Back during convention season I warned that election polls wouldn't really mean much until the middle of August. Well, the middle of August is here! So what are the polls showing us? Here you go:

Hillary Clinton is ahead by a steady 8 points. State polls show that she's ahead in pretty much every battleground state. If this holds up, it would be an epic blowout.

Of course it might not hold up. Then again, it might get even worse for Trump. He could turn out to be worst natural politician since—who? I'm not sure. We've never seen anything like this in an election against a party that's already served two terms and is running on a mediocre economy. Previous blowouts—FDR in 1936, LBJ in 1964, Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984—have all been by one-term incumbents running for reelection during years of strong economic growth.

Trump is a man of extremes: the biggest, the richest, the boldest, the most beautiful. Now he's heading for another title: worst presidential candidate of all time. That's quite an achievement.

Quick question: do we have any good longitudinal data on the racial attitudes of white, working-class men? Maybe something from the GSS?

Obviously this is related to Donald Trump. The question is this: if we assume that Trump is trying to appeal to racial animus among the white working class—a pretty reasonable assumption—this obviously runs the danger of putting off members of other demographic groups. But what about the white working class itself? Is this strategy likely to work even among them? Or is he appealing to a sentiment that's slowly but steadily fading away?

Can anyone help with this?

In my post earlier this morning I made the case that economic anxiety really did play a role in blue-collar support for Donald Trump. However, many of you cleverly noted that I slid in a postscript at the end that basically made a hash of my argument—and everyone else's. It's simple: Trump isn't actually doing unusually well among white, working-class men. And if Trump isn't doing better among blue collar men in the first place, then there's really nothing to explain. Not racism, not nationalism, not economic anxiety, not anything. Apropos of that, here's a Pew table from a few weeks ago:

Compared to Mitt Romney—a garden variety Republican if there ever was one—Trump is:

  • Doing worse among men
  • Doing worse among whites
  • Doing worse among the elderly
  • Doing worse among those with only a high school education
  • Doing worse among those with low incomes

This is not absolutely definitive. The problem is that Trump's base is typically described as white, working-class men, and most polls just don't break down support that finely. Still, if Trump is doing worse among whites, worse among men, and worse among the working class, it's a pretty good bet that, at the very least, he's not doing any better than Romney among white, working-class men. And if he is, I'll bet it's by a minuscule amount.

So here's the real story: Trump is basically just a Republican candidate for president, appealing to all the usual groups that Republicans appeal to—and this has been true during the entire campaign. Nationally, support for Trump has changed only modestly over the past six months. In fact, if there's any difference at all, it's the fact that whites and men and the working class are turned off by his overt appeals to racism and nationalism. The fact that Trump has a small base of very loud white supporters doesn't change this.

It's hard to draw firm conclusions from any of this. Maybe white, working-class men do like Trump's racial appeals, but are turned off for other reasons. (For example, he's a lunatic.) We'll never know for sure. But what evidence we have really doesn't support the idea that the white working class loves Trump in the first place. Given that, any effort to explain it is bound to be wrong.

Here Is My Clever Plan to Save the Olympics

Clay Dillow reports that hosting the Olympics is really expensive:

When Rio de Janeiro won its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics back in 2009, the Brazilian government estimated that costs directly related to hosting the games would run just shy of $3 billion. But by the time Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic torch at last week’s opening ceremonies, the country had already spent some $4.6 billion on venues, administration, transportation and the like, putting the games roughly 50 percent over budget. By the time the games close on Aug. 21, the tally for the games will likely be higher still.

What can we do to cut down on the cost of staging the Olympics? My idea to host the summer games permanently in Los Angeles sank like a shot put, so here's another one: keep moving them from city to city, but break up the events.

Hear me out. This year, for example, maybe Rio would host track and field—which would be designated the lead venue, responsible for opening and closing ceremonies. Paris would host swimming. Denver would host gymnastics. Beijing would host wrestling, judo, and boxing. Perth would host all the sailing events. And so forth.

