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Monday, April 19, 2021

Encouraging Delliberation

Richard M. Perloff at
Pollyannaish as it may sound, three lines of social science research show that treating adversaries in positive, respectful ways can overcome resistance, replacing it with, if not agreement, mutual understanding.

First, research has documented that when researchers affirm people’s sense of self – for example, by inducing them to feel good about a strong personal value – they validate their worth as human beings. This global validation of their personal self-worth, unlike a verbal attack which provokes resistance, warms people’s hearts, opens their psychological pores and actually increases their receptivity to considering alternative views.

Second, a strategy called motivational interviewing eschews hard-ball efforts to “get” someone to change an entrenched social attitude, recognizing this will only cause people to dig in their heels. Instead, change agents help people “find their own intrinsic motivation to change …. by interviewing them — asking open-ended questions and listening carefully — and holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts more clearly,” as organizational psychologist Adam Grant observed in a New York Times op-ed earlier this year. The strategy in some cases has actually decreased prejudice toward illegal immigrants.

Thirdly, in deliberative polling, pioneered by political scientist James Fishkin, a representative sample of citizens gather together for a weekend, talking among themselves about controversial political issues. Seeing each other as fellow human beings, rather than as polarized liberal or conservative caricatures, as occurs over social media, participants nod their heads, listen, change their opinions to reflect what they heard, and grow more tolerant.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Public Opinion of the Supreme Court

 Chris Kahn at Reuters:

A majority of Americans want to end lifetime appointments for U.S. Supreme Court justices, according to an Ipsos poll for Reuters, though less than half are in favor of other efforts to reform the judiciary.

The national opinion poll, conducted on Thursday and Friday, found that 63% of adults supported term or age limits for Supreme Court justices. Another 22% said they opposed any limits and the rest did not express an opinion.

The poll also found that only 38% would support expanding the size of the court by adding four more justices. Another 42% said they would oppose doing so and the rest were unsure.


The poll found that only 49% of Americans have a "great deal" or a "fair amount" of confidence in decisions made by Supreme Court justices. In comparison, 43% of respondents expressed a similar amount of trust in decisions made by the White House and 32% said the same of decisions made by Congress.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Sotomayor and Gorsuch for Civic Education

Mark Walsh at Education Week:
Two U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday renewed their calls for improving civics education, saying the future of the republic depends on it.

“Our democracy is at risk not only from foreign but from domestic enemies,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during an online discussion sponsored by several groups.

“Democracies crumble from within,” said Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. “They crumble. And there becomes a hunger for a certain faction to take over because they’re intolerant of others. They think they know the right answer and others do not.”

Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama and is considered among the more liberal members of the court, while Gorsuch ... is conservative on many issues. But both have worked on civics education initiatives since they joined the high court, and they have spoken jointly on the topic at least once before.


Friday, April 16, 2021

Treasury Goes After Russia

A Thursday release from the Treasury Department:
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took sweeping action against 16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.

This announcement follows the Intelligence Community’s (IC) “Assessment of Foreign Threats to the 2020 U.S. Federal Elections.” The IC assessment addresses the intentions and efforts of key foreign actors, including Russia, to influence or interfere with the U.S. elections and undermine public confidence in the election process. Russia employed a system of government officials, disinformation outlets, and companies to covertly influence U.S. voters and spread misinformation about U.S. political candidates and U.S. election processes and institutions.


Today’s actions highlight how multiple Russian officials, proxies, and intelligence agencies coordinated to interfere with recent U.S. elections. Private and public sector corruption facilitated by President Vladimir Putin has enriched his network of confidants, who used their illicit business connections to advance Russia’s campaign to undermine the 2020 U.S. presidential election—and to give Russia plausible deniability in its disinformation activities. Members of this network include First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia Alexei Gromov (Gromov), previously designated as a government official pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13661. Gromov leads the Kremlin’s use of its media apparatus that sought to exacerbate tensions in the United States by discrediting the 2020 U.S. election process. As a result, Treasury is designating Gromov pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having attempted to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Russian Intelligence Services, namely the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), play critical roles in propagating Russian disinformation online. The FSB, GRU, and SVR operate a network of websites that obscure their Russian origin to appeal to Western audiences. Outlets operated by Russian Intelligence Services focus on divisive issues in the United States, denigrate U.S. political candidates, and disseminate false and misleading information. The GRU and FSB were first designated in 2016.

