NDN Blog

Analysis: Trump Is The Least Popular First-Term President Since WW2

This piece was originally published on May 1st, 2019 and was updated with the latest polling data on August 7th, 2019.

Since the midterm elections last November, perceptions of Trump's popularity have swung rapidly as highly visible controversies such as the government shutdown and the release of the Mueller Report and Barr Summary have unfolded. Over the next few weeks, I'll take a look at some interesting developments in the polling, including Trump's popularity, the Democratic presidential primary, and the general election in 2020, and will comment on important take-aways from the data.

To start, how popular is Trump right now? While much of the conventional wisdom still portrays the President as a strong figure, the reality is that he continues to be by far the most unpopular first-term President in the modern era. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump today sits at a -10.9 net approval rate. How does this compare to previous Presidents? Firstly, the lowest net approval rate that either Obama or George W. Bush hit during their first 2.5 years in office was -4.5, so Trump is dramatically lower than his immediate predecessors. Secondly, looking at all 11 Presidents since 1953, net approval at this point in their first term averaged +17, so Trump is almost 30 net points worse than his predecessors (and this average isn't skewed by potential problems with polling several decades ago - the average net approval of just Obama, Clinton, and both Bushes at this point in their terms was +16.8). Finally, let's look at how often Presidents over the past 60 years have experienced the type of heightened disapproval that Trump sees today. From Eisenhower until Obama, looking only at the first 2.5 years of each President's first term, Presidential net approval has been at -10 or worse for a total of 164 days (or just 1.5% of the time). By contrast, Trump has been under -10 net approval for 765 days (or 82.3% of the time).

In the 2018 midterm elections, this dramatic level of disapproval (-10.4 net on November 8, 2018 compared to -10.9 today) led to Democrats winning the popular vote by the largest margin of any midterm since 1986. Also within that midterm victory was a significant rejection of Trump by almost all of the emerging demographic groups that will form an increasingly large share of the US electorate in years to come, especially non-white and young voters. This trend has only accelerated since election day. According to Civiqs polling data, Trump today has a -36 net approval rate among voters under age 35, and is -48 among Latino voters. Similarly, the Republican Party currently has a net favorability rate of -43 among under 35s and -55 among Latinos, whereas the Democratic Party is -4 among under 35s and +20 among Latinos. This represents an enormous decline since 2004, when George W. Bush actually won voters under 45 and lost Latino voters by only 9 points. 

While much of the media continues to hold up Trump as a powerful political figure who can conjure up electoral victories out of nothing, in fact he continues to be the most unpopular first-term president in over six decades and is leading Republicans down the path of the California GOP by ignoring those demographic groups that will over the next decade become more and more critical to winning elections.  Indeed, the future for Republicans in critical battleground states looks grim, with voters under 35 disapproving of Trump by a net 38 points in Pennsylvania and 28 points in Florida. Even in solid red states, Trump is losing the argument with the next generation of voters, with net approval among under 35s at -26 in Texas and -22 in Mississippi.

Protecting America - NDN's Statement After Gilroy, El Paso, And Dayton

Protecting America

"Responsible leaders of both parties need to act with great moral clarity now and spend this fall confronting three grave threats to our homeland – deadly right wing domestic terrorism, gun violence, and foreign and domestic manipulation of our elections and discourse. The Republican Party’s refusal to tackle these threats has left our democracy weakened and our fellow citizens dead in malls, parking lots, churches, and schools.  It is long past time to for us to act like patriots not partisans and come together to protect America by tackling these threats head on. 

It was extremely disappointing to see the President this morning tying immigration so directly to domestic violence here in the US – that was the goal of course of the El Paso terrorist.  It was a terrible misstep in the early hours of our response to these cascading tragedies and just another sign of how unfit he is to lead this great nation."

