Monday, July 6, 2020

July 4, 2020

I had the great honor and privilege of being asked to be this year's Patriotic Speaker at the 59th annual Claremont neighborhood July 4th Parade in Berkeley, California. Each year since 1961, hundreds of neighbors have gathered to celebrate Independence Day with a parade, patriotic songs, entertainment and a guest speaker. The assignment is to deliver a "patriotic and uplifting speech" on the meaning of the day. I found the challenge a little bit daunting, given recent events. This year, the entire celebration had to be virtual, with the parade canceled and the performances and speeches recorded and posted on YouTube instead. Here's what I chose to say.

Friends and neighbors, my fellow Americans,

Today, the United States of America is 244 years old. Like many double centenarians, she is showing her age. This year, it’s more than the usual aches and pains and creaky joints that come with being almost a quarter of a millennium old. No, at 244, America can no longer see. She can’t hear. She’s fallen and she can’t get up.

Luckily, this country was founded by resilient people. Many of them were racist, genocidal, puritanical zealots, yes, but no one can doubt their pluck and resolve. And over the course of those 200+ years, her genetic makeup has been improved by the arrival of so many others from all over the world, generations of people just as determined and self-reliant as those first settlers, but with a more enlightened and ennobled view of the world around them and the people in it.

So today, as America lights the candles on a cake that she no longer has enough teeth to eat, we are here, standing ready to help her back to her feet. She’s been knocked flat before. She was torn apart by a Civil War that nearly killed her. She’s endured financial panics and deadly pandemics. In my father’s time, she had to fight back against the double roundhouse punch of a dire Depression and the existential threat of Nazism. So I’m here to declare that America does have the gumption to not only survive 2020, but to be rejuvenated by it, to emerge a stronger, better nation.

There is no sugarcoating what we’ve been through these last four months. We’ve lost beloved family and dear friends and neighbors. Our very way of life has spun into confusion and chaos. We’ve all had to make extraordinary sacrifices for the greater good. And just as we settled into a new way of being in the world, that world was ripped apart again, by yet another senseless, inexplicable, horrifying illustration of how much America has yet to learn.

But look how we’ve responded. How many miles we’ve walked through this neighborhood. How many smiles we’ve shared with neighbors we hadn’t met before. How many new nooks and crannies and front yard idiosyncrasies and garden gnomes we’ve discovered that we’d never had the time to notice. How many helping hands we’ve extended to feed and nurture those in desperate, dire need. How bravely so many of us have placed ourselves in harm’s way to help our fellow citizens survive.

And how many of us have raised our voices to say, it is time that America gets cataract surgery, and a better hearing aid, so that she can, at long last, see, and hear, and listen, to the very people who helped make her what she is, and can transform her into a greater version of herself. We may never be able to right historic wrongs, but we can certainly make sure she treads a different path in the centuries to come. We can read her the words of the new prophets, written in chalk on the sidewalks of this neighborhood. So many of our ancestors came here to be free. Too many others had their freedom stolen and were forced to help an uncaring America fulfill her dreams, while it obliterated theirs. But today, we must move forward as one, not ignoring our divisions, pretending racism doesn’t exist, but learning from them, healing them and, someday, closing them for good.

At 244, let us hope America is ready, finally, to truly become the land of the free. These last months have proven, yet again, she is already the home of the brave.

Happy Birthday America. Let us help you to your feet.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Show Of Weakness

The presidentially endorsed “law and order” approach to peaceful political protest that we saw too many times over the past two weeks often flouts the law and it certainly doesn’t keep order. A militaristic “show of force” against peaceful demonstrators is antagonistic and counterproductive, and that’s been proven over and over again throughout American history. I wouldn’t expect President Trump to understand that, since he’s new to this and seems to govern by ego, but American police departments have known for decades that it’s a mistake to attack unarmed, law-abiding citizens. But since the killing of George Floyd, we have seen unprecedented displays of unprovoked violence by law enforcement officers against civilians peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights, including members of the media. And we’ve seen, time and again, how firing tear gas, pepper spray, pepper balls and “non-lethal bullets” at crowds of protesters only escalates conflict and leads to greater damage, more injuries and less trust and support of law enforcement.

In Oakland I was stunned to witness the police reaction to the protests. It’s one thing to go after looters and vandals. They can, and should, be identified and apprehended. But they’re a tiny minority. The vast majority of people protesting George Floyd’s death are just, well, protesting. There’s nothing illegal about that. To the contrary, protest is one of the foundational principles of our country. There’s simply no reason for riot cops to declare a peaceful gathering of Americans, no matter how large or how disruptive it may be to traffic, an “illegal assembly” and then break it up by force. It doesn’t work. It makes people madder. It doesn’t prevent violence, it causes it. It triggers the very thing the police presence is supposed to deter.

Here’s an example: In the summer of 1997, a monthly bike ride through San Francisco devolved into confrontational chaos. For five years, on the last Friday of the month, “Critical Mass” had been bringing hundreds of riders to The City’s downtown, both as a celebration of cycling and a protest of how hostile and dangerous the streets were for bikers. In 1996 and ’97, the events grew larger, with cyclists numbering in the thousands, often blocking major thoroughfares and snarling rush hour traffic. The mayor at the time, Willie Brown, was determined not to let these renegade riders hijack his City. So he ordered the SFPD to enforce the traffic laws and crack down on the bikers. Riot cops set up lines. Bikers were “kettled” on the streets and arrested by the dozens. Clogged intersections became battlegrounds. Some bikers brawled with cops, others with angry commuters tired of stewing in their stranded cars. Bikes were destroyed, their riders hauled away. The evening commute was a mess, downtown a war zone.

Over months of covering these protests, often broadcasting from a bicycle, I observed that left to their own devices, the Critical Massers would block an intersection briefly, whoop and holler, declare victory, get back on their bikes and move on. Only when the police arrived and created conflict by drawing battle lines and ordering the bikers to disperse did the protesters stand their ground and go to war with the cops. The monthly showdowns were increasingly destructive and, for the City, expensive. Why not, I wondered, just facilitate the rides, as the police had done in the past? Stop traffic when the bikes show up, let the cyclists have their way for a few minutes, then escort them on their way? Follow them through town, halt cross traffic so no one gets hurt, but let them make their point without trying to arrest them. Cops could even ride along with them.

Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of their militarized approach, Mayor Brown and the cops eventually returned to those very tactics. Nothing else was working and they came to their own conclusion that they had to try something different. Of course, it was a success. What had been a tense monthly clash became a peaceful celebration, a festival on wheels that eventually attracted families and children and became a mainstream cultural event. The City stopped spending a fortune on overtime, downtown businesses and motorists no longer had their windows smashed and their property destroyed, and over time, the cyclists, and the City at large, won. The bicycle advocates became a powerful political force, and today San Francisco is one of the most bike-friendly cities in America, with hundreds of miles of bike lanes and more in the works (although debate rages on within the cycling community about the effectiveness of Critical Mass, and over the pace of improvements to the City’s cycling infrastructure).

The notion that de-escalation would be more successful than applying force was not new. Countless studies and numerous government commissions had already reached that same conclusion over decades of research.

Yet here we are, a generation later, and America’s urban police departments still see traffic-stopping political protest as an excuse for armed conflict. It’s not. It just doesn’t work. Knocking down disabled people, gassing women and children, punching media in the face, just antagonizes and alienates Americans, and reinforces the message of the demonstrations. Using unjustifiable violence against nonviolent people who are protesting unjustified violence proves the protesters right: “Look, the cops are using violence again, even though it’s completely unnecessary.” Go after looters, sure. Target those who are ransacking Target. When police are attacked, they need to defend themselves. But gassing a peaceful crowd incites vandalism and looting, and galvanizes their allies. Disarmament, engagement and opening a dialogue with protesters defuses tension and prevents the very trouble the cops fear.

In college I took a course on national security policy from Lyman Kirkpatrick, a legendary former high-ranking CIA official. He was a fascinating but intimidating figure. We assumed, my classmates and I, that he not only knew where the bodies were buried, he had buried some of them himself. The course included a unit on the appropriate use of force, and when it was preferable to diplomacy. To our surprise, Kirkpatrick’s lesson was that force is almost never called for, and it should only be used as an absolute last resort. Force, he taught us, is destabilizing and destructive, rarely achieves the desired aim, and in almost every instance, a better result can be obtained through dialogue and diplomacy. Citing his own experiences during World War II and as one of the original officers of what became the CIA, and later leading U.S. intelligence efforts in Asia and Cuba, he taught us that history is littered with costly and avoidable military mistakes. There are exceptions, of course; fighting and defeating Hitler, rather than appeasing him, was inarguably necessary, for example. But a trigger-happy commander in chief might well have ignited a thermonuclear world war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, rather than effect a peaceful result through de-escalation. A show of force, he argued, is almost always a show of weakness, of fear, rather than strength.
Yes, the battles in our streets are on a much smaller scale, and don’t threaten humankind, but the same lessons apply. In the Bay Area, at least, none of the George Floyd protests turned into “riots” until the police lit the fuse. A few dozen opportunistic criminals stealing things from stores is not a riot. It’s a smash-and-grab crime spree. Thousands of panicking people fleeing clouds of toxic smoke, with some induced to turn and fight back, set fires, throw bottles and trash cans and debris at the cops, becomes a riot. And using gas during a respiratory pandemic, when numerous studies suggest it could help spread the coronavirus, is especially dangerous and foolish.

We ask a lot of our law enforcement officers. We expect them to be patient and tolerant, to know when their lives are really in potential jeopardy and when they’re not, to make life-or-death decisions in a split second and always get them right. It’s a really tough job, one most of us could not and are not willing to do. But it’s not too much to ask that they not show up at a picnic and turn it into a wildfire because someone in the crowd may have a pack of matches in his pocket. Especially when decades of experience and research have already shown that they, and we, are much better off when they just let the people have their say.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Under Attack

I got tear gassed Friday night while covering the George Floyd protest in downtown Oakland. It was the first time I’d been hit with gas by police since 2003 in San Francisco, during a demonstration against the second Persian Gulf War.

The police didn’t target me on Friday. I was in the middle of a crowd of demonstrators, doing my job, when officers fired gas canisters without warning. They’d been pelted with bottles and firecrackers and sworn at for more than an hour, and frankly, moments before, I had marveled at their restraint. But then came the flash bangs, and the gas, and I was unable to flee fast enough to escape the noxious cloud that overtook everyone, including quite a few members of the media. Elsewhere around the country, journalists have been targeted directly during this spasm of protest triggered by the police killing of Floyd after he was accused of passing a bogus $20 bill in Minneapolis. I have friends and colleagues who have been hit hard with rubber bullets, dragged to the ground and arrested, hauled off in handcuffs without explanation, despite displaying valid press credentials, carrying obvious equipment and cooperating with police officers who refuse to explain why they’re arresting journalists. Many are journalists of color, left to wonder whether it's their profession, or their skin, or some combination of the two, that drew fire.

We know we take chances out there. I’ve been doing this for more than 35 years. We calculate the risks and do whatever it takes to get the story/the shot/the sound, without putting our lives in too much danger. I’ve covered literally hundreds of demonstrations that turned chaotic and violent. During the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, I was shot at by a looter and escaped by driving my rented subcompact through a gauntlet of burning buildings, the flames so intensely hot that I sped down the center stripe to keep the car from exploding. Once, a barricaded suspect fired at me while I covered a police standoff in the Bay Area, one bullet ricocheting off the pavement near my foot, another whistling past my ear. Covering countless demonstrations and wildfires, earthquakes and terrorist attacks, I’ve had too many close calls to count. Some would call me lucky. Others would be fair to call me a fool. Sometimes, as we check our VU meters to make sure we’re getting good audio of the whizzing bullets, or forget our surroundings while framing the shot of the cop with the riot gun, we somehow imagine we’re protected by an invisible force field, that as duly credentialed members of the Fourth Estate we are immune to the deadly forces cutting people down around us. Or maybe that’s just me.

