbers are 11.6 percent and 1.8 percent. And in Britain, they are 16 percent and 4.7 percent.

In the United States, however, the bottom 60 percent own a mere 2.5 percent of the wealth and the bottom 40% own negative 0.4 percent of the wealth.

As wealth and stock ownership has become more concentrated, good jobs that lead to a middle class lifestyle are increasingly eroded. Unfortunately, not enough people seem to be noticing.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that “apps do your chores” — but the unfortunate reality is that workers, not “apps,” are doing those chores. The workers are called “contractors,” instead of employees, meaning that they don’t get the protections full-time employees do. And examples of exploitation are piling up.

A startup called CrowdFlower Inc. — which, according to WSJ “breaks down digital jobs, such as data entry, into tiny tasks performed by millions of workers” — was recently sued for paying some of those workers between $2 and $3 an hour. Industry leader Uber, meanwhile, has been criticized for exaggerating the wages of its contractors.  This practice is becoming widespread. A recent study finds that 53 million Americans are doing some sort of freelancing work. Of those, 40 percent are full-time independent contractors, meaning they have no other source of income.

The rich are driven by two main desires: First, to make sure they have more money; and, second, that someone else does the work. There is literally no job the rich are not lazy enough to outsource. Because they cannot figure out the location of their post office, they need “Shyp.” With “Luxe,” they can get a person to park their car for them. And with “Saucey,” they can save themselves a trip to the liquor store. In a recent article for  The New Yorker, Patricia Marx describes some of the more absurd tasks that were included on TaskRabbit, including “Lego sorting,” locating “a reptile handler who is in legal possession of a rattlesnake” and finding a fake wedding ring that looks just like a real one.

It is not of insignificant concern that the rich may cease to be capable of performing the basic tasks necessary in the modern economy. The result is something like the dystopia described in the recent science-fiction film “In Time,” except that the rich elongate their lives by making the poor do their mundane tasks.

Robert Kuttner writes of TaskRabbit:

To get an assignment, an aspiring Rabbit offers to do the chore for less money than he or she thinks other prospective Rabbits are bidding. That’s what makes it a metaphor for the new economy, a dystopia where regular careers are vanishing, every worker is a freelancer, every labor transaction is a one-night stand, and we collude with one another to cut our wages.

Together these trends should be worrying: The vast majority of Americans own no assets, but are instead laden with debt. The social safety net is being shredded by plutocrats and their political henchmen. Conservatives say workers should instead get benefits from their (preferably privately owned) employers. But those companies are supporting workers less and less: Defined benefit pensions are a thing of the past, and even basic retirement plans are in decline. And that’s just for those who are lucky enough to have jobs with benefits. Many workers are misclassified, or are never employees to begin with, meaning they must manage for retirement and health insurance without all the benefits the government funnels through the employee-employer relationship.

As Matt Bruenig notes, in the United States,

“employers often handle sickness (health insurance, subsidized by federal government), old-age insurance (401k and defined-benefit pensions, subsidized by federal government), survivor’s insurance (life insurance, subsidized by federal government), family benefits (paid leave and health insurance for children), unemployment (severance, though more typically rely heavily on public unemployment insurance), on top of providing socially adequate levels of cash income.”

That is, government has funneled important social benefits through corporations. This not only makes a corporate job more cushy than otherwise, it also makes freelance work more precarious. Christopher Mims notes that, “Uber isn’t the Uber for rides — it’s the Uber for low-wage jobs.” A large portion of Americans now have two choices: Become servants to the rich for minimal wages, or starve to death. The idea that low-wage work is merely a short-term part of the rung towards a better life is also largely illusory: Upward mobility has been destroyed.

America has fallen into neo-feudalism: A wealthy capital-owning class exists behind a servile class with no assets, and only a life of drudgery ahead of them. The master-servant relationship will only further degrade social trust and civic values. Americans can’t see themselves as equals in the political sphere when large portions are consigned to wait upon the whims of new aristocracy. Conservative politics relies on the middle class making a devil’s bargain, believing they have more in common with the rich than the poor. It won’t be long before that facade crumbles.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

How the prison-industrial complex is corrupting American elections

Voting matters. Though many Americans believe that voting is either useless or merely a civic duty, in reality it carries huge consequences for the decisions of politicians. There is overwhelming evidence that politicians are more responsive to the preferences of voters than non-voters, and that voting affects government policy. These facts have key implications for policies that disenfranchise individuals who would otherwise vote. Indeed, America’s racist voting practices continue to disenfranchise the poor and communities of color, robbing them of billions in public funding.

