Wednesday, June 22, 2022

BTRTN, the Midterms: A Close Look at the House

Tom is back with his latest look at the midterms.  His first midterm article, back in February, set the stage, and the second, in April, took an early look at the Senate.  Now Tom’s focus is on the House. 


Once again it is time for that ritual of American politics, the evisceration of a first-term president in his (yes, all “his” so far) first midterms.  Joe Biden seems right on course to suffer the fate of so many of his predecessors, to lose big in the House of Representatives on November 8, 2022.  Barring some truly monumental change of fortune, Biden will likely lose his very thin Democratic majority in the House and quite a few more seats beyond that. 

We rather immodestly point out that BTRTN has a very good track record at predicting House midterms gains and losses, as evidenced by the chart below.  We owe it all to a very good model, which we will explain further along.


Our updates, which will become more frequent as Election Day nears, will provide the BTRTN view on two questions:  1) if the midterms were held today, what are the odds that the Democrats will retain the House? and 2) just how many seats would the Democrats gain or lose?  (We will do the same for the Senate, and for the gubernatorial races as well, but today we focus only on the House.)

Today’s answer to question #1 is, well, almost zero.  Our model spit out a number that rounds up to 1% -- a 1% chance that the Democrats will retain a majority in the House.  It’s that unlikely, right now.

Today’s answer to question #2 goes something like this:  while all 435 House seats are up for reelection (as they are, of course, every two years), given the advanced state of the fine art of gerrymandering, only 88 races have any chance at all of being truly contested.  More realistically, only 55 races, as of now, appear to be truly “in play.”  Most districts have been sculpted into ungainly salamander shapes that all but guarantee Blue or Red status.  Of those 55 in which it remains truly possible for either party to win, the Democrats hold 42.  There are three other seats that they are almost guaranteed to lose (not included in either the 55 or the 88).  So the very worst the Democrats could do is to lose all 45 of those seats and not flip any current GOP seats.

We at BTRTN don’t envision that kind of bloodbath, at least not at this point in time.  Given the dynamics of the generic ballot and the net effect of redistricting, we think the Democrats, if the election were held today, would lose around 26 seats.  Remember and note well:  this is not a prediction, but rather a snapshot.   


There remain nearly five months until Election Day, five months in which it is theoretically possible for potential “catalysts” to move the macro-electoral environment in the Democrats’ direction and forestall the blowout.  Inflation could at least begin to recede without prompting a recession; gas prices could tumble.  Vladimir Putin could throw in the towel in Ukraine.  Omicron might run out of new mutations, with no new nasty variant worthy of its own Greek letter emerging behind it.  The baby formula supply crunch could disappear.  The Senate might find its way to some version of a Build Back Better Bill, and, in the wake of Uvalde, the Senate’s 25 years of embarrassing inaction on gun reform might finally end (which is looking particularly promising right now).  And, the combination of the January 6 Committee’s live hearings and final report, plus the final version of SCOTUS Judge Joseph Alito’s Roe-reversing opinion might actually set the Democrats on fire, galvanizing the Blue electorate to turn out as if Trump himself were on the ballot.

Any of this could happen.  But the odds of most of them happening -- and happening in time -- to prevent the GOP House takeover seems unlikely.   More likely is that Joe Biden’s approval rating and, more importantly, the almighty generic ballot will continue at their current levels, with Biden holding steady in the low 40% range, and the GOP up by +3 percentage points over the Dems.  And if that happens, the final outcome will indeed resemble where we stand today.  (And, of course, things could get even worse.)



Let’s drill down on the BTRTN House snapshot at this point, focusing on the three major variables driving our analysis (and our model).

1)     The generic ballot.  The first key variable is the generic ballot, in which voters are asked, essentially, if they prefer Democratic or Republican representation, without naming names (hence, “generic”).  The generic ballot is exceptionally accurate in predicting House midterm elections, at least when embedded in a multiple regression equation model such as our very own BTRTN model.  Once upon a time, through October of 2021, the Democrats led on the generic ballot, but that then reversed and the GOP has led since, and their narrow margin has widened a bit in the last few months.

Note that for the Democrats to retain the House, the generic ballot doesn’t simply have to favor the Democrats, but, given the inherent GOP bias in the congressional map, the Democrats actually have to lead by at least +5 points.  It is a long, long way from -3 to +5 in the remaining window before Election Day.