Basically, you could break up the summer games into a dozen components and let cities bid for each one. Ditto for the winter games. This would allow even small cities to bid on some of the smaller packages. And it would allow the IOC to gamble on letting developing countries play host without fearing that the entire games might be bollixed up.

Every couple of years, the entire world would be involved in the Olympics. Every continent would be represented. And no one would have to commit to spending billions and billions of dollars on a huge new Olympic venue. The television audience would barely see a difference, and the difference they did see might make the games even better. Some people would miss being able to visit the entire Olympics in person, but hell, that's an expensive proposition. There aren't many people who truly do this. And under my plan, it would be a lot easier and less crowded to visit just one venue that you're truly interested in.

So how about it? This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking the stodgy old IOC needs. Let's blanket the world with the Olympic Games.

UPDATE: I am late to this idea. Megan Greenwell proposed the same thing in Wired. I can't read it thanks to my ad blocker, but I'll bet she makes the case better than me and in more detail.

Matt Yglesias says it's ridiculous to attribute Donald Trump's support to economic anxiety:

While plenty of people, including plenty of Trump fans, certainly have concerns about the economy, it’s racial resentment that drives who does and doesn’t support Trump....Adding an economic anxiety factor to your account doesn’t actually help to explain anything. Trump’s supporters, for example, are considerably whiter and considerably older than the American population at large. If the economic problems of the past decade had been unusually hard on the white and the old, then an economics-focused explanation could be valuable. In reality, things have been rougher on nonwhites and rougher on younger cohorts.

Generally speaking, I agree. There's been an endless amount of research, including endless splicing and dicing of poll internals, that tries to explain what's different about Trump supporters. And every time, the answer is pretty clear: racial resentment. This is so clear that it's become a joke on Twitter. Every time a Trump supporter (or Trump himself) does or says something racist, it will get linked with a snarky comment about the latest bit of "economic anxiety."

And yet, I do think that genuine economic anxiety has something to do with Trump's popularity. The chart on the right, which I posted a couple of weeks ago, tells the basic story. Over the past few decades, women's incomes have made great strides. Blacks have improved their economic position a bit. Hispanics too. The only group that's failed to make any progress at all is white men. Maybe it's not right to call this "anxiety," but it's certainly something that helps explain why white men are angrier than most people about their economic position.

Nor do I really buy this:

By contrast, the idea that Donald Trump is going to usher in a new era of broadly shared prosperity based on a revival of coal mining and labor-intensive methods of steel production is patently ridiculous. Under guise of being respectful of Trump voters’ concerns, pundits attributing his appeal to his economic “policies” are in effect attributing a remarkable degree of foolishness to his supporters. The more parsimonious and simple explanation is that there is a basic divide over values and cultural identity.

One of the remarkable things about presidential elections is the extent to which voters simply believe whatever candidates tell them. It doesn't matter if it's impossible. It doesn't matter if the candidate changed his mind about this the day before yesterday. It doesn't matter if there's no plausible policy behind the claim. If Trump says he's going to build a wall, then he's going to build a wall. If he says he's going to renegotiate all our trade treaties, then that's what he's going to do. This is not something specific to Trump fans. It's true of all voters.

Personally, I find it sort of remarkable. But then, I'm basically half-Vulcan. Most people aren't.

Presidential campaigns are mostly just an exercise in finding someone whose heart is in the right place. The fancy term is "mood affiliation." Most voters don't really care if either Trump or Hillary Clinton can do what they say. They just want to know what they consider important. Trump has very loudly signaled that he considers the plight of blue-collar workers important, both economically and culturally—and that's really all that matters.

Now, there's a metric buttload of racial and sexist angst wrapped up in that word "culturally." Yglesias is right about that. But there really is an economic component too.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, this whole argument might be moot. There's considerable evidence that blue-collar whites don't actually support Trump any more strongly than they've supported any other Republican candidate for president. Some of them may be louder than usual this year, but Trump doesn't actually seem to have moved the needle much in terms of raw numbers.

