Very Interesting…

I am aware of a number of upper-income folks who justify their continuing support of Donald Trump by asserting that–“like most Republicans”– he has been better for their portfolios. That has always struck me as a poor excuse for ignoring what another Trump Presidency would do to the country (and for that matter, the world), but I’ve chalked it up to selfishness and (misunderstood/shortsighted)  self-interest.

Evidently, I should have attributed it to ignorance, because it turns out that–when it comes to investment returns– Democratic administrations have greatly out-performed Republican ones.

As I was reading a recent issue of the Indianapolis Business Journal–a publication that covers local government far more thoroughly than the Indianapolis Star, by the way–I came across the regular column by Mickey Kim devoted to giving investment advice. This particular column was titled “Keep Calm and Don’t Mix Politics with your Portfolio,” and it was an effort to persuade people not to base their investment strategies on partisanship rather than performance, not to suggest that one party was better than the other for investment.

But the data was eye-opening, at least for me. (I readily admit to chosen ignorance about all things investment.)

My friend Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for Wall Street research firm CFRA, dissected price changes for the S&P 500 going back to 1945 based on election results.

Republican administrations are generally viewed as “pro-business,” and conventional wisdom is that stocks do better with a Republican in the White House. There has, indeed, been a huge difference in returns during Democratic versus Republican administrations. However, as is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, but Stovall calculated from Harry Truman’s inauguration on April 12, 1945, through March 15, 2024, the average annual return for the S&P 500 was 44% higher with Democrats in the White House (9.5% vs. 6.6% during Republican administrations).

Further, according to Invesco and Haver Analytics, hypothetically speaking, the best-performing portfolio from 1900 to 2023 was the “bipartisan” one that stayed fully invested in the Dow Jones industrial average (a price-weighted index—cannot be invested in directly—of the 30 largest, most widely held stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange) during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Again, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but starting with $10,000, this portfolio grew to almost $9.9 million.

Conversely, a “partisan” portfolio, invested only during Democratic or Republican administrations, underperformed by millions of dollars. The same $10,000 invested only during Democratic administrations grew to about $528,000. Invested only during Republican administrations, the initial $10,000 grew to a bit less than $181,000.

Kim concluded this analysis by reiterating his intended message, that “there can be a huge cost to letting a partisan political storm crash your portfolio.” His sound advice: “Develop an investment plan based on your long-term goals and stick to it. Your financial future will depend far more on how much you save and invest, not who wins the election.”

I am in no position to quibble with that advice, which strikes me as quite sound, but it certainly does raise a question about those upper-income Trump apologists. I suppose it’s possible that their portfolios grew under Trump, but given the truly excellent performance of the economy during the Biden Administration, it’s quite likely they’ve done as well or better with a Democrat in the White House. Is their purported reliance on portfolio performance an evasion intended to mask the actual reasons they support Trump (racism, misogyny, isolationism…)? Or do they actually not understand the significance of the data I’ve cited above?

Perhaps they’ve simply and unthinkingly accepted the old “country club Republican” belief that the GOP is the party looking out for the interests of the business community, while Democrats are “giving away” tax dollars via welfare and government spending. If so, someone needs to explain to them that both the short and long-term interests of the business community include such things as social stability, a well-maintained infrastructure, an educated and adequate workforce, and a population with enough disposable income to support robust consumer demand.

As investors are often admonished, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But the odds would certainly seem to be in the Democrats’ –and Biden’s–favor.



After I wrote yesterday’s post about White Rural Rage, I re-read my description of the Niskanen Center’s far more careful 2019 analysis, and decided that it bears re-posting. So here it is:

The Density Divide is the title of a very important paper issued in June by Will Wilkinson, Vice President for Research of the Niskanen Center. It looks in depth at the phenomenon that I usually refer to as the “urban/rural divide”–delving into the attributes that make individuals more or less likely to move into cities, and examining the consequences of those differences and the steady urbanization of the American polity.

The paper is lengthy–some 70 pages–but well worth the time to read in its entirety. It is meticulously sourced, and replete with graphs and other supporting data.

Wilkinson confirms what others have reported: a substantial majority of Americans now dwell in the nation’s cities and generate the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth. But he goes beneath those numbers, referencing a body of research demonstrating that people who are drawn to urban environments differ in significant ways from those who prefer to remain in rural precincts. He focuses especially on ethnicity, personality and education as attributes that make individuals more or less responsive to the lure of city life.

He goes on to describe how this “self-selected” migration has segregated Americans. It has not only concentrated economic production in a handful of “megacities”–it has driven a “polarizing wedge” between America’s dense and diverse urban populations and the sparse White populations remaining in rural areas. That “wedge” is what he dubs the “Density Divide.” (Wilkinson is careful to define “urban” to include dense areas of small towns–the divisions he traces aren’t a function of jurisdictional city limits. They are a function of residential density.)