In a pioneering 2013 study, Elizabeth Cascio and Ebonya Washington examined how the elimination of literacy tests, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, affected the distribution of public spending. They find that removing literacy tests increased per capita state transfers by 0.57 percent for each percentage point increase in the Black population share. This equates to a 16.4 percent relative increase over the 20 year period they studied for the average county, a large difference. They find that a key change was educational spending: removing literacy tests lead to more spending directed at Black students, a better pupil-to-teacher ratio and higher Black school enrollment. This study is supported by other research suggesting that women’s suffrage lead to increased spending on healthcare, which prevented 20,000 child deaths each year. A 2003 study by Paul Martin finds that members of Congress push more funding towards districts with higher voter turnout. The effect he finds is not small. He provides as an example Grant County, which had a population of 30,000 received $18,030,000 in federal grants in 1994. Each percentage point increase in turnout would have boosted spending by $21,420.

Today, literacy tests and poll taxes are banned (though voter ID laws are oftenessentially poll taxes), but states can still disenfranchise felons. Because of race and class disparities in the criminal justice system, the impact of disenfranchisement hits communities of color and low-income communities the hardest.

We would expect, for example, given the studies above, that felon disenfranchisement would reduce spending for communities disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. And a new study by Brice Richard confirms this, finding that the impact of disenfranchisement is profound. Richard finds in particular that an extra percentage point of voter turnout leads to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in per capita spending. The chart below shows that turnout is lower in disenfranchising states, and that state to county transfers are also lower.

By exploiting the differences in disenfranchisement across states, he finds that disenfranchisement may have reduced public spending by as much as 18 percent. The total impact of disenfranchisement is $1.8 billion in public goods that otherwise would have flowed towards high poverty communities and those with large Black populations. The impact is particularly strong regarding education spending; Richard estimates that each child in a disenfranchising state lost out on $640 in educational spending, with the impact concentrated on Black students. As the chart below shows, transfers to Black communities and poor communities is far lower in disenfranchising states than non-disenfranchising states.

One possible reason why the effects of disenfranchisement are so powerful is that voting tends to become a social norm. Voting correlates with other civic behaviors. Being socialized in a community where voting is the norm increases an individual’s propensity to turnout. Indeed, in households where parents vote, children are more likely to. If a household receives a get-out-the-vote message, the member of the household that does not answer the door is more likely to vote than otherwise. Disenfranchisement then, will reduce the social norm for voting, potentially having effects beyond only the individual who is disenfranchised.

Disenfranchisement is not the only mechanism working against the Black vote. In another study, four political scientists showed how premature death among the black community robs them of important political clout. They find that premature death led to 1 million fewer Black votes in 2004, and while this wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the Presidential election, it would have affected state-level races. This premature death is the legacy of white supremacy and racism. In addition, Nathan Cohn has found that the legacy of Jim Crow has continued: African-Americans who were disenfranchised before the Voting Rights Act make up a smaller share of the electorate than younger African-Americans.

In a recent analysis, I found a strong correlation between the level of racial stereotyping in a state and the likelihood of the state having a voter ID law. I also found a correlation between racism and the openness of the voting system. I’ve also shown that ease of access is correlated with turnout, which isn’t surprising: numerous studies suggest that policies like same-day registration boost turnout. The impact is obvious: racism suppresses voting, meaning that less government spending goes to communities of color and low-income communities.

Many disenfranchised felons face a second blow: prison-based gerrymandering. In this practice, prisoners (who can’t vote) count toward the population of the area where they are incarcerated which affects how districts are drawn. Research suggests that when districts are drawn unequally, public funds are distributed unequally. In the wake of Baker v. Carr (which allowed federal courts to intervene in districting to protect the principle of “one person, one vote”), public funding shifted$7 billion towards previously underrepresented counties.

