Bad news for Dems

In 2015, the UK Conservatives did better than predicted by the polls. In 2016, Brexit did better than expected. At the time, I did a post pointing out that the surprise Brexit vote was bad news for Dems (although I later botched the election itself.)

Yesterday, (conservative) Liberals won a surprise victory in Australia. This is also bad news for Dems. It’s becoming increasingly clear that polls consistently underreport support for the more “politically incorrect” political party in Anglo-Saxon countries.

One glimmer of good news is that Democratic voters seem to be leaning toward more “electable” candidates such as Biden. Even though Biden is not particularly popular among progressives on the two coasts, all that matters is the “Obama/Trump” voters in the Rust Belt. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. The Dems must win Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

On balance, I think the Aussie election is more important and points to a likely Trump win in 2020.

PS.  The Aussie economy is doing fine, but they have the same political polarization that we do:

Even by Australian standards, the leadership coups at public broadcaster ABC last week, which led to the sacking of managing director Michelle Guthrie and the resignation of chairman Justin Milne, have been brutal.

They have also highlighted the hyper-partisan nature of the country’s politics and the wider “culture wars” between conservatives and progressives, which are polarising debate and risk undermining confidence in public institutions.

As I keep saying, it’s not about the economy.



38 Responses to “Bad news for Dems”

  1. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    19. May 2019 at 07:34

    I don’t buy your prediction, Sumner, I think Trump is more likely to lose than win in 2020.

    “As I keep saying, it’s not about the economy.”

    It definitely was in Australia. Australia is Americanizing in its politics, but it’s far, far from Americanized.

    “One glimmer of good news is that Democratic voters seem to be leaning toward more “electable” candidates such as Biden.”

    There is nothing more electable about Biden than any other Dem candidate (at least, if he is competently attacked).

  2. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    19. May 2019 at 08:18

    Also, good point re: saving, vaccines, and IQ.

  3. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    19. May 2019 at 08:45

    Trump needs Florida, which should be harder to win than last time. Biden is well ahead in a hypothetical matchup, according to polls, though it’s early and Biden could suffer effects of a bruising, competitive primary.

    Trump winning is not impossible, but will be an uphill battle. Biden even polls well among older voters, and betting markets favor the generic Democratic candidate.

  4. Gravatar of Cameron Blank Cameron Blank
    19. May 2019 at 10:10


    There is some evidence to the contrary. Polls were almost dead on in 2018 and the 2016 miss is mostly a myth as nationally they were close but they missed in the Midwest (towards being too pro-Clinton) and Southwest (towards being to pro-Trump).

    As someone who badly wants to see Trump lose, I’m certainly not comfortable he will, but opinion polls (which show low approval and poor performance vs Biden/Sanders), betting markets (which favor dems to win 52-70% depending on the market), and the 2018 beating point toward a Trump loss. In case someone wants to point out Obama took a beating in 2010, remember between 2010 and 2012 unemployment fell from 9.8% to 7.8% and Bin Laden was killed. Midterms also have(or had?) a conservative turnout bias. What has changed since 2018?

  5. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    19. May 2019 at 11:18

    “There is nothing more electable about Biden than any other Dem candidate (at least, if he is competently attacked).”

    Biden’s weak points are well known while Sander’s hasn’t been attacked nearly as much.

    A little early but in Pennsylvania where unemployment is at 3.9%, Biden leads Trump by 11 points whereas Sanders leads by 7 and Warren by 4.

    Nationally, Biden is ahead of Trump by 7 points and Sanders is up by 4. A lot will happen by next November but Biden will remain more popular with the non-progressives and not have another close race in swing states.

  6. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    19. May 2019 at 11:19

    I was quoting E. Harding.

  7. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    19. May 2019 at 11:35

    Some context from an Aussie…

    The current conservative PM is clearly identified with the right of the Liberal Party, but both he and his deputy have played down culture war issues during their (short) tenure. Both claim to believe that climate change is real, and argue that Australia will meet our 2030 Paris commitments without the need for the stronger measures proposed by the Labor opposition. Further, the PM didn’t hesitate to describe the Christchurch attack as “right wing terrorism” when it happened.

