Donald J. Trump . . . and the Reaction

On September 14, 1998, a headline from an internet site announced that George Wallace, the former Alabama governor, died the day before.  This was a significant piece of news given Wallace’s notoriety during the 1960s and ‘70s.  I shared this information with a colleague sitting nearby.  His reaction was a look of disgust.  Then he said that he was glad “that guy” was gone.  His reaction stuck with me through the years, particularly because it was so different from mine; I simply felt someone famous had died.  I found the difference in our reactions to this bit of news was striking.  Part of it, no doubt, was generational.  He was born in the second half of the 1940s.  His childhood and adolescence spanned the much of the Civil Rights Movement.  He saw on television Wallace utter the infamous words “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his January 1963 inaugural address.  I, on the other hand, was born in the second half of the 1960s.  By the time I learned of George Wallace, he was no longer promoting segregation.  The country had changed.  The South had changed.  For me, George Wallace, who arguably was the 1960s face of segregation and Southern resistance to civil rights, was a person of history.  For my colleague, he was a person of memory.

The difference in our reactions, I believe, went beyond the generational.  By the early 1980s, Wallace formally renounced his past position on segregation.  In his final election for governor in 1982, Wallace won 90 percent of the black vote.  Even Jesse Jackson, the most prominent black political figure in the 1980s, came to embrace Wallace.  It would seem that much of the country, including black Americans, had moved on from the 1960s image of Wallace.  My colleague, however, had not.

Over the years, it occurred to me that there was another reason for his harsh reaction.  That reason is something author Shelby Steele has pointed out in his writings.  I believe that other reason was the feeling of stigma.  One key outcome of the Civil Rights Movement was federal legislation that made it unlawful for state governments and owners of public accommodations to treat residents differently on account of race.  The country effectively admitted that racism was an evil and wanted to take steps to remove it from our institutions.   However, the other side of that outcome was that it made white Americans a stigmatized group.

White Americans today find themselves having to prove that they are not racists.  This has led many to support questionable policies, such as forced busing in school assignments, affirmative action in higher education, voting districts that pack as many blacks as possible to guarantee the election of a black legislator, diversity programs in corporate America, and so on.

It also has led many to support policies that are unrelated to the historical oppression of blacks, such as supporting voting districts for Hispanics, supporting unrestricted immigration from Spanish speaking countries, and even supporting same-sex marriage.  Though these policies cannot be justified as a kind of reparations for the historical treatment of black Americans, not supporting them could be seen as discrimination similar to what black Americans faced years past.

The stigma has led to the creation of “politically correct” speech on matters racial and non-racial.  One feels compelled to say African American rather than black; Native American rather than American Indian; undocumented immigrant rather than illegal alien; he or she rather than he.  We see effusive affection toward the nation’s first black president.  This affection goes beyond the borders of the United States: the president received the Nobel Peace Prize months after his first inauguration.  Even the Europeans feel a need to distance themselves from this stigma.

Supporting race-based policies, adopting new language and a general overhaul of etiquette is a lot of work.  There is no doubt that some feel that the effort is worthwhile but it is work nonetheless.  I believe that many Americans, particularly those who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, see George Wallace as a symbol of the reason for this work.  Wallace in the minds of many is the very visible general in the last battle of a war for segregation during a time when the nation was changing its mind on the issue.

Enter Donald Trump.

What does George Wallace have to do with Donald Trump?

Donald Trump is not in favor of segregation.  He is not in favor of any policies that would injure black Americans.  For all the talk from some quarters that Donald Trump is a racist, the evidence to support that charge is quite flimsy.

After Trump rode down the escalator in June 2015, he, in his announcement that he would be a candidate for Republican nomination for president of the United States, stated among other things that of the Mexicans who are here unlawfully, some were bringing drugs and that some were rapists.  Since then he has also called for a temporary ban of Muslims immigration.  He has refused to denounce David Duke or the Ku Klux Klan after Duke endorsed him.  Several years ago, he said that the president should release his college grades and demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

All of these things fly in the face of the etiquette demands of political correctness.  All of these things may inspire others to use impolite language in expressing frustrations on political matters.  All of these things make it more difficult to prove a negative: that white Americans are not incurably racist.