2)     Current seats held.  The second factor, which is fixed (more or less) through the campaign cycle, is how many seats the president’s party currently holds.  This has an enormous impact on how many seats the Democrats could lose.  That’s because, essentially, the more seats a party holds, the more seats it can lose.  Barack Obama lost 63 seats in 2010, but the Democrats held a remarkable 256 at the time.  Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994, but they held 254.  In both those instances, Obama and Clinton switched a lot of middle-of-the-roaders to Blue when first elected, and many of those new-blue seats simply switched back at their first chance in the midterms.  On the other hand, George H. W. Bush lost only 8 seats in 1990 – but the GOP only held 175 at the time.  The GOP at the first Bush’s midterms held so few seats that they were down to all but a handful beyond the deepest red districts that they could lose.

Joe Biden’s Democrats only hold 220 House seats, plus one of the six vacancies was held by a Democrat, so call it 221.  That relatively low number alone will put a natural cap on the Dems’ potential losses – there is simply no way Biden can lose 63 or even 54 seats.  This variable – the number of seats the President’s party holds -- is also embedded in our regression model.

3)     Redistricting.  In most years, those two data points are all we would need to predict the House outcome – that is what we used to predict those House midterm outcomes in 2010, 2014 and 2018, in which we were virtually on the money each time.  We would simply plug those two data points – the 221 seats the Dems hold, coupled with the GOP +3 percentage point edge in the generic ballot – into our little black box and, voila, out comes the answer:  that the Dems would lose 22 seats.

But in 2022, we have another factor to consider: the redistricting that has been going on based on the 2020 census, a process that is just about complete.  Many feared that given GOP control of statehouses and state legislatures in many states, the GOP might gerrymander even more seats in their direction.  That has proven true, but not anywhere near the order of magnitude of the worst fears.  Most analyses show the GOP has, net net, picked up about 3-5 seats by virtue of redistricting alone.  Thus, to the 22 lost seats that our model suggests the Dems will lose, we add four more for redistricting, to get to our current estimate of 26 lost seats.

Of course individual races – the individuals the party’s elect to represent them via the primaries – make some difference.  We will be back a number of times in the election cycle to update our House estimates, taking the final match-ups into account.


Apart from simply keeping score, these assessments assist readers/volunteers to make informed judgments on where to spend their time and money in the electoral process to the best advantage.  Political donors and volunteers would do well to focus on races that are truly competitive and can be swayed with the precious resources that time and money represent.  Giving $50 to a favored congressperson who is running 80/20 over his opponent is not a good use of resource.

At some point – perhaps reasonably soon – Democratic donors and volunteers will have to decide whether the House outlook is so bleak that it will be better to focus entirely on holding the Senate, or perhaps on a few key gubernatorial races (or even state elections).  The Democrats have a far better chance of holding the Senate than the House, accordingly, as they are fielding generally excellent candidates in key swings states, while the GOP, not so much.  (Our Senate piece is only slightly dated and worth a read, and we will update it soon:

We will be explicit as the election season progresses with our guidance on this “resource allocation” question.

But if you are a Democratic volunteer/donor, and decided you simply must spend an hour or a dollar on a race right now, our advice is as follows – focus on three of the “Big Four” Senate races, the ones that will likely dictate the fate of Senate control this November where the Democratic headliner is set:  Arizona (Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly), Georgia (Democratic incumbent Ralph Warnock), Pennsylvania (Democratic primary winner John Fetterman).  (Wisconsin is the fourth, with the primary on August 9). Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Matso are also Democratic incumbents who are facing tough races and worthy of support. 

The Dems need to win four of these six races (or win fewer but flip a GOP seat or two, which is possible) to retain control of the Senate – and if they win all six, then the Dems will get to 52, and we won’t have to pay much attention to Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema anymore as the Dems drive through filibuster reform.

Right now we would say that Warnock probably needs the most help, as he is running about even with Georgia football demigod Herschel Walker, a colorful candidate who has zero political experience, one Heisman trophy and multiple personalities.



A midterm blowout would not be fatal to Joe Biden’s presidency, of course.  Many of his predecessors, as noted, suffered the same fate.  Three recent presidents – Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – not only survived gigantic midterm blowouts, and were reelected two years later, but each rank among the top 20 most successful presidencies ever (according to the latest round of historian polls in 2021 – Reagan was #9, Obama #10 and Clinton #19).  All were able to adjust, receive a run of good luck, or both.  Donald Trump, on the other hand, who made no adjustments whatsoever to his loathsome, divisive style, lost 42 seats in the 2018 midterms and lost his reelection bid.

But there is little doubt that getting shellacked (Obama’s term for his loss of a whopping 63 seats) is a warning shot over the bow from the American people.  The midterms are a barometer of how a presidency is being received.  First-term presidents are not destined to get swamped in the midterms – George W. Bush picked up seats – rather they typically earn it through unpopular actions or presiding over a dip in the economic cycle.  Biden was dealt a horrific hand, and then drew two more events over which he had no control, the Omicron strain and the Ukraine invasion, which directly resulted in the inflation that bedevils him.  But whether he deserves blame or not, his approval rating is low, and needs to be rebuilt to at least 45% to feel confident about reelection.