Of course, we’re not. We’re just committed journalists, passionate about what we do. We believe we are necessary to a free and informed democracy. Our nation’s founders thought so too, enshrining our rights in the Constitution of the United States, and the courts have recognized and upheld those rights, time after time after time. But now, in this most perilous time when we are needed to bear witness and amplify voices more than ever before, those rights are not only in jeopardy, they seem to have evaporated. The media are held in contempt, not respect. The President of the United States openly derides us, calling us “Fake News” and “The Enemy of the People.” On Sunday, he tweeted that the “Lamestream Media” are “truly bad people with a sick agenda.” So it’s no surprise that so many people, including law enforcement officers and looters who use legitimate protest as cover for their crimes, see us as adversaries and targets, ignore our press passes and pleas, and knock us to the ground, both figuratively and literally. We diligently avoid interfering with the performance of the cops’ jobs, but some of them keep us from doing ours.

Even so, as targeted as journalists may feel right now, we still have enormous privilege compared with many, if not most, Americans. In my case, I’m a white man. I have press credentials, issued by the San Francisco Police Department and the State of California. I have my employer’s corporate attorneys to bail me out. If I get busted or hurt, it will be a “mistake” that brings a public apology. George Floyd couldn’t say the same. Nor could Eric Garner. Nor Michael Brown.

Friday night in Oakland, I tried to climb an onramp to cover protesters who had blocked Interstate 880. The entrance was blocked by police cars and crawling with heavily armed riot cops. They shouted for me to stop. Told me to turn around and go back. Shined a bright light in my face. From 30 or 40 feet away, I yelled “Media!” I shouted “I’m with KCBS, just trying to see what’s happening on the highway!” They barked, “Move back! Now!” I kept advancing. They tensed and stepped toward me. Some raised their guns. I was holding a three-foot long black pipe, part of a microphone stand I cannibalized at the start of the coronavirus pandemic so I could conduct socially distant interviews in the field. It dawned on me that it could easily be mistaken for a weapon. That they couldn’t hear my shouts over the hovering helicopter, the M80s and flash bang grenades going off down the block. That in the swirl of smoke just after nightfall, there was no way they could make out the press passes around my neck, the KCBS Radio logo on my vest, or even the CBS News emblazoned on my baseball cap. I stopped. I showed them my hands, hoping they didn’t think the mic stand in one of them was the barrel of a rifle. They kept their lights and weapons pointed at me as I slowly backed away, waved submissively, and then turned and walked as quickly as I could away from them. And all I could think was: Thank God I am white. 

That’s the reality of life in America, 2020. Yes, we journalists have become targets too, and it’s not right. It’s not legal. It’s not good for the country. But when it was all over, when I had washed the teargas out of my eyes and filed my radio stories and tweeted my last video, I went home to my comfortable house and my wife and kids knowing that I could go out the next day, wearing my N95 mask, without feeling like a target simply because of the color of my skin. And thanks to my status as a journalist, I will continue to have a front row seat to history and a backstage pass to life. I may have to dodge a few more bullets, but only if I put myself in harm’s way to do my job. Not when I go to a store. Or for a jog. Or simply walk down the street. America has a responsibility to protect those of us who tell its stories, who reveal its truths, who keep its citizenry informed. We, in turn, have an awesome responsibility to speak the truth about that citizenry, about this nation. Our society endures these violent convulsions every few years and nothing ever changes. Buildings get torched, windows get smashed, people get hurt and angry and tired and sad. Eventually, emotions subside, broken glass gets swept up, and life returns to what we call normal. Which, for me, is a life of extraordinary privilege and opportunity, but for those who don’t look like me and have the protections and access that I do, is a daily stroll through fear and anxiety. Too often for them, an innocent outing or yes, sometimes, a petty crime, leads to an indefensible murder, an inexplicably horrible moment of inhumanity like the killing of George Floyd and too many more before him.

And the sad, brutal truth is: Nothing. Will. Change. It never does. The racism won’t ever go away. How can it? Too many Americans don’t want it to. They don’t even believe it’s real.

Once, maybe a dozen years ago, during a similarly chaotic night of protest in Oakland, a police officer approached me and said, “I’ve been watching you all night. You move really fast. You never stand still, and you’re really quick. You’d be really hard to kill.” I wasn’t sure whether to thank her for the compliment, or express how unnerved I was that she had actually contemplated the difficulty of gunning me down.

Yes, we journalists are targets now. We’re not used to it, and it’s wrong. But black and brown Americans are targets every day, and have been for centuries, and they are terribly used to it, and as we advocate for our own protection, let’s not get lost in our indignation and forget to tell the truth about that.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Leaving Las Vegas

A few random observations and some key takeaways after spending four days in Las Vegas covering the Nevada Caucus, from Wednesday's Democratic Debate through the caucuses themselves on Saturday...

(Caveat: I boldly predicted before the Iowa Caucus that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee, so I see no reason for you to believe I have any idea what I'm talking about.)

It may surprise you to read that I'm not surprised by Bernie's momentum, since I said Biden would be the nominee. But we expected Sanders to win Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. All the polling data suggested he would. The surprises haven't been at the top; they've been just below, where Pete Buttigieg has outperformed and Biden has underperformed. I was taken aback by the size of Sanders' Nevada victory. He built a formidable operation, especially among the Latino community, and he got a lot of first-time voters to caucus for him. With 88% counted, Sanders has 47% of the vote, Biden's a distant second at 21%, and Buttigieg placed third with about 14%. Sanders won the Latino vote in a landslide, beating Biden 53-16% (according to our CBS News Elections and Survey Unit, which conducted entrance polling across Nevada), and he won handily among younger voters and independents. He even matched Biden among moderates: Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg essentially split the middle-of-the-road vote, getting between 21 and 23% each. If Sanders can replicate that coalition—young first-time voters, Latinos and moderates—he can win in an awful lot of places.

Joe Biden working a union BBQ in Las Vegas. He was literally kissing babies.

No, it isn't. Sanders is rolling now, with what would be unstoppable momentum for a Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry or Al Gore. But he is not they (them are not he?). He is the most lefty potential nominee since George McGovern 48 years ago, and the moderate opposition remains fractured. As long as it is, Sanders will win the most states, and the most delegates. But will he amass a majority by June? And if he doesn't, will the rest band together to stop him on a second or third ballot at the convention? There is already mounting pressure on Biden, Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar to drop out. None of them will, not before Super Tuesday (March 3). If one of them, or Mike Bloomberg, can emerge as the Not Bernie and coalesce the center and center-right (inasmuch as there is one) of the Democratic Party around them, it's still possible that consensus mainstream candidate could overtake Sanders. But time, and delegates, will run out, soon.

