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Texas's political geography: Are Democrats' swing-state dreams coming true? – The Washington Post

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Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)

Ninth in a series on swing states

Modern Texas as a swing state? Democrats started to dream it after 2008, when Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson to carry Texas’s biggest urban counties. Republicans started to warn about it in 2013, when Obama campaign veterans created a group to find and empower hundreds of thousands of non-White Texans who didn’t vote. One year later, Republicans dominated every statewide race — as they had for 20 years — and made inroads with Hispanic voters. “Blue Texas” became a punchline.

Then came Donald Trump. In 2016, after dispatching Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to win the Republican nomination, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton here by nine points — a smaller margin than any Republican nominee since Bob Dole. It got closer because of Trump’s weakness in the state’s fast-growing cities and suburbs, which optimistic Republicans saw as a fluke. Two years later, Democrats picked up two House seats, sliced away at the GOP’s state legislative majority and came within five points of winning several statewide races, including the one for Cruz’s seat.

“The suburbs are abandoning Donald Trump,” said Julián Castro, a Texan and the former secretary of housing and urban development under Obama who has been raising money and campaigning for down-ballot Democrats since ending his presidential bid. “All the dynamics are coming to fruition to make this a swing state. If Democrats can get lower-propensity voters in the Rio Grande Valley and the big metro areas to turn out, I’m convinced we’d get over the hump.”


How Texas swung from ‘12 to ’16

Clinton made big gains in cities and suburbs, cutting the GOP’s margin of victory to single digits for the first time in 20 years.

Dem. won by

250K votes

GOP won

by 750K

Rio Grande

2016

margin

West Texas

Hill Country

North Texas

East Texas

Statewide 2016 margin

In 2018, those trends continued. Republicans held on to their statewide offices, despite further suburban attrition, thanks to high turnout in conservative East and North Texas and middling Democratic turnout with Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley.

How Texas shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton made big gains in cities and suburbs, cutting the GOP’s margin of victory to single digits for the first time in 20 years.

GOP won

by 750K

Dem. won by

250K votes

Rio Grande

2016

margin

West Texas

Hill Country

North Texas

East Texas

Statewide 2016 margin

In 2018, those trends continued. Republicans held on to their statewide offices, despite further suburban attrition, thanks to high turnout in conservative East and North Texas and middling Democratic turnout with Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley.

How Texas shifted from 2012 to 2016

Clinton made big gains in cities and suburbs, cutting the GOP’s margin of victory to single digits for the first time in 20 years.

GOP won

by 750K

Dem. won by

250K votes

Rio Grande

2016

margin

West Texas

Hill Country

North Texas

East Texas

Statewide 2016 margin

In 2018, those trends continued. Republicans held on to their statewide offices, despite further suburban attrition, thanks to high turnout in conservative East and North Texas and middling Democratic turnout with Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley.

It’s a very big hump. Clinton carried four of Texas’s five most populous counties, containing the cities of Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio, and where a total of 3,809,602 votes were cast. But 57 percent of the total statewide vote came from outside those counties. Unlike Arizona, where defeat in the suburbs can close off the GOP’s path to a majority, Texas has millions of rural, White, conservative voters who are alienated from the modern Democratic Party and can overwhelm it with high turnout.

Those voters have elected a Republican Party that’s made voting tougher, under pandemic conditions, than in any 2020 swing state. Of the 15 states where Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has run TV ads, only Texas requires voters to have a medical reason to request an absentee ballot, unless they’re 65 or older. Republican state legislators have nixed the state’s old straight-ticket option, after 2018’s Democratic surge led to massive down-ballot wins in urban counties.

And just this week, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott mandated that each of Texas’s 254 counties maintain just one drop box for mail ballots, to “maintain the integrity of our election.” Rural Loving County, with just 169 residents, would have as many drop-off points as Houston’s Harris County, with more than 4.7 million residents. Democrats, who went to court immediately to challenge this, saw it as evidence that Republicans are nervous.

To explain why Texas is being contested at all, we’ve broken it into seven political “states.” Houston and its exurbs have moved away from Republicans in the past few years, adding tens of thousands of Democratic voters as White suburbanites and immigrants turn against the president. West Texas, the least populous of these regions, has become more Democratic, and so has the Rio Grande Valley, which Republicans saw only recently as places where they could pick up votes. A mystery in both regions, to be solved on Election Day, is whether Trump’s support from Hispanic voters has grown or declined since 2016; polling is all over the map.