Wilkinson finds that the “sorting mechanism of urbanization” has produced a rural America that is lower-density, predominantly White, and “increasingly uniform in socially conservative personality, aversion to diversity, relative disinclination to migrate and seek higher education, and Republican Party loyalty.”

That sorting has also left much of rural America in economic distress, which has activated a “zero-sum, ethnocentric mindset.” (That mindset is reflected in the angry rhetoric spouted by rural MAGA hat wearers about “un-American” immigrants and minorities, and disdain for “liberal elites”–all groups that are thought to reside in those multi-cultural cities.)

The density divide–together with America’s outdated electoral structures– explains the 2016 election. The “low-density bias” of our electoral system allowed Trump to win the Presidency by prevailing in areas that produce 1/3 of GDP and contain fewer than half of the population. That low-density bias continues to empower Republicans far out of proportion to their numbers.

Wilkinson reminds us that there are currently no Republican cities. None.

As he points out, the increase in return to human capital and density has acted to amplify the polarizing nature of selective urbanization. Temperamentally liberal people self-select into higher education and big cities, where the people they encounter exert a further influence on their political attitudes. They  leave behind a lower-density population that is “relatively uniform in white ethnicity, conservative disposition and lower economic productivity.” Economic growth has been shown to liberalize culture; stagnant or declining economic prospects generate a sense of anxiety and threat. (In that sense, the political scientists who attributed Trump votes to economic distress were correct, but the distress wasn’t a function of individual financial straits–it was a reaction to the steadily declining prospects of rural environments.)

Wilkinson argues that there are no red states or blue states–not even red or blue counties. Rather, there is compact blue urban density (even in small cities in rural states) and sprawling red sparseness.

This spatial segregation of people with very different values and world-views is radicalizing; Wilkinson reminds us that a lack of exposure to intellectual diversity and broadly different points of view breeds extremism. Because urban populations are far more intellectually diverse, more homogeneous rural populations have shifted much farther to the right than urban Americans have shifted left.

The United States population is projected to be 90% urbanized by 2050–not too many years after we are projected to become “majority-minority.” Those projections suggest we will see increasing radicalization of already-resentful rural inhabitants.

The prospects for returning to rational politics and a truly representative governance will depend entirely upon reforming an outdated and pernicious electoral framework that dramatically favors rural Americans. Whether those reforms can pass our very unrepresentative Senate is an open question.


It’s More Complicated Than That…

A recent controversy reminded me that confirmation bias isn’t confined to the political Right. Those of us who lean Left engage in it too, and–unfortunately– so do serious observers of the political scene who ought to know better.

One reason for the academic process known as “peer review” is to ensure that scholars have accurately interpreted the work of other scholars, and to check that the methodologies they’ve employed have been correctly applied. (Errors in methodology aren’t necessarily intentional–they can be the result of the researcher seeing what she is convinced she’ll see.)

What triggered these reminders was a recent article from The Atlantic, pointing to serious flaws in the arguments and conclusions in White Rural Rage, a recent best-seller by political scientist Tom Schaller and journalist Paul Waldman. I was particularly interested in the article and the scholarship it cited, because my own reading has convinced me that urban-rural divisions are indeed a significant part of America’s current polarization. But the critique of this particular book looks to be firmly grounded.

In the weeks since its publication, a trio of reviews by political scientists have accused Schaller and Waldman of committing what amounts to academic malpractice, alleging that the authors used shoddy methodologies, misinterpreted data, and distorted studies to substantiate their allegations about white rural Americans. I spoke with more than 20 scholars in the tight-knit rural-studies community, most of them cited in White Rural Rage or thanked in the acknowledgments, and they left me convinced that the book is poorly researched and intellectually dishonest.

The Atlantic author, Tyler Austin Harper, says he was initially frustrated by the book’s resort to familiar stereotypes, but when he dug deeper, he found significant problems with White Rural Rage that extended “beyond its anti-rural prejudice. As an academic and a writer, I find Schaller and Waldman’s misuse of other scholars’ research indefensible.”

I won’t go through all of the misquoted scholarship that Harper enumerates in the linked analysis, but the largest error he identifies by far is the failure to define their use of the term “rural.”

