Sunday, May 31, 2020

Why We Should Wait to Open Our Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques

A little over a week ago, President Trump told states to lift shelter-in-place orders that prohibit faith communities from gathering in large numbers. As a response, the United Church of Christ issued a statement urging churches to wait until all safety concerns have been addressed ("Should Churches Return to Worship in Their Sanctuaries?").

Pastors and lay people have weighed in as well. Charles Weidman, a member of First Congregational Church of San Jose, had this to say in an (unpublished) letter to the editor to the (San Jose) Mercury News:
On Friday, May 22, Donald Trump demanded that states lift shelter-in-place orders which prohibit large groups from gathering in churches, synagogues, and mosques. He stated he would overrule states which do not comply with his demands (a power he does not have). 
In seeking to appear as a religious champion, he instead demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of these religions’ fundamental principles. Our faith calls us to care for one another, to ensure the safety of the sick and the vulnerable. We are, therefore, temporarily sacrificing meeting and worshipping together in large groups, because doing so helps to preserve the health of our church family and our surrounding community. 
Mr. Trump’s declaration that houses of worship are “essential” ignores faith teachings. Worship is essential. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams throughout the nation have creatively developed ways to gather worshippers remotely. Exercising faith and prayer does not depend on a building. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi understands this, demonstrating her devout faith by praying daily, even for Mr. Trump (see Matthew 5:44).  
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not practice any religion; he seeks only to exploit religion to support his own, selfish, political needs.
Then there's this from Rod Kennedy, pastor at a Baptist Church in Ottawa, Kansas:
President Trump: 
On behalf of my Baptist congregation I want to thank you for your concern for houses of worship. We respectfully decline your suggestion that we re-open. The First Amendment, religious freedom, separation of church and state - all that constitutes our right to ignore you. 
I’m not drinking bleach, taking suspect drugs, or buying your demagoguery. We will let you know when our church decides to re-open. After all, we are a free, independent Baptist congregation and government interference irritates our Baptist gumption. 
When churches do re-open we would be happy to SEE YOU IN CHURCH EVERY Sunday. It might help you find some divine wisdom. 
If you want to help, wear a mask, stop being divisive, make sure voting will be easy in November, and stop mocking, threatening, and demeaning others. It’s not a religious practice.
Thankfully, this past week the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. As Charles points out in his letter to the editor, it seems that some people are confusing "church" with a building. It's not. Faith is much more than where people meet. Don't get me wrong. It's nice to be able to meet, but it isn't worth putting peoples' lives at risk to do so. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Is Trump a Lock to Win Reelection?

Recently, political commentator Harry Enten ("How Trump has broken the polls") noted that although Joe Biden currently leads Donald Trump, on average, by about 6 points in the polls, a majority of voters still think Trump will win the election in November. However, if Biden holds his lead and wins the popular vote by 6 points, that will be more than enough to wipe out any advantage Trump may enjoy in the electoral college. Interestingly, Enten points out that a similar disconnect occurred in 2018:
Gallup asked Americans just before that election whether they thought Democrats or Republicans would control the US House after the election. By a 50% to 44% margin, they said Republicans. This came even as Democrats were clear favorites in pretty much every forecast and when that same Gallup poll showed Democrats with an 11-point lead on the generic congressional ballot. This... marked the first time that Americans incorrectly forecasted who would win the House.
This leads Enten to wonder whether voters are overreacting to the 2016 election. Hillary held a small lead in the polls (which she maintained in the election contrary to much conventional wisdom), and most Americans thought she would win. She didn't, of course, and now many voters seem to believe that there's something magical about Trump, that the polls underestimate Trump's appeal. Enten disagrees:
My advice would be that in gauging the electorate, you shouldn't be of the mindset that Trump is going to pull it out if the polls continue to suggest he won't. Even Trump's own polling reportedly has him behind. Trump's a politician, not a magician.
Something similar appears to be occurring with prediction markets. When asked to choose between a generic Democratic or Republican candidate, the markets currently favor the former over the latter by about 4 points (53-49). Moreover, when betting on which candidate will win individual states, the markets predict that the Democratic candidate will walk away with 290 electoral votes, while the Republican candidate will walk away with only 248. In other words, both predict a win for the Democrats. However, when asked to specifically bet on Biden or Trump, the markets choose Trump over Biden by about 6 points (50-44). Although part of this can be explained away because neither candidate has officially been chosen as their party's nominee, that's clearly not the whole story. Some of it has to reflect the sentiment that Trump's unbeatable.

I don't think he is. After 2016 the markets have become gun shy. After incorrectly predicting a Clinton win in 2016, they're overcompensating and overestimating Trump's chances of winning in 2020. Trump may win in November, but in order to do so, a higher percentage of Americans will have to vote for him then than many will now.

Note: This morning FiveThirtyEight published a "chat" ("If Trump Is Down In The Polls, Why Do So Many Americans Think He’ll Win?") that discusses this same phenomenon.