The Hill Country, a vast region with liberal Austin at the center, has become more competitive as that city’s gotten bluer. So has the Metroplex of Dallas and Fort Worth — still red, but Republicans’ losses in smaller cities are eating away at their margin. The GOP’s strength is in the other two regions, North and East Texas, with some of the most solidly Republican towns in the country. In 2018, they were enough to overwhelm massive Democratic gains in the rest of the state.

This is the ninth in a series breaking down the key swing states of 2020, showing how electoral trends played out over the past few years and where the shift in votes really mattered. See all 50 states here.

Houston

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

One in 5 Texan voters live here, between Houston itself and the small Gulf Coast towns down Highway 288 and Interstate 45, and their shift away from the GOP has scrambled statewide politics. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney lost Harris County itself by a handful of votes but won the region overall by 80,000. Four years later, Clinton dominated Harris County, picked up Fort Bend County and built a 120,000-vote cushion here, giving Democrats hope of eventually winning statewide.

Republicans have fought back since then, with mixed success, limiting the Democrats’ 2018 gains but losing a House seat in the Houston “energy corridor” — the place where George H.W. Bush started his political career. Just 29 percent of Harris County residents, and 32 percent of Fort Bend County residents, are non-Hispanic Whites, and in both counties, more than 1 in 4 residents were born outside the United States. Local Democratic candidates such as Sri Preston Kulkarni have made calls and sent voter mail in multiple South Asian languages, and Republicans such as Rep. Dan Crenshaw have worked to recruit more diverse candidates, like Black congressional challenger and former Apache pilot Wesley Hunt.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

809,817

Hillary Clinton

930,013

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 809,817
  • Hillary Clinton: 930,013

Counties included: Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris

West Texas

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Before Beto O’Rourke broke records for Democratic fundraising in Texas — and before an ill-advised campaign for president — he was viewed skeptically as a statewide candidate because he came from El Paso. Thinly populated West Texas had never been a launchpad for Texas politicians, and while oil exploration in the Permian Basin was a steady source of jobs, there was none of the fast, diverse population growth that was reshaping such places as Houston and Dallas.

Still, Republican losses here can hurt them statewide. Romney held Obama to a victory of fewer than 9,000 votes here; Clinton won by 66,000 votes, helped by record-breaking turnout in El Paso County, and she won in smaller cities such as Midland. O’Rourke improved on those numbers, but even another broken record in 2020 would net Democrats fewer votes than they’ll get out of the Houston area.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

138,729

Hillary Clinton

185,185

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 138,729
  • Hillary Clinton: 185,185

Counties included: Brewster, Crane, Crockett, Culberson, Ector, El Paso, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Loving, Midland, Pecos, Presidio, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Val Verde, Ward, Winkler

Hill Country

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Settled by German immigrants, and loyal for decades to the old Republican Party, this region is increasingly defined by the explosive growth of Austin. That’s been a boon to Democrats. More than half of all votes here come from Austin’s Travis County and neighboring Williamson County, and while Republicans wrote off Travis years ago, the combined Democrat margin in that area rose from 60,000 in 2012 to 160,000 votes in 2016.

The rest of Hill Country is redder, though seven of its more rural counties shifted to the left slightly in 2016. That’s been a problem for Republicans: They drew legislative maps in 2011 that sliced up Austin into several districts, on the assumption that the exurbs would stay red. Even if the presidential campaigns don’t invest much here, the races in the 10th, 21st and 25th districts could drive up turnout.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

501,788

Hillary Clinton

517,428

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 501,788
  • Hillary Clinton: 517,428

Counties included: Bandera, Bell, Blanco, Bosque, Burnet, Comal, Coryell, Edwards, Gillespie, Hamilton, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, Lampasas, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, Medina, Menard, Mills, Real, San Saba, Schleicher, Sutton, Travis, Uvalde, Williamson

Rio Grande Valley

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Tejano Texas, settled by Mexicans who lost many of their rights when the state joined the union, had its political power limited for decades by a poll tax, for years set at $1.75. In the 1940s, Democrats organized in the area to pay potential voters’ fees, and the region from San Antonio’s Bexar County to the U.S.-Mexico border has ever since been the part of Texas most resistant to Republicans. Even George W. Bush lost it during his two runs for president, and in 2016, Clinton won it with the biggest margins of any Democratic nominee in 20 years.