    Second, Labor were proposing to increase a range of taxes on (1) high-income earners, (ii) company dividends (which would have mainly hit well-off self-funded retirees), (iii) personal (financial) investment in established housing, and (iv) all forms of capital gains on personal investments. These changes were justified largely on the grounds of equity and were cheered by numerous think tanks, academics and many economists.

    Third, Labor went hard against investment in new coal mines (including the proposed huge Indian-funded Adani mine in Queensland), which turned out to be unpopular in mining seats in both that State and New South Wales.

    None of this gainsays the need for Labor or the Dems to choose electable candidates, but I wouldn’t infer too much from this result about broader support for populism and political incorrectness.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. May 2019 at 15:28

    Rajat, Thanks for that info.

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    19. May 2019 at 16:49

    Australia, like the United States, is a nation where housing costs have exploded.

    Despite exploding housing costs in Australia, the leadership class has embraced immigration and foreign-capital inflows into extant housing stock.

    Scott Sumner says these election results we are seeing globally are not about “the economy.”

    But, “the economy” for who?

    If an economy is defined by increasing income stratification and exploding housing costs, then other political tensions will be exacerbated (even if per capita GDP is rising).

  10. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    19. May 2019 at 17:02

    What Rajat said.

    While I agree that marginal voters, with the weakest ideological attachments, are more likely to be “PC intimidated” (especially when pollsters use bright young things from university as their questioners), I would hesitate to read much more into the result. It was more like a re-run of Hewson’s “Fightback!” loss in 1993: Party expected to win pre-releases big policy manifesto full of things that a “small target” “devil you know” Government is able to scare voters with.

    With have some cultural polarisation down under, but it is not at US levels. As always, rather more like Canadians, because, hey, also peacefully federated British dominion that evolved into independent state with relatively easy border control issues. Except we have a lot more Irish influence, no equivalent of Quebecois and are the big one in our particular Anglosphere pairing. (UK/Ireland, US/Canada, Oz/Kiwiland).

  11. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    19. May 2019 at 18:16

    “Biden’s weak points are well known while Sander’s hasn’t been attacked nearly as much.”

    I would think the reverse is truer.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. May 2019 at 18:32

    Everyone, Good points. I should not have suggested that the Australian election was not about economics. i was thinking more in terms of the cultural splits in the US, UK and Australia, which clearly go beyond economics.

  13. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    19. May 2019 at 19:07


    Why are Aussie banks denying home loans to foreigners?

    They don’t do that, even in the US.

  14. Gravatar of Pyrmonter Pyrmonter
    19. May 2019 at 21:29

    It may not be ‘the economy stupid’, but the Australian economy has slowed somewhat. Not a recession, but not the buoyancy it was used to a few years ago:

  15. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. May 2019 at 04:58

    There seems to be a clear pattern here of liberals getting nowhere electorally with promises of new taxes on investment income.

  16. Gravatar of c8to c8to
    20. May 2019 at 09:46

    these things are only a surprise if you take mainstream news predictions to heart, as they seem to be completely isolated from reality.

    hyper-partisan is hilarious – australia is completely non-partisan.

    abortion – non issue.
    gun laws – non issue.
    religion – rarely (as in almost never) discussed, and completely not an issue in determining major party wins.
    corruption – non issue. A nsw premier resigned over a bottle of wine.
    campaign finance – non issue.

    economy – most stable in the world for what 2 decades.
    appointment of judges – doesn’t even make the newspaper essentially.

    immigration isn’t really an issue either – no-one opposes the skilled migration program. people sometimes differ on refugees but really the lefties just are offended by the signalling of “we will decide who comes into the country” but unless they don’t believe they should decide who comes into their house, they don’t really believe what they are whinging about.