I know the conventional wisdom is that President Trump would crush Crazy Bernie in November. I'm here to say it ain't necessarily so. Galvanized 20-somethings, Latinos, women, a nice slice of moderates and Anyone But Trump voters would add up to a very large number of people in November. In 2016, about 13 million Latinos voted, up from 11 million in 2012. It's not unreasonable to project at least 15 million will vote in 2020, even more if Sanders were to pick a Latino running mate. Voters under 29 were the only age group to increase their turnout in 2016. Imagine the surge in their number if Sanders were the nominee (confession: I still do not get the obsession 20-somethings have with a white-haired, 78-year-old Jewish man with a thick Brooklyn accent. They adore his policies, but he still strikes me as a most improbable vehicle for their hopes and dreams). Believe it or not, there are many Americans who voted for Obama, but then backed Trump in 2016, and that same "He's something new and different" impulse would move many of them to Sanders this time. We could have three straight presidents completely unlike any who preceded them. Our latest CBS News poll—completed before Sanders won Nevada—has him beating Trump head-to-head, 47-44%, the best showing of any of the Democratic candidates. So don't assume that nominating Sanders clinches a second term for Trump.

Elizabeth Warren came to her Las Vegas HQ to thank volunteers the morning after her debate triumph


That is, if you're Elizabeth Warren. I always vote on Election Day, because I want every last bit of information about the candidates before I cast my ballot. There are a lot of Nevadans—and Warren campaign staffers—who are kicking themselves right now, wishing Wednesday's debate had come a few days earlier, or that Nevada hadn't debuted early caucus voting this year. Warren crushed it in that debate, and it showed in her Caucus Day support. She lagged far behind in early voting, but fared much better on Saturday. She wound up in fourth place, with about ten percent, but if everyone had voted Saturday, she probably would have cracked the top three. She gets a chance to make another strong impression this Tuesday.

Covering Elizabeth Warren in Las Vegas, as seen on Showtime's "The Circus"

The San Francisco hedge fund billionaire outspent the field in Nevada, and he's doing so in South Carolina, too. A disproportionate number of my Lyft drivers in Las Vegas were women of color, and every single one of them told me they were voting for Steyer. He didn't do very well in Nevada, but he's poised to play spoiler in South Carolina. Our latest CBS News poll has him running a close third there, and in the last three months, he and Sanders have taken away half of Biden's support among African American South Carolinians. Steyer has invested a huge amount of time and money in the Palmetto State, much of it in black neighborhoods and media. He has just qualified for Tuesday's debate in South Carolina (you can hear it live on KCBS Radio). It's not likely he could actually win, but if he were not in the race, Biden would probably take the state easily, reviving his campaign. Because he is, Sanders has a real chance to win it instead, which would pretty much destroy Biden's hopes.

Pete Buttigieg woos union members at a Mexican restaurant Friday night in Vegas

There's no more colorful place to cover a campaign then Las Vegas. It sure beats the snows of New Hampshire and Iowa. At the Bellagio caucus site, among the voters I interviewed: a rescue scuba diver for Cirque du Soleil's "O" show, a floral designer for the hotel (she's a horticulturist who's a member of the Teamsters!), several housekeepers and maintenance workers, a blackjack dealer and a cocktail waitress, all of them in their corresponding work attire. Sadly, no showgirls with fuchsia ostrich feathers on their heads, although I have seen that at past Nevada caucuses. In the days between the debate and the caucus, I raced around town to cover Trump supporters attending a presidential rally, and candidate appearances all around Vegas. Bernie had the biggest turnouts, by far, but Warren generated a lot of buzz after the debate. Biden's act seemed sleepy and worn. Buttigieg and Klobuchar focused on more rural areas, away from the more liberal Vegas core. The Strip was crackling with energy, with a heavyweight championship fight, a NASCAR race and the Caucus all happening on the same weekend. The Democratic circus has moved on now, leaving the glitz and glamour behind. Now it's on to South Carolina, and then to Super Tuesday, to see if Bernie-mentum can sustain its hot streak, or whether one of the moderates can pull an inside straight and keep the Democratic Party from going all-in on the Democratic Socialist from Vermont.

Union housekeepers check in to vote in Saturday's Nevada Caucus at the Bellagio in Las Vegas
Tune in Tuesday night February 25 at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern for the next Democratic presidential primary debate, co-sponsored by CBS News and airing on KCBS Radio, KPIX 5 and your local CBS TV station.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Why it Will Be Biden Vs. Trump

Yes, the Sovern Nation blog is back, mainly because I have a 44-year record to maintain of boldly (sometimes foolishly) predicting the eventual Democratic and Republican presidential nominees before the first caucus and primary ballots are cast.

Although I've been scoffed at by Republican operatives who insist I'm too much of a Left Coast Snowflake to even find the pulse of GOP primary voters, let alone take it, I've actually never been wrong on the Republican side: I'm 11-for-11 picking the GOP standard-bearer, dating back to 1976. The Democrats have proven a bit trickier; I'm only 9-for-11 there. But that's not a bad track record, given the volatile, unpredictable nature of modern American politics, especially in the Trump era.

Which brings us to 2020. Here we sit, on the eve of the Iowa Caucus, and the Democratic race remains too close to call. There are still eleven (as of this writing; don't be surprised if the field is winnowed by the time the New Hampshire primary results come in on February 11) candidates in the running. There are four or five especially viable contenders who could conceivably lead the party into the general election against President Trump.

So let's dispose of the easy call first: barring completely unforeseen circumstances like sudden death or alien invasion, Donald Trump will again be the nominee of the Republican Party. He will be acquitted of the impeachment charges against him this Wednesday, he will roll through the formalities of the GOP nomination process, and he will be a formidable, historically well-funded adversary in November.

And whom will the Democrats nominate to oppose him?

Let's go through the field and eliminate candidates, one by one:

It won't be: Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, or businessman Andrew Yang (despite the fervent zeal of the #YangGang).

Despite her common sense appeal in the Midwest, her s-l-o-w climb in the polls and her improving debate performances, it won't be Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar either. She may well place high enough in Iowa to survive, but it's hard to see where she breaks through after that.