Republicans never stopped competing here, though, flipping a state Senate seat in a 2018 special election and narrowly holding the 23rd Congressional District, which is open this year after the retirement of Rep. Will Hurd. The areas around the region’s military bases are strongly Republican, and the multiyear Democratic project to find more votes here has been complicated by Republicans’ own outreach to socially conservative Hispanic voters. But Republicans such as Abbott and Cruz have had more luck with that than Trump.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

415,168

Hillary Clinton

645,306

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 415,168
  • Hillary Clinton: 645,306

Counties included: Atascosa, Bexar, Brooks, Cameron, Dimmit, Duval, Frio, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, La Salle, Maverick, Nueces, Starr, Webb, Willacy, Zapata, Zavala

Metroplex

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

Dallas has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. Fort Worth has been one of the most Republican-friendly large cities in America. The suburbs and exurbs of both, which have doubled in size since 2000, padded the GOP’s numbers, putting Texas far out of Democrats’ reach. But that’s begun to change, with cities like Plano and Denton turning blue and Democratic landslides in the core Metroplex wiping out Republican state legislators.

The clash between the country club GOP and the Trump-era GOP — epitomized when arch-conservative Allen West became state GOP chairman — is vivid here. Katrina Pierson, the lead of the Trump campaign’s Black outreach, got her start with an unsuccessful 2014 primary run against a Metroplex congressman in a then-safe seat. Four years later, Republican Rep. Pete Sessions was defeated in a general election, and Democrats are trying to stretch their map in the region to flip the state legislature. O’Rourke fought Cruz to a draw here, but where the suburban growth stops, Republicans remain dominant.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

1,230,220

Hillary Clinton

1,070,816

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 1,230,220
  • Hillary Clinton: 1,070,816

Counties included: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Grayson, Hood, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Tarrant

North Texas

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

The president has lost traditional Republican support in much of Texas, but not in the massive region north and west of Dallas. The 13th Congressional District, the single most Republican-friendly seat in the country, will send the president’s former physician to Congress in November, after Trump’s support for Ronny L. Jackson powered him through a primary against Republicans with stronger local ties. Since 2000, no Democratic nominee for president has won a single county here; in 2016, Clinton couldn’t reach even 30 percent support in any of them.

There could be more Republican votes to win here, though this is the only part of Texas where most counties have been losing population. The area around Amarillo has been growing, albeit slower than most Texas cities, and Democrats added votes there in 2016 and 2018. But in a presidential year, even a weak Republican campaign should come out of here with a margin of 300,000 votes, as nothing is trending toward Democrats.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

464,204

Hillary Clinton

116,611

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 464,204
  • Hillary Clinton: 116,611

Counties included: Andrews, Archer, Armstrong, Bailey, Baylor, Borden, Briscoe, Brown, Callahan, Carson, Castro, Childress, Clay, Cochran, Coke, Coleman, Collingsworth, Comanche, Concho, Cooke, Cottle, Crosby, Dallam, Dawson, Deaf Smith, Dickens, Donley, Eastland, Erath, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Gaines, Garza, Glasscock, Gray, Hale, Hall, Hansford, Hardeman, Hartley, Haskell, Hemphill, Hockley, Howard, Hutchinson, Irion, Jack, Jones, Kent, King, Knox, Lamb, Lipscomb, Lubbock, Lynn, Martin, Mitchell, Montague, Moore, Motley, Nolan, Ochiltree, Oldham, Palo Pinto, Parmer, Potter, Randall, Reagan, Roberts, Runnels, Scurry, Shackelford, Sherman, Somervell, Stephens, Sterling, Stonewall, Swisher, Taylor, Terry, Throckmorton, Tom Green, Wheeler, Wichita, Wilbarger, Wise, Yoakum, Young

East Texas

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a lower share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has fewer non-White residents than average.
  • Has fewer college-educated residents than average.
Image: (Lauren Tierney/The Washington Post)
Image: Illustrated map of Arizona.

For most of the 20th century, when Democrats dominated Texas, their majorities came from the Rio Grande Valley and the 83 counties here — wetter and more traditionally “Southern” than the rest of the state. That began to change after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Democratic Party’s shift to the left. In 1968, George Wallace’s independent campaign carried 17 counties, and starting in 1994, when George W. Bush was elected governor, the region became a Republican bulwark.

It still is, and like much of the socially conservative White parts of the South, it has continued to trend toward Republicans even in weaker years for the party. Clinton improved on Obama’s numbers in the cities of Tyler and Nacogdoches, but the rest of the region shifted right, with Trump running nearly 150,000 votes ahead of Romney. That gave him a nearly 3-to-1 margin here, and did the same for Cruz, proving that Republican supermajorities in the most conservative parts of Texas can make up for massive losses in the cities.