The most obvious problem with White Rural Rage is its refusal to define rural. In a note in the back of the book, the authors write, “What constitutes ‘rural’ and who qualifies as a rural American … depends on who you ask.” Fair enough. The rural-studies scholars I spoke with agreed that there are a variety of competing definitions. But rather than tell us what definition they used, Schaller and Waldman confess that they settled on no definition at all: “We remained agnostic throughout our research and writing by merely reporting the categories and definitions that each pollster, scholar, or researcher used.” In other words, they relied on studies that used different definitions of rural, a decision that conveniently lets them pick and choose whatever research fits their narrative. This is what the scholars I interviewed objected to—they emphasized that the existence of multiple definitions of rural is not an excuse to decline to pick one. “This book amounts to a poor amalgamation of disparate literatures designed to fit a preordained narrative,” Cameron Wimpy, a political scientist at Arkansas State University, told me. It would be like undertaking a book-length study demonizing Irish people, refusing to define what you mean by Irish, and then drawing on studies of native Irish in Ireland, non-Irish immigrants to Ireland, Irish Americans, people who took a 23andMe DNA test that showed Irish ancestry, and Bostonians who get drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day to build your argument about the singular danger of “the Irish.” It’s preposterous.

Serious scholars confirm the existence of a very real urban/rural divide, and cultural differences between urban dwellers and Americans living in thinly-populated, economically-struggling parts of the country. But careful scholarship has distinguished between residents of non-metropolitan areas who fit the book’s “rural” stereotype and those who do not. In 2019, I cited a fascinating study from the Niskanan Center that focused on attitudinal differences linked to residential density–the lengthy study found that values of small town residents of “rural” America who lived close to others in the hearts of those communities differed from those of their more isolated neighbors.

The bottom line here is twofold: it’s important to avoid stereotyping, and essential to define our terms. As our political battles heat up, too many of us use language to label opponents rather than as vehicles to convey information.

Is there an urban/rural divide? Yes. Is it important to understand its roots and effects? Yes again. But as I used to tell my students–and as someone should have told the authors of this book–it depends upon how you are defining rural, and it’s more complicated than you want to understand.


Early Voting In Indiana..

Yesterday, in Indiana, early voting for the primary election started. My husband and I walked over to Indianapolis’ City-County building and cast our votes–including our votes for Marc Carmichael for U.S. Senate. In case you haven’t read my previous posts about why Marc deserves support--and why Jim Banks is a MAGA nightmare–I’m pasting in a video from Marc, and his own written perspective on the race.

Now, from MARC:

Dear Fellow Concerned (Scared) American,

To be blunt, on Tuesday, November 5, Indiana’s new United States Senator will either be me or MAGA Trumper and bomb thrower out of the US House Chaos Caucus, Jim Banks.
We get just this one chance to beat Jim Banks or he will be an Indiana incumbent Republican senator and we will never get rid of him or the constant shame he will bring on our state and the United States, not to mention the forced march he will lead back into the Dark Ages.
Fortunately we have a good chance to win this race.  First, it is an open seat with no incumbent.  Second, Banks is not known outside his 3rd Congressional District and intensely disliked within it.  Third, thanks to Republicans inability to govern in DC and the Dobbs decision striking down Roe V Wade, this is shaping up to be a good year for Democrats, even in Indiana.
Trump’s MAGA (Make America White Again) base continues to shrink from a high of 42% to 35% and Jim Banks only appeals to that base.  His Indiana Senate seat was gerrymandered for a Republican and so was his Congressional seat.  He knows nothing about campaigning except pandering to the Trump MAGA base.  He is boxed in between Trump and the NRA.
If elected to the US Senate I pledge: to work with President Biden to restore Roe V Wade; to ban the sale of assault weapons; to battle climate change; to enact Medicare for all including our LGBTQ kids who are being denied critical medical care by narrow minded, mean spirited Republican legislators;  to confirm fair and impartial judges to counter the unqualified partisan judges foisted on us by Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party; to work for an immigration law that protects our borders and is fair and enforceable; to work on answers to our shortage of affordable housing; to help create good union jobs that help restore the middle class; to never vote for a tax cut for the rich; to address the inequity of pay for women; and many more things left undone by a do nothing Republican Party.
I (we) can do this.  In 1986 I first ran for the Indiana House from Delaware County and my opponent was the Republican Speaker of the Indiana House, J. Roberts (Bob) Dailey.  He was in a 60% Republican district, had been Speaker for 6 years, and was considered the most powerful person in the Indiana Legislature.  No one thought I could beat him, but I didn’t know any better so I made up a cheap brochure and started walking door-to-door in July.  It was hot and there were dogs, but when people found out I was running against Bob Dailey they were very glad to see me.  That reception continued as I walked through August, September, October and November, and on Election Day I won by 18%, 59-41.
With your help I can win this race too.  I can’t walk all of Indiana door to door, but I can go to every fair and festival and take my 1971 VW bus to every parade I can fit on my schedule between now and November.  I can advertise on social media to reach various groups, I can send text messages, emails, and direct mail too, but in the end I will need to be on TV and that’s expensive.
Will you help me?  We get just this one shot.  I can do it if you will support me financially, otherwise we might as well just give up and accept Jim Banks as our US Senator.  I refuse to give up.  Please look me up at and see what I stand for.  Provide a donation at  Please help me help you not suffer the fate of Senator Jim Banks.  
Marc Carmichael