The New York Times reports today on the latest about Paul Manafort, favored lobbyist of sleazy dictators worldwide and currently Donald Trump's campaign chairman:

Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump's Campaign Chief

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych's pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

…The papers, known in Ukraine as the "black ledger," are a chicken-scratch of Cyrillic covering about 400 pages taken from books once kept in a third-floor room in the former Party of Regions headquarters on Lipskaya Street in Kiev. The room held two safes stuffed with $100 bills.

That sounds pretty bad. Still, I suppose it could be worse. For example, Manafort could—eh? What's that, Adam Weinstein?

Well, so much for the latest pivot to normalcy for the Trump campaign. It was already in pretty tattered shape after his Sunday Twitter rant about how unfairly the media mistreats him. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Republicans are finally concluding that a Trump pivot away from uncontrolled ranting and raving will never happen. Politico reports that "party leaders have started talking about cutting off support to Trump in October and redirecting cash to save endangered congressional majorities." I can't say that I blame them. I only wonder why they're planning to wait until October.

Here Is My Idea to Make Fast Food Great Again

Did I ever mention that I finally finished my quest to eat at all of our great nation's top 50 fast food joints? Well, I did, except for eight places that don't have any outlets in Southern California. However, every one of them seems to have set up shop in Phoenix, so someday maybe I'll have to spend a week there to truly cross off my entire list.

This whole exercise probably sounded like a dumb idea to most of you, and I guess it was. I can't say that any of the new places I tried really entranced me—not even internet fave Chipotle. However, it did provide me with the inspiration for a whole new chain of restaurants. Here's a mockup of the menu board for my idea:

You see, it turns out that a burger is a burger. I know many of you will howl in disagreement, but you're wrong. The difference between the best burger I tasted and the worst burger was barely worth worrying about. However, the fries were all over the map. Some were horrible. Some were OK. A few were fairly good. But none of them was truly great.

So what we need is a place that specializes in fries and really does them right. For the health conscious among you, order the shoestrings cooked in canola oil. For the rest of us, who understand that health conscious people shouldn't eat at fast food burger joints in the first place, we can order something better, cooked in beef tallow and topped with whatever strikes your fancy.

There will still be burgers and other stuff, of course. My restaurant just won't make a big deal out of them. It's a burger. Or a hot dog. Or a sandwich. Or whatever. It'll be fine.

Anyway, I offer this idea free of charge to anyone who wants to become a millionaire. My only condition is that the first outlet open in Irvine, California. Everything else is up to you. Any takers?

Yesterday I read this article in the Washington Post:

For millennial voters, the Clinton vs. Trump choice ‘feels like a joke’

In interviews this past week with more than 70 young voters in nine states from diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and careers, it is clear their mood is decidedly different from previous elections. Despite their varied lives, most of those interviewed shared a disgust with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump so intense that it is pushing many beyond disillusionment and toward apathy.

....Though a few people voiced admiration for Clinton, most talked about both her and Trump in searing, caustic words: Super villain. Evil. Chameleon. Racist. Criminal. Egomaniac. Narcissist. Sociopath. Liar. Lying cutthroat. Panderer. Word salad. Willy-nilly. Douche. Joker. Troll. Oompa Loompa. Sad. Absurd. Horrifying. Dishonest. Disgusting. Dangerous. Disaster.

Etc.

My immediate first thought when I read this was: Sure, but is this attitude really any different than in years past? I mean, if you go out and ask people to bitch about politics—which is what these reporters are doing even if they don't think they are—then they're going to bitch about politics. I probably would too.

So then: is this just the usual griping? Or is it worse than usual? I was too lazy to look for the polling data, but Eric Boehlert came to my rescue today:

This is just for Florida, and who knows? Maybe Floridians are unusually cheery folks. I doubt it, though. And although Boehlert doesn't mention this, that 12 percent of millennials who feel less motivated to vote this year is a smaller number than it is for older groups. Everything is close enough, in fact, that you can basically say there's no difference between millennials and other age groups when it comes to enthusiasm for voting.