  17. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. May 2019 at 10:09


    You wrote:

    “immigration isn’t really an issue either – no-one opposes the skilled migration program. people sometimes differ on refugees but really the lefties just are offended by the signalling of “we will decide who comes into the country” but unless they don’t believe they should decide who comes into their house, they don’t really believe what they are whinging about.”

    The last part of that statement is ludicrous. First, the idea that government knows better than the private sector who to allow into the country to find jobs is laughable. Sure, obvious dangerous criminals shouldn’t be allowed in, but give me a break.

    Second, the comparison to letting people into your house is completely inapplicable. If I were to take this seriously, it could be used as a justification for restricting the migration of Australian citizens within Australia too, laws aside. Some racists might not want citizens of certain races living in their neighborhoods. There’s no reason to give government the power to determine these things.

    The more apt comparison would be allowing people into one’s store, rather than home. Immigrants enter developed countries looking for opportunities and they bring their labor in exchange. If they have nothing to offer, who will hire them and how will they sustain themselves?

    Does it make sense to discriminate in regard to who can shop in a store, unless the shopper is a known thief?

  18. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    20. May 2019 at 13:14

    If they have nothing to offer, who will hire them and how will they sustain themselves?


    That’s a very nice idea in theory. In practice, I experience migrants from the Arab world, from all over Africa, from Iran, from Afghanistan, who do not think much about what they have to offer and what their job prospects really are in the First World. That’s not their main concern.

    These people often come from “shithole countries” (as certain presidents would say), which simply means that the situation in these countries is really bad. There is a lot of unemployment, bad prospects, repression, and massive violence, just to name a few relevant issues.

    Then they often hear of lands of milk and honey, where everyone has work, where the streets are paved with gold, in which the state supposedly pays for close to everything (which is surprisingly very close to the truth in some countries). And then they move, no matter what.

    And liberals act so surprised. By what again? By the mechanism described? By people like Trump, who take advantage of the situation? It’s all so mysterious. As long as this mental barrier continues, Trump will win again.

    Maybe Sanders can stop him, despite being a socialist, simply because Sanders has always been very restrictive towards immigration, at least in the last election campaign, so he got some credibility in this area, which other Democrats don’t really have.

    So my bet is Sanders wins against Trump, but Trump wins against any other candidate (as of today, not yet known or not yet published scandals of course not included).

  19. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. May 2019 at 13:57

    Christian List,

    But, in countries that aren’t dumb enough to lavish government benefits on immigrants, what is the harm to having open borders? You indicate I’m naive, but then didn’t mention one negative coming from immigration.

    In the US, even illegal immigrants are net taxpayers. They’re eligible for very few benefit programs. Their kids can go do public schools, emergency rooms have to treat them if they’re sick, etc. They certainly don’t get welfare, food stamps, etc.

  20. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. May 2019 at 13:58

    Unless the only negative is political?

  21. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    20. May 2019 at 14:37

    There are elections where the polls overestimated the politically incorrect option too though. In 2017 elections, Corbyn’s Labour Party and Macron both outperformed their polls in the UK and French elections.

    And Australia doesn’t seem like a huge upset. Just going off Wikipedia, it looks like Labor was only leading by 2-3% in the polls, and Morrison consistently polled ~10% higher than Shorten in the personal polls (

    It would be interesting to study this rigorously, but my impression is that polls are off randomly rather than systematically biased.

  22. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    20. May 2019 at 14:48


    The political point is important, because politics is about democracy, and if you do not represent the views of the citizens, you simply will not be elected. Sanders knows that.

    I realize that immigration brings benefits, but as with everything, the dose makes the poison, so the rate of change is really relevant.

    The US has no open borders, far from it. You probably have one the most restrictive borders in the world. So open borders is not a good example for anything. Open borders do not exist. American politicians should never use this term. It is very naive and political suicide.

    Illegal immigration can indeed be beneficial, I personal love it (in the right dosage), because it keeps the benefits programs low, but then you can not talk about open borders. The definition of open borders is no more illegal immigration, only legal immigration per se. A really naive concept as long as the differences between countries are so extreme.

