NDN Blog

Simon In Richard Clarke's Future State Podcast On "The Future Of Hacking Democracy"

We’re very excited to share with you that Simon’s discussion with former National Security Council Special Advisor Richard Clarke, titled The Future of Hacking Democracy, is now available for your listening pleasure.  Drawing from his experience running a countering disinformation operation for the DCCC in the 2018 election cycle, Simon talks about what Russia did in 2016, new trends and threats we've seen in the past few years, and what steps we should be taking now to prevent foreign governments and domestic actors from manipulating our elections and discourse.  Big thanks to Richard for being a gracious host. You can listen to the discussion on “The Future State” podcast here (please select Episode 20). 

ASDC Resolution on Protecting our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

The following is the text of a Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC) resolution that passed unanimously on June 15th in Santa Fe.  A PDF of the official resolution is below. 

Resolution on Protecting Our Elections from Foreign Manipulation

Whereas in 2016 the Russian government launched an extensive attack on America’s democracy and the Democratic Party and its leadership in particular;

Whereas the current Administration has not taken sufficient steps in these past 2 ½ years to protect our elections, our candidates, our political parties and our discourse; and

Whereas America’s intelligence services have warned that Russia and other nations are likely to attempt to manipulate our elections and discourse once again in this current election cycle; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that the Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC):

  1. Urges the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to establish a new party-wide framework which would discourage and prevent the use of the kind of illicit campaign tactics used by Russia against our party in 2016 in the 2020 elections; 
  2. Recommends this framework seek to discourage and prevent hacking and the use of hacked or stolen materials; discourage and prevent the use of disninformation tactics including, but not limited to, the use of fake social media accounts, fake websites, bots, trolls, troll farms, deep fakes and any use of falsified images, video or audio;
  3. Endorses efforts by Senator Ron Wyden and FEC Chairwomen Ellen Weintraub to protect our elections from cyber-attacks, including by allowing national party committees to use monies from the Party’s building funds to provide cybersecurity assistance to campaigns and state parties;.
  4. Encourages a new party wide commitment regarding the reporting illicit activity discovered from any source to the proper authorities, the social media platforms and the DNC; and to discourage the use of these tactics by supporters, allied groups and institutions and consultants.

Mover: Tina Podlodowski, Chair, Washington State Democratic Party

Seconder: Raymond Buckley, Chair, New Hampshire Democratic Party

Historically Low Poll Numbers, Slowing Economy Endangering Trump’s Re-Election

This piece was originally published on Medium.

A year and a half before the Presidential election, Trump’s electoral position looks precarious to say the least. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump currently stands at a net approval rate of -11.6, and he hasn’t been better than -8 since March of 2017. Of the 12 Presidents in office since 1945, only 1 has had a negative net approval rate at this point in their first term — Jimmy Carter — and we know how that turned out. By contrast, Obama was at +1.5 in May of 2011, and he went on to win in 2012 by the still relatively modest margin of 3.9 percentage points.

Crucially, and even worse for Trump, this extremely poor level of approval has taken place while the economy has been strong. By the 1980 election in which Carter lost by 8.3 percentage points, the economy had entered a recession and unemployment was near 8%. By contrast, Trump inherited an economy with 4.8% unemployment and job creation of over 210k/month, and that strength has largely continued to this point. What this means for Trump, however, is that he is probably getting the largest boost from the economy to his approval rate that he will get — that is to say, he is at his high water mark in the polls right now. Furthermore, as the economy weakens, it is likely that voters who approved of him primarily because of the economy will grow more likely to oppose him. It could be devastating to his electoral chances in 2020, therefore, that the economy seems to have begun a sharp deceleration over the past several months (something that the conventional wisdom is only now beginning to acknowledge).