The loss of the House would mean the loss of the Democrat’s “trifecta” – the control of the White House, Senate and House.  Now, the trifecta ain’t what it used to be, what with the ancient filibuster rules almost assuring the inability to pass landmark legislation, and the Supreme Court firmly in conservative hands.  But still, losing the House would negate the ability for the Dems to pass legislation via reconciliation in the Senate – if the Democrats were able to hold the Senate.

This is a good time to note that the Senate midterms are almost a completely different animal.  While that pesky micro-environment almost always dictates House fortunes, Senate outcomes, including the midterms, are far more driven by the candidates themselves.  The Democrats have a far greater chance of holding on to the Senate, roughly 50/50 odds at this point.  The primary season is underway, and we need to see what the final lineups will be, but we will return with many Senate updates in the coming months.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, June 3, 2022

BTRTN: We Can’t Fix All the Problems that Caused Uvalde Fast Enough. But Here’s One Idea that Could Have a Real Impact Soon.

Each new Uvalde makes people feel ever more frustrated, angry... and feeling ever more powerless to effect change. Steve has an idea.

Perhaps we finally eliminated the theory that “the only answer to bad people with guns is good people with guns.” It doesn’t do much good if the “good people with guns” sit in the hallway for an hour while a madman with an assault rifle terrorizes a classroom, wounded children bleed out, and the urgent pleas from ten-year-old girls go unanswered.

Republican elected officials in Texas like to say things like “the only answer to bad people with guns is good people with guns.” And that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott wants you to believe that mass killings like the one that happened in his state last Tuesday are not because we have a “gun problem,” but because we have a “mental health problem.” The governor fails to grasp the irony: he is thereby characterizing the voters in his own state of having the highest concentration of mental illness in the nation, as six of the twelve largest incidents of mass murder by gun violence were in Texas.

Given Abbott’s beliefs about mental illness and the extraordinarily high incidence of mass shootings in Texas, you’d think he’d be spending a lot of Texas money to provide broad access to mental health care. Oops, not. According to Mental Health America, Texas is ranked the worst state in the union in terms of access to mental health services. Rarely is hypocrisy so precisely quantified.

Now, Governor Abbott is “livid” because he was lied to, not told that the police officers he heralded for bravery were huddled in a hallway outside the classroom for an hour as the killer terrorized children. How’s this for a theory, Governor Abbott? Your local police in Uvalde waited in the hallway for an hour because they suspected that if they charged the classroom against a man with an AR-15, each officer who attempted to enter the classroom would be slivered to ribbons before they could get a single shot off. 

You see, Governor Abbott, that alone is reason enough to ban AR-15 assault rifles. When the police race in to confront the next school killer, they will hold the advantage if the psychopath is not wielding an automated killing machine.

Here’s a difficult fact for the Governor to reconcile: the incidence of mental health problems in the United States is no different from that of other developed nations… and yet the United States alone has been home to 214 mass shootings (defined as at least four people being shot) in the first 145 days of 2022. No country that we would consider our economic, democratic, or cultural peer comes even close.

No one is going to disagree with Governor Abbott that mental health is a huge part of the problem, and that much more needs to be done to identify, monitor, and treat individuals who are in danger of turning violent.  

But if there is to be an investigation into mental illness problem as the essential problem in our pandemic of mass murder, surely that should include assessing the mental stability of a society that tolerates it, enables it, and even facilitates it.

Thoughtful and informed people (yes, we are now excluding Governor Abbott) are able to grasp that our pandemic of killing rampages has many, many causes, and we, as a society, have to fix many problems in order to effectively reduce the number of mass killings that occur in this nation.

Let’s start by asserting a correct interpretation of the Second Amendment, which reads in full: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Note for starters that the words “gun” or “rifle” do not appear in the Second Amendment. So, by the logic that the Second Amendment is an absolute and untouchable right for private citizens to “bear arms,” it must also logically permit citizens to own howitzers, chemical weapons, and nuclear bombs.  Here’s my idea: how about if we agree that every private citizen in the United States is allowed to own a gun as guns existed in 1791, when the Second Amendment was passed.  That should make all the mind-numbingly simplistic strict-constructionist Constitutional scholars happy, and it would solve our mass murder problem in about two minutes.

So let's be clear on one point: long before Donald Trump, long before Tucker Carlson, the original Republican "Big Lie" was the contention the Second Amendment forbids our Federal and state governments from passing legislation that restricts access to weaponry. We as a society under the United States Constitution have every right to regulate the ownership and use of deadly weapons like cars, alcohol, drugs, and yes, AR-15s.

