Tag Archives: iowa

Digesting the caucuses

It’s rather easy to get overwhelmed in terms of what exactly happened yesterday. The process itself is arcane and at times mind-boggling. Across the state of Iowa, thousands of party activists met at appointed locations and selected their choice of major party nominee for president in 2016. For Democrats, they basically shouted their way to dominance in those various schools, churches, and other public locations, with contingents remaining at the end of the process being proportionately awarded delegates. For Republicans, they for all intents and purposes held a primary vote, which selected delegates bound to vote proportionately for the candidates the average citizens voted for.

It’s hard to match last year’s wild ride in which the vote counts in eight precincts in the Republican caucuses simply went missing, but the story of a precinct decided one unclaimed delegate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton by a coin toss shows that dysfunction remains the true winner of every Iowa caucus. In the midst of all that chaos, it’s difficult to determine that, well, much of anything of meaning happened, let alone what it would be. Here’s a short list of what the tea leaves suggest to me though.

Clinton has to work for it… for now

What was initially announced on Monday as a statistical tie between Clinton and Sanders has largely been reinterpreted as an extremely narrow victory for Clinton. That suggests a tight race heading into New Hampshire, where Sanders rightly expects to have something like a home court advantage. A combination of racial demographics, an intensifying class consciousness in the electorate, and local familiarity are going to make this a particularly close and contestable competition in these two states.

Before the Sanders campaign gets too excited, however, that’s not how things are likely to continue after those two states. He’s made some particularly cavalier statements that are likely to alienate voters politically aware of racial inequality or immigration policies. In late February, Nevada will hold a closed caucus, and following that the map of Democratic primaries and caucuses moves to the South, which for Democrats means a decidedly less White voting electorate. If Clinton can effectively articulate the discomfort some people of color have with the racial dimensions of Sanders’ policies and rhetoric, the race won’t stay quite as up in the air.

Rubio wins… the consolation prize

Marco Rubio was widely hailed as the “winner” of the Republican caucuses, considering that Donald Trump underperformed the expectations that he might eclipse Ted Cruz and that Ted Cruz was the favorite to win in any case. Rubio nearly reaching the same levels as Trump indicates that at least in some contexts the largely “tuned out” voters Trump has attracted to the caucuses can end up being about equal to the “establishment” minded voters. The real surprise here, assuming this dynamic holds in later states, is that the conflict within the Republican Party between those factions is not about a wealthy minority and the mass of voters, but about equally-sized blocks of people who show up at the polls.

The real win that Rubio has pulled off is that he bested Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other similar candidates at representing the “establishment”. There are structural advantages in the primary to appealing to that part of the Republican electorate, but it’s not clear that that will be enough to rocket Rubio’s support out of third place.

Not establishment, not grassroots, not insurgent… so what exactly is Cruz?

With Rubio and Trump each pulling in just over a fifth of the vote, that leaves Cruz with a lion’s share that’s contrasted with both an establishment-aligned bloc and a disaffected and mad as hell insurgency. Ted Cruz’s muddled place between those two camps has probably been the least acknowledged strength in the Republican primary campaign.

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(Weighted Iowa Republican Caucus returns: Ted Cruz in yellow has support throughout the state, Donald Trump in purple dominates in the more conservative southwestern corner of the state, and Marco Rubio in green dominated in outlying suburbs of the largest cities. From here.)

He has the bona fides, visibility, and authority of the typical establishment candidate like Rubio – he’s not going to make Trump-style blunders about the nuclear triad or commit to unfeasible revenge fantasies as policy proposals. He also has the ability to talk about policies and politics in the language average people attracted to extremism want to hear – something that Rubio at times struggles with.

If anyone can keep the fragile union of social conservatives and imperialist libertarians together in the Republican Party, it’s him. That’s a daunting task for anyone, however, especially one whose birth location is in conflict with some of the most extremist rhetoric at the heart of the anti-Obama politics that have come to define the Republican Party.

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The more things change

If this year has seen a unifying story about homophobia, heterosexism, however we want to label that, then it’s been this: a desperate plea from many corners of the LGBT community to both fellow members and outsiders to not discount it as “over”. Within the US, marriage equality has not only become national policy but withstood most challenges so far, and increased rights for many students have gelled in particular. The only sometimes spoken fear is that this recent history of modest victories will lull people into a false sense of security. Maybe the only good thing about the National Religious Liberties Conference, to be held in Iowa this coming Friday and Saturday, is that if properly covered it might deflate those illusions about what progress has been made.

A shocking number of people to this day shrug off the statements from the conference’s head organizer on HIV/AIDS. Saying that the debilitating disease that disproportionately affects non-straight men and transgender women is essentially a divine retribution has become almost a cliché, sarcastic device. Well, Kevin Swanson, the organizer in question, brought it out seriously in a recent radio broadcast, in which he called HIV/AIDS “God’s retribution to their [LGBT people’s] sexual habit”. What’s more, he characterized any sort of government financing of research to treat, prevent, or cure HIV/AIDS “support for their homosexual activity” and  “accommodate their activity”.

hiv_aids_godA woman wearing a shirt reading “Thank God for AIDS,” from here.