First, the economy in the first quarter of this year was never close to as strong as was commonly assumed. This misconception was based upon two very strong headline reports (3.1% GDP growth and 3.6% unemployment) whose underlying data was actually quite poor. The headline GDP number came in strong because two temporary, one-off factors (inventories and net exports) gave big boosts to the economy in Q1. However, these boosts will not happen again for the rest of the year, and the fact that they were large in Q1 will actually cause them to subtract from growth in Q2-Q4 (as businesses reduce their inventories after a big build-up for example). In fact, the core components of GDP — consumption and business investment — grew at their slowest rate since 2013, illustrating that the fundamentals of the economy were weak. Similarly, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in 60 years in April not because more people were employed, but because 490,000 people dropped out of the labor force. According to the household survey that is used to calculate the unemployment rate, 103,000 fewer people were employed in April than in March, and 300,000 fewer people were employed in April than in December 2018.

Second, the deceleration in the economy has become very clear with the release of new economic data for April and May. Three key reports that look at the fundamentals of the economy — retail sales, industrial production, and business investment — all came in very weak in April. Retail sales, a good proxy for consumer spending, fell for the 3rd time in the past 5 months while industrial production grew at its slowest rate since February 2017. Capital spending, a good measurement of the level of investment by businesses, declined to its lowest overall level since June 2018. And this data was all compiled before Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%, and threatened tariffs of 5% on all Mexican imports. This rapid escalation of Trump’s trade wars with China and Mexico starting in mid-May has clearly affected the economy, and has turned already weak April numbers into extremely poor May ones. For May as a whole, services activity fell to its lowest level since early 2016 while manufacturing activity cratered to levels not seen since 2009. Furthermore, job growth fell significantly, expanding by only 75,000 jobs in May compared to the 2014–18 average of 215,000 jobs per month. Finally, consumer confidence took a sharply negative u-turn after the imposition of the tariffs in mid-May, which will likely weaken consumer spending in the weeks ahead.

Overall, then, the economy has clearly taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past few months, something that is now starting to be reflected by the conventional wisdom in the markets and media. The Atlanta Fed and New York Fed now project Q2 GDP growth to be an average of only 1.2%, while Goldman SachsJP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley see an average of just 0.9% growth. Similarly, the Fed’s preferred metric for forecasting recessions — the yield curve — is now at its flattest point (meaning the highest probability of recession) since 2007. And the economy is likely to only get worse in the coming weeks. The most important risk factor for a further deceleration is Trump’s trade wars, and conflicts with China, Mexico, and Europe all look unlikely to abate anytime soon. With China, negotiations have come to a complete standstill and Chinese state media has become far more hostile to the US in recent weeks, meaning that the chance of a deal is extremely unlikely. Furthermore, as of this morning the White House has said that Trump still intends to impose the 5% tariffs on Mexican imports, and the complete lack of progress in trade talks with the EU means that the chance of a 25% tariff on auto imports from the bloc is increasingly likely. As these conflicts continue unabated, the risk of a full-blown recession only increases. Indeed, Morgan Stanley’s economists last week forecast a global recession if Trump escalates his trade wars any further.

What does this mean for Trump and his chances of re-election in 2020? Very simply, it could mean that the President suffers a major defeat in 2020, if not an early primary challenge late this year. According to Ipsos polling from mid-May, Trump has a positive approval rate on just 2 out of 14 policy areas — his handling of the US economy (+5) and employment and jobs (+12). His average approval on the other 12 areas is -13, including -12 on healthcare, -12 on trade, -13 on taxation, and -11 on foreign policy. If the economy falters and his approval on those metrics falls in line with his broader popularity, the GOP could face a landslide defeat next year. As it is right now, Trump is the most unpopular first-term President in the postwar period, but depending upon his actions towards China, Mexico, and Europe over the next few months, things for him could get a whole lot worse.

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 June 4th, 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 -11.7 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 -3.5, 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 +21, so Trump is a full 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 +26.1). 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 100 days (or just 0.96% of the time). By contrast, Trump has been under -10 net approval for 721 days (or 83.3% of the time).

In the 2018 midterm elections, this dramatic level of disapproval (-10.4 net on November 8, 2018 compared to -11.7 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 -35 net approval rate among voters under age 35, and is -49 among Latino voters. Similarly, the Republican Party currently has a net favorability rate of -48 among under 35s and -65 among Latinos, whereas the Democratic Party is +2 among under 35s and +23 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 22 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 -21 in Texas and -17 in Mississippi.