- Simon Rosenberg, Monday, August 4th, 2019

On Friday, before the horrors of El Paso and Dayton, Simon posted a thread which did a deep dive on the President's open embrace and encouragement of domestic extremism.  It began with:

"Alarm bells about Trump's open support of domestic terrorism, political violence have to be ringing loudly now. QAnon was on stage last night w/the President, and his choice for DNI, Rep. Ratcliffe, openly voiced support for a deep state conspiracy similar to QAnon last week."

The thread also reminded us that the President's support of domestic terrorism in the US has come not just through words but with direct Presidential action. He has weakened DHS's ability to counter this domestic threat, and pardoned two right wing extremists who had been convicted of domestic terrorism and were serving time in jail.  He personally intervened to have two domestic terrorists released from jail - what more could this movement want?

NDN also notes that the threat to our democracy posed by manipulation and disinformation are no longer just a foreign threat.  In what is an ominous development, it appears that the Trump campaign and the GOP more broadly have begun to adopt Russian style disinformation tactics in their own day to day politics. 

Trump's Trade War With China Has Failed Spectacularly, And It Now Might Bring Down The Global Economy

Over the past week, the reality of the trade war's failure to achieve any of its goals in reforming the Chinese economy has become clear to Trump. After meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Shanghai, Lighthizer and Mnuchin informed the President that China was unwilling to make any of the structural reforms that they sought on intellectual property, forced technology transfers, and state subsidies to exporters. Even worse, China had largely backtracked on their "promise" at the G20 to increase purchases of US agricultural exports that Trump had touted as a major victory. After 18 months of the trade war and the resulting decimation of US agriculture, sharply reduced American exports, and rapidly slowing manufacturing growth, what does Trump have to show for his efforts? Nothing at all. 

The question now is how does Trump respond to this failure, and will he be willing to take the American and global economies to the brink of recession in an attempt to keep one of his signature campaign promises. Last Thursday, Trump went against the advice of all of his economic advisers when he announced the imposition of new tariffs of 10% on $300 billion of Chinese exports, a move which has sent the S&P 500 down almost 5% over the past 5 days. He has also continued to threaten to raise these new tariffs from 10% to 25%, a move that Morgan Stanley forecasts would lead to a global recession within 9 months. And with China on Sunday moving to devalue their currency and end all purchases of US agricultural exports, it is very possible that Trump could retaliate in a way that leads to global economic chaos.

Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats — And For Good Reason

This anaysis was written by Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor, and originally appeared on Medium.

Let’s say you were born in 1974 and are 45 years old today. You were 14 when George H.W. Bush was elected to office and during your teenage years, those when political understandings first form and begin to harden, the economy fell into recession, the deficit exploded, an era of deep military engagement in the Middle East began, and Bush became one of only three Presidents in the post-war period to lose re-election. But then in your twenties this all changed, as Bill Clinton was elected President and the economy boomed, the Internet age began, deficits became surpluses, and median income climbed by over $7,000 per household. The US spent its time in these years fashioning a new post-Cold War order through diplomacy and trade agreements, rather than through military conflict.

This era of economic prosperity and peace came to a halt in your late-twenties and early-thirties with a second Bush, 9/11, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst economic and financial crisis in 75 years. Millions of jobs were lost, median income fell by almost 10%, and the stock market collapsed. But then in your mid-thirties Obama, and all that he represented, was elected President. The economy recovered, uninsured rates plummeted, the deficit came down, and global cooperation on things like climate and trade once again took precedence over military conflict.

Then came the shock and the ugliness of the Trump Presidency, starting with Russia’s extraordinary intervention on his behalf, and continuing with his giving trillions in tax cuts to those who needed it the least, threatening health care for tens of millions, subjecting women and kids to inhumane conditions at the border, and tearing at the country’s broader social fabric though his relentless attacks on women and people of color.

Source: Federal Reserve, Compiled by NDN Staff

Note — Change in the deficit refers to the difference in the annual fiscal deficit between each President’s first and last year in office

It is no wonder that if this is your lived experience, you would lean towards the Democrats today. The two Democratic presidents in your lifetime produced long economic booms, vast improvements in healthcare, and global cooperation and respect, while the three Republican presidents brought recession, rising deficits, disastrous adventurism abroad, and well, Trump. Furthermore, if you are under 45, your life has been shaped by the rise of a truly global economy, an interconnected world enabled by the Internet, a far more diverse population here at home, and important steps towards greater equality for all. This is the world you know — and it is almost as if Trump and the current GOP have risen to roll back and reject all that you understand America to be.