Despite his relentless, self-funded ad campaign, it won't be San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer. His surprising rise in the polls in South Carolina and elsewhere won't last once the top tier contenders focus their energy on those states.

That leaves five possible nominees: former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The Iowa caucus is a bit of a toss-up, but Sanders seems poised to win both it and New Hampshire eight days later. It doesn't actually matter much who "wins" Iowa, because it's likely that Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg and Warren will all come away with delegates, and the spread among them is likely to be negligible. It'll be more about perceived momentum and exceeding or disappointing expectations, and what that means in terms of campaign contributions, media coverage and buzz in the days after Iowa. If Bernie's more motivated and passionate supporters turn out in greater numbers, he will take Iowa. If the pragmatists can sway the undecided with their caucus night arguments, Biden will probably eke out a narrow victory. If Klobuchar, Yang and other more moderate candidates fail to meet the requisite 15% support threshold to be viable at individual caucus sites, their voters may trot over to the Biden camp and push him over the top. Warren has a strong ground game and could still surprise. But no matter what, the top four contenders—and maybe Klobuchar, too—should emerge from Iowa with their hopes intact.

Then comes New Hampshire, in Bernie's backyard, and it will be a shocker if he doesn't win there. Then Nevada, where there's been much less polling, but it appears to be a Biden-Sanders dogfight, though Sanders may be pulling away. Then South Carolina, where Biden's deep support among African American voters gives him a significant advantage, although if Sanders sweeps Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, his momentum may help him close the gap. Warren has built a deeper field operation in more states than most of the others, so even if she fails to win any of these early contests, she's likely to hang on through Super Tuesday and try to accrue delegates.

Add this all up, and 2020 looks a lot like 2016: it's a battle (again) for the soul of the Democratic Party, between the progressive wing, eventually led once again by Bernie Sanders, and the moderate, centrist, Clinton-Obama wing, led this time by Joe Biden instead of Hillary Clinton. Sanders has an edge in that the progressive vote is split mostly between him and Warren, while the moderates are splintered among Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang, Bloomberg and Steyer. So as long as that's true, Sanders may become the perceived frontrunner, with all the momentum that brings.

But once the field starts to narrow, the moderates are likely to coalesce around Biden. Even though Bloomberg is bankrolling a massive push in the Super Tuesday states, and racking up endorsements from big city mayors in places like California, it's hard to see him overtaking Biden, and even he admits that if his campaign falters, he will get in line behind Biden and spend whatever it takes to help him beat Trump. Sanders has a more fervent following, but as we've seen over and over again since 2016, it has its ceiling. Even combining the Sanders and Warren voters into one bloc probably isn't enough to beat Biden, if and when he's the last moderate standing.

Biden's Achilles heel is that fewer of his supporters are rabidly pro-Joe. They just want to beat Trump, they feel comfortable enough with him, and they're desperately afraid that Sanders or Warren (or Buttigieg) will lose in November. So there's this perceived electability advantage for Biden, which may or may not be based on anything more real than polls, which is a pretty slim reed on which to hang hope. They're not that crazy about Uncle Joe, many think he's too old, too male and too white, and too given to missteps and malaprops, but they think he's their best, if not only, hope. He's the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the 2020 Democratic field.

Sanders, meanwhile, has a zealous base of younger voters who believe he will upend the establishment like no one before him, but there don't seem to be as many Bernie true believers as there are we-must-stop-Trump-no-matter-what-and-Biden-is-our-best-bet voters. This primary electorate seems motivated by fear and anxiety, more than anything else. They are afraid the Democrats will blow it, and they are terrified of four more years of Trump.

That's why I think, in the end, more Democrats will come home to Biden and play what they think is the safe hand, than will take a chance on an admitted "Democratic Socialist" who wants to do away with their private health insurance (anathema and a dealbreaker to many mainstream Democrats, which has cost Warren some support). The corporate core of the Democratic Party will go all out to keep Sanders from being their nominee, and the vanquished moderates will quickly fall in line behind Biden. It will be another long, protracted fight. It may well go all the way to the convention in Milwaukee in July. Sanders could well enter the DNC with more delegates than Biden, but I think Biden will end up at the top of the ticket (I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a Biden-Klobuchar ticket, even though a Biden-Kamala Harris pairing is trendier at the moment). Bernie could still pull this out. He could win decisively in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and carry that momentum into the ensuing states. He could win California, the biggest Super Tuesday prize, in a landslide. He could make his nomination seem inevitable—which I think would just drive the party's mainstream leadership into more of a panic, fueling an Oh-My-God-It's-George-McGovern-All-Over-Again angst. But the powers that be in the Democratic Party will stop at nothing to keep Bernie from topping their ticket, and those are powerful forces—a force that I think is with Joe Biden. By default, then, Biden, not Sanders, not Warren, not Buttigieg, not Bloomberg, will be the Democratic nominee and face President Trump in November.

There you have it: Biden vs. Trump. Not exactly out on a limb. Possibly completely wrong. Feel free to check back in November and bombard me with ridicule when it's Warren vs. Pence.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

As American As Apple Pie

Yesterday (March 8, 2017) I had the high honor and privilege of delivering the keynote address as 1084 immigrants from 89 countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. The local office of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is so overwhelmed with applications for citizenship that it's holding these mass swearing-in events at least once a month, sometimes twice. The number of applications has doubled since Donald Trump became president. They've been asking me for years to be the guest speaker, since the days of the old INS. Something—breaking news, gridlocked traffic, once a flat tire—always conspired to keep me from doing it. Some of my media colleagues have had this honor, as have three members of President Obama's cabinet, and last month, California's Secretary of State. This time, finally, it was my turn. It was a powerful, emotional moment: watching each new citizen rise as his or her country of origin was called, hearing almost 1100 people swear allegiance to their new nation in unison, seeing the tears of joy, pride and yes, relief, stream down the faces of not only the new citizens but their family members as well.

