Voter I.D. Laws Thwart Democratic Process to Favor Republicans

Christopher Ingraham comments on the results of a new working paper that analyzes “turnout in recent elections — between 2008 and 2012 — in states that did and did not implement the strictest form of voter ID laws. [Researchers] found that these laws consistently and significantly decreased turnout not just among traditionally Democratic-leaning groups, like blacks and Hispanics, but among Republican voters too.”

“The findings are notable because they’re some of the first using data in elections that took place after some states implemented photo ID requirements to vote. Previous studies on the effects of these laws showed mixed results.”

“Their analysis suggests that turnout for Latino voters was suppressed by 10.8 points in states with strict photo ID laws, compared to states without them. For multiracial Americans, the drop was 12.8 points.”

“The net effect of all this? ‘Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 7.7 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place.’ Democrats weren’t the only ones affected, either. The data showed that Republican turnout was depressed by 4.6 percentage points too.”

“But the laws disproportionately affected Democratic voters. ‘The turnout advantage of those on the right is three to five times larger in strict photo identification states, all else equal. These results suggest that by instituting strict photo ID laws, states could minimize the influence of voters on the left and could dramatically alter the political leaning of the electorate.”

Obamacare’s Latest Enrollment Numbers: Success or Failure?

Kaiser Health News: “The annual Obamacare enrollment numbers routinely draw debate. Supporters boast that millions of people have gained coverage.  Republican detractors stress millions remain uninsured because they can’t afford coverage and that not enough healthy young adults are enrolling. The latter issue threatens to make coverage uneconomical for insurers, causing them to lose money and raise prices or drop out of the exchanges.”

USA Today: “Nearly 13 million people signed up for health insurance ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline for 2016 on the state and federal exchanges, federal health officials said Thursday.”

“The numbers represent an increase of 4 million new people enrolled in the 38 states using HealthCare.gov. Of the 9.6 million consumers who got coverage through HealthCare.gov, about 42% were new to the exchange in 2016.”

“Supporters of the law were expecting an uptick in enrollment after a strong December and the typical lull over the holidays. About 700,000 people signed up in the last week of January, compared to more than 1 million in the last week of enrollment last year.”

The enrollment numbers “fall far short of the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate last March that 21 million would have ACA plans on average each month this year, a prediction that Gaba said was ‘insane.'”

Washington Post: Most repeat customers shopped for the best available health plan. “On the federal exchange, nearly 7 in 10 repeat customers shopped for coverage rather than let the computer system renew them automatically, and about three-fifths of those switched plans. Last year, nearly half let the computer system auto-enroll them.”

“The latest results show that the exchanges are making relatively little headway in attracting a group of customers that insurers consider vital to their financial well-being: young adults who tend to be healthy and thus cost relatively little. In the federal marketplace, 2.7 million people ages 18 to 34 signed up for coverage — 28 percent of the total, the same proportion as last year.”

Slowdown in U.S. Labor Market: 151,000 Jobs Added in January

Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. labor market slowed substantially in January, a sign of employer caution that could weigh on expectations about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March.”

“Nonfarm payrolls increased a seasonally adjusted 151,000 in January, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate, obtained through a separate survey, fell slightly to 4.9% last month. The unemployment rate was last below 5% in November 2007.”

“The report comes less than two months after Fed officials increased short-term interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. Since that rate increase, worries about the global economy have prompted some central bankers to question the pace of further increases. Friday’s report will likely prompt concern among some officials. The central bank has made further increases in short-term interest rates partly contingent on progress in the labor market, alongside inflation and ‘financial and international developments.’”

“Meanwhile, wage gains accelerated last month. The average hourly earnings of all private-sector workers grew by 12 cents in January to $25.39. Wages rose 2.5% in January from a year earlier.”

Politico: “Analysts had predicted the creation of about 188,000 jobs, an unemployment rate of 5 percent and an increase in hourly earnings of 0.3 percent, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.”

Why There’s Imperfection in Early Primary Polling

The Atlantic: “For those shocked by the GOP results [in Iowa], take heart: Iowa is notoriously fickle, and not even top pollsters firmly predicted a win for Trump or Cruz, despite assumptions to the contrary. And it’d be wise to steel yourself for more unpredictability in the minutes, hours, and days leading up to next week’s primary in New Hampshire.”

“Pollsters add that laymen might be overemphasizing the less meaningful parts of these surveys anyway … what polls can’t do is show with ‘a high degree of accuracy’ the percentage of voters each candidate will snag in the end.”

“The ‘dearth of polls’ showing a Cruz victory ‘is not a polling methods question’—a matter of survey set-up—but rather ‘a matter of the dynamic nature of the Iowa caucuses.’ For one, voters in Iowa are allowed to register for the caucuses day-of … Pollsters might have simply caught Cruz at a bad time the week leading up to the caucuses, when Trump was hitting him on his Canadian birthplace, and he had a lackluster debate performance. Once most pollsters stopped their surveys ahead of Iowa, the winds could’ve shifted his way … the caucuses are ‘built for people to decide late or change their minds.’”

“Surveying for New Hampshire’s contest next week is subject to similar dynamics as in Iowa, where timing matters a great deal and where voters’ decision-making can be constantly in flux.”

Obama’s Financial Reforms: Half a Loaf?

Paul Krugman: “A lot of the debate over the Sanders insurgency hinges on whether you see Obama-era reforms as trivial, utterly inadequate to the problems, or as a half loaf that’s a lot better than none.”

Krugman argues that when it comes to financial reform, “it partly depends on what you consider the problem … too-big-to-fail is not the key issue, so that the fact that big banks remain big is, um, no big deal. The real question — or so I’d argue — is leverage within the financial sector, and in particular the kind of leverage with no safety net that characterizes shadow banking.”