The stark reality of racism in this country is that it serves to undermine democracy. In a famous 2002 study, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza find that felon disenfranchisement has influenced the outcome of numerous Senate races and at least one Presidential election. They estimate that 35 percent of disenfranchised felons would vote in a presidential election, and 20.5% in a midterm election. In the 2014 election, Michael McDonald estimates that 3,445,233 felons were disenfranchised.  Although opposition to felon disenfranchisement has traditionally come from the progressive side (Hillary Clinton has long opposed the practice) some conservatives, like Rand Paul, are starting to join the ranks.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How the bloated miltary budget is a national security threat

The American military budget is massive.

At $610 billion, it dwarfs the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India and Germany (see chart below). Put another way, one third of all military spending the world comes from the United States. The problem is, however, that the American military budget may be crowding out other crucial investments.

As the era of American hegemony winds down, it’s more important than ever for America to be able to demonstrate soft power. That means first, an American model that works, for other countries to emulate. But further, it means a highly educated population, long-term investment in infrastructure, adequate healthcare, an society based, above all else, on opportunity. However, it’s likely that the military budget precludes these important services.

The most important cost of our bloated military budget is investment in other important government functions. As the chart below from CBO shows, defense spending has historically consumed more than half of the entire U.S. government discretionary budget (spending on veterans eats up mandatory spending as well). In 2014, discretionary defense spending was double Medicaid spending, and about equal to Medicare spending.

Given that the U.S. is already a relatively low-spending country, the military only further diminishes our meager  safety net.

The chart below shows that not only does the U.S. spend comparatively less of its GDP on government than other developed countries, military spending (the white/grey bar) takes up far more of it. That means America spends less on general public services, environmental protection and education than otherwise. But these services are key to America’s ability to remain a global leader. Further, it means that American women are more likely to die in childbirth than women in China and our infrastructure pulls down global competitiveness. America spends far less than other rich countries on foreign aid, and dedicatesonly 1 billion dollars, a sliver of its budget to international affairs. In 2011, the Brookings Institution worried, “the United States is following an unfortunate path that other big countries, such as the former Soviet Union, have already taken in history, wasting too many resources and too much national wealth on military expansion, wars, and foreign interference.”

The effect of our outsized budget is felt in other ways. Surplus goods are often sent to local police offices, who end up with grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft and “tank-like armoured vehicles.” Concomitantly, police killings have increased (according to the best data available) and the police have begun to seem like an occupying force. This has a profound effect on trust in civic institutions and the police. As trust in police officers decreases, they find it harder to do their job and the community grows even more skeptical. There’s also the likely possibility that the availability of military force makes it more likely, by making non-military means less attractive.

The current conception of national security is far too limited. As violent deaths from war and terrorism decline, the greater threat to Americans is their failing infrastructure, costly healthcare system and incoherent environmental policy. The Obama White House has warned on numerous occasions that climate change and shoddy infrastructure are a deep threat to American national security. In 2007 a report by numerous high-ranking military leadersfound, “Global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact United States military operations and heighten global tensions.” The Pentagon has been worried that climate change is a national security threat since even earlier, releasing a report in 2003 discussing the implications of global warming. The Department of Homeland Security has consistently warned that aging infrastructure is a national security risk. Worryingly, however, the United States has devoted increasingly less money to infrastructure, and in the future, this will only grow worse. Josh Bivens of EPI finds that every proposed budget in 2013 except the Progressive Caucus budget, would dramatically decrease public investment as a share of GDP.

In addition, our ability to lead by example is threatened by poverty, homeless and rampant inequality. A recent survey found that internally, the view that America’s economy is the leading one has declined dramatically.

The American model looks increasingly unappealing to emerging economies, who have seen the American middle class become less vibrant and more straddled with debt. The New York Times recently reported that the American middle class was no longer the world’s richest.  Matt Bruenig notes thatfurther down the income distribution, America does even worse: the poorest 5th of Americans have less disposable income than those in 14 other countries. Finally, without a highly educated population and an innovative economy, America will no longer be able to exert the soft-power necessary as our hard-power advantage declines. Even Americans are increasingly skeptical of the American model, with a 2012 survey finding that 63% believe the American economic model is broken.