His un-politically correct speech has no doubt contributed to Trump’s widespread support.  Many Americans have felt straitjacketed in recent years in expressing certain “politically incorrect” thoughts and are happy and relieved to see a public figure express those same thoughts in ways they feel they cannot.  To other Americans, however, many of whom are Republicans, Trump is an American nightmare.  He has brought back the stigma that many have worked so hard over the past few decades to contain.  Should Trump win the presidency, he and his rhetorical style will not only be validated but will perhaps permanently undo their hard work.

Iowa Republican Caucus: Were the Polls Wrong?

There were a number of press reports on how wrong the public opinion polls were in predicting the outcome of Iowa Caucus for the Republican Party.  Going into caucus day, the expectation, with caveats, was that Donald Trump would win by about four percentage points, defeating Senator Ted Cruz.  After the votes were counted, Cruz would be victorious, defeating Trump by four points.

Everyone acknowledges that predicting the outcome of the Iowa Caucus is especially difficult due to voters changing their minds before the vote.  A caucus is not like a regular primary election where the voter goes to the polling place, casts his vote, and then leaves.  A caucus requires voters to attend a polling place, listen to various speeches advocating one candidate of another, after which voters can be persuaded to change allegiances.  Traditional polling cannot reflect this phenomenon.  Also, there was the issue of turnout.  The thinking went that if there was a much higher turnout for this caucus than there was for prior Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa, this would help Trump since many believe that he is expanding the party beyond the traditional Iowa Republican voter and this expansion would be responsible for the increase.

The polls pointed to Trump winning.  The significant increase in turnout would also point to a Trump victory.

Cruz won the night.

Were the polls wrong?

As a factual matter, the polls were wrong.  However, there may have been clues in the polling data that would have predicted a Cruz victory had someone closely scrutinized the polls.

One of the main sources of political polling is RealClearPolitics (RCP).  This is a website that aggregate polls for various polling companies.

In the last four polls prior to the Iowa Caucus were as follows:

Des Moines Register Poll (polling days: 1/26 – 1/29): Trump was up by five points

Quinnipiac Poll (polling days: 1/25 – 1/31): Trump was up by seven

Opinion Savvy Poll (polling days: 1/29 – 1/30): Trump was up by one

Emerson Poll (polling days: 1/29 – 1/31): Trump was up by one

In each of the polls, one would reason to believe Trump would win.  This however would miss important information.  The poll that matters would be on caucus night.  The date of the caucus is 2/1.  One should look at the polls to see if there is any trend.  Conclusions would not be easily determined given that there are only four polls but it is still worth investigating.  The Des Moines poll had roughly an average date of 1/27; Quinnipiac 1/28; Opinion Savvy 1/29; and Emerson 1/30.  The two most recent polls, taken two and three days prior to the caucus, suggest that Trump was only up by one  percentage point, down from five and seven points only a couple of days earlier.  This suggests that there could be a trend, if the quality of the polls is roughly equal.  There are events that could suggest such a trend.  Trump skipped the most recent debate, which some viewed as unwise and, perhaps, disrespectful.  Trump, instead of going to the debate, held a fundraiser for the veterans; a move that many felt exploited the military for political gain.  Glenn Beck, who is very popular with conservatives, endorsed Cruz in the days leading up to the caucus.

Below is a link to a graph that shows the polling data of the Cruz support minus the Trump support (shown in blue).  Shown in red is a statistical regression line that attempts predict future margins based on prior ones (shown in red).

As mentioned, there are only four data points and they do not lie neatly on a straight line.  However, the line that would be implied by the four data points gives us a Cruz win on 2/1 of 3.8 percentage points.  The actual margin for Cruz was 3.3 points.  One could argue that the polling predicted the Cruz victory.

The regression line does not perfectly describe the relationship between the margin and the dates.  As a result, one would not have placed full confidence in the expected margin of 3.8 points.  But given the apparent trend in polling data, it should have raised a red flag that Trump was in a bit of trouble prior to the voting.

Iowa Caucus Polling Graph