Then there’s the fact that we as a nation allocate insufficient funding for K-12 education, and as a result, we are creating a nation of individuals who cannot handle the responsibilities of citizenship. We need to create citizens who understand that “freedom” is not an unlimited right of an individual, but a covenant of limitations mutually agreed up by a society in order to allow for the health, safety, and prosperity of all.  A good educational system might also create citizens who can watch Fox News and social media posts and discern between fact and propaganda. Today, one of the biggest obstacles to freeing our country from mass murder is that we do not even have a common understanding of the facts, the objective reality, the causality, and the proper interpretation of data to agree upon the problem, let alone the solution.  That Greg Abbott gets away with pretending that the radical availability of AR-15s does not bear a causal relationship to our pandemic of mass murders is a comment on the weakness of our educational system.

Now, let us turn our attention to exactly how our society is educated in the 21st Century. Because we need to take the position that we, as a society, are allowed to regulate the media, the broadcasters, and the social networks that claim to be protecting first amendment rights while they provide efficient platforms for hatred, lies, disinformation, and inciting violence. Americans apparently are unaware that prior to the 1980s, the three television networks operated under the scrutiny of the FCC, held to standards of accuracy and decency that were buttressed by the threats of losing their broadcast license.  Now, Facebook can enable and accelerate conspiracy theories, deceit, and murderous impulses without fear of consequence. Indeed, the more divisive and incendiary the post, the more profit they make... posts that stoke intense emotion tend to be shared more often and more widely. 

And yes, Governor Abbott, our inadequate K-12 funding does not enable us to adequately identify, monitor, and treat the individuals who represent a danger to society.  Your issue is one of the problems... not the entire problem.

Liberals, you can be angry about this one, but the fact is that our societal carnage has to be blamed in part on an entertainment industry that struggles to come up with a decent plot line unless someone gets violently murdered. If our television and movie studios were required to come up with gripping drama without the use of bullets and blood, a staggering percentage of Hollywood's output would disappear.

Of course, many people put all the blame for governmental inability to enact gun control laws on the power of the gun lobby and dependence on campaign donations from the NRA. The numbers do not support that explanation. Fortune recently reported the following:

Beyond lobbying, gun control groups …spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending. For 2022, they’ve already contributed $4.4 million, says OpenSecrets, based on its analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

$16 million might sound like a lot unless you read the data published by the Wesleyan Media Project that puts the total ad spending on the Presidential race in 2020 at $1.8 billion. The NRA money is a drop in the bucket.  Michael Bloomberg could offer every Red State Republican four times as much money if they simply would agree to vote to ban assault rifles... and he’s still have $50 billion to scrape by on.  It is convenient to blame the campaign donations of the NRA, but their role in this national morass is overstated.

The problems go much deeper and are much more pervasive and insidious. Every mass killing is some hideous cocktail with components of poverty, racism, victim-hood, and deranged and perverted notion of “personal empowerment,” our societal disease of believing that the rights of the individual are more important than the rights of the society.

Finally, we must face the ugly truth that we, as a society, have become lazy and sedentary, and do not take action. Too many people think that sharing a link on Facebook constitutes “action.” Re-posting a clever anti-gun slogan on Instagram gives people a smug sense that that they have actually done something. For all the hew and cry, not enough people are willing to do the hard work of ferociously attacking the inaction of our leaders.

After these horrific mass murders, people seem to do one of two things: half offer “thoughts and prayers,” and the other half demean people who offer “thoughts and prayers” as just so much talk. You know what? We could use a lot more “thoughts and prayers.”  We need more people actively thinking about how to solve the problem. And we need more people praying – not just for the souls of the victims and the grieving survivors, but prayers to their God for the courage, strength, and resolve to take action. To actually do something about the horror.  

How come our government cannot do anything about our mass murder epidemic?

Back on October 1, 2017, 58 people were killed and 867 injured when a supremely well-armed nut job sprayed automatic weapon fire from a hotel room window. On October 4, we here at BTRTN published an essay entitled “What Happened in Vegas Will Stay in Vegas,” confidently predicting that absolutely nothing would happen as a result of the tragedy. No new laws. No restrictions. No background checks. Nothing. In the past fifteen years, Born To Run The Numbers has made over 3,200 predictions (mostly highly accurate election forecasts) but our prediction that nothing would happen after Las Vegas was one of the easiest ever.

Our government is proving useless in creating gun legislation that reflects the popular will of our citizens. We see countless polls that conclude that an overwhelming majority of Americans want universal background checks prior to gun sales and want to ban the sale and ownership of assault weapons. But our Founding Fathers, concerned that small states would be "bullied" by larger states, intentionally designed a government in which small states have a disproportionately large amount of power in the Federal government. Just how bad has this this "disproportionate" representation become? The Senate is currently evenly divided with 50 each of Republicans and Democrats, but the Democrats in the Senate represent an astounding 41,549,808 more people than the Republicans.