Not surprisingly, all of this has led to what is becoming a truly consequential divide in American politics — voters under 45 have become overwhelmingly Democratic. While these voters had been trending more Democratic in recent years, in 2018 there was an unprecedented and consequential shift among them. In the elections from 2000 to 2016, the Democrats beat the Republicans among under 45s by an average of 6 points, with Republicans even besting the Dems in 2000, 2002, and 2004. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the Dem margin was just 2 and 5 points, and in the 2016 general election it was 14 points. In 2018, however, the Democratic advantage in this group exploded to 25 points, 58–33. Over 45s were 50–49 for the Republicans, so these younger Americans were responsible for the entire margin in the Democratic 9 point win last year.

Source: CNN/NYT Exit Polls Compiled by NDN Staff

This rejection of the GOP by younger Americans has continued into 2019 with significant implications for the 2020 elections. The most recent Civiqs tracking poll has Trump’s approval with voters under 50 at -25 (36–61), while Quinnipiac’s July poll has his approval with under 50s at -20 (37–57). Politico’s most recent poll which had Trump’s overall approval at -10, similar to where he was on election day in 2018, has Trump’s approval with under 45s at -21 (37–58). Civiqs has similar numbers in the battleground of AZ, MI, NC, PA, and WI. This trend has also begun to show up in early Trump vs Biden head to head polling. In the Quinnipiac poll, which Biden leads 53–40, under 50 voters support Biden by a 21 point margin (56–35), while in the Politico poll, which has Biden leading by 11 points overall, under 45s are for Biden by 21 points (48–27).

The data above also confirms an important part of our analysis about the importance of lived experience in shaping the views of younger Americans. If what we assert is true, we would expect to find those closer to the positive memory of Reagan to be more Republican, and those more distant from that memory and more influenced by the experience since 1989 of good Dems/not so good Rs to be more Democratic. We see that again and again in the data above but also in the 2018 national numbers. Voters 40–49 went Democratic by 6 points, 30–39 by 22 points, 25–29 by 33 points, and 18–24 by 37 points. Under 45s averaged 6 points net Democratic from 2000 to 2016, and were plus 25 in 2018. Voters aged 18–29 averaged 15 points net Democratic in those same 2000 to 2016 elections, and ended up plus 35 Dem in 2018. These are huge and unusual shifts in such large age cohorts in our electorate. Part of the reason this is happening is that each year the number of people under 45 who have a positive view of Republicans dwindles as they age out, which means that if current trends hold the under 45 vote will be increasingly Democratic in the coming years.

Source: CNN Exit Polls Compiled by NDN Staff

Just consider what happens now if these enormous and unprecedented margins among voters who could be as much as 45% of the electorate in 2020 lock in and hold over the coming decades. Because of the contrast of good Democratic presidents and bad Republican ones over a 30 year period, the country could continue to shift profoundly towards the Democrats, as it did in the 1930s through the 1960s. Democrats have already won more votes in 6 of the past 7 Presidential elections with much smaller margins with younger voters. If these current trends continue we are looking at a completely different political landscape in the coming decades, one which is likely to leave the Democrats in a very dominant position.

For Democrats what this means is they must continue to re-orient their politics around younger Americans. This means shifting more official and campaign resources to engaging these voters, learning about their world view and priorities, advancing younger leaders to positions of authority and power, and embracing the post-TV/social media landscape they inhabit. As a strategist with the DCCC last cycle, I can tell you we did this as a matter of national strategy, and not only did we see the best results with young people of any election in recent history, their turnout went up too. Looking at the chart below one would imagine top 2020 Dem strategists are researching ways to get under 45 turnout up into the high 40s and low 50s — a shift that would have a profound and lasting impact on American politics.