Our bloated defense budget is taking away money that could go to more important things. As I’ve noted, just two years funding for the massive, $1.5 trillion F-35 fighter jet could fund free community college for all students for a decade. Americans need to realize that today, the larger threat they face is their own fear leading them to underinvest in vital services. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously warned, “the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.”

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

Why does the GOP hate college?

In the last week, the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on higher education has become clear. On the one hand, Democrats have begun a sustained push for debt-free higher education. Hillary Clinton will make the issue central to her campaign and both House and Senate Democrats introduced a resolution calling for debt-free higher education. While Democrats see public higher education as a public good that contributes to economic growth and innovation, Republicans see higher education as a consumer good that only the wealthy should enjoy. These two visions will collide in 2016, the vision of everyday Americans and the vision of the plutocrats.

While the proposals are still taking shape, President Obama has already pushed for free community college, and has expanded an income-based repayment program. On the other hand, Republicans have released proposals that would open up higher education funding to massive cuts, particularly programs that give low-income students a shot at the American dream. Republicans have proposedremoving guaranteed funding for Pell Grants, meaning that every year low-income students would worry about getting their legs cut out from under them. Already, Pell Grants have lost a large share of the value, from funding 76 percent of a student’s college costs in 1980 to 30 percent in 2014.

Republicans have called for an end to an Obama program that would prevent a graduate’s monthly student loan bill from exceeding more than 10 percent of their income and offer debt forgiveness after 20 years of repayment. Such a program is standard in other developed countries. After Obama proposed free community college, Republicans were quick to distance themselves from him again there. (John Boehner, for instance, created a page full of Taylor Swift gifs opposing the proposal, for some reason.) The difference in vision couldn’t be clear. On one side is the American vision of an opportunity-based society. On the other side is the plutocratic vision of limited upward mobility and a permanent ruling class. As the chart below shows, the cost of college can cost more than 80 percent of a low-income family’s annual income, compared with only 20 percent for wealthy families. Further public cuts will pull college even further out of reach.

What’s interesting about the Republican agenda, though, is that for a policy so widely shared among party elites, it’s actually deeply unpopular with voters. In agroundbreaking study two years ago, Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright and Larry Bartels examined the preferences of the wealthiest Americans, who are notoriously hard to poll. What they discovered is that the wealthy are strongly opposed to things that average voters support, and that education was one of the deepest chasms (see chart).

Data from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee shows that Americans overwhelmingly support debt-free higher education; but, particularly important, a majority of Republicans (56 percent) even support it.

A recent YouGov poll asked respondents the following: “Do you think it’s a good or a bad idea for the government to pay so that students can attend college for free?” Among those earning less than $40,000 a year, 66 percent said it’s a good idea, compared with 33 percent of those earning more than $80,000 a year. But what’s key is that the middle class ($40,000 to $80,000) overwhelmingly support the lower-income respondents, with 60 percent saying free community college is a good idea.

There are two possible reasons for the rich being out of step with average Americans: The wealthy were far less likely to say they knew someone who wanted to attend college but could not (37 percent of those earning more than $80,000, compared with 56 percent of those earning between $40,000 and $80,000); and they were also less likely to say it’s a good idea to “encourage every high school graduate to attend college” (53 percent compared with 67 percent).

The chart below shows the portion of the YouGov poll dealing specifically with Obama’s community college proposal, which has broad support nationally.

What’s particularly surprising is that 42 percent of Republicans support the plan, even though the question explicitly notes that the proposal was released by Obama. The plan would cost $60 billion over the next decade (or roughly two years’ worth of funding for the F-35 stealth jet — which still cannot fire its gun).

Over the last two decades, an increasingly radical conservative base has pulled the Republican Party out of line with the American people. The rich control the Republican agenda, and they are pulling the party not just to the right of the average voter, but also their own voters. In the 2016 election, progressives need to frequently bring to the forefront of the debate the issues on which they stand firmly with the majority of Americans. Issues like universal childcare, universal paid sick leave and higher minimum wages. The centerpiece should be good jobs and upward mobility. By forcing Republicans to choose between plutocrats and voters, debt-free higher education is crucial to such a campaign.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

Why higher-ed budget cuts are so devastating

Co-written with Demos Senior Policy Analyst Robbie Hiltonsmith.