Trump Is Leading The Economy Into A Substantial Slowdown

Over the past week, new economic data has painted a picture of a rapidly decelerating US economy. In April, industrial production grew at its slowest rate since February 2017, retail sales declined for the 3rd time in the past 5 months, and capital spending fell by 0.9% to its lowest overall level since June 2018. And this data was compiled before Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Since then, the numbers have gotten even worse. In May, US manufacturing production fell to its lowest level in 9 years while overall business activity fell to its lowest level in 3 years. Meanwhile, growth projections for Q2 GDP have fallen rapidly, with the Atlanta Fed, the New York Fed, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley all seeing growth under 1.5% this quarter. Indeed, the Fed's preferred metric for forecasting recessions - the yield curve - is now at its flattest point (meaning the highest probability of recession) since 2009. Trump's trade war, and recent significant increase in tariffs, has played a large role in this slowdown. Export markets have dried up for American farmers and manufacturers, investment has declined as firms face significant uncertainty, and higher costs for consumers and producers alike have caused output to slow. You can find more of NDN's analysis on why the economy is currently worse than conventionally believed here. As well, you can read our work detailing the failures of the President's tax cut here and his trade policy here

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

Invite: Thur, July 18th - "Patriotism, Optimism"

Over the past year or so Simon has been making a big argument about the past and future of the center-left in America.  Called "Patriotism and Optimism," it makes the case that America is not in decline and is in fact doing as well as it has in any point in its history. It is meant to be an explicit rebuttal to the core argument Trump is making about America and its decline, an argument which is malevolently selling America and its people short every day. 

This primary way this argument has made itself into the world is through a 45 minute long Powerpoint deck, which has been seen in dozens of showings over the web and live in person to policy makers here in Washington and around the country. Our next showing of the deck will be Thursday, July 18th from 12:00pm to 1:15pm at our new offices at 800 Maine Avenue SW, Washington, DC. Lunch will be served. You can RSVP for the event and learn more here. For background before the showing, feel free to check out some related readings below.

Key Background Readings On "Patriotism and Optimism"

The Case for Optimism: Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism, Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 6/2/17. In an essay that originally was published on Medium, Simon argues that the great rationale of Trump's Presidency  –  that America is in decline – simply isn't true, and must be challenged more forcefully.  This is the piece that spurred the creation of the presentation. 

Chin Up, Democrats, Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 1/20/17. In his column Simon argues that Democrats should have pride in their historic accomplishments and optimism about the future of their politics. This one is very relevant to the presentation itself. 

A Center-Left Agenda for the Trump Era - Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 12/9/16.  In the early days after Trump's election Simon layed out a possible agenda for the Democrats centering on prosperity, security, shoring up the American led liberal order and ambitiious efforts to reform our political system. 

Additional Readings

Some Thoughts On the Caravan - By Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 10/24/18.  The Caravan, composed of 7,000 poor, unarmed, mostly Honduran Central Americans, poses no threat to the US, and illegal border crossings continue to be way down. Some thoughts on what Democrats should do to respond to Trump's farcical attacks and terrible policies.

Are We Better Off Under Trump? The Short Answer Is No - By Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor, NDN, 10/18/18.  Most measures of the US economy are worse today than when Trump took office. Worse still, the President’s policies have made it very challenging to manage the next recession or global economic downturn.

Challenging Trump's Tariffs - An Ongoing Series - By Chris Taylor, 10/17/18.  In a new series challenging Trump's tariffs, we argue that the President's trade policy is illegal, recklessly ignorant, damaging to the US economy, and historically unpopular. Congress must step up and rescind them in the coming months. 

Trump's Immigration Strategy Is Failing - By Simon Rosenberg, NBC News, 8/6/18.  Almost nothing the President has done on immigration and the border has worked; expect more extreme policies as the elections approach. 

Congress Must Debate The Weakening of Global Order - By Simon Rosenberg, NBC News, 5/10/18.  Few presidents have inherited a world or a nation in which more was going right. Trump seems determined to undo it all.