We get this every four years. Reporters fan out into "real America" and ask people about politics. And pretty much without exception, every four years people are frustrated, angry, apathetic, and convinced that politicians never do anything for them. Every. Four. Years.

So knock it off, folks. Seriously. I know that reporters like to report, but this kind of stuff is flatly useless unless you can back up your anecdotes with something a little more concrete. At the very least, compare it to 2012. Or 2008. Or 2004. Or better yet, all of those years. If there's no real difference, then this is your story: "Voters, as usual, claim to be disgusted with politics." You can put it right up there next to "Worthwhile Canadian initiative."

Michael Stein writes about the expectation of kindness when you visit the doctor:

It’s reasonable to expect a doctor to be kind at every visit....Today, medical schools teach and evaluate kindness at patients’ bedsides and through role-playing....Yet doctors and patients alike have lamented that fully booked appointment schedules, the laptop’s intrusion during history-taking, billing pressures and edicts from insurance companies are squeezing kindness out of the exam room.

Personally, I don't care. Sure, I'd prefer that my doctor not be an asshole, but most of them pass that test. My hobby horse is different: I want them to tell the simple truth. Period.

I always feel like telling them this: "You know how you talk when you're consulting with another doctor? Neither kind nor unkind. Just a simple, unemotional dialogue that's concerned solely with the facts of the case. That's what I want."

And a pony. As near as I can tell, I have about as good a chance of getting either one.

POSTSCRIPT: Not that I really blame them. Every patient wants something a little different in the bedside manner department. How are doctors supposed to know? And even if they do, can they really be expected to turn different personalities off and on for each appointment?

David Atkins is unhappy about a Politico story suggesting that "top Senate Democrats" are pushing Hillary Clinton to stick with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland if she wins in November, rather than replacing him with someone more liberal:

It seems increasingly likely that Clinton’s hands will be tied by the Obama Administration’s decision to nominate a centrist in Merrick Garland in the hopes of compromise with the current GOP. Democratic Senators are already pushing for Clinton not to displace Garland with a more liberal choice in the interest of “preserving political capital.”

....“Top Senate Democrats” never seem to learn their lesson about political capital and negotiating with Republicans in Congress. There is no amount of compromising or bending over backwards that will please Senate Republicans or even make them more willing to negotiate with Democrats over other key items. One of the more glaring falsehoods of the Democratic primary campaign was that Clinton would be able to make more effective deals and compromises with the opposition, enabling Clinton to get things done that Sanders could not.

The reality is that Congressional Republicans won’t compromise with Clinton any more than they would have with Sanders. And they won’t be more inclined to deal in good faith with her if she nominates Garland than if she were to pull his nomination and select someone else.

With a caveat or two, I agree with this. And yet, I can't help think that something more is going on with Garland. Think about it. For starters, why did Obama nominate Garland? Not in hopes of compromise with Republicans, I think. He's not an idiot. Rather, he did it as a campaign ploy: a way of making Republicans look so extreme that they weren't even willing to confirm a moderate jurist that most of them had praised earlier in his career.

But now think about this from the other side. Why would anyone have agreed to be Obama's accomplice in this? It was obvious from the start that Republicans were going to block confirmation no matter who it was. Why go through all the trouble and paperwork and so forth for nothing more than being able to help the president make his opponents look bad?

My guess is that Garland received a promise—probably implied rather than explicit—that Democrats would stick with him if they won in November. Obama would work to get him confirmed during the lame duck session, and would recommend to Hillary Clinton that she renominate him in 2017 if necessary.

Roughly speaking, Garland is being a team player in hopes that the team will stick with him even if someone better comes along. The question, then, isn't whether Clinton should try to appease Republicans. It's whether she ought to reward loyalty in a guy who agreed to play a difficult and thankless role.

So should she? And if I'm right, how should Republicans play this game?