Over the last decade, states have made massive cuts to higher education, with average state support falling from $9,729 per student in 2001 to $6,815 in 2011. While a large share of the blame for these cuts can be pinned on the financial crisis and subsequent recession, some of the decline is due to a deliberate effort to eviscerate public higher education. For instance, Bobby Jindal plans to savage higher education spending in Louisiana to the tune of $141.3 million, or about 12 percent of the state’s higher education budget, to pay for tax cuts. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker is cutting $300 million over two years, again to pay for reckless tax cuts. Kansas is an even sadder story. Though the state had a large reserve fund in 2012, Governor Sam Brownback quickly depleted it with a massive tax giveaway to the rich. Now he’s cutting K-12 and university funding to the tune of $44.5 million. There’s a good reason our list of governors seeking deep cuts is shaded a uniform red: Both research and history shows that Republican-controlled states are more likely to cut higher education. One study found that when Republicans take over governors mansions they reduce spending on higher education by $0.23 per $1,000 in personal income (a measure of the state’s total tax base). Each 1 percent increase in the number of Republicans in the legislature leads to a $0.05 decrease. Given that theaverage spending on higher education across all states in 2014 was $5.47 per $1,000, the effect is large.

Nationwide, the total impact of these cutbacks is breathtaking. Between 2008 and 2013, states cut a total of $16 billion, adjusted for inflation, from their higher education budgets, even as enrollments rose more than 11 percent. Funding per student dropped even more dramatically, falling by more than 27 percent, or about $2,500 per student. These cutbacks, in turn, have translated nearly 1-to-1 into tuition increases, which averaged nearly $3,000 over the past decade. But the question is not simply deficits, but priorities: Just seven months of funding for the F-35 Fighterwould be enough to fully restore higher education spending across the nation.

A new Demos study estimates that 78 percent of tuition increases at public universities in the past decade can be explained by decreased state spending on higher education (see chart). Commonly cited factors like “administrative bloat,” are far less important, accounting for only 5 percent of the increase in higher education costs.

These state cuts and resulting skyrocketing tuition prices are incredibly worrying for upward mobility in America, because they’ve forced young people seeking a college education to borrow unprecedented amounts just to earn a degree. Low-income students and students of color leave college with more debt than wealthy white students (see chart), and they bear the brunt of austerity.

Public universities and community colleges are important, because the top tier of private universities are very exclusionary, and few poor and middle class students are admitted. Further state cuts to higher education will create a world where only some, mostly wealthy Americans have a shot to better their life by completing higher education.

It’s not just progressives making this point; recently, Standard & Poor’s argued that inequality was slowing growth by reducing college graduation rates among low-income people, likely in part due to the effects of the debt necessary to finance low-income students’ educations. The analysts suggested that a way to bolster upward mobility and reduce inequality would be increased college attainment. Yet in recent years, many conservatives, who claim to support economic growth and business, have made savage cuts to education.

These cuts are particularly shortsighted because the benefits of higher education, both for individuals and society at large, pay for the cost of investment many times over. The body of research on the impacts of higher education is massive, but their consensus is that increased higher education impacts nearly every corner of society, from increased economic growth to lower crime, better health, greater civic participation, and even childhood development. A few highlights: One study foundthat 8.7 percent of all economic growth between 1959 and 1998 could be attributed to increased education. Other studies have found that increased higher education leads greater rates of voter participation, to the tune of 22 percent; a 15 percent reduction in crime, and better cognitive development among children of parents with college degrees.

On the flip side, the costs of state disinvestment in higher education are similarly staggering. Further state cuts will lead to even higher levels of student debt, which then leads to lower homeownership rates, less retirement savings, and fewer vehicle purchases, among other effects. Previous Demos work suggests that $53,000 in student debt will lead to lifetime wealth loss of $208,000, largely through lower retirement savings and home equity.

Although public investment in higher education is broadly popular, the wealthy tend to be the least supportive. In their recent study of the wealthiest Americans, Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright find that 78 percent of the general public agree that “[t]he federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so,” compared to only 28 percent of the richest Americans.