Source: Census Bureau

As for the Republicans, what is there to say? States with large numbers of young people, like CA and TX, have seen dramatic shifts away from Republicans in recent years. These trends represent an existential threat to the Republican Party as we know it today. We’ve already seen one possible future for the GOP — California, home of two powerful recent GOP Presidents Nixon and Reagan, has seen the Republican Party essentially disappear.

We will be debating Donald Trump’s legacy for generations. But it is clear now that handing the keys to power to the Democrats for decades to come may be the part of his legacy with the greatest domestic political consequence.

New Study Shows America Embracing Free Trade, Rejecting America First

We and others have been arguing that Trump’s "America First" policies have failed, from both a governing and political standpoint. A new study from Pew released today reinforces this view and shows another dramatic rejection of Trump’s fundamental argument about America and the world. When asked their view of trade, Americans overall said that free trade agreements between the US and other countries were a good thing for the US by a resounding 43 percentage points (65-22). This represents a dramatic shift from 2017, when Americans supported free trade agreements by just 2 points (45-43), and illustrates how the public as a whole has now rejected the protectionism of the Trump administration.

This repudiation of Trump's trade policies has occurred across party lines, with Republicans even supporting free trade by a 30 point margin today (59-29) after opposing it by 34 points (29-63) in 2017. Democrats in particular have become a fundamentally pro-trade party, saying that free trade agreements are good for the US by a 58 point margin (73-15), itself a significant increase from two years ago when Democrats were in favor of free trade by 30 points (59-29).

The failure of America First has also shown up in recent polling on immigration, as a rising number of Americans say that immigration and immigrants are good for the nation.  A recent example comes in this week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found that Americans think immigration has been good for the country by an astonishing 53 point margin (70-17).

You can find more from us challenging the President’s misguided trade policies in this series of essays; and more from us challenging the President’s immigration policies in this backgrounder

Friday's GDP Report Illuminates Trump's Broken Promises On The Economy

Last Friday's Q2 GDP report probably did more to expose the failures of Trump's economic agenda than any other piece of economic data in his Presidency. First, growth for the quarter came in at 2.1%, far below the White House's annual projections of 3%. To hit 3% for 2019, growth in the second half of this year will have to average around 3.4%, something extremely implausible given current estimates are at just 2%. Second, economic growth in 2018 was revised significantly downward, from 3% to 2.5%. As a result, the economy last year never came close to hitting Trump's promise of 3% growth, even with a $1.8 trillion tax cut for the rich. Finally, business investment came in negative for the second quarter, and was revised significantly lower for 2018, further dismantling Trump's promise that the tax cut would spur a surge in investment. Instead, the trend in business investment has actually fallen since the tax cut went into force in early 2018. 

What has been the long-term result, then, of Trump's economic agenda of tax cuts, tariffs, and deregulation that was promised to lead to 3% annual growth every year into 2028? Quite simply, nothing. Growth has averaged 2.1% over the past 3 quarters, and is projected by the Fed to be 2.1% for 2019 as a whole and 2% for 2020, a little bit slower than the 2.3% annual average during Obama's second term. The only difference is that Trump has ballooned the budget deficit, from $580 billion in 2016 to over $1 trillion projected for this year, to give handouts to the rich all the while trying to strip healthcare and food stamps from the poor. 

Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

GOP Bringing "Moscow Rules" on Disinformation to American Politics

A series of events over the past several months raises questions about whether using Russian style disinformation tactics has become a core part of the GOP’s electoral strategy for the 2020 elections.

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. In June, the Trump campaign used foreign-shot stock footage to manufacture fake people who were then used in ads run on Facebook. A top Trump campaign consultant built a series of websites falsely purporting to be the official sites of Democratic Presidential candidates. The President tweeted out a video of Nancy Pelosi he knew had been altered, and also one morning retweeted dozens of accounts almost all of which were certainly — and obviously — fake. A new set of Trump campaign Facebook ads include one which lies about the Vice President and other Democratic candidates supporting single payer health care, falsely using an image from a different question from the most recent Democratic debate.