    No benefits to immigrants is a great concept in theory, but when millions of people come, they need food, drink, housing, clothing, health care, schools, heating, electricity, and so on. Americans won’t starve these people. As long as the dosage is right, you can put these people into work so that they can provide themselves soon, but not with open borders.

  23. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. May 2019 at 17:14

    Christian List,

    Yes, there is a big refugee influx right now and it does cost money to stabilize them once they arrive, but the US really needs higher growth in the working age population. It’s an extremely small price to pay to have a much larger economy in 10-20 years when we may struggle more to try to contain China in Asia, for example.

    Also, the military never really has the number of recruit they’d like. We should grant full citizenship to any immigrant who serves 4 years in the military.

    Unlike most liberals, I think the US has to practice balance of power, great power geopolitics. How do we best do this if we continue to let the growth in the working age population fall?

  24. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    20. May 2019 at 17:42

    Ben: unless you provide a link, I have no information on what you mean.

  25. Gravatar of Charlie Charlie
    21. May 2019 at 02:23

    Came here to repeat Mark’s point above re: UK elections 2017 (the French on was actually in line with polling I believe, but the media narrative overstated the Le Pen threat). I think you’re fitting to the examples you remember, which is not a random sample (and itself is tiny anyway), Scott. Note also Obama outperformed polls vs Romney by more than Brexit did.

    I feel like 538 did a piece on this a few years back and found no evidence for it going either way, but a little bit of digging didn’t yield anything.

  26. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. May 2019 at 03:06

    OT, but in the ballpark:

    Ken Rogoff suggests developed nations will have to go to serious negative interest rates in the next recession. But then he admits there is a problem with cash. Paper cash.

    US residents already hold more than $5,000 paper cash per resident, and Japan $8,000.

    Rogoff says going to digital-only currency might eliminate a lot of “criminal” tax evasion.

  27. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. May 2019 at 03:12


    The Big Four stopped lending to China homebuyers back in 2016. mostly.

    “Westpac withdraws from real estate lending to foreigners – ABC News ……real-estate-lending-to-foreigners/7364398
    Apr 26, 2016 – “For these reasons, Westpac will no longer lend to offshore customers who are not citizens or residents of Australia with an eligible visa.” … The changes come on the back of rising concerns that fraud and money laundering are increasing among foreign buyers in the Australian property market.”


    Australian banks cut off loans to Chinese property investors… – Daily Mail…/Australian-banks-cut-loans-thousands-Chinese-property-i…
    Nov 28, 2016 – The big four Australian banks have cut back on lending to foreign … are now worried about how they will finance their Australian home loans.

  28. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. May 2019 at 04:08

    Okay, here is the issue: Some macroeconomists say the US (the Fed) should just go to negative interest rates in the next recession. See Ken Rogoff, for example.

    But this:

    Outlook for Japan’s banking system turns negative amid profitability pressure and increased risk-taking
    Ultralow interest rates in Japan and intense competition continue to weigh on Japanese banks’ profitability and threaten their traditional business model. Persistent pressure on profitability is driving banks in the country to pursue higher-yielding loans, but this is raising asset risks.


    Okay, go to negative interest rates, but we want banks to make money and extend loans, the endogenous money-supply thing. If banks are not profitable…they will lend less, not more.

    There seems a huge amount of missed links between finance-sector professionals and macroeconomists….

  29. Gravatar of Charlie Charlie
    21. May 2019 at 05:21

    See the tables at the bottom of the article:
    “However, there’s no evidence that candidates such as Le Pen systematically outperform their polls. Across dozens of European elections since 2012, in fact, nationalist and right-wing parties have been as likely to underperform their polls as to overperform them.

    I’ve built a database that covers the performance of right-wing parties and candidates, such as Le Pen and the National Front, in European elections since 2012. (More specifically, the parties are those identified by the New York Times as being “right-wing”; they “range across a wide policy spectrum, from populist and nationalist to far-right neofascist.”) I found 47 elections during this period in which one of these parties competed and voters were regularly polled about it before the election. Some of these elections featured multiple right-wing parties or candidates, so there are a total of 66 data points.

