Sunday, November 13, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Bad Candidates Were Only Part of the GOP's Problem

 The Republican Party's unexpectedly disappointing performance in the 2022 midterm elections has inspired some finger-pointing at its flawed slate of Senate nominees in key states (and the former president whose endorsement helped these candidates gain nomination). But as I argue in a new piece for Bloomberg Opinion, candidate quality was not the only reason why the GOP underperformed last week. The results are consistent with a larger party image problem that extended beyond a few unappealing candidates.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: We Know More About Our Candidates Than We Ever Did Before—But It Matters Less

One of the main story lines of the 2022 election has been the question of whether the Republicans have squandered a favorable general climate by choosing a weak set of specific nominees. In my final pre-election piece for Bloomberg Opinion, I explain that while the proliferation of information makes it easier than ever to learn about the qualities—including the foibles—of individual candidates, the power of partisanship is so strong these days that these considerations mean much less than they once did.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Puncturing the Hype Around Debates

With all the increasing attention that debates are getting as our politics becomes nationalized and social media-driven, their actual substantive value to citizens remains dubious. In my latest column for Bloomberg Opinion, I lament the way debates are covered in the media and conclude that we're actually much better off if elections aren't decided on the basis of candidates' debate performances.

Friday, October 21, 2022

What a Republican Congressional Majority Might Do: An Interview with The Signal

In an extended interview, I spoke with Graham Vyse of The Signal about what to expect from a hypothetical Republican congressional majority next year. It's likely to be an eventful Congress; as I observed in the interview, "The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party."

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Republicans and Corporate America Split on Culture, Ally on Economics

In today's column for Bloomberg Opinion, I investigate the Republican Party's proclaimed "divorce" from big business. Corporate America and the populist Trump-era GOP have indeed found themselves on opposite sides of the culture war. But they still have much to agree on when it comes to economic policy, so their relationship looks more like a strained marriage than a permanent split.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

As Biden's New Drug Policy Shows, When It Comes to Legalization It's the Political Leaders Who Are Being Led

President Biden announced on Thursday that he would issue pardons to Americans with federal marijuana possession convictions, while encouraging governors to do the same for the much greater number of citizens convicted of similar offenses at the state level. Biden also revealed that his administration would begin the process of reviewing whether marijuana should be classified by the federal government as a dangerous Schedule I drug. While the president cannot fully legalize marijuana possession or sale without congressional approval, Biden’s actions represent a clear gesture of support for ending the enforcement of laws prohibiting its use.

For anyone who is old enough to remember the aggressiveness of the government’s anti-drug campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, the prospect of federal marijuana decriminalization is a notable milestone. And the fact that Biden is the president overseeing this policy change seems even more remarkable. Although he was a young left-of-center adult during the 1960s, the teetotaling Biden has never exhibited any whiff of the counterculture, and his record in the Senate—especially while chairing the Judiciary Committee between 1987 and 1995—was marked by repeated support for toughening federal penalties for drug-related crimes.
But by changing his mind about cannabis policy, Biden is merely following a path already traveled by many of his fellow Americans. In 1990, only 16 percent of respondents to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey favored the legalization of marijuana. By 2018, the most recent year with available data, the share of supporters had risen to 61 percent. The rate of increase was even higher among Democrats: from 17 percent in 1990 to 69 percent just 28 years later.
It’s rare for public opinion to swing so dramatically on any political issue. But drug legalization is an especially unusual case because American citizens started rethinking their beliefs well before their elected representatives did. Even today, political leaders still seem to be lagging behind the rapidly shifting attitudes of their constituents.
Political scientists have traditionally emphasized the role of political elites in shaping the views of ordinary citizens. On many issues, most Democrats and Republicans in the mass public accept the positions advocated by the leaders of their favored party. For example, the share of Republican voters who saw free trade agreements as a “good thing for the U.S.” dropped from 56 percent in 2015 to 36 percent two years later, according to the Pew Research Center, reflecting the sudden shift in messaging from the top of their party once Donald Trump, a vocal critic of free trade, assumed leadership of the GOP.
But the rise in support for legal marijuana can’t be explained that way. It began in the 1990s, well before gaining the endorsement of prominent politicians in either party. Advocates of legalization initially found much more success in enacting state-level reforms using the citizen initiative process, which put their proposals directly before voters, than they did by persuading their elected representatives to approve changes in state law. Seven of the first eight states to legalize cannabis for medical purposes (starting with California in 1996), and 12 of the first 14 states to approve recreational use (starting with Colorado and Washington in 2012), did so via ballot proposition.
On this issue, Americans didn’t simply listen to their party’s most prominent figures. Decreased national crime rates since the 1980s, newfound skepticism of the theory that marijuana acts as a “gateway drug” to more dangerous substances, and growing media promotion of its medical benefits have convinced voters to support legalization over the reluctance or outright opposition of most political leaders. International trade and other complicated, remote topics might ordinarily prompt citizens to exercise deference to the judgment of professional politicians. But drug legalization seems like an easy issue to understand and relate to personal experience, which makes voters more secure in making up their own minds.
Biden is clearly hoping to increase voter enthusiasm among young Democrats and liberal independents by announcing his policy change a month before the midterm elections. But after waiting as long as he did, Biden’s timing risks becoming anti-climactic. Most supporters already live in states where marijuana is either fully legal or permitted in practice, and even the Republican opposition doesn’t seem motivated to put up much of a public fight over an issue on which popular sentiment has steadily moved leftward. Sometimes in politics, our so-called leaders discover that they’re the ones who are being led to someplace new.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Trying to Nationalize a Nationalized Election

Kevin McCarthy and the House Republican leadership recently released their "Commitment to America," the latest in a series of successors to Newt Gingrich's 1994 Contract with America. Today in Bloomberg Opinion, I argue that the minority parties engaging in this strategy are making two flawed assumptions: that voters will care (or even know) about these manifestos, and that they will help nationalize the election. Because today's congressional elections are already nationalized, these policy plans are mostly an exercise in redundancy.