The result? The people in Red States who believe that the government has no right to restrict gun ownership may be the minority of citizens in the United States… but because of the design of our government, they can essentially block any Federal legislation on gun regulation. The Republicans in smaller states have mastered how to wield that power… and, indeed, how to cheat to enlarge it. What Mitch McConnell did to screw Barack Obama out of his right to fill a Supreme Court vacancy was a soulless, amoral corruption of the long-standing and respected customs, practices, and traditions upon which our democracy rests. The only thing that can stop bad people from undercutting and corrupting our democracy is a majority constituted of good people who are willing to fight for it.

This points to the commonality between the precarious status of Roe v. Wade and the likely inaction following the Uvalve shooting. In both cases, the will of the American majority is being ignored by our government. A sizable majority of Americans – most polls seem to believe the number to be around 70% -- believe that women should have the right to choose. The numbers on gun legislation are even more skewed, with polls indicating that over 90% of Americans believe that there should be background checks prior to gun sales. But even with these stunning levels of popular sentiment, Republicans in Red States are able to wield the power granted in our Constitution to prevent that popular will from becoming law.

Uvalde is top of mind still, but just watch. In a few days, some atrocity from Ukraine, some horrific wildfire or tornado, or maybe just our fascination with Johnny Depp will broom Uvalde off the front pages. It will fade, and sometime in the not-too-distant future, a new town will take its turn as Newtown, and we will all struggle to remember the name of that place in Texas where nineteen children died because we as a people can’t agree on the problem, don't have a plan for taking action, and don't have the will to demand that something be done. 

Spoiler alert: the odds are extremely high that nothing will be done this time, either. Oh, it’s nice to hear that a few Republican Senators are chatting with Democrats… and it would be great if they were discussing the issue that would have the biggest impact. But we are not even doing that.

As we reel from the vomit-inducing mental image of ten-year-old children being ripped to pieces by a gunman firing rounds of burning metal into their tender bodies, let’s finally get real: there is one overwhelming problem and one urgent solution: ban the sale and ownership of assault style military weapons.

Right now, most of the dialog you hear about government action is centered on the issue of universal background checks. Make no mistake: the reason for this focus is not because it is the right next step… it is because it is the only step that Democrats think they have even the slightest chance of making progress on.

The premise of universal background checks is at best imperfect and at worst actually counterproductive. It implies that it is fine for someone with no history of mental illness to own a military style assault rifle. In order to make a small legislative gain, Democrats appear to be signing on to a preposterous concession: that anyone should be able to buy a military style assault weapon. The fact is that no one – no private citizen, period – needs an AR-15.

So what happens? The Senate may expend an enormous amount of time and political capital to try to broker a deal on universal background checks, and if Republicans finally accept this, they say, “See, we compromised! But we won’t do anything more!”

And the real problem – that any citizen can legally buy a military style assault rifle – is never dealt with.

Not after Newtown. Not after Las Vegas. Not after Uvalde. Not after the shooter next time.

There was once a ban on assault rifles in the United States. It was passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton (a Democrat, of course) and it contained the fatal flaw of expiring unless overtly renewed by Congress after ten years. In 2004, under George Dubya Bush (a Republican, of course), it died.

It worked. I am quoting from reporting by the Washington Post:

… Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, studied high-fatality mass shootings (involving six or more people) for his 2016 book “Rampage Nation.” He said that compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent and that the number of people dying because of mass shootings fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers in the next 10-year period rose sharply — a 183 percent increase in mass shootings and a 239 percent increase in deaths.

Do Americans support a ban on assault weapons? Here is a quote from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence:

For years, an overwhelming majority of Americans have recognized that assault weapons have no place in our communities or on our streets. Polling conducted over the past seven years (2015, 2017, 2019) shows that over 60 percent of Americans consistently favor a ban on assault weapons and on large capacity magazines.  A 2019 poll conducted in the wake of a series of mass shootings found that as many as 70% of Americans support a federal assault weapons ban including a majority of Republicans (55%), gun owners (57%), and military members (65%).  Yet, despite this stable, widely shared view, assault weapons and large capacity magazines remain legal and easy to buy, often with no questions asked.

We are failing, as a nation and a society, to truly cope with the biggest problem. And until we do, nothing is going to change.

So you sit at home, depressed to read this, like so many others about Uvalde, leaving you with the sense that there is nothing you can do.

There actually is something that could come out of the horrors of Uvulde that could have a more powerful immediate impact on enacting gun legislation than just about any of the issues discussed in this column.