    On average, the right-wing parties were predicted to win 13.5 percent of the vote in polls conducted at the end of the campaign.2 And they wound up with an average of … 13.5 percent of the vote. Polls have been just as likely to overestimate nationalists as to underestimate them, in other words.”

  30. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    21. May 2019 at 07:35

    Sometimes politics gets really confusing, however. Now it is apparently “patriotic” to support tariffs!

  31. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    21. May 2019 at 07:41


    The papers I’ve read that concluded “illegals are net payers” didn’t account for potential change in that status, their kids, nor public expenses that aren’t direct individual benefits. Given our current fiscal system, I’m very skeptical of any increase in the low-skilled population, whatever the mechanism, and I weigh that against the drawbacks of enforcement (which is the rub with your domestic or racial parallels).

    I’m also of the opinion that political/cultural issues are relevant and valid (eg I think my own ethnic group damaged US politics).

    I appreciate power politics, we have to operate within tragic reality. But historical evidence doesn’t indicate that unrestricted entry into a society increases its power.

    Finally, there’s a serious risk management problem with immigration that IMO is underappreciated: if your immigration policy turns out over-restrictive it’s quite easy to repair the damage, but if your immigration policy turns out under-restrictive repair is painful and lengthy.

  32. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    21. May 2019 at 08:05

    Scott, I’m supportive of the thesis that communication technology has increased polarization. But the same dynamic might increase our *perception* of polarization independently of actual polarization, right?

    So Scott finds an article indicating Aussie polarization, but then the Aussies arrive in the comments and indicate it’s not really quite like that. The new commtech over-dramatizes, including over-dramatizing the over-dramatization?

  33. Gravatar of William Poundstone William Poundstone
    21. May 2019 at 17:20

    The Democrats outperformed polling in the midterms.

  34. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    22. May 2019 at 04:01


    The opposite of what you wrote is true. The US became the pre-eminent world power without federal immigration laws.

    And tell Japan it’s easy to repair the damage from overly-restrictive immigration policies, as they watch their economy shrink with their population, in the face of a rising and increasingly assertive China.

    You’re even wrong about the politics, if polls I see are true.

  35. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    23. May 2019 at 06:33

    “The US became the pre-eminent world power without federal immigration laws.” N=1, not literally true as we certainly weren’t the hegemon in 1875, some truth to your gist but that rise was largely about a barely-inhabited (post-pox) temperate continent and a high domestic birthrate, and regarding my claims selectivity was provided by oceans in that era (and local policy, read Albion’s Seed).

    Yes, if your claims are correct then Japan could easily let in millions of people, damage repaired.

    I said nothing about polls, but open borders poll horribly (Harvard Harris) so huh?

  36. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    23. May 2019 at 07:43


    I can tell you’re not very thoughtful on this issue. There’s no making up the lost time integrating migrants over 30-40 years. The growth that could have been realized is lost forever.

  37. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    27. May 2019 at 17:22

    So now there are limitations on our ability to absorb migrants? How quickly you’ve reversed yourself, despite all your deep thought on the issue.

  38. Gravatar of Cliff Cliff
    29. May 2019 at 13:09

    Japan has been growing just as fast, per capita, as any developed nation over the last 30-40 years.

    Conceptually it seems unlikely that there has been any permanent loss, if you catch up to the number of immigrants you would have had, fairly quickly you should converge to the same size economy. In contrast, if you kill the golden goose by undermining institutions that are critical to economic success- and Japan has many such institutions- there may easily be substantial lost economic growth that literally never will be made up.

    I’ve never heard a convincing critique of the analogy between personal property rights (who is allowed in your home) and sovereign property rights (who is allowed in your nation). The analogy seems clear and direct. If you do not have property rights to your own borders than you don’t have a nation for long. The only substantive critique I accept is that you believe all nation-states are illegitimate and should be eliminated.

    Just imagine, in a small nation like Australia, China could easily send tens of million of immigrants and within a generation Australia would vote to unify with mainland China.

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