 

This morning, the Chairwoman of the RNC, Ronna McDaniel, retweeted a tweet by Senator Marco Rubio which featured selectively and misleadingly edited remarks by Rep. Ilan Omar. That the video was misleading and grossly misrepresented what she said had already been established. Yet the GOP Chair shared it anyway.

And of course there is the relentless, grinding flood of disinformation coming from the vast network of right wing bots and trolls. We’ve put together a list of some of the top right wing “amplifiers” here so as to better understand this critical part of the right’s disinfo dystopia. 

While we shouldn’t be surprised that the American political party which so enthusiastically embraced and amplified Russian active measures and disinformation in 2016 would be at it again, it does not mean that responsible Americans should accept these tactics as normal and routine. They aren’t. They are outside of what should be permissible in a mature democracy; and that we are seeing them emerge in this election should challenge all of us to do something concrete about it. Here are some ideas on what can and should be done:

Name and shame — First, we have to begin openly talking about what is going on here; condemn it when it happens; and be prepared to rebut and respond to these false attacks when they come. This tweet from the DNC’s War Room this morning is a good example.

 

Next, the social media platforms should be notified and encouraged to take down blatantly false material. Someday we may have to find a way to more formally regulate all this, as my friend Amb. Karen Kornbluh has recommended. But in the short term pressure should be applied to the platforms to be as aggressive as they can be to not knowingly spread false information.

Finally, the mainstream media should be judicious in how they cover these moments so they don’t end up just promoting false and misleading videos, statements and attacks. The role of the traditional media is particularly important here. The day the President took to Twitter and tweeted out dozens of accounts purporting to be firefighters who supported him, the Washington Post ran a story whose headline read “Trump retweets dozens of people taking issue with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” The problem of course is that The Post had no idea if these accounts were real people. Reviewing them, very few looked real. So what would be more accurate would have been “Trump retweets dozens of accounts taking issues with a firefighters union’s endorsement of Biden.” There has to be consciousness now in all stories going forward that there is a possibility these accounts are fake and that the entire episode was “disinformation” — the use of fake accounts and other means to create an impression about something which is not true.

It is my hope that all news organizations are having internal conversations now about how they are going to deal with these kinds of moments in the coming months. Have they trained their reporters and editors about common disinformation tactics? Is there a special editor assigned to officiate when questions about authenticity and whether something is disinformation are raised? Do internal practices need to be reviewed and updated to the moment? I hope all these things are happening now inside all news organizations as we get deeper into the 2020 election. For not understanding, or being surprised, can no longer be a legitimate excuse for anyone in the information or media business.

Non-proliferation — If we view disinformation and fraudulent representations as a societal “harm,” something dangerous and improper, then Democrats and other responsible actors in the political system should commit to not use these illicit tactics in their own operations. Vice President Biden has made such a commitment, and the 50 state Democratic Parties have called on the national party to seek such a commitment from all Democrats at all levels of government across the country. My hope is that other organizations in the day-to-day scrum of national politics — trade associations, advocacy groups, lobbying campaigns — also make similar commitments. Using these kind of Russian inspired disinformation tactics should be seen as something that is not just wrong, but unpatriotic, a betrayal of our democracy. Knowingly misleading your fellow citizens using fraudulent means can just never ever become okay.

Of course the fakery and fraud we discuss here is of a very conventional kind. We all expect artificial intelligence enhanced “deep fakes” to be deployed in this election. As you can see in this presentation, the ability to determine something which looks so real could be made up is going to very hard for our system and the American people, still struggling to handle the fraudulent representation described above, to manage.

After what we’ve seen already these last few months, the relentless daily lying by the President, and Mitch McConnell’s years of blocking legislation to protect our democracy and discourse, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect the Republican Party here in the US to do anything other than play by Moscow Rules in 2020. But the rest of us cannot be naive and unprepared this time. We need to condemn it, counter it, combat it and ultimately ensure that these kind of illicit tactics have no place in a democracy like ours.