Many of them, and some of my friends and family, have asked for a copy of my remarks. The rules of the engagement are simple: keep it brief, no more than five minutes, and please refrain from overtly political comments. Given the current climate, and with a handful of federal immigration officials presiding, now members of the Trump administration, that assignment was, as you might expect, somewhat fraught with peril. Here is what I said:

            Good morning, my fellow Americans.
            That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Take a moment. Close your eyes. See how it feels inside as you say to yourself, I am an American.
            America began as a dream. A dream that came true for the very first immigrants to these shores, and that has been coming true across the centuries since. You had the same dream as Myles Standish, as Alexander Hamilton, as the mother of Donald Trump, whether you had it in Taipei, Tel Aviv or Trinidad. Yes, the same dream as Alexander Hamilton. Perhaps one day they’ll make a hiphop musical about you. Maybe you’ll create one of your own. And if the election of our new president doesn’t prove that any notion, no matter how far-fetched, can come to fruition in America, well, then, nothing does.
            Today, this morning, right now, your dream has come true.
            Most Americans, believe it or not, never had that dream. They take being an American for granted. They didn’t save up money for years, work so hard every day with the hope that someday, if the stars align and the fates are willing, they might get to fulfill their deepest desire and find a way across the oceans, and get to live where they wish to live, and be who they wish to be, and lead a life they could only imagine for so long. They didn’t have to study to become an American. They just opened their eyes and started crying, and boom, another baby citizen is born.
            I work in a newsroom full of well-educated, well-informed citizens. People who are immersed every day in the gritty minutiae of politics and civic life. Once, I gave them the test you had to take to become a citizen. You know how many of them passed it? One. And she was originally from Canada, so she had taken it before.
            My point is, you are incredible people. Brave, brilliant, special people, who worked their tails off to make that dream come true.
            My mother is a first generation American. Her grandfather left a small town in Russia, in 1911, somehow made his way to Liverpool, England, and crossed the Atlantic on the Lusitania—a ship that was sunk by German torpedoes on a subsequent crossing—and landed in Boston. He worked for ten long years to save enough money to send for his wife and five children, after World War One. Ten years without his kids. Ten years without their father! One of those children grew up to be my grandmother. She was raised in a town so small that its name translates to “junction of the dusty roads.”
            My father’s grandparents came here from, we believe, Latvia. My parents were not only the first in their family to go to college; they were the first to get beyond the eighth grade! Between them, they had six children, and raised four stepchildren too, all of whom have gone on to college—and most to graduate school—and all have had successful professional careers, and made lives for themselves, and most have children of their own, and are proud, vital, contributing members of American society.
            That is how America was built. It is how we became the great nation we are—one man, one woman, having a dream, and then working to make it come true. That is the founding spirit of this society: anyone can do anything, anyone can be anything, if they are willing to put in the sweat and grit and energy to make it happen. Whether you want to open a corner store, or start a great company, or teach little children, or be the very best employee or make the best pozole or lumpia or siu mai anyone has ever tasted, in America, you can do it.
             (By the way, if you DO make the best pozole or lumpia or siu mai, please come see me afterwards).
            You have taken the first step. You are now as American as apple pie—which, by the way, comes from England, and the Netherlands. You are as American as a hamburger—which originated in Germany. You are as American as a slice of pizza—and I don’t think I have to tell you which country invented that.
            In this time when some in this country talk of building walls to keep others out, of barring some immigrants because of their religion, of closing off the pathways to the dream you’ve just made come true, I can only invite them to come stand where I am standing, look out across this theater, and see what I see: the stuff dreams are made of. American stuff. The very fabric of the red, white and blue we just saluted. I salute each and every one of you. Congratulations to you all, and thank you, for making my country, the place where I was so blessed to be born, even better and stronger, than I could ever dream.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Nobody Knows Anything

It was legendary screenwriter William Goldman who said, famously, of Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." Tuesday's Trumpquake suggests the same is true of America's punditocracy.

Like most other supposedly keen political observers, I delivered the worst prediction of my long career when I wrote in this space that Hillary Clinton would be elected president. It was only the third time in a dozen tries that I've gotten a presidential election wrong, but if I were you, I'd never want to hear my opinion again. So you're excused from reading the rest of this blog, without prejudice or penalty.

If you are still here, I do have a few thoughts. observations and nuggets of data (similar data were proven worthless Tuesday, so take these with a giant land mass of salt) to share.


That's a question I've been getting a lot, and one that I admit I've been asking myself, since I didn't predict it would. Trump's victory didn't take me by quite as great a surprise as it did others; I did predict almost a year ago that he would be the Republican nominee, provoking tremendous consternation and derision among many of my readers. But I also have believed for at least four years that Hillary Clinton was a prohibitive favorite to be our 45th president, and I didn't alter that assumption even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

It's been clear for a long time that much of the American electorate remains restless, angry, disenchanted. Yes, the economy is, empirically, a far sight better than it was when President Obama took office. Unemployment has fallen from almost ten percent to less than five. Instead of losing as many as 800,000 jobs a month, the country is creating as many as a quarter million. The U.S. economy is growing at about three percent a year, instead of plunging four percent, as it did in the spring of 2009. The Dow Jones average has tripled, meaning Americans with 401ks and other retirement and investment accounts have seen them more than recover from the Great Recession. But there are millions of people—no, tens of millions—who feel left behind by the recovery, whose paychecks are stagnant (or non-existent), who struggle to pay their bills and keep their credit card debt in check, who can't afford the still-rising cost of their health insurance premiums and their medications and their kids' education. They see factories close and jobs disappear and Mexican and Chinese and Somali and Puerto Rican immigrants arrive in their towns and they feel like they've lost their place in line, that someone else is stealing their shot at the American Dream, that they've been told to sit down, shut up, pay their taxes and take their lumps. They see the coastal elites with their app-driven lives and cars from the future and organic meal deliveries and wonder why everyone but them seems to be moving ahead. They live in places like Lycoming County, Pennsylvania and Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Hancock County, Ohio and Mariposa, California. The Democrats who live in these places voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, not Hillary Clinton. And on Tuesday, most of the people who live there voted for Donald Trump.

Most of them don't like Donald Trump. They don't admire his behavior. They don't think he's the kind of man who should occupy the Oval Office. But they don't think much of Hillary Clinton either. These are not people who vote party, or even policies. They vote personality. They're not sure what Trump's beliefs on most issues even are (is anyone?), but the ones they do know about, they probably don't share. It doesn't matter. They're dissatisfied. They want change. They've wanted change for years, decades even. They voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, because he was new and different, and a more compelling personality than John McCain or Mitt Romney. They voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, because he was from Texas, not Washington, had some folksy charm and was more engaging than Al Gore or John Kerry. They voted for Bill Clinton before that, for similar reasons. And Ronald Reagan before him. And Jimmy Carter. You get the idea.