There are bright spots in this sad story: President Obama’s plan for free community college is a welcome opportunity for the government to step in and fill this gap. Two weeks ago Senate and House Democrats introduced a resolution to create debt-free higher education. Hillary Clinton says she’ll be rolling out a comprehensive plan to tackle student debt. On the other side of the aisle, the House Republican budget would eliminate guaranteed funding for Pell Grants, which helped 9 million low income students attend college in 2013-2014 school year. One analysis suggests that some students using the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) program would end up with twice the debt under the Republican budget proposal. They would also As the national discussion about higher education proceeds it’s important to remember the government has an important role to play in supporting debt free higher education.

Robbie Hiltonsmith is a Senior Policy Analyst at Demos and author of “Pulling Up the Higher-Ed Ladder: Myth and Reality In The Crisis of College Affordability.”

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

Why the white working class doesn’t vote Democrat

What’s up with working-class whites? It’s a question that’s been asked for decades, and has been raised again recently in the discussion surrounding an Alec MacGillispiece examining Matt Bevin’s recent election gubernatorial win in Kentucky, which could leave many in Kentucky without Medicaid. Though there are many explanations for why working class whites vote Republican and many are certainly true, the overwhelming reason is rather simple: racism.

To see why working class whites — defined as non-Hispanic whites without a college degree, although there are extensive debates as to the best way to define “working class” — aren’t voting Democratic, I use the American National Election Studies 2012 survey. To begin, I examined raw vote shares among working class whites, and then vote shares among working class whites in the South (the former 11 states of the Confederacy) and non-South. Immediately, it is obvious that a key divide is the South/non-South distinction: only 28 percent of Southern working class whites identify as Democratic, compared with 40 percent of non-South working class whites.


Next, I examined whether racial stereotyping had any effect. The stereotype question asks respondents to rate Blacks on a scale of 1 (hard-working) to 7 (lazy). I examined the party identification of working class whites in each category and the results are rather suggestive: among working class whites who ranked Blacks as hard-working, 40 percen were Democrats and 38 percent Republicans, among those who said Blacks are lazy, 20 percent were Democrats and 60 percent were Republicans.


But how does this affect the votes of working class whites? My next analysis teases out whether social issues play a role in white votes, as Thomas Frank has suggested; whether it’s concerns about the role of government, as John Judis (and others) have argued; or whether it’s racism, as Ian Haney-Lopez has argued.

Specifically, I examine three questions that allow respondents to place themselves on a scale and also place the major parties (or candidates) on the same scale. I examine three questions: a four-point scale regarding abortion, a seven-point scale regarding government services and spending and a seven-point scale regarding aid to Blacks (see here for exact wording). The first two ask respondents to put themselves on a scale and also place the Republican and Democratic party on the scale, the last asks the respondents to place themselves as well as Mitt Romney and Obama on the scale (this may skew results because people may perceive Obama as more supportive of aid to Blacks than Democrats in general, likely because of racism).

I find that 62 percent of working-class whites either put Romney at the same place as them on aid to Blacks or within 1 point in either direction, compared with only 35 percent of working-class whites who felt that way about Obama. About 40 percent of working class whites placed themselves at the same place or within one point in either as Democrats on government services or spending, compared with 53 percent who perceived closeness with the Republican party. On the abortion scale 31 percent of respondents placed themselves as the same as Republicans, compared with 39 percent who felt the same way about Democrats. Because abortion was only a four point scale, I didn’t compare what percentage of people placed themselves within one point of either party (the chart shows the percentage placing themselves the same as the parties).


Working class whites say they are overwhelmingly more liberal than the Republican party on abortion and modestly more liberal on government services and spending. However, they are more conservative than Romney on aid to Blacks. When compared to the Democratic party, working class whites say they are more conservative on abortion (only slightly) and dramatically more conservative on services and spending. More than 70 percent of working class whites say they are more conservative than Obama on aid to Blacks. This suggests that working class whites see themselves as far closer to the Democratic party on abortion and further away from the party on services and spending. They see themselves furthest away from Obama on the issue of aid to Blacks.



