Topic: Government and Politics

Trump Versus the World

In 2015 we witnessed an astonishing sight: by the end of the year news coverage of Donald Trump in major U.S. newspapers eclipsed coverage of every major world hotspot and the dreaded Islamic State.

 

At the most basic level, this reflects the American tendency to focus on domestic politics during presidential campaigns. Foreign affairs often fade from view as the presidential campaign season heats up and economic and social issues take the fore. But this year foreign policy has in fact been a major focus of the campaign, making this a less powerful effect than in most years.

More importantly, the news flow is a function of Trump’s uncanny ability to set the news agenda. This ability stems only in part from the fact that he holds a commanding lead in the polls. More critical is his tendency to make outrageous statements, tapping into anger and frustration in the electorate, which has not only stimulated outrage and concern on left and right but also discussion about what the Trump phenomenon means beyond the election itself. In December Trump appeared in twice as many stories as both Ted Cruz, his closest competitor in both the polls and coverage, and President Obama. Simply put, Trump is incredibly newsworthy given the way in which American news outlets define news and given the news Americans appear to want.

But less obviously, this pattern also reflects the long-term shrinking of the international news hole in the United States. Since the late 1980s the share of American news devoted to international affairs has shrunk by as much as half in major U.S. newspapers and broadcast television news. With occasional and temporary reversals, this trend has persisted despite increasing globalization, despite constant U.S. military intervention abroad since the early 1990s, and despite 9/11 and the war on terrorism.

Millennials Don’t Love Gun Control

On Tuesday President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce access to firearms in efforts to improve public safety. Consequently it might come as a surprise that one of the president’s core constituencies—the millennial cohort—is not overly enthusiastic about gun control.

The Pew Research center has consistently found that millennials are no more likely than older generations to agree that its more important to control ownership than protect the right of Americans to own guns.

In fact, a Reason-Rupe poll, that I helped conduct in 2013, found that millennials were the least likely to say that government should prohibit people from owning assault weapons: 63% of 18-34 year olds thought people should be allowed to own assault weapons, compared to 54% of 35-54 year olds and 36% of those 55 and over.

Furthermore, Gallup found that millennials were slightly less likely than older Americans to support stricter laws “covering the sale of firearms” (49% versus 56% of those over 55).

These results may seem puzzling since young Americans are less Republican than older cohorts, but it’s Republicans who tend to be less supportive of gun control measures.

Presidential Candidates Who Led the Polls in January Entering the 2008 and 2012 Primary Election Cycles Didn’t Win

RealClearPolitics provides a useful tool to compare the Republican and Democratic nomination races today to similar points during the 2012 and 2008 primary cycles. Those nominating contests show that the candidates ahead at this point in the election cycle did not take home the nomination. This suggests that despite Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s persistent leads throughout the summer and fall of 2015, their primary victories remain uncertain.

Averaging across recent December polls, Donald Trump holds the lead among national Republican voters (not necessarily likely primary voters), at 35 percent. Trump holds a 15-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in second place at 19.5 percent and an over 20-point lead over Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in third place with 11.5 percent. Trump’s support took-off in July and, for the most part, he’s remained ahead and increased momentum. 

Does Trump’s lead entering into 2016 portend his eventual win? Not necessarily.

Big Government Is Biggest Problem

If you ask just about anyone at Cato what is the biggest problem we face, they will say big government, particularly the vastly overgrown federal government. Gallup finds that many Americans agree with us.

GovExec reports:

The country’s No. 1 problem in the year that just passed was its government, according to a new survey. The Gallup poll found for the second consecutive year, more Americans identified Uncle Sam as the “most important problem facing the United States” than any other issue. An average of 16 percent of respondents selected government, followed by 13 percent who said the economy, 8 percent who chose unemployment and 8 percent who selected immigration.

Aside from having a dim view of the president and Congress, people are presumably responding to the fact that Uncle Sam is so damn dysfunctional. While we are overloaded with news on ISIS and the economy, Americans may also be aware that the Secret Service has been making a joke of itself, Veterans Administration officials have been lying and cheating regarding the agency’s long wait lists, and the IRS director has been so dishonest and derelict in his duties that even mild-mannered George Will called for impeachment.

Ben Carson’s Tax Plan

Presidential candidate Ben Carson released a three-page tax plan yesterday. Based on the limited information the plan includes, it looks like the best GOP plan so far.

Individuals and businesses would be subject to a simple 14.9 percent flat tax. The tax base appears to be of the Hall-Rabushka (HR) design, which is the gold standard of simple and pro-growth tax structures. I say “appears to be” because the Carson three-pager gives some hints, but not full details.

The defining feature of HR is that income is taxed once and only once. The current double taxation of savings and investment would be ended. Capital income would be taxed at the business level under HR, while labor income would be taxed at the individual level. Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka proposed the HR tax structure back in 1981, as I discuss here. Rabushka, by the way, is a Cato adjunct scholar.

Ben Carson seems to have avoided the dangerous business VAT structure of the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul tax plans. He appears to be critiquing Cruz and Paul in this passage:

Unlike proposals advanced by other candidates, my tax plan does not compromise with special interests on deductions or waffle on tax shelters and loopholes.

Nor does it falsely claim to be a flat tax while still deriving the bulk of its revenues through higher business flat taxes that amount to a European-style value-added tax (VAT).

Adding a VAT on top of the income tax would not only impose an immense tax increase on the American people, but also become a burdensome drag on the U.S. economy.

In Washington DC, the Tax Consumers Always Win

Politicians typically try to win votes by giving away money. Being a political Santa Claus usually is seen as more rewarding than being a federal Ebenezer Scrooge. Which is why there’s now a $1.2 trillion federal student loan program which, the New York Times politely observed, “has been removed from the norms and values of prudent lending.”

Federally subsidized student loans have become a political favorite, as Uncle Sam added $82 billion to his loan portfolio in 2015. An incredible 42 million Americans have outstanding debt; 6100 schools have collected subsidized loans. Congress has created an educational “entitlement” akin to Medicare and Social Security, only for the young.

A lot of that cash will never be repaid. As of 2014, 28 percent of those whose loans became due in 2009 were in default. Anticipated lifetime default rates for cohorts 2007 through 2011 steadily increase from 15.9 percent to 18.4 percent. The Huffington Post’s Shahien Nasiripour warned: “Federal student loans made in recent years resemble the toxic subprime mortgage loans that helped cause the Great Recession.”

Cato/YouGov Poll: 92% Support Police Body Cameras, 55% Willing to Pay More in Taxes to Equip Local Police

Amidst increased public scrutiny of policing practices and rising concerns over police officer safety, a recent Cato/YouGov national survey finds fully 65% of Americans say there is a “war on police” in America today. Majorities across partisan groups share this view, although Republicans (81%) express greater concern than independents (62%) and Democrats (55%). 

While Americans are concerned about police safety, this does not mean they wish to avoid reform. Instead, Americans overwhelming support (92%) requiring police officers wear body cameras that would record video of their interactions. Moreover fully 6 in 10 “strongly support” such a proposal. A paltry 8% oppose police wearing body cameras. Support extends across demographic and political groups. In an era of hyper-partisanship, police wearing body cameras achieves rare post-partisan consensus.

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