Sam Wang, my go-to presidential forecaster, says Hillary Clinton would have a 99 percent chance of winning if the election were held today. But the election isn't being held today:

Historically from 1952 to 2012, the likely range of movement in two-candidate margin from this time until Election Day has been 10 percentage points, which is the standard deviation from the 16 past elections. Therefore, even though Clinton currently leads by a median margin of 7 percent (12 national surveys) and would certainly win an election held today, she could still lose the lead, and from a purely poll-based standpoint, is only narrowly favored to be elected President in November (probability: 70%).

It is also the case that Clinton is the only candidate who is poised for a blowout. Her “plus-one-sigma” outcome (current polls plus one standard deviation) is a popular vote win of 58.5%-41.5%. Trump’s plus-one-sigma outcome is a narrower win, 51.5%-48.5%.

In chart form it looks something like this: two bell curves centered 7 points away from each other, each with a standard deviation of 10 points.

The blue span from 48.5 to 51.5 is Trump's 30 percent chance of winning—though it's worth noting that Wang says the standard deviation in recent elections has been more like 4 points, which would give Trump virtually no chance of winning. Nonetheless, he also says this: "But considering the upheaval in the Republican Party, a little voice tells me to open my mind to a wider range of possibilities... including a Trump win."

James Wimberley isn't convinced. He takes a look at various upsides and downsides of the two candidates (gaffes, oppo dumps, unusual outside events, etc.) and concludes that virtually all of them favor Hillary:

Adding these pseudo-numbers up, I get the total risks to Clinton 39, to Trump 352. Really the only more than marginally possible future events in my categories that he has going for him are ISIS pulling off a big atrocity and economic collapse in China, both at long odds. I don’t claim credibility for my particular numbers, just that overall we have to put a very fat thumb on the probability scales in Clinton’s favour. So her chances to a sensible bettor are more than Wang’s 70%, a lot more.

Comments? I'm pretty astounded that after locking up the nomination Trump has actually gotten more out of control, not more restrained. Everybody sort of assumed that when it came time to widen his appeal beyond the Republican base, he'd be smart enough to dial things back a notch, but he seems to have taken this as some kind of schoolyard challenge. The last couple of weeks he's been crazier than ever. If this keeps up, I'd be hard put to give him more than a 1 percent chance of winning.

You Can't Please Everyone

This cracks me up. The first two emails I got about our new site design, about five minutes apart, were these:

  • Reader #1: God that is really ugly.
  • Reader #2: I love your new artwork! Kudos to the graphic designer!

I like the new design myself, though I'll confess that the logo is...very large and orange. That said, does anyone want to help me guess what the graphic elements are supposed to mean? There are eight:

  1. Microphone
  2. Two arrows
  3. Map pin?
  4. Pencil
  5. Cat
  6. Speech bubble
  7. Outstretched hand
  8. Check mark

Half of these are pretty obvious. But what about 2, 3, 7, and 8?

Uber Needs to Start Acting Like a Grownup

Adam Ozimek is dismayed by progressive excitement over the regulation of Uber in the city of Austin:

There’s a lot of celebrating in some corners about Austin’s recent passage of a law mandating that ridesharing companies like Uber fingerprint their drivers....Amazingly, many aren’t trying very hard to hide the fact that they aren’t mostly concerned about whether this policy is a good idea!...I find this celebration a little puzzling given that we are just now beginning to exit the era where local taxi regulations were almost everywhere an embarrassing milieu of cronyism designed to protect politically powerful incumbents who offered shoddy service. The history of local taxi regulation should be an embarrassment, not a model we celebrate our inability to escape from.

....It’s very interesting how many erstwhile progressives have shown little concern for the rights of those who have been accused of a crime, and the disproportionate impact of a policy on minorities, in just this circumstance. Too excited by the prospect of local government regulating a rich tech company, there has been little time to consider these traditional progressive worries.

This might be true. And I certainly can't speak for all progressives. But I'd offer a couple of counterpoints:

  • Municipal regulation of the taxi industry has indeed been an embarrassment, and to the extent that Uber fights it, they're doing God's work. At the same time, Uber has been almost thuggishly aggressive about defending its apparent belief that they should be immune from any regulation whatsoever. To hear them talk, they're really nothing more than a database that provides a lookup service for car owners. What happens after that has nothing to do with them.