“So Matt O’Brien weighs in with evidence that leverage has in fact declined substantially, and continued to decline even as the economy expanded — probably because of Dodd-Frank. This is certainly right; the same decline shows up in other measures, as in the chart above showing financial sector debt securities as a percentage of GDP.”

“Dodd-Frank’s rules — especially, I think, the prospect of being classed as a SIFI, a strategically important institution subject to tighter constraints, have had a real effect in reducing risk … The reality of the Obama era, for progressives, is a series of half loaves. But after all the defeats over the previous 30 years, aren’t those achievements something to celebrate?”

Is Bernie the Reason Democrats Are Becoming More Liberal?

Philip Bump: “For years, Democrats were much more likely to call themselves ‘moderate’ than ‘liberal,’ according to data from Gallup. In 2000, 44 percent of Democrats described themselves as moderate, compared to 31 percent of Republicans who identified themselves that way. Twice as many Republicans called themselves “conservative” — as did a quarter of Democrats. “Liberal” was the least common way Democrats referred to themselves. That has changed — fast.”

Now, Democrats are far more likely to call themselves liberal than moderate. Compared to 2007, the year before the last contested Democratic primary, Democrats are seven percentage points more likely to identify as liberal and three points less likely to identify as moderate. Compared to 2003, when Dean hoped to ride a progressive wave to the White House, Democrats are 13 points more liberal — and eight points less conservative.

So. It may not be so much that Sanders is driving liberals to the polls or pulling his party in a more progressive direction as it is that Sanders is doing unexpectedly well because his party has already moved to the left. After all, Sanders only won the “very liberal” vote in Iowa by 19 points — far less than the percentages by which he won young people, for example. Among the “somewhat” liberal voters, Clinton won by six.

Which States Are Ahead at Reducing Their Uninsured?

Gallup: “Arkansas and Kentucky have had the sharpest net reductions in their uninsured rates since the healthcare law took effect at the beginning of 2014, followed closely by Oregon. West Virginia and California round out the top five states with the greatest declines in the percentage of adult residents without health insurance.”

States With the Largest Reductions in the Percentage of Uninsured, 2013 vs. 2015

“For the eighth year in a row, Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured rate nationally, and Texas had the highest. In general, Southern, Southwestern and Mountain West states have the highest uninsured rates in the U.S.”

Uninsured by State, 2015

The Unstoppable Renewables Revolution

Joe Romm, writing in Think Progress, explains why “it is turning out to be less challenging than expected to incorporate more and more renewables into the electric grid — and to handle periods of time when demand is high but the wind isn’t blowing and/or the sun isn’t shining.”

“Researchers concluded that ‘with improvements in transmission infrastructure, weather-driven renewable resources could supply most of the nation’s electricity at costs similar to today’s’ … [and] a transition to a reliable, low-carbon, electrical generation and transmission system can be accomplished with commercially available technology and within 15 years.”

“Half or more of the ‘intermittency problem’ is really a ‘predictability problem.’ If we could predict with high accuracy wind availability and solar availability 24 to 36 hours in advance at a regional level, then electricity operators have many strategies available to them … An even cheaper way to fill the gap from clouds or a lull in winds is to use ‘demand response.‘”

“A second way to deal with the variability of wind and solar photovoltaics is to integrate electricity storage into the grid … battery prices are coming down sharply, as huge investments are being made in various types of battery technologies by electric car companies and others, including utilities. That’s a key reason battery storage for the electric grid use has started to grow rapidly in this country and around the world.”

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Americans Hate Government — and Banks

The Atlantic: “Although divisions exist even among those within the same political parties, people seem to agree on one thing: they distrust government and banks. The most recent Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll asked Americans who they trusted most to improve economic opportunity and security for people like them. Amid the presidential election frenzy, only 18 percent of respondents said they trusted elected officials in Washington, D.C., the most to fix the economy, down from 31 percent of people in 2009. More than a third do not trust any major institution—elected officials, labor union, investment banks, major corporations, national banks—to make improvement in their lives.

“Overall more than half of Americans (61 percent) believe that most of the progress tackling the country’s major challenges is happening at the state and local level—more than double those who said it was happening at the national level. Currently, American’s overall trust in the federal government is at its lowest point in the last half century, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.”

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“Americans still said that the government plays an important role. Democrats leaned more heavily toward government playing an active role in regulating the economy … Echoing the division among political parties, younger respondents were less likely to see opportunities in the free market, and supported agendas that invested in education and social programs. Only 36 percent of Millennials supported the more conservative agenda compared to 47 percent of Generation X and 52 percent of Baby Boomers.”

For the First Time, Red States Outnumber Blue

Gallup: Gallup’s analysis of political party affiliation at the state level in 2015 finds that 20 states are solidly Republican or leaning Republican, compared with 14 solidly Democratic or leaning Democratic states. The remaining 16 are competitive. This is the first time in Gallup’s eight years of tracking partisanship by state that there have been more Republican than Democratic states. It also marks a dramatic shift from 2008, when Democratic strength nationally was its greatest in recent decades.

Political Composition of the 50 U.S. States

Importantly, even though Republicans claim a greater number of states, Democrats continue to hold an edge nationally in partisanship.

Party Affiliation by State, 2015

Output Hits New Low in Kentucky Coal Country

The Hill: “Kentucky coal mines produced their smallest amount of coal in 62 years last year, a figure that’s likely to keep falling.”

“A preliminary report Monday from Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet said the state put out 61.4 million tons of coal in 2015, down 20.7 percent from the prior year and the lowest volume since 1954.”

“The coal industry in Kentucky had 8,401 people employed at the end of the year, a 28 percent plunge from the end of 2014, and less than half of the 2008 employment figure.”