The Pernicious Politics of Oil - Simon Rosenberg, US News and World Report, 12/16/16.  Petro-powers are challenging the global order, and the next president seems uninterested in stopping them.

An Enduring Legacy: The Democratic Party and Free and Open Trade - Simon Rosenberg, Huffington Post, 1/24/14.  The global system created by Presidents FDR and Truman has done more to create opportunity, reduce poverty and advance democracy than perhaps any other policies in history. 

Backgrounder: Trump, The Economy, and Trade

This backgrounder pulls together our work looking at President Trump’s economic and trade policies. 

Democrats Must Demonstrate Greater Leadership In Challenging Trump's Ruinous Trade Policy - Simon Rosenberg, Twitter, 5/8/19 - Democrats should be more aggressive in challenging Trump’s tariffs and trade policies given the failure of those policies to achieve their objectives and growing discontent with them around the country.

Beyond The Headlines, The Economy Continues To Weaken - Chris Taylor, Medium, 5/7/19 - The new narrative that the economy is back to growing strongly is significantly flawed, and is largely based upon two economic reports whose headlines were very strong but whose underlying data revealed continued weakness in the economy.  

Weekly Notes On The Economy - Chris Taylor, NDN, 5/7/19 - Weekly Notes On The Economy is a weekly column that NDN writes on the most recent economic news, policy, and data.

Challenging Trump's Tariffs - An Ongoing Series - Chris Taylor, NDN, 2/14/19 - In a new series challenging Trump's tariffs, we argue that the President's trade policy is illegal, recklessly ignorant, damaging to the US economy, and historically unpopular. Congress must step up and rescind them this fall.

Trump's Tax Cuts Have Failed To Deliver On Their Promises - Chris Taylor, NDN, 10/30/18 - Trump’s tax cut promised to boost growth by strengthening the labor market and investment, but today both metrics look very similar to their pre-tax cut trend. Instead, the deficit has surged to unprecedented levels and rapidly increasing interest rates are hurting ordinary Americans.

Beyond The Headlines, The Economy Continues To Weaken

This essay originally appeared on Medium.

Over the past two weeks, a new piece of conventional wisdom has taken hold in the media and the White House that the economy is strong again and concerns over growth earlier this year were unfounded. Indeed, Trump likely ordered a significant escalation of his trade war with China based upon his perception that the economy was doing well enough to handle it. The problem, of course, is that this narrative doesn't really appear to be true. It is largely based upon two economic reports whose headlines were very strong but whose underlying data revealed continued weakness in the economy. 

First, the unemployment rate in April hit its lowest level in five decades. While this headline sounds extremely positive, the reason unemployment fell was because 490,000 workers left the labor force after being unable to find jobs. According to the Census Bureau survey that the unemployment rate is derived from, total employment in April actually fell by over 100,000, and 300,000 fewer people have jobs today than they did in December 2018

Second, real GDP rose by 3.2% in the first quarter, far above market estimates in the low twos. Again, the report appears to be very strong, but the underlying data is actually poor. GDP rose significantly because of temporary, one-time boosts from inventories and net exports. The problem is that because these factors were very strong in Q1, they will actually subtract from growth in the rest of the year as firms reduce their inventory levels to deal with slowing demand and net exports fall after they had a large, one-time build-up ahead of the expected imposition of tariffs in March. Meanwhile, the core elements of growth that will affect GDP over the rest of the year, consumer spending and business investment, actually fell to their lowest levels since 2013 in Q1, meaning that growth will likely be around 2% or worse for the rest of the year.

Furthermore, closely-watched reports covering US manufacturing and services production saw major declines in April, consistent with the underlying data in the jobs and GDP reports. Last month, US manufacturing output declined to its lowest level since October 2016 and services production fell to its lowest level since August 2017, while the employment gauges in both reports were near their lowest levels of the past 2 years.

