Progressives poised to win in California and Norway

Politics at home: Newsom poised for comfortable victory in California recall

A little over a month ago, SurveyUSA released a poll showing California Governor Gavin Newsom losing the upcoming September 14th recall election, and the fire alarm was pulled among national Democrats. Since then, money has poured in, former President Obama cut an ad for Newsom, Vice President Harris held a rally for him and President Biden is scheduled to do the same. The recall now seems to be failing by at least 10 points and Democratic turnout among ballots cast so far has been high.

In retrospect, it’s fairly unlikely Newsom was ever actually losing the recall. That single poll was the only non-partisan pollster to ever show the recall succeeding and two subsequent polls from SurveyUSA showed it failing comfortably. But the outlying poll was probably useful in so far as it ensured that Democrats in both California and D.C. were freaked out by the possibility of losing and fully engaged. The only way Newsom might have lost was absolutely garbage Democratic turnout and that poll helped ensure that wouldn’t happen.

There’s also a good chance Newsom was always going to outperform his polls. The Economist data journalist G. Elliot Morris makes two good observations on this issue:

Let’s look at each of these points. The first is that in very blue and very red states, the dominant party outperforms its polls in the election results. I’m not aware of a definitive theory as to why this happens, but we’ve seen it over and over again. A good recent example is the 2020 South Carolina Senate race. Democrat Jaime Harrison was polling within a few point of Lindsey Graham and even led in multiple polls leading up to Election Day. But in the results, the redness of South Carolina pushed Graham to a comfortable ten point victory. And that was what most keen political observers expected, knowing this pattern existed.

Now this doesn’t always happen. In 2017, Democrat Doug Jones slightly outperformed his polls in the special Senate election. There were obviously unusual circumstances in that race, so other factors can override this framework. But if you see a close race in a very blue or very red state, chances are the dominant party is the favorite to pull it out.

On the second point, states with regular referendums and initiatives often see the “no” or status quo side of these questions outperform its polling on Election Day. The rule of thumb is that if a referendum is polling something like 45-45 then on Election Day the “no” side is likely to win about 55-45, collecting almost all of the undecided vote. Referendums generally need to poll at or above 50% to actually succeed on Election Day. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar status quo bias in this recall vote, where Newsom has the benefit of being the status quo and the “no” side of the question.

Given these factors and Democrats’ strong turnout to date, I wouldn’t be surprised if Newsom won by an even larger margin that the polls currently indicate. A successful recall at the point would be truly surprising.

Politics abroad: Norway’s left poised to take power

It may not be receiving the coverage and attention of Canada and Germany (both of which we’ll revisit to before their respective elections), but Norway has a general election this Monday, September 13th. The country has been governed by a center-right coalition since 2013, led by current Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Erna Solberg, but the center-left coalition, led by Labour’s Jonas Gahr Støre, is the favorite to form the next government.

Labour itself is actually polling down a few percentage points from its 2017 results, but other parties on the left are more than making up for it. Like Germany, Norway has a form of proportional representation, which leads to a lot of parties, nine in Norway’s case. Here’s how they roughly break down and how current polling would affect their seat totals:

Left-wing to center-left parties (Currently 81 seats)

Red Party: (far left) Expected to rise from one seat to 5-10 seats
Socialist Left Party: (soft left) Expected to gain from current 11 seats
Labour Party: (center-left) Expected to lose a few seats from their present 49, but still the largest single party
Green Party: Expected to go from one seat to 5-10 seats
Centre Party: (agrarian centrists) Expected to be up slightly from their current 19 seats.

Center-right to right-wing parties (Currently 88 seats)

Liberal Party: (classical liberalism) Holding steady around 8 seats
Christian Democratic Party: (center-right) Dropping slightly from 8 seats
Conservative Party:
(center-right) Dropping about 10 seats from their current 45
Progress Party: (right-wing nationalists) Dropping slightly from 26 seats

So if the polling is accurate, the five left-of-center parties are looking to gain anywhere from 10-20 seats, while the right-of-center parties will drop commensurately. The big question is if Labour can form a government with just the Socialist Left and the Centre parties (their preference) or if they’ll need support from either or both of the Green Party or the Red Party.

The biggest issue in the campaign (besides general fatigue with the Conservatives’ eight years in power) is climate change. Norway is a country of contradictions when it comes to climate, as one of the most progressive and innovative in some areas of climate change but still western Europe’s biggest oil producer. Both Labour and the Conservatives are defenders of the oil industry in Norway and have called for a slow transition with no firm deadlines. Meanwhile, the Greens, Socialist Left, and Liberals have all been pushing more aggressive curtailing of the industry. If Labour is forced to rely on the Greens to form a government, they are expected to push the coalition to act more aggressively in this area.

What I’m listening to: Revolutions from Mike Duncan

How to listen: Wherever you listen to podcasts
For fans of: history, non-fiction podcasts

Mike Duncan is probably the most well-known history podcaster working today, so you may already have heard about him. Duncan originally started podcasting with The History of Rome, which aired from 2007-2012 and took listeners through the history of ancient Rome. In 2013 he started Revolutions, his second podcast, which goes through the history of notable revolutions, starting with the English Civil War in 1642. Now eight years later, having covered the American, French, Haitian, South American, and Mexican revolutions, Duncan is working his way through the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Duncan has all the best qualities in a one-person podcast: a soothing, friendly tone, the ability to construct an easy-to-follow narrative, and a consistent release schedule. But what I appreciate most, and what makes him the best in the business, is his ability to pull threads from beyond just dates and names and events and tell a broader story. The History of Rome was not just a series of battles and emperors, but a story about how the very skills that can help you rise to become the greatest empire on earth can also be your downfall as times change and new challenges arise. Revolutions is about more than the revolutions themselves, it’s about how forces far beyond any individual leader or party can lead countries down the same path over and over again. While there are plenty of battles and heroes and villains, you learn far more than just history listening to Revolutions.

Duncan is also an author, having written the The Storm Before The Storm about the lead-up to the end of the Roman Republic. He just released Hero of Two Worlds about the Marquis de Lafayette, a key figure in both the American and French revolutions. I’ve gotten the book but haven’t read it just yet, so there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing it in this space before too long.