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How Biden Is Winning An Identity Politics Election So Far – FiveThirtyEight

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After President Trump won the 2016 election, there was a big debate over the role “identity politics” played in his victory. Some scholars argued that many white voters without a college degree — a group that proved pivotal in that election — jumped from supporting then-President Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 largely because they liked Trump’s framing of identity issues, such as immigration, more than Hillary Clinton’s.<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="1" href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/if-talking-about-race-hurts-democrats-why-is-biden-so-far-ahead/#fn-1" data-footnote-content="

That finding is disputed by other scholars, who argued that Obama-Trump voters were not that conservative on identity issues.

“>1 After the election, some (usually white) liberal and Democratic-leaning voices said that Democrats needed to abandon “identity politics” or face more defeats like Clinton’s. Other liberal voices (often Black) said that Trump had successfully tapped into the racist views of many white Americans. Both of those perspectives implied that debating issues of identity and race was bad for Clinton and good for Trump, and in the future it would be good for the GOP and bad for Democrats.

Never mind all that, at least for now. America is talking about identity and race, and so are both presidential candidates. And all that racial talk seems to be helping Democrats, not Republicans. Joe Biden led Trump by about 6 percentage points in national polls on May 25, the day a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. Biden leads Trump by an average of nearly 10 points now, after weeks of race and racism dominating the national discussion.

Obviously a lot of factors could explain Trump’s decline in the polls, most notably the coronavirus outbreak and the president’s failure to come up with any real plan to limit the virus’s spread.

But it’s worth exploring this question: Why aren’t identity politics backfiring on Biden and helping Trump? It’s hard to say for sure, but here are five theories, ordered roughly from strongest to weakest.

Trump is in the White House now

Some political science research suggests that public opinion on major issues tends to move against the sitting president. So if President John Doe says he hates Granny Smith apples, Americans will begin consuming them by the bushel. And that pattern has already played out with Trump, with Americans becoming more supportive of immigrants and Obamacare, likely in reaction to the president’s attempts to limit immigration and repeal the health care law.

Current polling — and even polls from earlier in the Trump presidency — has shown Americans expressing more liberal views on racial issues. Those numbers might suggest real change in racial attitudes among Americans. (More on that in a bit.)

But what looks right now like increasing racial liberalism may really just be anti-Trump sentiment. If Americans, particularly Democratic-leaning Americans, perceive that Trump is opposed to the Floyd protests and to racial justice causes more broadly, they might become more supportive of such causes, consciously or unconsciously, simply as a reaction to the president’s sentiments.

So in terms of identity politics and their role in presidential elections, it may have been that a racialized discourse was electorally bad for Democrats when their party controlled the White House, like in 2016. But this kind of discourse is fine and perhaps even electorally beneficial for Democrats with a Republican president in office.

Also, the story here could simply be that Trump is a flawed candidate who was going to struggle in 2020 no matter what issues were dominating the news at the time. After all, he was viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of voters on Election Day in 2016, according to exit polls, and he has remained fairly unpopular throughout his presidency. In 2019 and earlier this year, Democrats spent a lot of time debating which of their potential presidential candidates was most “electable.” But Biden’s almost-10-point lead suggests that basically any of the other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates would likely be leading Trump right now if he or she were the presumptive Democratic nominee.

2016 was a fluke and identity politics don’t always hurt Democrats

Part of the focus on identity issues as an electoral liability stems from the current makeup of swing states and the Electoral College. White voters without degrees have become increasingly Republican-leaning and represent a disproportionate share of the electorate in key swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin. So Democrats need to worry more about appealing to white voters without degrees to win an Electoral College majority than they would if presidential elections were decided by a simple national plurality vote. Thus, a lot of post-2016 coverage started from the assumption that Democrats have an identity and race problem because they must appeal to white voters without degrees and that voting bloc — at least based on the 2016 results — seemed to be put off by Democrats’ approach to identity issues.

But that framing might be wrong, or at least a bit overstated. Why? First, there’s an alternate reading of the 2016 results that suggests race wasn’t an unusually important factor in motivating the white voters who switched to Trump. Second, the overall racial dynamics of American politics are not that bad for Democrats and perhaps even favorable to them.

Zoom out beyond 2016 and take the long view: The last seven presidential elections have featured four Democratic victories in both the popular vote and the Electoral College (1992, 1996, 2008, 2012); one instance where the GOP won the popular vote and Electoral College (2004); and two kind of fluky GOP wins in which Republicans lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College (2000, 2016).