2016 vote total

Donald Trump

1,124,261

Hillary Clinton

413,148

2016 vote totals
  • Donald Trump: 1,124,261
  • Hillary Clinton: 413,148

Counties included: Anderson, Angelina, Aransas, Austin, Bastrop, Bee, Bowie, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Camp, Cass, Chambers, Cherokee, Colorado, Delta, DeWitt, Falls, Fannin, Fayette, Franklin, Freestone, Goliad, Gonzales, Gregg, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harrison, Henderson, Hill, Hopkins, Houston, Hunt, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Karnes, Lamar, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Limestone, Live Oak, Madison, Marion, Matagorda, McLennan, McMullen, Milam, Montgomery, Morris, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Newton, Orange, Panola, Polk, Rains, Red River, Refugio, Robertson, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Shelby, Smith, Titus, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Washington, Wharton, Wilson, Wood

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Latin American Politics

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On Oct. 18 Bolivians elected Luis Arce, the presidential candidate of the former President Evo Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party and his chosen successor. Some saw the victory as a call for Mr. Morales to return to the government. But perhaps the electoral landslide may be better understood as an example of how to move forward in the wake of a tumultuous year for the world. It’s also a lesson on how similar movements weighed down by the baggage of past leaders can keep political relevance — without their looming influence.

As a candidate, Mr. Arce signaled his willingness to turn the page on Mr. Morales, whose controversial tactics and unconstitutional bid for a fourth presidential term ended in his expulsion from the country last year after the military called on him to step down. Mr. Arce committed to a return to the stability and inclusion that defined much of Mr. Morales’s government. With the more moderate Mr. Arce on the ballot, the Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, actually outperformed expectations — increasing its share of the vote by eight percentage points over last year’s results.

Ultimately “MAS did not win because of Evo but in spite of Evo,” tweeted Pablo Solón, the former United Nations ambassador during Mr. Morales’s tenure.

Mr. Morales was among a wave of leftist leaders who came into office in the 2000s, when their countries’ economies were buoyed by high commodity prices. Mr. Morales used the windfall to reduce poverty and expand the middle class. But from Bolivia to Ecuador to Argentina, the good times were followed by corruption scandals, attacks on the press, power grabs, debt-induced recessions — and eventually shifts to the right.

These leaders continued to influence national politics after leaving office, and their polarizing quests for comebacks threatened to undermine the very movements they helped start.

“Lingering ex-presidents prevent the nation from moving on,” Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, wrote in Americas Quarterly in 2018. “Liberating countries from their influence is a collective good because it helps with leadership renewal.”

Mr. Arce’s victory signals that renewal is possible. He has distanced himself from Mr. Morales, saying the former president’s bid for a fourth term was an “error.” He vowed that Mr. Morales would not have a role in his government.

Mr. Morales resigned last year, after his attempt to win a fourth term sparked unrest and ended in a contested election, in what some have called a coup. But if leaders like him can pass the baton to less polarizing figures, they may be able to inject new life into their political movements.

In fact, Mr. Morales’s absence helped energize, rather than weaken, MAS, the Bolivia-based journalist Pablo Stefanoni contends, writing that the crisis surrounding his departure “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders” whose ascension had been limited during Morales’s government.

It’s not easy to convince popular leaders who have had a taste of power, and who often seek a return to office as relief from the legal problems they face, to move on. In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, besieged by numerous corruption charges, was expected to pursue a third presidential term in 2019 but reversed course after polls suggested she’d lose. Instead, she promoted Alberto Fernández, a law professor and former chief of staff seen as less ideological, as her party’s candidate, and instead ran as vice president. He won by a large majority.

In Ecuador, the former President Rafael Correa is following the same playbook. His political movement nominated Andrés Arauz, a 35-year-old economist and former government minister, as its candidate for February’s presidential election. Mr. Arauz’s chances may depend on how much distance he can put between himself and the polarizing Mr. Correa, who in April was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges.

Other leaders may see themselves as the only ones who can defeat their opposition. In Brazil, there is talk that the former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva may run for president in 2022. But while Mr. da Silva remains a larger-than-life figure in Brazilian politics, he would be 76 by the time he runs, and his support has its limits — enough only to get him to a second round in an election, where polls say he’d lose to President Jair Bolsonaro. Passing the baton to the new leaders emerging under Mr. Bolsonaro’s presidency may be a better bet for his Workers’ Party.

The lesson does not just apply to left-wing parties. In Argentina, the former President Mauricio Macri’s center-right coalition will likely try to stage an electoral comeback in the 2023 presidential election. But, given his deeply unfavorable view among voters, his party may be more likely to find success by championing someone else.

Polls suggest that person may be Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta of Buenos Aires. Though some critics say he lacks charisma, Mr. Rodríguez Larreta’s reputation as an efficient manager has made him one of the most popular political figures in the country. It would be another example of a less polarizing figure offering a fresh start for Mr. Macri’s political project.