These results are suggestive, and they fit into a broader academic literature. In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Ilyana Kuziemko and Ebonya Washington find that racism can explain almost all of the decline of Southern white support for Democrats between 1958 and 2000. Larry Bartels performed a similar (although far more detailed) analysis in a 2006 paper criticizing Frank and found similarly, that working class voters were closer to Republicans on economic and racial issues, but agreed with Democrats on abortion and women’s role in the family. In his masterful work, “Why Americans Hate Welfare,” Martin Gilens finds that opposition to welfare is driven by racial stereotypes about blacks. In a seminal book, “Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics,” Robert Huckfeldt and Carol Weitzel Kohfeld show that the more a state-level Democratic party relies on Black votes, the less likely low income whites in the states were to vote Democratic. Ian Haney-Lopez argues that Republican politicians have consciously played up racial tensions and animosity to peel white votes away from the Democratic party.

Another clue comes from the fact that working class Latinos and Blacks all overwhelmingly prefer Democrats, and the non-white working class as a whole prefers Democrats to Republicans 68 percent to 16 percent. The only defectors are the white working class.


So if the working class generally likes Democrats (with the exception of working-class whites), why do Democrats lose elections? The key is turnout, a point MacGillis makes, citing some of my research.

The core question then, for Democrats, is how to mobilize the low-income voters who are disproportionately harmed by Republican policies. Here, the Affordable Care Act includes a self-inflicted wound by Democrats. For decades, many states have failed to meet the NVRA requirement, which states that Medicaid offices and other public assistance agencies ask recipients whether they want to register to vote. Further, NVRA covers the federally mandated health care exchanges, but the Obama administration has failed to require the exchanges to offer participants an opportunity to register to vote. Both offer a huge missed chance to register millions of new voters, disproportionately low-income and non-white.

Understanding why Democrats have lost working-class whites is a key to understanding the future. On the positive side, the decline of the white working class and the increasing racial diversity of the nation could help Democrats, if they could mobilize non-white members of the working class to vote at the same rate as working class whites. As I’ve noted, the rise in diversity of the general population has only slowly been reflected in the diversity of the electorate. On the other hand, the idea that Democrats are losing votes because of their socially progressive stances on abortion and gay rights are clearly incorrect. Further, while it’s clear that economic progressivism might struggle because Americans fail to link public policy to rising inequality, there is also evidence that many economically progressive policies are popular.

The problem, as new research by political scientists Torben Iversen and David Soskice shows, is that the U.S. doesn’t have a strong union movement to mobilize low income people. As they note, and as Fowler and Michele Margolis show, another factor is information: When people are informed they shift their toward the Democratic party. Political scientists Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler note that people who see greater differences between the parties were more likely to vote, but low-income people are less likely to perceive large differences. Progressives must see registering and mobilizing low-income voters as a central priority. Supporting unions,which serve an important role in mobilizing the working-class, is also vital. However, progressive must also give the working class a good reason to vote for them.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Republican presidents flunk the economy: 11 reasons why America does worse under the GOP

Consider the following fact: The last time a Republican president created an average of 1 million jobs a year over the course of his presidency was nearly three decades ago, under Ronald Reagan. When the the 2016 election comes around, a full 44 percent of voters will have entered the workforceafter that period of time. Then consider that Barack Obama has created 7.35 million jobs since taking office, and will almost certainly cross the million-per-year threshold. And that, for many Americans, the last time the economy was working for them was under Bill Clinton.

As the chart below (using data from the Economic Policy Institute) shows, the last time Americans at the bottom of the income distribution had a raise was during the sustained employment growth under Bill Clinton.

The conclusion? If Democrats want to win the White House, they need to promote a progressive, pro-jobs agenda.

I’ve previously discussed the rather large body of research suggesting that not only does the economy perform better under Democrats, it tends toperform better for everyone under Democrats. People of color do far better in terms of employment, incarceration and income growth when a Democrat is in office. The incomes of the poorest tend to increase more rapidly as well. Both effects are likely tied to two major policies: First, Democrats tend to preside over lower unemployment rates; and, second, they are far more likely to raise the minimum wage. There are other factors at work, of course: I’ve noted how market conditioning (things like regulatory policy) can change outcomes as well. But another major factor is that the key to increasing the bargaining power of workers and creating a more racially just society is jobs. And progressive policy creates jobs.

There are several specific factors that explain this.

(1) Liberal governments tend to invest more money in infrastructure and education, both of which bolster growth.

(2) While conservative governments try to maximize growth for the rich by reining in inflation, progressives benefit everyone by reducing unemployment.