    As a progressive, this attitude does bother me. Uber is a company that basically employs hundreds of thousands of drivers. The public has a right to expect them to act like the multi-billion company they are, and to treat both their employees and their customers within the confines of expected corporate norms. The Austin case may or may not be misguided, but as a fight to show Uber that they aren't above the law, I can understand the enthusiasm.
  • In any case, I'm not sure the Austin case is misguided. The taxi regulations that Uber is justified in fighting are the ones that have turned the whole industry into little fiefdoms of cozy little cartels. However, the regulations demanding that taxis be safe and drivers be reliable are pretty good ones. Requiring Uber to keep ex-felons out of taxis may have some downsides, but it's also got plenty of upsides. It's certainly not a slam dunk that this is a bad idea.

Overall, I'm a fan of Uber. They provide a great service, and breaking up the taxi cartels is almost certainly a boon to Americans everywhere. At the same time, they're not a startup anymore. They're a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation that needs to accept public oversight in the areas of employment law, safety regulation, and reasonable licensing. They don't seem very willing to do this, and sometimes the public needs to fight back and win.

Today the Wall Street Journal asks a vital question:

Donald Trump’s Plans Don’t Add Up. Do Voters Care?

Oh please. Bernie Sanders' plans don't add up and his followers couldn't care less. Paul Ryan's plans don't add up. Republicans don't care. Mitt Romney's plans didn't add up. No one cared. John McCain's plans didn't add up. No one cared. George Bush's plans didn't add up. No one cared. Ronald Reagan's plans didn't add up. No one cared.

Now, I admit that Trump is performing a destruction test on this theory. His tax plan blows a $9.5 trillion hole in the deficit and he plans to increase spending on infrastructure and national defense and he promises not to touch Medicare or Social Security. He claims he'll make up for this by cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse," and I suppose one could view this as the ultimate test of just how much waste, fraud, and abuse the public thinks the American government is responsible for. Unfortunately, the historical evidence probably doesn't favor a rational answer.

So what does Trump's budget look like? Someone must care, after all. At no small effort, I have created the colorful chart below. I used the CBO's projections as my baseline. Trump says he wants to balance the budget, so that puts a firm cap on overall spending. He says he wants to spend more on defense, so I added a modest $20 billion per year to the baseline projection. He says he won't touch Social Security or Medicare, so I left those at their baseline projections. The revenue number comes from TPC's analysis of Trump's tax plan. Ditto for the interest number. Trump says he wants to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, so I bumped up the current infrastructure budget by $100 billion and carried it through each year.

As you can see, by the end of eight years, not only are we spending zero dollars on nearly every government program, but infrastructure spending is also wiped out and we can make only a fraction of our interest payments:

So yeah, you could say this doesn't add up. Or you could say it's more of Trump's usual buffoonery. Or that Donald Trump couldn't care less about the federal budget. So why doesn't this get more attention? Let's take a series of guesses:

  • Most people find numbers confusing and boring. One trillion, ten trillion, whatever.
  • The press shies away from focusing on stuff like this because their readers find it confusing and boring and don't read it.
  • Also because they routinely give Republicans a pass on this stuff. They figure it's mostly just routine pandering, and all politicians do it.
  • In any case, the public takes tax and budget plans mostly as statements of values, not as things that will ever actually happen.

So there you have it. Trump is testing whether he can get away with literally proposing a tax and budget plan that would bankrupt the country and destroy nearly the entire federal government within just a few years. What do you think?

A Very Brief Timeline of the Bathroom Wars

A very brief Twitter conversation yesterday got me curious about the timeline of transgender bathroom hysteria. Where and when did it start? I'm not interested in going back to the beginning of time and regaling you with the history of Jim Crow bathroom laws and the origin of sex-segregated bathrooms in 18th-century Paris and Victorian Britain (you can see a good one of those here). I just want to know the recent history. As best I can piece it together, it goes something like this:

March 2016: The North Carolina legislature meets to discuss the now-infamous HB2, which requires people to use the bathroom of their birth gender. It was passed and signed into law the same day it was introduced. It was a response to:

February 2016: A new law in the city of Charlotte that effectively allowed transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. Charlotte was following the lead of San Francisco, which in turn was part of a wave of trans-friendly bathroom bills:

2015: In December, Washington State had clarified that existing law allowed transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. In September Philadelphia adopted rules that would require gender-neutral signage on single-occupancy bathrooms. "It's a sign change," said the mayor's director of LGBT affairs. "We're labeling restrooms as what they are: restrooms, not gender-monitored spaces." In July the Justice Department took the side of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia high-school student who argued that he should be allowed to use school bathrooms that match his gender identity. In April President Obama opened the first gender-neutral bathroom in the White House. These actions were largely a response to transphobic laws that had been proposed in red states all over the country:

Late 2014 and early 2015: Texas and several other states introduce "bathroom surveillance" bills that would require transgender people to use bathrooms that match their birth gender. The communications director at the National Center for Transgender Equality says the wave of new legislation seemed to be a backlash to "the gains we have seen in state and local non-discrimination policies that protect transgender people." For example:

August 2014: Austin approves a law that requires gender-neutral signage on single-occupancy bathrooms. Among others, they join Portland (one of the first a year earlier) and Washington DC, and are soon joined by West Hollywood, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. These cities were largely inspired by:

2012-13: A growing movement to install gender-neutral bathrooms at university campuses. During this period, 150 university campuses installed gender-neutral bathrooms, along with a growing number of high schools. The movement for gender-inclusive bathrooms in public facilities started at least as early as 2009 in the state of Vermont.