The FSB directly operates disinformation outlets. SouthFront is an online disinformation site registered in Russia that receives taskings from the FSB. It attempts to appeal to military enthusiasts, veterans, and conspiracy theorists, all while going to great lengths to hide its connections to Russian intelligence. In the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, SouthFront sought to promote perceptions of voter fraud by publishing content alleging that such activity took place during the 2020 U.S. presidential election cycle.

NewsFront is a Crimea-based disinformation and propaganda outlet that worked with FSB officers to coordinate a narrative that undermined the credibility of a news website advocating for human rights. Part of NewsFront’s plan was to utilize Alexander Malkevich, who is also being re-designated in today’s action, to further disseminate disinformation. NewsFront was also used to distribute false information about the COVID-19 vaccine, which further demonstrates the irresponsible and reckless conduct of Russian disinformation sites.

The Strategic Culture Foundation (SCF) is an online journal registered in Russia that is directed by the SVR and closely affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SCF is controlled by the SVR’s Directorate MS (Active Measures) and created false and unsubstantiated narratives concerning U.S. officials involved in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It publishes conspiracy theorists, giving them a broader platform to spread disinformation, while trying to obscure the Russian origins of the journal so that readers may be more likely to trust the sourcing.

The GRU operates InfoRos. InfoRos calls itself a news agency but is primarily run by the GRU’s 72nd Main Intelligence Information Center (GRITs). GRITs is a unit within Russia’s Information Operations Troops, which is identified as Russia’s military force for conducting cyber espionage, influence, and offensive cyber operations. InfoRos operates under two organizations, “InfoRos, OOO” and “IA InfoRos.” InfoRos used a network of websites, including nominally independent websites, to spread false conspiracy narratives and disinformation promoted by GRU officials. Denis Tyurin (Tyurin) held a leadership role in InfoRos and had previously served in the GRU.


Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Kilimnik was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice regarding unregistered lobbying work. Kilimnik has also sought to assist designated former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. At Yanukovych’s direction, Kilimnik sought to institute a plan that would return Yanukovych to power in Ukraine.

Kilimnik was designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election. Kilimnik was also designated pursuant to E.O. 13660 for acting for or on behalf of Yanukovych. Yanukovych, who is currently hiding in exile in Russia, was designated in 2014 pursuant to E.O. 13660 for his role in violating Ukrainian sovereignty.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence election interference report can be found on its website.

View more information on the persons designated today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Polling Problems, Again

 Politico Playbook:

As our polling guru Steve Shepard reports today, the competing firms — ALG Research, GBAO Strategies, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, Global Strategy Group and Normington Petts — banded together in an unusual collaboration after the election to conduct a self-autopsy of sorts. It acknowledged “major errors” and a failure “to live up to our own expectations” — yet, frustratingly, no easy solution to the problem of consistently overestimating how major Democratic candidates, including JOE BIDEN, would perform.

Among the culprits:
  • Deteriorating public trust in institutions, government, the news media and, yes, the polling industry — driven by DONALD TRUMP’S bashing of those very institutions. Essentially, Trump voters were less willing to participate in polls.
  • Pollsters again underestimated turnout among rural and white non-college-educated voters, who overwhelmingly backed Trump.
  • Failure to detect late movement toward Trump and Republican candidates in the run-up to the election.
  • Not accurately accounting for the fact that Democrats stayed home and answered their phones in greater numbers last year than Republicans who did not follow Covid-19 restrictions as closely.
Read the full story here. And read the memo here.
Pew Research Center is among the organizations examining its survey processes. The Center does not predict election results, nor does it apply the likely voter modeling needed to facilitate such predictions. Instead our focus is public opinion broadly defined, among nonvoters and voters alike and mostly on topics other than elections. Even so, presidential elections and how polls fare in covering them can be informative. As an analysis discussed, if recent election polling problems stem from flawed likely voter models, then non-election polls may be fine. If, however, the problem is fewer Republicans (or certain types of Republicans) participating in surveys, that could have implications for the field more broadly.