And you, sitting at home, can help.

Here’s the idea.

Beto O’Rouke is running against Greg Abbott for Governor of Texas.

Beto O’Rouke has had the guts to say out loud in Texas that assault weapons have to go. When visiting Uvalde, O'Rourke made his position crystal clear: "If you want a solution, stop selling AR-15s in the state of Texas."

Let’s do everything we can to make the Texas gubernatorial election  a national referendum on assault rifles.   

The single best thing that could happen for Uvulde and millions of children across America is if Texans finally rose up and swept out its line-up of Republican leaders who are more focused on the rights of gun owners to own assault rifles rather than on the right of ten-year-olds to see their eleventh birthday.

One candidate – Greg Abbott –  doesn’t believe that there is any link between access to assault rifles and the carnage in Uvalde, and does not want any legislation that restricts ownership of assault rifles. 

The other candidate – Beto O’Rourke – thinks that the right of the ten year to live and the right of the parent to send their child to school without worry they will be murdered should take priority.

C’mon, Texans, take your pick. Tell America who you think is right.

Citizens of Texas: You've had six of the twelve largest mass murders in  your state. Do you realize what a powerful statement you could make by throwing out a Governor who appears more beholden to the NRA than to your children? Please, Texas... you can lead the way. Say that you have had enough in the only way that our politicians will ever really hear.

Let's put the eyes of the United States on Texas. For all you people across America who feel powerless and who don’t know what you, personally can do, take out your checkbook and write the biggest check you can afford to Beto O’Rourke's campaign for Governor of Texas. Let us do everything we can to make this one election a referendum on assault rifles, and then let's win.

Because nothing would signal to Republican politicians across our land that Americans want change in our gun laws more than if Beto O’Rourke beat Greg Abbott in November’s governor’s race. 

Nothing will communicate that the people of this nation want change on gun laws faster or more effectively than if Texans reject the inaction, denial, and deceit of their Republican leaders. 

This is not a solution that requires decades of re-engineering our society. We can send an unmistakable message about assault rifles this November... in five short months.

Write a check. Volunteer. Call a friend who lives in Texas. Ask for their help. Ask how you can help. Tell them that we all need them to send a message to Austin that Texans will not tolerate another town ripped to pieces by a psychopath who has easy access to a killing machine.

Get on a phone bank that calls voters in Texas and tell them that Texans actually have a chance to lead the nation on the single issue that most needs change in America.

Do something. 

Accept this truth: if you really want your government to do something, you have to do something first. 

Doing something is getting outside of your comfort zone and putting your heart, your soul, and your time on the line for all of the families who don’t yet know that the next killer is headed toward the elementary school in their town.

The best thing we can do right now to signal to our leaders that we cannot and will not tolerate the murder of our children is to get rid of the ones who do.

Getting rid of Greg Abbott is a great place to start.  


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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

BTRTN: Biden and the Dreaded Bush/Carter Comparisons

Tom with the BTRTN May 2022 Month in Review.

It’s really hard to find too much fault with the Joe Biden presidency.  Sure, it has been far from perfect, from missteps in COVID communications, to messiness in the Afghanistan exit, to wildly understating the potential longevity of inflation.  But Biden has also scored a number of real accomplishments: managing COVID down to a dull roar; propelling an economy that is exhibiting real growth (that is, growth even accounting for inflation) and near full-employment; getting a massive infrastructure bill passed (something his three predecessors failed to do) on a bipartisan basis, no less; masterful management of the Ukraine invasion, including restoration of unity among our allies; and a return to competence, analysis, empathy and integrity in our federal government.

What troubles America about the Biden presidency are factors largely out of his control. He alone cannot set new rules for Congress to enable passage of the kind of societal-changing legislation that many crave.  He cannot influence Joe Manchin, who is opposed to filibuster reform – he simply has no leverage over Manchin (apart from threatening to campaign in West Virginia on Manchin's behalf, which would pretty much destroy Manchin’s chances of re-election). He cannot put vaccines into every arm, he cannot control the worldwide supply chain, he cannot manufacturer baby formula; he cannot ban assault rifles; and he cannot prevent Vladimir Putin from committing, simultaneously, military genocide and political suicide.  Many Americans simply have a wildly inflated view of presidential power, and in our system, the checks and balances have never worked so well to ensure inaction on the many massive issues of our times. 

But the buck stops with Biden, and so far he is bearing the brunt of the blame for a divided and dysfunctional country.  Perhaps the most frightening figure is that the percentage of Americans who believe America is on the “right track” has fallen to 25%, and that is a five-point drop in the last month.  It was at 20% when Trump left office, and Biden literally “built it back” to 43% within two months of his inauguration, before it began sliding, when it became clear that Biden was not a miracle worker nonpareil.  