Ancient history: For our purposes this is anything more than five or six years old. A few random examples include Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing, a 2010 collection of papers about (among other things) nongendered bathrooms. In 2005, U of Chicago law professor Mary Anne Case gave a presentation called "On Not Having the Opportunity to Introduce Myself to John Kerry in the Men's Room." She has been performing surveys of men's and women's bathroom facilities for years. And of course, there's the ur-hysteria of recent decades, when Phyllis Schlafly led a campaign against the Equal Right Amendment throughout the 70s out of fear that it would lead to gay marriage, women in combat, taxpayer-funded abortions, and, of course, unisex bathrooms. We never got the ERA, but as it turned out, Schlafly was pretty much right, wasn't she?

This timeline was surprisingly hard to put together, and it may not be 100 percent accurate. But it gives you the general shape of the river. There are two points I want make about all this. First, there's a lot of griping about the hypersensitivity of university students these days. You know: safe spaces, microaggressions, trigger warnings, and so forth. And, sure, maybe some of this stuff is dumb. History will judge that eventually. But I've always found it hard to get too exercised about this stuff. These kids are 19 years old. They want to change the world. They're idealistic and maybe too impatient with anyone who doesn't want to move as fast as they do. So were you and I at that age. Frankly, if they didn't go a little overboard about social justice, I'd be worried about them.

But guess what? The first concrete movement toward gender-neutral bathrooms started at universities. Now it's becoming mainstream. Good work, idealistic college kids! This is why we should think of universities as petri dishes, not a sign of some future hellscape to come. They're well-contained areas for trying things out. Some of this stuff dies a deserved death. Some of it takes over the world if the rest of us think it makes sense. Stop worrying so much about it.

Second: "Who started this fight?" Yes, that's a crude way of putting it. But if we contain ourselves to the last decade or so, the answer is: liberals. Before then, the status quo was simple: men used one bathroom and women used another. It was liberals who started pressing for change, and the conservative protest was a response to that.

As I've said before, we should be proud of this. Most of the right-wing culture war is a backlash against changes to the status quo pushed by liberals. And good for us for doing this. The culture war is one of our grandest achievements of the past half century. It's helped blacks, gays, women, immigrants, trans people, the disabled, and millions more. Sure, conservatives have fought it all, but that's only natural: they're conservatives. What do you expect?

So own the culture war, liberals! Why are we always blaming such a terrific thing on conservatives?

Well, originally it meant Bullshitter-in-Chief. But this is a family site, so—

Actually, no, it's not a family site. Still, endless repetitions of bullshit can put people off. So a reader suggested Buffoon-in-Chief. I kind of like that.

Or maybe Blowhard-in-Chief.

Or Blusterer-in-Chief?



It's sort of remarkable how many B words describe Donald Trump pretty well. How did that happen?

Friday Cat Blogging - 13 May 2016

Hopper has learned how to take selfies. It turns out that opposable thumbs are entirely unnecessary. All you have to do is jump up on Daddy's lap while he's reading on his tablet and tell him to take a picture. She looks pretty smug about the whole thing, doesn't she?

Three Sentences About the Cocoon

Sentence #1: Drew Altman on whether people are satisfied or not with their Obamacare coverage:

In the Kaiser survey, which will be published next week, 29% of Republicans in marketplace plans (i.e., Obamacare) say they have benefited from the ACA compared with 75% of Democrats, a 46-point difference.

This is now so common that it makes top-line polling almost useless. How's the economy doing? It depends on your party. Do you believe in climate change? It depends on your party. Is unemployment up or down? It depends on your party. We're accustomed to opinions about things like abortion depending on party ID, but more and more, views of objective reality depend on party ID too. Why?

Sentence #2: Ezra Klein on why Facebook is likely to become more biased, not less:

Before the was possible to cocoon yourself inside an echo chamber, but you really had to work at it. Then came cable news.... Constructing an echo chamber became easier....But now we have personalized search results, handcrafted Twitter feeds, and a Facebook algorithm based on likes. Now you can end up in an echo chamber without even knowing it.