This report summarizes new research into the data quality of Pew Research Center’s U.S. polling. It builds on prior studies that have benchmarked the Center’s data against authoritative estimates for nonelectoral topics like smoking rates, employment rates or health care coverage. As context, the Center conducts surveys using its online panel, the American Trends Panel (ATP). The ATP is recruited offline via random national sampling of residential addresses. Each survey is statistically adjusted to match national estimates for political party identification and registered voter status in addition to demographics and other benchmarks.2 The analysis in this report probes whether the ATP is in any way underrepresenting Republicans, either by recruiting too few into the panel or by losing Republicans at a higher rate. Among the key findings:

  • Adults joining the ATP in recent years are less Republican than those joining in earlier years. 
  • Donald Trump voters were somewhat more likely than others to leave the panel (stop taking surveys) since 2016, though this is explained by their demographics. 
  • People living in the country’s most and least pro-Trump areas were somewhat less likely than others to join the panel in 2020. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Domestic Terrorism Data

 From the Center for Strategic & International Studies

U.S. active-duty military personnel and reservists have participated in a growing number of domestic terrorist plots and attacks, according to new data from CSIS. The percentage of all domestic terrorist incidents linked to active-duty and reserve personnel rose in 2020 to 6.4 percent, up from 1.5 percent in 2019 and none in 2018. Similarly, a growing number of current and former law enforcement officers have been involved in domestic terrorism in recent years. But domestic terrorism is a double-edged sword. In 2020, extremists from all sides of the ideological spectrum increasingly targeted the military, law enforcement, and other government actors—putting U.S. security agencies in the crosshairs of domestic terrorists.


There is growing concern about the extent to which U.S. military and law enforcement personnel have perpetrated—and been victims of—domestic terrorism.1 In March 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) sent a report to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees which concluded: “DoD is facing a threat from domestic extremists (DE), particularly those who espouse white supremacy or white nationalist ideologies.” It continued that some domestic extremist networks “(a) actively attempt to recruit military personnel into their group or cause, (b) encourage their members to join the military, or (c) join, themselves, for the purpose of acquiring combat and tactical experience.”2 In 2020, the FBI alerted the DoD that it had opened 143 criminal investigations involving current or former service members—of which nearly half (68) were related to domestic extremism. Most investigations apparently involved veterans, some of whom had unfavorable discharge records.3 The January 6, 2021, events at the U.S. Capitol raised additional concerns, since one reservist, one National Guard member, and at least 31 veterans were charged with conspiracy or other crimes.4 In addition, at least four police officers and three former officers faced federal charges for their involvement in storming the Capitol.5

Robert O'Harrow Jr., Andrew Ba Tran and Derek Hawkins at WP:

Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The surge reflects a growing threat from homegrown terrorism not seen in a quarter-century, with right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipsing those from the far left and causing more deaths, the analysis shows.

The number of all domestic terrorism incidents in the data peaked in 2020.

Since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities, the data shows. At the same time, attacks and plots ascribed to far-left views accounted for 66 incidents leading to 19 deaths.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Ordinariness of Congress

 John F. Harris at Politico:

“All parts of the Bell Curve of society are well represented,” one lawmaker told me, pondering the assortment of many dolts and at least a few deviates who count as colleagues.

A senator observed that ambition and discipline count for a lot, but the greatest factor of why one politician makes it to the Senate while others remain on city council is luck: “The bottom 80 percent of this place is no different than the bottom 80 percent of any typical city council.”

Here's something to keep in mind whenever you are reading about some politician or legislative battle. Years of covering politics make me think that most people who follow politics from afar have an exaggerated perception of most elected officials. Sometimes this magnification flows from idealism. Civics classes in youth can create a lasting impression that politicians are, or should be, the solons of democratic theory. More often, these days, distorted perceptions flow from cynicism. Even corrupt politicians are supposed to be sinister in an outsized and brilliant way, like Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

What both vantage points tend to understate is the pervasive ordinariness of many people who belong to the bottom four quintiles rather than the top one.

Journalism and political science, meanwhile, tend to focus on the ways that democracy is being distorted by structural factors. Gerrymandering of congressional seats encourages partisan zealots instead of conscientious servants of the public interest. A media-saturated political culture attracts more narcissists to Washington than ever, helping explain the high number of sex scandals. There is probably something to these theories. But the more salient reality is probably that elected representatives are indeed quite representative of the electorate.

Ponder Eccelesiastes 9:11: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."