While Mr. Arce’s victory in Bolivia is cause for optimism, over time his effort to turn the page on Mr. Morales may become a cautionary tale. As Mr. Corrales wrote, successors who take over from outgoing leaders walk a tightrope.

“When a president betrays a campaign promise — in this case, the promise to carry the torch from a predecessor — they disappoint two groups: those who wanted continuismo, and those who wanted real change, with the latter never becoming convinced that you are a true convert,” Mr. Corrales wrote.

To repair the worst elements of Mr. Morales’s 14-year presidency, Mr. Arce will need to strengthen institutions that for years were manipulated to benefit the former president. Similar successors to popular but polarizing figures, like Lenín Moreno of Ecuador and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, chose to pursue limits on re-election, for example, as one method of institutional reform.

If Mr. Arce can make positive institutional changes, while navigating Bolivia’s complicated politics and troubling economic panorama, he may be able to govern with the best of MAS’s values, tackling poverty and celebrating Bolivia’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity without Mr. Morales’s divisiveness and strongman tendencies. Ultimately, that could help him create his own legacy and set an example for political movements across the region.

Brendan O’Boyle (@BrenOBoyle) is a senior editor at Americas Quarterly, a publication on business, politics and culture in Latin America. He has studied the region for a decade and has lived in Buenos Aires, Quito, Ecuador and Mexico City.

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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – Kelowna Capital News

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Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.

The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.

“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.

“And nothing could be further from the truth.”

It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

READ MORE: Companies warn Tory motion could deter domestic production of PPE

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.

Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.

“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.

Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.

“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.

“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”

The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.

But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.

“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.

“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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Commons showdown highlights tension between politics and science – Trail Times

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Monday’s vote on a Conservative motion to launch an in-depth review of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 response highlights a key challenge of pandemic politics: how to hold a government accountable for decisions based on science, when the science itself is changing nearly every day.

The opposition wants a committee probe into everything from why regulators are taking so long to approve rapid testing to an early decision not to close the border to international travel, and what concerns the Liberals is how that probe is being framed.

“One of the narratives that I find most distressing coming from the opposition, is that somehow because advice changed at some point that the government was hiding information or that the government was giving misinformation,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said late last week.

“And nothing could be further from the truth.”

It’s not the science itself that’s up for debate, said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“In a pandemic, borders, since the Middle Ages, have been part of a stop of spreading of the virus and that was a failure of elected officials to put the health of Canadians first,” O’Toole told reporters last week.

“There has been conflicting information on masks and other things. My concern is that the Trudeau government relies more on open source data from China than our own science and intelligence experts.”

The relationship between a nation’s scientists and their senior politicians is a challenging one, said Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides the scientific evidence there is, but at the end of the day, it is the politicians who make the call, he said.

A decision on whether or not to close the borders is a good example, he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the World Health Organization cautioned against widespread border closures. Scientific research has suggested there’s little medical benefit to them and the economic impacts can be severe and wide-ranging.

READ MORE: Companies warn Tory motion could deter domestic production of PPE

But the optics of border closures, the idea that if countries can keep out a virus out they will be immune, creates political pressure to act, Culbert said .

“The tension between what is in the public’s good, as opposed to all of the varying political considerations the politicians have to take into consideration — there’s always a tension there,” Culbert said.

While heated, the interplay between Liberal government and Opposition Conservatives is a far cry from the hyper-partisanship around pandemic response in the U.S., where even the president has circulated misinformation and challenged that country’s top scientists.

Canadian researchers studying the response of political elites here in the early days of the pandemic found no evidence of MPs casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic, or spreading conspiracy theories about it. In fact, there was a cross partisan consensus around how seriously it needed to be taken.

“As far as we can tell, that story hasn’t changed,” said Eric Merkley, a University of Toronto political scientist who led the study.

Both he and Culbert said a review of the Liberals’ pandemic response is warranted, but a balancing act is required.

“Everyone has 20/20 hindsight and thinks that they can go, look back, and and point to points at which bad decisions were made,” Culbert said.

“But that’s with the knowledge that we have today. We didn’t have that knowledge back in March.”

The Liberals have sometimes hit back at criticism by pointing to how the previous Conservative government handled the science and health files, including budget cuts and efforts to muzzle scientists.

But critics can’t be painted as anti-science for asking questions, Merkley said.

“There’s plenty of scope for democratic debate about proper responses to the pandemic, there’s plenty of scope for disagreement,” Merkley said.

“And just because there’s that disagreement and an Opposition party holding government accountable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that’s a sign of a healthy democracy.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


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Let’s block ads! (Why?)



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