Monday, September 26, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Another "Year of the Woman" in the 2022 Elections

The number of women running for Congress and governor spiked upward in 2018 among Democrats, and then rose again in 2020 within both parties as Republican leaders responded by recruiting their own slate of female candidates. It remains high in 2022, even though the original cause of this surge—the presidency of Donald Trump—no longer exists. For Bloomberg Opinion this week, I consider whether an enduring rise in the number of office-seeking women will turn out to be an important legacy of Trump's election, and identify two reasons why it may well rise even higher in 2024.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Why the Democrats' Policy Accomplishments Don't Necessary Help Them Win This Year

In my newest piece for Bloomberg Opinion, I explain that Democrats should not expect to be rewarded by voters for their recent policy accomplishments this fall, as voters have historically turned against the ruling party in midterm elections regardless of—and sometimes because of—its legislative productivity. For Joe Biden, the political payoff from policy changes like the climate change bill and the student debt forgiveness plan is more likely to arrive when he asks his fellow Democrats to nominate him a second time in 2024.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: How Dr. Fauci Became a Polarizing Figure

In my latest piece for Bloomberg Opinion, I explore how the retiring Anthony Fauci—who started off as a universally admired voice in the early weeks of the COVID pandemic—became a partisan figure in American politics. The root of this evolution lies in the two parties' differing attitudes towards experts who draw on their credentials to assert authority over policymaking; Democrats are inclined to defer to "the science," while Republicans are likely to rebel against what they see as liberalism in the guise of objectivity.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Today in Bloomberg Opinion: Why Moderates Still Control Congressional Policymaking

I have a new piece in Bloomberg Opinion today that explains why moderate members of Congress continue to exert strong influence over federal policy—such as the recently-enacted Inflation Reduction Act, a bill shaped much more by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia than by the president or congressional leaders—even in an age of polarization when the number of moderates in office continues to dwindle.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Some Lessons and Questions After the Kansas Abortion Referendum

1. Since the Roe v. Wade decision, the typical American's position has been "abortion should be legally permitted for some reasons but not others." This remains true even in many conservative-leaning states, like Kansas, where a majority of elected representatives are pro-life.

2. Neither party fully represents this view, but the Dobbs decision has abruptly shifted the terms of political debate from whether abortions should be made modestly harder to get (a somewhat popular position) to whether they should be banned almost entirely (much less popular). This puts Republicans in a riskier position than they were in before Dobbs.

3. Republicans could partially mitigate this risk by moderating their abortion positions. But the trend within the party has instead moved toward greater ideological purity. Not only are there fewer pro-choice Republican candidates than there used to be, but a growing number of pro-life Republicans now oppose carving out exceptions to legal prohibition (e.g. to protect the woman's health) that were once considered standard doctrine within the party.

4. The abortion issue will almost certainly work to the net advantage of Democratic candidates this fall compared to an alternative timeline in which the Dobbs ruling did not occur. Dobbs forces Republicans to defend a less popular position than before, and it also provides an extra motivator for Democrats to turn out in a midterm election when they otherwise might have felt some ambivalence. How much of an advantage, however, is unclear; odds are still against it having a transformative effect on the overall outcome.

5. The overturning of Roe also makes abortion a much bigger issue in state and local politics than it ever was before. We will now start to find out what the effects of this change will be. They, too, are difficult to predict with confidence.

6. By increasing the electoral salience of abortion, an issue on which higher levels of education are associated with more liberal viewsDobbs will probably work to further increase the growing "diploma divide" separating Dem-trending college graduates from GOP-trending non-college whites. The best-educated county in Kansas is Johnson County (suburban Kansas City), where 56 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor's degree. Johnson County voted for George W. Bush in 2004 by 23 points, for John McCain in 2008 by 9 points, and for Mitt Romney in 2012 by 17 points, but was carried by Joe Biden in 2020 with an 8-point margin over Donald Trump. It voted against the pro-life referendum on Tuesday by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent.