That long view doesn’t look great for Republicans, and identity and race help explain why. Democrats have been handily winning the vote among Asian, Black and Hispanic Americans, who combined are growing as a share of the electorate. (The share of nonwhite U.S. voters was about 26 percent in 2016, compared to about 13 percent in 1980.) Democrats’ status as the party of minorities helps them in some ways, requiring the GOP to consolidate an increasingly high percentage of the country’s white voters to win elections.

But it isn’t easy or necessarily guaranteed that the Republicans will overwhelmingly win the white vote overall or the white non-college vote specifically — even in an election that’s centered on race. The 2017-2018 period was full of racialized political debate, most notably on immigration policy, but the exit polls suggest Democrats lost white voters without a college degree by 24 percentage points in 2018, compared to 37 points in 2016. So far in 2020, polls show Biden losing white voters without a degree by a margin closer to 20 points.

Meanwhile, Biden might carry white voters with a college degree by a large margin, in part because those voters have been turned off by Trump’s approach to racial issues. Indeed, white voters with a college degree or postgraduate education have been trending Democratic for years, and the GOP approach to race and ethnicity is likely a factor.

In short, the evidence suggests that Trump’s approach on racial issues never really appealed to people of color in the first place and, outside of November 2016, it has also been really off-putting to white voters with degrees and not that appealing to white voters without degrees.

It’s harder to use Biden as a wedge

On policy issues, including those around identity and race, Biden’s positions are clearly to the left of the ones Obama ran on in 2008 and arguably to the left of Clinton’s in 2016. In explicitly promising to pick a woman as vice president and a Black woman as Supreme Court justice, Biden has gone beyond Clinton or Obama in terms of allocating very important government posts based on gender and race. And Biden’s rhetoric on racial issues is similar to Clinton’s in 2016. After Floyd’s death, while Trump largely dismissed the protests, Biden called for “an era of action to reverse systemic racism.”

But Biden is an older white man. So his identity likely makes it harder for Trump to run an identity-based campaign against Biden than against Clinton and, to some extent, incumbent president Obama. (The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer made this argument explicitly in a recent piece.) Biden does not visually symbolize a changing America the way President Obama did and the way a President Hillary Clinton would have.

Also, Biden has self-consciously positioned himself as a more moderate Democrat and has distanced himself from more liberal elements of the party, including the causes favored by more liberal Black Americans, like defunding the police.

The electorate has really shifted on racial issues

It’s possible that Trump’s identity politics are less effective in 2020 than they were in 2016 because the events of the last four years have resulted in a real leftward shift on racial issues among Americans. And that shift is fundamental and real, not just about partisanship or anti-Trump sentiment, as I suggested above. After all, in interviews with reporters, more liberal-leaning people and even some former Trump voters are suggesting that they understand racial inequality more deeply now than ever before.

Institutions are aligned with Biden on these issues

Major U.S. businesses, corporations and other elite institutions are typically wary of being perceived as partisan. But in the wake of Floyd’s death, corporate America seems to have decided, for whatever reason, that support for Black Lives Matter and comprehensive, aggressive efforts to reduce racial inequality are either not that partisan or that they’re stances worth taking even if they annoy some Republicans.

So at least right now, it’s not really Biden and Democrats versus Trump and Republicans on issues of identity and race in America; rather, it’s Biden, Democrats, Facebook, Merck, JPMorgan Chase, Netflix, Nike, Stanford and lots of other major institutions versus Trump and Republicans.

This dynamic is not totally unique to the spring and summer of 2020. Major companies in America are often aligned with liberal cultural values — for example, supporting gay marriage even before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated any remaining bans on same-sex unions.

But even if corporate America’s recent posture on racial issues isn’t that surprising, it’s still important. With a lot of major institutions in America echoing his general message, it’s not surprising that Biden’s identity politics are resonating more than Trump’s.


I’m writing this article at a particular moment in time. Perhaps there will be a backlash to the Floyd protests and public opinion will shift. Maybe Trump will benefit from that. If Biden picks a female vice presidential nominee, particularly one who is also a person of color, perhaps Trump’s identity tactics will resonate more with voters because he’ll then have a foil who is more like Clinton and Obama. Alternatively, Trump could make up ground in the polls due to unrelated issues and factors.

And even if Biden wins, that won’t totally answer the question of whether identity politics is bad or good for Democrats. LIke I said, perhaps basically any Democratic candidate would beat Trump amid a viral outbreak the president mishandled.

All that said, it appears right now that the identity politics of 2020 are a net plus for Democrats — and perhaps they weren’t too big a problem for Democrats in the first place. It’s hard to prove any of this, but it’s an important discussion to have. In 2008, it seemed like Democrats won a presidential contest that was largely about race. But even though the presidential nominees were white in 2016 and 2020, those may have been more racialized campaigns. And if the current polls hold up, Democrats, after losing a very racialized campaign, may show that they can win one.

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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