This essay was originally published on the Medium website on Friday, July 26th, 2019. 

Our List of High-Volume, Pro-Trump Twitter Accounts Up to 155

Aug 2nd - As we have previously discussed, we’ve begun a project to locate and publicize high volume pro-Trump accounts on Twitter.  These “amplifiers” are a critical part of the modern social media ecosystem and are also an important part of how Trump and his allies move their narratives through the body politic here in the US.  It's our sense that all of us need to get a better understanding of these accounts and how they influence our domestic discourse. 

You can find some of the most aggressive accounts below, or you can see all 155 of the accounts we’ve found so far in the pdf attached.  Feel free to use this information for whatever work you are doing in this space.  Our goal is get a better sense of how many of accounts like these are out there – is it a few hundred? A few thousand? More? Help us figure that out. 

 

Notes on 2020: Parade of Trumpian Horribles And A Return to Virtue

On Mondays NDN publishes our weekly newsletter, NDN News.  Each week we offer a section we call "Notes on 2020." Some of the recent "Notes on 2020" are below.

July 8th/Parade Of Trumpian Horribles – While Trump’s poll numbers ticked up a bit, and the Democratic race became far more competitive and real, it is hard to escape this morning the big story of the past few weeks – what we will call for lack of better words Trump’s relentless parade of horribles.

Think about what we’ve seen – inhumane conditions for adults and children at the border; an epically embarrassing performance at the G20 which included repeated warm embraces of the world’s worst leaders, tough words for our allies, and another “no biggie” for Putin for Russia’s critical support of Trump’s campaign in 2016; whatever it is the US is doing in the Middle East; the new, ugly effort to circumvent the Supreme Court's rout of the President’s attempt to rig the census; the corrupt tax payer funded July 4th campaign rally on the Mall; news his campaign is already using completely fake images and people to grossly mislead voters; his dissing of the US Women’s soccer team during their historic and inspiring World Cup run; another credible account of rape; and his direct involvement in the Epstein scandal, whose toxic combination of wealth and abuse of power may come to symbolize the moral failings of the elites of this era in ways we don’t quite yet understand.

Underneath all this Trumpian sludge, there is an overwhelming sense of “can’t we do better? Aren’t we better than this? How did we get here?” with this President.  And to us here at NDN, this is the big challenge for the Democrats now: how can they make the case against Trump - with or without impeachment – that gets at the enormity of the failings of his Presidency and the elites who have propped it up? The abandonment of the America creed by many elites we’ve seen in recent years goes far beyond Trump, and is why one of the themes we hope Democrats can take up in coming days is something along the lines of “a return to virtue.” 

July 22nd - After these last few months, what is there to say? Partying with pedophiles, clear evidence of felony level crimes which helped him win the 2016 election, return of Mueller and Trump-Russia, inhumane/war crime level treatment of kids and families at the border, globally condemned racist attacks against Members of Congress – and yet he persists. 

Make no mistake – Trump is a very weakened figure in US politics.  All of this stuff, firing offense after firing offense in any other executive job in America, has hurt him.  He remains about where he was on Election Day 2018, a 9 point wipeout election, and is underwater now in the most important battleground states – AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, PA, and WI.  As Simon argues in this recent podcast and essay, it is essential now for the ultimate Dem indictment of Trump to get bigger and try to capture just how fundamentally unfit Trump is for this job, President of the United States.  Has to be way more than “obstruction.”

Two big events in the next two weeks – Mueller’s testimony Wednesday, and the Dem debates next week. Most significant dynamic in the Dem race is Biden righting the ship, for now.  His post debate slide has stopped and he has even recovered a few points in a few polls.  We remain convinced – see this thread - that Biden more than any other Dem candidate is successfully tapping into what we believe is the most powerful sentiment out there right now – fear of Trump, desire for strong leadership, pragmatism, and steady progress, not another four years of upheaval and conflict. 