I interviewed quite a few white folks who voted for—even volunteered for—Barack Obama, but this time, pulled the lever for Trump (or punched the hole, or filled in the arrow, or touched the screen). That is hard for liberal Democrats to comprehend. How could anyone—anyone—help elect the first black president, a man considered so progressive that his opponents slurred him as a socialist, and then turn around and vote for Donald Trump, a man who questioned Obama's legitimacy, aligned himself with white supremacists and called for a roundup of Muslim Americans and illegal immigrants?

It's too easy for outsiders to dismiss these voters as crazy, racist, sexist, xenophobic, illiterate misogynists. You know, your standard basket of deplorables. But even Hillary Clinton recognized that many of them are not that at all. Some have college degrees. Some went to graduate school. Many are women. Some are people of color. What they share is a sense that things still aren't getting better, that the country is moving in the wrong direction, and the people in charge just don't get it.

Even so, there weren't quite enough of them to elect someone as reprehensible as Donald Trump. That's not my characterization of him: the exit polls (if you still believe in any polls of any sort, which I'll get to below) reveal that 60% of the voters think Trump is not qualified to be president, and 63% say he doesn't have the right temperament for the job. Even a quarter of those who voted for Trump feel this way. So how in the world did he win? Because Hillary Clinton failed to inspire, and motivate, and mobilize, the voters everyone assumed she would turn out to win. I've seen some articles talking about the "Trump wave" that we journalists missed. There was no Trump wave, at least not nationally. Trump is going to end up with slightly more votes than Mitt Romney got in 2012, about 61 million or so. That's what we expected him to get. We anticipated an electorate of roughly 130 million people, and that it would take somewhere close to 65 million votes to win.

What we did not expect—and no one on the Clinton team did either—was that Hillary would not even come close to getting as many votes as Barack Obama did. Obama won in 2008 with a record-shattering 69.5 million votes, more than seven million more than George W. Bush got four years before, when he set a new record. Obama's support fell in 2012, when he won with about 66 million votes, to Romney's 61 million. Clinton is on track to finish with somewhat more than 63 million this time. She should end up about 1.3% ahead of Trump in the national popular vote. We all thought there would be a massive turnout of women to elect the first female president, and a surge of Latinos to keep the wall-building Trump out of the White House. Neither materialized. The female share of the electorate actually fell one percent from 2012, and Clinton did only slightly better among them than Obama did. She outpolled Trump with women, 54-42%, while Obama beat Romney among women 55-44%. Only one percent more Latinos voted this time than did in 2012, and Trump did better among them than Romney did (Trump won 29% of the Latino vote vs. Romney's 27%). Clinton didn't come close to matching Obama's appeal to Latinos—Obama won 71% of Hispanic voters, to Clinton's 65%. White women actually preferred Trump, with 53% voting for him and only 43% voting for Hillary. We knew Trump would beat Clinton among whites overall, but he did it by a record-setting 58-37% margin. As expected, Clinton did not do as well with black voters as Obama did, but we thought she might make up that difference by attracting new Latino voters and widening the gender gap. It didn't happen.

Another myth: Trump brought out many new voters, and also won over the middle-of-the-road folks. Nope. Only ten percent of the voters were first-timers. And, tending to be younger, they voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, 56-40%. And self-described moderates preferred Clinton, 52-41.

So, she won the fence-straddlers in the middle, and she won the new voters, so why did she lose? Well, first of all—she didn't, at least not in the purest sense. Clinton won a plurality of the votes, and in fact, will have the widest margin of victory in the popular vote of anyone who didn't win the presidency since Samuel J. Tilden in the notorious disputed election of 1876 (I wrote a term paper on that one in college, if anyone is interested in digging that up). But she didn't meet turnout expectations in a few key places: Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, Milwaukee. Even though she won in the cities, 59-35%, and Trump narrowly carried suburban America, he thumped Clinton in rural areas, 62-34. A relatively small number of white male Obama voters in those places I mentioned above gave Trump the narrowest of margins in three key states—Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida—and that gives him an Electoral College victory. At this hour's counting, Trump carries those three states by a total of 59,000 votes, or less than one percent. Toss in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by about one percent, and we're talking about less than one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast Tuesday determining our next president. If Clinton had turned out literally another 0.1% of voters in the right cities, she'd have won those four states (technically, Michigan is still too close to call, with Trump ahead by less than 12,000 votes), which would have given her 303 electoral votes.

So, as you can see, it's not that Trump won this election as much as Clinton lost it. For all her vaunted advantages in fundraising and ground game and party support, she couldn't overcome the perception among white voters in rural America that she's a dishonest, lying, corrupt part of an elite political establishment that doesn't care about them and takes them for granted, if it thinks about them at all, a perception driven home in the campaign's final ten days by Trump's relentless ads portraying her as exactly that, and by FBI Director James Comey's untimely (for Clinton) announcement that he was investigating additional emails that might incriminate her, which ultimately amounted to absolutely nothing. Voters didn't turn to Trump in massive numbers in the closing days. They simply turned away from Clinton, enough to deny her victory in a handful of battleground states (Trump did do significantly better than Romney in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, but Clinton surpassed Obama's totals there, too, because the overall turnout hit record levels in those three states. In Wisconsin, Trump matched Romney's vote total, while Clinton fell about 200,000 short of Obama's).

Although I do think it's risky to write off the Trump Voter as uneducated, Trump did score an historic edge among voters without a college degree. In 2008, Obama and Romney essentially split college graduates, and Obama won among those without their degrees. This time? Clinton won the educated voters, 52-43%, while Trump won the less educated ones, 52-44. And among white voters who didn't finish college, Trump won resoundingly, 67-28. Those are unprecedented gaps.