He and his guest commentator agreed, “This is a politically protected disease” – and they didn’t mean that its spread and effects have been encouraged through and framed as just desserts for LGBT people. They meant that the status as someone slowly dying from a treatable infection that was historically underfunded and underexamined in part because of the marginalized classes it affected is privileged over them. This is fueled by and fuel for almost every modern heterosexist fire in America – that true persecution is a purely straight experience, that HIV/AIDS is comically over-addressed, that LGBT people in general are a shadowy conspiratorial class, and so on.

This might originate as a theological argument about sin, sexuality, and disease, but it has become a political argument in favor of societal resources not being structured in a way that accounts of the unique needs of LGBT people. Quite the opposite of changing society to make it more livable for LGBT people, this argument can only tolerate one form of organized collective social action towards LGBT people other than direct, unambiguous violence – neglect. For anything active and positive, Swanson is very clear on his perspective: “The solution is private charity”. The emphasis on private cannot be ignored, as he stresses it. In spite of that, he can’t even imagine private liberal churches or other organizations being able to stomach supporting people with HIV/AIDS. The argument against it being publicly addressed is both a way of denying HIV/AIDS research some of the most extensive resource pools and, it’s imagined, a way of ultimately making the problem one that society as a whole neglects.

The political dimensions of this aren’t something to be laughed away. The conference will only draw a small number of devoted attendees – by most estimates around 1,600 – but has confirmed three Republican Presidential candidates (Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz) will be among them, and Ben Carson might make an appearance as well. The conference is quite blatant about the point of the presidential involvement. Their website notes that in the Iowan caucuses “the Christian conservative element will have its largest impact at the outset of the race” and that “presidential candidates need to hear from us”. The Republican Party, for all of the 2012 promises to rise from their electoral ashes like a more tolerant phoenix has at least four presidential contenders with some involvement in this conference, predicated on spreading a virulently anti-LGBT agenda.

That is one of the major parties in the country, and this is the continuing political reality. One in which LGBT lives are uniquely disposable.

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The impossibility of queerness

Niall Ferguson’s “apology” reminded me in one of the worst ways of a long running facet of a lot of heterosexist speech: that it’s not even about queer people or queerness. As I mentioned yesterday, his almost apologetic response to being told that he misrepresented the details of Keynes personal life seems to be the justification for his response, more than actually absorbing a larger point about queer families and queer people. In a very real sense, his declaration of Keynes’ queerness to be a mark of unreasonableness if not inferiority is centered around heteronormative standards and concepts. It’s not merely that Ferguson devalued queer conceptions of kinship, but that while doing so he didn’t even acknowledge that those exist.


(Jokes on him, there’s even artistic deconstructions of queer families nowadays, from here.)

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of that sort of thing going around lately, for centuries even. It’s practically a trope at this point for straight people to discuss queer people’s romantic interests, flings, partners, and even spouses as their (followed by an apparently obligatory pause) friend. Ferguson thankfully avoids that pitfall in his not-apology, mostly by not actually discussing any same-gender relationships so much as same-gender attraction (and that even pales in comparison to his main point, which was a presumed lack of attraction to women felt by Keynes). In the past few months, however, several prominent figures in the US failed to avoid the apparently very uncomfortable issue of discussing queer relationships, as marriage policies became a focal point with gathering efforts to recognize (some) queer marriages in some states and two different Supreme Court cases.

For instance, congressional representative Steve King (R-IA) published a deliciously idiotic opinion piece in the National Review, where he explained, “You do not need a license to begin a new friendship, start shopping at a new grocery store or pharmacy, or even begin a new dating relationship. Likewise, one does not need a court order to terminate any of those relationships. This fact indicates that there is something unique about marriage that necessitates government involvement.” After all, long-term relationships between people of the same gender are obviously more similar to shopping at a specific store, or going on a single date, or being in a friendship than long-term relationships between men and women. On a similar note and within the same week, Jennifer Roback Morse, spokesperson for the National Organization for [some] Marriage, complained that recognizing same-gender couples as married amounted to “nothing but a government registry of friendships” – almost as though she and King were reading the same notes!

An integral part of heterosexism, as suggested by Ferguson’s strategy of avoidance and King’s and Morse’s use of the always awkward “… friend” discussion tactic, is to avoid acknowledging queerness as a phenomenon even exists. As I’ve written about before, this is a widespread problem in terms of how acknowledging the needs and wants of queer people, queerspawn, and queer families is treated as a distraction. Unlike the invalidity assigned to the words and deeds of women, however, it seems to acknowledge the actions of queer people (or at least, queer men), but without really examining their queerness. In a confusing way, there’s a lot of discussion of queer people without any admission of the existence of queerness.

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Which ones actually are swing states?