The events of the last month have nearly cemented the death of the hoped-for Biden 2022 comeback.  The Ukraine war continues to go reasonably well, but the price tag on its support is soaring  and the drumbeat of opposition to Biden’s support of it is now audible.  The latest COVID variant has resulted in a doubling of new cases across the country in May versus April, from just over a million cases to over two million, and that’s just among reported cases (generally excluding home tests, the use of which are presumably on the rise).  Inflation may have peaked, but that is far from even a hollow victory when it is still roaring at 8.3%.  Congress is as inept as ever, the Built Back Better legislation remaining a fumbled opportunity that is barely breathing.  And well beyond that: in the wake of the latest mass shooting atrocity in Uvalde, Texas, the murder of 19 elementary school children and two educators, all our legislators can offer are outrage on the Democrats’ side and pro-gun bullet points from the GOP.  That adds up to zero action -- when the vast majority of the nation believes meaningful gun reform is long overdue.  

There is an awful lot of pain in the United States right now, crying for relief, and Joe Biden is not able to provide it.

Unfortunately for Biden, the parallels to George H. W. Bush’s presidency are hard to avoid.  Bush and Biden share many similarities, both career politicians who brought to the White House decades of deep experience across domestic and foreign affairs.  Both became dutiful Vice Presidents to far more charismatic presidents.  Both are an archetype:  kindly, old school, unthreatening white men, dull as doornails, comfortable striding along the hallways of power, into backrooms, situation rooms and the Oval Office.  They are the type of leaders that many find comfort in, steady hands who can pick up a phone and hobnob with world leaders on a first name basis, the kind who have seen everything and seem to never look surprised by the onset of a new crisis.  These characteristics, indeed, were what got Biden elected.

Bush’s presidency was a fairly simple story – he brilliantly managed the Gulf War, forging an international alliance par excellence to counter Saddam Hussein’s naked grab of Kuwait, and led a military coalition that devastated the Iraqis with the brute force of Desert Storm.  And then, having accomplished his clearly articulated goals, he chose not to overreach by chasing down and ousting Hussein, well aware and wary of the nation-building commitment that would follow, with no exit strategy.  He brought the victorious troops home, with few casualties. 

Bush’s approval rating shot up to 90%, the highest Gallup has recorded since it started tracking presidential approval with Harry Truman.  But it all came tumbling down with an election year recession, to which Bush had neither an answer nor the slightest idea how to relate to the economic concerns of the Every Man, exposing his to-the-manor-born roots. (He rather famously whiffed when asked in a debate with Bill Clinton how much a gallon of milk cost.)  He was thus defeated by Clinton in 1992. 

Biden’s analogies to Bush are clear.  The Ukraine story, while far from complete, is already quite a foreign policy win for Biden.  Bush merely had to tap into his long relationships with allies to activate them to the Kuwaiti cause; Biden had the far harder task of reinventing those bonds, which were badly weakened by Trump.  No one would ever call Biden an out-of-touch patrician, but his response to the domestic issues, including inflation and, to a lesser extent, COVID, echo Bush’s, in that Biden seems uncertain and reactive on these issues, in sharp contrast to the bold, innovative leader we have seen dealing with Ukraine.

The Bush comparison is bad enough, but the murmuring you are starting to hear is the even-more-dreaded Carter comparison.  The Bush presidency has been rehabilitated somewhat in recent years, in part by the inevitable comparison to his rash son, who bungled his own Middle East war, and also by virtue of a very sympathetic biography by Jon Meacham.  Carter has regained some ground as well, through his own model post-presidency, but the four years of his presidency are still viewed harshly, far worse than Bush’s.  Carter’s average approval rating of 46% (again, Gallup) during his presidency was the lowest since Truman, and worse than all his successors, including Bush’s rather lofty 60% -- with the single exception of Donald Trump (41%). 

Carter, a one-term Governor of Georgia, had neither the resume nor the gravitas of George H. W. Bush, who was a former congressman, CIA director, RNC chair, Ambassador to China and Vice President.  Carter was also viewed as a moralistic and stiff prude who exuded little public warmth.  While his presidency was not devoid of accomplishment, notably in his brokering the Camp David Accords, he was overwhelmed by the double blows of stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis.  His inability to solve either led to his own one-term demise, losing to Ronald Reagan in 1980. 

Carter’s presidency is now defined, perhaps, by a single word he never uttered: “malaise.”  He may not have said the precise word in his “Malaise Speech,” but it is a good word to describe his assessment of the national will – what he did term a “crisis of confidence” – that was occurring on his watch. 

“It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt of the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of unity and purpose as a Nation. The erosion of confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of the nation.”