Aug 5th - Remarkably, the two Democratic debates have done little to alter the trajectory of the Democratic primary – Biden still maintains a formidable lead, with Warren and Sanders in a next tier, and everyone else fighting to stay in the game.  The horrible events of this past weekend will almost certainly make issues about protecting our homeland far more important in the coming days, creating a new and different landscape than what we saw this summer.  The next Democratic debates are scheduled for Sept 12-13, and will feature a much smaller field.  So far only 8 have qualified – Beto, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.   The Democratic race is going to look and feel very different in September.  Though one thing looks like it will be the same – the President is deeply unpopular and hovering about in the same place which brought a 9 point Dem victory last year. 

NDN spent time this week writing about three critical demo/geographic trends we are seeing which will be critical to 2020 – under 45 year old voters are breaking hard towards the Democrats; the GOP brand is going through profound erosion in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the US; and Democrats have already won back the Rustbelt – it is up to Trump not the Ds now to win it back. 

America’s Oldest Network Enables Its Newest One

One of the more fascinating parts of the digital revolution here in the US is how one of our oldest institutions — the Post Office — has become so essential to the success of the digital economy. As someone who often writes from home, I see it with my own eyes when a traditional postal letter carrier drops both our mail and packages we ordered online, together. The packages come from dozens of online companies and arrive in that final delivery on a postal truck and in the hands of a postal employee. This mix of the very old and very new captivates me every time.

 

By opening up its unique and ubiquitous delivery network to package shipments the leaders of the postal service saved this ancient institution imagined and brought to life in the 18th century by Benjamin Franklin. Email may have supplanted traditional letters, but enabling competition in package delivery (and thus lower prices) to every home in America has been great for consumers looking to save time and money and small start up businesses looking to reach national audiences on line. As a father of three I can attest that ordering on line has given hours and hours back to our family which would been be spent at malls or other retail stores. So for us modern on line retail has been an extraordinary blessing.

And this last part is important — the Postal Service delivers everywhere in the US. We know from experience that providing modern services to less populated areas has proven hard. It is why we set up the universal service fund for the telephone, electric co-ops to bring electricity to hard to serve areas and the gas tax has helped fund a truly national road network. Today we are struggling to bring high speed Internet to these same rural areas, and to ensure they also have access to modern health care. What we are not struggling with is mail and package delivery to these places because of the Postal Service.

Imagine if changes in the way packages are delivered made it harder for these rural areas to send and receive packages easily and inexpensively. It would hurt small business which thrive on sales beyond their region, and millions of consumers who might have to travel or pay far more to receive packages. It would be a form of economic and social isolation that would make it even harder for these already struggling areas to compete.

It is why the President’s intemperate calls for the Postal Service to just raise its prices on packages are so potentially dangerous for the majority of states with substantial rural populations. These communities need comprehensive strategies to help them take advantage of the all the modern world offers — broadband, health care, global export markets for agricultural products — not to further cut them off. The President’s own commission looking at these tough issues didn’t agree with him, and offered a host of other ways to assure the Postal Service survives in a very different economic landscape.

I can understand why private carriers like UPS and FedEx are lobbying hard to force the Postal Service to increase prices for its delivery services to shippers and small businesses. It would be good for their businesses. But if, in whatever form postal reform comes, and there are many good ideas out there, we end up damaging these low cost and ubiquitous shipping options we will be putting tens of millions of Americans in what are often struggling communities at risk for the benefit of a few companies; and weakening an institution, the Postal Service, which has been a great American success story for hundreds of years now.

It is why Congress must be smart here as it proceeds to modernize the Postal Service and put it on a far firmer economic footing. Rural areas need the current low cost and ubiquitous options the Postal Service provide; and families like mine all across the country not only save money but gain what is perhaps the most precious thing of all — more time with one another.

This is the first in a new series of essays I plan to write about living and governing in the digital age.  They will be irregular, at least once a month.  Am still searching for a good name for the series - feel free to make a suggestion. 

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