There Aren’t Two Sides To Facts

A few weeks ago, I read that a newspaper editor in Cleveland responded to complaints from readers that accused the paper of being “unfair” to Donald Trump by defending actual journalism. He noted that there aren’t “two sides” to facts, and that the paper would continue to report factually and accurately. If the facts reflect poorly on Trump, so be it.

If only all the news media followed that philosophy! But they don’t. There are a number of reasons–including concern about turning off subscribers at a time when newspapers are struggling, paying too much attention to the “horse-race” and too little to the issues, and/or a profound misunderstanding of the essential mission of journalism (hint: it’s “accurate and defensible,” not “fair and balanced”).

Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post, recently attended a Trump rally in Wisconsin. His whole column is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by his report on Trump’s multiple falsehoods, aka bald-faced lies:

He announced that he had won his fraud case in New York: “The appellate division said, ‘You won the case, that’s it.’” (The court has not yet heard his appeal of the fraud judgment against him.)

He also announced that “it came out that we won this state” in 2020. (Trump lost Wisconsin by 20,682 votes.)
Trump launched into a mantra that should be familiar to Hoosiers currently suffering from an assault of GOP primary advertisements, namely that “Crooked Joe and his migrant armies of dangerous criminals” are producing a “bloodbath” among innocent, native-born Americans. (Local Republicans have adopted those falsehoods.)

It’s not the least bit true. Homicide and violent crime, after rising during the pandemic, have dropped for two straight years and are lower than during Trump’s final year in office. There is scant evidence that immigrants — legal or undocumented — commit more than their share of crime, and a lot of evidence that migrants are more law-abiding, as The Post’s Glenn Kessler has detailed.

But that doesn’t stop Trump from talking about the “massive crime” brought by “[President] Biden’s flood of illegal aliens” — the theme of his Green Bay rally and an earlier event in Grand Rapids, Mich. “They’re not humans. They’re not humans. They’re animals,” Trump said. “I’ll use the word ‘animal’ because that’s what they are.”

A friend involved with the recently launched “Hoosiers for Democracy” recently bemoaned the media’s normalization of such rhetoric, and its tendency to shrug off both Trump’s constant, preposterous and easily debunked lies, and his use of fascist terminology to dehumanize those he and his supporters consider “other”–mostly people of color. She’s absolutely right–and it’s dangerous. (Hoosiers for Democracy“ is a Hoosier movement working to ensure that Hoosiers,  “across race, place and party” vote to protect democracy in 2024.)

What far too many in what the late Molly Ivins called “the chattering classes” fail to understand is that we Americans are not engaged in a political battle. It’s all well and good to counsel respectful disagreement when partisans are arguing about the merits of a proposed bill, or the proper approach to crime and punishment, or the most effective way to approach a social problem. Those sorts of disagreements are–as the late Dick Lugar used to say– “things about which people of good will can differ.” Those sorts of disputes call for civility, negotiation, mutual respect.

Our current divide is not political–it is moral. MAGA is a fascist movement, based upon hatred of a variety of “others.” it is profoundly reactionary, steeped in conspiracy theories, powered by deep-seated fears of displacement, dismissive of democratic norms, and most definitely not coming from a place of “good faith.”

Treating “both sides” as morally equivalent is bad journalism. Distorting news in an effort to give “both sides” the benefit of the doubt requires ignoring or eliding observable facts. Whatever the underlying cause of Trump’s incredible dishonesty (my own opinion is that he is profoundly mentally ill and incapable of telling the difference between fact and whatever falsehood he prefers), ignoring it is journalistic malpractice. Pretending that his MAGA supporters are not different in kind from past political partisans ignores the existential threat posed by far-Right populist/neo-Nazi movements.

You’d think the insurrection of January 6th would have driven that lesson home.

I am certainly not suggesting that media outlets all become clones of MSNBC, or that they see themselves as anti-Fox outlets. The proper response to propaganda isn’t more propaganda–it’s fact. I just want an end to the deeply-harmful and factually unsupportable portrayals that gloss over or even ignore profoundly anti-American rhetoric and behavior in a “both sides” effort to find “balance” and equivalence where it most definitely doesn’t exist.

What “fair and balanced” gets wrong is that balance is frequently unfair.