(3) Conservatives spend a large amount of their political capital reducing labor force participation among gays, people of color and women. Conservatives oppose policies that would help women balance work and family responsibilities, openly sabotage their economies to discriminate against gays, and pursue policies that overwhelmingly harm people of color. By doing this, conservative governments shut out talent and competition, in all probability harming economic growth: One study finds that about one-fifth of the increase in productivity growth between 1960 and 2008 can be explained by the increase in talent from women and people of color getting jobs they were previously excluded from.

(4) Conservatives pursue policies that increase inequality, which studies suggest can also slow growth.

(5) Conservatives are less queasy about the influence of money on politics, fostering cronyism that can undermine growth.

(6) A weak safety net means that fewer Americans can take entrepreneurial risk, when entrepreneurship is a key factor in bolstering growth.

(7) By creating a winner-take-all economy, conservative governance reduces social trust necessary for growth.

(8) By promoting war and violence abroad, and a bloated military at home, conservative governments reduce the money available for clean energy, healthcare, education and tax cuts for the middle class, which create more jobs. Matt Yglesias also argues it could increase oil shocks, thereby harming growth.

(9) By promoting an oversized and unregulated financial system, conservative governments make crisis more likely. Studies also suggest that when the financial sector gets too large it starts to reduce growth.

(10) By reducing upward mobility, conservative governments reduce growth by leaving millions of opportunity-less youth mired in poverty.

(11) Conservatives are less amenable to more open immigration policies, when immigration boosts growth.

Whichever of these factors cause conservative governments to be less effective, the differences are stark. The chart below shows the average job growth under each president over the last 75 years.

Bloomberg examined private sector job growth between January 1961 and April 2012. Over that period, Republicans have held the Presidency for 28 years and Democrats for 23. Republican presidents created 71,000 jobs per month, while Democratic presidents created 150,000. In total, Democrats created 42 million jobs, compared to Republicans 24 million.

All of this means that Hillary Clinton should embrace jobs and argue that progressive policies can unleash economic growth. She should argue that the country needs a proactive government working with the free market to best promote the interests of all Americans, not just the rich. As Bob Moser notes in the American Prospect, the most successful Democratic candidates have been those who embraced economic populism rather than a fuzzy centrism. He points to Gary Peters, the only freshman Democratic Senator, who ran a populist campaign that targeted the Kochs for their plutocratic policies. Moser notes that three of unabashed populist progressives — Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Merkley and Al Franken — not only won their elections but also won white working class voters at a time when Democrats nationally lost them by 30 percentage points. (Peters lost the white working class, but only 47 percent to 48 percent.)

Dorian Warren is an associate professor at Columbia and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute who is leading “Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All,” ​which seeks to put jobs at the center of the political agenda. He tells Salon via e-mail that a jobs-centered Presidential campaign could be a political winner: “It is time to embrace a simple but achievable idea: that government should take action to create millions of good, new jobs in emerging sectors and ensure these jobs are open and accessible to all, guarantee decent wages and benefits for all who want to work, and ensure equity in the labor market for women and people of color.”

Warren cites research by Celinda Lake showing that three core messages resonate with Americans across the political spectrum: infrastructure spending, government investment in green energy and government creating jobs in high unemployment communities, particularly communities of color. As the chart below shows, progressive policies are popular with the Rising American Electorate (African Americans, Hispanics, millennials, and unmarried women) who veteran pollster Stanley Greenberg notes will be more than half of the electorate in 2016.

The Lake memo also notes that turnout is key to a progressive victory. In 2014, 34.5 percent of the Rising American Electorate who voted Obama for Obama’s re-election in 2012 stayed home. Mobilizing these voters will be key.

If Clinton is the nominee, she should emphasize the track record of Democrats creating and sustaining jobs. Instead of running away from Obama’s achievements should build on them. She should focus her message on a strong public sector being necessary for a strong private sector. By setting the rules for fair play, the government ensures that those who get ahead do so by creating value, rather than extracting it. By investing in the next generation, government gives private companies an educated and highly trained workforce. By ensuring paid sick leave, childcare and universal pre-k, the government allows women to bring their skills to creating prosperity. The difference between conservative and progressive governance is simple: one benefits a small elite while the other promotes widespread prosperity.

This piece originally appeared on Salon.