Political Animal

People Are Highly Politically Engaged But They’re Tuning Out Politics

According to reporting from Axios, media companies have discovered that President Trump isn’t driving traffic the way he used to and it’s hurting their profitability.

Digital demand for Trump-related content (number of article views compared to number of articles written) has dropped 29% between the first 6 months of the Trump presidency and the most recent 6 months, according to data from traffic analytics company Parse.ly.

Evidence that Trump’s social media star power was also beginning to wear off surfaced last month, when Axios reported that his tweets were receiving less than half the engagement that they got when he first took office.

Contrary to the president’s constant insistence that the New York Times is “failing,” the newspaper actually saw a large spike in subscriptions after Trump became president. Apparently, that boon ended in mid-2018 and hasn’t returned. Cable news ratings have been declining since the night Trump was elected, but they’re down more sharply over the last year. They stopped carrying live coverage of Trump’s rallies when those rallies ceased proving any ratings bump.

So far, the Democratic presidential contest hasn’t picked up the slack, and media executives are pessimistic that the upcoming debates will attract large audiences.

From my perspective, writing daily about politics, there’s a definite sense of Trump fatigue. It’s boring to write about the same kind of outrages and behaviors over and over again, and it seems like the verdict is in and we should just vote now rather than waiting another 16 months. I think it must be almost equally enervating to read about these stories over and over again.

Part of this is driven by the backdrop. Since Nancy Pelosi seems determined to have this settled at the ballot box rather than in an impeachment inquiry, that resets expectations for everyone else. There’s not much else to do but watch things wind their way through the courts, and wait. It’s a bit like expecting people to maintain an interest in baseball when spring training lasts a year and a half. We had the excitement of the midterm elections but they didn’t result in the kind of resistance people expected, and there’s just not much to keep the ratings up.

What’s interesting about this is that people are telling pollsters that they’re massively engaged in politics and have an unusually high intention to vote in 2020. They just don’t seem to want to watch this shitstorm anymore, which means they’re tuning out a lot of the day-to-day noise.

I was interested to see on Monday that Fox News veteran Carl Cameron has teamed up with Joseph Romm of Think Progress to found a new media company that is supposed to be the progressive answer to The Drudge Report. The problem they’re trying to address is one that is very noticeable to progressive writers and bloggers.

The concept stems from Romm’s love of Internet metrics. Over 13 years of blogging at ThinkProgress, Romm has tracked the Web prints for his thousands of postings, with a particular focus on traffic sources. Over the years, he has watched as referral engines for his stuff have gone poof. Years ago, the Huffington Post drove good numbers; the modern, rebranded HuffPost doesn’t. Years ago, Yahoo provided helpful aggregation; no more, he says. And when Facebook changed its algorithm in 2018, says Romm, ThinkProgress traffic took a “big hit.”

“Facebook was the equivalent of a programmable aggregator, but they got beat up over and over by the right wing, so they can’t be seen as favoring progressive news,” says Romm.

Something was missing, he concluded. “I came to realize that there were just huge gaps in the progressive infrastructure … There is no progressive content aggregator,” says Romm, who lays out his ideology about Internet influencing in his book, “How to Go Viral and Reach Millions.” “There is no progressive equivalent to the Drudge Report.”

FrontPageLive.com is their answer for this, and I have no idea if they’ll have any success. I hope they do, because conservatives are having a much easier time spreading their comparably terrible content and it gives them a political and financial advantage.

According to the article, Romm was unable to get seed capital for the venture from rich Democrats, which seems like a symptom of the problem he’s trying to address rather than its cause. The left seems to have a lot of faith in meritocratic systems which doesn’t work very well when the other side spends most of its time trying to game the system precisely because they lack this faith. The left will compliment you and say they don’t understand why you don’t have higher readership, but the right will link to you and aggregate your content so that even garbage gets a big audience.

The left treats the media landscape as a marketplace of ideas, while the right treats it as daily battle that must be won. That makes them far better prepared for a political environment like the one we’re in presently, because we’re far more reliant on organic interest. If people don’t come on their own, they’re not coming, because no one is sending them.

If the big Democratic donors don’t get this, maybe the grassroots can do better. People should really share more content with their networks, subscribe to publications and bloggers they value, and do their small part to wage the battle that is going on daily whether the bigwigs realize it or not.

Trump Can’t Admit That He Tried to Kill Obamacare. So He Just Lies.

Given that Trump has told over 10,000 lies since January 2017, it has become difficult to distinguish which ones are the most blatant. But during his interview with Chuck Todd, he told one that is absolutely mind-boggling.

I could have managed Obamacare so it would have failed or I could have managed it the way we did so it’s as good as it can be. Not great, but it’s as good — it’s too expensive and the premiums are too high. I had a decision to make. I could have politically killed Obamacare. I decided not to do it.

