Sunday, January 22, 2017

Strength in numbers

When info about the Women's March was first circulating, I was glad it was happening, and I was glad Kate was taking part and helping organize the bus transportation from our neck of the woods.

Yet I was skeptical about what good it could do. It's valuable to show and experience solidarity, and working toward going to the march seemed empowering for Kate, rather than sitting too long with a sense of helplessness. And I got some of that good energy vicariously. But as many people have observed, the march needs to be just the first step - it's the follow-up from all of us that really matters.

Then the images started coming in yesterday, and I changed my mind.

I still agree that the follow-up is where the big payoff will be, but I find myself appreciating the importance of the march itself in a way I hadn't expected. Because the sheer magnitude of the marches - around the country and around the world - was just the visible manifestation of an important reality: the incoming government is not popular.

The new president starts off with historically low approval numbers.

It's widely known that he got about 2.8 million fewer votes than Clinton, but it's deeper than that.

He got fewer votes than Obama did in either of his victories, despite the base of potential voters having grown.

He boasted of getting more popular votes than any other Republican nominee, but the last time a Republican won, there were 30 million fewer eligible voters, and while G.W. Bush did win the popular vote in 2004 (unlike in 2000), it wasn't a big win, so it would be astonishing if Trump hadn't gotten more votes than Bush, not to mention any earlier Republican candidate.

In the table below, the first three columns of numbers are taken from here, while the last three are my calculations based on those numbers.
Year Winner Winner's popular vote Winner's % of popular vote Turnout Total votes Eligible voters Winner's % of eligible voters
1980 Reagan 43,903,230 50.75% 54.2% 86,508,828 159,610,384 27.5%
1984 Reagan 54,455,472 58.77% 55.2% 92,658,622 167,859,822 32.4%
1988 Bush I 48,886,597 53.37% 52.8% 91,599,395 173,483,703 28.2%
1992 Clinton 44,909.806 43.01% 58.2% 104,417,126 179,719,666 25.0%
1996 Clinton 47,400,125 49.23% 51.7% 96,283,008 186,234,058 25.5%
2000 Bush II 50,460,110 47.87% 54.2% 105,410,717 194,484,718 25.9%
2004 Bush II 62,040,610 50.73% 60.1% 122,295,703 203,487,027 30.5%
2008 Obama 69,498,516 52.93% 61.6% 131,302,694 213,153,724 32.6%
2012 Obama 65,915,796 51.06% 58.6% 129,094,783 220,298,265 29.9%
2016 Trump 62,979,636 45.98% 58.6% 136,971,805 233,740,282 26.9%

Trump got the lowest percent of the popular vote except for Bill Clinton in his first race in 1992, running against a strong 3rd-party candidate (Ross Perot). Clinton has the two lowest numbers for percent of eligible voters, but Perot was in both races (though he drew fewer votes the second time).

Bill Clinton beat G.H.W. Bush by 5.5%, and he beat Dole by 8.5%. Contrast to Trump losing to Hillary Clinton by 2.1%.

While Trump got more votes than G.W. Bush, he got a lower percent of the popular vote than Bush did in either of his elections, and he was far behind Bush's share of eligible voters in 2004.

And as he tacitly acknowledges in comparing himself only to Republicans (because Democratic presidents aren't really presidents?), he didn't come close to Obama's numbers, in percent of popular vote, in percent of eligible voters, or even in the raw number of votes.

Turning to the House of Representatives, the GOP obviously has a majority of seats, with 241 to the Democrats' 194, or 55.4% of the seats. (Data in this paragraph from here.) They also won the popular vote, if you can call it that when you add up how many people voted for Republican candidates vs. Democratic candidates, with 63,153,387 to the Democrats' 61,776,218. 49.1% of the votes cast for members of Congress went to Republicans, while 48.0% went to Democrats. So a plurality, but not a majority.

In the Senate, it's hard to draw conclusions from any single year's election, since only a third of senators are up for election or re-election in any given year. But you can calculate how many people are represented in the Senate by Republicans, vs. how many are represented by Democrats or independents who caucus with the Democrats. If a state's two senators are both from one caucus, then the population of that state is clearly being represented by that caucus. If there's one senator from each caucus, you can say the state is half represented by each caucus.

Based on the list of Senators here, and the state-by-state population figures here, the Democratic caucus plus the independents who caucus with it represent 56.5% of the country, while Republican Senators represent 43.5%.

So their president is unpopular, their Senators represent less than half the country, and they have only a thin popular mandate in the House.

And their policies?

Only 18% of the public want full repeal of Obamacare. "Another 47 percent said only some of ObamaCare should be repealed, while 31 percent said it should be left untouched." Typically, when people want to repeal "part" of Obamacare, they want to repeal the mandate to buy insurance, but not the obligation of insurance companies to sell insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. As explained here, here, and here, that's functionally equivalent to wanting Congress to repeal diabetes. It's a unicorn.

Cuts to Social Security aren't popular, unless you phrase them in just the right way.

The public doesn't support turning Medicare into a voucher program.

So we have a historically unpopular president, a House majority with a slim plurality of the popular vote, a Senate majority that represents substantially less than half the country, all from a party pursuing policies that are some combination of unpopular and unworkable.

And it's pretty clear that the Women's March on Saturday turned out a lot more people than the inauguration the day before - there were fewer Metro riders on Friday than on a normal workday. Meanwhile, Saturday had 75% more riders than Friday, and the day of Obama's first inauguration had 92% more riders than Friday.

We don't establish our laws on the basis of who can get more marchers to the streets of the capital on any given Saturday (and a good thing, too - it'd be rather cumbersome). And the way we set up the Senate and the Electoral College makes it tricky to derive clear meanings from the popular-vote and Senate-representation calculations I presented above.

We create our laws based on who can get more of their voters to the polls on election day and in the states that matter given the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College. That means that Congress can pass whatever laws they want, and Trump can sign them, and it doesn't matter how blatantly unconstitutional you or I might think they are - if the Supreme Court says they're OK, then they're the law of the land.

So don't expect your Republican Senator or House member to say, "Oh, I see your point. I guess I'll work hard to fix Obamacare by converting it into a single-payer system." That's not the outcome desired by the interests who own them, so it's highly unlikely to happen.

But if you think it doesn't bother Trump that his numbers were small, look at how ludicrously he and his team were willing to lie about those numbers.

So do remind your representatives that they're not enacting the will of the people. And do remind your Democratic Senators or House member that if they resist the Trump-Ryan agenda, they're resisting an unpopular movement.

It's easy to remember. Just keep in mind an image like this:
Independence Ave, Washington D.C.
(from here)
 or this:
Boston Common
(from here)
or this:
(from here)
For that, a huge THANK YOU to all the ladies (and gents) who made it happen.

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