Aha. The cocoon. This is why the objective state of the world depends so much on party ID. If you watch Fox News and read the Drudge Report, you get exposed to more than just different spins compared to people who listen to NPR and read Mother Jones. You get exposed to an entirely different set of stories. Conservatives and liberals these days are increasingly exercised by issues that their opposites barely even know exist.

Sentence #3: Todd VanDerWerff on the ultimate hollowness of the latest George Clooney vehicle, Money Monster:

Hollywood used to excel at telling stories of people who lived and worked in the lower classes....Whether it was The Grapes of Wrath or Raging Bull, filmmakers used to treat the concerns and hopes of the working class as worthy of consideration. That happens less and less now.

The cocoon again! Back in the day, plenty of screenwriters and film directors came from working-class backgrounds. Today they all have degrees from the USC film school and live in Silver Lake. They get their news from Variety and the LA Times, not drive-time radio and People. In this cocoon, the working class is something to make money from via transparently condescending TV shows, not real people with real problems.

Years ago, I used to think that everyone who did the kind of thing I do—blather about public policy from the perch of an upper-middle-class existence—should read the National Enquirer weekly to get a better sense of what kinds of news shaped the views of ordinary people. I don't think the Enquirer fills that bill anymore, but what does? The media-verse is so fragmented these days that I'm not sure there's any single outlet you can count on anymore. Suggestions?

Jim Geraghty asks a question that's been on my mind too:

How happy do you think Hillary Clinton is with the Obama administration’s decision that schools must permit transgender students to use the bathroom they prefer?

Here’s an issue that will irk a lot of parents of daughters who might otherwise not care that much about politics. It’s not an automatic political winner for Obama and his allies; a Reuters poll found 43 percent saying that people should use public restrooms “according to the biological sex on their birth certificate” compared to 41 percent who opt for “according to the gender with which they identify.” Sure, Donald Trump said he opposed the North Carolina law, but if this rule makes you feel like Washington is arrogant, meddling, out-of-touch, and forcing changes upon your community that you don’t want, who do you think you’re going to vote for?

It's almost inevitable that liberals will annoy a lot of people over cultural issues like this. It goes with the territory. But I suspect Geraghty is right: Hillary Clinton would probably have preferred that this just stay on the back burner for a while.

It's true that she caught a break when Donald Trump said he didn't think this was a big problem and states like North Carolina should just settle down. But let me tell you something about Trump: he could change his mind. Really! I've seen him do it. It wouldn't even be hard. All he has to do is say that he favored leaving things alone, but if the Obama administration is going to start sending out decrees to schools about it, well, that's going too far. We need to fight back against this kind of government overreach in the service of PC nonsense.

We'll see. But as a voter turnout tool for conservatives, this could be the new gay marriage. I wonder if it will be for liberals too?

So how are we doing these days? Let's ask some economists. Their consensus, apparently, is that we're way better off compared to the golden days of our youth, but not so much compared to more recent years. In fact, economists are split about evenly on whether we're collectively better off than we were before the financial crash, which seems right to me. Roughly speaking, I'd say we've recovered to about 2007 levels, but haven't yet surpassed them.

But this raises a question: Why do so many Americans think they were better off 30 or 40 or 50 years ago? There are several obvious possibilities:

  • Wages were rising back then. They may be higher now, but it's steady increases that make things seem great.
  • Sure, we lacked cell phones and 500 channels and cancer cures back in the day, but we didn't miss them because we never had them. The fact that we have them now doesn't really make people think they're better off.
  • On a related note, all the new stuff we have doesn't really make us happier. If we grew up with it, it's background noise. If we didn't grow up with it, it's just a complicated pain in the butt that we're forced to keep up with even though we don't really like it much. (Except for those 500 channels, of course. Everyone loves those.)
  • It's basically cultural, not economic. A lot of people really were happier 50 years ago, but it had nothing to do with living standards. Whites didn't have to compete with blacks or Asians. Men ruled the roost. Everyone knew their place. We didn't worry about heroin epidemics. Etc.

It's a funny thing about living standards. Take cars. They're way better on practically every metric you can think of compared to, say, 1960. Cars today are faster, more reliable, more comfortable, more convenient, quieter, smoother, safer, and cheaper. And they come in way more varieties than they used to.

But do people like their cars today more than they did in the 60s? Probably not. We've gotten jaded. Cars were still kind of cool to the postwar generation. Today nearly everyone has a car and they're just another possession. Our automobile living standard is far higher than it used to be, but our automobile happiness probably isn't.