Say what?!

This is the guy who didn’t merely champion Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare, he celebrated on Twitter when a federal judge ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional, saying that it was “great news for America.” He went on to direct his Department of Justice to write a letter of support for that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In the midst of all of that, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been tracking all of the ways that the Trump administration has tried to undermine Obamacare, ensuring that it is more expensive, covers fewer people, and provides less comprehensive coverage. So far, they’ve documented 60 attempts to do so, beginning on the day Trump was inaugurated.

In other words, the president did everything in his power to kill Obamacare and, when that became impossible, he has done everything he can to undermine it. Now he tells us that he’s managed it so that “it’s as good as it can be.” There really is no limit to the depths to which Trump will descend when it comes to lies.

There is, however, an interesting take on this particular lie. Somewhere in the recesses of his brain, the president knows he’s in trouble when it comes to being re-elected. The stakes are high because once he’s out of office, he will probably face criminal charges that could result in prison time. Trump also knows that one of the reasons he’s lost political support is because of his attempts to kill Obamacare. So rather than backtrack or come up with ways to improve health care accessibility, he simply lies. Obviously, he’s delusional enough to think that he can get away with that kind of crap. Can he?

Will Anti-Wall Street Pressure Force Centrist Democrats to Back Impeachment?

Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut represents the 23rd-richest congressional district in the country, but that doesn’t prevent the Bernie Sanders-supporting Roots Action organization from describing his constituents as “largely middle class.” Perhaps it is largely middle class, but it also includes some of the most obscenely wealthy communities in the country, including Greenwich, Darien, and Westport. One of the stranger aspects of the 2016 election was how these southwestern Connecticut, old money Yankee communities defected from the Republican candidate in large numbers.

Roots Action is targeting Himes in a new report they’ve put out of 15 House Democrats they’d like to defeat in a primary. The section on Himes notes that he used to work at Goldman Sachs, has gotten a lot of support from the financial services industry, and has been a fairly reliable friend to Wall Street even in the aftermath of the 2007-8 economic collapse. That’s pretty standard stuff, and I don’t have any substantive problem with the idea that Himes is far from a progressive Democrat on economic issues. If I have a quibble, it’s that he’s representing a bunch of incredibly wealthy people who are now voting Democratic, much like his colleague Josh Gottheimer in New Jersey’s 5th District (who is also on their list). It’s misleading to suggest that these districts are historically Democratic or that they’re typified by some kind of middle class ethos.

Nonetheless, it could be true that these districts have turned so hard against Trump that they’d support much more progressive representatives in Congress. The hope is that by issuing a warning shot, Roots Action will get better responsiveness to the needs of ordinary citizens, and that seems like it could make this a worthwhile effort.

Himes may have a different idea about how to cover his flank, however, as he’s just come out in favor of opening an impeachment inquiry. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee, so he has more information than most about full contents of the Mueller Report and other classified aspects of the Trump-Russia investigation. He’s also getting a firsthand taste of how Trump’s unprecedented obstruction is impeding congressional oversight. That he’s coming out for a formal inquiry may be based solely on the merits, but it could also be in reaction to having a big target put on his back by Roots Action.

The Democratic Primary Isn’t Just a Contest Between Biden and Sanders

According to the polling average at RealClearPolitics, this is where things stand for the top seven Democratic primary candidates nationally.

Biden: 32 percent
Sanders: 15 percent
Warren: 12 percent
Buttigieg: 7 percent
Harris: 7 percent
O’Rourke: 4 percent
Booker: 2 percent

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as I’ve been saying for quite a while now. A recent poll by Data for Progress asked respondents to name their most preferred candidates, up to a maximum of five, and their least preferred candidates, up to a maximum of five. Here is what they found.

Of the candidates in the top seven, the current leaders—Sanders and Biden—were also named in the bottom five most often. When the percent of people who listed a candidate in their bottom five is subtracted from the percent who placed them in the top five, the order of the top seven is shuffled a bit.

That is what leads to one of the topline findings from this poll: “Democratic primary voters are considering many candidates.”

One final thing to note from this poll is that respondents were asked how much they had heard about each candidate: a lot (dark blue), some (light blue), a little (light gray), not at all (dark gray).

The order in which these candidates land in the polls mirrors the amount of information potential primary voters have about them. While Biden and Sanders are pretty well maxed out, the rest of the field has room to grow.

Of course all of the caveats apply about this only being one poll, but it captures data we’ve learned from others that go beyond simply asking respondents which one candidate they favor in the primary. Most Democrats know that the process has only just begun and are willing to consider any number of these candidates as they learn more about them.