7. After the unusual national focus on politics during the Trump years, it would be reasonable to expect a bit of a collective withdrawal—a "vibe shift," perhaps—as Americans adjusted to the less aggressively newsworthy Biden presidency by spending more of their time and attention on other matters. But the remarkably high turnout rate for the Kansas referendum (held at a normally sleepy time of year for politics) raises the possibility that mass political engagement will remain at elevated levels despite Trump's departure from office. It's another thing to keep an eye on as we head into November.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Backlash to Dobbs Depends on How Much It Affects the Middle Class

In the Atlantic on Monday, David Frum argued that the rise and fall of the Prohibition movement provides a useful historical parallel to the likely trajectory of abortion politics in the United States a century later. Prohibition sentiment grew steadily for decades after the Civil War, culminating in the nationwide banning of alcohol sales in 1919 via constitutional amendment and congressional legislation. Once imposed, however, the policy proved sufficiently unpopular that Prohibition was not only repealed within 14 years via a second constitutional amendment, but the entire national debate over the legality of alcohol was also permanently resolved. According to Frum, last week's Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health could well play an analogous role to the enactment of the Volstead Act: an apparent breakthrough victory for restrictionists that will turn out to presage a more enduring retreat.

This seems unlikely. Abortion and alcohol are sufficiently different—as are the 1920s and 2020s, for that matter—that the comparison feels imperfect in many respects. Yet Frum makes a perceptive observation that is crucial for anticipating how much of a backlash the banning of abortion is likely to provoke, even if the end result is not the fading conflict and stable compromise he envisions. As the piece explains, a powerful source of mobilized opposition to Prohibition came not merely from the immigrants and laborers whose reputation for intemperance (and resulting social disorder) had been the principal justification for its initial imposition, but also from influential middle-class metropolitans, accustomed to living mostly as they pleased, who became annoyed by the newfound restrictions on their own autonomy once the policy swung into place.

Now that a legal ban on abortion is moving abruptly from hypothetical objective to practical reality in much of Red America, the question of how it will be implemented becomes newly salient. The younger and lower-income women who are the primary population of abortion seekers, but who are not especially politically mobilized, will inevitably be the most directly affected by the Dobbs decision. But the stricter the enforcement regime, the more its effects will climb up the ladder of age and social status to reach citizens with greater political power and firmer standing expectations of deference from the world around them.

Will married thirty-something women of the bourgeoisie be left with permanent physical damage as a result of medical complications that could have been avoided with access to abortion procedures? Will their miscarriages be subjected to criminal investigation? Will they be denied fertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilization, that involve the destruction of embryos? Will they be sent to prison for procuring illicit mifepristone pills, or face lawsuits for driving their daughters to clinics across state lines? The more the answer to these questions is yes, the more that dissatisfaction is likely to build across these women's well-connected social networks and provide fodder for news media stories and campaign commercials that portray them as victims of injustice.

Frum expects red-state officials to implement uniformly aggressive enforcement measures, which leaves him relatively confident in predicting a powerful backlash that will steadily undermine the strength of the pro-life movement. But our legal system gives substantial discretion to individual officials in charging and sentencing defendants. It's quite possible that abortion prohibitions on the books will be most strictly enforced among populations with the least political power. When combined with the fact that (unlike the Prohibition case) the regions of the country where opposition to restriction is the highest are, at least for now, free from being directly subjected to the same legal constraints, such selective implementation might keep popular opposition from becoming sufficiently strong to disrupt the close balance of electoral power between the two sides that has already endured for the past 30 years.

Moreover, many of the authorities now in position to enforce the new restrictions are not themselves conservatives. The local district attorneys and judges elected in pro-choice communities, such as most large metropolitan centers, will face strong personal incentives to use their discretion to minimally enforce the law, especially against politically sympathetic subgroups. Over time, red-state legislatures may respond to this shirking by transferring enforcement responsibilities from local to state-level officials elected by majority-Republican constituencies. But the questions of who will get punished how for what are, at this stage, unresolved and unclear, with a palpable tension arising between the substance and the politics of the abortion issue: strict enforcement of the bans would work to the electoral advantage of the pro-choice movement while lax enforcement would be relatively favorable to the political interests of the pro-life cause.

Until we have a better sense of how the post-Dobbs world will actually operate in practice, forecasting the larger consequences of the decision remains very difficult. But history can be a reliable guide in one respect. The amount of political risk incurred by proponents of a new policy often reflects how much the highly efficacious members of the American upper middle class view the change as disrupting the lifestyle of people like themselves.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

New Interview at The Signal on the Biden Presidency

I recently spoke with Graham Vyse of The Signal about the state of Joe Biden's presidency in the spring of its second year. We covered Biden's depressed approval ratings, the political implications of the continued COVID-related economic disruptions, what makes Biden different from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and why his presidency so far has disappointed some of the people who voted for him in 2020. You can read a summary of our conversation here.