Yesterday, a lot of people suddenly seemed to notice that there are disagreements between various pollsters and politicos over what states are actually “up for grabs” by either Romney or Obama. On The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow briefly covered it, noting subtle discrepancies between the two campaigns (as Obama continues to focus on Florida and Virginia, while Romney seemingly feels more comfortable there). She left it up to her viewers to deduce why the NBC predictions she also referenced were distinct from either of the major campaign’s focuses in including New Hampshire and Wisconsin as “swing states” (but dropping Nevada, too). Clearly, there’s some politics involved in simply deciding what states are vulnerable in the election.

Jonathan Chait earlier in the same day made a similar point, arguing that:

“[the Romney campaign] is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy [… while the race is somewhat close,] Obama enjoys a clear electoral college lead. He is ahead by at least a couple points in enough states to make him president. Adding to his base of uncontested states, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin would give Obama 271 electoral votes. According to the current polling averages compiled at fivethirtyeight.com, Obama leads Nevada by 3.5 percent, Ohio by 2.9 percent, and Wisconsin by 4 percent. Should any of those fail, Virginia and Colorado are nearly dead even. (Obama leads by 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.) If you don’t want to rely on Nate Silver — and you should rely on him! — the polling averages at realclearpolitics, the conservative-leaning site, don’t differ much, either.

The only problem with his statements is that while Real Clear Politics provides the polls to prove Obama’s small but consistent advantage, it also provides the predictions that keep insisting that Michigan and Pennsylvania are some of the “toss-up” states. Looking over their map of predictions, it’s hard not to see the “horse race” that gives the media the ratings it loves. After all, states they classify as “toss-ups” hold more electoral votes than all of Romney’s “safe” states, either Romney’s or Obama’s “likely” states, and their combined “leans”. It’s only smaller than Obama’s “safe” states by 11 electoral votes. Their list contains all of the states either campaign considers worthy or visiting right now, the two additional ones listed by NBC, and two more – Michigan and Pennsylvania. A full fifth of the states are being contested in their predictions.


(Behold the gray faces states that hold our future in their hands. The screen-shot of their electoral college prediction is from this morning.)

There’s a key word at the beginning there – they classify states. Based on what? That’s not really said – but given their job as an aggregate polling firm, which collects polls from different pollsters to give a broad overview of what races are looking like, it’s hard to believe that polling data are totally irrelevant to their classification of states. If that’s true though, that polls are at the center of their predictions – then they really look like they have a double standard between what gets classified as an identifiable preference for Romney and an apparent choice of Obama.

Focusing on just the “toss-ups”, there’s immense variation between states’ polling results within that category. Admittedly, some of them look like what you’d imagine. The recently collected polls for Colorado show low results for either candidate, with quite a bit of alternation between who’s leading. There’s been a mix of polls showing either Romney or Obama leading throughout October, and into the summer. It really is difficult to feel confident that the state will go one way or the other. There’s a few other states that also fit this overall pattern – New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.

Slightly distinct are the “toss-up” states with some mixed polling results, but a clear tendency towards Obama. Nevada, for instance, has consistently seen extremely small leads for Obama, with no polls in the past few months showing a Romney lead (although there were two ties). Looking at Ohio gives similar results, as there’s a clear imbalance between the campaigns in convincing voters to support them, but the difference is extremely small. While there is adequate uncertainty to question the victory of the incumbent in those states, labeling both of them “toss-ups” seems to imply a degree of equal opportunity that seems unfounded.

On the other hand, there are some “toss-ups” that seem to be anything but. Michigan hasn’t seen a tie or Romney victory in the polls since late August. Wisconsin hasn’t seen either since mid-August. Pennsylvania hasn’t seen one or the other since February. Multiple months have seen no polls indicating a Romney win or extremely close race. Over those weeks, there have been periods where the incumbent enjoyed double digit margins of victory. Those polls are provided by a diverse group of pollsters – from the right-leaning Rasmussen to left-leaning Public Policy Polling, but all of them have found substantial Obama victories in those states for at least a month and a half, if not more.

And yet, these are still “toss-ups”,  because apparently some one in Real Clear Politics head office still isn’t really sure if they can even modestly suggest that Obama will carry them. In contrast, North Carolina was reclassified from being a “toss-up” to being a  “leans Romney” state on October 18. If you bother to look at their state-specific polling data, they changed their prediction after 17 days without any Obama wins in the polls – and with only five polls showing single-digit support for Romney. Now, I actually agree with both Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight that North Carolina is more likely to end up in Romney’s column than Obama’s, but Real Clear Politics’ standards for reaching that conclusion seem at odds with their choices for, say, Pennsylvania – which has 261 days without any Romney wins in the polls and 39 polls showing occasionally double-digit support for Obama.

So while Real Clear Politics polling aggregation might suggest the same conclusions as “biased” Nate Silver, their predictions don’t match, provided the prediction would be of an Obama victory. Sounds like Chait might have been too charitable there in attributing major media predictions of a Romney win to confusion, rather than willful intent.

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