This is the comparison that Biden simply must avoid.  We, as a country, may have met the Ukraine challenge like the America of old, but we did not meet the COVID challenge, are not meeting the climate change challenge, nor the gun control challenge and so many more, with our politics locked in a death spiral of inaction.  Biden thought he could solve this – and the infrastructure bill offered tangible proof of his formidable talent in building legislative consensus.  But after that – pffft.  Americans now seem to be in despair, each tribe believing the other represents the death of America, with one side adopting cheating as its defining mantra, and the other simply stymied and frustrated.  Little seems to be getting done to combat the large issues of the day, including inflation and, now, gun control.  Might you call that a crisis of confidence in our system, a national malaise? 

The only presidents in the last 100 years to serve only a single full-term are Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, Bush and Donald Trump.  Biden has zero interest in adding his name to that list. He must find more victories to avoid those Bush/Carter comparisons that would truly doom him to join the list of single termers.

He has time.  Reagan, Clinton and Obama all got shellacked in their first midterms – likely Biden’s fate -- and recovered to win second terms, rather easily in fact.  Manchin is now working with Chuck Schumer on a mini-BBB; Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is talking with GOP moderates willing to engage in early post-Uvalde gun control discussions; and look for Biden to issue a string executive orders designed to demonstrate action across hot button issues, if not permanent change.  This may not add up to enough to hold the House in 2022, but it could make a difference on the margin in those battleground Senate races, and put Biden on the path to reelection in 2024.

Especially if his opponent is Donald Trump, who has seen his vaunted king-making powers take a hit in early GOP primaries (with as many prominent losses among those he backed as wins); continues to face ominous legal headwinds in Georgia, New York and rumblings from the Department of Justice; and chose to appear at the NRA convention just days after Uvalde and double down on total gun rights protection, a position the center tends to loathe. If Biden is teetering on the cusp of Carter malaise comparisons, Trump certainly won’t offer Reaganesque “Morning in America” bromides to a downcast citizenry.  Remember Trump’s dark and wacky Inaugural address, that apocalyptic screed that George W. Bush neatly and memorably characterized minutes after it ended as follows:  “That was some weird shit.” 

If Trump falters, many point to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as a new era incarnation of him.  But DeSantis is simply just another smooth-as-silk but bland-as-vanilla politician.  He simply does not inspire the godlike devotion that fills arenas and drives messianic followers to the polls, as does Trump.  Trump is what DeSantis is not: a bellowing charlatan, full-throated firebrand and tabloid and TV celebrity of the first order.  DeSantis is far more like George H.W. Bush than George Wallace, and that ain’t gonna butter the biscuit electorally.

The GOP has a real problem in 2024, with Trump, his wannabees yapping nervously on the sidelines, and an increasing field of emboldened never-Trumpers, such as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Wyoming Representative (for now) Lynne Cheney, who might make life quite uncomfortable for Trump and his wannabees on the campaign trail, laying waste to their ludicrous “stolen election” claims on debate podiums, in front of large audiences.

But for now, it is up to Biden to chart a winning path in the next 30 months.


How is this possible in the United States of America, that the man who said this is revered by 30-40% of our nation?

“Shortly after hundreds of rioters at the Capitol started chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ on Jan. 6, 2021, the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, left the dining room off the Oval Office, walked into his own office and told colleagues that President Donald J. Trump was complaining that the vice president was being whisked to safety.  Mr. Meadows, according to an account provided to the House committee investigating Jan. 6, then told the colleagues that Mr. Trump had said something to the effect of, maybe Mr. Pence should be hanged.”


Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of March dropped a single point, from 43% to 42%.  



Biden’s “key issue” ratings generally held at April levels, except for a slight drop on his handling of the economy and the already-noted 5-point drop on “right track.”   



In May polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the Democrats on the generic ballot by +1.4 percentage points.  Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day in 2022, the GOP would pick up about 20 seats and take over the House with some room to spare, though hardly in the magnitude of the losses experienced by Bill Clinton in his first midterms (-54 seats) or Barack Obama (-63), or even Donald Trump (-40).  This figure could be further eroded when we incorporate a full restricting effect; redistricting is not quite complete as yet.




The “Bidenometer” dropped again from April to May, from +12 to +8, driven mostly by an abrupt rise in the price of gas.  Other measures were virtually unchanged, inclduing, perhaps oddly, consumer confidence, which remains rather high at 106.

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +8 means that, on average, the five measures are 8% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +8, the economy is performing better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, the Dow is much higher, as is consumer confidence.  Only gas prices have moved in the wrong direction under Biden.  Even the recent GDP blip is better than the -3.5% that marked Trump’s last quarter[w2] .

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move upward to +8 under Biden.



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Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.