So this election, like virtually every election without an incumbent president in recent times, was about Change. New. Promise. Different. When the first exit polling data came in Tuesday afternoon, what did voters say was the quality they were looking for most in their next president? "Can bring needed change." Uh-oh. Alarm bells went off at our KCBS Election Desk. That was not a good harbinger for Clinton. Two-thirds of the voters told the exit pollsters the country was on the wrong track. Yikes. That boded well for Trump. It wasn't until later that we got more data: A whopping 83% of those who said "bring needed change" was most important, cast their ballots for Trump. Even though Clinton won 66% of the people who said "has good judgment" was most important, and 90% of those who were looking for someone with "the right experience," there weren't as many of those voters in the mix. Which brings us to one final question...


Here, I posit the theory, supported by the monograph's worth of data I just laid on you, that we didn't, really. That's not a copout. I said Hillary would win the popular vote by more than five percent. I am an idiot. But the final polls all coalesced around a Clinton win by about 3 or 4%. I know when people hear, "Clinton will win by four percent" and she wins the popular vote by only one percent, they think, "Boy, the pollsters really blew it." But polling is rough science. Pollsters extrapolate results from small samples. Their sample sizes can be off. The way they weight the data they collect to reflect what they think the makeup of the electorate will be can be wrong.  But even so, missing the final popular vote by 2 or 3 points is well within most polls' margin of error. A poll that says Clinton will win by three points means in fact, she could win by six, or it could be a tie, or the final tally could fall anywhere within that range. Which it did.

So where the pollsters (and I) really did blow it was in the electoral vote. But again, as noted above, Trump won that by the slimmest of margins, by denying Clinton a fractional percentage of votes in states you can count on one hand (I suggest using the thumb for Michigan). And really, the only places the polls were off significantly were Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The final four polls in Florida had Clinton up two, Trump up three, and two were a tie. Trump won by about one percent, right in the middle of that spread. The polls in Wisconsin had Clinton up six to eight points, but no one bothered polling there in the last week of the campaign. The needle was already moving to Trump—or, more accurately, away from Clinton—but there was no one on hand to record it. The same was true in Michigan, where Clinton was consistently ahead by four or five points and it ended, essentially, in a tie. Perhaps in 2020, the pollsters will conduct more surveys, and later ones, in the key battleground states.

The other way we blew it was by how we read the polls we did get. Most political pundits, and even most people within the Clinton and Trump campaigns, were pretty sure Hillary was going to win. All the data, until the Comey letter came out on October 28, said the race was over. My interactions with voters in Ohio convinced me Trump would win there, and the polling supported that. If I had seen consistent survey data showing Clinton ahead in Ohio, I would have reconsidered my conclusion. But I didn't. So I put the Buckeye State in Trump's column in my final prediction (I remain astounded by how many pundits said Clinton would win Ohio. There were literally zero data to support that). But the polls were steady for Clinton in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. There was no reason to suspect a Clinton collapse there. So when we looked at the final polls, both nationally and in swing states, we tended to believe the ones that supported what we already believed to be true: that she would win. This bias reinforced a flawed conclusion. We disregarded polls that deviated from our expectations. They must be outliers. They can't be right. Given a choice between surveys that bolstered our preconceptions and ones that challenged them, we embraced the former and scoffed at the latter. This wasn't because we wanted Clinton to win; it was because we thought she would. I didn't want Trump to win the Republican nomination, but I predicted he would because all the available data, and my own observations of voters, told me that he would. In this case, even though I had ample contact with Trump supporters, I didn't believe there were enough of them to overcome what I thought was the larger universe of Clinton voters, a universe that collapsed into a black hole for Democrats on Tuesday.

I called three states wrong on Tuesday (four, if Michigan ends up a Trump state). I got two of the U.S. Senate races wrong. That's not bad, I suppose, but it falls far short of my usual standard, and bottom line, I PREDICTED THE PERSON WHO LOST WOULD WIN. Please allow me to hang my hat on this caveat that I included in Tuesday's prediction:

There could be a hidden pool of Trump voters who aren't showing up in the polls. There could be a Trump Effect, with respondents afraid to tell pollsters they're secretly planning to pull the lever for Donald. There could be a huuuge turnout of white men without college degrees who descend on polling places en masse to Make America Great Again.

As things turned out, that's exactly what happened, and in just enough critical places where Clinton failed to make up the difference.

Okay. That's a really long explanation of how Trump pulled off the biggest upset in modern political history, and how I missed seeing it coming. I underestimated the level of antipathy for Clinton, and I overestimated her ability to get her voters to the polls. The lesson for Democrats next time? Nominate someone who can run as an outsider, as a legitimate agent of change (a la Barack Obama or Bill Clinton), especially if President Trump (anybody used to saying that yet?) fails to deliver. The people who switched to him this time won't be patient with him for long. Certainly not as patient as you've been with me.

Final note regarding the exit polls: You'll notice I treat this data as if it were handed down on stone tablets. I am always amused by how we deride the pollsters for being so off the mark before an election, and then regurgitate the exit polling data as if it were stone cold fact. It isn't. It could be wrong too. But—there are some critical differences. Pre-election surveys are based on an estimate of what we think the electorate will look like, a best guess of who's likely to vote, and then a weighting to reflect the expected demographic breakdown. Exit polls are a measure of people who have actually voted. We don't have to guess how many Latina women over 50 will vote; we can count the ones standing in front of us coming out of the polling place. And the sample size is much larger. Instead of a survey of one or two thousand people on the phone, the National Election Pool (a data-sharing consortium of which CBS is a member) interviews more than 100,000 people, mostly in person. The response rate is much, much higher, and the margin of error much, much lower. People could still lie about how they voted, but they're less likely to do that in a face-to-face interview. This data is how we call the results in states long before the votes are counted. When the returns start to come in, if they hew closely to what the exit polling suggests they will be, we can deduce that the actual result will be what the polls say. If a state is very close, the polling data may not be enough, delaying a call. This is also how we knew something was amiss in the "butterfly ballot" counties in Florida in 2000. The exit polls said Al Gore had won Florida, because voters told the pollsters they'd voted for him, when in fact many of them had cast ballots for Pat Buchanan by mistake. So when their votes were counted, they weren't for Gore, confounding the exit poll data.

There can still be weighting errors in these polls of course, and people who refuse to answer can throw things off, but in general, we believe the exit poll data to be fairly reliable. Of course, we thought Hillary Clinton would win Pennsylvania, too.