Rather than marking an unexpected uptick in the economy, data over the past month has only confirmed that economic activity continues to slow, as Trump's trade policy harms US manufacturers and farmers and his tax cut fails to provide the sustainable lift to investment that was promised. All of this makes his threats of additional tariffs against China more economically and politically risky, and we will continue to oppose these policies in the days ahead. 

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

Trump Is Beginning To Fold On His Trade Agenda

Since Trump began implementing tariffs on a wide range of nations in March 2018, his commitment to actually seeing through his trade agenda, even in the face of economic and political harm to himself, has been questioned. Indeed, it was widely reported that Trump pressured his economic advisers to wrap up negotiations to help the economy when the stock market suffered a large decline at the end of 2018. In recent weeks, however, clear signs have emerged that Trump is beginning to fold on achieving real concessions in his trade conflicts, in the face of economic and political costs ahead of the 2020 election. The first, and extremely significant, move in this direction by Trump was unilaterally cancelling the March 1 deadline for higher tariffs on Chinese goods , even though no concessions had been made by China. The tariff escalation if a deal had not been made was promoted by the Trump administration as creating significant leverage on the Chinese because of its significantly harmful economic effects, and yet it became clear that Trump was not willing to incur his own domestic economic hardship and simply backed down. Second, new reporting over the past several weeks has shown that US demands for Chinese reforms continue to be watered down, whether that be accepting weaker Chinese IP protections for pharmaceuticals than exist in the US or largely abandoning demands for China to reform industrial subsidies to state-run enterprises.

Why has Trump changed his tune so significantly, when his promise to be tough on America's trading partners was such a big part of his campaign? Probably because he has begun to encounter significant political and economic opposition at home that has him fearful for his 2020 election hopes. On the political front, his trade agenda has encountered increasingly strong opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. Over the weekend, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said that the USMCA was dead in Congress unless Trump repealed his steel and aluminum tariffs, while bipartisan bills giving Congress a check on the President's national security authority for imposing tariffs are moving through the House and Senate. On the economy, meanwhile, Trump has seen the large negative effects on the stock market and business confidence that his trade wars have created, and realizes that a strong economy provides probably the only potential path to a 2020 victory. As a result, he's unwilling to repeat the stock markets declines of late 2018, which were caused in large part due to fears of escalating trade conflicts with China and the EU. For all of the bluster and attacks on key US allies, then, what has Trump's trade strategy achieved for Americans? A weakened manufacturing sector and the loss of thousands of jobsseverely worsened relations with our allies in Europe and Asia, and few if any meaningful trade concessions. You can read more about NDN's work challenging Trump's tariffs here

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

While Trump Blames The Fed, The Real Cause Of The Growth Slowdown Is His Trade Policy

On Sunday, Trump once again blamed the Fed and Chairman Jerome Powell for the economic slowdown that has intensified since late 2018, and that will likely see 2019 growth close to 2% rather than the 3%+ promised by the President. If Trump actually wanted to find the culprit for this deceleration, however, he would be wise to take a look in the mirror. Indeed, Trump's protectionist trade policy has created enormous business uncertainty around the world and has led to a steep fall in global trade, causing a decline in both US and global growth. Last week, the IMF downgraded 2019 global growth from 3.5% to 3.3%, and similarly reduced their US growth projection for this year from 2.3% to 2.1%. In their analysis, they cited increasing trade tensions as the top risk to global growth and wrote that a failure to resolve Trump's trade war with China and a potential one with the EU would cause a further economic decline.

Furthermore, CNBC's March Fed Survey saw a downgrade in expected 2019 US growth from 2.45% to 2.3% according to 43 market investors, who blamed global trade conflicts and slowing global growth for the slowdown. Finally, the WTO early this month projected that global trade growth would fall from 3% in 2018 to 2.6% in 2019, significantly below its 2000-2018 average of 3.8%. America has witnessed an unprecedented experiment with protectionist trade policy during the Trump administration, and the results of this experiment are now clear - significantly slower US and global growth, and a large hit to the stability of the rules-based global trading system. You can read more about NDN's work challenging Trump's trade policy here, and find our recent piece about the WTO's legal blow against Trump's tariffs here

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

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